@PCTR Race: Woodside 50km Ultramarathon

On March 26, 2011, Pacific Coast Trail Runs (@pctr) hosted the Woodside Trail Run, including distances from 10km to 50km. My best friend, Nat, joined me for her first ever Ultra-marathon, and she couldn’t have picked worse weather to attempt her first 50km (31.07mile) distance. The weather in San Francisco had been raining for about a week, and on the day of the race the weather was supposed to improve – after we finished the race.

As we waited for the gates of the park to open, we discovered rivers of water running along the side of the road – and a line of other really crazy people who were also planning to run that day. As the 50km Ultra-runners were the first to start, the line of cars waiting were most likely our fellow crazy people.

The good news with the rain was that the weather was also cold, and most of us were shivering at the start. The day before starting the race Nat and I had stopped by Sports Basement for some rain-proof jackets, and by the end of the day, we were extremely grateful we made the investment.

As this was Nat’s first 50km run, I kept her at a easy pace. Knowing she was excited, and being from Boulder, CO, with her lungs extra full of Oxygen, I was afraid she’d start out too fast, too soon. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, although she did confess to me later that she had serious doubts about whether we would be able to finish considering the muddy conditions of the trail.

Trail runners are a weird bunch of people, and even though Nat asked, “Are you sure they’re not going to cancel the race?” I assured her that trail runs… well, just don’t get cancelled. Adverse conditions are just part of the fun.

I often rate the success of my trail runs by the lack of injury, and, beyond that, the number of times I slip and fall down. Oddly, despite mud, puddles, rain, slippery rocks, and a Bobcat, I actually didn’t fall even once. I suppose that was because of the heightened awareness I needed because of the rain.

PCTR placed a time limit to reach the 19km mark, and Nat and I reached it with about 15 minutes to spare. Our conservative first half strategy worked well, as we finished well before the 8 hour limit, and also passed numerous people during the second half of the run. Nat even had plenty of energy left over at the 45km mark to do a little dance and robot jig just to show how far – mentally and physically – we’d gone. It actually worked a little too well, as Nat had energy left over after the race. This was actually good, because this race was part of our Comrade’s training plan. (Nat will be running Comrade’s with me on May 29). The last thing we wanted to do was work too hard and destroy our training for that 89km (55mile) race. As it was, arriving back home to survey the damage to our feet, Nat discovered a huge blister on her right foot. Thanks to copious amounts of mud and other stuff swimming in her shoes, she never even noticed it.

One of the biggest mistakes we made for the first 7.5 miles of the race was attempting to avoid the puddles. Actually, the puddles often had the better footing, and after 7 hours in the rain and mud, attempting to avoid getting your feet wet was just a serious waste of energy. As the experienced trail runners already knew, you were going to get wet, muddy, and a bit crazy, so there was little sense moving side-to-side.

The sticky mud in certain sections did collect in my shoes, however, and seemed to collect right at the ball of my foot. Several days later my feet are still sore in those locations.

The elevation profile was not as severe as my previous Ultra trail run, at Redwood Park in Oakland:

However, there was still over 7,000 feet in elevation change, and the ease at which some of the runners went up and down these hills was amazing to me. But that day wasn’t about winning. As one of our fellow runners stated on the trail, that day wasn’t about winning, it “… was about survival!”.

Even with the horrible trail conditions, and the horrible weather, over 50 people still came out and ran the 50km race. Unfortunately, for those of us who finished even under 7 hours (smashing my previous record of 7 hours 40 minutes!), PCTR had run out of chili. The one warm, happy thought I had for finishing the race was a nice, hot bowl of chili at the end (and although I was offered chicken noodle soup… it’s just not the same). Alas, it was not to be, as the previous runners had pretty much cleaned out the massive amounts of food PCTR had brought to the race. Fortunately, the AID stations (of which there were two) were adequately stocked except for salt – only one station had potatos/salt or salt pills, and I think both should have had one or the other, but that’s a minor nit-pick – I need to bring my own, anyway. As any seasoned runner will tell you, in a trail race, you shouldn’t count on the AID stations. Anything you must have, bring with you, because you never know just what the stations will have.

Finally, as always, the volunteers at the race were awesome, standing out in the rain handing out water, coke, snacks, and getting little thanks for standing around not doing much for minutes on end. I can’t imagine a more difficult volunteer job from the aspect of boredom. So, as always, extra special kudos to all the volunteers who helped make this race great!

The results of the race can be found here