My original plan for this weekend was to do some loops on Mission Peak. I needed at least 25mi for the weekend to meet my mileage goals and I need to start hitting the hills in prep for Two Moons. However, I wasn't quite up for the full 32 miles of my Quad MP concept, yet. My wife had to go into work in San Mateo on Saturday so I decided I would get my run in on that side of the bay. Purisima Creek is sort of the old stand-by as it is the closest serious trail to her office and is also a beautiful park right off Skyline Ridge. It starts from the ridge and goes down to meet the road into Half Moon Bay. There are three main trails that travel from top-to-bottom covering between 3.5 to 4 miles on the trip from the 2000ft ridge down to about 400ft at the bottom.
The Full Purisima...almost
I pulled out the trail map and started calculating to find a route that would give me at least 20 miles for the day on a couple of down-up trips. As I started playing around, doing the math, I realized that, if I planned my route properly, I could traverse just about every trail in the entire park over a course of between 25-26 miles. I would have to leave out the Bald Knob, Irish Ridge and Lobitos Creek Trails as they would add another 7+ miles traveling directly out-and-back from the main preserve area. They would also require that I either carry more than my planned two water bottles or deal with further logistics of an extra water drop off Tunitas Creek Rd. As for the the planned run it could be done with just one drop. There are two main parking areas off Skyline Blvd., one at the start of the North Ridge Trail and the other at the Purisima Creek trailhead. I would stash a water jug and a bag of trail goodies in the bushes at the first area and start my run down at the other area down Purisima Creek Trail. Once I realized the concept, I knew I had to do it. However, I had a time limit and would need to be done by 4:30 at the latest which meant starting no later than 11am.
For those who are impatient or who simply don't want to wade through my long-winded account of the run, here is the full route that I planned (I took one slight variation noted by *'s):
- Purisima Creek Trail (down 3.1mi)
- Borden Hatch Mill Trail (up 2.7mi)
- Out-and-back to Tunitas Crreek Rd. (up-down 0.6mi)
- Grabtown Gulch Trail (down 1.5mi)
- Purisima Creek Trail (down 1.2mi)
- Harkins Ridge Trail (up 3.0mi)
- North Ridge "Hiking Only" Trail (0.5mi)
- Get food/water stash, eat, drink, fill bottles
- North Ridge Trail (down 2.3mi)
- North Ridge Trail (up 1.5mi)*[1.3mi]
- Whittemore Gulch Trail (down 2.8mi)*[2.2mi]
- Harkins Ridge Trail (up 2.1mi)
- Soda Gulch Trail (mostly down 2.6mi)
- Purisima Creek Trail (up 1.8mi)
My GPS-measured distance came to a bit over 24.7mi which seems pretty accurate.
As for elevation gain, all I could say at the end of the run was "lots". Some of these trails were much steeper than I expected. My Forerunner 305 is notoriously inaccurate and gave a reading of greater than +/- 10K ft. Importing the route into various mapping programs and web sites produced varying results. One of them gave even higher numbers than the GPS and another was so low as to be impossible. That particular web site is very inaccurate and has given me elevation measurements in the past that are actually less than the difference of the highest and lowest elevation points. How does that work? The one I am learning to trust the most is from a desktop program called SportTracks that I would recommend for anyone with a GPS watch. You can actually tweak the amount of smoothing that it does over imported elevation and pace values in the 2.0 beta version.
Based on this data the summary for my run is as follows:
Time: 5:03hrs (5:13 with stops)
Elevation: +/-6800ft (approx.)
Here are some pictures for those who like visual aids:
The Full Details
OK, that's the stats. Let's get to the details...
Purisima Creek to Borden Hatch
When running in this park I usually either head down Whittemore Gulch or Purisima Creek. I've done runs all the way down to Half Moon Bay and back from both starting points. Purisima Creek is a wide fireroad that does less twisting and turning but has more distance overall covering about 4.2 miles directly to the bottom. This time I would add an extra loop of trails about 3/4 of the way down. The whole Purisima Creek park is heavy covered with Redwoods and the fallen needles plus the rain soften dirt made for a very plush trail. Even trying to take it very easy my pace on this downhill often dipped below 7 min/mi. It is a beautiful and fun trail to run down as the many little "moguls" (what we used to call "whoop-de-dos" when mountain biking) can be used to catch a little air and a big smile. The one thing I noticed about halfway down was that the entrance to the Soda Gulch Trail was marked as "Closed due to storm damage." I guess I would have to decide how important it was for me to hit all the trails or whether I was going to need to find another route on the way back. I decided to wait and see if the other end of the trail was marked the same as they sometimes leave these signs up well beyond necessity. I eventually reached the start of the Grabtown Gulch Trail and continued down to the Borden Hatch Trail to start the loop choosing to repeat the small section between the two rather than skip it completely.
Borden Hatch - Grabtown Gulch Loop and on
I headed up Borden Hatch which I hadn't been on since my mountain biking days. I remembered it being a pretty tough climb on the bike. As a run it wasn't horribly steep, but I could see how the mud and plethora of tree droppings would make it a very tough ride. It is a nice trail and much more secluded than the main thoroughfares of this park where one often sees hikers especially near the trailheads. I was really enjoyed the quiet and the grade did provide some good uphill practice climbing nearly 1000ft in a little under 3mi. I paused briefly at the Bald Knob trailhead and glanced up it. I've never been up that way and it looks like a nice trail. It would have to wait for another day as I had a time limit today needing to finish up the run in less under 5 1/2 hours. I little further on was the intersection to the Grabtown Gulch Trail. However, before heading down this I took the little .3mi extension out to Tunitas Creek Rd. so as not to miss any trail. This also let me scout out this remote trailhead as another option for a water drop on a future run here. After that it was all downhill and I have to say that Grabtown Gulch was a blast! All downhill and some wonderful twisty single-track to boot. All good things must end and this one did back at the wide Purisima Creek Trail after a mile and a half. Then it was a bit over a mile down to the bottom where the folks from the coast enter the park at Purisima-Higgins Rd. It was less busy then one would expect given the perfect weather of the day due to the fact that the Mavericks Surf Contest was on just above HMB.
Up Harkins Ridge
I don't think I'd ever been on this trail on foot before and it was quite nice starting in the deep trees along the creek. A little ways on it turns and heads up the ridge and out into the exposed sun. It was quite nice out and I was surprised at how warm it actually was given that we are in the middle of winter. Gotta love California weather. Heading up this trail has some really steep hills and it was time to start working on some of my power-hiking skills. I also wanted to preserve some energy in the middle of my run on this trail which is the shortest path to cover the 1600ft climb back up to the road. I did notice that Soda Gulch was closed here too so a decision would have to be made about my return. The last section of this is all open ridge and I could see the ocean from the vantage point. The sun also kept me plenty warm and I drained my water just as I reached the intersection with the North Ridge Trail. No worry as it was only another half mile to the parking lot via the "Hiking Only" trail that I planned to take on the way up. This option is a little longer than the direct route, but is much more runnable and a nicer option for heading up. Taking the direct route down is always recommended for making good time.
At the parking lot I went into the bushes and retrieved my little drop bag and jug of water. I got a couple of weird looks from hikers as I stuffed myself with Pringles, cookies and Ensure as well as downed a bunch of water. I then filled my bottles and re-stashed my goods planning to pick it up after I was done. I took in as much water as I could as the warmer-than-expected temperatures meant that I was going to likely be pushing the two bottles on the return trip which was going to be a little longer than the one I took getting here. Just as I was about to leave a couple of runners came up the trail. One of them was wearing a race shirt from some 50miler I didn't recognize, but he saw my TRT shirt and asked about it first anyway. I turns out he did the 100 last year when I did the 50. I believe he said his name was Mark and he looked like a pretty studly dude so it may well have been Mark Gilligan, second place finisher in the 100. Given that one of his planned runs this year is the 100K national championship race, it seems even more likely now that I think about it. He also told me that they had been on Soda Gulch Trail and that it wasn't too bad. So, my return trip was going to go as planned. I'd wasted enough time at my self-made aid station and bid him and his friend (Kay?) goodbye. I told them about my water/food stash and to grab whatever they wanted as I headed back down the trail.
North Ridge Trail
The North Ridge Trail is the main fireroad leaving the parking lot and is the most common route down. However, most people either head down Whittemore or Harkins as the North Ridge continues on to a dead end at the park boundary. I'd never been down there and new nothing about that trail section. What I learned was that it was steep. And, then, later on it is really steep. And, then, still further it is ridiculously steep. Before I get to that part, though, I had a surprise waiting for me on the trail. Just as I headed up the first uphill on the way to the turnaround I saw a guy coming down cleaning branches off the trail. He looked very familiar, but before I could call out to him he yelled down "Steve!" It was local ultrarunner Chuck Wilson who has probably run more races than I have miles. He was doing some volunteer work on the trail so I stopped and chatted for a bit. He said that the trail wasn't very runnable even with his cleaning job, so I better get going if I needed to make time. I learned pretty quickly that he wasn't kidding. The final downhill (and return back uphill) was crazy. I honestly don't know how the rocks stayed on that steep loose trail. Luckily it wasn't very long, but in the end the whole steepness of this trail up-and-down was more than I had planned. I decided to alter my return just slightly and take the short-cut over to Whittemore Gulch Trail. While this would mean missing 0.6mi of trail, it would take almost a full mile off my return trip and given my water situation as well as my time limit, I decided it was necessary. I could see Chuck up above me as I headed over to the cutoff. I decided not to yell up to him as I didn't want to waste too much more time. However, before going through the gate I paused and took in the vista. It was such a clear day I could see the ocean and Half Moon Bay perfectly. If I'd have brought binoculars I probably could have watched the surf contest from up there.
Down and back up
Whittemore Gulch is a wonderful with lots of twists and turns that I remember having a blast on when biking. However, today it had so much down tree foliage that it was actually hard to keep the momentum. My pace barely dropped below 9min/mi as I was constantly having to jump over branches or watch my step through brush. It was still a reasonably quick downhill through lush woods that helped keep me from draining too much more water. I hit the bottom at about 18.5 miles just after my GPS watch complained about low battery. I accidentally left it on the other day so I wasn't able to fully charge it before this run. I wasn't sure it would make it for the rest of the time as I headed up the long grind back up Harkins Ridge. I had decided I was going to take Soda Gulch and my mind was focused there. I knew that once I reached that intersection it was over 2 1/2 miles of flat to downhill running. I pushed it a bit up Harkins shuffling up whatever I could. I made it to the intersection in about the same time from the bottom as before despite being much more tired being 20 miles and 4 hours into the run. I also knew that my water was just about gone and that I would be making the final climb to the road bone dry.
Flying towards Hell
Soda Gulch wasn't bad at all in general. The trail was in decent condition and relatively clear of debris allowing for lots of running along its gently winding downhill path. However, there were a few downed trees that required climbing over or dipping under. A couple of these left nice trophy slashes on my legs. Also, there were two spots where the trail was washed out, but both were easy to bypass with careful navigation. Other than that it was a classic single-track that I had previously only taken in the opposite direction. Going down this beauty was definitely the recommended way. However, at the end that meant that I had just that much more climbing up the final trail of Purisma Creek to my car. It was just under two miles and about 1000ft to the top. I had no water and, without water, couldn't really take in calories either. Those last couple miles were over a half hour of slow painful grind. Each of those fun little bumps that I enjoyed so much on the way down just added insult to injury on the way back up as each one require a few extra steps of even steeper climb for barely a half step down on the other side. I shuffled as much as I could figuring this was all good ultra training as in a real race there would be aid at top of this "bad spell" to refuel and keep me moving relentlessly forward.
I made it to the top and my watch read a little past 24.5 miles total. I felt like I had done much, much more than a marathon. With all the climbing, I felt easily as worked as in many of my 50K races. Looking back now, it is clear why since this shorter run had as much or even more climbing than many races of much longer distance. However, the elevation gain and the distance are both about 1/4 the distance of the Coyote Two Moons 100 which is a pretty scary thought right now. There is no way I could have done that route 4 more times! However, I will be ramping my training and will definitely start much easier come race day. Of course, if I run the first 25 miles of a that hundred miler anywhere near 5 hours time, I will be headed for some serious hurt later in the race. I drank up and ate up at my car and headed out as I had to pick up my wife and then get home to take my son to his basketball game. I stopped at the other parking lot first to clean up my stashed drop bag and water. Just as I was about to head out I saw Chuck coming up the trail. I stopped and chatted again with him briefly. However, I realized how much time I had wasted as it was already 4:30 and my son had to be at his game by 6 so I high-tailed it out of there and managed to just get him there on time.
I followed up Saturday's run with a nice easy 4.5mi recovery on Sunday night. I am learning to use my Garmin and heartrate monitor to do "real" recovery runs. I put the watch in a mode where I it shows my HR, but not my pace or distance and then I run a known route trying to keep my HR in the 70-75% zone. With that final run my tally for the week comes to 54 miles which is right about where I should be in my ramp up. Had I been further in my training I might have done a 10 or 12 miler on Sunday and gotten closer to 60. To get my mileage up much beyond that I am going to have to figure out how to get a few extra mid-week miles along with some longer Sat. runs.
As for my race schedule, there are some potential changes. I definitely dropped Zane Grey from consideration as it is just too much with Diablo and Miwok. I may decide to do the Pacifica 50K next weekend if Freddy doesn't have practice. In which case I would save the Quad MP until Feb. As for the races in that month they are all up in the aid. Woodside seems unlikely as it is now on the 2nd and Freddy has a game that night and the night before. While I believe I could get the race done in time, I don't know about getting there after a later than desired Fri. night. Sequoia will also be a "wait and see" as that will be during the likely time of basketball sectional playoffs. Feb may just be lots of self-planned long runs. I am committed to Skyline Ridge for March as my last training before Two Moons. Diablo and Miwok are confirmed, but the rest of the season is still a bit spotty. I may actually end up bailing on TRT100 in July. Chuck was trying to convince me to join him and Beat at a "once in a lifetime" opportunity of a running adventure in the Peruvian Andes. It is the last time the organization will be doing this particular run and it looks quite simply amazing. I love South America and my wife is actually encouraging the endeavor. The amount of altitude is a bit scary, but perhaps I can find a high-mountain 100 in June to help prep me. I do have to admit, my it looks amazing!