I stayed at my parent's house in Concord. I only had a 10 minute drive to get to the race. Unfortunately, I thought it was longer so I had a bit of a wait for the bus. No big deal. It wasn't too long until it showed up, loaded us all on and headed out for the long drive to the start. The first part of the drive was very reminiscent since it was basically the bus ride I took home from school every day from age 10 to 17. However, the start was much further down Marsh Creek road. The nice thing about a point-to-point course is that you really get a sense of the full distance you will be running.
It was a bit chilly at the start, but we could already tell it was going to be a great day. I mulled around chatting with friends and meeting new people, sporting my, very-identifiable, new Brooks ID uniform. You gotta love how the fluorescent sticks out in a trail race!
We didn't have too long to wait before the start and we were all off and running.
In his usual style, Chihping raced ahead so he could turn back and snap photos of us all.
A few initial ups and downs helped spread out the field. After ripping a couple of the short, steep downhills (because I can't help myself), I settled into a nice easy pace for the early miles. There were a few descent hills and then came the first big climb, about 1500ft in 2.5 miles. I worked on my power-hiking pace and it didn't feel so bad. I even managed to pass a few people. I am hoping to improve my climbing this year, especially my walking pace. I remember watching some people running the early hills and reminding myself of the math. I was walking these hills not much over 17 minutes per mile and could probably run them around 15. However, if I reserve the climbing legs I will still be able to shuffle the later hills at a similar pace, but if I don't they will turn into slogs of well over 20 minute miles, easily making up for any early hill speed.
The really nice thing about this race for me is that there were some nice long downhill sections were I could let myself go. I was really enjoying these sections even though the trail was pretty beat up with hoof-holes from the cows and the wet winter. It allowed me to move up through the pack a bit as I think they slowed me less than they did other folks. I also seemed to really be enjoying myself.
I really tried to take the time to look around and enjoy the amazing day and excellent scenery of this race. There were a lot of new faces here including quite a few first timers--many making typical rookie mistakes. I ended up giving one woman half of the water from one of my bottles when because she only had one for the long 7+ mile stretch between aid. I spent some time chatting with a guy named Dan who is in States this year and was starting to ramp up his miles. Before we knew it we were coming into the half-way aid station.
A few friends were there volunteering and it was good to have a brief chat before heading for the next climb up onto the Diablo trails. Most of the climbs seemed fairly gradual and so I focused on keeping a solid, maintainable pace. As we went through three hours, I tried to take advantage of the rolling single-track. I also took advantage of a few peoples early race mistakes as there I passed a number of people who were definitely starting to slow.
Approaching the 23 mile aid station, I had passed a number of people and felt like I had opened a bit of a gap on some of the downhills. However, just as my bottle had been filled and I was enjoying a bit of grazing at the food table, a runner I hadn't seen all race came cresting the previous hill. Jim Winne handed me my bottles and told me not to let "that guy" catch me. I guess it was time to race. We were back out on big fire roads with more rollers. It was time to push a bit as I looked back and saw that the guy behind me hadn't wasted any time in the aid station as well.
I made my time on the downhills and even passed one more guy who seemed to be having difficulty on them. However, once we reached the flats and a few more climbs, it was clear that he was far from dead yet. There was a bit more single track before the final aid station, but none of the downhill was steep enough for me to let fly. In fact, coming into this aid station, running uphill, I could see the runner I'd passed working hard too.
Lucky for me, after this aid station there were a couple more short climbs and then a big descent after which I wouldn't have a pretty good gap. Heading down the hills, I saw a red shirt a few switch backs below me. I recognized it as a guy from UC Berkeley with whom I had run for a bit early in the race. I thought it might be fun to try and catch him, but there was little chance of an overtake since the final couple miles were relatively flat. I had no illusions of keeping up with a young whippet on that sort of terrain. It didn't matter anyway because he saw me coming and having seen my downhill pace, worked hard to assure that we wouldn't meet again until after the finish.
At this point, my focus was more on the numbers than the runners even though I had been told, incredulously, that I was in 5th place. I was more interested in breaking 5:30. When I looked at the race, I figured 6:30 would be a reasonable time for me. However, the elevation gain on the site is high by nearly 1000ft by my estimate and I was also having a pretty good day. I was pushing the pace as best I could, making my way through the many creek crossings in the final miles.
"A mile and a half to go," I was told. I glanced at my watch and saw that I would have to do that in just about 12-1/2 minutes. OK, 8 minute mile it was and no slowing for the creeks!
With less than a mile to go, I felt like I had it. I was on pace. Then, just one little climb. It was nothing really, less than a quarter-mile long. But, it was enough to slow me down when I had no margin for error. I started to sprint for the finish as soon as I saw it, but quickly saw the clock next to it tick over to 5:30. I crossed the line about 10 seconds later. I smiled. It's a good feeling to race the final miles even if you just miss a goal.
In the end, I felt surprisingly well and had a very surprising finish. 5th place is probably about as good a result as I'll see this year so I have nothing but good memories for this race.