When I pulled into the parking lot at Carbon Canyon Park, the first car I noticed the license plate Ultra Runr. The car across from it had a pink 50K sticker. Those were the first signs that this race was going to be different from every trail race I had done previously.
The Chino Hills Trail race was a small event with only about 60 very friendly and warm participants. This was the second trail run in the series which started with a 10K in March, a 10M this month, a 15M next month, progressing all the way to a 50K (32 miler) in June. I was intimidated by the number marathon and ultra distance race shirts people were wearing, as well as one runner who had 26.2 tattooed on his calf. I realized quickly that the people weren’t there to show off their clothes, or boast about their PRs or complain about little things. These were down to earth runners who enjoyed the community.
The race route had to be changed in the last weeks. The planned loop had some hazards due to a recent wash out. The organizers decided to run the 10K route from last month in reverse and added a loop back at mile 5. Runners could opt out of the second loop and only run the 10K distance.
The start of the trail was firm with occasional sand. I’m not sure why, but I had a few near ankle rolls in the first miles. The terrain wasn’t bad, so it was probably me not paying attention. The first mile, the elevation increase about 100 feet. At that point, we made right turn at the trail head marked Diemer.
Over the next two miles, a 500ft. climb ensued. It was one of those rolling uphill climbs where the top of each hill brought the promise of down hill, but delivered yet another hill to climb. I was huffing and puffing the whole way. The scenery was beautiful and my slow pace allowed me the opportunity to really enjoy it. Stronger runners pulled away during this point in the race. When I looked back, I only ever saw only one person. I realized that if she took the 10K route, I would more than likely, finish this race dead last. I was OK with that.As the trail descended, I came to the first water station. I stopped and had them refill my water bottle. I don’t usually carry a large water bottle, but I knew for this race it was necessary.
Music keeps me going on tempo during my runs. I have a very deliberately ordered playlist with up and down tempo songs. On steep hilly trail runs, the music actually works against me, because my brain is keyed into a tempo and my body can’t execute. I have been know to tell an up tempo song to f-off on steep climbs. After the aid station, the trail narrowed through brush maybe 2 times shoulder width. The trail was firm dirt, perfect for me.
After taking inventory, I realized nothing hurt. It was at that moment, the Grateful Dead’s Touch of Grey came on my ipod, I was golden. It was like God wanted me to kick it. I was a little embarrassed to be singing out loud as I ran through this brush. As the trail then became slightly more technical with a nasty washout drop off on the right side, I was still rocking along. I actually caught up to another runner who let me pass. She ran a little behind me, then we crossed the first stream and hopped over a tree trunk together. We joked about the certainty of finishing last.The next few miles were pretty easy. There were occasional small streams we had to cross. Coming up to one, I focused on where to cross and not where I was running. I suddenly had the sensation of falling. Yep, I was taking a spill. I rolled into it, got back up and started running again. I was more embarrassed that I fell in front of this other runner. She asked me if I was OK, and I was. I lost a little skin on my right hand, no biggie. I used my water bottle to rinse off the blood. So we took off again. I let her go ahead so I could carry a slower pace for a while. She ran about 100 yards in front of me for the next three + miles.
A bit down the road, I was lapped by the first and second place runners. Damn they were strong. These little streams that I was trying so hard to figure out where to navigate, they just blew through. I was really considering bailing and just taking the 10K route. There’s no shame in only running a 10K I thought to myself. My brain must have turned off for a bit, because the lady runner in front of me took the left at the Diemer sign and without thinking, I just followed her back up the trail. I was about 200 ft up before I realized that I had an option not do take this route again. I felt like my wife must when I am considering two alternatives and then engage one without sharing the decision with her. My only criticism of this race is that there should have been a field marshal stationed at the Diemer sign the whole time so runners wouldn’t miss the turn.
The 500 ft climb was much easier the second time because I knew what the end looked like. It was still a billy-goat run and my back ached. The lady runner in front of me kept getting further away, but the fact that I had someone to chase kept me pushing. At one point she disappeared over a hill all I could hear was a cricket chirping and my heart pounding. There was nobody behind me and nobody in front of me. When I returned to the water station for the second time, I told them I was sure I was last. Again, the next mile after the aid station was amazing. When I crossed the stream and tree trunk, I again caught up to the same lady runner. She took off and I never saw again until the finish line.
The last two and half miles were hard. I was tired. I was on mile 8, but it felt like mile 11 of 13, I walked much more than I normally would.
When I passed the Diemer sign for the second time, I knew there was only a mile to go. After 2 hours of cardio, I was tired, and still nothing hurt. With about a half-mile to go, three runners passed me. They just trotted by. It finally hit me that they must have missed the Diemer sign the second time and had to double back. That is one of the hard parts of trail running. One has to stay alert or risk missing a sign. As I came to the last turn, I saw the rustic old shack that marked the race. I crossed the finish line at 2 hours and 17 minutes, a full 15 minutes faster than I thought I would have run that race. It turned out that people did finish after me, but in their defense, they all missed the turn.
This was a great race and I am glad I did it. One of the organizers was trying so hard to get me to come back and do the 15M next month. We will have to see what the course profile looks like.
If you are interested in taking part in this series, please visit them at http://www.runchinohills.com/index.asp