Race Review: Xterra Snow Valley 13.1 Mile Trail Run – 2011

Summary: Very well done event.  Great venue, well-organized.  Zero complaints and many compliments.

Key Information

Race Name Xterra Snow Valley
Location Snow Valley Ski Resort , 5 miles east of Running Springs on Hwy. 18 in the San Bernadino Mountains, in Southern California.
Elevation Profile Race takes place about 6,000 ft.  Start and finish at the same location. For this race, one runs up the side of a mountain, runs across a ridge then runs down the side of the mountain.  Half Marathoners get to do that twice.
Organization Extremely organized with many wonderful volunteers
Terrain Trail
Water Stations Enough, but carrying water anyway
Highlights The scenery and the organization
Other Events 10K and a triathlon the following day.
Good for Beginners? 10K Yes.  For me, the altitude really slowed me down.

After participating in the Red Top Roaster last week, a reasonable person might have taken this weekend off.  Unfortunately or fortunately as the case may be, there was an Xterra race scheduled the following Saturday  6-Aug-2011.  It’s about as easy for me to pass up a nearby Xterra race as it is to pass up a plate of ribs set right in front of me.

Xterra trail runs are fun and hard.  They usually aren’t flat and for one reason or another, they always wind up sending home a bunch  for tired and dirty participants who generally feel good about themselves.

This race offered runners both a 10K and a 13.1 mile half-marathon option. There was also a triathlon the following day.  There were numerous raffle prizes and a wonderful BBQ put on by the good people at Snow Valley.

The Venue
The race was held at the Nordic Rim, across the street from Snow Valley in the San Bernadino mountains.  The race was about 90 minutes from Northern Orange County.   The base of Snow Valley is reported to be at 6,775 feet above sea level.  Denver, by comparison is at 5,300 feet.

For best results in this event, consider spending at least a day or two getting used to the elevation before running the race.   Here are two articles to consider in preparation for running at altitude:

The other consideration with altitude evaporation requires more hydration than at sea level.  I brought a hydration pack, but after hearing where the aid-stations were, I chose just to run with a water bottle.  That choice worked for me.  If the day had been hotter, or if I had a hint that the staff didn’t have their stuff together, I would have carried the pack.

The drive up was scenic and the tall trees and clean air made for a wonderful day. While I was off running, my wife and daughter went to Lake Arrowhead to shop.

Next to the Malibu Creek run, this was probably my favorite Southern California venue.

Race Organization
Have you ever watched a professional athlete make their sport look effortless?   That was what it was like to observe the staff pull off this event.   They made it seem effortless and well-rehearsed from bib pickup, to the start of the race, to the awards to the BBQ.  Everyone had a role and seemed genuinely glad to be wherever they were.

Probably the thing that struck me most was the effort that was made to call all the participants by name.   The race director hailed everyone as they came through the finish gates or started their second loop through the half marathon course.   The whole event was just felt so warm and personal.

The trail was well-marked with signs, ribbons and tape that made it almost impossible to go off the path.  There were sufficient number of aid-stations stocked with water and Gatorade.   Staff members were also running and mountain biking through the course to ensure safety and offering hydration.

Even the raffle was well-done.   The organizers had a tent with all the raffle prizes laid out with bib-numbers on them.   I was pleasantly surprised to win a case of 48 Triple-Berry GU.

The Weather
This was perfect running weather.   The temperatures were in the 70’s with humidity about 45%.   Sunscreen was required and bug spray wasn’t a bad idea.

The view from mile 3

The Trail
This trail wasn’t easy, but it was a joy to run.

The half-marathon started with a 1k parade loop followed by two 10K loops.    The 10K runners had to complete just the one loop. The loops started with a slow but steady up ascent for the first 2+ miles.  This ascent leveled out and then eventually became a pretty nice steady downhill run.

One had to keep an eye on the trail for rocks and other tripping hazards. I had one ankle roll, but just kept running through it. The scenery was just beautiful, both looking over the mountains, but even at the flowers and shrubs below.   Perhaps it was the clean air or the lack of oxygen was messing with my mind, but at one point I came across a bush with leaves that had a deeper green than I had ever seen in California.

There was one very small river crossing.   I was at the back of four runners when we came up to this little thing.  The three people in front of me all jumped over it or stepped on rocks to avoid the stream.  That looked boring, so I decided to put both feet into it.  The water was freezing and my shoes and socks were soaked.  I smiled and said our family joke, “of course my feet got wet, it’s an Xterra Run

My Results
I took my first Did Not Finish (DNF) at this race.   I have a lot of mixed feelings and thoughts on this matter.

Of all the runs on my schedule this year, I was most excited and worried about this one.  I have completed two half-marathons on streets at sea-level. This was my first 13.1 mile trail race and the fact that it was an Xterra race made the challenge even more exciting.

The altitude worried me.  I should have gone up the mountain on Thursday at the latest to acclimatize.  As it was, the morning of the race we were up at 5:30 am and on the road by 6:15. As we drove the 16 miles up highway 330, we passed signs showing the elevations of 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000, 5000 and finally 6000 feet.

The half marathon started about 15 minutes before the 10K run.  The first real hint of how slow I was going came when the first 10K runners passed me before I hit mile 3.   After leaving the aid-station at mile 5, I knew I finishing was going to take another 90 minutes of running.  I had seen the beautiful trail and my head didn’t see the value in making another slow lap.  Nothing hurt, but I was just going so very slow going.  Even going down hill, I felt like a Clydesdale.  I was not going to be happy with this finish whether I completed the race or if I finished prematurely.

As I finished the end of the first loop, I had the choice of taking the gate that started the next loop or exiting the race at the finish gate.  So at 1:45 minutes, after completing 7 miles, I took my first DNF.  Phew, now that’s out of the way.

At the end of the race, the volunteer handed me my leather medallion and a very cold bottle of water.   I sat for a while as took in this experience.  I probably should have stretched after the race, but I just had to think about it.  I am not sure if this DNF was a failure.   I did complete 7 Xterra miles.  I wished my legs hurt more than they did.  I wish my body was exhausted like it was the previous week, but it wasn’t.  I was just running too slowly for my mind to enjoy the experience.  The fact that the finish line came up and was there, just made it easy to call it a morning (that’s not intended as a criticism of the race).

The Finish Line?
The Finish Line

In the past two weeks, I learned something very important about myself.  Both the Red Top Roaster and the Xterra Snow Valley Half were courses that looped back near the starting/finishing during the race.   The fact that both were gruelling early on, made it easy for my mind to think DNF.  In any other race format, it really is difficult to just quit as it still requires one getting back to start/finish line.   One can’t just hop in a cab on an out and back trail run, one must either finish the race, or as my wife says, “pay to have a helicopter come in and fly you out”.   Going forward, when I run races that loop near the finish line, I need to be aware that my head, if given the opportunity may want to take the easier way out.

Should I be bummed about running 7 miles in 1:45 rather than 13.1 in 3+ hours?  What do you think?  Is it better to quit when you have gotten the best of the experience or grind through to completion?

Race Review: Xterra Snow Valley 13.1 Mile Trail Run – 2011

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