Summary: Good event. Difficult, possibly insane course with killer climbs and descents.
|Race Name||XTERRA Mission Gorge Trail Race|
|Location||Mission Trails Regional Park in San Diego.|
|Elevation Profile||There is 1,981ft of climb. Almost as bad is the 1,952 ft. of decent.|
|Terrain||Trail. Some of it very technical.|
|Water Stations||Enough, but carrying water and gels|
|Good for Beginners?||The 5K is good for beginners. The 15K is not.|
I am at the point now in my running, where I can on any given day, go out and run a good 10 to 14 miles fairly easily. It won’t be a fast run, but I will be functional after the run and not moaning and groaning.
That being said, every XTERRA trail race I have ever run has been to some degree humbling for one reason or another. The Mission Gorge 15K is no different. In February 2011, I was disheartened to finish the course in 2:28:04 at just under a 16 minute mile pace. It was my first 15K and when it was over, I was wiped.
January of this year, I was working on my short distance speed and running up hills. I also worked out this great plan that involved pacing myself before the great hills and saving it all up for the end of the race and finishing strong. You know what they say about best laid plans?
Why is this race so difficult? It’s the elevation. I don’t mean like 6,000 ft. XTERRA Snow Valley race, where my lungs were pumping and nothing was happening, I mean like 1,980 feet of climb, 1,219 ft of which come in the form of 2 very large hills.
There are six distinct parts of this race, all of them beautiful, some of them brutally difficult.
The first mile, out to the river crossing is packed fire road. There is some up and down with little net gain in elevation. The participants in this race are all strong runners and in this first section, one has to watch carefully due to pace of the pack and the terrain. Ignore your Garmin and watch where you run.
The second phase of the race starts after the river crossing. Over the next half mile, the participants climb over 525 feet at a 10% grade. The climb is made harder by the fact that it wraps around the side of the hill, so that at least twice when I thought I was done, I turned corner and there was more climbing to do. For two years in a row, this one older lady has passed me on this segment of the course. She just power walks right on by with her arms pumping. God bless that woman; I hate her.
As one approaches the summit of the first hill, it gets a bit rocky as well as very steep. Keep the feet moving or risk sliding backwards.
The first water station is located at the summit, about 2.15 miles into the race. In my fantasy plan for the second running this race, I filled up my water bottle and blew out of there. In reality, my 46 year old body needed a minute to recover.
For about a quarter mile after the summit, there was steep downhill. Watch yourself on the grade, it’s easy to slip.
The third phase of the race takes place over the next 1.6 miles. The trail turns a beautiful shade of iron-red. There are lots of short up and down hills with winding trail, but nothing too taxing. It’s fast and it goes too too quickly. The 5K runners never see anything close to this beautiful in their race. At this point, the first hill had spread the pack, so there weren’t many runners around and, I had the whole place to myself. I could just run to my heart’s content. This is the part of the race that I remember and miss. I don’t know how to describe it other than to call if a perfect experience.
All good things, must come to an end,and so did this stretch of the race. The next phase of the race starts about mile 4.2. It involves approaching and then climbing what is known as the 1,000 Steps. If you click on the picture below, you will see the runners ahead of me as they make their approach.
I don’t know if there really are 1,000 steps, but I know that from mile 4.1 to 5.1 I climbed just short of 700 feet (13% grade). The image below present the scene at the bottom. Not too bad, but as you go further up, the steps become closer and the step ups get higher. One day, I hope to say that this section of the course is fun.
About a half mile before the steps, I paced behind the gentleman to the right in the picture above. He was running at a nice even clip and I figured that a nice steady pace would help me save energy for the climb. Let’s just say that tactic probably didn’t help much.
It might have been a hallucination, but as I came to the top of the 1,000 Steps, I saw an incredibly fit angel. It was somewhat surreal to see her dancing to music and cheering the runners on. It brought a smile to my face though. The picture below was taken at the top of the climb. For some perspective, the valley below is where the two pictures just above were taken.
As I passed the angel, I took a few breaths and started to take off, not remembering that the 1,000 steps introduced another 100 ft of climb. Imagine being at the end of a boxing match, thinking you had won and all of a sudden hearing the bell sound one more round. That last 100ft climb seemed much harder than it actually was.
Another water station was located at the summit. At this point, my upper quads felt like there were hotpacks inside them. But on the bright side, there was only about 4 miles left and nothing hurt.
The next phase was all down hill. I don’t mean easy, just down hill. The first mile was -13% grade. At one point, I had to reach out to grab onto a branch to slow myself down. Maintaining control was difficult. For lack of a better description, I found myself galloping down the hill. At the end of the second leg of downhill I was out of gas.
I had travelled and joked with another running during the previous 7 miles. This person had been passing me on the hills and I would then passing them on the flats. When we hit the last bit of flat, I had nothing in the tank and the other runner disappeared ahead of me.
The last mile of the race was frustrating run/walk, just like it was last year. I had to keep pushing in order to maintain even a slow jog. I approached the finish line slowly, completely on fumes. I got my medal and headed for the eggs that were made fresh for the runners.
The winner of the race finished in 1 hour, 7 minutes. The winner of my age bracket finished in 1 hour 22 mins. I finished in 2 hours 28 minutes at a pace of 13:55. Last year I finished a slightly shorter course in 2:28:04, at a 15:54 pace. Progress not perfection. Humility for sure. Both years I finished in the bottom 5% of the field. I know all the stuff about the victory is not in how fast your run, but having the courage to start, but the truth is, this course still kicked me in the gut and showed me the reality of where I am with my fitness. With 5 months left until my first marathon, I need to turn things up a bit.
I will do this race again next year and every year thereafter until they have to fly me off of it in a helicopter.