Race Review: XTERRA Black Mountain 16K Trail Run 2014

Summary: Good event.  Difficult climbs and descents.  Single Track running, so be able to keep up.

Key Information

Race Name XTERRA Black Mountain Trail
Location Black Mountain Regional Park in the northern San Diego
Elevation Profile Lots of Hills both big and small
Organization Excellent
Terrain Trail.   Some of it single track early in the race
Water Stations Enough, but carrying water and gels
Highlights The scenery
Other Events 5K
Good for Beginners? Neither the 5K  nor the 16K are good for beginners because of the steep hills.

Introduction

I have wanted to run this race for about 4 years now.  Unfortunately, my favorite trail race, the Mission Gorge Trail Run is always about 3-4 weeks prior to this event and I have never really wanted to make the drive down to San Diego on consecutive months (how un-California of me).

This training cycle in preparation for the Big Sur Marathon did not according to plan.  Most of the preparation races I planned on running were either cancelled due to weather or I skipped because of injury or family commitments.   Just three weeks before this race knee/calf problems forced me to limp home 3 miles into a long run. The most I had run was a quarter-mile down the block, just days before this race.  I had concerns, but I knew this 9+ mile race would be a good test for me.  If I couldn’t finish, I shouldn’t even try the more difficult Big Sur Marathon two weeks later.

Elevation Profile
My mistaken perception of this race was that it was flat with a pretty intense downhill the first few miles and a bear of a hill at the end.   I was right about the beginning and the end.   Even looking at the graphic below, I didn’t fully appreciate how many rolling hills there were during the 16 kilometers.

The 16K Elevation Profile
The 16K Elevation Profile

The Trail

San Diego trails are beautiful, let’s get that clear right off the bat.  If you have the opportunity, you should try to run them. As we took off out of the gate I was remembered how much I love running on God’s unpaved roads.

The First Quarter Mile
The First Quarter Mile

The first mile of the race was a bit crowded, but in a good way.  Trail runners are fun and delightful.  They tend to be a little more tuned in to their surroundings, mostly because we are all conscious of the trail and where our next footfall should land.

Single Track, Keep Up or Step to the Side
Single Track, Downhill.  Keep Up or Step to the Side

The race turned quickly to single track.  This meant falling into line with the other runners and running about 2 minutes/mile faster than I had intended for the first two miles or so.   Luckily, the knee and the calf felt great!  This stretch of pack running was probably the highlight of the race for me.    I thought of my friend SugarMagnolia during this part of the race, as she had trepidation during the downhills of Mission Gorge.   I smiled as I recalled showing her how to run down the hills Gagnam Style.  I missed my running buddy that day.

IMG_4313
Hills with Awesome Trails

At Mile 3, we had to make a transition from trail through a community and back onto the trail.  It was there, that my right calf, for lack of a better term charlie-horsed and locked up tighter than a Miser’s wallet.  Unfortunately, I was running down a steep hill at this point.  If you have ever seen a baseball player stain a quad or a calf as they ran down the first baseline, that was what I looked like running down this hill. I hobbled off the tail and ended up rolling my calf with a huge rock.  Most of the race passed me while I tried to work this out.

HILL!
Lonely at the back of the pack

With six miles ahead of me, I kept going.  I sure as hell wasn’t going to wait for Search & Rescue to give me a ride back to the start line.

Pretty much the rest of the race looked like the image above.  There were two runners ahead of me and I hobbled after them the best I could.   I passed the guy in front of me at the top of a hill after about a mile.    The runner you see going up the hill, well I chased her all the way to the end.  I was able to get within 15 feet of her at mile 6, but I never caught her.

What I thought was the River Crossing (above) and What Actually was the crossing (Below)
What I thought was the River Crossing (above) and What The River Crossing Actually was  (Below)

My wife and I have a running joke that it’s not a real XTERRA race if your feet don’t get wet.  I knew there was a river crossing, and when I came across it, I was a little bit disappointed.  I put my foot in the mud as a symbolic gesture.   About a mile up the road, I came to the real river crossing, which was about 17 inches deep and took about 4 strides to get through.   My feet were soaked, but I was happy to partake of the ceremonial bathing of the feet.

The Hill at the End
The Hill at the End and the Runner I had been Chasing

The hill at the end of the run was an absolute bear.  I felt my age and my lack of training. The race crew had announced that due to some new development near the park they had to reroute the race at the end so rather than the steep quad-killing hill at the end, there was an even more steep, quad-killing hill.   I just kept telling myself that it was good warm up for Big Sur, which would have similar hills.

My calf hurt and my quads were exhausted; I swear I checked my Garmin every 50 to 75 feet.  Normally on a steep hill like that, I will sometimes walk backwards to get some relief, but my calf wouldn’t support me walking uphill backwards. I tried to sprint near the end, but truth is I hobbled across the finish line.

Finished!
Finished!

I consider myself neither a fast runner nor a particularly good one.  What I am is stubborn with boarderline pig-headed tendencies.   My conditioning is the poorest it’s been in a few years.  This race was humbling.   The fact that I hadn’t run much in the weeks leading up to it was a small consolation.

After the race I caught up with the woman who I had been chasing for 6 miles.   Turns out she saw me rolling my calf at mile 3 and I was motivating her to keep going,  Apparently she didn’t want to be passed by the guy hobbling the race.   I guess that was good to know.

One could also look at this race and say, that for the second time in a month, I couldn’t complete a 3 mile run without calf problems.  I would ignore such a person.   It’s important to state goals and tasks clearly.   I told myself that if I finished this race, I was going to run Big Sur.   I finished the race with some minor problems, but I finished.   Life is always going to bring us problems.  There will always be limitations, some external, some internal.  What are you going to do?  Wait for Search & Rescue to bring you home?

XTerra Black Mountain Trail Run
Press On
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Race Review: XTERRA Black Mountain 16K Trail Run 2014

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