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  • San Lorenzo River Trail Run Write Up (2013)

    Posted on June 24th, 2013 Michele Sun No comments

    “Getting to the top of any given mountain was considered much less important than how one got there: prestige was earned by tackling
    the most unforgiving routes with minimal equipment, in the boldest style imaginable.”
    Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air

    I signed up the CTR San Lorenzo River Trail Run (Half Marathon) sometimes back in May, and at that time my injury was about at level 8 on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the worst pain). So all this time I wasn’t really sure if I would be able to do it and finish it, but I did not want to miss my annual crossing river run. After completely off running for 2 months, I started doing easy 5 miles on Thur morning at Bayland. And on Saturday I practiced trail runs at Stevens Canyon (REI Trail and Zinfandel Trail) for the surface being softer, the terrain not too technical, the hills less intimidating, and most importantly my back didn’t hurt too much from running there. For this I need to thank Hans for being so patiently leading me and running with me in the woods at my snail pace, and he has been so encouraging!

    Friday June 21st, the night before the race I got scared!! It’s like mid-term exam that counts 30% of the grade, but I wasn’t certain that  I was fully prepared for it. On one hand I wanted to test my mental & physical strength, but at the same time I was afraid of flunking the test. I did not want to fail at this race. I worried that at this race I would discover that I have lost all my endurance, cardio and speed. I love this race so much and have been looking forward to it since last summer, but what if I could not finish it? I shared these fears with Max, and I think letting it out was a good thing because his words calmed my nerves and I started packing for the next morning. To kick-off summer season, I decided to bring GU Gel Mandarin Orange , GU Chomps Blueberry Pomegranate , and the most important race day essential — 32 oz of GU Brew Electrolytes.

    Sat June 22nd, woke up around 5:20am and I almost chickened out; I thought about telling Max that I could not do it. But I already knew the possible response — “you will be fine, and remember you are going to have fun out there.” Scared is good, so I will run wise, run strong, run conservative and pay attention!! Besides, “there is no better way to kick-off summer and  bring back what have been missing” — I convinced myself.  So before I knew it, I was in my running shorts, trail shoes, CamelBak, and all GU to go at 6:40am. Max said I looked more ready than him for this trail race :-)

    Same as last year, we took the winding highway 17 at dawn and I wasn’t in chatty mood or admiring the view out there because I still had some concerns about my lower back and hoped  that I wouldn’t have my first DNF today.  Ride was smooth and I dozed off, when I opened my eyes we were ready to switch onto Highway 1. And just like last year, Max also made a left turn too early but nevertheless he got us to the race start in time at the Harvey West Park in Santa Cruz. This race runs through 1500 year-old Coastal Redwoods at 300 foot tall, stream canyons, open meadows, pine and oak forests, and dry chaparral-covered ridges. Very interestingly that I remembered the course from start to the river crossing, but not much after the river except there would be big hills coming up immediately. I broke down the course in 3 parts in my head – 2 miles to the rail road, 2 miles to the river, and 2.5 miles to the turn around point, which weren’t exactly correct. Max fixed my memory problem of course!!

    When the RD Wendell speaking to the crowd about directions  and guidelines  through his megaphone, I saw Penny whom I had some very interesting conversations on Facebook recently about couple of my pictures, and I just love her sense of humor!! I admire her speed of course, but I adore her personality even more. She told me today  her 12 year old boy would be running his first 10K race, and I was  WOWed of course. Totally cool, isn’t it? Standing here among all these cool runners and the calmness on Max’s face gave me sense of comfort and I wasn’t afraid any more, and being showered by 100% California sunshine just made me genuinely happy! Max and I had discussed about our races this year — I had completed two marathons up to date while this would be his first marathon race for this year. We exchanged about our goals for today’s race, and mine was simply doing a long run at a beautiful trail. Last year Max won the first place overall and set the course record at 4:07, but he said ” I am not racing today.” Yeh yeh yeh, I waved his nonsense off because I know him better. I told him this is not a race for me, it’s just going to be a long run, and he said “I will be slow also” because the two trail races he did the last two weeks.

    At 8:00am, the race started and runners jogged for few hundred meters but could not go fast because the path was very narrow to begin with,  and it took a while for the pack to break off. The redwoods were really pretty and terrains were somehow challenging, and interesting for me to discover that how at ease I felt at trail runs now! No longer constantly looking at my own feet with head down, I could comfortably run without worrying about those rocks and huge tree roots. In fact, I found them to be the fun parts of trail runs, besides the beautiful lavish woods. Slowly I zigzagged up over 500 feet and I had to let those faster runners to pass me; I worried a little that I might be the last runner in the Half Marathon category, but soon that worry diminished because I got totally taken by the beauty of Santa Cruz Mountain. I really don’t have huge ego though I have my pride, and there is a fine line between ego and pride!

    Around mile 3 1/4 I crossed Highway 9 and entered into the forest even deeper, very nice, shady and cool. The course gradually winding down and declined, and at about mile 3 3/4 I came to the river crossing. Because of how slow I was this year, there were not many people at this point. Several runners were taking their shoes and socks off, but I just stepped right into the water.  I wondered if Paul  was running again this year? My good Karma running peer!! The water wasn’t as high as last year and my shirt didn’t get wet, and it’s not as icy either. Amazed to see how calm I was when facing the river crossing this time, and I was able to cross it without like walking on eggshells.  Later Max told me that his legs got confused a bit after coming out of that  river, because muscle needed to adjust to the cold and decide how to function. For me the challenging was crossing the second time, because my shoes started picking up so much sands that legs became very heavy and it’s an uphill ahead of me.

     Crossing River                   Out of River

    I have seen some runners posting nasty comments about  “street runners taking their shoes off” and I found that kind of comments totally unnecessary and very uncool. No one should feel more superior than anyone, regardless how slow or how fast;  we were all out here because we love to run and what a great experience to share this beautiful trail together!

    There were many forks on this trail, but the course was very clearly marked. Besides the usual yellow, pink and polka dots ribbons, this time CTR added the blue ribbons. At the start Wendell was joking that “Blue means BAD, wrong way”, so every time I came upon a blue ribbon at forks I could not help but to smile.  There was one sign really made me chuckled — the “Reduce Speed” was ironic, and don’t think runner like Max would slow down a bit for this sign. And that “No Dogs” would definitely amuse Ryan I am sure; I  absolutely have to tease him about chili only on his chili-dogs when MTB :-) The big hills came right after the river crossing just the way I had remembered, and the course continued up to over 700 feet at mile 4 3/4, and immediately followed by big dip around mile 5 1/4. From there it’s mostly smaller rolling hills till I came to the turn around/aid-station.

    The longest distance I have run since the injury was 8 mile last Sat, and at mile 6 1/2 here I wasn’t feeling tired at all. Thanks to Max’s reminder about “keep the endurance and speed will come later”, so I had been patiently doing cross trainings to prepare for this, and was happy that I still got the endurance part. I had my own GU Chomps and GU Brew Electrolyte, so not snacking like I used to be at aid-station. But did allow myself the indulgence of two Oreo cookies :-) Saw George with his friends from Louisiana, and this trail must be so pretty to their eyes! After pictures taken, I turned around and started running back. I had made some mental notes where I wanted to stop and take pictures, and I was in no hurry to finish this run. Again, this is not a race for me!

    I felt my hip locked up a bit, but legs and back were fine. Around mile 11, among deep woods, I saw this most glorious sunbeam shining down through thick oak leaves, and being completely mesmerized I could not move. I looked up and stared at the sunshine feeling embraced by this brightness of it’s glory. And I suddenly realized that “this is a RACE.” This is a race not against others, but a race against myself. A race to test my mental strength more than physical strength. A race to take calculated risk. A race about not giving up no matter how slow I am! And from there I started sprinting back toward the finish.

    I could see some civilization from the open ridge and it’s a little sad that the run would come to an end soon. The trail became very narrow with lots of rocks and tree roots again, so when I heard footsteps closing in fast  I turned side-way and let him passing me. Then I heard an “ouch”… he bumped his head to a branch. Grr.. it could have been me since it’s hard to avoid when running fast. I ran pass two girls who were walking, and they immediately were right on my tail closely. I found that irritating so I step aside when I found a spot with enough room for them to pass, but “nope” they wouldn’t!! They just continued to follow me closely and I eventually sped up in order to get rid off them. While they were trying to stick with me, one of the girls twisted her ankle and they had to stop then walk again.

    I was feeling good and strong, and soon heard cowbells and cheers  from the finish line. I happily exited the woods sprinting, and with a slight right turn I crossed the finish line. I started walking a race but finished running a race!!

    For the next twenty minutes or so I walked slowly back to our car because I could feel the hip was complaining, and I needed to loosen it up; standing idly at the finish area would not help. Once back in the car I peeled off my wet shirt, shorts and shoes with sands and pebbles, then tried my best to clean myself with baby-wipe. I remembered Max saying he would be slow, so I took my time to recollect how the race went. But when I walked back to the finish I saw him standing there, medals on neck. What?? He finished? So he did break his own record from last year and placed again! Bravo!! At the same time I felt really bad that I hadn’t been there for him, to witness his winning,  which had never happened before >.<

    On our way to Santa Cruz Brewery, I told Max about the tree roots, the little bridge, the glorious sunshine, the girls on my tail, and my self-discovery at mile 11..etc. It’s extra special to be able to share my thoughts and what moved me after today’s race, and it’s amazing that Max also  looked at this as a race against himself. When he realized the fast guy was about 10 minutes ahead of him, he readjusted his race strategy in his head and instead of throwing the towel  he then focused on beating his own time from last year. For both of us, this is not a race against others, but a race against ourselves. We both ran it hard and gave all we had.

    Injury really sucks — it hurts my confidence in many ways, and the possibility of re-injury frightens me. Hence I am really glad that I came and was able to finish this race, and I can’t think of a better way to come back from injury than running a race at beautiful trails with support of  a special friend. Sometimes friends may not realize the depth of a gift they’ve shared. And sometimes a gift does not become a treasure until long after it was received. I thank Max for sharing my moments of weakness, fear, frustration and coming back.

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