Now I know why runners would respond with a slight cringe or a forceful “good luck on the hills” when I told them I’d signed up for the NorCal 10 mile race up in Redding CA. It’s a toughie. But what the course lacks in speed, it more than makes up for in scenery and atmosphere. The race primarily follows a paved bike trail along a river (which makes any unknowing runner assume it should be flat) and is set against a picturesque backdrop of snow-capped mountains in the distance. Just to add to the atmosphere, a plethora of birds chirping fills the air. It’s pretty darn beautiful and even as I was pushing near my lactate threshold in the race, it was hard not to appreciate the nature around me. I also “appreciated” the sun which bore down on us and brought temps up into the 70s for the race.
It turns out that Redding is a long drive up from the bay area. I left San Francisco just before 4pm on Friday and after picking up a few friends along the way for the fun road-trip, we didn’t arrive until 9pm. I have never been so thrilled to hit the hay before 10pm. I slept like a log but when the alarm went off, I was still exhausted. Even after a warm up, some strides and a few drills, I still felt sleepy. But before I knew it, I was squeezed in at the start line with 300 other runners who had probably also all driven here from faraway lands. Whether or not I was ready, the gun was going off.
My goal for the race was to break 70 minutes. My first mile was dead-on target, but boy did it feel hard. Mile 2 was the hardest mentally for the race. We started running some smooth rolling hills. “Ah, is this what all the “hill” fuss was about?” I thought to myself. But no sooner had I thought that (and shot myself in the foot) than the first real climb practically smacked me in the face. These hills may not have been long, but dang they were steep. Just as I crested one, I saw the next… And then I looked up above at the top of the ridge to see the leaders were way up there. Yikes. Charging up the hill, I passed some people and surprisingly, I started waking up a little. Next, we entered a neighborhood which is mostly flat (thank you!) but is completely unprotected from the (now blazing) sun. Just after the halfway mark, I took a GU and washed it down at the water station. I was thrilled that the water station didn’t have any congestion and I could hit it without breaking my stride.
By mile 6, we were back into the hills. Steep up…. steep down… steep up…. steep down. The trail had a lot of twisty turns, so I tried to cut the tangents as best I could. It occurred to me that no one had passed me since the first mile or two so I made it my mission not to break that trend for the rest of the race. So I picked it up a little. I spotted runners ahead and one-by-one worked to catch up to them. At mile 9.5, as I crossed the final bridge, I heard footsteps behind me and, determined not to let someone out-kick me, I pushed the pace a little more. Then I realized it was one of my friends. Nothing like a little friendly competition to light a fire under me! She has a solid finishing kick, so I pushed harder. She pushed harder. I managed to hold her off, crossing just ahead of her. She was just what I needed to push me at the end and she said that I was her carrot in the last mile as well.
In the end, I didn’t reach my goal of breaking 70 minutes which was a bit of a letdown. But I did push my limits on hard course, didn’t let anyone to pass me for the last 8 miles and somehow managed to walk away with my first negative split race. So I’ll take it.
Then just to wrap up a great road-trip weekend with my friends, we hit a vineyard on the way home and relaxed in the sunshine with some wine and good eats. Not a bad way to spend the weekend. It’s a great reminder that even if I don’t always run a goal time, I sure can have a good time. Sometimes that simply means more anyhow.
Love the run.