This morning I headed to the Lake Hughes Community Center for the “Leona Valley Trail Races” half marathon. I have never run a half marathon trail race before. I have run the High Desert Runners summer XC races for years – at around 3 miles. I have also run the Fountain to Falls partially trail race of around 7 miles. So, this would be my longest race on dirt roads and trails, up and down significant hills.
The Leona Valley Trail Race Half Marathon starts at around 3300 ft elevation. The first 2.7 miles are up a pretty steep hill climbing to around 4100 ft elvation. My plan was not to push it too much up this first hill and then see what would happen after that. As the race started, I noticed that I was feeling “light.” The hill was steep and long, but it did not seem to be any where near as difficult as it had been the last couple of weeks. Clay started with me for a bit, but then he started to slowly pull ahead. A few others also pulled by me during these first couple of miles. Near as I can tell I was the 11th person to the top of the hill and it took me 27:08 to reach the crest.
The race drops down about a half mile to an intersection area where they had a water station set up. The only runners I saw ahead of me where a guy and a lady. The guy accelerated past the lady and started to pull away. I also accelerated and was able to catch the lady going down hill. At the water station I paused long enough to down 2 half filled cups of water – 10-12 oz total. Then I headed off to the north onto the Pacific Crest Trail. Almost right away I caught up with the guy and we caught up with another guy. After a few minutes they both yielded the trail and let me by. The trail is much closer to level through this section and it is fun to run. The two dropped back and out of earshot right away. A mile or so later, I spotted a group of 3 more runners still quite a bit ahead of me. The 2nd or 3rd time I noticed them I could see that Clay was one of them. I only saw them, though, when the trail went in and back out along the hill. They would be heading out the far side as I headed in. Whenever there was a good section of trail I really tried to accelerate through it. I glanced at my watch from time to time and noticed some paces that were 6 something. I really could not look often though because my footing on the trail demanded all of my attention.
Somewhere after the 6 mile mark I saw the leaders coming back at me. Karl was in the lead with a guy who looked to be in his early 20s. A minute or so behind him was another guy, and then 2 more. I was just about at the highway, turn around when Clay and the 2 others headed back out past me. I downed a cup of water, then another, then a goo, then one more cup of water. I started back out and noted by time was about 56 minutes.
Looking at the elevation profile above I am surprised to see that the turn around is actually at a lower elevation that the start of the race. We had dropped from 4100 all the way down to 3000 ft!. So, now began the long climb back up. I figured that Clay and his two comrades would pull away from me as they had on the first hill. As the first couple of miles, the steepest, went by though I could see that 1 of the guys was not that far ahead of me and that Clay was not that far in front of him. Later I noted that the other guy was now ahead of Clay and that I was gaining. When I got to that more level middle section I closed the gap. I caught Clay as Clay caught the other guy. The other guy and Clay yielded and we reversed position. I jumped from 9th to 7th. A minute later we were at the water station.
I downed to glasses of water as Clay drank from his bottle and the two of us started up the last half mile climb together. The other guy seemed to stay at the station a while because I never saw him again. Clay pulled ahead going up the steepest part of the hill but as it leveled off near the top I caught back up. We got to the top, ready for the 2.7 mile descent to the finish running shoulder to shoulder. I noticed that there was another guy 50-100 meters up ahead. I also figured that if I were to have any shot at beating Clay I would have to try to pull ahead WAY before the finish. Clay has way to much kick for me.
So I gave it all I had as soon as there was down hill. Clay went along for a while but slowly I earned a step or two and then Clay seemed to drop back. I moved steadily closer to the other guy. With about a mile to go I was within 30-50 feet of him. Now we were passing slow 5K runners that were going up the hill. They would shout out encouragement to each of us. My chance of sneaking up on him was gone. At about a mile to go, he sped up and I quit gaining on him. After another half or so I realized I was slowly pulling ahead. I had been going full throttle for a couple miles now. I had no more. I passed Charles Dempsey who was walking up the road and he said there were 2 guys about 10s ahead of me, but I could not see them around the curve. There was nothing I could do but run hard in to the finish.
Karl had challenged me to break 2 hours, so that was one of my goals. My unofficial time was 1:55:03. My Garmin had the course pretty long – 13.8 miles. I have not seen official results yet, but I figure I finished in 7th place overall. Looking at the others afterward, I didn’t figure that any of the others were Masters runners! Karl stayed with the young guy until they began their descent to the finish. The young guy won and Karl was 2nd place. I know that Karl was happy with his finish and with his time which was several minutes faster than last year’s 1:47:34 (also 2nd place.) I looked at last years results to see Clay’s time and he is not there. Hmmmm, I thought Clay ran this last year? I see Raymond Wong ran it (2:12)
Afterwards Clay took some pictures. This is a couple of them. There are more on his site…
Afterwards, Karl, Clay and I walked a half mile or so up the road to wait for Janet. She ran by looking strong. We ran back down the road as our cool down. I had tightened up and it was difficult to start but I quickly loosened up and I sped up and caught her. I ran along with her for just a bit and then sent her off to her finish!
Overall, I am very pleased with how I ran today and with how my body felt doing it. My right calf is probably going to be sore, but otherwise I will likely recover quickly and be good to go. The Huntington Beach Distance Derby is only 3 weeks away!
Oh, if you are interested, here is a link to the Training Peaks entry with all the gory details..
and finally, if you have read this far, I found the following splits pretty interesting. There were some sub 7 minute miles out there!