A cool wind blew fog through the trees at Inspiration Point, and many of the 300 runners kept their sweats on until the last possible moment. Last year the Tilden Tough Ten was held in somewhat unpleasant heat, but we congregated for this year’s race on Sunday in decidedly different conditions. A range of running apparel was on view, with many opting for long sleeves or multiple layers. I crossed my fingers and wore singlet and shorts, my only nod to the conditions being woollen gloves. There was to be no messing around. I was on a mission and I had a plan.
The plan, discussed in a previous post, was basically to take things very easy for the first four miles, get more aggressive on the steep trail section in miles five and six, then go fast for the remaining four miles of hilly asphalt. The mission was to complete all this in under 80 minutes to earn a sub-80 shirt. This was the only award I could reasonably expect since this race draws a very deep talent pool, particularly in my age group.
“Taking it easy” basically meant averaging around 7:30 for the first four, in anticipation of the next two miles being considerably slower. I had figured that if the average pace displayed by my Garmin was no worse than 8:15 by mile six I would have enough speed to retrieve an 8:00 average by the finish. Using the GPS in this fashion allowed me to keep an idea of my progress without having to do any fancy calculations. However, there was a snag with this approach that I should have foreseen. More of that later.
I joined a group sheltering in the lee of the rest rooms, and a vaguely familiar guy in glasses came up and said Hello. “Are you Jim? I read your blog! It’s nice to meet someone famous.” He went on to say some nice things about it. It was only later that I realized that I had been talking to Jeff Teeters, who really is famous in Bay Area running circles. Nice guy.
We started on the initial short uphill, passing over the timing mats being used for the first time in this race, then commenced a longish downhill. Look at the pace – Easy does it! Holding things to 7:30 felt really easy at this point, like starting a marathon. Temperature-wise things were OK too, although we were still sheltered by trees in this area. I took an interest in the other runners, particularly the ones passing me. I know that this course punishes over-aggressive early pacing, and mused about seeing many of these these people again later. I was right about that. Pace was showing 7:20 at the first mile marker, OK for this mostly downhill mile. I ran this first mile sub-7 last year, which was way too fast. The next two miles rolled along uneventfully (7:33, 7:29). Some of the volunteers at the first aid station looked decidedly chilly. I was quite comfortable by comparison, despite being exposed to the crosswind on the open hillside now. The fog grew thicker, blowing up the hillside in clumps at considerable speed. Was there a tailwind component? Not sure. Someone was blowing a whistle up ahead, and an aid station appeared through the murk. Volunteers standing downwind of a truck with outheld cups. Thanks guys and gals. I don’t envy you at all, standing out here in this soup waiting for a bunch of runners to appear. For the half-mile uphill leading to the end of the asphalt I started to exert myself a little, and passed a runner. It still didn’t feel much like a race yet. At the end of the asphalt the pace so far was showing 7:35, which was satisfactory. Now to see haw fast I could manage the dirt section.
I passed two more runners on the rollers just as the leaders passed in the other direction. They looked impressive. Then came the steep downhills, skidding a little in my road shoes but staying in control thanks to to some patches of grass at the edge of the trail. One section here had been chewed up by cow hooves before hardening in the warm weather. It had smoothed out a little in the two weeks since we previewed the course, but still demanded attention. More places gained here. We reached the turnaround and started back up the hill. It was hard to pass anyone here due to the mass of runners coming the other way, but I used occasional gaps like an impatient sportscar driver on a crowded road. On the steepest section I did get somewhat stuck behind one runner and started to power-walk, keeping pace with his short uphill jog. A gap opened and I walked around him. He seemed somewhat startled by this and stated to walk too. A couple of guys ahead were walking as well, and I stated to run again as the slope lessened, passing them also. The strategy seemed to be working.
The pace display was at 7:59 when I regained the asphalt, which was cheering. I had covered the two dirt miles in 17:36, rather faster than I had allowed for. The sub-80 shirt, while not yet in the bag, was looking within reach. After the next downhill the pace showed 7:56, and it stayed within a second of that figure. The gloves were now in my waistband, this was becoming warm work and I was very glad I had not worn long sleeves. I picked off an occasional runner. There was quite a headwind now and it seemed the majority of people in my neighbourhood were slowing down. Except for one. “Good Job” said a young woman who cruised past. For a moment I wondered if I could speed up and stay in contact with her, but she was going at quite a clip and why take the risk? It looked like my goal was in the bag.
But was it? I had noticed that the Garmin’s mile splits were coming in ahead of the actual markers, but presumed that the difference was not significant. At 7:57 pace, I was 3 seconds per mile ahead, 30 seconds in 10 miles which seemed like a decent cushion. In fact the Garmin was optimistic by 2%, which amounted to 5 seconds a mile. I did not know it but I was falling behind schedule. I plugged up the short steep hill (dubbed “Puke Hill” by Karen A), reached the 9 mile marker, and switched to the elapsed time display. Hey wait a minute, I do not seem to have as much time as I thought to do this last mile. Better speed up! So I did. I passed another runner, then the only two I could see were a seemingly unattainable distance ahead. Here was the half-mile pole. I checked the time. Argh! 1:16:32. I have less than 3.5 minutes to cover the next half mile, uphill! I turned on the jets, and was pleasantly surprised to find that I still had jets at this point. Unlike the closing miles of a marathon, which to tell the truth are hard to enjoy, it was now quite pleasurable to be going all out. Those two guys were duly reeled in, and I crested the final hill. Someone called out “Go Jim!” as I accelerated towards the line and used most of the chute to stop. While a volunteer was ripping my tag I remembered to press the Garmin’s stop button. 1:20:04. Had it been four seconds since I crossed the line? The timer walked over. “You are the last sub-80”. Welcome words indeed, although I later discovered that my chip time was 1:20:00.22. Such precision in a trail race! I wish I had started my final charge maybe half a second earlier!
But I’ll keep the shirt. I beat last year’s time by 7:08. Yes it was hot last year, but still!
Ivan Medina, who won by 23 seconds in 0:59:05, (Sub-60 shirt!) was a not-very-close second when I saw him at the turnaround, so it appears that conservative early pacing worked for him too. And Jeff Teeters? He was 6th overall, and won my age group (50-59) in 1:04:21. I actually came in the bottom half of this group, 15th out of 26. Sheesh, tough crowd!