The “Dick Barton Memorial Woodminster XC Race” is, despite the name, a trail race. It’s the third race in the East Bay Triple Crown with the Tilden and Lake Chabot avents. I had not raced it before but had run the course more than once, most recently a week before. There was some uncertainty about how I would get on though, since I have contracted Plantar Faciitis in my right foot. This does not seem to be worried by slow running, but going hard can induce a flareup. So the plan was to take it relatively easily, to the extent possible on this course. Some plan!
“I’ve heard this one is tougher than Chabot, Is it?” asked Deborah of the womens team. “Um well, it’s only nine miles, and err the descents are not too bad, except for the one at the end.” She did not seem to find this too reassuring. This race gets it’s reputation from the uphills, in particular the one in he second half known as the Woodmonster.
The start was handicapped in six groups, slowest first, and I got the raw end of this deal. I was just two weeks from leaving the 45-54 age category, so started just 8 minutes ahead of scratch. All of the women started ahead of me, including speedy Veronica. Bye, see you at the finish I expect.
We started off across the meadow and ran into the redwoods along a gently rolling fire trail, trending downhill. Despite having felt slow in my warmup, I was going a little fast here, about 10K pace according to the Garmin data. I got this under control and settled into the back half of the group in anticipation of the trail narrowing. After a few minutes we commenced the first big uphill. This consisted of sections of runnable trail stabilized with occasional railroad ties, interspersed with steeper rocky sections. It was wide enough to pass in most places, and I did get passed. That was OK, this was not the stage to indulge in individual races. One young blonde guy I thought was overdoing it and wondered if I would be passing him later.
Near the top of the hill there was an easy up grade that was so narrow that my shoulders were brushing the vegetation on both sides. At this point I caught the tail end runner of the previous group and settled down to his pace. No passing here. Suddenly there was heavy breathing behind. I has also been caught. We quickly emerged onto a wider trail, passed each other, and settled into a faster pace. We soon crossed the road into Redwood Park and were running along the West Ridge trail on our recovering legs towards Skyline Gate, where the first aid station was. A dog walker on the trail remarked to her friend ‘There do seem to be a lot of runners today, Perhaps we shold have gone the other way.” I had downed two bottles of Gatorade before leaving the house, but I still drank two cups at the aid station.
Good thing too. It was more open on the East Ridge trail, the sun was out, and things were warming up. I started to encounter people I knew. “Hi Laurie”. “Go get ’em, Jim”. Blond guy was a short distance in front, going at a good pace. Plenty of time yet to catch him. We turned right and commenced a steep descent back into the forest at about half marathon pace. There were footsteps coming up behind. Without looking round I stayed right and said “You Go”. A guy in a red shirt came by. “That’s easy for you to say. I’ve been slowly catching you for quite a while now. Now I need to find someone else to follow!” I pointed at blond guy. “Try him, he’s going at my speed” but he soon passed him too. We ran alongside a stream along the valley floor. Red shirt seemed to be slowing a bit but I stayed behind, conserving energy for the climb to come. We caught up with red shirt, who was walking and blowing his nose. “Looks like you will have the fun of reeling me in again” I remarked as he started running again. It turned out that red shirt and blonde guy knew each other and introductions were made, which I quickly forgot. These trail runners are a garrulous lot. “So when do we get to the bit where we walk?” asked red shirt. “That’s coming quite shortly” I reassured him. We jumped over a small stream and commenced up a steepening slope, started walking. “Welcome to the Woodmonster!”
We were in a cluster of half a dozen walkers, and a fast guy coming from behind ran past us. “I don’t think he got the memo about walking!” At this point my knowledge of the course came in handy. We could only see a few yards ahead along the winding trail, but I knew when the runnable sections were coming and started to run/walk ahead of the group. I soon came up behind fast guy, who was paying the price for running that early steep pitch. He looked strong though, pushing down on his knees as he climbed some natural steps created by tree roots, and I had no illusions about beating him. I just kept to my own pace and from time to time he looked back at me. Ah. staying ahead of me seemed to be his uphill motivator, and he stayed just a few yards ahead for much of the climb. We passed a woman who also kept looking back. She was walking a pitch that was marginally runnable, so of course I started running, saying “So where’s this hill they were warning us about?” This seemed to cheer her up. At the top the trail continued to be tricky for a while with plenty of rocks and tree roots, but the quality improved, we crossed back over the road and it was time to coax some more speed from the poor tired legs. Fast guy was no longer visible. We started a gradual descent along the hill face. I ran along the outer edge of the trail where it was smoothest, while comforting myself that if I fell down the hill face, my slide would soon be arrested by a tree. Still passing people on this wider section, then here was red shirt again. he’d caught me again on this faster going.
Only about two miles to go now, time to push somewhat. My legs were complaining, but managed to provide a brisk pace. One technical section to come. I had run this tricky downhill twice during my preview. It was infested with protruding tree roots, but was quite wide, giving a choice of lines. I set off down it gaining quickly on two runners in front, both of who had passed me earlier. Then I came up behind a slower runner, went around her, and was diverted into a section where the roots were six inches above trail level. I’m not sure how I avoided falling at this point. We were soon on smooth going again, and the twosome in front were running abreast, making it hard to pass. Maybe I could get them to speed up. “Erm, nearly there, guys”. They took the hint and accelerated, and within a minute we were back in the meadow with the finish line in sight. They outkicked me, unsurprisingly. I had been surging for a while now. 1:23:25. OK but not stellar. I’m still learning this trail stuff. The PF stayed in abeyance, allowing me a short run the next day.