Here is a recap from my friend Manny, otherwise known as Chewy (due to his mid-run grunts). We ran the majority of this race together, helping each other along the way. He has guest-posted before and I’m happy to have him here again.

Redwood Park 50k:  September 5, 2009

This was just a glorious run — 7:30 hours for all of us. It was painful, it was hilly (mountainous is a better word), and it was simply one of those experiences that you live for and are thankful you can do and that you accomplished. Lori, Chris, Brian (that’s Pavement Runner) and I are the luckiest people to have done this together.

OK, enough of the sappy intro — but really, the views were unbelievable, both from the top of the mountains (there was a 4,500 foot ascent overall), to the redwood trees covering you, to the un-runnable steep mountain climbs over rocks, ravines and tree branches. As steep as the climbs, the descents were just as steep, many only walkable and not runnable. The weather was great, although hot from about 1 to 3 in the afternoon in the areas where there was no tree canopy. Each of us approached this run with the same attitude — we just wanted to finish and we didn’t care about the time (it doesn’t even bother me that the finisher of the 50km finished in 4 hours plus). It was a very liberating feeling to take the day and do this and nothing else.

The highlights:

  1. Brian ate a bug at mile 23 (Brian and I know the exact moment because we ran together and he shouted it out).
  2. Lori fell at around mile 24, but she picked herself up and kept going. No way was this going to stop her.
  3. Chris, played boy scout, leaving a perfect trail marker at around mile 25 (which Brian and I saw) because one of the official trail markers was missing, then ran back a mile to put a real trail marker there — bare chested of course (is he hot or what?) and he did it with a ham string pull from earlier in the week.
  4. I hit the wall from mile 19 to 22 and Brian, bless his heart, stuck with me even when I almost quit. I recovered around mile 24 and was a monster on the down stretches. Finally, the huge plastic bag of bagels behind the Chabot science museum that we had to run by twice — what was that about?

The trails were dry and dirty. How dirty? Not only are my running shoes ruined with dirt, but I took a 30 minute shower just to scrape the dirt off my legs, my toes, my back. We were dirty Lori says she’s still sneezing up dirt today, a day after the race. The aid stations were great as usual — boiled potatoes with salt, beef jerky, watermelon, oranges, M&Ms, peanut butter jelly sandwiches, cheese fish things, jelly beans, cold drinks and ice. Thank God for Coca Cola. I must have had 3 cans during the race, plus another 4 bottles of water and sports drink.

And what about the race itself. Chris and Lori ran together, and Brian and I ran together pretty much throughout the race. The race started promptly at 8:30 a.m. and the weather was slightly overcast and cool (in the 60s). It warmed up over the course of the day. A little more than 100 people signed up for the 50km, and we were joined by another 150 or so doing a 30km run (18 miles) and another 150 or so doing the 10 km. Those running the 10km started off on their own loop and the 30k and 50k runners started out on their loop. The 50km race was a 20 km loop followed by a 10km loop and then a repeat of the 20Km loop. The 20km loop was what we all expected, although it starts out with a monster climb, which most of us walked, and then does what you expect, hills followed by drops, with some flat areas and beautiful tree covers, ending with a real steep descent. The views from the top of the Oakland Hills (and there was still fog on top in the morning) were breathtaking and they were even more breathtaking the second time around. I think we all got lulled into the first 20km loop thinking the 10km loop would bring a little respite and that we could coast through the 10km part and regroup for a victory lap back around the 20km — boy were we wrong. That 10km was some of the toughest hills any of us had ever seen — many were not runnable and it hurt just to climb it and then you really had to watch your footing as the drop off from the trail was dangerous and steep. There were a lot of young couples that seemed to have signed up for the 10K as a stand alone run. I can just imagine some guy telling his date, how about we do a simple 10k in Redwood Park on Saturday morning — it should be fun. Boy, do I think they had a rude awakening. Ok, but the entire time in that loop I kept saying that the redwood tree canopy was simply awe inspiring. The trees were huge and I felt lucky to be able to experience that.

Brian and I caught up with Lori and Chris at the aid station after mile 18 (after finishing the 10km loop), and I think we all felt OK, although it was tempting to drop out there and call it a day, but we still had another 2.5 hours to go to cover another 12 miles. The last 20km loop was challenging, especially for me. I cramped at the first hill, and Dr. Brian advised me that he had the same thing happen to him at Big Sur. I relaxed and it did go away, but I have to tell you, you use muscles on the hill climbs that you just don’t use — and believe me I don’t use those inner thigh muscles (not even in during sex), and that thigh machine at the gym doesn’t even come close (there I go, digressing again, as Tom would say). It was hotter as well the second time around, especially out in the open. Brian and I got lost and took a real steep hill up to mile 23 or so. We almost got lost the first time on the 20km loop as we were in the zone and almost ran by a marker. Eagle-eyes Manny, here, saw the marker and prevented us from going down the wrong hill (other people, not so much).

That brings up the trail makers. For the most part, the trail was marked very well, and we could tell which turns to take. As the day wore on, we all got a little loopy and you had to look out for the markings. Both Chris and Brian, being navigators, took the trail course hand out at the beginning of the race (not laminated as Brian would have wanted), and that did save us a couple of times. As I have said before, this is the beauty of trail running — there are no mile markers, no time clocks, no police escorts closing streets so you don’t get lost, no cars, and very few other people — there are many long stretches where its just you and your partner running together. Its you and the challenge of the outdoors – hills, rocks, narrow trails, logs and branches fallen over the trails, critters scattering across the trails, horse manure, and you simply lose any sense of time and, often, place, and understand that you have trained and you can endure this, and that you will make it through the race, so just enjoy it, no matter what happens to you. But, definitely watch your footing.

We all got into a certain rhythm, and the 9 and 1, or 5 and 1, routine was quickly ditched and we just ran until we hit a hill or felt tired, and then walked and then ran. The pace was comfortable. I think we all agree that the distance was not the issue — we were all trained for the endurance run, the challenge was the difficulty of the steep mountainous inclines. It was difficult to get into a rhythm and switch back between the muscles needed to walk and climb and those needed to run. But this was a glorious day, and to think this gorgeous park, with hidden trails and wonderful redwood trees, is right in our back yard in the Oakland hills. We passed several small groups of trail hikers, many with dogs, a few mountain bikers, and one person on a huge horse.

People often ask: “What do you think about for 7 plus hours when you run?” I have to tell you, you think about putting your foot in front of you, standing straight, looking at the horizon, feeling your body and the signals it is sending you, maintaining the hydration and salt and energy intake, and then you relax and think about anything and nothing. You relive things, you wonder about your life and where you are in the scheme of things, you search out a song in your head, and you never get depressed because of the natural beauty around you, and the high you feel from running. It gets reduced to something simple and yet beautiful.

We all finished within a few minutes of each other, and at the finish were Sherlin, Gard and yes, even my family, including Shmuel (my son), Leslie and Leslie’s brother Scott (with Leslie mumbling under her breath about why I couldn’t have stuck to the schedule and gotten there earlier). Thanks also to Joseph (some of you may remember him from the SF Aids Marathon training program or Lifecycle) for picking up Lori and Chris at BART and getting them to the park, and then being there at the end as well, and thanks to Paul for coming out to see us off.

Would we all do an ultra again? You bet. We may not do this one again. This one was definitely harder than Woodside. As they say at Pacific Coast Trails, it’s “serious fun.”

Next up for some members of our training group is: Berlin Marathon, the Chicago Marathon, then New York and then possibly Sacramento CIM. And, let’s not forget the big handsome stud, Larry, going for a triple marathon at the end of September. There are probably some more challenges in between.

This is the best group ever.