Twin Mountain, around which we would run twice.
As advertised, this race is tough. I arrived at the picnic area, which served as race HQ, fully expecting a fun morning pounding dirt. The weather had been so mild, there was no possible way we would be dealing with thigh-deep snow. Correct. But plodding, slipping and sliding through knee-deep snow still kicks your butt, especially when you've got to do it for 11-12 miles, up and down steep mountain terrain.
I showed up to the check-in in nothing but a skimpy pair of split running shorts, a tech T-shirt and a light wind jacket. After being ridiculed by half those already there, I decided I might be better off with a little more coverage and proceeded to head back to the car to slip on a pair of jogging pants. Perhaps the conditions weren't going to be quite as pleasurable as I had imagined.
To be fair the first half of the loop featured plenty of snow, but it would probably best be described as patchy. Certainly, the one to two miles of forest road leading to the trail were a pleasure to run. Once hitting the trail proper things became a little more treacherous, but the snow was still manageable, only sinking to ankle deep in places.
In a moment of synchronized trail magic, one of the guys I was running with hit a patch of ice and proceeded to eat snow. I had verbalized about half my sympathetic response to his fall before I too hit the ice, barely avoiding a face plant by pulling off a high-difficulty, mid-air twist to let my back take the blow. I did a 180 back spin before jumping back up to get on with the task at hand. Nothing but a slightly bruised ego, it turns out.
The real test began at the "Fence Climb," which while short - probably no more than a few hundred meters - was about as close to vertical as you can get while still being able to maintain a run. Throw in slick, loose snow and all of sudden a few hundred meters feels more like a mile: two steps forward, one step back all the way to the top. By this time, I was in a group of three: myself, the 11-mile winner and Phil Kochik, another 22-mile guy. Chatting with my running partner for the day, I learned that Phil is a former winner of the Miwok 100k, a premier and highly competitive California race, and was fifth at Western States 100, the grandaddy of them all, in '07.
I knew I was in good company when he pulled away from me on the Fence Climb, but was surprised to be in that kind of company in such a small race. Game on.
The back side, and last five to six miles of the loop was pure grind. The snow relented in exposed spots for no more than a few hundred meters, but other than that it was nothing but trudging for miles on end. Sinking ankle to knee deep in snow, while trying to maintain forward momentum is about as tiring as it gets.
However, it wasn't all grind. After the turn onto the "Devil's Loop" there was a fun 300-400 ft steep and twisty drop through untouched knee-deep snow. The strategy here was to high step and trust that there was nothing malicious and jagged in wait under the snow. I hit one tree stump on the way down, but was able to negotiate it without taking a spill.
Once down, it was just a question of persevering and slogging. The climb back up and out of the Devil's Loop was a nasty surprise, and again Phil gapped me a bit on the climb. We dropped the 11-mile runner somewhere on this section, soon after hole-punching our race bibs to prove we had completed the loop.
Just when it seemed the torture would never end, the snow dissipated to reveal longer and longer stretches of dirt. Never have I been so happy to see dirt. Before long, I caught a glimpse of my yellow car through the trees and knew the start/finish was close. After fueling up for the second loop, Phil and I settled into a groove up the forest road and continued to pace off each other all the way through the never-ending second loop, which we finally completed for a total run time of 3:43 (1:47, 3 minute aid stop, 1:53). A course record by 61 minutes, I was later told. Phew!
This is a fun and informal event, and big kudos goes to race organizers, Alec and Kathy Muthing, who put this torture on free of charge. Included in your entry fee is a well-marked course and post-race food superior to that received at events that have cost me upwards of 70 bucks...oh, and there was (good) beer on hand too.
Rounding out a fun morning was news from Alec that I had won a pair of Wind Mitts, which he and Kathy produce, in the post-11-mile raffle. Result!
A great start to the year, and encouraging that I could hang with such an accomplished runner.
I could still manage a smile, post-race