3 Sept 2006
I started worrying about the weather in July. Stupid really, it may be swelteringly hot in July (and it was, oh it was), but that has no bearing on Labor Day weekend. Then the fog rolled in and much of August had lovely cool cloudy mornings. But my glee at that was almost as foolish as dismay in July. Toward the end of August the fog dissolved, but the Thursday before the race it rolled back in, thick and cold. “Hurray!” I thought, “this might be meaningful.” Unfortunately it wasn’t, and today, Sunday, dawned with clear skies.
Pier to Peak is an extraordinary half marathon that starts at the wharf down by the beach and climbs (almost uninterruptedly) to the top of La Cumbra Peak, the highest in the area. 13.1 miles with ~4000ft elevation gain. Not a fast race, but a good race for me since I still don’t want to go too fast after my knee surgery.
The first mile is coastal plain, pretty flat (except for where we duck under the freeway), then it starts to climb. Slowly at first. By mile 3 (just beyond the Mission) we’re about 350ft above sea-level. At mile 4 the climb really begins — going up roughly 400ft/mile from now on — as we head up into the mountains.
I’m not sure how to train for this race. Unlike any other, it only goes upward. Lots of hill work seems the obvious answer, but Mike Swan warns me that he’s gotten his best times when he didn’t do much hill training.
Oh well, I like hills. I’ll do them anyway. I start doing one trail run a week (Kornell encourages me in this), lengthening it week by week. I continue to do tempo runs, a 12 mile run with 6 miles at pace, slowly building to a 6:30 pace. I do a long run, ~15miles and Martin and I push each other to a 7min pace. Three weeks before the race I organize a run up the last 9 miles of the race. This is the steep bit.
Now how to race it. The last time I ran it I went out too fast, and had to start walking about mile 8. I don’t want to repeat that. On the other hand I’m in better shape now than I was then. I figure I’ll start out with about a 7 minute mile pace for the first 3~4 and slow down to a 9min pace going upward. My training run told me I could hold to a 9 min pace (except for one 10 minute mile on the really steep bit above Flores Flats). That gets me to the top around 1:51. Well, we’ll see.
I set out from home a little after 6. The sun isn’t up yet; it’s twilight, but fairly dark. I have my bike lights on. By the time I get to my planned parking spot it’s light. There isn’t a good place to park (a bike with a backpack attached) near the start line, so I lock the bike about a mile away — I’ll do my stretches here and then take a warm up jog to the starting line. I’ve got about 25 minutes. No rush.
I dither about taking dark glasses. Hard really to believe the sun will be an issue when it hasn’t even risen yet. I decide against them. Probably a mistake, but not a big one.
I jog over to the start line. I feel stiff. Maybe I’ll be slower than I hoped. Hanging over the mountains on the other side of the bay are thin lines of clouds, lit up from the sun underneath and brilliant yellow. There’s Shigy. Well, no chance of being first in my age-group 🙂 — not that I really thought I would be. I greet various friends. The temperature is quite pleasant. That’s alarming. If it feels warm before 7 when we’re standing around doing nothing, what’s it going to be like running in full sun, half-way up the mountain (where it’s always hot) an hour from now? There’s only one solution to heat: finish quickly.
I see sunlight on the ground, and turn and look. The sun is just rising over the mountains. “Sunrise,” I cry, but only the sand-sculpter who makes mermaids on the beach pays any attention.
Carrie and I worry about Nirmal, and Martin. Both, we think, are planning to do the race, both are missing, both are perennially late to our Sunday runs. I was hoping Martin would help pace me, and Carrie probably hopes the same for Nirmal. We are called forward to the starting line, and there is Nirmal. Just in the nick of time.
And we are off. I didn’t push through to the front, so I’m about 3 bodies back when we start, and as we squeeze down to fit in the lane I find myself trapped behind some slower runners. I have to run sideways to get around them.
It feels good to be moving. Under the freeway and then up the other side. The really fast people are pulling ahead, maybe 15~20 of them. I’m in the middle of the second pack. Seems a good place to be. Not too fast.
At the first mile mark I check my watch. The guy beside me asks what it was. 6:26. Too fast. I slow down a bit and let some other people pass me.
Someone has chalked “Go Don” in the middle of the road. A car has driven over it and the “Go” got imprinted on the tire, and now there is a fading series of “Go”es leading us up the road (Don did not get repeated).
I don’t see the 2 mile mark somehow. Reach the Mission at about 17 minutes. There’s a really steep bit just after the Mission when we turn onto Mountain Dr. and I start passing people again. I also pass my first walkers, who started earlier.
And I don’t see mile markers 3, 4, 5 and 6 either. But mile 4 is near the old reservoir, and I get there about 28 minutes. So I’ve done the first 4 at about 7min/mile. Good. Now it really gets steep. Up Gibraltar Rd.
Someone has chalked “Good Views” on the road here, I look off to the right, but everything below is wreathed in haze. How can I notice this note and not the mile marks? I’m looking for the mile marks.
Another chalked comment “Ah shade”, and yes, we have just entered the shade, and it is very welcome. The road is twisty now, and we switchback around till we are looking out over the city, and the ocean. The view is good. I think the chalk writer should have pointed this one out, much better than the last, and then I find she has. The message is just a little after I looked out.
And a little further on, I find the chalker herself, writing another message in the middle of the road. “Car back,” I warn her, but she has time to finish her message before the car arrives. This one I don’t see (she was in the way), and after that I’m ahead of her.
Someone is running down Gibraltar, really fast. As he gets closer I see it’s Rusty (what’s he doing? I know he wasn’t planning on running the race. Did he start really early and go up and down?). I yell at him “You twit, you’re going the wrong way.” It turns out he was pacing the lead runner for a mile or two on the steep bit.
At the next water stop the guy ahead of me slows down to a walk to drink his water. I pass him as he does so. I’ve now repassed all the people from my pack of runners. The fast guys are far ahead, out of sight on this windy road.
It is hot now. The shade didn’t last. We move in and out of patches as we head across gullies with a few trees and then into the sun as the road snakes back around an exposed edge.
I pass a couple of walkers. The guy cheers me on. The woman says “13.” Hmm. Are there only 13 runners ahead of me? I’d have thought there were more than that. Or did she mean something completely different.
At the U-turn with all the “no-shooting” signs, which have been shot to bits, is another water station. I think about the guy I just passed. I’m probably not going very fast. I’m not going to lose much time if I slow to a walk. And I need the water. It is hot. My scalp prickles the way it does when I’m mildly dehydrated. I don’t want water slopping out of the cup as normally happens when I drink on the run — especially with these tiny cups. So I slow, drink, and run on again. I’ve never done that before. It doesn’t make sense when doing 7 minute miles or faster, but at a 9 minute pace in the hot sun, I don’t care.
And finally I see a mile marker. “7” chalked on the road.
At the rock of Gibraltar there are some people parked to watch the race. They have an unleashed dog with them who also wants to watch, and trots up to me. But he is friendly and just wants to sniff and doesn’t get in the way. I must be rather rank by now.
I’m passing a lot of walkers. Are any of these people who were ahead of me and went out too fast?
I see the “8” mile marker. Good heavens, I did an 8 minute mile? I’m going that fast? Wow.
Let’s see. It’s 1:03 now. If I keep going at an 8min pace that gets me to the top at 1:44. That’s ridiculous. A 9min pace 1:49. Even that seems unlikely. Well, we’ll see.
I can see La Cumbra Peak. It looks really close. A mile? It looks a long way up though, and the road snakes around so it’s 5 miles the way I’m going.
I pass someone I think is a runner. But the walkers who are up this far are often part-time runners, so it’s hard to tell.
A bit after mile 9 we come to Flores Flats. A little community of a few houses off the grid. There’s a small stream here (or there was a few weeks ago, I don’t notice it today). My friend Bob lives here and I hoped to see him, but I don’t. I check my watch 1:16:?? from the start, so it’s 8:15 or so. I guess sane people are having breakfast.
Flores Flats has the distinction of having a small downhill section (the first in a long time, nice!) as we dip down to the stream. This is followed by a really steep half mile or so as we climb out of it.
I think of Jacques’ schoolboy, “Creeping like snail, unwillingly to school,” as I try to push on. I’m doing this willingly of course, But I sure feel as if I were creeping.
And then we are at the end of Gibraltar, and turn onto Camino Ciello. The road to heaven. There’s more water here. I really need it. I slow down to a walk to drink it. The rest (walking) feels good too. The guy behind me (whom I have just passed) passes me. But I pass him again soon after.
Another downhill stretch. Maybe half a mile. This is where I was hoping to have Martin, he runs this faster than I would normally. I push myself.
Only two more miles. It’s up again now. My legs are tired. They didn’t like running fast just now. I’ve slowed, of course, but not enough, and now I make a conscious decision to slow further.
After a bit I feel a little better and can speed (ha) up again.
A cyclist zooms down the hill and yells at me “George, you’re number 10 now.” Wow.
I can’t see anyone ahead of me, so I doubt I’ll become number 9. I can’t hear anyone behind me, so maybe I’ll stay number 10.
Another water stop, or water slow, the last. I really need the water. It’s hot. But now there are again patches of shade from the pine trees along the ridge line.
Two guys are trotting down from the top, looking all rested. I feel a little demoralized. I’m not rested. I’ve still got — what? half a mile? more? to go.
And I’m under the radio antennae that mark the peak. The road snakes though and I’ve got another .2 miles to go (or so). And I turn off Camino Ciello onto the fire road that runs up to the peak. Ogg. It’s steep. There’s the finish line. 1:47:?? I can’t be running that fast… but I am, and I cross 1:47:26 by my watch. 1:47:27 by Wally’s clock.
Where have they hidden the water. Damn it. I don’t want FRS. I want water. Where is it. Oh behind me. Three (small) cups of water later I feel much better. Lemonade. More water. a banana.
Garret’s up here, of course, Arren, Shigy.
Wally congratulates me. I’m really pleased, faster than I anticipated. Let’s see, that’s about an 8 minute mile… why that’s almost reasonable for a flat half-marathon.
And my knee feels fine! (my other knee feels fine too, as does my achilles and all other potentially ailing bits of me).
After a bit I see Martin. I ask if he were late for the start? “I was on time,” complains Martin, “The race started early.” I really have no idea, I had my watch set to stopwatch paying no attention to the time.
Fifteen minutes later I’m feeling human again. Sort of. There’s shade up here, and the temperature is pleasant. I’m standing beside Barbara waiting for Stu. She’s worried about him (he had a broken leg not that long ago). I say I’ll walk down and look for him. I start to, but here’s Carrie coming up, and she looks drained, so I turn around and run beside her cheering her on, and she perks up a bit.
Then I think… When I was coming up this would I have wanted Garret running beside me pushing me to go faster? Probably not.
I head down again, and see Debra. And she’s walking. So, having learned nothing, I turn round, run beside her and cheer her on. And she, too, perks up and runs again.
And I head down once more and get almost to the road, and there’s Stu. And I run beside him cheering him on.
When I get back they’ve posted a provisional finishers list. I am, indeed, #10. I’ve never been tenth in any real local race.
It’s kind of amazing. I’ve only been running for 2 months after a hiatus of almost 4 months and knee surgery, and yet I’ve come in tenth.
I’m fourth in my age group. Rats. I had hoped for second, but some guy from Ojai ran almost as fast as Shigy. Oh, yeah, 10 year divisions.
Oh, who cares. I got up there at 1:47:27 PR (8:13min/mile), far faster than I dared hope I’d make it. That’s great!