I’m not sure if this race was ever operated as a non-XTerra event, but there seems to be a very inconsistent quality in preparation.  Some things were really well run, others were just not there.  Overall, though, it was a great event and a challenging course (which I was not at all prepared for!).

Getting There

I didn’t know if I’d actually be able to run this race, so I didn’t pre-register.  The race web site was never updated to indicate if they’d sold out or were close to doing so, even after online registration was closed.  Things like that drive me crazy, but it looked like a fun race, so I was hoping to still be able to do it.  Earlier this week I posted to their Facebook wall asking about the likelihood of race day registration being available, never got an answer, and even tried calling them, again with no answer.  But, C had the idea to book a hotel in Thousand Oaks, make it a weekend getaway1, and hope for the best as far as the race was concerned.  Which turned out to be an awesome plan.

There isn’t much parking at Boney Mountain, so parking and race day registration was about three quarter miles away at a local high school.  Where nobody really knew which way was up.  They didn’t really have enough parking for everyone2, there were no toilets, they apparently had no record of people who registered in the last couple of days of online registration, nobody was quite sure of where the shuttle was or which direction the start line was, and for those of you who find shirts important (“seriously, it’s not a plain white one”), they were pretty bland beige ones.

C dropped me off, I registered, gave her my wallet and jacket and then sent her on her merry way.  I followed people who seemed to know where they were going until we came across the start line arrows.  We got to the park and mostly headed for the restrooms.  One more shortfalling; there was only one stall and two urinals available in the men’s room 3 and all was out of toilet paper.  Delightful.  Later, we’d learn that there was one more stall closer to the start line and two or three pot-a-potties.  Signs, people.  Signs.

But, fortunately, once we got to the start line, organizational details went way up.  There was a guy with a PA that was actually loud enough for the size of the crowd, there was water and Gu4 for all, there was a clear view of the start and finish lines, and there were numerous announcements informing us of pretty much everything we needed to know about when to be at the start line (we started late due to insufficient shuttles or some such thing) and how to get there without needing to bushwhack too much.

The Race

Assembled at the start line, there was suddenly whispers of “what’s Jimmy Dean doing here?” as a tanned guy with camouflage climbed the scaffold of the start line with a megaphone.  It turns out, they were referring to Jimmy Dean Freeman, one of the coaches for the SoCal Coyotes, a running group that focuses on trail runs and distance racing, and like to howl when their coach is in a position of authority.  Jimmy gave us a run down of the course profile, which I really wish I had recorded in some format so as to quote verbatim.

The general gist; go over this hill, hit a paved fire road, and go down the very steep descent in to the canyon.  Don’t push too hard (as Jimmy did last year), or you’ll trash your legs and hate the rest of the race.  Climb a 500 foot ascent over a mile, then descend back down some switchbacks to mile six, where you start an almost 2000 foot ascent5 over four miles to the summit of Boney Mountain (“This ain’t no hill; it’s Boney Mountain!”) before the descent.  At mile 11.5, you hit a quarter mile hill that feels like two miles before the final descent to the finish.  At which point, you’ll either love the course and want to run it again immediately, or never set foot in the area again.  Oh, and the course is “almost exactly” a half marathon.

Jimmy also took a survey by show of hands to determine who was doing their first race of 2011, who was doing Boney Mountain for the first time, who was doing their first half marathon(ish) distance, and, of course, who was doing their first ever trail run, which actually got a few hands and a rising round of laughter from those who’ve done this before.  Yeah, it’s that kind of race.

And then we were off.  I stuck at the tail end of the lead group for a while, but hung back to avoid pushing too hard at the beginning and having nothing left for that four mile climb.  Unfortunately, it quickly became evident that my lack of preparation (read, specific hill work and maybe some sort of a taper) was going to result in a muscular rebellion in my legs.  The hills were just not happening.  I had the energy, I had the drive, but I just didn’t have the muscles.  I kept stumbling and kicking myself in the ankles on the first major climb, and had to walk a big chunk of the four miler.  All told, my time isn’t so much a half marathon trail race time, but more so the sum total of a nine mile trail race time and a four mile hike.  On the up side, this left me lots of energy to push on the downhills, making up some of the positions I’d lost.

Frankly, I don’t think I’ve let so many people pass me in any race since my first marathon.  And I don’t mean “oh, wow, look at all the people passing me” – this was a “I guess I should get the hell out of the way so these people behind me can pass.”  That happened a lot.

20/20 Hindsight

Looking back, had I known the course better6, I would have pushed harder at the beginning, building up a bit more “in the bank” before having to walk the hills.  Or better yet, not started a new training plan last week and worn my legs out.  I might have been able to pull off finish time under two hours.  Ah well.  Live and learn.

Jimmy Dean’s summary was pretty much accurate.  With the exception of his estimated depth of the final creek crossing 7, everything was spot on.  Right down to looking back on it at the end.  Yeah, I ran my slowest half marathon ever and it wasn’t even a full half marathon distance.  Yeah, it was 14 minutes slower than the Mount Diablo Trail Adventure Half Marathon that I ran more than two years ago when I had far less running experience.  But it was wicked fun and I want to do it again.

Plus, when my wife pointed out that only the first two finishers came in faster than my PR (on a road half), it put my finishing time in perspective.  49th overall and 8th in my age group, but only 36 minutes behind the winner isn’t all too shabby.

Show 7 footnotes

  1. Since, you know, there were no football games that mattered today…
  2. And didn’t have an overflow lot or plan for such a situation.
  3. Presumably two or three stalls in the women’s
  4. Surprise discovery of the day: Jet Blackberry is actually a tasty flavor.  Not blackberry flavored, but of the fruit ones, it’s the first I’ve tried that’s tasty.
  5. He exaggerated; it was only 1622′ according to the Garmin GPS gods, which are, admittedly, limited in their accuracy, particularly when hills are concerned.
  6. Like, you know, all the people who’ve run it a dozen years in a row and recreationally in between events.
  7. Estimate: ankle to knee deep.  Actual: wet shoes.