Sunday, December 15, 2013

2013 Summit Rock 1/2 Marathon

Sanborn County Park in Saratoga, CA
Shhh, I'm going to tell you a secret. But let's just keep it between you and me. While I've run some amazing trails all over the country -- including the canyons of Western States, the Keewenaw Peninsula in Michigan, and the Tahoe Rim Trail in Nevada -- one of my favorite places to run is just 15 minutes from home.

Welcome to Sanborn County Park in Saratoga. It's a little-known, seldom visited hidden gem nestled away off a small one lane road that most people drive right by without ever realizing. Sometimes when I'm in a hurry or just too lazy to drive all the way up Highway 9 to Saratoga Gap, I pull off at the bottom of the hill and drive a mile through the woods to Sanborn.

While the park boasts miles and miles of beautiful shaded single-track trails that cut through stunning redwood forests -- most of those trails go straight up the mountain! Steep, steep, steep with an average grade of about 12%.

I remember being surprised  a few years ago when I learned that Brazen Racing was going to hold a half marathon trail race on this course. Brazen is an amazing company who put on top-notch races. They really nail all the details and add special little touches like personalized race bibs with your name on them. And I love that they not only post the race results online the very next day, but they even post pictures from the race that runners can download -- for free!

I ran the 1/2 marathon at Sanborn in 2010 and 2012. Both years my finishing times were nearly the same. I ran a 1:50:05 in 2010 for 2nd place, and a 1:50:49 in 2012 for 4th place. This year I came into the race feeling stronger and faster than ever. 2013 had been a great year for me with numerous PRs and break-through races.

Not happy to be behind a dude in shorts-over-tights!
I'm not going to lie. When I glanced around at the starting line before the race and noticed that course record holder Leor Pantilat was absent I did a little dance of joy. While there were definitely a few fit, fast-looking guys at the starting line, I was thankful not to see Leor or any other elite studs like Lon Freeman, Sam Robinson, Alex Varner or Sergio Reyes. Maybe I would have a shot to win this year!

We took off and I found myself running in second place just off the shoulder of a dude wearing running shorts over tights. I consider this a major fashion faux-pas and was infuriated and ashamed to be behind him. So I turned on the jets and accelerated, intending to take the lead. But he suddenly started sprinting so as to not let me pass. He kept this up for a good 1/2 mile before inexplicably slowing down and dropping way off.

Briefly in the lead
Just as I thought I was about to move into the lead and run away with the race, two other runners moved past me and took the lead. I quickly discerned that thy were European based on their fashionable attire, lithe build, and of course their heavy French and Swiss-German accents. They were working together and moving well. And they were pulling away from me on the climb. I was already planning my "third overall... but first American" race report.

But then something interesting happened. While I was losing ground on the long opening four mile climb (which was supposed to be my strength), I found myself making up chunks of ground on the short downhill sections. As we approached the top of the climb and hit the flatter rolling section of the course I caught up with Fran├žois, the runner in second place. As  I surged past him I could see the race leader, Christian, hanging about 100 yards ahead.

2nd place is so painful!
I finally caught up to Christian and briefly moved past him into the lead on a rocky, technical downhill section. I was in the lead! I was surely going to win! I was already planning my finish-line celebration dance! But then Christian passed me back on the very next climb. Ugh, this was definitely going to be a battle.

Christian reached the half-way turn-around point only a few seconds before me. I had him in my sights. But that would unfortunately be the last I ever saw of him. He stepped on the gas and opened up a minute lead on me over the next mile and I would never see him again... until he congratulated me at the finish line when I sprinted across in second place, still a minute behind.

Nonetheless, I was thrilled with my performance and my finishing time of 1:45:33 which was over five minutes faster than either of the 1:50:xx times I ran in 2012 and 2010.

But my five minute PR was nothing compared with my buddy and Quicksilver teammate Jeff Clowers (who I have been coaching this year) who took 50 minutes off his time from last year, finishing 36th out of 191 runners with a 2:19:48. Now that's a PR!


notthatlucas said...

When the third place guy went past me (I did the hiker start), he said "I'm not liking this course layout." I wasn't sure what he meant, but I did find out later talking to him that he had gotten stung by a few bees on the way up that hill. Maybe that's what he was talking about. Hopefully he managed to clear the bees out before you came through that bit. Congrats on a great race!

Big Johnny Burton said...

Oh wow, I didn't realize he got stung on the way up! I assumed the wasps didn't get stirred up until later when the masses of runners came through. It's a good thing that I passed him and moved into 2nd place right before that aid station. I must have just missed getting stung. On the way back down I could hear the screams of mountain bikers and hikers as they were getting stung. I just sprinted through as fast as I could and hoped for the best. Luckily I didn't get stung (or even see any wasps). I like to think that I was sprinting so fast that they couldn't keep up. How about you, did you get stung???

Jean Pommier said...

What a battle, John, not only with the lead runners but the wasps too! Congrats!