After crossing the finish line at Grizzly Peak, my thoughts turned to my next event, in six days, the 4th annual Annadel Half Marathon. I took a couple days off from running, and did an easy 3 miles on Wednesday night. That felt good and the run loosened me up so I did a 6 mile trail run the next night. That run was nearly 6 minutes faster than my previous times on that course. I pronounced myself “recovered” and rested the Friday night before the race.
Now the 6 mile trail run and the 50k less than a week before is not a recommended taper strategy. I had resigned myself to the possibility that when the race day came, I might not feel totally rested. When Lori, my training partner and mentor told me she was checking the course markings before the race and then re-running the race as training for the upcoming Miwok 100k, I knew I needed to “Cowboy Up” and give my best effort on Saturday.
Saturday, as the eastern horizon was becoming a light shade of grey, I was at the gate to Spring Lake Park. As the organizers bustled about, I set up the medical aid tent, also is known as my elk hunting wall tent. A few minutes later, The Fleet Feet Santa Rosa Trail group assembled for a group picture and a short warmup run.
As we gathered at the start line race announcer Leslie Graves welcomed us and asked us to remember a longtime advocate for local parks and open space, Jonathan Glass with a moment of silence. After that we gave a loud cheer and round of applause for Michael Zanetti, a local bicyclist recovering from a serious accident. Both had been a part of last year’s event, and we wanted to let them both know they were missed as we prepared to run the hills they both loved.
At the crack of the starter’s pistol nearly 300 runners headed out onto the Bay Area Ridge Trail for a mile before climbing the rocky Rough Go trail. My tight calves reminded me of Thursday’s run along this trail, and good hill runners passed me where the technical trail allowed.
After slightly less than a mile we skirted the ridge on Cobblestone Trail and worked our way North onto the Orchard trail that climbed through pepperwoods and oaks before reconnecting into Rough Go on the edge of a large meadow. The trail leveled out and rolled over rocky outcrops into the aid station at mile 4.25. This stretch I encountered numerous running friends stationed along the trail who called out to me by name. I felt like I had more speed along here spurred on by their encouragement.
As the course hit the Live Oak trail the runners with distance and trail experience distanced themselves from less seasoned runners. We hit our first short downhill stretches of the race before winding to the damp side of North Burma trail that made a short ascent over a ridge headed south. We hit our third aid station at Richardson trail. Here I caught Lori, who was on mile 19 for the day. We chatted briefly along the wide fire road before turning up the new lower section of South Burma trail. Here Lori powered ahead on the uphill stretches. I managed to keep her in sight, but found myself power hiking the steep stretches.
At Mile 7.5 we hit the high point of the race. I could hear the voice of our fearless leader Marc Strozyk in the distance as he shouted encouragement. I took a mental inventory of my water and energy levels as I glanced at my watch and tried to calculate my pace. I surmised I was on a good pace compared to previous years, and my legs did not feel as spent after the climbing portion as they had in previous years. The long training runs the previous 4 months had paid off.
I hit the Buick Meadow aid station and filled my handheld bottle for the first, and only time. I opened my second package of Shot Blox here and caught fellow big, bald runner Zach Rounds on the downhill. I managed to pass Lori further down the trail and I caught a couple other more cautious downhill runners in the narrow rocky stretches of Marsh trail. As the trail widened and flattened just as I was ahead of training mate Kim Krueger, an unseen rock caught my right toe and I knew I was going down. I tucked my shoulder and rolled on my right shoulder and back as my handheld flew into space. I was able to recover after a quick roll, grabbed my water bottle as I heard Kim call out behind me “Take a deep breath!” Back on the run, I determined I was fine and made sure to pick my feet up as we encountered more of the rutted rocky trail.
As we hit the Canyon trail junction just past the 10 mile mark the aid station crew shouted encouragement as I grabbed a cup of what turned out to be electrolyte drink. For the next mile I negotiated with my stomach to behave itself as it jostled with the new unexpected injection of sugar on the wide, fast downhill stretch. Along here I was passed by Kim for the final time, and her determined pace made it clear I was not going to catch her.
The final two miles of the course is a wide, flat, smooth gravel road listed on the maps as the Bay Area Ridge trail. After three miles of technical downhill, it can be a mental challenge, as the flat, straight stretch feels like it will never end. We hit the portion we had started on with a mile left as I picked out my targets for the final kick. I picked off about four runners in this stretch, and was able to cross the finish with a feeling of authority. A quick glance at my watch revealed a time of under 2:15:00 and I thought to myself I was pleased with the time.
I made my way to the beer tent and with recovery brew in hand watched more runners as they crossed the line. It was humbling as I watched 72 year old Jerry Kibler and 75 year old Darryl Beardall finish. At that point I made a mental goal to be running at in my 70’s as well. I saw folks finish the longest run of their lives, smiling as the medal was placed around their neck. All this made me reflect on how thankful I am for the gift of running. While I may never feel the joy of standing on the podium, I’m grateful that I can share the experience with some outstanding athletes who crossed the finish over a half hour before me.
Later that evening I looked up my official results of 2:14:15.5. That time was an all-time personal record for me in the 13.1 distance. (The four years of running Annadel is my only half marathon race). I beat last years’ time by over six minutes. That made me 146th overall out of 287 finishers. I was pleased that I was able to run a 55 mile week with great friends, and enjoy the camaraderie of race day. Annadel Half Marathon is definitely a destination race worthy of any serious trail runner’s time.