2015 is the sixth year that the Annadel Half Marathon has been in existence. Born out of a desire to showcase the park and raise funds for park improvements, it has become a running community rally point. The funds raised from the race have been directed to a number of projects, the most visible of which are trail improvements performed by the Sonoma County Trails Council. A boardwalk to protect a boggy area trail crossing, rock causeways in erosion prone areas, trails routed for better visibility and weather resistance, all are the result of funding from the race which has raised between 18 and 20 thousand dollars annually.
My connection to the race started in 2009 with my participation in the Fleet Feet Santa Rosa training group. I have been in the group, and entered the race every year since. In that time I’ve seen a range of finish times, with my Personal PR of 2:14:00 in 2013.
This year I was coming off of a six month lay off from running. In that time span I’d lost nearly all my fitness, and gained body mass in the process. Restarting the training runs in December was a daunting task, as I struggled to regain the frequency and distance of training I remembered from years prior. I found routes that in my memory were “easy runs” pushed my limits when I restarted the training process. As a result, I toned down my distances during my midweek runs, and my pace during long trail runs. Even then the motivation was hard to find when winter colds made running miserable. As a result my training mileage, from December thru race day, was a fraction of years prior. Looking at the numbers it was 25% less than I ran in 2014, and 70% less than 2013 when I had my Personal Record. With that in mind, I adopted my mantra of “Better Performance Through Lowered Expectations”.
As per my usual Annadel Race day procedure I arrived early to setup my 12×12 wall tent to serve as a first aid station. While the majority of the injuries treated are scrapes and sprains, it provides a place for privacy if needed. The activity of setting up the tent keeps my mind off of the upcoming race and butterflies to a minimum.
After opening remarks, the race began under clear skies and mid 40’s temperatures. I already had my race plan of walking all significant uphills. The trails were well packed from the rain the week earlier, and the 260 plus runners spread out as we climbed the first hill a mile into the race at Rough Go Trail. My race was uneventful from a running perspective. I made it a point to drink in the beauty of the park that I so often overlooked while negotiating the rocky trails in pursuit of a race pace. A sleek blacktail doe watched our multicolored line of runners ascend Rough Go as turkey gobbles echoed off the oak trees in the valley. I began seeing friends manning the course monitor positions and aid stations. Each one shouted encouragement and called me by name. After about the fourth one, the runners immediately in front of me commented about how everyone knew me by name, and I demurred saying that they were all people I had trained with.
We continued past the Live Oak aid station where I refilled about 12 oz. of water in my handheld, and followed a rolling trail for the next two miles through open meadows, and into a north facing shaded section before turning up North Burma and hitting the Richardson Fire road and the Third Aid Station. After a quarter mile we turned back onto the singletrack and began the mile and a half climb up the South Burma Trail crest. There I was greeted by our training group coach, Marc Strozyk as he shouted, encouraged, and cajoled runners with platitudes like “It’s all downhill from here!”, “Less than 5 and a half to the finish!”, “if you were a woman, you would be in 14th place!” etc….
At this point, I’d made a conscious effort to conserve my energy on the 1300 feet of climbing so far. In previous years, I would have turned on the jets and bombed the downhills. This year I found myself stiff and cautiously passing a few runners before the Buick Meadow Aid station. As we descended Marsh trail, and the ground became less technical, some of those cautious runners were able to gain ground. What years prior had been a stretch where I picked off other runners, I felt my endurance slipping. My stride was stiffer and shorter. Here was where I was going to pay the debit created by lack of deposits in my training miles account.
When the aid station attendant shouted “Just two and a half more miles!” when I turned onto the Canyon trail, I felt my inner motivation drain. I knew it was just under 3 miles. The last 2 miles we refer to as the “Fire Road of Despair”. After three and a half downhill miles on the twisty singletrack with ever changing visual horizons, the flat wide exposed stretch seems to drag by. This is where strong mental fortitude makes a difference for the runners who are racing for age group and over all placings. I was running against the demons in my mind telling me I wasn’t worthy of a good time, the demons in my stomach telling me I’d taken in too much water, and the very stark reality that I was writing the final chapter in what would be my slowest race in six years.
I slogged the final stretch conserving my energy to shout thank you’s to the Girls on the run group manning the aid station a mile from the finish. As runners passed me I remembered when it was I doing the passing in previous years. Nevertheless, as I rounded the final turn to make the last stretch across the grass to the finish chute I managed to smile, thankful that I was able to continue my 6 year streak of training for, and finishing the Annadel Half Marathon.
After the race I was greeted by my friends with smiles and hugs. I soon found my way to the refreshment area and recovered with a complimentary finishers meal consisting of Lagunitas IPA, a plate of pasta, bread and salad. We recounted our races and enjoyed the sun and 70 degree temperatures as the final runners trickled across the finish. I was reminded of my ultimate running goal of a lifetime of being active as I got to watch my 74 year-old training mate Jerry Kibler win his age group , and local runner of reknown, 78 year old, Darryl Beardall cross the finish. At that point I reassured myself that if could just outlive my competition I too may see some age group awards…
If you want to read a story of pure toughness from this race, check out the Press Democrat coverage that mentions Al and Anna Myers. Anna finished the full course under her own power 10 weeks after sustaining a broken ankle. They are a couple I truly enjoy knowing and epitomize what is great about the running community in Sonoma County.