Trail

Bellarmine-Jefferson Open Race

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Recap

A logo. That’s the only reason I signed up for this race. While browsing the Pasadena Pacer’s Facebook Page I noticed there was a post asking for volunteers to form a team for this race. The team needed 5 members in order to get our name on the back of the shirt. I checked the race website for details and promptly signed up. We quickly found others to join the team and we got our sweet logo on the back of the shirt!

Or so that’s all I thought I was running for. This race turned out to be quite more. The location and timing tested my resolve. The course tested my training. By the end of it, I had realized that running had quickly become more than a “hobby” it is now one of my passions. Well I am getting ahead of myself so let’s just get to the recap!

When I first looked up the location of the race, it didn’t look that far away on Google Maps. The directions given were just one bus ride away and about a mile walk. Totally do-able. Then I realized I needed to be there at 6:30… and it would take an hour to get there by bus… so including prep time, I needed to be up by 4:30am on a Saturday and I had plans with Meghann on Friday night.

I had grown accustomed to being out the door by 5:30 during my weekday runs so what was another 30mins? Yeah, I was up by 4:15. I was surprised at how quickly I had my pre-race routine down:

  • Eat 1/2 Cliff Bar
  • Drink cup of coffee
  • Apply sun block and Body Glide (no not the fun version)
  • Put on tech-shirt, soccer shorts, running socks and athletic underwear (totally worth the $!)
  • Grab Keys, ID, Phone, armband, sweatbands and wireless headphones.

It took me less than 15mins to get ready and get out the door. The ride there was uneventful but I did notice I was the only person on that bus that wasn’t heading to work. The rest were half asleep and dressed in their work uniforms. I had already gone into my pre-race panic/excitement mode.

By the time I got to the race location the first two pacers had shown up and the event looked like it had been set up hours ago. I met up with the team and we started stretching.

Bellarmine-Jefferson Open Race
Running with the Pasadena Pacers

I looked around and saw nothing but hills around us so I asked if anyone knew what to expect from the course. Two of the pacers had attended the course preview the week before and said it was a very hilly course and most of the trail goes up the first “small hill”.

Bellarmine-Jefferson Open Race: First Hill
The first “small hill”…

Yeah, I thought I was done for. Up until now I had only ran three flat courses and the lone trail race had been my worst showing. The week before was the first time I even started doing hills training on the treadmill. Now I was looking at a course that was filled with hills and rough terrain. I was warned to be aware of the narrow edges, uneven pathways, cracks in gravel, and random pedestrians since the course was not closed off from the main trail. Oh and the High School athletes would be unleashed 30mins after our wave…

This race benefited a local high school race and by 7am the entire park was filled with teenagers. I was quickly reminded of the annoying teenage volunteers from the Aquarium of the Pacific 5k and the Devil’s Gate Dam 5k. Now they would also line this course by the hundreds and run amongst us if we were falling behind. I made it a point to finish before those bastards could step foot on the course.

We lined up for the start, I looked around and noticed all of the other teams; Nike Team Run LA, Gritty City Track Club, LA Tri, ARC Racing Club. These fuckers were fit and looking to make new personal records… I was just looking to outrun the hounds/teens. So I stepped towards mid-pack. I let all of those with six pack abs and shorts-shorts take the lead.

As the rules were read aloud to us, everyone shut up and put their game face on. I ignored most of the chatter and just focused on waiting for the signal. I did a few more shoulder rolls to release the tension and stretched my calves one last time…

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And we’re off!

At the first hill we were all funneled into a narrow trail. I found a fellow Pacer and just followed him for the first kilometer. Around the second hill I noticed Mullet Lady behind me. She was the same Mullet Lady from the Aquarium of the Pacific 5k whom I had followed through the pack. It was my turn to repay the favor so I broke away from the Pacer and charged ahead up the first “small hill”.

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Trying to stay ahead of mullet-lady… didn’t happen

I lead us through a group of hipsters, past someone who looked like Jack LaLanne, and left a smug 10 year old in our dust. I could feel the energy of the crowd! The power of each step! The… burning in my thighs and knees!

In hindsight, I shouldn’t have charged up that hill. By the time I reached the plateau I was thinking of finding the nearest bench and curling up in the fetal position. I ignored those thoughts and settled for jogging at a slower pace. Mullet Lady would have none of that and quickly made her way past me. She continued her trek to bring back the style. Maybe next race I will be able to keep up with her past the first mile. God bless you Mullet Lady.

Around the 1.5 mile mark the trail opened up and reached a point where I could see downtown Los Angeles in the distance. With the sun rising in the background, I took a moment to take it all in. I had never seen LA from this height and with such a grand view… this is one of the reasons why I run; to see more of the places that I love. I felt re-invigorated.

According to the data from Endomondo, shortly after seeing downtown I ran my quickest kilometer of the race. Sure it was mostly downhill but I still think LA saved me from giving up on the race. If it had been an ugly course like Devil’s Gate, I don’t think I would have kept up the pace.

But then, as I rounded the tennis courts I saw it… the big hill. It finally hit me why they had called the first one the small hill. The elevation gain of the small one was about 10m… the big one was 30m. Fuck.

The hill had collected quite a few of us. There was a lady in a cross-fit shirt who had pulled off to the side looking like she was dry heaving. An older man had decided walk it. Young dude came up from behind us and tried to charge it… only to stop halfway. Then a stick figure of a woman flew past us at a leisurely pace. What did I do? Well I tried to keep a jogging pace and failed once the trail curved to show that we were only half way up the hill. A collective “FUCK ME!” was yelled out. I did manage to beat the pack up the hill but the old man ran past me on the flatter section, crafty bastard pulled a tortoise. I made a mental note of walking up steep hills in future trail races. There is no shame in being realistic.

Over the last hill I saw the starting area and my biggest fear… the teenagers were being given their 5 min warning. Oh hell no! I ran down the hill and flew past a few others. As I came closer to the final mini-hill I noticed that the teenagers were lined up against the ropes and they were… cheering? The hell? I expected some sarcastic remarks or insults. But instead I was greeted with kids trying to read my race bib to cheer me on and telling me that I was close. One even shouted that I need to finish strong. That was just what I needed.

I used up every last bit of energy in the final km. According to Endomondo, I hit my max pace of 4min/km during that stretch. As I ran through the finish shoot, I heard people cheering my team name. A few “GO PACERS!” and one “COME ON MARVIN!”… to be fair the print on my bib was a bit small. I knew I should have written Marlton or Gulpo. I finished in 24 mins 59 sec, one second shy of the mark I wanted to hit. I hunched over and chugged a bottle of water. Then I heard the teenagers unleashed onto the course. I cheered them and myself.

I stayed along the finish to cheer on my fellow Pacers. We exchanged sweaty high fives, compared notes on the course and complained about that bastard of a big hill. The race expo didn’t have much for me so I headed back to the bus stop.

Halfway back to the stop I passed a group of teens warming up:

Girl 1: I hate running
Girl 2: What? Then why the hell are you here?
Girl 1: I need it for my college application. I’d rather be sleeping
Girl 2 looks at Girl 3: Not us. We love running.

That explained why they were so nice. These kids were on the road as early or earlier than I had been and were there because they wanted to… well except Girl 1.

As I got on the bus for the 45min drive home, the one mile walk back to my apartment and the cold shower that awaited me I knew this is something I was doing for myself. I could have called it quits at various points but each time I kept with it. This is something I want to keep doing for the foreseeable future.

Catalina Island: Half-Marathon

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Why?

I’ve never been to Catalina and what a better way to see the island than to run to the top and have a look around? It appears to be a grueling course but I would also get to see bison! Maybe I should also start up another list of places to run… I did, after all, start up a Bridge List. Perhaps other islands? Or geographical features list?


When?

Maybe 2015. The cost of the race itself isn’t too bad but the hotel and ferry to Catalina would add up to a ~$400-600. A very steep price to pay for a race. It is also around the same time as other destination races I want to do. This one might stay in my Bucket Race list for a few years.


How Awesome?

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Running on an island would be checked off list and possibility of seeing bison!

How Difficult?

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They openly state that this will be the most challenging half in your life… there is no elevation chart for this race but other Catalina ones are listed around 3-5k gains. This. Is. Serious trail running.

Devil’s Gate Dam 5k

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Course Map


Recap

We signed up for this race after seeing a flier for it in our race packet during the Aquarium of the Pacific 5k. It was a local race, just 5 minutes away from home, and the money benefited Danny’s Farm which is a great cause. I was a bit hesitant to give the race organizers another shot after the poor management of the Aquarium of the Pacific but the cost was low enough, $30. I also managed to talk Hugo and Janeth into joining us.

This time around the parking situation was better managed, though we got there early, and the bib pick up took no more than 5 minutes. We stood around for a bit and I went into my pre-race routine of stretching/pacing. Thanks to Runner’s World and random handouts from running stores, I actually knew what I needed to do to get ready. The start was also a lot better organized. Just one vital part was missing… the course map.

I checked out the website daily to see if the map was available. Even to this day the website still says “Coming Soon”. A few minutes before the start, someone drew the “map”  on a white-board. Just looked like a giant U to me. We had tried to get a preview of the course the week before but it seemed like the course would be a turn-around and not a loop. The call for the starting line didn’t take as long this time around but I made sure to get as close as I could to avoid having to dodge the walkers.

After a brief Aztec ceremony, the company is named Aztlan Athletics, we were off!

Devils Gate Dam 5k: Starting Line
And so begins the dirtiest run yet…

The picture above made it seem like a nice start but as you can tell by the kid in the green shirt, things got hectic fast. You see, when you mix such a large group of runners and very loose dirt you will get a nasty dust cloud. By the time I reached the first curve all I could see was a giant dust trail in front of me. I quickened my pace more than I wanted to just to try get ahead of the dust cloud. The first hill provided enough of a gap for me and I charged ahead. Looking back at the main pack, I knew Meghann, Hugo and Janeth were probably covered in dust… poor bastards.

The route we took wasn’t very scenic nor easy to navigate with such a large crowd. A wave start would have helped ease the traffic. Screwed again by this damn race organizer. I made a mental note to avoid any runs organized by Aztlan Athletics.

Once I got to the dam it was smooth sailing. The route still was lined by teenage volunteers, who somehow were even less enthusiastic than the previous race but the trail was well marked and there was actually a water station and marker at mile 1. Things were starting to brighten up. I still found it odd that their official mile maker was about a quarter mile behind my Endomondo app. I wrote it off as my phone having GPS problems.

I found someone to keep pace with and fell into a nice pace. Again, it wasn’t much of a view. Other than the signature dam in the beginning and JPL at the turn around, it was mainly dust and a dry lake-bed…. oh and a lot of horse crap on the trail. By the time I reached the turn around, I was covered in dust from head to toe. It was a bright and sunny morning so the sweat was starting to turn the dust into a nice paste. Bleh.

I reached the Mile 1 marker on the turn around, guess one marker is better than none, and noticed my playlist had reached the final song. I had set up a playlist to try to keep tempo with… I still had the dam an an entire mile to go… so while Van Halen was telling me I was running with the devil (what? I thought it was fitting!) I was actually about a mile away. So that song ended and it went to a random song in my library…. it landed on Black Eyed Peas “Shut Up”. Fuck you music app! I couldn’t get the damn thing to skip so I just went with it.

When I was coming up to the final bend I noticed this hipster (American headband dude in picture above) kept passing me on the hills. I was unsure of my time or really how far away I was so I just kept an even pace. To be honest, I was feeling quite tired due to the uneven terrain. The treadmill had helped with flat courses but just a few hills and the initial charge to get away from the pack had drained me.

I finally saw the finish line and two women in front of me began to push and shove each other to get to the finish. No they weren’t friends. I decided to just hang back and let them duke it out. Then out of nowhere comes the hipster charging ahead to pass me at the last minute. The refs were pointing to him and telling me to stand in line behind him. I was a bit confused as to what was going on. I was just happy to get a chance to drink some water and wipe off the dirt.

I looked at my app and the final time was around 32 minutes… 6.16km! Somewhere along the course the race directors had added a mile. Others around me were also pissed off about their times and checked their apps to confirm it was longer than a 5k. I grabbed some water and food while I waited for the race results and for Meghann to come in. Hugo and Janeth had decided to walk the course so I wasn’t expecting to see them just yet.

Again I stood right next to the cat mascot and got him to cheer Meghann in…. and again she didn’t notice us. I noticed she was having a tough time breathing and asked her if she was ok. Turned out all that dust had caused her to have a minor asthma problem. Despite that she finished at 48 minutes. She was pissed off about the time until I told her that it was actually a 6.16km run. That evened out our paces to 8 min 34 sec for me and 12 min 32 sec for her. I was quite proud of her since she kept about the same pace from the last race despite all of the set backs.

We looked at our results… I came in fourth in my class! That’s why they were so adamant that the hipster had come in right before me. I missed out on a medal due to me giving up at the last stretch. Bah!

We stuck around long enough to see Hugo and Janeth finish up. It so far is the worst race I’ve been to. I really hope Danny’s Farm got a good chunk of money from it as they are a great cause. However, if they don’t switch organizers for next year I highly doubt we will be back. It’s safe to say we are done with Aztlan Athletics.