(Note: It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these. Bear with me.)
It’s 5am when both my alarms go off in a jumble of melodic tunes from my phone and obnoxious shrieks from my alarm clock. I’m not hungover, which is good considering the night before I spent at The Tap Room in San Francisco on a work-related “Team Meeting” in which after saying I’d only stick around for one drink ended up with four. Then again the copious amounts of water I had once I got home had most likely shifted the balance in my favor. Either way, I’m up with no trouble as I perform the usual morning routine of getting ready for a race: applying tape to my achillies, getting dressed from the tidy pile of running clothes I’d prepped the night before, checking my running bag again despite having done so twice already to make sure I have everything. A quick post on the “book of face” and before a half hour is done I’m out the door to my truck Silver and onward to San Jose for this week’s adventure: The Trail Hog 10K at Mt. Hamilton.
The drive is actually quite peaceful; the dark sky ebbing away as light creeps into the world again. I’m surprisingly awake, and that’s before I take a 5-hour shot to help with the 80 minute drive. The freeways give way to Quimby Rd, which many had been warned about taking given it’s sharp climb and curves. I slightly remembered it from 2012, insomuch that it sticks out among another races I’ve driven to, but I’d forgotten just how gnarly it is. Climbing up the sharp curves is difficult and I’m ignoring all possible distractions lest something send me teetering off the road and into the oblivion that lies beyond the trees of which glimpses I’m given as I brake, gas & climb. I do pass by several nice houses on the road, with the odd thought that holding parties probably means everyone stays over, because trying to ride this thing even slightly inebriated would be freakishly difficult. Eventually I’m able to climb over the hillside and after a “fun” ride downhill I make my way to Joseph D. Grant County Park, where the standard three races (Half, 10K & 5K) will be held.
The first thing I notice is that it’s cold. Weirdly cold. The arm-sleeves I brought along as a precaution are quickly now a necessity, and despite that I’m usually not affected by cold as much as some I’m trying hard not to shiver as I trudge towards registration, saying hi to people as I go. That’s the thing about the Brazen Races. You see a lot of the same people as it feels like a family thing sometimes. It’s comforting but it also allows me to note who’s doing what race, as uphill trail has never been my strong suit, and I like to know I’m facing. I pick up my bib and, noting I’m ahead of schedule, hop back in my truck to stay warm, reviewing the course map and elevation, figuring out where and when to make a move. Time passes and I hop out to start my warm-up, noting that with the sun finally making it’s way over the hills the temperature is better, but I’ve already decided by that point the arm-sleeves are staying on. I go through my usual stretch routine, my head-phones rocking as I bounce on my new trail shoes, the Hoka Challenger ATR. It’s my first race with them, so naturally I’m a little concerned. But there isn’t much time to focus on that as soon enough the half marathon starts and I’ve only got 15 minutes before the 10K starts. I ditch my sweats in my truck, take my last Gu with a swig of Cytomax from my water bottle and head into the starting corral, my red and black tri-gear matching well with my red Rudy Project glasses and black visor. Because yes I am that person who color-coordinates. After some words from race Director Sam the countdown starts, my adrenaline increases, my focus intensifies and all that’s left is the horn and the simplest two letter word.
The 10K of the Trail Hog is a small out ‘n back with a large loop that encompasses most of the course. It’s longer than your standard 10K at 6.5 miles but it doesn’t matter as the horn blares and we charge up the pot-hill infested first section, your truly taking the inside corner and a step lead as we touch the only concrete section of the course before plunging down onto a mix of dirt, gravel and general trail. Although we quickly shoot upwards and it becomes evident that I will have competition. George Cross, a fellow racer whose specialty is upward climb, passes me along with two other taller (I’m 5’7″. They’re always taller.) racers in white, though I’m not about to give ground just yet and match them enough to stay close, catching up once the terrain levels out. We jostle for position as we cruise the turns and terrain and I get the feeling I’m in for a fight. At one point we hit an S like curve, causing one of the other runners to start heading the wrong direction. Thankfully I’m able to call out: “Head Right! Dude!” and he quickly rejoins the fray, thanking me. I think to myself that should I win this one I’d prefer to do it by skill rather than error.
Soon we’re on the loop and the hills start to hit, along with the half-marathoners who’re walking the course. Uphill climbing has never been my strong suit, so I slow it just a touch, letting George (who tells me to keep up, I say I’ll catch him on the down and he simply replies “I know.”) and two racers in white take the lead, with yours truly not far behind in fourth. I’m grateful that it’s shady in the early going, for I’m able to focus on other things. My shoes are doing great, and as I approach the top of the hillside I can feel the anticipation ratcheting up, ready to let loose the furious downhill speed of which I’m able to call forth. Sure enough I hit the top like a roller coaster and I’m grinning like a loon internally. It’s showtime.
Running downhill is a thrill. It’s dangerous as hell, as a single misstep can turn you into a tumbling mass of arms and legs and pain. But for me the absolute rush is worth it the risk, and it helps that with my fast turn-over leg speed I’m able to step where I need. “Go!” my mind clicks as I shift gears, leaning forward to let gravity help propel me down the first set of downhills, catching walkers as I blur through the trail, my feet rapidly landing with little issue. I pass George, who gives me a small grin as I pass as I rifle downward, thankful that most of the walkers have observed proper race etiquette & are staying on the right. I quickly catch the two racers in white, one of whom looks at me wide-eyed as I pass by, though they’re quick to follow. George I’ve noticed has also done better since the last I saw him, as we hit the next uphill and sure enough he’s there once again. One of the racers in white has tailed off some, so it’ just the three of us battling it out with me blasting the downhills and they steadily taking the uphills, with neither of us really able to hold off the other two for long. It occurs to me I’ve missed this. A lot of races you end up with a steady distance between runners where you’ve no chance to catch the person ahead and won’t get caught behind, so you’re by yourself. This is a battle. This is a fight. And though it’s hard, I’m loving every minute of it.
There’s another long stretch of downhill, and though I’m longingly third again, it doesn’t matter for long as I feel the rush once more, blasting down he hillside with what looks like reckless abandon, feeling my breathing quicken with every step as I catch up and take a small lead as we careen past the section aid station and head for the last section of the loop before the turn off, though once again it doesn’t hold for long as both George and the racer in white catch up on the uphill section. I’m trying to keep up and stay close as we cut onto the home stretch, to put myself in a position where I can use the last stretch of downhill before the finish line to win what would be a close one. But it’s at that point when things change. The wind, which thus far has not had any impact on the race, suddenly make it’s presence known. It hits me on the uphill like a sucker-punch, and as we start uphill towards a gate everything becomes that much harder. George has already made his move and taken the lead, but as we hit the concrete I think I have a shot at second, as the racer in white looks behind to see where I am. But the wind slows me down just enough, and though I’m able to use the downhill to close the gap, It’s not enough as I rush in for third.
I hit the line at 43:27, about 7 seconds faster than when I did this race in 2012. I quickly grab water and start to calm my breathing down. Manuel, the racer in white, tells me “Thank God there wasn’t another downhill. I couldn’t have hold you off again!” and George is all smiles as well. As for me, I can say I’m satisfied. Yes I wanted to win, but it was a thrilling race in which I battled hard to the end and forced them to beat me. In some ways that works just as well. Perhaps George knows this as well, as he shares some of the food from his overall winner gift bag with Manuel and I, thanking us both. Once I start to recover, I quickly sign up at the massage booth and then have at with the various smorgasbord of food that tends to show up at every Brazen Race. I cheer on my friends as they come though, continuing to hydrate as it’s much hotter than when we started. I hang out until I feel well enough to make the drive home, then say my goodbyes and make my way for my truck Silver, satisfied and looking forward to the next adventure…