This section of my website used to be dedicated to triathlon training, personal race results and certification reviews, like Turbo Kick. I am expanding it to include more generic health & fitness topics. Also, I talk a lot about "D" -- he's my husband (Dave Liu)!

Saturday, August 23, 2003

Angel Island 12K Trail Run Review

I participated in Envirosports Angel Island 12K race today. There was an option of doing 25K instead which was the same course as the 12K, but done twice. I don't usually practice hill runs, so I thought a 12K (7 mile) trail run would be plenty. It was.

I arrived in Tiburon at 8:10AM which was plenty of time to make the 8:30AM ferry to Angel Island. Just so you know, there's a $10 parking lot across the street from the ferry terminal, a $5 lot up the street and also a $2 lot even further away. If you choose the $5 lot (as I did), make sure that you either have a $5 bill or five $1 bills because the parking ticket machine does not provide any change.

As usual, there was a long line of people waiting to use the bathrooms so I waited until I got to the island. Most other people had the same idea and made a mad dash for the toilets as soon as the ship docked at the pier. Instead of waiting in that line, I sprinted to the restrooms up the hill next to the visitor center. When I arrived, the door was closed! Fortunately, it was held shut by bungee cord, and not locked. I quickly detached out the hooks before dashing inside.

The start and finish of the race was next to the shady picnic area at Ayala Cove. I put down my knapsack on one of the picnic tables, and did a few warm up laps before stretching. As usual, the competitors in the longer race started first because the trails are too narrow to accommodate all the runners simultaneously. Remaining runners started 10 minutes later.

The 12K was awesome. We began with a lap on the paved road around the picnic area before heading towards the trail that consisted of switchbacks winding up the mountain. When we reached the point just below the summit of Mount Livermore, we had spectacular views of Marin and Golden Gate Bridge. Dave Horning (executive director for Envirosports) told participants to feel free to stop, admire the views and take photos. He would deduct "sightseeing time" from your recorded race time, although you couldn't win the race that way! It was pretty funny because I actually saw a few people take him up on the offer -- they really did stop to take photos.

After the initial ascent, the next portion of the race circumnavigated the island so we had unobstructed panoramic of other parts of the Bay Area, including San Francisco, Alcatraz Island and the East Bay. Not that I've done that many races, but this was by far the most beautiful one I have participated in so far.

The weather was cooperative today, so we had gorgeous weather. The sun had burned up the fog (hence we were able to see the amazing views), but even at 10AM, the sun beat mercilessly down on us. It was dry but hot, and I was glad that I had brought my Nathan Sports G-Trek II Trail Running Pack. Some runners don't like that design because they find that it chafes and causes them to sweat more but it works well for me.

A few people passed me during the run, but I ended up overtaking way more. I tried to keep a steady, consistent pace throughout the race, but my main goal was to just keep running, even on the uphill portions where a lot of people stop to walk. I am proud to report that I succeeded in doing this, even though there were points where I was taking only baby 6" steps. The inclines came at the worst times too. For instance, just when I thought I was done with all the climbing, there would be another steep slope up ahead. I played mental tricks to keep me going, for instance, telling myself that I would only run as far as the next corner, and reevaluate/take it from there. If it was flat/downhill after that, great! If not, I would convince myself to keep on going just a little more to the next corner, etc.

I don't have a heart monitor, so I relied on how I felt to determine how hard to push myself. It was tempting to pull back into a slower pace to catch my breath, especially after a climb, but I made sure that I was going at 75%-85% intensity all the way through. I was breathing heavily throughout (but not hyperventilating) and was uncomfortable during the majority of the race, so I think I achieved my goal. It was a "tempo run".

At one point, I saw this middle-aged, overly tanned shirtless guy wearing shorts and Tivas. I think they were "trail Tivas", but the fact that he wasn't wearing socks or running shoes was surprising to me. I'll call this guy Walk'n'Sprint because that's what he did. I saw him in the distance and eventually caught up to him when he was walking. Just as I reached him, however, he would sprint ahead, and then stop to walk again. This happened several times and was really annoying because it was hard to overtake him! I thought he would be better off just running slower but without stopping since he was completely messing up his cadence.

I eventually passed him during a longer uphill section. Actually, that's when I passed quite a few people who had resorted to walking. Very soon, however, I heard somebody breathing down my back. A lady had just passed me and I turned at that point to see whether the heavy breather wanted to move on ahead as well. "No," came the reply, "I like your pace." I was pacing Walk'n'Sprint! Grr...

The final part of the race was the same as the beginning but in reverse. At one point, I took a wrong turn and nearly headed up the mountain again, but Walk'n'Sprint called out to put me on the right path again. To his credit, he didn't take the opportunity to pass me, but then and again, he didn't have any incentive to do until much closer to the end because he was essentially drafting off me.

Immediately after I started the descent, I got my second wind and "runner's high" for the first time! I have been waiting for this moment for a while now. Every time I've run before, especially during races, I'd think to myself, "Any moment now... it'd be great if this runner's high thing would kick in!" but with no luck. D said that I would know when it happened and he's right. All of a sudden, I felt like I could go much faster and without effort. Maybe it was because I was going downhill, but I started SPRINTING down the mountain. It was amazing. I overtook lots of people and some of them even cheered me on. One lady shouted, "Burn up the trail, sister!" I also saw some 25K runners heading in the opposite direction and enthusiastically high-fived them.

I finished the race in 1:14 hours, squeaking ahead of Walk'n'Sprint. He probably could have blown by me during the last segment, but had the curtesty of not doing so. He even thanked me at the end of the race for pacing him.

I liked this race much better than the Point Reyes 10K. According to the Pacific Coast Trail Runs website, the Angel Island 12K has 630 ft of elevation, which is just 70 ft less than Point Reyes, but it's spread over a much larger distance. I've been trying to find other trail runs to do, especially those that are 10 miles, but they all have 1,800+ ft of elevation which seems daunting... for now at least.

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