Race Report: Crystal Springs Half Marathon

On Saturday, I ran my first ever trail half-marathon. It was my second ever trail race (this was my first) but I felt like this was a ‘proper’ trail race (not sure what I mean by that, but you know what I mean). And I’ll be honest, I felt much more nervous for this than for other races. I was concerned about getting lost, needing the loo en route, the gigantic 5-mile hill, race etiquette and looking like a muppet…I was nervous.

Race Weekend started, however, with the best thing that happens all year. My parents arrived from the UK. Trust me, if you adore your parents and they live on the other side of the world, the day they arrive for their annual fortnight visit is Christmas Day, Bonfire Night and Eurovision all rolled into one blissful airport moment.

Everyone is very happy
Everyone is very happy

(Clearly my parents are the very geographical opposite of ‘home’ but Lucky’s didn’t have a balloon saying ‘Welcome to America, British people’.)

Anyway. The race had various starts – the long races (50K, Marathon, 22M) started at 8.30. The Half started at the very pleasant time of 9am – pleasant particularly because it’s fairly cool here at the moment and the race was under a canopy of redwoods so it wouldn’t get too hot.

My Dad accompanied me to the race start – he ended up walking the 5 mile route. But it meant I had company and hugs at the start line! I’ll be honest – everyone there looked VERY fast. They were skinny (as my dad remarked) and sporty looking and I felt pretty intimidated. Check-in was ridiculously fast and easy and then we hung around a bit before the race director briefed us to look for pink ribbons and not to miss the turn-around point, or we’d end up running 22 miles! OK! It was all very informal – no official start-line really, we just lined up, he counted down and we were off.

The very low-key start line
Me and my old dad 🙂

We all pelted downhill for 100 yards and then patiently queued at the start of the single-track. And then we all ran downhill for about a mile. I was anxious not to hinder anyone passing, but there wasn’t much room to manoeuvre so I tucked in behind a tall girl with a pink t-shirt who, from behind, looked very much like Dorothy from Mile-Posts. She was very sure-footed so I basically followed her until we hit the wider, smoother fire-road.

The fire-road gave everyone space to start running their own pace, which was nice. However it also marked the start of the flipping ridiculous 5 mile hill – we climbed 1,500 feet on that climb. I knew I’d walk at some point but had underestimated how much I would walk. Trail running is seriously humbling – just when you think you’re not too bad at this running malarky, it kicks you back down to size. We climbed and climbed and climbed and climbed. Every now and again there was a blissful flat or even a short downhill but then we climbed again. It was pretty awful, to be honest, alleviated only by the gorgeousness of the trails. I did think a few times that I wish I’d done the 5 mile route instead of the half! But I plodded along slowly. REALLY slowly.

Trails (from another day)
(photo from another day)

There were no mile-markers on this race. I didn’t mind at all, actually. I knew it would take me about 2 1/2 hours so just checked my watch every now and again and had a sense of how much longer I’d be running.  At some point, we reached the top of the big climb and ran the flatter trail along Skyline. There was an aid station at this point and it was seriously fabulous. I piled into the M&Ms like the Dude at pre-school! That may not have been a wise move, as I felt a little sick afterwards and the M&Ms nearly came back up twice, but I survived. We ran about 1 mile further to the turnaround point and I was excited to see that ‘Dorothy’ and ‘Ponytail Girl’ (the two girls I wanted to stay close to) weren’t that far ahead of me. In fact when we got back to the aid station, I filled up my drink bottle and forged ahead and lost them both. Awesome runner that I am.

I ran the next few miles alone and they were amazing. Eventually we started the descent down to the finish line. I plunged into Chinquapin Trail and lost myself in trail bliss. It was seriously beautiful. I hurtled downhill feeling more like Katniss with every single step. I was invincible, fast, sleek, fierce, God’s gift to descending! There was about 20 minutes when I was about as happy as could be, with this massive crazy grin plastered on my face as I plummeted towards the bottom of the mountain.

Until Dorothy sailed past me effortlessly. Darn.

Oh well, I wasn’t in this to win in (just as well) so I kept flying downwards. There was a really nasty half-mile climb at mile 9 when my exhausted legs just refused to run but then we hit the fire-road back. About a mile to the end, I saw Dorothy in the distance and passed her one final time. Job done!

I was over the moon to see the cars that signalled the finish line. I was more over the moon to hear the Dude, the Husband and the Father shouting my name as I plunged into the finishing area! I ran into the chute with this massive grin on my face, so proud of myself!

And Dorothy flew past me and pipped me at the post. Darn her!

The Dude ran alongside for the final few metres!

13.1 miles in 2.25 at an 11.04 pace. No danger to the 1st woman in my age-range who somehow did it at an 8.59 pace.

My Mum was at the end for a big hug. Lots of hugging, some photos and then we attacked the snacks table which was delightfully unhealthy. The Dude piled into the Oreos like he’d run the race himself! And then I got talking to Dorothy (obviously not her real name) and she was not only lovely but also lives locally and we’re going to go running together soon! Somewhat scarily, she’s been running for two months and this was her first race ever. I reckon she’ll be too fast for me in about a month! But I was so happy to have made a new local running-buddy as well!

There is NOTHING like a finish line with your favourite people in the world there!

Once the Snacks table was adequately depleted, we drove up the mountain to my favourite restaurant Alice’s where I demolished a glass of white wine, a portobello mushroom sandwich and garlic fries! I honestly can’t tell you how great today was – my parents here, a trail race and lunch at Alice’s? Literally perfect.

I love this place
I love this place

The loot for the race (organised by Coastal Trail Runs) was excellent. A really lovely tech t-shirt that I will be wearing a LOT and some technical socks which is a really nice, quirky  additional touch. I’ll be honest, I’d swap the socks for a medal in a heartbeat (no medals for finishers, only AG podium-ers) but I appreciate that the socks will be more useful in the long run!

The shirt is redder than the photo! Super cool, I love it.
The shirt is redder than the photo! Super cool, I love it.

This race was tough. The hill was brutal and it knocked seven bells out of me. But the downhill was so amazing that it made up for the uphill and left me buzzing and shaky on endorphins! It was really well organised and well sign-posted, I never wondered if I was on the right trail which I was nervous about.

Having said that, this race was a reminder to me at how poor a runner I really am. I am NOT hunting for compliments here. But I watched people run past me effortlessly time and time again, watched them climb so much more easily than me, saw how the fastest runners covered the ground at a speed I can only dream of. I LOVE running and I loved this race but it was a little disheartening at the same time.

I’m going to do a separate post at some point about what to expect for your first trail race. I found a lot online about how to prepare (fuelling, hydrating) but not about how it differs from road races and what to expect. If anyone’s got anything to contribute, please send me a note – a couple of people sent me handy hints beforehand, thank you, I’ll include them and credit everyone, obviously!

But in the meantime…this was  a CRACKER of a weekend! Thank you to my lovely UK girls who bought me this race entry as a birthday present. I thought of you and missed you 🙂

19 Comments Add yours

  1. Nicola Johnson says:

    Well done you! Sounds quite an event and with your great description, I feel lime I’ve run some of it myself! Also quite pleased that I was only 8mins out on my time prediction for you! Slightly alarmed by this “I’m not a proper runner” rubbish though. Don’t be daft. Course you are. And in an effort to continously improve, you are surrounding yourself by those you can emulate and aspire to follow. Did you come last? Bet you didn’t… 🙂

    1. Cathryn says:

      No. I was firmly mid-pack. I didn’t say I wasn’t a proper runner…just that I was dis-spirited by how much stronger other runners were! Obviously I need to run more hills!!! It was fab – you need to come and visit so I can drag you up them 😉

      1. Nicola Johnson says:

        I remember vividly the hills at Longleat – my memory is still scarred!

      2. Cathryn says:

        Yeah, they were big!

  2. Jen says:

    Great recap! My favorite parts were about the balloon (‘Welcome to America, British people’ made me LOL) and this sentence: “Trail running is seriously humbling – just when you think you’re not too bad at this running malarky, it kicks you back down to size.” SO true! You are a great runner, just not a great trail racer yet. I believe you will see dramatic improvements as you do more trail running. I remember my first trail races — the East Bay Triple Crown ones were especially humbling, with me coming in the bottom 1/3 of all 3 races. There were SO many good runners there! The thing with trail races is that they’re usually so small, so it depends on who shows up. As a result, you can’t really measure yourself against others or even your own PR’s from other trail races because every course is different. Your personal course records are the true indication of progress.

    Anyway, glad you had a good experience and made a new running buddy friend. Looking forward to the trail racing tips post — I was thinking of writing one after giving all of those tips to you last time, but I’ll let you handle this one! 🙂

    1. Cathryn says:

      Thank you for the encouragement. I think you’re right actually…I’m new to trail running and totally new to trail racing, somewhere inside I thought I’d run as easily as I do on road. I also think it’s good to be humbled regularly. Stops a girl getting too big for her boots! I DID enjoy it though and I DO want to do more trail races! It’s so beautiful.

      You SHOULD do a trail running tips post – a) we’re blog twins and it would be expected and b) you have much more experience so your slant would be different. Mine comes fresh from one race really so the things I’ll mention are the biggies that struck me. You’ve done enough races to know a little more. So do it!

      1. Jen says:

        OK, blog twin! Let’s do it!

      2. Cathryn says:

        Will email you x

  3. Well, first I love your use of “proper” at the beginning of this post. I need to try and add that to my everyday vernacular. Second, the biggest thing I was afraid of when I first started trail running was passing, and it seems like you got that part down! But I still have a VERY hard time going to the bathroom trailside. I’m always so nervous that another runner will pop around the corner when my business is out. The other thing I would tell a newer trail racer is to bring your own fluids (that you’ve practiced carrying beforehand). The water stops are just so unpredictable in trail racing, plus it saves you time if you are getting all speedster. And one more thing to add to the longest comment ever, there was one morning that I got to a group trail run late, and I distinctly remember thinking, and later telling them (which might have creeped them out), that I felt like Katniss running through the woods searching for them. And that only would have creeped them out because she was trying to hunt people down to kill them in the story.

    Oh, and for real last thing, 2:25 is amazing for your first trail half!

    1. Cathryn says:

      Thanks for all the thoughts…I’ll include them in my ‘what to expect’ post!! I am SO glad I didn’t need the loo during the race – there was a spell when I thought I might need to (and we’re not talking pee) and it freaked me out. I had a second imodium in my sports bra and nearly took it!!! Oh the joys.

  4. Cheryl says:

    Nice job!!! Love that your friends bought you a race entry as a bday gift!

    1. Cathryn says:

      Yeah, I suggested it and I was so grateful they took up the idea. I don’t need much more ‘stuff’ but I will always do a race. I’ll be pulling together a Christmas list of race entries. I thought of the girls during the race (on the flat sections) and it was lovely to feel them close to me when I’m so far away!

  5. Angela says:

    Aw, what a great race! I think you *definitely* can’t be too hard on yourself for your first “proper” trail race — it’s just so different from plain old road running & there are so many different skills involved that it takes time & experience to learn. Glad you had a good time!

    1. Cathryn says:

      I do agree…lots to learn. But it was beautiful – particularly downhill 🙂

  6. Agnes Brady says:

    Cat, I’m so glad I read this post. First of all, congrats to your awesome time – my 3 hours 9 mins is waaaay behind yours, so don’t be so dispirited – there’s at least two people for sure who run slower than you :)) Your thoughts and experiences are painful reminders of the Big Sur gig – looks like I’m going for a repeat at Woodside. I’ll try to train for the hills. I’ll definitely try to shave quite a few minutes of my previous – and only – time on a half. I wonder if it’s going to be the same route as it was for you. Have you run with Inside Trail before?

    1. Cathryn says:

      No, this will be my first IT race but I’ve only heard good things about them! The course IS tough, ESP the hill, but it is really beautiful, ESP Chinquapin trail which is my favorite. And I heard big sur is really tough so congrats on your race!!!!

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