Race Recap: Pacifica Trail Half Marathon

AKA…my first DNF. For any of you blissfully unaware of the existence of DNF, it sadly means ‘Did Not Finish’.

The ankle struck again.  It’s not all bad though. There was much that was awesome, so let’s start at the very beginning.

The early morning drive over to Pacifica was beautiful. The forecast was for a warm, sunny day so, having consulted the ‘What to Wear’ tool on Runners World, I wore shorts, a t-shirt and sunnies. Perfect!

Good morning, Pacifica! See you in 13 miles, eh?

Good morning, Pacifica! See you in 13 miles, eh?

San Pedro Valley County Park was already buzzing when I got there, half an hour or so before the race. The longer distances were about to set off…and as such, the car park was full. I had a momentary panic but found street parking very easily and walked to the staging area. At least I saved $6. Got my number in a heartbeat, used the loo, chatted to some girls in the queue and walked up to the half-marathon start line. (Particularly liked the Mockingjay call they used to rally the half-marathoners).

Intimidated to think I was running up to the top there!

Intimidated to think I was running up to the top there!

The race was basically two different loops, like a butterfly. Up Montara Mountain and back to the staging area (7.4 miles) and up another hill and back (5.8 miles). There was a lot of single track and a LOT of climbing. The Race Director’s briefing basically discussed how ridiculously hilly this race was. He advised us to pace ourselves and reminded us that our one aid station was at mile 7, at the bottom of this first loop. I had dithered about whether or not to wear my hydration vest and in the end, I wore it. I think I would have been fine with just bringing a hand-held, but with a lot of climbing in the sun, I was really happy to have worn it. Good decision.

We all set off and pretty much immediately two things happened. Firstly, we started climbing and didn’t stop. Secondly…the trail got beautiful. It was amazingly beautiful. We started in a lush, enchanted Eucalyptus forest and climbed above the trees onto exposed single track through chaparral. Then we got onto a fire road and climbed another mile or so further. The fire road was ridiculously steep. The first mile or so was very crowded and it was hard to get into a rythmn but once we got into the chaparral, the trails were wider and allowed passing and I got into my groove.

IMG_5688

Gorgeous trails!

Before I started, I’d felt the old race adrenaline in my veins and wondered if I might try to push it a little. Very quickly, it became apparent that using this as an exploration run was the right decision. It was SO steep and I am SO slow, so I settled into gear and kept running and hiking up the mountain. Plenty of people passed me, I passed others and stopped every now and again to snatch photos. The views were seriously incredible. Much as we need rain (oh we do), I was grateful for such a stunning day so I could see these views.

Worth the hurt!

Worth the hurt!

Eventually I got to the turnaround point at the top of Montara mountain and turned back. I was feeling awesome. I was REALLY happy to be out running these gorgeous trails, to be enjoying it instead of racing. I was so happy. And then the inevitable happened. The ankle twist. Not on gnarly single track but on half-paved fire road. Just a little stumble but enough to send me to the side of the track and breathing through the pain. The women who were running around me were very sweet and clearly unsure whether to stay with me or not but I made them keep running – I’m getting experienced at this ankle twisting and I knew I could at least walk down the mountain if necessary.

The pain subsided in a few minutes so I started jogging carefully and slowly. But it ached a lot and as I made my way back down the mountain, I tried to decide what to do. I was crawling down the single-track like a grandma (actually, an older lady who was probably a grandma flew past me) and stopping to walk every time the trail got remotely stony. Everyone that I worked so hard to pass on the way up just breezed past me. I envied their sure footing and strong ankles. Before too long, I was pretty much at the back of the race. All by myself.

See everyone else on the trail? Miles in front.

See everyone else on the trail? Miles in front.

I basically had two options . One…return to the staging area and drop out. This was the sensible idea. I have Bay Breeze in 3 weeks and I really want to run well there. I also know my ankle heals quite quickly and running on concrete is pretty much fine. So this would be the wise decision. Or Two…keep running. The ankle only ached and I wanted to finish this race very much. I wanted the mug and the t-shirt. I wanted the miles in my mileage log. I wanted to run Hazelnut Trail (on the second loop) simply because I liked the name so much. I vascillated about what to do for the entire trip down the mountain.

Just beautiful!

Just beautiful!

I got back to the staging area and to the aid station where I miserably ate M&Ms. I ended up chatting to the dude manning the aid station and he told me he’d run through an injury and hadn’t been able to run for six months. That made my mind up so I went to the timing people to officially drop out so they wouldn’t have a rescue party after me in the dark. The race director told me I was doing the right thing – he’d also pushed through injury and been unable to run for a while. He also told me not to forget to collect my mug and my t-shirt. That was rather lovely.

Clutching my mug and t-shirt, I walked back to the car miserably. I phoned my boys and cried a bit and then got a bit of perspective and stopped moaning.  I got home to find the Dude had made us all hats out of envelopes. I am flipping lucky to have these boys.

Thank you Husband for being lovely enough to let me post this ;)

Thank you Husband for being man enough to let me post this 😉

Despite the DNF, I LOVED this race. Inside Trail did an excellent job of running it and I loved the vibe there. The trails were some of the most beautiful I have ever had the pleasure of running (or hiking) in my entire life.  The weather was glorious, the views were gobsmacking. I had a really wonderful run and loved it! In addition, I ran up a flipping mountain! There is so much to be happy about there!

I’m in the process of arranging some physiotherapy for my flipping ankle. And Hazelnut Trail and I have got some unfinished business. Pacifica, I’ll be back!

About Cathryn

I'm from Wiltshire, a beautiful rural county in the south of England. My husband, son and I moved to California in August 2010 with my husband's job, whilst I stay at home with The Dude, our gorgeous five year old son. I love running and cycling. I'm a Christian. I am finally learning to cook (about time too). I'm loving exploring this new part of the world and meeting its wonderful people.
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16 Responses to Race Recap: Pacifica Trail Half Marathon

  1. Cheryl says:

    Smart decision to drop out (but I can imagine how tough that must have been! Fingers crossed for a speedy recovery!) The trail does look beautiful. Of the Bay Area trail-racing groups you’ve run races with, do you have an overall favorite? Or do you think the trail/location itself matters more than the organizer?

    • Cathryn says:

      I’ve only run a handful of trail races so I can’t really answer…wonder if any other more experienced readers want to chip in? I’ve run with Coastal (and their sister company Zoom) and Inside Trail so far and have been hugely impressed with both. My gut-feel is that if you’re not likely to win or are seriously competitive, the location and the trails are more important. I’d definitely prioritise location over organiser at the moment. Anyone else got any thoughts on this?

      • Cathryn says:

        And I did hear about one company whose organisations leave something to be desired – poor signage, lack of aid stations etc. I won’t name publicly as I have no personal experience of this company but DM me if you want to know more. I haven’t written off their races as a result of this feedback but I’m a little less gung-ho about signing up.

      • Jen says:

        I’ve run with Brazen, Zoom/Coastal, and Inside Trail — all 3 have held well-organized and great events. The biggest difference I find is price (Brazen is more expensive usually), spacing of aid stations (ITR seems to have them further apart), post-race food, and race swag (Brazen wins in these last 2 categories). All 3 groups organize races in mostly the same parks, so I agree with Cathryn – think about where you want to race, then look at the calendar to see what works best for you.

      • Cathryn says:

        Thanks for chiming in here, I was hoping you would chip in!!

  2. Juli Bronzini says:

    So proud of you as usual! That trail looks amazing, so when you’re all healed up we’ll go check it out again(: And YES, you ran up a mouton dear friend! There are many people (no offense to them!) that didn’t even climb the stairs Saturday(:

  3. Cathryn says:

    Thanks lovely. Would love to go back with you, although without the strollers.

    BTW…I love your typo, you said I ran up a mouton which is French for sheep, so I now have visions of me running up a sheep. That’s made my day. xxx

  4. Bean says:

    So sad to hear about your ankle but think you did the right thing. I am so glad you got the mug and t-shirt though. That hopefully makes it sting a little less. Before the rebellious ankle it sounds like you were killing it!!! And those views are amazing! Makes me want to hit the trails…..maybe this summer with you……!!!

  5. Jen says:

    I was so sad to come back from camping to see that you twisted your ankle again! I’ll chime-in and agree with the rest who’ve said it was smart of you to DNF. Hope you find a good PT/physio! We’ll head back to Pacifica when you’re all healed up. 🙂

  6. Cheryl says:

    Thanks Cathryn and Jen! Super-helpful and I’m bookmarking all those pages now…

  7. Very wise to not push yourself. Beautiful photos including you all with the hats. Love it!

  8. Kristen says:

    I am so sorry about your ankle but glad you still got your shirt and mug! 🙂 Those trails look beautiful!

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