Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Brooks Falls 50K - DCraig's Race Report

Men 1st : Leigh Schmitt of Healdsburg, California – 4:32:48
Women 1st : Audrey Reyes of Vacaville, California – 5:39:59

4th: Darren Young, Reno – 5:17:09
8th: DCraig Young, Virginia City – 6:15:29

The lonely, sublime finish of the ultra runner. Brooks Falls 50K.
It is Tuesday and  the strides of the Brooks Falls 50K still echo in my quads. I had entered the event, my third ultra (and fourth race) in my short running career, as simply another step in training for the San Diego 100. But it turned into something altogether different.

Inside Trail's inaugural event somehow happened to be coincident with the first big winter storm of 2012, but unfazed by the low-hanging clouds and high-surf warnings, a small crew scurried to put up banners, tents, and tables as we arrived. In short order we had our numbers -- Darren marked for special assistance by #666 -- and found Tim Long, megaphone in hand, at the starting line of the trails of Brooks Falls in San Pedro Valley County Park, Pacifica, California. We joined about 100 competitors in the light rain, a small group of those carried an ultra goal of the 50K or a little over 31 miles.

The Yellow Loop marked the first part of the course. We climbed immediately into the trees following a short road and then single-track looping quickly to the namesake falls. A couple quick guys took off, not unexpected when you're mixed with runners targeting shorter distances, but I'm sure Leigh wasn't holding back early. On one early switchback I looked up to see Darren, in his Eclipse Running blue, leading a long line of runners, one after another, until it reached a second Eclipse jersey, me. So many races start in the pre-dawn darkness, I have never been able to see Darren on the trail other than a quick pass on an out-and-back; now here we were bringing up a 20-person peloton on the long first climb to the Montara Fire Road.

The group soon broke into little clusters and solo runners as we climbed into the wind and rain. No need to rush things so early on. The route was well-marked, but trail running always requires a small amount of orienteering skill or, at least, a quick study of the course map prior to setting out. Leading a group of three on the descent from the windy turn-around (what great coastal views of really big surf!), I passed the Brooks Falls Trail, our climb up, and continued down the Montara Mtn Trail as planned. But I quickly noticed my immediate follower turn, off-route, at the intersection. The next guy, Bryan from Moss Beach, yelled out and the wayward guy returned. He shrugged as he passed me, "I always seem to do that." I guess he simply didn't trust me or the signs.  I heard later that some trail markers may have been removed and that that led to some confusion, but it was an easy course to follow and I never had to focus on route-finding at all.

I carried a single water bottle and a few gels on every lap. The aid station was excellent. The usual fare but well-stocked (thanks for the Clif fuels!) and staffed by generous, helpful volunteers. I kept to my routine of a gel every half-hour and finished a bottle every lap. My drop bags with "dry" shoes and socks would be soaked by the end of the day, but I never needed the bags or their contents. My planning at the start, running the La Sportiva Cross-Lites and carrying the Patagonia NineTrails jacket tied around my waist, paid off throughout the day.

After a brief stop at the aid station, I set out on the Pink Loop for a short climb and descent followed by a never-ending series of switchbacks on the Hazelnut Trail (we later simply referred to this as "Big Pink"). The rain stung a little more on the first exposed climb and the footing on the trail was rutted and wet with a small in-trail stream. Perfect.  I let Bryan slip away here, he was on the 30K so I didn't want to keep pace. For the rest of the day I would be alone except when passing or meeting someone on a return leg.

Footfeathers was at the aid station at the bottom of Big Pink where he handed me a couple salt tablets and PB&J and told me Darren wasn't looking so good and I could probably catch him. Oh sure.  Now I would repeat the Yellow and Pink loops running into the teeth of the wind-driven rain. I climbed steadily, I think, enjoying the sticky mud until I ran into Darren, weather-beaten but looking great, as he came off the ridge. We paused and acted surprised that there weren't more people out here, only two people between him and me. He'd counted them as he turned back from the summit, and, sure enough, I really wasn't that far, place-wise behind him. I ran into two guys on the ridge road, but I was almost an hour behind Darren, Tim's attempt at motivating me notwithstanding.

The ridge was epic. I was greeted with sideways rain that pelted and soaked me. The challenge of gaining the summit made me forget that I had done this once before and that I had quite a bit of time left out there. I wasn't tired, I was determined; and wanted relief from the tempest.  As I turned around, I realized I had only lost about twelve minutes on my second climb up the four-mile hill. I finally found relief as I turned from the ridge and started the switchbacks back into the groves of the valley. I was slower on the descent, thinking I would need the reserves for later.

The second round of the Pink Loop was the toughest section of the race; not as long as the climb up the ridge, but the switchbacks wear you down. Darren caught me near the summit of Big Pink while on his last loop to the finish. I kept trying to erase from my mind that I had to immediately repeat this climb. I saw no other runners.

At the bottom Darren held a medal for First Place. It was for the Age Group because the Tims would not award the podium and the Age Group to Scott Dunlap (2nd overall, 1st in 40-49), so Darren sported it for me as I stopped to refill my bottle and down some Mountain Dew. I was 5:30 in and could certainly repeat Big Pink in under an hour! Let's go.

At the beginning of the day, I was sure I would be happy with a 7-hour finish, but now I had run a full marathon and climbed about 6,500 feet well under six hours. So I set off with determination, while the rain and wind seemed more determined to stop me. As I climbed, I passed a few people working on their second lap, certainly as determined as I was to keep going. But suddenly a guy in minimalist glove-like shoes, Vibram Five-fingers, was on my tail, not passing but just sitting in like he was drafting. I can't let him pass me; why was I getting concerned about that?  His presence pushed me to run where I might have slowed to walk the switchbacks. I would slow occasionally, but he would match me. I raised my arms at the summit and welcomed the rain and I heard him say, "have a good finish, I'll wait for my wife." Kristopher had dropped from the 50K to run with his wife Rebekah, who was climbing up on her second lap of three. Nice run dude, you win.

At the top of Big Pink I simply let it go, running with abandon along the muddy trails in the downpour. I dumped my water bottle and pushed an 8-minute pace for the last two miles, matching Darren's time on the final circuit. At the bridge to the finish my calves were screaming but soon the little windy flags of the finish were in view. And then it was over.

6:15:29 - 8th out of 19 finishers, 5th in Age Category -- a PR for future comparisons and measures. But these things stand alone because of the unique set of conditions that form each event. Success comes with each one completed, but, at Brooks Falls, the exhilaration of defeating an ascending storm over a long distance and discovering that I not only finished but finished in spirited competition are sublime.

Thanks to Tim Long and Tim Stahler and all the great volunteers; it was worth the drive from Nevada. Darren and I are proud to be have been a part of the inaugural run at Inside Trail, and we look forward to many future events (though this one will be tough to beat). Your hard work will pay off.  Special thanks to Darren for laughing in the rain and leaving blurred tracks to follow; I can't imagine it any better. Thanks also to Chuck at Eclipse Running, we are proud to fly the flag for Reno's best running store. Not to be repetitive, but thanks again to Footfeathers for the training program that gets results and adds to the ultra experience. One step closer to San Diego.

Gear: La Sportiva Cross-lites (perfect for the conditions), Eclipse T, Patagonia software (Trailmaker shorts, NineTrails jacket, and Merino wool socks), UVEX shades, McDavid travel bag, compression sleeves (and post-race compression socks and shorts), Garmin 310XT, and Ultimate hand-held bottle.  And the great GMC 4x4 that carried us through the snow.


  1. That about sums it up! Great run Craig; I'm excited to see what you'll do at San Diego!

  2. So proud of you guys!
    Young Mountain Runners indeed!
    Love ya!

  3. "I dumped my water bottle..." Did you retrieve it from the trail after?

    1. Hey Leng, never thought of it that way. Just dumped the water! The bottle is still with me.

  4. Fabulous! I have been wanting to read about the race, but reading and you AND the race was even better fun! Looks like there was some irony at work with the #666...Congrats to both you and Darren!

  5. Terrific report to match a perfectly executed race. You balanced patience with fire and earned the results fully. Super proud of you and Darren. That's a ridiculously difficult course. We'll be seeing a 5:30 50k soon.