I felt obligated as a local friend to help Baldwyn Chieh's 40th birthday celebration fat-ass run on Saturday December 20th by marking the course, since I knew the trails in and around the Five Canyons community in the eastern hills of Castro Valley are at times confusing.
The evening before, I managed to start putting up pink ribbons (leftover from checking the course at Skyline 50k in August) with my older son after I picked him up from his preschool nearby until it got dark and I had to pick up my other son.
I get up close to 3 a.m., unaware of the time, lie in bed for a while wondering what time it is (I have to put on my glasses to see the alarm clock). Finally I get out of bed at 3:30, get stuff ready and drive up the hill to the start. For a couple years I have often thought of doing this--wake up early to run trails in the dark, but have never gotten around to trying-- no surprise why!
It's chilly, so I actually have 3 layers on top-- a tech long sleeve, bicycling jacket and a fleece over that, headband, headlamp, gloves. I'm still hold. And hungry. I eat half a banana, grab the roll of pink ribbon and set out with the course map and 2-page instructions.
1st lap In keeping with Baldwyn's course instructions, I set off at 4:13 a.m. from near his friend's house for a short spur of pavement, until an entrance to the trails, heading counter-clockwise, and not too fast, since it's dark and I'm sleepy and cold. My worries that I'd wake up the neighborhood by first waking up all dogs prove unfounded. I put up ribbons (there would be 35 in the end over the 5.8 mile course), none for reassurance, only where there is ambiguity about the right direction. I also read the instructions carefully to make sure I'm doing exactly what they say. Climbing the highest ridge, the lights of the East Bay and as far as downtown San Francisco are a sight to see. The loop takes me 1:17.
2nd lap I'm starving when I get to my car and eat the rest of the banana, swallow some water, but opt to leave the bottle. I go counter-clockwise again, this time free of ribbon hassle, as the eastern sky starts to glow. I finish in just under an hour.
3rd lap I decide to go clockwise, which to me is the more logical way to go, since this way I climb the steep uphills and can run down the long gentler slopes. I bring my lamp, but after the first few wooded stretches, don't need the light. I tear of pieces of a Cliff Bar for my munchies. This must set off peristalsis because once I've crested the high point by the water towers, I really have to take a dump, and don't think I can wait until the restrooms by the playground atop the other big hill. Luckily the ground is soft, so I can dig a nice hole. When I get to the restrooms, I find they are locked anyways, so feel good I didn't try to hold it. Soon after the short technical descent from the playground I spot Jean Pommier, who started early, looking at his map. I have to shout his name about 4 times before he hears me. He's going the opposite direction. I wish him luck, telling him I'm alternating directions now.
This time I come in just over an hour. I take off my headlamp, trade my headband for a visor, and ditch the outermost 3rd layer, whose zipper is giving me trouble anyways.
4th lap Counter-clockwise again. Since more runners will be coming, I adjust and move a few of the ribbons since I can see what they look like in daylight. I bring some Cliff Shots, but find that when it's cold, it's really hard to pull them apart. Near the end of the lap, Jean comes from the other direction, telling me that Baldwyn is at the start waiting for me. Like clockwork, just under 1 hour.
Baldwyn has his dog with him, and the impressive aid station is there finally. I greedily snarf snacks from his table, fill my water bottle with Cytomax and after 6 minutes running back and forth to my car, we set off. I bring my camera to take some photos.
5th lap I convince birthday boy to run clockwise. While we leave the driveway, we see a flock of wild turkeys fly onto the roof of a house across the street. I've seen them on trails, but never around houses, and I didn't realize they could fly.
You can see the San Francisco skyline in the distance to the left of this view.
Baldwyn's dog Cub is having a blast and keeps running ahead of us in different directions so probably runs at least an extra mile. He would eventually poop out after 3 laps, but not bad for a small dog.
I'm starting to feel tired, so when I actually have the breath, it's nice to be able to talk--though mainly on the downhills.
We run into Jean going up a single track trail, near the mid-way point and chat a bit.
We finish in 1:08-- I didn't feel like I decelerated that much.
6th lap is bonus, because I thought I'd only get to fit in 5, barely an ultra distance, but when I finally reached my wife on my phone, she told me to stay out since she was running errands with the kids and wouldn't get back until 11. Jean Pommier shows up about the same time and so the 3 of us set out and go counter-clockwise. I'm skeptical about being able to keep up with Jean, who's very fast and also fresh and doing his laps under 50 minutes. He keeps pulling away, then stopping to wait, and then we wait a little longer for Baldwyn and his dog. I am more worried that Baldwyn is getting sucked into running too fast too early. Only at the end of the lap does Jean bolt ahead and I let Baldwyn fall back.
In the end, I again take a few seconds less than an hour, back to my normal lap pace. It's almost exactly 11 am when I finish. Therefore 6 hours 47 minutes with all my long breaks totally about 23 minutes, and an estimated 17 minutes of ribbon stops, to run somewhere between 34 and 35 very hilly miles. Surprisingly, I never grew tired of the course, even though I run these trails all the time. I had never run successive laps before; if I have more than 2 1/2 hours to run, I usually run Lake Chabot or East Bay Municipal District trails circuitously leading to there from my house. It was great seeing how the lighting and colors and views changed from night through twilight and into a sunny day.
Baldwyn give me 2 ornaments he made with the race logos, and 6 bottles of special edition home-brew, one for each lap I finished, with directions to wait 2 weeks before imbibing.
I make it back home just in time to hang out with my kids a little before lunch.
I had told Baldwyn that I would try to come back out when my kids are napping, but I ended up having to nap myself and then I got drafted by my wife for a shopping excursion to IKEA in Emeryville with a short side trip to pick up some stuff from REI. Because my younger son just started walking, it was a full time job to make sure he had fun running around the very large store without breaking something or getting run over by a shopping cart.
Well, didn't get to do lap 7, but it was fun and I got to run longer than I'd expected. Thanks, Baldwyn for a great event, Happy Birthday!
The other blogged report with more photos:
1st published Tuesday, December 23, 2008