Saturday, January 3, 2009

Running in a Cloud-- Epiphany Run 2009

The goals of doing the Epiphany Run this year, held the first Saturday of the year to commemorate ultrarunning veteran (and Ultrarunning magazine publisher, Quad Dipsea & Lake Sonoma RD) John Medinger, was to start the year right, with a good long run, but to minimize the paternal-familial impact. In other words, I wasn't to put family plans on hold until I was back and showered in the afternoon. To that end, I decided I would start earlier than the 7 a.m. suggested start, especially since I wanted to do 50k, rather than a shorter option. Also, to save time and minimize carbon impact, I would start near my home in Castro Valley, rather than Skyline Gate at the northern end of Redwood Park in the Oakland hills. Jennifer Ray, minimally organizing the event, said it was cool and I could still get "official" results. click for a simplified course map

I had been up at least 10 minutes when I put on my glasses to see the clock: 2:30 a.m. I then turned off the alarm set at 4 a.m., and moved out of the room, carefully so as not to wake up my easily stirred wife. Then I moved to the spare bedroom, setting that alarm for 4. After an hour lying awake in bed, I gave up. Might as well set out.

Trying to feel like a Dean Karnazes, I drove to the southeast corner of Anthony Chabot Park, at the southern tip of Brandon Trail, where it meets Ten Hills Trail at Redwood Rd. I parked on the street, put on my headlamp and debladdered Fuel Belt pack, and set out.

Entering the trail, I found that the fog made it hard to see. Real hard. As I descended the single track, it got worse. Like, I couldn't see. I would have to go slower than expected. I was worried this would make me colder-- it was in the upper 30's, obviously humid, and I had only a long-sleeve and short-sleeve technical T shirt, my 2007 Firetrails 50 Marmot wind jacket, Race Ready shorts, and worn pair of Sportiva Lynx, in which I'd raced extensively last year.

Figuring at the pace I had started that I would never finish by 9:30, when my wife wanted me back, I decided to keep try to keep moving. Fortunately I knew this trail, and the fact that there was a dropoff to the right. Otherwise I probably would've dropped off. Emerging by the police station at the old Nike Missile base, the fog was finally clear. I saw a shooting star up above, and, oh well, a thick white blanket of fog below over the lake, by which I would be running the next few miles.

Even before reaching the suggested turnaround the normal course at the Chabot boat house, the fog got thicker than ever, the visibility as low as 5-10 feet. Even though I was in the overflow parking lot, and knew I was in that parking lot, I got disoriented and found myself off to the side in some bushes. I would not see the lights of the marina and boat house until I was 100 yards away.

Little did I know that fellow Bay Area ultrarunner Chihping Fu was starting at the boat house at the same time. The fog was so thick, that neither of us saw the other.

Running along the West Shore Trail, I was actually appreciating the pavement, something this trail-lover rarely does. I found myself running by memory, as the fog would obscure my view, and caused me to veer to the sides, splash into puddles, and almost trip. In some small dips the fog would momentarily clear; paradoxically everything would darken, but I could see better.

Coming out of the Bort Meadow parking lot, where there would be an aid station sometime after 7 a.m., again I ran out of the fog on MacDonald Trail, then dipped back into it, turning right at Redwood Road and into the main entrance of Redwood Park. At times I couldn't tell what surface I was running on, and I did a lot of stopping to try to read signs and stay on the prescribed trails. Around mile 13, I got an acute intense attack of the sleepies, not just the mental cloud in which I'd been running to match the mist, but an epiphany that I am a truly crazy ultrarunning idiot. I had some caffeinated gummy chews in my pack, but didn't feel like taking my pack off to look for them. Plus, I was out of water and the fog obscured any fountains that I knew were along the trail.

I ascended gradually to Skyline Gate, the turnaround. My Forerunner read 15.45 miles. Although I knew the wrist device always underestimated distance, to ensure I wasn't shorting myself of 50k, I ran to the end and around the parking lot and back before filling my bottle up in the water fountain and pouring in some powdered Gu2O. A car pulled into the lot. I paused staring at the car, considering saying "hi" to see if it held the first runners starting at the normal time and place, but decided I needed to get going.

The sky was starting to brighten. What a difference a brightening sky made, despite it being dimly lit and my still running in heavy forest. I could see all the puddles in which I splashed, the ruts in the trail, the paths that veered off elsewhere.

(not actually a view in Redwood, see below. photo by Baldwyn Chieh)

After ascending and descending MacDonald Trail, I came back to the Bort Meadow parking lot. Although we'd never met, I knew from emails that it was Oakland ultrarunner Steve Holman. I chatted, helped myself to couple Luna bars, half filled my bottle. As I was leaving, Baldwyn Chieh came running from Castro Valley, muttering about how he couldn't find Goldenrod Trail and tried to call me. He snapped a photo of me and Steve.

I was glad to briefly connect with the official aid crew and one other runner, since I didn't think I would see anyone else running the same event that morning. But a few miles later, on Goldenrod Trail, I saw two women that looked familiar running toward me on the dirt trail approaching the lake. I asked them if they were doing "the run." "Yes, but we're doing it in the opposite direction!" they answered. I said "so am I" but was not sure they believed me.
(Later I would learn they were veteran ultrarunners Barbie Elia and Linda McFadden, both from Modesto. I've recognized Barb a million times at races, so I must've been sleepy.)

Since the sun was up, shining in my face as it started to burn the fog off, I was missing my $150 Julbo off-road sunglasses I'd lost descending the streets from Wildcat park in El Cerrito three evenings ago. The bike path along Chabot was starting to fill with hikers, joggers and people holding their fishing lines-- all qualifying as early risers, but this morning not early compared to me.

Had this been a real race, I would've been really kicking it in at this point, if not already. Such is the laid-back nature of the fat-ass run.

Fairmont Ridge seen over a cloud lying over the Chabot Park main entrance as I ascended McGregor GeorgeTrail during my final 2.8 miles.

I got back to my car by 9 a.m. Some mountain bikers were unloading their bikes and one asked me if it was cold out there. "Yeah, but I've been running 31 miles since 3:45" I say, only half-trying to be nonchalant about it. They give me that "you crazy" look I guess for some reason I was seeking.

My family and I made it to the California Academy of Sciences at 11:15, to find even the members line went 100 yards out the door, and there were only letting people in as people left, which wasn't going to happen that early in the day. So we walked around Stow Lake and drove to the buffalo grove in Golden Gate Park, before heading to Fisherman's Wharf to eat Ghiradelli, weave through the extra large holiday crowds, and see the sea lions. There were lots of joggers out in the brisk sunny weather. Had I not gotten a good run in, I would have been fidgeting. Too bad our camera is lost somewhere in my brother's house, because we missed a lot of great photo ops.

Motion Based Garmin Forerunner recorded map and stats (not sure if you need software loaded on your computer to view)

Other blogged reports:
Baldwyn Chieh

1st published Sunday, 1/4/09 at 5 p.m.


Dave - Atlanta Trails said...

I am glad you provided us with your epiphany ("truly crazy ultrarunning idiot"). The report would have been incomplete without it.

Nice start to the year!

Jo Lynn said...

Yup, definitely certified crazy!

Baldwyn said...

'They give me that "you crazy" look I guess for some reason I was seeking.' I'm glad someone else craves that look too. It's quite validating.

Baldwyn said...


The 405 definitely over-estimates elevation as you can see. Your last lap and my second lap at my face were very close (within .01 miles) for distance. Too bad we can't get a breakdown of elevation per lap.

Jean Pommier said...

I wouldn't say crazy but good fat ass indeed. Sorry to have missed this one on the East side of the Bay, it conflicted with our own little tradition in Saratoga.

Looking forward to seeing you on the trails, crazy runner! ;-)

Farther Faster

Lloyd said...

Mark, nice run!

Though I started distance running later in life after leaving California, I love hearing about the East Bay hills. I grew up in South Hayward and Garin Park was my backyard.

I noticed that Mohican is on your 2009 schedule. I live in NE Ohio and have have paced, ran (2007), and crewed at MO over the past 5 years. If there's anything I can do to help out your prospects for MO, please let me know.

Lloyd Thomas

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

What a coincidence, Lloyd, see my next post....I ran Garin--almost all of it--the day after your comment.