Or the Alternative Title, "Amazing People, Amazing Location, Amazing...Okay, Time To Use Other Adjectives"
I've written dozens of race reports but unfortunately they've all been written in my head while I've been running and I've never managed to actually commit them to writing. I don't know if that has to do with the fact that I'm usually exhausted and in need of a shower, food, and a nap post-race but today my motivation likely has to do with the fact that I had a Diet Coke at the finish line table at Pacific Coast Trail Runs Salt Point 11k/26k/50k.
Other than the Go!St. Louis Half Marathon and the Eye-Q Fresno Half Marathon, this is the farthest I've traveled for a race. It was well worth the drive. After finally figuring out where the start was because it was 1/2 mile from the parking lot, we assembled in a small parking area looking out over the coast. Despite the fog, or perhaps as a result of the fog, it was a beautiful race start. We immediately started a climb that seemed to last forever, and the first two or three miles really felt like I was on a hiking adventure more than participating in a race. But I settled in with the hiking portion of the program keeping in mind that I do these races not for the speed but for the healthful benefits, the joy of being on trails, and the overall experience.
The first portion of the race was interesting with some very limited single-track trails including bees that apparently went after some of the runners. For once I managed to dodge that bullet although I did nail my left knee on a huge log while climbing over it, and I'm now sporting a nice goose-egg on my right shin from while hurdling (okay, crawling over) a medium-sized log. Forgetting my newly acquired boo-boos, the next 6 or 7 miles were beautiful and also oddly unmemorable. It was all forest-lined trails that I love so much. That changed after we crossed back over Highway 1.
Suddenly we were running down a dozen or so stairs onto a small beach and then back up the other side to reveal grand cliffs and a spectacular Pacific Ocean in front of us. I have to say that in terms of the course, from here to the Gerstle Visitor Center parking lot was my favorite part of the course. I'm happy that I was able to take these pictures before my iPhone battery died.
And that brings me to best part of writing a race report which is reflecting on things that happened before, during and after the race. Sure, scenery and the accurate course markings and details like that are important. But the true measure for me of a successful race are the people I met that day. The best evidence of that today was when I was in my car on the way home when, after driving for about an hour, I finally thought 'huh, I wonder what my official time was?' I measure the success of a race by the people I met before, during and after the race, not by time or place finished. If I made a new friend at a race, then no matter what my time was, I came in first.
I think this is because there's a bond on the trails that just can't be found anywhere else, or with anyone else. I've said it dozens of times and I still believe it; it's a bond between trail runners only. I presume that many of us found a love of hiking and a joy of running and at some point we found the perfect combination in trail running. The elevation gains can cause us to walk when we want to run, and the downhill can wreak havoc on our knees, ankles, feet and toes. We don't shoot for a PR, even against the time we had if we ran this race before; there are too many variables like weather and fallen trees from race to race. Our pace times for some races can be laughable especially when compared to those from road races. Coming in last is not something we hope happens, but we sometimes do and it makes no difference because our one true goal was to just to finish. We don't mind getting dirty or even muddy and in fact, we expect it. We'll take whatever weather has been dealt us, including the occasional torrential downpour, or hail, or gale force winds. We prefer not to fall down, but we know it's just a matter of time before we take our first tumble and the road rash (or in this case, the trail rash) is almost considered a badge of honor. Bee/wasp/hornet stings happen, and getting lost is always in the cards. And although many may wonder why with all of these negatives we still run trail races, we view these possible pitfalls as the events that make the races interesting and challenging. We don't view others as competitors but as fellow races.
So to all of the people I met today at PCTR's Salt Point 11k/26k/50k, I have to say thank you. It was an immense pleasure to run with you even if for just a bit. And to specific individuals, I have the following to say:
To Lucy - I'm very glad you're okay and I'm really glad you declined my offer to walk back with you to the start. Your perseverance reminds me that women can be so amazingly tough and I love seeing a young woman with such strong-willed determination. You rock.
To Daniel - You are an inspiration and I like to think that I'm better person for having met you today. I love that you've decided to live life 100% and I hope I have half your energy and spirit when I turn 70. Keep on living the way you do because you fought and earned the right to do so. I look forward to running with you again and kick ass in Kansas!
To Charles - I was sad when I realized I wouldn't be able to catch up with you at the finish line, but please keep doing what you're doing and remember that in the end you have to do this for yourself and no one else. If you ever need encouragement in the form of supportive/optimistic words, or even in the form of pessimistic negativity like telling you that you can't do it so you get pissed off and want to prove me wrong, just let me know. Both methods have their time and place. I too have been down this road and it sucks. You've taken the first step and I'm happy to help you continue.
So, while I slightly digressed from a traditional race report, my overall review of this race was that it rocked. It was well worth the crazy-long drive and I'm sad that the park will be closing because of the budget. But when it re-opens, and if PCTR holds this race again, I'll be there. Why wouldn't I be since today I won this race.