August 28th – Mt. Diablo State Park – Coastal Trail Runs – Diablo Trail Marathon
The weather, by local standards, was forecast to be somewhat mild for my tenth marathon. But by my standards, it was going to be hot.
By anyone’s standards, this was going to be a tough race. Starting at the Mitchell Canyon Staging Area, the trail is fairly level for two miles, then begins an unending steep climb not just to the peak of Mt. Diablo, but to the roof of the visitor’s center! Starting elevation is 590 feet. Mt. Diablo is officially 3,848 feet, but this runner estimates another twenty-five feet of winding stairs to the roof.
Fortunately, since this first climb is also the first six and a half miles of the race, we ran in the coolest temperatures of the day. It was in the low sixties for the 8am start. 50k runners, marathoners, half marathoners, and 10-mile runners all started together.
It was an absolutely gorgeous morning. I started easy and took some time to admire the views. There was a lot of power hiking and slow running to gain the summit. I couldn’t help but think longingly of reaching the first downhill section, as my breathing was ragged and my heart was pounding.
I skipped the first aid station (5.1 miles), choosing instead to plow on up to the peak. Taking the visitor’s center steps two at a time, I paused for a quick second to admire the 360 degree views of the Bay Area, grabbed a rubber band (proof I made it all the way up), and scooted back down the stairs.
Shortly after the peak, those of us running the marathon and the 50k split off from the rest. Things got a lot quieter, as most runners in the field were doing the half marathon. At this point, it was down, down, and more down. Over the next ten miles we would drop down nearly as low as the starting point. At this point, the heat was starting to turn up, but after 90+ minutes of climbing, I was ready to run down hill…for about 5 miles. At that point, I started to get an odd discomfort in my legs and began thinking longingly of climbing again.
Hitting the North Gate aid station at mile 13.5, I was feeling good. Really good. Yes, I was hot and tired, but I felt like I was managing the race perfectly: walking when it was called for, running when it was possible, and really opening it up on mild descents. I was on top of my hydration and my nutrition plan was working like a charm.
From mile 16 to 21 the race turned back into a serious uphill effort, climbing back up to just over 3000 feet. It was getting hot. August on Mt. Diablo can easily reach temperatures in the mid to high 90s. We were fortunate that the temps topped out in the mid 80s, but that’s pretty extreme for this runner. I could feel the heat starting to affect me. Lot’s of “relentless forward progress” and “hiking with a purpose” got me to the final aid station. I paused in the shade for a minute or two, thanking the volunteers (who were AWESOME!), and letting my body cool down a bit.
Mentally, I was feeling strong. It was literally all downhill from that point on. We would be crusing from 3000 feet back down to 590 feet over the last five miles. Sometimes, late race downhill can be just as tough as climbing, and the heat wasn’t going to let me off easy, but I was confident I would finish well.
It quickly became clear that the heat was having a greater effect on me than I thought. Several times during the descent I dropped into a power hike, especially in those rare moments when the trail was shaded by arching oak trees. I didn’t want to risk blowing up so close to the finish.
With about two miles to go, another marathoner passed me. He looked at me as though it was insane for me to be walking downhill so close to the finish line.
“We’re almost there?!?” he said, the incredulity apparent in his voice.
“Yeah, we are!” I agreed. “You look great!”
With a half a mile to go, I passed that same runner. He was bent over in the shade of another oak, looking like heatstroke had set in.
“You okay?” I asked.
He grunted something and waved me on. A few minutes later I crossed the finish line.
My final time was 5 hours, 11 minutes, 30 seconds. Out of my ten marathons, this was the slowest. By 42 minutes. But I was THRILLED with my time. Considering the difficulty of the course and the heat, anything under 6 hours would have been fine. While this was not an ultra marathon in terms of distance, it felt like one in terms of effort, difficulty, and time on the course.
After crossing the finish line, I stood catching my breath, willing my body to cool off, and downing as much water (and watermelon!) as I could handle. A few minutes later, a voice came over the sound system, cutting into the race day music.
“We have our first finisher results in the marathon,” a woman’s voice said. “In first place overall…”
I didn’t catch the name, as I was only half listening.
“In second place overall, 1st in his age group…”
And then I heard my name.
2nd place overall?
I believe the expression is: you could’ve knocked me over with a feather, such was my surprise.
Suddenly, I didn’t feel tired or hot or thirsty or hungry.
There was no one around with a camera pointed at my face, but that is one photo I would love to see. Did I look surprised? Happy? Confused?
Probably confused. How could I have been second?
Sure, I felt like I’d done well. I was happy with my performance all the way around, but second? It seemed unfathomable. Yes, I’ve done well in some half marathons and a few local 10ks, but placing so high in any marathon was something I never really considered a possibility. Color me surprised.
Now when people ask, their voice tinged in surprise and doubt, “You came in second? In a marathon?” I can say, “Yep…weird isn’t it?”
Thanks to Altra Running for making amazing shoes that I can spend all day in!
Thanks to Injinji for making socks that seem to go any number of miles/hours without EVER giving me a blister!
Thanks to Picky Bars for a delicious way to get calories during a race!
Thanks to Ultimate Direction for a hydration pack that never quits!
And thanks to coffee for that mid-race pick-me-up!
Run on, Sisters and Brothers!
#trailrunning #runwild #run #runner #running #race #marathon #coastaltrailruns #mtdiablo