Woodside, California, USA
Cry Baby Cry.
So I happened to be out in the Bay Area, and thought I’d squeeze in a little fun run that wasn’t too far from my hotel. I’d done a couple short runs in San Francisco during the week along Market Street and the Embarcadero, and noticed that my calves were pretty stiff. I spent the day before the race at a convention, riding the BART, and at another convention in the evening.
The race starts late enough, and my hotel serves breakfast early enough, that I’m able to use my free buffet ticket. I go easy, with just a slice of French toast, some scrambled eggs, and half a cup each of coffee & orange juice. My rental car’s sat nav (which I’m never going to sneer at again), unerringly guides me the convoluted way to Hiddart Park, where a smiling ranger directs me to the parking lot.
People mill about the start line, in a small meadow surrounded by lichen-festooned trees. There’s a general consensus that it’s toasty warm in the sun, but biting cold as soon as you step into the shade. The race director climbs onto a boulder to give us the race briefing, brandishing the rubber chicken that is the finisher’s trophy for the half marathon. We sing “America the Beautiful”, and send the halfers on their way with whoops and hollers. (This is a very small race, with no chip timing because none is needed.) A few minutes later, the five-milers are off!
We start off along a nice forest trail, soft leaf litter underfoot and dense forest canopy overhead. It’s pretty cool; I’m wearing my capris and long-sleeved shirt, and decided to hold onto my sweatshirt even though it’s a bit heavy for running. I’m doing fine for about a mile, when suddenly my lower calves start to turn into wood. Like the race briefing said, it’s up, up, and more up – at a steep grade – and I’m feeling it. I’m forced to slow to a walk and almost in tears as the others pass me, and I can barely manage a shuffling run on the rare level patches. I consider turning back, afraid I might be injuring myself, but then decide eff it, I’ll walk the whole damn thing if I have to.
The front-packers on the return are pouring past me now. I’m happy for the excuse to pull off to the side on the narrow switchbacks and stretch. At one point another slow runner drops back a bit to provide moral support. And then – yay – there’s a short level stretch and I’m at the gate for the turnaround!
Whatever’s going on with my calves, it’s not affecting my downhill any because I am flyin! My main concern now is not wiping out in the leaves on these hairpin turns. I pass some people that passed me earlier, and then there’s a long stretch where I don’t see any other racers, only a handful of people out enjoying the park. I cross a familiar brook, then there’s the meadow, and a short uphill grade to the finish! Official time: 57:57.
According to my Garmin, that was 4.6 miles, not 5, but the canopy could’ve messed up the satellites, and they didn’t claim this course was IATF certified anyway. I grab some snacks at the picnic tables before heading to my car.
I’m still unsure what caused my “stiffness” problem. Since I had it before the race (and it lingered afterwards) my guess is that it was a pre-existing problem that just got aggravated by the challenging course. I’d missed a few weeks of BodyFlow (the closest thing my gym has to real yoga), I spent the week sitting in those awful convention-hall chairs where my feet don’t quite sit flat on the ground, and I’d been sleeping cold because the radiator in my old hotel wasn’t quite up to the task.
At any rate, I’m glad I finished the race and didn’t throw in the towel when I wanted to. A bad finish is better than no finish any day.