Saturday, January 28, 2017

Folsom Lake Sweetwater Trail Run (1/2 Marathon)


Jan 28, 2017 / Folsom


1/2 Marathon (11.1 miles)




1st oa


Flor Hodges (FCA)

I’m excited about this race that Robin picked out for me to be a good tune-up for the Napa Marathon in 6 weeks.  It’s a grass-roots trail run in the Salmon Falls area that I’ve never explored.  It also seems appropriate I check out one of the “Troy’s California Trail Runs” put on by race director, Troy Limb.  I studied the hand-drawn course map last night but it also took quite a bit of internet research to get a picture of the route in my head.

We arrive at the small trail-head parking lot early.  It’s really cold, but clear.  I’m honored to have my whole family supporting me.  They’re not racing.  Right now the girls are reading books.


Flor Hodges is hear!  Cool surprise.  I give her my light gloves and switch to thicker ones. We warm-up by exploring the first 1/2 mi of the trail.  The trail is technical single-track, right from the start!  The main concerns are not to fall or get lost which could be easy to do.  I emphasize the not falling part to Flor because, in thinking of her new ranking as top Asia age-grouper, I couldn’t bear to see her get hurt starting the season!

Race director, Troy, gives us a briefing without a bull-horn.  He doesn’t need it.  In Dave Horning fashion, it’s clear to see this guy loves running trails and wants to share that joy in a simple low-key manner.

100 of us line up across the parking lot in order “to thin out the crowd” before we hit the single-track.  This could be a crazy dash.  If I get behind a group, I may lose a lot of time and not be able to run my pace.  But I’m a distance runner, not a sprinter.  How will I get to the trail in front? 

I remember Anna’s X-Country race at Empire Mine Park in Grass Valley.  There was a 30 yd dash on gravel before hitting the trail.  The kids had to sprint for position and some would wipe out on the loose rocks.  They called that course “Slip-n-Bleed”.  I was very nervous watching the kids.  They had to have quick reflexes and adjust to the sprinting mob.  If they can deal with that, then I can, too.

I line up in front, but then a group of ladies lines up in front of me.  I get the feeling they’re not interested in dashing to the trail as they take selfies and say “we’ve never been in the front before!”

I plan to jump left and then right in hopes of getting ahead at the start.  I hang on the director’s every word.  Get ready..get set.. Go!  Time seems to stand still as I execute my left-n-right bounds with all the quickness my slow-twitch muscles can deliver.  Surprisingly it seems like no one else is moving and I easily get to the lead without even a bump from others.  Thankfully I’m sprinting free-n-clear across the parking lot.  But I imagine the mob is right behind me.


I hit the trail at full speed, over the stream, over the fallen log, and now realizing I have to focus on recovering.  I have a long ways to go.  Heart rate needs to come down. Then I hear footsteps and heavy breathing behind me.  but I can’t go any faster.  I may have to let them pass me.  I can’t look back because the trail demands complete attention.  So I yell, “How are you doing back there?”  There’s only 1 guy and he says, “Fine.  Just trying to shake the hangover from last night”.  Ok, he doesn’t want to pass,.. and doesn’t sound very serious about the race either.

Mile 1. 7:57: I don’t hear anyone behind me.  I’m all alone.  I imagine maybe everyone piled up back there, trying to get around people, and soon will be overtaking me. Whether that’s the case or I’m all alone, I want to go as fast as I can and see what I can do with this trail.  It’s beautiful, along the American River flowing into Folsom Lake, undulating up and down with sharp turns through the trees.

Mile 2. 7:47: I’m reminding myself, as I fly down rocky sections and jump over rocks, to not fall.  I’m watching intently.  Trying to keep my watering eyes farther up the trail.  The sun is coming out bright and making parts of the trail hard to see.  I’m breathing hard and it’s hard to think, but I keep reminding myself about the course. “pink ribbons.  Sweet water Trail.  U-turn at 4 miles. Don’t go into the aid station.  At 5.5mi avoid the ‘out’ trail”.  I don’t want to get lost.

Suddenly, the pink ribbons turn blue. I stop and look back.  I almost missed the U-turn and went to the “8mi course” aid-station.  Cool, now I get to cross the river.  Yep, there is no way to avoid it.  I take the plunge and walk quickly across.  Surprisingly my feet don’t feel cold.

WP_20170128_11_31_36_ProMile 3. 7:49:  I slosh up the steep climb with heavy shoes.  I still pumped up to run this course as fast as possible. It’s been going great.  I’m getting more daring and instead of climbing over fallen trees, trying to steeple-chase over them.  I realize that the creek came a mile early.  Did I take a wrong turn?  Is that why no one is around me?  I drop down to the 2nd aid station and see Troy the race director getting ready.  It looks like I’m earlier than expected.  Another bad sign.  But he encourages me on.  I have a water bottle and don’t need to stop.  Up through a muddy hill side and then a glorious view at the top.  I put my hands up for a second and thank God.  I try to pick it up even though the trail is even narrower now, hard to even stay on it.

Mile 4. 8:36: Reminding myself, “At 5.5 mi, don’t turn onto the ‘out’ trail on your left.”  The trail has flattened and the trees step back into a wide open area.  There’s the ‘out’ trail, where I will be coming back, but it’s only 4.5mi!  I’m still wondering if I cut a mile off somewhere or else this course is going to be short.

Mile 5. 7:45: A tough climb, and then a long, fun, splashing through puddles descent.  My left foot arch is hurting a little like I stretched my plantar on a hard landing.  I definitely don’t want that injury so I try to ease more weight onto the other leg.  Starting another climb I think about the next turn.  Oh, yeah, Monte Vista Trail.  So glad I studied the map yesterday.  There it is!  Up a steep hill.  Using my low-foot-rise technique to climb faster with less energy.

Mile 6. 8:26: A long mellow descent, out the ‘out’ trail, and now going against traffic back to the start.  “Good job, way to go, looking good..” I’m still pushing really hard and it’s made harder from having to run off the trail each time I see a runner.  I negotiate about 20 of them but it’s not as bad as I thought it would be.

Mile 7. 7:59:  Through the great opening with the great view.  Still focused on running fast without sliding out on the muddy turns, and jumping off into the grass to avoid oncoming runners.  Across the parking lot, I quickly fill up at the aid station, and now off to the creek crossing!

Mile 8. 8:03: I drop into the creek, this time my feet feel cold.  I scampere across well and excitedly hustle back up to the trail.  Right then my right calf pulls.  I recognize that deep tender spot as a potential serious race-ender.  I’ve had it before over a year ago and it takes a long time to heal.  I think, “Maybe I wasn’t supposed to do this.. have I ruined my marathon?”  Slowing my run, I realize instead, “No, I have felt God’s pleasure and have focused on Him today.  There is probably a good reason for this.  Even though it’s been a perfect run and I want to get a stellar time, am I willing to let it all go?  Yes.”  I stop, rub it a little, and continue on very slowly, and walking the uphills.  One strong push up a hill and it could completely pull. 

Mile 9. 9:11: After about a mile of taking it easy, I don’t feel it anymore!  Thank you, Lord!  He know how hard it was for me to ease off but I really think that was the point of it.  Now I’m picking it up more and more.  I’m even jumping up and over the fallen trees.  There are still many runners from shorter races going both directions.  It’s all more familiar now.  It looks like it’s going to be about 2 miles short.  What a great feeling to not have to do the hardest miles (the last 2)

WP_20170128_09_35_15_ProMile 10. 8:28.  A mile to go.  I’m running fast but being really carely not to slip, straing, or tweak anything.  An older later is trying to climb over a big log when she sees me coming.  “A bad spot to meet someone” she says, but I get across above her.  She says, “Must be nice to have long legs.”  I continue cheering for the other walkers/runners… And then I hear my family!  “There he is!” I hear them say.  Hi 5’s to Anna and Ariel.  Anna takes off with me and we dart here and there through the twisting trail.  Across the little stream and I hear her yelling with delight.  “Why didn’t you have me do this race, this is so cool!”  Indeed it was cool to be running full speed through the woods with my daughter and then finish the winner of the 11.1 mile 1/2 marathon Smile

Mile 11. 8:32.  Flor also finished without getting lost or hurt.  I’m so thankful that God has given me fun, fullfilling races, and even throws in some learning experiences, or tests.  It was a very rewarding day and we playing on the beach along the river to finish it off.