Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Run

Santa Cruz Mountains Trail RaceI signed up for the PCTR Santa Cruz Mountains 29K during a trip to California to visit Yosemite National Park. My training plan for Palo Duro next month called for a long run this weekend, and since I could not run with my training group during the travel, I signed up for this supported race to use as my long training run. The 29K distance was shorter than my training plan called for, so I made plans to get in some extra miles before and after the event.

Santa Cruz Mountains Trail RaceThe race has distance options of 10k, 21k, 29k and 50k. The 21K race consisted of an out-and-back trail starting from Harvey West Park with the aid station and turnaround point in the Henry Cowell Park. The 29K route was the same as the 21K route with an extra 7K loop from the aid station in the middle. The 50K route was simply the 29K course followed by the 21K route (or 2 21K routes plus the 7k).

I did not manage to get myself up as early as planned, so I only got a couple of miles in on the roads before the event. The 29k and 50k races started together from a neighborhood park on the edge of Santa Cruz, CA. We did a quick loop less than a quarter mile around the paved trails in the park, which allowed some of the crowd to get ordered a little by pace before entering the narrow single track trail for the first climb of about 400ft elevation gain. I ended up behind a slightly slower runner who allowed a gap to open in front while a bunch of people piled up behind us. This situation makes me a little nervous since the crowded trail like this is where I tend to sprain my ankle, so at the first opportunity I got around her and sped up the mountain. Not too many others made it past her at that point, so I found myself perfectly spaced away from the runners ahead and behind until we got to the top of the small mountain where the trail widened and it was easier to pass.

Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Race

After a brief exposed section, the trail followed a jeep road under the shade of large redwood trees. With the heat we have had in Texas this summer, I had forgotten what it was like to run in the shade of tall trees like this. The proximity to the coast I think also allowed for some cool breeze for most of the day and it felt so good to run here. The fastest 21K runners passed me 22 minutes after my start (Their start was supposed to be 15 minutes delayed from mine).

Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Race

As I approached the highway crossing, less than half-way to the aid station, the first 21K runner passed me coming the opposite direction. Then the trail dropped rapidly 300 or 400 ft down to a river crossing. The water level was just below my waist. Then immediately we started a 600ft climb over the next mile that was steep enough I had to walk it all. I managed to pass a few faster runners on the climb. Once we reached the top, it was another rapid decent.

Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Race
Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Race

In the middle of the decent, the “Orange loop” trail separated from the main route. The 29K and 50K runners were supposed to include this orange loop, but I did not read the directions close enough and thought I was supposed to turn on the loop at this point in the race. Instead I was supposed to go straight to the aid station first, and then come back to this point for the loop. Fortunately another runner already starting the Orange loop alerted me to my mistake and so I stayed on the correct course. I was uncertain if he was correct at first, followed the directions anyway. I later heard that the lead runner made the same mistake I almost made, and was disqualified for missing part of the course.

Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Race

At the bottom of the hill, we had a couple of miles of relatively flat single track before we got to the aid station. Lots of runners were already coming back this route in the opposite direction. There was a knee high fence with one of the openings designed to discourage bicycles but not pedestrians from crossing. Rather than queue up to cross through that opening, several of us found it easier just to jump the fence, minimizing the loss of time. I got to the well stocked aid station and confirmed there I was still on the right course.

Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Race

After leaving the aid station, I let my mind wander as I quickly traversed the flat miles before the next climb. I passed a sign intended for cars the near by road that ironically warned “Danger, slow down”. I was running well and feeling good, and then suddenly I turned my ankle. The runner behind me said “Ouch” as if he knew too well what this felt like while I tried to catch my balance and step off the trail. I paused for a bit to let the pain sub-side. Most of the remainder of the runners passed me here. I was regretting not using my ankle brace on this run. The ankle did not sprain or swell, and I slowly started walking a while to give it time to recover. I have walked out of a few training runs after doing something similar, because once I did not stop after a similar event, only to injure the ankle more severely later in the run. With a history of ankle problems, I have been placing greater priority on not injuring it further over getting in all the miles in the training plan. But this time I decided to continue on. But I did so slowly and carefully.

I walked most of the 7K middle loop to give my ankel some time for the soreness to go away. This loop included the highest elevation of the day. At the top of the hill, the trail turned to sand. Even though the trail flattened out I always find it hard to run in sand so I kept walking until the trail descended off the mountain. At the top, the trail markers led us up the steps of an observation post. The haze made it hard to see the scenery in the distance, but I snapped a picture of the turn-around sign as proof I was there.

Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Race
Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Race

I was able to start running slowly on the downhill once I got away from the sand. I had to pause for some horse riders on the way down so as not to spook the horses. I made my last stop at the aid station and then went back towards the start for the final 10k. During the 4th time passing through the stretch of trail where I nearly sprained my ankle, I made sure to take each step carefully. I did not see too many people on the way back, but some of the faster 50K runners were coming the opposite direction on their final out and back.

The creek crossing was refreshingly cool. Too bad there was not a similar river to soak in near the finish. I had to pause once for a horse rider so as not to spook the horse. About half a mile to go, the slower woman I passed at the first climb away from the start came running past me hard. And then the race was over. But I still had a few miles in the plan. I stayed on the flat roads since I thought that would be safer than the trail for my ankle, but it wasn’t completely comfortable on the ankle so I stopped early, only getting in 22 of the planned 23 miles (Later I saw I misread the schedule and that the plan called for 27 miles). With the ankle being sore for a day afterwords, it was probably best that I stopped early rather than risk further injury. I’ll be going back to the ankle brace for the rest of this running season.

Related Posts:


  1. Congrats on a great race! My fiance did the 29k too and also had a great time. I was sad not to get to do the river crossing....

    Good luck on your next race!


Enter a comment in the box below.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin