Well it was the same trail but we ran it twice. On Saturday we ventured to run the section of the Bay Area Ridge Trail that connects Wunderlich County Park to Huddart County Park, both managed by San Mateo County Parks Department. Lucky for us that 5.8 mile section of the trail was included in the route of the Crystal Springs 50K hosted by Coastal Trail Runs. We got on the trail right near Skyline Blvd in between Purisma Redwoods Open Space Preserve and Huddart County Park. By that time we had already covered about 6 miles of the 50K course which started in Huddart County Park. The six miles through Huddart was mostly uphill and it was at the beginning of what would inevitably be a long day. Our plan was to run that first section very conservatively, even walking most of the uphill portions. Once we got out there we realized what we couldn’t tell from the website course profile, even though it is uphill, the course was totally runable. I don’t think ruinable is a real word, but in trail running circles it means a portion of a trail that you can run rather than walk. Sometimes the grade is too steep or the terrain too varied to run, unless you are a mountain goat or an elite trail runner. This trail was perfect.
We anointed our first steps on the Bay Area Ridge Trail with a quick high five without breaking stride. Now a little over and hour into our race we were hitting our groove. Getting to the trail meant that we had made it through the first set of hills and were now along the Skyline Trail as it winds between the parks. Our trusty Bay Area Ridge Trail book states that this is one of the few remaining sections of the old California Riding and Hiking Trail, a trail system established in 1954. The terrain was very gentle. We had run this section before and I remember really liking it. On that day last winter, it was soaking wet and muddy – probably why I liked it. On Saturday it was bone dry. There were some canopy openings that were full of ferns, taking advantage of the direct sunlight. Except this year the ferns are all dead, seemingly dried out from what was the fourth driest December on record. Very little rain fell in the area that typically gets about 40 inches a year. The day was cool but sunny although you wouldn’t know it along this heavily forested trail. This is all relatively new growth of redwoods and Douglas firs. We did pick out a couple of the large redwood stumps left by loggers back in the 1850′s and 1860′s. It’s hard to believe that this entire eastern slope of the Santa Cruz Mountains was forested with 2,000 year old trees until they were harvested to provide lumber for gold rush San Francisco. The wind really picked up along this section and the young, tall trees whipped in the wind and cracked overhead. We completed this section of the trail when we reached the second aid station of the race at Bear Gulch Road. This was an important point in the race because we needed to make it to this 12 mile point in 2 hours and 50 minutes or they would not let us complete the 50K route. We made it in 2 hours 25 minutes.
From that point on we left the Bay Area Ridge trail and dove into Wunderlich County Park. We essentially made a big nine mile loop in the park and returned to the same Bear Gulch aid station. After leaving the station the first time we started about a five mile stretch of downhill. This was welcomed since we hadn’t had much downhill up to then. on the way back out of the park we had to run back up that same hill, only on the other side. This four mile uphill stretch was where Corina caught her second wind and I just slogged along. The grade was very similar for the entire stretch and Corina just locked it in. I muttered something under my breath about walking and pain but Corina kept on. I knew that once we got back to the aid station at mile 21 the course would level out again but my legs were screaming. Finally we made it. This time when we stepped back on to the Bay Area Ridge Trail, we had a spring back in our step. We were at the South Trailhead at Bear Gulch Road headed north and the clock read 4 hours 15 minutes. The hills were over and it was basically flat or downhill from here. We knew if we ran the next 10 miles at a 12 minute/mile pace we could break 6 hours and 15 minutes, a new personal record for us. That is easier said than done when you have already run 21 miles. Though we were running on the same trail as earlier in the day it seemed very different. For one it was very dark as the sun was now at a late afternoon slant. The wind continued and a large branch cracked and fell from high above, almost hitting another runner in front of us. I remember little about this section because I was focused on eating and drinking and keep a solid pace. We ran every mile of that section within a few seconds of our goal 12 minute/mile pace. Our pace was unbelievably steady for a trail race.
We exited the Bay Area Ridge Trail with little fanfare as every ounce of energy was now focused on finishing. We had about four miles left, most of which was downhill. Normally running downhill at the end of a race is great. While it was nice to just let gravity do the work, everything from the waste down was tired and worst of all our feet hurt. We stuck to an easy pace expecting other runners to run us down from behind. Only a couple did. We scooted through the playground in Huddart County Park and across the finish line in exactly 6 hours and 15 minutes, just like we discussed back at mile 21. A few runners lingered at the finish line and we collected our finishing coasters. Corina got third in her age group!
This will be a section of the trail that we definitely will remember since it had the good fortune of being in the middle of one of our most successful trail races. Thanks to the folks at Coastal Trail Runs for hosting a great event!