5:30 in the morning. I’ve set three alarms to make sure I’m up in time, and they’re all going off right now. It’s cold in my house and I pull on bunches of fleece. A Bagel for breakfast, and Kim (my girlfriend) and I pile into my truck. It’s about an hour drive to the start of the race (near Lake Elsinore, CA). By the time we get there, the day is showing itself to be a bright sunny, but cool day. Perfect running weather. I’m excited. I haven’t done a race since January, and I’ve lost a few pounds, and trained a bit for this race.

A bit of background, I’ve done a few trail marathons now, but this is Kim’s first. When we first talked about doing a marathon a few months ago, she’d never run more than five miles or so. I wanted to do a trail marathon, and she agreed. After we’d both registered, I spoke with several runners who told me that this a super hard course. One of the hardest apparently. (I’d say it was probably the toughest course I’ve been on, but each had things that made them tough, and my training/fitness has varied quite a bit, so it’s hard to know for sure. In any case, it was a really tough course!)

I was a bit worried about Kim. She’d done a great job getting out there and running, but we’d run mostly at night, so she had no real trail running experience, and we’d run locally, so there was no hill training to speak of. When Doug (my boss) told me he’d been speaking with a customer, and the customer had told him it was unbelievably hilly and steep, I got pretty worried. At some point, I’d decided that I was going to run the course with Kim, instead of just running at my own pace. Kim is tough, and I wasn’t really worried she wouldn’t finish, but I was worried it would be really hard on her, she’d fall, or something else that would make her wish she hadn’t done the race.

So it was with some nervousness that we walked down to the registration site. Everyone at these runs is super friendly, and I saw a few familiar faces. We changed into our running clothes, and at 8:30, we were off in the pack of 110 runners. A short hill climbed past the cars, through the campground. about 3/4 of a mile (I’d guess) from the start, Kim pulled of her fleece top. I really didn’t think she’d want to run the whole race with it tied around her waist, so I offered to run back to the car. She relented, and I did. I ran back through the back of the pack, tossed it in the car, then turned around. Turns out it was a bit further back than I thought, the start was a three mile climb up a steep dirt road, and I wouldn’t catch up to Kim until I was 4 or so miles into the race.

After the first long climb, the trail dropped for several (4-5??) miles down a super fun singletrack. (see Attached course map) Way fun running. Some steep loose sports, but mostly very runnable. Cruising along, this was my favorite stretch of trail. An aid station at the bottom, and we were steered onto the “Holy Jim” Trail. This was a long, steep climb up Saddleback mountain. Single track switchbacks for miles and miles. A really tough stretch of trail. We were walking most all of this, but at a quick clip. It was a long climb, but the scenery was amazing. Another aid station at the top, and we were on fire road for miles. The fire road sort of traversed a ridge, but with lots of smaller ups and downs, still, virtually none of the whole run was every even close to flat, which makes for tough, tiring running. Super pretty though, and the company was great! It was fun. I think Kim was starting to feel it. She was a bit more reluctant to run the flat spots and downhill. But she did great, no complaining. Miles passed fairly quickly. It’s a neat place, with amazing views. At mile 23 we were back onto the road we’d started on. (The first and last 3 miles were shared, the rest of the course was a big loop) It was downhill, but the rigors of the race were taking their toll, and our pace was slow. The last half mile or so was through some pretty singletrack, and we were crossing the finish line to a round of hearty applause.

Kim had finished her first marathon, on a VERY tough course, in a respectable 6:21. I’d ticked off another marathon, on a super cool course, and had lots of fun doing it. Kim placed 1st Female 20-29, for which she recieved a very nice plaque. (um, there was only one other female in her age group.) I think the winner did it in like 3:18. A great race, and a great day.

What’s next? LA or Napa Valley Marathon Next. I’m sort of curious to see how fast I can do a road course marathon.

Geoff “Dirt is Good”