It's been a while. I have been too busy to keep my postings up to date, but plan to be better about it. Lots of stuff going on.
I have been slacking on the running, so I wasn't sure how I would fare as a first-time runner of Baz Hawley's"magical" Saddleback Trail Marathon. I had never run it before but have volunteered at the race, which starts and ends at Blue Jay Campground in the Santa Ana Mountains off Ortega Highway.
David Whiting and Bill Ramsey
The weather was perfect: sunny, but with the chill of autumn in the air. I also appreciated the relatively late 8 a.m. start, having gotten out of the habit lately of running at insanely early hours of the morning.
I told myself I would take it easy, given the daunting 5,100 feet of climbing (making this the toughest marathon in California, reportedly), but of course I didn't. Because I was feeling good at the start, I pushed myself up the steep, 3-mile climb up the Main Divide that marks the start of the marathon.
Charlie Nickell in his new shirt -- awesome!
From there, I blasted the four or so miles down the at-times treacherous Trabuco Trail -- but since my strength is uphills, I wasn't blasting fast enough and got passed on the downhill by four or five runners, including my buddy Martin "James Bond" Brooks. I am a conservative downhill runner -- I have fallen too many times LOL.
I swung into the Holy Jim Canyon aid station to be greeted by my great friend Keira, who was manning the station solo. It's always great to see the lovely and upbeat Keira during a race. She's a natural motivator and I needed motivation to get up the next stretch of the race -- the 4.8-mile Holy Jim trail, a steep climb with several punishing switchbacks. The Holy Jim trail is one of my favorites when I am out for a "fun" run, but not my favorite when it comes to races. I ran some of Holy Jim and power-walked through other portions. By the time I got to the top of Holy Jim, also known as Bear Springs, I was in serious need of some fuel/motivation and got it in the form of seeing my buddy Kirk and his fiancee Stephanie, who plied me with some flat Coke and pretzels.
From this point on, I started to get my second wind and felt strong running the roller-coaster-like hills of the Main Divide for about 6 miles, looping back to the top of the Trabuco Trail before finishing the marathon by barreling down the 3-mile-long screaming downhill to the finish line at Blue Jay.
The amazing Tommy Nielsen
I finished in 4:14 and change, good enough for a top 20 finish (I was 16th) which always is my goal. I wasn't in the best of shape but was pleased with my performance. Funny, but I prefer 50-milers -- marathons and 50ks to me seem too much like races; I feel rushed. But as far as trail marathons go, Baz's Saddleback Trail Marathon is a stunner and should be on every ultrarunner's list of must-dos. Great fun, with a close-knit feel to it.
To read David Whiting's take on the race in the OC Register, click here.