I started this post as "The Best and the Worst of Racing," but halfway through my review of my least favorite races, I discovered it was uncharacteristically negative. Upon review, I realized that despite having aspects I did not enjoy so much, each of the "worst" races was still very memorable and I am glad for having done them. In fact, I love racing and would prefer hitting the road or trails any weekend to test myself over sitting on the sofa. Reminds me of how my dad always says "the worst day of golf is still better than the best day at work." Maybe that's why he retired to play golf... so even the worst race is still awesome. Therefore my post is now just my favorites. Maybe you share these, or maybe you have some of your own. I welcome feedback. And if you are led to do any of these based on my review (or if you just decide to do them because you were planning to anyhow), and you need a companion, call me up and I'll be there. Here goes:
1. Wharf to Wharf (California). Let's just say if I could swing it, I would race this every year. Being seeded at the front helps tremendously to avoid the tens of thousands of others who agree that this race rocks. This is my 10K time trial and just about every 10K PR I have set was done on this course. It is a fast course and fast people run it. There is enough beauty in the coastline and enough distractions with the bands playing each mile to take your mind off how painful it is to run your heart out from Santa Cruz to Capitola. If there is any downside to this race, it is the exorbitant prices local hotels post for that weekend alone. A room that goes for $100 any night of the summer will suddenly cost over $300 the night before the race. Yikes! But hey, we as runners will sometimes pay crazy amounts to put ourselves through pain and suffering for such short periods.
2. Ohlone Wilderness 50K (California). As of this writing, Ohlone is by far my favorite race. This race is well run and includes some of the most awesome views. It is one of the tougher 50K's and certainly has it's share of highs and lows. Starting in Fremont, the course travels the Online Wilderness Trail through the East Bay Regional Parks system to Livermore. Held late in May, the weather definitely warms up and you are certain to come across those who are unprepared, without enough water or bottles (Carry Two!). One year an older man commented to me that I might find the peak to be cold (as I was wearing only a sports bra). He must have gone on about it for several minutes as I tried hard to run fast and leave him behind. I never saw him again and by the time I reached the peak, it was so refreshing and I loved every minute. The finish line might just be the best part because you run downhill for like two miles to the finish and you can hear it below in the park. Despite feeling like your legs are about to buckle under you, suddenly you are sprinting to the finish. My husband says the best part are the awards (wooden posts with a plaque). I have two. I'd like another one this year ;)
3. Double Dipsea (California). Really, I could put any one of the Dipsea races on this list, but as I have only officially ran the double, that one is a sure thing. I hope to add the quad after November. The Dipsea is the oldest race in the country and every minute on this course feels like heaven. Every mile is full of beauty, yet it is also one of the toughest courses I know. There is just something about running through redwood forests that takes my breath away and I forget that I am pushing my body at all. The lore of the race and the manner in which it is organized makes it even more intriguing. There are heats that are set up based on handicaps of age and sex. I read how last year the single Dipsea was won by an eight year old girl. Supposedly the rules are that there are no rules and however you get from point A to point B is your decision, but the fastest person wins. Personally I trust the person in front of me more than my own navigating skills when I am running my heart out, so I tend to follow the crowd. I recommend this trail to anyone, even non-runners to just hike. The experience is worth every huge step up Mt. Tamalpais.
4. Toga Pass Run (California). Not for the faint of heart. And not for those who run uphill in order to enjoy the downhill. This race is something like 13 miles with over 3000 ft elevation gain. Basically is it straight uphill. No downhill. You run up and stop. If you have ever driven up the backside of Yosemite from the town of Lee Vining to the entrance to Yosemite, that is the course. So maybe highway running is not ideal, but imagine running along a ravine and thinking the entire time that your lungs are about to explode (or implode, I can't remember which it was). It was awesome. Grueling, yes. But the sense of accomplishment is beyond words. If I told you I used to run AND bike the course on an almost daily basis you might see a glimpse of the insanity inside my brain. But keep reading because the next few are worth it.
5. Golden Leaf Half Marathon (Colorado). This race is worth traveling to. Fall time, mountains of Colorado, absolute picturesque. This might have been the only race I ran slower because I didn't want it to end. Most races, despite having a grand time, I run as fast as I can so my time is good and the pain ends. But when you are running through the changing leaves of fall and everything around you looks out of a movie, you just want to continue. Enough said, look it up, and make the trip.
6. Lake Tahoe Marathon (California, but spend the night over the border in Nevada). Lake Tahoe is a wonderful place and running around the lake makes this race worth traveling to as well. I have done this race several times, and my times have never been good. It is a tough course. You might think just running along the lake would be pretty flat, and for the first 13 miles, it is. Then suddenly you find yourself climbing some massive hills just when your body is looking toward the finish. I wonder if this is why they start the half marathon at this point so that everyone gets to experience the pain. I love the last few miles as cars are passing you and honking and cheering you on. You need it at that point. It seems they have added a whole lot of events to the weekend this race is held, so now there is something for everyone. If I can convince my family to make a Tahoe trip, I will plan it for October so I can make this one.
7. Redding Marathon (California). Historically this race was held on January 1 and when I was single and racing, it was the perfect start to a new year. In more recent years, they have changed the course a bit and the date to later in January. This is a good thing as CrossFit Palo Alto now has an annual event on January 1 and that would conflict. However, I am sure the slightly later date will not alter the likely weather at the start: freaking freezing! So the deal is that you catch a bus to the start and are dropped off at a tiny visitor center at the Shasta Dam (9th tallest dam in the United States for those who are interested). You wait there until the start when everyone runs outside seconds before the gun goes off because doing so any sooner would lead to instant frostbite. (Can you tell I am a Californian?) Anyhow, wipe your brow of snow early because running across the dam is amazing. Put aside environmental concerns of dams and the impact on salmon downstream, this is an amazing monument and worth marveling over the ability to run across it. From there, you think everything else should be downhill, which it is not. But it is spectacular and it makes you feel more alive than ever. I have always had a huge sense of peace with my running while doing this race and have left for home renewed and energized.
Ok, that's my list of favorites. I could probably add more (well, of course I can, this is my blog). Or I could add some runner ups. But these are the seven that without question, if the opportunity to do them again presented itself, I would sign up instantly. Maybe it is the fact that each are challenging and have all pushed me to my limits. Some have humbled me (Ohlone) and some have served to give me my best times (Wharf to Wharf). So remember, if you need a running mate to do any of those listed above, call me, I'll be there.
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