Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Avenue of The Giants Marathon - May 1, 2011

Isn't she a beauty?

Back from Weott, CA in Humboldt County, my training partner, Heidi, and I took a weekend trip up North to quelch our long time fascination with this marathon. It's been in our bucket list of marathons to do in CA. Since Weott is ten hours from SLO, we decided to break up the drive and stayed with my relatives in Santa Rosa on Friday night. On Saturday we drove 4 1/2 hours from Santa Rosa to Weott to the expo. It was a no-frills kind of Expo. We received our bib numbers which had the timing chips attached on the back of it, our race shirts (in women's sizing) and a "green bag." For $60.00 registration, this was well worth our money.
Don't blink, otherwise you'd miss this Expo
On the night before the Marathon, we stayed in Fortuna, a town which is a 1/2 hour drive north of Weott. Most hotels and motels required two nights stay minimum, but we lucked out as Heidi reserved well in advance. After the fact, the hotel tried to back pedal to convince us that we needed to stay a second night. They didnt know they were dealing with Heidi...long story short, they honored our reservation. The tricky part was they wouldn't allow us a late checkout, and if we wanted to use their showers, we'd have to pay for the second night. For marathon travelers, it is a necessity to get a late checkout so that we can get cleaned up so that we're comfortable for the ride back home. Luckily, Heidi found a nearby campsite called Giant Redwoods, RV & Campsite, in a town called Myers Flats, where we paid $5.00 for showers. Now that was a deal!
Let's get the show on the road!
Me and my Redwood just before the start

On marathon morning we arrived at the staging area in Weott under the Dyerville Bridge around 7 a.m. We were glad that we got there one hour early because as we found out the parking area filled up and became a stressful issue for some runners who had to start late because they had to park a little further down the road. While waiting in the car, Heidi and I realized that we needed to dress more appropriately for the cooler temps at 43 degrees. At the last minute, we decided to change our attire to anticipate the windy conditions. We changed into our long sleeves New York tech shirts on top of pairs of arm warmers for wind protection. But as we'd find out later, it turned warmer than we anticipated and the wind died down. The weather turned to be unpredictable in such a short amount of time.

They don't seem cold.
The race looked pretty small with 566 eventual finishers in the full marathon. Even though it was small, Heidi and I became separated and didn't see each other at the start. While waiting for the start, I didn't notice a whole lot of people warming up as in bigger races. The race promptly started at 8:04 am. The course consisted of two lollipop loops of double out and back. The first loop began on Bull Creek Road where we proceeded 6.5 miles to the first turn around which was also the highest elevation point of the course. The first 6.5 miles consisted of short rollers and curves that were deceivingly tiring. The road on this first loop was also heavily cambered and after a while, that proved to be a challenge. The road had a lot of cracks on it and it was difficult to run evenly. After a while the bottom of my feet felt every crack on the road.
The aide stations for water and Gatorade were evenly spaced out every 2, 4, and 6 miles. One thing I noticed about the Gatorade was, that it was made perfectly. It was not watered down or syrup-py as in other marathons. Kudos to the volunteers for getting it right!

It was on this first half of the course that I first noticed the Giant Redwoods. For the most part it, in the beginning it seemed like just rows of regular trees. All of a sudden, you're plodding along and the scenery sweeps you off your feet with the Giant Redwood trees towering over you. The rows of giant trees stood majestically tall ,as if guiding the road. It was like a painting and the only difference is that you're in the canvas. I had to stop in awe and take my shots. I couldn't bear to just pass these reverend trees. They were magnificent. And just like that, it was back to the regular trees. As I came closer to the first turn around, I spotted Heidi as she completed the turnaround. We gave each other high-fives. She looked very focused and strong, even without her ipod! Incidentally, running with ipods here were also frowned-upon, just like it was in Napa.
I almost fell backwards taking this shot!
After the first loop, the marathoners circled back to the starting area, to begin our second loop onto The Avenue of the Giants. This was also where the 1/2 marathoners and 10K runners would eventually start at 9 a.m. It was easy to distinguish the half marathoners and 10K runners from the full because of their bib colors. I think this is important because, sometimes when you are exhausted, discouraged or hitting a rough patch, when someone passes you in seemingly effortless gait, realizing they are running a different race makes it tad more bearable.

The second out and back onto The Avenue of tthe Giants was in better condition than Bull Creek Road.
The road was not as cambered and it was smoother than the first half. At some point there was an opening in the canopy of trees and sunlight beamed so brightly that I worried about the heat. But before I could even complain, I was back in the cooler shades of the Redwoods again. The turn around point was mile 19.5 and I was anxious to get there. I knew at some point I would run into Heidi again at this second turn around, as she was running strong ahead of me. Eventually we would see each other again and another high five!
Crowd thinned out by this point
For the most part, spectators were scarse. The cheers we often heard were from runners themselves coming or going out of the loops. There were a lot of friendly people who would smile or nod at you even if they couldn't offer a cheer--maybe because they were tired or were saving what little energy they had left. If you are the kind of runner looking for spectator support to draw energy from (i.e., New York City Marathon), this race won't be for you. On the other hand, if you love and enjoy nature in its purest form, well, The Avenue is waiting for you.

The final 10K was rough. It always is, and I expected it. My pacing dropped and my legs and feet were tired. My quads cramped but it was manageable. I was soon passed by folks whom I had passed in the first half. That was demoralizing. But they did a better job pacing themselves, so as they passed me by, I yelled out "Great Job!" At the same time, at mile 24, I also passed a guy whom I raced early on, between miles 10-12 and where I was soon dropped. When I caught up to him again on mile 24, he was walking. I got some surge of energy back and managed to run the rest of the way to the finish. Soon I would find myself running behind a guy wearing huaraches but not for long, because he took off. As I kept my eyes on him in the distance, I noticed an all too familiar gait. Could it be? It was Heidi! What was going through my mind was, wouldn't it be great if we can finish together? But I was running on empty. I didn't know how I could possibly run any faster on tired legs. To top it all off, looking forward, there appearred to be a steep hill near the 25th mile. Luckily, previous reviews forewarned us about this optical illusion and that hill was really the bridge over the freeway. I was glad to see that it was true. As I crossed over the bridge, I could hear them announcing Heidi's name as she approached the finish line, "From Paso Robles, CA". Then they called out my name, "From Los Osos, CA." Heidi turned around in surprise, and we greeted each other with the biggest hug! We did it! Heidi finished in 4:19:44 and I in 4:19:49. We came in 8th and 9th in our age group, respectively! We receved our medals, got our water and we were out of there. Finally, Avenue of the Giants, checked.
Heidi with her medal
Me with mine

Heidi and I post-race back home in SLO