Sunday, May 29, 2011

Mt. Wilson Trail Race - A decision made over margaritas!

It seems that drinking margaritas often emboldens me to make decisions that my normal, fairly pragmatic self would never make. First case in point: a few years ago, while drinking margaritas with Michael in a foreign country, we decidedthat it would be a great idea to get married. Almost five years later, I definitely count that as the best decision of my adult life, and almost every time I raise a salted rim to my lips, I make a silent toast to that cactus juice queen, tequila.

The most recent occasion in which tequila played a central role in an inspired decision was this past week. Michael and I met some friends/colleagues (another couple) at a Mexican dive in Pasadena. The guy in the relationship is an avid outdoorsy person and is quite the runner; the female is also a runner, but she and I share very similar woes - ACL surgery and some issues post-surgery. Anyway, it's now a tradition for them to run the annual Mt. Wilson Trail Race which takes place over Memorial Day weekend. I originally wanted to run the Mt. Wilson race, but then I had my months of major foot/knee injury this past year, so the date came and went and the race filled up. After talking to them about the race on Tuesday night and listening to their encouraging "You should do! Yeah, yeah, yeah!", I woke up around 5:30 am on Wednesday morning and ran up a brutal hill. That was my condition - if I could force myself to get up and run more or less 2 miles up an ass-kicker of a hill, then I would show up Saturday morning for the race. I don't know if many people have seen the musical "Avenue Q", but this musical mentions these little figure called "The bad idea bears" that come to you when you've been drinking and they make you think that a horrible idea is a really great idea.

That was kind of how I felt yesterday morning when I arrived in Sierra Madre, CA, a lovely little hamlet in the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains. The Mt. Wilson race is apparently the second-oldest trail race in the country, started in 1908. I arrived without a number, but hoping that a cute new haircut and my sad eyes would convince the race director to give me a number. Or that one of the few 300 racers wouldn't show up and then I could run as he/she. No dice - the race director held firm and encouragingly said that I could sign up for next year's race in February.

Well, I had not dragged my ass out of bed at an early hour on a holiday weekend only to be turned away so easily. Rob said that a friend of his ran the race illegally last year, so I determined that I would jump in the race just a few blocks up. Which was exactly what I did - when I saw Hilary, I started to run behind her. After running around a bend, we suddenly transitioned from a street to a road and then trail. This was my first trail run experience, and I had no idea what to expect, although I knew that it would be an "experience". Hilary even called it 'terrifying', yet here I was, running it not even for a time or photos but just for fun. As the trail lost NO time in ascending swiftly, I decided that I was certifiably CRAZY. Somehow, a 2,000 foot climb in 4.3 miles seemed like an impossible task, but turning around was equally daunting because we were running single-file. At times, the trail widened and other times it almost seemed too narrow for one person, and the thought of a misstep and a fall did make me shudder on several occasions. Meanwhile, the climb up, up, up was fairly relentless, but once I passed the 2.3 mile marker, I thought that I could probably make it the rest of the way. It was a joyful moment when I reached the turn-around and the boy scout troop (no idea what number) cheered me on and told me "Run around the pole! Run around the pole!". I happily ran around the pole and then headed down, down, down.
While the ascent was often broken up with periods of walking on my part, the run was terrifyingly fast as the mountain seemed to pull people down at a lightening fast pace. I felt that I was racing along, but it seemed that all the people whom I had passed on the way up just flew by on the descent. I was more than happy to let them pass at that point. Again, the idea of falling and flying off the mountain held little appeal to me!
It was a great run down though, and it felt strange when my feet transitioned from trail to pavement. I ran most of the way towards the finish line, and when I was two blocks out or so, I ducked off the street and hopped on the sidewalk, slowing my pace down to a walk. If I had officially run the race, I would have finished in about 1.41 or so, which seems slow for an 8.6 mile run, but then when I throw in the 2,000 feet up, that sounds like a much better time! As usual, when I was finished, I felt so elated! It was also great because I did know 4 other people running, so I enjoyed cheering for the 2 people I knew who came in after me, and also clapping and shouting for other individuals who were finishing. I rarely hang out at races as a spectator, but I do know how it lifts the spirit to have people, even if they are strangers, cheering you on.
I would definitely call the Mt. Wilson Trail Race an "experience". Like Hilary said, there are moments that are terrifying, especially when the racers in the front start to come down and what is a trail for 1 person suddenly becomes a two-way thorough-fare. My body feels pretty wrecked today - sore in placed that I would have never expected, like my neck and shoulders - but I have no regrets about it and would love to run it legitimately next year!
Finally, no photos of me, but here is a placard of the trail that is posted up in downtown Sierra Madre:

Finally, that was a crazy 'first' for me - not only was it my first time on the Mt. Wilson trail, but this also counts as my first trail race, and I might officially be hooked!


kilax said...

Your first bandit race! Awesome job! Are you going to sign up next year?

A 2000' incline just SCARES me. SCARES me!!!

Anonymous said...

I've never heard of running a race illegally but really, why not? If I was awake and ready to go I'd probably have done it too.

Awesome job the 2,000 feet Kristina - it appears that you are an old pro at this?? I hope that your neck and shoulders feel better today.