2018 Wharf to Wharf is in the books

wharft to wharf start 2018
Wharf to Wharf start photo from race Facebook page

Warming up for this morning’s Wharf to Wharf race, I took note how little nervous or pumped up I was for the race. It’s not like I was just going through the motions, but well I found myself struck how nonchalant my approach was minutes away from start time. Not knowing if that was a good thing or a bad thing, I just reminded myself of the game plan: Go out in 6:25-6:30 per mile pace for the first few miles and go from there.

Last year, I ran the six mile run smart and well paced and completed it in about 39:30.  This year, I figured I could do a minute faster so the goal was sub-39 minutes. The plan looked good from the opening gun. First, I had to negotiate the usually crowded, chaotic start, dodging around a couple runners who crashed to the ground. Looking at my GPS watch after what I felt was a pretty relaxed half mile and saw I was around 6:10 pace.  I slowed it down slightly, coming across the first mile around 6:20.

From there, I felt reasonably comfortable covering the next few miles in 6:25-ish miles until I started running out of gas around mile four.  But I held on, and while I didn’t have that much left on the 600 meter downhill finish where I usually catch a bunch of people, I came through in 38:26, good for 6:24 per mile pace, which is a sub-40 minute 10k pace if you think the Wharf to Wharf course is accurate.  (I think it’s a little short.)  Any how, another nice finish for me and the moral of the story is, if you don’t feel all that inspired at the start of the race, make sure you have a plan and stick to it at the beginning.  The heat of the battle will often give you the motivation you need.

There went nothing at Wharf to Wharf

Enjoying a post race brew at Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing
after the Wharf to Wharf Race

Once upon a time, the Wharf to Wharf  six mile race, held the fourth Sunday of July in Santa Cruz was a circle the calendar event. All my spring and early summer training runs and hard track work all pointed to this one day. In the last few years, the race have morphed into becoming motivation to during busy summers full of all sorts of family commitments, where runs are no longer as intense, and fewer and further in between.

This year? Well, after taking a couple months to recover from a left hip injury from the Napa Valley Marathon, getting sick in mid-June, and various other stuff I won’t bore you with that cut way down on my running mileage, I was pretty sure this year’s Wharf to Wharf was going to be my slowest ever.

Still, you never know what can happen on race day, but starting my warm-up and feeling little strength in my legs, I’m thinking “I’ve got nothing.”  Stretching and shaking out my legs in the middle of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Amusement Park, I begin to feel a little life in the legs, I also chatted with some of my training partners as we stretched, which always gets my mind a little more relaxed and confident. Of course, in some ways showing up for a race no where near your best fitness is sort of a relief: The pressure to run a fast time is off, and if planets all align and you happen to run well, that bodes well for the future.

The gun goes off. Walking through the moving crowd as well all approach the starting line, a few second later, enough space forms around me so that I can break into a run.  Dodging around the various runners in the crowded field, I come through mile 1 in 6:48.  Mile 2 is almost the same pace, at 13:30.  From there, just trying to get under 6:40 per mile pace was the goal, but unfortunately that proved to be elusive and by mile 5, it’s hard work just to stay under 7:00 pace. I keep at it, striving to pick up my knees up and get my arms moving.  Charging down the last down hill quarter mile of the race, I cross the finish line in 40:33, which is 6:45 per mile pace for the six mile distance.  The good news is that it was one of the most smartest run, evenly paced runs I’ve ever done.  The bad news my time was nearly four minutes slower than last year.

So I still have good racing instincts and desire.  Now if I can just get my mileage up, I can start doing some damage again.

Still at it at the 2015 Wharf to Wharf

These socks gave me luck at Wharf to Wharf

I’ve run the Santa Cruz Wharf to Wharf race eights times since 2004. The first time, I jumped into it just because some people I ran with were running it. A year later, I started getting serious, and Wharf to Wharf became one of those big “circle the calendar” races. I trained hard for months, all that effort targeted towards earning one of those coveted top 100 Finisher jackets. The same thing for 2006 and 2007, before some pretty bad knee tendinitis and hip injuries left me hobbling through the course in 2008 and 2009. Deciding to de-emphasize running after a couple years of limping around, I didn’t even run it for the next four years.  Working continually over years to alleviate a hip imbalance begin to alleviate those injury woes.

So last year, I cautiously returned and put up a respectable 37:03 for the six mile distance. Failing to hold back the competitive juices this year, I spent this summer aiming to beat that time for the 2015 edition of Wharf to Wharf.  I put in a few short track interval workouts at the Campbell Community Center Track and put in some extra tempo work in hoes of bettering last year’s time.

Still, I arrived at the starting line in a pretty relaxed manner, wearing the beer socks that gave me good luck at last May’s Bay to Breakers race in San Francisco. I’ve been running 35 years and now at age 48 with all the high points, the low points, and injuries along that way, I’m just thankful I can get to the line, have some fun and compete. Apparently most of the starters weren’t in such a good mood. As the canon fired signaling the start of the race, there was an awful lot of pushing and shoving as we sprung forward.  One guy kept pushing me in the back, and after five annoying seconds of that, I reached back, grabbed his wrist and pushed it away.

Trying to keep things cool, I came through first mile in 6:02, slightly too fast for a sub-37 effort. I’ll spare you most of the gory details but continuing a disciplined pace and powering through the rolling hills, where the extra track work certainly helped, I crossed the finish line in 36:46, my race goal met. I was tired, but no hurting body parts. Another year, another pleasant realization I’m not too old for this shit.

Getting Back to Wharf to Wharf

It’s been five long years since I’ve run the Wharf to Wharf race in Santa Cruz. This six mile race of 15,000 people winding through Santa Cruz serenaded by something like 20 bands along the way used to be one of my big “circle the calendar” races a bunch of my hard core training friends and I used to shoot for.  Unfortunately, all that hard training caused injuries to start piling up by the time I got to the starting line in both the 2008 and 2009 races, turning them into pretty big disappointments.

I can’t remember much about the 2009 race.  My only real memory of it is hobbling through mile 3, feeling pretty fried with half of the race yet to go. There on the side of the road was this punk band, the heavily tattooed lead singer screaming a bunch of completely unintelligible lyrics into the microphone, finally punctuating it with a simple “Fuck it”.  That pretty much summed up the race as far as I was concerned.

That was five years ago.  It was time to go back.  I’ve spent a few years correcting a hip and leg imbalance that was causing a lot of those injuries and modifying my training to get to the line healthy.  I still train with basically the same crew, but we’ve mellowed out a little over the years, getting slower as we’ve all gotten older.  Summer these days is a time to rest from my spring half-marathon before gearing up for the fall.  So while Wharf to Wharf still gets the adrenaline flowing, it’s not what it used to be.

This year, I just wanted to put in a good effort, enjoy the bands along the course, and savor a post race beer or two.  The plan was to go out at 6:00 per mile pace and simply try to hold that.  I did a good job of hitting this goal pace and the first mile seemed pretty easy.  So did the second mile, which has a good sized hill in it, so that was pretty encouraging.  I get to the third mile and well, the six minute pace started to get difficult.  Then I started really laboring and over the last three miles were pretty I fell 10-20 seconds off six minute mile pace.  While it was encouraging that a six minute pace seemed pretty easy early on, I was equally surprised how quickly things felt apart.  It probably means I need to work on tempo runs to increase my lactate threshold pace as those first three miles filled my legs with muscle mucking lactic acid.

My official finish was 37:03, 6:10/mile pace which was good for 175th overall and 25th in the men’s 40-49 age group which is still a pretty good showing if you ask me.  In a couple weeks I’ll take on the Los Gatos Dammit Run before turning my attention the Big Sur Monterey Bay Half-Marathon in November.  I’m shooting for 1:22 at the Monterey Half-Marathon which is around 6:15 per mile pace, so this off-season race shows I have that in me.  Now it’s time to put in the hard work to make that a reality.

GPS Data on this year’s Wharf to Wharf displayed on MapMyRun.com

Running the Trails of Almaden Quicksilver to Get Ready for a Couple Races

Trail running is great on multiple levels. Running over uneven ground builds a strength, resiliency and balance that can’t be developed on the roads. Working up and down the hills really gets the heart rate up without the pounding and monotony of running laps around the track.  No wonder hill running has long been considered “speed work in disguise”.  Of course, the views our awesome, especially at the top of the hills where they’ve been earned.

So I’ve been hitting the trails of my favorite place for trail running, Almaden Quicksilver Park to get ready for a couple of races coming up.  In a little over a week, I’ll be part of the mob surging through the streets of Santa Cruz for Wharf to Wharf, a six miler over a few rolling hills that starts at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and finishes at the Capitola Wharf.  Then in early August is the Dammit Run in Los Gatos.  The Dammit starts on the Los Gatos High School track before hitting the gravel Los Gatos Creek trail. Than the race gets even more interesting as runs up Lexington Dam diagonally before encountering the real hill of the course on the Los Gatos trail system.  It’s then a mostly down hill roller coaster of a trail run before a short stint on the Los Gatos streets and a finish back on the Los Gatos High School Track.

I’ve taken the family on a number of walks in Quicksilver through the years, but it’s been six years since I’ve been running its trails on a regular basis.  It feels good to be back.

Discretion the better part of valor at Wharf to Wharf

Finishers at the 2013 Wharf to Whaft

On a cool, overcast morning on the Santa Cruz coast watching the long parade of runners finishing the Wharf to Wharf race, I was glad to be on the sidelines.  Despite the festive atmosphere, I’ve always found Wharf to Wharf to be an intense race.  A loud canon “boom!” releases the runners from the starting line and a clawing mass of 15,000 runners wind through six miles over the streets of Santa Cruz to the music of the punk, classic rock, folk and heavy metal bands assembled along the course.  I’m coming back from a heel injury and taking a bit of running layoff, and just didn’t feel ready to take on that challenge. But my wife and her friend had a different point of view, which is why I was there to cheer them on at the finish.

I watched the leaders gliding to the finish line, followed by the next hundred or so stern looking athletes chugging home.  Every so often, a runner would give a thumbs up sign to the photographers taking race pictures.  More and more runners begin mugging for the cameras until virtually every runner passing by raised their arms in victory before bringing it home for the last 200 meters.  It made me realize for the overwhelming majority of runners, Wharf to Wharf is a celebration, not necessarily a challenge.  So while I’m glad I sat this one out, I’m planning to run Wharf to Wharf next year.  I may not be up for the challenge of pushing myself hard for six miles, but I’d like to join the celebration again

And what better way to celebrate a race than with a beer.  Discretion Brewing is the newest brewery in Santa Cruz’s burgeoning brewing scene and their Soquel tap room is only 2-3 miles from the Wharf to Wharf finish line.  Their First Conversation Sesion won Silver at the California State Fair, so I figured they must be doing something right.

Yours truly and my wife about to enjoy a sample flight
at Discretion Brewing

My wife and I enjoyed a sample flight of five beers and enjoyed one well crafted selection after another.  Discretion uses only organic ingredients, so the yeast and malt tends to do more of the talking in their beers.  I like the way Discretion creates beers that a complex and flavorful without hitting you over the head with strong flavors.  Among the four of us, I’d have to say the favorite was their Third Conversation, an amber session where the lightly toasty malt combines wonderfully with a light touch of orange and coriander.  At 4.3% abv, it’s a session beer that makes you briefly say “wow” before getting back to the conversation at hand.   All I can say is you’re going to read more about Discretion here.

Discretion is further proof that beer, just like running, can be enjoyed in many forms.