November 11, 2017
A few weeks earlier, at the AREC Pre-Marathon Awards party, I put all my raffle tickets in for the Chino Hills 50K (you get a certain number of tickets and you put in for one or more drawings for prizes – I only put in for ones I know I might attend). Surprisingly, I won (or not surprisingly, maybe no one else really likes trail running as much as I do).
Just as a precursor, I should mention that Chino Hills is not one of the places where I like to run. There isn’t a ton of shade, the ground surface is hard, and there are a lot of hills. Probably the last time I ran here was a memorial run for my late friend, Hwa-Ja Andrade. Even for a memorial run, I wasn’t terribly jazzed about running there, but, free is free.
The race is put on another good friend (and similar pace runner) Yen Darcy, so at least I knew that she would have our best interests at heart (despite making us run in this unforgiving landscape).
Alan was running, too, and we made a plan to carpool (but I also suspected he would kick my ass) and also new-ish AREC runner, Janadel Harris, who said that she would just be “jogging” it. (Note: Maybe not her precise words, but she was nonchalant, almost self-deprecating, when she said it.).
We arrived extra early and got a decent parking spot (not too far a walk from the start/finish). Check-in was a little chaotic and besides the numbers, there were items on the table you could take (or not). I ended up just taking the pair of fancy white gloves, a Chino Hills plastic bag, and the included long-sleeved turquoise tech shirt.
There is really only one ingress/egress into Chino Hills Park, so of course, this was the start of the event, across the gravel parking lot, around to the right and up the paved/dirt trail that hugs the edge of the park. After it began to ascend more than I was comfortable running on, I began to walk and everyone passed me. I watched Alan and Jan soar off ahead.
I tried to make sure that periodically (if it flattened out), that I would run a little bit to make sure I would stay ahead of the cutoffs (generous, by the way). The first aid station was 4.5 miles in and I got there in 53:12 (a decent, if a bit “fast” pace).
Then, we turned to the right (a direction I had not run within the park) and it went endlessly uphill. I set my goals as trying to catch people WAY ahead of me (walking briskly, of course) and I ended up catching a skimpily dressed woman with a cast on one arm (who looked a bit familiar). Turns out, I had made her acquaintance at some A Better World Running Events. She was doing this event as a precursor to the Revel Marathon tomorrow! Thank goodness I was able to pass her!
When we finished climbing the hills (more like rolling hills with an uphill tendency), there was a quick descent on an awkward single track down to Four Corners (a section familiar to me). Even though I was towards the back, lots of people passed me on this section – the 30K runners who started a bit later. Bad timing. I covered this 3 mile section in 47 minutes or about 15:00/mile.
Now for the bulk of the course – the double loop section. First, a short 2.7 mile section, mostly downhill to the aid station we would hit three times. I accelerated to a 12:30 mile for this section, knowing I would probably lose the majority of that going forward.
The first loop was the worst, though the good part was being able to see other runners (in our own race) at various stages. When they were above me, I could see the horrible trail ahead, and when they were below me, I realized that there were still some folks behind me (yay!). This was definitely the longest gap between aid stations at 6.2 miles (an eternity in any race, but especially on trails) and harder yet as the temperature climbs along with the grade. Nearly 90 minutes passed (still around 15:00/mile) on this section alone.
The second loop I enjoyed more, but it also had its pros and cons. There was a brief section on paved road where I was around a number of other people (most in the 30K who turned around just before this aid station). I was a bit confused and almost turned around with them until I saw the station a little further down the road.
I saw some people coming from a dirt trail to the left (and discovered that would be the inbound trail and I was still heading outbound).
For the opening part of this section, I began on a mesa of sorts by some farm equipment, a bathroom (!), and then worked over to a single-track which gently undulated for a small section, but then it swooped up extremely steeply, to the point where I walked up it sideways (too narrow to zigzag). When I got to the top (pretty exhausted now, more than 10 miles to go), I looked back to see someone far behind me just spotting the horrible hill.
From the top, a bit of a turnaround and then somewhat paralleling the outbound trail but more downhill and very overgrown with weeds and plants. I did get passed by one guy on this section, but it was a relief to see another human being after 40 minutes of run/walking by myself.
Also came across some people looking for the Rolling M Ranch. I had seen signs for it throughout my run, but didn’t want to direct them in the wrong direction.
After all this descent, I felt like I was just about to the road and the aid station, but alas, another turn, another annoying uphill single-track (not as steep) and back up to the aforementioned mesa with a slightly different return path, down a dirt trail and back to the aid station. 4.5 miserable miles in 80 minutes, but at least now I am on the way back to the end.
Now I head back on the paved road, back down to the dirt road, by a whole bunch of people on horseback, and then finally make the right turn to head back to Four Corners. Only 3 miles this time, but another 50 minutes (slow-going).
Now a “fun” route over the top of the hill (a section I am familiar with; we went up here for Hwa-Ja’s memorial). I just keep on soldiering on and cover the 3 miles in 63 minutes, but finally I am back onto the outer road and just have 4 miles (mostly) down to the finish.
It’s pretty excruciating. Not that I don’t enjoy a good downhill, but my feet are really sore and the ground is just rock hard (and lately, my knees have really been bugging me, so downhill feels horrible). I do some galloping and skipping to ease the difficulty of the downhill (I am a great galloper!).
A lot of the path looks familiar, but then I turn another corner and I don’t feel much closer. Then I see the turn for the first uphill section, then I see the paved sections. Less than a mile now, then the left-hand turn into the parking lot and cross the finish line in 7:50:00.
At the finish, my good friends Linda and Jakob Herrmann are there (volunteering, of course). I did manage to get the last of the food (pulled pork sandwich) and some soda.
“Just Joggin’ Jan” finished in under 5-1/2 hours, and was the second female. Alan finished in 6:21 and just left with his family (wife and sons drove out a few miles to see him finish).
I wouldn’t recommend this as a great first 50K but it is a tough local course that makes for a good challenge. Looking forward to Ridgecrest in a month or so for an easier time.