When Hell Freezes Over: An Accidental Race

I didn’t plan on running anything until Way Too Cool in March. (News: I was selected at the lottery to run that race.) But Sylvie, my dear friend and an amazing runner, had different plans. Thursday night, she texted me a registration confirmation screenshot along with something like “wanna run?” I could say the rest was history because as we all can deduct from me writing this post, my answer was yes.

Only a few hours before the registration closed, I signed up for this Pacific Coast Trail Runs race not because I’d be ready for racing (the exact opposite actually) but because… why? Because Sylvie texted me “Hey, let’s run 4,000 feet straight up Mount Diablo?” Maybe. I know the route. I don’t know a single sane person who knows the route and would still sign up to race it.

With less than 30 hours left until the race began, I didn’t have the time to even realize I was racing, let alone start overthinking about it. On Friday, I made some smoked-salmon onigiri; if anything, this impromptu race gave me the opportunity to try out food for WTC. On Saturday, when my alarm clock woke me up, it was just like getting up for any other leisurely long training run.

Quite a few things went… not according to plan, as usual, so I’ll name them all right here so that I don’t have to bother with them later on:

  • Spilled hot coffee on myself in the car, burning my leg
  • The road out of my town was completely closed without warning so I was running later than comfortable
  • Got a migraine at mile 3
  • Tore off the side of my nailbed on some rocks at mile 4
  • My old injury from Cool Moon came up at mile 8, just when the downhill portion finally came

There were a few more but this gets the message across: if I thought my answer to my friend Eric’s question (“Have you ever had a good race?”) was going to change, the day was proving me wrong right from the get-go.

Despite how it began, the day got progressively better, even with the notion of the returning injury, and there were more bright moments than I can count:

  • When tuyshtak (Norhtern Ohlone name for Mount Diablo) stood tall against the pink sky before the sun rose.
  • When I spent most of the uphill portion leapfrogging with a very kind older gentleman who was doing the six-peaks challenge.
  • When the first aid station played electro swing
  • When I recognized people at the second aid station, made new friends, and shared my onigiri and the recipe with them.
  • When said aid station had the Meiji panda bear chocolate thing that I absolutely love
  • When I started to pass people on the downhill despite my injury.
  • When I slowed down to have a chat with one of them, and she offered to stand guard while I had to go into the bushes.
  • When, out of the blue, I got in a below 10-minute mile. (Seriously? At that point in the race? I keep telling people that I’m not that good at downhills, that I have no redeeming qualities when it comes to running, besides maybe stubborness. But I might have to reconsider. Maybe I do have a strength.)
  • When I finished, and talked to Sylvie, and Greg, the race director, called me onto the podium to get my 2nd place age group award.

Wait WHAT?! So… yeah, that happened. I do think there might have been only two of us in my age group, and that’s the only reason I got a podium. But I’ve never once gotten a podium before, so I’ll live in blissful ignorance for a bit longer before I check the results. And even if it’s true that there were only two of us, it means that showing up finally bore some fruit, and that of itself is a pretty encouraging thing.

“Are you sure?!” I asked Greg when Sylvie pushed me toward the podium through the cheering people. My chin was quite literally on the floor. I couldn’t have run it that fast, it took me 4 hours for heaven’s sake! But Greg was there, in all his hazmat-suit glory, waiting to give me the award.

One thing about Sylvie: she wins everything. As she herself told me in the morning: “I’ve never signed up for a race I didn’t know I could win.” This was her first time doing so. She got third overall. For me, it’s quite the opposite: I’ve never even signed up for a race I knew I could finish. This was my first time doing so. But even though I knew I could get through the loop unless something went really, really wrong, I didn’t expect to finish so well.

The first time I’ve ever attempted to do the route, in 2018, it took me some 8 hours. I don’t know about you, but even though that time was absolutely pathetic, I’ll still take a 4-hour improvement over 4 years of training. Or, well, 2 years, really. Because the other 24 months constitute of me not training because I had no direction or being injured.

In the evening, another great runner and overall a person I look up to, Will, texted me. How’d your half go today? I didn’t even tell anyone I planned to run, and Will doesn’t have Strava to have seen the race there. Turns out, news travels fast in the world of trail running and racing, especially if one of your close friends is a race director. After a bit of conversation, Will told me that I’ve “finished 2+ hours ahead of several experienced runners” and I don’t want to brag or anything but… yeah, that probably just fed my ego, let’s leave the subject.

I don’t know if there’s any lesson to be learned. I didn’t even plan to write about the race. Perhaps that’s why this post is so very different from any other race report I’ve ever written. It’s not much of a race report as it is a memory of a day that could have not happened at all, a love letter to my dear friends and the trail running community, and a thank-you to tuyshtak (Mount Diablo) that, even though it kicks my ass every time I set foot there, is one of the best places to go trail running.

More race reports:

Cool Moon 50 Miler: I Hallucinated, I Ached, and I Threw Up Blood. But I Finished.

Limitless Vertical Challenge | Race Report

I Just Did It. My First 35K Race

More running:

Racing the Sun: A Run Up Mount Tam for My Birthday

takayna | What if Running Could Save A Rainforest?

A Runner’s Body

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