(Contributed by Felix Tong, Pamakid member since 2012)
Canyon Meadows race day began with the most dreaded part of my race day ritual: waking up. At 6:00am, the alarm goes off and my first thought is, “Ugh! It’s a weekend, what am I doing?!!!” I struggle out of bed, clean up, eat a small snack, and put on my Pamakids singlet; the adrenaline starts to wake me up. I finish packing up whatever I will need for race day and food for the potluck. Somehow, no matter how much time I set aside for my morning race day ritual, it’s never enough, I think, as I rush out the door.
While driving to Redwood Regional Park I play a game of “Who’s heading to the race,” which I am the defending world champion at. As my fellow racers and I enter the park, it soon dawns on all of us that we should have left a bit earlier because the parking lot is full, and we’re forced to turn around to park outside the Park. Exiting the car, the 39 degree ambient temperature hits me, along with the realization that I’m a mile away from the start, and despite leaving 20 minutes earlier than Google Maps told me to leave, I’m running late! Did I mention that it’s the weekend and who tortures themselves on a weekend? As I approach the start line, I see the Pamakids tent and my fellow Pamakids, and a smile comes across my face. Gametime.
It’s a little known fact that all trail races are required to have a thousand foot elevation gain in the first mile, this race is no exception. If I was cold at the start of the race, I no longer remember that fact 10 minutes in. As the initial climb levels out, I start to enjoy the scenery. It’s a perfect running day: cool crisp air, sun shining down and amazing views. I start encountering Pamakids as my legs recover from the incline, I chat with some, give them a thumbs up, or just a quick “Go Green.” I realize that most of them are doing the ultramarathon and am amazed at their high spirits. They’re smiling and have a bounce in their step. When I run, I like to countdown the mileage (13, 12….6, 5, 4…). I cannot even imagine what it would be like to count down from 31 miles, my legs are shutting down just thinking about it, but somehow these ultra running Pamakids make it seem like it I am missing out on something nirvanic. Maybe I need to give this utlra running a try.
I start to speed up the second half of the race, which just happens to coincide with the downhill portion. I pass by the first aid stations and as a result pass up about 20 runners. My secret weapon has paid off, a water bottle and a packet of Gu, no need to stop. As I pass, I hear the volunteers chatting it up and giving encouragement along with some yummy gummy bears to those who stopped. The camaraderie, banter and food make me wish I hadn’t prepared so thoroughly.
A little further along, the trail begins to narrow until it becomes a single track. I tell myself to be careful here since it is not just narrow but also very steep. The lack of rain this winter has provided the perfect conditions for an early exit from the race. The runner just in front of me, slips and comes up with a few scratches. Another runner and I help him up and check to see if he’s okay before we continue. As the trail steepens and my fellow good samaritan slows, she offers to let me pass, but I politely refuse as I’ve been doing everything in my ability just to keep up, although I keep this fact to myself. As the trail opens up, a second aid station appears. Remembering how great the snacks were at the first stop I debate stopping, but my legs rebel, wanting to end the suffering sooner rather than later. My legs win this debate and I forgo the second aid station.
At mile 10, I hear the race announcer and check my Garmin hoping I can eat soon, as I’ve gotten quite hungry. No luck, there must be one more loop. As I approach the finish line, Thang Ta is taking photos of everyone in the race and is encouraging everyone to “bring it in strong.” This embarrasses me into a painful finishing kick on what was supposed to be a mellow training run. As I finish, I realize that the marathoners need to re-run the the steep incline that started my race and I’m thankful I won’t be needing to do it again. Then I realize the ultra runners actually need to do the mountain climb a total of three climbs. I’m really glad I’m not them.
By the finish, the amazing weather was equaled only by the amazing Pamakids potluck spread, that I am told is the most famous in all the universe. While enjoying the complimentary beer with my quinoa chili I had the opportunity to rehash race stories with my fellow Pamakids, and to cheer on our marathon and ultramarathon teammates. It’s not often that the Pamakid ultra-runners will be at the same event as those running more sane distances, so I’m sure it was fun to have so much support as they came into the main aid station. Leaving the aid station, I was again struck at how the Pamakids ultra runners were full of smiles and pep, which made me feel like maybe I need to check out this ultra thing — there must be something to it if you can do three monstrous hill climbs and still be cheerful before each one. Overall, it was a great day of running, eating and socializing, well worth waking up before sunrise on a Sunday morning.
[Editor’s Note: The Canyon Meadow trail runs, put on by Coastal Trail Runs, took place on Sunday, March 24, 2013 in Redwood Regional Park in Oakland, CA. Approximately 35 Pamakids participated in events ranging from 5 miles up to 50 kilometers.]