Santa Cruz 5K (10K?)

Running in Santa Cruz has been pretty fun. The scenery is amazing and there are endless dirt roads and single-track trails to explore in the surrounding redwood forests. It has also been very challenging because of the terrain. I am living on the UCSC campus, which is built on the side of a mountain that slopes quickly down to the city and coast below. Every day, I am faced with a choice: run on an extreme downhill for the first few miles into town or run on an slightly less extreme uphill for the first few miles into the woods (where supposedly Mountain Lions lurk). I almost always take choice #2.

I think my legs are slowly adjusting running these relentless hills, no thanks to the Santa Cruz Firecracker race that I ran over July 4 weekend.

The Firecracker had a shared start for the 5K and the 10K. The 10K course was a combined road and trail race that featured, as the race brochure termed it, a “brutally long and steep hill in the middle miles.” I decided to run the 5K.

I’m going to try to describe this race in the present tense. We’ll see how this goes. As the race starts, it’s impossible to tell who will be running the 10K and who will be running the 5K. After about 1/4 mile, I’m running in a tight lead pack at a reasonably comfortable pace. I figure that I’ll wait to make any strategic decisions until after the 10K and 5K competitors go our separate ways.

After about 3/4 miles, we come to a T-intersection, with the following writing: “<---10K | 5K--->” The two guys ahead of me swoop left and I head right. After about 10 seconds, I realize that no one followed me. This seems strange but I keep going for a bit, slowly realizing that somehow I’d fucked it up. After a few more glances behind me, I turn around dejectedly and head back to the mass of runners who are now way ahead of me.

As I run by the T-intersection again, I point at the writing and stare at a race volunteer who simply shrugs and says “That’s for lap 2!” At this point I’m pretty pissed off and upset that my $35 registration fee has gone to waste. I’m still running hard but I no longer care. Somehow, I miss the real 5K turn off (apparently it was not at the previous T-intersection, which was just leftover road paint from previous years’ race route…Brilliant!) and continue onto the bumpy 10K course and “The Hill” in my road racing flats. Great.

The 10K actually ended up being kind of fun. I approached it like a tempo run and passed people most of the way. I ascended the hill better than I expected and managed to cruise the downhills very quickly. Annoyingly, some guy interviewed me with a camera right after I finished and I had to try to explain my idiocy in running the 10K “by accident.”

I finished 7th in the 10K, but as a final kick in the nuts, the official race results put me down as “#661 Unknown” because I was actually signed up for the 5K. And yes, that’s a really pathetic 10K time.

Overall, the Santa Cruz running scene seems OK but I’m going to withhold judgment on how well organized their races are until I’ve seen a few more (although there don’t seem to be any more during the next 4 weeks that I’m here). I met a few of the stronger runners in the race who do workouts at the local high school on weeknights, but I don’t have a car so I probably won’t be able to join them.