As soon as I saw the announcement for the Tilden Marathon (just renamed the Grizzly Peak Marathon apparently) a few months back, I knew that I had to run it. Situated in the hills above Berkeley, Tilden is where I train and I know how beautiful this park is and how varied its trails are. However, a major trail race of significant distance has been missing. There are a couple of short ones and the Firetrails 50 leads through some of the park, but none of them really shows off what this place has to offer. The Tilden Marathon changes all of that.
The CTR crew set up a seriously challenging course complete with mud, roots, rocks, single track and anything else that that a trail runner might want. It’s actually amazing how this race has a “little bit of everything” as many a runner would comment on race day. The only thing it doesn’t have is flat trail. 5,700 ft of climbing is quite serious for a non-ultra race and most of the climbs and descents are very technical. As one runner commented: “This is not for the weak.” Agreed.
Thankfully, I knew what was in store and was not to go out all too hard. Then again, it was tough not to stick with the front pack of the half-marathon and 19 mile races that were going on simultaneously. I ended up doing that for most of their races since my legs were feeling good. Sometimes you just have to go with how your legs feel and throw your strategy out of the window. The half-marathon race was led by a pack of four runners at about the 9 mile mark and it was going to a be a battle to the finish. I wasn’t there to see it, but they all finished within less than 2 minutes of each other. Wow!
At 2:03, I reached the half way point and was finally going to get a chance to see how the marathon race was unfolding. I knew I was in first, but had no idea by what margin. It turned out to be about 10 mins. Holy crap! Could this be my first win? I had not really thought about it that much up until then, but now I was on a mission. It was fun going back up the Selby Trail and exchanging well wishes with others, because soon I would (hopefully) be alone for the rest of the day.
Every climb became a delicate balance between pushing the pace but also keeping something in the tank in case of a late race showdown with the second place runner. That second place runner, Paul Adams, looked fresh when I saw him, and I felt that I couldn’t afford a collapse (like three weeks ago at Pirates Cove) without relinquishing the lead. In fact, Paul would run negative splits. At the final aid station, which also served as the penultimate aid, I found out that my lead had been about 10 minutes earlier. Now, there were only 5 miles go to. One gnarly climb back up to Volmer Peak and then a long descent to the finish. The good news was that I know that final downhill like the back of my hand. Home court advantage if you will. I felt that it was just a matter of getting up that final climb. It seemed to take forever, but eventually I crested and hammered to the finish while constantly looking over my shoulder. My final time was 4:13:29 good enough for my first win.
I enjoyed some delicious lentil soup and hung out with Paul and the volunteers for about an hour before I got cold and went on my 10 minute journey home. I wish all races were this close…
My thanks to all the volunteers who braved unseasonably cold temperatures and marked/broke down a tough, tough course. See you next year!