Monday, May 2, 2016

Avenue of the Giants - Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California - Marathon and Camping

Keith, Melissa, and I arrived in Eureka, California on Saturday evening after driving down the coast from Crater Lake National Park.  We planned to camp at Humboldt Redwoods State Park on Sunday night, so our first stop was a grocery store to pick up some food and supplies.  After dinner at the Lost Coast Brewery with many fellow runners, we headed back to our hotel for a few more beers and a good night's sleep.

The Avenue of the Giants Marathon was my first race in nearly two years, and due to the last minute decision to run, my training really wasn't up to marathon standards.  It sounded like a beautiful race, and trips with Keith and Melissa are always awesome, so I decided I'd run the race with no expectations aside from having fun.

I awoke on Sunday morning with the usual pre-race butterflies in my stomach as I tried to eat something substantial for breakfast.  It was cool and sunny as we jumped in the car around 6am and made the one hour drive to Humboldt Redwoods State Park.  Fog replaced sunshine as we approached the park, alleviating my fear that it was going to be a hot race.  Parking and packet pickup was quick and efficient, and we still had plenty of time before my race began at 7:45am.  Keith and Melissa were running the half marathon and that race started about an hour after me, so I was able to keep my jacket on until the last minute before giving it to them and walking down to the start line.  I ended up farther back in the pack than I was hoping and the starting area was too narrow and crowded to move up very much.  There was some music and a quick announcement, and then we were off!  I always wonder how I am going to run 26.2 miles as I am crossing the start line.  It always seems ridiculous to me, until I get moving.

The marathon course is an out and back on one of the smaller park roads, and then a second out and back on the main Avenue of the Giants road.  I really liked this setup; it broke the race up into four manageable parts.  It also meant I passed a lot of people along the way, from the first place runner to the walkers in the back of the pack.  Everyone was enthusiastic and encouraging, and it was a lot of fun to pass so many friendly faces along the way.

The first six miles were slightly uphill, but with fresh legs, the hills were barely noticeable.  Despite starting in the middle of the pack, I was able to move up to the front with little difficulty after the start .  By the second mile, the race was already spread out.  The road was a little rough with potholes, so I kept my eyes looking down as much as possible to avoid a twisted ankle.  That was difficult, however,  because every time I looked up my eyes were met with the most incredible views of towering redwoods shrouded in fog and mist.  It was absolutely breathtaking.  The road was so narrow that it felt like I was running through a tunnel of trees.

Avenue of the Giants

I expected to see the leaders of the race pass me on their way back from the first turnaround by mile 4 or 5, but I made it to the turnaround point not long after seeing the first several runners.  I was feeling good and running faster than expected, and I got to experience all the cheers and encouragement from the runners behind me as I made my way back down the road.  The return was also slightly downhill, so this was a really fun segment of the marathon.  I was back at the start, 13 miles into the marathon, before I knew it.

Around mile 14 at Avenue of the Giants Marathon

The second half of the race was on smooth pavement, so I was able to look around and enjoy the views a little more.  I felt like the first half was more spectacular and peaceful, but the trees were still inspiring and beautiful on the second half.  It wasn't long before the leaders of the other races started passing me in the opposite direction.  Shortly after, I began to encounter the walkers and slower runners from the other races going in the same direction as me.  I was worried that it was going to get congested and I would need to do a lot of weaving around people, but it never got too difficult to pass.  Everything seemed to flow fairly smoothly.  It was a big running party with people heading in opposite directions and running at different paces.  It became difficult to figure out who was running the full, half, 10K, or 5K.  Everyone was just out running and having an amazing time.

I reached the second turnaround point, around mile 20, feeling good and running strong.  The last six miles are always mentally exhausting, anxiously anticipating each new mile marker long before they make their appearance.  Despite being tired, I never felt drained and I was still enjoying the race.  Passing people is always a mental boost, even if they aren't running the same race as you.  At that point, I had no idea who was running the marathon vs. the 5K.

I don't wear a GPS watch during races and there were no pace groups or clocks along the course, so I had no idea how fast I was running, but I knew I was having a good race.  It's an awesome feeling to feel strong for the last mile of a marathon - you can celebrate and enjoy the moment instead of just running to get it over with.  There were lots of people lining the course for the last half mile and the cheering was welcomed after a quiet run through the redwoods.  With a final burst of energy, I run up the small hill to the finish, with a time of 3:15:53 for a new marathon PR.  That was a pretty awesome way to finish  an amazingly beautiful run through the redwoods.

Keith and Melissa met me at the finish, and we headed back to the car for food and refreshments.  There wasn't much in the way of food or beer at the finish line, so we were glad we had brought our own.  We headed down to the banks of the Eel river on the sand bar that we had parked, and enjoyed beers, sunshine, and relaxation for the rest of the afternoon.  I was in heaven!

Cheers to a great race!
Eel River at the Dyerville Sand Bar

We camped in the Burlington Campground in Humboldt Redwoods State Park on Sunday night, celebrating our races and enjoying great food and drinks.  The campground was beautiful and surrounded by majestic redwood trees.  We all ended up in our tents fairly early, exhausted from a great day of running.

Camping at the Burlington Campground in Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Melissa celebrating a great day of running

We were all a little sore from running the next morning, but we decided to do some short walks around the redwoods in Humboldt Redwoods State Park before heading up the coast.  We spent a few hours at the Founders' Grove, walking the interpretative trails and enjoying the peaceful beauty of the redwood forest.  It was a great way to say goodbye to this spectacular redwood forest before continuing our trip up the Oregon Coast.

Founders' Grove in Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Keith and Melissa walking through the Founders' Grove
Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Humboldt Redwoods State Park