Humboldt Redwoods Marathon

Oct. 18, 1998
by Papa Bear

The Humboldt Redwoods Marathon is about as far from the New York City Marathon (as a marathon experience) as you can get. The trip was a bit tiring for the amount of time spent out there. Basically Joy and I flew a good part of Friday to get there and a good part of Monday to get back. This is not an ideal way to do a marathon and see a beautiful part of the country but we had no choice in this instance. If you plan to do a marathon more than a few hours away, I suggest you stay longer if you can.

We stayed in a lovely B & B and a very small, very poor town in the middle of Humboldt Redwoods State Park. This is about 250 miles north of San Francisco. The only industry in the area is logging, with a bit of tourism on the side. Logging is moving off shore so it is an economically depressed area. You see signs in front of houses (usually run down mobile homes) saying, "We support the timber industry". Would that the timber industry supported them! Besides Joy, Suzy came down from Portland for the weekend so I had a nice support team with me.

In the park, there was no logging of course, but outside of it we could see signs of clear cutting, plus a few mills. The natural beauty of the area is surpassing. The place is in a mountain valley. The stream that went along the road evidently floods once in a while (maybe from too much logging?). There was a sign in one town (population 200) that said "Flood high water 1964 at the side of the road. This sign was about head height so it was no big deal until I noticed little arrows went up the pole to the top where there was a horizontal marker bar about 30 feet above the road. Now that must have been impressive! Most of the town was way up on the side of the hill. I don't wonder why.

40s in the mornings with fog, which burned off by about 10. The temperatures got up to the high 60s or maybe 70s by the afternoon, but under the redwoods where we ran for all but a small section, it stayed 10 or more degrees cooler. I would bet the temperature did not rise above 60 along the race course during the marathon.

The course was equally perfect. It consisted of two out and backs. From the start we went down one road about 6 1/2 miles and returned. There was a concurrent half marathon in progress so this part had a good size crowd (maybe 1700 from both half and full marathon). At the start/halfway point, the half marathoners finished and the real men and women turned onto another road for the second half, another out and back. I would characterize the first half as flat, and the second half as slightly rolling with an elevation rise of about 150 feet from mile 14 to 20. Of course this meant there was a gradual down hill for the last 6 miles so one could hardly ask for a better course. The second half was fairly sparse. No spectators and only about 300 marathoners spread out by this point, so for stretches you were running alone. But you were running along one of the most awe-inspiring courses imaginable so the loneliness became transporting.

The laid back nature of the race was illustrated by the start. A large digital clock was put up and a man with a can of spray paint drew a line across the road and printed the word "START". The clock was set to count down from 10 minutes. People sort of mingled and chatted and gradually congregated. The fast guys were doing their striders and others were just stretching or chatting. When the clock got to about 30 seconds, people got themselves on the proper side of the starting line. A few people who must have been timers stood around but nobody with a bullhorn or starting gun or anything of that nature was in evidence. When the clock reached 10 seconds, the crowd chanted 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-0 and we were off. Just like that, with no official directions whatsoever. Cool - we should try that in New York!

I would highly recommend this race, or the similar "Avenue of the Giants Marathon" which takes place in May every year, to anyone. It's as beautiful as Big Sur, without the hills.

My own race was a little less awe-inspiring. My hamstrings bothered me from early on and the last half of the race brought a good deal of pain. It was a fairly specific pain, unlike hitting the wall. I couldn't hold onto the pace I wanted towards the end and I missed my goal by about 6 or 7 minutes. Although disappointed in my time, I was surprised to see on the Internet when I got back that I had placed 3rd in my age group! Go figure! I do think my training was fine and at this point, one week before the NYC marathon, I am largely recovered, uninjured, healthy and ready for what's next. I feel at least as healthy as when I started training, perhaps more so!

Now I'm ready to do lots of non-marathon things, like trail running, shorted races, hiking, or maybe sleeping late on Saturdays. But who knows, maybe next year I'll decide it's time for another marathon.

My stats: 86/314 overall, 68/182 Men, 3rd in age group.