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Mt. Madonna Challenge…Runners In The Mist

mt_madonna_fogThis one is for serious trail runners. I ran it two years ago and took second in my age group, so I wanted to do it again this year. In it’s 33rd year, this trail run for locals draws a small crowd, probably due to its punishing course. The 1100-ft. climb from the start of the 12K forces all but the few front runners to walk less than a mile into the race. Just a few minutes into the race my heart rate was easily at 175.

Mt. Madonna is my favorite place for trail running, and today’s race was absolutely pristine. Winding through troves of oak, sycamore, manzanita and redwoods, there was a two-mile section where we ran through thick fog. At the top of one ridge the fog spilled over the trail like smoke, the same way you see it in San Francisco as the ocean winds push it over the mountains. Sounds are muffled, trail shoes brush along a thick carpet of mixed foliage, and the scent of redwood seems to fill your body. I sort of lost myself in this space a few times, hardly aware I was running a race, mesmerized by finding myself in this other world.

I knew my Garmin wasn’t going to track the distance through the tall forest, but I was surprised how well I remembered the course. I knew where the steep climbs ended, and I was ready for the downhills. The county had poured a fresh coat of gravel on the fire roads earlier in the year, and that made the descent much easier this year.

I highly recommend this event for any avid trail runner. It is breathtaking (and literally takes your breath away), challenging, and rewarding. It was also a good reminder for me to do more hill work in my triathlon training.

I had done almost no trail running recently but still managed to finish less than a minute behind my time two years ago. I was 15th overall but 8th in my age group in the smallest of races, reminding me once again I need to wait until I turn 60 for a shot at the podium.

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