Woodside Trail Run 50K | California | December 1, 2007
By Gary Dudney
The Woodside Trail Run 50K takes full advantage of one of the many redwood forest and chaparral enclaves found along California’s central coast. Adjacent to the historic small town of Woodside just north of Palo Alto and the Stanford University campus, Huddart and Wunderlich parks offer a network of wide and smooth forest trails and jeep roads that roll through a series of gulches and canyons that open suddenly onto spectacular views of forested valleys and the Pacific Ocean.
This Pacific Coast Trail Runs event, which will be held once again on the same course in early February of 2008, places nearly 300 runners out on the trails over shorter distances of 10, 17, and 35 kilometers, but the forty-odd 50K ultrarunners go off early, enjoy more of the park and hardly see any of the other runners who finish shorter loops and have downed their chili and left before the lucky 50K runners come smiling home.
For the speed serious minded, the course has PR written all over it. The few steeper climbs come in the first five miles and can be dispatched with some arm swinging power walking. The middle miles are rolling and the final five miles feature mostly gentle downhill that keeps the fatigue in check while propelling young guns through a fast finish. The weather is accommodating as well, crisp at the start, cool in the forest all day, and slightly breezy.
The aid stations, always exceptional at PCTR events, added post Thanksgiving pumpkin pie to the usual p&b sandwiches, potatoes and salt, cookies, Payday bars, Clif shot bloks, and other delectable munchies.
For those looking for a more aesthetic, less athletic, experience, the Woodside trail run can be a contemplative and deeply satisfying endeavor. Running along trails named Skyline, Alambique, Chinquapin, Crystal Springs and Chaparral through Bear Gulch, Squealer Gulch and besides King’s Mountain, it’s easy to imagine ghosts gathered under the redwood, toyon, bay, coastal oak and laurel trees of the forest.
Ohlone Indians lived here, collected berries, fished the streams and hunted the deer. In 1769, Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola camped in the area as he bumbled north having failed to recognize his destination of Monterey Bay in a thick fog. Richard’s Road Trail follows the road where in the 1850s oxen teams hauled lumber from five nearby sawmills down to the ocean to be shipped to San Francisco where a building boom was serving the Gold Rush crowd. But the logging eventually ceased, the forest was left to recover, and two fore-sighted men, who had come into possession of the land, Martin Wunderlich and James Huddart, wisely preserved the area for parkland.
Strangely, the town of Woodside has become one of the wealthiest small towns in America. Several Silicon Valley moguls have country estates nearby, including Steve Jobs, and other luminaries with holdings in the area include Michelle Pfeiffer, Joan Baez, Neil Young and Shirley Temple Black.
I passed much of the time during the race lost in a reverie induced by the deep forest calm and the whispering ghosts of the area. But as slow as I was going, I caught a young runner struggling up a slight ascent on a shady section of forest road. He turned and seemed relieved. “I’m glad to see you,” he said. “I thought I was the last one.”
I laughed and assured him about half the 50K field was still behind us. “You’re doing fine,” I said as I pulled away. And then it struck me, here in my seventieth or so ultra, totally happy with the day and the experience, totally unaware of the “race,” I had just met a first timer… Welcome to the sport, I thought to myself, you’ve got a long and joyous road ahead.