Saturday, February 3, 2018

East Bay Skyline Trail FKT run

The Fastest Known Time (FKT) concept is growing on me.  Take an interesting, generally established, route and run it.  Post it on the FKT board.  When someone beats it, they now have the FKT.  There are distinctions for gender and amount of support.  It's up to each person to plan everything, decide when they want to start, navigate the route, and record their accomplishment.

Thank you Peter Bakwin and Buzz Burrell for setting up and running the FKT board!  Here's the page relevant to my run this week:

Looking around for Bay Area FKT opportunities, the 32-mile East Bay Skyline Trail seemed like the best place to start.  Also the best distance for my current training and plantar fasciitis healing progress.  The more I looked at it, the more I wanted to try it right away, especially while the weather is perfect.

Maps and details:

I went unsupported, using only water fountains along the way.  I also didn't want to bother John with drop off and pick up, so I used BART and Lyft to get to the start.  The woman who dropped me off was like, "you're going to the park in the dark?"  Well, it's about to get light, I just wanted to start early to try to beat rush hour traffic going home in the evening.

So I carried a little extra gear with the headlamp, but it was also nice and cool that early in the morning.  Always a balance in when to start running and what to carry vs. what to do without.

My starting photo at the entrance to Wildcat Canyon Park (Alvarado Staging Area) - good morning!

I started at the gate right off Park Ave, trying to follow exactly in the footsteps of the guy who set up this FKT (Jim).  Almost 6 am - seems like a good time to stop shivering and get moving:

I speed-hiked through the parking lot and up the paved road, legs warming up nicely.  I didn't think there would be many great photo opportunities before the sun came up, so I took a picture of the reflective markers on the next gate:

Ah, nice trail marking posts - here's the turn onto the Belgum Trail:

I hadn't been here before, but the trail was wide and easy to follow.  Intersections were pretty well marked, I only had one question at the split for the San Pablo/Clark-Boas/Oil Well trails - just ignore the little unnamed trail heading up to the ridge.  San Pablo is a dirt road, and yes, it does go downhill briefly from there.  Then it climbs some more.

I was hoping to set a "respectable" women's FKT time, not trying to beat the men but also not taking it easy.  Maybe not make it a gimme for the next woman to try this - however, any woman with a speck of speed will certainly blow my mark away.

Nice warm-up climb, and hey, check out the views!  It didn't take long to catch sight of the towns to the east and the cities to the west.  With a full moon, what a lovely morning.

Not a bad shot for a little camera:

Starting to see sunrise - the Wildcat trails are wide open up high which was great for seeing the early morning colors.  Quite wonderful.

I believe by this point I'm up on the Nimitz Trail (or just about to hit it) - signpost with the sunrise:

The paved Nimitz Trail was great for starting to move faster.  I cruised along at a good clip, still I couldn't resist stopping a couple times to take pictures of the colorful sky:

The trail goes around an old Nike missile site, but there isn't anything obvious to see from where I was.  I might waste time taking pictures and futzing around, but I wasn't going out of my way to explore today.

Another nice moon shot above Mount Tam and the lights of Oakland/San Francisco:

OK, last one of the sunrise!  Get running, already.

The Bay Area Ridge Trail has joined up with the East Bay Skyline Trail at this point.  Several markings to watch for on the signposts: The trail name, direction arrows, BART symbol (the trail, not the train), Juan Bautista de Anza Trail (which I don't even know where that goes), and finally, the white/red/blue East Bay Skyline symbol that I was following today:

I heard a bunch of wild turkeys and occasionally the screech of a hawk.  Wildlife included small rabbits, squirrels, little brown birds, and one dead skunk.  A few cows that stared at me like always.

Eucalyptus trees rustling in the slight breeze as I entered woods heading into Tilden Park:

I saw the first human (since the Lyft lady) somewhere in here - a guy on a bike, and we both seemed a little surprised to see each other.  Good morning!

The miles on Nimitz went quickly, soon I was at Inspiration Point.  A bathroom, thank you!

A short drop, a couple quick turns to find and cross Wildcat Canyon Road, and the start of the next climb, back to dirt trails:

Seaview Trail is lovely - such panoramas!  I'm not sure about actually viewing the sea, but you can see the reservoir on one side and the bay on the other.  And a really nice look at San Francisco.  Wow, this would be a great place to come and sit for a while.

Moving on, places to go...

San Pablo Reservoir on a lovely morning:

Approaching the south end of Tilden, at the start of a small maze of trails (a good place to be paying attention).  Here's where you leave Seaview and jump over to Lupine/Arroyo:

The trails are mostly well mapped and marked with the East Bay Skyline marker, except in one spot with an unmarked trail coming in from the right.  Stay left.  Then it's a left at Lupine, right at Vollmer Peak, and left on Vollmer Peak as you drop down to the Steam Train area:

First water stop (10.4 miles in) and a good place for mixing up a 1/2 serving of Spiz.

Hey, that's an awesome gate latch!  I've seen a few different ways to keep gates closed, but this one appeals to me a lot.  It's a ring that you lift to move the gate, then it drops back down to keep it shut.  Intuitive and easy to handle:

The connector from Tilden to Sibley Park isn't on an official map (that I could find) but Google Maps works fine, the trail is obvious, and there are only a couple intersections to watch for.

It's also beautiful singletrack with a nice downhill grade and a fun section to glide down.  I liked it a lot.

One of many benches along the trail:

The views from the benches are usually good too:

Well, this picture came out especially nice, every once in a while I get lucky:

I crossed Fish Ranch Road and traversed over the top of a large tunnel.  At least I guess I did - I could hear the cars for a while but couldn't really see the road or the tunnel below.  That was a pleasant way to cross route 24.

A brief jaunt through a small parking lot and then the trail starting up through Sibley:

I was just admiring Round Top Creek when I noticed this - hmm, not quite as pretty, but interesting:

Lovely woods along the creek:

Water #2 at Sibley Staging Area (I guess a parking lot is called a staging area around here), 13.9 miles in.  The Skyline Trail continued uphill just a bit more, above a paved road.  I heard a woman calling "Hello?  Is this your beagle?"  "No, sorry!"  She was intent on finding the dog's owner, I never heard if she found that person though.  Hope so.

Possibly basalt rock - Sibley is a volcanic preserve, looking forward to coming back to explore this park further with John:

Trail through Sibley with not-quite-a-trail-marker:

Next road crossing as the trail heads toward Huckleberry:

Next up was a big drop down to San Leandro Creek, wheee!  On the way down the view opened up briefly so I took a picture of - some trees?

Toward the bottom there was a giant blowdown to climb over, and dang it I missed a photo so I could tempt John into trekking there with a saw sometime.

Climbing up through Huckleberry Preserve, excellent signage:

I really like the Huckleberry trails.  Shady, cool and pleasant, weaving along the side of a hill in and out of little drainages.  As it turns out, practice for the upcoming French Trail.

Hello Mount Diablo!

One intersection to watch for - Huckleberry Trail takes a higher (parallel) route, while the Skyline Trail stays low.  It's not well marked, so I monitored the map and stayed left.

Soon enough there was the Pinehurst Road crossing:

The road intersection looked rather complicated if one were in a car, but the trail was easy, just straight across and up toward Redwood Park:

At the top of the next short climb I had a brief question about a trail to the right - nope, that just goes to some houses.  Only a few extra steps (my only mistake, and it was slight) and I got myself back on track.  The turn onto the wide East Ridge Trail is very obvious, just a short way further.

Skyline Gate (16.7 miles), the halfway point and the last water fountain until almost the very end of the run:

I shared the lower spigot with a woman who filled a dish for her dog.  The puppy was way more interested in the baggie of Spiz I was filling.  The woman said that her dog associates baggies with treats - so the dog watched me intently.  Sorry cutie, no Spiz for you!

Full on water (2 20-oz bottles plus 20 oz in the Spiz baggie) and ready to start the second part of this adventure:

I eased off on the pace since I was carrying more weight than any other time during the run.  That kept the effort level at "reasonable".

Plus it was time for the French Trail, which had been described by one FKT runner as "the epitome of evil" - hmm, well, let's go find out what that means.  Here's the turnoff onto the French Trail where it drops down into the large drainage system:

I'm going to guess that the standard Skyline Trail route along the West Ridge Trail doesn't go down and up (and down and up...) nearly as much as the French Trail does.  When Jim set up this FKT, he decided to take the alternate route on French, which definitely slows things down.

On the plus side, it's a beautiful place to run!  Dark in the shade of giant redwood trees.  Singletrack.  A bit of a breeze.  A bunch of intersections so you can see that you are making progress even though it might be taking a while.

Eventually the trail calms down on all that climbing/descending and settles into more traversing along the side of a steep hill.  Much like the Skyline Trail on the west side of the Bay with gentle rolling and lots of ins and outs of side drainages.  And some sections where you have no idea how long this is going to take.  Fun if you're not in a hurry.  Requires a lot of patience if you are!  But quite runnable.

OK John, here's one you can work on:

A couple quick pauses to drink part of the Spiz and make a pit stop (luckily the trail isn't highly traveled because it's not easy to hide a bare bottom).

Following flour markings for a while - I can't be the first person to think that these should be called #hashtags:

I tried to keep a solid pace, speed-walking the ups and running the downs, keeping some momentum even though this trail isn't built for momentum.

The end of French Trail, a short climb up Orchard, and I'm back on the West Ridge Trail - selfie worthy :)

Ah, it was good to be running "for real" again, a nice drop down the end of the ridge.  A little S-turn, then a trail to the right that is really easy to miss.  I stopped to look at it because it seemed like the right spot to cut over to the Golden Spike Trail, but it wasn't marked (only a "no bikes" sign).  Had to be it.

Yep, that was it!  Just a short way down and here's the Golden Spike:

Some weaving around on that trail, then a cut down to the left to cross Redwood Road:

It sure would be nice if there were a water fountain at Big Bear or MacDonald Gate staging area, around mile 22.  Ah well, the rest of this route is great, can't complain about something small like that.

Starting up MacDonald Trail toward Chabot - last (but long) park of the day!

I climbed up the switchbacks to the next ridge, wondering how much shade vs. open space I would find in the last ~10 miles.  It had been the perfect running temperature all morning, but the sun was shining and I suspected it might start warming up soon.

Another bench with an excellent view:

Still shady - and with interesting shadows:

I was ready to kick it up a notch and knock this thing out.  My legs were feeling good, the PF in my right foot was finally not aching in the last half of a 50K (I could slightly feel it stretching but no pain), and I was happy with my splits so far.  Maybe I could break 8 hours?  Jim's first FKT time was right at 6 hours, so 8 seemed like a good goal.  Brian has the current FKT at 4:51 - impressive!

OK, so let's lighten the pack first.  I put it down to retrieve and finish off the Spiz, then looked up to see a huge pack of dogs come barreling toward me with a fast runner in their midst - what the heck?  Looks like someone is out "walking" his herd of dogs.  Several dogs came over to inspect my backpack.  I nudged them aside, no Spiz for you either!  They ran off and then it was all quiet again.

Well then.  I finished drinking up and moving water to my hand bottle.  Time to get a move on.

Nice run down the ridge, that mile went by fast, then a quick couple turns down to Grass Valley Trail.  I ran the flat section through the valley, using any slight uphill for a short walk break, mostly keeping some decent speed going.  I started doing math to see whether I might break 8 hours, deciding that it was possible depending on the height of the last climb up the Brandon Trail (having not memorized all the details and not wanting to spend the time to stare at the map and figure it out).

There's the start of the Brandon Trail, just 5.4 miles to go, sweet!  One more selfie for good measure:

And while the camera is out, a picture of the tall trees - thank you for the shade!

The climb went well, not overly steep, and I could run parts of it.  Putting in some effort, upping the pace, looking to finish strong.  I checked off the side trails one by one, always watching the trail markers to verify directions.

Prior FKT runners have reported a random water spigot around mile 29.6 - it's between Mirador and Two Rocks Trails:

Yep, an honest-to-goodness water spigot in the middle of nowhere (maybe related to some fire hydrants in that area?).  I was happy to pause briefly and put water in my bottle, especially now that I was finally sweating a bit.

Coming up to the Marciel Road crossing, the last local maximum of the day:

And starting down the other side:

Downhill to the finish!  With plenty of time to spare to break 8 hours.  Not quite enough to hit 7:30, maybe next time  :)

Looking down at the golf course parking lot, with less than half a mile to go:

And - done!  1:01 split for the Brandon Trail, total of 7:32:44:

"Finish line" photo:

That was fun!  I enjoyed the trail navigation, the weather, the scenery, the woods, the variety, and perhaps most of all the fact that it wasn't too long (I'm working back up to longer distances... slowly).  Excellent training and an enjoyable day.

The trek to BART was a bit slow, but at least there's a Safeway along the way (with good made-to-order deli sandwiches and a Starbucks inside).  It's great that these trails are accessible via public transit.

First California FKT run, very nice.