Rarely do races put me in a good, goofy mood from start to finish, but the inaugural Diablo Trail 50K last Sunday had that effect. Proof that I was having a great time came at around mile 28 in what turned out to be a 33.75-mile course. I was flying down the dirt and sandstone slabs of a steep slope with the lead woman, Beth Vitalis, in sight about a quarter mile ahead. We were running from a ridge toward emerald foothills flecked with wildflowers and a canyon filled with oak and pine. The San Francisco skyline, Golden Gate Bridge and Mount Tamalpais sat on the horizon, far across the bay.
Beth and I had run together for more than half the course and then she picked up the pace, as did I, in the unspoken hope of breaking 6 hours. (Little did we know the “50K” would turn out to be a couple of miles longer than advertised.) We had spent the first third of the course bogging down in thick, heavy mud, and much of the middle third pressing against hurricane-force winds on ridgetops.
Suddenly and with a sickening sensation, I saw the ground rise and felt my body tumble like a snowball from an avalanche until my forearm and knee stopped the fall.
On any other day, I would have cursed and maybe cried, but on this run, I blurted out for no one to hear, “It’s a party now!” I lost little time getting up and resuming the run, my bleeding palm and knee an afterthought.
Why was I having a good time? It had partly to do with my mindset and training. I had little care about my finishing time, having put my competitive mentality on hold since racing the Napa marathon three weeks earlier. My legs felt good, and I must be doing something right if I can hang with Beth Vitalis, whom I’ve long admired (I described her as “bionic” in last year’s Ohlone 50K race report). We talked as we ran, laughed and chased down hats when they blew off, and remarked on the scenery as though we were among the luckiest people in the Bay Area to be out there.
But above all, I relished the course and appreciated the event’s well-organized logistics. The course revealed an entirely new-to-me side of the mountain, and the volunteer support at aid stations couldn’t be better. For this I want to thank event organizers at Save Mount Diablo and encourage more people to support the group. Then, head to eastern Contra Costa to see what they’ve saved — past Clayton’s cul de sacs and country club, through a remote swath of oak forest and savannahs along Marsh Creek — all the way to the Round Valley staging area.
Longtime East Bay trail running advocate Mike Palmer teamed up with SMD board member Dave Husted to plan a point-to-point 50K that would bypass the 3849-foot summit. Mike wanted to create an alternative to popular ultra events that fill up quickly in the season. Dave wanted to raise awareness of Save Mount Diablo and of the continued threats that exist to the mountain’s wildlife corridors, ecosystems and recreational opportunities. They both wanted to introduce more people to the trails out there.
They mapped a course that mostly follows the Diablo Trail and tours the Round Valley and Morgan Territory regional preserves on the east side of the mountain. Then it traverses the state park’s southern slopes until hooking up with Rock City, and finishes through the foothills that lead to Castle Rock Park. But don’t assume it’s easy since it skirts the snow-capped summit. With more than 8000 feet of elevation gain and loss, plus a springtime soup of treacherous mud, it’s a tough nut to crack. (Map and elevation profile.)
Only 48 runners participated this year, but I bet it’ll grow in popularity. Mark Tanaka, the winner in 5:42, told me afterward that “such a spectacular course with unparalleled volunteer support is worth traveling to …. If I’m limited to one short race in mid-March, I think I’ll be choosing the Diablo Trail 50K.”
Someday we may have the chance to run or hike a 100K out there because Save Mount Diablo is working on establishing a 60-mile loop. Dave Husted of SMD writes, “The Grand Loop is within a couple of small, privately owned land gaps of completion. Unfortunately, it could be some time before the loop is completed, but we’re working on it. I guess this is a good example of the work that we do, and of why we continue to need friends who are supportive of our cause.”
Congrats to Mark and second-place Beth (6:06). For me, finishing third in 6:09 was an icing-on-the-cake bonus, like the spring wildflowers along the trail. (Results)