Friday, December 13, 2013

Redwood Regional Park and French Trail

Running the the trails in Redwood Regional Park.

I thought that my training schedule for Surf City would pretty much keep me off the trails or at least exploring new trails.  However, I have found this not the case.  I have definitely been mixing things up and am continuing to get in my elevation. Last weekend was a great example.


On Saturday, I managed to pace a running buddy of mine at The North Face 50 miler.  While it would only cover the last 6 miles of the race, I was game.  I figured that by mile 44 he would be at a minimal pace anyway.  Boy was I surprised!  I met him at the Tennessee Valley aid station 30 minutes ahead of his target time and, after maybe a 30 second stop for aid, ran up the first quarter mile of the last hill (about 900 feet of elevation).  The rest of the run consisted of power hiking at a pretty strong run.  In fact the final two miles were run at an 8:30 split.  He managed to beat his PR by 30 minutes for a 50 miler at 10:24.

On Sunday, I ventured over to Redwood Regional Park in the Oakland Hills for what should have been my long run.  Beth had suggested I run the Canyon Meadow 30K course to get my planned 18 mile long run.  Me, taking the advantage of running in an area where there are other trails to explore, meant that I could finally run a trail I have read much about: The French Trail.  I had heard this is a beautiful bit of single track through the redwoods and a must do from many at work who also run trails.

Grin and bear it...only 30 degrees in the shade.
I headed out of the house for the 40 minute drive, with a quick stop at Sports Basement for some fuel.  I had read on Sally McRae’s site about Pocket Fuel Naturals, basically almond butter with a variety of other whole fruits and flavors, and discussed with Ryan during my pacing endeavor about using nut butters over gels.  I have wanted to make the switch since before the Mount Diablo Challenge 50K earlier this year and so far have been unsuccessful.  That said, I had the Pineapple Coconut flavor and Pocket Fuel Naturals is a winner so far.  Expect a review in the future.

I digress to say that this meant that I arrived at the Canyon Meadow staging area at 2:15.  Now, I over-optimistically thought this meant I had 3 hours of daylight to get my 18 miles, about the time I ran the race back in March.  Keep in mind, most of French Trail is on the side of a primordial redwood forest (exaggerating of course) which would mean that every time I was in the valley I would be running in twilight.   Not to mention that it was 35-degrees at the start of the run (temperate for the Colorado readers but darn frigid for this California born and raised guy) and frost and ice in the shadows.

Oakland Hills and Ohlone in the distance.
The first four miles consisted of a climb up and running along the East Ridge trail.  This is a wide fire trail with beautiful views of the redwood forest valley to the west, the Las Trampas wilderness to the east, and the Oakland Hills and Ohlone wilderness to the south.  After the initial somewhat steep quarter mile climb, the grade slowly increases until you reach the Skyline staging area.  There were a lot of people out, wearing their winter jackets as if they were in Tahoe. 

Nice downhill at Tres Sendas
From Skyline I continued up the West Ridge trail and here I made my first mistake.  As I was running the trail, I had thought I remembered seeing the French Trail cut off by a red house near the Chabot Science Center.  So I didn’t start looking for the trail marker until then.  I was surprised to find the Tres Sendas trail.  This meant I had passed the cutoff 0.5 mile back.  I decided to take the trail anyway knowing that I would connect with French trail eventually.  This was a fast single track down to almost to the bottom of the valley floor and reached French trail in a quick moment.

French Trail is beautiful whilst in the twilight of the redwoods as stated above. The single track is filled with ferns and evergreen combined with soft dark spongy dirt.  Not to become complacent, this trail is tricky, throwing in tree roots and rock, quick climbs and fast drops which is not for the faint of heart. 

Now if I could only read a map.
To be frank, I lost a lot of time running this trail.  French trail is intersected by 5 or so more trails, all taking you down to the valley floor.  I spent about a half an hour just stopping and getting the map out just to find out where I was.  In fact, when I came to the Starflower trail intersection, I guessed wrong and ended up landing on the Stream trail.  I followed this until I got to the Mill trail to connect back up with French trail.  I didn’t get lost after this detour but now knew I would not make 18 miles, and would be good to finish (again over-optimistically) to 15 miles.

French trail at this point was a little bit of a climb, much of it runnable.  I can definitely understand why it is so recommended.  I will say it again, it is gorgeous!  Once I reached its terminus at Orchard trail it was 4:40 and I had only covered 9 miles.  The park closed at 6:00 (well after dark) so I knew I had still some time to burn. Hmm….I thought I would take the West Ridge trail back to Madrone trail and run back in; however, quickly became a no go when I again got lost and ended up running down Tate trail for a bit.  I turned around and started heading back to the car; however, Toyon trail was calling to me.

Toyon is also a very nice and technical downhill trail from West Ridge which was on the Canyon Meadow course.  I loved this trail with its rocks and ruts.  By now the sun was setting behind the hills; however, I thought I would have enough time to make it back to the car.  The trail connects with the Golden Spike trail which would send me back to the car – again a favorite of mine for its rocks and ruts.

There is a sneaky drop right around that corner.
The problem though, which I miss-judged was how quickly it would get dark, especially in the redwood groves.  I had not brought a headlamp, didn’t think I would need one.   I continued my run with my eyes adjusting to the night.  I was taking total faith that my eyes and feet were still in sync with the terrain. Almost back to the valley floor I quickly realized how reality would trump faith as my right foot caught a rock.  I started flying and flailing through the air yet somehow landing on my feet.  You would think that would slow me down; however, I continued on.  

I finally made it back to the road at the park entrance.  By this time it was dusk and I had a the choice to stay on the trail which was pitch black or run on the road.  I chose safety over bravado and ran the final half mile back to the car.  The run ended at 5:17, right at 3 hours but only 12 miles to show for the effort.

So cold it could have snowed!  Sun setting got to keep moving.
When I got home, I uploaded the results to see why I covered so little miles felt so beat.  First, the elevation gain was a little less than 2,500 feet which would have been the elevation gain if I would have stayed on the 18 mile Canyon Meadow course, just spread out.  I also lost 30 minutes stopping due to a bathroom break at Skyline and stopping to get my bearings every time I got lost.  Also, this was a pretty technical course, not wide open fire trails like the originally planned 18 miles.

But did I have fun? Most definitely!  This was an awesome adventure and is really why I love trail running.  The French trail definitely lived up to its reputation and while I may not use this trail for training for Surf City Marathon it will be really helpful for a couple of ultras, one in March and one in April, that I plan on doing.  More on that in my next post…

Have a great running week!


  1. Oh man - the French Trail (and a lot of those trails in that area) are just plain amazing! And I can easily imagine how quickly it got dark in all those trees. Congrats on surviving and congrats on pacing at North Face - that sounds like fun!

  2. Thanks Allen, it was such a treat to get out there....marathon training this time around has been pretty fun. I can't believe I have never been on that trail before.


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