Run for the Shrooms

very year on Memorial Day weekend, my hometown of Morgan Hill hosts a festival called the “Mushroom Mardi Gras.” It’s not quite as extravagant, famous, or pungent as its nearby cousin, the "Gilroy Garlic Festival." But the food and entertainment are usually pretty good, and it benefits a good cause — the local schools of Morgan Hill.

Coyote Creek runs alongside much of the 10K run.

The kick-off event for the weekend festivities is a 5K/10K race held on Saturday morning. But until my alarm clock went off at 6AM Saturday, I wasn’t sure if I’d run in this year’s race. I’d just finished my first triathlon two weeks earlier (the Morgan Hill Sprint Triathlon), and I had another triathlon (the Silicon Valley International Triathlon) scheduled in two weeks. Could I squeeze in a 10K race? I was about to find out…

The course weaves and meanders along Coyote Creek Trail, which starts in Morgan Hill near Anderson Reservoir and heads north towards San Jose. I’ve spent a fair number of hours running and biking the trail, so I knew exactly what to expect: lots of trees, wide-open meadows, rolling hills, and wildlife — and, best of all, no traffic.

The race has a down-home feel to it. Folks of all ages, shapes, and species showed up for the 8 AM start. I shouldn’t have been too surprised when a yellow labrador retriever approached me just before the race started and licked my hand. As it turned out, it was just a friendly gesture of gamesmanship: he and his owner finished the 10K race well ahead of me, even with a couple of detours.

Crossing the bridge over Coyote Creek

Unlike some of the other races I’d run earlier this year, there wasn’t a lot of jostling or maneuvering at the start. The race director simply counted down, and yelled “Go!” through a megaphone, and a group of about hundred of us charged off in a cloud of dust. The 5K race started a couple of minutes later.

I quickly settled into a 7-minute-a-mile pace and felt pretty good. I’d never held a pace like that for an entire 10K race, so I was skeptical I could keep it up. And I didn’t. By the second mile, I slowed down to a 7:29 pace and held onto it for the remainder of the race. By then, my four-legged friend, the yellow lab, was far off in the distance — despite veering off course at one point to chase a squirrel.

The volunteers along the course were upbeat, encouraging, and entertaining (most of them were Live Oak High School student-athletes). At the third water station, a volunteer was scoring runners based upon how little (or how much?) water they spilled as they picked up their cups. I didn’t hear how he rated my water pick-up. But I sure hope he enjoyed getting cooled off, even if it was 8:30AM (sorry about that, dude…!).

Wildflowers alongside Coyote Creek Trail.

I made it to the halfway turnaround point at 3.1 miles in about 22 minutes -- well ahead of my expected pace. As I headed back, I tried to relax and keep my pace steady, as I exchanged high-fives with several fellow runners still headed the opposite direction.

For most of the race, I’d been trailing closely behind a couple of runners who I figured were about my age (46-50). One had been wearing a thick knitted beany cap and the other had a black baseball cap. By about the mile 4 marker, it was getting warm, and I noticed that both of them had taken off their caps and were slowing down. I soon passed both of them. As it turned out, they were the last two runners I encountered for the rest of the race (of course, a large number of other runners were still well ahead of me).

With about a quarter mile to go in the race, I managed to pull together a last-gasp final sprint. I crossed the finish line in 45:55 — about 1:25 faster than my former personal best 10K I’d run less than two months earlier. I ended up finishing 6th in my age group and 18th overall. That felt good. But a few feet from the finish line, I saw my friend again — the yellow lab. I’m pretty sure he winked at me, as if to say “Nice run, kid — better luck next time.”

As I’ve learned plenty of times, running can be a very humbling activity.


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