Knickerbocker Canyon 35K Race Recap

The weekend of March 25, I drove up to the Auburn area to visit my friend and to run the Knickerbocker Canyon 35K as a training run for Canyons 50K. This race turned out to be just what I needed after a California-winter of heavy rain, mud, and decreasing long run motivation. I have found myself getting very nervous for long runs lately, not so much due to the distance but due to the potential for unsafe trail conditions - downed trees, deep mud, slippery everything, and landslides, to name a few. The trails have been hit hard over the past few months.

The day before Knickerbocker, I had a terrible drive (major traffic put me 2 hours behind schedule) up to Alisyn's house and later found myself having a stress-fest on her couch about the next day's race. Thank goodness she was calm, talked to me about my concerns, and fed me pizza and beer. I went to bed in a significantly better mental state than I'd been in earlier that day, and I woke up feeling pretty good about my upcoming 20-ish miler.

Alisyn was running the half marathon and both races started at 8:30 am, so we didn't have to get up super early to go to the start. We arrived at American Canyon Overlook around 7:30 am, quickly got ourselves situated with restrooms, packs, and bibs, then chatted with people until it was time to start. The weather was surprisingly good, in the 50s and not raining!

With Alisyn at the start.

Following a description of course markings and changes due to a washed out trail, the race director sent us on our way. The race started with a big downhill and gently rolling terrain down to the aid station at No Hands Bridge. The bridge is a major landmark on the Western States course, and I was super excited to set foot on it for the first time. That day it was flooded, giving us our first drenched shoe moment of the day. I've been saying I wanted to do a race with creek crossings for a while now, so I felt like a kid in a candy store with all of the water on this course!

The start! Photo from friend, Hassan.

Photo on trail above No Hands Bridge from Let's Wander, race photographer.

As I headed out of the No Hands aid station, I knew K2 training hill, another landmark for runners in the Auburn area, was coming up soon. I realize K2 is not supposed to be fun, but after hearing people talk about it for years I was excited and ready to give it a go. My expectation of K2 was that we'd be climbing slippery mud and sliding backwards with every step forward. However, much of K2 was sheet-type rock and there was no sliding backwards at all. Talk about relief!

I'd also been warned ahead of the race that K2 has many false summits, so I made sure to assume I wasn't at the top even when it looked like I was. I found myself passing people who were taking breaks on the way up, a big confidence boost.  Eventually we really did get to the top, and shortly after that the 35K split from the half and turned right for the additional mileage.

The orange loop (35K only) was spectacular! For the first couple of miles, much of the trail was muddy and felt like running in a shallow creek; this section also included a knee-deep creek crossing. There was an aid station after a couple of miles, and then we enjoyed a long downhill with beautiful views of the river and canyon all the way down. Of course, what goes down must go up, so that was followed by a switchback-y climb back to the aid station at the top. I came into that aid station smiling and telling the volunteers how awesome that loop was, grabbed some Pringles, and ate them while I continued up the hill.

View during the switchback climb.

We followed the same water-logged trail back to the half marathon course split. I thoroughly enjoyed crossing the bigger creek a second time and almost lost a shoe in the deep mud along the way. We enjoyed another long downhill stretch to No Hands Bridge via a different trail with more creeks and nice tree cover. By this time I was around mile 15 and kept thinking I would start to feel super tired or terrible at some point, but I never did. It was amazing! I love both of the photos below because they show how I was feeling - super excited to be out there and having a blast in the creeks. 

Photo from Let's Wander, race photographer.

Photo from Let's Wander, race photographer.

The course went back over No Hands Bridge and then followed the Western States trail in the proper direction (as in, the same way WS100 runners go) for a while. My head filled with thoughts of how many rockstars had run that same trail on their way to a WS100 finish. What were they going through then, at mile 97? I thought about the people who would be pushing for a podium or top ten position, racing to the finish. I remembered the people I'd seen finish in the Golden Hour and even the last seconds of the race, how they would have been fighting for every minute to make the 30 hour cutoff. I recalled the faces of the friends who had successfully finished the race, how tough they all are. And I kept running the uphill grade as if I hadn't already run 17 miles, feeling strong and stoked that I was able to be out there running. 

View from No Hands Bridge. Hello, amazing!

We veered off of Western States trail after a bit, and this is where we had to bypass the washed out trail. Instead, we climbed this very steep paved road that I have to admit wasn't very fun. Steep dirt is one thing, steep roads are much less exciting. Finally, we came to the top of the pavement and back onto a short section of trail to the finish at American River Canyon Overlook. Remember that big downhill start? You got it, that meant a big uphill finish!

Elevation chart from Inside Trail site.

I finished the race in 4:44:22, ahead of my estimated 5 hour finish. I'm thrilled that my body responded so well that day; this was the first time in a long while that I felt confident about running another 50K. Running new trails, especially in the Auburn area, brought me more joy than I could have predicted. I hope to carry the same excitement for the trails into Canyons, preferably with a cooperative body on the day of the race. 

The post-race glow.

I have to give props to Inside Trail for another well-organized event. They handled the trail closures and rerouting with ease and provided the usual top notch support at aid stations. The finish line had lots of food to choose from as well, including two kinds of hot soup that were perfect for recovery and warming up the body after finishing. The race photos from Let's Wander Photography are provided to runners for no charge, which I love.

After the race, Alisyn, her friend Chris, and I went to a few breweries in the Auburn area to celebrate. Auburn has great beer! I was especially excited to return to Knee Deep, but the addition of new-to-me breweries Moonraker and Crooked Lane was a big bonus. Each brewery had a food truck as well, and I tried the food at each one. I was a very happy person.

And last but not least, I acquired a new hat.


  1. So glad you had such an invigorating race! Trail running this winter has been so tough. Hope the rest of your 50K training goes smoothly!


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