Brazen Racing Ultra Half Series - Updated for 2018/2019

Those who have raced some of the Brazen Ultra Half Series races may be wondering which are the most difficult, which are the easiest, and what is the best strategy to optimize your series times. Below is our own (highly subjective) ranking of the series races in order of difficulty. As always, your mileage may vary!

To frame the question, below is the 2018/2019 series in chronological order with the basic stats for each event.


The half marathons from most difficult to "easiest"...

1. Double Dipsea (June). The stairs, 4,400 ft of climbing, the stairs, two-way traffic on sections of sketchy single track with spots of poison oak, and all those stairs.

2. Rocky Ridge (Sept/Oct). Close to 4000 ft of elevation gain, potential for high heat in the tri-valley (Las Trampas near Dublin), a completely exposed second loop with amazing views, and almost zero flat running. This makes for a great end of season measuring stick for how far your fitness has grown through the year.

3. Drag 'n Fly (Sept). Slightly less elevation gain than Bear Creek, but Contra Loma/Black Diamond Mines near Antioch has steeper climbs and incorporates a more technical single track section. Also has higher potential for being toasty warm and is completely exposed.

4. Bear Creek (Aug). On a hot day, can be flip-flopped with Drag 'n Fly, but generally more runnable. Regardless, almost completely exposed course in Brionnes park, mid-August warmth, and calf burning climbs make for a rewarding day.

5. Trailquake (June). Sanborn park (near Saratoga) can get steamy hot with unusually high humidity in June. Long uphill start can turn good legs to mush before you reach the first aid station. Technical descent with 10K traffic adds to the fun. Not ranked higher because of shade and potential for early June fog layer...makes for a cooler bout of suffering than #3 and #4.

6. Summit Rock (Dec). Testament to the difficulty of this course (also held in Sanborn park), this December version on a slightly modified course still presents plenty of early-race climbing and technical, potentially congested descending.

7. Diablo (Apr). Lengthy, unending mid-race climb can leave your legs empty for the long downhill finish. Early April on Mt Diablo presents its own set of challenges, but the views are worth it.

8. Diablo (Nov). Same course and #7, but with much less heat (hopefully).

9. Wildcat (May). Four noteworthy climbs primarily on fire roads. Great views of the Bay from Wildcat/Tilden Parks in the east bay hills, and good odds on not getting a scorcher.

10. Tarantula (Oct). Potential for mid-October heat at Los Vaqueros reservoir near Brentwood. Route is completely exposed, and by October will be dry and barren. Can be a mental challenge to see (for miles) exactly where you're headed and how much 'up' is left, and the course goes right by the start/finish area around the 10 mile mark. Almost completely on fire roads, the route is not technical, but the many long rollers keep it interesting.

11. Lagoon Valley (Oct). After a flat loop around the lagoon at Pena Adobe near Vacaville, this course continues with two loops of moderately rolling hills punctuated by climbs up to the antenna station near the top. Known for 'Trail-pocalypse' in 2012 when a hail storm accompanied by torrential diagonally slanted rain moved through shortly after the start. Note to self, late October can be muddy in Yolo County!

12. Badger Cove (Mar). Slightly less weather vulnerability than #10, very similar course with two nearly identical loops on fire roads at Lake Del Valle near Livermore. Has some short, but crazy steep climbs/descents. Begins and ends with fairly flat 1.5 miles on groomed fire road. Bring your trail shoes if it's been raining.

13. Trail Hog (Sep). Held in Joseph Grant County Park on the way to Mt Hamilton, this course is a fun roller coaster. Almost entirely on fire roads, the challenge comes in the loops and the sneaky rolling climbs. It can also get hot in September, and it is almost entirely exposed. If you're lucky, you'll get to see a herd of wild boars!

14. Bad Bass (July). Looping around Lake Chabot (near Castro Valley) is always a treat. The July version can be warm, but most often has a fog layer until mid-morning. First and last 1.5 miles are on paved bike path, but there are plenty of hills to slow you down on the far side of the lake. Be sure to save something for Jackson Grade...don't spend it all going up Live Oak at mile 4.

15. New Year's Day (Jan). January version of Bad Bass, but in reverse. Simple's easier to go down Live Oak than up it. Great way to bring in the new year!

Best of luck in picking your own optimal combination!

Summer reading list

With daylight hours at their peak now that summer is here, there's more time to run and more time to read about running! Below is our own list (again, highly subjective) of some great summer reading. These are in no particular order from fact to fiction, adventure to strategy. As always, your mileage my vary!

Running through the Wall (Neal Jamison and Don Allison) - Thoughtful, candid stories from a broad spectrum of trail runners. Stan Jensen's chapter hooked me on ultras before I'd ever run one.

Running with the Buffaloes (Chris Lear) - Captivating look at the season of an elite Division 1 cross country team. The unique view into the teamwork aspect of running creates quite a page turner.

Amazing Racers (Marc Bloom) - Well crafted, inspiring view inside the origin of a high performance high school cross country team. For those of us who never ran cross country, this highlights what we missed!

The Perfect Mile (Neal Bascomb) - Historical perspective built around three runners and the chase for the first sub-4 minute mile. Heartbreaking and triumphant stories of exactly what it takes to reach new milestone performances, and why they are so enduring.

Your Performing Edge (Jo Ann Dahlkoetter) - How to approach racing and training with a broad set of mental tools...from turning a great day into an epic memory to turning a nightmare into a learning (or laughing) moment.

Called Again (Jennifer Pharr Davis) - Trail adventure with great insight into why and how you might want to go longer and farther. Includes valuable lessons on the mental gymnastics and physical logistics of crewing and pacing.

The Tevis Cup: To Finish is to Win (Marnye Langer) - There was a horse ride for quite a while before there was an endurance run. The story behind the Tevis Cup and the Western States Trail illuminates why it is such a special place to run.

Iron Will (Mike Plant) - Dangerously motivating tale of the origin and first 10 years of Ironman. Even if you never consider a triathlon, the epic stories of triathlon's pioneers will leave you wondering how much you're capable of....and how to find out.

Marathon Woman (Kathrine Switzer) - Inspirational story on many levels. To me, the most compelling thread is of someone who falls in love with running and uses the confidence earned and the lessons gained to enlighten others and encourage them to do the same.

Other authors worth tracking down...

Kenny Moore - The Men of Oregon, Best Efforts

Don Kardong - Thirty Phone Booths to Boston

Roger Robinson - basically anything written by Roger Robinson