Headlands 50M – 2011

July 16, 2011

A few months ago when Marisa came down to visit, she and I made a trip to several stores to try and get new deck chair coverings (my deck chairs have been eaten by squirrels).  At our last stop, when we came back out to the car, a man confronted Marisa.  At first she tried to ignore him, and then she realized that he was confessing that he backed into my car and left a huge dent in the side and was giving us his insurance information.  Phew!

I finally got around to getting this taken care of last week and had a rental car while I was getting this done (all paid for by his insurance).  Finally, they told me that the car would be ready on Monday morning… which was after I needed my car for a race in the Bay Area this weekend… so I would drive the rental up to Northern California and back.

This was a PC Trails course I had heard good stuff about, plus I had met the RDs before at the Santa Monica Mountains and Malibu Creek runs in the past.  There were two events going on here – a marathon and a 50 miler.  I am continuing my streak and doing the 50 miler.

Mom and Dad are out of town this weekend, so I will be staying at their condo alone.  When I got to the Bay Area on Friday, I went down to Berkeley Bowl (a grocery store) to fill up some supplies for dinner.  I ended up buying two burritos – one for dinner tonight and one to eat when I get back from the race, plus some fruit (apples and oranges).

On Saturday morning early, I drove out to Marin County (through the city and across the Golden Gate).  Attendance was fairly sparse for both races – less than 100 in the 50 miler and probably the same for the marathon.

Before starting on the course, we were told that we would run a 1.2 mile loop to make up the distance difference for the marathon (because the course was supposedly 25 miles long).  To me, for the 50-miler, that defied reason, since we should be running 2 – 25 mile loops, not 2 – 25 mile loops AND a 1.2 mile loop, but the RD said, “Well, everyone has always done the extra loop.”  O…K…. whatever.

I knew at least one person on the course – and that was Kimberly Manfred.  She had been my compatriot earlier in the year at the Rocky Road 100M 11pm to 7am aid station.  She had planned already to come up this weekend and watch friends compete in the Vineman Half Ironman on Sunday… so I convinced her that she should do this as her first 50 miler and that we would run together.  I also thought I recognized the 100-mile runner from the Santa Barbara race that finished behind me – Ken Michal, I think.

After running the first 1.2 miles, we headed out on the course proper.  This race would be another in the long line of “washing machine” loops, meaning we would go out in one direction and then run the course in reverse on the way back.  This initial 4 miles were essentially the Miwok 100K course in reverse… up stone stairs, along a paved bike path… though it varied a little with a trip through a bunker (pitch black).  It was extremely foggy and I couldn’t see very far and my glasses kept fogging over.  Additionally, my inserts were moving around inside my shoes.

When I finally stopped to readjust, Kimberly took off.  I vowed to catch up with her, but that never happened.

This first loop took us to Tennessee Valley (an aid location I have been to probably at every race in this area).  I finished the first 5.2 in 57:57.

From Tennessee Valley, we followed the Miwok 100K course down to the Coastal Trail and stayed on that trail until we got to Muir Beach (another 4-odd miles).  This section (a bit hillier) took me 61:53 (walking pace).

From Muir Beach, we took the Coyote Ridge and Miwok Trails back to Tennessee Valley (another 4-odd miles), which took 67:57 (a slow walking pace).

The next section was one of two 7-mile sections.  We went up towards the 101 freeway.  Supposedly, the view was such that you could see the Golden Gate Bridge, but it was very foggy and the winds were gusting as well.  You could HEAR the freeway, just before the “dangerous descent” on a paved road down to the level of the bridge, and then down to the water underneath the bridge.

The part that sucked about this section was that you realized that you would have to climb back up this entire steep road to the height of the bridge and then back up another steep road to the trail.  The good part was that you could see the people who were close to you in front or behind.

I saw a few people ahead of me on this section, and there were 2 guys behind me.  Yay!  I’m not in last place!  I did this 7 mile section in 86:48 (12:24/mile)… better than walking!

As I mentioned before, we had to backtrack all the way up this road and beyond, and then headed down the Bobcat and Miwok Trails back to the Start/Finish.  This was another 7 mile section and went on and on and on.

The plus was that most of the trail was soft and grassy and I got to see all of the 50-mile runners heading back out.  The minus was that my feet were killing me and Ken Michal passed me (and now I was in second to last place).  I got back to the Start/Finish in 1:45:07 (back to about 15 minutes/mile).

Now I would head back in the opposite direction.  The good news was that I would get those 2 – 7 mile sections out of the way and finish with 3 – 4 mile sections.  I took a little time to readjust my shoes… hopefully there would not be as much movement with the inserts!

In heading back out on the endless grassy trail towards the Golden Gate, I espied the last-place runner.  I shouted words of encouragement, because I wanted him to continue running as well (so I wouldn’t come in last place).  My return trip to the base of the Golden Gate took 1:52:51 (a net loss of 7 minutes), and I only saw 2 runners ahead of me (WELL ahead) as I went down the sucky hill.

It was still overcast and windy and the best you could see of the bridge was the supports.  On the way back up the hill, I saw last place and he did not look happy.  I said, “This is the worst of it, and then we have less than 20 miles to the end.”  I hoped that was enough.  He was probably 15 minutes behind me.

Now I had another 4 miles back to Tennessee Valley.  When I arrived, I saw a few of the people who were now heading to finish the race (meaning they were 8 miles ahead of me at this point).  We encouraged one another.  This 7-mile section took me 1:45:41 (19 minutes slower than outbound).

Now I was heading back on the inland route to Muir Beach (a scant 4 miles).  It was not getting dark yet (since it was July, we had another 3-4 hours before it would get really black out).  I got back to Muir Beach in 82:15 (15 minutes slower).  All of this slowdown is to be expected.  Most folks don’t accelerate at the end of their ultramarathons!

Now I headed back to Tennessee Valley along the Coastal Route.  I liked this because it is pretty (when not foggy).  This took me 89:56 (loss of 28 minutes!!!).  Now I just had 4 more miles to the finish.  It was a little before 7pm, and I had 2 hours to do this last 4 miles and finish under the 15-hour time limit.

The fog began rolling in and it was pretty dark out because of that.  My glasses continued to get foggy and I made very slow progress.

When I got to the top of the hill, I couldn’t see at all.  The ribbons were not placed in obvious spots and I couldn’t spot any glow sticks.  I followed what I thought was the path, but after a few minutes, I thought I was probably scrambling down a hillside because nothing resembled a trail.  The last thing I wanted was to fall INTO one of these bunkers through a cruddy roof (and we had seen stuff like that in the morning).  I did my best to follow whatever I could find, but I never did find that original bunker we went through in the morning.

At a certain point, I hadn’t seen markings for quite some time, but I did get to a point where I recognized (vaguely) where I was – the paved bike path.  I figured that my best bet was to stay on this path to wherever it ended and then I could retrace my steps back to the Finish.

The path popped out in a set of buildings somewhat down the road (around a mile or so) from the Finish, and so I followed the road back to the Finish.  Obviously, I didn’t come in at the right spot, but I know that I covered the entire distance… and then some.

The RD didn’t seem all that surprised where I came from… and I crossed in 14:43:43, about 15 minutes under the cutoff… in last place.  Yeah, that guy quit.  The last 4 miles (plus or minus) took me 1 hour and 53 minutes… but who knows what my real pace.

My biggest complaint at the finish was that they had promised glow sticks on trail, but he said, “Well, there was only one guy out there.”  Yeah, well, THAT guy needed glow sticks!

My other complaint was that there was no food at the end (something about raccoons or squirrels eating the supplies), so I ended up getting 8 sodas to get me re-energized for my drive back to Oakland.  At least I had my burrito when I got back.

On Sunday, I woke up feeling awful (like woke up at 3am and puked) and I was on and off the toilet all day.  I had planned to drive back on Sunday afternoon, but I felt really really awful.  I KNEW I would have to drive back on Monday, to pick up my car, so I needed to recover by then.

Monday, I felt measurably better, but not really better enough to drive back… but… I drove back, with the goal of arriving in Long Beach before 5pm to pick up my car.  Guess what?  It wasn’t ready until Wednesday!

I corresponded with a few people after the race (even several weeks after the race) and probably 10 people got sick – we think it was probably food poisoning from someone handling the food improperly or some of the food being bad.

It’s hard enough to complete these races without someone getting you sick from the very food you need to fuel your body to complete the race.

Regardless of getting sick, I enjoyed the challenge of the Headlands 50M (or whatever the distance ended up being – maybe a double marathon) and love doing just about any race in the Marin Headlands.

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