February 9, 2019
As I mentioned on the Chino Hills 50K post, I had to make some substitutions on my ultras in order to hit #100 at Way Too Cool next month. I took the opportunity to get a discounted entry to the Coastal Trail Runs Golden Gate 50K on Black Friday (I think 20% off and opted out of the shirt to save $5). Normally I would be running the Avalon 50M in January, but it hit on my parents’ 50th anniversary weekend (not feasible to run 50 miles in SoCal and still make the anniversary party on the same day).
Even though I am doing an alternative, I am pretty familiar with these trails, which have been part of the Headlands 50M, NorthFace 50M, and the Miwok 100K.
The weather forecast isn’t great and it rained quite a bit last night, so I gave myself a little extra time to get to the start and I am one of the first ones to arrive,even before the bib distribution people. The area where they’ve set up the bib pick-up is somewhat flooded and since the race doesn’t start for another 45 minutes, I jump in and help them get everything set up. This includes hanging signage (I think I have an advantage) and helping them get pins and bibs in order by race (they have 5M, half, 30K, full, and 50K).
The 30K and 50K courses start together at 8am, and then the half and full at 8:15, and the 5M at 8:30. The 50K course is the 30K course (which is the half marathon course plus an extra loop), followed by the half marathon loop again. (It makes sense to start the 30K and 50K together so that both groups get directed down the extra loop and the full and half do not.)
I start towards the back because the initial course is mostly uphill and I am planning on walking the hills and don’t want people to be annoyed by passes on single track. There are a number of paved switchbacks until we get on the single-track, and the weather is overcast, but not too cold, though I do have my blue windbreaker on in the event it starts raining.
Trail meanders for a while around until the switchbacks into Tennessee Valley aid station at mile 4.1. This is probably my favorite part of the course because it’s graded for horses (not too steep or rocky) and the stable is a visible landmark. I’m doing well on overall pace (under 14/mile), and know I will lose some time on the extra loop (aka Pirates Cove).
I don’t spend a lot of time at the aid station and head down the road towards the water. At a certain point, you get within about 100 yards of the Cove, where the water is calm. Later, when the trail is higher up, you can see the bigger breakers in the Pacific.
The course today is the reverse of the way I’ve run Pirates Cove before, so it begins with winding around, heading down on single-track, and then climbing back out on the uneven wooden stairs. I’m just grateful that it’s not raining because the wood and the mud can get quite slick. It’s already bad enough from yesterday’s rain.
The end of this section pops back down by the serene cove I mentioned before and I head back up the paved road to Tennessee Valley aid station (Part Deux) and will head off now towards the Golden Gate Bridge and the third aid station. This section is similar to part of the Headlands 50M course, especially the windy section with stairs and rope handrails. When I get to this third aid station (Conzelman), I will have a better idea of how much time I have to get back to the start to make the 5 hour, ~19 mile cutoff.
The trail continues down to the road, crosses over, and continues on a trail that parallels the road, and goes up, up, up. By now, it’s started to rain lightly and I keep trying to push the pace so that I have enough time, but getting to the point where I am questioning my pace. I thought I was at least going the pace through Pirates Cove (about 17 minutes/mile), so for 4.5 miles, I should be there around 75 miles and 90 minutes have passed. Also, I don’t remember from the map that the trail paralleled the road or went as close as we did to the Golden Gate Bridge.
Finally! I get to the aid station, but now I have 59 minutes for 4.5 miles. Granted, there is a lot of downhill, but I’d have to go at the fastest pace I’ve managed all day (around 13:15/mile). I’m definitely gonna give it my best shot.
So the trail is now a wide fire-trail and heading downhill and is a bit muddy with water streaming down the side. I just keep shuffle-jogging down the hill hoping that it will be enough. But, to make matters worse, just when I think I’m getting to the final stretch, the course turns and heads up a small switch-back. On any other day, this would not be a problem, but the small descent hill is super muddy, and the last thing I want is falling and then having to run another 13 miles!
So I try and take easy and start to slip and dig my feet into the side of the hill causing ankle and foot cramps. Yack!! But I do safely make it to the bottom. But the cramping doesn’t help my attempt to make the cutoff.
Now the home stretch, which is mostly straight and flat. I know it’s going to be close and I am already rehearsing my sob story in case I don’t make it. You know, ‘four hours, 13 miles, I can do that, easy,’ but will also understand if I am not allowed to continue. Dang it.
Despite my hustling, I come in at 5:01:47, and still ask if I continue. To my surprise, the RD says yes, and then explains that they marked the course incorrectly. At the spot with the ropes and the wind, the course should have gone straight over the hill and not down and then up the road. In fact, it added a mile to the course, so I have made the cutoff after all (in a sense).
There are 3 or 4 people behind me that make it through the cutoff as well, and so, we all begin heading up the hill once more. I am struggling quite a bit because of the cramps from the muddy hill and also because I really pushed the pace to come close to this cutoff (13:20) and I don’t have a lot left.
So, once again up the hill, around the coast, and down to Tennessee Valley Aid station. My pace was almost 20 minutes per mile, and I am sorta back on pace (Pirates Cove loop took me 93 minutes, minus the hour less I have, minus the 26 minutes I lost on the last section, equals 7 spare minutes).
Now back through the same section, though when I get to the ropes section, the trail turns left and crosses over the hill and I get to the aid station so much more quickly. Rain is starting to come down again. I have 72 minutes to get to the end this time (which sounds like a lot of time, but not at the end of 30+ miles).
So, in this last section, I was totally by myself, but when I get to the aid station, there is another guy there. Can’t believe I caught up to anyone. I mean, this whole race I have been talking or singing to myself because there is no one to talk to.
But he is really hurting and apparently has been at the aid station for 20 minutes or so, talking about quitting. Quitting? After 27 miles? I talk to him for a few minutes while I am refilling my water bottle, sheltering from the rain, and grabbing some potato chips… and convince him to continue.
I set off down the hill and I can see him ambling 100 yards behind me. Good, but I gotta concentrate on myself and getting to the end.
After a few miles, I turn back and he is much further back, but seems to be moving a lot faster. Guess he will catch up to me soon.
When he does catch up, it isn’t the same guy at all, it’s the sweeper-slash-ribbon remover. Finally, a bit of company. We talk and jog down the hill to the road. He spins off and heads towards the finish while I take my second gander at the uphill and down on the slick mud. I feel like I do a little bit better the second time around, kind of skiing down in an effort to avoid cramping and also because I need to get going.
Finally, I make it back onto the road and hustle as much as I can to make it under that 9 hour final cutoff. Honestly, I am not really running, but my version of speed-walking. I am certain I can do it… but I end up coming in at 9 hours and 47 seconds.
As I come in, the race director congratulates me by name and the other volunteers say thank you for helping out (10 hours ago!). Kind of a crazy race with the rain, the mud, the extra mile, and still finishing, slightly over the (normal distance) cutoffs. And thus, ultra #99 is in the books. On to Way Too Cool in three weeks and number 100.