Tag Archives: Headlands

Golden Gate 50K – 2019

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.

6 Days

February 24, 2019

6.  Alan Sheppard

I met Alan at AREC in 2016.  We had never really run together but I often would end up at a table after the run with a few other guys and gals, and invariably we would get into a discussion about the Hash or Trail Running.  While I don’t think I converted him to either of these, per se, I am certain that I tilted the scales.

I got to know him better in January 2017, when he (or rather his mom and step-dad) offered to let me stay with him Saturday night after the Avalon 50M, so I could go to the banquet and pick up my 5-year finisher’s plaque.

After that weekend, we did a few Long Beach hashes together (along with young kids in the stroller), and a few trail runs.  We started to have a discussion about him trying his first 50 miler with the plan being to do Avalon the following year, but… the 2018 date would coincide too close to his wife’s due date (bad to be ’26 miles across the sea’ if something were to happen).

So, he decided that we would push up the date somewhat.  I suggested the Headlands 50M in Marin County in September, a race that I had done before (and struggled mightily), and to train for it, we would also do a few ultras together in the months prior.

We started with Mt. Disappointment 50K where I volunteered at Josephine and he ran.  To get an idea of the miserable conditions, it was 87 degrees at 5AM, and it was only my smiling visage that prevented him from dropping (but it is these struggles that inure you against future drop-outs and cement your endurance).

The following month, we both did Skyline 50K (together), and he stayed overnight at my folks’ place (so his fam could sleep in).  They met us at the finish line.

Finally, in September 2017, we drove up together (and stayed with my folks once more) and ran the Headlands 50M.  Even though I am too slow to run with him, the numerous out-and-backs enabled us to keep in contact and cheer one another on.

We had one more road trip in 2017, when we drove up to Ridgecrest for the Over the Hill Track Club 50K.  We stayed with my friend Darrell Price, as I had done the past year, and ingratiated ourselves further by providing Darrell with beer at the finish line.

Besides Alan joining me for trail training, hashes, Boeing 5Ks, and ultra road trips, I have gotten to know his family fairly well.  When we teamed up for the Browne-Rice Kayak Run Relay in 2017 and 2018, I spent the day on the beach with his two (then three) children.  They recognize me immediately, and sometimes recognize me even when it’s not me (any guy with long-ish legs in shorts?).  His family is as excited for him to run and finish and takes every (reasonable) opportunity to be there for him at the finish line.

In 2018, Alan and I had somewhat fewer opportunities to run together (or near each other), due to the birth of his daughter.  She is a good kid, but it is a high expectation to saddle his wife with three kids alone for the hours that it takes to finish an ultra.

Our great big adventure was in May 2018 at the Wild Wild West 50M, where we teamed up again with Darrell Price (surreptitiously staying with him again) and started (almost) an hour early together.  For the most part, the three of us stayed together until sunup, and then Alan cleaned our clocks, but we all finished.

Throughout last year, Alan and I began having discussions about running longer races.  He threw out a whole list of races to run with the intent of doing maybe the San Diego 100M in June 2019.  Part of that plan was to do the Cuyamaca 100K in October.

Six weeks before Cuyamaca, I tripped during a run and fell face first into the sidewalk and fractured my wrist, so, when it came time to pace Alan for the final 17 miles of his race, I had only had my cast off for a week (and was extremely nervous about falling in the dark).  I ended up “pacing” him for 6 miles and sort of pacing random runners for the last 11.  My best memory from that event was during the drive back when Alan called his wife to let her know how it had gone.  “The good news is I finished the race,” he told her.  “And the bad news is, I really liked it.”

2018 ended with another trip to Ridgecrest, staying with Darrell, and convincing several of our friends to run the 50K, as well as Alan signing up for the Way Too Cool 50K lottery in order to experience my 100th ultra with me.

Although I have known Alan just three years, we have run 7 ultras together (plus 4 I volunteered at), and I am glad that we have become good friends.  We always have good conversation (and not always about running), and he is always willing to entertain my spectacularly good (or bad) ideas.  He also has an extremely supportive family (who I like a lot as well, but don’t see quite as much) that he is loyal and committed to, which is a strong indication of the content of his character.  He is a good guy and I am lucky to have made his acquaintance.