Tag Archives: Marin County

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.

Race is Tomorrow

March 1, 2019

1.  My Family

So, as far as I know, I have not yet convinced any of my family (yet) to even attempt an ultramarathon, but without my family, I would not ever have had the courage to start.

For the most part, my family does not come to my runs, but I think this is more practicality than disinterest.  What are you to do for hours and hours?  Drive around the course to spot me for a minute?  Go to the finish and hope that the timing didn’t miss me by a few minutes or get stuck there for hours?  It’s almost better to be patient and then listen intently to the excited post-race blow-by-blow.

However, there are a few family stories regarding my ultra adventures that I would like to tell.

In 2003, I did the Santa Barbara 9 Trails 35M.  It was the Saturday of Thanksgiving Weekend which I spent with my aunt, uncle, and cousins in Carpinteria.  I handed them a map the night before and said, “Here are some places where you could meet me,” knowing they wouldn’t meet me.  I struggled a lot in this race, and ended up finishing in 14:06:35.  (My pre-race projected finish was 8 hours.)  About 30 minutes after I finished, my cousins Daniel and Morgan drove up.  They had called because I hadn’t returned in 10 or 11 hours, and tried to time out my finish (“You have [timed it] poorly.”), but I was grateful that they got to celebrate my success with me.

In 2007, I did my “dumb-ass double” of Sunmart 50M and Dallas White Rock Marathon on consecutive days, but some extra coordination by my folks to make it happen.  First, I flew into Dallas, someone drove me to the marathon expo, then to pick up a rental car.  On Saturday, after running 50M and driving four hours back to Dallas, my folks prepared me an ice bath, so that I could somehow recover in one night, and then drove me to the race in the morning (despite my saying that, hmm, didn’t know if I really wanted to run a marathon after all), and then picked me up amidst terrible traffic post-marathon (the waiting around alluded to above).

In 2015, when I am ran my 100th marathon or ultra at Skyline 50K, my family surprised me by meeting me at Mile 14.  Their timing is really close, which means my nephew Reagan hangs with me until my sister can park her car, so I am just standing around (but with one of my top two favorite nephews).

For the past three years, also at Skyline, Marisa has met me at Mile 14 (Skyline Gate) and walked/shuffled with me until I turn off on the French Trail.  It’s a decently short drive from her house and something to really look forward to (plus the past couple years, we have hiked some of the trail the day before the race).

In October 2018, Marisa and I took a trip to Southeast Asia with an ultra included.  While she could have just made different plans for the day, she endured finding a taxi with me at 5:30am (the day after we arrived) and going up to the start with me and hanging out in the cold, and then hiking around to a vista point and cheering me on.  Afterwards, when I did not finish (DNF), I was able to communicate with her and connect, because she went hiking and shopping in the general vicinity.

Most recently, about 3 weeks ago, I was in the Bay Area for my 99th ultra in Marin County.  As usual, I stayed with my folks in Oakland.  We were briefly discussing the race at the dinner table and Mom said, “Are you a little nervous that it has 6,000 feet of climbing?”  I had to laugh, because after 98 ultras, she was checking out the details of my race.

My family has always been my greatest support, whether it is moral or the occasional joining me for a short walk mid-course.  Maybe if I can convince them that an ultra is just a long day hike, they will be in.  So thanks and love to Mom, Dad, Riva, Marisa, Evan, Reagan, Dan, Rae, Rolfe, Norma, Robert, Susan, Cheri, Daniel, Henry, Roz, Tom, Morgan, Tyler, Roy, Adam, Robin, Jeremy, Desiree, Pat, Tim, Frankie, Wade, Mack, Ruby, Will, and Clare.  Hope to see you in my future ultra endeavors.

Headlands 50M – 2017

September 9, 2017

For the past several months, Alan has been talking to me about running his first 50 mile race.  The plan HAD been to do Avalon 50M in January, as this was the event where we got to know each other better (seemingly, it’s the event where I actually remember the people I meet).  However, he tells me that it’s not a good idea if he does Avalon because his wife’s due date is within 10 days of that event, and while he could probably manage being away on a run during that time, being an hour boat ride away is probably not the best idea.

I went through the options of events I have done that occur in the summer, fall, and winter time (semi-local), and other than Twin Peaks (not a great first timer event), there are not a lot of options… but I do remember having run the Headlands 50M in 2011.  (Go ahead, look up the post – I finished, but didn’t have the best time doing so.)

I take a look at their information; I know they are under different management than when I ran the event.  In fact, the lame race director actually died and the company was sold.  One of the great disadvantages of this race (for me, at least) was that as I finished in the dark, the ribbon was hard to see (in the fog) and I was totally by myself.  A possible advantage to running the race now is that there are two longer distances available (75 and 100 miles) which means there will be others still running the course when I struggle in.

I suggest to Alan this might be a good first 50 miler – not the easiest, but scenic and logistically easy to run… and if he decides to run it, I will run it “with” him.

On Friday, his wife drops him off at my place at some ungodly hour so that we can drive up to the Bay Area and miss most of the traffic at both ends.  When we hit some traffic coming into Livermore, we use the Express Lanes (not realizing that you need a transponder to avoid a ticket – and later I get a transponder to avoid that fine).  Unlike our last ultra in the Bay Area (last month), my folks are in town so he can spend some QT with my entire family (except Riva who is not visiting).  It’s the usual of resting before a hellacious day.

Saturday morning we take the exciting drive up to the Headlands.  The fastest way to go is via the Golden Gate Bridge, which means you go across the (new) Bay Bridge, through San Francisco (the 101 is on city streets there) and a bunch of turns.  I always hate this drive by myself, but it’s slightly better with a navigator.  Once you get to the other side of the Golden Gate (not particularly scenic at 4AM), you queue up for the one-way tunnel drive which pops us out into the short foggy coastal drive down to Rodeo Beach.

The area where I had parked in the past for Miwok and this event in 2011 is blocked off for volunteers and race staging, but they direct us to park along the side of the road and we are about a half mile down from the start.

Fortunately, because we are so early, we have the time to walk over, pick up our bibs (and applicable giveaways – I opted out of everything, but I still get a cool drop bag with compartments), and drop it all back in the car.  It’s a little on the chilly side but manageable.


I spot a number of people I know that are running various distances – Megan Cheng, Ed “The Jester” Ettinghausen, Dean Karnazes, running the 100 miler; Martin Sengo doing the 75 miler, and Ken Michal in the 50 with us.

As the race gets underway, I try and keep Alan in my sights, but honestly, I have to run my own race.   My semi-goal is to be at or close to my 14:43 time of 2011 (or if I apply the “age-grade” formula here, I need to beat 15:20 or so to do an equivalent).  I know that Alan should be considerably faster than that; hence why we would not run together.

The way the course is run is that we do 25 mile loops.  When the first loop is completed, then we run the loop in reverse.  (Note:  It’s not a true loop, but the direction you run on a certain stretch of trail is determined by the loop direction.)  This certainly means that we will encounter a number of runners coming towards us and passing us at any given moment.

This first section is 4.1 miles long and will also be the last 4.1 miles of the race (and was also the last few miles of Miwok in 2009 and 2010).  For the most part, it’s a long uphill slog, including a whole bunch of uneven stairs (a bit wet) which are a total dream in the dark, let me tell you.  At the top, it’s a traverse along the coast and then eventually down a (horse) switchback that ends at Tennessee Valley.

We will hit the Tennessee Valley aid station 4 times, so that is where my drop bag is located.  I generally do not need anything in my drop bag, but I have my small TRH duffel with a spare tube of Nuun, spare batteries for my headlamp, and a tube of glow sticks (from Dollar Tree) that I intend on breaking open in my final stretch to entertain myself in the dark.

I come through in 57:45, which is a tad faster than briskly walking.  Hooray!

The next stretch goes from Tennessee Valley to Muir Beach.  There is a length lightly downhill paved section towards the coast again, and then a number of annoying climbs to a double-track trail and a number of short wooden bridges.  I know this leads to the section that I fear most, which is hundreds of uneven downhill stairs that are apt to be slippery.

Fortunately, I am mostly by myself (meaning, I don’t have people bounding by me and making me lose my concentration), though once I get to the bottom and begin the gentle climb out, a lady passes me and mentions that she’s seen me at some other ultras.  The joke is always, “Gosh you remember me?” since I know it is because I am so tall.

She says, “Well, you are the Usain Bolt of Ultrarunning.”  A strange (but apt) sobriquet.

Once I get around a number of the curves hugging the shoreline, there is a bit of a descent on a wide fire road heading down into Muir Beach.  This is a double-up section, so I do get some encouragement from Meg near her turn-off at the top and from Alan somewhere nearer the bottom.

They have done some construction since the last time I was here.  Now there is a nice (but a bit slippery) metal bridge traversing the marshy area.  In my last Miwok, we had to detour around this quite a bit.



I have been cautious on this section, especially because the stairs and the severe downhills have been tough on my knees, but I carry on through in just over an hour (at 15:52 pace).

Now I turn around, recross the bridge, and head back up the hills.  Not as much cross traffic (as I am towards the back) but the people around me are somewhat surprised at my technique of climbing the hills which is diagonal climbing.  It takes pressure off my knees and is mildly entertaining to me (I don’t listen to music so I have weird ways of keeping my mind occupied.).  There is also a trick to timing it just right so you can get around upcoming people.

This next section is another 4 miles back to Tennessee Valley but in a slightly different manner, along Coyote Ridge and not along the coast.  I kinda hate this section because it’s hard to visualize where you are heading, but once you complete the ridiculous climbing away from the coast, there is quite a bit of downhill to get back to the Valley (which is not to say I am maintaining a faster pace).

From Tennessee Valley, the course now heads out in a third different direction (first one inbound from the start, second one inbound from Muir Beach, third one outbound to the Golden Gate).  This is the second longest stretch of the course (been doing about 4 mile stretches for the first 3) at 5.9 miles and definitely has the most up-and-down of the sections.

It’s a long, long climb out of Tennessee Valley, but at the top, the view is pretty rewarding.  It’s not too foggy this year to see the Golden Gate Bridge, but it is still foggy and breezy.  The course is slightly confusing here, but I am good at following ribbons.  Because of the fog, it is more humid here and the trail is muddier.



However, to me, muddier means softer.

When I emerge from the foggy wooded section, it’s back to single-track and gusty winds.  In a couple of sections, I hold my hat in my hand so that it doesn’t blow off.  I am almost walking on this downhill section and there are now runners sprinting by me on the uphills (to be expected).  I look for the familiar faces (feel like I should have seen Meg Cheng by now – she was running so well).

Probably midway down, I encounter Alan coming back up.  He tells me he hates this section because it is so rocky and he has to continually tilt his Luna sandals to keep the pebbles out (don’t suppose gaiters would work?).

When I get to the bottom, it’s now the paved road down, down, down to the water UNDER the Golden Gate Bridge.  I hate this section because you give up the hill  entirely, and then you have to climb back out (and we will be back here again soon – yuck).

I thought the aid station would be at the bottom of the hill, but we have to turn and run alongside the water for a quarter mile or so.  The aroma of marijuana smoke is pretty strong here – gag.  I pick up a couple of orange slices and make the turnaround.  Because of the downhill, I dropped my pace from 17:30 to 16:15 per mile, but know I will probably lose all that in a quick minute here.

Now for the longest stretch, 7.1 miles (feels like an eternity).  It starts with the reverse road climb, then the switchbacks on rocky dirt in the wind, back through the muddy wood, and then a turn onto the road heading back down to Rodeo Beach.

Once I am back on the fire-road, it’s a spot-fast-folks section, as they have finished their first loop and are heading in the reverse direction now.  First, I spot Dean Karnazes.  We talked for a quick second at the start and he vaguely remembers me from Santa Barbara 100 (I worked, he ran).  This is a MUCH easier course (the 100, I mean) by the way.

Next, I see Ed Ettinghausen.  I’ve known him for at least a decade so when he passes me, he gives me the ol’ toot on the railroad whistle (I’m struggling carrying two water bottles – I wouldn’t be carrying a large wooden whistle with me – I can cheer people on just as well with my voicebox.).  Great to see him.

Still looking for Meg.  Feel like at this point, maybe she dropped out. (Later, I find she was throwing up and had a touch of the flu, so maybe it was for the best… but I tend to run better when I am a little sick because I manage my expectations better.)

Quite a bit later, I spot Alan coming up the road.  I’ll time it, but I’m probably a good hour behind him at this point.  If he maintains a good pace, I’ll probably finish 2-3 hours behind him (hope he’s easily entertained!).

The fire road pops out on Conzelman (the road we drove in on) and crosses it to a small trail paralleling the cars for about a mile.  My feet really hurt at this point.  I am almost considering quitting, BUT I know that I could slowly slog on for another 7 hours (Yes, that sounds crazy, but I have 33 hours to finish (or, 26 and change at this point), and while I am hoping not to take 33 hours, my need to finish is strong enough to keep on.).

I come through the start/finish line, grab some vittles and head back out.  There are still some people behind me coming in (some to finish the marathon (who ran an additional 1.2 mile loop at the start)).  I overhear one guy say that he is going to stop and not do another loop.  I halfheartedly yell at him to continue since we still have so much time.

When I get back to the trail section, I spot Eldrith Gosney.  We “ran” together at Miwok 2009 (and she creamed me).  She is in her 70s and an ultra legend.  We chat really briefly (neither of us need to stop for too long).  I suggest that we are the weird “E”s (Eldrith and Emmett) and I flash her the “E” sign with my fingers.

So now up the dreaded hill.  Since I am now doing every section in reverse, I can compare times (probably a bad idea).  The sections aren’t identical (since down is up and vice versa) and I am now between 5 and 25 miles more tired than when I did the section earlier.

I continue my zigzag up the hill and try to maintain an even pace.  Still shooting for 14:43 or at least sub-15:00 but my feet are really hurting.

At the top, back into the muddy forest, a little less foggy at this hour, and then back into the wind and technical trail.


Alan is almost off this section by the time we connect, meaning he is closer to 90 minutes ahead of me now.  Guess I won’t be catching up.  I don’t spot folks like Ed or Dean at this point because they have already turned off on the trail to Tennessee Valley.

When I get down to the paved section, that feels the absolute worst on my feet.  The best bet to get down the hill quickly is skipping or galloping.  Think about it, you cover a longer distance and it’s slightly less pounding.

When I get to the aid station, I have to sidle around a fire truck.  Someone had some issues and they called the paramedics.  By some miracle, I got through this section in 2:03:53 (only 4 minutes slower).  Now, although I still have the climb out, the distance between aid stations is only going to get shorter.  I got the two 7.1 mile stretches done.

The climb out is horrible and I am only gratified by the fact that there are still folks behind me (not many) and I am mostly around the same people I have seen all day (a gal here, and a couple there), though I am worried about the probability of some of them finishing… because they are entered in the 75 or 100 miler and while we are still on pace for a finish, the reality is that once it gets dark, the speed will drop considerably, the body will get even more tired, and the chances will fall precipitously.

Just after I turn out of the forested area and back onto the fire road that will take me back to Tennessee Valley, I spot someone not in a number, a volunteer that I think I saw at the last aid station.  She is looking for a particular runner – I think it is the wife of one of the couples I have been trading leads with all day.  The hard part is I don’t think we exchanged names, but I do remember some of the numbers.

Anyway, the second weirdest moment on an ultra for me (first was probably discussing hemorrhoids with Gordy Ainsleigh at Way Too Cool 50K) was the volunteer saying that she wanted to find the runner to give her medication for her UTI.  Seriously, too much information, there.

More zigzagging down the steep hill into Tennessee Valley.  No 4-5 minute slower on this section, no-sir-ee Bob.  13 minutes slower (basically 2 minutes PER mile slower).  I, too, am facing the dark dilemma.

At Tennessee Valley, I spot a few of my friends.  Martin Sengo is here, but heading out to finish his second loop and presumably start his third and final loop.  Good to see another tall-ish guy.  I also see my friend Errol “Rocket” Jones.  We never seem to meet when both of us are running – it’s always one or the other.  One of these days, I want to do his Quad Dipsea race, but I have to know my Thanksgiving plans several months in advance.

Less than a half marathon to go, but another dreaded climb out of Tennessee Valley and off to Muir Beach.  Because this section is so even (meaning an equal measure of up and down, I actually ran it only 30 seconds slower than the first time out (I wonder if that means that there was actually more downhill than up!).  Another two traverses of the full metal bridge.

Now the fun climb out, back along the ridge, downhill, and up the slippery wood stairs, back along the coast.  I am pretty much by myself most of the way here, with occasional reverse direction passes from 75 or 100 milers.

It is starting to get dusky and I am hoping to get back into Tennessee Valley before it gets dark, especially because I left my headlamp in my drop bag for a number of loops so I didn’t have to carry it with me.  It is almost dark when I slog into the aid station at a 24 minute per mile pace (lost 34 minutes off my first time through).

Before I take off, the one thing I am wondering is when the drop bags will be returned to the start.  Wondering if they will do the deal with some coming back earlier and the rest tomorrow afternoon, but they say that all of them are not coming back until tomorrow.

I make the decision that I will carry my bag back with me (so we don’t have to wait or come back tomorrow).  It’s a small duffel so I am able to strap it across my back in a way that isn’t uncomfortable (and as I mentioned earlier, there is some glow sticks, some Nuun, and some batteries inside – it probably weighs less than my car keys).

When I begin heading out on trail, they are only just putting out glow sticks and I am not even sure what direction to go (and I know this area) but someone orienteers me in the direction of the barn.  Think they dropped the ball and forgot to put markers out BEFORE dark, as they are putting them up now.

I know there’s a turn to head up the horse switchbacks, but I can’t see yellow ribbon in the dark unless I see the ribbon in the exact reflection point.  This results in me missing the turn and wandering back and forth until some 75/100 milers come in from the correct direction so I can head back out that way.

I’m feeling the nightmare from 6 years ago when I couldn’t find the blue ribbon (and no glow sticks), but am gratified at least that some people will be coming at me and it won’t be me by myself for the last 90 minutes to 2 hours.

For the most part, there aren’t any options for turns.  Just slow going in the dark (even with a headlamp, which only illuminates the 20 yards ahead of you).  Every so often, a runner or a large group of runners (probably from the Night Sweats Marathon which started a little while ago.  Mostly ladies who cheer me on. Nice!

There is a certain point when I have a vague idea where I am, even in the dark and you start to hear the voices of the finish line but you can’t just bound down the hill, you have to follow the course in correct manner (unless like 6 years ago, you can’t find any course and just guess your way down the hill).  Every turn is a hunt for the yellow ribbon and glow stick.  If it is a turn, it’s always hidden.  Probably they marked it in the daylight, not thinking of how it appears at night so it was a little hairy at times.

I did eventually get to the stone stairs (slippery and tough in the dark) and then a wooden railing from which I could see the lights of the finish line, and then finally through the gate back onto Conzelman Road for a short period before turning up through the parking lot and across the finishline in 15:10:14 (not under 15 hours or 14:43, but age-grade faster).

Alan finished under 12:00, which in the old days was a Western States Qualifier (11:53), so he has been making new friends for the past 3 hours (and freaking out his wife because the cell phone is in my car).

I get some food and unstrap my drop bag (throw my water bottles in there).  I pull out my glow sticks (which I never got around to) and hand them out to anyone hanging at the finish that is interested – which is a lot of people.  At this point I could probably hand out large pieces of coal and the people there would get excited (because we are off our feet).

A few of the people who finished near me, but are in the 75 or 100 are weighing their options.  A 75er can still finish, but does she want to go struggle around in the dark all night?  And someone in the 100 probably isn’t going to finish unless the sun suddenly rose in the next hour.  I think we convinced a few people to call it a day at 50 miles (which is a pretty pretty good accomplishment).

For me, it’s my 23rd completed 50 miler (can’t believe I’m coming upon 25 finishes) and for Alan, a very respectable first 50 miler on not the easiest of courses (I have three faster times and they were a lot flatter and less technical).

If I can figure out the feet thing (better padded shoes?  better feet?), I would be interested in returning and trying the 75 miler.  Don’t think I could do the 100.  I guess we will see what 2018 holds (and if Mrs. Sheppard can handle 3 kids while Alan runs 100 miles or if Alan can push 3 kids 100 trail miles in a stroller).


Miwok 100K – 2012

May 5, 2012

Attempting my 5th ultra in 5 months, and it’s a tough one, but one that I have finished twice.  However, the course has been changed a bit from the past… something to do with complaints about people crossing the road (I don’t know who complains, since I never saw any cars while running down the road)… and the RD says that it’s a better course because the parking is more plentiful.

Maybe the parking was more plentiful but it was a hairy drive in the morning on a very twisty road in the fog.  It feels like the race started earlier in the morning as well.

So… on the old course, you start out along the coast on the sand, do a loop by the barracks and then work your way over to Tennessee Valley, then Muir Beach, then up to Pantoll, across to Bolinas Ridge Trail, down to Highway 1, back up, back down from Pantoll, up the Miwok Trail, and then work your way back from Muir Beach and Tennessee Valley.

Today, we start from Stinson Beach and head straight uphill to the start of the Bolinas Ridge Trail.  It is extremely slow going and I am thinking that I can hopefully make up some of this lost time when I go back down the hill.  The first 6.3 miles take me 1 hour and 48 minutes, for an average of 17:08/mile.  I need to average 16:20 to finish under the time limit.

From the top, we follow Bolinas Ridge across and then down to Highway 1 (like before, except that the turnaround is Mile 10 here and Mile 29 on the old course.  I know that I have to run this section harder because of all of the time lost on the initial climb.  This 6.4 mile section takes me 1:23 (or 13:00/mile), and then I turn right around and do the 6.4 miles back in 1:55 (or 17:58) – yow!  I am losing time!

Now, it’s time for the downhill and “making up time.”  Unfortunately, it’s the Matt Davis Trail, which takes a bit longer to get down the hill (7.1 miles instead of 6.3) and it is full of root staircases, stones and low lying branches.  For the most part, unrunnable.  I meet up with a gal who is having similar difficulty to me, Donna Braswell.  I guess we will get there when we get there!  By the time I get to the aid station by the Fire Station, I have covered the downhill miles in 18:00/mile.  Downhill miles!  The aid station is low on water and completely out of soda (which I am craving now)… this is because the temperature is unseasonably warm and they didn’t count on that.  Quite a few people have dropped here because of the weather and the fact that they will probably be unable to make any of the cutoffs.  I think I can still make it, but I cannot lollygag at any of the aid stations.

From Stinson Beach, I head up the Miwok Trail (steps galore… steps galore that you cannot really run up because they are steep and also spread out).  It is rolling hills and it is getting to be on the HOT side.  I am really struggling, but I catch back up to Donna just as we reach the Muir Beach aid station.  We covered another 7 miles at 23:00/mile pace.  It dawns on us that we have ZERO chance at finishing this race under the cutoff… but we would still like to get to 50 miles, just to say we did it.  The captain of the aid station says that we have to move straight through right now if we want to continue.  We tell her that we will continue, but we realize how slowly we are proceeding and that we know we will probably (definitely) not finish.

It’s just 4.3 miles to Tennessee Valley, but of course, it is steep uphill out of the Beach and then rolling hills down to the farm.  If we can cover it in an hour, we could still be ahead of the cutoff – that’s a laugh, given that I only was under 15:00 pace on the mostly downhill section.  About halfway up the hill, I have to stop completely, sit down and try to regain my breath.  I know it’s all over at this point.  It’s going to be a DNF (did not finish).

I do manage to get to Tennessee Valley Aid Station (38 miles).  The 4.3 miles from Muir Beach takes me almost 2 hours (26:30 per mile!).  Now the trick is that we need to get back to the start where our cars are.  The volunteers look around for someone who is cheering on their loved ones that can drive us back sooner than when the aid station closes up.  We find a lady cheering on her husband, but she says she is going to stop by Muir Beach on the way back.  Fine with us.

So, we drive to Muir Beach and wait in the car while she awaits her husband.  After about 15 minutes, she comes back to the car and asks if I can drive the car back to the start, because she is going to pace her husband in to the finish (7.1 miles from that point, Tennessee Valley was not quite the turnaround).  She tells me to leave her keys at the finish line and hopefully she’ll get them back.  Uh… OK.

So I drive back the car.  Donna is in the back seat and pretty miserable.  The car is small, so my legs are cramping quite a bit.  I am steering on narrow roads with my left hand and pushing on the cramps with my right… but we do make it back and then drop the keys off.

I see a bunch of friends (mostly drops – like Jan Maas, the Georgian gal who dropped at Rocky Raccoon just behind me when she missed the 80 mile cutoff) and get a report on the racers.  The winner is a repeat winner, but his time is 1 hour and 40 minutes slower than the year before.  When I ran this race (twice), both times I finished less than 30 minutes under the time limit, so if the winner is 100 minutes slower, there’s NO WAY I would have finished.

Later, when I reviewed all of the finishers, I saw that they let anyone who made the final course cutoff finish the race (even if they were over the 16.5 hour time limit).  Several of the finishers were close to 2 hours over the total time limit – that is, EVERYONE struggled.

Although I was not disappointed with how I did, given a hot day and a difficult course, I was now in the unenviable position of not being able to complete my goal of 12 ultras in 12 months.  I suppose I could double-up, but it’s tough enough having only 2-3 weeks in between long races as it was.  On the other hand, it was STILL early May… maybe I could find a race at the end of the month…

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.