Of the route options for the day: 8 km, 20 km, 30 km, and 50 km, the 30 km was probably the best, capturing the best of the Headlands without duplicating any trail sections (the 50 km repeated a loop). To be extra sure I didn't repeat any navigational snafus, I studied the directions along with my National Park service trail map. Indeed, I'd hiked, biked, and/or run all of these trails before, it appeared. I was ready, even with my navigationally challenged brain.
I left home in Potrero Hill at 6:47 am and pedaled easily to the start, which I reached in a little over an hour. It was nice riding so early: I rarely do. I rode a bit with a guy leading an Aids Lifecycle training ride to China Camp. Cool. Once there, I rode right past a long line of cars waiting to be directed to parking. Very nice. Riding to trail runs is the way to go.
After a minor issue at 60 seconds left to start where I discovered I had some keys and a debit card in my belt pouch (no way I was going to run 3700 vertical feet with that extra weight) and had to dash back to my backpack to hide them away there, the race began. I'd been shivering at the start line, but warmed up within 60 seconds as we began climbing immediately. And my start was a good one: I was exactly where I wanted to be, ahead of the traffic jam but not overextending myself trying to follow the rabbits. But then to my shock runners ahead of me veered left to pass into Battery Townsley. Whoa! I didn't even realize that was a passable route. Yet there it is, on the route description: "Battery Townsley Trail" at km 1.3. So much for having studied the route. I followed the runners ahead.
But there was a gap, and as we began winding our way over rolling singletrack, I reached a fork in the trail with nobody visible ahead for guidance. Which way? I went right, stopped, looked back at what following runners did. Some were approaching, including the lead women. "Which way?" I asked. "It doesn't matter!" she replied. Nevertheless, I returned to the fork and followed them, soon passing them again. Sure enough, there was a trail marking pink ribbon which confirmed I was back on track. 20 seconds lost, I estimated, maybe a bit more. I'd hate it if that turned out to make a difference.
First rest stop at the intersection of the two loops, at the Tennessee Valley trail head: I drank some coke, relying on the bottle I carried on a hip belt for dilution. But this bottle was almost empty, and I should have refilled it. Mistake. I'd need to increase hydration after this 10.5 km loop.
Miwok trail at Marin Drive: I was with a strong group of 50 k'ers at this point, when we turned left at an unmarked intersection up a steep climb. Some were wondering if this was the way: possible lemming line. I assured them I'd mountain biked this trail, and remembered it was. The other way connected to a car road.
Pirates Cove (Marcia Inger, 2009)
Coastal Trail above Pirates Cove: this is the highlight of the race. Absolutely spectacular views of the rugged coast around well-named Pirates Cove. As the trail descended, however: rocky, twisting single-track, I lost a lot of ground. The tougher the descent, the slower I am relative to others, who seem to effortlessly glide down this stuff. My left leg was starting to hurt enough that were I on a training run I'd contemplate walking. I tried to focus on alignment: keep my knees in, my feet out, relative to my tendency. And don't worry too much about speed on the descents. Relax, relax, relax, but speed doesn't mean anything if I don't make it to the finish. The guy who passed me near the top of the descent was now a distance speck, and others had passed me since. I was doing okay on the uphills, though: passing people back.
Tennessee Valley trailhead: this time, I tried to catch up on hydration: drank one coke, one water, and filled my bottle, which I planned to drain by the next aid station in only 7.3 km. This worked, and I felt good on the long climb of Marincello fire road.
from SCA trail (Marcia Inger, 2009)
SCA trail: the chilliest part of the course, but I felt okay, making progress, babying my leg. I was good on the uphills, and the downhills were short enough I didn't do too much damage, or so I hoped. the big descent was to follow....
McCullough Road rest stop: I'd had enough coke, so drank two Clif carbohydrate solutions, then filled my bottle halfway with same. Only 6 km left. Not enough for a full bottle.
Coastal Trail descent: This was terrible. I began to dread every step, as my left leg did not like the impact. This was superposed on a state of general fatigue: I was ready for the finish! Finally I reached the bottom, and said a "Thank god!" to nobody in particular.
So there I was: the final 2.7 km. I was passed by a guy wearing a marathon shirt, who greeted me, but I was too grim to respond. We crossed Bunker Road without incident (an oncoming car stopped), then over the bridge connecting to the Rodeo Valley Trail.
From here, I was surprised I was able to keep decent speed. I was shooting for 3 hours. It looked grim from my watch. I overtook the marathon shirt guy, feeling sort of guilty about not having been more sociable earlier. I was more shuffle-stepping than actually running, but my leg appreciated the final ground.
At the finish, a previous finisher was standing right at the line, chatting with volunteers. I wasn't going to slow down, so I ended up running into him, avoiding full impact with my hands. He noticed me then. "Good race!" he said.... "Thanks," I replied, "but that's a really bad place to stand." I've got to work on the trail run culture of perpetual cheer. Blame the surly culture of bike racing.
I looked at my watch. It turns out I missed my 3 hour goal by 41 seconds. But, I told myself in consolation, my goal had been based on an 18 mile distance, and 30 km was longer: 10 minute miles would have been 3:06, which I beat with plenty to spare. Not bad at all for my longest run, let alone longest race, ever.
And when results were posted, I was shocked with my placing: 11th overall, 2nd in my age group, which got me a shiny red ribbon. Considering my goal was to just make it to the finish intact, that was a very nice bonus. 3rd and 4th in the age group finished soon behind, so to the extent I managed to push through the discomfort, that paid off. Results on these races, however, really are just icing on the cake. Trail runs are more, to me, about experiencing the trail, the land, the views, and the comraderie of other runners. An for these, it can't possibly get much better than the Pirates Cove run. Maybe this is why I'm not so worried about the fact it was only 16 seconds to 10th place, so my little confusion on the Battery Townsley trail may have cost me top 10. 11th is fine: way beyond my expectations.
Next up: Skyline to the Sea in four weeks. Hopefully I recover from this one in enough time to not lose too much fitness.