Monday, August 27, 2007

Golden Gate Headlands 50k

What a course!

I got to the start line nice and early at 6am (I hate being rushed!) I quickly got my number and went to the bathroom. If I've learned anything from running races, get to the restroom as fast as possible, the lines can get long. I went back to my SUV and put on my number, ate the last of my Cliff Bar, drank some more water and read over the course description one last time. One thing I didn't want to happen was to get lost and have to back track up those steep hills!

We moved down to Rodeo Beach about 5 minutes to 7AM. The temps weren't that bad, but the wind kept things a little cool. With a quick countdown we were off across the beach. This is the first time I've run in sand/pebbles. It was a good 3-5 inches deep in places. Since I started very close to the back, I watched the footprints to see which path had the most compacted sand. I thought the last thing I need to do is wear myself out on the first 1/4 mile!

The first part of trail was uphill, something that would happen quite often in this race, uphill and downhill. Not quite as much as Diablo, but darn close. As we crossed the road and headed up Wolf Ridge. Here I caught up with Charles Savage. I had run with him off and on at Skyline 50k and had given me some good advice for my upcoming 100 miler. What a difference running (well, at this point walking) with someone else makes. Charles was describing the course to me. I had asked him what his expected finishing time would be for this race. He thought it would be around 7 hours. Since Charles finished a few minutes ahead of me at Skyline, I figured it would be good for me to keep up with him.

About 35 minutes into the run, a guy in front of me ate dirt. Luckily his hands caught most of his fall and not his face. It sounded pretty rough. 10 minutes later, a woman about 5 feet in front of me somersaulted down the trail. I've never seen someone roll down the trail before. I backed off a little bit after that happened. The trails had some loose rock so I decided to ease up a little and not follow so closely. The last thing I needed was to run into someone that fell.

Quick little steps going up the hills, controlled strides going down. After the second Aid station, we crossed Highway 1 up yet another hill. The next section of downhill has to be one of my favorites. The trail was overgrown with vegetation, but that just made it even that more exciting. I flew down the hill. I put the image of water flowing down the trail and I was that water. It felt like I was floating. As I passed another runner, she asked if there was poison oak on the trail. I told her probably, but not think about it. There was nothing we could do until the end. I told her if she needed, I had lots of Technu in my car...I've had my fair share of poison oak this year!

As I was heading up the next hill, Charles had run into a friend of his that he hadn't seen for quite some time. As they were catching up, I started to pull away. Lots of uphill and I was feeling aggressive, so I pushed on ward by myself. Soon, there voices faded and I was all by myself. It's amazing how you can be only 30 seconds ahead/behind someone and feel completely alone! There were a few times where I felt nervous that I might not be on the right trail. I'd slow down a little until I saw the next ribbon and then push forward.

Finally made it up to next aid station. Quickly grabbed some food, filled my bottles and was off. At the parking lot, were we go from trail to road through the parking lot over the road and back onto the trail...I got a little confused. As I was running into the parking lot, I had no idea where I was going. There were no ribbons, no flour markings. All of a sudden I hear a "Hey, over here!" I looked up and there was a guy waving both hands on top of the road. Thank God. I'm always worried that I'm going to get lost, and I probably will one of these days!

Up and over the road and back onto the trail. This was another great trail. A little wet from the trees collecting fog but still great. Here I caught up to a woman named Amanda. She had also run Skyline 3 weeks earlier. We talked and talked as we coasted down the trail into Stinson Beach. As we ran down the road to the aid station, one of the volunteers motioned up to the hill we just came down. Wow, that was a pretty big hill. I told him I preferred not to know how big the hills looked because I knew I still had to go back up!

Out of Stinson Beach you back up the Dipsea Trail. The views are awesome with the Pacific Ocean off in distance. Here I again pulled away from the group and ran by myself. I was still feeling pretty strong and pushed myself up the hills as quickly as possible. I knew the hills would eat up a lot of my time. Up, up, up. There's actually a spot in the trail that has a ladder. I've never been on a trail that used a ladder. This stuff was steep!

Passed a few more people on my way up and over to Pantoll aid station. I got out of there pretty quick and back on the Coastal Trail. Another great trail. Ran most of it with just a little walking near the crest of some of the hills. Down to the Heater cut-off trail with some assistance of another great volunteer showing us the way. Thanked him for being out there to point us in the right direction and started my descent into Franks Valley. Again, another fun trail. Tons of switchbacks down, down, down. I again pictured water flowing down the trail and I just floated down. It was a blast. Finally at the bottom, there's a horse stable and up and over onto another trail. By this time, Charles had caught back up with me and we continued on to Muir Beach.

Out of the Muir Beach aid station, another steep climb up on the Coastal trail, some nicer rolling along the side of the hill and then a drop down into a valley and back up the other side. I was very happy with my downhill running. There were many rocks and roots to trip on, but my legs stayed controlled and my feet were fluid. I had a few moments but was able to recover quickly.

Back down a fire road and across the valley to the last climb of the day. This is where running with Charles saved me. This hill is insane! The nickname "killer coastal" trail. I wanted to stop and rest several times, but told myself that I had to stay with Charles. No matter how much it was starting to hurt, no matter how out of breath I was, I was going to be on Charles' heals. Thank god I did! There were a bunch of false summits as we made our way along the ridge. There's just nothing worse than coming up on what you think is the last hill and then looking up and seeing yet another hill to climb. There was a little hairy spot here when the trail drops down along the side of the cliff. The trail was full of loose rock and had a steep drop. About lost it, yet again, but was able to maintain my footing.

Finally, we made it up and over the last hill. Here the trail starts it's descent to the finish line. There were a few more switchbacks and staircases. I just opened up my stride and flew down the trail portion. I really didn't have a sense of how far away the finish line was but decided to push it all the way through to the finish. The trail dumps onto a road which is downhill to the finish line. I let my stride open up and let gravity do the work (well, my legs were certainly doing a lot of work too!)

I had a nice strong finish and crossed in 6:26:21. I was very happy with my time. I was expecting around 7 hours and to finish a good 34 minutes faster was awesome.

Great race, lots of great volunteers, and a great finish area. Certainly a race to have on the schedule for next year.

Thank you Charles for letting me tag along with you. Thanks Amanda for conversation as we descending into Stinson Beach. And Steve, I'll see you at Rio del Lago! If you need crew members, send me an email...perhaps I can find some people.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


Great story, sounds like it was a super run!


7:35 AM  
Blogger Brad said...

Thanks Ray! Who knows...maybe I'll run into you again at one of these races!

10:51 AM  

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