7:00 AM July 17, 2010 @ Marin Headlands, Golden Gate Recreation Area, San Francisco, California
Having experienced finishing a 50K Trail Run at Bulldog 50K two years ago, I was already planning to experience a 50-mile run or 100K trail run in any of the trail races in California. Mt Disappointment 50-Mile or Lake Tahoe 50-Mile Runs were my choices but they did not materialize due to schedule problems. After this year’s BDM 102, I decided to train for the 34th MILO Marathon Manila Elimination and plan to immediately proceed to the US to use my newly renewed US Visa which is good for another 10 years. So, the choice was to register for the PCTR Headlands 50-Mile Run, barely two weeks after the July 4th MILO Marathon. Lake Tahoe 50-Mile Run’s registration was already closed as early as March this year. I paid Eighty Dollars ($80.00) for the said run and my participation was sealed!
Plan & Objective
The plan is to be able to build-up ultra distance runs in the United States in the 50K, 50-mile, and 100K runs for record purposes so as to be able to qualify to join a 100-mile mountain trail runs in the future. I guess, Boston Marathon Qualifying plans is put on hold while I am trying my best to focus on ultra trail runs and make a 100-mile run as one of the most important items in my “bucket list”. It is like saying that for a President of the Philippine Association of Ultrarunners (PAU) to be credible and example to its members, he should be able to, at least, finish a 100-mile mountain trail race. Unlike those “clowns” who head our sports federations who could not even practice their sports they are leading. How can you expect these “clowns” to lead and win for us some medals in the Olympics if they could not even feel how our elite athletes train with their blood, sweat, and tears? I rest my case!
Basically, my preparation for this race was geared towards my training for the 34th MILO Marathon Manila Eliminations. But two months before the marathon race, I tried to start training towards the “Brown Mountain” and looked for trails to run into. It started with once a week routine until I was able to do twice and then three times a week. I was satisfied how my legs adjusted to the rigors of mountain trail running for those months. Such trail running made me stronger and faster as validated during my oval track interval runs two weeks before the marathon race day where I was able to register an average pace in my Yasso 800s workout at 3:45 mins which could be translated to 3:45 hours in a marathon race. But the environmental condition with severe hot temperature and humid condition on race day derailed my plans and target time to finish the marathon race within the finish time I desired . But knowing that I will be running in a colder place with an average temperature of 12-14 degrees Centigrade or 54-60 degrees Fahrenheit, I know my training for the marathon and for the 50-mile run was still intact. My MILO Marathon became as my tempo run for this 50-miler run!
The most basic thing to do in a ultra trail run is to recon the actual route by running into it. So, two days after my arrival in the US, I went to the Marin Headlands for the first time and tried to trace the route with a piece of paper where I wrote the description and directions of the race. I was alone running on those rocky, hard & sun-baked, and dusty trails until I was able to run a distance of almost 16 miles/25 kilometers. However, I realized I was lost but I was glad I was able to cover such distance and have a feel of the environment and my bearing in the said area. After reaching the Tennessee Valley Trailhead, I went into the Miwok Trail instead of turning left, running along an asphalt road towards the Tennessee Valley Beach. I went on a reverse mode of the race until I reached the asphalt road of Tennessee Valley Road after coming down from the Coyote Ridge Trail and the Coastal Dirt Trail. From there, I saw a single track trail which was full of bushes that goes to a steep uphill directly towards the Wolfe Ridge Trail and from here I was back to the Coastal Trail and back where I started at the Parking Lot of Rodeo Beach. I enjoyed bushwhacking along that steep one-track trail but I had to stop once in awhile to see the different colors of flowers from the wild plants along the trail.
On this recon run, I was using my TNF Hedgehog BOA shoes which was very good in my downhill runs in steep and rocky portions of the trails but they are heavier and bulkier than my TNF Arnuva 50 BOA. Aside from using my white long-sleeved Patagonia Shirt, I was also wearing my Jeju Ultramarathon windbreaker as my outside garment. I was wearing my 9-Trail Patagonia Shorts where I stocked 3 Natural Valley Crunch Bars and 3 GUs inside its zippered pockets. It was windy and cold during my first recon run. It took me more time to brisk walk and take pictures as I was astounded and impressed on the scenery of the place whenever I was on top and along the ridges of the mountains!
It took me 4 hours to finish this recon run and familiarization of the place. I was surprised that only my shirt and bandanas were damped with my sweat and had never reached my shorts and my legs. I was surprised also that I did not feel any sore or pain on my legs for those immediate adjustments on the running surface I was used to. It appears that the weather condition plays a lot in determining the outcome of the race to evey runner.
After some recovery runs and the usual road runs to maintain my fitness level for about 4 days, I was back again at the Marin Headlands for another recon run with the objective to run the remaining trails where the race will go through. Actually, I was successful in tracing all the trails until I completed the whole loop of the original 25-mile route of the race which I completed in almost 6 hours to include those pit stops, photo-ops, and brisk walking. I finished at the Rodeo Beach Bridge instead of coming back from where I started. Instead of wearing a windbreaker, I decided to wear a long-sleeved technical shirt and my TNF running shorts which are thin and light. At this point, I knew I have acclimatized already with the weather condition of the place.
On this 2nd recon run, I took some easy time to see the scenery most especially when I was at the peak of the Marincello Trail. The views are amazing to behold and they are priceless! Once I reached the SCA Trail, the views of the Golden Gate, Vista Point and the whole of San Francisco Bay was also nice that it took me some time to freeze and look around the views all around me! However, the wind coming from the sea was so strong that I tried my best to go against it as I passed along the SCA Trail. After the Rodeo Valley Trail, it was another “bushswacking” experience when I finally ran along the single-track of Conzelman Trail until I reached the Bunker Road and went into the Lagoon Trail up to the sands of Rodeo Beach. I was able to run the whole one loop of the old course which is equivalent to 25 miles!
Few days before D-Day, I received an e-mail from the Race Organizer about the change of the race route and I wonder why the route did not reach the end at the Rodea Beach passing along the SCA and Conzelman Trails. I wonder where the rest of the trails will pass through after these trails were not available and indicated at the new map directions. But I was confident that the race route will finally end up with the correct distance of 50 miles. (Note: Runners who were equipped with Garmin watch would say after the race that the actual distance covered by all the 50-mile runners was 52.3 miles!)
I was at the Starting Area at least one hour before the scheduled start at 7:00 AM. The Rodeo Beach was windy and cold and I saw a number of runners lining up in two lines to get their race bibs. One line is for the 50-miler and the other one was for the marathon trail distance run. The processing of runners at the assembly area/starting line was very simple and you don’t see see any signages or tarpaulins that indicate that there is a race to be held at the Marin Headlands. All you have to do is give your name, the staff look for your name in a master list where your race number is listed and then give your race number and then pick at least 4 pieces of safety pin in a small box placed on top of the table and you are done! No envelops, no race singlet, no piece of paper for instructions/maps/rules & regulations, and nothing fancy! Very simple but efficient.
After fixing my things and pinning my race bib on my trail shorts, I had some photo-ops with the rest of the runners lining up and busy doing their own things and the happenings at the assembly area. I was expecting to see some Filipino faces among the crowd but I could see some Chinese, Latino-looking ladies, and most are “whites”. What I see as very common to everybody are the smiles on the faces of each runner and they seem to be relaxed and composed. You don’t hear any loud conversation or thrash talks except for the loud sounds coming from the waves of the sea! I did not see anybody who was doing their warm-up jog or stretching. After some photo-ops, I opted to get inside the car to prevent myself from freezing from the cold wind coming from the sea.
In a short notice the Race Director holding a bullhorn announced to the crowd that the race will start in ten minutes and he asked all the runners to gather at the starting line which was indicated with only two orange cones placed on each side of the road. Immediately the RD explained the route and gave some reasons why the race route will not be passing and ending along the Rodeo Beach because of some constructions along the trails and asphalted roads at the area. The marathon distance runners would first run along the asphalted roads of Marin Headlands before going up towards the Coastal Trail and will do only one loop of the course. But for us on the 50-mile run, we will be going directly to the Coastal Trail but have to do two loops of the course.
The first trail that you hit once your run from the Starting Line is the Coastail Trail where it is a mixture of asphalt road, single trail road, and winding stairs of big rocks and wood/small logs. It has a distance of almost 3.2 kilometers and it ascends to about 900-1,000 feet at its peak. This is the first trail that will test the early effort of the runner whether he wants to be sucked up with the pace of the stronger runners or be conservative to brisk walk up to the peak. The flats are limited to the bunkers at Battery Townsley and its dark tunnel which is about 100 yards!
The race started at exactly 7:00 AM with a simple countdown from 10 to zero and a command of “GO”. From where I was standing at the back of the runners, I started to brisk walk while the faster runners started to jog and run up to the peak of the first mountain of the Coastal Trail. As I looked on my back, I could see that I was one of the few who were lagging behind. The race strategy was to brisk walk on the steep uphill portions and slowly jog or run on the peak flats and downhill parts of the route. Runners formed a single-file along the rocky one-track trails and along the winding wooden stairs of Coastal Trail. Once I reached the peak of Coastal Trail, the runners created some distance with one another. The route goes to the Wolfe Ridge Trail which is a descending route made of hard/sun-baked trail and some portions of loose soil mixed with small rocks. I was using my TNF Arnuva 50 BOA which I know it has the traction that could hold me from getting any slide or fall on the dowhill run. The descending Wolfe Ridge Trail has a distance of 1.2 kilometers and it seems to be short but on your way back to the Coastal Trail, this part of the route is often considered as “hardest and killer” part before you finish one loop or finish the race.
Wolfe Ridge Trail & Old Springs Trail
Wolfe Ridge Trail is a descending trail from the peak of the Coastal Trail. Some parts of it are too steep that you should control your footing as you might slide from the steep nature of the trail. However, on our way back to complete one loop, this part is the hardest part of the course. If you are good in downhill running this part is where you could gain some speed to even up your brisk walking towards the peak. The trail is about 1.2 kilometers before entering to a small portion of Miwok Trail. The small portion of Miwok Trail is relatively flat until it reaches the intersection towards the Old Springs Trail.
The Old Springs Trail is memorable with only two things that I observed along the route—the wooden bridges or wooden planks along the trail and there is a part where there is a continuous flow of water from a small pipe with two plastic pales full of water. The trail has some switchbacks and has a general flat course until it goes downhill towards the Miwok Livery where horses could be rented for horseback riding along the differet trails of Marin Headlands. The trail ends at the Tennessee Valley Trailhead where the 1st Aid Station is located. This AS will be the busiest AS for the whole race as each of the 50-mile runners has to pass it for six (6) times! I reached the Tennessee Valley Trail Head AS in 52:30 minutes. I had my Nathan bottle refilled with sports drinks and grabbed some cuts of beef jerky and went to the Rest Room to pee.
In about 3 minutes, I was back on the road, running along the asphalted road of Tennessee Valley Road going to the beach. I popped out my 1st GU and started to eat one bar of Nature Valley Crunch Bar. After almost 2 kilometers, I turned right towards the Coastal Dirt Road and run for another kilometer before it splits to the Pirates Cove Trail. This part is another uphill climb where I could see the tougher runners still running towards the peak of a trail. As we reached the peak of the Pirates Cove Trail, we started to descend towards another short stairs that has woods as stoppers and later leveled up into a one-track trail where all the runners started to “bushswhack” those shrubs and grasses that cover the trail. I learned that I was already running along the Coastal Dirt Trail which is already a part of the Pacific Coast Trail that connects up to the boundary of Oregon for another 480+ miles. We descended towards the Muir Beach Fire Gate where the 2nd Aid Station was located. At this point, I was at the 7.9-mile point of the race and had my Nathan Bottle refilled with sports drinks. After eating some slice of beer jerky and stashing another cut in my pocket, I started to run back uphill to the Coastal Dirt Trail which finally connects to the Coyote Ridge Trail.
At every Aid Station I made sure to eat some slices of beer jerky because I know it is a source of protein and salt. A slice of beef jerky would stay long in my mouth as if it is a “bubble gum’ and use my sports drinks to wash it away from my mouth to my throat. Before reaching the peak of the Coyote Ridge Trail, I was at the back, about 3 feet away, from two runners and I was able to hear what they were talking about. One runner is from Texas who is a triathlete and the other one is from one of the cities of California. We were brisk walking and they were asking each other what is the cut-off time and then suddenly both of them turned their heads on me. I told them that the cut-off time is 15 hours and I later joined their conversation. We introduced each other and found out that we are all first-timers for the 50-mile race! One of our conversations went this way:
Tall Guy (From California): Are you from San Francisco?
Bald Runner: No, I am from the Philippines!
Short Guy (From Texas): Did you come here for this race?
BR: No, I have a business deal here in California to negotiate. (Liar!)
Tall Guy: I am….. ( forgot the name and the Texan guy also gave his name)…What is your name?
BR: Just call me the Bald Runner. In my country, the runners there call me BR…Bald Runner!
In unison the two guys removed their running caps from their heads to show that they are also bald!
Tall Guy: We are the Bald Runner Trio!!!
And all of us laughed. But these guys are younger than me by at least 15 years!
We ran together on the wide portions of Coyote Ridge Trail and ran on a single file along the Miwok Trail Cut-Off until we were back to the Tennessee Valley Aid Station. I separated from them as I went to the Rest Room to pee (for the 2nd time). When I went out of the Rest Room, as I approached the Aid Station, I saw Rick Gaston and shouted his name and he was surprised to see me. While talking to him and having some photo-ops, I had my bottle refilled with sports drinks. I had another chance to eat some melon and water melon dipped with salt and stashed some beef jerky into my pockets. After refilling my bottle, it was time to go again and left Rick at the AS.
The Tall & Short Guys were left behind at the AS as I went to run on the next trail which is Marincello Trail. I started to brisk walk for the entire trail which has a distance of 2.3 kilometers and has a total ascent of almost 900 feet. Halfway along this trail, I joined a lady runner who is about my age as she was jogging uphill while I was brisk walking.
Lady Runner: Look at the incoming runner, he is the one leadig the race. ( We were meeting the top runners on their downhill run towards AS #1)
BR: Wow! He’s fast and very young!
Lady Runner: Are you running the 50-miler?
Lady Runner: You are crazy!
BR: Yes, I am crazy, the same with the other 50-mile runners. How about you?
Lady Runner: I am running the marathon and after one loop and I am done. You are fast in your walking.
BR: Ok..Thanks..good luck! (I was able to pass her as she started to brisk walk)
And I went ahead of her by making my brisk walk faster. In a few minutes of continous brisk walking, I reached the peak of Marincello Trail and in a few meters, it meets Bobcat Trail. I started to run again as soon as it flattened at Marincello Trail and all the way along the Bobcat Trail which is almost a steady and gradual downhill towards the Rodeo Valley Trail. As I turned left at the Rodeo Valley Trail, the trail was still flat until I veered right as I crossed a small wooden bridge towards the 3rd Aid Station. It was another chance to refill my bottle with sports drinks and popped out my 2nd GU. The 3rd AS was the turn-around point and it was time to go uphill to Bobcat Trail. I had more time to brisk walk along Bobcat Trail until I reached the peak of Marincello Trail. It was a fast run downhill along Marincello Trail until I reached the Tennessee Valley Aid Station for the 3rd time. At this point I am supposed to have run 21 miles and I still have 4 miles to go to reach the starting area for my first loop.
There was no problem running along the ascending portions of the Old Springs Trail and the flatter portions of Miwok Trail but the challenge was to reach the top of the Wolfe Ridge Trail as it is the steepest portion of my way back to the Coastal Trail and Hill #88. From the peak of the Coastal Trail everything was downhill and I was able to complete my first loop in 5:38+ hours.
At the starting area I ate one serving of oatmeal, boiled egg, fried slice of SPAM, one piece of Choc-Nut, and drank ice-cold Gatorade. I refilled my stash of GU Gels in my pockets to include my supply of Crunch Bars. I changed my Dry Max socks with another type of running socks with the same brand. I spent almost 10 minutes in the process and I feel that I can finish another loop for a sub-12-hour finish.
I left the Starting Line for my second loop with a prevailing elapsed time of 5:48+. I made a plan to finish the whole race in less than 12 hours and try to be faster in brisk walking in uphill climbs and faster running in the downhill parts of the course. I was already alone in going up to the Coastal Trail and made some steady progress in reaching its peak. Running along the descending parts of Wolfe Ridge Trail had been easy and comfortable and soon enough, I was able to reach the Old Springs Trail.
I had to stop at the Tenessee Valley Trailhead for another pit stop at its Aid Station before going to the Coastal Dirt Trail. As I ran along the asphalted road of Tennessee Valley Trail, I was able to pass one of male runner who was busy eating some food while he was brisk walking. As I turned right to the Coastal Dirt Trail Road, I was greeted by a family of four who were hiking down the trail and I greeted them with a hand wave, a smile, and a greetings of “Good Afternoon”. As I went up the Coyote Ridge Trail towards the Muir Beach, I joined an old ultrarunner whom they call as “Buzz” and a young runner who was wearing cotton shorts and shirts. The two “white” runners were talking about some topics related to the Western States 100-Mile Run and I listened to them intently. It appeared that the older runner were giving some advise to the younger runner on how to finish the WS 100 Race. I was able to pick up some good advises while I was listening to their conversation. I also joined in their conversation by telling them that I have plans of training for the WS 100 in the future and I told them that I need more exposure in ultrarunning events in the USA.
Along the Coastal Dirt Trail, two tall “white” runners tried to overtake us and we let them pass us. However, as we reached the downhill part that goes to the Muir Beach Fire Gate and AS #2, I increased my pace and left “Buzz” and the younger runner and later, was able to overtake the two tall guys whom we gave some room for them to pass us at the single-track trails of Coastal Dirt Trail. As soon as I reached the AS #2, I requested the volunteers to have my bottle filled up with sports drinks; picked-up some melon cuts and dipped them to a plate of salt; and drank some cups of Coke! I did not spend so much time at the AS and left the place immediately. While I was going up towards the Coyote Ridge Trail, I met “Buzz”, the young cotton-dressed runner, and the two tall guys who were going to AS #2.
I maintained my brisk walking on the steep portions of the Coyote Ridge Trail until it levelled off towards the Miwok Trail Cut-Off. From here, I was already alone where I could not see anybody infront and not minding who is trailing me on my back. As I was about to finish running along the Miwok Trail, I saw two ladies infront of me. I recharged at the Tenessee Valley Trailhead AS with Seven-Up with slice of melon dipped in salt and refilled my bottle.
As I charged to the uphill climb of Marincello Trail, the two ladies were ahead of me by 5 meters. I tried to increase my pace in brisk walking but I was surprised that I could not gain some distance to get nearer to them and try to engage some conversation with them. I was thinking if my pace in brisk walking was too slow as I tried my best to increase the turn-over of my feet on the ground. The truth is that, these two ladies gained another 5 meters distance from me. Before we reached the peak of Marincello Trail, the two ladies were already leading me with about 10 meters!
I made my move and ran the downhill part of Bobcat Trail and passed the two ladies and gained a distance from them. I was able to overtake one or two runners along the Bobcat Trail but more runners were already going back to the finish line as I met them going up along Bobcat Trail. Before reaching the Rodeo Valley Trail, I stopped by on the side of the road and looked for some cover for me to pee. While relieving myself, I saw a guy who passed me and he was looking at me. He must be trailing me and making me as his “target”!
After relieving myself, I immediately resumed my running and tried to overtake the guy. I finally caught him while he was eating and refilling his bottles at the AS #3. I did my “rituals” at the AS and immediately left the place after asking the volunteers on the remaining distance before we could reach the finish line. The old lady at the AS told me that I still have 8 miles to go—4 miles up to the Tennessee Valley Trailhead AS and another 4 miles towards the Finish Line.
I mentally computed my target time of arrival or finish as I had 9:45+ hour elapsed time when I reached the AS #3. I told to myself that I can finish 8 miles (12+kilometers) in two hours and I was confident that I could finish the race in less than 12 hours. I told to myself also to keep on moving but I had to slow down once I feel any pain on my legs. Having made my goal to finish the remaining miles in the race in two hours, I immediately left the AS ahead of the guy who passed me while I was relieving myself.
I really ran hard on the uphill climb of Bobcat Trail but have to revert back to brisk walking on the steeper portions of the said trail. As soon as I reached the peak of Marincello Trail, I saw a lady runner about 500 meters slowly running down the trail. I increased my pace on my downhill surge and was able to overtake her and made a considerable distance from her. But I need to refill my bottles with sports drinks that I decided to visit the Tennessee Valley Trailhead AS for the last time.
It was a quick stop but when I was running towards the uphill portion of the Old Springs Trail, the lady runner whom I overtook at the downhill part of Marincello Trail was already ahead of me by 10 meters. From the Old Springs Trail and Wolfe Ridge Trail, it was “cat and mouse” run between the two of us as I trailed her on those trails. The guy who overtook me while I was peeing at the Bobcat Trail was also on my tail trying to gain distance over me about 500 meters behind me at the Old Springs Trail. The lady runner ahead of me was “pressured” and I think she got tired while I tried to “push” her pace on the difficult parts of the Wolfe Ridge Trail.
Before I reached the highest peak of the Coastal Trail, the lady runner, made a hand signal to pass her and another group of three runners allowed me to pass them, too! I was still strong and my legs did not give me any problems as I reached the highest peak of the Coastal Trail and the last problem is to be able to run those winding wooden stairs and rocky one-track trail without any fall or misstep before reaching the Battery Townsley tunnels and the downhill asphalted road towards the finish line.
While running down the asphalted road of the Coastal Trail, nobody was trailing me and made an easy run towards the Finish Line. I crossed the finish line in 12:10:36 hours and I was happy to finish the race. I ranked #56 among the 90 finishers from the 126 starters. I was ranked #6 in my age category and I was very happy to have finished the race without any “issues” during the race and any injury! I was not able to attain my objective of finishing the race in less than 12 hours but I was happy and contented on the overall result of my capability to run such a challenging mountain trail run.
I can only say that I had fun and good memories in this run. There is really a different kind of enjoyment and satisfaction that I felt during and after finishing the race. Even though the race was long, hard, and very challenging, there is something in ultra mountain trail running that keeps you coming back for more in order to test your ability in endurance and find out what you are made of. This is the feeling that I could not get from finishing marathon and lesser-distance races along the roads. I could not express the feelings and the emotions that I have gone through with my runs along the mountain trails of Marin Headlands.
I guess, I need to prepare and train some more and experience the good feelings and experience in mountain trail running. Hopefully, 2011 MIWOK 100K would be the next one.
I’ll be back to Marin Headlands!!!
For more details and description of the PCTR’s Headlands 50, please visit http://pctrailruns.com/event.aspx?dtid=5654.
(Note: If you reached this part and read the whole Race Report, you have finished one of my “ultra posts” in this blog. It is just fair that you finished reading this post in 15 minutes or more while it took me 12+ hours to finish the race and another 10 days to write and edit this post. I hope you enjoyed my story on the said race.)