Monday, September 12, 2016

Headlands 50K, Muir Beach, August 26, 2016

I needed a Long Run to complete my marathon training cycle.  31 Miles is a Long Run, right?

I was going to a week-long Kinesiology Institute in Arizona the week I needed this Long Run. Arizona is close to San Francisco, right?

The race description: "Marin County's most famous trails - Coastal, Miwok, Steep Ravine and the Dipsea - provide the spectacular setting for this classic, single-loop race... Only minutes from downtown San Francisco, the Tamalpa Headlands 50K is a demanding ultra marathon with over 7,300 feet of elevation change." 

This sounded like a great idea! I asked Sidney to fly out to meet me for a few days after the race so I could combine school, racing, and a short vacation into one 9-day trip.

I picked a hotel at the last minute, as usual, and found one about 25 minutes away in a small town called Tiburon. I can't explain how much I love Tiburon. If I had 6 million dollars I would move there... for a year and then be broke... It was such a beautiful place for a vacation. I am already looking for other reasons to reasons to return.

Town of Tiburon, photo from
I had not trained specifically for the Headlands 50k. I have had some great races, for me, lately so there was some expectation in the back of my mind that maybe I could run well.

But the reality is I have been preparing to run well on roads, not trails. My trail running has been only easy paces as recovery runs. I do very little climbing on a daily basis, unless I am doing a hill workout. I rarely climb stairs at home or at work. My experience at this races has really taught me that I need to climb more. 

The trail shoes I decided to use had only 13 total miles on them and I wasn't sure if they would be too light for a long race, but they fit in my suitcase well so why not use them?

Basically I was running this race with very little specific prep. However, I was confident I would finish it. I just didn't know how long it would take. I didn't even know where the race was, or how far apart aid was, or what the elevation or terrain was like until I was sitting down for dinner the night before. It was only then I finally had some time to figure things out. I looked at the elevation chart and knew I was in trouble! ;).

The weather was beautiful. I heard it was humid for the area. But it was nice to me. It was 60 degrees with 54 degree dew point. It felt cool and a little damp.

The race was cupless. They did have some plastic cups they would wash between uses (I am not sure how I feel about that, but I had my own bottle). I contemplated using a small 10 oz bottle since most of the aid was about 3-4 miles apart. (I could have done that). But I decided I wasn't sure how long I would take and I would rather have more fluid on me rather than not enough. I filled a 17 oz bottle with Gatorade and carried it in one pocket of my race vest. I threw a few gels in the other pocket. I also wanted to bring my phone so I could take photos if it turned out that I was not in a rush. It was going to be a gorgeous course.

The entire day before I traveled to the race I ate a ton of carbs, more than I have eaten in months. I had a banana-chocolate chip muffin for breakfast. I had a espresso brownie at lunch. I had dessert after dinner too. I was definitely carb-loaded and ready to go. (This worked well for me).

The morning of the race I had coffee and a small triple chocolate brownie. I used this race as my chance to enjoy all the sweets I have stayed away from for a long time. Why not? I would be burning tons of energy so I enjoyed it all.

It was fantastic to get to meet Frankie, at the start!  I had been fortunate to have coached her a few years ago, where she ran a 100M PR! I had never meet her in person, but  today was the day! Some people, like Frankie, just have wonderful spirits and their positive energy is so contagious. It was so wonderful to meet her!  

The race started and it did not take me long to realize I was NOT going to run fast today. The single track section, early on, meant the pace was set by the runners ahead, unless I was willing to pass. But since I need to spend most of my time looking at my feet, I wasn't planning to pass anyone on single track unless I really could stay ahead of them. I was just trying to stay uprigh and moving forward. 

The elevation chart made it appear that the the bigger climbs were at the end so I wanted to stay comfortable. But once the climbing started, my calves and achilles were screaming at me. The grade was incredibly steep. Even though I felt like I had the cardiovascular fitness to move faster, my muscles were getting so burnt out by the grade, that I just couldn't pick up my pace. Yet, people were bounding up the hill like mountain goats? It was amazing to see how well-trained climbers handled the course.

I was in awe of the views and decided to forget pace. I just wanted time on my feet and I wanted to work the descents when I could. My next race would have a lot of downhills so I wanted to beat my legs up today so they could respond and be stronger by my road marathon. I know that pace does not matter, when the goal of a workout is to get strong in a different but specific way. Running hard down hill would help me recover stronger and be a better down hil runner later, even if my overall pace for this race was slow. I needed to break down a little under the specific stress of downhill running so I could come back stronger in two weeks.

The incline was so steep and I was so slow climbing that I started project this 50k taking me between 7-8 hours. This would be one of my slowest 50ks.  

A few people around me learned that I was from NJ. At 5.2M into the race a guy turned to me and said "Hey New Jersey, don't get discouraged. This is the longest steepest climb of the race. Once this is over the rest are all more gradual."

His words were a gift. The elevation chart I saw made it appear that it got worse, not easier. His words were so uplifting. What a great guy!

After that climb we had a long fast descent on a paved road. I took advantage of the chance to beat my quads up a little. A group of runners were coming up the hill. I was wondered out loud to they guy next to me if we had to run up this steep road later? He said he didn't think so. I said I sure hope not! 

We were moving. 7:19 pace for this short burst. I felt great until I heard the yelling from behind us: "Wrong way!!!" Ugh. What bad timing! Just as we were acknowledging the running group on our left, we both missed the entrance to the single track trail on our right. As we turned back, the guy says, "Well I guess we DO get to run up the hill!" Lol.

These trails are not like North Jersey trails, where I truly need to watch my feet the entire way. Here there are long stretches of single track where I was easily cruising at sub-8:30 pace. In 31 miles I did not fall once. The footing was very runnable. But this also give you a sense of just how slow I climbed. Lol.

When we weren't climbing up hills, we were climbing up stairs. Stone stairs. Rail road ties. Actual stair cases. Or down stairs. Unevenly spaces stairs. Switchbacks with stairs on every curve. Stairs that made me nervous about running down them fast, since I wasn't sure how stable they were or how stable I would be.

When we ran out of stairs, we had to climb up a ladder! :)

The lack of confidence I had with my footing while running fast on the trails, slowed me down even when I had great energy. In fact, my energy was so steady for the entire race that I needed almost no aid to run the entire way.  I never hit a wall at the pace I was moving. I consume about 30 oz of electrolyte drink, 5 potato chips, and one cube of cantaloupe.  Otherwise I jus blew through aid stations and kept on going beacuse I did not feel depleted or in need of anything. I felt the full impact of carb loading today and it made me feel wonderful! 

In my opinion, the first 10M of this race were the hardest. After 10M, the only issue I had was foot pad pain at Mile 21 from using the minimal trail shoes and stepping on a ton of rocks for hours. Had I trained more on rocky terrain in the shoes my foot would likely have been fine. But today my right foot felt bruised and it became painful to step. I was very concerned. 10 miles to go and my gait was off.  This type of damage really could mess up my actual goal race. So I asked my body to take care of this for me, to "Will It Away!" I repeate that over and over, and in 2 miles the pain was gone. Numbed? Ignored? Not acknowledged? What ever happened, there was a remarkable difference in my experience of foot pan to the extend that I could run again normally for the rest of the race.  Since my back pain, I have also worked alot on "mind over matter" for pain management, and it truly does work!

I started passing people in the last 10 Miles, but I was not fast. I ran when I could. I took photos when I was inspired. I missed a lot of photo opportunities when I was running down hills.  Often I would catch myself exclaiming out loud how beautiful the trails were. LIke when I popped out of the woods, into a clearning, to catch a glimpse of rolling hills with peaks covered with fog. I am so grateful to be able to do this!

I finished in 6:22. My foot pain returned after it was all over and this made me very worried. This race was not my goal race, and now I had some bruising under my foot. I really hoped it would not impact the race I had actually prepared for.

Shortly after I finished, I headed back to hotel to answer my coaching emails before I needed to pick up Sidney.

On my drive back to Tiburon, it occurred to me that one of the most special things about being an ultra runner is during the 6-7 hours I spent in Muir Forest, I probably saw more of that gorgeous terrain than most people who lived nearby will ever get to experience. This is a good enough reason to run, no matter what the pace!

A few days after the race, the RD asked if I had collected my medal? No. I just left.  6:22 was not anywhere near the leaders. But it was a nice surprise to find out I was second place in the 40-44 year old age group.  I was mailed a wonderful National Championship Age Group medal. 

Time: 6:22
AG: 2nd  

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