When I decided to run PCTR's Headlands 50 Mile trail race a couple of months back, I was able to successfully recruit my friend Lori into joining in on the shenanigans. The only stipulation was that we needed to stick together for the duration of the run. Fine, no problem there as all I was looking for was a scenic, supported training run in the famed trails of Marin Headlands and time on my feet.
The course itself, which was altered a bit due to some construction, had us the 50-mile runners doing a ~25 mile clover-like loop 2 times (with marathoners covering it once). After picking up Lori in my rental at 5:45am, we made the surprisingly short drive over the bridge to the start at Rodeo Beach with plenty of time to spare. After taking care of the normal pre-race stuff, we lined up among the chilled huddled mass that gathered at the base of the trail and right at 7am, we were off.
We began climbing almost immediately up a variety of terrain, footing and obstacles. Lori and I were content to start off easy so we took our time going up. I was surprised to find myself feeling good right from the start as it seemed lately like it has usually taken me several miles before I felt "warmed up". We chatted and trotted along contently following the herd up to the summit before the steep descent down towards the Tennessee Valley aid station which served as the 'hub' of this loop course as 50-milers would pass this one station a total of 6 times. Thankfully, we also had access to drop bags here so I could easily fill up on the maltodextrin/Nuun mix I'd packed as needed before heading out for the next section (carried 2 x 26 oz bottles, 1 had the water, the other my malto mix).
After the first Tennessee Valley aid station pass, we began what was arguably the most scenic part of the course. The next portion looped along the scenic coast of Pirate's Cove down into the Muir Beach aid station. Lori and I actually decided to stop and snap some pics here before merrily trotting along into said aid station, feasting on some boiled potatoes dipped in salt and coke. Other than my malto drink, this is how I'd get my other calories throughout the day. Once we left, we started on another hefty climb up Coyote Ridge, down through the Miwok trail before passing through Tennessee Valley once again and then up and down the L-O-O-O-NG Bobcat fire road to do an out-and-back at the Rodeo Valley aid station.
The weather itself was near perfect throughout the day. I was actually expecting warmer weather (ahem, Lori) but instead, we were treated to mostly foggy skies with a strong but welcomed bay breeze for most of the race.
Passing through Tennessee Valley aid station.
After the long out and back, we passed Tennessee Valley yet again. This time when we came through, our friend Rick was there waiting for us to cheer us on. He was definitely a welcomed sight and after walking with us and chatting for a couple of minutes, we began the big up and down Wolf Ridge back towards the start to complete loop #1. Lori and I sort of kidded about dropping and ending the day early (which I wouldn't have minded one bit had I not traveled all this way and shelled out the $$ for hotel, rental car, etc). We arrived back at the start to complete the first loop in something like 5:05. Lori's Garmin actually measured the loop a bit long at almost exactly 26.2 miles.
Where the 1st loop was all about fun and camaraderie, the 2nd loop was mostly about business and surviving the last 26+ miles. Lori began having issues with her calf and it started to hinder her progress. Still, she was a trooper and we pushed through some difficult times together. As we ran towards Pirate's Cove again, I encouraged her to start focusing on passing the next person we'd see on the trail and sure enough, summoned up enough moxie and strength to pass 3-4 runners along this stretch. We even doled out jovial words of encouragement as we passed to at least appear that we were still going strong (they never passed us again). On the hills, we alternated between running/walking and just kept moving forward.
I gave myself a 'systems check' every so often and other than the sciatic nerve on my left butt/hip flaring up occasionally and a blister on my right foot, I was still feeling relatively strong. Lori was continually feeling bad during one stretch and kept telling me to go ahead without her. After repeatedly turning that down, I finally had to tell her to "shut the fuck up" to quell that argument. That took care of that for good.
Lori probably hit her lowest stretch down the long Bobcat fireroad (our last 'out' before we finally started heading towards the finish). For probably 15 or so minutes, she launched into a profanity-laced tirade that could make roughneck Marines blush. After trying to make her feel better, I decided it was pointless at that moment and just decided to ride out the storm. Her mood lifted a bit once we hit the turnaround at Rodeo Valley and for the long road up, we focused on running to various marks followed by brief power walking, picking out another mark up on the trail to run towards, and so on. While we were almost certain we'd get passed based on how far the chase group was behind us at the turn, the only runners we'd encounter for awhile were the ones we'd pass that were still heading down. It was still nothing but words of encouragement with frequent exchanges of "good job", "keep it going" or something of the like.
Once we crested the hill, we jammed down the road (that was for you Lori) towards Tennessee Valley. It was up to us to stop or continue on and after looking at our fluid level, decided to just keep going and get this race over with. We were seemingly gaining strength the closer we got to the finish and after running up for awhile, we spotted another runner up the hill. It was actually a runner we passed briefly earlier in the race until he re-passed us and put in some good distance between us after that, so I was surprised to see him. But I could see that he was walking while Lori and I were still running and running strong. Feeling a little bad but determined to keep going, we made the decisive pass, exchanged words of encouragement and kept pressing.
We hit the summit and had mostly downhill to look forward to from then on. Unbeknownst to me, there were still a small pack of runners up ahead and we started to reel them in one by one. With Lori right on my heels, we passed around 4-5 more runners, avoided near disaster when I temporarily made a wrong turn and ended up kicking hard to finishing together after a little over 10:47 on the trails (final distance measured 52.2 miles on Lori's Garmin).
I am happy with this result because I felt like I did well from a nutrition/hydration standpoint, peeing frequently and running with sustained energy for most of the race (the cool weather certainly helped). The feeling of being able to finish a 50-miler strong gives me confidence in my ability for future endurance endeavors. Mucho thanks to my favorite trail partner Lori for her companionship and unfailing positivity (just a twinge of sarcasm there) and for the good times post-race.
Oh, and hope you feel better Sarah...these events just aren't the same without you there!