Having never been to San Francisco, I can’t imagine a better way to see it for the first time than running across 50 miles along the….ahem...Northern California coast line. I would be staying with friends and had intended to drive from home in Arizona. In my brain, which has long since looked at the state of California, San Francisco should be somewhere near San Diego, and therefore only a 7 hour drive max. As race day closed in, my “Southern Cali” friend, Ashley mentioned flying in and picking me up at the airport. I was like, “Naw, I’m just going to drive”. The hesitance in her voice led me later to actually look at the map. Uhm...San Francisco is not anywhere near San Diego and would be a 13+ hour drive. Not an impossible drive, but 26+ hours in the car over 4 days and 50 miles of running sounded very unappealing. Oops. Fortunately flights were cheap.
On arriving Thursday evening, we headed to The Sports Basement to listen to the Salomon Team speak and watch a few videos. Got to see Ricky Gates, Dakota Jones, Ellie Greenwood. It was a kick. It was so funny as well, my senses were totally overstimulated by lights, cars, people. While despite my obvious geographical ignorance, I am not naive to big city life. Growing up I lived all over, however, the past 11 months we have settled into the Navajo Reservation and desert life. Flagstaff being the closest “big city”. Not just the activity, but color….my world is colorful, brilliant oranges, reds, brown, some sage green and pine as we get to Flagstaff, but this was the full spectrum! It had been a while.
Did a little shakeout run on Friday morning and chilled out most of the day on the couch, looking at all of the different plants, birds, sights and sounds, thinking what Saturday would be like. I was not particularly nervous. The excitement of just experiencing the course and witnessing a landscape never seen before overshadowed race jitters.
I arrived well rested at the start line with temps in the upper 40s and a stiff breeze. I stayed warm by the fire pits until the 5am go. We took off in waves and I settled into a comfortable groove. It was a nicle little down before we started the first 2-3 mile climb. As we ascended up the headlands in the dark, coffee kicked in and I was quickly searching with my headlamp for a place to pee. With several hundred runners going by I was trying to spy a good shrub or scrubby tree to hide myself. I spotted what I thought was a good shrub to my left, stepped off the trail and immediately crashed down 5-10 feet, straight down the headland. The shrub was the top of a scrubby tree. With hands grasping branches and shrubs to stop my descent and climb back up, I tore myself up nicely, but no real injury. And of course as fate would have it, I could no longer pee. I assessed the damage, which seemed slight and climbed my way back up and on to the trail. I should have known better, but I really thought there was more level ground before it dropped. I was a little scraggly, pulling shrubs and brush out of my shorts for the next ¼ mile, but no worse for the wear.
We continued to climb and I looked back to see over a mile of streaming headlamps snaking their way up the course behind me. I could see the shadow of the headlands ahead in the dark. The sun started to rise and the views of the headlands and coast were amazing.
I Came into the first big aid station, Tennessee Valley feeling well. Traded out bottles and made sure I had what I needed for the next go. I had taken in roughly 130-180 calories those first 2 hours. As I climbed back up the headlands around mi 10, I started thinking, “I’m just not feeling it”, My HR started dropping a little and my effort seemed a little high and I felt a little colder. I started thinking, “This may be a really long day, I am less than 11 miles in and feeling a little low already”. I started thinking about calories and added a gel, within 5 minutes I was feeling back on top and raring to go.
Came into Muir Beach at mi 12.7 back in action and rolling well. The next climb to Cardiac aid at mi 17.9 would be 5 miles all up, but very runnable. I played leapfrog with a couple of guys the whole way up. It was nice to chat. I kept a steady trot up, quick turnover, while they alternated hike/running. Made it to Cardiac aid at 12.7 (aptly named as you have significant climbing either way into this aid station). Top of the Headlands here, sweeping views of the ocean. Standing meant getting cold quickly, so I made quick work of replacing bottles from my drop bag and making sure I had what I needed. This was the first time I missed Todd, I had gotten used to seeing he and the kids at aid stations recently. I fumbled with cold fingers, and it seemed to take forever. 45-55 degrees F on the coastline is much colder than 45-55 in the high desert/mountains. Duh Lori. The aid station volunteers were fabulous and helped as they saw me fumbling.
Out of Cardiac and on to McKennan Gulch at mi 22.8. I little more climbing before some up and down over the next miles. Here is where we started seeing some of the Elite runners making their return. This section of trail was a little frustrating, but even more staggering views. The trail was maybe 18-24 inches wide in spots with hundreds of feet drop down and ocean views to the left. To the Right was steep cloddy uphill headland. So as runners would come down I would step up clumsily off the trail to let them pass without the downhill runners having to break stride. There was supposed to be about 30 elite women contenders, so I was counting of course! I figured I was somewhere between 30-40th female position, which made me feel pretty good. As we dodged in and out of the woods a bit, I started getting some tightness in my low back. I was also getting a little nervous about how my quads felt. They seemed a little more stiff and tender than I thought they should at that point...would they hold up? About that time I felt a sharp pain under my watch. I looked down and some sort of yellow jacket thingy was stinging me. I smacked him away, but he left a nasty reminder with swelling and shooting pains. I decided now was a good time for some ibuprofen. Between my thoughts, my back and the sting, and I got a little distracted and a little behind on water. I had taken a gel in and it was kinda stuck there. I hit the 23 mi aid and downed more water and replenished my bottles I had been following “Jenny” for several miles. She was running with a group of guys, all singing her praises. Apparently, everyone but me knew Jenny. We’d hit the aid station, “Jenny! You look so good”, “Great work Jenny!” her male entourage also from time to time telling her how she was rocking the course. I left that aid station a few minutes behind most awesome Jenny, greeting the Porta potty as I had nearly every aid station.
The next section would be a little up and down then a good 3 miles of descending. I closed the gap on Jenny and the boys and we ended up in a bit of a conga line as we closed back in on Stinson beach. The trails were narrow, windy, and more technical...more what I'm used to. I took great pleasure in passing all 5 boys and “Jenny” before we came into Stinson Beach at mi 30. The goal was to arrive at mi 30 warmed up and ready to race the last 20. I felt good and ready, and with Jenny now just behind me a little more motivated. I was quite sure my pace would not be much faster, but my effort more assertive.
Cardiac aid station was only 3 miles ahead. I got hasty wanting to leave my new competitor behind. It didn't occur to me how much steeper this climb would be or how long it would take. My climbing was ok, a bit lackluster and I was getting a little dry and low calorie. As I snaked up the 3 mile climb, I was introduced to sections of the Dipsea trail, famous for its many many stairs. My muscles were really getting sore going up and my heart rate was not spunky at all. I didn't have any fuel/fluid options until cardiac, so I made plan to get there, be smart and do what I needed to to get my mojo back. I drank water at the aid as I restocked my bottles, electrolytes, gels and headed out.
The next section would be 2 miles down then some steep climbs. I did well on the down, passed 2 more girls and several guys. Then came the ups. My quads tender, and sluggish. I stayed at mostly a baby step jog up, but took a few hiking breaks. I was moving slow enough that my 2 bottles 15-17oz each were again gone about 1-2 miles before aid and with gel in stomach like rock with no water to absorb it. I came in to Old Inn aid at 36 miles back to feeling nauseated, full, sluggish. My urine was dark. More water, refill bottles, gels and go.
Fortunately, a short, but little steeper climb out of Old inn and I would be headed down or flat for 3+ miles. I managed to hold my lead. And chugged water at aid and downed a water bottle within 15-20 minutes. The gel was absorbed and I had more energy for the downhill and flat section ahead. My quads were getting more tender at this point, but I just pushed on past it telling there would only be 2 more descents. I came in to Muir Beach at mi 40 feeling better. I loaded up and headed out. I was getting a little more on track with water, lytes, and fuel, but I think the damage had been done as the next 2 mile climb was really difficult and slow. It seemed to go on forever. I was so glad to be done climbing that the next 2-3 mile descent, although quads feeling rather shredded, seemed to cooperate. Overall I was moving slower and getting a little cold, which actually stimulated me to keep pushing on the downs to stay warm.
Last climb from Tennessee Valley to Alta aid at mi 47 was more bearable. I was a little frustrated as I just couldn't seem to get back my mojo, but at the same time was hanging in there and getting things corrected with water and fuel. I hit the Porta potty at the top, mi 47 and urine was looking a little better. Time for the last push down. 3 miles all down with just a slight up at the end. I was so relieved. I spotted Jenny, she must've come through while I was in the porta. She had dropped her entourage and was moving well! I was about 2 minutes back on her, and although I never closed the gap, it helped me keep giving it my all the last few miles, no slacking. It was hard for me to figure where I might finish. This terrain and this distance were pretty unfamiliar.
I knew I would be very pleased with sub 10 hours, but wasn't sure what was possible. I finished in 9:47. I was hoping to place in the top 30, I placed 35th...not too shabby considering the national and international competition. this race is quickly becoming one of the most competitive 50 mile trail events in the US. I had such a blast, even with some significant fueling issues. It was such a fast course for all the climbing and descending it offered up, 10,000ft climbing and 10,000ft descending over 50 miles.