Wednesday, February 15, 2012

My First Time: Golden Gate 50K

They say you will always remember your first time. On Saturday February 11, 2012, I ran my first ultramarathon, the Golden Gate 50K, put on by Coastal Trail Runs. It was the third event I have run with CTR and I would recommend them to anyone interested in giving trail running a try. They host distances from 5 miles to 31 miles (50K); the events are low-key, well-organized, and a lot of fun.

I signed up for this event a couple of months prior, but was unsure up until the day before that I was going to be able to run it due to lingering issues with tendonitis in my lower leg. The fact that I was able to run 3 miles the day before (I can run 3 miles, why not 31!?) and the fact that the course had a lot of climbing (6,000’+ of elevation gain) helped to make my decision. My tendonitis only acts up when I run. I knew there would be lots of miles of “power-hiking” which does not aggravate my injury, so I reasoned that I might be able to complete this thing. As I said to a friend on Facebook, I was willing to get a DNF (did not finish), but not willing to get a DNS (did not start).

Saturday morning, Stacy and I left Citrus Heights for the 100 mile drive to Rodeo Beach in the Marin Headlands. We arrived about 7 A.M., picked up my bib and shirt, and sat in the car in an effort to stay warm until the “gun” went off at 8 A.M. It had rained the night before and the parking lot was a soupy, muddy mess. I had gotten up at 4:00 A.M. to drive 100 miles so I could run 31 miles. And I paid for this. What the hell is wrong with me?

Wendell, the Race Director (RD), explains to us the course markings and directions for the 30K and 50K runners. The 30K and 50K runners would follow the pink course, until the Tennessee Valley (TV) aid station, switch to the orange loop, and return to the pink course through Conzelman aid station to the start/finish line. Here, at mile 18, the 30K runners would be finished. The 50K runners would run the pink course (omitting the orange loop) one last time for a total of 31.7 miles. I hope my leg holds up…

“Go!” Friends and family cheer as we make our way up the first climb. I start hiking from the get-go. I have run the 5 miler on this course and there is no reason for me to hammer the legs this early; there is plenty of time for that. We make our way up the trail, stairs, and scree to the summit of the first climb (about 900’). Now down, down, down we go. I am trying to take it easy on my right leg, but the descent is so steep that going slow can be harder on the legs than going fast. Off of the Wolf Ridge single track, onto a short up-hill on Miwok, and then down Old Springs into the TV aid station. Water bottle refilled, I head out onto the orange loop. After an initial killer climb, the trail turned into a bog of shoe-sucking mud that made it difficult to maintain footing and confidence during the descent. There were gorgeous views to be had for sure, but conditions necessitated a shoe-gazing forward progress to navigate the soupy slop. After climbing up the muddy steps, run-able trail resumed back into the TV aid station. Beautiful loop, but good riddance, it is all pink course from here on out.

I eat some boiled potatoes dipped in salt, a PB and J square, and some M&Ms before heading up the Marincello fire road. I see some runners ahead of me trying to run it, but I seem to be able to keep up with them by hiking. Conservation of energy. Sage advice from Kenny Rogers-“Know when to walk away, know when to run.” At the top of a never-ending climb is a stand of eucalyptus trees. From here it is wending single-track with breathtaking views of the Golden Gate, San Francisco, Rodeo Valley, and coast. I arrive at the Conzelman aid station, fuel up, thank the volunteers, and start the 4.5 mile descent to Rodeo Beach. My leg is starting to hurt, but I know once I get to the start/finish line, I will resume hiking and my leg will get some respite from the pounding. With about .25 miles shy of the parking lot I see Dave Mackey fly passed me toward the finish line. I am at mile 18 and he is already at mile 31. Damn you Dave Mackey! I look up again and his shirt is off. Maybe, it was Matthew McConaughey? The mind plays tricks when tired.

Four hours in. I stop at the aid station for more of the same: sugar, salt, and water. I take my shoes off to dump some pebbles that have found their way in, put them back on, and start the last loop. I navigated this last loop much like I did the first time; the name of the game was protecting my leg and staying on top of food and water. It took me 3 hours to complete the last loop, for a finish time of 7:01:21. I can live with that time. My goal was to finish and I did just that. I know I could have gone faster if my leg wasn’t giving me grief. I “raced” my plan and had a great time on a beautiful course in beautiful weather. I am hooked on this whole ultra thing…

and CTR's here


  1. Congratulations! I could definitely visualize where you were on the course. That sloppy, sticky, muddy section is always like that when it rains. And those stairs - ugh!

    You ran a great race. And thanks for the beautiful pics!

  2. Thanks Leslie. I am running the Way Too Cool 50K tomorrow.