Sunday, November 17, 2013

Mt Tam 50K - Race Report

This race was not in my training schedule or my training plan. Three days prior to race day, I decided to use the volunteer credit I earned for volunteering at Inside Trail's Berkeley Trail Adventure. With my Coach Karen Peterson's blessing, I signed up for the Mt Tam 50K by contacting race director Tim Stahler. I signed up for this race based on the fact that my training schedule calls for a 31 mile run on the weekend, so I might well just do the race in "training mode" and practice the use of aid stations and nutrition.

Just a day after signing up, my mind had already started playing games with me. I suddenly had the urge to switch to one of the lower distances, either a 30K or the half marathon. The 30K would be a still good training run, as it went through the same trails that the North Face Endurance Challenge 50M course would go through. The half marathon would be a nice race also based on the fact that I had never run the Sierra Trail or the TCC Trail, and it would be a nice change of scenery. I emailed my Coach again for advice and she told me to listen to my gut instincts. I told her I'd play it by ear and make a "game day decision" that morning.

Saturday came and when I woke up I still felt very undecided within the first hour I woke up. Then I just decided to suck it in and do it. Like the Stinson Beach 50K that I did just a few weeks back, I'll run it one aid station at a time, and I won't berate myself if I call it quits (or if they call it quits on me, as they have quite a few cutoff times towards the end). I was slightly concerned that the course limit was 8 hours and 30 minutes, and I finished Stinson Beach at 8 hours and 47 minutes, and although they are two different course, Inside Trail is not known for making easy courses (based on past experiences such as Stud N Mud 25K this year).

I drove to Stinson Beach and arrived at my customary early time of one hour prior to the race, at 7:30 AM. I picked up my bib and saw friendly faces at the bib pickup line including Leigh-Ann Wendling, Brian Ladrillono, and Sabine Gillert. I also saw some friends running the race: Allen Lucas, who was doing the half, Pen Perez, who was doing the 30K, and Deirdre Geary, who ended up being my race buddy for the 50K.

I wasn't sure what Deirdre's pace was because I have never run with her, but I decided to pace with her for the first few miles. We climbed up Steep Ravine together and had some good conversations on North Face and upcoming triathlons, being part of SF Tri Club, but we parted ways once I saw a restroom at Pantoll and decided to do my customary pee break (I usually take a pee break even when unnecessary, especially at trails, given the scarcity of restrooms, especially non portalet ones). After my pee break, I did not see Deirdre until way much later.

Going through Ben Johnson Trail in Muir Woods was always fun. I find Muir Woods magical. At this point though, the half marathoners, especially the quicker ones already caught up with me. They started half an hour later, and they're running the same course until they have to turn left at Bootjack Trail. Once they turned left, and I turned right going to Fern Creek and Lost Trail, the runners thinned out except for a female runner I passed by on the way up who's doing a 30K but is recovering from an injury.

Redwood Trail and the Sun Trail reminded me of my ordeal with Coastal. It didn't look as daunting heights wise but it was probably the same altitude, so I thought this was a good way for me to deal with my fear of heights. I ran parts and I walked parts that seemed sketchy where I can trip and fall (and tumble). I was proud of myself for going fast enough to not seem like I was doing a leisurely hike.

When I reached the Muir Woods Visitor Center portion in the middle of my descent down Dipsea, I had to make a decision. My stomach was feeling a bit full, and for the first time in any race, I felt that to poop. Yes, I said it. I had to poop in the middle of a race. This was the best time to do it as there were real restrooms at the Muir Woods Visitor Center (unless they were closed, and fortunately they weren't). I was only about 8 miles into my 31 miler and I didn't want to run the rest of the way with a feeling that I had to go. I know I was going to lose a lot of precious time doing a #2, but I did it anyway. Race medal or finish be damned, I am not going to do a #2 out in the wilderness! So I did it, as quick as I can, and marched back down Dipsea en route to Muir Woods Road.

Once I reached the aid station at Muir Woods Road, I saw my friend Patty Osorio-O'Dea. I didn't recognize her for a few seconds because of the sunglasses. She quickly offered to replenish my bottle with tailwind electrolytes with ice (which I requested at every aid station, going forward). I grabbed a few potato chips, and a pack of clif shot blocks. I asked what mile I was. "Ten," Patty replied. I checked my watch and it was 11:45 AM. Slight panic ensued as I had six miles to run in 1 hour and 15 minutes. It doesn't seem that much, but depending on what Miwok Trail and Dias Ridge Trail looks like (which I haven't run this part of Miwok, and haven't run any part of Dias Ridge), I might not make the 1:00 cutoff for the next aid station.

I started picking up my pace, even for the uphill one. I caught up with another runner for the 50K at that point. He seemed fatigued, and I don't recall seeing him again after I passed him, even at the end of the race (he could have dropped or been cut off). I kept picking up my pace, but also slowed down at times, because I didn't want to expend all my energy to go to the next aid station, only to peter out the next few ones. I made it up and down Dias Ridge, which was beautiful and less traveled (except for a few hikers and mountain bikers). There was a mile and a half downhill where I kept the fast pace. I arrived at the next aid station, with time to spare at 12:40 PM. How I ran six miles in an hour on trails, I can't fathom, but I was happy to make it, and to see my friend Monica Mendoza as well. It was at this point also that I finally caught up and saw Deirdre Geary! I was relieved that she wasn't lost as I was concerned she might have accidentally taken the orange loop or followed the 30K runners in their loop back into Muir Woods.

Since I had an hour and 20 minutes to the next aid station, I started to relax a little, but I knew the Heather Cutoff and Coast View was just one big climb. I ran with Deirdre for a while, climbing Heather Cutoff together, but when I felt well enough, I told her I'd start to hike faster and hike faster I did. I've begun to learn how to hike the hills faster. I still don't run them (and maybe I should, later on), but fast hiking is a good break for my legs, and also saves my energy to go faster on flats and downhills.

I thought I'll make it to the next aid station with time to spare, but Coast View had some false "views" where I thought I was near the aid station, only to keep climbing a few more steps! I caught up with Chuck Wilson, an older runner but very fit for his age of 70 (if I recall his age right, based on what he said). He told me if he'd finish, he'd be the oldest finisher (and the winner in his age group, by default). I fast hiked past him to the aid station, but we overtook one another as we descended back to Muir Woods for our orange loop. I broke off at one point, and didn't see him until the end of the race.

The orange loop seemed to take forever. We were at mile 21 when we started the descent to Muir Woods, and the orange loop was probably mile 23-24. Going up Bootjack, I saw a runner with a Navy shirt (who I assumed to be with the Navy), he seemed strong, but I heard from Deirdre later on that he was injured, but still powered through the end. I got lost for a while when I hit Fern Creek, which wasn't part of the orange loop. I missed a turn on the left, and looped back, running a wasted half a mile to a mile in the process. I gave myself a virtual face palm.

Troop and TCC Trail was a relentless climb, and at that point, my legs were getting tired that I started walking even the flats and downhills. I kept on questioning whether I was going the right way as I felt I was on a constant loop and everything started looking the same. It also confused me when I distinctly remember seeing the faster 50K runners return a different way, but either they did and they were lost or I confused it with the TCC trail that I saw that was the light at the end of the tunnel.

With a final stop at Cardiac Hill aid station, I saw Deirdre again after she caught up with me as I took one last pee break at the portalet while my water bottle was being kindly refilled by the volunteers with electrolytes and ice. I gushed down a whole bottle of electrolytes then and there before I started the last three mile run, as I was running on empty for a while at TCC (never a good thing!). My stomach felt bloated, but I felt strong going downhill on Dipsea. I have also run downhill at Dipsea before so I was confident where I was at and what was coming on my way back to Stinson Beach.

The steps going down Dipsea are hard on the hamstrings and the quads after doing so many miles already. Thankfully my bootcamps at the Y, as well as my bodypump classes have been giving me even more lower body strength, in addition to my long runs. I didn't feel the same screaming quads or hamstring as I did at Stinson Beach, and I ran gloriously back to Stinson Beach with a smile on my face.

8:18:00, with an average pace of 16:04 minutes per mile, for a 6800 ft elevation course is not too shabby, if you ask this three time ultra marathoner's opinion. Another ultra marathon in the books for this rogue runner. Now I taper for the North Face 50 Miler!


  1. I've heard from several runners that there was a marking issue on the orange trail, and they also ended up getting bonus distance. When I came through there there was a some bored looking teens that I fear may have decided to have some fun at our expense. Congrats on nailing the cutoffs - I tend to over-worry about them (although I have missed a couple, so my worry is not unwarranted).

    Nicely done!

    1. Yeah, I always worry about getting lost on the trails, especially for longer distances. It even almost happened in NFEC yesterday. I've learned to keep an eye out though, and having done the course always helps!