Sunday, September 21, 2014

Coastal 50K Race Report

Warm up the first 10K, cruise the next 30K, do a fast finish for the last 10K.

This was the race strategy that my coach wanted me to employ for the Coastal 50K. It sounds like a good strategy. I didn't mind the first two phrases. I just struggled mentally whether I could a "fast finish" after having run 40K.

The race started at Stinson Beach and ended up at Rodeo Beach. It was the longest point to point 50K I've ever done (but not the longest point to point race, as I have done American River 50 Mile, which is also a point to point race). 117 runners started the race that morning. Two buses full of ultra runners (or would be ultra runners) from Rodeo Beach to the starting point of the race.

It wasn't hard to warm up the first 10K as I had to power hike the Dipsea and Steep Ravine trails shortly after running from the starting point of the race. I was glad a fellow runner and friend Michael Behrman was in the race as well, but knowing he's a lot of faster than me, I wished him luck and hang towards the very back of the crowd of runners. I wouldn't want to be stuck in a runner sandwich where I have a runner I'm following who's faster than me and a runner breathing down my back who's also faster than me. Having "run" up Dipsea and Steep Ravine, and it being only the first 3 miles of the race with already 2000 feet of elevation gain, it would be foolhardy to burn myself out running up it (I'm sure elite ultra runner Jorge Maravilla who won the previous year and who won again this year, beating his time by 10 minutes, is skipping happily up those steep steps).

A few more minutes before the start of the race, I felt some tingling on my right achilles heel. I already felt it tight after a 4 mile tempo run up and down California Street just two nights before. I questioned the wisdom of doing such a hard run at that time, so I decided to be mindful of it the entire time as I climbed up Dipsea and Steep Ravine. I was with a group of other runners who also decided to hang back, but I was hiking up at a comfortable pace with them.

When we reached Pantoll, I did my first pee stop and then proceeded to Bootjack, which I'm familiar with, but not this particular portion. I was happy to start running downhill and began to make up the slower pace that I had while hiking uphill. I passed another trail runner who was walking. After I made my second pee stop at Cardiac, I saw her catch up but she decided to drop. I didn't hear the context of the whole conversation, but she mentioned not having to subject the volunteers to a search party for her (I'm guessing she has an injury of sorts, or maybe the steep climb could have made her rethink of the massive climbs to come up next). I grabbed two gels, downed an electrolyte, and started going downhill on Coast View.

Coast View was a good downhill (I'm so glad I wasn't running in the opposite direction!). I kept running downhill all the way, even through the Heather Cutoff. As I finished Heather Cutoff, I caught up with two runners who I eventually overtook as I kept on running on the flats toward Muir Beach. I was flabbergasted as I didn't expect to overtake anyone this early on a race, especially a 50K. I wasn't pushing it, so I just forged on.

Muir Beach had newly renovated restrooms (goodbye stinky porta potties). True to form, I made another pee stop as I felt I was drinking a lot of water. I stopped at the aid station, to eat two quarter sized peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (they never tasted so good in my entire life!). I took a slice of hard boiled potato, dipped it in salt and ate it. I wasn't following my fueling strategy for the race. I bought a ton of gels the day before but as I realized later on that night, I had bought too many of them with caffeine and caffeine upsets my stomach (which was already mildly upset, with a chicken curry dinner the night before). I saw a runner who had passed me when we were at Bootjack at the aid station and he told me I was booking it. I took it as a compliment as I ran to the base of the climb to Muir Beach and then started power hiking up.

The climb up Muir Beach was quite a climb. I haven't been back here since I did the Golden Gate Trail Run. I climbed quite quickly as I found a boost of energy. I passed another runner wearing "barefoot" shoes (vibrams, I guess?) as I entered the single track trail towards Pirates' Cove. In Pirates Cove, I overtook three another runners (again, jawdropping) as I continued to climb after just having climbed up the stair steps. I told them that "I guess that's why they call them ultra marathons, right?". They smiled with agreement. One of them knew me from Big Sur Marathon, a friend of my friend Pen, who just finished Headlands 100 the previous weekend. His name was Roger but that didn't help with the recall. I'll have to look him up on Facebook later on. He told me that the spot just finishing Pirates Cove and starting Coyote Ridge was where he quit last year, and he's back for redemption. I wished him luck as I started climbing again for Coyote Ridge.

Coyote Ridge was another climb. I encountered a couple (at least I think they were a couple) who were climbing as well. I kept up with them until we hit the downhill for Miwok trail. I was glad to get another downhill to keep up with my pace. I had no idea what my pace was because I left my garmin and my phone battery was dying. I was now running this race based on feel, but I had a feeling I'd do well as I have on the races I've done through based on feel. Going downhill I overtook another runner, a very fit but older runner. I've never felt competitive in a race before, but now I felt compelled to hold on to the lead and keep my distance on runners I've overtaken. Not for ego, but to push myself to run faster as a runner. I have noticed I've sort of plateaud pace wise and I need to push myself more, especially if I want to complete my goal race, the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Miler.

In Tennessee Valley, I blessed the rest rooms again (I was almost tempted not to, but the aid stations and rest rooms are 5-6 miles apart, on average). At the aid station, I asked them what mile we were at, I thought we were at 20 at that point, and we were only at 15. I was slightly disappointed, but I brushed it off quickly as I started climbing Marincello. Marincello is a 2 mile hill, which to this day I have never run the whole way through. There was a time I ran/walk it with a fellow runner and felt good the whole way. Being only half way through, I resorted to power hiking the 2 mile hilly trail.

With up comes down, and I was rewarded with a 2 mile downhill, the Bobcat trail. I was feeling good again and I was surprisingly able to run the whole way. I was really hitting my stride with this race. Usually even with downhills I would stop, but I made a short goal to not stop or walk until I hit the Rodeo Valley trail. I walked up the steps and started running again, although still at a "cruise" mode as I was only up to 20 by the time I reached the next aid station.

At the Rodeo Valley trail, I downed 2 cups of coke. Nothing like pure sugar to give me the temporary boost. I put a clif shot block on my short pocket and kept on moving. I knew what was next. It was a climb up Rodeo Valley. At this point, I was getting sick of the uphill climbs and I began to slow down, even though I was still moving. I could tell I was slowing down as one of the two women who I overtook near Heather's Cutoff overtook me as I entered SCA trail. Either I was slowing down or she made good time on catching up (it must be a little bit of both). She said that I'll probably catch up but I muttered that I probably won't. I must admit I was a little bit dinged ego wise, but I'm still ahead of a lot of runners.

I made a left on SCA towards the bottom of Golden Gate Bridge, near Fort Baker, and this is where I started seeing other runners. They were going in the opposite direction, climbing back up, before going down Coastal for the finish. I didn't see my friend Michael throughout the whole run down to Fort Baker so I assumed he was just too fast that I missed seeing him for that stretch (which proved right, as he finished an hour and 10 minutes ahead of me). At the Fort Baker aid station, there was no more coke, but they had sprite and electrolytes. I even took a bit of beef jerky just to see if I would feel anything different by eating it. They gave us a rubber band to indicate we reached that aid station (just in case some runners cheat by bypassing that aid station and cut the run short, which hopefully doesn't happen).

This was the period I should be on my "fast finish". I told myself that I'm delaying that a little as I felt foolhardy trying to run up SCA. I still had 6 miles to go and although I usually sprint when I see the finish line, I have never picked up the pace that early on a race (if I ever picked it up). I promised myself that I would book it once we got to the downhill, which was in Coastal.

I ran down Coastal like I was running away from a mountain lion. It felt nice to run at a good clip. As I hit another small climb though, I saw another runner, who I overtook in Coyote Ridge, catch up and then overtake me. We ran for a small stretch together, but I decided to let him keep on going while I maintain a decent but fast pace as we still had a good 3-4 miles at that point.

I hit the last aid station, at Rodeo Valley, the one I was just at mile 20. I had only 1.7 miles at that point, but I decided to down another electrolyte and coke. I ran the last 1.7 miles, with minimal stops to catch my breath. I wasn't able to sprint to the finish but I was glad to be able to keep on running the last few miles when usually I customarily slow down to a walk, and then run the last half or quarter mile.

I finished at 7 hours and 40 minutes, which wasn't a PR, but was only 10 minutes slower than Way Too Cool 50K. This was a lot tougher course. I think I could have even PRed on this one if I optimized some stops and ran even a few more segments. At any rate, I was glad to have been able to finish the race strong, and even run 9 miles at a decent pace the next day.

40 miles in a weekend. Not too shabby. I feel ready for Dick Collins Firetrails 50 Mile!


  1. Wow - very nicely done! That's a very tough course and a great time; congrats on that! (I think Pen's friend might be Roger Ballelos - good job beating him!) I hadn't realized this was a point-to-point race and that it covered almost all the great Headlands trails!

    1. Thanks Lucas! Yes, it was a very tough course, so do it in 7:40 was amazing for me! I did look up Roger's name after the race and saw him also on FB, so I added him. Thanks and see you out there! I'm doing Berkeley Trail Adventure this weekend. Almost a year since I first met you!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.