“This climb is nothing. Wait until we get to Willow Camp! That climb will kill ya!” That’s what the runner in front of me told me as we were climbing up a hill called Cardiac … a name that already implies some sort of death by exertion. “Bring it.” is what I said in my head … but my body was silently screaming, “What the fork!?”
The Marin Ultra Challenge (MUC) 50 Miler has been a bucket list race of mine. I’ve run the Headlands Marathon twice and the Mt. Tam 50k already out in Marin, so I knew what those trails involved but I wanted more, I wanted to test my limits, test my fitness level and honestly, test myself.
Stonegate told me a while back that she’d come and crew me which is something I rarely have – my own personal crew! We both love those trails and we have a dear friend that is always gracious enough to let us crash when we tell her, “Hey! We’re coming your way. Can we sleep at your house?” I think sometimes we sign up for races just for the social time with her. 🙂
When race week arrived, I was nervous. While not my goal race of the season, I’ve been training for this and was in a taper period … which I hate. It is hard to go from running a lot to not much running and paying attention to all the OTHER important things like eating, sleeping, resting and recovering.
After a great evening of playing catch up with friends, I went to bed fairly early. I was eager to get this adventure moving. Race morning I was awake and doing my usual routine. I felt rested but my feet hurt.
I’ve been having various feet issues lately. Long story short, I have a cyst (or random bone) on my foot and these crazy aches and pains in weird places – not my norm. I usually don’t have feet issues but these problems have been building over the last month or so.
Since I am a nerd and plan excessively for my races, Stonegate knew exactly what to do and where to go during the day. What we didn’t know however, was how the heck to get out of our friend’s new neighborhood! 🙂 We drove around for 15 minutes completely going in circles, passing her house once. While Stonegate and I were both quietly freaking out, we were both laughing on the inside knowing that we’d laugh like hell once we finally did get OUT. 🙂
We arrived at the race start which was ocean side. The parking lot at Fort Baker was flooded so the race director had to move the start/finish area to Rodeo Beach earlier in the week.
This move unnerved me at first, but I preferred Rodeo Beach as I was more familiar with this area.
At the start, the weather was super warm and the energy was high. This event has four different distances: a 50k and a 50 Mile race that starts at 6 am and a half and 35k that started at 8 am.
The first thing I noticed was how easy it felt. My legs felt great and I wasn’t out of breath. Having battled allergies recently, this was a fantastic feeling.
The trail was a bit congested to start, especially when we hit the stairs. A lot of people, myself included, stopped to take photos.
One of the hardest parts of running in Marin, is trying really hard NOT to fall while taking in some of the most amazing views.
I was just moving along running most of the time, including the up hills. I worried momentarily that I might have been going out too fast, but I just felt good so I went with it.
Around mile 10 my one foot started to burn, like I had some hot spots on the bottom of my foot. I rarely get blisters or have blister issues so this was strange.
I just kept running telling myself that Stonegate would be at the top of Cardiac and that I just had to get to her. I decided that would be the best spot for her to hang out all day as I would see her at 19.8 and then again at 29.3.
Just before the Tennessee Valley Aid-Station (mile 10.5) I ran into Miss P and Pearls both of whom were doing the 50k distance. So nice to see and run with them for a bit. They were motoring at a good pace and I just hung on enjoying the company.
After the aid-station, Miss P ran up ahead and I ran with Pearls for a few miles before she just disappeared. They both went on to have great races. They are crazy strong runners.
The next aid-station after Tennessee Valley was Muir Beach, another aid-station I am familiar with. This is also the point in the race where the 50ks went one way and the 50 mile runners went another. From here on out, anyone you saw on the trail, you knew was a 50 mile runner.
After the Muir Beach aid-station, I was on a mission. Climb Cardiac and get to Stonegate because my feet were killing me at this point.
Climbing Cardiac brought back so many memories of when I ran the Mt. Tam 50k with Stonegate and Burning Girl. We had a lot of laughs during that race and while at the time, Cardiac was a tough moment, I was laughing my head off during this race thinking about it.
I had a runner behind me who would occasionally get too close but not want to pass as he said I was pulling him up the mountain. Finally, I just made him go ahead … that’s when he told me that the next climb, the climb to Willow Camp, was by far the craziest climb of the race.
That big lump in the middle, that’s Willow Camp. Ouch.
I arrived into Cardiac and saw Stonegate hollering to me from on top of a cliff. She came down to check on me. She had me in and out of that aid-station fast but I told her my feet hurt and to grab the spare pair of shoes that I had in the car. I’ve never changed shoes in a race before like this, but I figured it couldn’t be much worse than what I was dealing with. I could feel hot spots all along the bottoms of both of my feet.
Before I left, she asked me if I had gotten her text. “Nope, but I haven’t had much cell service,” I said. She goes, “Ok! No worries! You’ll get it. Had a little issue but it’s ALL okay now. You’ll laugh.” Uh-oh. 🙂
Off I went down the trail to see what this Willow Camp climb was all about.
The trail eventually dumps you into the town of Stinson Beach. It’s an adorable little town, but you have to run the streets of it and particularly this big hill to get back to the trails. My legs were just not having it. I had run up a good portion of Cardiac, but after that, my legs were finally feeling the day’s efforts and starting to revolt.
The climb up Willow Camp was by far, one of the gnarliest climbs I have done. Maybe it was the fact that it comes at mile 24 of a 50 mile race or the fact that it goes straight up with no switch backs like Cardiac, whatever the reason, it can crush your spirits if you let it.
All I could do was laugh at what was before me and keep moving. I put my feet out of my mind and kept climbing. Then, after what seems like forever, you are presented with this …
What you can’t see are the single track trails just rolling in and around these hills. It was the most spectacular part of the whole course. I ran and ran and ran. I had the biggest smile on my face. I passed a few runners and caught up to a group I had been near earlier.
These hills were just breath taking but I was also on a mission to get back to Cardiac so that I could change my socks and shoes.
Right before I came into the Cardiac aid-station I passed about 3 runners. I was moving so fast they even commented on it. I just wanted relief for my feet!!
Stonegate had a chair set up and my new shoes ready. By “new shoes” I truly mean brand new shoes. I just had got them Thursday night before the race. I wore them in the car to Marin and packet pick up but I’d never run in them. No better time than the present to start.
I changed out my socks, added some blister stuff to my feet and put on my new shoes. It felt like I took forever at that aid-station but truthfully, it was probably less than 5 minutes. Off I went thanking Stonegate immensely for being there for me.
The next section was all down hill which is normally something I cherish and had been doing quite well all race. The new shoes on my feet however, felt clunky and different at first compared to my previous ones. The blister pain however disappeared and for that I was grateful.
It took a little while for me to get used to my new shoes and right about this time, I started to get this terrible pain in my toe. This is one of those familiar pains I’ve been battling lately.
Down down down down we went. These trails had lots of hikers on them and some really cool bridges but you had to follow the ribbons closely or else you might get lost.
I was part of a group and it was clear we all were tired and struggling just a little. We were more than half way done with this thing, but we still had a long way to go.
For me, I play mental games with myself. Whenever I get half way through a race, I start counting down down miles, not up. It makes the distance seem less daunting. I also just think about aid-stations, and at this point, I knew I only had three more aid-stations to go before the finish.
I don’t recall much about the next aid-station, Deer Park (mile 35.9) but I know in my head I was thinking, “Maybe I’ll see deer there?!” hahaha My brain was doing anything it could to occupy itself.
These trails are pretty remote but it was riiiiight about here that I did get that earlier text from Stonegate that I mentioned above ….
I was DYING!!! Boy did this text come through at a great moment. I am sure the stress she had to deal with was way more than my day. Crewing is never easy and can be nerve-wracking … clearly … but she also took this photo ….
Love this girl. By the time she took the above photo, her job was done. She just had to watch me cross the finish and drive my tired butt home – she deserved this chill moment by the ocean.
Muir Beach Aid-Station (mile 40.8) was next. “Less than 10 to go!” I screamed in my head. Unfortunately, I decided to stop and use the restroom here. It was convenient, open and well, I had to go. So, another few minutes were spent here that I had not planned on but it is always a good sign that things are working. 🙂
Tennessee Valley (mile 45.8) was the next aid-station and I just could not wait to get there. I was motoring at this point, or at least I was trying to motor. There were some stairs, a few decent hills to climb so honestly I probably was not going as fast as I thought I was. 🙂
I finally saw the aid-station and I just smiled. When I ran into it, the WHOLE aid-station erupted in cheers and screams … I looked at them, smiled and said, “So no one’s come through here for a while huh?” They laughed hard, “No no no, this is how we greet ALL runners. Don’t cut yourself short!” 🙂 I am not lying when I say, these volunteers are awesome.
I was there probably all of 30 seconds. I started smelling that barn and I wanted in.
I had asked the volunteers before I left, if the final two miles were up two miles and down two miles and a girl replied, “Yup, that’s pretty much it.” Um nope, not quite. 🙂 Not even close actually but it’s alright, it made me laugh every time I’d hit another hill.
Finally I hit Road 88 which I know would lead me down to the finish line. I glanced at my watch. I was a little bummed. I really wanted to finish sub 11 hours but with my shoe change and spontaneous bathroom stop, I knew it wasn’t in the cards but I know it is obtainable.
As I was cresting yet another hill, I heard “Woot woot!”It was Stonegate! She had climbed up the mountain and ran with me back down!!! So excited to have her with me that last mile!!
She warned me that I had a little up, some stairs to go down and then the rest was all downhill. It’s amazing what you forget you ran 49 miles ago. 🙂
I had been worried that I wouldn’t finish in the daylight but I totally had plenty of time and the sky was glorious as I was finishing. Stonegate took some killer photos as she was running behind me.
Finally I could see the tents and cars! I was trying to run fast but I am pretty sure it looked like I was running in quicksand.
“Just run down the big paved hill to the parking lot and turn left,” she said, “You got this!”
Besides some pain in my feet, I felt pretty good otherwise. I saw the finish arch and heard all the cheers from those still hanging around…a huge smile just permanently on my face.
Sadly, Stonegate and I didn’t get any photos of us together but the majority of these photos, unless otherwise noted, are hers. I can’t thank her enough for her support and encouragement all day. Having her there truly saved me.
I ended up finishing just over a 11 hours. Honestly, I was surprised by that as originally I thought I’d be closer to 12 hours but at some point during the race, I realized I could potentially make it sub 11 … but that wasn’t the goal. The goal of the race was to finish, finish smiling and use it as a training run. I succeeded. I was all smiles.
Sadly, I had to jet out of there as soon as I finished. We had to drive back home because I had to get on a plane Sunday morning for work (ouch, not the wisest choice but it wasn’t so bad).
Later I found out that I had won 3rd in my Age Group!! I was super stoked to hear that. The Race Director emailed me and said that he’d mail me my age group award and the finishers medal that I missed getting at the finish as they had ran out. I truly love Inside Trail Racing, they not only put on stellar events and have great volunteers, they seem like such cool people and their communication to runners is spot on.
I also have to thank Vans. He held down the fort at home not only during my racing adventure but he continued holding it down when I left for a 3 day work trip immediately after.
Overall I am pleased with my results. My body, particularly my quads were pretty sore the next day but that was to be expected. I didn’t get a chance to truly rest having flown out of town but the adrenaline of the event was still pumping through my veins. I am still smiling even now.
“Don’t limit your challenges. Challenge your limits.”
Full Disclaimer: I am not associated with Inside Trail Racing at all and was not paid or compensated for writing this report. I have run two of their other events in addition to this one and I truly believe they host stellar, challenging and thoroughly top notch events.