“Wait! Stop! Just LOOK at that EFFING city! Oh my god!”
That pretty much stopped me dead in my tracks and made me laugh, out loud. When Stonegate sees a view that she wants to capture, she makes sure you (and everyone else around her) knows about it! 🙂
Last year on a whim, I reached out to Stonegate and asked if she was interested in running the Headlands Trail Marathon with me. She was … so we did and we laughed… a lot.
So when sign ups came for the 2016 Headlands Trail Marathon we both jumped at the chance, not really thinking too much about our fitness level and mileage.
I have had a few longer runs under my belt recently, nothing more than 15 miles or so though. Stonegate however, had not really run much more than 7 since her 50 mile race back in April. Still, we went into this run looking for fun and adventure. Pure and simple. No expectations. No agenda.
We arrived in Mill Valley late afternoon on Friday. We bummed around town a bit checking out the shops and planning our post-race meal location for the next day. This town is absolutely adorable. We crashed at our friend Mill Valley’s place just as we had last year. We made her a plant-based dinner in exchange for two comfy beds to crash in pre-race and a nice shower post-race. We are super lucky to have her and she is one of THE nicest people I have ever met.
Saturday at 4 am my alarm started blaring and we began getting ready. We arrived at the race start pretty early. We sat in the car until race registration opened up and we could go get our bibs and use the restrooms.
The race start is steps, literally, from the ocean. The temps were breezy and cold but the salt water air was a refreshing change from the pollen and smoke filled air of the central valley.
When race time neared, we headed back down eager to get the day started. While milling about waiting for the pre-race meeting, we ran into Miss P and Pearls (named for her Pearl Izumi shoe obsession – which by the way, she’s super sad the shoe has been discontinued, but she’ll always have her nickname!).
While also hanging around, we noticed two people wearing shirts that said VEGAN in super large lettering. Of course I had to say something. I sort of walked over and said, “Awesome shirt! Woo Hoo, go vegan!” The conversation started and we all talked about being plant-based and learned that Vegan Skott, who was from Boston, was running the Headlands Hundred! Rachel, his crew, was assisting him. Super sweet people!
The race director jumped on top of the water fountain and gave us a little pre-race briefing. After that, we lined up at the start.
Different from last year, the marathon started at the same time as the 100, 50 and 75 mile races but instead of going right, we went left to tack on an extra mile to make our distance equal 26.2.
There seemed to be a lot more marathoners this year than last year. You spread out pretty easily though so there is no stepping on feet or anything but it does take a minute or two to get some space.
My legs felt a bit heavy from the start. They had not quite woken up yet and I hoped that the sensation would eventually fade otherwise it would be a super long day.
I knew it wouldn’t fade right away though because the start of this race is up hill. Like REALLY up hill, for quite a while with very little break. Like hands on hips hiking straight into the fog up hill.
The central Valley allergies were still present. My chest felt tight and my right eye started watering. Stonegate affectionately started calling it my “leaky eye.” It was annoying but we kept hiking.
A quarter of the way up, we noticed something moving on the side of the trail. None of the other runners seemed to see it. It was a coyote! It had been at the start and now, it had run up the hillside and was watching us runners run by. It blew me away that no one else seemed to notice, or maybe they didn’t care. We stopped and took photos. Of course. 🙂
Unlike last year, the fog never seemed to dissipate. Last year we were rewarded with some amazing views of the ocean from the top of the hill but not this year. This year, we saw fog and lots of it.
Still we ran the flats and hiked the up hills stopping to take goofy photos along the way.
The fog also didn’t deter us from taking photos on amazing cliffs overlooking the ocean.
When we reached the aid-station at Muir Beach, for some reason I glanced up and saw that someone had placed a plastic pig on top of this sign hanging from a lamp post.
Because I am a dork, I pointed it out to Stonegate and the whole aid-station heard and they all started laughing wondering why this plastic pig was just sitting there. I assumed it was kind of a weird treasure hunt game thing. 🙂 Only I would notice something as random as that.
After that aid-station we were back on the trails hiking back up hill. One of the things I told Vegan Skott before the race had started was that he might enjoy the many “eco-systems” that we’ll get to run thru throughout the day.
Maybe “eco-system” isn’t the right word but it is the best way to describe running from a cliff beach like setting into something that looks like it belongs in a rain forest!
These “rain-forest” sections are my absolute favorite. It brings a huge smile to our faces and often draws out an “Awe yea” or “Look at this!” from one of us.
From the rain-forest eco-system you are then thrust into an urban/city-like touristy eco-system as the trail has you running high above the freeway one minute and then down below the Golden Gate Bridge the next.
You run a paved road down until you are underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s kind of crazy. The aid-station is at the bottom and this year it was closer to the bridge. Stonegate and I stopped and added some water to our pack. This was about mile 20 here.
We got to see Vegan Skott arrive. Rachel, his crew had this mini-van that was full of plant-based food and she invited us to have anything inside that we wanted. She also offered to get us coffee to have at the finish. This girl is crazy sweet. We wished her well and told her we’d see her at the finish.
As we were making our way back up the hill, we looked to our left and did a double take. A bunch of people were gathered around this guy who appeared to have the largest gold chain and what looked like a gold roll of toilet paper hanging from it??!!! He was also rapping … about being under the Golden Gate Bridge. They were apparently shooting a rap video?! It was the craziest thing and totally unexpected!
We climbed back up the way we had come. Slower now, as it was uphill and there were still runners coming down. The trail leads you back across the windiest section of the race. Last year Stonegate almost lost her visor. This year she was prepared and she held it in her hand. The trail even has ropes on either side to keep you safe.
Back across the we went. Stonegate I think was starting to feel a bit off at this point. The girl hasn’t run more than 7 miles so I don’t blame her. I think her stomach had decided it was done. She battled some nausea the last few miles or so.
We would run and then stop to walk. She urged me to go on without and I wasn’t quite sure that was a good idea. This race wasn’t about time or performance but at the same time, sometimes when you are not feeling well, the best thing is to be left alone.
So I told her, “Let’s run some. If you need to stop again, I will just keep going. Don’t feel you have to rush to the finish or anything though.” So with about 2-ish miles to go, she stopped again and I continued on.
I have to say, those were the longest two miles ever. My legs had regained some energy somewhere along the run, I think back on the “rain-forest” trail so I had some pep in my step. I ran and cheered on all the ultra-runners who were coming back up to start their second loop of the race.
The trail along the ocean was pretty but never ending. You had the ocean to your left and a parking lot to your right. Lots of spectators were standing about which was nice as they cheered for you as you ran by.
Finally, I made the turn to the finish. There wasn’t much hoopla. A few claps from people but boy did it feel nice to be done! Stonegate finished not long after either. We’d made it, we finished the Headlands Marathon despite our lack of training.
We chatted with Miss P and Pearls for a bit. Said hi to Rachel and wished Vegan Skott well on the rest of his race. As it turns out, he didn’t finish the 100 but stopped at mile 50. Having only trained in Boston, that was one tough 100 to try and run. Kudos Skott!
Stonegate wanted to jet out of there as we had to get cleaned up, eat and hit the road so that we could be home for the last concert in the park with our families.
Overall, it was a great day. The cool temps were great compared to the warmer temperature last year but I did miss seeing the views just a bit.
I am super lucky to have Stonegate who is open to adventure on a moment’s notice. She dug deep on this one and finished. Not sure if this will be on our calendar for next year. We love visiting with Mill Valley but maybe we’ll pick a different race? Who knows, but no matter what, it’s always an adventure.
(Finish time: 5:44, 1st AG)