San Francisco 50 miler Race Report

I “ran” for 50 miles in the Marin Headlands outside of San Francisco, and it took almost 15 hours so I thought I’d write a bit up on it.

On a run on Saturday with HTREx, a couple running friends, Wim and Gerda, from Houston who live in SF offered up a place to stay if I wanted a trip out (Wim would be running the 50 mi).  I knew it was going to be hilly, so I thought I would check out the race details.  Hmm… 10,000 ft of elevation change for all 50 miles… and the most I’ve done is probably half that.  There is a 16 hour cutoff (due to the fact it also was a 100 mile event)… so it seemed “doable” but needless to say, should be challenging for a flatlander like me: my only goal was to simply finish under the 16 hr cutoff.  And in hindsight, if I knew how hilly it really was, don’t know if I would have signed up, since there was no prolonged flat parts; basically running up and down hills the whole race, and not these 300 ft hills I’ve experienced in the hill country, they would be several times larger.

some hills up in here....

some hills up in here….


Additionally, the course would have views of the Pacific Ocean, Golden Gate bridge, and surrounding Bay Area to add to the scenic value.  And I would get to escape the scorching temperatures down in Houston, even if only for a few days—the starting temperature was around 50 degrees, whereas the high back in Houston I’m sure was around 100.


Start line at Rodeo Beach

Start line at Rodeo Beach

Race started at rodeo beach… nice and beautiful view out to the Pacific Ocean.  It was a “low key” 50 mile/100 mile race as only about ~70 folks were signed up for both races in this 1st year event, put on by Coastal Trail Runs (awesome aid station support and course was well marked. Nice swag and definitely would consider doing another of their races again).  The race director set us off right at 7:00 am and I began the long hike as all the California speedsters blazed off past me up the first hill, I stuck to my pre-race plan of walking all the uphills, and doing my best everywhere else on the course.  The downhills are what kills your quads, and it would make no sense for me to waste my precious energy and strength running uphills (especially since I didn’t train for running them) when I hadn’t run a race like this before.

Course started off with a ~900 ft climb over about a mile and half.  Yeah, a little bit hillier than running around Houston.  I was enjoying the hiking and the getting to explore a totally new trail.  Some steps going up, and some relatively technical footing in some areas of the first section (but overall the course is not technical at all).

Came thru the Tennessee Valley aid station, got some PB&J, and headed out for the next scamper on the Coastal Trail.  Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, it was pretty gorgeous, and somewhere along this section, it felt pretty awesome and  I knew I was going to have a good time, regardless of the outcome.  I got out my phone to take a picture, and saw my friend Amy had texted me a good luck message.  Some friends were all back in Texas running a race in the evening, where the starting temperature would be around 100 degrees… here it was about 50 degrees at the start…I’ll take this any day…..

Coastal Trail sweetness

Coastal Trail sweetness

Don’t remember too much about this section other than some nice singletrack and wasn’t too hilly in this section.  Then you DROPPED into the Muir Beach aid station.  Man, that was fun running down that hill, like a 400 foot drop in less than a mile, and you could see the beach and water and some houses below.  That was a pretty awesome feeling.

descending to Muir Beach... just a *little* more scenic than running repeats on the Kemah Bridge.....

descending to Muir Beach… just a *little* more scenic than running repeats on the Kemah Bridge…..

Refueled at the A/S and then began the long climb back up, up, up, in the same direction you just came, but then taking the turn up the big hill.  This was a 1000 ft climb which seemed to never end.  The fog was quite thick in this area, and I could barely see the runners in front of me.  Started feeling the effects of the hills, but throttled back the pace when I felt like it.  Finally that hill topped out and began the descent back to Tennessee Valley on what was probably the favorite stretch of trail I’ve ever run. Went from desolate and shrubbery on the top of the hill to nice forested singletrack at the bottom of the switchback.  I prefer forested areas,  so it was nice to see some trees.

Refueled again at TV then headed out another LONG climb (~900 ft) through the fog. Still was tracking by a few people, but folks were pretty sparsely spread out over the 25 mi loop course.  This hill mercifully ended eventually, which meant it was time for a TWO MILE downhill. Whoa! That was pretty awesome running down for that long.  After a while, I took a little break to conserve my energy a bit, even though my body was still feeling pretty good.  Eventually the hill bottomed out and then there was probably the only flat section leading to the next A/S.  One of the volunteers commented on my Seabrook Lucky Trails shirt (didn’t expect to find anyone with any Texas connections out here) so I chatted away a couple minutes with them (I spent WAY too much time at the A/S’s this race, but I was in no rush as my only goal was simply to finish under the 16 hour cutoff).

Headed out of there and back out to the hills.  This is about when I started feeling it, the temperature felt like it was warming up, but in hindsight, my electrolytes probably got off a bit.  Didn’t help coming from Houston where the water consumption is much higher due to the heat, but I could tell I was still sweating quite a bit (and my shirt was soaked from running through the fog all morning….).  This area is where I started seeing some of the leaders retracing there steps (the 25 mile loop was run in reverse order on the even numbered loops), so these folks were HOURS ahead of me, and looking strong.  Sure would be nice to be able to train on hills like this all the time…  Started feeling a bit of a cramp in my hamstring, so took a little salt, and relaxed the pace a bit on what seemed like another brutal hill.

Eventually I rolled into the final A/S, where I was feeling a bit rough, but OK.  Dipped a banana in table salt, and chased it with a shot of coke. The volunteers enjoyed my sour face from that experiment and one of the guys had some connection to Texas running, so we chatted a bit as I tried to stabilize.  Left there, still feeling off, and hiking down the mostly road section to the last 4 miles of the loop.  Definitely the easiest section, and mostly on the road downhill.  And oh yeah, in this section you could see the Golden Gate bridge through the fog, which was quite lovely.

nice views on the way...

nice views on the way… Who says running is boring?

Eventually I made it to the halfway point after about 6 hours 20 mins, but was feeling a bit rough. Didn’t think I had drank that much, but maybe wasn’t taking enough salt. Sat down and refueled for a bit and there was a German Guy there.  He offered me some drink which “we didn’t have in the states”. It smelled like paint thinner but I took a few sips anyway. What is this? Oh, I dunno… it’s basically pure alcohol… it will relax your stomach. <Ummm… I think I’m done with that.>  Me and German guy then began hiking out of there up to the next A/S.  Soon, I felt like my ‘second wind’ hit me, as I guess my electrolyte balances got restored and felt like a million bucks again.  Returned to the last A/S feeling a million times better, and refueled, and headed out again.

Was pleasantly surprised I was still hiking at a pretty good pace at this section.  Passed by one of the scenic overlooks of the Golden Gate Bridge and the wind was gusting pretty crazy up there.  Tried to get a nice panoramic picture, but unfortunately it didn’t come out right on my iPhone.  Said goodbye to the bridge, and headed back down the hill.  This was another 2 mile downhill!  My legs were somehow still holding up, at least it felt like they were OK.  Made up some decent time and made it back to the short flat section and refueled.

This was somewhere around mile 34 where the mental game we all experience at some point in a race transitions from “Am I going to finish?” To “Yes, I’m going to finish!!” and was feeling a bit better.  Unfortunately another 2 mile uphill, which didn’t seem that steep, but couldn’t seem to increase my hiking speed any….problem is I’ve already run 35 miles and cover 6-7,000 ft of elevation change.  A Pretty Blonde Girl glided past me up the trail, and I asked her if she wanted to run a stretch for me.  Not this year, maybe next year PBG…..

The scenic views across the valley and hills across the way continued up and up, and eventually the hill got close  topping off through the fog, which was rolling past us like a wave, where I surprisingly found one of my host’s, Gerda, waiting at the top of a mini hill.  I guess her husband was already done, and she felt like coming up here to visit.  Soon that beast of a hill topped out, and got to enjoy another long downhill on a jeep road. That one was pretty fun to run and my legs still felt relatively strong, all things considered.  Rolled back in to TV aid station, refueled, and headed back out. Gerda asked me if I wanted a pacer for 8 miles…so why not.  I am an introvert, but you are still kind of starving for human attention after running for 10 hours and barely seeing anyone.  We started hiking back out of TV up the big 1000 foot hill. I knew it would end… but it was quite tough climbing up that one.  Some sections reminded me of Ice Cream Hill, except this one was like 3 times larger and longer.   More fog, and wonderful views on the top of the hill, then the descent back to Muir Beach.  At this point, my downhill running was rather “ragged” to put it nicely.  My quads had definitely lost some strength now, and running down was a bit tougher. And actually the ones that hurt the most were some stabilizer muscles connecting to my foot that I used on the downs, that probably had never been worked that hard….


the treat for climbing up the hills....

the treat for climbing up the hills….

Took a long break at Muir Beach, and headed back up the hill.  This was some more great views of the Coastal Trail, but my “running” was pretty much over at this point.  It was slow going, but still felt good all things considered. Having to run right above the coast of the Pacific Ocean doesn’t hurt either.  Was a flat section back to the last aid station at Tennessee Valley, but I didn’t feel like running it much.  I needed a nature break and was hoping to get to the A/S in time, where we then met Wim, Gerda’s husband, who also ran the 50 and was already done.  Chatted a bit, got the fleece jacket (the swag from the race), as the sun would soon set and I was already beginning to cool off.  I think I consumed 3 cups of vegetable soup at the TV aid station, which was pretty damn good.  Got my light on, and headed back out for the last 5 mile stretch to the finish.

First climb up wasn’t too bad, and I honestly didn’t even recall this stretch from the beginning of the race some 13 hours earlier in the day.  Soon the sun set, the temperature started to drop, the grade of the hill increased, and the fog thickened.  It was almost like driving your car in the fog, except I could only really see about 5-10 feet in front of me in some sections, and was a strange feeling to be hiking up the hill, but unable to tell what’s coming ahead or where the trail even is headed!   Started seeing a few more of the dozen 100 mile runners coming back for loop 3 in this section. Man, this would be TOUGH to navigate this in the night for the 100 mile runners… I’m glad I’m not one of them. One of them asked me if I was the 100 mile leader… Uh, no, dude, hah.  Finally the hill crested out, and that was a sweet relief, although judging by my watch, I could tell we had to drop 800 feet in a mile?….. so it has to start… sometime soon… right? The last hilltop was pretty neat – pitch dark, could hear the waves from the ocean crashing against the shore below, a foghorn blowing, and seeing a lighthouse light flickering every few seconds out to the night. Pretty cool feeling.

Eventually I returned to the steps, could feel the cool condensation on the handrails as I guided my descent to the finish…and the downhill continued to drop, drop, drop.  Not too long, and then down the last set of switchbacks, you could see the finish line that I started over 14 hours earlier.  Finished in 14 hrs 43 mins, was a beautifully epic run.  As tough as the hills were, I never felt like quitting and kept it at a ‘reasonable’ pace the entire day.  Second to last, but couldn’t care less….And immediately started consuming food to replenish the 6000 calories I expended.  Definitely want to come back to the Marin Headlands…

Rocky Racoon 100 2013 038