First, parking in Mill Valley can be interesting, even at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning. It is a small tourist destination with boutique shops and a quaint downtown area, and most of the rest of the town is fancy houses in the hills. Parking is scarce, so hence, I ended up in something called 4 hour parking (from 9 am to 5 pm). Which meant that I needed to finish the race in about 5 hours (since the race started at 8 a.m.). And I knew that I was going to be hanging out at the finish line for a while, eating and hamming it up with the other runners. So, I guess I was just going to take my chances.
Mill park, the place where we start from is a pretty cool place in the shade of some old redwoods. There is a nice playground area for the kids and it seems to be a nice play to have a start to a race. Before the race some of the Quicksilver guys were going through the usual ritual of comparing muscles. Toshi always wins the calf muscle contest, so we went with biceps this time. Mark Tanaka(the guy on the right), was cheating a little bit, I guess he felt a little insecure about his contribution to the gun show...
|Quicksilver Muscle. Credit: Marc Laveson|
Someone said go, and we were off. This race is kinda funny because everyone takes off from the starting line, and then within like 150 ft, we reach the stairs, and start a slow slog up the mountain that makes it look like much less of a race and more like a bunch of fools walking up some stairs at the end of November in not nearly enough clothes. I kept a consistent effort up the stairs and thought to myself that it was not really that bad, just get through the stair section and then get the wheels going. It all seemed to work to plan and I was cruising in the top ten, feeling pretty good about myself. Then came the long slog of a climb up to cardiac hill. I knew it was coming, and just sort of geared down and grunted it out, but a couple of people passed me on this section, including Caren Spore, the womens course record holder. That didn't bother me too much as I knew she was completely capable of beating me in this race, and I knew I would have a chance to reel some people back in on the descent down into Stinson Beach. At the top of Cardiac is the lone aid station between Mill Valley and Stinson Beach. I was all loaded up with everything I needed, so I just cruised through. Our brilliant Quicksilver racing team leader, Greg Lanctot, was volunteering at Cardiac, and was busy all day taking pictures, giving us special treatment, and feeding us valuable intel on the other runners.
I was happy to be going back downhill again and basically cruised this section down to the beach. I did pass Caren again, as well as everyone else that had passed me, and was feeling like I was not wearing myself out or anything, just doing my thing. There are sections of stairs in all kinds of places on this course, stairs of all shapes and sizes. Even on the downhills they were messing with me. I couldn't use my long downhill strides that usually give me a leg up on my competitors, and with all of the choppy, concentration zapping, tip-toe action I had to pull off to navigate down the steps, I guess it was just taking a toll on me, but I was still feeling good.
I cruised through the turn-around at Stinson and headed back up the hill. This was where I found one of the useful aspects of this race. I was able to see all of the runners in front of me, and how far in front of me they were, as well as all of the runners behind me. Another cool thing is, you get to see all of your running club teammates, and get to cheer them on, and they get to encourage you too. That is a nice pick me up when you are working that hard. Of course Caren passed me again going up, her strength is definitely her climbing. Another guy caught up to me, David Smith. We ran for a ways together and chatted it up. He interrogated me about the fastpacking that I was doing and it was cool to loose myself in a convo while getting the climb over with. I got back up to Cardiac and just flew through again, and David stayed to fill up on stuff.
The downhill was fun, bounding over the roots and rocks and basically feeling like a kid running down a hill. But then, more steps! They just keep hitting you, in little sections, but they just seem to zap the momentum. I was catching up to another runner and then finally hit the final long section of stairs back down to Mill Valley. This is where David came bounding past me, showing how a veteran takes the stairs. David has been running the Quad since 1996, I was 16. So much to learn. I just felt like a bumbling idiot trying to time my steps so that I could take two at a time, only to start to loose my footing and get scared of falling the rest of the way, then backing off to one step at a time, it was really annoying. Marc was out on the trails cheering us on and he got a nice picture of me descending. I know my brother Josh would love this picture because he digs my running shorts.
By the time I had reached the turnaround I was feeling a little on edge, but I thought to myself, all I have to do is put a even effort at climbing those steps one last time and then have some fun. It was hard, a lot harder than the first time we went up those stairs. But I got through it. Then as I hit a stretch of trail that I could start opening it up on again, I noticed that I didn't have any pop in my legs. It was strange. 15 miles into an ultra and my legs seemed dead. I thought it would pass. So I hit the small downhill before the slog back up to Cardiac, and things seemed to start to get back to normal. But then that climb just really got me. I ran through Cardiac again, and started the downhill. This time the downhill felt much different. I was just trying to get my composure back after that big climb, I couldn't really build up my speed at all. And then, we hit the steps again, and it was not pretty. A few guys were passing me on this section and I realized that I had slowed down a lot. I got down to Stinson Beach again and knew I just needed to get this last leg over with. But I seemed already defeated. My legs would feel like cramping, so I would back off a little, and then I would try and pick it back up again, but it was just not working out for me. I got back up to Cardiac for the last time, and then cruised back down to the finish with whatever I had left, and it wasn't much. But I finished: 18 place in 5:16. The finish was fun. Toshi cheered me in, and then I turned around and watched a whole cohort of Quicksilver runners come in behind me, including womens second and third place finishers, Amy Burton and Clare Abram. Got some pizza, and chilled out. BTW, this was one of the most beautiful days for a trail race in the Headlands ever. Views forever on the coast. It was fantastic. I didn't chill out too long though. I started to get nervous about me parking situation and decided to get back home. Luckily no ticket, maybe the community just knows the situation every Saturday after Thanksgiving.
I had estimated, based on other runners finishes in this race in previous years, and comparing their performances in other races that I have run, that I should have been able to get in the neighborhood of 4:40 to 4:50 range. On a bad day I thought I could still break 5. Turns out this is a much different race than what I am used to. I had thought that Mission Peak would have been a good analog, except for the stairs, but Mission Peak trails are generally well groomed fire-roads- not much tip toeing going on there. The climbing wasn't a bad analog, but the muscles you use when climbing stairs are a little different from the ones used to climb a steep hill. I am going to have to think about how to approach the training for this race if I do it again. A local reporter interviewed me after the race and ended the interview with the question about whether I was going to come back and do it again. I said that is a tough question to ask someone right after they just got done running a race that took over 5 hours and destroyed their body, but I also told her: maybe. She walks away and says: you'll be back. She is probably right.