This race is renowned for it's beautiful views of San Francisco and the ocean from it's highest points. We, on this day, however, saw none of it. The weather called for a 30% chance of rain and cloudy conditions. It got a little worse than that.
I flew down to Oakland the day before the race and was met by John Brooks, fellow Canada Ultraman finisher. I actually crewed for John at the Ultraman two years ago. In return, although not necessary, he would pick me up, let me stay at his house, and crew for me along the race course. One of the first things John said to me was if I had any poison oak soap. Never even knowing there was such a thing I said no. I guess there's a bit of the stuff out on the course but it doesn't react with you until a couple days afterwards so after the race you shower with this stuff. I did just that and still have no effects, thankfully, because it doesn't sound like much fun if you get a lot on you.
We went to his place and met his terrific wife, Maureen, kids Cody, Austin, and Wyatt then went to get some stuff for dinner. They were commenting on the rainy weather being more like February than May and that they never got this much rain around this time of year. Figures.
I went to bed at the decent hour of 9pm for the early wake-up of 3am. The downside to getting free room and board in Oakland was that it's about an hour drive to the start line in San Fran. The weather was looking better first thing in the morning as I could see the lights all the way across the bay but that's the only view of the Golden Gate I got until after the race.
I borrowed from John an old long-sleeved cotton shirt for the start of the race because beint the optimistic me, I only planned on wearing a short-sleeved tech shirt and shorts, rain or not. I spoke with some people (okay, three people) after they had done this race last year and the consensus was that you could definitely do this course in just road running shoes, it's that non-technical. Cool says I. I was in my basically brand new Adidas Supernova Glides with 57 miles on them and they looked as clean as they did coming out of the box. I looked around and saw others in road shoes so I didn't feel at the time that I'd made the wrong choice.
We started at 5:40 barely in the light on the beach. The surf sounded cool, we just couldn't see it. I had heard that you had to go hard for a couple hundred yards to a single track section so as to not get stuck behind some slower runners. The single track led up a nice section of hill to a paved road that wound up forever and with no wind I started to overheat in the cotton shirt. Off it came and I wrapped it around my waist. John said to just chuck it when I was done with it but I couldn't throw someone else's stuff away after I borrowed it.
I was feeling good and didn't stop to refill my two water bottles at the 6.2 mile aid station. I have to honestly say even when I re-read the course description now I can't remember exactly going along the trails that are stated there. I remember the aid stations and some of the trails, but I never really knew where I was all day. I'm just going to hit the highlights and try to give the reader an idea of some sections.
At the Muir Beach aid station, 16 miles, I saw John for the first time and he refilled everything and made sure I was doing alright. I think he even said I was only ten minutes behind the leaders but I doubted that. I remember coming out of a forested section at about three hours and noticing that it was raining. It didn't stop after that until an hour to the finish. Thirty minutes after that on Coastal Trail I missed a right turn and did a harsh trip down a 'steeper than the steepest section of the course' for about ten minutes until I realised that I hadn't seen any flagging tape for a while. With it being so windy and foggy I didn't really look up all that often for fear of going head over heels. There was a guy a minute or so behind me and I was wondering where he was. I stopped a couple times but he didn't materialise out of the fog. I decided to walk back up this monster and if I ran into this guy then I was on the right track. I didn't run into that guy. Crap. I eventually go to the top and saw my mistake. I knew now that any chance of doing well was probably over but as this race was meant mostly to be an experience done at an easier pace it only bothered me for a short while. I tried to control my speed but I was working up a good sweat even in the rain and wind. On this ridge there was only a narrow goat path cut in to the side of the hill to follow and with the horizontal wind and rain and fog it was tough to see anything or anybody.
I got to Pan Toll at mile 21 and told John of the screw up. He was great helping me with stuff I can't thank him enough. The next section was a lot of forest with more of a technical feel to it so that made it go by quicker and before I knew it I was a the Bolinas Ridge station, mile 28. I almost didn't refill my bottles all the way up until someone told me it's quite a lot of rolling then a steep downhill to the next one so I grabbed more water. It's a good thing I did because I was getting slower and slower and drinking the same amount so the time between aid was increasing. This rolling section had a ton of big puddles along the way by I could mostly go around them and avoid total soakers. It was before the steep downhill that the leaders started passing me coming back from the next aid station (we turned around at the bottom and basically reverse the whole course minus a little bit). When I could see the next station at the bottom of the hill a girl in a red jacket passed and I thought that could have been Nicola Gildersleeve who will be in Belgium next month at the World 100k. She's from North Van and I've never met her, only seen pictures from races but it was hard to tell what everyone looked like all bundled up and wet. At the bottom (Randall Station) I found out we were more than halfway, 35 miles. I grabbed my first solid food, PB & J and a piece of banana. Didn't go so well on the steep uphill.
I caught up to the red-jacketed girl and it turned out to be Nicola. We chatted for a bit until she needed a nature break and I kept going. The next time I saw her was at the finish but it was a sad reunion as she retired at Pan Toll due to hip problems. She'll be up there in Belgium for sure. It was before Bolinas Ridge again that I started feeling the effects of only wearing a t-shirt. I envied the people coming past me in coats and gloves and pants. I thought at the station if John was there again I'd grab my Wet Skins jacket. It would be bulky and heavy but better than nothing. When I got there he wasn't. A woman asked what I needed and I said a coat. She offered the one off her back but I said I couldn't take that from her because she had to stand out in those conditions but at least I was moving. She then said she had a rain poncho so I jumped on that. It was brand new out of the tiny package but that monster unfolded into a queen-sized piece of material! It went to my mid-thighs but as soon as I took off I knew it was the best thing in the world. I honestly think that poncho saved my life. Knowing that the exposed ridge section was coming again and the wind would blow right through me I needed something.
Not to be disappointed the wind and rain was brutal going back the other way until we got into the forest again. I made a mental promise to be a bit more prepared for the next race. If there had been sections of high elevation I would have had more but the highest this race got was around 1600'. I took two advil around the 5:30 mark and when 7:30 came around was going to have two more to ease some knee pain but when I went to get it from my water bottle holder's pouch, they were was basically the consistency of tooth paste. Maybe that was a sign I didn't need to take it. That or I should have put them in something to protect them from the rain.
At Pan Toll again someone mentioned how good my poncho looked and if I'd had the time or energy I would have explained how good this XXXL piece of kit was working. Although at one point on the ridge it blew up over my head making me stop and sort it out. John wasn't here either having to shuttle some runners to the finish area. There was only an 80% finish rate this year, the second lowest ever.
It was around this point with 13 miles left to got that my mental state started to go. I was doing a fair amount of walking on the hills and only going moderately faster on the downs. I was determined to keep going but at the same time I didn't want to wreck myself for two weeks, or longer with an injury, and miss out on the training for Belgium. That was another goal for this race - don't fall and twist or hurt something! Another annoyance: My shorts were so wet they were clinging to the insides of my thighs and, 1) impeding my legs going forward while running, and, 2) chafing like you wouldn't believe. I felt like I had a mini-skirt on and I kept hiking it up so I could move forward. Thankfully it stopped raining soon after and my shorts eventually dried out enough to stop rubbing.
At the Hwy 1 station, 54.7 miles, John was there and thankfully we exchanged outerwear, me getting his yellow running jacket that actually fit. A first for me - I had to make an emergency pit stop at this point. Never in a trail race have I had to squat in the woods but there I was, paper towel in hand, that's right, paper towel, ten feet into the bush. It seemed to rejeuvenate me and I could sense the finish.
The final aid station was at 58 miles and they said there that it was two miles up then all downhill to the end. Those two miles were really, really, really tough. Steep suckers and I could barely walk up. After that, though, I started on the down and once I could hear the finish line it was gravy. I could actually see the ocean as well because the fog had lifted slightly. So nice to finish and sit down. My legs felt pretty good all the next day and even with my road shoes I had not a single blister or hot spot. Are my feet actually getting used to this?!?!
A tough day had by all but great to be done and with most of my goals accomplished:
No new or aggravation of old injuries
Use this race as one of the qualifications to getting into Tour de Mt. Blanc next year
I wanted to finish between 9 and 10 hours and had I not gone off course I might have. Maybe next year.
I have to thank John and his family for putting me up for the weekend and Jim Stewart for getting me down to San Francisco. Also the CarboPro powder, 1200, and Thermolytes are still doing the trick.
Me at the finish looking cooler with John's jacket on
Nicola and Peter at the finish
Tia Boddington and me at the finish
Wow there really IS a bridge around here!!