Golden Gate Headlands Trail Marathon
My goal on this course with over 3000 feet of wicked climbs and a torturous beach run on each of the two loops, was to break four hours. To put it in perspective, former Trail Runner Trophy Series champion Scott Dunlap did 3:45:40 in 2004 (when Dean Karnazes did 3:30). Ordinarily I might have shot for 3:45 but I had been feeling worn down for the last couple weeks from Chuckanut.: very slow workout times.
I showed up to the park at 7:30am as a volunteer to help Dave Horning and the rest of the EnviroSports team, and helped direct cars to park. The weather was perfect: sunny and just cold enough. I wore my lightweight New Balance racing flats, because I knew the course was really not technical at all, and there shouldn't be mud. I carried only my cell (to radio ahead for supplies if necessary during the first loop) , a gel packet (the park service won't let Dave give them out) and Oakley MP3 shades.
The marathoners got to start before the shortcoursers in this race. At the start two runners took off quickly up the hill of the Coastal Trail and there was a smaller lead pack after them. During the climb I restrained myself from trying to stay with the lead runners as I would do for anything half marathon or less, and stayed back with the "chase pack" of four or five more runners. We climbed to the top, eventually climbing the infamous stairs. Then over the rolling ridges of the Wolf Ridge Trail turning left onto Old Springs Trail (unlike the 7 milers who would turn right onto the Miwok trail)l we descended to the horse stables. Just after the stables, around mile 4, there was an aid station with water and sports drink. I chatted with the volunteers, and surrendered my singlet to a volunteer in the face of the hot morning.
Then back up the "second grind" to 800 feet. There's another aid station at mile 6.5 with pretzels, crackers and trail mix. Down the Marincello Trail to the Rodeo Valley Trail which flattens out at the valley floor. Crossing a parking lot there's an aid station with water before a small but steep climb up to Conzelman Road. Then pounding down the highway for a mile (ouch!) to get back onto the trail to the starting area.
Rebecca (also volunteering today) was waiting at the start/finish area handing out drinks to the marathoners to steel them for the second loop. I gave her my cellphone (no need for it today), got a water bottle from her (definitely need for that today) and started in on the second loop. My split for the first half was 1:44 and I was feeling great. So despite my original intentions and my full upcoming ultra schedule, I was then determined to run 3:45. That gave me a couple hours to do this loop that I had already run and which I like so much.
I had no problems on the climb. Once I got to the top of the second grind, around mile 5, I stopped to enjoy the view (as Dave says to do) and take some Advil as my legs started to ache. I also looked behind me and saw noone remotely close. I stopped at the aid station and wolfed down some pretzels and crackers before the next descent, still feeling good the whole way. I drank at the last aid station and still didn't see anyone coming down the mountain.
Once I hit Conzelman Road again the road made my legs quite sore. I'm just not a roadrunner and I slowed down quite a bit. After a few minutes, I finally did see a chaser. Howard Wood was behind me, looking strong and clearly gaining on me. He pulled alongside and we chatted for a bit. We were both doing 50 milers in a couple weeks, thought of this as a training run, and were in no mood for a kickfest. So he graciously offered to run in with me. But he looked way too strong and I declined his generosity. He surged ahead onto the trail. I followed, not trying to chase him down. Good thing: once off of the final trail onto the beach sand, now the sand did faze me. I shuffled through the dunes pretty slowly and came up off of the beach having to sprint a little bit to hit my goal on the nose: 3:45:00.0, and fourth overall.
After another ten minutes or so, other finishers started coming in. The sand seemed to affect everyone. This is one race where the finish photos probably show everyone looking bedraggled.