Pacific Coast Trail Runs – Rodeo Beach 50km
What is the lure of an ultra-marathon? By definition, an ultra-marathon is any distance over the standard 26.2 miles of a marathon race. And for toppers, let’s hold the race at the beautiful Marin Headlands with over 5,000 ft of climbing.
Sara and I drove up from Santa Cruz the night before to allow ourselves a full night’s rest. We stayed up in San Rafael at the Embassy Suites. Room services with a glass of wine (or two) and some Home Alone called for an early night for me. Sara was slated to run the 20 km race, so she wasn’t far behind me in crashing.
The alarm rang too early, as it always does. Oatmeal, some blueberries and a few cups of coffee and we were on our way. Now, I would be lying if I said I was calm and carried confidence that morning. I was freaking out!!!!!!! At least with the Ironman, I knew the course, knew what the distances would be like and trained specifically for that race. With this ultra, I had no idea what 30+ miles would be like, let alone with all of that climbing. Repeatedly, Sara had to remind me to breathe and breathe deep.
We discovered at athlete check in that the course had a couple of minor changes based on single-track up very steep terrain that was in poor condition due to the “pineapple express” that came through town at the end of the week.
As I was rushing to get my gear ready, we met up with Brian and Sati who, part of the Fleet Feet Racing Team along with Sara, drove up that morning. Brian was racing the 50 km with me and Sati was racing the 20 km with Sara. There were plenty of aid stations, so I only brought a hand-held with a pocket for GU and then a race belt that could hold my Nuun electrolytes and additional GU’s (mistake #1).
Before I had a chance to recheck all of my gear, I was listening to the race director as he was getting ready for the final countdown. What a blessing in disguise! Less opportunity for me to freak out.
If you’ve ever seen a start of an ultra-marathon, it is not what you expect. Nobody go out dashing energy conservation is key. Brian and I started off running together. Our first mile was around 8:25…I knew I couldn’t keep that pace but I also knew I wasn’t going out too fast.
Up came the first hill. I told myself that this was expected and to walk the steep sections, but run when I could. Brian tore ahead of me and I could watch him passing people (he will later admit that he went out too fast). As we cusped the first major hill, I was in a pack of three other runners, all around the same pace. On the single-track decent, it was very tough to pass anybody. In a shorter race you pass at will and keep the burst going, but in an endurance race passing isn’t the object during technical passages.
The first aid station came up pretty quick and I ran right through it. More single-track and another pretty steep hill. At one point I didn’t see another runner for 8-10 minutes so I was getting quite nervous. I asked a lady walking her puppy if she has seen other runners and her reply was “a lot.” Now, the 50 km racers and the 30 km racers all started at the same time, so I didn’t get too worried at the amount of runners in front of me. With a race well over 5 hours, plenty could happen.
Another mountain summit and I noticed runners coming back up a hill towards me with bib’s on. I kept going with faith that I was on the correct route. This decent was very steep and incredibly muddy. Since I wasn’t fully trained for this race, I opted to run with my Altra The One road shoes that I wore during Ironman Arizona in mid-November. I didn’t have enough time to adjust to trail shoes (mistake #2). I was slipping and sliding down the path. At the bottom there was a half mile run to the aid station before turning around and heading right back up. I saw Brian and we gave each other a high-five. The sun was starting to come out so I cleaned off my sunnies, powered up with some caffeinated gels, a quick PB&J and then headed back up the hill.
Going up was much worse than coming down. On the wet and muddy sections, I couldn’t get any grip with my Altra’s. I kept sliding back down the hill. Caught a few familiar faces on the way up to the top of the out-and-back. The next section may have been the toughest as it was a very long decent that wasn’t too steep, but just enough to make you change your running style. From there we ran a nearly flat section for a few miles. This must have been the toughest section for me; less than 1% incline, dehydrated, beautiful mountains everywhere…I think I was hallucinating. I made it to the aid station and Brian was resting a bit.
He told me to take a minute and he was going to start walking up the next major hill. So off goes Brian and I slam some water, Gatorade, Cliff gels and as much food as possible. I catch up to Brian and we walk for 10 minutes. I take off very slowly up the hill and before I know it I’m at the top and going through some single-track…and loving it! A dark section under beautiful eucalyptus trees couldn’t smell any purer and then we were running downhill in the main valley of Rodeo Beach. There were plenty of streams running down the hill so careful foot placement was key. We hit the flat section and I was able to pounce down to a 9:00 pace. I hit the finish area and I knew that I was only 30km done with my race. I saw Sara & Sati, beers in hand, cheering me along. I spoke with the race director and he informed us that the race was roughly 3.5 miles short.
Off I went on the 2nd loop. I told myself on the next major hill that I would run the sections of shadow and walk in the sun. This worked well as my pace didn’t slow too much and I was able to keep my chest high as I hiked up. On the 1st loop I was flying down the backside with a group of runners at a quick pace, but during the 2nd loop I could just feel that my pace was significantly slower. I wasn’t able to jump high over rocks or logs because my knees couldn’t handle the landing.
Made it to the aid station where I again loaded up on as much food as my dry mouth could handle. Brian showed up 4-5 minutes later and we walked up the entire next major hill. Our pace was around a 15:00 mile, but we were enjoying ourselves. Chatting about triathlons, his job at the local running store, aspirations in running and the beautiful scenery around us.
At the top we ran the single-track together but as soon as we reached the downhill section Brian just took off like a lightning bolt. “Why slow down when your body wants to fly down these hills? You use more energy slowing yourself down!” says Brian. As he was flying down at a 6:30 pace, I was enjoying a subtle 9:15 pace for a couple miles down to the valley floor.
I knew that Brian couldn’t keep a fast pace to the finish because he was hurting. I was somehow able to bust out two 8:20 mile’s and catch him with about .75 miles to go. From there, we were able to run slowly next to each other all the way to the finish line.
We crossed together and then immediately went for the burgers and beer! A Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was the greatest drink in the world at that very moment!
So with my first ultra-marathon completed, I’m as happy as can be in my 30th year of life. The total race was 27.15 miles, so the next morning Sara and I slept in and then went for a 3+ mile run just so I could get a total of 30!
Get out there and race!