Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Mount Tamalpais 50K (11/11/12)

When I visited the Marin Headlands above San Francisco for the Coyote Ridge Trail Run, it was love at first sight and I couldn't wait to go back.  When I learned that Inside Trail Racing, the same folks who put on the Folsom Lake race, were holding a race at Stinson Beach/Mount Tamalpais, I jumped at the opportunity.  Mt. Tam is the prominent feature of the Marin Headlands, and Stinson Beach is the location of the trailhead to the famous Dipsea Trail.

When I thought it couldn't get any better after Coyote Ridge, this race proved me wrong.  In terms of the course, Mt. Tam 50K is probably the hardest I've ever run, rivaled only by Mount Disappointment.  In terms of scenery, I don't think any other race I've run can rival this one.  Half of it was climbing or descending huge hills in the deep pine forests and the famous Muir Woods, and half of it was doing the same on the coastal hills open to sweeping ocean vistas.  Additionally, it was a clear sunny day and the temperature was perfect.  

This was by far the largest NorCal race I've run so far.  There were hundreds of people there for the four different race options (10K, half marathon, 30K, 50K), and quite a competitive turn-out as well.  There were a couple of La Sportiva athletes, including the virtually unbeatable Leor Pantilat, and a few North Face runners as well, including Devon Yanko (Crosby-Helms).
Start, with Pantilat on the right (beast mode)
The race was a blast.  It begins with a ~3-mile climb through the forest, which I tried to take pretty easy to feel things out.  My calves were actually pretty stiff from the previous weekend's climbing.  On the long descent after the first aid station, I ended up latching on to a small group of runners which included a guy named Lucas and Devon Yanko.  We took the descent as a group, basically, and then on the next climb I found myself running just with Lucas.  We were running essentially the same pace and energy level, it seemed, so it was good company and we really enjoyed all the fantastic views and trails.  

Lucas and I ran together for several more miles, down the next big hill, through the second aid station, and then to the next big up hill, which was 3 or 4 miles long.  It started with a mile or two of switchbacks, and then opened up into longer stretches high up above the ocean.  It was a long, seemingly endless climb, but never too steep.  Half way up this climb or so, Lucas and I caught up with another guy named Charlie.  The three of us ran together or close to each other for the last  2-ish miles of the climb probably until the next aid station at the top.  After that aid station came my favorite part of the course.  It was about three miles back down to Stinson Beach on the Dipsea Trail.  When it entered the woods, there was a nice section of soft trail through the pines that curved gradually downhill.  It was so pretty and smooth, I couldn't resist opening up a bit.  So I started flying down the hill and having a lot of fun doing it.  Soon enough, I hit the stairs that the Dipsea Trail is so well known for.  I bounced down those feeling great until I reached the 30K mark back at the start/finish area.

Charlie and I coming into the aid station, ocean in the background
From there, I headed back out to run the half marathon loop, which was 14 miles and the same as the 30K loop except with one section taken out.  On the first climb up through the woods, I felt better than I had felt running up it the first time earlier.  I was running by myself now and really enjoying the solitude on these stunning trails.  Soon enough, I was back on the big hill near the ocean leading to the last aid station.  I assume it took me a little bit longer to run up this time than it had the first, but I still kept it pretty steady.  It took 40 minutes to ascend, and definitely beat up my legs pretty good at this point.  So I was really excited when I got to the top to the final aid station, which meant my favorite section of the course was all that remained.  Again, I went flying down through the pine forest and bouncing down the steps, often two at a time, until I reached the parking lot leading into the Stinson Beach finish line.  

It was awesome to see my good friend Eric there, who had made the trip to San Francisco with me to run his first half marathon at this race.  He couldn't have chosen a more difficult course to run as his first, but he did it and loved it, which is awesome.

I can't get enough of the Marin Headlands...can't wait 'til I find an opportunity/excuse to go back again!  And ITR definitely knows how to put on a fun and quality event.