Saturday, December 17, 2011

North Face 50k Marin County California

If you ever find yourself at a loose end in San Francisco the first weekend of December, Martin and I can thoroughly recommend filling your time with this ultra marathon in the beautiful Marin Headlands.

I cannot however recommend the 5am start to catch the bus and freezing your a**** off waiting for the start (as illustrated!). It was pitch black when we arrived and seemed to stay pitch black until about 5 minutes before the race started - when the sun suddenly decided to make an appearance and it got light.

I started this epic journey with low expectations of a decent performance. Since the Mablethorpe marathon our training had gone sadly to pot and our only preparation was a couple of 20 mile hilly long runs done at a woefully slow pace. However it became apparent that we had not lost as much fitness as we thought.

We started at a conservative pace and enjoyed the easy mile or so before the first of the climbs began as we headed up to Wolf Ridge from the Golden Gate Recreation Park where the race began. Apart from the gradient the running was easy on wide tracks and the first aid station was soon reached where I found it necessary to skip the refreshments and make use of a conveniently situated porta loo, much to Martin's disgust. When I came out he delighted in telling me that at least four women had got ahead of me. In a bid to shut him up I upped the pace and gave chase. It turned out that he was exaggerating slightly and we soon caught and passed the one female who had actually overtaken us but also the two other women who had been ahead of us anyway.

As we settled back into a more sensible pace the path followed the coast as it headed down to Muir Beach and then began another serious climb up through Mount Tamalpais State Park. Up and up and then up some more until we finally reached the summit and the point where the 50 mile race, which had started 2 hours earlier than us, split from the 50k route to do an 18 mile loop. Up until this point we had been steadily passing other runners but as we began the tortuous descent down into Muir Woods we suddenly had about 6 - 8 people charging past us and it took a while to realise that we had been "lapped" by the leaders of the 50 mile race. These were serious competitors vying for the $10,000 first prize and they left us for dead.

Shortly after this Martin took a nasty tumble, stubbing his toe very badly, and both this and the climb back up out of Muir Woods combined to slow us down. No sooner had we reached the top than we started heading back down and Martin managed to bash his toe on another root and fall over again. In a bid to win the Bringing the Club into Disrepute prize he let loose with a string of words mostly beginning with F and at full volume, only to go round the corner and find himself face to face with a pair of elderly and very po-faced hikers who obviously had not appreciated his outburst. We slunk shamefully past and tackled the next hill hoping they had not had time to see Maiden Newton Runners on our shirts!

The race consists of three connected loops and we had now completed the largest loop and were heading back towards Muir Beach - Martin seemed to get a second wind at this point and set a furious pace, passing a few other runners and causing me to wonder how long I could stay with him. Fortunately the climb back up from Muir Beach is a killer and slowed him down somewhat.

A short downhill section brought us to the last aid station but one - just before another major climb and as we left this I was about 20 yards ahead of Martin causing him to call out that he would see me at the finish. I assured him that he would catch me on the downhill and concentrated on scaling the mountain ahead of me. The legs were beginning to suffer now and the gradient was sufficient to slow me mostly to a walk but it did at least give me the chance to shoot the odd appreciative glance at the fantastic view although mostly, I am ashamed to admit, my gaze was firmly fixed on my feet as I laboured upwards. I comforted myself with the thought that there were only 7 miles to go.........

I had two goals left - one was to finish without being overtaken by the first woman in the 50m race and the other was to finish under 5 hours. Unfortunately the first of these failed as I reached the last aid station. I had but a moment to bask in the calls of "first lady" before a much larger burst of applause and cheering and the first 50 mile female caught me up. In a bid to keep up with her I ran all of the following hill, but she was in a different league than me (her average pace for the 50 miles was 8.32!) and she soon disappeared from view.

The last few miles were hard, I kept checking the GPS and was still on for sub 5 hours and as the race finished with a downhill and then flat section I tried to up the pace but my legs were unco-operative and it soon became clear that the distance was actually in excess of 50k and that the 5 hour target was not going to be reached. It was with great relief that I finally reached the finish - 51.5k and almost 2000m of climbing in 5.03.36, 12th overall and first lady. It has never felt so good to stop running!! Martin kept me hanging around for a while before crossing the line in 16th place and 5.11.19.

We spent a couple of hours at the race HQ enjoying the lovely sun and free food whilst we waited for the presentation.

Martin made the most of the free beer - it was supposed to be one free beer per runner and pay for any extra but they weren't keeping a very close eye on it and he managed to have at least three!

I nearly got my prize from the internationally famous ultra runner Dean Karnazes who had run the marathon......but unfortunately his son chose the exact moment that the 50k prize giving began to finish the marathon and Dean rushed off to see him cross the line.

All that remained was to catch the bus back to San Francisco......and party!