Saturday, March 1, 2014

Golden Gate 30k Race Report 2/8/14: It's fine, we really needed the rain.

The wind, though...

Especially when you also have to deal with all of *this*

A little drought relief finally came in the form of a few days of total downpour across Central California just in time for Coastal Trail Run's Golden Gate trail race in the Marin Headlands. Chance of rain on Saturday morning was Infinity%.

Traffic directing volunteers: much respect.  

The start had the group of us standing on the road under an angry sky, waves crashing next to us onto Rodeo Beach, listening to Wendell's ribbon instructions (polka dot means a turn is coming up, blue is bad). Some wore rain jackets. Some wore garbage bags, and some wore ponchos. I chose a light rain jacket and a hat to keep the rain out of my face (fat chance). The morning air was warm. The rain was light but steady, and the wind was threatening to make things interesting. We took off up the Coastal Trail on the first big climb.

A couple miles and 900 feet uphill later, I was welcoming the downhill toward Tennessee Valley. Just past the stables the aid station was set up under a canopy, and I stopped for just a minute before heading out on the orange loop. The next 5.6 miles would take us back up another climb of 900 feet or so and loop around the hills to bring us back along the coast. This would be the start of things getting interesting. For one thing, mud...for another thing, wind.

The good news was that when the wind wasn't blowing in a weird haphazard swirly pattern, it was blowing heavily inland, meaning, at least it wasn't trying to sweep me out to sea. The funny thing about that, though, was that as the wind was gusting, I was leaning into it pretty dramatically, so when it would abruptly stop or change direction, I had to fight the momentum and keep from immediately running sideways off the side of the hill. Action/Adventure became the theme of the run at that point. I plowed along repeating to myself, "don't go off the side...don't go off the side."

And let me tell you, by this point, the folks in garbage bags had pretty much nothing left of them, and a guy on the trail in a poncho can look like an angel or a demon depending on which way the wind is getting at him. At one point I raised my arm to take a drink out of my handheld bottle and almost punched myself in the face with it because the wind said no, I don't think so.

My only focus was on making it back to Tennessee Valley which was about the halfway mark. Also, I was banking on the fact that the wind would be calmer inland down on lower ground and maybe for the rest of the race!

Nope. Running the Tennessee Valley trail at sea level for a little over a mile back into the aid station was just as, if not more brutal. I didn't have the fear of flying off into oblivion, but now I was getting pushed around on flat ground and running underneath big trees that brought the wind to life...or the wind brought the trees to life. Either way, I was running like something was out to get me.

Finally, I approached the Tennessee Valley aid station! The plan was to refuel and in general, just regroup for the second half of the race. Except, the aid station looked different than when I saw it on my first pass...I heard another runner say what I was thinking...

"You had a canopy last time we were here, right?"
"Yeah, now it's in Oakland..."

There was a table and the skeleton of a tent above it. On the table was one bowl of something, maybe pretzels, soaked in water. They still had plenty of fluids, but for a split second I panicked...there's no food here, there's no aid, there's nothing here!

I was wrong, though. These people are here. 

One guy said to a volunteer, "Thanks for being out here!" The volunteer grinned and replied, "We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for you!"

Heh. Well played.

Another volunteer directing us out of the aid station was pretty enthusiastic in directing us up Marincello,  "Next aid is 4 point something's beautiful at the top of the hill!"

Seriously, who were you guys at the Tennessee Valley Aid Station. Heroes.

The climb up Marincello to Bobcat was something I was prepared for but definitely not looking forward to. It's another 900 ft climb in under 2 miles. Normally, there are beautiful sweeping views of Sausalito, Tiburon, and Mount Tam, but I saw nothing but a thick blanket of white.

Somewhere out on Bobcat was where I saw a guy in front of me with a video camera or maybe it was just his phone or whatever. Anyway, he definitely was documenting what we were up against out there...blowing fog, gusting winds, and noises that sounded like Jurassic Park or the Smoke Monster from Lost. I have never been so sure in my life that a T-Rex was about to appear out of the fog in front of me. The wind blowing through the valley was making noises that were bizarre enough to really sound terrifying.

There's a short stretch on Alta trail that runs through a grove of Eucalyptus trees (also scary in the wind) before putting you on a residential road that leads to SCA trail. SCA trail is the very definition of single track. It's a one foot in front of the other kind of trail with the hill on your left and a drop off to your right. Actually it starts off by running you directly behind a house on the side of the hill with giant windows that have sweeping views of the Marin Headlands, so you start on the trail feeling jealous of whoever lives in there.

I ventured out on the trail just behind another guy. He started getting blown around a little and slowed way down, so I backed off. I got caught in the wind almost immediately and got my breath taken away. My hat ended up being a face mask to block the wind so I could breathe. That wasn't even the worst of it.

A gust came up. The guy in front of me completely stopped and threw his arms around a medium sized boulder on the side of the trail. I pressed on until a similar gust reduced me to the exact same maneuver. I stopped to grab a boulder so I wouldn't get blown off the trail. The guy eventually let me go around him, and I kind of charged on.

There's that moment in every race where you haven't seen a person for a half hour or so, you haven't seen a ribbon marking the course in what feels like a half hour or so, and you start to question whether or not you are actually the last person on Earth. Add to that the fact that you've just experienced the most dramatic weather conditions in a trail race that actually had you questioning whether or not the race was cancelled and everybody went home except for you.

I looked out and expected to see the Golden Gate Bridge. It's my favorite stretch of trail...but everything was fog. I knew it was right in front of me...but I couldn't see it. It was some kind of reverse Planet of the Apes type of thing.

The last part of the course followed the road for a while before dropping down back to Rodeo Beach.

I loved this race.

I never would've experienced these conditions, as insane as everything was, if I hadn't run this race. I feel a little tougher, a little stronger after braving that weather on my favorite trails.

Thanks, Coastal, for putting on a great race. Thank you, volunteers for being out there.



  1. Third in your age group! And I suspect you feel a little more than a little tougher - those were gruesome conditions - the huge congrats is for sticking it out and getting it done! I've done that race in much better conditions and still felt like that wind was going to throw me over the edge - this sounds like it was hugely worse.

    Thanks for this post (and for not getting eaten by a dinosaur).

  2. I loved this race report! You are so awesome.