a.k.a - “Am I a Mountain Goat?” Extravaganza
Saturday, March 22, 2008, Marin Headlands, Sausalito, CA
Pirates Cove was my “virgin” trail running event last year with the 20k, and I was excited to come back and face the challenge this year with the 30k. Wendell and Sarah of Pacific Coast Trail Runs (www.pctrailruns.com) always put on great events, with their motto being “Runs that Aren’t Races in Beautiful Places.” There are no great prizes at the end, just the knowledge that you completed a competitive and challenging course . . . with the greatest aids stations
It’s funny how time helps fade the memory of agony, which is sort of what happened with this event. I remembered that the first portion of the trail was uphill for a good mile or so (as well as the treaded 1.25 (or longer) mile climb in the middle), and planned to start at the back of the pack and walk it, which I did. As one smart individual advised me last year, “Only the really good or stupid runners try and run the first hill.” (A) I’m not a really good runner, and (b) I generally think I’m not stupid, although that theory was challenged this year.
My running buddy, Karen, had planned to stick with me for awhile, and bless her heart, she did. However, after the second steep climb, at the top of which she was waiting for me yet again, she announced, “This is the last time I’m going to wait.” So I promptly handed over the cars keys, said good luck, and didn’t see her again ‘til the end.
This event runs along the Marine Headlands in the San Francisco Bay Area, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Runners are gifted with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, the Bridge, and Sausalito, which I suppose are intended to help alleviate some of the pain and agony the unprepared or uninitiated will experience. I took a few picture postcard photos at the beginning, but cursed the thought during the second half of the run.
The event was sold out with approximately 500 people participating, 100 in the 30k. The 50ks and 30ks started promptly at 8:30, with the 12ks and 8ks sent out approximately 15 minutes later. We had just reached the lovely straight up, ever-shifting shale rock climbing section when the 12ks started catching up. (What? Holy cow!) When safe, I dutifully stepped to the side and time again and marveled at these runners’ ability to traverse this mess without slipping and falling. (Surely there’s goat somewhere in these people’s heritage.) It was at the top of this particular climb that I bid Karen a fond farewell, as previously mentioned.
We were still sort of packed up at that point, and coming down the hill to the horse stables, this loud belch erupts from the guy running behind me. I congratulated him on its productivity, and assured him I wasn’t at all disgusted while trying to discreetly wipe remnants from the back of my head. ;o)
We hit the first aid station, I stuffed a few goodies into my baggie and split from the 12ks. I was only a few minutes up the trail when I had to stop and deal with a hot spot on the top of my big toe. In the approximately 5 minutes it took me to disengage myself from the hydration pack, fix the spot, and put my shoe back on, nary a soul came by. I had seen a large group of people waaaaay ahead of me, but fearing I’d gotten off course, I backtracked a very short distance until I saw an orange flag, then turned around and retraced my steps. Thus began the extensive, lonely climb to the top (At least there was suppose to be top. Right?). About 10 minutes later, a recreational walker was coming downhill toward me, and since I had neither seen nor heard anyone else, I asked him if he’d seen any orange flags up ahead. “Yep, there’s lots of people ahead of you. You’re not lost.” A breathless thanks and I kept climbing, and climbing, and climbing, and freaking climbing.
This is when I realized I might be in trouble. You would climb 20, 30, 40 minutes at a time, 20+ stairs at a time, have a flat or downhill for 5-10 minutes, then start climbing again. It was unbelievable. I had looked at the course map and understood there was a good amount of elevation change (3,500'), but obviously didn’t comprehend what I was going to be up against. My legs are were talking to me way too soon, and I began to doubt my ability to finish the run.
Except for the occasional recreational runner, walker, biker, I was on my own for a very long time. At one point, just as I was about to start another climb (stairs this time), an older couple came down around the corner. He smiled at me and said, “You may be the last, but you’re looking pretty in pink!” (Running Attire: pink shirt, black tights w/pink stripe down by legs, and awesome DirtyGirl pink gaiters) I told him that they’d at least be able to find me if I died on the trail. A few minutes later as I stood on the stairs catching my breath, here comes another runner from out of nowhere. She passed me, but must’ve been in her own zone ‘cause I didn’t receive any kind of acknowledgment of existence. I don’t blame her.
About 20 minutes later, I hit a wide service trail and started the descent toward the second aid station (same station as the first). I had to incorporate my downhill zig-zagging because I knew my legs couldn’t handle a straight approach. I passed a couple of female participants who, besides the lady who passed me earlier, were the first runners I’d seen in probably close to 1½ hours. Once the road flattened out, I started running/walking, trying to figure out how I was going to make it through the next 7 or so miles. Suddenly from behind me I hear, “It looks like you’ve done this before.” One of the women I had passed had caught up to me, Anissa. She was referring to my zig-zag approach, and I explained that it lessened the pressure on my quads. We powered-walked into the aid station together, refueled, and left together to make the 1.25 mile ascent that I’d been treading since the beginning. It was really nice to have someone to commiserate with about the climb. We both thought it sucked and questioned our ability to keep running once we hit the top.
About halfway up the hill, my stomach started acting up. It wasn’t really nausea, but it wasn’t comfortable, and I felt bloated. I also kept getting a little light headed and would have to stop and walk a few steps, even on the flat sections. Anissa stay with me for awhile, but I knew I was holding her back and told her to go on. She asked if I wanted her to send someone back for me but I declined, determined to finish this thing come hell or high water. Although Anissa ended up a good distance ahead of me, whenever the trail bent at an angle where she could look back, I would see her checking on my progress, which was greatly appreciated. I kept trying to eat, but it became nearly impossible to swallow. My body just didn’t want to cooperate. I kept drinking, but my stomach felt so pressurized, I was worried about drinking too much. It sucked.
After awhile, I came to another service road and started another descent. At Mile 15.32, I came upon Anissa attending to a mountain biker who was down on the ground. He looked to be in a lot of pain, so I thought he had injured a body part. Ended up the guy was having a heart attack! What?!? Anissa asked if I knew how far the next aid station was, I told her I didn’t, but would get there as quick as I could. You know the ole saying, you never know what you can accomplish until you have to? My adrenaline was pumping so fast and I ran as hard as I could, praying the aid station wasn’t too far away. Thank God it was only .20 from where the guy was down! I ran up the hill yelling, “Hey! Hey! There’s a guy having a heart attack! Hey!” The worker called Wendell, who called the park rangers and 911, and the last I heard, they thought the guy was going to make it. Anissa ended up staying with him for over an hour, but came in only 34 minutes behind me.
I asked the worker if I could sit down in his car for a few minutes. My hands were shaking so badly at this point from low fuel, I could hardly hold a cup of water, and I actually felt a dizzy spell try to come on. After a few minutes, though, I sucked it up, put my pack back on and trudged out of there with one of the workers promising me it was all downhill now. At this point, I was intermingling running and power walking, sometimes talking to myself, “Left, right, left, right,” to keep my legs moving.
About 2 miles or so from the finish, I had a sudden need to go to the bathroom . . . really bad. The problem - there are lots of people around, the only grass about knee high, and there’s a lot of poison oak. Nowhere to hide, nowhere to squat safely. Ho-ly smokes! Ack! I was forced to stop a couple of times to try and compose myself before continuing on, constantly surveying the area, trying desperately to find a spot where I could go to the bathroom. At some point I just told myself, screw it. If I mess myself, well, it won’t be the first time, there are showers at the end, and I have clean clothes in the car. Thankfully, the Running Gods were carefully watching over me, as they had been the entire time, and allowed me to keep my dignity.
Now, in the back of my mind I was remembering the wonderful patch of sand we had to run through last year at the end. I began talking to myself, psyching myself up about getting through the sand. You can do it! You know you can! I left the service road, and crossed and began running along the frontage road, wondering where it would turn back to go over the sand. I soon realized this was not going to happen, and my confidence was bolstered somewhat. Also, all along the frontage road, people were out just to enjoy the beautiful day, but had nothing to do with the race. However, many would start yelling for me as I approached them, “Go 3000! You can do it 3000!” (my race number) and it gave me that little bit of umpf needed to push through last quarter to half mile to the end. As I charged up through the parking lot toward the finish line, I could hear my friend, Karen, yelling, “Come on, Leslie! You’re almost there! You can do it!” After 18.80 miles, I crossed the line in 5:00:04 and I wobbled my way to a bench and sat down before my legs could give out me. I was so happy, I almost started crying, and did finally break down when I called my husband. I had waged a war with my body and in my head for 5 hours and had won!
(Exhausted but happy!)
As an aside, I’d like to acknowledge REO Speedwagon and their song, “Take It On the Run,” which played over and over and over . . . and over . . . in my head for five freaking hours. I don’t care to hear that song again for a very long time and plan to remove it from my iPOD.