Thursday, January 6, 2011

Running in a Cloud at the 2010 Headland Hundred (and Four) Mile Run

My second straight year running PCTR's Headlands Hundred Mile Trail Run (August 7-8, 2010), I encountered literal and figurative fog.

view from the start, featured on the race shirt, but we don't actually run on the beach or on those rocks

The course underwent yet another change this year.  I had earlier inserted a map from last year's race, but accidentally deleted it, and couldn't find one on the web.  Conzelman Road, part of the course last year, was removed, due to National Park Service closure for renovation.

This was the course used for the Headland 50-Mile Race three weeks prior (same weekend as Tahoe Rim Trail 100).   It was going to be doubled for the 100-mile race.   I was a little disappointed at the loss of the SCA Trail portion, affording views of the Golden Gate Bridge, but it was still going to be a beautiful course.

Here is the map for this year's course announced on July 29th.  As we shall soon see, I should have studied it.  Color copies were also in a stack at registration that morning.  I took one, but then decided I knew the course well enough-- the new part was just a simple out and back.  So I put it back in the stack.  (Whoops.)

Historical aside showing the importance of not-for-profit political activism:

Map of Marincello, a  failed (or rather an opposed and luckily defeated) development proposal from the late 1960's.  This would've really messed up a gorgeous area, and this race, among many others, would never have been conceived.

My prerace goals, like those for Tahoe Rim Trail, were modest, though somewhat more ambitious since no high altitude in Marin:

* Finish without messing myself up so much that I wouldn't be able to finish Angeles Crest in three weeks.
*  Not get gastrointestinal problems at mile 76 (or any other mile), as I did last year.  Jonathan Gunderson's spur-of-the-moment offer to pace me starting at mile 75 last year was ultra-serendipitous and I definitely wouldn't have finished in 24 hours, and possibly wouldn't have finished had he not been there.  However, I wasn't going to try to find a pacer
*  Finish under 24 hours without cutting it so close, which will hopefully go with 2 and rather
*  Finish closer to 21 hours so that I could get some sleep and be functional to hang out with my kids all day Sunday

Fatigue and soreness factor comparison:  last year an Ironman-distance triathlon one week prior, this year a 100-mile run three weeks earlier.

The first 12 miles were similar to last year's, though Joe and I felt like there was less pavement and more trail on the initial ascent.

1st loop

Shirtless guy zooms up the hill.

Joe Palubeski says he is going to back off from being so competitive.  I figured he was feeding me bull.  If I had dropped from Tahoe at Mile 50, I would come to Headlands looking for blood and with Nathan Yanko not running since he was running Burning River in Ohio, the win.
I also talked with Trevor White from Oregon I think, and a Rob who grew up in Tennessee Valley.

We were running an 18-hour course pace.  I would have been worried, but I felt relaxed, and was making sure not to run so hard that the breathing got hot and heavy.

The turn-off to the new section on SCA Trail was a well marked-way intersection.  By this time, I had let Joe and Rob pull away from me, and I had pulled away from Trevor (not intentionally, just how my relaxed pace turned out).  There were two sections of muddy trail, one before and one after this, invariably involving drizzle, like a permanent cloud forest.

Then I saw the steps up ahead, signifying I was close to last's year's Conzelman aid station.  I remembered descending those same steps in the other direction my last loop with Jon Gunderson.  Chances are, I wasn't going to be feeling sick this year.  This was my bridge run between Tahoe and Angeles Crest anyways.  I was out here to have fun.

My eyes on the steps, I failed to see the small, but nonetheless visible blue striped ribbons signifying a course turn to the left.  I went straight.

After climbing the steps, I decscended the trail and crossed the paved road.  Then some single track which I thought really needed some trimming, as it was pretty overgrown.  Then I came out to another paved road, gated off, closed.

Here is the shortcoming in my character for which I would be punished-- I doubted race director Sarah Spelt.  I thought she had the course marked inadequately.  Had I had more faith in her, I would've immediately realized that I was way off course.

She and PCTR comp Sportiva Mountain Running team members, while I doubt her.  Don't I suck?!

Instead, I ended up running maybe 1/4 mile down the hill, having second doubts, running back up, asking a group of recreational bicyclists and a guy running down the hill if they saw other runners going down, getting misled by their well-meaning but muddled attempts to help, and running way down the hill, almost to the bottom (where runners were crossing the road as part of the course to the turnaround literally underneath the Golden Gate Bridge).

It was a long, slow climb back up. I ran into I think Darshan Thaker, who led me to the turn-off, which, if you were looking for it, was obvious.

It was already obvious to several people running or crewing that I had gotten lost.

I forced myself not to panic, or try to spring my way back to the front pack. If I ran at the relaxed pace I had been running at, things would take care of themselves. I also realized that there would be no conversations for a while, since I would running past people, though the pace discrepancy would drop as time went on.

My revised race goals:
  1. work my way back to the front
  2. get done in 21 hours, maybe under 20
  3. and, as I saw all the women now ahead of me running up from the aid station under the Golden Gate Bridge, unchick myself.
Even with a drop in pace, 2nd loop (done in the reverse direction as 1 and 3) was a negative split, being 3.4 miles shorter (the estimate I was quoting everyone was 3 miles, but I figured this out with Garmin Connect).

I passed the last woman ahead of me leaving Tennessee Valley to the Rodeo Valley start/finish. Not recognizing her, rather than zooming past her, I thought I'd strike up a short conversation. As I came up from behind, I asked "So do you win many races?"

No reaction.

I then run to her left, looked at her and smiled, giving her the thumbs up.

Didn't even turn to look at me. She had these funky headphones in her ears. I figured noise cancelling. But girl, can you just smile? This isn't a triathlon, it's an ultrarun and it's not even the halfway mark. Please be social. So I run up ahead. Next thing you know, she's picking up the pace, either to catch up or pace off of me.

Like hell you are! I went into a higher gear..... She did win the women's race. I will give her the benefit of the doubt-- she was in the zone. And I did manage to get her to mutter "good job" back to me once later in the race. One day, maybe we'll run together for a while and chat it up.

I guess I just have a way with women...

3rd loop

Great to see Joe still commanding a huge lead (he was probably 5 miles ahead of me when I entered the turnoff that led to the bridge.

Less of a view heading to the bridge this time.  Getting foggy.

Back from the bridge, I ran into Nathan Yanko and some other woman at the three-way intersection. It was foggy. He pointed out where I should go. I told him he was wrong, it was this way, pointing in the wrong way. He tried again, I dissed him again. Finally, he told me, "all right." At which point I think I realized he was right. One has to realize that running too long can deprive the brain of adequate nutrients.  Next time I talk crap to you, Nathan, grab me, shake me, scream at me!

Coming into Rodeo, I saw the guy from Alabama walking along the road, but without Zach Landman, his pacer. (Zach had offered to pace me, but at the race, took it back figuring the outsider needed more navigational assistance. Since I hadn't felt I had to have a pacer, it was not big deal.)

Before I left the start/finish/aid aid station, a cooking grill jumped out of the dark and landed right in front of me, and hit me in abdomen, almost knocking the wind our of me and ending my race. Bastard!

4th loop

I soon I passed the Alabama guy, who was walking. As it turned out, Zach dumped him since he was going so slowly. (Alabama would later pass me when I got lost, finish 6 minutes ahead of me for 4th overall, and gain the fine name of Owen Bradley).

Coming to the big intersection after the bridge, despite having been there seven times, I was completely confused.  In addition to the dark, the fog was so thick, I could only see a few feet in front of me. I lacked a mental map.  Where to go? I stopped, walked around looking for ribbons, but couldn't see any. I decided to head up a trail, and went almost 3/4 a mile until it dead-ended into a fence. Ugh! A pacer might have helped. (On talking to some others who got lost even with their pacers, maybe not.)  This detour alone cost me 2 or 3 places, aside from the larger delay during the first quarter.

Fog in hills from the start, to give you an idea.

Brian Wyatt volunteering at Tennessee Valley aid station suggested I needed another light to hold in my hand.  (I should have figured out a while ago that headlamps by themselves don't work too well in thick fog, since there is too much glare to see the ground).  Can't remember who lent me theirs, but thanks again!  Still several more instances of walking off the path (but fortunately not off any cliffs.)

Leaving Tennessee Valley, I heard Bradley Fenner talking with his pacer, Jonathan Gunderson, who paced me last year. I imagined Jonathan egging him on to catch up and pass me. So I took off up the hill. Apparently, no such conversation ever happened.  He just wanted to finish alive.

You have no idea how many retake RD Sarah had to take to get this one clear photo of Bradley, Jonathan and me.

So, 0 for 2 at Headlands for a "clean" run.  Since I'm unable to make this year's dates the last weekend of July (if you are free, though consider running it), I will have to wait at least another year to perform up to my physical potential, without my mental and gastrointestinal incompetence.

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