Sunday, September 21, 2014

My 2014 Headlands 100 Race Report

A shot of the Marin Headlands from within.

For the serious endurance readers, this recap will be done in alternating washing machine loops so you won't get tired of reading it in the same direction. Therefore, after the first read, please reverse course and read it backwards in its entirety. Then repeat.

It's becoming a tradition among folks who run 100-mile races to summarize their experiences--i.e., brag about them--within a few days of running their 100s, so I'll commence with that straight away.

Approaching the finish of my 1st 100-mile race exactly 1 year after my 1st ultramarathon.  
This photo, and many others below, courtesy of the Slow Antelope:
©2014 Stephanie Deveau.

I ran 100 miles last weekend in the Marin Headlands! It was my 1st 100-miler and my 1st attempt at one! The furthest I had run before that was 50 miles. Yippie! 

Ok, now that I got that out of my system, I feel much better. 
I love running in the Marin Headlands! There are spectacular views of all sorts of things out there: the Pacific Ocean, the Golden Gate, the San Francisco skyline, the Bay, Sausalito, Mt. Tam, Muir Beach, Rodeo Beach, Rodeo Valley, the way the fog creeps in--the list goes on.

Rodeo Valley.

The Headlands 100 is an ultramarathon race event organized by John and Maureen Brooks of Pacific Coast Trail Runs with the help of their wonderful volunteers.

John working another all-nighter in the Headlands. 

Maureen busy making the event a success.

The Course
The Headlands 100 course is actually a 25-mile course done 4 times, not a 100-mile course done once, but the original race organizers recognized that it sounded better to call the race "the Headlands 100" rather than "the Headlands 25 Done 4 Times."

To keep it from feeling like repeats, the race is done the same way some of you will read this recap--i.e., in those alternating washing machine loops.  I think it works well (for the race, that is). 

4 repeats = 20,018 feet of climbing.
With the 4 repeats, the course has over 20,000 feet of climbs and descents. Even before I ran the race, I could tell it would be one of the tougher 100s out there. That's partly obvious from looking at the course elevation map compared with many other 100-mile races. The simplest way to view the challenge of the Headlands 100 is that you must get through 20 climbs and descents of about 1,000 feet each. The flat components are minimal.

My Intro to the Headlands
It's still unbelievable to me that I lived in the Berkeley Hills for 8 years -- 5 as an avid runner (2004 to 2009) -- and didn't know about the trails in the Headlands. I was only 15 minutes away back then, but I only discovered the Headlands trails after I moved back to Sacramento (now I'm 1 hour and 45 minutes away). I was looking for a 1st ultra; and, after exploring many options, I decided to sign up for the Headlands 50-miler.  
The Headlands course looked pretty in the photos, and I was anxious to try it out; so I went out there and did a training run. Wow! It sure didn't take long to realize that 50 miles on that course was going to be a real challenge, especially as a 1st ultra. After my 1st training run, I thought maybe I should wait and do a 50k like a normal person would do as a 1st ultra. But I also kept thinking it'd be even cooler to be able to say I've run 50 miles.  
Then I started applying those high-level skills that earned me a math degree from U.C. Davis. I reminded myself that if I run 50 miles I'd also run 50k. And, since I eventually wanted to do 50-miles anyhow, I could keep race registration fees lower by jumping right to that distance. That high-powered number crunching was all it took. My mind was made up, so now it was time to put my attorney skills to use. I wrote my will.

Fortunately, probate wasn't necessary. I finished the 50-miler, had a great time, and knew I'd be back again this year.

This Year's 100
So why the Headlands 100 this year rather than the 50? Simple: because this year the 100 was the same price as the 50-miler for people who did the 50 or 100-miler last year. By registering for the 100, therefore, I guaranteed myself twice the suffering for the same price that people running 50 miles would have. It was just a matter of smart shopping (gulp!).

Alright, maybe it wasn't just about price. There were other reasons, like the challenge and the adventure; and one certainly doesn't just sign up for a 100-mile race like that without considering whether he/she will have trained sufficiently by race day. My main concern going into the Headlands 100 was that the longest I had ever run was 50 miles. But I felt pretty good about how much running I had been doing over the last year, and especially over the last few months. I ran the AR 50 in April and several 50k races after that, including the Rodeo Valley 50k, the Pacifica 50k and the Run On The Sly 50k. I also squeezed in a lot of long, hard training runs between those races; sometimes in the Headlands and other times in Auburn, Cool or Folsom.  
One day, about 6 weeks before the Headlands 100, Sean Ranney and I went close to 50 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail (between 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.), which went through the entire Desolation Wilderness Area and was generally at 8,000 to 9,000 feet. I won't try to explain the rationale, but I figured that was equivalent to doing a 100k in the Headlands. Here are some highlights of that PCT run:

I promise to get to the race soon. But first, does anyone know where I can get a shirt that says, "Ask me about my belt buckle"? That's right, I finished!  I ran 100 miles! I got a buckle! Oh wait, I already mentioned the 100 miles, sorry. But did I mention the buckle?

The buckle. :)

Ok, now to the race: it was a weekend of coolio awesomeness! This year, there was a 100-miler, a 75-miler, a 50-miler, and two marathons (one during the day, and one at night).

The weather was perfect both days and the night in between. I can't imagine how we could have gotten luckier.  

At 7:00 a.m., we were off! I started out by wearing shorts, Hokas, and my AR 50 jacket over an old Urban Cow Half-Marathon tech shirt. I took off the jacket after about 1.5 miles on the way up my 1st 1,000 foot climb (I decided to keep the shorts and other things on). Later, I put my jacket in a bag I kept at Tennessee Valley, where I also kept an ice chest packed with Dr. Pepper, potato salad, lemonade, and coconut water--stuff for later.  

On my 1st 1,000 foot climb (#916).
Initially, I only carried one water bottle on a belt, since the aid stations were frequent enough. When I got to Tennessee Valley ("TV"), after putting my jacket in my bag, I ate a couple of slices of red potatoes they had there, topped off my water bottle and quickly headed off to my next climb and Muir Beach. It was still very early in the race, so I was trying to pace myself carefully. I had some nice conversations along the way, and later in this article I'll say more about that. 

On the way to Muir, we went down a steep path and then down lots of steps to a point called Pirates Cove. Argggghhhh! (that's the sound pirates make...).

It was pretty easy going downhill at that point, and then we all went up a little more before heading down another steep path to Muir Beach. I was still fresh, and I had done a lot of training runs out there; so I was in and out of Muir still feeling fine.  

Now that 8 miles was done, it was time to head back to TV and do climb #3 on the way. This is probably the hardest climb, and I would end up doing it 3 more times: twice from TV and once again from Muir. 

On this long, steep climb, looking back and ahead, I could see many of the same people I had seen in my pace range for the last several miles. We were settling in. The photo at the beginning of this article was taken from approximately the top of this climb. From this high point, the downhill stretch to TV is generally nice and "runnable" when my legs are still fresh, so that's what I did.   

Once I got back to TV from Muir, I was lucky enough to pirate (arrgghh!) some help from Nick's crew--i.e., Joel. I can't remember what I ate--maybe a little chicken soup?--but I left with a full water bottle and a small Dr. Pepper from my ice chest. Joel was right on it!  

I had gone about 12 miles now, and it was time to head up the Marincello Trail and do climb #4 on the way to the Golden Gate Bridge (the Vista Point aid station). I nursed the Dr. Pepper along that path and felt fine all the way. Off to the left, I could see great views of Sausalito and the North Bay and harbors. Lots of sailboats were out! I imagined the people in them sitting back, having appetizers and sipping drinks, saying things like, "I wonder what all the unfortunate people are doing today."

The Marincello Trail is a steady climb, but not too steep; then it comes to a dip and climbs a bit more before there's a quick left turn over to Alta, via Bobcat I think. Once on Alta, I climbed some more, then went slightly downhill through a pretty eucalyptus grove before I got to the SCA Trail, then climbed just a little more and finally got to the top of that climb #4. This is where we suddenly have awesome views of San Francisco, the Bay, and the Golden Gate; it's by far the windiest section of the course, and this weekend it was really the only windy part of the race (except maybe the aid station at Muir).  

Once at that top part of the SCA Trail, it's almost all a downhill path that leads us right under the Golden Gate Bridge to the Vista Point aid station. 

About 100 yards from reaching the Vista Point aid station.
After leaving Vista Point, it was time to head back uphill for the 5th climb, which meant going back up to SCA, then along Alta and back through the eucalyptus grove before starting the downhill trek that led me to Rodeo Beach and my 1st 25-mile loop.

25-miles down, 75 to go.
After 25 miles, I had some more chicken soup, ate some watermelon, drank a whole sprite, filled up my water bottle, grabbed a bottle of root beer (Virgil's) from my other ice chest, and headed out the direction from where I had just come to do my 1st reverse-course loop.  On the way up that 6th climb, I saw my friend, Ellisa, (mentioned more below) headed downhill.  I handed off what was left of my root beer.  She took a sip and loved it, even though I thought by then it would have gotten flat. Then we each continued on our way.  

Now that I've described going through a full loop of the course and the sections between each aid station, I'll mention some more about why the race was fun.  

I thought the event was especially fun because several running friends and acquaintances were out there, too.  Some were there to crew for other runners, and others were there to race various distances.  It was always nice when we'd see each other on different passes or at aid stations.  For those of us running, when we'd cross paths, each time a little more beaten up than the last, we'd check in, give high-fives, thumbs'-up, encouraging words, etc., and then continue our forward momentum. Here are some of the people who made the race extra fun for me:

Ellisa and Nick Capraro, Amanda Hugnkiss, and Joel Carson
My friends, Ellisa and Nick, came from Sacramento and brought two other friends, Amanda and Joel. I've run with all of them before. Nick ran the 50-miler (fast!), and Ellisa and Amanda did the marathon (Amanda tacked on some more miles after the race to get in 50k of training).


Within the last year, Ellisa and I have done countless training runs together on Wednesdays in Auburn or Folsom. Those runs always involve a good amount of climbing, and I'm certain that doing those workouts was a big reason why I had the necessary fitness to finish this 100.

Joel, who has run 100 miles before, was at Headlands to crew for Nick; but he also helped me when I came through Tennessee Valley a couple of times before the halfway point. People who have run 100s tend to be experts at crewing, and Joel was a perfect example of that.

Joel and Nick

Martin Djengo Sengo

It was great to see Martin at different points along the course and run with him for a while in the mile 35-38 zone. Martin and I met on virtually the same course a couple of months ago when we ran the Rodeo Valley 50k and realized that we had an awesome mutual friend, Sarah, who recently ran her first 100 at TRT. This year, Martin did the Headlands 50 and finished well, so I have a strong feeling that he'll be back at Headlands next year to do the 100.

Me with Martin on the Marincello Trail approaching the Tennessee Valley aid station.

Tina Borcherding
Another nice surprise was when I heard someone call out my name just before the start of the race. It was Tina, whom I met less than 2 months ago at the Salt Point 50k when I was there to sweep. Tina came to the Headlands to crew for and then pace a friend of hers. She also took a lot of great race photos.

One of the lucky things about running into people you know who are crewing for others is that they usually end up doing some crewing for you, too, if you go through an aid station where they are. That was the case whenever I saw Tina at an aid station. Plus she gave me a ginger chew at just the right time when I left Muir Beach on the 3rd lap (about the 58th mile). I never felt sick to my stomach, but it did feel a little unsettled a couple of times and made me feel weak. One of those times was when Tina and I were at Muir Beach. I think she was a bit surprised when she saw me later near the Golden Gate Bridge feeling much better.  The ginger chew worked.

Tawnya Dozier: Surgery at 100k
If the right person kisses you on the cheek, you might not want to wash that spot for a long time. Likewise, when Tawnya Dozier pulled my shoes and socks off after 100k, cleaned my feet, opened her doctor's bag, pulled out a number 11 scalpel, sliced a few blisters, then quickly bandaged my feet and put my socks and shoes back on, I wanted to leave those bandages on a little longer for sentimental value. Yep, she even had her doctor's bag with scalpels!  Lucky me!

But she did more. At that 100k point, I told Tawnya that I was convinced I wouldn't make the cutoff because my pace on the 3rd 25-mile loop of the course was going much slower than each of my first 2 loops did.  I told her that if my 4th loop takes at least as long as my 3rd, that would have me finishing past the race cutoff time. 
Tawnya insisted that I not worry about it. She said that my 4th loop would be faster than my 3rd. "What, Tawnya? Are you kidding? How am I going to get faster after I put in more miles? If anything, I'm only going to slow down because I'm using up my energy as I go!" Tawnya then said something like this: "Trust me, I've done these before. When the sun comes up, you're going to get faster. Right now is the hardest part of the race and when you'll run the slowest, because it's dark and late. Just trust me!"

I was skeptical, but I trusted her enough to reestablish an intent to keep going after finishing the 3rd loop. As it turned out, she was right: my 4th loop went much faster than my 3rd. Thank you, Tawnya! (and for the apple sauce squeeze packs, the Mentos, the double espresso shot, the chicken soup, the phone call to the other crew members at Vista Point telling them to give me potato soup when I arrived (yum!), etc.).

In addition to being an amazing endurance athlete who ran 200 miles around Lake Tahoe just a week ago, and being a full-time mother, medical doctor, and wife (Bull's), Tawnya stayed out there all night from Saturday and into Sunday afternoon to be a crew person for a friend of hers, Pen Perez.  Then she paced Pen from mile 88 to mile 96 (they were right behind me on that stretch and caught up at TV), then packed Pen's supplies and some of mine at TV and drove to wait for us at the finish. Tawnya is Superwoman!


David Thull
In the early miles, I was fortunate to get to run a bit with Headlands 100 superstar, David Thull, who finished his 5th Headlands 100. David and his veteran ultra buddy, Kyle Cirrincione, were usually running together as we all made the 1st three climbs. It was a pleasure chatting with each of them about things like when and how much Dr. Pepper to drink (that's David's secret of success, so I picked his brain about it as much as possible). They picked up the pace on the 3rd of our 20 climbs as we headed back from Muir Beach to Tennessee Valley, but not before we all enjoyed a spectacular view of Mt. Tam, the beautiful green hills below it, and a sunny layer of fog as we approached a eucalyptus grove. I think David got that on video.

Kyle (left) and David (middle).

Before (and after) my 1st Headlands race, I watched David's inspirational YouTube videos of the Headlands 100s that he's done. They're very well made. I'd recommend watching his videos to anyone contemplating a Headlands race.

Why, etc.

If I were to condense all the reasons why I run far, and consider the source of my energy and determination to do all the running I do, and attribute my drive to get through a 100-mile race to one single source, the best answer I could give in one word is, "Happiness."

My Finish

My 2014 Headlands 100 Race Report

A shot of the Marin Headlands from within. For the serious endurance readers, this recap will be done in alternating washing mach...