Tamalpa Headlands 50k

I had a great time at the Tamalpa Headlands 50k last Saturday! It’s tough to argue with an extremely aesthetic single loop course traveling through the most famous trails in the Marin Headlands and Mount Tamalpais region including Dipsea, Coastal, Matt Davis and Miwok. These trails are renowned for good reason – the coastal scenery is spectacular! Along with the beauty, the course also packs a punch with over 7,300 ft of elevation gain over seven separate hill climbs. After a couple year hiatus, this classic event is back and doing extremely well! Race directors Tim and Diana Fitzpatrick did a phenomenal job organizing this race and a huge thanks goes out to the multitude of volunteers that did a fantastic job at the aid stations, directing runners at key intersections, and at the finish area. I had solid performance finishing first overall in 3:53:03, 3.5 minutes shy of the one and only Dave Mackey’s impressive course record. It was great to finally run this classic course and event!

The start at Santos Meadows, photo by Dwight MorejohnThe start at Santos Meadows, photo by Dwight Morejohn

The morning dawned cool and foggy which was nice for trail running and it stayed foggy the entire way except for a couple mile stretch from Cardiac Hill to the beginning of the descent of the Matt Davis trail into the forest towards Stinson Beach. I felt good for the first 8.5 miles to Rodeo Beach except for a wipe out on a slick bridge through lower Tennessee Valley. I acquired some sizable scrapes, but it was only a short diversion from the task at hand. I was running nicely through to the aid station at Hwy 1 (14.5 miles) – a good clip but yet still comfortable. I started to feel bit tired on the big climb up the Dipsea trail to Pantoll and lost a little focus here. I was reegenergized when I climbed above the marine layer to enjoy stupendous views over a sea of fog with the hills at Pt. Reyes and the Santa Cruz Mountains rising above the marine layer.

Passing through Tennessee Valley, photo by Dwight MorejohnPassing through Tennessee Valley, photo by Dwight Morejohn

Above the Fog on the Matt Davis Trail, photo by Dwight MorejohnAbove the Fog on the Matt Davis Trail with Sutro Tower (SF), photo by Dwight Morejohn

The descent of the technical Matt Davis trail was arduous and time consuming. There is so much abrupt shifting on this tricky descent and I was reluctant to run it too aggressively with another large climb up Steep Ravine remaining. When I made it down the Stinson Aid Station at the bottom of Matt Davis, I knew that Dave’s course record would be safe on this day.

Famous Steep Ravine Ladder, photo by Leor Pantilat

The climb up the lower Dipsea and Steep Ravine was challenging, but the refreshing redwood forest and the ladder climb was a treat as usual. Finally topping out at Pantoll, I knew it was all donwhill to the finish and I opened up the stride on the descent down Coastal Trail. The final bit along the Heather cut-off was a bit cumbersome with its tight switchbacks, but I finished in good form. Gary Gellin finished in second and Sean Pont was third, closely followed by Brian Lucido in fourth. In the women’s race, Suzanna Bon was first and Bree Lambert was second. It was great to hang out with friends after the race at Santos Meadows. Thanks again to the race directors and volunteers for a highly enjoyable day in Marin!

  • Complete results here.
  • Tamalpa Headlands 50k website.
Post-race, photo by Dwight Morejohn
Post-race, photo by Dwight Morejohn
Lushness on the Matt Davis Trail, photo by Leor Pantilat

Sanborn Trail Quake Half

Last Saturday I ran half marathon at Brazen Racing’s Sanborn Park Trail Quake event. As with most Brazen events, the distance options include a 5k, 10k and half marathon (Brazen Racing primarily focuses on the non-ultra shorter distances with over 20 events per year to chose from). I have heard great things about Brazen races so I was eager to finally check out a Brazen event firsthand. Also, Sanborn County Park is a gorgeous park outside of Saratoga with single track trails under a lush forest canopy including redwoods, Douglas fir and madrones. The event is aptly named since the San Andreas fault passes right underneath the park! It was a great opportunity to visit these trails that I don’t run as often as the parks near my house. My expectations were surpassed with top-notch event organization, careful attention to detail and a great experience in all respects. It also didn’t hurt that the weather was phenomenal with sunny skies and pleasant temperatures.

The arduous half marathon course was actually close to 13.5 miles according to GPS measurements and entailed over 3,000 feet of elevation gain. The first 2.5 miles are a steep climb from the base of the park up to Skyline Ridge. It was a challenge to keep the pace under 10 min/mile on this initial climb. Once atop the ridge, the course featured two out-and-backs along the Skyline Ridge Trail that are more rolling in nature allowing me to get into a nice rhythm and pick up the pace. However, virtually the entire run was either ascending or descending with no substantial flat areas. The final couple miles descended the heavily switchbacked San Andreas Trail with the tight turns naturally keeping the speed in check. It was cool to gauge my pacing via the distance markers placed every mile and the course was exceptionally well marked with volunteers positioned at all key intersections. I felt fairly strong once I got into a rhythm on the ridge and finished with a 1:34:07. Peter Birney finished second in 1:44:49 and the top female was Justine Owen in 2:06:18. Chip timing allowed for remarkably fast compilation of times and complete results are here.

All finishers received super cool medals and were greeted by a nice spread of bagels, snacks, and fruit. In addition, FRS Energy was on-site providing samples. Congratulations to all the participants, many of whom in the shorter distances were running their first trail run. It was a great morning at Sanborn Park; thank you Brazen Racing and all the volunteers!

Ohlone 50k 2011

The Ohlone Wilderness 50k, always arduous but strikingly beautiful, is a classic point-to-point course travelling from Fremont to Lake Del Valle in Livermore. The terrain of this part of the Diablo Range is characterized by gorgeous grassy hillsides, heritage oaks, and gray pine forest. The high ridges leading up to the 3,817 ft summit of Rose Peak offer spectacular views of the Bay Area and surrounding mountains. With around 8,000 feet of often steep climbing and equally steep descending, it’s a real test of toughness, both mentally and physically. Last year I was able to run solid throughout and post a nice time of 4:16:28, breaking my own course record from the previous year by over 13 minutes. I had set the bar high and was eager to see if I could go even faster this year. I went out aggressively with exactly those intentions, but for a combination of reasons described below I wound up with epic cramping in the last seven miles of the course and came up short of this goal coming in at 4:31:20. Nonetheless, I am extremely proud of winning this awesome event for the third consecutive year and, as always, it was pleasure to run through the trails of the Ohlone Wilderness.

Finishing up, tiiight legs. Photo credit Agnes Pommier.

Ascending Rose Peak. Photo by Jørgen Randrup.

There are some valuable lessons to take away from this experience to improve for the future. Obviously something went wrong in my execution to have such severe cramping requiring walking some of the downhills in the last few miles. I think there are three factors that contributed to the cramping episode, all equally important to take into consideration for next time. First, I started out much too aggressively. I describe the first steep climb up 2,517 ft Mission Peak and then down to Sunol (9 miles) as an appetizer for the rest of the course, so I should know better, right? Well, I failed to heed my advice and extended myself too much on this portion. I gambled in my attempt to improve on splits from the start, came in to Sunol a couple minutes faster than last year, but I would pay for it later on. Second, the relatively cool weather belied the need for hydration in the early stages and I was disappointingly complacent with hydration and nutrition. I only started drinking and eating adequately after the cramping began to set in. I have done enough ultras to understand that retroactive does not work, especially on a course like Ohlone with its relentless steep climbing and descending. Third, I had run the Quicksilver 50 miler three weeks prior (my first 50 miler) which took a lot out of me. While I felt recovered in training, the Ohlone course is much more intense in terms of climbing, duration, and energy expenditure than my normal training routes, ultimately manifesting some latent fatigue. Once the cramping set it, I instantly realized improving my time from last year would not be possible. Instead, I focused on fighting through the adversity and getting to the finish while listening to my body and taking a conservative approach to the situation – I felt there was no need to extend myself further potentially causing a tear or strain. In the end, I was extremely grateful to push through the adversity, avoid strains, and win this classic event for the third time.

Top three. Photo credit Agnes Pommier.

The start. Photo credit to Agnes Pommier.

This year only four participants dipped under the five hour barrier. Jesse Haynes was second in 4:46:18, Jean Pommier was third in 4:55:35 (Jean has placed in the top three for five consecutive years with wins in 2007 and 2008!), and Scott McClennan was fourth in 4:58. The top woman was Keira Henninger in 5:38:10 and 2nd through 4th place women were separated by less than 3 minutes! A huge thanks to the race directors and volunteers for putting on another flawless event. Every year I’m always amazed at how well this event is organized despite the logistical issues encountered on this point-to-point event that travels through remote wilderness. Everybody from the race check-in, course marking, aid station crews, and finish line staff did a fantastic job. The BBQ at the Lichen Bark picnic was delicious as usual and it was great to chat with fellow participants and the legendary Dave Scott (aka Mr. Ohlone) who won this event eight times over a ten year period between 1989 and 1998. Thanks to everyone who helped organize this race and congratulations to all the participants!

Complete results HERE.

Photo credit Chihping Fu.

Lots of climbing. Photo credit Keith Blom.

Spectacular scenery. Photo credit Keith Blom.

Post-run relax. Photo credit Chuck Wilson.

Running the gorgeous green grassy hills of the Ohlone Wilderness. Photo credit Keith Blom.

Sweet view of the Ohlone 50k course as seen from space by Joe Swenson and annotated by me (click for larger version).

Quicksilver 50 mile

I had a great day at the 28th Annual Quicksilver Trail Races this past Saturday in the hilly and scenic trails of Almaden Quicksilver County Park and Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve, located in the Santa Cruz Mountains south of San Jose. This was my first attempt at the 50 mile distance so coming into this race, I did not know whether the extremely high course record benchmark set by Chikara Omine in 2009 (6:15:41) would be feasible.  As the run progressed and I remained under his record pace, I gained more confidence in the potential of lowering the esteemed record. In the end, I was extremely happy to lower the record by 14 minutes to 6:01:45! A special thanks goes to Joel Lanz for his fantastic job pacing me from 50k to the finish, providing encouragement at just the right times, and taking some great photos (utilized in this note).

Finish video by Joel Lanz.

The event starts 6 am which is a bit early, but becomes favorable later in the day when the exposed sections become warm. The weather was great with clear skies and relatively mild morning temperatures thanks to stiff breezes. Those same winds helped to keep temperatures down later in the morning and provided excellent clarity with spectacular views of the Santa Clara Valley, Diablo Range, Santa Cruz Mountains, and points beyond. After a few minutes, there is steep climb for a mile followed by a steep descent back to near the starting area where a left turn is taken onto the single track of the New Almaden Trail. The 6 miles of single track is my favorite stretch of trail on the course and traverses through oak woodland canyons and wildflower meadows. After the New Almaden Trail, the remainder of the course is virtually all fire road (except for the Yellow Kid Trail), but equally scenic with spring wildlfowers in full bloom and spectacular views of the Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Clara Valley. The 8 miles of running in Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve on the 50 mile course are particularly pleasant with a shady forest canopy and delightful vistas. While the 8,530 feet of cumulative elevation gain in the 50 mile means that the course is inevitably hilly, there are several miles of relatively gradual fireroad allowing for a nice rhythm.

The plan was to go out feeling as comfortable as possible for the first 50k and see what I had left for the balance of the 50 miles. I knew that the most difficult part of the entire course was between mile 32 and 35.5 with several steep climbs up to the English Camp aid station. I wound up running the first 50k a bit faster than I had planned, coming in about 3:31, only a minute shy of my 3:30:10 performance in the 50k last year. However, I felt relatively comfortable and not overextended. At the 50k point, I met pacer Joel Lanz and we set off to attack the crux portion of the course. I faired well on this section, but the arduous climbs took a lot out of my legs. After English Camp, any substantial incline became difficult as my hamstrings were twingy. The good news is that cramping was kept at bay with copious hydration and electrolyte nutrition, in turn allowing me to run the downhills and flatter sections reasonably well to maintain a nice overall pace. I had never visited the stretch of the course from English Camp through Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve so I was eagerly anticipating the turnaround aid station. When it finally appeared around the corner I felt a sense of relief knowing most of the return trip to Mockingbird start/finish area would be downhill. I got a second wind at this point and finished the last 8.5 miles nicely. There were great performances all around: Bree Lambert won the women’s 50 mile in 8:13:07, Gary Gellin took second in the 50 mile in 6:29:41, Chriz Calzetta won the 50k in 3:54:21, and Adona Ramos won the women’s 50k in 4:56:26. Congratulations to all participants!

First year race director Pierre Couteau did a phenomenal job organizing this event and all the volunteers were fantastic. As usual, the post-race BBQ was spectacular with an amazing spread of delicious food that extended well beyond the normal BBQ fare of hot dogs and hamburgers, including ice cream, sushi, pies, cheesecake, brownies, cookies, etc.!  It was great to hang out with friends new and old after the event. Thanks to Quicksilver Running Club and everybody involved with this event for putting on such a great trail race!

Another finish video by Joey Cassidy.

Skyline to the Sea 50k 2011

I look forward to Pacific Coast Trail Runs (PCTR) Skyline to the Sea 50k every year and it was no different on my fourth year running the event. The point-to-point route from Saratoga Gap to Waddell Beach utilizes some of the best single track trails anywhere and passes through the heart of Big Basin Redwoods State Park with its monolithic redwoods and awe inspiring Berry Creek Falls (pictured below). For more details on the course, check out reports from past years: 2008, 2009, 2010. Nearly perfect weather (sunshine and 60′s) greeted runners once again. Surprisingly, trail conditions were great with few blowdowns to negotiate and relatively little mud – a big thanks goes out to trail crew volunteers who take care of these trails so well! As usual, race organization and volunteers did a fantastic job and thanks for all your hard work that went into putting on this logistically complex event.

My goal for the day was to simply go out and enjoy some of my favorite trails while keeping a consistent tempo. This was also my first time racing in the new La Sportiva Crosslite 2.0, which handled the course extremely well. It is hard to not be inspired by your surroundings on this beautiful course so the enjoyment component was easily fulfilled. Overall, the running effort was fairly consistent and my split times (below) closely mirror my splits from last year. However, the last section from Gazos Aid Station to Rancho del Oso Finish was approximately 0.5 km longer this year due to a reroute to avoid a slide on the Skyline to the Sea Trail. The re-route also featured an additional bit of rather steep climbing so I’d say it added about 2.5 minutes to my time. My hamstrings felt a bit twingy on some of the downhill, but I was happy to avoid full-blown cramping with consumption of Margarita 3x Shot blocks and First Endurance EFS Fruit Punch energy drink powder (quick dissolving, great tasting, and effective). Course experience proved invaluable on the long fire road stretch at the end and I was able to find a nice rhythm for the last few miles and lower my Course Record from last year (despite course re-route with the additional hill) by over a minute to 3:24:09. This was also a new PR for the 50k distance. North Face runner Leigh Schmitt arrived in second place in 3:38:19 and Joel Lanz was third in 3:54:35 (complete results here). Congratulations to all the participants and thanks again PCTR for putting on a fantastic event!  My full photo album with a few more photos here.

Comparison between 2008, 2010 and 2011 times:

Aid Station Distance 2008 Time 2010 Time 2011 Time
Waterman Gap 10.5k 40:20 41:03 39:14
China Grade 18.0k 1:14:47 1:14:08 1:12:18
Gazos Creek 25.5k 1:44:52 1:41:55 1:40:17
Gazos Creek 32.7k 2:19:28 2:14:30 2:13:47
Finish 50k 3:38:33 3:25:17 3:24:09

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Race reports from prior years:

My complete photo album.

Quad Dipsea

Muddy but happy at the finish!

The 7+ mile trip from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach along the Dipsea Trail is legendary. Since 1905, a single crossing race of the Dipsea has been held almost every year making it the oldest cross country running event in the nation. The course is spectacular with sweeping views of the rugged Marin Coastline, San Francisco, and Stinson Beach. The trail entails 671 steps in just the first half mile out of Mill Valley and there are also hundreds more steps in the lush, redwood-filled Steep Ravine. The annual Dipsea race in June attracts thousands of people. The Dipsea is a big deal in Marin!

Fortunately, there are fewer runners jumping at the opportunity to run the Dipsea Trail four times, with a cumulative elevation gain of 9,276 ft packed into only 28.4 miles! The Quad Dipsea is held annually on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and this year was the 28th running of the event. I had run the Quad in 2008 in virtually idyllic trail and weather conditions, but was unfortunately sick before, during, and after the event. This year, I wasn’t feeling sick so it was definitely going to be more fun, but inclement weather would make the course even more arduous than it already is.

There was a break in the rain as the event started and I took advantage as best I could running the first leg to Stinson Beach in ~53 minutes. I felt comfortable and continued a similar pace back to Mill Valley in ~55 minutes for a 1:48 double. I was feeling pretty good at the turnaround, but I knew the trail would not be in good condition after 230 people stomped through the wet surface. Moreover, the weather was starting to deteriorate again with moderate rain showers and a cold wind picking up on the ridge. The trails became a muddy, slippery mess, but I still made it back to Stinson in ~61 minutes. The course record (3:52) was within reach at this point and it was great to have the encouragement of Ann Trason, the most accomplished ultrarunner of all time, at the Stinson turnaround. However, sliding in the mud was beginning to take its toll and I became tired climbing the stairs out of Steep Ravine. I still had a chance at the record at the top of Cardiac, but alas, the trail conditions were not in my favor for a sudden acceleration in my pace. Approaching the steep section along Dynamite heading into Muir Woods I took one of several falls, but this wipeout caused some painful cramping that hindered my ability to run up the final climb up to Windy Gap. An extremely generous participant kindly handed me a couple salt tablets that definitely helped keep the cramping at bay (if you’re reading this posting, thank you!). Heading down the final flights of stairs into Old Mill Park, I knew I fell short of the record by a couple minutes, but I was extremely pleased with the effort on this challenging day, finishing in 3:54:29. I am grateful to join Erik Skaggs and Carl Anderson as the only men to run under 4 hours at this venerable event and run the fourth fastest quad ever.

A huge congratulations goes out to Caren Spore, who broke the women’s record running a 4:38:33 (fifth place overall!). Also, my training partner and co-director of Boggs Mountain Trail Races, Gary Gellin, ran an amazing race for second place coming in at 4:02:32. Congratulations to all the participants for braving the conditions and especially those who have finished numerous Quad Dipseas! It was great to chat with other runners after the event and enjoy the snacks and soup. A big thanks to Race Director John Medinger and all the volunteers who make the Quad Dipsea the classic event that it is.

At the bottom of the first flight of stairs

PCTR Stinson Beach 25k

I had a fantastic time at PCTR’s Stinson Beach Trail Run event last Saturday! I ran the 25k, but there were also 12k and 50k options. With perfect weather (sunny and temps rising to the 70s), great trail conditions, excellent race organization, and lots of friends, all the ingredients were there for a fun time. This arduous course in Mount Tamalpais State Park serves up 3,556 ft of ascent for the 25k and 7,097 ft for the 50k. The scenery along the course is simply spectacular with amazing variety. From the old growth redwoods and waterfalls along the Steep Ravine Trail, to the inspiring views of the Marin Headlands and San Francisco descending the Coastal Trail, this course is awesome!

Beautiful view behind the finish area

My run started in a bit of a frenzy. I realized I forgot my race jersey in the car less than 5 minutes before the run was to start. I sprinted the couple hundred meters to the car, got the jersey and then ran back to the start area making it just as the countdown to the start was getting underway. This is not an idyllic way to start a run, but I was able to ease into it as we began our ascent up the Dipsea Trail. I felt good running up Steep Ravine, then down Coastal Trail, and then the flatter Redwood Creek Trail. Running up Deer Park Fireroad and the Dipsea Trail was challenging – it’s a long climb and it was starting to feel warm – but soon enough I was back at Pantoll. The final descent on the Matt Davis Trail is technically challenging requiring full focus, and even more so when the majority of the 12 kilometer runners were still on the trail and very tentative! It’s a long descent back to Stinson Beach, finally exiting Matt Davis Trail and opening it up for the last quarter mile to the finish, coming in 1:52:24.

2nd, 1st, and 3rd in the 25k

La Sportiva Crew! Mark Tanaka, Nathan Yanko, and me

As usual, PCTR put on a fantastic event with flawless course marking, impeccable aid stations, and a great finish area. It was all smiles from participants at the finish area, who relaxed in the fall sunshine enjoying post-race snacks, soup and chili, and hanging out with friends. Stinson Beach looked more like July with tons of people out enjoying the sunshine! A huge thanks to the organizers and volunteers for making this a great event and congratulations to all the runners.

More photos here!

Spectacular Stinson Beach

July or November?