A few weeks ago, I ran the Rodeo Valley Trail 50k, with Inside Trail, one of the racing groups here in San Francisco. We ran up in Marin, just north of San Francisco; Marin is famous for beautiful and challenging single-track trails with arresting ocean views, and many of the races I’ve run have been up there. It was a perfect day – started at 50*F, finished at 70*F, and was the right combination of overcast and sunny.
This one was a little different – due to some previous weather, some of the trails that were part of the course were closed. Our 50k race would actually end up being a little closer to 52k with the adjustments.
The week before the race, I’d planned to take it fairly seriously – I had every intention of tapering my exercise, eating well, and getting lots of sleep. I accomplished zero of those three things, so showed up to the start line with no expectations.
As we lined up to start, I looked at the field of women just to see who was up front – fast women are inspiring. There were a number of women who looked quite speedy.
When the race started, one woman took off – I never saw her again. There were a few of us who clustered together for the first mile or so.
However, when we hit the first hill, I let the other women pull ahead. In what is somewhat a superpower, but also a bit of a psychological block, after ten years of ultrarunning I’m really good at judging how fast I can move up a hill without burning out too early. It’s great because it helps me pace, but not as great because in shorter distances, I revert to this slower pace when I could probably push harder. In this case, the pace these other ladies were setting was too fast for me so early in the race. I settled in for the climb.
At some point during this climb, I realized famous ultrarunner Dean Karnazes was right behind me. I had a moment of excitement when I realized that I was running a race faster than Dean Karnazes. He passed me right before one of the aid stations during this stretch, and I thought that he’d be gone – but then I left the aid station before he did, and stayed ahead of him for the rest of the race!
And after the first aid station, the terrain switched to rolling single-track. I picked up a bit of speed, and caught up to another runner – Jill – who was training for a longer race in the fall. She and I ran several miles of the first lap together.
When we got to the 20-mile aid station at the start-finish, I stopped to refill my water bottle, and Jill kept going. I knew I would probably lose her on the hill again (yes, we had to do that first one twice), so I let her go.
The second time around, the hill was a little harder. I took a few walk breaks, using a Galloway-method-like technique I learned from Badwater Mike. I would run for 100 breaths, then walk for 20, then repeat. If I could run for more than 100 breaths because the terrain wasn’t very steep, I would do that, and if I could walk for less than 20, then I would do that too. I could see Jill and Mallory (who had passed me on the first hill) ahead, but not close enough to try to sprint to catch them.
At the top of the hill was the final aid station, about seven miles from the finish line. Mallory and Jill were both refilling water bottles and grabbing some snacks.
I didn’t know where we fell in the pack – how many women were in front of us or behind us – but it seemed not unreasonable that I might be able to stay ahead of the two of them for the next seven miles, since I’d been slowly catching up on the climb.
I refueled very quickly and headed out for the last 7 miles.
The last 7 miles were a sprint. An old boss of mine – a marathon runner – introduced me to the concept of not leaving anything in the tank during the last part of a race – and these miles were that. I flew down the downhills and charged up the uphills.
I had significant anxiety during this stretch about the actual course, as the second loop had a shortcut that we were supposed to take, and hadn’t taken during the first lap. I was constantly on the lookout for turn instructions. There weren’t a lot of other runners to follow (a lot of runners had done just the 30k), so this part of the course was not busy. At various intersections, I asked several random hikers if they’d seen other people racing, and responses were mixed. This was a little nerve-wracking, because I knew if I missed a turn, one of the other girls would definitely pass me.
The last half mile is a downhill to a beach, with great ocean views. I flew down it and headed straight to the finish line. I finished in 5:49ish. Not bad for a very hilly course!
I checked the results table and found out I’d come in 3rd. The first place woman was about an hour ahead of me, and the 2nd place woman was about 30 minutes ahead of me. I was pretty excited – if I hadn’t pushed it in the last few miles, I wouldn’t have placed. I grabbed my trophy and waited for the other girls to roll in.
Mallory arrived first – which was strange, since she had been behind Jill for most of it. A few minutes later Jill showed up – she’d missed a turn (what I had feared!) and added 1-2 miles to the overall length of the course.
The three of us hung out for a bit at the finish line and exchanged numbers before I took off for home.
A few days later, I was checking the results to get my exact time – and found that I’d actually come in 2nd! The woman who was listed as 2nd originally had dropped down to the 30k, but in the moment the results hadn’t updated to reflect that yet. So this was very cool! (I’m still waiting on the 2nd place trophy though – Mallory, if you’re reading this, I’ll send you the 3rd place one! )
Overall, this was a fun day. I ran unexpectedly fast, which felt really good, because I have been training pretty hard for a few upcoming races.