My first run at the Headlands in months as expected: long, steep and fantastic. I just love these trails, and know them better than anywhere else. Its as close to a home course as I have, but each time I find a new adventure waiting for me in the craggy hills and rocky slopes. It is indeed, as good as trail running gets.
But it ain't easy: 19.5 miles, 4,000 feet of vertical climbing and little support.
I used my new Ultimate Direction hydration vest for the first time, filling up both water bottles and stuffing food into the rear pouch (an orange, half a sweet potato and gels). When I set off up the first climb from Rodeo Beach to the gun turret, the bottles bounced around on my chest and I chuckled that I was about to find out how women feel running with breasts.
Halfway up the climb I knew my legs didn't have it, but I resolved to finish the 30k course that I planned on running since apparently training is all about learning to run on tired legs. I was expecting sun and relative heat, but Mother Nature provided fog instead. All the better, I'll take running in cool humidity over heat any day.
When I realized my legs were pretty shot, I resigned myself to just go out and enjoy the day. I wasn't setting any course records, I was out by myself and I loved these trails. It was like coming home. I would focus on technique, nutrition and disappearing into the hills. Running in the moment.
I hit the Tennessee Valley trail head still without much spring in my legs, and I knew I had a hard climb ahead to Coyote Ridge. That is one steep, grinding climb, but I ran the whole thing. About halfway up my legs loosened up and I actually started to feel better. Sometimes it takes an hour for your body to wake up.
Down to Muir Beach then back up, where I passed a few other walkers and runners. But despite it being Fourth of July, the trails were quiet. I basically had them to myself.
The short stretch down from Muir Beach along the Pacific Coast Trail is one of the most fun segments to run in the entire Bay Area. Sharp turns, quick ups and downs and when the sun is out, you feel like you're levitating above the crashing waves. But even in the fog the trail is amazing, and I lost myself in a mellow pace, barely realizing I had been running when I hit the railroad tie stairs and trudged back out. It's a steep, but short climb and one I always think is going to be over sooner than it actually is.
I rolled back down to Tennessee Valley where I took my time to walk and eat. I knew Bonk Hill was coming and I wanted to be fresh. No matter how many times I run here, I always manage to forget that once you crest Bonk Hill it's still a long way home.
I put my head down and started the long, winding climb 1.4 miles to the top. Which of course isn't really the top, but its the top of Bonk Hill. I managed to keep a good pace, doing my best not to look at the trail ahead. It's a sweeping, gradual turn where you can never see more than a quarter mile ahead. And you always think you're closer to the end than you actually are.
This hill has crushed me more than once, but I'm slowly gaining mastery of it. The trick is to just get it over with. Settle into a quick turnover grind and move. It's not so steep you can't run, but just steep enough to be a tough climb. You have to meet it in the middle.
The trail breached the clouds and I popped into sunlight for the first time, a mist-shrouded view of Sausalito below. I hit the top and almost laughed. Bonk Hill. Whatever. That arrogance would turn out to be misplaced.
In hindsight, as soon as I finished Bonk Hill I should have put some food in me. 1.4 miles is a lot to climb, especially when its two hours into your run. You don't have a ton of energy reserves left at that point. But I reveled in my dominance and didn't eat. As I started the final mini-climb to the actual top, I realized my mistake as I started to feel a bit bonky. But I pushed on and when I hit the top stopped walk and refill my water bottle from my auxiliaries.
When I crossed the road and started along the most breathtaking part of the run (without the clouds that is), I really started to feel bad. Ironically, when Bonk Hill won its name when KJ and I ran the 30k here back before we knew what we were doing, it was on this stretch that I actually bonked. So I was in familiar territory.
But I'm smarter now, and was prepared. I dug into my bag and pulled out the rest of the potato. Hitting the spot is an understatement. It was exactly what I needed and almost immediately kicked that bonky feeling. So mental note, sweet potatoes defeat the bonk.
At this point I just wanted to be done. I still had more than four miles left, one final tiny climb left and from there it was all down hill. I descended Slacker Ridge at a good clip and promptly got lost looking for the Rodeo Valley Trail back home. I was gassed, about out of water and generally over the run, but I remembered back to something Leigh says about getting lost: bonus miles. Some attitude.
I sauntered into the parking lot at just under 3:30. Not fast by any stretch, but a really solid training run and a reminder why I love running these trails.
Epilogue: I left my sandals in the Rodeo Beach parking lot on my way to meet some friends in Marin for a BBQ. Five hours later, I convinced Maura to go back to the beach on the off chance my sandals, which I've had for over a decade, were still around. And, they were. Karma!