I knew that a bunch of my fellow Endurables, Ninjas and many friends were all going to be out racing either the 25k or 50k at PCTR's Stinson Beach Race. Nathan was going to run the 50k, so on a whim, I signed up for the 50k on Wednesday. After all, just like last week, my training schedule prescribed me a run that would be just about how much time it would take me to finish the race if I was running at a hard workout pace.
Stinson Beach is a two loop course for the 50k and has just over 7,000 feet of climbing in two epic climbs and descents on each loop. My greatest motivation for doing the race was to get some time running up Steep Ravine and down Matt Davis which are both a part of TNF50 course. I absolutely love bombing down Matt Davis. It is technical, steep and one wrong step could easily send you off a cliff or bust a knee or ankle in a season ending injury. I looked forward to that part.
I was feeling okay Saturday morning and my legs were not too bad after 55 miles of running in the week, but I was still not sure how much power and stamina I would have to make it up Steep Ravine and up Deer Park Fire Road, which are both very sturdy climbs.
When we got to the race, it seemed like a big running family reunion, complete with some of the missing characters running up to the start line to stay hi in the middle of their double dipsea run. It was a perfect morning, warm and clear as we lined up to head up the hill.
Off we went up Steep Ravine for the first time. I was by myself behind a decent sized group of fast guys and I didn't want to push too hard, too soon. The 50k started 20 minutes before the 25k which a bunch of the Thursday Ninjas. My motivation for the first loop was avoiding being caught by smack talking buddy Brett Rivers. He is a master smack talker and I knew there would be no end to it if he successfully chased any of us down with such a lead. Thankfully, he did not catch me.
Arriving at the top of Steep Ravine, I felt good and my pace felt solid. As I crested the top, I saw that fellow Endurables member Kristin was pretty close behind me and I decided to push a bit on the gradual and then steep downhill to Redwood Creek trail. I pressed and when I looked back I didn't see her, so I figured I had given myself a cushion for the next climb. I know from Endurables runs she is a great climber and I definitely did not have the energy to push the uphills, so I wanted to play to my strengths of flat and downs and just float the ups (and by float I mean trudge).
I made it most of the way up Deer Park the first time before being passed by Leor Pantilat passed me as the first runner in the 25k. Luckily, he would be the only 25k runner to pass me. Ha, Brett didn't get me (though he did come in 2nd, congrats buddy!). He told me that the next lady back was several minutes, but I couldn't be too confident in that. I was happy to be done with the first round of the hills and enjoyed the nearly 4 miles of descent to the end of the loop. Ok, honestly as I was descending down Matt Davis pretty hard, I was having a really hard time being motivated to go out for a second loop. I came into the aid station at the bottom with Mark Tanaka (after I helped him get back on course) and he urged me onwards and I started my second loop.
Since I was beginning to lag, I was worried I was going to get caught. Since I was not in super "crush the competition" mode, I didn't know if I would have the heart or energy to make a race out of it if I was challenged. I wanted to win, no doubt about it but my race tactical brain was no engaged. I was nearly to the top of Steep Ravine when I saw that I was in fact, not several minutes ahead and that Kristin had caught up to me on the climb. I took the last few minutes before the aid station deciding what I wanted to do. I knew I could try and hammer down Coastview and Heather cut off and push it on the flats of Redwood Creek to try bank some time for the Deer Park climb again, but that if I did that, I ran the risk of her coming with me and exhausting myself for the climb. So I decided on something else, I casually filled up my water bottles, let her leave the aid station first then caught up to her and matched her pace. We ran together, chatting, enjoying the company under the mid-day heat. It was her first ultra and it was great to see her doing so well. I told her that she could feel free to pass me anytime (as I lead us single file down Coastview), as I was not really feeling like hammering on my already tired legs. So we ran together. I knew she would be faster up Deer Park than I, but was hoping that I might be able to keep her within range and use my superior technical downhill running to catch her.
I huffed and puffed and scraped my way up Deer Park. I was moving decently well and caught glimpses of her a few times, but was definitely losing ground. I neared the top of the climb and caught a young guy who told me this was his first ultra and he hadn't trained for it. I told him he was doing great considering that!! I also told him I was trying to decide if I really wanted to hammer and chase her down. He told me I should, "she's right there", he said. And by right there, meant, I knew, not close enough I could see. But I was at the top, I had gotten through the tough climbs and got to celebrate the run with a nice downhill and then be done. That was what mattered.
I filled my bottle at Pantoll, ran out and contemplated my strategy. At moments like this I think about Gary Robbins and his words about "winning the battle, but losing the war" (at transrockies) and since this was suppose to be a training event for TNF 50 in 3 weeks, I really contemplated whether or not to go after her or just chill. Before my mind could make itself up, my body did it for me. I got a nice burst of energy and my legs started moving. I started working the last bit of rolling trail of Coastal before hitting Matt Davis and the steep technical downhill part. There were a ton of hikers on the trail and I felt like I was dodging and weaving and running through people like a crazy person (not through them literally, I didn't touch anyone though there were a few I wish I could have pushed out of the way).
I popped out into a clearly before the really steep part and spotted her. She was less than 1/4 mile ahead, running near Mark Tanaka. My mind got on the same page as my body and I went into hunting, racing mode which was completely different than my casual (but strong) mode from the rest of the race. While the first go down Matt Davis had made me laugh at how well I navigated, this time I felt like I was in the zone. My feet went between the roots and rocks and twists without having to think about it. I leaned into the curves and danced under the fallen branches and around the many hikers that were all over the narrow trail. I descended faster and faster and faster. I was 30 miles in and my legs were urging me onward instead of begging me to stop. Down, down, down. Then I spotted her, a switchback ahead, less than 50 meters. I dug my foot into a tight corner and gained. Closer, closer. 20-10-5. We hit a flat patch and I caught up to her. "How's it going?" I asked. "I am just ready to take my shoes off." She responded. I thought for a second about pulling up, ceasing my charge and running it in with her but I was feeling it too much. We were about to enter a curve and I told her I was going to pass. I dashed past her and figured she would come with me. I pressed on, faster and faster. Not because I wanted to beat her per se, but because my body was responding to the fight. It wanted to win, it wanted to go down swinging. I caught up to Mark again and he too sped up, we hit the road (I was about 5 meters back from him) and pushed to the finish line, not daring to look back until I was rounding the corner off the main road. I finished 10th overall, first woman in 5:05 and set a new course record. Kristin was just over a minute behind me, running a great first ultra!
Nathan finishing 3rd overall in a tough mens field in 4:49!
Photo by Leor Pantilat
I was really happy with how the race played out. I ran hard all week, fought a cold and still put together a great race. I also realized how much fight I have in me when I think I am completely tapped out. I really dropped the hammer on that downhill and moved myself out of a place of relative indifference to complete focus and effortlessness. It was pretty cool to be able to make that switch.
Men's winner, Leigh Schmitt and I after the race.
Photo by Rick Gaston
Larissa and I hanging out after the race. Photo by Leor Pantilat
We hung out for a long time after the race. Cheering our friends in, just enjoying everyone being there together on a beautiful late fall day (75 and sunny, fall yeah haha). All in all, couldn't ask for a better day.
The coast and the city beyond from Highway 1.
Best part of winning? Coffee mug!!!
Thanks to Sarah, Michael and all of PCTR for putting on such a great event!