When is a Marathon not a Marathon?

There are something like 42 races that I would LOVE to run this year. That being completely unrealistic for my current incarnation, there are at least 12 that are truly calling out to my runner’s soul. I would be content to run one organized race per calendar month.

While I’ve already missed January, I did manage a race in early February. On the 6th, I ran the Golden Gate Trail marathon put on by Coastal Trail Runs. Before I get into the race recap, a little back story…cuz everyone loves back story:

Last year it was brought to my attention that I’m “not getting any younger, Dad…no offence.” It was mutually agreed upon that I should begin my quest to run The Western States 100 sooner rather than later. Western States requires a qualifying run, so 2016 would be the year that I tackle a 100k. To that end, I signed up for and won entry into The Miwok 100k via their lottery.

That was an exciting moment! Probably one I should write a blog post about…but enough back story.

In training for this May 100k, I dutifully created a training plan (in an Excel spreadsheet!) that included ever escalating Saturday long runs. And along the way thought, “Hey! Wouldn’t it be great if I could find a marathon-ish length race that ran on or near some of the trails I would cover during the Miwok?” Yes. Yes it would. And find one I did.

So I entered the Golden Gate Trail marathon.

Then I spent roughly a week freaking out about how a marathon would be a solid seven miles longer than my longest training run this year. This particular race includes 4800+ feet of climbing. And the first two miles of the race is a relentless two mile climb that includes stairs…freaking stairs!


Okay, I told myself, don’t panic. My Saturday long runs include plenty of climbing and while there aren’t any actual stairs, the trails get pretty damn steep. And it’s not like I’m going for a PR…this is a training run. Just a very organized one. With aid stations and volunteers and other runners…things that are actually going to make the run EASIER!

So I took a deep breath…and started to get excited.

Race day dawned in an absolutely stunning fashion. Mostly clear skies with just a few wispy, harmless clouds lazing about a deep blue sky. The drive to Rodeo Beach from Oakland was quick at that time of the morning and I arrived at the start early enough that I didn’t have to park in the overflow and take a shuttle!

Things seemed a bit disorganized before the race. It was very unclear where the actual start line was and one of the voluteers at bib pickup erroneously informed us that it was “way down the road somewhere. I’m not really sure, but it’s pretty far.”

The actual start line was less than 30 yards from bib pick up. Once I figured that out, it was time to warm up a little and wait for the start.

The Coastal Trail Run folks did an excellent job of sending us out in waves. First the 50k and 30k runners. Then us marathoners, along with the half marathoners, fifteen minutes later. It was a slow slog up the first hill compounded by a narrow path and a lot of runners. But this was a good thing. Start slow, finish fast.

I have twice run the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 miler on nearby trails, along with other shorter runs in the area, but this race took me to places I had never been before. And I was amazed by views that I had never seen before. The day was so incredibly drop dead gorgeous that you could see for miles. I would run this race again in a heartbeat based solely on those views.

The course was a fantastic test, with nearly ten thousand feet of elevation change. The terrain varied from pretty technical, rocky singletrack to wide flat dirt fireroad to paved streets. While I can do without pavement in a trail race, it was a great blend of surfaces and I never grew bored or frustrated with where we were running.

Which is good, because as far as race organizing goes…well, these folks need some more experience. I’ll briefly mention a few little issues then move on:

  1. Some of the volunteers seemed pretty clueless regarding…just about everything. From not knowing where the start line was to not knowing to instruct marathoners about going out for the second loop of the 13 mile course…no fault of there’s of course! Race organizers needed to educate them more fully.
  2. The shirt. Shirts appeared to come in four different colors, but the colors did not indicate race distance or really anything at all. Also, the only imprint on the front is a small logo on the left breast. The back of the shirt lists a few sponsers.
  3. The race was actually 25.56 miles…totally not a huge deal, but…

Okay, back to the race. I ran conservatively the first lap, walking (with a purpose!) the steep uphills, taking it easy on the steep downhills, and generally treating it like a training run. A few times I had to dial back the enthusiasm that is inherent in a race atmosphere.

But despite my conservative approach, I managed a PR!

Then again, it was my first ever trail marathon…

I’ve run most every distance in the past 15 years of trail racing: 5k, 5mi, 10k, 15k, 20k, 30k, 50k, and 50mi, but somehow never a trail marathon. This one was such a great experience. The perfect weather, the stunning scenery, the fact that I ran strong but conservative and still beat my projected time by a significant margin. I managed to come in 8th place overall and I captured 2nd in my age group.

All in all, it was wonderful. And a big thanks to Coastal Trail Runs for showing me some trails I hadn’t experienced! And to the voluteers who were AMAZING!

Run on, Sisters and Brothers!




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