After doing reasonably well at the Coastal Crystal Springs Marathon last month, I figured the Coastal Golden Gate Marathon would be go reasonably well too, so I signed up. When I got my bib, I was doubly perky about the race...
The musically inclined will note that this is "A" - obviously this meant I was going to be bringing my "A" game. (Ultra Woof pointed out that this was also "double death" and she was stunned I survived.)
Weird Haired Mom volunteered at the race and had to be there by 6:30, which meant that we qualified as a carpool and we were early enough to get an excellent parking place. (Parking was really the only negative about this race - the Park Rangers really make Coastal jump through hoops for this event.)
WHM's first task was trying to explain the hoops to the runners showing up for the race. Well, when she wasn't posing for the camera.
There were a LOT of Marathon Maniacs at the race. And one massively furry Hoover.
More Maniacs waiting for the start of the race. Everything was damp, and it wasn't very warm, but it was pretty good running weather at the start.
These are all the Full and Half Marathoners getting last minute race instructions. (I think the hands are in response to Mr Coastal's question "How many of you could use one more potty break?") One thing Mr Coastal made clear was that, for the Full Marathoners that had to do two laps of the Half course, we would not get credit for a Half Marathon if we stopped after the first lap. This is to help remove that temptation (and tempting it always is for this kind of race).
Our first task is going up that hill in the background, which is just a warmup for the real climb that comes after it.
Going up the real hill involved these steps (and others, plus some steep bits of normal trail). This course had a lot of climbing and a mix of trail types, but it was in great shape considering it had just rained a bit earlier in the week. (I did hear that the Orange loop, which the 30K and 50K people did, had some really muddy bits. You could tell which runners did that loop since they had very mud-spattered legs.)
This is at the first aid station, 4.1 miles, at the bottom of that first killer hill. There were a LOT of volunteers out here, and they were all perky and encouraging. And hopefully warmly dressed - the cool weather might have been good for running in, but uncomfortable when standing around slinging water at runners.
Most of the course was exposed, with only a few brief encounters with trees. This meant you almost always had great views.
Like this one of Sausalito.
And this one of the Golden Gate Bridge towers and San Francisco.
This was the most muddy stretch we faced. I tried to talk these runners into splashing through the water, but they were wise and ignored me. So I had to do it myself.
The second aid station, mile 8.6, where WHM was working. One of the best things about this aid station is that, other than a small hill, the course was downhill from here.
WHM wanted to take my picture as I waddled into the station, but told me to at least pretend to be running. I was doing OK at this point, but was starting to feel unnaturally tired. My hope was that the downhill bit would recharge me.
To do the Full Marathon, you had to do the Half Marathon twice. I always fear these races since it can be REALLY tempting to stop after the first lap. This was my fourth Coastal Marathon where I faced this challenge, and I had passed the test each previous time (including once at the very similar Coastal Cinderella Marathon).
But this time was different - I had spent the last couple of miles arguing fiercely in my mind about whether I should continue or stop. I wasn't injured or sick, but my legs were stunningly tired. It was like trying to run in a swimming pool - they really were dead. This totally surprised me - the only other time I've felt like this was after going 34 miles at a 12 hour race; but I had only gone 13.1 miles.
While standing there trying to work out what to do, The Walking Diva came powering through. As always, she was perky and looked fresh and not at all like she had just done a difficult Half. She hardly paused before heading back up that monster hill for her second lap. Between her example and Mr Coastal pointing out that I could take nearly six hours to finish my second lap and still beat their cutoff, I decided to grab my jacket and head back out. (The wind had picked up and it was very chilly, especially since I was not moving very fast at this point.)
After getting about halfway up that first hill, I realized that it wasn't going to work - there was no way I was going to be able to finish this race. I turned around and started back down, but kept passing by other runners heading up the hill - so I decided to head back up the hill again and at least make it to the first aid station (which would be mile 17.2). I could probably get a ride back to the start from them.
When I hit these stairs again, I paused and reconsidered, but chose to keep going up. VERY slowly, but up.
Once I finally got to the top of the hill (it took about 2 hours to go 2.5 miles), I was hit by an inspiration - rather than going the 1.5 miles to the aid station, I could take the 5 mile course trail back to the start. It was an extra mile, but it was all downhill or flat, and meant I wouldn't have to try to get a ride from the aid station volunteers.
As I was strolling down this trail I came upon a mother and daughter heading up it. The little girl was walking through this mud puddle. I stopped to talk to the mother while the girl made a half dozen laps back and forth through this puddle, wearing canvas tennis shoes. "That's a trail runner in the making!" I said. The coolest thing was that the mother wasn't even slightly bothered by her girl doing this. Awesome.
Once I got to the first parking area, I ran into Htenaj (not her real name) who was heading out to sweep the Orange loop and had just dropped off Ultra Woof at her car. I talked Ultra Woof into driving me up to the second aid station where WHM was still waiting for me (and her) to come through. (UW had also had a bit of a rough time and called it quits after the first Half loop - the last time she did this race she left lots of bits of her skin and such on the trail, and was still healing from these injuries.)
Shortly after we arrived at the aid station, The Walking Diva showed up. I swear she looked as fresh and perky after a really tough 21.7 miles as when she started. It would not have surprised me if she asked whether it would be OK to do another lap when she got to the finish line. Stunning.
So what happened to me? I'm not sure. Maybe I started too fast (I see you guys rolling your eyes!). I was making pretty good time (for me) all the way up to the end of my first Half loop, wandering in at about three hours and twelve minutes.
But I had been able to do little training during the weeks leading up to this race - just some weekend stuff, which is a really bad thing with this sort of race coming up, and I think this was the main cause of my issue. I was very tired and cold, but not in pain. (I had been taking salt caps and keeping very hydrated while sweating profusely, as normal, for that first loop, and my shirt was soaked. When the wind kicked up it really chilled me. I was wishing I had brought dry shirt to change into at the halfway point, but at least I had a jacket stashed that I could put on.)
I managed to go about 18 miles and climb 3430 feet. I'm happy that I attempted that second loop, even though every logical bone in my body said to not push it. It might be that if I had gone on to that aid station and just took a 30 minute time out, I might have recovered enough to keep going, but my guess was that taking a 30 minute time out would have finished me totally for the day. I've been doing races for two years now and this was only my second DNF (the first was Brazen Diablo 50K last spring), so I really don't feel too bad about how this worked out.
I liked this race and will likely give it another try. Other than the parking issues (you have to carpool and get there really early to remove that stress), it was great - in between foggy periods you had stunning views. I like the Coastal Steep Ravine trails a bit better though, since there is more of a mix of forrest and exposed trails (plus no parking issues). Both races are worth doing and should be on your calendar.
This was a great training run and a good eye opener. I've got four weeks until Way Too Cool 50K and I'm going to make them useful. Nothing dramatic, but a bit more effort, especially during the mid-week days.
I want that frog cupcake.
That's it - move along...
PS: Here is a link to a bunch more pictures I took.