Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The new ITR Mt Tam Half course ain't like the old one

Last year I ran the ITR Mt Tam 30K course, which I chose because it had the bonus of dropping down into Muir Woods. For this year, ITR changed the courses around a bit, and now the Half course also drops down into Muir Woods, so Mrs Notthat and I signed up for that race.

Mas (not his real name) literally kick-starting the arch.
The weather was stunning and the skies very clear. This is always a great thing here since it means the views from the hilltops would be spectacular.

Mr ITR: "How many of you knew that "Tamalpais" was Canadian for 'If you thought that hill was tough, just wait'?"

There were many friends running the various distances at this race. Mr ITR said this was their biggest race ever.

The 50K and 30K distances started first. The shorter distances had to wait for 30 minutes before being turned loose on the trails.

The Marin Headlands, and Mt Tam in particular, are infested with steps. All kinds of steps, including crazy ones that are specifically there to trip you. It adds to the charm.

"Hey Dipsea Bridge! I'll see you (a lot) later!"
We started on the Dipsea trail. At this point, the Dipsea trail turns right, and going straight takes you up the Steep Ravine trail - a trail so dangerous it has its own warning sign. About a ladder. Trust me - that ladder is the least of your worries.

How about narrow, uneven steps? Clinging to the side of a cliff? (OK, it's not that bad, but it's a lot of fun to pretend it is. And it really is no fun to stumble in these parts.)

And then we got to the newly rebuilt ladder.

And squeezed through these trees.

After about three miles of steady uphill climbing, you reach the Pantoll parking lot. You now get some mild rolling hills to get you to the first aid station.

The first aid station, mile 3.8, is at the top of Cardiac Hill, whose name has more to do with coming up it the other way. It's also the home of some tremendous views.

Leaving that aid station, we began a long downhill sprint.

Which confused me a bit.

This is the elevation chart for the Half that was on the website:

We had gotten to the top of that first big hill, and we should have had a long bit of fairly rolling downhill, followed by a steep drop and a nasty climb.

But none of that happened. Instead, this is what we did:

We headed down a lot, then immediately started heading back up. My mind was prepared for the second nasty climb to start at about 8.3 miles - instead, it seemed to be starting at about 5.2 miles. By the time I got to 8.3 miles I wasn't so sure I was still up for a big nasty climb. As it turned out though, by 8.3 miles we were nearly done climbing and there was no last big nasty climb. (I refused to believe that until I made it back to the aid station again, mile 9.9. And to be fair, there was a short nasty climb once we rejoined the Ben Johnson trail, but by then I knew where I was and that I would survive.)

Since I walk the uphills, I don't mind so much if the trail has obstacles. Running down this though would be an opportunity for some expensive dental work.
Blue ribbons mean "Don't go on this trail!" You didn't have to tell me twice for this one.
Anil (not her real name), who was not part of the race but out just for some training fun, showing her surprise at seeing me still on my feet.
The great thing about getting to this Cardiac Hill aid station a second time was that there was no more serious climbing to do. Just a ridiculous number of crazy stairs to go down.

Working an aid station is seriously fun. These two made me a bit nervous though - what exactly was in that electrolyte drink?

I think I mentioned that there were views. Lots of them. The problem is that since I am heading downhill, I'm actually running a bit, and getting distracted by a view can lead to bad things happening.

Mr Michigan Bluff Photography lurking in the trees, taking awesome pictures of tired runners.
Selym (not his real name) was busy taking quality pictures all throughout the race. I managed to come across him here, during one of the few places that was downhill and step-free.

This is the picture he got of me at this point. Anyone that can make me look that much like a runner is a true artist!

This is the picture he got of Mrs Notthat a bit earlier, just before the woods.

There were a lot of steps to go down.

But then you get to the bridge that we saw earlier, make a left, and storm back to the finish line (which is still over a mile away, but most of the treacherous bits are done now).

And you get to see your destination, Stinson Beach, which looks distressingly far away still.

Eventually you really do make it to the finish line and are done.

Mrs Notthat had beaten me handily (naturally), but I was surprised to see her hanging out at the medical tent. It turns out she had fallen twice and had a fair number of scrapes to prove it. (Thankfully, her clothing wasn't damaged.)

And that's about it. It was a great race on a great course - I loved the new Half course. I get a kick out of coming into Muir Woods with tourists looking at you kind of funny then getting bug-eyed when they work out that you just ran over from the coast.

These trails are the best in the Bay Area - if you haven't done a race here yet you really should. They are hard and you will be thinking dark thoughts at times, but then you reach the top of a hill and see the glory of the area and feel completely rewarded.

And then you trip over one of those dang steps and go sprawling off the trail.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.

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