I was reading an excerpt in iRunFar of an interview with Anton Krupicka. They asked him for the best advice he could give aspiring trail runners, and his response was the following:
"Give up control--the mountains are wild so embrace that and become comfortable in it."
That advice is hard to take when you're racing. His answer is so whimsical in a way that probably strikes non-runners as abstract and annoying. It sounds obvious and easy, because running for most people is a way to stop controlling, let go of stress, and just be. But racing is not the same as going for an afternoon run to blow off steam. I thought I had total control of this race - but the unpredictable nature of the mountains won me over. The last quarter of the race I was ready to curl up in my own burning hell of pain. I'm learning this is actually the standard outcome of most trail races.
The race was hard. Most of my previous training runs have been longer than this race with significantly more elevation gain and felt easy... but this race was still hard.
The Table Rock 27k started at Stinson Beach, part of the Golden Gate Recreation Area north of San Francisco. Mt Tamalapais towers above the shores and merges with rolling hills of scrub habitat. Oak trees and invasive Eucalyptus hover the trails and the unrelenting marine fog hugs the habitat in the morning. We drove down the winding highway 1 Saturday morning and reached the parking lot right before I was about to lose my breakfast. The fog was dense, but we dipped below it as we approached the parking lot.
The elevation chart was an outline of hellish climbing over a short distance. I have found over time that I much prefer the majority of a climb to lay out in one hill, but the elevation of this course was split between two. It honestly didn't look that bad, but now that I'm writing and looking at the chart retrospectively I remember the agony I experienced during the second climb.
Justin and I took a short warm-up and toed the line. We started immediately up a mean climb of 2,000 ft in 2 miles. I found a rhythm pretty fast and probably felt better than ever during a climb like this during a race, thanks to the consistent hill training I've dedicated myself to in the last couple months. The man jogging next to me had quite a few words to sputter out on the hill and looked at me with agony when he said "I had no idea 2,000 ft was this high!" He continued to talk (and drool) as we climbed the hill. "This hill is no joke man! When is this beast over?" He seemed alarmed that I wasn't answering him. I put my head down and chugged up the hill past him.
After cresting the hill the race was a breeze the next 8 miles and I was able to average mid seven minute pace. The fog partially began to clear and the scenery was awesome. After descending Mt. Talapais I cruised into the Deer Park aid station around mile 11.5. There were three elite women ahead of me completely out of reach so I just took the race as my own and held my position. I was by myself nearly the whole race, or at least I thought so since I couldn't see past the winding trail.
I took a few swigs of Pepsi and then made my way to the next climb. Half way up the hill my legs stopped working. I was climbing the well-known Dipsea to the crest of Cardiac Hill and could barely enjoy the history behind the trail. I felt like I was scrambling up a stretch that dragged on forever. That's when the negative voices started. The first half of the race had been so smooth, it's surprising how easily my mentality flipped. My first thought was how the hell was I going to climb 6,000 ft at Angel's Staircase? And how am I ever going to become a better mountain runner if I consistently climb already and mere 3600 ft is hurting this bad? This sport is breaking me. I'm not a mountain runner. And then I finally realized how low I had dipped in my thoughts which was killing my pace. I told myself to shut up and made a final surge to the top. 1800 ft later I reached the end of the climb. There was one last aid station three miles to the finish. I stood there briefly to catch my breath and drink some water. I felt my legs lock and realized I needed to keep moving. I wobbled down the hill with three miles to go, legs still not quite working. I was jogging at a pathetic pace given I was in the middle of a race but I wasn't exactly giving a shit since I was in no-mans land. I reached the famous Dipsea steps around mile 15 thinking I was just going to cruise comfortably to the finish when suddenly a Oiselle runner pulled up right behind me. Passed by another woman the last leg of the race? No way. The fire under my ass was up in flames and I set off in a complete sprint, almost biting it on a few of the steps. There were other hikers on the trail and I nearly lost etiquette, but I gave as much forewarning as I could. "COMING THROUGH!!!" "LEFT!!!!!!" My last mile was recorded as 6:39 on my Garmin which is the fastest for me in a mountain race.
It's funny how that happens, I had no idea I had the energy to kick up my pace. As much as I enjoy the serenity of trail running, I'd rather not be solo during a race. I'm much more apt to run to my potential if I have company. Otherwise I just find myself jogging the trail.
I crossed the finish and found Justin stuffing himself by the food tent. Justin told me he came in second place with a great effort that day to US Mountain Runner David Roche. We later learned that David and Justin are two of three men who have ever broken 2 hours on that course. Nice job to both of them!
We mingled around the finish for a while until we were sick of nutella and PBJ on wonder bread. The sun was finally out so we made a few vista stops along Highway 1. We finished the day by meeting up with an old friend in San Fransisco who took us to a local burger joint and one of the best frozen yogurt shops I've experienced.
Big thank you to La Sportiva for putting on a great race in a historical area! I hope next year I can tack a few new races onto my schedule from the La Sportiva Mountain Cup. Thanks to the volunteers out on the course - they always have the most encouraging words to offer. Big congrats to Megan and David for two new stellar Course Records!
I am an outdoor and travel junkie who is currently completing my doctorate in occupational therapy overseas in rural Fiji. On Sweet World Travels you will find stories of my life with my husband, the communities we serve, and the many adventures we take.