This marathon consumed my mind and body for the last week. I have suffered from more leg pain, potential cold / flu symptoms, and general negativity than I can ever remember in a 1 week period. My calves hurt so bad on Friday morning that I couldn't even run across the street without them hurting - And that was the last day of an entire week off! My mind was definitely playing tricks on me, and I didn't think it was funny. I had already titled this blog posting in my mind - Golden Gate Headlands Marathon - DNF.
Saturday morning. All was dark as I turned the alarm clock off and turned the coffee on - 6:05am.
A banana smothered with Nutella, 1 piece of toast (out of the 2 I had buttered and peanut buttered), 1 cup of pear yogurt, and coffee was breakfast. I was all nerves and could barely get them down.
7:15, I hit the road, and an hour later I was parking the truck in a prognostically muddy parking lot. Check in was unnecessary since my bib number had arrived in the mail a few weeks back. Stretch, one more banana, check the hydration belt, stretch, re-tie shoes, on with longsleeves, stretch, off with long sleeves, bathroom, on with long sleeves, stretch.
I waited in a bouncing, bobbing, energetic crowd of skinny spandex clad pretzels twisting their limbs into contortions not likely to ever be encountered out side a gymnasium, and certainly not on a trail run. Our attention was turned to the race organizer perched atop a park bench holding a rubber chicken and a rubber chicken "prize" purse. We learned they would be given to the first male and female finishers. I was in no danger of driving home with a chicken. I raised my hand with the few first time marathoners, and then should have noted with skeptical concern the sparsity of arms aloft when the question of who had run this route before was raised.
9:05, we were off at the countdown of Dave. Five, four, three, two, one - and the 39 marathoners were headed up the first and least of the hills we would encounter over the next few hours. I was instantly and inadvertently at the front. A group of about 8 - 10 of us, half guys half gals, all seemed to have the same pace in mind and enjoyed the comradery for the first miles.
Within a mile we were at the first set of steps only a few paces after leaving the pavement. We were warned that the route was mostly up, and only had enough descents to get us eventually back to the finish. Seems logical, but I think if they could have moved the finish to the top of something obscenely high and steep they would have. Some of the hills had this group of top finishers walking in the first 4 miles of a 26.2 mile race. All of us.
We were rewarded with spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, San Francisco Bay and City, sail boats docked in Sausolito and Tiburon, and of course hundreds of square miles of the rugged foothills of Mt. Tamalpais. The streams were still running after a week of dry weather and most managed to cross the trails irrespective of the boards designed to bridge them. Other streams had no boards and simply flowed noisily down the middle of the trail, crisscrossed the trail at random intervals, or simply flooded the trails and guarded any detour by abundantly nourishing the flora on either side.
I ran with a group of 3 gals and 2 guys - counting me - for the much of the first 13.1 mile loop. the pace was quick but steady, and I knew I was far above my normal plodding pace. By the end of the first circuit I was running alone with a young gal, a college student from Santa Monica. Sam, a gal running her 2nd marathon had fallen behind, and I wouldn't see her again till I was driving away. The guy left us and evidently finished before me, while the other gals divided into a vanguard and rear guard never to be seen again.
The second lap started with a check in at the start / finish line. We had managed 2 hours exactly. I detoured to my truck and dropped the long sleeve shirt and grabbed an extra Power Bar. Re-entering the course I encountered my friend again and thus had company up the now familiar, though strangely steeper paved hill. At the steps we were separated, and I only saw her at greater and greater distances back, till I was literally alone with no one in sight ahead or behind. Based on my unofficial count of the runners ahead of me, I guessed that I was somewhere between 12th and 15th place.
Gravity increased as the morning turned to afternoon, and the celestial draperies were pierced more frequently by the warming sun. The breeze was yet chill on the ridges, though that perception was partially a function of the evaporating perspiration raised in the process of achieving those ridges.
Familiarity was both boon and bane. I knew how far it was between water stops and ridges, but then on the other hand, I knew just how far it was between water stops and ridges. I shared the trails with noncompeting runners, horseback riders, cyclists, a jack rabbit, and a small snake. I was beginning to notice more about the trail and less about the view. I was forced to walk on portions of hills that I had run up 13 miles ago.
I celebrated the unofficial "top" with another half banana at the second to last water stop. To come was a long, unabated, descending trail which paused in a marsh just before crossing the main road and thence climbed once more to run along the ridge parallel to the massive tankers drifting out into the Pacific. The last water stop, with 3 miles to go was at the base of that last climb, and it was there that I noticed the runner gaining on me. I picked up the pace as best I could, though frankly, had he not been as spent as I it would have been no large accomplishment to over take me in much less time. As it was, I was caught just as we approached the 1/2 mile home stretch across Rodeo Beach and thence into the parking lot for the finish.
I might have let him run past. The wind was full in our faces, and the soft sand was 3 times as difficult as the trail we had abandoned. I would have let him run past, except that he looked about my age, and awards were being given for the top 3 finishers in each 5 year age group. Whether the same was in his mind or not, I'll never know. He was relentless. Though his large fan club met him on the beach (one of whom was kind enough to spare some encouraging words and a smile for me) he didn't back off. I feared this home stretch 13 miles ago, but now I loathed it. The final 100 yards included splashing across the now expanded tidal pool, running up the bank to the road, and then finally sprinting across the road and the parking lot to a table littered with spreadsheets, calculators, and finisher medallions. My comrade commented that we should finish strong and then he put on steam as we crossed the parking lot. I put on more. We reached the table astride, though I made sure I was at least a step ahead. I was done.
We tied. The official results put us tied for 2nd place in our category. According to the official results, I finished 15th - though I know it was 14th. I'm thrilled to own 15th and share 2nd since he managed to turn my finish into something far more spectacular and satisfying than I could have contrived on my own.
Some sources state the overall elevation gain was around 1600', while others put it closer to 6000'. I don't believe either is correct. Based on my tedious calculations in Google Earth, I think it's somewhere in the middle between 4000' and 5000'. None of my training runs had come close. My longest run was 23 miles with 2,200' of elevation gain.
My earlier friend finished - I saw her later in the parking lot covered with mud just like myself.
So as a result of my efforts, I'm now the proud owner of a Golden Gate Headlands Marathon t-shirt, marathon finisher's medallion, and very sore legs.
This was my first marathon, and I picked a tough one. It's no wonder so few had returned for another shot at it. I may be back for another attempt at the GGHM, though without a doubt it was not my last marathon.