Somehow Megan got talked into running her first 50 miler.
Somehow she decided that it wouldn’t be no easy peasy race.
Somehow it came about that she would run it with us Matzes, in San Francisco.
After picking her up from the airport, we swung by the house before turning right back around to pick up Laura and head west to SF. Anyone who’s met Megan can attest to how fun she is to be around. As we navigated the highways, bridges, and SF streets to get to our hotel, I thought about how quickly some people feel like good friends. We checked in and were put on an upper floor with a balcony, because “That’s where we put special people.” I guess frequent work trips have their perks! Score!
When we saw there wasn’t a fridge, I called to get one.
“We have them for $32.95 a night, sir.”
“Really? Um… Ok, I guess.” I decided ensuring cold post race beer was a priority for someone’s first 50M.
“Actually sir, I just looked at your history. I’ll send one up immediately on the house.” Double score!
After ordering in some terrible pizza (the “garlic bread” was a buttered sandwich roll), we all began to get our gear ready to facilitate an easy morning roll out for the 6am race start. I went through my drop bag one last time and got out my clothes to do a rundown.
Hat – Check
Buff – Check
Pack – Check
Shirt – Check
Auxiliary shirt – Check
Shorts – Check
Socks – Check
Shoes – …………
Shoes? ……. SHOES! OH MY GOD I FORGOT SHOES!!!
Laura: “Are you kidding?”
I frantically looked at my watch. 8:30. Briefly entertained the idea of using my NB110’s, but I need way more shoe for a race on that terrain and of that length.
I grabbed my phone and searched for nearby running stores to call. Closed. Closed. Closed. Closed.
REI, Open. I called, they didn’t have my standby distance shoe, the Pure Grit, but they had the update, the Pure Grit 2. Close enough, it would have to work!
By then I had 15 minutes until they locked the doors and my feet were planted in the hotel room. REI was about a mile away. Too much time to get the car out of the garage. Guess I’m running!
I burst from the elevator, dodged through the crowd of Japanese tourists who’d swarmed the lobby, and sprinted down the street, phone in one hand displaying a map of downtown SF.
I’m sure I looked strange sprinting through the city in 501’s, but I had bidness to address!
I rushed in the door at 8:57 and made a beeline to the shoe dept. A green vester tossed the box to me and I checked out at 8:59, a whole minute to spare!
Already sweaty, I ran back to the hotel, holding a shoebox in one hand and the map in the other. Success!
When the alarm sounded Saturday morning, three grumbly runners awoke. It was very early and no one was very happy about it. We got everything together and headed out for this beast of a race!
It would be hard, but that’s what makes these things so satisfying. The more difficult the ordeal, the stronger the feeling of achievement afterward. Besides, the reward for all those climbs were utterly spectacular views!
By the time we got there, we were awake and warming up. As usual, the race atmosphere was relaxed and filled with camaraderie.
We milled around by the starting line, and as I gazed out over the bay I suddenly felt very lucky to be there. I was about to embark on a full day’s adventure with my beloved wife and a dear friend tackling the unknown. To tell you the truth, I felt honored on both accounts.
Before long the race director began announcing directions and the crowd became thicker. In a flash, we were off!
The first .85 was on road, and we made a mental note. At the end, 11-13 hours later, it would be very good to know that distance when we hit the pavement.
After that we immediately started climbing. This pretty much set the tone for the day, as we would either be ascending or descending at all times. There is hardly any flat ground in the Marin Headlands.
A giant cannon barrel! There are bunkers in the hills leftover from WWII, just like down in Monterey and other points along the coast.
Nearly every race in the Headlands incorporates these steps. They are a beautiful way to gain elevation fast!
A couple miles in, it had struck me that I was wearing new socks as well as new shoes. Real smart. The socks kept riding down, exposing my achilles to the heel of my shoe. Before long it began to rub skin away, so when we reached our drop bags I snatched a roll of duct tape and MacGyvered a heel guard. It wrapped around under the foot to keep it from riding up and just becoming a garish anklet.
There really isn’t much duct tape can’t fix.
The first 20 miles went by at a pretty good clip, although I began to feel it around mile 18 or so. We were steadily ticking off 5 miles per hour, which is great but not necessarily very conservative. I worried about whether we could maintain that pace and avoid blowing up later on.
We decided to ease off a bit, and I settled into just moving forward and getting through my “Shit Miles”, as Laura and I call them. Usually, I feel terrible somewhere around 20-27 or so, then click into gear and really start grooving. This was no exception, and it became a goal to just wait it out.
One more hour. BEEP! Mile 25. Oops! No slowing down! At this time I added cramping to my bag of tricks and spent a few miles riding the edge of total calf cramp up, walking when necessary. In all fairness, I got pretty damn grouchy, but the lovely ladies stuck with me through this tough part.
An aid station worker accidentally filled Laura’s pack with Tailwind electrolyte drink instead of water and she found the surprise a half mile down the road. Ahead I heard “Pahtew! ACK! Oh my god it tastes like sweat!!!”
Lemons? Time to make lemonade. We switched packs and I began chugging as much gross sweatwater as my stomach could physically hold. I drank 1.5 Liters in the next 5 miles and it worked! My legs felt fresh again! It was around mile 32 and I was back in business!
The ladies both went through their own shit miles, but we generally kept our spirits up joking and marveling at the expansive views the atypically fogless sky allowed.
I saw many friends along the course, both running and on the sidelines. As we approached a photographer, he snapped away and then surprised me by yelling “HI KYNAN!” as I passed. I jumped a little, then shouted a cheerful greeting to Myles, who runs Michigan Bluff Photography. He is really awesome at what he does, loves it, and is also a really nice guy.
He shot these next two pics, as well as the starting pic at the beginning.
Miles 30-40 were just an exercise in perseverance and mental trickery. The sun was out in full force and there was no tree cover at all. We hiked up steep climbs, still averaging a decent pace. I cannot express how much it helps to run with people who lighten your spirit as much as these two.
As we hit 40ish, we all reached the third phase of a 50.
First, your legs and body feel good.
Second, your legs feel decent, your body feels bad.
Third, your body feels good again, but your legs feel worse. You just have to keep them doing what you want them to.
The joking continued as we negotiated the final steep climbs and managed our blown out quads on the steep downs. It was a lot of fun, but we were all ready for it to be over.
When we switchbacked down the last hill face, I felt the usual surge of happiness and contentment I get near the end, when I know it’s going to happen. This time, though, it was doubled. I was excited for Laura and I to have completed another one of these brutal headlands races, but I was also through the roof excited to see Megan complete her first race of that distance on a killer course!
We hit the pavement, under a mile left. We raced down the service road, noting how much harder the concrete felt than it had 11 hours earlier.
I turned to Meggers as we passed under the Golden Gate Bridge and said, “You done did it!”
“Shut up, we’re not there yet!”
The three of us turned a corner and saw the finish arch, a beautiful sight. We burned the last fumes in our tanks and ran strong, flying toward that arch at full speed. In the last 50 feet, Laura and I grabbed her hands and held them high as she crossed the finish line after 50 miles!
It was pretty great.
There was plentiful food and ice cold Lagunitas IPA, so we plopped down into some unoccupied chairs and hung out in the cool bay breeze, looking out at the Golden Gate and letting the whole day’s events sink in. All in all, the overwhelming thing I felt was gratitude.
This girl is tough as nails, always smiling, and pulls off a bright skirt like nobody’s business. How did I get so lucky?
(I double checked. This photo is indeed from after the race, not before. I guess I sweat for the both of us)
This girl is crazy enough to take on ridiculous challenges and smash them with grit and giggles. What great company!
These shoes are not new anymore. They have exactly 50 miles on them.
Evidence of a long day’s toil. We brought some of the trail back with us!
Every time I drink from this pint glass or wear this shirt, I’m going to think of ambitious goals, breathtaking views, and the kind of people who make my life as undeservedly sweet as it is.
Chase dreams and really live life, my friends! You only get one time around!