Saturday, March 17, 2018

Fun In the Fog at the 2018 Marin Ultra Challenge 50k

It was a calm and foggy morning at the start of the 2018 Marin Ultra Challenge (MUC) 50k - great conditions for running, not so much for sight seeing. This was my 4th consecutive year at this headline race from Inside Trail Racing, and I know we can have anything from hot and steamy to cold and windy in the Marin Headlands this time of year. The trails were in great condition, so it would likely be an epic day!

(Lining up at the start for the sold out race)
(Headlights line the ridge of the first climb!)
I had no specific goals for this race, aside from wanting to run a consistent pace from start to finish, up and down the 5,000' vertical of climbing. If I could get a few pics along the way, even better! As we prepared for the 6am send off, I shed my last few layers, opting for gloves, a hat, and a tank top, and said a little thanks to Mother Nature for (hopefully) holding off the storm for a few hours.

The course this year went straight up Hill 88 (groan), but that didn't stop Franz Van Der Groen, Chris Jackson, Lon Freeman (in the 50-mile!), and Jeff Mogavero from setting a blistering pace up front. I slotted about 30 spots back, looking for good picture spots as we climbed above the clouds.

(Getting above the clouds, then turning around to jump back in!)
I recognized the back of the head of Lucas Shuman just ahead of me, a deja vu moment as I had just chased him through Purisima OSP at the Whistle Punk Half just a few weeks ago. He was once again my likely competition for the Masters, and once again descending like a madman! I cruised along with Katie Asmuth (50m), up from Culver City for her first trip to the Marin Headlands, and I tried to point out where the views will be as soon as the fog burns off. She was thrilled to be here, and looked forward to seeing ALL of the Headlands today.

(Cruising with Katie)
(Charging the climb, photo courtesy of ChasquaRunner)
Matt Ward and Ian Grettenburger (both 50m) were all laughs heading up the next climb, so I joined them as we ascended out of the fog. The Golden Gate Bridge was poking through the fast moving clouds like a shark was wonderful! As we ran along the ridge, the fog pushed up to us like crashing waves.

(Matt and Ian in good spirits)

(These climbs get steep!)
(There's the Golden Gate Bridge!)
It was a pleasure to descend Marincello (so often the courses go up this section), plunging into the clouds again, and Chris Denucci got me filled up (with a solid selfie to boot) at Tennessee Valley (mile 10). I was feeling really good thanks to the cool weather, so allowed myself to pick up the pace for the second third of the race, heading towards the beach.

(Chris Denucci gets me filled up)
(The clouds wash up to the trail)

(We climb the ridge)
(Hold your breath, we are going back in!)
(Above the clouds, photo courtesy of ChaquaRunner)
I teamed up with 23-year-old Eduardo Nunez, a recent transplant to San Francisco from Minnesota, and we quickly figured out he was faster on the descents and I was quicker on the climbs. We got down into Pirate's Cove, but could only hear the crashing waves in the distance before turning back up to Muir Beach. I lightened my load at the aid station (at a real bathroom, what a treat!), then chased Ed and Truckee's Peter Bromhall down the street and towards the climb up Miwok.

(Ed is in there somewhere!) 
(Peter enjoys the greenery)
(Ed pulls out of the clouds)
Peter is the Assistant Race Director for the Canyons 100k in Auburn, CA, a race he is planning to do this year, so MUC was a good warm up race for him. As soon as we hit the climb, I peeled off to catch Ed, then later Bryon Powell (the other Bryon Powell), and didn't see a soul until I pulled back into Muir Beach (mile 20) and high-fived waves of 50m runners. Everyone was having a great time!

(Having fun, photo courtesy of ITR)

(50-milers getting it done!)

I charged up the steep climb of Middle Green Gate, recalling this is the climb that broke Lance Armstrong when he ran this race with us in 2016 (he regrouped and got a solid 7th). Oakland's Sam Demello was fast hiking, and was thrilled when he asked if we were half way yet, and I said "mile 22...two more climbs and you are done!". I kept pushing, allowing myself to red line as we got close to the top.
(Sam in getting it done!)
(Fast downhills, photo courtesy of ITR)
Back at Tennessee Valley (mile 25), they let me know Lucas was less than a minute ahead of me, so I leaned into the hill to try and catch him. After 30 minutes of pushing hard, I saw him tearing into the final descent and knew I wouldn't quite match his downhill prowess. I finished in 7th place (4:29), 2nd Master behind Lucas (4:28). Maybe I shouldn't have taken so many pictures! Still, a great day.
I felt like I could have gone another 10 miles at this pace, so clearly my fitness is going well this year.

(The final stretch, photo courtesy of ChasquaRunner)
(Find that finish, whoop, whoop!)
(Race Director Tim Stahler taking care of us) 
(Enjoying some post-race beers)
(Happy volunteers keep us fed!)
It's such a blessing to have good health, and even more so to enjoy it to the fullest in this beautiful playground. The post-race glow was marvelous, so I changed my clothes and got ready for a few hours of chillin'. We shared a few beers while cheering in the other 25k and 50k runners, and heard that Fort Bragg's Jeff Mogavero (3:42) had won the 50k with a new course record! It's hard to imagine going 1 minute/km faster on that course, as fast as I was going....that guy is amazing. Mill Valley's Jenny Comiskey came in soon after me (4:36, 9th OA) to win the Women's division, a solid 20 minutes ahead of her competition. (all results)

Another perfectly executed MUC by Inside Trail Racing, another beautiful day in the mountains. I can't wait for the next one!