Thursday, November 20, 2008

Great Escape at the Stinson Beach 50k

Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of joining 450 trail runners for the Stinson Beach 12k/20k/30k/50k in Stinson Beach, CA. This hilly course put on by Pacific Coast Trail Runs tours through some of the most beautiful and challenging trails in the Bay Area, sharing terrain with races like The Dipsea, Miwok 100k, and the Headlands 50k. The weather was a California Dream (75 degrees and cloud-free), and we would all finish with new sun-baked smile lines tattooed into our faces. In short, an epic afternoon of escape.

“Escape” was exactly what I was looking for this weekend. A temporary reprieve from the global economic crisis that has swept up my life with dizzying speed and flung it across the sky like a Class 5 tornado. Every five minutes I have another reminder of how impactful it is. Friends are losing jobs. Foreclosures abound. Parents are watching retirement savings disappear by the day. A NearbyNow dashboard is painting a retail industry meltdown like none this country has witnessed, and doing so with disturbing clarity. The only thing worse is “the model”. That damn Excel spreadsheet that tells me how bad it COULD be if the perfect storm continues to build. That model has cost me hours of sleep and has me cursing the education and curiosity that made it possible. Let me be the ostrich and bury my head for safety!

Get me away from here. Get me away from this spreadsheet, the 24-hour media, and the phone that never stops ringing to deliver tales of anguish and despair. Let me shed these rags and run. Let me be swaddled safely in the arms of Mother Nature, if only for a few hours.

As always, it begins with the ritual. Watching the sun rise as I drive up Highway 1, bags packed and ready, eager to see my “trail running family” who will think of nothing but the exhilaration that lies between now and noon. I’m only two steps out of the car before I’m deep in hugs and handshakes, catching up with friends old and new. We have no time to discuss spreadsheets or Wall Street, because we have more pressing matters like mountains to climb, creeks to cross, and pictures to take. To get through this adventure, we’re going to have to live in the moment. I hope my smiles are enough to convey how grateful I am just to be here and share it.

(Wendell Doman leads us off)

The weather couldn’t have been better, and we had some fast runners out to make the most of it. I was pleased to find Will Gotthardt at the starting line and ready to give his recovered quad injury a full field test. If there’s any course to do that, this is the one, with the crazy ups, downs, and uneven steps of the Dipsea and Steep Ravine trails. Course record holder Troy Howard was also here (just a month or so off of his 2nd place finish at the Los Angeles Crest 100m), as was super-Master Cliff Lentz, perennial top finisher Sean Lang, the ever-smiling Karen Hoffman, Dawn Infurna-Bean, and Jady Palko. Jady’s Mom, Barbara Ash, was also going for the 50k…how cool is that to run a 50k with your Mom? All 450 runners lined up together for the 8:30am start, and Wendell, Sarah, and Aaron Doman sent us off!

(Runners heading up the trail, photo courtesy of Banff Trail Trash)

We immediately pitched up the Dipsea Trail, and I paced with Troy Howard as the 12k/20k runners took off like a herd of gazelles. We were both astonished at the warm temperature and sunny skies, sharing thoughts of how spoiled we are to have this for a casual Saturday run. A classic California Fall weekend!

(Troy Howard and Robert Cookson heading up the Dipsea Trail)

As we entered the trees, Troy took off while I got a few pictures. The deep green forest dared us to suck in the rich oxygen and charge the hills with all our might. It didn’t take long to reach the Pantoll aid station (mile 4), where runners split off in all directions to complete their various loops. The volunteers did a great job with the hundreds of runners coming up the trail, but there was some confusion as spectators and new volunteers alike accidentally sent runners in the wrong direction. A few of us paused to make sure we had it right, then spoke with the people hollering out the wrong directions to get everyone on the same path. Two minutes well spent, I figured. I soon joined the other 30k/50k runners on the loop out to Muir Beach and could see them spread like ants across the hillside.

(Michael Amorosa heads up the steps)

The ocean peeked over the mountain ridge, sending up butterfly kisses of cool, salty gusts. What a playground! I chased Ray Sanchez and Daniel Fabun down the snake trail to Hwy 1, and saw the front-runners on their way back. Sean Lang led the pack for the 50k, with Troy Howard, Cliff Lentz, Will Gotthardt, and Kendall Wu in hot pursuit. I think I was around 9th place or so, about four minutes behind. I slammed some flat Coke and refilled my two water bottles, and headed back out.

(Into the sun and towards the sea)

(50k runner Ilia Jiminez-Colyer enjoys the single track)

For about 15 minutes, there were runners everywhere on the out-and-back section along Hwy 1 giving high fives and cheering each other on. Then suddenly, I was alone with my steps heading back up the hill. Alone and together, separate and at once…this is such a cool sport! I caught up to a refueling Kendall Wu and Brett Rivers, and we tackled the long climb back to Pantoll.

(The ocean rises up to greet us)

(Running the snake down to Hwy 1)

A quick refill and a handful of Jelly Bellys later, we were dodging hikers on our way back down to the beach on the Matt Davies trail. I had never seen so many people on this trail, but everyone was very courteous so it was no trouble to make it down. I leaned forward into the hill, having faith my feet would find the right footing among the roots, rocks, and uneven steps. Somehow they always find the right way.

We entered the turnaround (mile 18), where hundreds of 12k/20k runners were spread out on the beach and sand enjoying the day. My stomach was acting funny and I was craving some real food, so I had some pumpkin pie and Sprite. The volunteers said I was in second place, about 10 minutes behind Troy, but that couldn’t be right. But for one fleeting moment, it felt good to imagine it was true. ;-)

(The ladder on the Steep Ravine Trail)

I walked a section of the first hill to let my stomach settle, but it never quite did. By the time I hit the canopy, I “unlunched” on the grass. Fortunately (or unfortunately) I’ve gotten pretty good at determining the right course of action post-vomit based on how I feel in the first 60 seconds afterwards. If I feel instantly better, then it probably was too much food, something not settling right, or too much liquid volume. If I don’t feel instantly better, it tends to be dehydration, sun exposure, or a hangover (ha, ha). This time I wasn’t feeling much better, so I power-walked and tried to get my hydration back on track.

I was soon caught be Kendall Wu and Brett Peters, both of whom are training for the North Face 50 on Dec 6th. Brett was a first-time ultra runner, but his fitness level suggests he wasn’t new to endurance racing. They were both smiling away, taking turns to lead up Steep Ravine and keeping a strong pace. I did my best to keep them in sight as we approached Pantoll (mile 22) again.

(Kendall and Brett tackle the second loop)

Kendall led us down the yellow loop, which turned out to be much more runnable than the elevation chart suggested. He led the way with me right behind, and Brett fell back a few paces. We all power-walked the last climb, which seemed to be the toughest of the day. Our reward? Do it one more time!

Brett passed me on the second loop as I finally began to regain my senses. He was really looking good and was clearly getting his second (third?) wind. I refilled at Pantoll (mile 27) one last time, had another wedge of pumpkin pie (which stayed down nicely this time), and went chasing after Brett. When I got the clearing on the Matt Davies Trail, I could see both Kendall and Brett were well ahead of me and probably going faster. So I put on some tunes (Bob Marley Remix), smiled into the sun, and cruised in for 7th place (5:31).

(Taking the Matt Davies Trail back to Stinson Beach)

Will and Sean were at the finish and caught me up. Troy Howard and Cliff Lentz had smoked the course in 4:33 and change, nearly 30 minutes better than the existing course record. Cliff won (4:31:39) with Troy right behind (4:33:42). Sean came in third (5:05), Will was forth (5:16), and Kendall Wu (5:18:55) and Brett Rivers (5:24:29) finished just ahead of me. Ilia Jimenez-Colyer won the Womens division in 5:40:53, with Rachel Rodriguez right behind her in 5:44:35 (more results here). Alexander Sebastian rocked the 30k to a new course record (2:41:35), with Holly Tate winning the Womens division (3:00:35). Ted Simpkins scored a course record in the 20k (1:38:15), with Caitlin Smith missing the Womens course record by 50 seconds on her way to a win (1:58:00). Blair Ford (1:03:02) and Jennifer Joynt (1:15:50) picked up wins in the 12k. Everyone basked in the sun, eating soup and soft serve ice cream, before heading home (or to the Sand Dollar Bar for a free beer…just show your number!). Another epic day thanks to Pacific Trail Runs and their volunteers.

I opened the sunroof and drove down Hwy 1, exhausted and renewed at the same time. My body and soul were full of mountain views, ocean expanse, friendly ferns, smiling runners and hikers, and sand- and dirt-caked sweat. Thank you, Mother Nature. I have no room left for spreadsheets this weekend.

- SD


  1. Great report, Scott! It was good to see you out there. That final hill on the yellow loop was nasty, wasn't it? Short but nasty...just the way I like it.

    Thinking hard about Woodside in February ;)

  2. Amazing blog... thank you. You write so well. It was as though I was there! M

  3. Hang in there. We're all having tough times and worried about family and friends. Keep appreciating that there's more to life than spreadsheets and dollars. Good run and good report.

  4. Great race report! Running a PCTR event this Sunday (a 30K) for the first time...glad to hear they're well-organized races.

    Best of luck in the other aspect of your life. It's a struggle no doubt, but hopefully there'll be some reprieve soon..

  5. Good honest stuff Scott, appreciate those first few get it, always have, another terrific report.

    Enjoyed talking with you pre/post-race.

    Tough course, Cliff & Troy tore it up, I'll see you again in a couple weeks on your newly groomed home trails.

    Will G.

  6. Way to make me homesick Scott. That's a pretty tough run start all the way to Pantoll from the beach, uphill pretty much the entire way. I love those trails. That final photo on your post if one of my favourite "happy places"

    I agree with Michael (above). The writing in this piece is excellent - especially the paragraph right above the "Wendell starting the race" photo. Well done.

    Cheers, Paul

  7. I think you covered the race well. I did the 30K and had a good experience and result. It was well organized and fun to do.

  8. So..... are you running the Rose Valley race (the 9 trails substitute?)

  9. Thanks for stopping by everyone. I appreciate the kudos, Paul, especially from such a great writer! I hope we will have you up again soon.

    Victoria - I won't be able to make the Rose Valley race, as fun as it sounds. Thanks to the Santa Barbara fires we had to juggle some family things and that Sat is no longer open. Too bad - it looks like Luis and crew but together a great substitute! Have a good time out there.


  10. Aaaaah. The Beach. I am trying to mentally prepare myself for the next 6 months of winter. I think I may need another escape back to your corner of the world...

  11. Scott,

    This is off topic and I apologize in advance, but I was wondering if you knew that they are applying a layer of compacted base rock using heavy equipment (essentially paving in my book) to the Crystal Springs Trail, Chinqapin Trail and part of the Dean Trail in Huddart Park. They are doing it so horses will be allowed on those trails year-round.

    The problem is that this surface is obviously not conducive to a trail runner's love of the surface upon which we run, not to mention hammering a descent, which myself and several others in my group have signed up to do on Dec. 6th at the PCTR race.

    Since you basically live on the property, do you know if there was any warning that they were going to do this? So far, they've only done the top section of Crystal Springs and a part of Dean, but you should run down there and check it out to see what they're doing to our beloved trails.


  12. Ron -

    I was aware that the Park Maintenance folks were going to do some heavy work on Crystal Springs, as well as the Skyline Trail out to Wunderlich. They have been grinding down those sections and widening them for a few months now. I wasn't aware of the asphalt until it came in, nor do I know what the final plans are. I ran down it yesterday and it was surprisingly soft. Then again, I'm sure they are not finished yet.

    I agree with you - the old style was much more fun for trail running. But I can see how it would be treacherous for horses.


    PS - Updated the Womens 50k results above, since they changed on the results page.

  13. There is a a thread regarding the Huddart trail resurfacing on the PCTR message boards.

    In short, it is not asphalt, it is not hot mix is simply crushed stone, layed wet and rolled, which forms the base of most of the trails in the park, always has.

    In short time, with use (hikers, runners, equestrians), and as debris (dirt, leaves, needles, etc) collect on the surface, the trails will resemble the natural look & feel just as before, improved in regards to flatness/speed.

    Will G.

  14. Thanks for the reassurance Will. BTW, I run with Gary Gellin (or I should say he let's me lag behind him) and he regularly sings your praises.

    Scott, so sorry for hijacking the thread.


  15. I've heard Gary sing, he's pretty good.

    No worries on the Huddart Trails, they only just got faster.

    Will G.

  16. Hey Scott. The girl on Single track is Rachel, not Ilia.

  17. Great race recap Scott! I was stoked to meet you on the trail as I've been reading your blog for the last couple months while getting into trail running, your site is great! See you on the trail,

  18. Scott,
    That video with the wingsuits completely blew me away. I can't believe it. I mean I saw it, but I still can't believe it.
    I'm a fan of your blog and would
    love the chance to run an idea by you offline. If you're interested, could
    you drop me a line at


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