Monday, August 29, 2016

Speed and Serenity at the 2016 Tamalpa Headlands 50k (USATF Trail 50k Championships)

No matter how you sliced it, the 2016 Tamalpa Headlands 50k was destined to be epic. The event carved a rugged course through some of most scenic and challenging trails of the Marin Headlands that would climb 7,000' along the Pacific Ocean, while running side by side with the fastest trail runners in the nation competing for the USATF Trail 50k National Championships. Race Directors Tim and Diana Fitzpatrick had their expert volunteer crew of Tamalpa Runners, local beer and pizza ovens at the end, and enough awesome swag to keep us flush for the summer. Now Mother Nature was throwing in a perfect slightly overcast day, and our clan of runners had come out in force. It was a great day to run!
(Tim gets us ready!)
Last year, I had shown up to this race so exhausted from work that I fell asleep in my car at the start line. Yeah, not the best preparation. This year was quite the opposite, not exactly by plan, and I was giddy with gratitude. My mind and soul were in wonderful harmony, sealed with a smile that hadn't left since Western States. My body was a bit tired from a week in Switzerland, but heck, I'll take that excuse any day. The trifecta of good fitness, good race, and a good day to run was here and I was going to soak it in. No time goals or need for excessive photos...just be present and behold the ordinary miracles of a day of adventure with friends.

(DBo, ready to roll)
(Defending champion Caitlin Smith
The starting line was a who's who of trail running, and nearly all the fast kids from the Bay Area were here. DBo (Dylan Bowman), (Alex) Varner, Jorge Marvilla (and son!), Team Roche (David and Meagan), defending Women's champion Caitlin Smith, Sam Robinson, Jean Pommier, and Scott Trummer were all ready to roll. If that wasn't enough, there were more world class stars in the corral than I could name - 50k/100k World Champion Camille Herron, Mountain Running World Champion Kasie Enman, 2016 Miwok 100k winner Cody Reed, Tim Freriks (2nd at the 2016 Lake Sonoma 50m), Lindsey Tollefson...holy speed skates, Batman. This race was going to be quick! 

From the moment the gun went off, my mind was as calm and random as the gentle coastal breeze on this glorious day. Here's what I recall:

(And we're off!)
Mile 1: Jean Pommier gives me a smile as we head towards the beach, and he sizes up the Masters bibs ahead of him. Somewhere in here is the great William Emerson, local Ed Randolph, and 2-3 others capable of a sub-4:30 time. Too fast for me, but Jean has gone that fast on three of the five times he's done this race. DBo seems taller than I remember....could be the trucker hat. 

(So that's what these hills look like!)
Mile 3: It's a bit disconcerting how many runners I can recognize from behind now. Their haircuts, body shape (with occasional tattoos), and gait are as defining as any thumbprint. Camille Herron's unique gait is way out front, while Megan Roche and Caitlin Smith pace each other out of Pirates Cove with striking efficiency. At least six Women are within a minute...this is a really fast group! 

(Climbs galore today)
Mile 5: In a decade of racing, I've never done this climb when its not soaked in fog, and my psyche isn't sure if a clear view of the steep trail is a good thing as it climbs towards the sky. Blue Bottle coffee tastes just as good when burped, with hints of hazelnut and cardamom, which is awesome. 

Mile 9: The Miwok Trail is packed with runners going the opposite way, far more than running the race. It's rush hour in the Headlands on this glorious sunny morning, and I wonder if the race limit had been raised to 1,000 it would have filled just as quickly. It reminds me of the mountain folk in Chamonix lining the course at 10,000' when UTMB is in full swing, and it charms me to know that experience is happening right now half a world away. Nous aimons nos montanges! Nous tous!!!

(Oh, yeah...better save something for Steep Ravine!)
Mile 12: I catch Jason Reed just after Tennessee Valley, where he recaps the Pikes Peak double he did (again) this year, two of four of his races in Colorado that week. He's closing in on his 2,000th race of all time, hoping to hit the milestone before his 40th birthday (he's got a few years yet, and is on track!). Comically, he is the second fittest person in his household as his newlywed wife prepares to compete in pro bodybuilding at Mr/Mrs Olympia. Amidst our fast strides he says we hit the halfway in 2:14, a sub 4:50 finish pace, just as we catch his buddy Karl and the eucalyptus groves fill our lungs for the descent.

Mile 18: I am climbing the Dipsea Trail in quiet solitude, and it feels lonely after sharing it with hundreds of runners at the famed 106-year-old race earlier this year. Strava says I'm climbing faster than ever...only an ultrarunner would go faster in a 50k than a 12k. Apparently Switzerland has given me new gears for the mountains, so I explore them at each switchback.
(Alex Varner takes on Steep Ravine)
Mile 24: The Matt Davis Trail is named after the guy who built this insane set of switchbacks by hand in 1929. It's hard to imagine looking at this canyon and thinking "well, with about 500+ odd shaped steps and 40 switchbacks, we can visit six microclimates in four miles and create a trail guaranteed to claim shins and ankles for generations of trail runners to come". My under-the-breath curses are offerings to his genius, and in return, I come out unscathed. 

(David Roche in the closing miles, photo courtesy of Joe Viger)
Mile 27: I pause at the top of the last climb, squinting my eyes to see where we ran to and from today. Three beaches, five hills, more valleys than waves in the endless sea that spreads before us. It's a full day, but part of me wants another lap, a round of seconds and thirds in this deliciously endless buffet. They call us crazy for waking at the crack of light to run all day, but we are the lucky ones, more centered and peaceful on our lactic-filled legs than anyone napping in the fragile caress of modern comfort.

(Jorge Marvilla and his crew come in for 10th place)
Mile 31: Tim Fitzpatrick's megaphone beckons me out of the canyons to a finish in 4:44, good enough for 19th guy and 2nd in my age group. It's a solid 30 minutes quicker than last year, much to my surprise, and more surprisingly I realize I could have gone much faster. Switzerland was more training than peaking, it appears, a welcome rookie training move after all these years. I guess I'll have to come back again!

(Cody Reed for the win!)
At the finish, we gorged on Jed Tukman's Firetrail pizza fresh from the mobile trailer ovens and enjoyed delicious Headlands Brewing beer made just for the occasion, while dazzling in all the wonderful swag. The finish times this year were otherworldly - Men needed a sub-4:17 for a Top 10, while Megan Roche (4:20) and Kasie Enman (4:23) both beat a 10-year-old course record to their way to 1st and 2nd for the Women. Cody Reed (3:43) held on for the win, with David Roche (2nd, 3:44), DBo (3rd, closing fast with a 3:48), Scott Trummer (4th, 3:50), Alex Varner (5th, 3:55), and Patrick Parsel (6th, 3:59) all going under four hours. Caitlin Smith (4:34) rounded out the Women's podium. Nate Bowen (4:25) and Bree Lambert (5:17) won the Masters, with Jean Pommier (4:27) adding another AG award to his trophy case. (all results)

(Women Top 10)
(Men Top 10)
(Great swag!)
(Strava says good job)
(The couple that eats trail together, stays together...and gets M2 and F1! Nice work, Team Roche)
Chris DeNucci pours me a beer as the sun peeks through the clouds and lights the way for more finishers coming down the canyon. Team Fitzpatrick put on a world class event in every way, and it somehow produced my best in these mountains when I least expected it. My congrats to the RD's and runners, and many thanks to the sponsors and volunteers that help them create such an amazing race. We will see you next year, for sure, and I hope you join us!


1 comment:

  1. Great to see you again, Scott, and congrats on your much better time this year: yes, it helps to be awake at the start, doesn't it?! ;-) You were 30' faster this time, 15 more minutes next time and you'll break 4:30, you can certainly do it!


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