Race Recap: Mt. Tam Half Marathon (Or 15+ Miler)

My first trail race experience was nothing but waterfalls and oozing mush for all things trail running. No exaggeration.

But I suppose it was only a matter of time before the trails put me in my place and said, “Hey listen up you road-running noob, we still have some serious initiation to do.” And like that, I was tested.

My travel schedule to Portland and the Bay Area has been a bit chaotic lately for both personal and work reasons. I was in San Francisco all this week for work and managed to tack on some personal time with the husband this weekend. When Jojo mentioned the Mt. Tam 50Ka> that she was running and that there were shorter race options, Chicken Face and I decided to stay true to our resolution and say yes to another new adventure.

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Despite his cold and my throbbing leg (don’t ask), we hopped in the Westy and made our way to Stintson beach for the race start. He would be tackling the 10K and his first-ever trail race and I decided to do the half-marathon (my training plan called for 14-18, but McMillan said I could go for it).

UntitledHellllllllllo, California in November!

As a trail running newbie, I can look at this elevation profile and confidently say that this is more hill climbing than my pavement-loving legs have ever handled while proceeding at a pace that is faster than a walk.

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Did I know if this is considered a “tough” course? A “shit-ton” of climbing? Or was this pretty standard in the books of seasoned trail runners? I have no idea and I don’t really care. To me, it’s a lot. Regardless, I knew that this was just going to be a beautiful training run. I said goodbye to Chicken Face, wished him luck on his own adventure, and made my way with the pack.

The course was gorgeous, in fact, it felt like a little piece of Oregon tucked right within California, but with stunning views of the ocean mixed in. But this race recap isn’t about the views, but about the challenge.

The course itself was just as expected, you were either going up, up, up, or straight down. Hell, you even climbed a ladder at one point. A LADDER! My heart rate was in for a shock and I realized that the trail race I did a couple of weeks ago was a cake walk compared to this. I happily waited to the right for other to pass me.

Not only was the elevation challenging, but the funny thing is, you actually have to pay attention while trail running. The horror! I’m used to mindlessly following huge signs and cheering crowds, not being on the lookout for yellow ribbons, then orange ribbons, then yellow ribbons again, avoid the blue ribbons, don’t follow the pink ribbons, and if you get lost, you’re on your own.

Well shit. This whole “paying attention to directions thing” should have been my first warning because if you’ve ever met me, you know that directions and I don’t play well together.

So there I was, climbing, climbing, climbing, wondering when this climb would be over. All I saw were pink ribbons and after what felt like forever, I finally realized something wasn’t right. I managed to ask someone if they had seen any orange ribbons, when they quickly told me, “Oh honey, you missed that a while ago. The turn was back down and a ways back from the climb.” Lovely.

I grumbled profanities and made my way back down the hill only to find a fellow half-marathoner who had a similar fate. We both managed to miss the 8.5″x11″ sign with the orange arrow. Soon, I had made a new friend and we were both laughing about how idiotic we were for missing the turn, while making loops in and around the Muir Woods trying to figure out where the hell to go. I pulled out my phone to see if a map would help (it didn’t), so instead I snapped this: OH MY GOD WE’RE COMPLETELY LOST selfie:

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Luis soon spotted some park rangers who said, “We thought you were lost. Orange is at the end of the road that way…” The opposite direction in which we were running.

We continued to chuckle and when we finally found our orange arrow destiny, we rejoiced and figured that we probably added on around two additional miles. No longer were we in the half marathon game, but the “let’s just finish” game.

I soon parted ways with Luis with a new goal of just to get to an aid station. I didn’t have anything with me as I thought it was just a half and there would be plenty of aid stations along the way. I was wrong. There was only one aid station that you would visit once at mile 3 and mile 10 (which would be my mile 12+ by the time I reached it again). Trail running isn’t like normal road running where I can run 13 miles with minimal water or fuel, I needed something to drink and eat stat.

I could feel my legs getting wobbly and tired, and I rolled my bad ankle twice. Thankfully, it survived and I was a bit of a grumpy mess just wanting to get food and get done. Chicken Face would be waiting for me at the end and he would surely be wondering what happened.

I just ran and tried to take in the scenery because it truly was gorgeous, but the hanger was consuming me. When I finally reached the aid station I grabbed some fluids and bits of a PB&J. It didn’t take much, but it was just enough to give my the energy I had been longing for.

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I made my way to the finish, just trucking along, going back down all of the stairs we had climbed up, making friends with the other women around me. As I was approaching the final miles, I caught my foot on a rock in the middle of the trail and completely ate it, sliding down my left side. Thankfully, I was able to pick myself back up and the girl behind me joked and said, “It will be our secret.”

I later realized that the fall took a bit of my dignity as well as my favorite sunglasses. I leared that sunglesses were unnecessary/unsafe in the shade so I tucket them in my shirt. When I fell, they must have flown off without me realizing it and now my favorite, and only, running glasses were gone forever. Ugh. Is this race over yet?

I ran into the finish line, saw Chicken Face and started shouting, “I got completely lost for two miles!”

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I crossed the finish line not knowing, or caring at all, what my time was. I was just happy to be done.

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If I had to recap the course itself, I’d tell you that the beauty will not disappoint, nor will the challenge. Chicken Face said he was humbled by his 10K and the views were worth all of the climbing. Plus, I was so proud of Chicken Face for going along with another crazy idea and tackling his first trail race.

If I had to recap my personal experience, I’d say I have a lot of work to do. I have no idea how to handle running the descents, I need to learn how to fuel differently and properly for trail running, and my legs, well they just have a lot of work to do in order to be able to handle the trails.

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Post-race, Chicken Face and I went to the beach where we took a nap together on the sand. And that, my friends, made it all worth it.

Happy Running!

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16 Responses to Race Recap: Mt. Tam Half Marathon (Or 15+ Miler)

  1. Aw. That little party at the end about napping together in the sand made me so happy. Sounds like the perfect ending to a not quite as planned race day. Sorry about those sunglasses! Sounds like the perfect reason to do a little shopping…

  2. Cathryn says:

    Pretty much every time I run trails, they humble me and remind me I’m not that good at running after all. But the beauty makes it all worthwhile! I nearly ran that half-marathon yesterday – half glad I didn’t and half sad at the same time. It looks amazing and the weather was incredible!

  3. Kelly says:

    Random, but I just met JoJo on Friday and we were running part of the course. No, it’s not easy, but glad you sort of enjoyed our trails and beach! Isn’t trail running fun?!

  4. Bwahaha this reminds me SO much of when I went trail running for the first time. I did a half and it was amazing. And then I ran more trails and was like “THIS IS SO FREAKING HARD. ”

    But you fell and got lost – two initiation rites in one race! Congrats on toughing out a difficult race!

  5. Oof! That sounds rough!! Congrats on finishing!

    A nap on the beach sounds fantastic after something like that.

  6. Ha, trails will do that to you! I ran a trail half once where it had POURED the two nights prior and part of it was an out-and-back on single track, so not only were we trying to get out of the people flying towards us ways, but add in the mud and it was a shit show. Plus, since it was an out-and-back, you would everyone coming towards you completely covered in mud and you just shuddered at what must be up ahead.

    They are always worth it in the end, though!! Your legs will get used to it, but there will always be a run that puts you back in your place. It’s how the trails work =).

  7. ok you pin pointed my major concern with trail races, I love to look around and I get so absorbed in nature, i can pretty much see me falling straight of a cliff. Woot for new adventures and saying yes!!

  8. Wooo! So brave. Honestly I’m so scared of doing trail running! I twisted my ankle on a tree root once and haven’t 100% recovered. Now I’m a wuss! Though, like CF said… probably entirely worth the views! Glad you had an awesome experience!!

  9. Beth says:

    You have no idea how much I loved this post! I remember my first trail race so vividly and felt so out of my element. It was not far from where you were, my first was at Muir Beach. It is so very different from road running – from the gear, to what all you need to carry, aid stations every 3-5, sometimes more miles apart, the dirt, smells, sights….and the elevation. While I’d say elevation wise, most bay area 30k’s are in the 1500 to 3000 ft range, (on average here, not exact at all, there’s a wide range), anything out of Stinson is extra tough because you usually head out either up Matt Davis or Steep Ravine, both wicked climbs and descents coming back down.
    Two things I recommend as a fellow Bay area trail runner – Brazen Racing, and Ultra Gam Gaiters. Brazen puts on excellent, challenging runs, including a nasty 50k on Diablo, and gaiters will keep the trail junk out of your shoes.
    It’s so exciting to follow along as you and the hubs venture into the world of trail running!

  10. Jen says:

    Sounds like a rough initiation (even though it was your 2nd trail race)! You got all of the doozies in one go — crazy ascents/descents, getting lost, rolling your ankle, falling, and not having enough water/fuel. I think the only thing missing was spotting a rattlesnake, mountain lion, or bear. The good news is now that you’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons, this should make subsequent trail adventures a lot easier. AND it sounds like you and CF had a nice day together in the end.

    BTW, when I saw that elevation profile, I muttered, “HOLY SHIT.” I ran a 25K in Redwood (Skirt n Dirt) this summer and it was ~2900′ gain, definitely the toughest race I’ve ever run. I also learned at that race that Inside Trail has their aid stations very far apart — like every 6 miles or so. In comparison, other trail race companies usually have aid stations every 3 miles, 4 miles at the most.

  11. Ashley says:

    Having run that course, among many other trail races, I can say that it’s a pretty tough course! Gorgeous, but tough. Congrats on another adventure into trail running!

  12. Nicole says:

    I am no trail running expert yet either but I can safely say that elevation profile is intense!! Glad you at least didn’t get attacked by a mountain lion as it seems you experienced most other trail running disaster there is! Haha but it makes a good story right?!?

  13. wow. that sounds like an adventure. :) I haven’t done any trail runs really, except the trail in the park near me and a couple of Brazen races (which are awesome) but I am finding I love them more than road races really. The course sounds tough, but it seems like you had a good time out there even with getting lost, tumbling and rolling the ankle. It’s all part of being a trail runner, no?

  14. Megan says:

    I signed up for my first trail race and I’ve been a little worried, it’s only a couple months a way and I’ve only recently started running on trails. This post gives me confidence that even if things don’t turn out as planned it will still be a fun learning experience.

  15. Jen says:

    I really want to start trail running more but I know I need to adjust to intense inclines, which aren’t really available in NYC. Those gorgeous views look like Big Sur! It’s not a “trail” marathon, but it’s on my bucket list for the views alone.

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