Sometimes it does get easier as you go
The night before the Golden Gate 50K, Beat came down with a fever. He was bummed because he had to miss out on the long run, and I was disappointed because these local trail races are more fun with him — even if we don't run together, there's still all the enjoyment of post-race afterglow, eating burned lentil soup and watermelon, sharing trail stories with other runners, and indulging in creaky laziness for the rest of the evening. Ah, post-50K veg-out. Is there anything better?
Still, as usual, I didn't want to miss out on the pre-post-race fun. As I drove toward San Francisco in the morning darkness, a dam in the sky burst and torrents of rain followed. Even with wipers at full velocity, the view through windshield was a violent blur. Wind rattled the car and the city streets were eerily empty, even for a Sunday morning. I picked up Steve at a deserted bus stop. We crossed the bridge into Marin while discussing our parking and bib-pickup strategy to avoid standing forlornly in the deluge.
We climbed Wolf Ridge into a wind tunnel, watching breakers explode out of the sea hundreds of feet below. Despite warm Rodeo Beach nostalgia, I was not feeling well, with a hollow pit in my stomach and wobbly legs. I considered whether I was developing Beat's fever, and ate some fruit snacks. Nothing seemed to boost my flagging energy. Oh well, it's going to be one of those days. I now know this feeling all too well; December 2010 was a long time ago.
However, two of the women I was with became quite upset about it, and I spent most of those miles explaining why I thought our direction was the more difficult direction anyway, describing the trail ahead, and conceding the embarrassing admission that even though I studied the course map minutes before the race started, and knew these Marin Headlands trails well, I still went the wrong way. Whatever steam any of us had for the first five miles of the race sputtered out altogether in this section. We just hiked through the tepid deluge and assured other runners that we were wrong and they were right. Only after we returned to the aid station and started on the return loop — in the right direction — did it come up in conversation that the women I was running with were from Canada.
"Oh, you're Leslie's friend!" I exclaimed to Iris. "I thought you looked familiar!" Leslie is a mutual friend in Banff, and Iris and I actually spent much of last spring's Woodside Ramble 50K running together. Iris travels down from Canada once or twice a year for a warm-weather double-header, and had run a 50K in Auburn the day prior. Funny that it took us more than an hour to realize we already knew each other. We continued up Marincello Trail at a conversational pace.
I reached the 30K point at Rodeo Beach with 4:05 on the clock. The wind was still blowing at gale force, but the rain had diminished to sprinkles and there were even hints of blue sky and sunlight to the south. Even though I had still only eaten a few Shot Bloks here and there, I was starting to feel more energetic and found new resolve. Golden Gate wasn't the easiest 50K race, with its 6,700 feet of steep climbs, muddy trails, and show-stopping wind — but I really should try to pull it off in under seven hours.
Views of the city opened up across the San Francisco Bay. I surged down the rocky trail, running an 8:xx-minute-mile pace while plunging my crutches into the mud. One of the runners I passed caught back up to me at the last aid station while I was nibbling on Shot Bloks. "That was something!" he exclaimed. "You looked like you were skiing!"
I passed about a dozen runners in the final eight miles, and most said something about my trekking poles. Contouring the ridge above Bonita Cove, the curving trail occasionally veered into wind gusts so strong that they'd stop me in my tracks, braced against a wall of air. I always had to realign myself before I could move forward again, gasping to draw oxygen into my lungs. The wind wasn't going to give an inch of respite, but it was gratifying to feel so great at the end of a long run — especially when I felt so lousy for 18 miles. Many people would give up on a bad run long before that point. I might have as well had I not committed to the 50K. You think, "I'm tired and I'm only going to become more tired if I keep running." But sometimes ... you don't. Sometimes, it really does continue to get easier as you go.
I held up my poles for the final two miles on pavement and did my best sprint to the finish, arriving in 6:33. This means I wrapped up the last difficult 20K in under two and a half hours. For doubting whether I'd even finish under seven hours at the 30K point, it felt like a decent comeback.
It's a good reminder, too, about the rewards of pushing through obstructions. Great experiences await on the other side of the wall.