On Saturday morning, I ran the Ayala Cove 10 mile trail race, which is its formal name..I’ve always called it the Angel Island 10 miler. Angel Island is an island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, between the city and Marin. It’s car-free except the little tourist bus and some park ranger vehicles, so everyone who visits hikes or cycles. You can camp here, but there’s currently no residential houses. It’s peaceful and beautiful. Mt Livermore rises 788 ft/240m above the bay and the island is crisscrossed with beautiful single-track trails lined with forget-me-nots or with simple fire roads. We hiked there three years ago and I’d been dying to go back and run there.
In this post, I’m using a mix of photos from Saturday and from our 2011 hike. If the sky is blue, it’s an old photo. If it’s a photo of the race or the sky is grey, it’s from Saturday.
The race was held by Zoom Running Events and incorporated a 5 miler, a 10 miler and a 15 miler. The 5 miler goes straight up to the summit. The 10 miler climbs half-way up and loops the island on a fire road before doing the summit loop, and the 15 miler circles the island on the flattish road at the bottom before doing the fire-road loop then the summit loop. I have to say, Zoom managed this event perfectly, I was really impressed.
I’ve mentioned before that this race was particularly exciting because my friend Louise was running it and it was her first ever race. She only really started running in November when she and I did an ‘exercise exchange’. She took me to yoga, I took her trail running. Now I do yoga fairly regularly and she is totally hooked on running. Watching her increase her distance and fall in love with running over the past few months has been a real delight and I was so excited to see her run her first race!
We travelled together up to Tiburon, the pretty little town in Marin from where all the runners would get the ferry over to Angel Island. The original plan was for my boys to come with us and cycle round the island whilst we ran, but the Dude picked up a germ at pre-school this week, so they stayed home. It was a late start – the ferry left at 10 am, which made fuelling for the race a little tricky – when should I eat breakfast? should I have a snack beforehand? Packet Pick-Up was smooth and simple – I think only about 150 people ran any of the three races – and soon we were on the ferry heading to the island.
We knew it wouldn’t be hot but it was surprisingly grey and bitterly cold. We got pretty chilled before the race started. The 15 milers set off at 10.50 and the 10 milers set off at 10:55. We were literally freezing so really glad to get running. As ever, once we started running, we were warm enough pretty much immediately and the weather was perfect for running.
The 10 miler was made up of two loops. The first loop started up some beautiful single track. There was a little passing to negotiate (both me passing other people and being passed myself) but it wasn’t too bad or stressful and it was never badly crowded. About half-way up the mountain-side, we veered off onto a fire-road and after that I was pretty much on my own for the rest of the race, which was blissful. The fire-road turned a corner and there was the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge and I just had to marvel once again at how lucky I am to be living here, how flipping beautiful this city is and how much I love it.
I ran on – the fire road was pretty flat and nicely surfaced, it was a real pleasure to run it. At one point, I took a wrong turn and headed up a hill (obviously) but two ladies whistled and yelled at me and I got back on track. Soon enough, I was heading downhill to the end of the first loop – we had to run all the way back down the mountain to the start point. The trail was quite steep and rocky – I ran it as fast as I could whilst still being careful not to fall, it was a bit of an adrenaline rush, I loved it. We finished with some brutal stairs and a flat paved stretch back to the staging area. When I got there, Louise’s husband and children were there cheering, it was lovely to see them. I had enough drink in my handheld so yelled back at them and kept running.
The second loop was tougher. We initially followed the same trails up the mountain and it was impossible not to compare how much harder it felt on this second loop, on tired legs versus how fresh I felt last time. Having said that, it was very do-able and both Louise and I managed to run the entire race, the first time I’ve not had to walk during a trail race, so the gradients were great. Where we veered off on the fire road on the first loop, we continued climbing on single-track towards the summit. The trails had left the woods now and the views were stunning. I was so very happy running here – so much pleasure. I choked down a Gu and a few minutes later, it kicked in.
The final push was an out-and-back to the summit. My legs were tired from what felt like the constant climbing but I was now determined not to walk. So I slogged up the final stretch. There were times when I might have walked faster but I kept running and before long, I was at the top, turning round and plunging back down the mountain. Just as I finished the out-and-back I saw Louise looking amazing and strong so yelled some encouragement at her and started flying back down. The downhill stretch was awesome, except the moment when I had to bend low down to climb under a fallen tree. My muscles did NOT want to stand up and start running again, it was hilarious. Down the rocky, steep trail again and down those horrible steps and then I was flying along the paved road to the start. There was a guy in front of me and I focussed on the poor man, determined to catch him and flew past him in the finishing chute. I finished in 1.47.50, a few minutes less than my goal time. I was utterly delighted.
I got a medal, a fat coke, my race t-shirt and a hug from Louise’s lovely husband and we stood to wait for Louise to finish. She slowed up a little on the final descent, wisely opting to be careful rather than risk falling on tired legs, but soon enough we saw her running towards us and before we knew it, she’d crossed the line. I am so incredibly proud of her – it wasn’t an easy race (it had 1,350 ft elevation), she ran the whole thing and finished in 2.01 (she’d expected to finish in 2.30, I thought she’d run it in 2.15) so she utterly crushed it. It was a really lovely moment.
As icing on the cake, when I went to confirm my time I found out I’d come 3rd in my age-group, only the second time this has ever happened. Last time, I didn’t find out till I’d left the race. This time, the race director shook my hand and congratulated me. It flipping made my day!
(In case you think these photos are ridiculously enormous, please know that these are the size options WordPress is giving me at the moment. The one of me alone is ‘medium’ and this one is ‘large’. I’d say ‘small’ or ‘HUMUNGOUS’. Grrrr)
We were thoroughly chilled now, so got the ferry home as quickly as possible. I’d had a niggle in my throat all morning, the Dude’s germs, and the chilling didn’t help – the next day, I was all croaky and snotty and delightful!!
In terms of the race itself, it was beautifully organised. I wish it started earlier but understand the limitations due to ferry times. The course was utterly beautiful. A few more sign-posting ribbons would have been useful – several people took a wrong turn (including yours truly) and Louise was stood under a tree for a few minutes waiting for someone to join her and confirm which direction she should go in. But apart from that, it was perfect. The loot was great – a really nice t-shirt and a big, heavy medal.
All in all, a pretty cracking morning!
* 1066 is the one date that every British school-child knows – the Norman conquest, the last year Britain got invaded. Kind of like 1776 for America but without the glory.
As an added bonus for you, I mentioned to Louise that she might like to do a race recap. It’s so easy to take racing for granted and forget what it’s like to do it for the first time. This is what Louise said.
I was running a weekly total of six miles when Cat suggested I try a ten miler on Angel Island. I signed up, secretly confident that I could stretch my distance in three months and be in a strong position to run my first ever race. As I scrolled through the course information I do recall a pretty graph outlining some kind of elevation, but in all honesty I didn’t pay it much attention. And then I boldly announced my first race plans and received a barrage of well meaning concern; ‘If you don’t hill train you will struggle’, ‘Perhaps the five miler might be more your thing’ and ‘I once climbed to the top of the mountain there.’ (There is a mountain? You only climbed it once?)
With the help of a plan Cat put together for me I did two training runs a week over 11 weeks in preparation, building up to one flat ten miler and managing three hill training runs, the longest being a five miler.
Cat warned me to hydrate as much as I could before the race, but the drive up to Ferry Terminal at Tiburon was too much for my 37 year old bladder. I was thrilled when her beady eyes spotted a restroom on the side of the road. I hobbled down the embankment only to find it wasn’t a restroom. I now deeply regret the 2 minute watering I gave the garden of the people who live at number 64, but I really had no choice.
I wasn’t as intimidated before the race as I thought I might be. There was a fun spirit on the boat, and a spread of age and ability amongst the runners. Seeing Angel Island for the first time as we approached was impressive, and I no longer needed a graph to picture a 1390 ft elevation! Cat never left my side and only found encouraging, positive things to say. As a result nerves never set in.
I am not a natural runner, having run outdoors for the first time five months ago. I knew nothing about gels or PRs (or clearly elevation!) I was determined for my first ever run not to be about timing, had never trained with a watch, and had no idea what speed I ran at. I hoped I would run it in two and a half hours, Cat suggested I could do it in two hours fifteen. I then couldn’t get her prediction out of my head and it pushed me several times during the run!
The race was a double loop of the island, the first five miles was a climb of 500 ft and back down to the start, and the second loop repeated the first but included a stretch up to the summit – a 890 ft climb. Initially the runners ran close together. I concentrated on green jacket lady in front of me and pink pigtail girl behind me. The trail path was varied, initially as narrow as my shoe, later a wide track. The covering was exposed in beautiful streaming sun, and then into dark glossy leaves. I hadn’t prepared for running on loose rock, and stumbled a few times. The twists in the track meant that you were often turning and climbing at the same time, and I felt pressure to maintain pace by runners behind me. As I climbed the summit I was gasping at the clear view of San Francisco Bay from a 360 degree view looking down on Alcatraz, the city and the bridges. It was a remarkable distraction.
I was surprised at how competitive I felt. I was aware of the distance building between Cat and I. I wanted to keep up with Green Jacket Girl and was gutted when Pink Pigtails flew past me on the downhills. I pushed harder on the second exhausting climb, a gel kicking in, and found myself with more space around me. I was surprised by the ‘off the beaten trackness’ of the trails – a fallen tree we all had to crawl underneath and a huge bush to climb over. I was not prepared for running down steep gradients at speed, and found the loose rocky ditches frightening.
I found the distance much easier than the gradient. I recognized the final approach and knew Cat and my family would be waiting. I wanted to finish on empty and found energy to speed up on the last stretch to overtake Green Jacket Girl. Two hours, one minute, and sixth in my age group.
The run was totally different from any training experience. Because it’s race day there is a natural competitiveness that gets you mentally moving. The entire race was a mental and emotional journey and I relished rising to the challenge of picking up speed, climbing the incline and wiping negative thoughts from my mind. I was a ball of jelly that evening. My body ached more than it did after childbirth, and my insides were in knots, but the next morning I just felt pride and a huge sense of achievement at nailing my first ever race!
And naturally, sensing my competitive spirit Cat has already indicated my next race to me and subtlety suggested what my time might be. She’s good isn’t she? We start training this week.