Race Recap: Ayala Cove 10 Miler

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!

Angel Island from the ferry on Saturday
Angel Island from the ferry on Saturday

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.

Packet Pick Up
Packet Pick Up
Ready to run...
Ready to run…

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.

Ayala Cove
Ayala Cove

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.

Angel Island trails
Angel Island trails
Tiburon, Sausalito and Mt Tam from Angel Island
Tiburon  and Mt Tam from Angel Island

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 City from Angel Island
The City from Angel Island

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.

Pretty happy with that! Photo: Lou's husband
Pretty happy with that!
Photo: Lou’s husband

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.

Louise wasn't unhappy with her performance today!
Louise wasn’t unhappy with her performance today!

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!

angel island
AG medal and race medal
Louise's daughter ran off with her medal so we shared mine ;)
Louise’s daughter ran off with her medal so we shared mine 😉

(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!!

Proud husband ....aaah!
Lou and her proud husband ….aaah!

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.

Loot! And the best EVER race number for a Brit!
Loot! And the best EVER race number for a Brit!*

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.

And collapse.

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.

Hehehe…. x




19 Comments Add yours

  1. NicJ says:

    The “Muttley” style ‘hehehe’ at the end sums it all up – well done to you both! Maximum points for running the full distance, and bonus points for enjoying it at the same time (not an easy feat)! I’m working on Keith for a US holiday this year, so I may be able to sample a US race with you (or at least a trail training run) – you never know!
    Fab to read both accounts – and lovely to hear a completely new runner view of a race event. Seems like ages since we ‘did’ Blenheim – my first ever race. And can you believe it is 10 years since you did London (my 10 year anniversary will be next year) – I watch it every year and it still makes me well up!

    1. Cathryn says:

      It made me think of my first ever race, a 5k on Hampstead Heath with Race for Life, I cried most of the way round 🙂 And yes, 10 years since London – I watched it yesterday and sobbed my heart out at the bone marrow transplant guys, did you see that bit??

    2. Cathryn says:

      Oooh and I forgot to say YEAH COME AND VISIT US! Please, we would love it so much. x

  2. Bean says:

    Way to go ladies!!!! You are amazing! I love that we are already on to the next race!

    1. Cathryn says:

      Thanks!! I was so proud of her.

  3. Jess T. says:

    Super write-up and race. I have to agree that there is nothing better than a cold, full-sugar coke at the end of a tough run (from a girl that never drinks soda!). And a huge congrats to Louise!!

    1. Cathryn says:

      It’s weird because I drink very little soda and NEVER fat coke although I am partial to an ice cold diet coke after a hot long run. But it hit the spot on Saturday!! And didn’t Louise do well!!

  4. Great job! Congrats! You are getting so good at these trail races and they look like so much fun. Great review of the race too.

    1. Cathryn says:

      Thank you so much for saying so – I don’t think I am particularly good at trail races but I’m definitely better at trails than I used to be – and any race/run when I don’t twist an ankle is an automatic win!!! It WAS a lot of fun – you need to come out to CA and we can show you!

      1. Come down to Anaheim in Sept and we can find some trails and you can teach me how to trail run!!! 😉

      2. Cathryn says:

        Don’t tempt me…I think my parents will be here in September but otherwise…

  5. Kristen says:

    Congrats to you both on great races (and on an AG win!!). Once this baby pops out this race is on my list next year for sure.

    1. Cathryn says:

      Thank you! You should def do it, it was really fun. So peaceful (due to the lack of cars etc) except the rasping and gasping of my breath 🙂

  6. Congratulations to both of you ! It was nice your friend did a recap for us. She can totally be proud of herself. It seems it was not an easy race to start !
    It is really nice for you too. 3rd in your age group and a very well managed race 🙂 Now, I want to try trail running even more 😉

  7. Jen says:

    Great job and congrats to both of you! I really enjoyed reading both of your recaps as well. What’s the next race, I wonder??

    BTW, is “fat Coke” a British thing? I have a feeling if we adopted that in the U.S., maybe less people would drink it! Anyway, I often crave soda after a long hot run. It tastes so good!

    1. Jen says:

      Oh yeah, Cathryn — I noticed recently that WordPress added a feature where you can specify the size of the photos using the pull-down menu. At the bottom of the list, there’s an option for “custom”. I usually put in a pixel size that’s somewhere between the medium and large settings (for my blog, it’s ~400-450 pixels wide). Hope that helps!

      1. Cathryn says:

        Thanks for this…I’ll give it ago, the tiny/enormous photos bug me so much.

    2. Cathryn says:

      You know, I don’t know if ‘Fat Coke’ is a generally British thing or just something my friends and I use to describe it. It could be either, I’m not sure. It definitely reminds me of the sugar content and I would have had diet coke if they’d had it…but I actually really enjoyed my fat coke. Won’t have another one though. Special occasions only. But a cold diet coke after a long hot run is a very guilty pleasure!

      Louise’s next race is where we had our first date, you and me 🙂 Fancy doing it again? I loved that course.

      1. Jen says:

        Oh, that really is tempting!! It depends on whether I decide to do a trail marathon in October or not (I believe it’s the same weekend). I’m putting off the decision until after Big Sur.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s