Race Report: Mt Tam Half Marathon

A few weeks ago, I signed up for a trail race – my first since February. I was without a running goal and feeling ‘meh’ and the idea of this race totally reinvigorated me. I roped Lisa into running with me. We’d run it totally for joy and not for time. It was just going to be a day of gorgeous running in gorgeous countryside.

It would however be tough – 13 miles and 3,000 ft climbing split into two massive climbs. The race (held by Inside Trail and held alongside a 50k, 30k and 10k) started in Stinson Beach and ran up some iconic Bay Area trails – Steep Ravine, Ben Johnson, Dipsea. I was so very excited about it. For the first week I did some solid hill training. Then, on the second week, life got busy and I eked out some flat miles. This last week, I got a stinking cold, I was really quite rough and didn’t run at all until Thursday and Friday, where I managed three shuffley slow miles both days. I knew this race was never going to be about time, but I was a little dubious about how much suffering would be involved given my 70% health and my lack of training.

Then Lisa had to drop out the night before for family reasons. I made some calls and Eden took her bib. Eden is an amazing runner, but, with 3 kids, she hasn’t run more than 10 miles for many years. It would be a challenge for both of us.

We drove up that morning and arrived at Stinson Beach at about 8.30 – our race started at 9am. The longer distances started at 8.30, we’d start with the 10k. Packet-pick-up was easy and before very long, we were running under the arch and heading up the mountain.

me eden tam
So clean at the start
Probably just as well we couldn’t see Mt Tam looming above us

The climb started immediately but was fairly steady – it was crowded and there were a few bottlenecks but we were in no rush. If anything, I was grateful as the crowd held us back from going out too hard. Before too long, we turned onto Steep Ravine trail and it all got super serious. Steep Ravine is without doubt one of the most beautiful trails I have ever been on. Green mossy trees made it look like an enchanted forest. We ran under fallen trees, we crossed babbling brooks on wet wooden bridges, we climbed up steps made of rocks. It was cool and beautiful and utterly brutal. I was dripping sweat. At about 2.5 miles, we all ground to a halt at a 10 foot wooden ladder – we were all secretly grateful for the break. After the ladder, it eased off a little and before too much more pain, we were spat out at Pantoll Ranger Station. A little further down Old Mine trail and we were at the aid station, at the aptly named Cardiac Hill. I got some food and some drink – we were about 3.5 miles in and my legs were already shaking. This boded badly.

steep ravine trails
Eden starts up the steps
steep ravine ladder
Yep. A ladder. On a trail.
redwoods steep ravine

The second part of the run was a 6 mile loop which would bring us back to the Cardiac aid station. It started with a beautiful descent down Ben Johnson trail. There were some steeper bits, but on the whole it was very runnable and we got to chat and relax a little. However by the time we got to the bottom, the descent had beaten our legs in the other direction. We started up Bootjack trail onto Camp Eastwood. On the whole, this second climb (which would be about 4 miles in total) was much more runnable than the first climb – on fresh legs it would have been very runnable but I was fading fast and soon settled into this slow, ugly shuffle. Eden was bouncing ahead of me. It was quite an isolated loop – without her I would have felt a little alone and, as the suffering increased, I know I would have struggled mentally without her, so I was very grateful for her cheerfulness. As my garmin buzzed 7 miles, Eden asked how long we’d been running…it was just under two hours! The trails were all beautiful, covered with fallen leaves in gorgeous colours. I was very VERY grateful to get back to the aid station but it was at the top of a very  short but ridiculously steep climb and I realised that I was completely empty. My legs had literally nothing in them.

autumn trails tam
Autumn colours

tam autumn trails

TCC trail

The aid station revived me somewhat – they had coke and I drowned it like a junk-food addict! All that was left now was the three miles down Dipsea Trail down to Stinson Beach again. As we’d discussed, Eden set off to run alone. She was still very fresh and my slow, granny-like descent would be more painful for her than flying down. I actually really enjoyed the solitude – the descent made the running easier and the trails were lovely. We had some lovely views of the ocean glittering in the sunshine and then we plunged into redwood forest which made my beaten heart soar.

tam dipsea trails
Lots of trees to duck

And then we hit the stairs. There must have been over half a mile of steep stairs built into the trail. I didn’t trust my battered quads to hold me up on the stairs so I was very clumsy and awkward and slow on the descent. But slowly, slowly I made my way down the trail back into the sunshine and finally I was slowly jogging under the finish line.

Stinson Beach in the distance

I’d vaguely thought I might run it in 3 hours. My final time was 3.35…basically my BQ time but I’d only managed half the distance. I am honestly not bothered about my time, but I was a little taken aback. I was 8th out of the 15 women in my age-group which isn’t exactly sparkling…but to be honest, just finishing felt like a massive achievement. It was without doubt the hardest race I’ve ever done.

shoes trail
The trails were pretty clean but the staging area was a quagmire

me trails tam

In retrospect, I probably should have downgraded to the 10k. My nasty cold and lack of training didn’t set me up for a big challenge like this and I think I would have enjoyed it more. I think I bit off more than I could chew. I don’t think I’ll sign up for a race with this much elevation gain again. Or maybe I’ll just train a bit more.

me eden race tam

Despite the brutality of it, it was a gorgeous race. Beautifully organised and flawlessly signposted, the volunteers were friendly, the aid-station plentifully stocked and the medal was really nicely designed. There was plenty of free car-parking, enough portaloos and nice shirts.

My quads the next day though…pain unlike any other.

16 Comments Add yours

  1. Jen says:

    I’m sorry to hear that this race left you battered. 😦 I don’t think you should forego future races with 3000′ gain though – I mean, Woodside Ramble was close to 3000′, wasn’t it? Look at the facts: you haven’t done much trail running lately, and you got a serious illness the week before the race. True, perhaps you should’ve dropped down to the 10K (trail 10Ks are underrated, IMHO), but take future trail half marathons case by case. Great job pushing through – I know the feeling of being empty at mile 7 and still having miles and miles to go.

    1. Cathryn says:

      Woodside was 2,400 ft – that’s a fairly significant difference – but I agree that my cold and lack of training may have made more of a difference than an extra 600ft. I also agree that 10ks may be the way forward. Thanks for the support.

      1. Jen says:

        Oh, yeah, that’s a big difference. I was confusing Woodside with Summit Rock, which has 2800′ gain.

      2. Cathryn says:

        I was looking at Summit Rock to do next but now I’m not so sure. I’ll see how my lingering cold heals up.

      3. Jen says:

        Sigh. If SR wasn’t the week after CIM, I’d totally do the 10K.

      4. Cathryn says:

        I’d love that. Oh well.

  2. What a gorgeous course! I love Mt Tam and I would love to go back to CA and do this race.

    1. Cathryn says:

      It was definitely beautiful. I wish I’d done it when I was a little fitter so I could have appreciated the beauty a little more. Steep Ravine was definitely a life highlight!

  3. Angela says:

    Gorgeous pics!! Looks like a beautiful course but sorry to hear you weren’t feeling well. Congrats on being super tough & powering through, though!!

    1. Cathryn says:

      Thanks! I’m not sure ‘powering’ is the correct term but I’ll take it all the same.

  4. Nic J says:

    Very proud of you for slogging on to the end – Keith and I hiked that and it was a killer (but fab)!!! Xx

    1. Cathryn says:

      I remember you guys hiking that, it made me really want to do it. So I kind of blame you and Keith 🙂

      1. Nic J says:

        If you saw the state of us afterwards and that made you want to run it, then you have only yourself to blame! I think we did a good job of looking horrendous at the end of that!!

      2. Cathryn says:

        To be fair, yes you did 🙂

  5. Sounds absolutely grueling! And it has certainly made you a stronger runner! Congratulations!

    1. Cathryn says:

      I hope so. It was beautiful though.

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