Thirty Miles in the Marin Headlands

Looking back from the SCA Trail

Sunday, 5 June 2016. A 25-mile loop in the Marin Headlands, and a little more.

DD’s latest obsession has been exploring the intersection of hiking and ultra-running, for which lines definitely begin to blur as distances become longer. To that end, he’s been training and speculating on how he might be able to complete a 50-mile race while primarily hiking (since most humans do hike the uphills during races) and jogging/ running the downhills and flats.

In his sights (though he has not yet signed up for it), is Pacific Coast Trail Run’s Marin Headlands Hundred race, which offers distances of a marathon, and 50, 75, and 100 miles.

Headlands 25/50/75/100

Since he’s looked at this particular race, he’s actually traversed the course twice. The first jaunt with Jared was difficult and he didn’t have his nutrition dialed in correctly. He remembers feeling particularly broken-down and tired at mile 17, and that eating a little and feeling better. Still, he arrived back at the car wondering how folks did this a second time, much less 3 more times!

His second attempt was with Mike Y., and they managed to go on a day where temperatures soared into the mid-70s. It was an unlucky day for weather where, though they were still going faster than DD’s first attempt, he started cramping at mile 19-20, and then felt broken and beat-up as they jogged the last 3 miles into Rodeo Beach. At home, exhausted, he kept cramping throughout the evening, and was finally able to sleep after he had consumed (though we had a normal dinner of chicken, rice and vegetables,) a bowlful of salty ramen.

This week, DD was determined to increase his mileage to 30, so the plan was, depending on how we felt when we finished 25, we’d tack on anywhere from 3-5 additional miles. I had wanted to join for a while, but kept my reservations to myself about tacking on those additional 5 miles . By then, we’d be back at the parking lot with the car, so I figured that I could bail out at that point and wait until DD finished chasing his white whale.

The view when we first started.

The forecast looked good – low 70s and overcast. When we arrived at Rodeo Beach, a thick layer of Karl made us happy. Indeed, it was breezy, misty, and a bit chilly, and I was glad to have worn a long-sleeved technical tee that morning.

The goal – complete the first 25 miles at a pace of around 19-minute miles. Go slower for the last 5.

Heading to the Bridge

We did fine. Karl stuck around until 11am or so, and when the sun peeked out it was only warm in some sections, and not unbearably so. There were only a couple of occasions when I fretted that I hadn’t applied enough sunscreen, but the breezes were strong enough to keep overheating at bay.

For the most part we hiked the uphills and jogged on some flats and downhills. We made good time, and thanks to our nutrition decisions, felt pretty good for most of the way through. We felt so chipper coming up from Cavallo Point that we began belting out Macklemore’s “Downtown” as we made our way to Bobcat Trail.

There was a point when I got grumpy, and another point where DD began to bonk at the end, but eating/ drinking Tailwind helped. DD’s knee started hurting on our very last descent, (our extra bonus hill up Coast Trail to Wolf Ridge, tracing our very first steps from the morning) and then he had to go more slowly. But after some Shot Bloks and ibuprofen he mustered enough energy to lap the parking lot a few times to bring his total mileage to 30.1 miles! Me, I was satisfied with my 28.74, and was content to sit and zone out in the car until DD was done.

Water source on Old Springs Trail


There is pretty much very limited (as in, almost no) water on the course! Thankfully, sharp-eyed DD had spotted something that looked like a horse trough, on Old Springs Trail, on his prior hikes. This time, he was ready to put a plan into action. We brought empty water vessels with us. In DD’s case, a folded 2-litre platypus; I brought 2 empty 1-litre nalgene bottles. I taped signs to them that read “Please do not remove. This is water for our long run. We are returning to pick these up today.” At the horse trough, DD realized that there was actually a spigot, and so would not have to resort to scooping water from the bucket. We filled our empty bottles, and added the requisite drops of Aqua Mira. And so we jogged/sloshed down to Tennessee Valley with our additional liquids. DD proceeded to hide our drop bag behind one of the trees, much to the bemusement of an older couple sitting at a picnic table, calmly eating bowls of cereal. The bag was there when we returned to Tennessee Valley a second time, 3 hours later. Success!

Descent to Tennessee Valley on Miwok


I had gone to bed thinking that I’d carry my 1.5-litre Camelbak Circuit and perhaps my regular Nathan waterbelt, filled silly with Gu and Tailwind single-sticks.

But when I woke up I realized that I wanted to bring more than I could reasonably stuff into the Circuit or the running belt, including more food, a wag bag, and some sort of extra wind shirt. So, having had some good luck with jogging parts of Skyline to the Sea (Day 2) with my backpacking pack – the Gossamer Gear Mariposa, I decided to take it with me, wryly hoping that I wouldn’t hate it at the end of the day.

It ended up being fine, though I must have looked more than a little dorky trotting down the hills with my hiking poles in hand.

Last hill turnaround at Wolf Ridge Trail


DD suggested that I wear what I usually wore for running. This meant running tank top, shorts and for good measure I threw in compression leg sleeves (to protect against poison oak) and gaiters.

Other than being a wee bit chilly for teeny sections (due to blasting cold wind and fog/ wind combo near the beach), the outfit was fine. If I got a tad too chilly during one of our breaks, I’d throw on my long-sleeved tech tee and remove it right before we got going again.

Hiking Poles

I fear that I’m getting heavily dependent on poles. I use them when I’m tired, and they are helpful on the uphills. I also treasure them on the more technical downhills. 


A day later, and I feel ok. Quads are sore from the downhills as usual, legs/ calves feel fine. My shoulders are a little achy/ sore from the bouncing of the backpack, most likely. But nothing chafed, thankfully, and in a pinch, I’d go with my Mariposa again, but will likely invest in an ultra-specific hydration vest of my own. Also, re-applying sunscreen 2 additional times definitely helped – I didn’t feel so sun-sapped at the end of the day, despite wearing a tank and shorts. The only problems I had with my footwear – I wore my normal running socks – double-layer Wright socks – with my newer Brooks Cascadias that I had been wearing on my hikes. (I will likely wear Brooks Cascadias on the JMT this summer.) The difference is that when I’m hiking I usually wear Darn Tough pull-up crew socks that go up to my lower shins. My Wrights tended to shift below the shoe’s rear cuff, which started to chafe against the bare skin on the backs of my ankles. Some rock tape helped – I thought the problem was limited to my left foot, but a shower the next morning indicated that the right ankle had not remained unscathed. Lesson learned – rock tape up if wearing Wright socks with Brooks Cascadias.

Tailwind is the best!


Danny had tried Tailwind sport drink for the first time at an ITR Trail half a couple of months earlier and found that he really liked its lightly-sweet and lightly salty flavour. The only store that appeared to carry it locally was A Runner’s Mind on Sacramento. So I managed to obtain some from there – 6 single-stick servings (4 lemon; 2 caffeinated raspberry) – which we would split (3 sticks each; 200 calories each packet).

In addition, I ended up consuming: 5 Gus; 3 funsize candy bars (2 Payday and 1 Almond Snickers – next time i will only carry Paydays); and some macadamia nuts and mini Reese’s PB cups; and one Cliff Strawberry shotblok (DD ate the other 5). All told I probably consumed around 1500 calories altogether, and probably could have done with just a couple hundred more. Gu is most definitely easy to eat.

Tailwind was awesome. It tasted good, dissolved fast, was easy on the body, and seemed to get us through the hike nutrition-wise and kept our spirits up. Also, no cramping or headaches — either during the hike or afterwards! I ended up consuming all 3 16-oz servings of Tailwind, and barely a litre of water from my Platypus.

At the Bridge!

Other random items of note

The nice thing about the course was that it went through various locations where there were available toilets – whether vault or porta-potties – and I thankfully did not need to go anywhere in-between. But although there were toilet facilities at all our various stops: from Rodeo Beach to Tennessee Valley, Muir Beach, back to Tennessee Valley, Cavallo Point, and back again to Rodeo Beach, there was no potable water, except at the start and end (and our sneaky horse trough, which did require a drop bag). It makes sense to do this course as a supported race.

Next challenge: starting the course at 2pm?

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