Wow. What a run! While my last two big runs have been woeful epics, this one was so great, it almost seems that writing a report on it won’t be interesting at all! If you don’t feel like reading the whole report, here are the highlights. Yesterday I might have been the happiest last place finisher ever. I took a full hour off my Catalina Marathon time, which seemed like a pretty huge improvement to me, and it certainly wasn’t because the course was easy! This also allowed me to make my goal of finishing in less than 6 hours. Anyway, details follow, it’s kinda long, sorry.

Friday afternoon I drive over to Dianne’s house, toss my stuff in her Explorer, and we head over to my friend Ray’s house. Ray has decided to join us, he decided to run this marathon just a week or two ago. Ray is a talented runner, his PR’s include (I think) 17 min 5K times, and 38 min 10K times. Way faster than I could dream of running. However, before yesterday, he’d never run anything longer than a 10K. Not even in training. The three of us drove up together, on the way, Ray expressed some trepidation about the undertaking, especially as Dianne and I discussed the course.

There was a pretty good Bakersfield contingent. The three of us were running, plus my friend Michelle, who seems spectacularly talented in convincing me that “Roads are for wimps” and that I should continue to undertake these difficult runs. She and her husband Dan where driving up separately, and Mike Finley (who ran) and his friend Paul were driving up too. So Friday night we stayed in San Francisco, in a Ramada with a sloping floor and a key that wouldn’t open the door.

Saturday found us waking at a pretty civilized 6:30, heading down to the car, and meeting up with all the others. Our three car caravan had some pretty humorous moments trying to navigate through the city, U-turns and illegal lane changes abounding. Mission accomplished, we found a coffee shop, an overly hip Internet caf�. I had a fruit smoothie and a scone, while Ray feasted on Espresso and Tiramisu. Interesting choices!

Across the Golden Gate Bridge, and 30 minutes of driving took us into Marin County. It was a gorgeous, but chilly morning. 40 something degrees outside. We got to Stinson Beach Park, and I realized (I hadn’t before) that I’d been to this park before, when I driving around the area a few years ago with my (ex-now) girlfriend. Got into my running clothes. Applied Vaseline and Band-Aids, some pre-race photos on the beach, and soon it was time for the pre-race meeting. The organization was effective, but laid back. I’d guess there were maybe 200 people there, not a huge crowd. It did seem that a bunch of them were young cute and female, I might have to run more trail races in the bay area. The Director was giving instructions, then asked how many of the crowd were doing the marathon. I was shocked when only a handful of hands went up, and the crowd burst into vigorous applause. Then he asked whose first marathon this was. Ray raised his hand, which was met with more applause and some sympathetic chuckling. The Director asked who was doing the 25K, and a few more people raised their hands, but it seemed the majority where doing the 7-mile option.

Onto the beach, we started the race at the waterline. The marathoners would get to start first, there were about 30 of us, total. Not many. Dianne ran the 25K, the rest of the Bako folks where running the marathon. Across the beach, out of the park, up the street, and within a 1/4 mile we were on trails. A trail named “Steep Ravine Trail”. We ran for a bit on rolling hills, then it was into a dense redwood forest, choked with ferns. I’ve spent so much time in SoCal, that I’d forgotten how WET parts of NoCal are, but it was spectacular. And Hard. And Steep. In three miles we gained 1800 feet, a surely hard start. Part of this trail even included a 10-foot tall ladder! It wasn’t long before I was running in a crowd, as the 7-mile and 25K people caught me, and passed me. I think 90% of the words I heard that day were “on the right” or “on the left” as people passed me on the narrow trail. But I was enjoying the spectacular scenery. Ferns, redwoods, and creeks. Narrow wet paths. Strangely, I got stung, as did 2-3 others, by a bee here. Nothing bad, but a bit strange. The first aid station was at mile 3 or 3.5, this is where the 7-mile trail split, and all of a sudden I was alone. Coming down the backside of the hill into the John Muir Monument. Gorgeous redwoods, cruising down switchbacks. Surprised hikers offering words of encouragement. Then it was back up. A long gradual climb, ascending another 1600 or so feet, but in more miles. I caught a couple, Rob and Lisa, and was running with them for awhile. This kind of running tires me out, but I was feeling good. Some of the steeper spots I’d walk a bit, but I was running (slowly) most of it.

Somewhere along this section, Michelle caught up to me. Huh? She was in front of me, and I hadn’t passed her, but apparently she took a wrong turn. We ran together, or at least within sight of each other, for the next 4-5 miles. The scenery was amazing, gorgeous forest, then breathtaking openings to views of the ocean. A short section of downhill, then the 25K trail split off. The Marathon trail took a 5 mile out and back spur (10 miles total) here. It was pretty fun. Running across the side of the coastal mountains, in open grasslands mostly, with the land dropping of dramatically to the ocean. There were two paragliders that I spotted here, that looks like fun. The faster marathoners were passing me in the opposite direction here. I was starting to tire. I had to walk small hills that I should have been able to run. Mike appeared, and the minute he saw me, starting cheering for me. Yelling my name. It was silly, but nice and made me feel good. Ray was a bit behind him, and I asked how he was doing, and he said “awful”, I guess his knees were bugging him pretty bad. I could see Michelle in front of me as we went around hills, so I knew she wasn’t far ahead.

Then I missed a turn. The trail made a short dogleg, onto then off a dirt road. For some reason I didn’t see the flagging for the second turn. So I ran down the dirt road. Down a big hill. And then I could see the road laid out in front of me. No Michelle. No other Runners anywhere. Damn. I looked to my right, and up on the hill I could see people running. Turned around and ran up the hill and saw the tape I’d missed. I’d run a bit, and standing around figuring out where I’d gone wrong, I reckon I lost about 20 minutes. Anyway, I saw Michelle as she was about 1/2 to 3/4 mile on her way back from the turnaround, so I was probably 1 or 1 1/2 miles behind her now. I really found my wrong turn disheartening, and as I ran back from the turnaround, I realized I was dead last. I was getting tired, and bummed. I kept plodding along, but I was down. I just kept trying to enjoy the scenery, but it was tough. I tripped, but didn�t fall, but it brought back memories of the misery in June when I tripped once I was tired, and hurt myself.

All of a sudden, I turned a corner, and there it was, the tape signaling I was back on the 25K course. I glanced at my watch, and realized I could still take an hour off my Catalina time, and if I hustled, finish in less than 6 hours. Alright! I turned on everything I had left, and blasted down the hill. It was downhill, but tough to run. The trail was steep, and in lots of places had steps made from dirt and railroad ties. Hard stuff to run down. But I was feeling good, my legs were tired, my shoulders hurt, and I just needed to fly down. I was tired. But motivated. I’m sure this section was gorgeous, but I was focused on the trail, and getting down quickly. I had about 6 minutes to make my goal, and I could hear traffic. Soon I spotted the road. Woohoo. I was in a near sprint now. At least as much of a sprint as I could muster. I ran up the road, and then missed the turn into the park. Whoops. Ran a few hundred feet past the turn, turned around and ran back. Ran into the park, where my friends were waiting. 5:57. Ray finished in just over 5 hours, Michelle in 5:25.

Did it. Took an hour off my Catalina time. Broke 6 hours on a tough course. Felt good. I’m sore today, but nothing too bad. I felt like a runner. I felt more like a real runner than I ever had before. I was beaming. I couldn’t stop. Dead last and thrilled. Next stop, Death Valley Marathon.