My training was going well and I was on track, until about a month before the race when inexplicably, towards the end of a long run, I felt a sharp pain deep in my right calf. Having felt this before, I knew immediately I had pulled a muscle and would probably be out of commission for at least a couple weeks. When this happened previously, I had tried to come back too quickly and re injured it even worse, necessitating even more recovery time. This time I was determined to not let that happen, so took my rehab seriously and with a different approach. I decided to give myself 3 weeks of no running, start swimming and deep water running, redouble my strength training efforts, lay off the bike, and do some self massage to try to speed healing.
A week before Headlands my wife Lori and I were signed up for the 12 Hours at Cool night race. We planned to run together and originally I planned on this being a nice, easy training run, thinking I would do maybe 4 or 5 loops. Part of me really wanted to see how I would respond with back-to-back long run weekends. Well, with the calf injury, I had to throw that plan out the window. By race day my calf felt pretty good - I had done no running, and as little walking as possible so my plan was to walk a couple loops, maybe jog a little to see how it felt, and call it good. Lori was hoping to do more, so I would crash in the back of my truck while she pushed on. About halfway through the first loop we met up with some friends and stayed with them for the rest of the night. I did my two loops and felt good, even with the light running we did, so was pleased with my prospects of toeing the line at Headlands. Lori, Michelle and her husband Morgan ended up completing 3 loops (9 mile loops = 27 miles...way to go!).
Even with the positive experience at the Cool race the week before, I was still nervous about running the Headlands 50, and my calf, while feeling good, was not 100%. I didn't want to re injure it and end up having to take another month or so off from running. The past month had been bad enough (though all the cross training, I must say, was great and quite beneficial). I was determined to run this race very conservatively, especially in the early stages. Additionally, I acquired a compression sleeve for my calf, recommended by another runner I talked to at the Cool race who said it had helped him previously. I think that played a big part in my day.
So race day I got up very early and made the drive up to Rodeo Beach. As is typical for summer in the SF Bay area, it was foggy and cool - great for a long run. I checked in and got my bib, then went back to my car for final preparations. My friend from the Santa Cruz Track Club, Carole Cuminale, was a couple cars over getting ready to run the 100 miler so I went over to chat with her for a few minutes. Another friend from the club, Howard Wood, stopped by and we caught up for a few minutes as well. Howard was running the 50, and he ended up placing 5th! He is pretty damn fast, though funny enough, he was sandbagging a bit as we spoke, saying he hadn't done all that much running lately due to work travel so was looking at this as a nice easy "training" run in preparation for his Trans Rockies adventure coming up in a couple weeks. Yeah, nice "training" run Howard!
A few minutes before 7am the runners assembled in the road by the beach where Wendell gave us our instructions. Standing right in front of me was someone I thought I recognized, so I introduced myself to Becky, a frequent contributor to the Runners World Online Discussion Forum. She introduced me to a couple other forumites, Nancy and Danni. Becky and Nancy were running the 50, and Danni running her first 100 miler. She was actually supposed to run the Western States 100, but unfortunately that was canceled due to all the crazy fires. Just then, Wendell sent us off and the four of us took off together.
The course started on pavement for a very short time, then crossed over a small marshy/creek area to Rodeo Beach, then up a hill to more pavement. Getting back on dirt, we wound our way up, down and around until I could hear cars below and to the right. While the fog kept the temps good for running, it really messed up the views, as I was looking forward to the view of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco from the hill immediately to the west of the Marin side of the bridge. Oh well, it gives me a good reason to go back and run those trails again some time.
I stayed with Becky, Nancy, and Danni for a little while, but at a turn off pavement to a trail, I had to make a pit stop (good sign I was well hydrated), and after that I ran solo for a little while, but not too long. On a slight hill section that I decided to run I ended up behind a woman who struck up a conversation. Turned out she was a frequent poster to PCTR's online discussion forum and recognized my name, as I did hers. Kate was running with her daughter Keturah (Keturah's blog), who was running her first 50 miler. We stuck together for a little while, and ended up leap-frogging a bit, seeing each other at various aid stations and throughout the first half of the course. They always had a smile and encouraging words for me when we crossed paths. I really do love the people I meet in the trail and ultra community - they are the nicest and most supportive people!
A little while later, I caught up to my friend Carol and we ended up running together for quite some time. She is an amazing runner, and has taught me a lot in the short time I have known her. She is actually going to take me under her wing in the race directing arena, as she has directed the Nisene Marks Marathon and Half Marathon, and needed someone to take over after she moves to Washington after next years' event. I am excited about learning all about the ins and outs of directing a race from someone so nice and experienced!
Carol and I split up after the Pantoll aid station, as she needed to walk a little after fueling up there. I was feeling pretty good at that point - my calf was not bugging me, though my legs and feet were a little more sore than they typically were at 22 miles. Guess that's what happens when you don't run for a month. Since I was doing pretty well, I decided to try to run more over the next section, which would take me to the turnaround point at Bolinas Ridge, almost 29 miles into the race. This section was on a beautiful section of single track, but really exposed. The fog had burned off, and it was getting pretty warm. Since I had run very conservatively to this point, it put me on this section at around 12:30 or so, just getting into the hottest part of the day. The next 13 miles proved to be some pretty warm miles. I hit the turnaround at about 2pm. I figured that was pretty good, considering I was running conservatively, and my calf still felt good.
Heading back, I started feeling quite a bit more soreness in my legs, especially on the downhill sections. Additionally, the big toe on my left foot started to hurt. At this point uphills became my friend as they were easier to deal with than downs. Even with the discomfort in my quads and toe I still managed to run a pretty consistent pace and made good time, I even passed a number of runners along the way.
A little before passing through the Muir Beach aid station for the second time I caught up to Catra Corbett on an uphill section. Catra is one hell of a runner, and many know her, as I do, through her very popular blog. We struck up a conversation and ended up running together to the start/finish area at Rodeo Beach for my finish and her halfway point, as she was doing the 100 mile option. She really helped keep my mind off my barkin quads and increasingly painful Sgt. Hulka (big toe, for those of you who either have not seen, or don't remember the movie "Stripes").
I finished in 11:59:57, my longest run time-wise to date. My calf held up well, and while not yet fully recovered it certainly didn't get re injured from this run. I am very pleased with the whole day, as the course was just fantastic. Tough, certainly, but plenty of very runnable sections and drop dead gorgeous. This is an area I really want to get back to and run some more. And this race is at the top of my list as a contender for my first 100 miler next year. I also met and ran with some great people, and the volunteers, as always at PCTR races, were helpful, friendly and supportive. AND, they had PIZZA at the finish line!!! You can't ask for more (well, maybe a beer, but realistically, they can't supply everything!).
One final word about the calf compression sleeve I wore. It's from a company named Zensah. I really do think it helped quite a bit to keep my calf supported and blood flowing effectively in the muscle. A couple times I did feel a slight twinge in the calf, but it was because of an odd foot strike. I'll continue to wear it until I am confident my calf is fully recovered, even when not running. If you ever get a calf injury, do yourself a favor and try one of these compression sleeves.
Thanks again to Sarah, Wendell, Aaron, Marissa and the rest of the PCTR crew, all the volunteers and other supporters for a great day!