Neon pink compression sleeves caught my eye a couple of switchbacks above on the trail. I was feeling good and had just run most of a climb that I would normally be hiking. The Marin Ultra Challenge (MUC) 50-miler was my very first exposure to the storied trails north of San Francisco.
I squinted for a better look at the neon pink runner. If it was Betsy, my very good friend and ultra running mentor, what does that mean? She should have been an hour ahead of me. I either needed to back down the pace or she was having a very rough day. It turned out to be the latter.
We arrived at the race start together in the dark at the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. I snapped a few photos as I would be leaving the phone behind. The small crew of Donner Party Mountain Runners exchanged hugs and soon we were each on our way.
The conditions were perfect for running without a pack: warm with no call for precipitation. I had never run an ultra without a hydration pack. I picked two hand-held water bottles with large pockets and stashed a few emergency items, including lip balm, one lubricated wipe, and a spare gel.
I could not have gone this light if I didn’t have full confidence in the quality of the aid stations at Inside Trail Racing’s events. I did wear my GPS watch and sported a Road ID. One item I ended up missing was an aid station chart. (Noted for next time!)
Betsy arrived at the Cardiac Hill aid station and blew through just seconds ahead of me. I heard her yell as she encountered her first snake of the day, and soon I had caught up to her. Rough day, indeed. Worried sick about her dog that had escaped from the sitter, she was managing intermittent text messages from the “search and rescue” team of good friends back at home.
Meanwhile, we traversed more scenic and varied trails, including the famous Dipsea trail and then a grinder up Willow Camp. Betsy kept thanking me for staying with her, but the reality is that she was helping me control my pace. It’s a tough course and some of the climbs were long and exposed.
We cruised along the Coastal Trail near the ridge until Betsy’s phone beeped again: Buck was found. He went home. This was right around the marathon mark ~ mile 26.2. We shared a huge hug and now I was the one almost in tears. Tears of happiness and relief. Filled with renewed adrenaline from the good news, we picked up the pace. The course continued on more beautiful trails and even passed through the popular tourist destination of Muir Woods.
We settled into something between training pace and race pace. MUC was just a scenic stop along the way to several longer ultras ahead for each of us in 2015. I super-enjoyed spending a long day on the trails with my dear friend, despite of the difficult circumstance that led to our trail reunion. I was especially happy with the experience of running a well-supported race with no pack, and plan to do that more often.
A few miles before the finish, we decided that we would cross the finish line together. We returned to Fort Baker 10 hours and 39 minutes after we had left, good for a 4th place tie. (I happened to be first in my age group, but I find these rankings to be quite arbitrary and not much to brag about.) We stuck around the finish for quite a while, greeting other friends, eating, drinking, and taking in the views of the Golden Gate bridge.