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Golden Gate Trail Classic - Run

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San Fransisco, California
United States
Spartan Trail
Total Time = 19h 09m 45s
Overall Rank = 50/66
Age Group = 50-59
Age Group Rank = 0/
Pre-race routine:

Walk to race start, sit for a while on a couch, then go run
Event warmup:

It's a ultra...don't be silly
  • 19h 09m 45s
  • 100 kms
  • 11m 30s  min/km

I think I could write an entire book on the months leading up to this race. Multiple injections in my knees and back, xrays, MRIs, yadda yadda yadda. The first part of the year was a big question mark as to if anything would work to take away the pain caused by years of abuse, with a helping dose of osteoarthritis. This was supposed to be a "test race" so see if all of these modern medical therapies would hold up and last long enough to be able to do these distances again, because it wasn't very long ago that I couldn't make 13 miles. I was that broken, and along with that, very frustrated and a smidge angry. How dare my body do this to me! I often had to remind myself how lucky I really was to have been able to do any of these things in the first place, and how much better I had it even now, than a great deal of people out there. So here I was, standing at the starting line of the Golden Gate Classic 100K, waving to my wife on the other side of the chute, as the seconds counted down.
It was 5pm, which was a stupid time to start a race, but it was either this, or start at 5am tomorrow morning. It was all based on the walking path on the Golden Gate Bridge. The sidewalk was only open between 530am and 630pm. I guess it's more popular to leap to your death at night time. It seemed as stupid and arbitrary as the rest of the goofy rules in this state, but I'm the one who put myself here, so I had little room to complain.
We were standing in a grass field, called Crissy Field, which was used during WWI as a airfield for coastal defenses. Now it was used for soccer, kite flying, and apparently staging races. The inflatable starting arch was in front of us as the sun was setting at our backs, just over the hills we would soon become intimate with on the other side of the bridge. The horn went off, sounding our start, and we gingerly ran through the grass that was heavily pocked by what looked like gigantic mole trails and holes. I wasn't sure what made the ground this tore up, but I did my best to not break my ankle the first 100 yards of the race. We made a quick left out of the start line and ran to a nearby paved trail, next to the water, that lead to the bridge. It was just a mile to the bridge, from the start. Around the park, up a inclined path, up to the road, and then you are at the bridge. Even by that time, it was dark. and the view of the bridge lit up was spectacular. I looked to my right and the city of San Francisco was amazing as it sat on the waters edge, the buildings shining with their lights on. I looked up at the first first tower in front of me, and it was a bit overwhelming. I'm sure people cross this bridge several times a day without a second thought, but this was my first time running across it, and it was a sight to behold. I wished Mary was here with me to view it like this. Maybe we could do it another day. I looked to my right and I could see the moon trying to shine through the fog/clouds. It was supposed to be a full moon, but the thick "fog" ahead made it questionable if we would see it at all. Time would tell.
I had to stop a few times as I crossed the bridge to snap some pictures, like a tourist....because that's what I felt like. Other people walking across the bridge were looking at the runners and wondering what was going on. We were all well over dressed and over packed for just a regular run. We wore backpacks filled with water, clothing, food, and anything else that was either mandatory or something we believed might help us run the next 62 miles. I tried to pack as efficiently as possible. I had 2 water bottles with long straws on the front of my shoulder straps, not something I was entirely used to yet. My old packs had the water bottle in the back of the pack, with the long tube up to the front, but this race was laid out differently, so this was a better way to do it. This was a new pack, and I still wasn't used to where the multitude of pockets were yet. I had gels in pockets in the front, for the "just in case" possibilities. My 2 bottles were filled with a drink called Infinit, which can theoretically be used exclusively for the entire race, if you have enough for the entire race, which I DID NOT....oops. I had two more bottles in my "drop bag" waiting for me at mile 31, and then 2 more pouches that I could take with me for two more bottles. Unfortunately, this was nowhere near enough. I ended up using about 6 or 8 more bottles worth of their drink, which was only electrolytes, not carbs, but more about that later. In the back of my pack I had an extra shirt and long pants for rain or bad weather, which was part of the required equipment, of which they never checked. This would be the pack I would wear for the Big Foot 200 next August, so it was kinda a "dry run" for using this set up. At the end of the bridge, we had gone about 3 miles and all systems were GO. Nothing hurt, I felt fine and happy. That would eventually change.
A quick turn off the bridge, into a parking lot and then to a path under the bridge brought me to another short path next to another parking lot. At the end of this path is where the actual trail started. It was also where the first Aid Station was situated. It wasn't really necessary at this point, but it was also the halfway point in the race where your drop bag would be left. The drop bag is just what it sounds like. It's a bag filled with items you previously put in it that you think you might need at whatever point in the race you are at. Some races have 2 or 3 places to leave bags along the route. This race was shorter, so it only justified the one. This was a dangerous place though. I'll discuss that later.
Up the path I began. At this point, the runners weren't that spread out yet, so you had people nearby in front and behind. Occasionally a faster runner would come up from behind and you would need to stop and let them go around. That was because the trail was so narrow, and so steep on either side that if you fell, like many sections along this route, you could either get very hurt or very dead. Therefore, everyone was nice and gave way to the faster runners. Sometimes I passed people, most of the time I got passed.
It didn't take another mile to hit THE FOG! It was as bad as the movie. For the next 4 or 5 hours, the fog was so thick, I either couldn't see my own feet, or five feet in front of me. The trail had plenty of jutting rocks, and tripping was not only possible, it happened. Tripping badly on a steep slope, like the one I could barely make out, seemed stupid, so I slowed my roll a great deal. Rolling hundreds of feet down a "hill" wasn't how I wanted to spend my night, or in an emergency room later, if I was lucky enough to survive, so briskly walking, even on somewhat flat areas, seemed wise. Plus, I had 62 miles to cover, no sense in pushing hard in the beginning, only to not be able to move forward in the end. I had never DNFed ( Did not Finish) to this point in any race, and I didn't intend to start today.
The race spread out pretty quickly despite the whack a doo rules of either California or Spartan. Judging from the last 6 months, it was probably both of them. Somehow, taking all of the racers, and separating us into 2 waves starting 1 minute apart seemed like a way to keep us from infecting each other. Don't pay attention to the fact that each group of 2 was crammed shoulder to shoulder for about 5 minutes each, waiting for the start horn, or that within minutes of the start of the race, we were all spread out. Also, did they forget to tell us not to group up with each other so we didn't kill each other with whatever critter was leaping from person to person, ready to send us all to the nearest emergency room? They must have, because plenty of people decided to use the "buddy plan" and run in little groups of 2 or 3 or 5. Naughty runners! Well, for me, it was around 19 hours of me running with me. That's a lot of alone time, but as it turns out, I'm just fine and dandy with that. Sure, I'd rather have a pacer or someone running my speed, but finding someone like that would be a tough order, especially when the wheels finally do fall off and you are looking at miles and miles of walking in front of you.
Eventually I made it into the interior hills of the race. I call them hills, and I'm not sure what qualifies as a legitimate mountain, but these felt very "mountainous" to me. There was very little flat area on the race. You were either running/walking up a steep incline, or going down one, hence the 3 more toenails that will eventually turn a lovely shade of purple later. Thankfully, the trail widened up in places, and it wasn't all rocks trying to catch your toes trying to trip you. The fog finally gave up as we made it high enough to look down in the cloud filled valleys, and the full moon was more than welcome. My headlamp was worthless in the fog, like a car's headlight in heavy conditions, but the moon helped me see quite a bit more, especially the looming hills around me. I knew I'd have to climb these bastards eventually, and whatever small time I spent on something moderately flat was just a few moments. I had my trekking poles with me too. I had run a few races without using the poles, and honestly didn't know what they were even for. For my Leadville race, they were heavily suggested, so I watched a few videos about them and how they are used. People swore by them, so I broke down and purchased a pair. I practiced with them and eventually used them at Leadville. I didn't realize how much they were helping me until in a later stage of the race I decided to leave them behind with my crew at one of the Aid Stations. It wasn't long before my quads were screaming and burning. Jon was pacing me at the time, thank goodness. He had brought his pole with him too, and took pity on me, letting me use his for the rest of the race. We only finished that race with 20 minutes to spare, and without those poles, I would probably still be out there in the mountains of Colorado somewhere, catching small animals to eat and drinking from streams. So it was these poles now that I was using to take half steps up inclines so steep, it was tempting to just try to bear climb up them. Some of these climbs were taking me 30, 40 and by the end 60 minutes to climb. That's a long time to take step after small little step. You occassionally look up, but you can't see the fucking top. You round a corner, and up and up and up. Mostly it was exposed rock, sometimes it was dirt, a few times it was railroad ties, which almost made it worse. During the first loop, when it was night and sometimes foggy, you had zero idea of what was ahead. Was it 10 steps to the top, or a mile. was almost always a mile. Now with every steep uphill, there was a equally steep downhill on the other side. Most people would think this is a welcome part of the race, but for anyone who has done Boston, or any other hilly marathon, you discover pretty fast that the steep downhills will destroy your quads faster than a bout with Mike Tyson. Pounding down a mile long mountain, keeping yourself from going so fast that a fall or trip would mean several bloody cuts or worse, you end up wearing those muscles out fast. You only have to learn that lesson once, so being ultra conservative in the early stages helps you survive the later miles. I think that's what happens to many of the younger guys. For about 10 minutes during the race, a younger runner came up behind me and saddled up beside me. I thought he might want to keep each other company. He explained this was his first race beyond a marathon. He didn't have trekkiing poles, and he would bomb the downhills in front of me, while I would catch him back on the uphills. This only went on for a short time, until he went pounding down a hill and into the darkness. I didn't see him again until the halfway point where their drop bags were, but more on that later.
During that first loop in the dark I kept trying to take stock. My legs were doing pretty good. Nothing hurt.....yet. The best parts of the race were the volunteers. They were standing out in some pretty cold and remote sections of the race, telling the runners which turn or trail to take, which was absolutely necessary. There were so many small trails to the left and right, that it would have been easy to get lost. Plus, they did a pretty good job of marking the route with ribbons. Add on top of that the aid stations that were spaced throughout the race, and overall, it was a good course. The volunteers at the aid stations were always a welcome site. I would be out there for quite a distance by myself in the dark sometimes, and to come up on these little oasises was not only good for the soul, but sometimes they were just in time to save you from thirst. I was trying this drinking system for its first race, and most of the time I had more than enough between the stations, but there was one length where I went dry before I arrived. I had also ran out of my Infinite drink, and was using their drinks, so I had to supplement with my old standby of salted potato chips and coke. Those two items keep me alive during these events, and especially when I didn't plan correctly for this one. I was drained pretty badly and knew I wasn't keeping up with may calorie intake. That may not sound like a big deal in your daily life, but when you are in a ultra marathon, you literally feel like you are out of gas and running on fumes. Easy things become hard, and hard things begin to overwhelm you. Then it gets in your head and the devil comes out to remind you that you can stop this painful adventure anytime you want. The devil is a ass for sure. I've met him plenty of times on these events, and he's never won yet so I'm not sure why he keeps trying, but there he is again and I know I'll see him at the next one. He is relentless. So I just tell myself that I'll take some time at the next aid much more, drink lots of coke and even take some for the road, and that's how I proceeded for many hours.
At a few points, we were on the coastline. Sheer cliffs were all around, and I could see and hear the waves crashing on the rocks in the moonlight. I tried to take some pictures or video, but my poor phone camera just wasn't good enough for so little light. You really feel like you need to share moments like this with someone. The setting is so dramatic and beautiful, but there I was by myself. I looked as far ahead and behind me as I could, but I didn't see one headlamp. What a weird feeling. Were we THAT spread out? Was I just the last person out here? I hadn't passed anyone or been passed in a very long time. Time would tell.
I plodded along the trails. Steep as shit. Dramatic, and looking forward to seeing the little headlamps in the distance, or coming up on an aid station to briefly talk to the over the top nice people keeping us alive out here. Eventually, I recognized the area and a volunteer on the trail told me to take a right turn and head down to the aid station. This would be the halfway section, where my drop bag was waiting for me. However, this was also a very dangerous place. Not because it might hurt you, but the devil was waiting down there too. The aid station was only 3 miles from the start/finish line. It was at that moment you had to decide to go back out and do another 30 mile loop, or call it quits and stay in the chair, letting the devil win. I came down the path and stopped at the station. It was heavily lit up and music was playing. The volunteers immediately surrounded me, asking what they could do for me. Fill up my bottles? Find my bag? What did I want to eat? I had been running for 8 hours and 26 minutes by now, and I just wanted to find my bag, change some clothes, fill up my bottles and get back out there before the devil started whispering to me. I grabbed a chair and dumped my stuff on the ground. A volunteer helped me fill my bottles with my infinit power and some water. I changed shirts and a zippered pullover. Damp clothes can suck the life out of you. Clean dry stuff can pull your attitude up a few notches. Normally I have my heroic crew with me to help me with all of this stuff, but I was flying solo this time. Crew didn't make sense on this one, plus, it's good to get your head into the details sometimes to keep you motivated, but at this point, nothing hurt too bad, and my attitude was pretty high. My young friend, who I thought was in front of me, came down a few minutes later. He looked totaled. He plopped down in a chair and the volunteers surrounded him, trying to get him back in the game. I went over to him and told him to get what he needed and get out of that chair. Chairs in an ultra marathon are evil. Your brain tries to convince you that only a fool would get out of a nice comfy chair and continue to punish yourself so terribly. Don't be stupid! Just rest. I was putting on my vest and getting my coke as another guy came trotting down and into the area. He looked fresh, or at least fresher than I felt. He declared he was done and that he could not go back out there for 8 and a half hours. I told him "I" was going back out there and that he looked better than I did. Everyone started trying to convince him to just relax for a while and get fueled up and then head back out. I headed back on the trail, telling young Evan to get moving and the other guy to try to catch me. I never saw those guys again, and Evan didn't show up in the results later. The devil was on the move.
I headed back up the hill thinking to myself that it wasn't going to be another 8 and a half hours out here. The first loop was on new legs, this loop was going to be the test. Back up to the top of the hill, right turn, and back on the course. It was about 2am now and the good ole San Francisco fog was still hanging in the valleys, but when you got high enough, the moon was full and it was pretty. On loop one you really didn’t have any idea how many and how steep the hills in front of you were, but on loop two, you know what hell awaited you. I kept thinking, “you did this….ON PURPOSE ….to yourself, so there is no complaining”. It wasn’t long before my legs were starting to get fried. I started doing more run/walk intervals, even on the flat sections. I almost looked forward to the crazy uphills now just so I didn’t feel guilty about walking.
Eventually, the sun began to rise just as I was back on the coast side of the course. The view was just overwhelmingly spectacular. The moon was going down on my right and was hanging over the water that was crashing against the rocks. The ocean was starting to sparkle. The colors of the sunrise were glowing over the hills, where you could see the fog lying in the little valleys. I could see the trails criss-crossing the hills around me, and not a soul in sight. It really was surreal. This was worth the pain. How lucky I was to be able to do this. I walked a little, I ran even less, but I kept moving forward. I snapped a few pictures and was immediately disappointed. You had to be there. You had to be able to feel the wind, hear the waves, see the ten thousand shades of colors around you. It was such a strange feeling to want to share this with the world, but at the same time not to spoil it and not see it just like it is, without another breathing person within view. I wanted to just stop and sit here for hours as the sun grew higher in the sky and the moon sank into the sea, but that wasn’t why I was here today. Maybe another time.
There were a few weird parts of the course as well. There were 2 smallish out and backs on the loop. They are a good chance to see who is just ahead of you, and who is behind you. It made me feel good that I knew there were still people actually behind me, and I wasn’t bringing up the rear. It also helped move me forward a bit faster, not wanting to keep getting passed this late in the game. With about 15 miles left, that’s exactly what started happening. People started passing me, and doing it often. These people were moving fast too, and it was pissing me off! Then I remembered that the 50k had started a few hours ago, and this must be those people, because no one behind me should be moving that fast or be that nimble on their feet at this point. I felt much better when I realized that because otherwise that meant I was being a super slug. Even still, more and more of these fresh looking people kept blowing by me, and it did very little to make me less pissy. Everyone out there needed to look as beat down and tired as I felt, and these rabbits were much too spunky. I decided the race officials were asses to send these happy runners out here with those of us who have been out here for 14 or 15 hours already! At this point, even some regular folks, who were out for a little walk in the hills, were out and about. Now and then they would ask how far the race was or what all of us were doing. They must have picked me to answer these questions, because I was moving so slow that stopping to answer questions obviously wasn’t going to hurt the outcome of this race. When I explained the race had begun the previous day, and how far we were going, the look of shock was worth it. Yup, I have been doing this race for 15 hours now and it’s 100 kilometers… long is that in miles? Some would ask…..62 miles. They would then tell me “great job, or good luck, or just say WOW. That was an extra little boost to help move me forward.
Unfortunately, by the last 20ish miles or so, I was down to mostly walking. I tried to run the mild downhills now and then, but my quads were toasted. I was taking mental notes on what I needed to shore up over the next 7 months to be able to go the 206 miles of the Big Foot race. I had lots of work ahead of me. You might think walking 20 miles would be terrible, but I’d walked the last 26 or so at my last Florida Keys 100, and it wasn’t bad. If you can lay down a good pace, you can make some good progress. For the most part, that’s what happened. There really isn’t many details to relate beyond the same thing I’ve already told. I went up. It hurt and was slow. I went down, it hurt and I was slow. The volunteers were full of energy and always helpful. I moved forward.
Finally I came to a man standing on the path and I recognized him as the person to tell me to take a right to go down the hill that led to the bridge. First of all, I was at about 18 plus hours, and this same poor dude had apparently been standing in this same spot the entire time. WOW! I got a big smile on my face as he told me to turn right and head to the aid station. The trail is so small here, that every time I met someone coming up or someone had to pass me, I had to step off the trail, but I was so close now I didn’t care. I could see the edge of the Golden Gate Bridge and the parking lot below, so my attitude was much improving. It changed from mostly scrub bushes on either side of me to trees and I knew I was close. I made it back to the aid station and filled up my bottles for the last time. I texted Mary where I was at and took off...back under the bridge, through the parking lot, and back to the pathway over the bridge. I texted Mary one more time with a picture to show her I was on the bridge and let her know this would be over soon. She texted me a picture back that said she was also on the bridge. I thought she was coming to meet me and run ….well…..mostly walk back with me, but the pic and text were from earlier and she had already returned to the finish line.
I tried to run a bit here and there, because there were so many people on the bridge now, I didn’t want to appear to be some over dressed nut job, but I couldn’t hold a pace for longer than a few feet. I was shot. It was warming up too. I was now way over dressed but I wasn’t going to stop so close to the finish and do a wardrobe change. I just wanted this to be over. There were SO many people on the bridge that I had to dodge people all the time. People were walking 2 or 3 across, or stopping to take pictures or even ask me what was going on. I just started being a “people watcher” at that point to take my mind off how much I was hurting, plus I was still looking for Mary. Eventually I got to the end of the bridge and realized she must have headed back. I made the turn off the bridge and was on the walking paths that zig zagged back down to the park. Thank goodness they left those little colored ribbons attached to poles and stairs, because coming through here 19 hours ago in the dark was completely different in the daylight by myself. People were everywhere. It was a Saturday and about noon, so the Golden Gate bridge and park area were in full swing. Families, walkers, dogs dogs dogs, and every other kind of tourist was out and about. It was a perfect day, and as I came around a bend at the bottom, I could look out and see the finish line about a mile away. Oh thank God! I walked at a good pace and knew this would be over in just a few minutes. What a crazy ass race this had been, and nothing like I expected, but it served it’s purpose. As soon as I got home, I would begin my plan, but for the moment, I needed to cross that finish line.
Hundreds of people were at the park, doing their own thing. Picnics, flying kites, sightseeing. The dirt trail I was on now was about 7 feet wide, so I had little trouble with all of the people using it. Finally I came close enough to the finish line where I could watch a few people in front of me go through the inflated arch as people cheered for them. Then it was my turn. The lady on the path told me to take a right up the little grass incline, and head to the finish. One more hill, but it was only 4 steps. I decided no matter how bad I felt, I wasn’t going to walk the finish. I mustered what little I had left in me and “ran” to the finish line, back through the chunky grass field and to the finish chute with little flags on either side. Looking back at the video later, my “run” looked pretty pathetic, but it wasn’t walking...soooo. I could see a group of people wearing red jackets at the finish line. They were cheering for me to finish. I was looking for Mary, wondering where she was. Finally, I was under the arch and all of the volunteers were holding up their hands for HIGH FIVES as I ran through them. On the other side I saw Mary waiting. YEA! I walked over to the people giving out the medals, hung mine around my neck, and headed over for the Finish Hug I had been waiting for. I must have smelled delightful. DONE and DONE! Geez US! I hobbled around getting some drinks and food, and we sat for a bit on a nearby wall and ate.

I certainly have plenty of personal observations concerning the race organization, but that really isn’t part of this story. I can tell you that as of the day before the race, 116 people were registered to run, but they weren’t turning away people at the last minute. I’m not sure who actually drops a few hundred dollars to run a 100k the day of the race, but I suppose it's possible it happened. The lady had told me that the bib numbers were sequential. I was number 30. There were 66 people listed who finished. They did not list the DNFs. The largest bib number I saw in the results was #85. I was listed on the Athlinks page as the first in my age group, but I counted at least 7 people ahead of me, so who knows how many people ran this, how many dropped, and what the results were. I can tell you I started, I ran for 19 hours and 9 minutes, and that I finished. I learned plenty of valuable things that I can use. It wasn’t a “race” for me. I wasn’t trying to beat anyone. It was just a way to test myself and have a great vacation with Mary. Mission accomplished.

What would you do differently?:

More hills somehow....more streigth training.
Post race
Warm down:

Ate as I sat on a wall.

What limited your ability to perform faster:


Event comments:

Run Comments really say it all

Last updated: 2021-04-08 12:00 AM
19:09:45 | 100 kms | 11m 30s  min/km
Age Group: 0/
Overall: 0/66
Performance: Average
Course: It starts at historic Crissy Field, about a mile from the Golden Gate Bridge. You cross the bridge, do a double loop in the Golden Gate Nation Rec Area, then back to the start. Very hilly and spectacular views when it's not dark or misty from the fog/cloud bank.
Keeping cool Good Drinking Not enough
Post race
Weight change: %
Overall: Average
Mental exertion [1-5] 4
Physical exertion [1-5] 4
Good race? Ok
Course challenge Too hard
Events on-time?
Lots of volunteers? Yes
Plenty of drinks? Yes
Post race activities:
Race evaluation [1-5] 3

2021-12-03 1:38 PM

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Extreme Veteran
Latonia, Kentucky (near Cincinnati)
Subject: Golden Gate Trail Classic

2021-12-04 6:41 AM
in reply to: #5278937

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Atlanta, Georgia
Bronze member
Subject: RE: Golden Gate Trail Classic
Epic! That's one of my favorite parts of the world..

Good luck at the next one..
2022-03-01 10:29 AM
in reply to: alltom1

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Extreme Veteran
Latonia, Kentucky (near Cincinnati)
Subject: RE: Golden Gate Trail Classic's beautiful there!
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