Sunday, July 25, 2010

Race Report: Headlands Fifty, 50M, Rodeo Beach, CA

  • Amazing scenery and course. Will definitely be on my list of races to run again in the future
  • Perfect running weather, cool and windy
  • Although my slowest 50 miler to date, one of my favorites in terms of overall experience
Elevation Summary

Gain- 5,520 ft Loss - 5,520 ft

Race Day - Getting to the Start
Much more cloudy on race day

The Headlands 50 took place at Rodeo Beach in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area just north of San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge. I drove to Sausalito for lunch on Friday, which is just east of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, so I had a general idea of where I would be heading on Saturday morning. The drive from my hotel in San Mateo took almost an hour and a half on Friday afternoon. Since I had not actually driven all the way to Rodeo Beach, I wanted to get to the race plenty early for the 7AM start time. So, I ended up getting up around 3:30AM on Saturday morning to get ready for my drive to the race. I did an excellent job of having everything I needed for the race laid out the night before. And, just to make sure I didn't forget anything like I had at previous races, I went ahead and took my entire bag with me that I had packed for the trip. I just through this in the trunk of the car, just in case I happened to have forgotten something. My drive to the race start was fairly uneventful, and much quicker than I had expected. I arrived at the race start around 5AM. I was the only car in a pitch black parking lot right next to the beach. I could hear the waves crashing against the shore, but could really see nothing at all. I sat there in my car for about 10 minutes wondering if I was even at the right place. Finally, another car pulled up and we confirmed we were at the correct location. It was not until closer to 6AM when a number of cars started to arrive. There ended up being around 125 registered entries for the race between both the marathon and 50 mile distance. I believe around 100 of those were registered for the 50 mile. I don't think it was until at least 6:15 when the actual race director arrived and they began to setup for the race. It seemed a bit unorganized at first, but we eventually got our race numbers about 20 minutes before start time. Probably about 10 minutes before the race start, I noticed a number of people wearing compression socks/sleeves. I looked at the hills I would be climbing for the entire day and thought that I should probably wear mine as well. Luckily, I had put all my other stuff I packed in the trunk of the car, and that included my Skins compression sleeves. After quickly putting them on, I walked over to where everyone was gathering for the start of the race. 

Race Day - The Race
The race started with the race director doing a short countdown on his megaphone. It was a very informal, one of the things I love about ultras. The race was basically a figure 8, 25 mile loop.
Michael Miller and I, Pre-Race
The race started with an immediate climb from sea level up into the first hill. Less than a 1/2 mile in I could overlook the Rodeo Lagoon which was a spectacular site. I really wish I would have taken a picture. There were probably so many times I wanted to stop and take pictures that I would have never finished the race if I did. I tried to take mental pictures the whole way instead. Anyway, about half-way up there was an old gunners crow's nest that we ran through. We entered from the front, and then went through a tunnel to exit out the rear. That was a pretty cool site to see. We continued climbing and then eventually descended to the first aid station at about mile 4. I was feeling great, so I just stopped for a quick electrolyte drink and moved on. From this point until close to mile 25, I was running with a friend, Michael Miller, who ironically has run in two of my first three ultras. It was very cool to run with him for such a long distance. It made the experience that much more fun. The next segment of the course ran along the Pacific Ocean. Again, amazing views. There was a sign along the trail that read "Oregon - 485 miles". I'm wondering if you can take this trail to Oregon? After quite a bit of climbing we again descended to aid station 2. I think I just refilled my water bottle at aid station 2. After leaving aid station 2, we ran back up the hills we had just descended. This was a very steep climb. I believe part of this section of the course is the same trail system as the Miwok 100. Unfortunately, in my first loop, I followed the wrong path and missed the Miwok 100 turn off and added an extra 3/4 - 1 mile to the segment. And worse than that, I know there were a couple people following behind me. Woops! Eventually, we descended back down to aid station 3, which was the same as aid station 1. At this point, I believe we were around mile 11. I stopped for a couple minutes to refuel. I was still feeling really good at this point. No problems at all. Aid station 3 to 4 was again a climb going out and then a descent to the aid station. This time we were overlooking the east side of the Headlands with views of what I believe was Sausalito. This particular segment was really windy, and you were literally seeing the clouds blow across the top of the hills in front of you and you would run right through them. After a quick refill of my water bottle at aid station 4, I turned back to head to aid station 5 (aid station 1). I didn't spend much time there; only long enough to grab a quick bite and then moved on to the last segment of the first 25 miles heading back to the start line. About a mile from the end of the first 25 miles, I got a lot of rocks in my shoes. I remembered what happened in my last 50 miler -  rocks in shoes = blisters. Since I knew I was only about a mile from the aid station, I decided not to stop to empty my shoe until I reached the 25 mile aid station. Luckily, I only had one small blister on my left heal as a result of the rocks. The first mistake I made was at this aid station. Between mile 17 and mile 25 I barely ate anything. And I left the mile 25 aid station without eating anything. So, by the time I was on mile 27-28, I was really hungry and needed food. I slowed dramatically, even on the down hill. I had no energy. I finally reached the aid station at mile 29, and ate a lot. The volunteers at the aid station were probably hoping I would move on and leave some food for others! I spent awhile at the aid station eating and refueling. It was not until about 3-4 miles into the next segment where I regained my energy and was feeling good again. From that point until the end of the race, I had a lot of fun. I talked to several people as I passed them or they passed me. I took time to take in the scenery as much as possible and enjoy the experience. I ended up finishing in 11:25, which was slower than my goal time, but I felt good about it considering the 11,000 ft of elevation gain and 11,000 feet of elevation loss throughout the race. On top of that, I didn't experience any soreness in my muscles the entire race and felt fine afterwards.

Post Race
After I finished, my enjoyable race experience quickly deteriorated. I walked over to get my t-shirt and finishers medal only to find out the finishers medals had not been received and they would be mailed out. It is now a week later, and still no finishers medal. I could deal with that though. I walked over and had a bite to eat and something to drink before I went to get my drop bag that I had placed at the first aid station. When I went to get my drop bag, I realized it was not there. I asked when they would be bringing the drop bags back and they said within the next 15 minutes. This was fine, because I remembered them saying they would be bringing them back every hour starting at 2pm. Well, I waited and waited and it never came. My keys to my car were in the drop bag, and my cell phone was locked in the car. It was really cold with the wind coming off the Pacific Ocean. I was actually shivering standing there waiting. Several people offered me a sweat shirt but I declined thinking my drop bag would be there any minute. Well, after an hour, I finally accepted a jacket from one of the aid station volunteers. He was a really nice guy. I ended up getting my drop bag 2 hours and 20 minutes after the race had finished. Not a great way to end the day, but I wasn't going to let that ruin my experience. In hindsight, I should have walked out to the beach and along the ocean. Oh well, next time..


My first attempt at recording video during a race. It was hard to evaluate the elevation while running/recording, so sometimes I was accidentally recording the ground when I thought I was recording an amazing view of the valleys.

What I did right:

  • Wore my compression socks, I think they definitely helped, especially with all the climbing
  • Walked early and often on the hills, and ran all of the downhills
  • Enjoyed the scenery and the experience

What I learned from this race:

  • Re-evaluate wearing some type of backpack to carry some essentials like snacks and my keys and cell phone
  • Again, spend less time at aid stations, but remember to refuel at each station appropriately. 
  • Walk less.. I still have a mental block about running more of the 50 miles. I finish no problem and am not even tired afterwards. I could definitely put more effort into the actual race
  • Every ultra course has it's uniqueness about it. It's very difficult to set a time expectation when I've never run or seen the course before. So, until I repeat courses, my main goal is to have fun and finish strong
Random Race Pics:


  1. Once again, congratulations Brian!! :) I am so glad you included the videos during the race. I always feel like I am "actually" there when I read your race reports..But, seeing the scenery on video literally takes me there! Sorry to hear about the drop bag delay and having to wait to receive the finisher's medal..(That's no fun!)
    Overall, seems like you had an awesome time, and finished strong and pain free!!! Great job and thanks for the great read. :)

  2. Excellent report! Well done with the race, you did great! I often don’t eat enough especially on trail runs. Always remember when it’s too late. I carry my keys, phone and camera in a belt with 3 pouches. I also carry some gels and small snacks. You did very well not to be dead tired after this race. Nice to see the video.

  3. Brian, great race report! Looks like a beautiful place to run. I would agree...fuel early even when not hungry. I often make the same mistake and end up bonking and then its too late to recover. Thanks for the video, took us there.

  4. Great race report. I love the laid back atmosphere you have presented.

  5. Nice race report, you made it feel as if the reader is right along side. Sorry the post-race experience left you with a bad pace, after 11 hours I'm sure it would have been frustrating to have to wait over 2 more hours. But at least you were in a great location and it sounds like you had terrific company. Maybe I'll get the ultra / trail bug someday, after reading write-ups like yours.

  6. Love it! Great job, Brian!