An alumni function brought me to San Francisco this week. I had a great time meeting up with Community School graduates from the 1980’s and 1990’s and the added bonus was that I had a chance to get out onto the trails of Marin County earlier today. Due to some travel complications I had four hours free to return to my old training grounds on the Miwok 100K course and, as a result, I was able to get in my first real training run of the season.
I parked my car at the Tennessee Valley Trailhead in Marin and planned a 24 mile route which would capture some elevation, take in some great ocean views, and test my early season fitness. Since I knew all my splits for the various sections from year’s past I knew this was a workout that would provide a legitimate early season challenge. That, coupled with the fact that I was running on dirt rather than snow or ice, got be psyched.
I ran easily down the one-mile fireroad which bisects Tennessee Valley and turned onto the Coastal Trail after 10 minutes. I got a chuckle out of the new trail sign that noted it was 2.8 miles to Muir Beach and 467 miles to the Oregon border. A fleeting thought of the Oregon Boyz entered my mind and I began the climb in earnest.
Cresting the hill I looked forward to what is, to me, the best 3-mile stretch of single track in the Bay Area. From this point I would have a 600 foot descent down to Pirate’s Cove followed by an equally steep 600 foot climb up to a wonderful viewpoint. Then I would be treated to a delightful 800-foot descent into Muir Beach. Even though I had run this route countless times before the beauty and serenity of the moment was magical. I was on The Trail.
After leaving Muir Beach I ran the flat section between the Pelican Inn and the beginning of the climb up to Pan Toll hard. I was impressed with how dry the trail was given the recent rains and I began to get in to a steady rhythm. After crossing the paved road I began the three-mile, 1800 foot climb to Pan Toll Ranger Station which is one of the signature climbs on the Miwok Course. Winding in and out of the trees I felt at home in these California hills and I wanted the run to last forever. I arrived at the Ranger Station, topped off my bottles and checked my watch, 1:33 from Tennessee Valley. Sweet, I was right on my splits from 2005. Maybe I was getting into shape after all.
Knowing I needed to be back at my car by 12:30 and knowing that it would take me 1:20 or so to get back there from Pan Toll I treated myself to a relaxed 50 minute out and back on the Coastal Trail before dropping back into the valley. The time flew by as quickly as the miles on this beautiful section of trail and before I knew it I was back at Pan Toll ready to take on the 1800 foot descent back to the road and then the final five miles of ups and downs back to Tennessee Valley. I knew this descent would provide a serious test for my legs. I usually don’t get into “downhill shape” until April but I am trying to get there a bit earlier this year. The descent off Pan Toll and the final 800 foot elevator shaft drop to Tennessee Valley would be the perfect early season quad test. I got back to the road in 20 minutes flat. Not too bad. The legs were returning!
Loving the fact that I was running in shorts and a t-shirt for the first time in two months I hammered the climb up to the Highway 1 crossing and felt a bit of a competitive surge as I pondered running from that point to Tennessee Valley in 30 minutes (my race day time is usually a tad under 40). Needless to say I did it and returned to my car three hours and forty minutes after I left it.
I must admit I have been homesick for the Bay Area since moving to the high mountains of Idaho. Don’t get me wrong, life is good here but the fact that the trails here are covered in snow for half the year gets me down from time to time. The chance to get out on some real California dirt fueled my soul and got me pumped up for the next 140 days. That, my friends, is what it’s all about.