Just after noon on May 21st my plane touched down at San Francisco International Airport. After a long wait at immigration, and then an almost-as-long wait to collect my rental, I was in the USA ready to start my new life as a professional runner.
My first point of call was the ZombieRunner store in Palo Alto, which was the only place I could find with stock of the new Ultimate Direction packs made in conjunction with Anton Krupicka and Scott Jurek. I was interested in checking out the ultra-light pack bearing Anton’s name as a potential hydration option for Western States. I went in, picked it up, was immediately sold on it, and the pack was then sold to me. I will possibly write a review of the pack once I catch up with my supposedly daily posts.
I then headed north towards my accommodation on the Marin Headlands, just across the Golden Gate Bridge, and supposedly one of the best trail running locations in the entire country. My plan was to run the Marin Headlands in the afternoon and then to head out to the nearby Tamalpais State Park the following morning. But I had clearly been optimistic with my planning, and by the time I checked in to my accommodation it was after 7PM and I had just over an hour of daylight remaining.
I wanted to run the Coastal Trail in the headlands, and had even mapped out a great 26 km loop but I was a couple of hours short of being able to fit that in. I needed to get in some practice at running in the dark for Western States, so I came up with a new plan. I would run out along the Coastal Trail, and might even be able to cover the most popular stretch through to Muir Beach before darkness fell. Then I would retrace my path in the dark with my headlight. I changed into running gear, packed my brand new Ultimate Direction pack with warm clothing and my headlight and set out.
My GPS watch took a few minutes to locate me, obviously confused with being used on three different continents within the period of a single week. Once it was going I set out directly from my accommodation and descended to the coast for the start of the trail. The trail started with a climb up to a cliff overlooking the beach and as I climbed I noticed a sea breeze that I had previously been sheltered from. Early on I was welcomed by a deer, and as I continued running along the cliffs and there was some great views as the sun descended.
The path continued to get less and less defined, and eventually I had to admit that I was clearly not on a path anymore. There was no question of getting lost since I was simply following the coastline, but the coastal scrub was too thick to run through if a path had not already been formed. I headed to a high point and could see a paved route in the ravine below me. I tried following a trail heading in that direction but it disappeared and I was forced to turn around. I tried to reverse my original route but obviously took a different trail and once again it disappeared. After my third or fourth attempt, and with a bit of work bashing my way through scrub I finally made it onto the paved route, and attempted to return to my run. I turned onto another hiking path and I climbed up to a former military emplacement, but the trail was disappearing yet again, and I had to admit that the “sea breeze” could now better be described as a gale-forced wind. I had run into a 46 km/h headwind at the PE City Marathon last December, but this wind felt clearly stronger than that.
It was time to reach the conclusion that the run was not going to turn out as planned so I decided to bail. I had covered less than 6 km and still had time before dark. I put on an extra layer to stay warm despite the wind, descended back to the paved route and managed to easily make my way back to the start of the trail. I headed back towards my accommodation, but a couple of hundred metres before reaching it I noticed a trail heading up a hill beside it. I still had some time before dark, I was now sheltered from the worst of the wind, and my legs had warmed into the run. I climbed up the hill and over the other side before reaching one of the roads through the headlands, and then retraced my steps. I returned to my accommodation just a few minutes before the darkness set in enough to require a headlight. I had managed a slightly disappointing 12.5 km.