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  • Writer's pictureSarah Rose

Tamalpa Headlands 50K Recap

[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]

start of an ultra race

My first and favorite boss told me not to make a living doing what I most love, because I'd eventually resent it. "Make a career out of what you love second best," she told me, "so that your biggest passion is never interrupted by the need to make money." I currently make a little bit of money writing things, and most of my money working with events and races. One race that I was excited to work with was the Tamalpa Headlands 50k, which was founded in 1998 but hasn't happened for the past 3 years. Ultrarunning Magazine revived it, and after learning more about the race, I thought, why not run it?

Mike and I drove from Laguna to Fresno, then to Mill Valley where our Air BnB host informed us that we could not stay there, as her septic system needed to be replaced and she currently had no running water. We found a different Air BnB and finally settled in late Friday evening. My body felt stiff from being crammed into my car, and my brain felt frenzied from a stressful work week and an unshakeable desire to be outside of itself.

Sometimes I get depressed and anxious and there is no tangible reason. There is no one thing I can point to and blame, which makes sense if you're someone prone to depression or anxiety and no sense at all if you're mentally well. Because I've lived with my brain for thirty years, I know the sadness never stays. It always spits me out, thankful to look up and blink at the sun. I want to hear what it sounds like when strangers sing in their cars. I want to hug everyone and run away from them simultaneously. I think about empty churches and empty movie theaters and empty office buildings and huge, expensive, empty homes and wonder how anyone could possibly be happy around so much emptiness.

I ate the turkey and bacon off a soggy turkey club that Mike bought me for lunch. I drank a lot of water and gathered my things. There wasn't much I needed to carry, just two half liter bottles, some salt tabs, and gels. The course had seven aid stations, so I'd have the luxury of traveling light. My Salomon pack had two broken zippers, so I stuffed my things into the remaining functional pocket. I thought about the race and checked out the participant list, deciding that I'd be happy with a top 10 finish (there were some very fast people signed up) and a sub 5:30 time. I hadn't tapered for the race, my sights set on a 100 miler in mid-October.

Last year, Mike and I visited Mill Valley and I ran a big loop down to Muir Beach and back, looking at my map the entire time. During that run, I met a couple of men training for the quad Dipsea, who guided me back to town after I took a wrong turn. Some of the trails would be familiar to me, and some would be brand new.

Race morning, we carpooled to the start line with a friend. I didn't warm up (a mistake), and the race went out fast. (The course map, elevation profile, and turn by turn description can be found here.) The beginning of races are usually predictable; everyone starts fast, and the people who are truly fast proceed to keep on running fast while dozens of others realize, perhaps too late, that they may have dug themselves into a hole. One of my favorite things about this race was all the climbing. There was nearly 6,500 feet of elevation gain over 32 miles, and the early climbs gave me a chance to evaluate everyone around me. The guy struggling to run past me would eventually finish nearly an hour behind me. The guy who I leap-frogged with would eventually finish only a couple minutes behind me. And the women who ran uphill without struggle would absolutely bury me.

I made a point to eat often, my trusty Spring Awesome Sauce my go-to energy source. I also ate some gummy bears and filled one bottle with Tailwind and the other with water at each aid station. I also took four salt tabs throughout the race, and taking care of my hydration/electrolytes paid dividends later. The weather wasn't hot, but it was humid and my clothes were soaked with moisture. Late in the race, I passed several people, a few of whom were cramping.

I chatted with people to pass the time and met a man from Seattle and a bunch of people from the surrounding area; Mill Valley, San Francisco, Oakland. The race definitely had a hometown feel to it, with local running clubs out in force and volunteers cheering for their friends. I spent most of the race with one song stuck in my head (Dial Drunk by Noah Kahan) and sweeping away the cobwebs of my thoughts about empty churches. I felt better and better as the race progressed, caught multiple people on the last climb, and ran the last four downhill miles to the finish fast. I ended up the 9th female (39th overall) in a time of 5:26:56.

The course itself was an insanely awesome mix of flowy single track, technical terrain, challenging climbs, and fast downhill sections. There were dozens of volunteers at aid stations and road crossings, and the course was well marked with bright pink ribbon. Distances between aid were accurate, and the race was overall, exceptionally well managed. Sometimes, I run a race and never need to revisit it, but the Tamalpa Headlands 50K is one I would absolutely return to

P.S. Read more about how Ultrarunning Magazine brought back this legendary course here, check out the Tamalpa Headlands 50k website here, or get a subscription to Ultrarunning Magazine here.


Sarah Rose

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