Wind, scouring the ridges, tearing at your race bib, stealing your cap, screaming in your ears; rocks, scattered everywhere, underfoot, uneven, dangerous; fog, thick and impenetrable, all day, all night, throwing your headlamp beam back in your eyes, full of cold mist; wildflowers, sticky monkey, wild peas like rows of tiny orchids, Indian paintbrush, milkweed; relentless climbs, unending descents; deer, rabbits, owls and a coyote that jumped on the trail right behind me.
The San Francisco 100 pits you against the elements of nature but at the same time reveals all Nature’s glory in the hills and coastlines of the Marin Headlands just across the Golden Gate Bridge from the “City by the Bay.” Tony Bennett might have left his heart in San Francisco, but the 100 milers left their blood, sweat and tears in Marin.
The course makes full use of the classic ultrarunning trails and locales of the Marin Headlands and the Muir Woods, including Stinson Beach, Tennessee Valley, Muir Beach, Pirate’s Cove, and Rodeo Beach, and the Miwok, Coastal, Dipsea, Bobcat, and Redwood Creek trails. Of course the steps and the ten foot ladder in Steep Ravine above Stinson Beach are part of the fun. When the fog lifted, there were views of the Golden Gate bridge, the ragged coastline with dramatic cliffs plunging down to the surf, redwood forests, classic California scrub and chaparral with turkey vultures and red-tailed hawks wheeling in the sky above.
And surprisingly runners are given something of a tour of decommissioned World War II gun emplacements and defensive works meant to keep the Imperial Japanese Navy from approaching the Golden Gate into San Francisco Bay. The trail passes right through two of the massive artillery bunkers. Where else does that happen in a race? And then to top off the military theme, the course goes by an old Nike Missile launch site that includes a dummy inside a sentry shack waiting to check IDs. Hitting that shack with your flashlight at three in the morning was extremely spooky.
In short, this was a tremendous race, full of weather, scenery, challenging trail, history, and nature. The trail was marked to perfection with lots of helpful signs to get you through an initial fifty mile out and back and then alternate directions on two twenty-five mile loops. Total elevation gain for the race was nearly 20,000 feet so it is not a walk in the park. There were plenty of aid stations and great food at the end. A concurrent fifty mile race filled the course with lots of company for the 24 one hundred mile starters.
If you haven’t run a race in the Marin Headlands, this one will give you the complete experience and then some. If you have run here before, this race will make returning a challenging pleasure.