Marin Ultra Challenge 50K Race Report (finally!)

I have no idea how March has already come and gone – it’s been a whirlwind 2019 so far with lots of work activity, an upcoming move and massive career shift, and of course, ultra season is in full swing!

All of this is also a long-winded way of saying that I am woefully late in posting my first race report of the season, from the Marin Ultra Challenge 50K, held on March 9 in the gorgeous and iconic Marin Headlands, just north of San Francisco.

The Marin Headlands is part of a larger system of protected land that comprise the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), which was established by Congress in 1972 with the progressive and forward-thinking aim of offering an urban population the opportunity to experience and enjoy diverse protected plant and animal life normally found only in larger national parks. (It is fairly normal, for instance, to see coyotes like the one featured above casually sauntering along the roadways in the headlands, uncaring of the passing traffic or excited pointing and exclamations of visitors. It is, after all, their territory). All-in-all, the headlands is a gorgeous area characterized by rolling foothills and mountains with sweeping vistas of San Francisco, the Bay, and the Pacific. Not surprisingly, its miles of undulating trails are also incredibly popular with trail runners and mountain bikers.

For runners, the trails are as tough as they are beautiful, all steep ups and downs, with virtually no flat sections.

Lining up at the start, thinking about all the steep terrain, I knew this was going to be a tough race.

Over 6200 feet of elevation gain in a little over 30 miles. The course profile looked like teeth a great white would envy.

They counted us down, and blew the horn to send us off.

It started to pour.

Not surprisingly, we started off with a climb – about 2 miles straight uphill. I started off alongside the inspiring rockstar Katie Arnold, a professional ultrarunner and author who won the competitive and tough Leadville 100 miler in Colorado last year.

At the start! Still relatively fresh and warm.

We stayed together for only a little while before Katie took off – I didn’t see her the rest of the race.

From miles 2 -10-ish, I remember little except a series of up-up-ouch-up followed by steepfastdownhills. Because of the rain and cold, I wasn’t sweating that much, and so I opted to not stop at the first aid station, waiting until the next aid station at Tennessee Valley before grabbing a gel and some sports drink. From there, we got a bit of respite from the climbs as we headed to Muir Beach, before hitting another wall straight up at mile 14. Here, we did a quick out and back, before returning back to Muir Beach around mile 20.

At this point I made the mistake of taking a quick nature break at the aid station.

Apparently at this time 2 women passed me (unbeknownst to me at the time).

I spent less then 2 minutes at the aid station before heading back out – and up! – another steep climb. I was admittedly getting tired by this point – my hands and legs were numb, and I was feeling like I was on the verge of bonking (i.e., running completely out of energy). At this point, Ashley Hall – a badass runner from Reno, NV – caught up with me on the climb. We chatted for a bit, and it was nice to share some miles with a friendly face. Nevertheless, as the climbs continued, I could feel myself starting to fade. I waved her on.

The race took us on a proper tour of the Marin Headlands!

From mile 24 on, it was just a slow grind, with me trying to gut it out as much as possible and maintain my position. There was one last, final climb before the finish that was the steepest of the day and just mean. Remarkably, I caught one woman who had passed me, and I continued on; when I got to the top, I saw that I was gaining on another woman! I let it out on the downhill mile into the finish, trying to make up as much ground as I could. I was closing on her, but simply ran out of room…

I ended up finishing 4th in 5:00:55, less than 20 seconds behind 3rd.

In spite of missing out on the podium, I could not be disappointed with the results: on what has been my hilliest 50K by far, I managed to PR by 20 minutes.

Plus, Roger was there with me, cheering me in, and even took me out to a massive, greasy diner breakfast at a local dive afterwards.

That was a total win, in my books.

On to the next!



In celebration of city parks.

This past weekend, the AIR Adventures team took part in the Hot Chocolate 15K, a popular running race held every January in San Francisco. This year’s race just happened to coincide with one of the biggest storms to hit the Bay Area in decades – and which led to overflowing rivers and downed trees in many areas. In spite of the rain, we enjoyed our time at the race – and are grateful to all the volunteers who braved the elements to put on a great event.

But this entry is not about the race, or even the storm. Rather, it’s moreso about where the race was held: in  Golden Gate Park, in downtown SF.

Nestled in the northeast corner of the city – and overlooking the famed bridge of the same name – Golden Gate Park offers over 1, 000 acres of green, public space in the midst of the hustle and bustle of one of the most densely populated cities in the U.S.. Within the park, visitors can enjoy a variety of activities: from a stroll through the park’s gardens – including the Japanese tea garden and garden of Shakespeare’s flowers; to a rowboat trip on Stow Lake and catching a glimpse of Strawberry Hill in the process; to – as we opted to do this past Sunday – going for a run.

Regardless of the activities in which park visitors choose to engage, the important thing is that the park offers them as a public service. And this, really, is the beauty of city parks – whether in San Francisco, NYC, or Anywhere: they offer an all-to-important haven of peace, quiet, and greenery for urban dwellers.

It could be San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, or New York City’s Central Park – but this is actually Hagley Park in the city of Christchurch, New Zealand.

When thinking of conservation efforts – like we here at AIR Adventures aim to promote – the conservation and protection of city parks don’t often come to mind. But they, too, should figure into our efforts to protect green spaces. Why?

The non-profit organization City-Parks Alliance highlights five primary value of urban parks, which we summarize below:

  1. Environmental: Parks help create human and energy efficient cities that are the best hope for slowing global warming. As our sister organization, the Alliance for International Reforestation, reminds us: every tree planted helps to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, and fight climate change. City parks are yet another important ally in this fight!
  2. Community: Well-maintained parks promote community engagement and civic pride. Not all urban residents have the financial means to travel to a park like Yosemite or Yellowstone. City parks ensure that all residents – regardless of economic status – are able to experience and enjoy nature. Additionally, parks help to contain urban sprawl, and research shows the reduce crime – leading to safer communities.
  3. Economic: As key pieces of a city’s infrastructure, well-maintained parks can result in measurable health, environmental, and community savings. One example is the city of Philadelphia, which saved an estimated $16 million in public expenditures as a result of storm water management and air pollution reduction.
  4. Educational: Access to parks provides children with learning opportunities that are crucial to their future success and healthy development. The hands-on learning provided through city parks is especially critical for children who would not otherwise have access to outdoor resources, and can help close the educational achievement gap.
  5. Public health: People living near parks have greater opportunities to be physically active by running, walking or participating in other heart happy activities.


So while we here at AIR Adventures encourage you to get out and enjoy – and protect – those great vast wild spaces, we also encourage you to visit and learn more about the city parks that may be right around the corner. Because nature should be for everyone to enjoy, whether in sunshine – or the occasional rainy day.

Interested in learning more about global conservation efforts – and how you can help create a healthier planet for us all to enjoy? Then visit the Alliance for International Reforestation now, or just go here to make a direct donation. Thanks for reading!