Stinson Beach Half Marathon taps endurance limits

I guess we should have known. Ignorance wasn’t really bliss, not this time. But in the end all that we didn’t know kept us from turning back on a memorable morning of accomplishment.

A group of five, including The Bride and me, ventured out to Stinson Beach for the Envirosports Marathon. It was only my second “official” race, following Bay to Breakers earlier this year. I’ve run two half-marathons before, but on my own, just to see what I could do. Those were around an uneventful track. This was nothing like that.

I wasn’t really curious. My brother — Dr. Rev. as I like to call him because he is both — told me to “hill” train. It was more like mountain train, but who’s quibbling.

He also said to go slow. In the weeks leading up to him I sent my work out times and distances and he routinely responded with only one piece of advice: slow down.

Not even he was prepared for just how slow we’d go.

The trail had 1,500 feet of elevation in the first three miles. Then it went down, steeply down. and then it went up. Way back up. And up some more. Like walking both ways uphill to school in the snow type up. The stuff of legends and lore.

The trail itself was full of roots, rocks, hundreds of built-in steps and switchbacks. It even had a ladder at one point.

The Bride and Mrs. Dr. Rev. signed on for the 7 miler. Smart, these women are. Very smart. We didn’t realize just how smart until about mile five when we looked up and like looking up at people on a balcony in a skyscraper above you, we saw runners virtually straight up from us.


(look real close and you’ll see people up there in the photo below).

Several things happened in this amazing day. I came in last for my age group, so I guess I got the slow part down Dr. Rev. talked about. But I also felt good. Nearly four hours of vertical ups and downs, some walking, some scrambling, some light jogging and I crossed the finish line feeling just fine.

“This is an ass kicker,” Dr. Rev. said at one point. From a veteran of several marathons, triathlons and one Ironman competition, that’s saying something.

My future son-in-law who has won marathons in his age bracket said it was the hardest day he’s ever had on a race course. I take their word for it, even though I have no other experiences to back it up.

The wining marathoner took more than four hours. He passed us on the trail, speeding by like a ghost, yet it still took him four hours. Tough. Real tough.

The race is unique in that is is grueling physically but scenically brilliant. Dramatic coastline views combined with runs through towering redwoods make for a truly Californian experience. With only 300 race entrants, Dr. Rev. and I spent a good portion of the race running totally alone, something almost unheard of in today’s clogged fitness competition scene. All of this added up to a memorable experience of physicality, relationships, beauty and persistence.

The next day I had some minor stiffness, but no real aches and pains. Two days later I hit the Insanity workout with The Bride.  This was her first-ever race and she had a blast. She too felt amazingly fit and relatively pain-free over the course of her two-hour, seven-mile run.

At some point I realized this was exactly what we trained for: Fitness. It’s an old word, one I recall from P.E. classes when I was a kid. Fitness never really meant much. Now it does, because that’s the whole point of these adventures. To be fit. To enjoy a beautiful day, running and walking through the steep gorgeous terrain of Muir Woods and simply be able to navigate it without pain and distress. To enjoy an active lifestyle with The Bride on the other side of alcoholism.

The second benefit: I went nearly an hour and half longer than my “typical” half-marathon time, meaning I’m pretty much there if I want to run a nice, fit, slow marathon. I never wanted to before. Two hours seemed plenty. But having been out there for nearly four, I know now I can do it if I want to, assuming the course if flat. I may not be fast or very firm or fanatical, but I am fit.

A bit more than five years ago I was nearly 300 pounds and headed to rehab. Now that was grueling. This was really a walk in the woods, an exhilarating example of the wide-angled life on the other side of the funnel of addiction.