Rekindling the Flame

After training 4 months for MCM (training recap coming soon!), I knew I would need some time off before my next training cycle.  Taking time off doesn’t necessarily mean being a sloth, however; it means approaching running without the pressure of “training”.  I wanted to run purely for fun for a while.  Enter: Cathryn, and our ongoing trail explorations around the Bay Area.  So far, we’ve hit Lake Chabot in the East Bay and Huddard Park in Woodside (check out her recaps here and here).  For our next adventure, we both wanted to check out the Marin Headlands, a.k.a. the Golden Gate Recreational Area maintained by the National Parks Service.  The area offers stunning views of the Pacific coastline, Golden Gate Bridge, and the San Francisco skyline.   I’m embarrassed to say that despite having lived in the Bay Area for 8.5 years, I’ve only run in the Headlands once, for a 5-mile race in July 2012.  It was time to change that!

After doing a bit of online research on running routes, I came upon an 11.5-mile loop posted by Paulette, who was then nice enough to share her gmap of the route.  From there, I looked at the NPS map to get the approximate mileage between trails so that we could hopefully avoid getting lost!  I also found Google maps satellite images to be extremely helpful with the planning.  Because there seems to be a dearth of running route information out there, I’m posting our route details below, including potentially tricky turns and mileage readings based on my Garmin.  Hopefully this will be of help to others while planning a run in the Marin Headlands.  And if not, just sit back and enjoy the photos! (For more photos and the tale told from a different perspective, check out Cathryn’s post!)

Our planned route in blue, detour in green.  Notes in purple with arrows!

Our planned route in blue, detour in green. Notes in purple!

I met up with Cathryn at 8:30 a.m. at the Tennessee Valley Trailhead parking lot, which was already starting to fill up quickly.  We said good-bye to Cathryn’s husband and son, then set off on a long climb up Marincello, a wide fire road.  After about 5 minutes of jogging and chatting, we gave up on the latter and concentrated solely on getting up the hill.  It was only a matter of time before we resorted to run/walk intervals.  Even though the grade wasn’t too steep, I thought it was better to be conservative early on than to be too proud to walk — we still had a lot of miles and hills to go.  We got to the top, then reveled in our first of many picture-taking breaks.

At the top of Marincello, with views of Tiburon and Sausalito.

At the top of Marincello, with views of Tiburon and Sausalito.

Cathryn taking in the view.

Cathryn taking in the view and ready to hit the trails!

Next up: Bobcat and Alta Trails.  Thankfully, Cathryn noticed the sneaky cut over to Alta from Bobcat so we stayed on course.  Along the way, we took in more amazing views of the San Francisco Bay.

Cathryn and I with Angel Island in the background.

Posing with Angel Island in the background.

One of two gorgeous eucalyptus groves on our route.

One of two gorgeous eucalyptus groves on our route.

At the end of Alta, we hit Wolfpack Ridge Road, at which we followed the sign to turn right on Rodeo Valley/SCA trails.  After a few minutes, we turned left at the fork to stay on SCA, a beautiful section of single track and one of my favorites of the day.  We also got our first glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge!

Running out of the 2nd eucalyptus grove, Cathryn does her best Priscah Jeptoo impersonation.

Running out of the 2nd eucalyptus grove, Cathryn does her best Priscah Jeptoo impersonation.

From the SCA trail

View of the Headlands.

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from SCA Trail.

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from SCA Trail.  So gorgeous.

From SCA, we turned left onto Coastal, then took a quick left downhill to do an out-and-back on narrow single track toward the Golden Gate Bridge.  We decided to turn around when we noticed that the views were getting less impressive as we descended rapidly toward the parking lot.  We skipped the short out-and-back to Slackers Hill because the area is closed for condor habitat restoration.

Not a shabby place to run.

Not a shabby place to run.

From left to right:

From left to right: Bay Bridge, SF, and Golden Gate Bridge.

We continued on Coastal and made a brief pit stop at McCullough Road, where there is an outhouse (bonus!) and an amazing view of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco skyline (double bonus!). Throughout our run, Cathryn and I kept saying to each other, “This is SO pretty!” We were both also tremendously grateful for the gorgeous weather and that we were able to run.  I think Cathryn said something like, “THIS is why we train.”  I agreed wholeheartedly.

Taking another photo break at McCullough Road - just me and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Taking another photo break at McCullough Road – just me and the Golden Gate Bridge.

To continue on Coastal from McCullough, we found the single track near the small parking area and continued for quite a while until we hit Bunker Road.  The map was a little confusing in this section, plus there’s some construction, so we got lost briefly.  Tip: to get to Rodeo Valley Trail, turn left on Bunker Road, then turn right across from the equestrian center.  Once on Rodeo Valley, it was a quick 3 or 4 minutes before we made an unmarked left turn on Miwok (note: there is a wooden bridge here).

Having run down Miwok previously, I wasn’t super excited about making the climb up.  Again, we took it in short walk/run intervals, interspersed with plenty of picture-taking breaks.  Even though we were running very slowly, I’m proud to say we overtook a group of mountain bikers! (They were stopped taking a break, but still…)

About halfway (?) up Miwok.

About halfway (?) up Miwok.

Almost at the top of Miwok, looking downhill.

Almost at the top of Miwok, looking downhill.  There’s runner in the distance.

Almost at the top! photo courtesy of Cathryn.

Almost at the top! photo courtesy of Cathryn.

The payoff from elevation gains: awesome views.

The payoff from elevation gains: awesome views.

Winner for most random thing we saw. Is it a space shuttle? A missile? The sign says it's an air traffic control device.

Winner for most random thing we saw. Is it a space shuttle? A missile? The sign says it’s an air traffic control device.

The only turn we missed was the last one from Miwok to Old Springs.  It wasn’t a huge deal because we were able to take Miwok over to Marincello, our first trail of the day.  From there, we reaped the fruits of our labor and easily ran down Marincello back toward Tennessee Valley.  Thus ended our delightful trek around the Marin Headlands!  What a wonderful morning spent enjoying gorgeous scenery with great company.  I’m a lucky girl!

Yay for great running companions!

Yay for great running companions!

**
Additional information that might be useful:  I usually never run with sunglasses, but found it to be crucial on this route.  It was very exposed and sunny, with glare coming off the water and the trails.  We totally lucked out with weather, but definitely check the conditions before you head out — it might not be a bad idea to bring extra layers in case of rain or fog.  There is absolutely no water, so carry your own.  Parking at the trailhead is free.  And finally, here’s the data from the run:

Turn-by-turn directions and mileage chart.

Turn-by-turn directions and mileage chart.  We ran at a very leisurely 12-13 minute pace on average, not counting stops for picture taking.

Elevation chart.  My Garmin turned itself off at the top of Miwok, so there's 1.5 miles of steep downhill missing.

My Garmin turned itself off at the top of Miwok, so there’s 1.5 miles of steep downhill missing.  Total elevation gain: ~2300′.

p.s. Special shout-out to Cathryn, who took the photo that is now my new blog header.  Thanks Cathryn!

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About

Howdy! My name is Jen and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I like to eat, run, and blog, but not usually at the same time.

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Posted in Trail running
15 comments on “Rekindling the Flame
  1. Mike says:

    Ah, the Marin Headlands… hands down my favorite running trails in the Bay Area. Two of my favorite hills are in the Headlands (http://wp.me/p2rSqE-5m), including the Marincello Trail where you started. And there’s nothing quite like looking out over the Pacific and seeing the Farallones on a clear day. Nice new header photo, too!

  2. Cathryn says:

    It was SO much fun, thanks for organising!! My legs (quads especially) are killing me today but it was totally worth it!

  3. […] planned the route. If you read her blog post of today’s run, you’ll get all the technical details, including a picture of her laminated directions!!  I […]

  4. Dominick S. says:

    Sweet trail run! I am so bummed that I only have daylight now to get to the trail on the weekends but this is giving me some inspiration to use those weekend runs to EXPLORE!

    • Jen says:

      Yay for exploring! Boo for daylight savings! I’ve been thinking for a while now about mixing up my routine and trying to squeeze in a short trail run during the week. Maybe if I get up early enough…

  5. Angela says:

    So jealous!!!!! I really wish I could have joined. Now you have to do it again sometime. 😉

  6. What stunning trails! You are so lucky to have those nearby.

  7. […] run? Easy – running in the Marin Headlands with Cathryn.  A fabulous run from all […]

  8. […] trails all around the Bay Area, especially my runs with Cathryn at Lake Chabot, Huddart/Wunderlich, Marin, and Briones. – Pushing my limits at the Skirt n Dirt 25K – probably my toughest race yet. – […]

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