My Top Strava Segment in Marin (Mount Tam Hill Climb)

#10 (Rodeo to Wolf Ridge)

#9 (Coastal – Matt Davis to Willow Camp)

#8 (Pirates Cove)

#7 (Fox Trail Descent)

#6 (Ninja Loop)

#5 (Hogsback descent)

#4 (Fern Creek descent)

#3 (Marincello)

#2 (Dipsea)

#1 – Mount Tam Hill Climb

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https://www.strava.com/segments/2176386

Location: Downtown Mill Valley (clocktower) to the East Peak Fire Lookout
Distance: 3.2 miles
Elevation Gain:  2533 ft of Gain
Overall Runs: 2040 Attempts By 330 People
CR:  Galen Burrell in 30:58 (!) and YiOu Wang 40:53
My place: 9th, 36:08
Why:  This is the route that really brought me into the trail running community of Marin and no other route can match that in importance for me.  From my first time up the summit meeting Brett for the first time on a Tuesday morning to the my last Wednesday morning jaunt with Brett plus an amazing community of runners I have covered this segment as much as any other segment in Marin (77 times, with countless numbers of friends).  When run at the same time throughout the year you are treated to a different sunset at a different point on the trail with different weather to boot.  Its amazing, as are Galen’s and YiOu’s CRs.  They are the king and queen of the Marin climbling trails for a reason.  Watching them hold court is every bit as inspiring as the downhills of Jorge and Vitor(s).
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A rock star in so many ways, Mr. Galen Burrell

Insider Tip:  The scramble at the top of the route can be tricky to find, loose footing, and lead you astray easily.  There is a race every labor day where you can get a little competition on the normally casual, friendly, and gentlemanly paced route.  Don’t expect to nail it on your own and touch the fire lookout door, overwise it doesn’t even count as a summit run.
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The Godfather

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Sunny and shirtless

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Rainbow summit season

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Headlamp season

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Silhouette season

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Sunset season

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My Top 10 Marin Segments #2 (Dipsea)

#10 (Rodeo to Wolf Ridge)

#9 (Coastal – Matt Davis to Willow Camp)

#8 (Pirates Cove)

#7 (Fox Trail Descent)

#6 (Ninja Loop)

#5 (Hogsback descent)

#4 (Fern Creek descent)

#3 (Marincello)

#2 Dipsea

Dipsea

https://www.strava.com/segments/2756047

Location: Downtown Mill Valley (clocktower) to the Stinson Beach
Distance: 7 miles
Elevation Gain:  1348 ft of Gain and loss
Overall Runs: 485 Attempts By 288 People
CR:  Alex Varner 48:01 and Sarah Bamberger 1:00:05
My place: NA (ie not a true Marin resident)
Why:  Why? With only 288 official runners, why? Really, you are asking why?  Clearly you don’t live in Marin.  First run 1905, the Dipsea race is the oldest trail race in America.  And if you live in Marin….and you run….then it’s the Superbowl (side note: similar to the Superbowl it takes money and/or luck to compete).  Fittingly Alex Varner (blog) who grew up in Marin and has lived close to the start of the race is a multi-time winner of the fastest time (but not the race itself) and has the CR on the mens side.  The race is quirky (handicapped, black shirts, and short-cuts) and worth learning more about (great documentary on Vimeo here).  However, even if you don’t/can’t do the race the route itself is iconic.  Its starts with 3 flights of stairs (688 in total), plunges down to Muir Woods, climbs Cardiac Hill (complete with heart-stopping views while your heart is jumping out of your chest), descends through Steep Ravine, and completes the route at Stinson beach.  The race website has turn by turn directions here.
Insider tip:  While the trail is technically 7.4 miles long, notice that the segment is 7 miles in length.  That’s because on Dipsea day all routes are valid….well thats mostly true as some short cuts are forbidden many are still allowed.  That saves those in the know 0.4 miles.  Do I know them? No not really.  So go figure it out for yourself.  Also, there is the double Dipsea and quad Dipsea for those not able to get into the race.
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The man, the legend.  

 

Marin Top 10 Strava Segments (#3 Marincello)

#10 (Rodeo to Wolf Ridge)

#9 (Coastal – Matt Davis to Willow Camp)

#8 (Pirates Cove)

#7 (Fox Trail Descent)

#6 (Ninja Loop)

#5 (Hogsback descent)

#4 (Fern Creek descent)

#3 Marincello

Marincello

https://www.strava.com/segments/641879

Location: Start at the Tennesse Valley Parking Lot and Climb to Bobcat
Distance: 1.3 miles
Elevation Gain:  677 ft of Gain(6%)
Overall Runs: 14972 Attempts By 3782 People (popular!)
CR:  Galen Burrell 9:35 and YiOu Wang 11:04
My place: 9th, 10:40
Why:  Sometimes called the 10,000 dollar hill as its place at the end of the TNF50 miler in December, this consistent mile plus climb can make or break a number of trail races in Marin.  While normally it is a nice runnable grade towards the end of a long ultra it can feel like a death march.  Adding to its place as #3 are the very stout CR’s by Galen and YiOu at 6:55 and 7:59 mile pace respectively.  I was fit when I attempted it and only managed 7:42 pace.  Currently the top 5 are all from current/past Mill Valley residents.
YiOu Fast

Marincello CR or Lake Sonoma win, which one would YiOu rather have…

Insider Tip:  When climbing up you will notice double white posts which represent 800m in.  This make a great hill repeat option if you are not up for the full-length route.  You can sometimes find the SFRC racing crew doing repeats out here on Tuesday nights.
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You have arrived at the correct spot.  See you in a little while when your HR maxes and your quads no longer work.

My Top 10 Marin Strava Segments (#4 Fern Creek Descent)

#10 (Rodeo to Wolf Ridge)

#9 (Coastal – Matt Davis to Willow Camp)

#8 (Pirates Cove)

#7 (Fox Trail Descent)

#6 (Ninja Loop)

#5 (Hogsback descent)

#4 Fern Creek Descent

FernCreek

https://www.strava.com/segments/1354319

Location: Start at the East Peak Parking Lot at the Top of Tam and End at Railroad Grade
Distance: 0.6 miles
Elevation Gain:  672 ft of Loss (-21%)
Overall Runs: 2800 Attempts By 695 People
CR:  Victor Ballesteros 3:44 and Naomi Plasterer 5:25
My place: 15th, 5:15 (and I was trying hard!).
Why:  I’m probably a little biased because I ran this segment weekly during Tam Tuesdays and 6:11 pace does not seem that fast for a 0.6 mile, 672 ft loss section of trail, but for THIS section it is.  Whereas the previous two downhills (Fox and Hogsback) require massive turnover, Fern requires massive risk taking.  Over a several week period in 2014 the CR exchanged multiple hands and there was an all-out assault on who could take more risks.  Not surprisingly Victor Ballesteros came out on top by a solid 15s margin.  Personally, I can not imagine going under 5 minutes, yet alone 4 minutes on this switch-back, stair-filled, rocky and loose, and pipe popping out of the middle section of trail.
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One of easier sections of trail

Insider Tip:  Be prepared to take some risks.  I think most of the time can be gained on the upper section which is loose and slick. This is a great section to practice for that crazy European trail race you scheduled. Which of course you scheduled, you live in Marin.

 

Victor

Victor is the man with the plan to fly down technical trails.

 

My Top 10 Marin Strava Segments (#5 Hogsback Descent)

#10 (Rodeo to Wolf Ridge)

#9 (Coastal – Matt Davis to Willow Camp)

#8 (Pirates Cove)

#7 (Fox Trail Descent)

#6 (Ninja Loop)

#5 – Hogsback Descent

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Location: Firetrail where Hogsback Ends and Intersects Railroad Grade
Distance: 0.2 miles
Elevation Gain:  261 ft of Loss (-18%)
Overall Runs: 2948 Attempts By 688 People
CR:  Victor Mier 54sec (3:18 mile pace) and Lydia Gaylord 1:42
My place: 4th, including breifly had the CR for a 3 month period.
Why:  Because witnessing the abandonment at which Victor attacked this brief stretch of trail was crazy.  This is not a smooth stretch of trail by any means. Ruts, loose rocks, and often a chill that would water the eyes make this stretch tough to stay upright when you are just cruising.  3:18 mile pace for quarter of a mile is sub 50 seconds for 400m but rather than the metronic style you see circling the oval this was a form of controlled chaos which took skill in addition to fitness to harness.  I thought my 1:06 was good.  I was wrong.
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Brett can Ninja, but he can’t Hogsback

Insider Tip: Sunglasses, wear sunglasses if you are really going for it.  Oh yeah and a running start helps as well.

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When not descending like crazy Victor can be found living in a van or traveling the world.  A true renaissance man.

Top 10 Marin Strava Segments #6 (Ninja Loop)

#6 Ninja Loop

#10 (Rodeo to Wolf Ridge)

#9 (Coastal – Matt Davis to Willow Camp)

#8 (Pirates Cove)

#7 (Fox Trail Descent)

NinjaLoop

https://www.strava.com/segments/1485877

Location: Start at the (west) Parking Lot on the Marin side of the Golden Gate Bridge
Distance: 11.5 miles
Elevation Gain:  2151 ft of Gain and Loss
Overall Runs: 655 Attempts By 138 People
CR:  Brett Rivers 1:21:48 and Devon Yanko in 1:27:12.
My place: none, just never started and finished from that parking lot
Why:  The Ninja loop is on here because it has been a standard weekly run of many of the Marin trail running community for some time (pre-Strava?).  Plus I have to include at least one segment where the Godfather (and owner of SF Running Company) has the CR.  At 11.5 miles with more than 2k of climbing it is a challenging route, but it hits many of the best trails in southern Marin (including a segment to be included in the top 5).  Its not the most popular segment (due to its length), but it is aesthetically pleasing in so many ways.  My personal favorite is the stretch of SCA trail that ribbons along the hillside providing intermittent views of SF and the Pacific.  EARLY Thursday mornings is when the group meets, but you are rewarded by the pre-dawn wake-up call with sunrises over SF.
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Views of the iconic Golden Gate make the last few miles more than worth it

Insider tip:  If you are doing this run on your own arrive early.  The tourist crowds can be overwhelming and the parking lot overflowing.  If you are not a Marin/SF resident be sure to follow Trailhapa on Instagram to experience the ever changing views of the Ninja run (both pictures you can find on his Instagram account).
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You may get a sunset like this, or you may get fog

Top 10 Marin Strava Segments #8 (Pirates Cove, North)

#8 Pirates Cove (North)

See #10 (Rodeo to Wolf Ridge)

See #9 (Coastal – Matt Davis to Willow Camp)

PiratesCove-Northbound

Location:  Starting at the top of Coastal – go left
Distance: 1.4 miles
Elevation Gain:  417 ft of climbing (-2% grade).
Overall Runs: 6,413 Attempts By 2,553 People
CR:  Alex Varner in 10:34 and Chessa Adsit-Morris in 12:04.
My place: 5th, 11:21
Why:  Another of the most fun, iconic stretches of trail in all of Marin.  While not typically raced for speed (similar to Coastal above Stinson), this segment placing in the top 10 because it has one of the best views and it one of the most fun stretches of trail along the coast.  While the descent down to almost the ocean is filled with stairs, rocks, you are rewarded with a steady climb and some rolling single track that you can really pick up speed on.  Its one of the more fun stretches along the coast.   This stretch of trails is part of the TNF50 and Marin Ultra Challenge Races.
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Rob Krar early in the TNF50

Insider Tip:  Once you finish this segment….STOP.  Turn around and take in the views.  It can be quite foggy and cold, so don’t be too surprised if you don’t get a view at all.  During the TNF50 this is a great first spot to watch the race as you get to see the bobbing headlamps descend and ascend the single track trails of Pirates Cove.
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Turn around, enjoy the view.

Marin Strava Segments #9 (Costal Matt Davis to Willow Camp)

#10 (Rodeo Beach to Wolf Ridge)

#9 Coastal: Matt Davis to Willow Camp

MattDavisToCoastal

Location:  Starting where Matt Davis Diverges to where Willow Camp intersects
Distance: 1.6 miles
Elevation Gain:  370 ft of climbing (4% grade).
Overall Runs:  1868 by 1140 people
CR:  Max King in 12:02 and Keely Henniger in 13:39.  Max set the CR in route in the middle of the TNF50 race.
My place: 14, 12:30
Why:  To me this is one of the most fun and most scenic stretches of trail in all of Marin, weaving along the hill ~1500ft up from the ocean on single track trail.  On a clear day the view to Stinson below and out to Pt Reyes is fantastic.  Plus it serves as part of the TNF50 race (in both directions).  While Max’s time is impressive, I think that this is one of the segments that could (should?) go down.  So who will it be? Dybo? Varner? Roche?
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The Golden State

Insider info:  In the spring the grass is like a green that you have never seen before.  Wildflowers in the summer.  Plus look out for that old car on the trail.

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Varner cruising the return route during TNF50

Marin Strava Segment Top 10 List (#10 Rodeo Beach to Wolf Ridge)

I think Strava is swell.  While I agree with the premise that Strava has killed the loneliness of a long distance runner (see Sam’s Blog post here), for those that run alone most days it can provide a motivation and connection to our peers and history not previously readily available.  It also provides some pretty epic segment battles which have produced some incredible performances normally reserved for races.  No need to worry about nailing a taper and having the perfect conditions.  When you are ready you can challenge the best any day of the year.

Recently I put out a query on twitter about what the most iconic Strava segments in the Southern Marin/Mt Tam are of Marin county are.  I got some great responses (here, here, and here) which I totally agreed with.  They all made the list.  Now the order is something entirely else.

My rationale for choosing a segment was based on the following simple criteria.  How impressive is the CR performance?  How iconic is the bit of trail it is on?  How many people have run it before?

So starting with #10 and working back to #1 I will post one segment a day for the next ten days.  Feel free to argue, agree, or offer your alternatives and insights as well!  Eventually I will post a similar list of the Boise Foothills, but for now, I will reminisce about my old neighborhood trails.


#10 Rodeo Beach to Wolf Ridge

RodeoToWolf
Location:  Starting at Rodeo Beach, climb up along the road and then take the trail and continue up to the trail junction of Coastal and Wolf Ridge.
Distance: 1.6 miles
Elevation Gain:  833 ft of climbing (10% grade).
Overall Runs:  1775 by 1093
CR:  David Roche in 12:48, 7:52 pace.  Maria Dalzot, 15:20 (both were set during this year’s ITR Marin Ultra Challenge 25k)
My place: 21, 15:31
Why:  This is a standard climb for many trail races in the Headlands.  It also might be the only one of my top 10 that super speedster David Roche has the CR for.  The views from the top are second to none in the headlands.  SF in one direction Mt Tam in the other.  Its a classic climb, in a classic location.
Insider info:  Get ready for stairs!  You think the pavement is tough, wait until you hit the stairs that force all expect the fittest to drop into a power hike.  Be sure to save a little for the section that flattens off after the stairs.
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Looking back towards Rodeo Beach and SF.

 

More than a Fling

Loch Lomond and the entry to the Highlands

Loch Lomond and the entry to the Highlands

My “A” race is the wedding was my response to Dbo assertion that I either win or don’t bother coming back.  For me, often the race is secondary.  Its about the journey, the people, the landscape, and experiences surrounding the race more so than the performance itself.  My exposure into the culture surrounding trail running, outdoor adventures, and the Scottish highlands was well beyond the 7 hours and 4 minutes it took me to run from Milngavie to Tyndram, the first 53 miles of the well traveled West Highland Way.  It was dancing Ceilidh (pronounced “Kay-lay”) at the finish line, sharing beers with locals at the finish line, dinner in Glasgow with other trail runners, offers of accommodations during my travels, adventure advice, kayaking in Loch Lomond, and having my expectations for the beauty and wildness of the Highlands exceeded in every possible way.

Scottish traditional dancing is sort of like square dancing, but in a kilt.

Scottish traditional dancing is sort of like square dancing, but in a kilt.

I received the wedding invitation at a time when I was just starting to run again after my hamstring injury.  My hamstring was uncooperative, my disappointment from a DNS at Western sorely lingering, and my last race more than 6 months prior.  Still, when I travel I run.  Of course I was going to my friends Charlotte and Craig’s wedding in Scotland (especially since it was in a castle) and of course I immediately searched for races the weekend prior or after the celebrations.

Blair Castle - site of the wedding of Mr and Mrs Anderson.

Blair Castle – site of the wedding of Mr and Mrs Anderson.

Finding the HOKA Highland Fling one week prior to the wedding was just the first bit of the luck on my journey.  Soon I would learn that race director John Duncan was a coaching client of Ian Sharman.  I had my entry into not only the race, but also the local trail/ultra scene.  John graciously arranged my entire race weekend from pre-race hotel, finish line accommodations, and post-race hosts in nearby Glasgow with enough knowledge of the Scottish Highlands to create a lifetime of adventure itineraries.  I was excited about the race sure, but equally excited about the opportunities to interact with the local scene.

The West Highland Way, completed in 1980, is 96 miles in total and annually hosts more than 30,000 backpackers who walk the entire route.  The HOKA Highland Fling (Facebook page) covers the first 53 miles of it and contains a relatively tame ~5400 ft of climbing.  With the exception of a 4 mile stretch along Loch Lomond (the largest fresh water lake in the UK by surface area) the terrain is pretty runnable and lines up well with my strengths.  Still runners are treated to stunning views of the Highlands as various Munros and lower hills rise above the waters of Loch Lomond to the north.  In good weather it is stunningly beautiful, it bad weather it can be unbelievably miserable.

West Highland Way Route

West Highland Way Route

One problem with traveling for non running related reasons meant the inability to take much time to adjust to the 8 hour time zone difference between the West Coast and UK.  More accurately I had about 24 hours from when I landed to race time.  My strategy of going to bed earlier and waking up earlier (peaking at a 3:30 AM wake up) each day of the prior week clearly payed dividends as I had a full night of sleep and arrived on the raining starting line feeling relatively good.  My fitness was off from my ago, but I had managed several months of increasing training including a number of solid long runs and a strong 10 mile road effort to give me confidence to race rather than merely survive the 53 mile journey.

The rain that had saw us off the start line gave way to blue skies in the early miles in a prophetic manner that would parallel how my race would unfold for me.  Casey Morgan and Paul Navesey (of former 50k treadmill World Record fame), two strong UK based runners, took out the first quarter of the race quick and by mile 12 they had put 6 minutes into our chase pack of 3, a time I thought they would likely only extend all the way to the finish.  I spent those early miles in a group of 3 one of whom was Donnie Campbell who had just won the 130k Iznik Ultra Race in Turkey the week prior and was undoubtedly running on some tired legs. As I went to the front of our group up the only major climb of the day, Conic Hill, I was treated to increasing sunshine, my first views of Loch Lomond, and the southern Highlands “hills”.

The running from the bottom of Conic hill at Balmaha (19.8 miles) to Inversnaid (34.3 miles) was right in my wheelhouse; mostly flat, mostly wide, and insanely not technical.  I managed to establish a gap on Donnie and moved up into second when Casey had to unfortunately drop due to injury.  To my surprise the gap to Paul at first stayed at minutes (mile 27.2) and then decreased to 4 minutes by Inversnaid.  I briefly allowed myself to think, “huh, thats interesting”, but quickly turned my focus to how I was feeling and how to take care of myself.  15 miles out is still early to think about racing especially when stated time gaps are notoriously unreliable.  From Inversnaid you have a wonderfully technical, but not hilly section of trail along the lake which requires your full attention and any remaining athletic skill that road running and track hadn’t sucked out of your body years prior.  At several points I would look up in bemusement to how I got 10 feet below the trail and 3 miles later I was over rock hopping and grateful for the trail opening up to some more runnable trail as I reached the final checkpoint.

Hitting the final checkpoint, Bein Glas Farm (mile 40.9), I was starting to feel the effort and getting to the point of just wanting to be done.  Mile 40 was sticking my mind because of what Alex had said prior to Lake Sonoma 50, “after mile 40 everybody hurts” and hurting I was.  But apparently so was Paul as the time check was down to 2 minutes and within a mile of leaving Bein Glas I caught my first glimpse of Paul since I spotted him as a dot at the top of Conic Hill some 20 miles earlier.  As I ever so slowly caught Paul I realized that cruising in for second was not in the cards today.  It was race time and I was going to have to hurt.  I let that notion settle in over the a few miles as the gap ever so slowly closed, saving my energy for a big move rather than just catching him.  I didn’t want Paul fighting me for the final 7 miles to the finish line.  So when I eventually caught and passed him I tried to do so with ambition and did so for about 800m or until the route turned up a steep hill of unknown length.  Ugh, “You can walk when you are in the trees” I told myself.  For the first time all day I ran scared hoping to extend my lead and stay out of sight.  With 5k to go and an open field ahead I relaxed, it likely cost me the course record (by Sondre Amdahl), but it also ensured I did not blow up.  A mere two minutes after I finished Paul would come in to finish off a very strong effort of his own, one which actually saw him run a faster last 2.7 miles than me.

Before and after the race nearly every person I talked to about The Fling mentioned either how it was their favorite ultra race or it was the best ultra race in Scotland, if not the entire UK.  I don’t have that frame of reference, but I can say that on every level The Fling competes favorably with the best races in North America I’ve done.  Beautiful course, check. Amazing (and happy) volunteers, check.  Flawless organization, check.  Finish line fun, checkmate.  What happened after the race in many regards was more important for me than what happened during the race.  A large (heated) tent with beer, soup, music, massage, and of course a traditional Ceilidh dance.  I chatted with many a Scotman, Englishman, and occasional American.  All friendly and all having a great time.  I partook in their beverage buying generosity and patience to teach me a dance or two (that I put to good use at the wedding a week later to the surprise of many).  Knowing the history of the race its clear that race director John Duncan is largely responsible for this.  With infectious amounts of positive energy, time for everyone, and a constant smile on his face, its not hard to see why this race is more than a “fling” for the ultra community here and a great race to travel to.

Great trading card

Great trading card

Just waiting for the beer sponsorships to roll in...

Just waiting for the beer sponsorships to roll in…

 

Additional Links:

Strava Data

A great little video by Summit Fever Media about the 2015 edition of the race.

Race Recap by Scottish Athletics

Photo Album from my trip: Coming soon.