scenic view of waterfall in forest

Marin Ultra Challenge 50 Miler 2022

Thanks a million to the Marin Ultra Challenge for saying the 50k race was full when I went to sign up, which meant instead we entered the 50 miler… but, in all seriousness, thank you so much to the organizers and volunteers and of course to my fellow trail runners. I could not have asked for a better event. Directions were simple and clear, aid stations were well-stocked, and people were so helpful, encouraging, and cool! The course was amazing: 50 miles of mostly trails, some fire roads, almost no repeated sections, gorgeous views, and over 10,000 feet of elevation gain.

The Ezekiel tortilla bag was our drop bag (for food and headlamps at aid stations).
It was dark and foggy when we parked.

Pre-race: The day started around 4am. I’d put my toast in the toaster the night before so all I had to do was roll out of bed and hit start. I was awake and alert quickly though, as is usually the case race mornings. An almond butter sandwich hit the spot, and a bathroom stop and a few ab and hip activation exercises later we were out the door.

It was foggy, and it was cold! Low 40s, I believe. We got to the parking lot around 50 minutes before the start, which was pretty much the perfect amount of time to register and get a parking spot close-ish. I was practically in tears as we pulled in though because someone had honked at me while I was driving and it had made me mad and stressed out and worried that these people wouldn’t be nice. Anyway, we spent about 5 minutes trying to pin our race numbers to our shirts with chilly hands, desperately kept on our sweatpants until the last minute, and got to the start slightly blue-lipped and (for my part) shivering. (It turned out wearing shorts was the right decision though, since the sun came out and it got warm about 3 hours later.)

The foggy start.
The fog lifted about 2 hours in.

Race: We all bunched into a small informal shoot, they said start, and we started! We nearly immediately were on single track and narrow sets of stairs going up the first of nine substantial hills (“Hill 88”). I was cold and people were walking and I just wanted to sprint up the hill, but in hindsight walking up this one was probably good. There was a nice long downhill after this, which was nice, especially on tapered fresh legs. I also used to think (and still do) that my downhills were really slow, but I was passing people on this one, and that was fun. I suppose I also had a bit of an advantage knowing the course well enough to know that these first few downhills were non-technical and runnable whereas most of the others were much more technical (at least in my naïve-to-trail-running mind). The second hill (up Hawk) felt really nice. I ran most of it because I was cold. A couple girls were right ahead of me wearing matching purple backpacks (I found out later they were sisters!). A few other people pulled past me at this point too, and my boyfriend had gone quite a bit ahead. Someone nearly sprinted past me yelling “I’ve gotta warm up!” I was getting nervous because it had finally hit me that I was going 50 miles… Anyway, a windy ridge, a breathtaking view of Mt. Tam’s tip through the clearing fog, and another awesome downhill later I was at the first major aid station (Tennessee Valley) 10.5 miles in. My boyfriend took off, and I filled my bladder with Tailwind. On the next climb, the four runners around me and I saw a bobcat! It just trotted down and crossed the trail right in front of us, short spotted tail up in the air! When we started down this hill (into Pirate’s Cove), a few of the 50k racers started passing us. One of the women was flying down the hill, and I was like wow #goals. It made for a bit of a tricky next few miles though, as the trail got narrow and 50kers mixed with the 50 milers. I also got a bit wheezy at this point – not sure (as per usual) if it was anxiety or asthma, but I took a small break and felt much better. Finally we were down to the next aid station and a short relatively flat section, which made for some nice comfortable running. The next uphill was about a 1500-foot climb to a place called “Cardiac Hill.” I had struggled on this hill in the past, so I pre-empted my fear by putting in my headphones and telling myself if I loved the hill it would love me back. I pretty much jammed out up that hill to Crank That (Soulja Boy) and L.S.D. (Skegss) as well as some Spanish music like Volar and Que Pasa (Alvaro Solar). I felt great, the sun had fully come out and there was a gorgeous view of the California coast. I was enjoying being outside, relaxing. My legs felt good, but I still walked a fair amount. No one passed me, and I passed no one, which I took as a good thing. As I was nearing the top, I glimpsed my boyfriend leaving the Cardiac Hill aid station to descend to the beach. At the aid station, I filled my bladder with Tailwind and took a slice of banana bread from our drop-bag, which the volunteers had kindly brought from the start earlier. One of the volunteers noticed I had taken from the same bag as my boyfriend and told me he had just left, which was really nice of her! I jogged for the next mile or so and ate my banana bread. I passed someone, and then he and another person were running behind me for a bit. Someone warned us there was a sharp right turn ahead, which I saw at the last second. And it was a sharp turn but also a sharp turn downwards. I hobbled down a really steep grade and felt bad that I was holding up the two people now behind me. But when we got to the bottom I quickly got ahead running through the redwoods on some temporarily nicely sloped downhill. A few minutes later, I caught someone else, and then the stairs started. There must’ve been a hundered stairs if not more. It was kindof dizzying. And also at this point hikers were coming up, which made for a bit of a jam at some points. The guy in front of me and I started making grunting noises as we were going down, and towards the end we were like “thank goodness!” together. That was my first taste of camaraderie on this whole adventure thing.

Me, well-camouflaged despite the bright green shorts, heading up the trail where I saw the bobcat.
One of the (numbered) smooth descents.

We made it to the beach, around mile 23, and at this point I found my boyfriend! He was walking an uphill eating a homemade burrito. It was nice to check in. My left hip was in a fair amount of pain for some reason, and he said his hip was hurting too. Weird. But we were about to go up the largest climb of the race – nearly 1800 feet in 1.8 miles. And we did it! With a fair amount of huffing a puffing, a few stops on my end, some cursing (mostly by the other people we were with), and a lot of pretty views and flowers, we were at the top about 40 minutes later. It was tough, but we were all in it together. And after that hill, there was a nice 3ish mile section of rolling downhill, which I chose to run. I left most of those people behind with my boyfriend, and I didn’t see them again. The two sisters whom I had passed earlier in the run passed me at this point. I also ran out of liquid, which was fine because my stomach was also starting to hurt and I felt a #2 coming on with more urgency (had felt it intermittently for the first half of the race, but now it was more—and to be real, I really only ran this section cause I had to get to the portapotty). Finally, I made it to the aid station and beelined to the bathroom. Let’s be honest, at this point it was also nice to sit down for a sec. When I came out of the bathroom, I filled my bladder with Tailwind. The woman who had talked to me the last time around offered me some watermelon, and it actually looked absolutely amazing, so I had some (usually I’m not a watermelon fan). It was so good. And then I just stood there for a bit, wondering if my boyfriend would show up and thinking it’d be nice to run with him. Eventually, I asked the volunteers if they’d seen him thinking maybe he’d passed while I was in the bathroom, and they said no and asked me if that was why I was waiting. When I said yes, they were like, “no, keep going! You’re in top 10!” I didn’t really know what this meant, cause I was sure there were like 100 people ahead of me, but I was like ok. They were so amazing—I found out later that they had told my boyfriend what had happened, and I just so appreciated the personal attention!

Banana bread break during a rare flat section.
At the top of the 1,800 foot ascent.

So I took off down this beautiful trail called TCC, through redwoods and crossing over streams. Around mile 32 the descent got very steep and my hip pain came back with a vengeance. Suddenly my knees and ankles felt awful too, and the going was very slow. I passed this super nice guy who I’d been eyeing from a distance to make sure I was on the right trail. On the next uphill I really hit a low. I was a little bored I think, trying to enjoy the redwood scenery, but also a little lonely, and also nervous because this was the farthest I’d ever run before and I didn’t know what to expect next. But I suppose that was also the fun of it. I was doing it to see what would happen if I went further than I’d ever gone before. This was the mental pain cave I had, subconsciously, been searching for for the past 35 miles. I thought of the patients I’d seen over the past few weeks and how they were stuck in the hospital. I gave a thin, moss-covered tree a purposeful hug and gained some strength from it. I read a small note my boyfriend had left for me in my trail running pack. Near the top, I saw a family, and they cheered for me, and as I was going up the hill the little girl started running up it after me, which was cute, but also I was not in the mood for a race up a hill at the moment. I beat her anyway just to get hammered again by another downhill. But I was back to more familiar trails, which both added to the boring-ness and took a bit of my nervousness away.

We now had about 15 miles left, and I was estimating myself to be well under my initial goal time of 12 hours—I made 10 my new goal, not that it would change my pace at all though. I spent most of the next hill (Miwok, which is one of my favorite in the area) with an older man who said he was an ED doc at Kaiser and also ran ultras including 100 milers. He was pretty chatty, and I kindof wanted to go around him and get going, but I didn’t want to be rude. In hindsight, I should’ve just asked to go around him. But also maybe that long slow walk helped me have more energy for the end… I’ll never know. Mostly I wanted to enjoy nature more than hear him talk about medicine, which was the last thing I wanted to be thinking about, but oh well. As I told him (he seemed to be struggling a bit on the course), you win some, you lose some. Finally, I went around him and crested the hill. Another group of hikers cheered me on, which was nice. Quite a few bikers almost biked straight into me though. I know it’s hard, but… The sun was still out, the air smelled good, aside from my joint pains, my muscles still felt pretty good, there were only two big hills left, and I didn’t feel like I was bonking at all, so at 40 miles I was a good place. I put in my headphones for the next hill, but they didn’t stay in for very long because my phone battery was running low and it still had to last 2 hours! Something was working though because I actually ran part of this uphill. I tried to bomb down the other side, but it was a little steep and got really rocky too, so that didn’t last long. Towards the bottom, every step was accompanied by a sound or word of pain given the state of my joints…

Some nice redwoods (I was running here, hence the blurriness).
The clouds were rolling back in as I neared the finish.

At the final aid station, about 3 miles from the finish, I saw the two sisters again. They were hanging out, it seemed, and I wasn’t really sure why. At this point, I really just wanted to finish. I filled my bladder with a bit of Tailwind, cause who wants to bonk at the end, and started the last big climb. This time, I was the one catching the 50k runners. It was fun to run by and cheer and give smiles and receive smiles. Not going to lie, the end of this hill was super steep and I wanted to run it so badly because I was close to under the 10 hour mark, but for some reason my lungs or legs couldn’t. And I kept glancing back to see if those girls were catching me, but they weren’t. I suppose a little bit of a competitor side came out at this point. And at the top I got my running wish, as there was some runnable trail, and this time I did bomb down the hill (while trying not to trip on the few sets of steep stairs), toenails jamming so painfully into the fronts of my shoes that today they’re black and blue, looking at the waves crashing on the beach below and people relaxing on the sand like it was a regular Saturday afternoon, and then, somewhat suddenly, I was at the beach, and the race was over. I was happy but also didn’t feel tired, which bothered me because I like the feeling of being gassed at the end of races (even though I was not interested in going up another hill), and also I was wondering what had happened to my boyfriend. Finally, about 30 minutes later, I saw him crest the hill and come down through the finish shoot, and I was so proud of him, and of us! In the end, it was a team effort. It was a group adventure. The times and the finishes didn’t really matter though it was fun to be nicely surprised at how well both of us placed.

Reflection: “Grateful” seems to encompass a lot of what I was feeling the week leading up to the race. Everyone has their own struggles and stories, whether they’re private or public. I was coming off a week of a Palliative Care rotation in which I spoke with patients and families facing serious illness and death. This put a lot of things in perspective (obviously), and I ran for each of my patients who couldn’t. On my own health side, I was accepting that my chronic anemia was mostly genetic. And I was so thankful that it didn’t matter because I could still run. I’d also made it this far in running without another sidelining injury like the broken foot I’d had two years prior. And of course I was thankful for the constant support I’d gotten from my boyfriend especially in the past half year by running early morning with me so I didn’t have to run alone in the dark, cooking dinner for me while I crammed in studying, and joining me in this seemingly ridiculous adventure starting from a base of… zero miles. And also shout out to Megan and David Roche’s SWAP podcast, which gave me some laughs through tougher times. So, in the end, I was grateful I had so many things going for me.

Some of the relics from the finish line.
Cookies to celebrate!


  • Be curious about what your body and mind are capable of
  • Be consistent
  • Trust your training
  • Stick with hip exercises, lunges, and core work
  • Choose some training days to run hard downhills
  • Bring first aid
  • Tailwind is awesome
  • Banana bread is awesome too
  • Make friends with the trails and the people on the trails
  • Be thankful for the nature and time outside

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