Running the Headlands

Marin Headlands

Most of the surfers were headed back to shore, and it was still early yet for tourists. Rodeo Beach at the Marin Headlands was quiet, especially for a Saturday. I set out back along the road, somewhat unsure of my route. I had in mind for the day a sixteen-mile run around the Headlands, a run much longer than any I’d ever done before. I had all day, though, and a cup of coffee to boot.

Rodeo Beach at the beginning of the run

Rodeo Beach at the beginning of the run

The road between the parking lot and the Miwok Trailhead

The road between the parking lot and the Miwok Trailhead

I turned off the road onto the Miwok trail, a fire road that took me to near the summit of Hill 88. The climbing was gradual but long, and views of much of the latter part of the run opened up, though I didn’t realize what I saw at this point. On the way up there was a fork, and I took the Wolfe Ridge trail up to the near-summit of Hill 88. From there, I hopped onto the Coastal Trail.

The Wolfe Trail climbing to the top of Hill 88

The Wolfe Trail climbing to the top of Hill 88

Mount Tamalpais from the summit of Hill 88

Mount Tamalpais from the summit of Hill 88

The run down the Coastal Trail to Tennessee Valley was pure meditation. My mind wandered off into a million places while it focused completely on my foot-by-foot placement. Effort became bliss, and it was here that I became sure of the fact that I could run the entire sixteen miles. Sometimes it takes the rhythm of a running stride to quiet your mind.

Laughter and bicycle tires jarred me out of my zen state. I reached the bottom of Tennessee Valley less than a mile from a full parking lot. I quickly lost the crowds again, though, as I climbed up the other side of the valley. You can find this sort of trail in the magazines and postcards. I ran up stairs and gentle single track as the trail rolled over headlands and coves. A half-mile or so past Pirates Cove I took a right onto the Coastal Fire Road which hooked up with Fox Trail. The start of this trail was the highpoint of the run, and from here I descended back into Tennessee Valley.

The Marin Headlands to the North of Pirates Cove

The Marin Headlands to the North of Pirates Cove

The Marin Headlands and the peninsula

The Marin Headlands as seen from the Coastal Trail near Pirates Cove

I got to the bottom of the hill and headed out of Tennessee Valley. The parking lot here was crammed full of cars, and so was the first quarter mile or so of road. I took a picture of the map on the way out since I was still not entirely sure of the way back to the car. I followed the road for a mile or so, then  turned onto the Oakwood trail. This trail was a total change of scenery. Scrub brush and coastal breeze gave way to dark oak paths more like those of the Santa Cruz Mountains than the North Bay. After ten or twelve miles of continuous running, the climbing here was the most difficult I’d done all day. The trail was steep, and the forest was too thick to see the end of the ascent.

The Oakwood Trail

The Oakwood Trail

Descending into Rodeo Valley

Descending into Rodeo Valley

After what seemed like hours, I reached the top and turned toward the Bobcat Trail. I wasn’t entirely sure I was moving in the right direction, but as I rounded a corner I could see that I was descending into Rodeo Valley toward the beach. The effort for the day was done, and I had only a cruise back to the car. On the way down I passed a few hikers. One had a pretty big pack and a pair of La Sportiva Trangos on her feet. I got back down to the road to the beach, slogged my way down the last half-mile, and got to my car.

This set of trails was in no way remote, but I still found pockets of solitude, even on a Saturday morning. Sometimes it only takes a few miles and a few hundred feet of elevation gain to get away from most of the crowds. Here you might find you can do more than you thought yourself capable of. That in itself is worth the effort.

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