I grew up in the small town of Fort Bragg in Northern California and the Lost Coast has always felt like a section of my own back yard I had yet to explore. Finally, on the morning of my 28th birthday, October 15th, I set out to change that. The plan was to run the 57 mile route from South to North and, if all went according to plan, try to make it to Mattole beach as the fastest supported female on the Lost Coast Trail. My boyfriend, and ultra-runner extraordinaire, Kris Brown, and I camped out at Usal Beach the evening before. Surprisingly, we were up before our alarm and decided to make use of an early start. So, at 3:30am we began our preparations for a 4:00am start, half an hour ahead of schedule, which we calculated wouldn’t affect our tidal crossings. My nutrition plan was simple: one Speednut gel from Spring Energy (250 cal) every hour and I would keep one of my bottles filled with a packet of Tailwind (200 cal) to sip on as I needed. All in all, I packed 15 Speednut gels and 10 Tailwind packets, a total of 5,750 calories. Kris had a dropper bottle of bleach to add to the water we filled from streams, which we hoped were still running well this late into a very dry year. We began our run in complete darkness, the new moon was less than a sliver, which would present a problem when both of our headlamps died less than 2 hours in. Thank god for cell phone lights. Though the dense and looming redwoods added a depth to the encroaching darkness, the breeze was surprisingly warm and comforting and I found myself stripping off my windbreaker quickly. I had been warned to wear long pants for the overgrown trails in the Southern Section. But, as someone who generally runs hot, I decided to don my normal uniform of shorts and a tank top. I still have lights scars from the pampas grass and blackberry vines to show for my decision. I managed to stick to my nutrition plan for the first 10 hours but as the day wore on I began to rely more on my Tailwind drink as my stomach began to fill. However, I’m a big fan of the Spring/Tailwind combo and will definitely be using it again. The streams were plentiful enough throughout the route that water was never an issue though it was always a concern. As we came down the road into Shelter Cove we saw the Shelter Cove General Store up ahead and decided to pop in and grab some water, cokes, and sunscreen, which only added on a couple minutes but definitely elicited some strange looks from the locals in the checkout line. At this point I was well ahead of my goal time and looking forward to a long flat stretch. The beach section North of Shelter Cove was more challenging than I had thought. While I was tackling the elevation gains of the single track trails in the Southern half I had dreamed of running along the flat coastline that was waiting up ahead. However, I had not dreamed of the incredibly soft sand that ate each footstep or the boulder fields that required constant focus and agility. Yet, the views were beautiful and the place felt special and I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with joy and gratitude even as my hips were aching and asking for rest. Nearing the last couple of miles we realized that if I pushed I could make to Mattole in under 15 hours and just like that, a new goal was set. As the Sun began to soften over the water’s edge, we came around corners and dunes of sand that I was sure would give way to reveal the Mattole campsite only to see more dunes and more turns. Finally, with just over a minute left before the 15 hour mark we saw that beautiful green gate marking the end of the trail and I gave everything that I had into that last push. A family watched as a bleeding, grunting girl in neon green shorts sprinted in the soft sand toward on old rusted gate. I stopped my watch after 14 hours, 59 minutes, and 59 seconds. It was a good day.
The Lost Coast Trail is a perfect representation of California. It’s stunningly beautiful and completely rugged and merciless. It has the dark and magical redwood forests and deceptively calm beaches. It’s a place that will always feel like home and that I feel lucky to have survived.