Awesome Marin Run Route: The One Hour Run

Phoenix Lake is MY running spot. From Protrails.
Phoenix Lake is MY running spot. From Protrails.


Yesterday, since I’m home from LA for five days, I did my favorite one hour run. A warning: it’s only like 6-7 miles (depending on your route), but has about 1,000 feet of elevation. So it’s not the easiest one hour run ever. But, it is the best.

I started out tired and hurting — because I decided to get back into things again by strength training and box jumping the other day, which totally makes sense — and it’s so easy once you’re not working out every day to just keep not working out. And, anyway I’m slow and out of shape and this guy who did not look like he should be faster than me just kept speeding up to stay right ahead of me on the trail and it’s probably because I suck (or because I’m judgmental). I was not feeling the run.

But, it’s hard to not feel it once you’re up on the single track on the ridge all by yourself. So. That’s probably why it’s one of my ‘re-motivate yourself’ runs. Try it:

  • I always start at Phoenix Lake. Phoenix is my bang. (Which is something I have weirdly started saying, even though the phrase is actually “my bag.” But I’m sticking with my version.)
  • If you park at Ross Commons and run in on the road/path, then it’s a bit over a mile longer and just under an hour. If you park at the Lagunitas Country Club and run the same speed as me, then it’s more like a 50′ run.
  • From the trailhead, go up the fire road and stay to the right/straight around the edge of the lake until you get to the base of a hill. Go straight up Shaver Road at that intersection, which is actually a large trail. It’s about a 1.5 mile climb, but it’s not too steep or rough.
  • At the top, at Five Corners, where there’s a number of trail options and a bunch of signs that warn you to watch for mountain lions, take the insanely steep trail to your immediate right.
  • The steepness only lasts about 100m, then you’re on a single-track ridge trail that winds in and out on the side of the hill.
  • Eventually it dumps you at another trail intersection, Six Points (or maybe this one is Five Corners and the other one is Six Points, I can never remember). Don’t take the trail to the immediate right, because it’ll drop you back down into the valley. Take the trail to the right that says “Yolanda Trail – to Phoenix Lake.” Like this:


  • (If you are an avid reader of Sunny Running, you may notice that this is the same start of the route I usually take to get up Mt. Baldy, but in that case you would go left towards Worn Springs here.)
  • The single track continues up and down along the ridge. This is the best part of the run, because it looks like this:
Not my photo. Someone on Yelp's photo. But pretty accurate.
Not my photo. Someone on Yelp’s photo. But pretty accurate.
  • The trail rolls and some of the short little uphill sections can feel like a bitch, but on the whole you’re headed slightly more downhill than up. As you go, it gets noticeably more down because you’re dropping back down to the lake. Duh.
  • You will want to look at the awesome views of Mt. Tam and the hills and the drop into the valley. But, it is a rocky single-track trail, so you may also want to look at where you’re setting your feet. Don’t step on the newts! (Or rattlesnakes, obviously.)
  • You’ll hit one more kind of Y-intersection. Stay to the right to get back down to Phoenix Lake. That last section is very downhill and can be narrow and overgrown, depending on the weather and the district’s budget for maintenance. Don’t think too hard about what might be in the bushes and brush yourself off for ticks at the bottom.
  • At the bottom, it’ll dump you out back on the fire road around Phoenix that you started on. Turn left to head back to the trailhead and your car, or loop around the lake for an extra 2-2.5 miles. I sometimes like to loop the lake first just to get some running in before heading uphill. Plus the singletrack on the backside of the lake is fun.
  • Last step: Feel better about yourself and running.

What’s your favorite go-to run? (Can you tell me one in the LA area?)


Awesome Marin Run: Mt. Baldy (Bald Hill)

Yesterday, I did an actual trail run, like a hard(ish) one, and my leg didn’t give out. Crazy.

For some reason, I decided it was a good day to run up Mt. Baldy in San Anselmo/Ross, which isn’t actually a mountain at all, but a large hill with odd prominence because there’s nothing else around it. Technically, it’s called Bald Hill, but if you say you went for a run up Bald Hill no one in Marin will respect you — or know what you’re talking about.

Historic photos of Mt. Baldy from back in the day when San Anselmo was just the seminary at the base of the hill.
Historic photos of Mt. Baldy from back in the day when San Anselmo consisted of just the seminary at the base of the hill.


The second week we moved to Marin, back in 2008, I went to a group run with Tamalpa and we did this loop run up Mt. Baldy and then down the other side. That time I didn’t walk at all, because I was terrified of getting lost and wanted to keep the front people in my sight. (Fear is my most powerful athletic motivator.) But, the two or three times I’ve done it since then, I almost always end up walking a little bit because it’s just so damn steep.

The Phoenix Lake trail.
The Phoenix Lake trail. From Marin Mommies.

Start out parking by the Lagunitas Tennis Club in Ross and run into Natalie Coffin Greene Park and up the main trail to Phoenix Lake. (You can also park next to the Ross Commons – necessary on weekends – or at the parking lot at the Phoenix Lake trailhead, but there’s usually a line of cars waiting for one of the 10 parking spots in that lot to open up.)

At the top of the main trail, as you come up on Phoenix (pictured at left), you could turn left and go across the dam and run around the lake.  Also a good time. But, don’t. Stay on the big trail to the right as it weaves around the lake. There’ll be lots of people on this trail and other trails leading off it, etc.

After 1-2 miles of running, depending on where you parked, you’ll be at an intersection. You could take one of the two steep trails (Fish Grade or Eldridge) to your left to go to the upper lakes or you could take the small single-track and continue around Phoenix Lake. Instead, if you just keep going more or less straight, the trail turns into Shaver Grade, a gentle 1.5 mile climb up from the lake.

At the top of Shaver is an intersection where five trails meet, creatively named Five Corners. It also, most importantly, has a bathroom. (And a permanent sign warning of mountain lions.) Most of these trails lead you to the other lakes or down to Deer Park. Take the really stupid steep looking trail to your immediate right, before the bathroom. It’s only steep for 100m or so and then opens up onto a nice single-track trail that weaves along the edge of the hills.

That single-track eventually dumps you out at another intersection where five trails connect, oddly called Six Points. The immediate right trail takes you down to Hidden Valley and then connects back to Shaver Grade, which you just ran up. (One time, I ran this because it was getting dark and I thought it would be shorter. It might have been, but I was too terrified by the coyotes in the dusk to notice.) Trail to your immediate left goes down to Deer Park. The other two are branches of the Yolanda Trail. My all-time favorite run is to follow Yolanda on the right back down to the lake. But, I didn’t do that yesterday because the bottom of it is super overgrown and running through tall grasses freaks me out.

Follow Yolanda. And, no, I don't know what Yolanda means.
Follow Yolanda. And, no, I don’t know what Yolanda means.

Take the left-hand Yolanda Trail, with the arrow saying To Worn Springs Road. (You’ll know it’s the correct trail on your left because it’s the one going up and Mt. Baldy is up.)

This trail is also super nice single-track, weaving up and down, though gradually up, and along the back side of the hill. It’s also relatively un-trafficked, by which I mean I didn’t see anyone from when I left Phoenix Lake to when I was close to back to it. The single-track dead-ends into a fire road that is Worn Springs Road. At this point, it gets nasty and steep. When it drops you out on Worn Springs Road, there’s a gate in front of you that would lead you down to fancy houses in Ross, where Sean Penn lives, but you turn right onto the fire road and start the climb up to Baldy.

The climb goes up in spurts, steep and then gradual and then steep. I walked twice for 45″ or so, just because it was so steep my shuffle wasn’t moving me very quickly. You’re going around the back side of Baldy and eventually (after 10′ or so), you’ll crest the trail and it’ll start to head back down on the other side, with Mt. Tam in front of you. Before going down, though, there’s a short (50m) detour to your left that takes you right out onto the top of Mt. Baldy.

At the top, this is what it looks like:

The fact that the hill is bald means you can see all around.
The fact that the hill is bald means there aren’t any trees blocking your views. From Pelican Studios.

The top is actually really cool — in an area inundated with cool views. Because there’s nothing around it, you get a 360 degree look at everything, and the wind is usually blowing (sometimes hard), which makes it almost impossible not to throw your arms out and yell at the tiny people below.

When you’re done with that, head back down the detour to the Worn Springs Road trail and continue on it, down the other side of the hill now. That trail is very steep, so unless I’m training for some downhill race I take it easy. It’s not technical, though, and is wide and sweeping (often filled with eagles floating on the wind currents). If you wanted to bomb the descent, you could. Worn Springs Road eventually drops back down to Phoenix Lake, turn left at the lake trail (shake your legs out from the trashing they just took), and head back to the trailhead and back to your car.

Wide open spaces.
Wide open spaces. The Worn Springs Trail from Mt. Baldy.

Most people actually go up this trail (Worn Springs Road), because it’s the most direct route from Phoenix, and then they come back down it the same way. I like the loop because it makes it an actual run, about 8 miles, around 1700′ of elevation or so, and about 1:15 run time. Steve says I should do the loop the opposite direction, because going up the steep part and down the gentler side would be better for my legs and a better workout. But, that sounds shittier.

Steve also swears that when he used to do running time trials up Worn Springs to Mt. Baldy in high school, he could do it in 14′.  It took me 14′ to go down it, but I kind of want to run up it at full speed now to see what I could do.

Whenever I do trail runs I don’t know (which wasn’t this, but other times) I use detailed Marin County Trail Maps (PDF at that link), but trail maps never quite seem to show how things actually look once you’re out there, so I tend to combine it with directions like these from someone who’s done it before.

Have you run Mt. Baldy? What’s the best trail run?

Making Workouts a Priority: The Best Run Route in Marin

Yesterday, I had a long easy, hilly run on my schedule. Pretty much as soon as I saw that I got inexplicably excited and started daydreaming about what big trail loop I was going to do. Big easy loops on the watershed trails are my favorite and I haven’t got to do any this year.

Wouldn't you be excited if this was where you got to run?
Wouldn’t you be excited if this was where you got to run? From Fishing in Bon Tempe Lake.

That excitement was somewhat tempered after the race directing on Sunday was followed up by the fact that I have seven assignments due in the next few days, two other writing projects I need to finish, three other things due next week and various meetings/appointments/calls. There was no way to fit it all in.

It would be really easy, given the absurd number of things I have to do right now (and should be doing right now), to cut the workouts short or skip them. And, I may end up cutting short the hour easy bike ride later today. I despise hour easy bike rides unless they get me somewhere at the end.

But, there’s always a pretty good reason to skip workouts — family is in town, you have a lot of work, it’s a friend’s birthday, you don’t feel great, the cat needed to go to the vet. All of that would be totally understandable. No one would blame you. But, I decided, making your workout a priority, including it in the list of things that has to get done instead of just something you hope will get done, is what separates training from exercising. I suppose the degree of prioritization is what separates athletes from normal people who happen to like working out.

(That’s why when I said I couldn’t make a meeting and you saw me running instead, I wasn’t blowing you off. I was busy. I was busy running.)

So, instead, I just did the two-hour run yesterday even though I didn’t really have the time to. Actually, I was supposed to only run 1:40, but I added wrong when I was trying to decide on my route and only realized after I was an hour into it. Oops. And, you know what? I got everything done that I needed to get done yesterday anyway, even though there was no way that was possible.

Edit: Right after I wrote this I read that NYT article about how relaxing more and taking time off actually makes you more productive. Prioritizing my run might have actually made me able to get everything else done. So there.

This trail is actually called Shady Side. The other side of the lake is called Sunny Side. Clever.
This trail is actually called Shady Side. The other side of the lake is called Sunny Side. Clever. From Western Wildflower.

I ended up running one of my all-time favorite loops at the watershed, which if you’re ever in Marin you should definitely run. (Since I never take a camera with me, I’ve stolen some of these photos from other people, but that’s pretty much what it looks like. All the time.)

To do the best locals-only run in Marin, follow these instructions:

  • Park in Ross by the elementary school and run down the road to Natalie Coffin Green Park and Phoenix Lake.
  • Take the fire road along the north side of Phoenix to Eldridge Grade.
  • Run up Eldridge. Turn right at the fork, go past the water tower along the cement road for a half mile or so, it’ll spit you out on the paved road above Lake Lagunitas. Turn left and you’ll be in the picnic area soon.
  • Get water/go to the bathroom if you need to.
  • Run around Lake Lagunitas. This is fairly self-explanatory, though you have to turn right off the main trail at one point. If you don’t turn right, you will keep going all the way to the top of Mt. Tam.
  • Get water/go to the bathroom if you need to.
  • At the far west (?) end of the picnic area, across a little bridge, is the trail to Shady Side of Bon Tempe Lake. Run Shady Side, run across the dam, turn left at the bottom of the dam in the gravel parking lot and it connects to a fire road.
  • Run the fire road behind the golf course until you get to the Marin Municipal Water District watershed entrance.
  • Just past the kiosk/entrance on the right is a stable. There’s a water fountain there too. Behind the water fountain is a sketchy-looking, single-track, downhill trail. Take it. It’ll spit you out on the Flat Road, which is actually a trail.
  • Turn right on the Flat Road and run to Five Corners.
  • At Five Corners, take Shaver Grade down to Phoenix Lake.
  • Run back to your car in Ross.
  • Thank me.

The GPS says it’s 12.9 miles, but the GPS lies to you on the winding, wooded trails. It’s closer to 14 miles than 13. There’s also about 1,135 ft of elevation gain. Oddly, there was only 1,125 ft of elevation loss, though. So, I am evidently still 10 feet higher than I started.

And, I don’t regret having made that run a priority.