We crested the top of the historic Dipsea trail towards the Cardiac Aid station, the first climb of seven big hills of the Miwok 100k. The thick morning fog did not allow much of a view, but the sun was starting to rise and gave a blue haze to brighten up the darkness. We heard bagpipes, emanating from somewhere in the fog, on top of this 1500 ft hill – surreal! Conversation wth a few runners confirmed we weren’t hallucinating – 3 miles into a 62 mile run is much too early to be hallucinating….
I ran Miwok last year, finishing in a time of 16:00:54. I missed qualifying for Western States by less than 1 minute, and was determined to improve on my crappy time. And lets face it, with fantastic, panoramic views of the Marin Headlands, Golden Gate Bridge, Pacific Ocean, redwood forests, big climbs and big descents, this race is not a bad choice to run again. With lots of work and other stress lately, it would be nice to escape to run in the beautiful mountains all day long. The last year, I got faster with lots of mile repeats and speed work. Practically PR’d at every distance, so I was optimistic I would be able to improve on my time this year. My main concern with training was not getting in any good long, hilly training runs. With a vertical of 12,000 ft gain/loss, I needed some hilly long runs, but obligations at work prevented me from getting any long runs/races in the hill country leading up to Miwok this year. I’d have to rely on my voluminous strength training, mile repeats, and oh yeah, those ridiculous 30 ft Spott’s Park hill workouts.
This year I invited two friends, pacer and crew Chris and Jamie to help me. I figured I wouldn’t need that much help, but any help could make a difference in a race this long and challenging – and it turns out that was true. Jamie has done enough of these things that I knew I would be in good hands, and Chris is a strong runner and would be easy going enough to handle me the last 13 miles, no matter how bad I might be. I met one of my Houston friends, Bill, at the start line, outside the community center at Stinson Beach. I was ridiculously anxious, and just ready to start the damn run. The RD said go (I think) and we marched up towards the start. I was situated probably in the front third or so this year, and we began the run up the famous Dipsea trail.
Not even a quarter mile in, I twist my ankle. $*&! I can’t get any luck. At least it doesn’t hurt too bad, but the worry clouds my mind for quite a while – the thought of running 62 miles with it hurting is almost too much to bear. Up the steps of the hill, we keep going, up and up. Up a switchback, I look over my shoulder and see a few hundred lamps lighting the trail below me, a fantastic view where I realize I must be in the front half. A few false summits, and eventually we reach the top with bagpipes playing somewhere in the fog as the sun first begins to rise – absolutely surreal. I know once we reached Cardiac, it’s a long downhill and down, down, down, we go.
I’m timid with my ankle, so I hold back. Other runners fly past me, taking advantage of gravity and the wide trail to open up their pace. Its still a bit dark, and I’m unsure of my footing, so I don’t want to hurt my ankle any more. We keep going down and down, and I forget how awesome it is to run downhill this long but my quads are sore down the first climb – not a good sign! A wild turkey is somewhere, and it gobbles. A woman runner nearby laughs out loud, seemingly to respond to it. The turkey answers back, and the woman laughs again. This brings a smile to my face, and eventually we reach the bottom of the hill and to the flat part to approach Muir Beach, and I lock into a solid pace on the singletrack. I keep up a good pace into Muir Beach, a quick stop, and turn around back towards Tennessee Valley. I feel strong, running 9 minute miles and trying to get in as much running before the next climb.
We reach climb # 2, and up we go. My ankle is sore on the uphill, but the pain isn’t too bad. I’m still keeping a good pace. Passing a person or two, and falling behind others, but moving well. This climb goes on and on, and just as I forget how awesome long downhills are…. I forget how long it takes to climb these hills. I look over my left shoulder at the valley, half way up the hill, and it’s worth it. We crest this hill, and time to fly back down. More gorgeous views of the lush greenery and valley below, and I can almost make out the aid station a mile or so, and a thousand feet down, below me. I look at my watch and see it’s 7:45, and my crew said they’d be there by 8. Damn, I hope they’re there.
I finish the descent, cross the road, and here my name. Yes, they’re here! (Little did I know until later that I think they made it there about 1 minute before I arrived!) I let them know how I’m doing and a random volunteer asks me if I want to tape my ankle. I pause to consider this suggestion – haven’t done this before and you’re not supposed to try anything new on race day – sure, that’s probably a good idea. Jamie and this guy help tape my ankle, while I watch, hoping I didn’t get into any Poison Oak and infect them. I get refueled, taped up, and ready to take on the next hill.
I bid my goodbyes and head up the Marincello trail, a good climb, number 3 of the day, about 13 miles in. More awesome views, Sausalito to the left, and the bay too. We crest the hill, a few rollers, and I’m feeling good – I think the tape worked! It rolls on and on, and the views of the Headlands are stunning and the views never get old. The Bridge View Aid station is next, which means the Golden Gate Bridge is near. We cross a saddle on a hill, and it’s right in front of you, with an awesome view of the bridge, bay, and San Francisco. I admire it for a second, and continue on to the Aid Station. I look at my hands, and my fingers look a little puffy – something must be wrong with my electrolytes, but otherwise I feel fine…..
I get some watermelon, coke, chips, PB&J, and try to get out of the busy aid station and down the hill. The miles roll on and on, and onto the next climb. I remember this one being long from last year, and it still is. There’s really two climbs in this one, disguised as one, and it takes what seems like forever to climb. But the weather is perfect – the wind is blowing and I feel cold. I look at my arms and see it’s red – surely not from the sun as it’s completely foggy, is it really that windy? This climb this year, I’m surrounded by other runners. I’m running strong and it’s nice to actually be near people. Last year I was so slow in the first half, and much more alone. It gives me confidence I’m running this much better, surrounded by other folks.
I make some exasperated sound near the top of this hill and a runner nearby seems relieved he isn’t the only one who’s having a hard time. They don’t seem to be doing that bad because they’re joking around and fly past me up the trail. I look to the right and a thousand feet below, but two miles ahead on the course, I see the next aid station parking lot, back at Tennessee Valley, right below me – that’s messed up!! We finish the climb, and start running back downhill on some great single track.
I meet my crew again and tell them I want them to meet me at the next one, Muir Beach. They say I’m looking good. I know any crew worth their salt has lying in their repertoire – I wonder if they are employing it here already or not. I’m a half hour ahead of my pace charts and feeling good, but I know this is not my normal Saturday run!
The next stretch to Muir Beach goes slower than expected. The descents are more technical than I remember, and I’m so conservative with my bad ankle, and some turns are twisty and tweak my ankle. Just don’t screw anything up and you might be able to finish this thing. This section is short, but seems to drag on, and finally back to another downhill to Muir Beach aid station again. Walking in, a volunteer walks directly to me before I reach the table and tells me “Hi, I just wanted to tell you your hair looks awesome!” Don’t think I’ve ever heard that before, so I must not be looking too bad. I find Jamie and Chris, who also tell me I look good, now 30 miles into the run. They take a picture of me and I take off out of there with an extra snack before the next big climb. I won’t see them again for probably 4 more hours or so until mile 49 at the Randall Aid station. I’m about 30 miles in, and it’s taken me 6 hrs 40 min, I’m over an hour ahead of my pace last year and starting to feel pretty good about this whole thing. I see the guy who taped my ankle and tell him it helped a lot! I was fortunate that guy was there.
The next section retraces our steps back up the Dipsea, and I know that climb sucks, so I need to run everything right up to it. The fog has cleared for now, and I look up to my left and see a huge mountain with a powerline cutout up to the top, thinking that might be our route – that’s messed up! Well, I don’t think it’s ours, but I bet ours is similar…. I run at a solid pace, feels like I’m running 9 min miles, 30+ miles into this race. I say nothing, but there’s two guys behind me, keeping up with this earnest pace. We pass a few folks, running strong on this singletrack, cross the road, and back up the famous Dipsea. We talk and thank each other for the pace and ‘company.’ Now the three of us start conversation, my first real one with any other runners today. The company up the Dipsea trail is great to help comfort the huge climb. This would be climb number 6, and most of the climbing is done after this one. I think of all the runners who’ve crossed this historic trail, in the 100 + year history of the Dipsea race and what a treat the views are at the top…… but I really just want to get to the top of the hill to the aid station and get some coke.
A clearing in the trees, and there’s the aid station up there! Ah, nothing like it. I tell them that climb was hard, and they concur, but tell me 75% of the climbing is done with for the race. I refuel again, no bananas, but still have plenty of food. I hear another turkey, and it walks up to the aid station. Time to get out of here. Now just some ‘flat’ running to Bolinas at mile ~42. It starts to get warm in this section, and it’s kind of technical in this wooded area. Lots of hikers out now – some wishing you good luck! And others who don’t want to get out of the way. The confidence with my ankle is low on these technical spots, and it takes me a while to navigate some of them, much longer than it should. I’m getting warm and starting to cramp, how can it be hot when I was just so cold? I keep on drinking, downing salt pills, trying to counteract. Eventually the trees end and it’s on to the dreaded Coastal Trail. Gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean below, but the trail only is 6-8” wide in some spots, and canted to the side, which makes running difficult. It’s been cool/cold all day, but now I feel cooked! I think I’m slow, but now I still see folks just ahead of me, and no one is passing me, so everyone else must be feeling the same.
At this point the leaders are coming back the same route, so I have to step by to let them pass – more time to slow but I don’t mind that much. Eventually the Coastal Trail ends, and now some lovely single track and forested areas up to Bolinas. The temperature feels like it drops 20 degrees as the rolling hills continue on. I work through a low patch, low on calories I think, and quickly recover – can’t waste any time! I start to worry over the times – I’ve run too well the first half of this race, and it would really suck for it to unravel here. I put in a lot of training, and got 2 friends to come out here, it would be a shame not to finish. I was 30 min ahead of my pace charts, but now the time has evaporated and I try do math and calculate I’m going to be cutting it close, here on out. I reach Bolinas, refuel, and head out. I need to get back to this aid station (~ 13 miles) in 3 hours to make the cutoff. Sounds easy, right? This section isn’t bad at all, with huge redwood trees surrounding a wide trail, and gently rolling hills. I run all the flat and downhills, and hike the uphills, until the big descent that I know is coming.
The penultimate descent of the races comes and I run it, and hard! Don’t need to hold anything back on this downhill. I fly past folks down the 1.5 mile long downhill, and my quads are burning — it feels like I’m running 8 minute miles down the mountain. I finally see my friend Bill again, not more than 5 minutes from the bottom of the hill – I was worried since I hadn’t seen him since mile 2 and should have seen him on this out and back (he went on to finish an hour ahead of me…) I get to see my friends again, and we are reunited at mile 49, ~11.5 hours into the race for me, and I wonder in my mind what they spent the whole day doing while I was running. I take a break for a few, bid Jamie goodbye, and Chris and I are off – it will be nice to have some company the last few hours of this race.
We have an hour and 50 minutes to make it 6.5 miles back up the hill. This last hill, major climb #7 of the race, isn’t that steep, but it sure is steeper 50 miles in to a run! I make good hiking pace, passing a few folks, and manage very short bits of running uphill. We reach the top, and there’s not any time to waste. We make it to Bolinas, less than 10 minutes ahead of the A/S cutoff! The volunteer kicks me out of there, almost physically pushing me out of the aid station and tells me to get going – I just want some food! We have 2 hours and 8 minutes to go less than 7 miles – that too, sounds easy, right?
We roll on, and Chris tells me I’m ‘looking good’. More gorgeous views back to the Coastal Trail, but the fog is rolling in, obstructing the view of the ocean. I become reunited with the Coastal Trail, where Chris comments ‘this trail isn’t very wide’ – understatement of the century! I tell him sorry if you slide down the mountain, I’m not stopping for you! I can run some parts here well, but others not. But we keep moving on and on, what I feels like is strong but surely is slow. Soon a quick switchback which means we’re on the Matt Davis trail, and the final descent to the finish ~1800 ft below.
Down we go, and I open up the pace on the runnable parts. That soon ends with the switchbacks, which are punctuated with stairs, big ones, ones that my tired and sore quads just can’t move very quickly on. I step down the stairs, and then it’s flat, and I run. This sequence continues on and on for what seems like a dozen or so switchbacks, and there’s lots of folks passing me who aren’t held back by this technical trail like I am – all I can think is what an abomination I am descending the stairs! We hear voices, folks at the finish line hollering, but we are still 1000 ft up on this hill. Eventually the steps thankfully disappear and the switchbacks get shorter and shorter, and I see a car just below through the trees. Just a little bit further down, the trail unwinds to a straight trajectory. The footbridge! People are here, cheering volunteers, finish line cones….I cross the finish line 7 minutes before the cutoff of the 62 mile race and get my hard earned finishers award from RD Tia Bodington. Jamie asks me if I want a coke or need anything – I just want to sit down….!