Miwok 100k Race Report

I rolled into the Bolinas Ridge aid station at mile 20, feeling pretty awful. I found my friend Miles there as well — he told me he would be dropping at the next aid station. Damn, that sucks. One of us from Houston has to finish this, and now I’m left. 20 miles in to a 62 mile run, it was way too early to already be feeling this bad, and I suspected my nutrition was really off. If I had the option to drop there… I might have taken it, but I also knew things can always change quickly in an ultra. I dumped out the electrolyte mix from my camelbak, refilled it with just water, and opted for several shots of coke and a few handfulls of potato chips. Miles and I chatted a few more minutes, marveling in both the beauty and difficulty of the course, before he started to hike up the trail. I wanted to linger around longer, to try to recuperate and salvage my race. Another shot of coke, water, and food, and time to continue on the rest of this journey. Up and out of the aid station, I began hiking back up the beautiful trail, surrounded by huge Redwood, Cedar, fir trees all around on a soft single track trail — doesn’t get much better than that. The road to finishing the Miwok 100k continued on, but started much early than at the 5 am start line that morning…


Miwok elevation profile, as measured by my watch

Last year I had the fortune of running a 50 miler in the Marin Headlands when a couple of former Houston friends, Wim and Gerda, were gracious enough to let me crash at their place. Escaping the 100 degree heat of Houston in August was a no-brainer for the 50 degree temperature in CA and beautiful trails of the headlands. After gutting out a 14.5 hr finish, that was the hardest course I ever finished but gave me some perspective on trails I’d run. When the Miwok lottery rolled around in December… I threw my name in and then in lucky fashion, was selected. Trouble was, I had an lingering ankle injury that threw into question whether or not I’d be able to even show up at the start line for Miwok.  It took months to finally shake after cutting out my recreational volleyball.

I knew my training would have to be almost perfect to finish Miwok, with 12,000 ft of elevation gain and loss, including a few 1400 ft climbs, would be significantly harder than the 50 I did in the headlands — surviving the downhills, so my quads weren’t completely trashed, would have to be a focus of my training, a task made difficult by the fact that the biggest ‘hill’ within several hundred miles of my house is the 70 ft Kemah bridge. On top of that, at 100k (62 miles) it would be ~12 miles longer than any race I had finished. I made out a training plan of several 50k’s, and sprinkled in enough other training I thought would serve me well for the hills and mountains of the northern California coast. First was the Piney Woods 50k for endurance, then followed by some hill training with the Nueces 50k, a 26 mile training run at Bandera with friends (probably one of the most enjoyable runs I’ve ever been on…), and then the Possum Kingdom 55k 3 weeks out from Miwok. With 3 good long races with a good amount of climbing, although not near the hills I would experience at Miwok, I felt like it was a solid plan. Stack on top of that, numerous strength workouts, core workouts, weekly mile repeat workouts, and stairmaster workouts, that was about all I could do, other than have additional time to get faster and maybe try to lose some weight. I alternated long mileage weeks with high strength weeks, doing strength routines 2-4 times a week. Maybe not the fittest ever, but I felt the strongest I’ve been and came into race week injury free.  Going into the race, in my mind, I thought honestly there was probably a 50-50 shot of making the cutoffs. Nevertheless, I knew the race would be enjoyable from a scenery point of view, and the training for this race had probably been my most enjoyable training phase in years, or maybe ever.

Miles and I had the same flight out of Houston, and after landing in Oakland found a pub in Berkeley to eat lunch and trade our race strategies, concerns, and plans for the next day. Soon enough it was time to head on to our places to crash, so I headed over to Wim and Gerda’s, and headed out with Wim to the course. He would be providing live updates on ultralive.net for all the runners (some possible 4,000 data entries…) and wanted to recon the course for cell coverage. At the Bolinas A/S, we ran into RD Tia Bodington, Stan Jensen, and Glen Tachiyama setting up the goods. I felt guilty standing around, and hauled one jug of water to the A/S. They insisted I not exert any more energy, and I asked if I could trade volunteer time for additional time to the race — no luck!

Race morning started early, waking up at 2-something for a 4:15 arrival for a 5 am start. Driving was uneventful there, and checked in and got myself in order. Looked for Miles at the start, but couldn’t find him.  I joined the mass of 400+ starters near the back, and waited for the final GO to start.  Soon enough, the minutes ticked away and we started… sort of. There was ~400 runners to enter the trailhead across a short bridge, which was only about 1 body wide — consequently, it took at least a good 5 minutes to actually move 30 yards. Then up the Matt Davis trail we went. First starting flat, then increasing grade as the endless switchbacks began, rolling up and up the trail. This was the 1800 foot climb, and although nice and cool, it was quite a workout. Halfway up, I could tell my arms were already soaked. I listened to the folks in front and behind me engage in conversation, as I had my hands on my hips and climbed the mountain, switchback after switchback.

Reaching the top in almost an hour and a half, I was already quite gassed; I could tell my heart rate was high, but what else can I do. We were greeted by the sound of some wild turkey’s, likely wondering what all the fuss was about this early in the morning. Dawn had begun, letting everyone see the gorgeous trail and Pacific ocean. It also meant I could actually start running on the rolling Coastal Trail. I looked off to the side across the ocean, and saw either fog or clouds and thought internally hmm, very unlike running in Houston, looking across an ocean and being up the same level as clouds….

photo 3

view from the Coastal trail

The thing about the coastal trail, is it’s only about a “quarter track” — there was maybe 12 inches wide to run on, and most times was inclined at an angle, requiring alot of concentration for foot placement, and avoiding what I read were the gopher holes in the trail. This flat section rolled on and on while everyone was still very crowded together with no real room to pass. Then we hit the forested area at Bolinas, the trail finally opening up to some sweet single track and increasing to jeep-road width and I can get some room.

After Bolinas, we were surrounded by beautiful huge trees, flat rolling trail going on and on through the forest, until the first big downhill. The 1000 foot descent was nice and I finally saw Miles ahead of me about 5 minutes at the aid station. Volunteers checked us in by bib number at each station, and I was number 123.  I considered it a lucky number and got plenty of comments on it as the day progressed 😉 Made a quick refill on fuel and headed back up the hill, still feeling good. I noticed there wasn’t that many folks behind me… maybe 20 or so. Yikes, I know I’m going to lag behind the folks out here but didn’t think I was that far back as I thought I was going a pretty good pace for me. Just stick to my own race.

Up and up the hill we went, and I passed a few folks, and returned to the flat section, where my stomach then went south. Probably had too many electrolytes, and even 15-20 miles into the race, this course was way more intense than anything I had run in my training. Thankfully there were some absolutely gorgeous views of the trees and coastline in this area. Finally returned back to Bolinas where I ran into Miles, and chatted with him.

photo 4

beautiful, lush trees

He said his foot was bothering him, and he would be dropping. I felt pretty awful too, but wanted to recuperate, so I spent a few extra minutes loading up on coke and salty chips. I bid the volunteers farewell and started hiking back out on the trail, and within a few minutes felt energy back in my body and started feeling well. Returning to the coastal trail was quite lovely aesthetically, but I didn’t really like the narrow trail. I caught up to Miles, where we reflected on how much this was just like running around the trails in Houston on Saturday morning — uh, NOT!! Once back to the Matt Davis trail, Miles went back to the start to drop, and I continued on, hoping that big descent would finally come. The forested single-track trail continued on and on as I headed to the Cardiac aid station. Not a huge descent at first, but finally some switchback and making it to the aid station, feeling pretty good.

After here, a nice descent to a very flat, runnable section on the road. Lots of cars out, and I paced myself to not over-exert too much this early in the race (not even at 50k yet). This stretch was a bit forgettable and finally I came to the Muir Beach A/S. Another top notch A/S, and I looked at my watch and knew I needed to hustle to Tennessee valley A/S where the first cutoff would be. With a bit of motivation, I headed out and made good time up the hill, passing a few ladies on the way up and topping out. The descent going down was FUN and I felt strong. It really does suck we have no hills around here to run; running these big descents among all this scenery was a joy. I was rolling and heard footsteps behind me. “Don’t worry, I’m not a racer” I chatted with the guy for a minute, before he passed and I continued down the hill to the bustling Tennessee Valley Aid station about 18 min ahead of the first cutoff, where there must have been 100 volunteers and crew hanging out. Wow, real busy, but thankfully everything well under control and orderly. Looked around for Miles, but no joy, and then headed up the hill.

I’d run this hill in the headlands 50, so I knew it wasn’t too bad. Up and up it went, until topping out on a long stretch to near the Golden Gate Bridge.  Another fantastic panaramic view on the windy saddle near the Golden Gate Bridge.  Eventually made it the aid station, still feeling OK. Another downhill ahead and down I go, passing another lady on the downhill before another short flat section. Immediately ahead you can see the climb beginning, where I can see a good 10 runners hiking up — I must be catching up to some folks. Trouble is, now I feel really hot and tired, 45 miles into this beast. Took some jelly beans with caffeine, which restored my energy just enough, but not enough to catch up to those folks as they soon disappear from sight. Damn, that hill was pretty hard and I felt like I was baking out there on an otherwise perfect sunny day. Somewhere in this stretch I amused myself by comparing the Kemah Bridge to the elevation profile of this course and how every race I’ve done previous to this pales in comparison.  The bridge would be mere noise in the data if comparing the elevation profile of the two.  The hill eventually crested out, which means now it’s time to run down down down, back to Tennessee Valley for another cutoff, getting there about 26 minutes ahead of the cutoff.

photo 2

approaching the Bridge View A/S, just like running the Kemah Bridge.

Coming into here, I would be 48 miles in, with only 13 miles left, I knew a finish would likely be in my future since I was some 25+ minutes ahead, barring the wheels coming completely off. Gerda would be pacing me, and she found me as I ran the downhill back to the A/S. It would be nice to have some company — although leap frogging back and forth with some folks, I had carried on very little conversation or run any long stretch with folks all day. I was very glad and satisfied thus far– I could still run the downhills, and strong! At the headlands 50, my quads gave out 40 miles in. Now I’m almost 50 miles in, and all systems, legs, body, mind, still feel good — it seemed like my training had worked (for comparison, I was ~ 2 hours ahead of my finishing time from the Headlands 50 miler). That was a great feeling, the satisfaction of knowing all the training and sacrifices I made for training actually worked for this monster of a race.  Now to change shirts, refuel, and finish this thing.

The next stretch I also had run before, which first had a not-too-bad hill, followed by some more lovely views by the coast. I passed a couple more folks hiking up, then running down the hill back to Muir Beach. I was ahead of the cutoffs again, and decided to take an unnecessary bathroom break since I thought I had plenty of time. They were out of Coke, then a random person volunteered up their can. Yes! Coke was like nectar of the gods, I must have drank a few gallons of it all day. Along with a few pieces of watermelon and more chips, and I was off.

This point, my body was just tired (go figure) — tired of calculating the cutoffs, tired of running, and mentally drained. Nothing hurt too bad, just kind of ready to be done now, less than 8 miles from the finish. This stretch was back to a flat section, but I just didn’t feel like running much. We headed up the road, and back up to the trail, walking way too much, to the final climb up to the Cardiac A/S. The Boston Marathon has Heartbreak Hill, and Miwok has the Cardiac Hill, on the famous Dipsea course. This climb went on and on, and I thought it would never end. If Gerda wasn’t present, I probably would have verbally exhausted all the cuss words I had, as I was pretty tired, sore, and more than ready for this climb to end. Darkness was coming, I had run all day long, and now here I was, in this beautiful forest, just trying to get up the hill. I mistakenly thought it was ‘only’ 700 ft or so; instead it was almost double at ~1400 ft, serves me right for not studying the course a bit more.  The beauty of the surroundings escaped me, as I was just looking for the clearing in the forest to indicate the last aid station. Finally it came and I took another short break.

Leaving it we had only 2.8 miles to go, and ~35 minutes to finish under 16 hours, and this part was thankfully all downhill, 1400 ft. It started off flat, then gradually increased in grade until we got to the dang steps. I couldn’t run down these in my present state, especially at dark, and it slowed me down too much. I keep checking my watch, and trying to calculate how much is left and figure out that I am quickly running out of time to finish under 16 hours. Upon departing the steps, I took off on the rocky single track through the dark until the next switchback or more steps. This cycle continued on until finally the rough steps ended. Time keeps ticking down and I run faster and faster through the dark down this dang hill. Now I’m running faster than I had all day long it seems. A volunteer, appears almost out of nowhere along the trail and tells me the last hill is up ahead named ‘insult hill’ and that yes runner #123, you’re going to finish this race! This ‘insult’ is a cramp in my leg, so I quickly down a couple salts and charge on. I take off to the right up through a break in the trail to a road, where we discover I went off the course. Damnit! Backtrack up the trail, discover the error in navigation, precious time wasted with not much left to break 16 hours, and I’m running even faster down the hill, leaving Gerda behind me. My feet keep turning over and over, throwing caution to the wind as I descend down some more steps, where I pass two ladies. “You’re downhill running is inspiring!” I appreciate the comment but didn’t have the energy or time to reply, and just keep on running, trying to get under that time for what I thought was the official finish limit and Western State qualifying time. I’ve been going for 16 hours and it would suck not to get a finish.

A clearing from the trees, and I can see a few lights below, I still must be a hundred feet or so above ground level, so I still have a ways to go. Keep looking at my watch, and realize when the clock hit 8:58 PM and I don’t see civilization yet, I am probably not going to break 16 hrs. Eventually the downhill ends, I meet volunteers by the road who direct me to the right, back to the Fire Station where we all started the adventure at 5 am in the morning, and finish, in 16:00:54, sprinting down the mountain the last 1.5 miles. No idea where I got that energy, or why I didn’t summon it an hour or so earlier! Tia tells me to turn my headlight off and puts the finisher medal over my head — the work is done, and now I can stop running!