May 2, 2009
Flashback to November 2009. My friend Tiffany Forster asked if I would join her in the Miwok 100K lottery. I did not intend to do any races longer than 50 milers, though in the back of my mind, I thought MAYBE one day, I might consider it… but probably not.
The trick with the Miwok lottery was that if you signed up with another person and one of you got in, then both of you would get in. I guess, in a sense, you increased your odds somewhat. And we DID get in (otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this.)
I didn’t train really any different for Miwok than I would for any other 50 mile, 50K race. I thought that my best bet was to get a bunch of time on my feet, and since I already knew that I could handle 14+ hours (Santa Barbara Nine Trails 2003), this had a time limit that was ONLY 2-1/2 hours longer.
Tiffany’s training wasn’t with me, but I would get periodic updates about how it was going. For the most part, the updates were that she had a cold or she wasn’t running because she was getting over the sickness. About a week before the race, I was told that she wasn’t doing the race at all.
I had made plans to stay with my folks (though they would not be there), fly up, and also use their car (nice parents!). I wasn’t wild about doing the race alone (or at least having no one to commiserate with at the end (either sore or DNFing)), so I checked to see if I knew anyone local to carpool with. I noted that Rafael Covarrubias (from AREC) was also signed up, so I checked with him to see what his plans were.
He was going to drive up on Friday and had made no definitive plans. I suggested that he stay with me in Oakland (also pick me up from the BART station so that I didn’t have to walk the 2 miles (up a very steep hill) to my folks’ place), and I go with him to the race. Saving on a hotel room appealed to him, so our “party” of two was set.
For the week leading up to the race, the weather was not great. We were told that the race would go on, regardless of the weather. It positively poured while I was riding on BART and it poured on the short drive up to their condo. Rafael said that he didn’t think he would go if it was still pouring when we got up to leave at 3am the next morning. I said, “You better.”
Around 10pm, it stopped raining, but the forecast was for the rain to start up again around 9am the next morning. Good enough for me! (Good enough for Rafael.)
I didn’t sleep much, and I didn’t sleep much the week leading up to the race. (I got to work on that.) We left plenty early and arrived at the start about 5:15am for a 5:45am start.
The start is in a fantastic area called Rodeo Beach. To get there, you drive over the Golden Gate Bridge out of San Francisco and take the first exit. Depending on what is open (since I have driven a number of different ways to get to this start), you either drive over a ridge or through a long one-way tunnel. You follow a road along the coastline that simply ends. The cars were probably 100 feet from the ocean.
It was very cold and damp at the start and there didn’t seem like there were 350 folks (many didn’t show up due to the weather), and I got myself prepped (fill water bottles, drop off dropbag, etc.). It wasn’t raining (yet), but it was plenty foggy.
The actual start of the race was not where we checked in or parked our cars, but a half mile up the beach on the sand. Yuck. I like nothing less than running on sand (hopefully, this isn’t the finish, too).
We started promptly at 5:45am in the dark. I have my headlamp on, but it doesn’t do much in the fog. I basically walk on the sand, because I feel that nothing is served by running and tiring myself out from the get-go. I fall back from the bulk of the pack (but there are others walking, too).
After about a half-mile, we get onto firm land, but it is very narrow – a bottleneck – and there is a line to go up it. I am concerned that I will lose valuable time by just standing still, so I edge past people (not in a rude way) when I can step over plants or to the side on slightly wider sections.
At the top of the hill is a bathroom building and some other governmental buildings, and we wind our way up on a paved road to do a loop by old military batteries. It is completely foggy up here.
Then we circle down and come back near by the start on a grassy fire road, but start to climb again… into the thick fog. This is a pleasant double-track trail along the coast (can’t see anything, though), and then we work our way down on switchbacks to Tennessee Valley aid station at Mile 7.2. I am there in about 80 minutes and feel pretty good.
From Tennessee Valley we take a paved road out towards the ocean for a few miles and then hook in on the Pacific Coast Trail (steep), which has a mileage sign for how far it is to the Oregon border (!). This is a set of rolling hills along the coast and then a descent on wet wooden stairs down almost to the water. It is slippery! Don’t let me kill myself on a ill-timed fall!
Eventually, we make our way to a fire road that heads downhill into Muir Beach and the second aid station at water’s edge (Mile 12.5) – 2 hours, 24 minutes have elapsed. It still hasn’t started to rain. With all this fog, I am hoping it doesn’t start.
From Muir Beach, we head out to the road (Highway 1) and stay along the edge of the road. There are a few cars, but not a lot, and there is a volunteer that keeps us safe. We turn onto a trail that parallels a side street and is taking us towards the big hill. At this point, I recognized one of the runners around me (who I had seen, but not met, at American River 50), and called out her name, because it was slightly unusual – Eldrith Gosney. She is 68 years old and has done this race a dozen times (she lives in the area, too).
She gave me some advice about the course. She said that the first 20 miles are the hardest (we are at about 14 miles now) and the last 4 are also difficult. So… just maintain once I get to Mile 20 or so? Yes. We are going through a dense plant area and across a couple of wooden bridges with signs that say that horses cannot go over these bridges (I guess they go through the water). We emerge into a field of cat-tails and then cross the road to start heading up the hill.
I look at my watch and it says 8:55. I am thinking… it’s supposed to start raining soon… if it starts raining. A couple of minutes later, it starts raining… HARD! Just in time to start climbing the hill.
I turn to Eldrith and say, “It’s been nice running with you. See you later,” because I do so well walking up hills. She jogs right by me! Dang.
This is a long and fairly steep hill. Not more than 4 or 5% grade, but that is enough to make it difficult when it goes on for 4 or 5 miles. At the top, it starts to smooth out and there are some buildings to our right. The difficulty is exacerbated by being on paved road briefly before getting to the Pantoll Aid Station (Mile 21.7) in 4 hours, 36 minutes.
At this point, the wind starts to pick up, too. Now we are heading out on the single-track on the hillside. Because of the fog, you can’t see more than a few feet in front of yourself, but because of the wind, I can’t really look up, either. It just goes on and on and on, broken up occasionally by small thickets. These are nice because it is like being in a rain forest, rather than in a rainstorm. I mean, I am still getting wet, but more dripped on than sprayed on.
There are a few landmarks (though if it were not foggy, we could see the Golden Gate Bridge), such as a rusted out old truck just below the trail. The trail is also angled a bit, so it is not flat, but angles towards the hillside. There is no danger of slipping off, but the going is awkward. Eventually, we work our way up towards the road (and see occasional cars driving by) and then up through another thicket (with lots of uphill) to a wide redwood-infested fire road and the Bolinas Ridge Trail aid station (Mile 28) in 6 hours, 20 minutes.
Now I have 1 hour, 35 minutes to cover the next 7-1/2 miles and make the cutoff. We continue along the ridge road, which heads uphill. The surface is a lot of redwood and pine needles on top of mud and water. Pretty much every step is wet or in muck. A lot of folks are not traversing the center of the road, but walking on the edge. By the time I get there, much of that resembles the middle of the road, so it hardly matters where you run. This trail undulates gently, so I run what I can on the downhills and walk the rest.
I am getting concerned that I might not make the cutoff, so I even speedwalk or run some of the flats as well, but soon I get to the left-hand turn that leads about 2 miles down to the next aid station. It is pretty considerable downhill and VERY muddy. The good news here is that I have done a few Way Too Cools where I am on mud the whole way, so it is not foreign to me.
I ski and skid and slide much of the way down (on my feet, not my ass) and reach the turnaround aid station (Mile 35.6 – over halfway!) in 7:40, 15 minutes ahead of the cutoff.
The ascent is not great. It is still as muddy as before, so it is like one step forward and 5 steps back. What works best here is to put your feet in a “V” pattern (like you would if you were trying to go uphill on skis) and just trudge uphill best you can. I also offer encouragement to those heading downhill, trying to give them an idea of how far it is and whether they will make the cutoff or not. I see my friend Hwa-Ja, and I don’t think she will make the cutoff (she does, but is unable to reach the 2nd cutoff in time)
On this uphill section, I strike up a conversation with another runner, Tracy Hixon. She is meeting her pacer (probably her boyfriend) at the Bolinas Ridge aid station, but we pace each other (sorta) until we get to that point. I’m wondering how much time we will lose on this section, because of the uphill mud climb. We reach Bolinas Ridge aid station (Mile 42.8) in 9 hours, 20 minutes. So, it took 1:20 in the “downhill” direction, and 1:40 in the “uphill” direction. I’ll take it.
I stay with Tracy and her pacer for a bit, but they are much faster than me and it is all but useless to have any kind of conversation in the dense fog. The good news is that it has stopped raining. The bad news is that it is even windier than before. We are basically retracing our steps from earlier and going by the rusted-out truck on the single-track. The combination of mud and wind means that in certain sections I had to grab onto tree branches in order to climb up even minor (10′) inclines. I am pretty pooped when I get back to Pantoll aid station (Mile 49.5) in 11 hours flat. But I keep trudging on, as I have a half marathon left, and I don’t want to get a DNF at this point (but I may).
I do what I can to jog back down the hill (skied a little), back down to the Cat-Tails and the No-Horse Bridges. Here is the section where it diverges from the original course and starts winding up onto the Miwok Trail and crosses the Panoramic Highway up in the hills. We wind around on a foggy fire road and then work our way back down to Muir Beach aid station (Mile 54.7) in 13 hours. (2 hours to go 5 miles!)
Now a difficult ascent out of Muir Beach and heading back (not really along the coast – more elevated fire road adventuring) to Tennessee Valley. This is, for all intents and purposes, the last time cutoff. There is a time limit for the course of 16 hours and 30 minutes, but I have been told that if you leave the last aid station in time, they will give you a finisher’s time even if you are a little over the total time limit. I HAVE to be through Tennessee Valley by 14-1/2 hours, so I can have 2 hours to complete the last 4-odd miles (see before about this being the most difficult section).
My feet hurt quite a bit at this point and I am not certain that I can do 3 miles in 90 minutes. I know that seems wild, but, there it is. I have now exceeded the longest distances I have ever done in one day and I have to keep going. Before I get to the aid station, I exceed the longest time I have ever run for (14:06 at Nine Trails).
I am starting to give up hope when I start to see the stables, and I know that I am close. I get into Tennessee Valley in 14:20 (Mile 58.4) and I am “home-free.” I put on my headlamp and start heading up the switchbacks into the darkness and fog.
Probably about 1 mile up, the fog is so thick I cannot see anything and the headlamp is not helpful. Additionally, my glasses fog over, so not only can I not see anything light-wise, I can also not see at all. I end up setting my glasses on top of my head (fastened with my Croakies) and then grasp my headlamp in my hand (also holding two water bottles) to try and focus at a lower level.
I have 20/400 vision without glasses, so I cannot see or focus on anything. I am stumbling like crazy, because I have no sense of depth perception. I am breathing heavily, because there is a lot of steep uphill. I am walking into bushes, because I don’t know where the trail goes. I have probably a full hour where I can hear voices of people ahead and behind me, but I don’t actually see or interact with these people. It would have helped if we could go through this together.
There are glow sticks out there, but unfortunately, I cannot focus well enough to see if I am following the path (and I can hear the ocean and do not want to walk off a cliff) or if it is in the distance and I am just seeing the faint glow from a different angle.
Finally, I get to a landmark that I recognize from the description, which is a stone staircase. It has a “bannister” made of PVC pipe strung along metal pipes in the ground. It is not really strong enough to support grasping. On the other hand, the stone is slick and a stumble is going to make me cramp. It is around here that I encounter my first person on this section and we help each other (mostly he helps me) get down the stairs.
This last section is on a paved path. I’d even go so far as to say “a bike path,” because there is a yellow stripe down the middle. I just zig and zag all the way to the bottom. It is extra encouraging, because I can hear voices and the ringing of a cowbell every time someone finishes. I am pretty close to the cutoff, but I am not worried about at this point, because I will be ever grateful to get out of this danged fog.
Finally, I make the final turn and soon after cross the finish line in 16:13:57 (made it by 15 minutes, I guess). I get some food and my finisher’s prizes (a medal, a cloth shopping bag with backpack straps, a beer glass and a 20 oz. bottle of commemorative Lagunitas Pale Ale (with a Miwok 100K label on the bottle)).
Rafael is waiting in his car (because it is very cold out) having finished a couple of hours ahead of me (but not upset, because it gave him a chance to rest before the drive back). I am a bit of a mess. I have dirt caked on my legs up to my knees (basically where my shorts start). I spent much of the car drive back to my folks pulling dirt off my legs onto a newspaper (so I don’t make too much of a mess in his car). I also have horrible foot blisters and everything is really sore. I don’t think that either of us slept really well on Saturday night after the race.
In the end, I am really happy with my result and think that I would be up for trying a 100K race again. My favorite line about his race is that when you ask me ‘how did it go?’ I can answer, “Miwok. Miwok a lot. But I finished.”
So far in 2009, I have done a 50K and a 100K. I have some quality time on my feet. I think I have to find another race this summer to keep this good streak going!