May 1, 2010
I entered the drawing once again for the Miwok 100K. They did the lottery a little different this time… well, UltraSignUp did the lottery, and there was no “sign up with a teammate and you both get in system.” Basically, they drew names and then had a waiting list. I was something like 4th on the waiting list, which is tantamount to an automatic spot in the race (because at least 50 people ALWAYS drop out).
Since I had already done the race last year, I had a better idea of what to expect, and figured to improve upon my time even if it was pouring again… because I would know where the tough sections were and I would have my advantage of being able to maintain a fast walking pace up the hills.
Fortunately, the day of the race, the weather was much more moderate (and not hot), so I had the confidence of performing much much better than last year… and for the first five miles, I was running (and walking) better than the first year.
Just before I got to the first aid station at about the 10K point, I heard a unusual, but familiar sound… it was Amy Dodson from last month’s American River 50. The plonk-plonk of her carbon-steel prosthesis sounded the same on pavement as on trails. She looked really good and ran right by me. I didn’t keep her in sight at all and maintained a 13:00/mile pace through the beautiful coastal section leading down to Tennessee Valley aid station.
Once I got down there, her boyfriend/husband was assisting her with a different prosthesis (some difficulty with it staying in place). I soldiered on; the next section was downhill paved to dirt to the Pacific Coast Trail (and a bunch of uphill). I did a comfortable pace down the hill (so as to not put a strain on my lungs prior to the uphill) and then began pressing the pace walking uphill.
After about 5 minutes, however, I hit the proverbial wall. I couldn’t press the pace walking and slowed to a hands-on-hips bent over slog up the hill. From behind, I was passed once again by Amy, who commented that she would see me at the end, if she made it that far. I grunted an assent, because I felt really really cruddy. When I got to Muir Beach, I had slowed to a 16:40 pace (including a downhill section!).
From Muir Beach to the next aid at Pantoll, there is a one-mile fairly flat section (after crossing Highway 1) and then 4 miles of relentless uphill (great! Now that I can’t do uphill today…). At the base of the hill, I caught up with Amy. She was starting to struggle, too. I told her about last year when I did the previous mile (or so) with Eldrith Gosney, and she imparted to me about how the first 20 miles and the last 4 are the worst. Both of us were definitely at our worst, but we encouraged one another up the hill, hoping that we would feel better once we passed mile 20. It worked, at least, to get ourselves up the hill (at about a 17:00/mile pace – not bad for 80% of the section being uphill).
Once we reached Pantoll at about Mile 22, we decided to stay together for a bit and encourage one another. This section was particularly hard for Amy because it was single-track and it wasn’t completely level. It messed with her balance and also rocks or branches would get hooked on it and nearly trip her up on several occasions.
The benefit of being together for about 6 miles was most advantageous to me, personally. The leaders had started to come back from the Mile 35 turnaround, and being slower runners (I don’t necessarily agree with this rule, because we will struggle more in getting to the end and making cutoffs.), we had to move to the side and let these runners pass.
However, in passing, every single one of these runners commented, “You guys are SO-O inspirational!” I responded, “Thank you, but I know you are mostly talking to Amy.” Still, this kind of reinforcement helped. I make it a point to say something nice to each person I encounter (mostly to people returning on out-and-backs and mostly ahead of me), and for the most part, they NEVER say anything in return (too engrossed with headphones or just conceited). We picked up the pace by almost a minute per mile and were invigorated at the Bolinas Ridge Aid Station.
However, once there, I began to notice the looming cutoff time. I had 1 hour, 42 minutes to cover 7 miles (or about 13:18/mile). While this seems totally reasonable, it was rolling hills (but at least not 6″ deep water this time)… and my pace on the flat single-track was 3 minutes/mile slower!
I left Amy behind (she encouraged me and didn’t think she would make the cutoff) and I went off by myself to try and make the cutoff. When I got another runner just ahead of me that we needed to turn on the pace to make it, she seemed willing, but 5 minutes later, when I turned back to say something, she was not staying with me. Her mind was willing, but her body was not.
My body was not particularly happy with me, either, but I kept telling it that I was going to make it and it could rest if I didn’t. I passed about 12 runners in this section, encouraging each to pick up the pace slightly to try and make the cutoff.
With about 2 miles to go to the aid station, the trail turns left and heads significantly downhill. This is where I have to really turn it on to make it. I ask each runner coming uphill about how long ago they left the aid station to give myself a better idea on how much time I have left. At the top of the hill, I have about 42 minutes to make the cutoff, but I would prefer to have some leeway, rather than just make it and then be struggling for the next cutoff. In other words, I don’t want to get to mile 58 and miss it by 2 minutes because I eased up at Mile 35.
I ended up making the cutoff by 19 minutes and my pace in this section was 11:30/mile! That’s a pretty good pace after doing a marathon! As compared to last year (in the rain), I was almost 45 minutes SLOWER! ?!?!
I spent little time at the aid station, knowing that I needed to turn around and go right back up that tough hill to make the next cutoff at Mile 50 and then the next at Mile 58. On the way up, I saw Amy, who was about 10 minutes behind me (she made the cutoff, too, but now had 10 fewer minutes on the return trip).
I went at a more relaxed pace back up the hill (wanting to make the cutoff, but not wanting to exhaust myself from finishing the race. Having made the cutoff, I just needed to maintain no slower than 16:40/mile to finish (including finishing in the dark… so maybe a little faster than that). I returned to Bolinas Aid Station at a 16:07 pace.
From Bolinas, you head back along the uneven single-track to Pantoll. Maybe I was invigorated by having made the cutoff, because I did this section in 15:20/mile, nearly a minute per mile faster than with Amy.
From Pantoll, you head down the steep uphill back to Muir Beach (about 55 miles). I made that interim cutoff by about 25 minutes (but still slower than in 2009). From Muir, you head back up onto the Pacific Coast Trail, but come into Tennessee Valley Station from a slightly different direction. This is the last cutoff, and again, I made it by about 20 minutes (but still slower than last year).
The plus, once you get to Tennessee Valley and make the cutoff, is that you are pretty much guaranteed to finish… even if you are going a bit over the overall time limit (they give you the benefit of the doubt). It was already starting to get dark, so I was going to finish in the dark (despite a Muir Beach volunteer telling me that I could still finish before dark – though I had calculated to do so, I would need to accelerate to 9:00/mile!).
At Tennessee Valley, I saw a familiar face – Martin Sengo from GVH – he gave me some aid and some encouragement before I sped through the aid station and headed up the horse switchbacks to the last bit of trail – uh oh – the last 4 miles. No rain or fog this year, though.
After about a half mile of the switchbacks, the battery died on my headlamp. There was a little power left, so I was able to turn on the red light. You can see a little bit better than with no light, but not much. This was almost as bad as the fog and slowed my pace considerably.
Without the fog, however, I could actually see where I was going. On part of the uphill stretch, there were these cloth bags filled with sawdust placed just before a dip in the trail. Whenever I spotted one, I knew that I should treat it like a hole, just so I would not stumble as much. Other than that, I utilized my vision of runners ahead of me to see the trail (or when a few people passed me). One runner shown his light behind me when we traversed the uneven stone staircase down towards Rodeo Beach and the finish line.
Once at the bottom of the stairs, we were mostly on a paved path with a yellow line (couldn’t really make out a color, but that’s what I assumed) down the middle. I just fixated on the line and the cowbell noises emanating from the finish.
Just before the end, the trail turns to the left twice to turn into the finish. Volunteers would spot incoming runners by their bobbing headlamps… so I surprised the heck out of everyone when I suddenly appeared (since they probably did not see a bobbing RED headlamp).
I finished in 16:02:11, about 12 minutes faster than last year. Wait, what? I was FASTER? But I hit every aid station slower… except for the last 4 miles, when I did 19:00/mile, instead of 23:00/mile. Awesome!
Postscript: I found out that Amy had missed the cutoff at Mile 50. I felt like she was good to go, but she told me later that she was happy with her result, despite not finishing.
Another item of note was that UltraSignUp ranked runners by how they thought they would finish. I was ranked 10th to last. Of those who finished (because there were people ranked ahead of me who did not), I finished… 10th to last. How weird is that?