Saturday, May 3, 2014
Miwok 100K Ultra Run
62 Miles – Marin Headlands, CA
The Miwok 100K has been one of my bucket-list races since 2007. In early 2008, I started talking to an ultra-runner that I’d met through the Ultra List Serv. Her name was Alyssa Skye and she lived in the San Francisco Bay area and regularly ran on Mount Tam and the surrounding Miwok course. Alyssa knew of my struggles and ongoing battle with depression and resolved to give me a vacation. She surprised me with a plane ticket to San Francisco where she picked me up and we spent the next four days running the trails on and around the Marin Headlands.
In December 2010, Alyssa unexpectedly passed away in a tragic car accident. I was pretty devastated by her passing, a stranger who opened her heart and her life to me, to simply make me smile and give me hope. After her passing, I knew that I would one day run Miwok and I deliberately saved the 100K distance for this race in particular. I flew to San Fran alone this weekend. No Pacer, no crew. Just myself and a course I’ve always wanted to run… for Alyssa. Turns out that all these years later, she’s still giving me surprises.
I didn’t know what to expect going into this weekends race other than relentless hills. The Miwok 100K is a 62.2 mile run with 12,000’ of climbing and 12,000’ of downhill. There is nothing easy about 24,000’ change at near net zero. Even though I live at the higher altitude of Denver, I knew the relentless ups and downs of the Miwok course would be punishing. They didn’t disappoint. My goals for the race were the typical for me. #1 was to finish, #2 was sub 13 hours. A goal I knew would be hard to catch given the course and my not having a pacer or crew. The absolute best day would be sub 12:30.
I arrived in Stinson Beach around 4:30am on race morning and parked my car down in the town beach lot. From here it’s a ½ mile walk to the starting line. I followed the sea of headlamps as they made their way to the start/finish, hauling my drop bags and seriously under rested. I had only slept about 3 hours last night and I was groggy. After finding the community center, I checked in to receive my bib, dropped off my drop bags and began to wait. The bathroom lines were long, 4 toilets for 400 runners… and it smelt like they were all using them. Thankfully I didn’t need to go but I couldn’t decide if I wanted to wait inside the heated (and stank) community center, or outside in the chilly air. I decided to hang out around the door where the warm air from in was flowing out.
It seemed like it was a blink of an eye and were lining up on a tiny side street in this beach town. Tia Bodington, RD, began her countdown. When she reached zero, she held up a piece of cardboard on it that said “Go!” and from there.. we were off. The mass of more than 400 runners took of running and made it a whole 30 yards. Then, we stood still and bottle-necked onto a bridge that dumped us onto the single track trail. From there.. it was a headlamp tramp winding it’s way up the switchbacks.. up.. and up.. and up what seemed like forever. It was neat to see the snake of lights above and below you.
There was so much conversation out there. I was tired, so annoyed. I pick up on things being said in the crowd and in my head give, “Oh really??” and “that’s BS,” and other personal comments. After a short while I stopped myself and my thoughts, and just took a few deep breaths. I don’t know why I was so angry or what the problem was. I was here to enjoy the experience. So a few more deep breaths and I listened again. I heard a lot of chatter about “qualifying for Western States” and this crowd of enthused California runners.. actually had me excited as well. Finish the run in 15:59:59 or less and I’ll qualify for Western States. A race that has once again changed it’s qualifying standards and a race.. that I might as well try and run again for that sub-24 hour buckle… the crowd did it.. they got me excited about it…
As we continued to climb the sun began to come out to the East. Our view was of the ocean to the west. I watched as the ocean and sky turned the same color which made it difficult to figure out which way was up and which way was down. The more the sun rose the more that was revealed in our surroundings. Soon, we found ourselves running across pristine, rockless-rootless, singletrack through high grassy meadows filled with wild flowers. You could hear the waves crashing on the beach and against the rocks and cliff sides, you could see towns, beaches and waves far below.. It truly was a sight to behold.
After finally reaching the ridge line of the Mount Tam area, we then took to the Redwood forest, running under incredibly old giants and their hanging beards of moss. Such an amazing place to run beneath the giants and wonder just how many rings one could count inside. At the north end for the ridge, we endur a quad busting downhill. It was steep for sure and I took my time so as to not blow out my quads. As we descend the hill I am careful to try and count just how many of the 500 starters are in front of me. By the time I reach the bottom and the Randall aid station, I surmised that I was in the top 100 runners. This excited me.
I found my drop bag and stooped down to refill my bottles and my pack. I knew from here it was a long way to Muir Beach where I’d next see my drop bags again. After giving attention to my needs, I snagged some fruit from the aid table and started walking uphill alongside a cowboy! This cat was rad. He wore a straw cowboy hat and was from Crested Butte, CO. This kid as a riot and we pulled and pushed each other up that climb. We took turns leading the way, trading spots and making as good time as we possibly good.
Once we reached the top I once again ran along the ridge. That down and up in and out of Randall was great at spreading the field out. I now found myself running around 3 or 4 other runners but despite there being 500 runners on the course, I was still relatively alone. I decided to just settle into the saddle, and let the miles roll on by.
I ended up making up what little time I had lost on that hill and the early miles inside the horde of runners on my way back across the ridge. We started to weave our way in and out of national park parking areas which led me to believe that we were now in Muir Woods. The course takes us on and over small sections of the famed Quad Dipsea course before shooting us up and down modest hills, to Muir Beach. As I ran along the valley roads towards Muir, I spotted a race volunteer dressed as a pirate. I couldn’t not get my picture taken with the guy, so I stopped for a selfie. As I left the cross walk he worked, I found another runner and we started conversation. Turned out he was local and accused me of cheating having come from elevation. He had a great sense of humor and filled me in on some of the history of the area and what the local running clubs enjoy running from time to time and even a place they stop for beer on night runs.
We make it to Muir Beach and the parking lot is loaded with runners and their crews. I grabbed a little soda and a bunch of fruit and took off running once again. We then ran through this really neat organic garden before once again climbing a relentless hill. I tagged a long an army guy who seemed to be an ultra-fan boy. He was a name dropper for sure, even mentioning that he knew Dean Karnazes. While I was enjoying his company, and the comedic value of the names he chose to drop (he obviously didn’t know me… who the hell am I anyway…) I had to let him go. So I put down the hammer once we topped out on the next climb and started running the next downhill.
As I made my way up and over, down into Tennessee Valley and out and up the other side again, it hit me. When I visited California in 2008, Alyssa knew I had wanted to run the Miwok 100K. So she took me running for 4 days and over the course of the 4 days.. she showed me most (if not all) of the Miwok 100K course. At this point I knew the way back towards the finish. It hit me that I knew the entire course before I even showed up and for that reason alone, I was incredibly comfortable all day out there.
It was incredibly easy to find my drop bags at Tennessee and I tended to my needs. It was getting hot now under a high noonish sun. I took stock of what I had left in my pack and what I had in my drop bag knowing that I’d return to this spot once again.
Up and over the next incline and the Golden Gate Bridge comes into view. I see Eric Lee, another Boulder runner, heading back towards the finish and figure he’s a good hour and a half ahead of me. He’s all smiles but I could tell he was ready to be done.. so was I. Things were finally starting to tighten up and my legs began to tire. My mind was with it. This was the first race I used Succeed Amino ONLY from start to finish and I had yet to bonk, fall into a haze, or lose focus. That stuff is amazing. I hit the Bridge View aid station with a whole group of runners. I had no idea where half these people had been all day. It was as if the main throng of runners was now closing in on me.. I wanted to pick it up.. I just needed to find the gas.
I took off from Bridge View slowly running downhill while I continued a systems check. I mowed down some gels and chews. Tried to eat fruit from the aid station and vurped here and there. This would end up being the lowest spot of the race for me. After I bottom out in the valley here, the climb back up before descending back into Tennessee Valley is grueling. It’s hot now, the wind is blocked by the hill sides and all of us runners together are roasting. There are only a few still running. I start to catch and pass runners who have crumbled and can barely walk uphill, others are coming up from behind running like they just started. It was the most diverse collection of runners I have seen at post 40 miles of a race ever and I loved it.
When I hit Tennessee Valley I start asking for the time. I had no clue where I was without my watch, and while that doesn’t bother me much.. I still wanted to break 13 hours. I start doing the math and figure that it’s going to be close if I can make it. So my stop at my drop bag is short, I grab what I need and get the heck out of there. I climb up the next hill out of Tennessee Valley and run the trails Alyssa and I ran on our best day together during my visit. I put my headphones in and listen to Imagine Dragons. As I climb higher on the hillside I can’t help but think of my lost friend.. and I cry.
After hitting the top I run high above the coastline. I see Keith Knipling from Virginia. He turns around and runs with me for a little bit, describing what’s ahead. I tell him to say hi to his pops for me and then he takes off looking for the runner he’s going to pace.. .his wife. Then I see Glenn Tachyama taking pictures along the seashore. His runner photos are second to none… maybe even better than Luis Escobar. I say hi to Glenn and thank him for being out there. Then.. I’m alone.. and pushing.. with the music blaring in my head.
Up and down, the course continues as it has all day except now, the hill repeats are truly starting to take their toll. I run down into Muir Beach and ask the time. I quickly refill my bottles, grab more fruit and soda and take off running albeit much slower than I had run through here before. There are moments where I feel 13 hours slipping away and I begin to doubt myself, then there are moments where I feel alive and strong and it comes reeling back in. I put my head down and just kept running.
After winding our way around the roads, we hit the climb known as Cardiac. This climb takes us from the valley, back to the top of Muir Woods. It is steep and the grade is ridiculous. It’s right up my wheelhouse, I love stuff like this. Hands on knees, crawling along. Runners pass me and I pass a few. But when I say pass..we’re like a herd of racing turtles. At the top we hit an aid station. The crew here was the best. Even though their station was open, the shoed all runners right out the door without even stopping. It’s all downhill to the finish from here. I ask the time.. it’s stll close.
I tried my best to find whatever gears I have left. I took time to talk to Alyssa and thank her.. and for also thanking her for being there with me today. I take my headphones off and resolve to listen to the wind, the ocean and the trees while I barrel ass down into Stinson Beach. The downhills through the red woods are still grueling. My quads are fried. Then there are small wooden steps that never seem to end, one after another after another for MILES (it seems). Then, you can hear the music playing, people cheering. I know I’m late.. but I still push..
The cut-off for the Miwok 100K is 16 hours. To qualify for the Western States 100, one just needs to finish in 15:59:59. I manage to come in at 13 Hours and 13 Minutes, good enough for 123rd place of 357 Finishers (500+ Starters). I am incredibly pleased that not only did I have the chance to run the Miwok 100K, but I finished with a great time, and in the top 3rd of what is typically a very competitive California Ultra Scene. (8th of 12 finishers from Colorado).
The Miwok 100K was everything I hoped it would be and so much more. The truth is, of the nearly 50 Ultras I’ve run, this was the most perfect race from top to bottom. The aid stations, volunteers, pre race, post race, shwag, the course, course markings, fellow runners, course marshalls, EMS.. you name it.. everything was top notch. This race is a not-to-miss run in Ultrarunning. Get there!
See you in Squaw??