A little behind in my posting here given that I've another race report to write from yesterday! But first here's my account of a (mostly) wonderful running experience on May Day 2010.
It’s pretty common a few days after a race for me to think about how much I’d like to do it again the next year. But I have to say that long before the finish line of Miwok 100K I was already mentally adding the calendar reminder for the lottery entry. Yes, it really is that cool of a race. The beach start, the scenery throughout the entire course, the people, the trails, the climbs, the downhill finish... everything about this race makes me want to run it again. Not to mention the areas for improvement.
Best laid plans
On the day, I was certainly happy with my finish. But it wasn’t what I had hoped for when I got my spot last December. I’d put in good miles but not enough hill work. Definitely not enough core work. And in the past few weeks too much travel, too much junk food and not enough sleep. I had spent two weeks in Ireland immediately prior to the race. I’d had hopes of getting in some good training that first few days back home but that got rudely interrupted by a volcano in Iceland which had me traveling for an additional 30 hours and pretty wrecked for the first few days of my trip. Though still well able to enjoy a wonderful weekend with family and friends. That was followed by a pretty busy week of work in Galway and catching a cold along the way. I’d run a 10 mile trail run and my right foot had bothered me almost the entire way. I’ve been dealing with numbness under the ball of the foot for a few months now but every so often the whole foot goes numb, and then my ankle and leg start to feel like they are full of fluid. It doesn’t actually look swollen but just feels that way. Anyway, enough whining. Things I could have controlled such as eating rubbish every day were just as much to blame for my lack of enthusiasm leading up to the race. Thankfully, the second weekend at home, a week before the race, I had gotten out for a fabulous mostly off-road 10 mile run. Sun shining, peace and quiet, just the ragged looking mountain sheeps for company... I knew with every step of that run I was absolutely getting on the plane for San Francisco. First I had to get on the plane back to the US and that all went a little smoother on the return journey. A few days in MN and then off to California Friday morning. I had time to check out the start/finish area and enjoy some of the amazing scenery I'd be running through the next day...
Miwok 100K: This huge race is of course going on in California today and I had to laugh when I read the live update: "Tony Krupicka just arrived at the start with Jen Shelton." What is this, the Oscars? I was hoping for an update on who Helen Lavin arrived with, but no such luck.
SLG posted this on her blog and it made me laugh too as the Oscars was exactly what I was thinking lining up on the beach among this star-studded cast many of whom I recognized from the pages of UltraRunning magazine. On the early out and back sections it was fun to see all of front runners settling into position and then later past the halfway point seeing who was still up here in the mix.
It never always doesn’t get better
Things started out just fine. Still a little dark with the 5:40AM start, we trotted up the trail from the beach at Rodeo Lagoon in a long line of 300+ runners and out onto the road after a few minutes. Up a paved road for a mile or more to a turnaround and back down, enjoying the first of the many amazing views of the day with the Golden Gate Bridge off to the right and the sleeping city beyond it. The bridge looked unbelievably beautiful in the dawn hour. Soon we were off road again and onto the Costal Trail before another short road section and then back on the trail and uphill to the second turnaround. This was a nice climb that I ran most of. Just as on the road out and back we got to see the top runners coming against us. A sight almost as glorious as the famous bridge.
Back down and we were already at the first AS at Bunker Road (6.2M) – no need to stop here as I had plenty of water. Heading north now and onto the grassy Rodeo Valley Trail and then the first of the real climbing started with some walking as we headed up the Bobcat Trail. At the top we could see across towards Sausalito and north along Highway 101. And then as we turned again towards the coast, the first of the steep descents... down, down, down the Miwok Trail which is mostly a dirt/gravel road surface. I guess they are called fire roads but I associate that term with grassier trails from the races I’ve done in Virginia whereas out here it was mostly dusty, slightly rocky terrain. Onto Old Springs Trail for yet more downhill, dropping almost 800ft in total by the time we arrived at Tennessee Valley AS (11.9M). I was feeling good all along here but it was still so early in the race. My foot felt a little numb coming down Miwok but it wasn’t bothering me. I’d taken a gel before hitting this AS and then refilled with water and nuun. Onto a road section for a half mile or so and then we were climbing once more as we met up with the Costal Trail again. There is an amazing myriad of trails here! Not a huge climb, maybe 400ft, on a packed dirt surface. Spectacular views from the top and soon we were descending again. It was difficult to keep my eyes off the ocean but the trail was narrow in places and while not technical it still requires concentration. The field had pretty much spread out around me at this point. I knew from the early out and back sections I was in about 20th place among the females. Going into the race I had abandoned my January goal of top 10 but I was still been hoping to get closer to that. Still, I didn’t want to get too wrapped up in those thoughts so early in the race. I’d been feeling good and wanted to enjoy just being out there on these beautiful trails. Well, within about five minutes of thinking that, things started to go wrong. My foot was still a little numb and my toes were a painful on and off but more than that I just felt so tired. The trail was winding in and out along the bluffs with some climbing but not much. But even those little climbs seemed to be taking a lot out of me. My lungs felt great, stomach ok but my legs just felt done. I couldn’t believe it after not even 15 miles... I wasn’t even thinking about the distance still to go. It was mostly wondering how could I feel this awful after only a few hours out here. I wasn’t wearing a watch and didn’t want to know the time until at least the turnaround but I was beginning to think it might be a very, very long day. I kept wanting to just stop and lie down in the grass looking out towards the ocean. What a lovely day it would be for that! I tried to think of Susan’s text message... enjoy, happy, lucky... except I didn’t feel happy, I wasn’t enjoying myself. I felt tried and slow and fat. I was walking any chance I got. And then I fell. I was on a narrow trail through a meadow high above the ocean and completely not concentrating. It was the best thing that could have happened. I’d been half wanting my foot to get worse so I could have an excuse to drop out but the fall, which almost sent me rolling down the hill, woke me up. I had a little talk with myself – good thing nobody was close behind – and got moving. Like, actually running, quite fast. I decided I hadn’t come all this way to feel sorry for myself just because the race wasn’t going as I would have liked. I was here. I was lucky to be here. I love running long distances. It would get better. It always gets better.
Soon the trail started to descend towards the Muir Beach AS (16.0M) where I took another gel and refilled water. Helped myself to some fruit and a few pretzels and walked out of the AS trying to tell myself I wasn’t really feeling that bad. Scott Jurek was cheering on runners here which was pretty cool. And having read his interview in Runner’s World recently I was actually kind of motivated by seeing him. There was a small group of us leaving the AS together so I kept with them as we meandered through the mostly flat few miles on the Redwood Creek Trail. I have to say this was my least favourite section of the course. I was getting my head back into the running but it wasn’t very interesting along here long grass on either side of the narrow trail was a little annoying. We crossed a road and headed up Deer Park Fire Road... and I immediately regretted not enjoying the flat terrain. Up, up and up... merging with Costal Fire Road and more uphill! For much of this section we were on a trail parallel to the Dipsea trail. I can see why that race is so appealing. A total gain of ~1500ft over a few miles. Fun indeed. Finally, it leveled off somewhat as we continued along the rolling Old Mine Trail towards the Pan Toll AS (21.7M). Boy, was I glad to get here. I’d started to walk more than I needed to again and was very happy to hear that the next section was much nicer with little climbing. I remembered from the altitude profile that after the first really significant climb there was a few miles of flat before the major descent to the turnaround. I needed to enjoy this section!
We entered the woods and back onto the Costal Trail. This section was beautiful – probably the closest to local trails here in MN – winding through the woods on hard packed dirt trails. Some technical sections but mostly very runnable. Ken from Toronto passed my along here and we would see a lot of each other over the next few hours. Life was looking better with each step. The sun was filtering in through the trees and before long we were out on the ridge as the narrow trail meandered through meadow, in and out and up and down, for the next few miles. I was feeling so much stronger along here and the views of the ocean were majestic. After a short road section we were back on the costal trail and descending towards another short wooded section. This section was the longest so far at close to 7 miles but it felt shorter than the previous two!
I arrived at Bolinas Ridge AS (28.4M) a lot happier than I had imagined a few hours earlier. I had passed a girl a while back and maybe a guy but I was mostly running by myself. No music on this run, I didn’t feel like any distractions today. I was getting curious about my time but decided I’d wait until the next AS to ask. We’d started at 5:40AM and I figured the turnaround which was at around 35 miles could be considered halfway in terms of time. Knowing I’d lost some time in my late morning stupor I was hoping to get there in around 6 hours with a goal of 12 hours and possibly 11:30 if things continued to go well. After a water refill at Bolinas I was off again along the wide dirt trail. Some rocky sections and rolling ups and downs. I figured I’d be meeting the front runners before long. Before that I met Gary Robbins who had dropped and was heading back towards the AS. His race report is a good account of how tough it is to make that decision. Soon enough along came Anton, followed a few minutes later by Hal Koerner. The next few guys I didn’t recognize but looking at the results they mostly maintained these positions through the finish. Kami Semick looked super strong leading the women’s race and next Devon Crosby-Helms and others followed. They were all so friendly, particularly Jenn Shelton who’s smile probably betrayed how she was feeling as she dropped from third to eight place over the remaining miles. The fire road had entered the woods by now and the softer terrain continued to roll along with mostly runnable hills. About 5 miles in we took a left onto Randall Trail and down we went along this old, rutted fire road, switchbacks all the way, 1.7 miles to the aid station at the bottom. I hit the turnaround at Randall AS (35.6M) just behind another girl figuring from the female count that I was in 16th place. Not so bad. After refilling and a few cups of coke I asked the time before starting the ~1000ft climb out of here. 11:50AM. Cool – 6:10 on the clock. A little behind what I hoped but that was okay. Nothing much I could do on this uphill other than stay focused and try to maintain good form. I didn’t attempt to run any of this. A few passed by but I was sort of enjoying the break and looking forward to running once we hit Bolinas Ridge Fire Road again. And run I did – feeling strong on the rolling terrain and swapping places with Ken and another guy many times along here. A lady with an English accent passed me – I ran behind her and her friend for about a mile but knew their pace was just a touch too fast for me at that point. I was very impressed to see she finished 9 minutes ahead of me.
Got back through Bolinas Ridge AS (42.8M) – refilled water and took off through the nice wooded section and before long back out on the high meadows. Ocean views off to the right now. It was pretty hot in the afternoon sun now but there was a light breeze every time the trail turned out towards the sea. I had pulled down my arm-warmers by now and would leave them in my drop-bag at the next aid station. By the time we ran the short road section and the volunteer said it was a little under 3 miles to Pan Toll, I was feeling it in my legs again. But I knew it was under a half marathon from there and we would be cutting out some of the early hills to get back to the finish line a different way. Of course, I would find out later those hills would be replaced with bigger hills. But for right now I was keeping positive about how fast I could finish! I was running by myself all along here though every so often as the trail turned I could see a few guys up ahead. But no women. Darn. There were lots of hikers along this section also and for the most part they were very friendly and stepped off the trail for the runners. It was such a narrow trail in places, and cut into a steep slope that often the hikers could only turn to the side to let us by. I was feeling pretty bad for these folk who had come out here for a beautiful hike in the sunshine only to have it rudely interrupted every few minutes. That was until I came up behind this group of four hikers and while three of them stepped to the side this one guy stood in the middle of the trail with his back to me, telling me to go by in a not very friendly tone, knowing full well I couldn’t get around him. Eventually he half moved and I got by biting my tongue to say nothing more than a thank you. Didn’t have the energy to waste it being annoyed and since we were the ones messing up their day I left it behind. Happily this section seemed a little kinder than the outward journey and I was hoping to reach Pan Toll with about 8:40 on the clock thinking that possibly I could still try to finish in 11 hours. That was a bit ambitious given how slow the hike out of Randall had been. I got there just behind a few of the guys and as I was grabbing a few things from my drop bag I asked the time – 2:30PM. Closer to 8:50 then depending on how close to 5:40AM we’d started – I was hoping of course that we might have started a little late...
Retracing our steps for a few more miles, we had some gentle downhill along Old Mine Trail and onto Coastal Fire Road before the huge drop down Deer Park Fire Road. I caught up with Ken again here but once we started climbing on the next section he was gone. We crossed the paved road and were back on the Redwood Creek Trail that I wasn’t so keen on earlier. I’d been trying to figure out when the course would change knowing that we didn’t return to Muir Beach. Soon enough we came to a left turn. As it happens there were a few hikers sitting on a rock here and told us ‘our gang’ weren’t far ahead. They were sending us straight saying that some people had just gone by that way but the pink markers were turning left. After a moment of indecision we turned left. Very odd especially to hear later that it’s that junction where most people do miss the left turn and here we had people innocently trying to send us the wrong way. We were back on the Miwok Trail now and it soon climbed up and out onto a ridge. I passed a lady and her pacer here and soon a few guys also with pacers. There was another girl just ahead and I passed her but then almost straight away got a sharp pain in my middle back and had to stop for a bit to stretch it out. I continued along a few hundred yards behind the girl as the trail rolled up and down for the next mile. It was hard packed dirt road again now and we were reaching the top with vistas out over the Mill Valley area. I knew we must be getting close to the next aid station now and was in need of a coke boost. I’d been taking gels every 40-50 minutes, nuun tabs in my water bottle and a few salt pills every so often, coke and pretzels at the aid stations. My stomach had been good for most of the day but every so often I felt a little nauseous. I was drinking more now though especially with the warmer temps and the climbing. Got to the Hwy 1 AS (54.7M) and checked the time. 3:30PM. I was pretty happy to have covered a little over 5 miles in the hour especially as my back was really tight on any downhills. I had no clue what was causing it as I’d never had a pain there while running. I suppose a combination of the hilly terrain and my lack of core strengthening. Someday I’ll be disciplined enough to do it. I left the aid station just behind the other girl, walked for a bit up the hill and then got back into a decent rhythm for the next section of dirt road as we approached the steepest downhill of the course along Fox Trail. We’d climbed up from Tennessee Valley earlier that morning on a parallel trail which was a good thing as bad and all going down this hill was I could not have imagined coming up. I passed the girl on the downhill but even at that it was too steep to really make up any time so I knew it was going to be close to 11:30 than 11 hours at this stage. Down onto the paved road and up the half mile to Tennessee Valley AS (58.4M) once again. 4:12PM meaning I had about an hour to cover the final 3.8 miles and finish in 11:30. Sounds very doable right? Until I remembered the downhill to get to this aid station that morning. Though it wasn’t actually too bad and I was able to run some of it. But I knew the course had to turn south at the top rather than where we had come from that morning, in order to head back to Rodeo Beach. I optimistically thought maybe there’d be a trail that cut right through the hills... and then half way up I looked over to the right across the valley and saw runners high above on the trail making their way around the headland back to Rodeo Beach. Before long I was turning right onto Miwok once again and then right onto the steeper than hell Wolf Ridge Trail. Or at least that’s what it felt like at mile 60. Checking the watch regularly and looking over the shoulder more than once. Finally the top and the paved bike trail down the other side. The finish line was visible now, and the beach where we had started, and more fabulous views of the Pacific Ocean. It really was glorious running down that trail. And then a slight uphill with a serious headwind before a final section of the Costal Trail – the rocky stairs probably the most technical section of the day. Down around what seemed like too many turns and finally the finish line. 11:20:14, 13th Female, 63rd overall.
It was a glorious day to wander along the trails in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Mt. Tamalpais State Park. The race was superbly well organized, the course well marked and the volunteers very helpful. The views really are breathtaking and enough to carry you through the roughest patches. I would highly recommend this race to anyone, especially if you haven’t run in this area before.
Kurt posted a great video clip of the lead guys mid-way through the race on his blog.
And here's me at the finish, the altitute profile, one of the many goodie bag items, and a few pics from the race website...