Sunday, May 3, 2009

Miwok 100K race report - challenging conditions for a first 100K

I had been looking forward to this day for a long time. Sometime last year I decided that I really wanted to run the Miwok 100K race up in the Marin Headlands, and if I could get into it for 2009 I wanted it to be my first attempt at the distance. Not quite sure why I decided that, but I think part of it was it's reputation as a challenging course. It didn't hurt that it was near where I live, and finishers get a bottle of beer from Lagunitas Brewing Company. OK, who am I kidding, gettin the beer was the main reason I wanted to run this race, I admit it. But can you blame me???

My alarm went off at 3am, and I wasn't too enthralled to get out of bed. Fortunately the coffee was already brewed - I must say, I love having a coffeemaker with a timer! I got some toast going (thankfully the toaster-oven decided to work properly) and was out the door by 3:30am as planned. I confess to a few moments of anxiety on my way up to the race, worrying that I wouldn't make it in time for the start. Ahh, the joys of pre-race jitters! I made it in plenty of time, parked in the remote parking lot and grabbed a ride to the starting area from another runner. While finishing my last minute prep stuff Adam Blum, a fellow RhoQuick team member, came up to say hi. We chatted for a few minutes, then it was time to walk over to the start line on Rodeo Beach.

The temperature was pretty comfortable for 5:40am on the beach, warm enough for a light long sleeve shirt - there was a light breeze and it was foggy but not raining. Tia gave us a short spiel and off we went right on time. I found myself close to the front of the pack - making a mad dash across the sand to the far side of Rodeo Beach and the first of the day's climbs - primarily to avoid the bottleneck at the single track trail heading up to the road. I really hate waiting at bottlenecks in races and will run a little too fast to start off just to avoid them.

Once on the road I settled into a more comfortable pace and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the race. I love listening to snippets of conversations along the way and am fascinated by the variety of things people talk about while running. After a little while I heard someone call my name, and turned to see Pierre-Yves Couteau, another of my fellow Rhomobile/Quicksilver teammates who was running his first 100K race too. Pierre and I ran, chatted, and unfortunately missed the fabulous view of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco that is available on a clear day (or early morning, as it were). I'm 0-3 in this department, having run this area of the headlands in three different races and it's been socked in every time. I'm just gonna keep running races up there until I get a decent view. If it takes 20 damn years (I hope I can keep running that long)!

I took my leave of Pierre at the Tennessee Valley aid station (mile 11.9) as I had to answer the call of nature, which is one call I do not like to miss, avoid, screen, or have the answering machine pick up. Particularly in a race. Fortunately I was in and out quickly, and back on the trail. Right away I ran into Keith Blom, another member of the Quicksilver running club (we had 6 club members running the race) and we ran together for awhile. By this time I had warmed up and took off my long sleeve shirt and was running with a t-shirt and my team singlet. I was running comfortably, and blew through the Muir Beach aid station (mile 16), taking time only to get my water bottle refilled and grab a pb&j square.

The climb up to the Pan Toll aid station (mile 21.7) is the biggest climb of the race, gaining around 1,600' over a little less than 6 miles. It's not a killer climb from a steepness perspective, it just goes on for awhile. I didn't want to push too hard, knowing there was still plenty of running to do, so I took a few walk breaks here and there especially on the occasional steeper sections. Again, once at the aid station, I took only enough time to refill a water bottle and grab a little to eat. On my way out Victoria and Steve said hi - they had come out to pace some friends.

The next section between Pan Toll and Bolinas Ridge aid station (mile 28.4) had its own challenges. It's a very exposed section of the trail, right out on the coastal hills. When clear there is a wonderful view of the Pacific Ocean up and down the coast, and the wildflowers (what I could see of them) were blooming all over. Today it was foggy, very windy in areas, and it started to rain. On top of that, the trail is very narrow and within 10 minutes my shoes, socks and feet were soaking wet from the grass hanging over the sides of the trail. I pulled over near a big rock outcropping to dig out my sleeves, as I was beginning to get a bit cold, and also to get a Vespa out of my pack, as I had forgotten to drink one at Pan Toll, and it was time. After a while, it started to rain, though fairly lightly.

Soon enough I saw some motivational signs and heard cheers, and knew the Bolinas Ridge aid station was coming up. A little before the aid station, though, I came up on Sean Lang, yet another of my RhoQuick teammates. I knew this was not a good sign, as Sean is much faster than I am. He was noticeably limping, and I checked in with him to see if there was anything I could do. He had re-injured his calf, and was planning to drop at one of the upcoming aid stations.

A few minutes later the Bolinas Ridge aid station appeared and I pulled in and handed my water bottle to a familiar face and one of my ultra mentors - Carol Cuminale. We chatted for a few moments while I grabbed a couple things from the smorgasbord, then got back on the trail to the turnaround at the Randall Trail aid station (mile 35.6). This section took us along a ridge and followed a fire road. It started off with rolling hills, nothing too big, steep, or long. In no time I came up on Adam Blum, who was running strong. The rain had picked up by this time, the temperature began to drop, and I had to eventually dig my rain jacket out of my pack. Not to stay dry, as I was already soaked, but to keep warm. I also grabbed my gloves because my fingers just weren't working well, and that made it hard to get to the supplies I needed on a regular basis - electrolyte pills and food.

After a couple miles the front runners started going by on their way back. Most of them looked pretty focused, and who wouldn't be running at the pace those folks run at. I enjoy cheering on other runners while at races, and this was no different. Some are so into their own thing that they really don't even acknowledge you, but many have a kind word of encouragement in return. Caitlin Smith, the 3rd place female and 10th place overall finisher, whizzed by clad in shorts and a sports bra! I chuckled to myself and wondered if she wasn't just a little bit cold at that point.

The final couple miles to the turnaround are downhill. I hit the aid station in 5:55, and did my standard quick stop, just long enough to fill a bottle and grab something to eat. Adam had come in moments before me, but had to take a pit stop so I got out of there ahead of him. I kept expecting him to catch up to me, but he never did. I found out later he had dropped due to a tight calf. No sense in pushing things too far in a race like this one and ending up with a long-term injury.

Leaving the turnaround aid station I felt good, and knowing that I was more than halfway to finishing made me feel even better. While the conditions had progressively gotten more challenging, I felt that barring some unfortunate incident, I was going to finish this thing.

Well, on an out-and-back course, what goes down must go back up. And since we had gone down to the turnaround, back up I went. I walked much of the trail back up to the ridge, but did run some of the "flatter" sections. But once back on the ridge I picked it back up. It was nice to be able to see the rest of the runners, and I took the opportunity to give as many as possible encouraging words. I saw quite a few familiar faces, which is always one of the great things about these types of courses. I even had an opportunity to "meet" a couple people I had only previously known through either reading their blog or through Facebook. Kinda cool.

I came back to the Bolinas Ridge aid station (mile 42.8) and received some wonderful support from the volunteers there (actually, all the volunteers were fantastic, going out of their way to help). They helped me get some supplies out, and put em back, which was huge since taking off my gloves and resealing ziplocks was not the easiest of tasks. I thanked the wonderful volunteers profusely, grabbed a little food from the table, said hi to Carol and hit the trail.

Back out on the narrow single track along the coastal bluffs, the trail itself had degraded by this time due to all the runners, the rain, and mud. A couple sections had really been eroded, especially on the downhill side and made footing and traction very difficult. These sections were walked and negotiated with the utmost care, as sliding down the hill was not something I wanted to experience. The wind was pretty brutal here, too. At times it was blowing around and driving rain directly in my face, causing salt that had built up on my face from sweating to run into my eyes! Damn, it that doesn't constitute a 1-2-3 punch combo, I don't know what does.

It was on this section that I first came up on Rick Gaston. I had met Rick at Quad Dipsea last November, though had been reading his blog for some time. Rick is a strong runner, and I was surprised to have caught up to him. I asked how he was doing, to which he replied "Oh, I'm fine, but my legs are dead right now. Probably not recovered from Diablo." Yeah, I would imagine (at least in my case). He ran the PCTR Diablo 50 mile race a couple Sundays previous, a tough race with over 13,000' of elevation gain and loss. Oh, and the temps that day hit the 90's! He stepped aside to let me pass, telling me I was looking good, running strong, and to keep it up.

I was beginning to tire a bit at this point, my pace slowed some. I didn't remember so much uphill along this section, and was happy to roll into Pan Toll again at mile 49.5. From here, there was a nice section of downhill, and I could use that to keep up a good pace and recover a bit. Rick and I had traded places a couple times by this point, and he mentioned to me that I shouldn't hammer this downhill too hard, as it could really wipe the legs out and with a few nice climbs still to go, you need them for the finish. I heeded his advice, but still managed to run a good pace.

Not far from the Hwy. 1 crossing/aid station (mile 54.7) Rick and I were running a lot closer on a consistent basis. He mentioned to me, "I don't know what it is, but every time you pass me, I get re-energized and pick up the pace, It's not an ego thing, but I just feel better!" So Rick paced off me for a while, but I was pacing off him, too. We talked as we went, and somewhere along the way I told him this was my first attempt at the 100K distance and that my big goal was to see if I could finish in under 11 hours. A couple miles later, as we were approaching the Tennessee Valley aid station (mile 58.4), Rick looks at me and said, "I don't mean to put any pressure on you, take it how you want, but if you keep up this pace for the final 5 or so miles, you can make it under 11. I think you should go for it."

Well, it turns out we both went for it. Rick and I "put our heads down" and went to work. We blew through the Tennessee Valley aid station without stopping, and ran as much as we could. While there were still some good climbs to negotiate, and we walked those, we ran the flats and downhills. I was pretty spent at this point, and can honestly say that if Rick was not there with me I would not have finished in under 11 hours. He pulled me up those final climbs and kept me motivated to keep going, just by keeping going himself. The final mile or so is downhill to the finish at Rodeo Beach, and Rick had pulled ahead of me on the final climb and the downhill. I was glad, because it really forced me to run harder to try to catch up to him. I couldn't, but I tried and by virtue of that I crossed the line in under my goal - 10:58:26!

Tia, the race director, greeted me as she did all finishers, with a congratulations and a finishers medal around my neck. Pierre was right there, too, having finished 5 or so minutes before me. I immediately went over to Rick to say thanks for the company and help in achieving my goal. I was elated, and tired. And a little dazed. I wandered around for a few minutes, and eventually grabbed my drop bag so I could get some warm, dry clothes on. I grabbed some food and sat down by a heater they had set up in the finish area food tent. It felt great to sit, eat, and talk with other runners.

I hung around for a little while, enjoying the scene, but eventually it was time to go. I got my finishers' goodie bag (some nice stuff too - the previously mentioned beer from Lagunitas Brewing Company, a hat and technical shirt from Brooks, a water bottle from Montrail, a pint glass with the Miwok 100K logo, and all of it in a nice cloth bag with the Miwok 100K logo! Sweet! I grabbed the rest of my stuff, and headed out to the remote parking lot. I walked, and it felt good. About 6 or 7 cars stopped to offer me a ride, and many of them were surprised when I declined. But I wanted to walk, as I believe in active recovery and this was a good time to start.

The ride home was uneventful, if a bit uncomfortable. Though the drive home from races is always uncomfortable, as sore muscles make it hard to sit for any length of time. I made it home just in time to go stand in the San Lorenzo River for about 15 minutes, my version of an ice bath to help reduce swelling and speed recovery. It works, too.

I couldn't be happier with my first 100K experience. I liked the course, and the inclement weather just added to the challenge and the story of the day. This will be one race to remember, and I'm sure many will talk about it for years to come. I came in 47th place out of 260 finishers; while 322 started, which worked out to an 81% finish rate, the second lowest finish rate in the races' 14 year history. My overall pace was 10:35/mile. My pace for the first 35.6 (to the turnaround) was 9:58/mile; my pace for the final 26.5 miles works out to 11:27/mile. Not too bad, considering it was my first try at the distance and the tough conditions.

Thanks to Tia for a great job organizing the race, and to the many sponsors who contributed to make the race possible. The volunteers, though, were all incredible. They endured conditions miserable to have to stand around in all day, just to help a bunch of crazy mofo's run up and down muddy trails all day long. And they did it with a smile and a willingness to go out of their way to help us out! My heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you for your time, cheerfulness and support.

Sorry I don't have any pictures, but I've been boycotting bringing the camera along, and I'm especially glad I did that for this race. I'm sure it would have been ruined if I had brought it along. And thanks to those of you still reading this "ultra" report. Since the race was so long, I figured it deserved a long report. I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed the race! :-)