The Miwok 100K is a popular ultra in the ultra world. It attracts some of the top ultra runners in the nation. A lottery is held in December to select the race entrants, since only a limited number of runners can participate in the trail race. I was really happy to get in! And I knew I had a lot of work to do to prepare myself for the brutality of 62+ miles in the Marin Headlands. This was my Boston Marathon, and my plan was to train as well as I could for it, without sacrificing too much family time in the process. After all, I still have a little baby and a toddler to help care for!
When it came to race day, I was happy with my preparations. Under my training belt, I had two training runs of 30+ miles, three 20+ mile runs, and a lot of hilly trail miles! I felt confident in my abilities to finish. If all went well, I honestly believed that I could finish the course in 15 hours. I also knew that if anything bad happened, I would need to refocus my efforts to simply finish before the time cutoffs and complete the race within the allotted 16.5 hours. This was all based on my previous ultra experiences in the Marin Headlands, and an analysis of previous Miwok race reports and runners' finishing times. The Miwok 100K course was changed this year, and it ended up a lot more difficult than any of us imagined.
In the first 2.5 miles, we get to climb our first mountain! 1800 feet, straight up. I've hiked tougher hills, but hiking up a tough hill right at the start of a race put some extra strain on the body! If you got in line to go up the mountain with the fast crowd, you might find yourself climbing at even a greater effort. Thankfully, I fell in with the slower crowd, and climbed up the mountain at a slug's pace (about 20-22 minute miles). But even at the slow pace, my legs were feeling some stress, mainly because they weren't properly warmed up!
The moon was beautiful over the breathtaking sea. The moon was a shade of orange-red, like a giant blood orange hanging in the sky. The morning couldn't have been any more beautiful. My camera's battery died after a few pictures. With the tough course, I probably needed to focus on the race anyway, so I put my camera away and just took mental snapshots of all the beautiful sights and sounds the day had to offer. The pictures included here were taken by Brett Rivers and Irving Bennett, who graciously posted their pictures on Facebook.
With the Hoka One One shoes, I felt confident that I could bomb down a few hills and be fine. After all, I had a successful 35 mile training run in them, and my legs felt great afterward. Then again, my 35 mile training run wasn't as brutal as this Miwok course! I bombed down a few hills and felt really good, but I could tell by some slight cramping in my calves and quads that I needed to tone down my little wild downhill escapades. I was also convinced that the first climb had caused some leg problems that only began to surface later in the race.
There was also a camber to a section of trail that caused a few ankle rolls, that because an unsettling theme to my race. I had rolled my ankles a few times in my training, so I knew they were a bit weak to begin with. I lost count of how many times I rolled my ankles at Miwok.
I was hiking the ups and running the downs strongly up until mile 20, when my legs started cramping a little. I switched to a run-walking strategy that has worked well for me in the past. I simply took walking breaks whenever my legs felt tired, even on the downhills. It kept my legs fresh, and I ran well, when I did run. Despite the tough hills, I was still smiling, and having a blast after 35 miles.
It was the upcoming hills that took the wind out of my sails. Mentally, I was not prepared for the brutality of this set of hills (after the Muir Beach Aid Station at mile 35) in the open heat of the day. If you think any hills are bad, try hiking up the same hills in the heat of the day, after logging 35 miles. Even small hills will turn into mountains. And one of the worst parts of these hills were how they teased you with their false summits!
The next aid station, at Tennessee Valley (~Mile 39), I felt totally beat up and demoralized. Just the thought of another hill scared the crap out of me. I didn't feel like eating or drinking. I sat down trying figure out what to do next. I must have looked terrible too. The volunteers took turns trying to help me. One volunteer gave me some ginger pills. When I tried washing them down with water, I gagged and threw up. I felt horrible. I asked the volunteers to drop there, in a half-hearted whiny way, but the volunteers didn't let me. They convinced me to eat something and just keep moving. After all, you never know when you might get a second wind. I was grateful for all their help and attention. When I felt well enough to walk again, I walked out of the aid station.
I prayed for a miracle. I prayed for a second wind. But my second wind never came. I had to take breaks even from walking, and slowly trudged to the next aid station, where I knew I would have to drop. Each time I sat down runners would pass me. And every one of them encouraged me to keep going. I was very moved by every runner that lent me a hand and encouraged me to "keep on, keeping on". I had some really negative thoughts during these 5 miles. I was ready to quit running. My faith in God wavered. I felt lost and forsaken.
A volunteer (aid station captain) came out on the trails to walk me in to the aid station. I sat there for quite a while, waiting for ride back to the finish line area.
I found out that a lot of people struggled in this race, and that the race had closer to 13000 feet of elevation gain, and measured a bit long at 63.6 miles. Of the 354 runners that started the race, 90 runners did not finish. Many of the runners who did not finish were faster and more consistent than I am. Surprisingly, no one really complained. We all knew we were lucky to be a part of this epic race, whether we finished or not.
Its been hard for me these last two weeks. I feel lost. And it was extremely difficult to compose this race report. The Miwok 100K is like a cool girl I fell in love with, who broke my heart. And even though I know deep down, that it wasn't meant to be, it's still so hard to let go. Okay, so maybe its not that dramatic, but I'm sure you get the picture. I think I need a new sweetheart race to focus on. And Miwok 100K, I know you didn't mean to break my heart. Can we at least be friends?
Cool race reports from runners who finished this race:
Sarah Lavender Smith
For an awesome video of the course and the lead runners: