Date : May 6, 2006
Location : Marin Headlands
Race : Miwok 100K
Finish Time : 15:42:10
Bodies huddling in the dark,
Waiting for the race to start.
Within each that intense spark
To scale the race course rampart.
Braving brutally long hills;
Running against the race clock;
Gels, drinks, Fritos and salt pills
And that constant taking stock
Of the body and the mind.
The indomitable will
To leave the long miles behind
Moving the hurt body still.
Seen pain in all its faces
While running these long races.
The Miwok 100K course was most certainly one of the hardest courses I have ever traversed.
The middle miles, Pan Toll to Bolinas Ridge, were a welcome respite from the quad busting climbs. I’m getting ahead of myself here so let me rewind.
The alarm went off at 2:15 a.m. Time to get up and face the latest challenge. Went through my usual morning tasks before leaving home at 3:20 a.m. to pick up Anil Rao from his place. What can I say about this amazing individual? He insisted on pacing me from mile 42 (pacers were only allowed from this point onwards) and in order to do so, he asked the race director, Tia Bodington, to assign him there. He accompanied me to the start on Rodeo Beach and helped me with all my pre-race preparations which included putting on my gaiters and filling up my bottles with Gatorade and my fuel belt pouches with gels and candied mango/ginger.
I ran into Charlie at the start and had Anil take a picture of us. I met Charlie in the Helen Klein 50 miler back in November, 2005 and had run 4-5 miles with him then. Learned that he had been selected to run for the Western States 100 miler in June of this year. I met him again on April 1 in the American River 50 and he had lost a whole lot of weight! He had been training like a dog for WS and that showed in his 8:48 finish in the AR50.
The race started a bit late, at about 5:45 a.m. We ran across the beach for 300 yards for our first climb, a short 0.25 miles. There were so many runners that the ones at the back, including me, came to a standstill a la highways that narrow from 2-3 lanes to 1-2. Finally we got our turn to ascend the slope. A half mile in and we were soon climbing again. The sun was starting to poke its head above the horizon and we were rewarded with our first view of the beautiful Golden Gate bridge. I spent a few minutes taking pictures of this most beautiful of sights.
The next 2-3 miles were spent chatting with Flora Krivac-Tetley. I had met her in the Helen Klein 50 and then again in the Dec 17 Rodeo Beach 50K where she was the sweeper i.e. assigned the duty of picking up the trail markers behind the last runner(s). I also met Becky Johnson who was using Miwok as a springboard for the Western States. Also met a runner from Minnesota named Les who had completed 239 marathon and ultra marathon races including a staggering 24 100Ks and 24 100 milers! Flora and I finally settled into a sort of rhythm. A friend of hers, Julian, kept joining us now and then. We finally got into the Tennessee Valley aid station (11.9 miles). There was a climb again after the station. This climb took us past Pirates Cove and then down to Muir Beach. I took some more pictures of the fantastic view from the top. Had Julian, Flora and Becky pose too. The picture below is a view of Muir Beach.
By now Flora had been left behind a bit and I was in step with Julian and a runner named Cheri. She works with a lot of Indians and had been to Chennai and New Delhi and was very complimentary about Indians. She even remarked that her fellow Indian workers treated her as though she had brains!
We paced each other for the next few miles until I had to stop to answer Nature’s call. This part of the course, though flat, ran through a lot of overgrown weeds and plants. I paid the price, around mile 17, when stinging nettle/thistle brushed against my left thigh. The pain was immediate and excruciating. I struggled with it for the next mile which incidentally was the first mile of a brutal 4 mile climb up to Pan Toll. This climb was interminably long. We finally crested Pan Toll and I availed myself of some more goodies at this aid station (mile 21.7). I knew that I would meet Anil at the next aid station (Bolinas Ridge at mile 28.4). By now I had been doing number crunching in my head. The start of the Pan Toll climb had come 4:17 into the race at mile 17.4. The first cutoff was at mile 35.6 in 8:40. That meant that I had to cover the next 19.2 miles in 4:23. Felt confident that I would make it but that faint sliver of doubt refused to go away.
The 6.7 mile stretch between Pan Toll and Bolinas Ridge was one of the most beautiful trails I have ever run. I was 1400 feet above the ocean (to my left on this outbound section). I could not take my eyes off the view. The path was lined with beautiful flowers on both sides. I spent many minutes taking pictures of the view and of the lovely flowers. This stretch of the course was extremely relaxing. The climbs were neither long nor steep. It was a welcome respite from the extended climbs I had left behind me.
The spectators were lined 10 deep along this course. Cheering madly and wild with excitement, they picked up my spirits as did the strange upside down wreck of a car along the trail.
This was the section (about mile 44 on the way back) when I started seeing the lead runners on way back. Among them was Scott Jurek (http://www.scottjurek.com/), a 7-time winner of Western States. They were 18 miles ahead of me!!!
I soon ran into the Bolinas Ridge aid station (mile 28.4) where I met up with Anil. This kind soul made me drink half a bottle of Ensure. That was like manna from heaven! He had me out of that aid station soon enough asking me to come back in 3 hours. I had 7.2 miles to go to the turnaround. The first 5 miles were rolling hills. This is where Gordy Ainsleigh (picture below), the inspiration behind the Western States, caught up with me and chatted with me for 3-4 minutes. This is when I asked him about the story behind the WS race. He told me that he had run the 100 miles with his horses back in 1973. He had placed Gatorade (that’s all they had in those days) a few days earlier along the course using his motorbike. Except for one location, each point where he had placed Gatorade is a WS aid station today!
I met Chihping Fu on his way back (mile 42 for him) along this stretch. The most wonderful thing about ultra running is the constant encouragement that runners give each other, elite or not. I was encouraged by all the runners going past me in the opposite direction. I encouraged them too in turn. Met Yuki Negoro here too. He had gotten lost and was trying to make up for lost time. The last 1.5 mile descent to the turnaround (mile 35.6) was brutally steep and it took a toll on my quads, something that would hamper me in the last 10 miles. I made it to the cutoff 8:18 into the race (22 minutes to spare). I started the long climb back up in a few minutes and met Flora and then Becky, both of who looked relieved to have made it to the cutoff in time. This section of the climb was absolutely breezeless. Not a leaf stirred and it was hard going up the hill. Once at the top, a breeze picked up and helped me cool down.
The next few miles were tough for me. My blood sugar was falling and the rolling hills were hard on the mind and the body. I was behind this pair of runners, a man and a woman and would hear snatches of their conversation. I eventually passed them only to have the lady, Shannon (http://www.ultrashannon.com/), catch up with me. The next 2 miles to the Bolinas Ridge aid station (at mile 42) were spent in conversation about each of us. How we both loved to coach and about her son who is a very good water polo player. She is an amazing runner. One of few women in the world to have done a double Badwater (Death Valley – Whitney and back, 291 miles). She and I were together for the next 10 miles.
We eventually reached the Bolinas Ridge aid station and I saw Anil and Kiran waiting for me. They both helped me with my gaiters, my water bottle and also got me much needed Aspirin. The Aspirin took the sting out of the hurting quads. I was soon on my way. This time though I had the company of two of the best runners one could hope to be with. They were both full of joie de vivre. Their spirits were high as were mine and we had a blast running the 6.7 miles, along the Ridge, back to Pan Toll. A picture of Anil, Kiran and Shannon taken along this section. This section was out in the open with no cover but the day was beautiful and the views were simply gorgeous.
We spent a few minutes in the Pan Toll (mile 49.5) station topping up my water bottle. I was drinking Coke by now. The descent from Pan Toll was starting to hurt my quads so I backed off and walked a lot of it. The Aspirin had also worn off and the aid stations did not have any more. We soon made it to the Highway 1 aid station (mile 54.7). Spent a few minutes again here and then began the trek to Tennessee Valley. The volunteers at the Hwy 1 aid station had said that there was a bit of a climb followed by a descent into TV. A bit of a climb? This climb, though not steep at first, was at least 1.5-2.0 miles long. The last part was very steep.
We finally came to the descent where my complaining quads would not let me run down. So I walked. Finally the last 0.5 miles to the TV aid station (mile 58.4) was upon us. I sprinted all the way at about 8 min/mile pace to give my slow twitch muscles some rest. Ate warm vegetable soup here and then began the climb back up to the top with Anil and Kiran. We were belting out songs and having a great time. Soon it was time to switch on the headlamp that Anil was wearing. This part of the climb was very steep. We made it to the top in total darkness save for the headlamp and the flashlights of other runners. Shannon caught up with us accompanied by a friend of hers named Jorge who had run a 100-miler in 13:13. What can I say?
The descent to the finish involved a bunch of weird stairs that took an even bigger toll on my quads. I finally made it in 15:42:10.
I cannot begin to express my gratitude to Anil and Kiran for showing up and running with me the last 20 miles. They are the best and I owe them big. Such giving individuals both.
The course was fantastically scenic and the race organization and volunteers at the aid stations were top notch.