My concerns about Miwok were misplaced. It really didn't seem difficult as I ran it, and other than major superficial damage to my feet, I feel fully recovered the day after. This took less out of me than any ultra yet this year.
I found a last minute carpool to the beach from some other runners staying at my hotel. They were a little disorganized so we didn't get there until about 15 minutes before start time. It was full dark as everybody milled around getting organized but I managed to check in and find the piles to leave my drop bags. Thanks to a suggestion from an experieced Miwok runner I started near the back of the pack with hopes of gaining ground later. We ran a short way across the beach, then balled up at the entrance to a singletrack trail. The course spent a surprising amount of time on steep paved roads, and I had to resist the temptation to run the uphills. I amused myself by talking to people around me at this point - an amazing amount of them were from near Auburn, including a woman who has run the Rucky Chucky Aid Station at States for years. We were all treated to some jaw-dropping sights down onto the Golden Gate below us, and gradually wound our way high on the headlands to where we could see the bay laid out below.
I spent almost an hour of these early miles chatting with Jill, a stunning and engaging woman from San Diego. She had just won a lottery spot to compete in the Ironman Hawaii, and was looking forward to adding this feat to her already impressive ultra resume'. I almost wanted to write down everything she said as she made suggestions relating to how I might tackle my approaching career change. I couldn't resist a picture or two: she was just too photogenic, and she returned the favor.
I felt fresh and rested as we pulled into the second aid station at Tennessee Valley (about 12 miles.) It was great to have a drop bag here so I could dump my long sleeve shirt, gloves, and headband. Despite being at a solid 14 hour pace, I felt as if I was overdoing the slow start thing. I decided to notch it up a little and left the people I had been running with behind. From here my pace stayed below 13 hour splits for the next 4 aid stations.
We took a long steep dirt road pull out of Tennessee Valley and I found myself realizing the full truth of what I'd been told about Miwok. The elevation profile looks intimidating, but the easy nature of the fire roads and non-technical trails makes this an "easy" and runnable race. The only real difficulty is that the views are so astounding that it would be easy to forget to look at the trail, which would be a mistake on some of the stretches where the narrow trail is cut into a very steep hillside.
After the climb out of Tennessee Valley the trail stays high on the grassy bluffs overlooking the Pacific for a few miles. I was running alone at this point, passing another runner every once in awhile. Of course my pace slowed a bit as we took the steep descent down to Muir Beach. I was determined to save my bum knee early in the race, an effort which was completely successful.
From Muir Beach we ran for a couple of flat miles through wooded bottomlands (which would be my debacle on the return) and then a long steady climb up to the Pan Toll aid station. Again I was surprised at the runnability. If I hadn't been saving my strength I felt like I could have run major sections of this climb, the biggest in the race. Two things intimidated me here: that I would have to descend this grade after mile 50, and the giant redwood log across the trail we all had to scramble over. I cringed thinking of scrambling back over it with ultra-stiffened legs.
Pan Toll aid station at mile 22 was a beehive of activity. Everybody scrambled for their drop bags; I changed into a light singlet and refilled pockets with shot blocks and perpetuem packets. Sadly I left my camera here - it was acting up and thus not worth the carry weight. I started running again feeling fresh, below a 13 hour pace, and eager to start pushing. My only concern was that the day was getting warm which is a condition I dread.
The traverse to Bolinas Ridge started well. I fell behind a woman with exactly my strengths and weaknesses, she ran the gentle ups, and took downs and technical sections more easily. There wasn't a lot of chatter at this point, just steady running as we overtook several others. This success was shortlived as the trail got narrower and off-camber, almost a rough track through the steeply sloping meadows. Our legs got tired as we tried to adjust to the broken sloping surface. I heard lots of complaints (some from me) and started to dread having to return across this section. Like all of my fears of the day, this one failed to materialize.
I started to see frontrunners coming back from the turnaround about a mile before pulling into Bolinas Ridge. I was surprised first at how spread out they were, and second that some familiar and famous faces were farther back than I would have expected. All this was forgotten at the aid station (28+ miles) as I got pampered by the volunteers. Still surprised at the pace I was setting, I started running along the rolling forested ridge toward the turnaround.
This section was where I saw most of the field, both ahead and behind me. Even though I felt like I knew almost no one at Miwok, it was gratifying how many I recognized and all the encoraging comments and smiles we exchanged. Even though I was feeling really good at this point, I got an amazing boost from Stacey B. who recognized me and let out the most outrageous war-whoop. I later talked to a couple of strong women runners who both told me "and Stacey completely kicked my butt" -- my thanks and congratulations to her.
This was the best part of the race for me, but it came to an end when I started the steep descent into the turnaround aid station. I'm always terrified that big descents will stress my knee to the point that it will lock up and throw off the rest of the day, so my slow and cautious descent really took my confidence away. Returning up the grade after the aid station didn't improve things since the slope was too steep to run and I'm not a strong walker. It was at this point that I also noticed my wrists and fingers were puffy. I assumed this was mild hyponatremia, and it turned out this was a harbinger of bad things to come. I tried to take more salt tablets on the return up the ridge, but started to feel the heat as well and slowed my pace a little.
The second time through Bolinas Ridge aid station was a sorry contrast to the first time. The staffing had changed, and all the volunteers seemed to be from Junior High and more interested in flirting with each other than the runners. Much worse was that they were completely out of Gu2o and much of the ultra food. I was solidly in the mid-pack at this point, so this seemed like it was avoidable. I tried to take as much straight salt from the potato-salt dish as I could stomach, but I knew that with only water in my bottles, a limited supply of tablets, and a long sunny stretch ahead of me that I wouldn't gain any ground on my hyponatremia.
Surprisingly, the return over the off-camber trail through the meadows was not the struggle that I feared, but I still lost place to a half-dozen runners who seemed less bothered by the heat than I was. Things seemed hopeful though, as I was still well ahead of a 14 hour pace and felt like I would be able to allay my electrolyte concerns at Pan Toll.
Late in this stretch was where I first met Nicole, a pretty blonde and accomplished ultrarunner from Arizona who had just finished Ironman AZ a few weeks before. She had just passed me when she bonked her head loudly on an overhanging tree, then after staggering around for a few seconds proceeded to trip over a couple of rocks and look like she might fall off the trail. Always willing to be a gentleman where stunning females are involved, I offered to make sure she was OK for the last mile into Pan Toll. Apparently her brains were addled by the encounter with the tree, as she slowed down and accepted my offer.
We pushed through Pan Toll as quickly as possible, with that sub-14 hour finish still well in hand. I briefly got to say hi to Addy - a future ultrarunning star - before tackling the long descent. We were warned to be careful about the turn onto Miwok trail, as people get lost every year there. We didn't listen very well.
All my fears of the descent were misplaced: it and the nasty redwood tree climbover all went easily. I started to realize that my bad knee wouldn't be a factor in this race: we were past 50 miles with most of the difficult descents behind us. For some reason Nicole chose not to pull away and we chattered on endlessly about every topic on earth. Sometime during that conversation we missed the Miwok turnoff, and only realized this when Nicole pointed out that we hadn't seen the pink trail marking ribbons for awhile. We stopped and bumbled around in a confused muddle for a little while, then started to retrace our steps. I was against this, as I clearly remembered the trail we were on from the morning. My memory was endorsed by a couple of hikers we ran across as we retraced our steps. They said they had been seeing pink ribbons the whole way, and had seen them the whole way as they had started out in the morning from their B&B near Muir Beach. This, plus my memory caused us to turn around again and head to Muir Beach. What we didn't realize until much later is that the Miwok trail junction is where the return course splits off from the route we took out in the morning. All our memories of "but we came past here this morning" were leading us farther from the course.
We came out on the highway several miles later still having not seen any trail markers. Things still looked familiar so we bumbled around on the roads hoping to find the aid station. We convinced ourselves that someone misguided or evil had removed all the trail marking
tape, but at this point we were badly lost and starting to panic. Nicole's background in Law Enforcement asserted itself and she planted herself in the middle of the highway and flagged down every car that passed, demanding that they tell us of any pink-ribbon sightings. By now an hour had passed, and with it any hopes of a good finish time. Our bottles were empty, and we had to beg water from the inn, who didn't have any knowledge of how to get back on course either. Finally we were rescued by a race official who found us still bumbling around on the highway. One of the cars that Nicole had flagged down had later passed an aid station and reported a couple of dazed, crazed, and filthy runners wandering around Muir Beach and terrorizing the population!
I bless the race official for not even offering us a ride, instead patiently explaining exactly how we had to backtrack a couple of miles and not miss the Miwok Trail this time. We were crushed at how badly our finish time would be thrown off, and a little worried that we would have to sweat the cutoffs. This is also where the hyponatremia finally caught up to me. All the times I had been forced to resort to drinking water had caused my feet to swell with fluids and blisters started to form all over the balls of my feet and my toes. Still, we felt really strong and were able to maintain a solid pace up a long grade on the Miwok trail to the Highway 1 aid station. Here we got the pleasant surprise that we were still over an hour ahead of the cutoff. We passed on the Pizza we were offered and pushed on at a solid pace to the last aid station at Tenessee Valley while the sun sank into the sea.
Nicole showed her character and loyalty at this point as my witty conversation ended as I gritted my teeth against the blisters. I knew I could finish on them and decided against trying to take shoes and socks off to drain them. With the lingering effects of hyponatremia still causing new blisters to form I wasn't sure it would do much good, but at least I got good training in how to suck it up on the painful descents. Nicole, bless her, refused to leave me as I straggled and
managed to take my mind off my feet by continually returning my attention to one of the world's best and longest sunsets that stained the sky and stark landscape an ever deepening shade of crimson. Even with all this struggle, we were passing runners pretty steadily (which delighted Nicole.) We were a couple of mid-pack runners, still in good condition, who had been transplanted to the back of the pack and so were running at a faster clip.
Tennessee Valley aid station in the fading daylight and we knew we had the finish in hand. I grabbed my headlamp from my drop bag, we both pulled on long-sleeved shirts, and we pulled out again determined to make time to the finish. I've never run on trails at night before, so this was a new experience. The headlamps threw the trail into odd perspective, and the glowsticks marking the trail looked eerie. Long before the finish we could hear the cheers as other runners finished ahead of us, and the last mile of descent into Rodeo Beach gave us a view of the brilliantly lit finish area. Nicole and I finished together in 15:25, delighted with the support and
companionship we had provided each other.