Posted by: pointlenana | May 7, 2015

Miwok 100k – May 2, 2015

This was my 3rd time at the Miwok 100k race, and second full race (the first year, the race was shortened to 60k due to fire danger).  I wrote a long race report last year, and it was basically the same race so I’ll keep this focused on so-called “highlights”.

The Short Version: I ran for a long time.  I went up and down hills.  I finished, and then it was good.

Our route:

miwok route

The route was sort-of reversed this year – we started in Stinson Beach and went south, almost to the Golden Gate, then worked north again past Mt. Tam on a long out-and-back on the ridge, dropping down to Highway 1 for an aid station along the way, and finished up back where we started.  Last year we went north first and then did the southern half.  In other words, it was almost exactly the same run as last year except that we started/walked up the Dipsea and finished/fell down the Matt Davis trail this year.  The reason for the route change was that the southern trails are busier and this way the race’s ~450 participants would be on the less-travelled northern trails during the afternoon.

Along the way, we went up and down some hills:

miwok profile

In fact, that’s all we did for ~62 miles – go up and down hills, except for a short section entering/leaving Muir Beach.  My Garmin recorded 11,600 feet of cumulative climbing.  I’m not sure what those weird sideways spikes are at the start of the graph, but I think it may be due to bagpipes.

Slow Start: We started right on time at 5am, ran hard for 100 feet, and then stopped as 400+ runners compressed from the street into the 4-foot-wide uphill Dipsea trail.  I probably spent 45 seconds standing in the street, gradually getting sucked into the running stream, but even after we got on the trail it was slow due to stairs and other running obstacles.  It was similar on the Matt Davis trail last year – I remember the first mile took 20 minutes.  The Dipsea opens up faster though and is more runnable, so I think it was closer to 15 minutes for the first mile this year.  It was still dark so we were all running by flashlight/headlamp.  I looked back at the chain of lights a few times and it was like a smaller version of the climb to Col de la Seigne in UTMB last summer where runners’ headlamps stretched out behind me for about 4 miles.  From the start to the top – Cardiac Hill – it’s about 3 miles and took me about 45 minutes.  As we got near the top, we climbed into the fog and started hearing the sounds of someone practicing his bagpipes, either for us or because there are no houses anywhere near.  I’m not a huge bagpipe fan (especially when they mess with the Garmin elevation data) but bagpipes + fog + darkness + trails +  start of a challenging day was a great combo.

Looking down the Dipsea towards Stinson Beach.  We ran up this in the dark.

Looking down the Dipsea towards Stinson Beach. We ran up this in the dark.

Hmmm…:  Things went surprisingly well for a while.  My cranky foot and hip both seemed to be fine and I was moving along well.  But just as we rounded a corner, about 12 miles in, and got our first view of the Golden Gate bridge through the fog, I noticed my hips already felt tight.  Perhaps it was due to the Boston run two weeks before, or maybe the bagpipes, but I couldn’t move as smoothly on the easier sections.  This always happens at some point in a long ultra but usually it’s further in the race, and it didn’t seem like a great thing when I still had about 50 miles to go.  On the other hand, every section seemed shorter and easier than I remembered it.  I’d think “tough uphill ahead” and it would only last a minute, or the aid station that was “around 3 more bends” would appear 15 seconds later.  A great example is the Pirates Cove section – my favorite section of the race.  There is a very steep descent down stairs, and as you look down you look straight at blue water, white waves, and black rocks below you.  The first year I remember that taking forever.  This year, it was done in just a few minutes and then we turned inland and away from the spectacular view.

Descending quickly to Pirates Cove.

Descending quickly to Pirates Cove.

The Coastal Trail:  After completing the southern half, we crossed the road at Pantoll and headed north for a 7 mile section on the Coastal Trail.  This is a 6-inch wide trail that traverses steep grassy slopes along the side of Mt. Tam.  The “car ads” road everyone has seen on tv is a little ways above the trail (mostly not within earshot though).  Last year, we were still clumped up at the start and moving slowly through here.  This year I found out that it’s not a very fast trail period.  The grass hangs over the trail and hides your footing, the narrow trail itself slopes down significantly with the hill, and in sections the dirt is so loose that at bends I would almost have to stop to make the turn without sliding off the trail.  And even though the trail is “flat” relative to the actual climbs, there is a fair amount of climbing up and over knolls along the way.  However, this is a beautiful trail – the ocean and Stinson Beach below, grassy hillsides along the trail broken up by the occasional oak-filled ravine.

coastal trail

Looking south along the Coastal Trail (the thin ribbon on the left). Our day was foggier than this, but it was still pretty spectacular.

Head-banging:  The Coastal Trail exits the grasslands and drops into the trees of Bolinas Ridge.  About 5 minutes before the next aid station, as I descended through the woods trying to avoid roots, I ducked under a tree hanging over the trail.  Well, almost ducked under it.  Thump.  I still have a lump and scab on my head 5 days later.  (Probably those dang bagpipes again.)  I continued on, glad it was only a lump and little blood and a couple minutes later heard a loud “thump” and “ahhh!” behind me.  At the aid station there were at least 3 of us who had hit the tree, and one was getting medic attention.  We mentioned the obstacle to the aid station people, and although I may have just not seen it in my ultra stupor, I didn’t see that tree on our way back.

The unfortunate and fortunate powers of visualization:  The Bolinas Ridge trail is a fire road – relatively smooth but with plenty of rocks and roots if you aren’t paying attention.  Running along 10 hours into the race, I realized I hadn’t tripped once all day.  “I’ll probably trip here on the way back, ha ha” I thought.  On the way back, right about at that spot, my toe slammed into a rock.  I tried hard to get my feet back under me but after a bit I realized it wasn’t going to happen.  I looked at my water bottle hand, realized it was sideways and I’d land on my fingers, turned my water bottle vertical instead, lifted it, and slammed it hard into the ground just before I touched down with knees and my other hand (I think I learned this technique in 3rd grade judo).  Everything hurt a little but surprisingly there was no blood and nothing that really hurt.  And amazingly, my water bottle was in one piece.  I don’t know how long that fall took – 2 seconds? – but I had an amazing amount of time to observe, plan and execute while it happened.

The *&^% Matt Davis trail: I know better than to listen to people who tell me about course distances during ultras.  They are always wrong, and then I get mad at them, and then I get mad at myself for being mad at them and not knowing the distances myself.  The Miwok people are convinced that the distance from Bolinas Ridge to the finish is 6.3 miles.  It’s more like 7.  My watch said that this year, it said it last year, other people’s watches said that, and it’s terrain (short switchbacks) where my watch tends to underreport distance.  But in any case, I believed the aid station people at Bolinas Ridge when they said I had 6.3 miles left to go.  After traversing endlessly back along the Coastal Trail well past the ~5 miles it should have been, I finally got to the Matt Davis trail and a volunteer told me I had 1.6 miles left.  It was all downhill, and I had about 30 minutes to finish ahead of my time from last year.  It appeared that I’d beat my time by 10 to 15 minutes.  I ran hard down the hill, and things looked great.  Then I hit the hard part.  And 1.6 miles was closer to 2.3.  For the last 1.5 miles or so, the Matt Davis trail is a series of short switchbacks separated by 10 foot drops down huge twisting stairs, with drops of 8-20 inches per stair.  Throw in roots and rocks in the trail, some hikers, a few other runners, and some fatigue, and it is not a fast trail.  Time went away in huge chunks – I gave up on a big time improvement, then I gave up on a small improvement, I gave up on beating last year’s time at all, and at some point I wondered if I’d break 13 hours.  Finally, I popped out on the road and saw the finish line 50 yards away.  As I sprinted, I watched the clock turn from 12:55 to 12:56.  I finished some small amount of seconds later.  Last year I finished in 12:56:07.  This year, a) I forgot to turn my watch off for a little while after I finished and b) they didn’t report seconds in the finish time – my official time is 12:56.  My watch says 12:56:23, but I think I finished in about 12:56:15 – with a mandatory 1 minute walk past some stables this year that we ran by last year.  If I set out to run the same exact time on purpose, I don’t think I could get as close as I did this year.

miwok splits

I ran this mostly as a training race for Western States.  Last year, someone I ran with for a while at Miwok ran a ~13:30 at Miwok and ~23 hours at Western States.  I think I have a shot at 24 hours at WS, so I’m pretty happy with breaking 13 hours.  And a few days later, my body seems to be working pretty well.  No blisters, no significant chafing, no aggravated injuries.  It was a good day in all respects.

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