Going into this race, I knew my fitness was really good, but I was a little concerned about my lack of trail training. Since Bandera, nearly all my running has been on the roads. I did Hagg Lake 50k in February (lots of mud, almost no elevation change), Gorge Water Falls 50k in March (really good trail running with lots of gain), and one 13 miler last weekend. Not exactly ideal training for a trail race with 11,000' gain! Could good fitness/leg speed trump lack of hill/trail training? I was about to find out!
We flew down Thursday to Sacramento so we could leave the kiddos with my parents while Mac and I were at the race. Mac and I left Friday morning for the Bay Area. We told my parents it was to avoid traffic and because we had to go to race registration, but really we just wanted to get away from the kids! What can I say, sometimes it is nice to get a break from being a parent. We rocked out to tough chick rock the whole way to get psyched. Woohoo - no mind numbing children's CD's!
I knew I wanted to test myself and be competitive in the women's field, so I had a strategy that I thought would push me to be a little more aggressive in the beginning and then capitalize on my "staying power" for the second half. Essentially, I wanted to keep the front runners in site the first half and then at the turn-around, I hoped I could slow down just a little less than everyone else. And that is almost exactly how the race played out.
The start was a mad dash across the sand and then a major traffic jam funneled onto the trail. Fortunately, it opened up pretty quickly so we could all settle in to appropriate spots. On the road, I passed Amy Sproston and Helen Cospolich on the climb and caught up with Jimmy Dean Freeman. We had similar time goals and the night before, he had invited me to run with him, but I declined, telling him I wanted to run with my eye on the women's field. So when I caught him, he pointed up ahead on him, "That's Krissy. I think she is the only girl ahead of you."
I was a bit behind her on the next climb and Helen was climbing strong and passed me here, too. After the next downhill, Meghan joined us and all four of us were bunched together for a bit. But Meghan, The Queen of downhills (and many other things, too) took the lead on the next descent and into the first aid station back at the start, with Helen close on her heels.
I caught up with Krissy right around Tennessee Valley and we ran to Pan Toll together and I enjoyed getting to chat with one of the icons of ultrarunning. We caught Helen right at the top and we all three came in to Pan Toll pretty much together. Meghan was still out in front. Krissy left first, but I quickly caught back up to her. Helen took a bit longer and never really regained contact.
One other guy fell in with me and Krissy through the fields to Bolinas ridge, and we had a little train going with Krissy in the lead. Every now and then, when the trail made a sweeping turn, we could see Meghan off in the distance, but she must have been at least 5 minutes ahead. I was pretty convinced that I was not following through on my strategy to keep with the front runner, and that we were giving Meghan too much of a lead. But I also knew I didn't want to be going much faster - there is a difference between aggressive and stupid!
Krissy was setting a good pace for us and I told her so and thanked her. She said she'd like to switch off at some point and I agreed that was fair. So when the trail turned onto the road for a brief stint and I could pass easily she told me to go ahead. But this came right at a downhill section - not my strong point - and I worried that I was going too slow for Krissy. She just said,"Make every step a good one - That is Roch Horton advice." It seemed wise enough, so I just watched where I was going, trying to get in a good rhythm and when the trail turned back uphill, I just kept that rhythm going, unintentionally pulling away from Krissy. Some pacer I turned out to be!
After Bolinas Ridge I expected the trail to crash downhill, but it actually undulates for about 5 miles before the screaming descent to Randall Aid Station. I like this litte up-little down kind of stuff and I guess I still had my good rhythm going, for somewhere around mile 30-31, I caught up with Meghan.
I told her to let me go ahead of her for one second, so then no matter what happened, I could say I was leading Miwok. ;) After two steps, I said,"Ok, now get back up here."
"Do I have to?" was her response, but I told her yes, she needed to be in position for the downhill. We ran together for a short bit, but still, I managed to creep out in front a little. Then the road just plummets to the turnaround and I kept waiting for Meghan to go storming by me, but I got to the turnaround and she was still behind me, albeit only by a minute at most. Krissy was about three minutes behind Meghan, and Amy just a couple more. Thirty-four miles in and the top four women were only six minutes apart! Too close for my comfort, so I focused on running strong, especially the uphill, on the way back to Bolinas Ridge.
I had Mac and Aunt Kate out crewing for me all day and they were great. We hadn't really planned for Mac to pace me at all, but I wanted to talk to him a bit as I came into Bolinas Ridge the second time (where pacers can start), so as I came in to the aid station, I yelled at him to run with me to the road. So he takes off jogging with this huge backpack on and I am like, "drop your pack and run with me to the road." Well, about 20 feet after the aid station, you cross a road. And then you run a mile and the trail comes back to the road, which, of course is what I meant. But apparently, Mac has these really high expectations, like clear communication, so he didn't understand. So he gets 20 feet, crosses the road, and just stops. WTH? I mean what kind of crew can't read your mind?? ;) So I just yell back, "get to Tennessee Valley and be ready to run." I knew I was pushing hard and was going to be tired, and I knew if I was still in the lead, I wanted everything in my favor to preserve it.
Back across the beautiful grass fields, I realized I listened to a bit too much Pink in the morning, because I just kept thinking "Slam, slam, oh hot damn, what part of party don't you understand? Wish you'd just freak out." At one point I was even thinking, "Yeah, I am your underdog, Pink!" But I guess Pink is a good pacer, because I ran this section really well. I am allergic to grass, so there was a lot of snot-rocketing, but I did my best not to hit any hikers. I did take one major spill about two-thirds of the way in, scraping up my right side and somehow rolling on to my back, so that I managed to bloody up the back of my shoulder. It was bad enough, that there was some girlie screaming on impact. But I bounced back up and was pleased to see that there were no witnesses (so it is a total mystery where that screaming came from!) and no running implications.
The section out of Pan Toll I dubbed the danger zone: another big downhill section where I thought the other women could eat into my lead, but I guess I did well enough. By far the worst part of the course for me was when the downhill was over and the course turned toward Muir beach. First off, the trail was encroached by stinging nettles, and when you have open flesh wounds, these things, well, STING! Then the trail got really exposed, hot, and dusty and it seemed to go on forever. That is partly my fault as I thought it was 5.3 miles to the AS but it was actaully 5.7. At one point, I saw a guy coming up the trail and I asked if he knew where the aid station was. "Oh, yeah, like a quarter of a mile." After about a quarter mile, the trail popped out onto the road and a course marshall told me, "about a quarter mile to the aid station." I ran the appropriate distance, and then got to a gate with a cars parked all around it. "is this the aid station?" I asked some guys. "Oh, no. But at your pace it's probably only two minutes away." I look down at my Garmin; it says 8:01 mile pace!! I was stuck in some sort of warped quarter mile Hell! But finally the aid station appeared.
The next section had two big climbs, but I kind of enjoyed them because I knew they were going to be hikers for everyone. There were two guys about 50 yards ahead of me, who were really helpful to me. They looked good, so when they walked, I knew it was okay for me to walk, and when they ran, I knew I needed to be, too.
Coming into Tennessee Valley for the final time was kind of fun, because I knew Mac would be there to pace me to the finish and also because there was a little bit of a crowd. A bunch of hikers had gathered to find out what was going on and they were told it was a 100km race. After somebody converted this to miles for them, they wanted to know how many days it took people to finish. When they heard the men's winner finished in 8 hours and that the women's leader was on her way there, they decided to stick around and cheer.
Having Mac here was great, as I was spent! Funny how at the beginning of the day 62 miles doesn't sound so bad, but at the end of the day 5 miles seems like forever. Well, not only can Mac not read minds, but that guy is a slave driver! He just kept telling me to run! And then halfway up the hill, he turns to me and says (without knowing what's been stuck in my head all day), "It's so on right now, so f*ckin' on right now!" OMG, seriously, we will be implementing a moratorium on "Raise Your Glass" in our household! This was my only really bad part for the day as I was dying; Meghan ran almost 30 seconds per mile faster than me here. But hooray for 8 minute leads with only 5 miles to go!
Coming to the finish line with Mac keeping me on task.
A gorgeous finish line (photo: John Medinger)
I am not going to hide that I was fading fast there at the end, but I feel good about that. After so many second places, I knew I could run well, but I think I had to prove to myself that I wasn't holding anything back, that I was willing to take some risk and not shy away from competition. I can without a doubt say I gave absolutely everything I had at Miwok.
Post race photo op - so there is one half way descent photo of me in this post!
I was psyched to have a great day. I think the only reason this worked out so well is that the trails are all really runnable with almost no technical footing. The downhills are almost all on fire roads or wide trail, with smooth footing and wide sweeping turns, so that my road training and faster running was actually an asset rather than a liability. And my fitness seemed to be enough to tackle the uphills. My quads aren't too bad off, but my calves, on the other hand, hate me for making their first hill run one with 10,000 feet of gain!
And while a great run is a reward in itself, I must admit, I am VERY happy to get that second place monkey off of my back! And I find it fitting that as a mom of two young kids, I took home the win on Mother's day weekend.
Miwok is stunningly beautiful and incredibly challenging. There is a reason this is a classic in the ultra circuit. I know it has a special place in my heart!
Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there!(photo: Aunt Kate)