Miwok is far and above my new favorite race. Although I missed cutoff at the turn-around by a whole bunch of minutes, I had the best time I’ve ever had at a race. And hey, what other race has a micro brewery whip up a batch of special IPA for it’s runners?
I knew I was going to have a difficult time making the first cutoff. You have to maintain a 14:36 pace to the 33.9 mile point, but then a 17:15 pace from there to the finish. I managed the first major climb and descent at the required pace, but I continued to lose pace as the number of climbs climbed. But, I’m getting ahead of myself, here is what transpired and why I love this race so much.
A race this fantastic is obviously very popular, so popular in fact, that there is a lottery for entries. (I almost hesitated writing this report in glowing terms because one or two of my dozen or so readers might think to enter next year, lowering my chances of gaining entry again.) Fortune smiled on me and my name was selected and I was on my way.
I flew into SFO on Friday, and then drove up to the host hotel to pick up my bib. They don’t hand out the goodie bags ahead of time, so if you know your way around, there is no need to do this, you can just pick up your bib the morning of the race. The main reason I drove up was to reconnoiter the drive to the start. It’s a good thing I did, because even with having been there, I still made one wrong turn on race morning.
On race morning, I checked in, used the toilet facilities (flush toilets no less), said “hi” to Krissy Moehl who was right behind me in line and who had won the Red Mountain 50K I ran two weeks ago, and also met up with Susan and Rob, running friends from Tennessee. It was chilly at the start, but not cold, so I started out in shorts and short sleeved shirt. About 5:25 AM we walked down to the beach for some last minute instructions from the race director and then promptly at 5:40 AM we were off. The start is just 30 minutes prior to sunrise so there was no need for headlamps. The leaders and mid-packers sprinted off to get a prime place in line up the first single track climb while the rest of us trudged through the several hundred yards of sand. Even with walking, we still had to wait about 5 minutes to start up the first hill. Not long after that we were all sorted out and on our way. After the first relatively short single track section, we started the first major climb. One thing about climbs in California as compared to climbs in Georgia; in Georgia, there are lots of trees and you can’s see how far you are going to have to climb, in California, you can look all the way to the top and see the long line of tiny specks making their way up. During this stretch, we were on one of the few sections of road and the view was spectacular. We could see the Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, and a cruise ship making its way into the Bay. Soon, I was finished with my first climb and descent and looking at my Garmin, I was at a 14:30 pace, even with the 5 minute wait at the trail start. Next was some single track, and then I was spilled back onto the beach for about a ¼ mile run (walk) in the sand and back to the start area and the first aid station (water and GuBrew only) at the 7.1 mile point.
I really can’t remember a whole lot about this next 4.0 mile section, but I’m sure it was scenic and had some climbing.
The third section was both my favorite and most hated section. It was the longest at 8.9 miles (my Garmin actually said 9.5 miles) and had two killer climbs. On the first of these climbs, I found myself sharing the trail with 70 year-young Hwa Ja Andrade. She has been doing ultras for years and looks and runs like a much younger runner (her calves look like they are carved out of granite). I want to be like her if I grow up. I was able to keep up with her on the climbs, but she would leave me in the dust on the descents. (I really do need to work on my downhill running) Somewhere around the 15 mile point was my favorite part of the course. It was a couple of miles of gentle downhill single track, going through meadows filled with wildflowers, funky looking woods (to me they looking like “Wizard of Oz” woods and I found myself chanting lions and tigers and bears, oh my!) and finally a section of redwood forest complete with giant trees and ferns. Of course, all good things must come to an end and soon I was on another monster climb to the Pan Toll aid station at mile 20.
By this time I realized that I was not going to make the cutoff at the 33.9 mile point. So even without intending to, I found that my pace slowed during the next 6.7 mile section. I was still moving well, but not as fast. There was a lot of running along the sides of grassy hills and about this time the leaders were on the way back and I was further slowed by stepping up off the trail to let them pass. Not too far back from the leaders was Ian Sharman running in an Elvis costume (he was the dude that ran an incredible 12:44 at Rocky Raccoon in February). We were high up and I could look down and see hawks circling looking for prey. One thing a little annoying about this section was the number of flies in this grassy area, they didn’t bite, but they did their best to try to fly in my eyes.
I got to the next aid station and announced my intention to continue the 7.2 miles to the turn-around aid station even though there was no way I was going to make cutoff. After grabbing a handful of food, I was on my way on my last miles on the incredibly beautiful course. I ran though some more redwood forest and this section was net downhill. The outside of my right knee started hurting a bit running downhill (I think I tweaked it a bit from the angle I was stepping off the trail for the front runners on the previous section). It was fun seeing all the runners who had made the cutoff on their return. About one mile from the aid station, I met the sweep coming my way. He told me the aid station was closed and packing up and that I had better hustle if I wanted a ride. I did pick up my pace as much as my knee allowed and soon saw the U-Haul truck. I yelled down “don’t leave without me!” and they waved back. Even though they were just about all packed up, they got me a Pepsi and water and we waited a couple of more minutes for a hurting runner I had passed about two miles earlier.
There were three of us late droppers and we all managed to squeeze into the cab of the U-Haul with the driver, “the Rocket”, who has been running ultras for 30 years. It was a tight fit, but Mr Rocket kept us entertained with ultra talk for the 20 minute ride to the Pan Toll aid station. As he drove the winding, switch-back road, we were all amazed that we had climbed that height via a different route. At the aid station, Mr Rocket found me a ride to the start/finish area with some friends of his. As I was waiting with them waiting for their runner, I started to get chilled. Using ultra runner ingenuity, I asked a volunteer for a garbage bag and made myself a makeshift poncho. While waiting, I got to see Susan and Rob again and wished them luck.
When I eventually got back to my car, I got my jacket, then caught the shuttle to the Finish area. There I saw my hill climbing friend, Hwa Ja Andrade. She had missed cutoff by less than 10 minutes, so we had a quick commiserating hug and then headed to get our goodie bags and some food. This race knows how to do swag. There was hardly any filler (as opposed to Rock-N-Roll marathon bags which are ALL filler) Included were a shirt, a fleece vest, a 6-pack of GU, a chocolate bar, a beanie, a ceramic dish, and a bottle of Miwok 100K Trail Ale.
The finish line food was also very good, I had a jalepeno Brat, macaroni salad and home-made cole slaw. While I was in the food line, Krissy Moehl came over and asked how my race went. In what other sport will the third place finisher make time to talk with a back of the packer?
Next year, if I’m selected in the lottery, I’m going to make this my “A” race. Then I’m going to work on both my uphill walking and my downhill running. That means I’ll be going out to Sweetwater Creek State Park at least once a week and go up and down Jack’s hill for 4-6 hours.