I entered the lottery for the classic Miwok 100K in the Marin Headlands with no real hope of getting in, but to my surprise my name was selected, along with San Antonio friends Amanda and Lalo Alvarado, as well as Jay Danek from Arizona. Jay secured a house 100 yards from the beach, travel plans were made, and training preparations put into place. I had heard that Miwok was beautiful, though not as technical as what we are accustomed to running here in South Texas. I met Lalo and Amanda for an early (woke up at 3AM) flight to San Francisco. Once in California, we made the hour drive across the Golden Gate Bridge along the scenic coastal Highway 1, stopping for lunch at the Dipsea Café and visiting the newly opened San Francisco Running Company store in Mill Valley. We dropped our stuff off at the house, went to the beach for a bit, then headed into town (a short walk from the house) for an early dinner.
3AM came early (again), but we needed to be up early so we could walk to the start to pick up our packets by 4:30. It was a cool morning, which suited me just fine. We arrived at the Stinson Beach Community Center to find runners milling about, but no one seemed to be picking up their race numbers or packets. That’s when Jay turns to me and said, “the race has been shortened to 60K due to fire danger, and the start has been pushed back to 8AM (from 5AM)”. Surely he’s joking, I thought. No, he was serious, as this info was written on a board for all to see. Clearly stunned (and a bit bummed that we wouldn’t get to run the “real” Miwok course), we trudged back to the beach house to re-group. It could have been worse, as many folks drove in that morning from San Fran and beyond, meaning they would have to sit and wait at the Community Center for 4 hours for the new start since it was too far to drive back home and no restaurants were open yet. The shortened course (basically the same as the last 37 miles of the normal Miwok course) meant we would need to re-think our race strategies and re-pack drop bags (there would be one spot for bags, which we would hit at mile 12 and again at 24). After making sure all my gear was in order, I crawled back into my 6’ bed (I has to twist myself like a pretzel to sleep) for 45 minutes of sleep.Up again, we headed back down to the start to pick up packets, etc. One advantage of an 8AM start was there would be no need for headlamps. Also, we would be starting the race by climbing up the famous Dispea Stairs. Soon we were let loose on this cool, clear morning, a rarity in the Bay area. Knowing we were only racing 37 miles instead of 62, I wanted to push my pace a bit without totally trashing my body. I was more concerned about running 100+ miles at Massanutten in 2 weeks than 37 on the smooth California trails. I settled into a nice rhythm with Lalo and Amanda, hiking some parts and running where the terrain allowed. We climbed the stairs through dense trees, occasionally popping out of the woods for a brief view of the ocean and beach below. Starting with a 3 mile climb allowed my body to warm up, and since the trail was pretty narrow I was forced to keep the pace easy and follow the conga line of runners.
(Brothers From Another Mother)
(Early In the Race - Stinson Beach Behind Us)
(Lalo Climbing the Dipsea Stairs)
At mile 3 we hit the Cardiac aid station, but since I still had plenty of water (I carried one handheld and stuff another bottle in my Ultimate Direction pack), I blew through without stopping. This next section was my favorite of the course in terms of running. For the next 3 miles we would bomb downhill on a soft and wide fire road, weaving our way through a dense redwood forest. I told myself to take things easy and not trash my quads this early. I ran what I felt was a conservative pace, but I kept passing people (highly unusual for me on a downhill), so I glanced at my Garmin to see what my pace was. 7 minute miles, while not super fast, is not what I need to be running for 3 miles this early in the race. But I felt good, so I just went with it, knowing I’d probably suffer the consequences later in the day. I took an occasional sip of my EFS “slurry” (this would be the only fuel I would use all day) and was soon headed into the Muir Beach aid station at mile 8.
(Running In the Redwoods)
I quickly filled my handheld and backtracked a quarter mile (saw Amanda and Lalo along the way), where we run past horse farms and organic fields before beginning our next big (and very exposed) climb of the day. I’ve always been a good climber, and today was a good test of that. I passed several people as I hiked to the top, where we were afforded beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and Pacific Ocean below. The trail was very smooth and non-technical, so I was able to run most of it. I chatted with runners as we passed each other, swapping a story or two along the way. Soon I began the twisty descent down to the Tennessee Valley aid station, where Jay’s wife Traci helped me find my drop bag and a new Slurry. My friend Matt was there, and we chatted for a quick bit before I was re-filled and headed out on another climb.
(Arriving At Tennessee Valley)
The initial climb was pretty warm, but the views were some of the best I’ve seen in a race. The trail would take us less than a mile from the Golden Gate Bridge, affording us views of both downtown San Francisco and Alcatraz. While the sun was certainly warming things up, the temperature was still fairly comfortable by Texas standards. I tried to conserve energy in these middle miles, knowing I would need them later for the climb up Cardiac Hill. After stopping at mile 17 for a water re-fill and popsicle, I was headed back out on the longest section between aid stations we would encounter – about 7.7 miles before we would hit Tennessee Valley once again. I never felt bad, but I struggled a bit on this section, as the cumulative fatigue was starting to set in. Luckily I was still climbing well, so I tried to gain back some ground on the climbs since I wasn’t feeling great on the few flat sections we ran. I didn’t feel great (stomach was fine but legs were tired), so I just put my head down and forced myself to keep moving. Up another hill and back down to Tennessee Valley, where I swapped out an empty flask for a new Slurry and headed back out. Overall I felt like my aid station management was really good. I didn’t linger, staying only long enough to get what I needed and then getting out quickly.
After a mile on a flat/downhill road, we were again climbing again. My favorite part of this section was when we crested a hill and saw giant cliffs and rocks below. The ocean waves were crashing into the walls, and fog was starting to roll in, creating a mystical scene. We ran along some rolling terrain until making the final descent back down to Muir Beach, which was full of people, some affiliated with the race and others just out to enjoy some sun and surf. I filled my bottles with ice and water, some of which I would drink and some of which would end up on my head and neck in the next section. For some reason I was having difficulty running the flats, which I think was probably more of a mental barrier than any real physical ailment. I knew I had 2 miles of flat terrain before tackling the final climb up Cardiac Hill. I was actually looing forward to the hill, as I knew my climbing legs were still working and I felt I could pass people on this section. The 2 miles leading up to the climb, however, were a different story. I couldn’t seem to muster the energy to run for any prolonged period of time, giving a dozen or so people the chance to pass me. I was hopeful I could make up some time on the climb, but each person that passed me seemed to fly by. Once we hit the bottom of Cardiac, I decided it was time to invoke my secret weapon, my iPod, and get down to business. Over the next 2.5 miles of steep uphill, I passed over 20 people, some of whom were running (I hiked the entire way). This gave me confidence and a renewed energy that I hoped would carry me to the finish. Once on top of Cardiac Hill, I filled my bottle at the aid station and began running, slowly at first, but then faster as the terrain opened up and started to descend. The smooth terrain wound back down through the trees, broken up by the steep series of steps we had to negotiate. I felt great on this section, helped by the cheering hikers we passed as we made our way back down the mountain to the beach. 7 hours and 32 minutes after I started, I crossed the finish line of the first ever Miwok 60K, good enough for 128th place (out of 349 finishers).
While not my favorite trail (the views were spectacular), I did enjoy the race and will definitely go back to complete the full 100K.
(Mystical Scene On the Cliffs)
(Amanda and Lalo Finishing)
(Around Mile 7 - Photo by Brett Rivers)