Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Miwok 100K May 1, 2010

Thanks to daughter Hilary for pacing me the last 13 miles. Her report of the last 13 miles, written separately and independently from mine, is interspersed with mine, and is set in italics with paragraphs beginning ‘Hilary:’. This is a pretty long report, but, hey, 100k is a pretty long way to go.

The Rapture

“Spectacular! Triple spectacular,” I say to the two hikers somewhere on the Coastal Trail in the Marin Headlands. “The weather is spectacular, the scenery is spectacular and I’m having a spectacular time. I feel like Mr. Fabulous!” I’m about 47 miles into the Miwok 100K, and what I’ve told them is no lie. Some of that will change in the coming hours, but for that time in that place, I speak an undeniably accurate and perfect truth.

“Why do you do it?” Everyone who runs longer distances gets asked the question. The answer lies somewhere in the part of the mind where there are no words. It is being only in that place at that time. There is no past, perhaps other than when the race began, and no future, other than that what remains of the race. One’s future focus is, at most, of getting to the next aid station, but more likely, getting to the next turn of the trail, or most likely, putting down the next step. There are no distractions of what has been undone or of what has to be done other than taking the next stride and taking in the air and views around oneself. It is an indescribable sense of being in the moment, focused only on that moment and being engulfed and exultant with it. No regrets. No what-ifs. No worries. No concerns. Rapture.


Hilary and I stop at the race’s official hotel on the way back from a day hydrating in Napa. We have visited a couple of wineries, one of whose chardonnays she is fond of from Washington and a second recommended by my friend Camille, who has graciously offered to put us up for our visit to San Francisco for the race. We’ve acquired several bottles of wine to bring back for Camille and her husband Jody.

The ‘packet pick-up’ at the hotel could not be more minimalist. Two guys sit at a table, check your name off and hand you your bib with four safety pins. No goody bag. No expo. No course maps. Nothing. Hilary is planning to pace me the last 13 miles but has to arrange to get to that aid station while leaving the rental car at the finish. She talks to one of the guys whose attitude is one of “don’t worry, it will work out tomorrow.” Hilary is unconvinced.

That evening we take Camille, Jody and their four-year old son to Suppenküche, a German restaurant, where I have jägerschnitzel and spätzle, as German food prior to long races is becoming my tradition. I wash it down with a dark beer and finish by sharing a piece of Black Forest cake with Hilary to complete my carbo loading for the next day’s race.

Rodeo Beach

In the predawn darkness, Hilary drives me to Rodeo Beach just across the Golden Gate Bridge for the race start. While the forecast calls for a sunny day with temperatures in the high 60s, there is a chilly breeze off the Pacific while we make the short walk to the beach for the start. Right on time, at 5:40 a.m. we are off, and soon begin the first of the long climbs of the day, headed up past the old Nike missile site to the turnaround at Battery Mendel. Headed back, I pause with Carl L. of New Zealand to take pictures of each other with the sun starting to back light the Golden Gate Bridge.

Downhill, then up the Coastal Trail for more views of the Bay area. I run a bit with Rajeev P., who is from San Jose and seems to know every other runner as well as be known by them. He says that he is a frequent ultra runner in the Bay area and is also the race director for a local ultra. “Besides,” he says, “there are not many Indian ultrarunners.” He helps retrieve several items from my camelback and I return the favor by holding his while he peels off his jacket.

We pass through the first aid station at Bunker Road (mile 6.2) in 1:15. It's a faster pace than I'd planned, but I feel good and am not concerned.

Heading for Tennessee Valley

Another long climb up the single track through grassy hillsides dotted with orange California poppies and other wild flowers culminates in more spectacular views of the top of the Golden Gate Bridge, and I pause to have another runner take my picture. I chat for a while with Eldrith G. (?), and we spar a bit over guessing who is older, but from his tone I know the game is rigged. At 68 he is running his sixth Miwok and will be the oldest finisher today (in 15:51). I’ll be the sixth oldest finisher when the day is over.

I chat with another runner whose distance running trajectory is astonishing. He ran is first marathon in October, his first 50K in January, is first 50M in February and is now in his first 100K.

We run past a man on the trail with a white bird perhaps a parrot or cockatoo who is trying to train it to fly from a post to his shoulder.

Just past there I spot a women running ahead of me. She is a below-the-knee amputee of her left leg, but she’s moving along as well as any of us toward the back of the pack. I pass her but I’ll see her again headed for the turnaround at mile 35.6 and comfortably ahead of the cutoff.

But out on the trail, I don’t find this unusual. As is usual, I’ve been talking to everyone out on the trail, and the predominately western runners at Miwok are quite different from the eastern runners that I’m used to. Perhaps it is the distance that accounts for being surrounded by what seems to be a majority of people who have run 100 milers. But it is comments as well, such as when Julian M. tells me that not only has he run the Leadville Trail 100 Miler, but that he thought the course was easy – even though it is almost entirely about 10,000 feet, and includes a climb to nearly 14,000 feet.

Let’s Go to Muir Beach

Leaving the aid station at Tennessee Valley (mile 11.9), it is off to the small town of Muir Beach on the Pacific Coast. More steep up and downs, but spectacular views of the craggy Pacific Coast, with the trail hugging steep inclines to the sea. Miwok is not just a run, but a seemingly endless photo op and I stop to snap a shot or two. As we approach the aid station at Muir Beach (mile 16), I’m with Rajeev, who is greeted by a friend dressed like a pirate.

At the aid station a volunteer refills my camelback; I grab my usual food of potato chips, chocolate chip cookies and a quarter of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and head off. I take out my cell phone and am puzzled that the battery seems so low after only three and a half hours running. Then I realize that there is no signal, and probably hasn’t been for a couple of hours, and the battery is being drained by the futile search for a signal. I put the phone in ‘airplane mode’ to try to save what power is left for when I’ll need it.

The Endless Climb

The terrain changes leaving the beach. For the next three miles or so we run gradually uphill in woodlands on a narrow single track with grass and shrubs close-by. I move a thin branch to the side so that it doesn’t hit the runner behind me. He acknowledges my courtesy and then says, “That was poison oak.” We are just about to cross a very small rivulet and I dunk my hand in it hoping that it might wash it off. Either thru luck or prompt action, my hand doesn’t break out, but four days later, sitting at the Nats game, my right shin feels itchy and I see that it is covered with a rash from poison oak, and my left leg has a small amount as well.

Then the course turns sharply uphill and we climb about 1400 feet in the next two or two and a half miles. Every time it seems we have reached the top, it is a false crest, and we have to keep climbing. In a clearing I flip the phone on and send a tweet about climbing for the past 30 minutes. Little do I know that I’ll be climbing for another 50 minutes

Spectacular Coastline

Finally the climb is over and I arrive at the Pan Toll aid station (mile 21.7). I’ve sent a drop bag there since I can access it both outbound and inbound. I change my sweaty long-sleeved shirt for a short-sleeved one, eat my usual potato chips and chocolate chip cookies and exit the parking lot to where the trail crosses the road. Two volunteers are there assisting with traffic control, but I tell them that I’m not ready to go across as I fiddle with my phone in an effort to reach Hilary. She’s sent me a text asking me to ask the aid station workers if someone can drive the car back to the finish, but I’m past it and won’t go back to ask. As I let her know that, the crossing volunteers at kid me about telling the race director to prohibit texting while running next year. “I’m trying to reach my daughter,” I tell them, and they pronounce that acceptable.

The course winds along the side of a grassy ridge with endless spectacular views of the Pacific. One runner points out to me a place off the course by a grove of trees where he had camped. Soon we are stepping off the single track to make room for the race leaders on their way back. It’s quite remarkable to see them, as they are already about 20 miles ahead of us. But it is like seeing a who’s who of the best ultrarunners in the country as Anton Krupicka, Michael Wardian, and Hal Koerner effortlessly go by.

Julian M. tells me that he beat Krupicka at Leadville last year. He passed him at the aid station at mile 80 because Krupicka was down on a stretcher with an IV on his way to a DNF. Finishing beats not finishing.

As the trail wound around the hillside, we come upon an overturned vehicle entirely covered with a patina of rust. Apparently the car came down the steep but even slope, hit a large stone and flipped over it.

Thru the Redwoods

After awhile we enter woods and within a mile or two come to the Bolinas Ridge aid station at mile 28.4. The trail is a wide dirt road along Bolinas Ridge. More and more runners are passing me headed for the return to the finish. As I leave the aid station a young boy of about four or five runs toward me. I joke that even a young child is faster than me, and his father says “look at his shirt." "OK, I understand," I say, eyeing the boy’s Superman tee shirt.

The trial rolls gently up and down and I run along with Julian M. We are in a redwood forest and the trees reach straight and tall. He tells me that when California was still Spanish, ships used some of the very tall redwoods as navigation markers.

I start to become concerned about my hydration, as I haven’t urinated in hours and haven’t felt any need to. I’ve been trying to remember to take Succeed tablets, and have packed 10 with me as well as leaving some in my drop bag to replenish my supplies if need be. But I’m not on a schedule as to when to take them, and even when I do, I forget how long it has been since the last one. Finally I realize that I can set the timer on my watch to provide an alarm as a reminder. And finally I feel a need to stop and duck behind a tree. The power of suggestion works on Julian and he stops shortly thereafter. I'll down nine Succeeds before the day is over.

We come to the left turn where we head down the Randall Trail for the 1100 foot descent over 1.7 miles to the turnaround. In some places it is too steep to run without tearing up one’s quads, but fair portions of it are runnable.


At the bottom of the trail is the aid station at mile 35.6. It is the first aid station with a cutoff time, but I’m a very comfortable 40 minutes ahead of the cutoff. I get my usual food and camelback refill, and apply some Vaseline to avoid chafing. I take a quarter of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and head back up the long hill that I just came down. Later, looking at the race results, I realize that Anton Krupicka was crossing the finish line more than 26 miles away about the time I was leaving the Randall Trail aid station.

All through the race I had been dreading this point, figuring that having to go up this hill after just coming down it would be psychologically tough. Instead, I find the climb neither mentally nor physically challenging. Perhaps that was because I had just been down it and knew what to expect, unlike the climb out of Muir Beach, or perhaps because I was so far ahead of the cutoff. I knew from both my pace card and from talking to experienced Miwok runners on the outbound legs that this was the toughest cutoff, and that if you made it, you were in a good position to finish.

Going up meant seeing runners who still had to get to the aid station before the cutoff, and the further I went the lower the chance of the runners I saw had of making the cutoff. Some seemed resigned to not making it and others were concerned and pushing. Forty three minutes after leaving the aid station, and three minutes after the cutoff time, I meet a runner still headed out-bound. He knows that his day is over, and we discuss whether it makes sense for him to continue or to turn back to the Bolinas Ridge aid station. He decides to take a chance that someone will still be at Randall Trail when he arrives so that he can get a ride back to the finish.

I’m feeling really good on the rolling path thru the redwoods and am even catching and passing some runners. I’m even running some of the gentle uphills.

Rendezvous Ahead?

Arriving back at the Bolinas Ridge aid station at mile 42.8 I ask to borrow a cell phone if there is a signal. One of the volunteers dials Hilary’s number for me. She doesn’t answer, so I leave a message that I’m doing fine and that if she can’t arrange to meet me at Pan Toll, the next aid station, not to worry about it.

I’m in the zone. I’ve got my mojo working. I’ve got runner’s high. It’s the rapture. Whatever it is, I feel great. Out of the woods, and along the Coastal Trail for more spectacular views of Stinson Beach, the Pacific and the mix of grassy hillsides and wooded ravines. I stop, start up the phone and take a picture. I pass a runner and her pacer, and she looks out of gas. I pass a couple of more runners, step aside to let hikers and families go by headed in the other direction and am upbeat and chatty to them all. “It’s a spectacular day,” is my motto to one and all. Someone asks how I can be so happy running so far. “How couldn’t I be?” I respond, “Everything is spectacular.”

As we run through the wooded section approaching the Pan Toll aid station, the woman who appeared out of gas passes me. It's either a miraculous recovery or she starting her spectacular day later than I.


As I come off the trail to cross the road to the Pan Toll aid station at mile 49.5, one of the same road crossing volunteers who had joked with me earlier about texting while running says, “Is that your daughter?” I pause and look across to the parking lot and see two women standing there looking at me. I don’t recognize the one on the left. But the one on the right is Hilary!

She tells me that she had driven up to Pan Toll figuring to at least see me there. But a runner dropped out with an injury at the station and needed a ride back to the finish. She offered to let him and his pacer drive our rental car back to the finish. I’m not surprised that she figured out a solution, as I was less apprehensive about her ability to figure out a way to be able to pace me than she was. On the other hand, she's given the rental car to two guys we don't know . . . but that is the culture of trail running.

Hilary: I was sitting in the parking lot with another woman who was waiting for her runner to come through. I had been at the check point for about an hour and half already. My cell phone had lost service and I had used the last of the battery to call Andrew to see if there had been any twitter updates from Dad in the past two hours. Radio silence. As my anxiety was rising, I saw a man in red shorts and white hat coming down the hill. It was Daddy! He was alive! He was actually smiling! He was still running! I have never been so happy to see my Dad.

We head over to my drop bag, grab the headlamps and handheld light and get back on the trail.

Hilary: He breezed through the check point. We had five miles to the next check point. I said, "You've come this far, only 13.2 more." He scolded me. He said something to the effect of: Never say how much is left of the race, only how much more to the next check point.

The woman who was gassed passes us for the second time shortly after we are on the trail. Julian also goes by and notes that we have gone through 50 miles in 11:30. I think to myself that is only 15 minutes longer than it took to run the Bull Run Run 50 miler three weeks previously, on a course nowhere near as challenging as Miwok. Mr. Fabulous is certainly out on the course today.

Hilary: We successfully made it through the woods, walking the uphills, running the flats and downhills. This part of the course provided great views, big trees and good conversation with Dad. About two miles to the next checkpoint, we came out of the woods and starting winding our way up a mountain. Dad kept talking about his pace and how we were on pace, even if we walked the rest of the race, for 15 hours.

My biggest concern at this point was missing the turn for the Redwood Creek Fire Trail, as the inward part of the course is different than the out-bound and the Miwok course directions warn that every year runners miss this turn. In fact, a fellow runner earlier in the day had told how he had unsuccessfully chased after a woman who had missed the turn. She wound up going all the way to Muir Beach before recognizing her error and finished an hour behind him. This year ten runners will miss the turn and wind up at Muir Beach.

But we spot the ribbons, and make the turn, following the trail through a wooded valley filled with ferns. We don’t see any Ewoks or Hobbits, but it has the feel that either could live there. It’s uphill, but pleasant and we catch up to a different woman and her pacer. They had missed the turn, and gone about five minutes before recognizing their error and turning around. They good naturedly joke about who was responsible for the error, the runner or the pacer.

Still more uphills follow, and now out of the woods, but the rewards of climbs are spectacular views.

The End of the Rapture

I’m starting to feel a bit tired as we reach the Highway 1 aid station at mile 54.7. I refill the camelback with GU20, grab the usual food and take another Succeed and we are off again. I toss a potato chip away as my mouth is dry and cottony. Mr. Fabulous has departed, and instead of the rapture, I’m feeling left behind. As we walk uphill I tell Hilary that my stomach is starting to feel bad. I briefly consider sticking my fingers down my throat, but don’t quite feel that bad. I also don’t tell Hilary that I’m also feeling a bit light-headed.

We are getting passed regularly now, something that doesn’t usually happen to me in the latter stages of races. But then again, I’m in uncharted territory for me, distance-wise. I seem to find reasons not to run, as either the downhills look too steep or don’t look at all like downhills. Rajeev and a fellow runner go by with a jolly greeting and it perks me up enough that we start to run, even if only for a little bit.

Hilary: Luckily, it only last about a mile and half. He started to feel better after he saw his Indian runner friend and we started to jog again. With about a mile and half to go to the Tennessee Valley aid station, the course got rockier and steeper. During our decent, we met a nice real estate lawyer who talked about some of the foreclosure problems out in California, the Western States 100 miler and how he was never going to do this race again. I was thinking "I’m never going to do this again and I'm only going 13 miles."

Hilary chats about foreclosures with one of the runners. She doesn’t mention her position at HUD and I keep my mouth quiet about that. He also tells us that he ran Western States and thinks Miwok is tougher. But I’m feeling better and my stomach distress seems to have passed.

Fireworks for the Finish

Hilary: At the Tennessee Valley aid station, Dad filled up again and went to the bathroom. I ate these delicious pretzel bites filled with peanut butter from Trader Joe's (advertisement) and drank some water.

A restroom visit provides relief and the first chance of the day to sit down. I eye the pizza at the aid station but decide to stick with the usual chips and cookies. In fact, all I eat all day, besides the aid station PB&J, potato chips and cookies is a single bag of Shot Blocs.

We run past a bored horse at the stables and start to climb. We are about 14 hours into the race, it’s about 7:40 p.m. and the shadows are starting to lengthen. Sunset is about 20 minutes ahead.

We reach a nice runnable section after the climb and it appears that the trail will go slightly left through a saddle in the ridge ahead. But no such luck, as the trail veers to the right and we will have to climb over the ridge. We catch up to a runner who’s having ITB problems with his left leg. He’s OK on the uphills, but has to stop and stretch on the downhills. He warns us that the trail goes uphill in three sections with the first and third being steep.

Hilary We started off on the last 4 miles of the race. Lucky for us, we only had the WORST part of the course left. One runner, who was now limping because he had some type of knee injury situation told us that at the end of the course there are these "weird rocky stairs and that we have two really bad uphills to go." He was not kidding. The evil course makers decided to lead you up higher and higher, tricking you at every turn. The first mile after the aid station was nice. Wild flowers on the side of the path, the path was nice and wide, no small ravines cutting across the path . . . it was great. THEN stupid pink ribbons led us up a 75 degree angle hill maybe more! This continues until its dark and we have to put on our head lamps.

About midway up the final section of the climb, we put on our headlamps. We crest the ridge and we can see the tent at the finish, probably a mile and a half away down on the beach. It looks tiny, but also deceivingly closer than it is, as the course will wind its way down.

Hilary: Then FINALLY FINALLY we get to the top and you can see the ocean and the aid station! SWEET RELIEF ALMOST THERE!!!! Oh wait, we hadn’t even gotten to the "weird rocky stairs." We have maybe a mile and half to go and one can tell that it's down hill. We start jogging again until we hit the path that leads us to the rocky stairs. If my quads were screaming down those uneven treacherous stairs, I can’t even imagine how Dad's legs were feeling. We were getting closer. About three more flights of these stairs, past the old warhead storage facilities and we can HEAR people at the finish line cheering for runners.

As we head down the path, partly on old paved road and partly on trail we can see the lights of the ocean-side of San Francisco in the distance all the way down to Lake Merced. Spectacular is back! And then the bonus: a star burst in the sky down toward Lake Merced. Fireworks! Of course, it is May 1, May Day, International Workers Day, the day that honors workers everywhere in the world except in the United States for which May Day is too socialist and maybe even communist. So we have Labor Day in September, so that our workers cannot have solidarity with the rest of the world's working masses. But San Francisco is not on the Left Coast for nothing, so fireworks grace the sky this evening, providing a nice finish to the work we have been doing on the trail.

With the sun now fully set, temperatures have dropped and there are cold gusty winds blowing off the Pacific. Hilary puts her long sleeve top back on but I just get chilled, although with the finish in sight, I'm not feeling too bad.

Hilary: As we made our final turn to the finish line I told my Dad that I was and still am so proud and impressed that he did this race. His finish time was 15:09.

With Hilary beside me, I cross the line in 15:09:44, finishing 235th of 269 finishers. I get my pottery medal, and then my Miwok canvas drum-shaped backpack, filled with other swag: a Miwok technical short sleeve shirt, a black ‘Oil the Machine’ hat, a one ounce sample of Udo’s oil, a Miwok blanket, a Montrail water bottle, a pair of gloves, a Moeben buff and a 22 ounce bottle of Miwok Trail Ale. I plop down in the heated tent at the finish but don’t have any appetite for the post-race food other than a Pepsi. Hilary goes to find the car.

Hilary: We ate at In-N-Out Burger after the race. Oh yeah, and the car wasn't stolen - phew.


  1. Wow, great report, Ken! (And Hilary too!). Sounds like quite an adventure, and the perfect topic for your first blog post.

    Congrats on the fantastic run!


  2. Great report Ken. I really enjoyed reading about Mr. Fabulous and his alter-ego. Your description of why you run was enlightening. Congratulations on an impressive race Ken! Megan

  3. Love it. I had such a rough race but you reminded me how beautiful this course is. I am trying to decide between Rio del Lago and Headlands Hundred - Rio del Lago might be better timing...