You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have my Miwok 100K race recap! Aha! You thought I was going to say “the facts of life” didn’t you? Actually I understand there may be a generation gap not aware of the old 80’s tv show “The Facts of Life” but trust me, that first sentence definitely applies to the race I just had.
Making my way over to Stinson Beach in the dark early hours on May 7th, 2016, I knew there was going to be a winding road — I just didn’t know how winding it would be. Eleven miles of twists, and turns, and dips was enough to make me nauseous half way through and that’s how my race morning started.
When I finally arrived and parked, I wanted to get out of the car and kiss the ground, but time was of the essence and I needed to make my way over to the Stinson Beach Community Center to pick up my bib, turn in my drop bag for the Tennessee Valley aid station (miles 13 and 26), and get to the start line, which I didn’t even know where it was.
There were people standing around the community center, walking up the street, and in line for the bathrooms, which luckily I used down the street near the parking lot because these lines were long! All the while I kept wondering: Where is the start line? I started to walk up to where people slowly gravitated, but I still didn’t know which way I was to face. I was confused. But as I stood on the sideline I could see a row of very fit men lined up facing towards me. Umm, something tells me I shouldn’t be standing where I’m standing. At that moment, I inched my way past them and towards the back so I didn’t get trampled on in the first milliseconds of the race.
At 5AM sharp, people took off running. Oh, we’re starting??? There was no pre-race speech. At least I didn’t hear it. There was no sound to send us off. At least I didn’t hear it. There was no sign or indication where I should start my Garmin, so I started it once I passed a stop sign line.
Not far from the start, we made a left turn and came to a grinding halt. I’m losing time here people. The crowd was immediate jammed up and bottlenecked because we slowly started our ascent up the Dipsea Trail which is a narrow gradual slope of never-ending stairs and I immediate started the self talk, and the self talk would be with me throughout this race, especially towards the end.
Christina, why didn’t I use the stair climber more?!
It didn’t help I was still nauseous from the car ride over here. Being a couple of miles into the race was not a good time for me to upchuck my oatmeal and banana.
Darkness covered me and my headlamp was fading dim. How could this be??? My batteries were fresh! Okay maybe fresh-ish. Alright, who am I kidding? They were new when I ran the San Diego 50 back in January and have used my headlamp from time to time since then. Oops. Good thing the light would be showing soon. That is “light” that didn’t necessarily translate to sunshine.
The sun didn’t come out this day. There was a perpetual grayness all morning and I didn’t mind that one bit. The temperature was cool and the humidity didn’t feel bad. Rain fell on us the day before but according to the multiple weather reports I watched, no rain was expected in the forecast. There may be a sprinkle or light shower here and there before noon, but after that, the rain is complete gone, and I should put “completely gone” in quotation marks because those were the words I heard. And those multiple weather reports couldn’t have been more wrong.
What wasn’t wrong was the beauty of these trails surrounding me. Once I got out of the Dipsea Trail and in the clearing, I could understand why people love this race. If there was anything I heard about Miwok, it was the beauty of the trails, and it was around me constantly. At one point I said to myself “I can see why Dean Karnazes runs up here a lot.”
As I wound my way towards the first aid station, well technically the second one, but there wasn’t one set up at Cardiac because it was only around 3 miles into the race, I found myself running just ahead of a man and woman running and carrying on their conversation. As they came upon me I said to them “let me know if you’d like to pass.” The response I got was one I wasn’t expecting. “Oh you’re fine, we’re the safety sweepers.” WTF??? Are you kidding me??? Thank goodness I was in front of them so they didn’t see how large my eyes got when I heard this. Ok I’m not delusional in knowing I was towards the back, but THE back? I was not okay with this no matter how slow I was so I kicked up my pace. Soon after I was ahead of them and a couple of other runners.
Once I got closer to the aid station at Muir Beach, I came to a fork in the road with ribbons on both sides of it. Hmm…which way do I go? Seeing as there were runners coming towards me on the right side, I, along with another woman, figured we’d go left since it’s probably a loop. Thankfully those sweepers and another runner came up and told us those ribbons are wrong! Well I sure did lose some time there. Again.
Alright Christina, check into the aid station and then book it out of there.
Awaiting was a section of switchbacks where I climbed and ran as much as I could, keeping a good clip all the way up. To my surprise I came upon a man and woman hiking up and I received the best compliment of my trail running life thus far, “Wow, great climbing!” The woman told me as I passed them on their left. Thank you! And much more to surprise I agreed with them. At that moment I was particularly proud of myself and it dawned on me, I’m actually getting better at climbing! Now, I’m still a ways off from charging up, but I’m proud of these small victories and this gave me an ounce more of confidence.
Getting out of the switchbacks I ran into my first coyote of the day. It came out of nowhere looking at me curiously and soon disappearing into the brush. A few minutes later I heard a pack howling and I had flashbacks to the San Diego 50, but this time I wasn’t in the pitch black darkness and I had a nice stretch of downhill into the Tennessee Valley aid station at mile 13.
For most of this race I was fully aware of timing knowing I was up against aid station cutoffs. When I reached Tennessee Valley I filled up my OrangeMud bottle with one of my pre-made CarboPro packets. I had 3 packets with me and 4 put in my drop bag. The nice aid station volunteer filled my bottle up with water and asked me how I was feeling. “I’m feeling good, but I know I’m cutting it close to the cutoff.” He said, “Yeah we close at 11AM.” “Well I’m going to do my best and if not, then I had a great marathon,” I said to him. He smiled, nodded his head and said “good.” He directed me where to go next and I took off feeling I may have just set the tone for the rest of my race. I was cutting it close but there was a part of me feeling like I had a chance of making the cutoff. That was until I had a never-ending climb that went on forever and ever. So much for those skills.
After about a mile and half of this climb, I had another stretch of rolling hills where I saw many people returning from where I was headed, and at this point I was getting and giving many “great job” comments and I even received a high five. As I looked at these anguished faces coming towards me, it was as if they were trying to tell me something. Something along the lines of “I feel for you girl knowing what you’re heading into.”
I followed the ribbons and came up to an intersection where I saw ribbons on both the left and right side, and I saw people walking up the hill towards me on the right side. Was this another situation similar to heading to the Muir Beach aid station? I remember there was something written about this intersection so I checked my phone where I took a screenshot of the instructions. I took a left at the “H” and embarked on the single track SCA trail. As soon as I did, I felt the sprinkles. These must be the sprinkles the weather reports mentioned.
I loved this portion of the trail because I knew I was close to seeing the Golden Gate Bridge. When I edged a curve, all of sudden out of nowhere I could finally see the top, and for the first time during this race, my emotions got me. It was absolutely beautiful and I seriously felt so happy here.
Right then I looked at my Garmin. At that moment I knew deep down I wasn’t going to make the first cutoff and it was at that moment my race changed from something I was fighting for, into something I was simply going to enjoy the rest of my time out there. I decided to take a minute and stop, so I could look around and be amazed at how much beauty was around me and give thanks for the opportunity to even be a part it, which I really didn’t do for most of the beginnings of this race. Now was my chance to do so.
The weather had started to shift now. The temperature dropped. The wind picked up. The rain sprinkles started to fall, but they shouldn’t be bad since the weather reports said no rain today.
When I reached the point closest to the Golden Gate Bridge, I stopped again to admire the view and to record a hello video to my Ultra Ordinary Running podcast cohosts Melissa and Angela. I also saw my second coyote of the day which looked at me quickly and swiftly made it’s way into the brush.
The terrain here was pretty rocky and not ideal, for me at least, of running towards the next aid station. While I wouldn’t say this course was overly technical, there were definitely technical portions during the first 26 miles of it. Not much smooth buttery sections at all, but somehow I managed to do pretty well on it. When I don’t roll any ankles I count that as a complete success!
When I reached the next aid station around mile 18, I made a mistake. I grabbed a peanut butter and jelly slice and devoured it. It wouldn’t have been much of a mistake if I didn’t take off like a wild banshee after eating it, but I quickly started running and helloooo side stitch. I had about 7.5 miles left to go and could see what was waiting for me on the other side.
That there my friends (see photo below), would be the longest climb of the day for me, and it was a stretch that took fooooooreverrrrrr.
The fog has completely rolled in, the wind picked up more, and the sprinkles continued to fall. As I made my way up this climb, there were no downhills, and there were no switchbacks. There was endless huffing and puffing making my way up and my quads could feel it. Fartleks were my friend here. Run to that bush. Now run to those flowers. So on and so on, all the way up.
When I finally reached the top, the sprinkles were gone and it was now a light misty rain falling. Wearing a long-sleeved shirt I intended on taking it off if it warmed up, but the temperature never warmed up. It got colder.
I wound my way back and with every minute I did, the rain started to fall harder. I had about 5 or 6 miles left to go. I think. Knowing I wasn’t going to make the cutoff I tried my luck at texting my sister to let her know the situation so hopefully she’d receive it and be at Tennessee Valley. After several tries of sending, it finally went through. The rain started to come down more and I placed my phone back in a ziplock bag I had for it and stashed it away. However, before I did, I took one last photo with the fog and rain.
Shortly after taking the photo, I started running again and I ran into a wall of rain. With a few miles left to go the rain fell down more and the wind was blowing harder. Because of this, I pulled my hair down on the sides to cover my ears to prevent the water getting into them because the water kept hitting my face and head.
Just get to that aid station and call it a day, Christina.
As the rain, wind, and chill drenched me, I started to shiver and as I ran, I had a mini-breakdown. This was tough. The rain mixed with my tears and all the emotions I’ve been feeling for the past few weeks came to the surface. I wanted to be done.
My Garmin beeped, and I didn’t want to look at it for fear it would only tell me mile 22 or 23 and I’d have another 3 or 4 miles of this. I had no idea where I was. All I knew was this was tough for me.
You can do this Christina. You can. One step at a time.
It’s funny how self talk can either bring you up, or drag you down. I wanted mine to do the former.
This is tough. But I’m tougher. Please let my sister be at Tennessee Valley. I’ve survived worse days than this. Yes, I’m freezing and soaked to the bone, but what an adventure this is! Remember, I chose to do this. Oh man my quads burn. I can and I will get through this. This is fun!
Easy rolling hills twisted my way towards mile 26. When I came upon the horse stables I knew I was very close but when I approached it I didn’t see any ribbon and I could see someone running on the other side. Did I take a wrong turn? This was very unlikely because I will say, this course was one helluva well-marked course. Ribbons everywhere!!! Aside from that little extra ribbon up near Muir, I never doubted where I was going, or where I was. Absolutely loved that!
I walked through the area and saw the Tennessee Valley tent. When I reached it, a gentleman came up to me and I asked him “did I go the right way?” He asked me, “Did you walk by the stables?” I said “yes.” He said “Yes you went the right way, but unfortunately, you did not make the cutoff.” Something I already knew. He was very kind and asked me if I had a drop bag and if I needed anything such as ride. Thank goodness my sister and mom where there to give me one. Yay! I was seriously so happy to see them even if my sister never received the text I sent. Oh, and I did take a Coca-Cola before leaving this station.
As much as I was happy to be done, I was sad I was done. Obviously not finishing wasn’t in my plan, but I can’t be upset with how my day went. For the most part, I controlled the things I could control and all the other stuff was beyond me. I did my best and was proud of the marathon distance I completed. Not many people can say they can run a marathon on any given day, but I can say, I can, and I felt good afterwards. Yes, I was tired and my legs were sore, but I had absolutely no blisters even with soaked shoes and socks. It’s a miracle!!! If only that cutoff was 7 hours instead of the 6, this recap may have had an entirely different ending. One that may not have had the letters: DNF.
Driving again on the winding road (yes the one that made me nauseous at the start), I had to go back to the community center again because I wanted to get food and pick up my goodie bag. Sitting there at the table, I could see a gentleman taking off the safety pins from the bibs that were collected. I could see a “NO” written on the back. These were DNF bibs. I’d find out later there were around 160 Did Not Finish bibs. And slowly I would see other runners trickle in with various stories to how their race went. However, one story was pretty consistent amongst us: this was one tough race.
Thank you to race director Tia Bodington, her wonderful aid stations, and all her volunteers for bracing the elements and making this one heck of a race! I hope to be back one day and finish what I set out to do.
Thanks for reading and Happy Running!