Monday, May 28, 2012

Miwok 2012

The lead up to the Miwok 100K was as pretty challenging.  For the last year or more, it seemed I had been battling one nagging injury after another.  The most recent of these, a nasty case of metatarsalgia in my left foot, really put me behind the curve as far as training went.  Still, the last couple of months had been relatively healthy, and while the overall training mileage wasn't anything to write home about, I managed to get a number of quality long runs in throughout April.  What I didn't get was any serious hill training.  Hitting the stairs at work wasn't always a great option (particularly when it started to get warm in the stairwells), and since Rice closed the stadium to outsiders, the options for any sort of structured "up & down" work are pretty limited.  Add to that some work issues that called into question whether I'd even be able to make the trip to California up until a week beforehand, and it wasn't an ideal situation.

Still, I was excited and optimistic about giving it a go for a number of reasons.  First, I absolutely love these trails.  Regardless of the exact route in a given year (the course has changed a bit the last few years), this is some of the finest trail running to be had anywhere.  Big ups, big downs, phenomenal scenery, lovely weather . . . seriously, it doesn't get much better than Miwok.  Second, my first-rate crew of Chris and Misty were joining me.  In addition to being excellent company, they know what they're doing when it comes to these things, which meant that I knew I wouldn't have to sweat the small stuff.  Third, work had sucked recently, and any opportunity to spend a long weekend outside in a beautiful place, far away from the office was a good thing.  Finally:  Wine Country.  'Nuff said.

Travel to the Bay Area was smooth (travel back home was another story) and we found a very tasty place to dine in Mill Valley  Got back to the hotel at a reasonable hour, got everything organized, taped my feet, and hit the sack.  The race was scheduled to start at 5:00 a.m. (what is it with these crazy-early starts?), so Chris, Misty, and yours truly were in the car and on the way down to Stinson Beach well before 4:00 a.m.  Check in was a minimalist affair.  A table, some volunteers, a race number, and that was it.  Hung out in the car with the crew for a bit and then decided to head to the start line.  One problem - no one knew where it was.  Finally, the RD showed up in the middle of the parking lot with a bullhorn, gathered everyone up, and announced we'd be doing a quick loop around the lot to spread folks out a bit.  Minutes later, we were off.  Quintessential no-fuss trail race start.

Stinson Beach

Waiting for "Go"
After our Lot Loop, all 350+ runners hit the sleepy roads through Stinson Beach, a task that took all of maybe 5 minutes.  This first half mile or so was gently uphill (enough for me to mix in some walking, but not bad at all).  Before we knew it, the street ended and we hit the narrow singletrack of the Willow Camp trail.  Up, up, up we went.  For the next 40 or more minutes, it was all grinding climb.  Given the narrowness of the trail, there was very little passing and for the most part everyone was locked into their position.  The monotony of the climb was, however, broken up by fantastic views out over the Pacific and a waning "Supermoon" that transitioned from huge and white to small and otherworldly orange.  After the long and sometimes quite steep climb, the trail widened before funneling onto the Coastal Trail.

Coastal Less-Than-Singletrack (Credit:  Donald B.)

I remembered this section of trail well from Headlands and Miwok five years ago as a super-narrow, somewhat challenging, but mostly flat bit of running.  The years had not been kind to the trail, however, as what I found was a super-narrow trail that had been narrowed even further (to the point of near disappearance) by significant erosion.  At times there was simply not enough room for both feet.  To make matters worse, recent rains had led to tall grasses overgrowing much of the trail to the point where it was difficult in the early morning light to even make out where you were stepping.  In short, very tough footing.  By the time I finally rolled into the Bolinas Ridge aid station, I was more worked than I would have liked to have been.  

Early morning from the Bolinas Fire Road
I was looking forward to a PB&J at Bolinas Ridge, but I must say that the selection was underwhelming.  Nothing more than some chips and assorted other junk.  Honestly, despite this race's history and reputation, I've always found the aid stations lacking.  Not that I need much from my aid stations, but there's something about coming to a nearly-bare aid station that is just a little dispiriting.  I quickly blew off the lack of PB&J, downed a GU, and headed out the lovely Bolinas Ridge Fire Road.  For the next 6 miles or so, we were treated to rolling trail, perfect weather, big trees, and just ideal running conditions.  Shortly before the gate that marks the descent down to the Randall turnaround, the leaders floated by (Dave Mackey in front looking typically mutant-like).  The descent down to Randall was the first test of my downhill legs.  About 1400 feet in a mile and half or so, there was no doubt my flatlander legs were taking a pounding, but, man, it was a hell of a lot of fun to fly downhill for that long!  Before I knew it, I was at the bottom and the Randall Turnaround aid station.  Filled up on water and grabbed a couple of PB&J squares, and I was off and up the long climb back up to the ridge line.

Randall Aid Station

The climb up was predictably slow - I'm serious, I am a terrible climber - but not as taxing as I expected.  By the time I hit the Bolinas Fire Road, I was able to run everything save for a the ups of a few of the bigger rollers.  Getting back to the Bolinas Ridge Aid Station seemed to take forever though.  Once I finally made it there, I passed on PB&J and tried some tortilla wraps with garlic hummus.  It sounded really good at the time, but man, I tasted that garlic hummus long after I wanted to.  After gathering myself, I headed back out toward the dreaded pencil-thin ("half-track") section of the Coastal Trail, this time even longer than on the trip in.  Some frustration set in at this point with the crappy footing, and I was struggling with motivation.  I was already tired, my feet hurt, and I was having the "why do I do this" internal dialogue that should have come many miles later.  But the views . . . they were lovely.  
Coastal Trail
Coastal Trail "Gutter"
Yet More Coastal (it was long...)

After what seemed an eternity, we finally reached the sharp righthand turn down the Matt Davis trail, heading back toward Stinson Beach.  On the Topo map and in various descriptions I had read, this was supposed to be a very, um, aggressive downhill.  But the early going was actually pretty tame.  The trail was a little wider than the Coastal Trail I'd just come off of and the grade wasn't bad and made for some nice downhill cruising.  Unfortunately, that didn't last long, because as soon as we were back in the forested section a little lower down the hillside, the trail changed in a couple of ways.  

Matt Davis gnar-gnar (Credit:  Donald B.)

First, it became steeper, particularly on the switchbacks (all of which were composed of 4-6 irregular and sometimes treacherous "stairs").  Second, the trail became significantly more technical - rockier and rootier.  In a poor state of mind and with downhill legs starting to wear out, it was a tough go.  About midway down, I fell in behind another runner (Lucy) who was also not having the best of days.  We shared our misery and discussed dropping at Stinson.  The fellowship of suffering made the crazy descent pass more quickly (crossing paths with scads of cheery hikers just pissed me off), and soon enough we spilled into the parking lot at the Stinson Beach fire station.  

Stinson Beach - 26 Miles
After a few moments, I spotted Chris and Misty, who immediately set out to getting me whatever I needed.  I entered the aid station with every intention of calling it quits then, but I really felt I owed my crew at least one more leg.  While I had no expectation that things would turn around, I knew that stranger things have happened in ultras.  With plenty of water, some Mountain Dew, and a few minutes' rest, I set out on the next leg.  All I knew about it was that it was like 7 miles.  Had I known any more, I may have called it quits at that point.  

Up The Dipsea (Credit: Donald B.)

Climbing Dipsea / Steep Ravine
Almost immediately after leaving, the trail began to climb at a reasonable (but not fun) grade.  The climb up the famed Dipsea Trail included a few sections of stairs early on before breaking into a completely exposed rolling section about a half mile in (The Moors).  The section actually saw me running a bit, although the sun was making itself felt.  Don't get me wrong, it wasn't even remotely hot by Texas standards, but the lack of shade and continuous direct sun can slowly drain the reserves (reserves I didn't really have).  After a little over a mile, you drop down into a drainage before resuming the climb up toward Cardiac Hill.  The worst part of the climb comes early, gaining about 500 feet in less than half a mile.  This climb includes parts of the course with names like Insult Hill, Steep Ravine, and (worst of all) The Swoop.  

The (MF-ing) Swoop
More Friggin' Swoop (Credit for both:  Donald B.)
This section . . . well, it completely destroyed me.  I was reduced to stopping every 10 steps or so to catch my breath.  I thought my heart was literally going to burst from my chest, Alien-style.  Pure, unadulterated misery.  But finally, the stairs were done.  My reward, just plain old stair-less climbing.  Thanks Miwok.

My Reward (Credit:  Donald B.)

After what seemed like an eternity, I finally crested Cardiac and began the gentle, but oh-so-long descent down the Randall Fire Road toward the Redwood Creek Trail and the terminus of my race - Muir Beach. 

Near Cardiac - About to head down Deer Park
Arriving at Muir, I was completely spent.  To their credit, Chris and Misty didn't bother to try to talk me out of dropping.  I was falling behind the Tennessee Valley 50-mile cut off (which I later learned was extended an hour - not that it would have made a difference), and I knew that there was simply no way I was going to finish this race.   By dropping at this point, I could save my legs and leave a good chunk of beautiful afternoon for everyone to do something other than waiting around for a suffering runner.  That the "something" involved margaritas is proof that the day wasn't wasted.  

While I was disappointed not to have done better, I went into this year's Miwok knowing that absolutely everything would have to break right if I had even an outside chance of finishing.  I was simply undertrained.  No getting around that fact.  Plus, the new course is legit, and the fact that a major chunk of climbing and descending is packed into the first half . . . well, it just gave me a wicked beating.  Fortunately, the following day exploring some wonderful Sonoma wineries did a great deal to ease the physical and psychic pain.