Thursday, May 12, 2016

Race Report: We Now Return You to Your Regularly Scheduled Programming

and here we are, back unto the breach once more.


My last race report came during the tail end of a five 100-milers in five months spell, and it was a quite depressing affair--especially with all the fatigue I had accumulated.  Since then, I've

  • run a brutal 56k race with 3500m+ of gain and vK in Hong Kong, only because someone told me to check it out, so I had no goals besides not DNFing.  it was glorious not needing to give a fuck. 
  • run a desert 50 miler in the Big Bend region of Texas, because I had passed by Alpine via train three years ago and figured there was more exploring in order; I had no goals besides not DNFing and somehow managed to come in 6th.  again, it was much-needed practice in not giving a fuck. 
  • deliberately snapped my monthly ultra streak in March to give my body a break, because i had no fucks to give about running streaks anymore.
Needless to say--while hitting the reset button and re-identifying the important things in life is good for you, it took me a little bit longer to settle back into a solid rhythm.  Thankfully I was blessed with a race that was literally segments of most of my 2015 races, reminding me of the strategies that worked last year and the ones that didn’t.

For those of you too lazy to look it up on Wikipedia, Miwok 100k is a race just north of San Francisco, spanning the Marin Headlands (same area as the course for the TNF50) all the way up to the Point Reyes National Seashore border.  She's named for the Coast Miwok Native Americans that used to inhabit the area, before it was....reprovisioned...but it also celebrates the land they saw back in the day by being routed through unadulterated parkland.  Its 11300' of gain is found by starting at Stinson Beach and then bearing south towards the Golden Gate Bridge, and then back up north above Stinson Beach towards Bolinas, before coming straight back for 11 miles or so and then diving down to Stinson Beach.  The time allotted is fairly aggressive--15.5h for the whole course, which doubles as the WSQ standard.  This was fairly reasonable given the runnability of the trails (i.e. no goat-skills needed whatsoever), but at the same time I was slightly worried by this—not because of a lack of comparable performances, as my closest analog would have been the 2015 GDR, which involved 7 more km's, 4000 more feet of gain and about eighty more minutes of run time than the 15.5h limit—but rather because I expected the
Pmean of finishing times would be around two hours out from the final cutoff limit.  I had never experienced this before--a runnable race with a famously competitive front of the pack, and a completely-mad back of the pack fiercely trying to make cutoffs.  As a result I was rather nervous coming into the race, worried that I wouldn’t have the magic of last summer in my running form.  In any case—I had entered a lottery for this race, and was luckily selected on my first try, so I was committed to seeing this legendary run through. 

The first 3 kilometers of 2015 Fat Dog 120/the middle 53k of 2015 Lost Soul/8 miles to Muir Beachdon’t panic, for you have a couple dozen kilometers to sort your shit out

Like Fat Dog, Miwok didn’t have chip timing and didn’t even have a start line set up—it was literally just a giant crowd of runners standing outside the Stinson Beach Community Center in the early morning.  The sentiments were the polar opposite of what you might find at an overpriced 10K road race—surprisingly chill people with zero fucks to give about the insanely long porta-potty lines next to the start line, the lack of lighting, that one car driven by the one Stinson Beach resident up at 430am trying to drive through the street we were occupying.  I chalked it up to the laid-back attitudes of the Bay Area making states-of-mind less uptight than my usual “What the fucking fuck?” level panic mode, and rolled with it as I didn’t want to look like a full blown tourist. 

Sure enough, the crowd started moving at 5AM with nary a starting signal seen or heard from the middle of the pack, where I was standing.  I sprinted downhill, past the porta-potty lineup of runners unyielding to the fact that the race was starting without them.  Confused, I kept running for about 150m down to the Shoreline Highway, and back up into the Dipsea Trail trailhead which happened to be single-track. 

It really should have just been named the 405, because as you can imagine, fitting 439 runners through a single track trail steps away from the start line was a little difficult, and the pace was so bad that I actually stopped recording on my watch until I was moving at a faster-than-walking pace again.  And just like with the single-track bridge that marked the start of Fat Dog, it was quite possible for you to start the race 20 minutes late and catch up to the middle of the pack within an hour as it was single track for the next three miles.

Thoughts of “why couldn’t they just seed us at the start so we wouldn’t have a bunch of masters holding us up at the front of the pack” gave way to “dude, why are you the only one with zero chill about this” as no one really seemed to give a fuck that there was a parade of lights snaking up the Dipsea.  The slope was definitely runnable, but it was also of the grade at which you could lose the race by if you went suicide pace on it.  

I calmed my nerves by remembering there were more than fifty miles of running still in order, so there was a lot of time to for me to make up for lost time running behind someone slower on the uphill grind.   I turned my headlamp off as the morning fog got thicker when the trees thinned out.  Sure enough, as soon as it looked like we were in the moors, the sound of bagpipes signaled the leveling out of the slope and the impending commencement of the wide fire trails.  I immediately stretched my arms out like an airplane and bombed down when the road started at a rather comfortable pace to take advantage of the cold morning air keeping my legs and glutes cool, still passing slow masters until I reached Muir Woods Road.  Thoughts of missing any goal times completely evaporated as I flew down the 1300' in the first 3 miles at sub-5min/km speeds.  As I tried to get my shoes contacting the ground at an even rhythm, I remembered what I had learned at the beginning of Fat Dog—you can never win a race by a certain point in the course, but you can always lose a race by a certain point in the course.  The trick is to gather intel either via course profiles or pre-scouting, and to time your chill pills accordingly.  

The middle 53k of 2015 Lost Soul, continued/up to Tennessee Valley: watch your solid and gel intake carefully

As some of you may recall, I have a strange fixation with watermelon and absolutely cannot resist eating them if they’re available, whether in a race or not.  I think it's because it's an expensive fruit for me, so if I see it being doled out for free I'll be a total opportunist about it.

pay no attention to the mismatched hokas.  picture stolen from oscar mejorada.
Naturally they had a few slices available at Muir Beach, so I had two....coupled with diluted coke to remedy my 3:30am wakeup alarm.  I found out on the climb up the Middle Green Gulch trail that this wasn’t ideal, as I suddenly felt bloated and was having trouble motoring up the climb.  Numerous runners I had passed on the bomb down the Deer Park fire road caught up to me, as I tried watering down my stomach to no avail.  Thankfully the slope leveled out and once again I was letting gravity drag me forward into the Tennessee Valley, but that was all it took for me to remember the numerous dumps I took at Lost Soul last year, likely as a result of all the watermelon I ate and all the gels I was not eating. 

Watermelon: good for jello shots, bad for races.

Leg 2 of Fat Dog/towards Bridge View: yo-yoing to troll other runners

I exited the Tennessee Valley aid station in less than a minute and proceeded towards the Golden Gate Bridge with the 2nd big hill of the day, Marincello Trail, being a long 1km+ grind.  I found myself with shortened strides as my heavy stomach weighted me down, and noticed that I was being passed by everyone who I passed while flying down the Miwok trail towards Tennessee Valley.  I made it a point to stay in sight of the front of this section of the pack, and to reclaim my position once the downhill towards Bridge View started.  I knew this was possible because of the storm clouds approaching from the west hopefully bringing in colder weather to hack my muscle cramping, and the fact that stranger things happened at Fat Dog once the rain started flying. 

Unfortunately it hadn’t started raining yet by the time I got to Bridge View, but I was able to find my spot in the pack again.  I did notice that I was overhydrating though, as my pee was clearer than in most races as of late—likely exacerbated by all the stomach issues keeping my exertion lower. 

Leg 3 of Sinister 7/back towards Tennessee Valley through Rodeo Valley: keep waiting for it; you're not even halfway there

This was the longest segment between aid stations so I spent a little longer at Bridge View refueling.  There was a solid downhill and undulation to start but then I was immediately hit with a 900' climb leaving Rodeo Valley.  It spanned two miles so I let go of sighting the front of my pack section as I knew I could catch them at Tennessee Valley if they took too long with their drop bags or refueling.  I could feel my glutes and quads starting to go on the uphill grind but I had stashed a water bottle of pickles and pickle juice ahead at Tennessee Valley so I kept motoring on the grind.

I got to the aid station at mi26, which was the closest drop bag point to mi31, so unfortunately this was my only resupply point for the day.  Keeping an eye on the time, I ate another slice of watermelon (GODDAMMIT), poured water into my shorts to cool my muscles down, grabbed a battery and charging cable for my watch, and grabbed an extra Clif Organic Energy Food pack and got out of there like a bat out of hell.  In my haste I deliberately decided against changing shoes because my feet were still dry and not refilling my gels on my race belt because I had not used any of the four I started with. 

The pot farm at Lost Soul/the Coastal Fire Road to Muir Beach: "Life moves pretty fast.  If you don't slow down and look around, you may miss it."

As we were now well on our way to the northern section of the race, we headed towards the Pacific coast, and it was a bit of grind.  I didn't mind everyone I passed at the aid station returning the favor once again, given how scenic it was and the fact that I had more than an hour ahead of the cutoff at the last aid station.  I let the crowd slip ahead on the uphills, which was a good decision as I soon found myself alone with the sound of the tide rolling in.  Coupled with the scenery of the ragged coastline, it was just--peaceful.  

see?  inner fucking peace.
The last 12h of the KUS 24h/Muir Beach back to Cardiac and then to Bolinas Ridge: shit tends to get real on the back half, when you've found the other crazies to run with

Amazingly enough, the return to Muir Beach was only at mi30 and not even halfway through the race, but it was offset by the sight of my newfound friend Helen from Scotland and Dave Nicely of Big Sur fame both volunteering there.  I got there 5h26m into the race, which was a bit surprising given all the frustration I had on the first 3mi climb, but I now had the confidence to try a little harder at executing.  This was unfortunately made difficult by me losing one of my gels on the last leg (aid stations didn't have any--I think park regs prevent the use of items that create non-compostable waste), and the fact that we had to go up the Deer Park fire road I had so much fun bombing down earlier, but I took solace in the fact that everyone now looked to be suffering as much as me, and the drizzle amplifying into a hard rain at the top of the hill.  Remembering the carnage of leg 4 of Sinister 7, the carnage of leg 2 at Fat Dog, and the fact that I was wearing a cotton shirt, I hedged my bets and quickly slipped on my rain jacket as we neared Cardiac at the top of the climb, and got ready to send it on Bolinas Ridge.

The return to Cardiac was the 'one-marathon-remaining' point of the race, with most of the remaining elevation gain hiding around the 50mi mark.  The rain was easing back on the ridgeline but was replaced by a massive thick fog, reducing visibility to five metres or so.  This was where I started clawing my way back up the race, taking advantage of runners who slowed down because they couldn't see the flagging, or those who went balls to the wall on the first half of the race.  The thick wet grass was also caressing my overheating legs like it did at Fat Dog, and I took this to be a good omen.  As soon as the bare ridge dipped back into the forest, I ran into the first place runner coming the other way, which reminded me that this next part was going to be nutty with all the two-way traffic compounding saturated mud into baby-shit levels of slip-and-slides not suitable for the Hoka Huakas I was wearing. 

Leg 4 of Sinister 7/Bolinas Ridge to Randall: Slow down if you're not wearing the proper shoes

Bolinas Ridge was staffed by the overly-enthusiastic-for-the-weather Coastside Running Club out of Half Moon Bay, who had littered the forest in the immediate area with cliched signs of encouragement which I actually didn't mind, especially with all the fun I was having slipping and sliding.  I was out of the aid station in a minute as the finish got closer and more reasonably divisible--10k out to Randall, 10k back to Bolinas Ridge, 10k back to Stinson Beach; one gel each.   This was unfortunately made difficult by the tall forest canopies retaining a ton of water that made it seem like it was still raining onto the wide fire road, despite the fact that the clouds had stopped pissing a while ago.  I picked my lines carefully according to the presence of any tracks made by a shoe slipping in the mud, likely to the chagrin of all the runners moving in the opposite direction ahead of me returning to Bolinas Ridge, as my Huakas are really just road shoes.  Further aggravating the runners behind me was my tendency to slow down unexpectedly, as I kept remembering the mess my legs turned into when I tried sprinting down the waterslide of leg 4 of Sinister 7 in my Rapa Nui 2's.  Some of these runners were pacers on their way to Randall to meet their runners, which messed with my head but at that point I knew I was definitely within the top 100, given the volume of runners in the opposite direction, so I couldn't care less.  In any case, I tried to find the right balance as I wanted to clear the return on Bolinas Ridge as quickly as I could so as to run on mud that wasn't trampled by eleventy bajillion people. 

My line-picking was keeping me mildly engaged mentally, but with my last helping of pickles nearly 40k back my glutes were starting to fry on the undulation.  Thankfully I was saved by a sudden 1000' drop over 2.5mi to the Randall trailhead, which I tried sprinting down as I knew I needed all the time grinding back up it shortly after.  Unfortunately I spent a little bit longer at Randall because they had Oreos.

sprinting into the end of the drop.  picture stolen from oscar mejorada.
Fat Dog after Sky Junction/Randall back to Stinson Beach: I will be sooooo pissed if you have anything left in the tank at the finish line

Randall was another drop bag pickup station but I elected not to stash a bag here because the forecast had just said a mild drizzle was in order for the day and we were only 20k from the finish--this was a bad idea given my shoes and socks were thoroughly soaked now and I could have used more pickles.  I slowly trudged back up the 1000' hill, yo-yoing with other runners as I ran through brief flat spots while being passed back on the steeper parts.  I drew strength by encouraging and giving kudos to all the runners behind me in placement headed down to Randall I had passed back at Muir Beach, but even then my glutes were not having any of it. 

I started reminiscing about the first 100+k race I did--2014 Canadian Death Race--and how my only goal for that one was not to shit my pants.  In a strange irony, I snapped and sprinted to the biggest mud puddle I could find, and sat down, cross-legged, splashing water all over my legs.  The effects were immediate--I caught up with everyone who passed me since leaving Randall within 10 minutes of dousing myself--but I was suddenly joking to those I passed that I was running so fast because it looked like I had shit my pants and needed to change to fresh ones at Stinson Beach.  I kept moving at a steady pace commensurate to what I felt safe with my road shoes and while gradually reeling the rest of the pack in. 

Realizing there would likely be no puddles on the Bolinas Ridge back to Matt Davis, I took one last 'dump' in a puddle about 1.5k out from the Bolinas Ridge aid station.  With a smidge over 10k to go, I thanked the aid station volunteers for their enthusiastic help once more before jetting off in less than a minute after ingesting diluted coke and two slices of watermelon (GODDAMMIT).  

The undulation was amazing, galvanized by the fact we had no more uphills and just five miles of ridgeline prior to a downhill agility workout around the roots of the Matt Davis trail.  I did slow down, however, on certain parts, as now that most of the remaining runners had passed through the Bolinas Ridge the mud was thoroughly rutted.  Exacerbating this was infrequent but large accumulations of water under thick canopies, as well as a gentle camber making my left foot land higher than my right.  Down to one gel, I trudged along as fast as I could without blowing out anything on my poor choice of shoes, past the five mile mark.  I was in a pack of two other runners before realizing I hadn't seen any confidence markers in the persistent fog, but after about sixty seconds past five miles we caught sight of a course marshal who finally directed us downhill.

Now pushing the traction aspect of my performance envelope a little bit harder, I found that the stampede in front of me had thoroughly degraded the surface of the stairs, switchbacks and camber of this downhill section.  Trying hard to keep up with the pack, I was fueled by the increasing number of hikers going the other way indicating the end was nigh, the sunlight piercing through the trees as we descended, and the sounds of cowbells and cheers getting louder and louder.  Ankles screaming out due to my successful effort in not wiping out at all during the race (especially important because there is a fuck-ton of poison oak everywhere), the sight of solid concrete greeted me with the clear sight of the sun finally vindicating my choice of wearing sunglasses all day long.   It was a short 100m back to the Community Center as I sprinted the last bit of it, desperate to get out of my 'shit' pants. 

I don't actually run with a third flask in my hand---this one belonged to Joseph in the foreground, who graciously settled for a tie with me in return for me picking it up. 

The clock read 12:16.  I was pretty happy with this, given my moving time was a smidge under 12h, which indicated a huge improvement in reducing aid station loitering time relative to last year's races.  I had gotten my A-goal of WSQing as well, so this race was a pretty good confidence booster to start the season, one that was much welcome given this race was a suitable analog for my next race, West Highland Way, which doesn't allow poles but has a similar slope.  I thought I had executed decently, given my result and that I pretty much only woke up on the back half of the race.  I definitely know I have the potential to improve as the season progresses, but I think it will be partly predicated on building my tolerance for intra-run watermelon ingestion.  My sudden waddle in my stride at the finish line indicated I had given everything I had--a thought substantiated by my aversion to stairs for the next two days.

The finish line was pretty novel--swag was only handed out when you returned to the finish line, either by finishing or by the dreaded DNF bus.  I thought that was a good concept, given some people may just take the swag and not race.  The food was also good--mac and cheese, quinoa (!!!) and so much sausage.  Plus they actually had chocolate milk!  AND A DOUBLE IPA FROM HEADLANDS BREWING!!! 

I have to note though--the best way to describe the finish line was that it was literally a block party--a street closed off, sounding like a carnival, with runners who finished long ago still cheering incoming runners.  And it is this passion that galvanizes my nerves every time I get nervous about my performance or lack thereof.  No matter where you are, the ultra community is made up of authentic, passionate, overly-friendly and positive people willing to endure with you and cheer you on.  And it'll inhibit a nostalgic trip down memory lane, like it was for me at Miwok, making you feel young and full of potential all over again, capable of things you never thought you could do. 

By the numbers:

  •     placement: T83/439 starters (thanks again Joseph!)
  •     time: 12:16:29
  •     DNF%: 34%
  •     distance: 100.5km
  •     elevation : 3804m
Stray observations:
  • Gunhild Swanson finished 198 places behind me, with only 2 minutes and 9 seconds prior to cutoff.   I CAN'T EVEN.  That lady is a beast. 
    • Word on the street is that there were 50 DNFs by 8h in.  That's 1h before the winner came in.  Given I met Cody just outside of Bolinas Ridge aid station this probably meant a bunch of runners didn't have the proper rain gear or warm weather gear when the rain was the heaviest. 
    • 47 runners came in during the last half hour.   That's more than 10% of the starters. 
    • DFL was two runners coming in at 15:29:59.  No words.
    • Because nothing makes sense, a number of age-group CRs were reported in these conditions. 
  • for my stats nerds: 
    • Pmean was 13h29m40s
    • P99.5 was the first 4 runners
    • P98 was also the first 4 runners
    • P90 was the first 24 runners. 
in the absence of the column headers--you'd think this profile belongs to a 100-miler.
  • There was a porta-potty behind the bagpiper.  That's some kick-ass bathroom music for someone who needed to hit the can 5K into the race. 
  • No, I am not sponsored by Bacon Bacon.  I was just wanting to run dressed like a local, as opposed to a tourist, and that's what I went with.  Not everyone understood it though, which was kind of disappointing. 
  • During the last section I ran with runners using Hoka Challengers.  I think that would be the most optimal Hoka for this race, regardless of trail conditions. 
  • I know I'll be doing this race again down the road because I want to see if I can roll with two handhelds the whole way out.  I wasn't carrying much for this race already but I know I can carry less. 
  • The elevation profile to this race looks like the EKG graph of a baddddd intervals workout session. 
  • There is something to be said to the Californian ultrarunning mustache game.
  • The two people who knew what Bacon Bacon was.
  • The famous Glenn Tachiyama for taking my picture 
  • The volunteers--your positivity is contagious.  Literally. 
  • The RD, Tia Bodington, who used to edit for Ultrarunning Magazine.  The course this takes place on is protected and involves major coordination with regulatory agencies and community stakeholders, which is also a reason for the aggressive cutoffs.  Kudos for making it happen because it would be an understatement to say "it's not easy".
Up next:
  • I'll be pacing the Calgary 50K during the Marathon on 29 May at a 5h (6min/km) pace to squeeze in one last glutes-focused neuromuscular workout prior to my next race.  This is a slower pace than I can handle so I am accepting suggestions for costumes. 
  • My next race will be reuniting with Helen and her husband John at West Highland Way, which is a 95mi rip from Glasgow north to Fort William in Scotland.  Sometimes I do wonder about the timing of when I meet people. 

Beyond the very extreme of fatigue and distress, we may find some amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own; sources of strength never taxed at all because we never push through obstruction.
 --William Blake

No comments:

Post a Comment