Success! It was the most difficult physical thing I have ever done, and I struggled and suffered for several hours towards the end, but I managed to run, walk, or otherwise cover on foot the entire 62.4 miles of the Miwok 100K race in the beautiful Marin Headlands, just north of San Francisco. This was the longest race I've ever run and was my 5th ultramarathon. It took me 11 hours 7 minutes and 52 seconds. (Results here.)
The morning started early, waking at 2:50am to eat breakfast (~600 calories) and meeting at 4am at my house with Franz Dill and Eric Vaughan so that we could carpool to the start. We left just a few minutes after 4 and arrived at our parking spot around 4:55am as I recall.
After getting our bibs, standing in a lengthy bathroom line, and doing final preparations, we walked out to the beach for the start of our big adventure! How would the day go? Would I even finish? Was my plan to stick with my heart rate goal going to work? (I had adapted my Oakland Marathon heart rate strategy to this race, starting off slow and gradually speeding up, with my average heart rate being what I ran my last 50 miler at.)
My head was so wrapped up in the race, plus I was somewhat sleep-deprived, that as I was walking to the beach with Franz, I told him, "Let me check if I locked my car." I walked back and became concerned about my mental state -- not only was the car not locked, the driver door was wide open and the inside lights were on. Sheesh! I locked up and hurried out to the start line.
The start of the race course was a bit different than in previous years and did some "busy work" of running up and down hills in two separate out-and-backs in and around Rodeo Lagoon until arriving at the first aid station at mile 6.2. An early indication of the treachery of the course happened at mile 3 when the woman in front of me caught her foot on a root and immediately went down, face-first. I stopped and she got up with bloody knees and said she was all right. That made me think to be extra careful today and I went on.
Around mile 6, as I was heading down the steep hill that I had just run up, I started feeling some soreness in my left achilles heel. This had been bothering me on and off all week. I was able to run fine, but it would seem to stiffen up and get sore when walking around the office or at home. A similar problem had previously hit my right achilles heel and that had put a stop to two long runs, so I knew this feeling could get much worse. I tried imagining ice being against my left heel and for it to calm down and/or warm up. I felt it on and off but then after mile 12, the feeling disappeared and never came back. Weird!
My thought at mile 12 -- "Oh, 50 miles to go. It's like I've warmed and am just starting a 50 mile race. Oh, boy. I feel more than warmed up -- I've actually put out a good deal of effort so far!"
The descent down to Muir Beach was brutal. Was just so dang steep. Some guy rocketed past me. Whoah. There's no way he could keep that up. I passed him on the next uphill and said to him, "You must really like to run downhill." "Yeah, I do" he replied. I didn't see him do that again, though! And he never passed me again either.
The trails and views in general were just amazingly beautiful, especially for the whole morning. With a nearly full moon to the west and the sun rising from the east, I don't think I could imagine a more beautiful scene. It was a feast for the eyes. I felt very alive and excited and happy for most of the race.
My arrival at mile 28.4
Arriving at the Bolinas Ridge Aid Station for the first time felt wonderful. I had been looking forward to this for miles, or in a way, all week! I had paid to fly my dad up from southern California and my sister and wife and daughter and a half-dozen friends were all kind enough to spend their day here volunteering. I had volunteered at this aid station for the previous two years and was also excited about seeing the race from the other side of the aid station table!
Some of the many volunteers at the Bolinas Ridge Aid Station
The 7.2 miles to Randall Trail aid station and then back to Bolinas Ridge again for another 7.2 miles took a lot out of me. For the first time, on the long steep descent to Hwy 1 where the Randall Trail aid station was, I felt real soreness in my quads. "Oh oh," I thought, "I have a very long way to go." Turning around and walking / running uphill again was a relief and I felt much better. I saw Eric Vaughan and he was looking good and we offered encouragement to each other. I saw Franz and he was looking more haggard, but was in great spirits and we high-fived each other (well, bumped water bottles, since each of our hands held a water bottle).
I started passing people more regularly now. I caught up to my friend/acquaintance Bree Lambert who was having a really rough time. She told me she had been sick and was going to drop at Bolinas Ridge (mile 42.8). I wished her luck and pressed on.
The trails were lush and gorgeous
The second trip through the Bolinas Ridge aid station was great. I got to see my daughter again, see my wife, give my dad a hug, and pick up my friend and pacer, Amanda Jurinen. We quickly headed out.
We got to Pan Toll aid station OK, with Amanda falling once but not hurting herself. She did most of the talking but I caught her up on what had been going on and how I was feeling. "So far, so good. Definitely getting tired and sore, but hanging in there."
Somewhere shortly after Pan Toll, I started falling apart. I was feeling "out of it", light headed, very fatigued, very sore, and slightly nauseous. I started to hate the taste of the energy gels. I spit out a chunk of PayDay candy bar that I had tried to eat. My heart rate fell. I felt like I wasn't too far off from really being in trouble, like fainting. It's safe to call this a "low point". Unfortunately, this "point" stretched on and on and on and I got back my strength only briefly at times. I could run downhill and on level ground but was walking more and more of the uphills. A few people passed me between here and the end. Mostly, though, Amanda and I ran / walked alone. I was somewhat surprised at how spread out everyone was and that for many miles, we saw no other runners.
Somewhere along here, I had a running-related existential crisis. I thought to myself, "Why am I doing this? Why did I spend so much time training for this race in order to be out here suffering? Let's just finish this #@!* race! " In the 5 days since the race, I've softened my view. If it were easy, it wouldn't be a challenge! Almost by definition, there are going to be difficult periods. I like being in good physical shape. I like knowing that I can take on and overcome huge challenges. I like the idea of being mentally tough. For example, when I say that I'm nervous and excited about an upcoming race, I'm not really that nervous. I don't really get nervous any more about anything, in that I don't get sweaty palms or a racing heart rate. I take stressful situations in stride almost always. I think running has reinforced this positive behavior.
I had a strong finish, at least, pulled along by the nice downhill and being in sight of the parking lot at the finish. I want to give special thanks to Amanda for running/walking the last 19.6 miles with me and giving me company during all those low points. She helped me stay on course, too. I might have missed this one turn if it hadn't been for her.
So happy to have finished! Finally!
I was so very happy with relief to have finished. I was close to tears. It was wonderful having my dad and sister cheering me on as I was descending to the finish line. Thank you, Jessica and Dad!
I'll repeat myself a bit, but below are various good, bad, and random things that happened that day.
- The weather was pretty good. There was a bit of wind in the late morning, but all-in-all, was just a gorgeous day.
- Never ran out of water. I had been worried about carrying two 20-ounce water bottles because that might not be enough to go the longest distance between aid stations -- 7.2 miles. But 40oz was plenty.
- No cramps! This is my first ultramarathon, out of the 5 I've done now, with no cramps! I guess all that walking paid off. :-)
- I was probably well-hydrated.
- Didn't get injured.
- Didn't fall down. I stumbled hard twice, and almost fell on my face, but I got my other leg under me just in time. Both times, this really wracked my body temporarily and threw off my rhythm. When I went to bed after the race, I kept on running in my mind and I couldn't fall asleep because I kept on dreaming that I was about to fall down. Sheesh!
- Mile 6-12, my left achilles was feeling sore on the downhills. I was worried that it would get much worse. I was very happy that after 12 miles it had apparently "warmed up" and didn't bother me again.
- My equipment performed well. I used the same gear at Dick Collins' Firetrails 50 mile race last October. My Garmin 305 watch warned of a low battery towards the end of the race, but it lasted for all 11+ hours.
- No blisters or chafing at all. Wow! Again, Body Glide worked well.
- Felt fatigued and slightly nauseus and had to slow down from around mile 49 to 60. My heart rate fell to the high-120s whereas before I was sticking with my plan to gradually raise it from 133 at the start to 154 at the end and to average 146 beats per minute. (My maximum heart rate is 186 bpm.)
- I had forgotten that the first aid station at mile 6.2 didn't have any food or energy gels and I had only brought 5. My friend Eric Vaughan gave me one before the start. Thanks, Eric!
- Got a few touches of poison oak, including a small patch on my face. This in spite of having taken the precaution of using IvyBlock in the morning and Tecnu after the race (although not on my face). I guess with running all day, too much time had passed for these otherwise reliable products to be effective.
- Weight in the morning, right after waking up and before breakfast: 164.4 lbs
- Weight after getting back home that night, after eating a light meal at the finish line: 160.4 lbs
- Ate a big bean & cheese burrito the day before. I would've preferred less fiber, but I was at work and this was a handy place to eat. I'm not sure if this contributed to having to poop during the race. I was out for 11 hours, so it's pretty normal to have to poop!
- During the race, I had salt caked to my face. I kept on wondering if I was taking in too much salt or if I was slightly dehydrated. I couldn't tell! I thought maybe I was dehydrated because I felt crappy and fatigued and I loved the taste of salt. I licked my lips and could taste the salt from my sweat and it tasted great! So, was I dehydrated? Or did I have too much salt?
- I took 20 Salt Stick capsules for the day (one every 30 minutes except I forgot to take one after the first 30 minutes) plus roughly 30 Gus and assorted bits of aid station food.
- My peak training week was 94 miles. My longest runs were 31 miles or so, but I only did two of those. Once, I ran 31 miles on a Saturday and 19 fast miles the next day. I did a weekly track workout that consisted of 3 miles of very fast running, doing intervals of different distances.
- Somewhere around mile 50-something, Amanda was running behind me, I heard a loud hiss, Amanda screamed, and I turned around to see a sizable snake slithering on to the trail. It might have been around 1.5 inches in diameter and several feet long. Whoah! As if the race wasn't difficult enough as it was! We continued onward without stopping.
Ways to Improve
- I think I'll go for a constant max heart rate next time, like 145 bpm on the uphills and 135 bpm on the flats, after a suitable warm-up period. And when I'm feeling good in the last 20 miles or so, I should still take it easy and feel like I have something in reserve, because the cost of falling apart is so high, I want to not fall off that performance cliff.
- More longer runs. The Oakland Marathon interfered with my training somewhat in that it took a couple weeks to recover from the race which was at the end of March. I wish I had had one 40-45 mile run and a couple more 30+ mile runs. I think that would've prevented some of the painful soreness and the fatigue.
Other Race Reports
Finally, as usual, the person I need to thank the most is my wonderful wife, Jennifer. Thank you! It took almost every Saturday and Sunday morning for at least an hour and sometimes 5 hours (and once around 9 hours), to get in my long runs. I couldn't have overcome this extremely challenging event without her support.