Sunday, May 3, 2009
California May 2009 - My First 100km - Miwok 100km
Well, it's all over, and I'm lying in bed this morning not wanting to get up.
I had a goal of running sub-11 hours for my first 100 km trail race, and I succeeded. I knew before I even started that no matter how well I did, it was going to leave me feeling a lot older than the 31 years I turned today.
Nicola and I had applied to Miwok back in December and found out that we had gotten in while we were on our trip to Costa Rica in January. I was already a couple months into my base training for this year's running goal of completing my first 100 miles, and now I've run 20 km closer to this goal in one push than ever before. For the first time, I can really visualize completing that goal with the success that I feel this morning.
I know that for all of my races that I have done greater in distance than 50 km I have had the best crew that anyone could ask for. Over the last four years my family has supported my eccentric goal of ultra-running by making a family camping excursion to where ever the race is that I choose. This has included my parents and sisters with brother-in laws as well as kids in tow! It's pretty cool to be running for 5 hours and turn a corner in the middle of nowhere and have your own personal cheering section with 10 people that mean the world to you. Miwok was a little different as it is in the middle of the spring and a lot farther away than my other races, and yet, I still got a yes from my parents who flew in from Winnipeg to come crew me and Nic. They were amazing.
The race started at 5:40 am on Saturday May 2nd. It was pitch black when we arrived at the start/ check in area at Rodeo Lagoon. The sound of pounding waves gave away the presence of the ocean. We stood in line to check in before returning to the comfort of the car for a reprieve from the weather. I knew that no warm up was going to be necessary for this one as that's what I figured the first 30-40 km were for.
It was 5:35 when the parade of racers followed the RD down to the beach for the start of this epic journey. Given the darkness, it was hard to tell who anyone was. Nic and I still hadn't seen Jurgen so I started calling his name. Eventually, out of the crowd he came running towards us we shared hugs and best wishes and let Nic disappear to the front of the pack knowing that we would see her again on the out and back part of this race. Jurgen and I started off together as we have done in other races before.
Quickly the race began, and because of our position in the pack and the fact that the race goes into near single track in 300 ft, the racers all bottlenecked and we nearly stood still for a minute before we started a slow plod up the first of many hills to come. Shortly after this the course heads onto a two to three mile uphill road section. Jurgen and I started chatting and slowly working our way up the hills. At points I was working harder than I wanted to so I would just say, "we need to slow down a little" and we would. On this climb we saw something that you don't see everyday. As we cruised along this flatter spot a couple of deers that were obviously startled by all of the runners bolted across the road and one of them slipped, fell on its side, hopped back up and hit a telephone pole before getting it right and heading up the meadows above the road with its other friends. Crazy!!! Just as we crested the top of the climb, the fog lifted and the sky had now lightened enough to give us a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge. We turned onto a fire road and began the descent to the Bunker aid station. My fast estimate time to arrive here was 1 hr and I was bang on and feeling pretty good. I had warmed up nicely over the first hour and a bit, and removed my vest which I kept in my NSA jersey back pocket along with my toque. I had gotten on my nutrition plan early with a salt pill every 15 minutes and a gel every 20. Jurgen didn't need to stop at this station as he was carrying enough with him so he continued through while I filled my camelbak bladder back up. I was back in behind him only falling 10 seconds or so back which also proved to me that my methods were not going to be slowing me down much over the day.
Jurgen continued ahead for the next 15 minutes or so and in my head it played on me a little as I tried to catch up, but each time I pushed my HR climbed a little too high for this point in this long run so I just settled in until the next real climb started. This was where I closed the gap quickly and joined Jurgen and Hozumi who also is from Vancouver. We chatted and climbed up this next section, keeping each other on the route as several trails crossed our path and we needed to keep our heads up for the pink Montrail flagging that marked the way. As we continued to climb, the fire roads became more exposed to the elements, and I quickly threw my vest back on. This section was a combination of easy downhills with flats and small uphills, most of which I power-hiked. As we hit the plateau and began to drop into the Tennessee aid station, Jurgen and I started passing all kinds of runners on the descent. I quickly came into the aid station and was greeted by my Mom and Dad and they had my stuff all ready to go, passing me my other Camelbak, switching out gel wrappers for new full ones as well as a new course description and salt pills. I got to Tennessee Valley about 10 minutes slower than I had predicted but was still feeling good and wasn't worried.
Off to Muir Beach aid station I headed alone. Jurgen had to stop in at the outhouse for a #2 and I was running my own race so that would be the last I saw of him for the next four hours. The route out of Tennessee Valley headed out on a flat road that lead into another big uphill grunt, but finally, there was a reward at the top. An amazing view of the California coast laid in front of my eyes. The fog lifted enough to see the crashing waves and rocky shoreline all dotted by the beautiful colors of spring flowers. If this is all I was going to get to see this day it was well worth it. I soon passed a sign that said 1.7 miles to Muir Beach and the next aid station. I cruised along the rolling coast before eventually beginning the descent into Muir Beach. About 400m away from the aid station, I was greeted by my parents cheering, this was not a camelbak switch stop for me so I quickly said my hello's and asked about Nic and continued towards the aid station. As I cruised towards it on the nice flat trail I was greeted my Jurgen's wife and son, Ben. I let her know that Jurgie should be just behind me as I left him at the last aid station while he went to the washroom. I quickly ran into the aid station with my bladder open and ready to fill, I was in and out very quickly and on my way up the big climb of the day to Pan Toll.
I had already told myself that if I was feeling good this was somewhere that I should be able to make up some time on the course because of the 1600 ft of elevation gain to get to Pan Toll. The initial section cruised along Hwy 1 where my parents passed me on route to Nic and the Pan Toll aid station. I was feeling good and caught up to a cute lady that was moving very well. I just tucked in behind her and let her pull me along this flat section. She eventually slowed to eat a gel, and I passed her just before the start of the main climb about two miles into this leg. I quickly started passing people as I began this climb. I was just walking, but it was the perfect logging road grade that runners really seem to struggle walking on and for some reason I just eat it up. I fell in behind this one lady that was moving well and running much more of this climb than I was willing to. Even with her bursts of running, I would quickly catch her every time she would switch from a run to walk as the terrain steepened. We both spotted a bird in the big redwoods to our right; she quickly identified the bird and told me it was a rare wood pecker; I was in awe. Eventually I passed her and moved on catching three more people before the top of this climb. As it flattened out towards the top, I was running with this very tall man that had been in this area before on a 50 miler that exists on some of these same trails. He told me that we were only about a 1/4 mile away from the aid station. I was happy that was it. The climb wasn't that bad at all and the next section was a big net downhill. Yahoo! As I came into Pan Toll my parents quickly greeted me and had all my stuff laid out. I was possibly planning on changing my shoes at this point, so my parents had everything laid out perfectly. I had made my decision to change shoes at Tennessee as my right pinky was already a little irritated at that point. I was in and out of that pit stop in about 3 minutes with new outer socks, new shoes, a re-filled camelbak with gels and salt pills and a new route description. Off I headed for Bolina's Ridge aid station.
This next part was the only true out and back section on the course. For every step you make in one direction, you know you need to make on the return back. It played on my mind. Initially the running was engaging and technical in a covered forest, with creek crossings and everything. But eventually, this ended and opened up into to this unforgiving open meadow type terrain. The trail was no wider than a foot and the grass grew so tall that it covered your view of much of it. I moved along this section fairly well, catching people throughout and not getting passed. This plays well on the mind. The weather in this section was less than desirable and I felt for many of the people around me that were just in short sleeves and/or tank tops. I had on a fresh warm toque, arm warmers, gloves and vest. I eventually fell in behind this guy on the descent into Bolina's Ridge. He was from the Bay area and had done this race and others on these trails before. He told me that we were about 10-15 minutes out of Bolina's and that was a good thing to me as my camelbak was getting low on water. I quickly took a couple of salt pills with my final amounts of water and decided not to take any more gels till I get more water. By falling in behind this guy I was working fairly easily and felt good and not worried about my situation. I finally heard the crowd at the aid station and went past knowing that H2O was just about in my grasp.
This was a point that I learned one of my lessons for the day. In the future, when I run out of water, I need to stay at the aid station and take my gel while drinking their water.
What happened was that I quickly filled my bladder and headed out thinking that I would be at the next aid station relatively quickly, but again I had been deceived by the course altitude profile and the terrain over the next section required much more running than the downhill line on the profile had represented in my head. This was definitely the lowest point in my run and it wasn't even really that bad, as I knew at some point the leaders were going to be running back against me and that I would see Nicola. I continued to move along this section at an all right pace and better than those that were around me. I only caught people and wasn't caught by any others. When Nic and I finally crossed paths we were all alone on this nice logging road in this beautiful place. We embraced and smooched and wished each other well as we continued in our different directions. Nic let me know that the big descent is just ahead and at the bottom of it is the turn around. I put both headphones back in took a salt pill and a gel and began down the long steep downhill. Great music came through my buds, and I sang loudly as I descended, passing lots of runners heading back up the hill, some both running and walking. Eventually, I came to the race officials checking numbers and then 100 m further was greeted by my parents at Randall aid station which marked the turn around point of the out and back section. Forty km left I thought!!
I quickly grabbed my new camelbak and fuel, threw a spare shell into the bag as well for the return weather I did not to imagine being any nicer. I also grabbed my handheld bottle as I had nearly run out of water just getting to the Randall aid station and it was a net 800 Ft downhill. I was out and headed back up the hill quickly. I settled right into a good uphill hiking pace. Several runners went past me on the way down to the turn around. Two were a couple that I knew from home but had forgotten that they were doing this race and then finally was passed by Jurgen. I could see right away that he wasn't in a great place and the first words out of my mouth were, " just stay positive". We quickly wished each other well and headed off in opposite directions for now. I got to the top of the climb and felt great. Their was a steady stream of people coming towards me as I retraced my steps back to Bolina's aid station. I moved well along this section and ran much of it, except for the biggest of the hills. I passed several people along this section and it just kept me feeling better than ever before.
I soon hit Bolina's and was 10 minutes ahead of my fastest estimate for this section, sweet. I filled my bottle and bladder and headed out into the elements, Pan Toll, and the final 20 km. I was pretty much alone for this section. I would see people in front, catch them and pass them quickly, sharing a minimal exchange with most as we were all suffering in this spot. The wind was blowing straight into out faces on the return versus into our backs on the way out, and the rain had intensified. It reminded me of days of ski touring in a strong wind with lots of snow transport going on. It stung, the rain that is. Because of the wind, the rain was blowing sideways and right into my squinted eyes. I knew that if I just kept moving, eventually I would get back to the protection of the forested section just outside Pan Toll. I pushed at a steady pace and continued to pass people. I started to need to pee a lot over the last 2 hours and so I was needing to stop almost twice an hour to pee. But it can't be a bad thing I thought, my pee was clear so that meant I was well hydrated right? A couple of times I would pass someone and then need to stop a minute later to pee and they would pass me, but then I would get right back on their heels and make the move again.
Eventually, I got to the Pan Toll aid station and was greeted by my mom again. She was a little bit away from the aid station watching for me. She ran ahead to ready what I would need. This was when I realized that my crew had gained a member. Nicola was standing there in her shorts with her big black puffy jacket on. I asked why she was there and she said that her hip flexors were seized. I asked if she had had a lot of salt pills and water to which she answered, "yes". I told her that we would continue together. She seemed like I was the spark that she needed and was quickly looking around to get things ready to come with me. Again, I was in need of changing my shoes and socks so I sat and began my own process. Before I was done tying both shoes she had tried to run a little and decided that she didn't want to go on. I still pushed her but knew the final decision was essentially hers. She made it and sent me on my way.
At first I felt sad leaving, but then, excited as I realized that I was on target to run sub 11 hours. I quickly passed some people that had re passed me as I changed shoes and tried to get Nic to come with me. I felt great and this section was a long downhill return of most of what the biggest climb of the day had consisted of. I knew that several runners get lost in this section every year because of a hard left turn, but this year there was no way to miss it as chalk lined the ground and pointed the right direction. Again, the race went up, not steeply, but consistently. I fell into walking Peter mode and continued walking although I'm sure that I could have run easily. The main reason I didn't run was because the two ladies behind me that were jogging the whole thing weren't making a bit of distance on me as I continued to walk. Eventually the trail flattened and then headed downhill to the Hwy 1 aid station. I had switched the water in my hand held to coke at Pan Toll and was now taking less gels and relying on the straight sugar to get me home. As I left Hwy 1, I knew that I had about 12 km to the finish and the taste was getting sweeter.
The course followed more fire roads along this section, and they varied for the first while from slight uphill to flat. The winds on the western exposure of these roads were still intense. I decided to pace myself off of this bigger guy that I literally drafted off of to make it easier for me. Eventually, he began to walk when I still wanted to run, and I pushed ahead. This section was all out in the open and was on logging road styles of trails considering the inclement weather, there were many people out. I knew the finish was getting close so I still just kept pushing. From about two miles out of Tennessee Valley, I could see the aid station, and I began the long descent down to it. I continued to feel pretty good although the quads were definitely getting sore. I was still able to run downhill well and passed a couple of runners again on this downhill. Once I reached the bottom of it, I had to climb just slightly for about one km to gain the aid station. I talked to myself through this section and just kept a steady running pace. This particular aid station is around all day, as you travel through it twice, once on the way out and six km from the finish. I didn't want to jump the gun on the finish line, so I stopped and had the best volunteers tell me leave your stuff, tell me what you want and will run it up to you. So I handed over the handheld for more coke and the camelbak to get filled one last time. I was excited to be heading into the final stage.
From Tennessee to the finish, it was about 2 miles uphill, with another 2 miles down. This sounded good to me. So, after having the volunteers catch back up to me, I quickly began the next ascent. I could see two guys not far ahead of me up the hill, as well as another two further ahead. I quickly caught up to the two guys and realized that the one in front was a pacer. I fell into their rhythm for a little while before finally hitting a small downhill and passing them as I came into what looked like the steepest climb of the day. I could now see the other pair towards what I thought was the top of the last climb of the day. Before it rolled out into a downhill I had caught the two of them. I turned right and headed down an old roadway following the pink flagging. From this point I could see Rodeo Lagoon and knew that I was nearly there. I continued my descent on this road before the markers finally threw me onto a sweet, fun, technical trail, and I continued down towards the finish. As I reached the next logging road below the trail, I headed uphill one last time. In my mind I thinking, "why go up when you can just keep going down and get to the same place?" the other voice talked louder and got me to the top of which I now know to be the last climb. Finally, I saw a sign that said, “walk" and knew that from there it was all downhill. I didn't open it up too much; just kept 'er going. Eventually the tents of the finish came into view and the sounds of the spectators cheering became louder and louder. I knew that I was going to reach my goal and the emotions at this point all welled up inside. It was great to see Nic and my parents at the finish line. I did what I always do when I finish a long race like this; I just keep moving because the thought of finally stopping just doesn't seem right. So I walked and Nic came with me I was so emotional both for myself and for her, who I knew must have been disappointed. We chatted and I returned to the finish area after a couple of minutes. I quickly got my endurox from my Dad and sat for the first time of the day knowing that I was done.
We all sat around the finish for several hours cheering on finishers and chatting with the people that our paths had crossed over the day. I wanted to wait for Jurgen to finish and so that is what we did, we sat, chatted and waited. The day was finally over for us when he crossed the line a couple hours later.
Thanks to my training partner and girlfriend for her tremendous support over the months leading up to this race. It was an amazing adventure to share with her. I can't wait to crew her down there next year. I would also like to thank my parents who flew in to support the both of us. Their help was indispensable. They have always supported me in my sports, and I love them both for it.
There are many reasons that I succeeded on this day, but the main one that made it easier for me was the planning that I had put into it. My nutrition, for the first time in several years, was dialed, and I had no cramping or stomach issues. This was surprising given the fact that I ate about 31 gels, took over 90 salt pills, drank over 14 liters of water and survived the end with 1.5 liters of coke. My race plan worked, and I'm stoked to be done. Onto the next goal I guess, TransRockies.
Oh and by the way the 20000 feet of elevation change that they talk of for this race is wrong. My watch clocked it all in at around 27000ft. WOW!