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May 6, 2008

Miwok 100K Race Report

“Life for you has been less than kind -
So take a number, stand in line.
We've all been sorry, we've all been hurt -
But how we survive is what makes us who we are.”
- Rise Against, “Survive”

Normally I’d tell you to click and play to hear these lyrics by my current favorite rock band … but it’s a pretty rowdy song, complete with a few big fat F-bombs for good measure. If you’re OK with that, then by all means – please click and enjoy after the post.

Or maybe you’d rather think it over for a bit – which is OK, since this is such a long report. You'll have your chance later - but for now, let’s get down to business.

* *
First things first: I’m not going to bother apologizing for the length of this post. You know how these race reports go nowadays - and it’s only going to get worse after Western States in June. So I’ve just decided not to worry about it anymore.

Truthfully, “no worries” turned out to be a pretty good theme for the day. I encountered some difficulty along the trail, but nothing that ever seriously threatened my ability to finish. I’ll explain this in more detail later – but for now, I’ll just say hakuna matata, and start telling (and showing) you the whole story.

The day started early – and cold. When you’re standing outside at 5:15AM, dressed in running clothes and shivering, there’s not much else to do but look around at the other runners huddled around you and try to guess who’s who. At ultras, this is especially fun, because in the pre-dawn darkness, the world-class folks aren’t always easily distinguishable from regular chumps like me in the crowd. For example, my friend and I had the following exchange:

Me: Hey, that’s Scott Jurek over there.

Him (squinting): I can’t tell … are you sure that’s him?


It was him. And this is how you get your picture taken with Scott Jurek if you’re too bashful to actually approach the guy and ask properly. This is also what your shirt looks like when you forget your bodyglide and have to use Vaseline on your chest instead. All things considered, this photo isn’t exactly one of my proudest moments.

Race Director Tia Bodington addressing the group just before the race. As the girl in the hat and blanket will tell you, it was still pretty cold out.


Just before the start – a glimpse of the deep talent pool who showed up for this race. My goal was to take this picture, then quickly move off to the side so I wouldn’t get trampled.


The first quarter mile is a dash across Rodeo Beach, before coming to a dead stop as the field gets bottlenecked at the start of a singletrack trail. So … why were we running so hard on the beach again? Amazingly, the leaders were already out of sight by the time I finally made my way up the trail.


Climbing the first hill, we enjoyed some stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge at sunrise. Unfortunately, this was about the same time that I realized I hadn’t replaced the batteries in my camera. The “low battery” warning came on, and I couldn’t take any photos that required a long exposure.


I couldn’t even get a good picture of Olga, despite a few attempts. I feel really bad about this, because it was great to see her early in the race. Predictably, one of the very first things she said was, “Why are you so afraid of Western States?” before chastising me - in a friendly way, of course - about worrying too much. (By the way, if you didn’t see her comment after my previous post, go back and give it a look – it’s classic Olga.)

I wanted to spend more time chatting, but she had some other concerns bothering her (that’s her story), and I was stupidly preoccupied with fixing my camera. By the time we reached the Bunker Road aid station at mile 6, we had each diverted into our own race, and I reluctantly stuffed the camera back into my pocket.

At the top of the next climb, I pulled off the trail and stubbornly tried to get some life out of my Nikon. After adjusting the settings a bit, I found that I could get 10-20 seconds of function out of it, if the battery had enough time to rest in between pictures. It reminded me of the Seinfeld episode where Elaine was forced to consider whether or not a guy was spongeworthy before using items of hers that were a limited commodity. There were a lot of scenic views out there – now I just had to determine which ones were cameraworthy enough to drain the remainder of my batteries.


Here was an obvious choice: the view looking north from the top of Tennessee Valley, before heading down to Muir Beach. I was still being pretty choosy about my pictures, though – because I knew there was still a lot of race to go. However …

THIS sure seemed interesting: the wreckage of a truck, halfway down the slope in the middle of nowhere. From what I can tell, there’s not a road within about 5 miles of this spot. Somebody must have a fantastic story to tell about this – and if any of you Bay Area runners know it, I’d love to hear from you.


Looking north to Point Reyes. As the morning got warmer and the views got nicer, my camera seemed to gain some energy. Unfortunately for me, I was having the opposite sensation. In fact …

A girl named Leslie took this picture for me, and I managed to smile, but it was right about here that I was beginning to struggle (and that was before I saw that my shorts were pulled up like an old man’s trousers. So far I’m 2-for-2 in the embarrassing self-photo department). Not long after this, she pulled away from me – and she wasn’t the only one …


You have to click to enlarge … but there's a guy in a light colored shirt on the distant hillside. He’s my pacer for Western States, running at least a mile ahead of me. It occurred to me at this point that he and I might need to have a talk about the role of the pacer on race day.


Shortly after the Pan Toll station (Mile 21), I started having all kinds of stomach discomfort, which became so severe that I had difficulty running downhill because of the increased jostling and cramping. I spent most of this section walking alone, with only the occasional brief companionship of runners approaching from behind to pass me.


It continued like this all the way along the 7-mile out and back on this tree-lined fire road. I rallied briefly after the turnaround point at Randall Trail (mile 35), but it was very short lived. The nausea during miles 37-41 was so persistent that I figured it was only a matter of time before I’d be emptying my stomach contents at the side of the road.

The only problem was, it never happened. The only constant was extreme discomfort – so I decided to take matters into my own, um … fingers. I considered it a preemptive strike – and don’t worry, I wasn’t taking pictures at that point.

Once I got my bearings, that little bulimic episode turned out to be the smartest decision I made all day. It only took a few minutes before I could jog again, and when I reached the Bolinas aid station at mile 42, I was able to start over with my hydration and food intake – and my stomach didn’t really protest. However, I grabbed a few Tums on my way out just to be sure.

I picked up the pace on the long, gradual climb back to the Pan Toll station, and runners started coming back to me in droves. For example …

The guy in the gray shirt is my WS pacer. To his credit, he made it more than 40 miles before slipping back through the field, and he’s only on the hook to do 38 with me at Western States. So I guess I’m in pretty capable company with him … but we still might have that little chat I mentioned earlier.

Passing a large number of people during this stretch did wonders for my self-esteem. It took more than eight hours into the race, but it finally seemed like things were falling into place.


This part actually seemed too good to be true: at the Pan Toll station (mile 49), they were giving out ice cream sandwiches. If I thought about it for a while, I might be able to come up with some things that sound better after running 50 miles on hot, hilly trails than an ice cream sandwich … but it would be a pretty short list. Needless to say, it tasted delicious.


I ran with a group of other runners through this stretch of single track on the way out, but at mile 52 on the return, I was on my own. I kept expecting to run into Jacob's cabin or to encounter a black smoke monster, but luckily, neither of those things happened.


Miles 50 to 60 featured an incredible amount of climbing, but I stayed strong and jogged all but the steepest inclines. I was feeling awesome – and the song that introduced this post was rocking in my head the whole time. Here’s why …

(Warning: philosophical tangent ahead!)

I’ve done enough of these ultra races to realize that tough times are pretty much part of the deal – and that’s probably the biggest difference between ultras and my other passion of triathlon.

In triathlon, at any distance – up to and including the ironman – there’s reason to believe that with proper preparation and execution, everything will happen the way you want it to on race day. In fact, there are all kinds of strategies and articles out there dedicated to the goal of having the perfect race.

In ultras, there’s no sense in even hoping for such a thing.

It’s practically impossible to cover 50 to 100 miles of trail without something going wrong. Nobody will have the perfect race. We’ve all been sorry, we’ve all been hurt. What distinguishes ultrarunners is their ability to accept physical or psychological distress as part of the objective, without getting discouraged away from their overall goal. How we survive those stretches is what makes us who we are. Difficulty is inevitable; misery is optional.

(Come to think of it … that’s a pretty good 6-word memoir! Does that get me off the hook for that tag now?)

So it was with that mindset that I completed the final climb at mile 60, and soon spotted the finish area off in the distance below. I honestly felt like I did my strongest running in the last 15 miles of the race, like I could have kept rolling up and down these hills well into the night.


But that’s a race for another day. For today, I was happy to cross the finish line at 11 hours, 48 minutes and head to the food tent. They were out of hamburgers when I got there, which was a bummer, but guess what else they had?

Yahoo! I must have stood by this strawberry bowl for a good 20 minutes or so while runners lingered around swapping stories of their day on the trails. It was a classic ultra scene: the top finishers and midpack clowns like me hanging out together, with easy conversation and no pretense whatsoever.

In particular, I spent several minutes talking to some guy from the Pacific Northwest who acknowledged the difficulty of the course, and was happy have set a small PR. He was amazingly friendly, and I eventually got up the nerve to ask for a picture:

Let’s just say I’m much happier with this photo of Scott Jurek than the one taken 12 hours earlier. It feels a lot better to do things the right way, even if you have to work through a little discomfort to do it.

Of course, the same thing could be said about ultrarunning – as I’m learning better with each passing race.

**
“All smiles and sunshine … a perfect world on a perfect day.
Everything always works out … I have never felt so great.”
- Rise Against, “Survive”

(Click to play … same disclaimer as above)

31 comments:

craig 5/5/08, 11:46 PM  

I don't ever mind the length Donald. You covered some beautiful territory. I can see why this race fills up so quickly.

RunBubbaRun 5/6/08, 4:59 AM  

Great race report... I defeintly have to try to get in that race one day,, ICE cream, I'm so there..

Like the your observations between Ultrunners and Tri geeks..

Like the pics as well, might have to send you some "nip guards" for WS100..

David Ray 5/6/08, 7:30 AM  

Beautiful race and great report. Really good pictures. Good job with the camera. That shot of the line heading up the hill is classic.

stronger 5/6/08, 7:32 AM  

I love it there- nice grounds to travel. Great report/photos. I think your 6 words sums you up nicely.

Backofpack 5/6/08, 8:17 AM  

Beautiful course. And that guy from the PNW is pretty nice, isn't he? Just a regular guy (if you don't think about his running accomplishments).

Forget the vaseline & body glide. Go for the little round band-aids. That's what runners here use!

I'm glad you finished strong!

Michael 5/6/08, 9:02 AM  

Congrats on a great race...you're speaking my language with Seinfeld and Lost references! Way to go!

olga 5/6/08, 9:05 AM  

Hey, not fair, you stole my paragraph about difficulties and all that other stuff!!! This is what I get for sharing my thoughts:) Do you know I had a crazy stomach distress somewhere around mile 20 (who know), but mine came out explosive on the other side? Was hardly able to find a place, but felt fantastic 5 seconds later.
Donald, there is a reason I told you I see it in you - the ultrarunner's mentality. And that you'll love WS100 whether or not you struggle (you will) or finish (I hope so, I give you a good 90% chance, but we all do know crap happens, and sometimes literally).
Isn't Jerker awesome? Yup, asnother guy on a trail, fully respecting us, mortals. Never be afraid to come over again - although it took me some time to get over "oh, they are famous" part too. Now I just walk around and hug people:)
It was great to meet you, Donald. I will see you in June, and make sure your camera is rolling - and I'll bring my own too!

Tri to Be Funny 5/6/08, 9:46 AM  

Beautiful experience! Kinda makes me think I could actually WANT to do a race like this someday :-)

Annette 5/6/08, 11:10 AM  

Nice job! Glad you were able to overcome your stomach issues and your shyness (the photo) during this race. And, I have to know, did you find Jacob's cabin? ;)

Thomas 5/6/08, 11:17 AM  

If anything, you could add more details to your reports! Love the photos, you get a real feel of the course.

The fact that you got stronger towards the end is a very good sign for WS, and having a photo taken with Scott Jurek is a very nice bonus.

SLB 5/6/08, 2:04 PM  

Great race, well written report, and photos to boot; don't apolgize for the length.

What beautiful scenery, running through woods...now there's something I could get used to!

rick 5/6/08, 2:16 PM  

Ok so true story. On my last and 3rd consecutive Miwok I ended up running with two ladies at the start of the race. Georgia and a girl who's name I can't remember, right around the area where you are fumbling with your camera. Girl who's name I can't remember brought out her secret but untested nutritional weapon. Smoked Herring in sour cream sauce sandwiches. I kid you not! She ended up dumping them because they got soggy and fishy smelling. Really fishy and soggy. Those opening photos just reminded me of it.

Ok I'll have to be back for the rest. I only got through the first 1/3.

jen 5/6/08, 3:14 PM  

Congratulations Donald! Impressive run. Love the photos especially that last one with Scott Jurek.

Love this: "Difficulty is inevitable; misery is optional."

You're going to be great at WS. :)

Backofpack 5/6/08, 5:33 PM  

Donald - check out this blog:
http://banfftrailtrash.blogspot.com/

I'm wondering if that's the Leslie who took your old-man-shorts picture? We met her at Orcas and she is great!

rick 5/6/08, 8:48 PM  

"Difficulty is inevitable; misery is optional." Okay that's pretty darn sweet, for life and sport.

Nice job pulling it back together out there. Ride out the bad stuff and get yourself back in a good place. I love this sport and how it teaches you mental toughness one mile at a time. You guys were spoiled with the ice cream stuff though, I've never had ice cream out on the trail. On to WS!

P.S. I've always been too shy to ask Jurek for a photo. Now that I see you have one I'll have to get one for myself too.

robtherunner 5/6/08, 9:49 PM  

Great report, Donald! Well worth the time away from my homework. Much more interesting too!

triguyjt 5/7/08, 6:14 AM  

donald... on the length...
I think anyone told Faulkner to trim a page or two , here or there. so don't freak out on the post total...there are some writers where quantity and quality do a classic two step together..

great spongeworthy photos..including you with the high shorts..hilarious...
and yes, the later photo with jurek was worth the wait..right...
a taxing run and strawberries...how much better can it get... western states will be conquered..and your pacer will help pave the way...
geat post again

Downhillnut 5/7/08, 6:35 AM  

Love the report. That IS a good six word memoir. Sometimes I feel that way for even a 16k trail run. In life or in a race when you start out with a patient, open spirit to work through what you can, it's easier to be happy with the result.

I'm still working through my 6-worder - been tagged twice and it's not here yet. Maybe I need a long trail run to sort it out.

How can you not love an experience which included ice cream, strawberries, and a friendly celebrity encounter!

Lesser is More 5/7/08, 8:06 AM  

I'm still amazed at all the great pictures you were able to squeeze out. When my low battery light comes on, I've got maybe 3 pictures left before the camera goes dead. It must have known you had a race report to write.

PreFan1982 5/7/08, 1:01 PM  

Those pics tell it all. Unbelievable race!

Rahn 5/7/08, 3:58 PM  

As usual, another great report.

Having been on the end of dead batteries many times, I can relate to the frustration. But at least you still got some good pictures.
(I usually carry extra batteries, but I imagine for that distance, the extra couple ounces would be something you don't want to carry.)

Curly Su 5/7/08, 6:24 PM  

i can't even imagine 62 miles. really impressive. congrats...and great pictures.

Rainmaker 5/7/08, 7:59 PM  

Wow - 60+ miles. That's some serious runnin'. I love the early morning photo of all the people looking like little ants heading up the hill,followed by the Golden Gate Bridge. Very cool. As well as the photo of the bay near the finish.

Congrats and awesome job! Oh, and no worries about length - photos are always welcomed!

Spokane Al 5/8/08, 6:57 AM  

Your writing skills, combined with your awesome pictures, make ultras so very enticing and always get me thinking. Then I remember the rocky trails and my clumsiness and go back to just enjoying your terrific adventures.

Great job on all aspects of your race. I can't wait to follow your journey to and through WS 100.

Dave 5/8/08, 8:34 AM  

Donald-
Cool stuff, great report. The more I read the more these ultra's seem apealing. Looking forward to continued reports on your WS training.

David

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) 5/8/08, 11:16 AM  

Nice meeting you in person at the start. Great run, report, and selective photography, but I will need call psych on you regarding your eating and purging disorder.

And this shyness regarding Jurek, when you're practically a celebrity yourself. Actually, I remember feeling the same way when I saw him after the 2005 race, and in fact never had the nerve to get a photo with him. But then, I wasn't a brazen blogger then...

Cliff 5/8/08, 8:41 PM  

Donald,

Those very nice pics. Even the one with you and vaseline =D.

100 k. That's pretty nuts. The sad thing is that back in my mind, there is a part of me is saying..let's try that.. :)

Thanks for sharing ur experiences.

Speed Racer 5/9/08, 3:48 AM  

I continue to be in awe of you ultra people. Ironmen could learn so much from you about being a badass. How many races have been ruined by stomach issues, while you just stuck your fingers down your throat and got over it. And you were STILL smiling at the end. Incredible!

Thanks so much for the pictures as well. I'm glad the camera held on.

Anne 5/9/08, 7:41 PM  

I wanted to savor the reading of this post, which is why it took until Friday night for me to finally do so. Well worth the wait -- if only to crack up at the first line about your pacer. And the reward of the elusive Jurek photo at the end was perfect.

My Life & Running 5/14/08, 2:29 PM  

Vaseline, super-stealth pictures, sunrises, bloggers chastising you, spongeworthy views, miles of pondering the reasons of the truck, bulimia, ice cream, smoke monster worries, philosophical musings, and finishing a race stronger than you started... sounds like it was some day!! Congratulations on another fantastic race!

(&& is it weird that this post is making me dream entering the world of ultrarunning??).

brian 6/9/08, 3:34 PM  

Congrats and nice time. I wish I could do that well some day. I had my moments at Miwok too and missed the ice cream at pantoll, but did partake in the pizza at highway 1. Nice ws100 training diary. I'll be entering the lottery for the 2009 event. good luck at it. I have my first at mohican 100 in 11 days. yikes!

Brian

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