It seemed like a good idea at the time. With Western States less than 2 months away I felt compelled to hit the trails and distance with gusto. However, I had been spending proportionately more time on the flat roads prepping for the World 100k Championships than in previous build ups for the “Big Dance” and frankly quite glibly thought that jumping into Miwok 100k would be perfect. The conversation I had with coach Ian Torrence went like this:
Me: “Question – I have signed up for Miwok 2 weeks after Worlds as a long training run for Comrades and States. I want to check with you though – your thoughts..”
Ian: “Let me answer your question with a question: Can you go to a race (like Miwok) and truly not race?”
Me: “That is a good question….
When I put on a number I tend to race. I know that when race results are published I do care where I come out in the list since we don’t get to say “training run”. Right? But, I did do NF50 in SF in 2010 just for the experience and didn’t race hard and really enjoyed it. SO, yes, I can do a race and not race it. I think especially two weeks after a World Championship. I did do States 8 days after Worlds in 2009. All I wanted there was to get a top 10 so I could race the next year. I love the Bay Area runners so it is as much as social event as a race.
So, yes, I can.”
Well, having said all that, it still turned out to be not such a good idea.
Kevin Rumon picked me up from the always hospitable Fitzpatrick residence at 3:15 am. We arrived at Stinson Beach by 4:00 – plenty of time to fuss about before the 5:00 am start. The dark start up the long climb out of Stinson Beach was illuminated by the runners lights, but more impressively, by the full moon, low in the sky. I fell in line with Jed Tukman and Charlie Ehm, following the shapely calves of another female runner. We all joked and laughed throughout the long climb. Finally I decided to make a pass around the female, and in doing so, bumped her wrist, knocking her watch off. While she had to stop and find it, I started receiving jabs from Charlie and Jed about my true character – how I take the competition out by seemingly careless accidents.
The morning light approached and we turned our lights off as we hit the runnable, albeit heavily cambered, coastal trail that ran along the contour of the headlands. Joking with Charlie and Jed helped pass the time, and as I did one minor face plant off the trail I was reminded by myself to never tell my daughter that I don’t fall anymore – which I had done a few days earlier. Ahead I could make out the blue jersey of Helen Cospolich, but I didn’t seem to be getting any closer. We hit Bolinas Ridge aid station where I grabbed a gel and ran with Jed for quite awhile on the now widened road. Eventually he pulled away, and I was joined by Jimmy Dean Freeman. We chatted for a long stretch, during which I was passed effortlessly by a woman whom I still do not know. The downhills were fun, and yet….I was feeling a little concerned that my legs were still a bit sleepy.
After about awhile, the leaders of the race started appearing on their return trip. Dave Mackey was running side-by-side with Chris Price, and they were followed shortly by Jesse Haynes. Then more and more men until I eventually saw and encouraged the first place woman. Then Helen, and one more woman. I reached the turn around at Randall aid station and was greeted by very enthusiastic supportive volunteers. I drank some coke, ate a gel, and started the long climb, just as the woman I had de-watched came in – it was Jen Benna! It somehow felt more offensive that I didn’t recognize her at the scene of the crime. “Jen! I didn’t know it was you! I’m so sorry about your watch!” “It’s okay – I needed a new one anyway!” She was soon fueled up and running back up the trail with me. We stayed together awhile and then I slowly pulled ahead. I was pleasantly surprised and slightly hopeful that I would eventually reel in the girls ahead. It was a fun section being able to say hi to friends and familiar faces. Finally back at Bolinas Ridge aid station, I grabbed a gel and an S!Cap and scurried out onto the single track. I was so happy to be on this section of single track – a fun, technical and runnable section back to the Coastal Trail.
Now this trail was feeling like work. It is fully exposed west slope, so the views are spectacular. The narrowness, camber, and overgrown grass made it more difficult than I anticipated. It was beginning to feel like a lot of work so early in the day. When I finally popped out onto the short bit of pavement, I heard a voice from a car – “You want a ride?”. I looked over at the ever present “Tropical John” Medinger, and as he drove beside me I replied “Don’t tempt me!” Before I could seriously ponder his request, I had to turn back onto the single track. A few minutes later I heard a loud whistle from above and saw him above the trail, taking photos. I gave him a wave and resigned myself to the task ahead.
There was a small train of runners closing in behind and we hit the Matt Davis trail together. I offered my position to anyone who wanted it but they were content letting me set the pace. The trail was steep, twisty, rocky, rooty, but lots of fun. I was regaining a little confidence, but my legs were not used to running downhill. I contemplated stepping out of the race at Stinson Beach, but when I arrived at the aid station I went into auto pilot – “I need water in my pack, and a gel.” John Maestes, my friend Dana’s husband jumped in to help, taking my gloves and hat and getting my pack back on. Jason Lehmen, a training partner from Portland had dropped from the race and ran with me a bit out of the station. He asked how I was feeling and I said I felt like quitting. I asked about the other women and he said they were at least 10 minutes ahead. Ah well. Keep going forward.
I climbed up Steep Ravine, seemingly the only one in the race, finally being passed up the top by a male runner. We chatted briefly before he pulled away. Another young guy caught me and introduced himself as Brandon – and this was his first 100k. After he pulled away, Jen floated by, cheerful and supportive. Next, Charlie caught me. “What did you do, stop for breakfast in Stinson?” “Hey Charlie – nah, my legs are junk. No downhill in them.” We ran together into the Muir Beach aid station, and then I started the long hike out. Long, long, long. Every crest brought another climb to view. Finally the downhill into Tennessee Valley and my quads were not happy. I had contemplated quitting again, worried about doing too much damage to my quads. And again, I went into aid station mode, got what I needed, and started walking out with the next two women to catch me – Ragan Petrie and Nichole Sellon. We chatted briefly before they pulled ahead as well. Then I caught back up to Charlie, heaving by the side of the trail. Yikes. He recovered, caught up, and we trudged on together to the next aid station. I spotted an avocado, begged it off the willing volunteer as well as a Popsicle. Leaving the aid station, Charlie said his stomach was ready to go again, so I went ahead on the circuitous climb and decent to Rodeo Beach, across the sloggy sand, then back up and over the hills to Tennessee Valley. I was fairly committed at this point to finishing. Above Tennessee Valley, fellow Corvallisian and steady runner, Tia Gabalita, came up behind me. She was doing well and danced down the rocky terrain around me.
We met up again at Tennessee Valley aid station where she goaded me – “Come on Meghan, let’s go!”. I laughed “my legs are shot! You go ahead!” I chatted with Tim “Fitzy” Fitzpatrick, who was waiting to pace his friend Vineer, and Tom Catts who was waiting to pace Erika Lindland. Ted Knudsen was waiting for Charlie so I asked if I could tag along with them. I had run 50 miles, the last 25 of which had been painful, and I was not planning on doing more than finish at this point. Charlie came in, fueled up, and we meandered out. His stomach had settled for the time being and I struggled to keep up. As we climbed back over towards Muir Beach, I looked back and saw my dear friend Scotty Mills, grinning and quickly closing the gap. “I’m so happy to see that you ARE human!” We exchanged a few more jabs, before he gradually and gracefully pulled away.
We had more climbing with great ocean views before finally descending down to Muir Beach aid station again. I was able to get down the climb only slightly smoothly, and the man in the red car was there again. “Hey John! I should have taken that ride when you offered this morning!” He grinned and said “Well, you’re only 2 hours slower than last year!”
Mary Churchill and her pacer caught me at the aid station, where the volunteers were generous with their compliments. “You guys are doing great! You look fantastc!” I looked at Mary. “Who is she talking about?” We laughed at how ridiculous it seemed. Leaving the aid station, Charlie was feeling green again, and I patted him on the back as I ran by while he heaved into the bushes. I hung out with Ted while Charlie emptied out and started over, and we were soon jogging down the road together. They pulled ahead easily and were soon out of sight on the next bit of single track. I meandered along, and slowly reeled them back in, when Ted turned around to run back to Tennessee Valley. Charlie was feeling it again, so we slogged on together, silent and beaten down. On the last major climb, he said he would need to walk it in, as every time he ran his stomach lurched. I slowly jogged off, crested the last climb, and began the perilous (due to the thrashed legs) descent down Steep Ravine. This was not pretty. At the bottom, only passing the Saturday pedestrians, I was passed by one final female, who was incredulous that she was doing so. On the final stretch on flat pavement (ah, my current forte!) I was able to finish with some decorum and a smile on my face. As Tia placed the finisher medal around my neck, I asked her to give me #52 next year, rather than #1. Charlie eventually made it in, and the post race atmosphere made up for all the misery we had put ourselves through.
Western States training had indeed started, in “baptism by fire” fashion. Pretty sure I won’t be trying that method again. This race also reinforced my earlier decision not to run Comrades.
Many thanks to RD Tia Bodington, Tropical John, and all the lovely volunteers on the course, my friends/competitors for keeping me honest, and the continued support of SportHill, Sunsweet, Garmin, Scott Shoes, and DryMax!