Since the first time I ran an ultra in the Marin Headlands the nature there became very special to me. Living in Los Angeles, which is a desert with a little water, the coast north of the Golden Gate in contrast is lush and moist, the vistas are terrific and the trails are well maintained.
I like to run two ultras there: the North Face Endurance Challenge (NFEC) in December and Miwok 100k in May. I didn’t report on the last NFEC last December – the weather was harsh (it rained so much – sometimes by the ocean it felt like receiving buckets of water in the face. I ran a sub 10 though and that’s a Western States 100 qualifier!). It was still a fun adventure.
Last years Miwok 100k was epic and a great experience. I was lucky to get through the lottery again this year. And it was equally epic although for different reasons. And also a rich experience.
I was really excited about the race and the opportunity to run over 60 miles. I’m training for the UTMB this year and I had Miwok planned for a good climbing and race practice. I prepared thoroughly, building on what I’ve learned from previous races: the drop bag contents, what goes in the Salomon pack, the start bag, the timing, getting gradually adjusted to getting up at 3am, the drive on the sinewy California Highway One, the taper, the new shoes and socks, the pre-race nutrition, healing the recent cold, etc.
Although it’s closer to the start I didn’t want to stay at Stinson Beach so I opted to stay at the Green Gulch Farm Zen Center: it’s in the middle of the Miwok 100k course (NFEC too), the race actually passed through the farm, we climbed the Green Gulch trail right above the farm this morning and going up by Hope Cottage. The place is peaceful, delicious vegetarian meals are served and it has direct access to trails. Miwok trails! There was a full day of sitting but I was running that day so I didn’t participate.
Rooms are comfortable, bathrooms are shared and there’s only one shower for the whole guest house. It’s a nice shower. There is also a sauna but I didn’t go there. Also being quiet is important, the walls are paper thin. The rooms are $90 during the week and $135 on w.e. with breakfast and dinner included. Nice deal! Much grateful to this amazing zen community.
What a great experience already – the day before the race I went for a steep run up to Hope Cottage. I also went for a walk down to Muir Beach – when I connected the dots between the farm I ran through as part of all my races in the area and the farm I was staying at! Duh!
Not knowing much about farming I believe this is a nice farm! Everything is organic and it tastes so rich in nutrients. I felt blessed by this opportunity to stay still and quiet before the race and also have perfect nutrition (I only eat organic and non-processed foods. I eat junk every now and then – just because I’m a rebel).
Preparing the gear and nutrition for the race was quite exacting. I use every event as an opportunity to improve the packing, nutrition, care, clothes, recovery, logistics. Here’s a table of the contents of each bag:
I did spend some extra time on navigation. Although I now know where Tennessee Valley and Muir Beach are I have been shocked with nav anxiety since RDL. I just don’t get lost. Ever. Ocean or land, it just doesn’t happen! So I do what always did, I go over maps, print them, save them to my phone. Enter waypoints on my topo software on my phone and tablet. I survey satellite images like I’m about to go capture a fugitive in a hideout! The race web site provided some good files of the course (Trail Segments and KMZ file for Google Earth). I also printed and laminated a card with cut offs and milage.
I prepared a bag for Tennessee Valley since the course was going there twice. I was looking forward to eat the berries there!
Preparation also involved being rested and well for the race. Although I had gotten sick two weeks earlier I slept a lot and rested and the runny nose and the cough were gone for the race. It was cutting it short because after the race I could tell my lungs were tired! Never had tired lungs before, or the muscles that move the lungs. They are fully functional now.
Race day was epic but in an unusual way…
Race events are always epic, long runs in mountain terrain are always epic. Miwok 2013 got epic before it even started. At the start at 4am we were told that they had to change the course late at night because the rangers decided to close an area for fire control reasons. The new course excluded everything north of Panoramic Highway, for a length of about 60K. “Meh”
It was amazing to see the runners and the organizers just adapt to the new situation with grace and no fuss! I was even surprised to not be pissed off myself! Miwok was a major block in my training for UTMB in August. What I quickly realized was that I was trained. Trained to deal with the unexpected (good for UTMB!) and that I had already gained benefits from the training. Now that the race had been shortened something new and fun appeared: run hard over a shorter distance (38 miles instead of 62). For some runners it was one chance to qualify for Western States, that’s too bad. At the start I chatted an amazing lady that I had met at Rio del Lago: Eldrith Gosney who is 71 and has run an amazing amount of ultras (I counted over 150 total, and Miwok no less than 10 times). We talked about getting lost at Rio del Lago in October!
Then we started. I don’t know how many runners were there, 400 perhaps. It was a big slow file to get up the stairs of the Dipsea trail. I was getting a little bit impatient because I wanted to RUN!
The climb to Cardiac was easy and fun, enjoying the scenery. This time I put a timer on my watch to stay a limited time at aid stations. 5 minutes or less. I realized the average time was 2.5 mn. Every aid station had humus in pita and potatoes – my favorite race food. Most stations had ice (it got a little hot but not too much in the middle of the day). I drink on thirst and a gulp of icy water tastes better and one tends to drink less (which is good actually – runners have a tendency to over-hydrate).
Because the race was shorter it went by really fast. The fun part was the last descent on the Dipsea trail stairs where some of us started racing seriously. I go fast on downhills so I passed many runners. Then 50 yards before the finish a runner I had passed a long time ago sprinted and passed me! He was pretty aggressive! I didn’t even see him at the finish later to congratulate him but I did receive a Facebook message that read: “Nice running out there at Miwok. I always run fast down Dipsea but having you there as a rabbit in front made it really fun. I always sprint into the finish – just something stupid I like to do. After 7 hours jogging/walking, I don’t know why, I Just like to do that. I didn’t mean to insult you in any way. In fact, the two of us must have passed around 10 people on the way down, and I probably wouldn’t have worked that hard without you there. Cheers, and keep on running strong.”
Miwok 2013 was the first race where we were given an UltrAspire cup at the beginning of the race. This eliminated the need for paper cups and reduced the amount of trash generated by the race. I applaud the race directors for making this decision. It shows a respect for the precious natural environment we run through. Also, not that it concerns me since I don’t use them, no gels (like GU or Hammer) were given by the aid stations. Runners could bring their own. This also reduced the littering of the trails (and clean-up work). Bravo! If we want to be remain friends with the forest service and enjoy the trails those are the kinds of initiatives that prove that ultrarunning is an eco-friendly sport.
I went almost straight to my car after the finish. It was getting foggy and cold. It took a while to exit the parking lot as everyone was leaving the beach but I was showered and a bit rested for dinner at six at the Zen Center. Luckily they had prepared some pasta, with tofu meat and spinach. I drank chamomille and at 8:30 I was in bed sound asleep!
Next day I was planning on a small run but the weather wasn’t nice so I walked to Muir Beach, looked the ocean and came back to the farm and hoped in my car to SF to have lunch with a friend before driving back to Los Angeles.
Now I’m a bit confused about my training schedule for DRTE100 and to some extent for UTMB. I have to figure out what distance I will run in the coming weeks and over the summer. Friday after the race I will probably run 26 miles of trails, 35 the week after, 45 and then taper. I went to Rio del Lago in October with no more than that.
It would be dishonest to hide it: I am a bit disappointed. I trained, prepared and traveled to run a 100K and I come back with a 60K. But it’s a light disappointment that gives way to the memory of a good time running and reflecting in the mountains by the ocean and stay at a zen farm. Going back next year. While I wouldn’t mind not racing NFEC I don’t think I’ll ever skip Miwok. Thanks Tia Boddington and all the race personnel and volunteers for being so amazing and graceful about the whole situation and making this a memorable experience.
Now I’m also dreaming about an ultra run as part of a sesshin…
Here is a link to more photos on Facebook