I never sleep very well the night before a race. The earlier the race starts, the worse I sleep. Miwok proved to be no exception. The ridiculously early start time of 5:40 combined with the fact that 40 minutes away was the closest place I could find to camp meant that I would need to get up before 4:00 to be to the race on time. This did not prove to be a good combination. I actually did not sleep at all that night! A friend of mine flew into San Francisco to hangout with me for the weekend and I thought that would be a good distraction to keep me from being too focused on the race and thus I might get some sleep. I didn't feel too focused on the race Friday night but I still didn't sleep. I just laid there in my tent for 5 hours and then got up and drove to the start. I suppose just laying horizontal for that time is helpful, but I would have felt a little better about things had I actually slept.
At any rate we all lined up on the beach at day break and at that point there was nothing I could do about not having slept so I forgot about it.
I had no game plan for this race. I just wanted to run for 100k. I hadn't even thought about how I would start out and then suddenly we were a couple miles up the road at the start of the race with me grouped in a lead pack with 4 others: Dave Mackey, Lewis Taylor, Scott Jurek, and Hal Koerner. I felt a little bit like I was in the middle of a Sesame Street spot: "Which one of these things doesn't belong," but the pace felt fairly sustainable and slowly I felt less out of place. Jurek dropped back first (at about mile 4) and then Koerner (at about mile 15). Also just beyond mile 15 was when Mackey began to separate and open up a lead on Taylor and I. For most of the next 25 miles Lewis Taylor and I jockeyed back and forth in 2nd and 3rd place with him running much stronger on the downhills and I a little stronger on the flats and uphills.
I was excited to be in this position but the problem was that my quads had begun to breakdown as early as mile 10! Lack of sleep? Lack of training on such hard packed trail? Or running some of the early downhills too fast? I'm not sure which caused this but it was pretty tough knowing that I was going to have to run through pretty significant muscle pain for more than 50 miles.
I kept moving though and kept being surprised that no one was catching me from behind.
At mile 35 you turn fully around and back track for more than 15 miles so you get to see where everyone else is in the race. I first saw Dave Mackey floating uphill a good 15 to 20 minutes ahead of me. This was also a spot where I was behind Lewis Taylor by a few minutes, but I knew the next 10 miles or so were going to favor me and I expected I would see him again soon enough. After I turned around I finally got to see where some people behind me were at. First down the hill came Hal Koerner and then Scott Jurek and if I recall I think Jon Olsen was right with Scott. They all seemed so close at the time I thought they would all be catching me soon. In reality I had 15+ minutes on most of them at this time (except Hal who was only 5 minutes or so back). And I ended up feeling really strong for the next 10 miles or so. I passed Lewis somewhere around mile 40 and then running in second place I began to feel confident for the first time in the race. I actually felt like maybe there was a chance I could hold off what seemed like the hordes of runners charging behind me.
By mile 48 though this confidence broke and I knew I was in a struggle just to find a way to the finish. The Miwok is an amazingly brutal course. It's not super technical but the downhills are steep, the uphills seem to keep coming at you, and the surface is VERY hard. I'm used to running in Juneau on snow, mud, planks, and moss. The Miwok course is as much different from the trails in Juneau as any trails could possibly be.
As I got deep into my pain beyond mile 50 I really just tried to focus on hydration and eating. Once things get bad it becomes much more important to focus on the basics. Once you are feeling the way I was at this point there is a very thin line between pain and danger. Without sticking to good hydration and eating you are begging for the danger.
At any rate I pushed on. On a climb before the second to last aid station (around mile 52) I saw two runners behind me and I actually felt a sense of relief that at least I could stop focusing on trying to maintain 2nd place that I had been in for the last 15 miles and focus completely on getting back to the the finish.
This was Jon Olsen and his pacer who I saw behind me. They ended up passing me right at the Hwy 1 aid station (mile 54) and then they were gone up the climb ahead. At the time I didn't even realize that it was a racer and a pacer, I thought I had been passed by two racers and was now in 4th place. When I got to the last aid station (mile 58) and found out that I was in 3rd still that gave me a pretty good boost and for the first time in more than an hour I actually decided to fight again. I only had 4 miles to go, I couldn't see anyone behind me down the trail and I wasn't going to let anyone catch me. Problem was I still had a big 2.5 mile climb and then a 1.5 mile drop to deal with. I was still running ok on the flats, but the ups and downs were killing me. This last stretch was painful, but when the finish is that close it finally becomes a good painful, and I start to get a bit emotional about finishing and the pain becomes easier to block out. I was even able to rally and run the last 1/2 mile or so pretty hard so as to at least come across the line looking like I felt as strong as everyone there probably thought I felt. After all, when you drop 3rd place in a field of top runners and most people have no idea who you are, they generally assume you felt great. This couldn't be further from the truth, but at least I was done and could begin to enjoy the excitement in my mind of a 3rd place finish even if I physically was pretty destroyed.
It's a great race they put on there. The post race hangout is great. Lots of tasty food and drinks, amazingly loaded goodie bags. I think there was more money worth of stuff in each bag than the entry fee. Got a chance to talk a bit with some of the people I had just raced against (all great people) and then relaxed for a couple hours before hitting the road.
Slowly over the course of the next day the reality of finishing 3rd in such a deep field began to set in a bit. I'm very proud of this race but by no means was this even close to as good of a race as I could have there. I'll have to wait to see if this is enough to get me back there again next year. I know I can run this course a lot faster than I did. This alone has me thinking pretty seriously about working out my '09 race schedule to be in the Miwok again.
I know there are many who think I'll be throwing away an opportunity that they would love to have by not running Western States this year, and don't get me wrong, I would love to run Western States this year, but it's not going to happen. I'm sure Western States is an amazing race, but I have never been one to choose my races based on how much other people want to do them. I get goose bumps thinking about riding The Great Divide Race next month. Western States on the other hand kind of seems a little too hyped for me. When you finish The Great Divide Race in Antelope Wells, New Mexico you are greeted by a border agent (if it's during the day, there's no one there at night) and then you ride your bike back 80 miles to get somewhere that you can actually get on a bus back to reality. When you finish Western States you are greeted by thousands of cheering fans and media with cameras and microphones. This is not a bad thing. It's just not so much for me. And I don't in any way mean this as a criticism of Western States. I will hopefully run Western States someday, but there is exactly zero chance that I will bag my Great Divide Plans and run it this year. My next ultra running test will be The Wasatch 100 in September where I intend to put everything I have on the line and see how the cards may fall.
Shoes: Montrail Odyssey
Food: gels - about 1,000 calories; perpetuem - about 700 calories; bacon - about 500 calories; watermelon - as much as I could shove in at each aid station - maybe 300 total calories; one banana - 100 calories. Total: about 2,600 calories (about 300 per hour).
electrolytes: 5 Nuun tablets
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