Miwok 100K: The toughest race I’ve ever run

  • This was printed in May of 2015 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the 101st installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

About a month ago when I told San Joaquin Running race director Nate Moore that I

was nervous about the upcoming Miwok 100K trail race, he told me, “That’s the joy

of longer races. You can die around half way, come back to life and still finish

strong.”

I’m thankful that those words stuck on Saturday.

I have never been so challenged by a race, physically, mentally and emotionally. The

62-mile course in the Marin Headlands (in the San Francisco Bay Area) has more

than 11,000 feet of elevation gain and loss. The terrain is rough with rocks, mud, and

broken sticks to dodge, fallen trees to climb over, and miles of thigh-high grass to

trudge through.

Audrey at Muir Beach aid station

My running buddy, Audrey Crow, in the early part of Miwok 100K.

What it lacked in friendliness, the trail made up for with its beauty. Participants

were rewarded for their efforts with breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge

and Muir Beach, ancient redwoods, green foothills and plentiful wildflowers.

Farin at Tennesse Valley Aid Station

Me coming in to an aid station during Miwok 100K

Still, when the tendons connecting to my right calf muscle started to seize up at Mile

25, I didn’t care what the trail looked like. I just wanted to get off of it.

I ran in pain, debating whether to call it quits at the next aid station or push on. I

clung to Nate’s words and decided to believe in them. I was determined to turn my

race around.

At each aid station, which were between four and seven miles apart, I stretched and

rubbed my calf, trying to get the tendons to relax a little, but to no avail. I forced

myself to leave each station with the determination to make it to the next one, when

all I really wanted to do was sit down and let someone drive me to the finish line

where I knew a warm meal and a beer was waiting for me.

When I reached the Mile 49 aid station, I took two ibuprofen gel caps (thank you

Kenny Crow for finding some for me!) and massaged my calf with a hard plastic

sports roller. I was sobbing as I rolled the tendons harder and harder, trying to gain

some flexibility.

I continued to cry as I left the aid station and walked up a 1.6-mile long hill. I didn’t

care that people stared as giant tears rolled down my cheeks. At an ultramarathon,

nothing seems out of the ordinary and there is no modesty.

As I made my way to Mile 50, walking and feeling like a zombie, I began to drift off to

sleep. Three times I awoke and caught myself the instant before hitting the ground. I

needed caffeine, and I found some in the form of sports jelly beans in my hydration

pack.

As I munched them, savoring their sweet, fruit punch flavor, I walked along and

observed my gorgeous wooded surroundings.

Another woman was walking the opposite way — she hadn’t yet been to the aid

station and turned around — when I saw it. A bear was in the trees behind her, and

it was making a move to ambush her from behind. I grabbed a stick from the ground

and raised it above my head with a gasp, ready to beat off the large animal.

Then I realized I was hallucinating.

I lowered the stick and pretended to use it as a hiking pole, averting my eyes from

the woman who probably thought I was nuts. (I was!)

When she was out of sight, I dropped the stick and hiked on. Within the next two

miles, I saw a baby elephant, a snake, a zebra, a tiger, a bobcat, a pelican, a giant

butterfly and a platypus. The shadows, foliage and small beams of sunlight that

broke through the wooded canopy morphed into these wild animals for mere

seconds. When I would look straight on at the hallucination, it would turn back into

the stick, shrub or log that it really was.

This race is going to kill me, I thought.

The caffeinated beans and the ibuprofen gel caps seemed to kick in at the same time.

Suddenly I was awake, my pain went from agonizing to bearable, and I was ready to

finish the race. It also boosted my morale to see my best friend, local runner Audrey

Crow — who I at first thought was another hallucination.

I reached the last aid station, near Mile 56, in high spirits and with a burst of energy.

I refilled my water bottle with Tailwind electrolyte beverage, grabbed five M&Ms

and sprinted off toward the finish line. Nate was right! I came back to life!

I passed 13 participants during the final 6.2 miles. One even yelled after me, “What a

comeback! You looked like you were struggling back there! Way to finish strong.”

The last miles flew by me, or rather, I flew over them. The fallen trees that I had

struggled to climb over on my way toward the turnaround, I was now hurdling over

like a wild animal. I leaped over tiny streams and bounded down sets of trail stairs. I

sped across wooden bridges on a mission to get to that finish chute as quickly as

possible.

Reaching the finish line in 13 hours and 30 minutes was the biggest running-related

accomplishment I’ve felt. It was more gratifying than qualifying for the Boston

Marathon, even more gratifying than finishing Boston, because I realized I had

pressed on through an injury, fought sleep and battled hallucinations to get there. It

was one wild ride and I had come out alive. It took a lot of guts to keep going when I

thought I was losing my mind.

It also takes a lot of guts to pull yourself out of a race. I commend Audrey for making

the tough decision to drop when the pain and swelling in her knee made it

impossible for her to run.

She is incredible for making it 45 miles on that brutal course — more than most

people could ever dream of doing. Out of nearly 500 runners who began the race,

308 finished — a testament to the course’s brutality.

Audrey had the heart to finish, but her body, unfortunately, did not cooperate. She is

one tough grandma!

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