I showed up at the Miwok 100K starting line yesterday (May 7) with the intent to finish the race before the 15:30 cutoff time and earn my Western States 100 qualifier.
I’ve learned in the past that if I set my mind to something, I have to express it “out loud” (social media works) to hold myself accountable. It’s much more motivating when I feel like it’s not only my eyes on me, but everyone else’s eyes on me, too — whether they’re expecting or doubting my triumph.
Qualifying for Boston happened that way. Finishing my first 50-miler happened that way. Running 100+ miles in 24 hours happened that way. I had to do what I said I was going to do.
I enjoy running for the sake of running; the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other, regardless of pace, just brings me joy! Another thing I enjoy is setting goals and accomplishing them.
I knew from the start that Miwok wasn’t going to be all fun. I knew there were going to be parts that I wouldn’t enjoy. But it was those moments during the race in which I had absolutely no joy — zilch — that I thought solely about accomplishing the goal and having a second Western States lottery ticket proverbially in my hand. And the anticipation of that joy got me through.
This race report begins long before the race. To recap, I ran 104 miles on Easter weekend during the 24-hour Barn Burner. The following weekend (April 2) I ran the California Classic half marathon and strained my popliteus/hamstring … pretty much everything behind my right knee, above and below it. My PT told me it would take 6-ish weeks to heal. I only had 5 weeks before Miwok. So I rehabbed and rested so hard for those 5 weeks and toed the starting line with just 6(-ish) running miles on my legs. My longest “training run” had been 2 miles.
With that already against me, my attitude was hardened against anything else that would inevitably try to get in the way of my 100K finish. Come on, what’ve you got to throw at me?
I ate a horrible Jimmy Johns sandwich on the road trip up to the Bay Area (vegetarian, because I’m on a meatless May challenge) that really jacked up my stomach. Oh is that all you’ve got? Well I’ve got Pepto Bismol in my purse. Boom.
I slept okay the night before the race, getting maybe 4 1/2 hours total. “Mama Gazelle” Audrey and her husband Kenny and I stayed in an AirBNB in San Anselmo. It was a nice room with three beds, a bathroom and a “private entrance” through the garage. Audrey takes a long time to get ready for anything (don’t get mad, “Diva,” you know it’s true!) so she set her alarm for 2:50 a.m. I’m a light sleeper so I woke up at that time, too, although my alarm was set for 3:10. We got dressed and packed up the car and prepared to head out at 3:30 a.m. — then the garage door broke.
Seriously? It’s not our house. It’s 3:30 in the morning, so we don’t want to wake our host up. But we need to get the car out of the garage to leave for the race! Thank goodness Kenny was able to manually push the garage door up while I backed out the car. OK, anything else you want to throw at us?
We still arrived at the parking lot near the starting line at 4:15 a.m. I used the portable toilet twice. I was NOT going to be on the toilet when the race started, like last year. Audrey and I grabbed our drop bags and hydration packs and headed to the check in area. We checked in, dropped our bags and decided to wait in the toilet line to try to go once more before the race started. The line had at least 60 people in it and there were 8 toilets.
I wasn’t on the toilet when the race started. I had just finished and as I was holding the portapotty’s door open for the next person, the race started and the crowd began to move. Really?
I waited for Audrey so we could start the race together, just like last year. We ran the first 100 yards of the race to the mouth of the stairs, where we started our first 20-minute mile in a crowd, just like last year. The trail is narrow so it can’t accommodate more than two people side-by-side. Much of the time the line is single-file.
The second mile was even slower, with more stairs and more single-file running. At the top of Cardiac hill, while it was still dark and foggy, a lone bagpipe player serenaded us with upbeat Celtic tunes. Bagpipes, however, only remind me of funerals. Here we go, the Miwokers heading to our funerals…
Then we got to my favorite part of the course: the descent from Cardiac to Muir Beach. I LOVE downhills. I thought my popliteus/hamstring was going to cause me some trouble going downhill, but thankfully the Zenzah hamstring compression sleeve I ordered from Amazon seemed to hold everything together and apply pressure in just the right spot. I flew downhill, passing up dozens of runners. I have to make up time where I can, because I know what’s coming.
On the way to Muir Beach (the aid station is at the end of a boardwalk), we get to see runners who have already made it to the station and are heading back out onto another trail. I LOVE out-and-backs. It’s really cool to get to see other people face-to-face, rather than just following runners from behind. I got to the aid station (Mile 8), got my Ultimate Direction Body Bottle refilled with Tailwind and grabbed a few small pieces of watermelon. Then I was off. I probably spent 90 seconds there, at the most.
As I ran, I kept looking for Audrey, wondering how far behind me she was and how her legs were holding up. We finally saw each other and instantly smiled the biggest smiles. “That’s my girl!” I yelled, and we high-fived as we passed each other. I estimated she was about 8 to 10 minutes behind me.
Runners are like little ants along the switchbacks
The next five miles were uneventful. I got t0 the Tennessee Valley aid station (Mile 13) and was happy to see Kenny. This is the first aid station where crew is allowed.
I asked for Aquaphor and he grabbed the tub of it as I rolled up my gaiter and pulled off my shoe. A blister had started on the sole of my right foot. I slathered Aquaphor on it, and then rubbed some more on my collarbone where my hydration pack was rubbing. I grabbed more watermelon and got my Tailwind refilled, then took off.
The next aid station, Bridge View, was 5.6 miles away. I never run with music, or anything really, but I grabbed my headphones and plugged them into my iPhone (it belongs to my work. I’m an Android girl, personally. Sshhh). I started to listen to the long lineup of podcasts I’d downloaded prior to the race, just in case I hadn’t met someone at my pace that I could talk to for miles. I finished up a “Stuff You Missed In History Class” episode about women in the US Postal Service, and then moved on to one of 6 episodes of UltraRunner Podcast. What else would I listen to while (ultra)running?
Somewhere around here it started raining. Lightly at first, and then steadily.
I had downloaded several Western States-related episodes as motivation. I listened to an interview with Nikki Kimball, the first female Western States winner (2004), another with Ann Trason (if you’re a runner, you shouldn’t need an explanation on who she is) and then one with Jade Belzberg, girlfriend of Nickademus Hollon (Barkeley finisher), who reflected on her first 100-miler.
I should mention that I listen to all podcasts at 1.5x speed. So an hour-long episode will take me 40 minutes to listen to.
Grabbed some watermelon and a Tailwind refill at Bridge View and then headed back to Tennessee Valley, still listening to URP. It was really cool to listen to these amazing and humble women talk about ultrarunning, while I was ultrarunning. I’ll probably do this in future races.
Anyway, got back into Tennessee Valley pretty soaked from the rain. I decided to change my shoes then, as I knew the blister was getting worse. Traded in my Altra Lone Peak 1.5s for my Altra Superiors — the Old Faithfuls. Stripped off my gloves because they were soaked and making my hands wrinkly. Refill of Tailwind and a couple watermelon bites and off I went. I had run a full marathon, and the cutoff time for this station was 11 a.m. (6 hours). I came in around 10:30, and I was hopeful that Audrey hadn’t fallen too far behind me. She had to finish this! It was her redemption run!
Muir Beach was just 4.3 miles away. More URP got me through it, although I was getting really cold from the constant drizzle and high winds. I met Pierre, who asked if I had a hamstring injury (because of my compression sleeve). I explained how I’d injured it, and he said, “Wow! Compared to that I don’t even have an excuse. I was hiking when I felt something go wrong.” As we started on a downhill he said he’d drop back a bit because the downhills hurt his hamstring. Luckily, my legs were holding up despite the lack of training.
At the Cardiac aid station (Mile 35.5) I was completely out of water in my hydration pack and relying only on the Tailwind in my bottle. A woman refilled my bladder as I grabbed a tortilla smeared with hummus from the table. A couple more pieces of watermelon and I was good to go.
As I walked away from the aid station I realized my pack was way too full — the volunteer had filled it to capacity — and there was air in the bladder. When I got out of sight I took the bladder out of the pack, flipped it upside down and sucked the air out through the hose, then squeezed the hose to release about half a liter. Not her fault; I should’ve specified not to fill it all the way.
The tortilla and hummus was damn good, but I could feel “ultra mouth” coming on. Whenever I do ultras my mouth becomes really dehydrated and the roof of my mouth aches when I try to eat. On a pain scale from 1-10 it was about a 3 at that point.
After Cardiac, on the way to Bolinas Ridge, there is a single-track trail with thigh-high grass on either side. It is the skinniest single-track in the entire race, and one misstep can send you down the side of the hill, at least 70 feet. Fog enveloped the entire area. You couldn’t see too far down the hill, nor could you see very far in front of you. The dirt became muddy, but not too slippery. It was just in that sweet spot where it was soft but not yet treacherous.
I pulled my phone out to take a photo of the abandoned car. It seemed rustier this year.
Then I entered the “jungle part” (Audrey and I really need to learn the names of these trails. It just looks like a jungle, OK?) of the course. The redwoods provide a canopy, but it didn’t shelter us from the rain. Actually, there was a break in the canopy where I realized it wasn’t raining anymore, at all, but under the canopy water dripped steadily as if it was still raining. I guess the water collects on the leaves of the trees and continues to drip, leaving runners soaked and the terrain mushy and flooded.
At this point I was listening to a “Stuff You Should Know” podcast episode about Megalodon — a prehistoric shark that was as large as a Greyhound bus. Its teeth were 15 cm long, compared to 5 cm for a present-day Great White Shark. Josh (or was it Chuck?) compared a Megalodon eating a human to a human eating a single Cheez-it. Unsatisfying.
I instantly craved Cheez-its.
Lo and behold, I got to Bolinas aid station and there was a bowl of Cheez-its waiting for me! I grabbed a handful, refilled my Tailwind and asked when the cutoff for this aid station was. “You have to make it to Randall and back to here by 7:02 p.m.,” the volunteer told me. “You’ll make it.”
It wasn’t me I was worried about. I didn’t know how far back Audrey was, and it was at this aid station where she dropped last year. She had to make it!
I was getting really tired as I left the aid station and headed for Randall. I was also freezing cold. I really thought I was going to get hypothermia. The rain continued to come, mostly because I was under the redwood canopy that seemed to drop water in a steady stream. Who knows if it was really raining above it all…
The terrain was ridiculous. The dirt floor had turned into thick, black mud. Where there wasn’t mud, there were puddles of chocolate milk-colored water. Some of the puddles stretched the entire 10-12 foot width of the trail. I tried to run on the driest spots, but sometimes there was no avoiding the puddles at all. It was either run right through them and get your entire shoe wet (the puddles were ankle-deep) or run into the poison oak lining the trail. My feet were soaked, my clothes and hat were soaked, my fingers didn’t work anymore because they were frozen, and my skin was white and wrinkled.
I had to focus on getting to Randall, where I knew I could change into dry clothes. I was miserable, but I never thought of quitting. Western States was all I could think of. I’m finishing this damn race, come hell or high water (it was ankle-deep, so far, what else have you got?)
Around this time I saw Bobby coming the opposite way. He was about 6 miles ahead of me, I estimated. Last year he DNF’d Miwok, so it was good to see him doing well this year. He kept asking me “What’s wrong?” But nothing was really wrong, other than I was just really cold. We parted ways and I walked off, shivering.
I was getting really tired and started swerving on the trail, barely moving forward. I grabbed a pack of assorted flavor Jelly Belly Sport Beans with caffeine and poured the entire pack into my mouth.
After about 15 minutes, the caffeine kicked in and I raced over those rolling hills, passing several people.
“I need to get me some of those beans you had!” one runner yelled as I passed him. “Apparently they work!”
“Yup!” I yelled back. I was running and totally enjoying it, despite the cold.
After a very long 6.7 miles I came into Randall and saw Kenny with my bag ready for me. I asked for my sweater — the only warm clothes I had brought on the entire trip, as I wasn’t expecting this much rain — and a plastic poncho. He ran to my car to get my sweater while I stripped off my SJRT hat, Gazelle Gear buff and SJRTeam singlet and pulled on a Badwater buff as a tube top. I realized I had packed my extra singlet in the wrong drop bag.
I had an extra pair of socks and calf compression sleeves, but I figured what was the point? I was heading back the same way I came to get back to Bolinas aid station and I knew there were unavoidable puddles. Changing everything would just take more time and it would get wet again within a few minutes.
Kenny returned with my sweater and helped me put the poncho over it. My hydration pack went over that. I asked if Audrey had made the first two cutoffs (11 a.m. at Tennessee Valley and 1:45 at Cardiac). Kenny said she had called him and said she had made that last cutoff. Woohoo!
I asked for a pack of caffeinated Jelly Belly Sport Beans, having a feeling I’d need some more before the finish, then I walked to the tables to get a refill on Tailwind.
Heading out of Randall, everyone walks. The hill is so steep, only the most ultra of ultrarunners could run it at this point (Mile 49.2). I’m not that ultra.
I checked my watch; it was 4:38. The cutoff time at Randall was 5:20 p.m. Audrey didn’t have that much time to get there.
A cheerful volunteer offered to keep me company for a bit. I rolled up my headphones and put them away, and she asked me my name and I asked hers. Alison said she was so inspired by all of us runners, and then as quickly as she joined me, she left me, tagging along with another runner who was going the opposite way. Weird…
As I ascended the hill and then got to the rolling hills under the canopy, I kept hoping that I’d see Audrey coming toward me.
When it was 5:15 and I hadn’t yet seen her, I knew it was too late. She wasn’t going to make the Randall cutoff. She must’ve been pulled at Bolinas — exactly where she left the race last year. Damn! I kept hoping it wasn’t true but deep down I knew it was. I wondered how hard she was going to take it this year. Last year it was really tough, because it was her first DNF. I was hurting for my Mama Gazelle! 😦
Between Randall and Bolinas is where I hallucinated last year. (I saw a bear, a baby elephant, a giant butterfly, a snake and platypus, among other animals.) This time, I was listening to podcasts when “Stuff You Should Know” about LSD came on. How fitting. I learned all about the origins of LSD, how to make it and what effect it has on humans, rats and elephants.
I expected Audrey to be sitting at Bolinas when I got there, but she wasn’t. (Kenny had picked her up from the aid station by this time.) That 6.7 miles had taken me a very long time. It was just after 6 p.m. I had 2 1/2 hours to make it to the finish, just a 10K away. I can do that, right?
That last 6.2 miles was the longest ever in life! We backtracked through the foggy, grassy, skinny single-track, which seemed to stretch on for miles. I ate the other pack of Jelly Bellys but it didn’t have quite the same second-wind effect that the first had. Still, I was able to run most of that stretch. I thought I was going about a 10-minute per mile pace but it turned out to be a 13-minute per mile pace. Apparently that’s what happens when you haven’t properly trained for a race.
The last 3 miles were the worst. My Altras did not have enough padding, and the balls of my feet were in excruciating pain each time they hit the ground, and even more so when they landed on tiny rocks, which were everywhere. I asked every person I passed, “How much farther to the finish?” My GPS watch hadn’t been correct for a while, so I didn’t know if I had 4 miles left or 2. No one else seemed to know either. “Just a couple,” was one response. “About 3,” was another. “You’ll make the cutoff, just don’t stop,” was another.
I wanted to know for sure! It was getting down to the wire and I needed to know if 20-minute miles were going to cut it, or if I had to push for 15-minute miles. I couldn’t imagine going any faster than that. We were on a highly technical portion of the trail that involved a lot of tall trail stairs. We were going downhill and my quads were shot. I had to go down each stair sideways, very slowly. Every time my foot touched the ground I said, “fuck.” My feet hurt so bad. I don’t think I’ve ever cussed as much in one day as I did in those last two miles of Miwok.
The minutes on my watch seemed to tick by faster and faster. I thought I would make it in to the finish by 8 p.m. (15 hours), but at 7:54 p.m. I realized I wasn’t. That cutoff was getting closer and closer but I couldn’t move any faster. And I had no idea how far way the finish was.
A lot of runners were passing me by now. Their quads and feet were holding up, but I was the gimpy one trying to tag along at the back of the train. “How much farther?” I asked one runner. I was in tears and you could tell in my voice. “Just half a mile, come on! You can do this!”
I did the best I could coming down the stairs, and ran as fast as I could on the muddy stretches in between. But when a full mile had past and I wasn’t at the finish line, I was really discouraged.
Sobbing, I continued to descend the stairs, cursing every single time my foot hit the ground. My left foot hurt worse. I started walking during a particularly slippery section, and I was audibly sobbing. Then I heard, “You’ve got this! Don’t cry! You’re almost there. What’s your name?”
“Farin,” I sobbed. I tried blinking away the tears but I couldn’t see a thing.
“Farin! I remember you! I’m Alison. You’re going to make it, just don’t stop.”
I continued to cry, feeling like such a baby. Then I slipped, coming down onto my ass and my left hand. My right hand grabbed the nearest bush, which was certainly poison oak. It felt oily. The fall made me cry even harder, and I had almost an out-0f-body experience, picturing myself as my daughter. I’ve seen her cry hysterically before, unable to calm down. I was exactly like that. It was pathetic.
“No, no, no! Get up! Get up, Farin! You’re finishing this. Go! GO, GO, GO!” Alison yelled. She grabbed my left hand (the non-poisoned one), pulled me to my feet and pushed me forward on the trail. I ran away from her, still crying, but determined to make it.
The finish line was about a quarter mile away and I cried the whole way there. I wiped my tears away as I passed by spectators surrounding the finish chute. Shit, I wiped my face with my poison hand.
I crossed the finish line, heard someone yell out my bib number, and then buried my face in my hands and sobbed. I hated that race. I hated the course. I especially hated the last two miles. I hated all the pain and the rain and the fact that Audrey hadn’t finished. I was so relieved to be done with it all, and to have made it in before the cutoff.
“It’s OK!! Don’t cry! You did it! You made it!” I could hear race director Tia Bodington tell me as she placed a medal around my neck. Another volunteer hugged me and tried to comfort me.
I was the emotional wreck everyone was staring at and I was really embarrassed. But I couldn’t stop crying. The injury I was nursing, the rain and the horrible mud, the aggressive cutoff times, the fuckin garage door that wouldn’t open this morning… all of it just overwhelmed me all at once. “Fuck you, Miwok!” were the only words that came to mind. I was so over all of it and just wanted to take a shower and go to sleep. Sleep is the only thing that helps when my daughter gets hysterical like that.
Audrey, wrapped in a mylar blanket, came to hug me and take me to get my finish line drop bag. I stripped off every thing except my shorts and bra and scrubbed myself with Tecnu, rinsing off with a hose. I walked back into the Stinson Beach Community Center in shorts, a bra and flip-flops. People were staring at me, and I couldn’t tell if it was because they’d all seen me crying minutes earlier, or if it was because I was wearing next to nothing while they were all bundled up. I felt hot and sick.
I got my swag bag and a plate of food — potatoes, mac & cheese and arugula/couscous salad. I tried to eat while Kenny walked down to get the car. The salad was amazing, but after a few bites my “ultra mouth” started hurting and I felt really sick. I tried to throw up before getting into the car, but couldn’t do more than heave.
We stopped 3 times during the 45-minute car ride back to the San Anselmo spot so that I could puke.
When we got in the house (Kenny was able to fix the garage door as we tried to open it with the remote!) I put my new Miwok 100K 2016 shirt on and laid on my bed. I knocked out within a few seconds. I woke up several minutes later and took a selfie with my shirt and medal, posting it on Instagram with the words, “Never doing this again.”
I mean it! Miwok is not my cup of tea.
I fell asleep in the bathtub, soaking my legs and back in scalding hot water. My bra had chafed my back and it stung, but it wasn’t anything compared to the pain I’d felt during the race.
I curled up in bed that night embarrassed at what had transpired at the end of the race, yet joyful that I had earned a second Western States lottery ticket and proud that I had done what I said I was going to do.
I know people had doubted me, but what counted was that I never doubted myself. If I’d had to sprint until my legs came off at the finish to scrape by one second under the cutoff, I’d have done it. Thankfully I’d come in at 15:23 and some change — less than 7 minutes to spare. (And almost 2 hours slower than last year.)
Now I’m back to resting, and trying to eat. Ultra mouth is still preventing me from eating anything other than frozen yogurt and soup. It’s about an 8 on the pain scale if I try to eat anything else.
My legs have never been so sore after a race. I got down on the floor to play with my kiddos when I got home, and I literally could not get back up. My quads and hamstrings are so fatigued, they won’t work at all. I had to crawl over to my son’s bed and use my arm strength to lift myself up. It got so bad that my daughter was yelling, “Daddy! Come help Mom, she’s stuck!”
I can’t use my legs to lower myself onto a chair (or toilet). I have to use my arms. I can’t walk normally. I can barely drive; it’s painful to switch my foot from the gas to the brake and back again.
My shoulders are sore from my pack. My skin hurts where it chafed. My feet are sore and swollen.
In short, EVERYTHING HURTS.
But I finished!
Farin aka Gazelle
Audrey aka Mama Gazelle