They say every dog has its day. Today was not mine.
The months leading up to Miwok were interesting… I was testing out a lot of theories in my training, and arguably was still testing things come race day. Did said theories ultimately fail me and lead to the demise of my race? Hell if I know. But I don’t think so. Let’s back it up to where we left off… The Rocky Raccoon 100 back in February.
Rocky left me a broken warrior. The price my body paid to finish on a sprained ankle; hypothermia wrecked and hyponatreic was a great one. And that debt was not about to go unpaid. For a good month my ankle screamed at me on anything longer than five or six miles and I was confined to short, fast runs on even surfaces. Torn extensor retinaculum was the verdict, and my active recovery plan (developed by me) only allowed for a little running every other day, core work and yoga. Even simple balancing drills were the utmost of challenges, and I couldn’t even raise up onto my toes for weeks.
Wow. That really sucked.
Within a month, I was able to run a bit more consistently – though my body couldn’t really handle big miles in a single run. So I did what I could. I ran shorter and faster runs and focused entirely throughout the workouts. Relaxed days were few and far between for me, as I began running the majority of the time with Dom and became increasingly obsessed with reducing my body fat, getting better at climbing and on the whole, becoming faster and stronger. I also began paying closer attention to my nutrition – not during the run, but before and after. You see, it’s not that I eat unhealthy foods – it’s that I don’t eat enough, at the right times and DEFINITELY do not get enough protein, which is absolutely vital for rebuilding muscle. I know this – I just don’t pay attention. We laughed about the fact that most girls may have a boyfriend who tells them they need to eat less and stick to low-carb, low-fat foods. Mine demands that I eat more, and eat more meat! When put to the tune of “you train like an elite athlete, and if you don’t eat like one it’s all a waste” how could I not listen? The man has a point.
Speaking of points, let’s fast forward to the whole point of this post: Miwok. The result of the above training method was me, for the first time, un-injured and un-tweaked 2-3 weeks out from the race. Uh…. What? Imagine that. It also left me scared shitless that I really hadn’t done any runs longer than 16 miles since February and while I felt strong, lean and fast – 62 miles is a long fucking way. I had a breakthrough on a 14 miler, completing a hilly run in the Santa Monica’s that I’d never done without hiking and nailing all the downhills at 6-6:30 pace. I felt strong. I felt light. I felt amazing. But like I said… that was only 14 miles. Now here I was heading up to Marin decidedly efficiently trained, but possibly underprepared with respect to the task at hand. Either way, the Miwork was done and now it was time to put my new legs and my new body to the test.
I left LA on Friday with Dom, Jimbo and Katelyn after a week of psycho-taper behavior. PMS has nothing on that shit. I promise you this. The ride was long, as we stopped multiple times for little shake out runs, and “entertaining” as Jimmy Dean Freeman was in the car. Understand…
After picking up our numbers and chatting a bit with other runners in town for the party, we headed to San Francisco for dinner at Plant and to meet up with Brett Rivers andLarissa Polischuk, who were awesome enough to let Dom and I crash on their floor. After dinner, we had fun discussing running and life from the two ends of the state, and discovered that we had both been at Shadow of the Giants 50k the year prior – my first ultra. I appreciated the good and chill company, and was able to ignore the nerves all night.
That was… until I went to bed.
I really didn’t sleep much at all the night before the race – which is highly unlikely for me. My legs were jittery, I was bizarrely cold, and my mind raced about nothing and everything. When the alarm went off, I was actually happy to get up, get dressed, get my coffee and get ON with it. We drove to Marin over the eerily silent Golden Gate, placed our drop bags and went our separate ways for the day. I stood on Rodeo Beach, bathing in the moonlight and my mind was silent. In a moment, we were off…
So I definitely made the mistake of starting in the middle. By the time we got through the sand and to the trail head, severe bottlenecking had occurred and I was stopped dead. The next five minutes involved a great deal of hiking and I tried not to be annoyed. Next, I ran way too fast for the first 6-7 miles – but whatever. I felt great and the views were spectacular. I got off the road, to a barely detectable climb on the trail and WHOA. Time to chill the hell out. I settled in to a steady, comfortable pace and tried not to focus on placement and where I SHOULD be compared to others. “Should” is a nasty, nasty word, as it creates expectations. “Could” is a much better option. “Am” is the best.
By mile 10, my body felt like it had run 30 miles. Why? I have no idea. But I was hurting all over. I was up on my SaltStick, but probably didn’t have enough calories in and began eating gels a bit more frequently to see if that would help. It did somewhat, as I picked away at the climbs and just focused on enjoying the day. I was actually proud of myself with how efficiently I ran up the hills and vowed once and for all to never again utter the words, “I suck at climbing.” Because I don’t anymore. I also noted that eating on the way UP, as I was accustomed to doing was and increasingly bad idea. Why would I make my body work any harder than it already had to? If you are going to add effort from digestion, wouldn’t it make sense to do it on the way DOWN? Yes. I agree mind. Dualy noted.
I'm including all these insane photos for what they call "dramatic contrast." Read on...
I forced myself to stay under 7 on all the downhills and altogether running “good.” My legs were tired, but they were not dead. I grew excited to reach the beach and begin the long climb up Deer Park that I had completed in the driving rain a few weeks prior. Whaaaaat? Katie looking forward to a climb? Preposterous!
A few miles later I reached the base of the big climb and things were…. well…. things were different. My body abruptly adopted a powerless hike and my confidence waned as runner after runner passed me, never to see the likes of me again. Immediately, I did a full assessment of my potential: could I run? Could I at least hike faster? I tried it all and eventually settled on my very best – a combination of walking and painfully slow shuffling. It was all I could do.
I reached Pantoll broken down and definitely behind on calories. I added the GuBrew to one of my bottles in an effort to get the numbers wherever I could and forced some solids down. I really didn’t know what was coming entering the headlands and all I hoped was that at some point things would turn around on the gentle stretch or the downhill before I had to turn back around and climb up Randall. That definitely didn’t happen on the approach.
OK, first of all Bolinas Ridge was arguably one of the most beautiful parts of the course. A long skinny single track, carved into the side of a grassy hill with stunning views of pine groves and the Pacific. Second of all, it was one of the most painful. A long skinny single track, carved into the side of a grassy hill with stunning views of the… no really. Said single track was on a slant that rocked your outside ankle and inside plantar, the grass covered the trail so you couldn’t see the holes and rocks, and the views simply ensured that even if the grass wasn’t there you’d trip anyway, because it was so damn beautiful you couldn’t look away. I guess I wasn’t doing SO terribly bad, because I caught back up to a group of three that had passed me up Deer Creek.
At first glance, this probably seems like a very good thing to you. I assure you it was very, very bad. See this group was mentally checked out. Done. JADED. For the next three miles I listened to them talk about dropping and after awhile, I too began to dance with the thought of my first ever DNF. I mean, I felt like absolute shit. And I had felt this way for HOURS. What was the point to all the suffering? I wasn’t running as well as I was capable and nothing I could do could change my fate for the day. So yes… what was the point?
Bolinas Ridge Aid came soon after and three magical things happened: 1. It was party central; 2. Those DNFers finally DNF’d, never again to torment me with DNF-type thoughts; and 3. I realized I was further along on the course than I thought. I laughed a bit with the volunteers, who seemed to think I looked “great” and continued on my merry way. Additionally, I had a new game to play – the leaders were starting to return so I began counting places and times for Dom. It’s always easier to bear the pain, when you’re reminded of those you love out there suffering along with you. And hey, if I couldn’t be useful to myself and run like I should, at least I could be useful to someone!
“Babe… I’m in the fight of my life.”
The word ditto rang in my ears as I approached Dom on an exposed section out of Bolinas. I think he was surprised to see me so far back and I hoped with all my heart he wasn’t disappointed in me. It just isn’t my day. Seeing him hurting so bad and fighting so hard to maintain fueled my own fire – to persevere at all costs. After all, that’s kind of one one of my fortes. May as well start acting like it. I quickly ran through placement/splits with Dom, mainly encouraging him to not get chicked. I’m not going to lie – I totally stole a little kiss before moving along.
Running into Jimbo down Randall was cool. The rest of it was not. I focused on keeping good form and staying disciplined on the decent. But it was so full of LABOR! I eventually hit the turnaround, stopped for way too long, took a necessary bathroom break and begun climbing again. Joy. The next cool thing that happened was that I ran into this guy Henry who I ran with for 30 miles of my first 50 miler – Headlands – the year prior. Here we meet again on the very same trails! I hiked a little, ran a little, saw more friends a little and just generally focused on getting back to Bolinas Ridge Aid, aka Party Central.
The other frustrating thing that was going on was that I had no clue what the actual mileage was – my Garmin said one thing, the map had said another and now the sign at Bolinas Aid said I was a few miles further along than I thought. It didn’t seem right in my head, but who was I to argue? And what did it matter anyway? My only goal at this point was running until I was done. I was really dreading hitting Bolinas Ridge again, after my last gnarly encounter, but here I was. And here was Huey Lewis. If you are reading this and you happened to hear someone singing “If this is It” at the top of their lungs around mile 45-ish, the mystery is revealed.
Mo' inability to complain.
The important thing to note here was that I had finally come out of my negative stage and had found some sort of rhythm – the thing I had been missing all day. I mean, it still hurt, but I was complacent. I suffered through the exposed sections and just focused on getting to Pantoll where I decided to change into a road flat for the downhill ahead.
Mind you, I had really looked forward to this downhill, imagining how I had flown down the trail in the pouring rain, laughing and frolicking and altogether loving life. Unfortunately, that was a different day, and on this day, my body was having none of that shit. I forced myself to run anyway, passing a few people, quads screaming in rampant disapproval. I crossed the road and flew past the connector with the namesake trail, heading back to the beach. Wait. That’s not right.
Luckily, I caught my mistake almost immediately and headed back to the turn, which was shrouded in poison oak. That was also a theme of the day, and eventually resulted in the worst case I’ve ever had; resulting in daily red, bumpy, oatmeal-y legs; resulting in concerns that I was dying. Back to the race.
Now on the Miwok trail, I was a little confused on how the race would end and where I was headed. I had forgotten that it wasn’t a simple out and back. Wait a minute… we are heading to Tennessee Valley?
1. How do we get there?
2. Does that mean I have to climb that shit I did in Headlands and then run down that other crazy descent?
Both of the answers involved pain. Read on…
How we got there was the hardest way possible. Up up up and up Wolf Ridge, a climb that didn’t seem all that tough, but after 50 miles of climbing and descending just seemed like a cruel joke. At one point, I got to a super steep section and just started laughing. This was better than the previous section where I couldn’t help but cry a little. I was by myself and the pain was becoming not more than I could bear, but more than I wanted to. My tears are never at the physical pain. No, they are reserved for the knowledge that my mind will never allow that pain to end until it is done.
I should have known that all that going up meant coming down. That’s fucking gravity. What I didn’t know is just how sharp and steep the descent into TV would be. Oh. My. God. Let me just say this: I spent the majority of this section seriously questioning whether or not log rolling would be against the rules. What if I rolled at precisely the same pace at which I was currently “running?” What if I just happened to fall in a log-like position? Dramataics aside, I made it down the damn hill.
One last aid station, and I knew exactly what lied ahead: more climbing. I looked at the nice array of food from which I should eat and just scowled. Everything looked about as appealing as a dead rat covered in mayonnaise. I hate mayonnaise. One thing I do not hate, however, is beer and Stan told me there would be beer at the finish. That was enough to get me out of there and to the place where all would be right with the world. Not a single soul passed me in that final stretch. See, all Ineeded was proper motivation.
About a mile and a half from the finish and almost to the top of the climb, Kate appeared which was very exciting to me.
KATE. ARE YOU HERE TO RUN WITH ME?!
Luckily, Kate was here to run with me… if I wanted. And I very much wanted. Apparently, she figured I’d have a pretty bad attitude since I was way off pace, so she was going to play it by ear on whether or not I’d welcome her company or tell her to go to hell. I have no idea why she would think this. At any rate, I was resolved to running from here on out, so we picked along with her filling me in on the boys’ race and what she’d done all day. Jesus. Another freaking climb. This is officially ridiculous. I told Kate about my big plans for a beer and a kiss at the finish line and that both of those things better be available to me. She assured me that they were. Hmmm, what else happened? A woman gave me a movie review as I attempted to run up a hill, there were stairs to go down, there was some random cement, there were more stairs, there was the most beautiful 360 view of the bay… oh wait, that means I’m at the final descent! With a newfound energy and resilience to pain, I began hammering down the last switchbacks that lead to the beach, hearing Jimmy and Dominic yelling and cawing and howling all the way down. I had learned to enjoy parts of this day, but I’ve got to be honest – I had been ready for that finish line for hours now. And here it was.
In retrospect, I learned an awful lot that day. Normally, I would have beaten myself up about not finishing in the time that I had hoped for. But you know what? I can honestly say I gave everything I had in every single minute of that race. There were just more of those minutes than I expected.
I also learned a new kind of pain – one that just doesn’t quit. My legs were burning and throbbing as we waited for our friends at the finish line, and after a few hours I couldn’t stand even being awake anymore. Unfortunately, that kind of pain doesn’t let you sleep either… you just kind of writhe around on the floor like a dying rainbow trout whimpering like a small child with a minor ear infection. You’re fine, but just so unexplainably uncomfortable.
In all honesty, I was a little disappointed in how hard I’d worked for this race and how focused I’d been for months – only to see myself run a much slower time than what I was capable. But I had to take it for what it was worth: a day out on the trails doing what I loved with some of the people I love most, rather than another 12 hour day trapped in the office, working for an unappreciative monster. Trips and days like this were few and far between as of late, and I’ll be damned if I wasn’t going to enjoy it.
So enjoy it I did.
Dom and I had brunch with some of the Bay area runners the next day, meeting some new faces and eating some downright delicious food. It was a nice recovery… that was, after we climbed a few more hills. Thank you, San Francisco. That afternoon, we headed back to LA and I soaked in one of my other all-time favorite things: long road trips with the love of my life, talking about anything and singing at the top of our lungs. Yep, these are the moments that remind me how good the world can be if you just open your eyes and let it in.
Even if said love of life turns the car into a sauna to begin heat training for Badwater.