May 2, 2015
Running an ultra marathon isn’t easy. It takes a hell of a lot of mental “preparation” to tackle distances beyond and sometimes FAR beyond the distance most people find daunting – the marathon. It takes putting in the work, otherwise you won’t make it. You will suffer greatly out in the middle of nowhere, where most of the time there is no reception. It takes putting on your big-girl or big-boy pants and trusting that your training will all work out for you. It takes being smart about pacing, terrain, weather and taking in the right amount of calories per hour. It is work and it is sacrifice. It takes a sense of humor, especially when you find yourself face planted along the trail. One minute you’re on top of the world and then the next, boom, you’re down. And your family has to be on board with it. And sometimes it sucks. I started running ultras in 2013, in preparation for a long stage race in Iceland. I remember the morning of my first 50k, the Way Too Cool 50k, I got down on my knees the morning of and wished myself the best. It was scary. Since then, I have run 4 50 milers, many 50ks and 1 100 miler. Except for a few 50ks last year, most of the 50ks were doable – at least in my head. This year, I found out I got into one of the toughest 100ks in the US, the Miwok 100k in the Marin Headlands. There is a lottery to get into this race. Mostly because it is a Western States 100 qualifier (one of the few in california) as well as for the mecca of ultras, Ultra-Trail Mont Blanc, in the Alps. The elevation profile is 12,000 feet of elevation over 62 miles.
When I found out I got into Miwok, I knew that this would be one of my toughest races ever run and that if I finished this race, I’d feel confident that I could tackle tougher ones. I tend to take things slowly – normally don’t jump into things I don’t think I can handle (well, except Iceland). Thing is, I had some flatter A races on my training calendar from January through April. I ran the Way too Cool 50k again in March, the American River 50 miler in April and then two weeks later ran the Boston Marathon. So relatively flatter races. In the back of my mind, I knew that I hadn’t gotten enough vertical training in, but my coach assured me that I just needed to pace conservatively and that I usually raced very well in the headlands. That it would be like a longer version of the North Face Endurance Challenge 50k, which I’ve done twice. Ok, so I just had to trust that I had the endurance and then take it one step at a time.
We started out the race at 5am, with check-in starting at 4am in the Stinson Beach Community Center. My friend and I arrived early, as usual, and so we had time to find a spot along the wall and watch the runners arrive. Pretty soon the room was absolutely packed and I started running into friends, one of which was Emma Davies (an amazing ultra runner) whose husband, Ethan (also a very well-known ultra runner) was participating in the race. We both live in Pleasant Hill and often run into each other on the trails and usually stop to chat. Talking with Emma really soothed my nerves. She asked me what she could do for me if she saw me at one of the aid stations and I said “just give me a lot of love!” “I can do that!” she said. So off we went into the darkness, a glowing caterpillar of runners making their way up the Dipsea Trail up to Cardiac. I made sure to start out at the back of the pack and not worry about being passed. I wanted to make this “my” race, meaning no pressure about time and just taking care of myself.
I told myself that I needed to get my usual 250-300 calories in per hour. That consisted of 1 gel, a quarter of a probar (90 calories) and then 100 calories worth of Tailwind. Every 2 hours I would take 2 tums and I would drink water like I normally do. The weather wasn’t hot, which was a bonus, otherwise this race would be an entirely different animal. And we had a nice ocean breeze and probably the most beautiful views in the world. I stuck to my nutrition plan and also hoped to get to mile 26 feeling good, which I did. It helped greatly that I ran into Jenni and Jesse who are also pretty well-known in our little ultra community. The minute Jenni saw me (she calls herself “Jenni Love” and the name suits her perfectly) she said “where’s your drop bag?” she found it for me and help me reorganize my pack. From then on, it was a roller coaster of feeling “just ok” to “tired and over it” to feeling a surge of energy. The thing about ultras is that one minute you’re on top of the world and then the next minute you can feel like hell. And what we know about this sport is that things CAN turn around. Even from the lowest of low points. The high point was knowing I was almost at mile 48 where I could pick up my pacer, Jody. And the 2 miles to mile 48 were all downhill – my strength. Once I saw Jody, I felt new life, knowing I would be running with someone. Jody had paced me at my first 100 miler so I knew that she knew my style. There was a horribly demoralizing section, an extremely tight and slanted single track trail called the Coastal Trail. You tackle it on the way to mile 48 and then when I realized I had to run it AGAIN, I started to suffer. Ugh. Not that section. In my head I called it “the little house on the prairie trail” as it is so pretty but not at mile 54! At this point I’m dry heaving, still able to eat, but just over it. But somehow that trail ended and then we hit the 2 mile very technical Matt Davis trail down towards the finish line. I fell twice, right on my face these last 2 miles. And then I started to complain that this stupid trail was never going to end and that my garmin already showed 62 miles. I would never finish. Then I see a guy leaning against a tree, clapping. I was like “what is that fool doing while I’m suffering here?” I know, bad attitude. He says to me, the finish line is 200 yards away. I asked Jody how far that was (duh, I should have known, but the brain wasn’t working anymore) and before she could answer the trail opened up and I suddenly found myself on the road running towards the finish line with a bunch of spectators clapping for me. I had finished the Miwok 100k. Got my Western States qualifier and could now sit down. The great thing about ultra running is the people you meet along the way. A friend was waiting for me with a chair, sat me down and then I had people around me asking me what I needed. I just wanted to chill and not speak. To anyone. And that was respected. About a half hour later, I was able to grab a plate of food and converse. Recovery went well, ate like a horse for a few days – another great thing about running these long distances. You get to eat whatever you want! The next day I had to rush to Los Gatos to my daughter’s soccer game. The moms know I run ultras so they asked me what I had just run and the looks on their faces. It was fun messing with them – I told them I was going straight to Safeway after the game to buy a pint of Ben & Jerrys and that I was going to eat the whole pint in one sitting. I mean, who wouldn’t want to do that guilt free?