The Miwok course runs along many of the trails in Marin that I run on weekends. I also ran the race two years ago in 2016, so I was very familiar with the course. This gave me a huge advantage when it came to pulling ahead and maintaining my lead in the second half of the race.
Having been focused on recovery for the three weeks between Zion and Miwok, I only ran 53 miles between the two races. My left knee was in bad shape after Zion, and I was worried that the pain and inflammation would present again during another hard effort. However, I still wanted to give Miwok a shot for several reasons. I love the course, I’m part of the Marin running community, and I knew I was in great shape to set a personal best and place well in the field.
The race starts with a climb up the famous Dipsea trail, and I helped set the pace with the lead runners. After we crested the top and began our first descent, I was feeling great… but not as great as a couple guys that pulled away. Eli White (ended up in 2nd) built a huge lead over the next few miles.
About 9 miles into the day, I felt my left leg start to have issues with major hamstring tightness and knee pain. I ran on it for a few miles worried that I was going to have to drop. I also let negative emotions to the front of my focus - I was dealing with an unexpected breakup from earlier in the week, which resulted in restless and minimal sleep in the nights leading up to the race. My sub-optimal sleep, emotionally distracted state, and worries about recovery from Zion were all playing into a personal pity party. My pity party continued for 20 miles. At the halfway point, I was 20 minutes behind first place, and there were 5 or so runners that I saw were quickly gaining on me.
Fortunately, I’ve worked through these mental rough spots before. I knew to give my mind some time, and to keep the legs turning over… I always make a deal with myself that yes, I’m allowed to quit, but only if I make it to “X” point. During Miwok, I promised myself that I would make it to the Cardiac aid station (35.5) to see my SFRC friends. If I still wanted to drop after climbing to Cardiac (the biggest climb of the race), I would allow myself to drop and hike back down the Dipsea to the start. Logistically, it would get me back to my car faster than hitching a ride from an aid station. I repeated a useful mantra: “It doesn’t always get worse.”
Things turned around for me in a massive way on the climb to Cardiac. My emotions cleared. I started to feel confident in myself again. I ran the entire climb, arriving at the aid station just 14 minutes behind the leader. I was now in second! I had gained 6 minutes! My head was back in the game! The SFRC crew cheered me on and gave me a huge boost of energy. My hamstring and knee were actually getting slightly better; it’s almost as though my body stopped resisting, and instead resolved to revisit the pain cave of the late-stage ultra. I maintained a huge focus on my hydration and food intake as the sun came out on Bolinas Ridge. I resolved to catch Eli, the first-place runner, and when I caught him I would dig deep as ever to win the race.
I kept pushing on the ridge, and I had closed another 5 minutes by the time I got to the next aid. I was only 10 minutes back. Things were getting much harder, but I knew the feelings well. I was intimately familiar with the pain and discomfort after my experience at Zion; I was ready to execute the last 3 hours. When I got to Randall aid, the turnaround point at mile 50, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I had somehow taken the lead! Come to find out, Eli had taken a wrong turn on the ridge. My familiarity with the course had played hugely in my favor. As I climbed out of the aid, I caught site of Eli chasing me hard. I knew it would be a fight and I knew he was an amazing runner - this was going to be a hard-fought finish.
There was nothing magical about the last 12 miles of the day - I put my head down and grinded out the miles with as hard an effort as I could manage. My legs were in a lot of pain, but I knew they were strong enough to handle the 7-minute-mile turnover on the flats of the Bolinas ridge fire road. I did my best to gracefully pass the other runners on the course who were headed to Randall. I kept checking over my shoulder for signs of Eli, but he must have been barely out of my sight. I didn’t let up on my effort. I got one last boost of energy when I saw more SFRC friends at the last aid, and I set off to hold my lead down the final ridge miles and the final steep, technical, and painful descent down the Matt Davis trail.
I listened intently as I was running down the 1500 vertical ft, 1.7 mile trail to the finish. I heard no signs of a challenge coming, so I kept my pace in check so as not to stupidly jeopardize my lead by catching a toe on a root or rock. I cruised off the trail, around the corner, and down the finish chute in 9 hours 18 minutes elapsed. Eli finished just two minutes behind me.
It’s amazing that a single race can induce such a wide span of emotions. I’m getting much better with the mental game - putting aside the feelings of self-doubt, and reiterating to myself that I’m capable and that I do these races to prove something to myself. 2019 has been a fantastic year for my ultra career!