On Saturday, December 6th, North Face gave to me….
Six days of rain…
Five aid stations…
Four course changes…
Three washed out trails…
Two course sweepers…
One adventure on the trails
In all seriousness, What. A. Day. Really. In retrospect, I should have known. Either the six days of rain, or the four course changes that came down yesterday and today should have been my first clue. If not that, then the no more than an hour of sleep I got last night (stupid stress) or the pepto I was choking down at 3:30am.
But, I figured the course updates would make it easier and I didnt have to do my least favorite trails. And I figured the lack of sleep and sick were due to nerves. I went to bed early all week in preparation, so I actually wasnt completely exhausted race morning.
We were up at three and out the door by 3:45. Out the door and into the pouring rain…what a nightmare this is going to be…can’t it be a dry nightmare? We were parked and shuttled by 4:45. The nerves were back, so luckily I was able to make a pit stop at the visitor’s center bathroom – can you say auto-flush toilet? Delicacy in the wilderness.
The race started shortly after we arrived, luckily, there was no rain in Marin. After a couple of announcements, including another course change, we were off. Dean Karnazes was just inside the start line, he patted my shoulder and said, “yeah, go get it”. At that point, I felt great…I was going to own this race.
The first ten miles were pretty uneventful…some running, some walking, some run/walking. I felt great, and was a half mile to a mile ahead of my goal pace. Then I got to the end of the second loop and stopped at the aid station. And, something just felt off. I thought it was the ankle brace throwing off my body mechanics, and made a mental note to pull it off when I changed my socks at the next aid station.
After a climb up Miwok and a descent into Tennessee Valley, where we were suddenly overrun by 50k runners, I was at the next aid station where Glenn and Adrienne were waiting to crew with clean socks. I saw my friend Toby running the 50k shortly before I reached my crew. I also ditched the ankle brace and my headlamp…but for some reason I was insistent on keeping it with me. Perhaps I was already delirious. Nonetheless, I headed out towards Pirates Cove at a run/walk. That lasted about a mile before I was just walking….it seemed as if my stomach chose that moment to say, “yeah…about those nerves…it’s not nerves”. And “you should walk, or bad things will happen”. Awesome, taken down by the one thing you can’t plan for.
The lone other 50 miler chose that moment to tell me that the sweepers were right behind us, even though we were way ahead of the cutoff time. So, I took a breath, continued up the hill, and tried to chat with the 50k runner next to me. Who told me what a great day it was and how he had changed his race from the marathon, cause what’s five extra miles? A little too peppy for someone trying to talk their stomach down.
I got to the top quicker than I thought I would, and still ahead of my goal. But, then I met Pirates Cove, which can be sketchy on a good day. After almost a week of rain, it was a mud bath. Think slip and slide minus the pool at the end. Well, there was a cliff and the ocean was past it, so maybe it was the same. I was pretty sure I was going to fly off the cliff and into the ocean. At one point, I decided to take the grass on the side rather than the mud, tried to crawl across a rock and end up falling. Great. Whatever was hurting in my knee just got worse.
At that point, the sweepers let me know that they were there if I needed anything, but not to worry, I had plenty of time. I told them I was having a rough day, but was going to walk it out. I also started thinking about what plan b was going to be. At that point, I figured I would either make it to Stinson Beach and stop there, or see if I could turn at the 50k and finish the race with them. Not what I wanted, but better than not finishing at all.
I decided to press on and see what happened. The sweepers were nice and alternated between checking on me and keeping me company. I heard at one point via a radio that I had gotten too slow, so I power walked as best I could – out of muir beach, on to redwood creek trail, over to heather cutoff. Which is where the craziness began….picture this – washed out trail, think a river running down it – nearly single track trail, with people going up and down. Suddenly, the hills I didnt think would be a huge deal to run/walk up and jog down were a mud-filled nightmare.
Going up the hill, there were mid/back of the pack 50kers….and two 50 milers that I hiked past. No matter what happened, I was no longer last. I cautiously proceeded up the switch-backs with a group of 50kers….occasionally grabbing on to one another as we jumped out of the way for the in-it-to-win it 50 milers and fast 50kers came down the hill at mach 50. Really guys? The leaders passed by several hours ago – I promise, you wont catch them. Can you slow down so we can all get through the mud bath safely? At this point, I had lost my sweeper friends to two of the guys I passed.
Shortly into Heather Cutoff, the first trail, a guy came flying down the switch-back above, had zero traction on the curve, and flew off the trail, off the hill, into the brush below. We all held our breath as he climbed out of the bushes, righted himself, held up his hands and said, “I’m good”. One of the ladies in our group called out, “sir, you have just won the race’. Countless slips, slides, and crashes later, we were moved on to Coastal trail.
Now, Coastal is a similar trail, but more exposed, so I hoped in better condition. However, after 1000 people run up and down a wet trail, it’s a mess no matter what. But this trail brought an added challenge – bikes! Now, really, who rides their bike down a hill through several feet of mud….and a race course. Apparently several people…including a dad and a kid. Really? You couldnt find a trail without 1000 people on it to ride on today? We continued our journey up the hill, at some point I stepped in what I’ll call pot holes and ended up in ankle deep mud. awesome….I think at some point in all of that, I ran into my friend Toby again and Dr. Hal, both on their way down.
Finally, I get to Cardiac…with time to spare. Decision time. A- see if I could quickly change out of my soaked socks, grab a sandwich, cross my fingers, and see if I could make it to the next cutoff….or B – realize it wasnt my day, see if I could change my race, head back down the hill and have a chance to finish a race, even if it wasnt the one I wanted. I had been thinking about it for awhile, and had decided to go with option b. I couldnt control the fact that I had to have pepto for breakfast and not much else since then, but what I could control was my reaction to it.
I had some PB&J and water, and looked around for someone to ask about changing races. The aid station captain didnt seem to know, and was too busy force feeding M&M’s and telling a 50 miler who was on his way back down that he wasn’t allowed to quit because he was tired. One of the sweepers from earlier found me at the aid station…”there you are! we completely lost you…we stopped with the other guys and then you were just gone.” A testament to my training that even feeling awful I can still hike myself up a hill just fine. He helped me find the right person to switch my race, so I found my drop bag and changed out of my wet shirt and singlet into dry ones, and took the dry socks out and stashed them in my pack for a change at Muir Beach, and was on my way.
Going down was just as much of an adventure as going up. I had a guy pass me who was fiddling with his coat and ipod, holding a water-bottle, and navigating the mud. I watched him slish and slosh from left to right and knew it was only a matter of time. A couple more sloshes and down he went. I asked if he was ok, he told me he was, just shouldnt mess with his stuff while running. Yeah…probably a good idea. As I made my way down, I started to think that if these were the trails deemed safe for 1000 people to go up and down, I dont want to see the ones that were unsafe…
I got down and back to Muir Beach, thankful for the aid station. The people there were so friendly – they helped me get my gross shoes off so I could change my socks and gave me chicken broth since they thought I was cold, and helped me wash my hands. After that, I was ready to go up one of the toughest climbs on the course. My game plan…just keep moving (looking at the stats afterwords, I did get my third best time going up that set of hills. Haha.
About halfway up the hills, Ksenya (who was going to pace me from Stinson, where I never made it to) and Adrienne my other running buddy yelled up the hill to me. So exciting to have friends to share the journey with! It didnt take them too long to catch up, and it made the time down to Tennessee Valley pass pretty quickly. At TV, I got to see the rest of the crew, but I wanted to keep moving, so headed up Marincello after grabbing another PB&J. It was great to have Ksenya to share the journey with (Adrienne had to move her car at TV). She kept me going, and before I knew it, we were near the finish line. I was able to run the last few feet through the finish line and go hang out with my crew.
All things said and done, I got in a 50k (+ ended up being 37 miles)….I went further than I ever have before…I crossed the finish line. And yesterday, that was enough. Today, I wish I could have made the 50 happen, but there will be other races. Either this one next year…or another before then, since I think I was supposed to do something before the 100 miler. We’ll see….Thank you to the sweepers, for helping me salvage something out of what could have been a disaster of a day. Huge thanks to our crew, pacers, and friends that came out to the event – could not have done it without you. And congrats to Brian, who had a great 50 mile race!