I carpooled up with Jean Pommier, and we nervously discussed the weather report of high winds, rain, and 20+ mph winds forecast for the day. This was going to be a wild one for sure! It was eerily calm at the beach (and warm for that matter), providing a false sense of "maybe it won't be that bad after all". But most of us were packing our drop bags full of jackets, hats, and gloves just in case.
The starting line was a bit light, with 40 runners deciding not to start at all. The rest were eager to get moving through the fog, including Victor Ballesteros (on his home trails), Graham Cooper (looking good, even though he did the Diablo 50m and a 200-mile bike ride last weekend), Eric Grossman (leading the Montrail Cup), Eric Skaden (went with Graham on both events last week), Todd Braje (just selected to the US 100k team), Topher Gaylord (now moved back from Italy), Kami Semick (3-time winner here, AR50 winner, and looking to crack 9 hours), Caitlin Smith (winner at Way Too Cool, first time at the 100k distance), Joelle Vaught (mountain superstar), Anita Ortiz (mountain running champion), Suzanna Bon (just won the Lake Sonoma 50) and more. We all headed out to Rodeo Beach and waited for the sunlight to brighten up the fog. At 5:45am, we were off!
After a quick hustle across the beach, we slowed to a section of single track and immediately began peeling off clothes. It may have been chilly, but the humidity was accelerating the sweat levels. I ran along with Nicola Gildersleeve, Rick Gaston, Jason Reed, Jon Kroll and a group of others as we did our best to pace ourselves as we climbed up the street. It was interesting to see the various clothing levels - Nicola, Rick and myself had enough to camp out if needed, while Jason and Jon had little more than a singlet and shorts. I suspect the drop bags were making up the difference.
On the first descent I paced with Jon Kroll, whom I am finding to be a perfect pacing partner at many races now. We start about the same speed, but he always manages to have a bit more kick than me at the end (a good motivation for me to keep up!). I let Jon know my crazy training plan for the last few weeks - three races amongst two 100+ mile weeks, so that I could arrive tired at the starting line for Miwok. Here I would run the pace I was hoping to do at States, and if I could finish with enough energy to potentially go another 40 miles, then this would be my goal pace for States. I figured I would shoot for 10 hrs 45 min, which would indicate a 20-hour goal pace for States (according to my self-induced calculus). I'm not sure if this is the right way to think about it, but it seems to work for me! Jon was training the hard core way - lots of miles, going hard at races, and getting a good sense of his body in different scenarios.
We cruised through the first aid station (mile 6.2), and John Medinger filled us up for the first big climb. The fog and clouds hid the tops, so it just felt like it was going up forever. It wasn't until the smell of eucalyptus told us we had reached the top and we could head on down into Tennessee Valley. We praised the course marking volunteers regularly for their diligence - it was such a relief to see a pink ribbon come out of the fog!
Tennessee Valley (mile 11) showed us who the true champions of this race were, as Gore-Tex clad volunteers did an amazing job taking care of us in the rain and wind. Their smiles were addictive, and gave us a nice boost as we ran towards the coast. I took a dozen pictures, all of which turned out grey...alas! Luckily Jon and I had run these trails enough we could talk about what the view was "supposed" to be (isn't this Pirates Cove where the seals are?).
We caught a lively group of three runners as we headed down to Muir Beach (mile 16), and I stopped to pull out my gloves and retie my now-soaked shoes. The Pelican Inn taunted us with smells of pancakes and fresh fire...maybe next time! Jon and I ran together down the road, catching up with Jed Tukman and some friends, and together we plunged into the lush single track. It was nice to get a break from the wind.
Soon enough we found ourselves at the "big climb", and caught up to Adam Blum and Sean Lang of the RhoMobile Team. We power-walked together, with Jon and Adam taking the lead. Sean was having some stomach issues and wisely paced himself. I was soaked to the bone, but having a good time.
The redwoods did their best to hold back the clouds, and for the first time in the race I could actually see 100 feet in front of me. It was short-lived, however, and Adam and I soon found ourselves jumping puddles in a fog-soaked downpour. There's new weather up here at every turn!
The Pan Toll aid station (mile 22) was an oasis in the storm, and I had a chance to reach into my drop bag for some new gloves, a Vespa, and some green tea (a favorite for cold runs). The volunteers were almost too fast - I want to stay! - and soon had me on my way. Devon Crosby-Helms warned me of what was coming...it's windy, so bring everything you have.
She was not kidding.
Within a mile, I caught up to Jason Reed and Jon Kroll on the exposed ridge and the wind was just insane. It blew us left, then right, then head on so strong we had to tuck in just to move forward. On top of it all, the trail was muddy and uneven so you had to fully engage your core muscles just to stay upright. I lost feeling in my hands and toes, and was just in awe at Jason and Jon who were both wearing only a tank top. Jon was an unstoppable freight train, and pulled us all the way to Bolinas Ridge (mile 28).
Bolinas Ridge was run by a pack of angels who took care of my every need. Rajeev Patel, Sarah Lavender Smith, and a half dozen more let me stuff my face with PB&J, cookies, and refills of water. Each bite brought me more back to life! Usually I'm good with periodic calories, but when it's cold, I like real food. I took off down the trail, catching up with Jimmy Dean Freeman to weave our way through the redwoods and gigantic puddles.
About two miles in, the front runners were heading back. Geoff Roes was in the lead with Eric Grossman right on his tail, and both were a good 3 minutes ahead of the next group of Joe D'Alessio, Scott Jaime, Graham Cooper, and Victor Ballesteros. Anita Ortiz was leading the women, and was smiling and looking good. Kami Semick was hot on her tail, and had apparently fully changed her clothes. Caitlin Smith was about two minutes behind them.
We eased our way down the last plunge to the Randall Trail aid station (mile 35), where we could see the evidence of dropping runners all over the place. I guess this is the place to do it, since you better feel good enough to climb back up and get out on that windy ridge again. I ate an entire PB&J, two cookies, and a Coke before I could stop myself. Am I going to gain weight at this race? Finally Chuck Wilson kicked me out of the aid station, and I joined Monica Ochs for the climb back up.
We made good time on the way back, much in thanks to all the happy faces coming towards us. Although I usually chuckle at the Hefty garbage bag look, it was definitely the wise fashion choice for today. I decided to run one hill, walk the next, run the next, etc. The puddles were too big to get around anymore, so I just started running through them. My feet were already numb, so what could it hurt? I ran with Paul Sweeney for a while, whom I hadn't seen since the Rucky Chucky 50k two years ago. He let me know that he got a tick bite at that race, which turned into Lyme's disease, and put him out of racing for a while (luckily he caught it early or it would have been much worse). Now here he was busting ass at Miwok! That's quite a recovery.
The rain came down full force, and I was delighted to finally reach the Bolinas aid station again (mile 43). Sarah and Rajeev treated me like a king, and once again I mowed through the aid station like an Easter buffet. This prompted a quick stop at the portapotty, which was the warmest I had been all day. As I took off, Jean Pommier shouted from a nearby car - he had hypothermia and was trying to warm up before continuing. Continuing?!? That guy is tough!
Monica and I got a good rhythm going through the redwoods, and Hozumi Nakai from Vancouver, BC soon joined us. He said "gosh I'm so glad I came from BC to see the beautiful California weather!" in jest, and it was clear he was more than comfortable running in these conditions. Hozumi set the pace through the gale force wind, and we just tried to keep him in sight. The mud was difficult to navigate at any speed, so the shuffle would have to do. I slipped off the trail once, but climbed and laughed my way back up the wet grassy slopes. What a crazy day!
I passed Jason Reed right before Pan Toll (mile 49), and his teeth were chattering something fierce. He assured me he had more gear at the aid station, so I went on ahead. I poured one more green tea into my water bottle, raided the Payday bars, and headed out again with Hozumi and his pacer. We kept a nice pace down the long descent, and the bottom greeted us with a pleasant boost in temperature. I shed a layer, saying hi to Jady Palko who was doing the same, and Jason Reed went by us like a fighter jet. I guess a little warmth was all he needed!
We took the back way up to Tennessee Valley, and I caught up with Adam Ray for a bit as we zig-zagged to the top. I ran the zigs and walked the zags, which gave me enough energy to put on some speed when I reached the top. I caught up to Jon Kroll again, which means I must be right on track! We kept a good pace together going into the Hwy 1 aid station (mile 55). Just one more big climb and descent and we were done!
Mark Winkleman joined us about a mile into the climb, and we quickly found group equilibrium - Jon was fastest on the descent, Mark climbed the best, I had the flat speed. We rotated accordingly, and before we knew it, we could hear the volunteer on the bullhorn through the fog - "c'mon, you can do it!".
The clouds broke, and we could see the finish line. Like a suspense thriller that finally reveals the plot, it was all it took for us to smile and turn on the speed. Jon sailed down the stairs, and Mark and I made our way down a bit more cautiously. I came in behind both of them at 10:43:38 for 30th place.
I was surprised at how good I felt, and was sure I could go another 30 miles. But my abs were telling me tomorrow morning was going to be painful for sure, thanks to all that balancing. With a beer and BBQ in my hand, I vowed that 20 hours would be my A goal pace for Western States.
As I caught up with Joelle Vaught, Jason Reed, and the others, I learned that Eric Grossman had won (8:35) after catching Roes (who dropped), with Victor Ballesteros (8:38), and Scott Jaime (8:46) rounding out the podium. Kami Semick had caught Anita at mile 60 on the last big climb, and went on to win in 9:07 (5th overall) just ahead of Anita (9:10) and Caitlin Smith (9:18). Very impressive times given the weather conditions! The drop rate was at 40 and counting...just finishing was going to be a solid performance today.
The staff told me that Jean Pommier was still out there, so I changed my clothes, got some more food, and kept busy getting some finishing runners from the chute to the warm food tent. Everyone who finished had that look on their face - did you see what we just did?!? This is one to tell the grandchildren for sure. Amazingly, many people were shouting "PR" as they crossed the finish. It didn't take too long before I saw the familiar strides of Jean coming down the final stretch, finishing in 12:12, and quickly making his way to the warm tent for soup and food. He had risen from the dead at least once today and still finished with a respectable time.
My thanks to Tia Bodington and her amazing group of volunteers for putting on a fabulous race. It still amazes me that we can get hundreds of people to run 100k on a rainy day, plus a few hundred more to volunteer, and still have the best of times. The volunteers were the real champions today, hands down. I applaud them!