The Hills Are Alive!

Pirate's Cove Photo Credit Glenn Tachiyama
Pirate’s Cove
Photo Credit Glenn Tachiyama

Did it really happen?  Some days I forget that I even did the 100k.  But if I think about the events of the day, I question how I could forget the way everything came together so perfectly.  Maybe it’s because it felt like it was too perfect…


The alarm offensively rang at 2:30am and, one by one, we got up to get ready for a long day – myself, Tav, and Greg.  By 4:15am, we were ready to roll out the door with everything in check.  After an extremely windy drive, which eventually gave Greg motion sickness, we arrived at the Stinson Beach Community Centre – the hub for this year’s Miwok 100k.  Race bib acquired and pinned.  Now, to find my partner in crime / training partner, Linda, to make up the Power of Linda^2.  With 15 minutes to race start, I spotted her and I was calmed.  For over a week, I was a huge bag of nerves..

Am i ready?  Did I train enough?  What if my sciatic rears its ugly head?  What if I can’t do it?  Am I in over my head?
The pep talks I got all week helped: Hoz offered good advice about the course, Tav was amazing in keeping me focused on the execution of the day, and Linda, who was there for so many of my long runs, gave me the confidence in my fitness that the finish line was more than attainable.  But even still, it was difficult not to let my mind race about all the negative potential possibilities.
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Linda^2 Power at the Start

So there we were, at the start, headlamps lit and ready to take on the next 100km.  I don’t remember if there was a gun, but a quick send off from the boys, and Linda and I were on our way.  The race started at 5am so the sun hadn’t risen yet, which meant it would just be a hike/trot until the single track line of over 400 runners started to spread out.  It was, in fact, a blessing in disguise.  There was no ‘going out too hard’.   The opposite, actually, and it gave Linda and I a chance to spend about an hour chatting, almost forgetting that there were runners around us.  I’m sure they were all entertained by our banter – at least that’s what we told ourselves.  I don’t know how to describe that first hour or so, but it really was something else.  Tav had described the scenery to me before that it was very ‘Sound of Music’esque’ — The Hills Are Alive!

Photo credit Glenn Tachiyama
Photo credit Glenn Tachiyama

There was a calming melodical tone to everyone’s footsteps and relaxed demeanour.  The time went by quick and the gap between Linda and I started growing.  I could feel my old road runner instincts wanting to kick in and dart forward to pass, but I had many voices in my head to hold back.  I did pull ahead, but bit by bit.  I was crossing a small road section as one trail ended to another trailhead, when I caught sight of the sunrise.  I took my camera out and snapped a quick photo.  The photo doesn’t do it justice, but it was beautiful and so worth it.

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Running at Sunrise
Unfortunately, the ‘Sound of Music’ hills didn’t last forever, and I went right through Aid Station 1 (Bolinas Ridge – 6.3miles).  I knew I wouldn’t see my crew until Aid Station 2 (Randall Trail – 12.9miles) so I set my sights on that.  The trails between AS1 and AS2 were rolling and I found myself able to run more than I needed to walk.  My strategy for the day was to be conservative on the hills.  They weren’t my strength so I was better off hiking the uphills and using the downhills to my advantage, as that was where I excelled.  What I didn’t account for was the long downhill into AS2, but it was glorious.  I flew right into AS2 to meet Tav and Greg at almost a 14 hour finish time pace.  They grabbed my pack to fill it up as I went into the portapotty line up for a quick tinkle.  Little did I know that the line up would be longer than anticipated – almost 10 minutes.  As I was waiting in line, I hear.. “Honey…”.  I look over and Tav has pulled a near full bladder out of my pack.  Ooops… I guess I wasn’t that thirsty.
As I got ready to leave AS2, the boys told me that it would be close to 4 hours before I would see them – this was key information for me.  We did a quick check for fuel and I was on my way back to AS1 (doubled as AS3).  What goes down must go up, so that glorious downhill into AS2 became a grunt of hike.  About 5 minutes of climbing, I see Linda flying down and we hollered our hello’s.  For those that don’t know Linda, well, you should.  She has a smile and an energy about her that perks anyone up.
Again, I go right through AS3 (19.5miles) and on to AS4 (Cardiac – 26.5miles).  I tried to stay on top of my fluids and my fueling to avoid getting the evil eye again when I was renewed with my crew at AS5 (Muir Beach – 31.5miles).  During this time, my crew would grow by 1 as the boys met up with Soroush, a good friend who lived in the Bay area.  From Cardiac to Muir Beach, it was mostly downhill and it was fabulous.  There was also a small road section so I was able to maintain a fairly good pace.  In fact, with the downhill and road section, I surprised the boys by meeting them en route – them in the car, and me on foot.  They sped ahead to the aid station to get there before I reached it.  Apparently, it was close.  Mentally, I was still feeling good.
Stretching it Out
Stretching it Out

Physically, my legs were a little fatigued but my back and hamstrings were starting to act up – a symptom of my sciatic issue.  I kept this in the back of my mind to ensure I didn’t do anything to aggravate it anymore.  You might, however, say that running ANOTHER 50km would be aggravating it.. you might.

The boys filled up my pack, loaded me up on my fuel and I was on my way.  I was still in good spirits and I was still having fun.  From here, it would be about an hour before I would see them again at the next Aid Station (Tennessee Valley – 36.5miles).  I can’t recall much about the trail, but I did spend some time hiking a big hill and chatting with someone from DC – an investment banker actually.  Unfortunately, he misread the instructions and thought his drop bag was being moved forward from each drop area and he didn’t have any of his gear until he reached the next AS, where he was planning on pulling out.  As soon as the trail started to go downhill, “we” decided to try running.  “We”, however, soon turned into just me.  I was feeling strong on the downhills and seemed to fly by a handful of runners, with some commenting that I seem to always pass them on the downhill.
I came into Tennessee Valley (AS6) a little more fatigued, a little more sore, but in ok spirits.  I had a little niggling pain in my soleus area and Greg checked it out.  There was really nothing to do except a little bit of extra compression with his magic hands.  I asked the boys how long til I saw them again as I knew they weren’t allowed at the next aid station (Bridge View/Rodeo Valley – 41.5 miles), but I was coming right back to Tennessee Valley (doubling as AS8 – 48.9miles).  Now, doing simple math, you would be able to deduce that the difference would be 12.3miles, but the day was long and charts can be confusing.  I heard 7.8miles and I would be back.  There was a sign at the aid station saying that it was 5 miles to AS7 so in my head, it would be a short 2.8miles back to my boys.  Then I would have a pacer to the end.
Spectacular Views
Spectacular Views

The trail from AS6 to AS7 was tough.  It was a climb.  A big climb.  And it was DAMN windy.  So windy that I was blown sideways into the railing.  But the view.  Amazing.  Clear view of the Golden Gate Bridge.  I came into AS7 feeling a bit battered, tired, and was looking forward to a mere 2.8 miles til I saw my boys again.  And then I saw the sign.  7.3 miles to the next aid station.  My heart dropped.  This can’t be right.  But it was.  I took a minute to absorb what I was reading and struggled to think of what I needed to do, as it would be closer to 1.5 hours until I saw them again.  I took my pack off and refilled it.  I wasn’t thinking clearly, but I remember telling the volunteer that I should eat.  She agreed, but nothing on the table was appealing.  I may have grabbed something but I can’t remember.  I just wanted to go.. but I also wanted to stop.  I left the aid station and it was a good downhill to the bottom of the mountain, but that only meant one thing.  We had to climb back up to the top and then over to get back to the boys.  I started hiking and I was joined by a few of the guys that I had apparently been passing on the downhills.  We chatted a bit – they were all so nice.  Slowly, they pulled away from me, except for a guy (whose name I later found out to be Sascha) from Florida.  We climbed to the top together and then it was downhill to the boys at Tennessee Valley.

Choking back tears coming into Tennessee Valley
Choking back tears coming into Tennessee Valley

Greg met me along the downhill and tried to gauge how I felt.  “Garbage” was my response and I started to choke back tears.  I came into the aid station, gave them my pack, and went to the loo.  I came out and as soon as I saw Tav, the tears starting rolling.  All I could say was, “I don’t feel good.”  And I couldn’t stop crying.  Tav pulled me back together, somewhat, and tried to send me on my way.  Before I would leave, I swapped watches as mine died and I went to the aid station to grab something to eat.  The volunteer was so lovely and told me that my outfit was her favourite of the day.  I thanked her as more tears rolled down my face.

Tav wiped my face and looked me in the eyes.  All I had to do was do 5 miles with Soroush and then he would take me to the finish.  Just 5 miles.  I can do 5 miles.  So the 3 of them started to walk me out of the aid station.  After about half a km, Greg and Tav left and it was Soroush and I.  We started to climb and it was like someone flipped a switch.   Everything was fine.  I felt really bad for Soroush – he was so great to come out and he was excited to pace me, and here I was, a tearful mess.  But, everything was fine now.  I had my crew.
Soroush and I on our way
Soroush and I on our way

So Soroush and I went through the rolling 5 miles which had more downhill than uphill.  At one point, we bumped into Glenn Tachiyama – my favourite photographer with the most uplifting smile.  He had situated himself at Pirate’s Cove (~51miles?) and we continued on our way.  We flew down the hill into Muir Beach (AS9 – 53.7miles) and I was greeted by Tav and Greg.  I swapped pacers – Soroush for Tav, or as Soroush was saying, Stud Muffin 2 for Stud Muffin 1 – and we were on our way.  And everything was good – it felt like home.

Of course, I whined a little more and Tav had to invoke the “tough love” strategy to get me to the next aid station – a 1300 ft climb to Cardiac (58.7miles). As I said, uphill is not my strength so the poor guy had to listen to me hyperventilate and stroll uphill as best I could.  He knew, though, that all he needed to do was get me to the top and I would be golden for the 3mile downhill to the finish.  We got into Cardiac, I did a quick pit stop to the portapotty, and we were on our way.
Coming into the finish
Coming into the finish

I was tired and sore and had been on my feet longer than I had ever been before, but I’m pretty sure I was flying on those downhills. We passed a number of people and all I could hear was Tav telling me that I was doing SO good, that he was SO proud of me, and to NOT look at my watch. He pushed me to keep going and as we came down the last set of stairs, we were joined by Greg and Soroush.  We turned right onto the road and there was the fire hall – the community centre where the finish was next to it.

Finish!
Finish!
As I started to make the last turn, Tav was yelling at me to get under 14:05 as I could see the clock reading 14:04 and 30 something seconds.  I dug deep and managed to actually pick it up until I crossed the finish line.
Tia, the Race Director, congratulated me and put the medal around my neck.  I turned and saw Greg and Tav.  Greg gave me a hug.  Soroush was behind him filming (see the video at the bottom of this post).  And then I turned to Tav and fell into him.  I was so overwhelmed .. physically and emotionally.  I did it.  I really did it.  I don’t know how it happened, but somehow, I managed to cross that finish line.
And then I couldn’t move.  After sitting for a bit, I slowly made my way to the washrooms to change.  I must have been in there for 30 minutes as I was moving at the rate of snail snot.  I was also choking back tears.  Finally, I came out and was looking for Linda.  I soon found her and we had our big teary hug.
BEST Crew Ever.
BEST Crew Ever.

It’s been almost 2 weeks and I’m still absorbing the whole experience.  I get glimpses and flashes of pieces of the day, but I’m having a hard time stringing it together into one full day – into the fact that I did a full 100km ultra.  What keeps going through my head is that I had a pretty damn perfect day, with the absolute best crew, best training partner, best support from back home and my community.  I am truly a lucky girl – I don’t know how I got to be this way but I am ever so thankful.  It’s probably why thinking of the full experience still makes me cry.  damnit.


And, if all the support wasn’t enough, here’s a fantastic video that Soroush made of my day.

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