Miwok 100K | California | May 2, 2009
Somethin’ to Talk About
By Gary Dudney
The Miwok 100K, held in the Marin Headlands just north of the Golden Gate Bridge and the city of San Francisco, is always a grand adventure. From the start on the sandy beach between Rodeo Lagoon and the Pacific Ocean, through the eucalyptus trees above Sausalito, down to the horse ranch in Tennessee Valley, over the twisting singletrack above the ocean, along sections of the famous Dispsea Trail, out over Bolinas Ridge, through the Mt. Tamalpais area and the Point Reyes National Seashore park, and back over Coyote and Wolf Ridges, the awesome beauty of coastal California is on full display.
The frontrunners at Miwok are some of the best ultrarunners in the country, and the long out and back along Bolinas Ridge gives everyone a chance to size each other up just past the midpoint of the race. Droves of runners show up to tackle the course and the nearly 10,000 feet of elevation gain it offers, tuning up for Western States or other summer hundreds. In fact, the 350 entry slots fill in just a few weeks, months before the event takes place. Support at the race is exceptional and the BBQ and swag bag awaiting at the finish line are both way cool.
Tough under any circumstances, this year’s Miwok carried an extra punch for the runners in the form of some uncooperative weather. From my vantage point at the Randall Turnaround aid station, 35.6 miles into the 62.4 mile course, the 2009 running of Miwok looked like a mud year at Churchill Downs. A chilling rain filtered down through a foggy sky nonstop from when the aid station went up at 9 am until we struck camp at about three in the afternoon. From time to time, the wind would pick up and threaten to carry our two easy-ups away. The drizzle would turn to a heavy, soaking rain, and this in a relatively sheltered spot at the bottom of Bolinas Ridge. Conditions along the top of the ridge where all the running was going on were much worse.
Arriving runners were invariably soaked to the bone regardless of what they were wearing. They slipped and staggered down the last incline toward us, legs caked in mud, and looking for all the world like a pack of drowning rats. Many of them couldn’t work their fingers well enough to deal with zippers or shoelaces, or gel packs, or electrolyte tabs, or bottle caps, or soaking wet gloves. They needed help getting in and out of clinging clothes or hydration packs, getting things out of pockets, or mixing their sports drinks. Volunteers would jump out of the way when the wind sent a cascade of water off the top of the easy-up; the runners were so wet already they wouldn’t even notice. Chilly water ran in streams everywhere. There was more goose flesh than you could shake a stick at.
The ice normally provided to the runners at the aid station was a totally foreign concept. In a typical year at Miwok, heat has become a factor at the Randall turnaround and runners are begging for ice. This year it all stayed in an unopened ice chest. The only reference to it was as a joke, when a good natured but shivering runner would get the question, “Want some ice in your bottle?” Everyone would laugh. At the end of the day, the ice was dumped unceremoniously on the ground where it remained, not melting, as we drove off.
Despite the conditions, a lot of runners were obviously having a grand old time, joking around and glorying in the muck being thrown their way. For these wags, the worse it got, the greater the adventure. Other runners seemed to be just enduring, a little shell shocked at facing both the 100K distance and the surprisingly bad weather. The out-of-staters were wondering what had become of their trip to “sunny” California. Luckily for the runners, aid station captain Chuck Wilson seemed to know about half of the 300 runners that came our way personally. He was always ready with a hearty greeting, an encouraging word, and his own warm clothes which he was handing out like free samples of sushi at the shopping mall.
The weather at the finish line was overcast but not the blustery mess that had pounded the runners on Bolinas Ridge. I watched some of the mid pack runners finishing. They looked strong and were smiling. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of them owed at least a little part of their success to Chuck’s gentle but firm encouragement back in the rain at the Randall turnaround when the chips were down and things didn’t look so good.