The 20th Miwok 100K Trail Run is what I call a “classic.” It’s one of the iconic American ultramarathons, and has been on Debbie’s “to do” list for many years. She skipped another iconic event, the 7 Sisters Trail Race, in favor of Miwok after running it 15 years in a row. The Sisters course was built for Debbie’s strengths, but it was time for a change. I’m sure that she will return to the Holyoke Range of Massachusetts again, but this time the first weekend in May was all about Miwok.
She last ran in the Marin Headlands in 2002 when she did the Headlands 50K. One look at the results, and it’s evident that it is an all-star list of men and female ultrarunners both past and present. It’s great to see that many of them are going strong into their 40’s and 50’s. She was 27 at the time. It was her first ultra outside of New England after doing the Vermont 50 in 1999, 2000, and 2001. Miwok was her first ultra as a 40+ runner, which is a noble distinction and a very competitive group to join. Ultras favor the wise.
In 2002, I joined her on the trip and fell in love with the trails north of San Francisco. We’ve been here a few more times over the years and she ran the Way Too Cool 50K in 2007, six months after our first child was born. That race wasn’t in the Headlands, but it was in northern California near Sacramento.
Since then, we have been to California for several other races, including the 2013 and 2014 Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs. Debbie was also here as a crew member and pacer at the 2014 Western States Endurance Run. We have come to love both the trails and the great ultrarunning community.
Miwok’s Race Director is Tia Bodington, who is past editor of Ultrarunning Magazine. I’ve worked with Tia many times in the past as a periodic contributor to the magazine. She told me about the magic of Miwok many years ago and when the opportunity came to register, Debbie jumped on it. She was in the Western States lottery, but had no luck, so jiggered her 2015 plan and made this event a priority.
Despite a long, cold, and snowy winter, she is in very good shape. The race went well for her. The most important results were that the issues that bothered her in 2013 and early 2014 didn’t crop up. She has put her stomach issues behind her and a couple of pesky soft tissue injuries were not aggravated. She ran a “clean” race.
The Miwok course changes from year to year, though many of the trails are the same. The direction and combination of trails changes. This year, the course ran a southern loop first and then a northern loop second. The course is known for its relentless up and down, with more than 22,000 feet of elevation change. In my opinion, nothing is better than the combination of mountains and oceans. The coastal course has amazing views.
Debbie was joined by her longtime coach, Al Lyman. He finally joined her at an ultra as a fellow runner. This was his longest run to date, and he had a gutsy performance. If I can move my body at the age of 55 like Al, then I’ll be pleased. Al’s partner Terry, and his son, A.J. were the core of his crew. Debbie had support from our son, daughter, and our cousin, Dan Roy.
Dan has been a fixture crew member and pacer at several of Debbie’s bigger ultras in recent years. I last saw Dan at the finish line of last month’s Boston Marathon, where he had a fine performance. He hails from Northern Maine, but drove up from Los Angeles, where he currently resides, to help us again.
We flew in to San Francisco last Thursday and set-up our headquarters in Muir Beach, right near the course. We got to check out some of the trails on Friday morning. The weather was spectacular with warmer than usual temperatures, and fog-less blue skies. That changed a bit as the weekend approached. The race day weather was cool and overcast in the morning with low-lying clouds, fog, and mist. However, late in the day, the sun burned off some of the overcast layer and the temperature warmed up. It was perfect running weather.
The start/finish was at the Stinson Beach Community Center about 25 minutes north of Muir Beach on the Pacific Coast Highway. We were on east coast time, so it wasn’t a problem to get up early on Saturday and drop Debbie and Al off at the start. We watched the more than 480 registered runners file up the steep steps on the Dipsea Trail. It was a hilarious bottleneck to observe.
We were able to see them at several aid stations, including Tennessee Valley (miles 13.8 and 26), at Muir Beach (mile 30.3), at the Randall Trailhead (mile 49.2), and at the finish. The first half of the race ran much quicker than the second half, where there was much more climbing. It seemed like after the second time through Muir Beach, the gaps increased and the pace of the runners slowed.
I’m sure Debbie will have a more detailed race report, so I’ll only share highlights. She ran very well through Muir Beach and was in the top three women most of the time. At one point during the race, she dropped back to fifth, but quickly moved back to fourth, where she remained through the finish. She was only five minutes behind third at the end of the day.
She slowed a bit after 40 miles with the big climbs up Cardiac and to the Bolinas Ridge. When we saw her for the final time at Randall, she was in good spirits, but low on energy. Dan joined her with 13 miles to go and I’m sure that his company helped her pick up the pace, particularly after the final ascent and subsequent big plunge downhill to the finish. Apparently, she really wanted to be done because she hammered the last bit of the course.
The kids and I were waiting for her at the finish in Stinson Beach, and we were very happy to see her. Coach Al was a farther behind, so Terry and A.J. had taken their own vehicle to Randall. We left them and A.J. waited for Al and then escorted him a ways back up the hill. We were moderately concerned about the tight cutoff on the Bolinas Ridge and decided to go check on Al. So, after Terry and A.J. met up with us at Stinson Beach, Dan and I decided to run up and intercept Al to see how he was doing.
It took us about an hour and 15 minutes to connect with him when he had four miles to go. He was moving well, though slowly after 58 miles on his feet. Dan and I passed so many runners headed towards the finish. The trail was narrow, so we would step off and cheer them on. Some were thrilled that they had only a handful of miles to go, whereas others were a bit discouraged by our reports of how close the finish was.
The views were amazing with lush green grass and rolling hillsides. We got a chance to see the famous abandoned and rusted out car. The sun was going down, low clouds and fog had rolled in, but the combination made for a visual delight. Dan and I encouraged Al as he picked up the pace when the trail pointed downward. After the race, we were laughing about our repertoire.
Our list of favorite sayings:
“Way to go!”
“Drop the hammer.”
Dan joked that, “The next thing I say is going to be the best thing you’ve ever heard.” We both agreed that in the future we will try to avoid the usual catchphrases and come up with more proprietary stuff to say. When we finally emerged from the wooded trail on to the street that led to the finish line, we practically ran in to A.J. He and his Dad have a tight bond. The thrill of Al’s finish is something I’ll remember for a long time. A.J. was ecstatic. I ran alongside his Dad for the last 150 meters letting out whoops and screaming “Yeah baby!” at the top of his lungs. It was a fantastic way to end the day.
The volunteers were awesome. Tia and her crew work hard to put on a race that is on protected land and involves major logistics and coordination. I’ve heard that working with the various government agencies, including the park service is challenging. I’m sure the runners appreciate the work that she and her team do to keep this race going on such beautiful lands.
We didn’t get to watch much of the fast men. They seemed to always be ahead of our crewing pace. We did get to see many of the top 10 as they came and left Randall. Miwok doesn’t attract the same depth in the elite fields as it used to, but there were still many strong performances on a difficult course. The first man was Benjamin Stern, a young ultrarunner at age 23, who ran 8:50. He was followed by Galen Burrell and Christopher Wehan. The drama in the women’s race was high with several lead changes.
Last year’s winner, Bree Lambert, ran strong and led much of the way, but was overtaken by a surging Laura Richard, just before Randall Trailhead at 49.2 miles. Laura had moved up steadily throughout the race and looked very strong both descending and climbing. Bree didn’t give up and came out of Randall charging, but eventually lost ground. Laura took the win in 10:54. Bree followed her and then Julie Fingar was third. Debbie wasn’t far behind Julie.
It was great to see old friends and meet new ones too. It was wonderful to see Mary Fagan Churchill. She (and her twin sister Liz) have Connecticut (and Vermont) roots, so I was cheering loudly for her. Mary won that Headlands 50K back in 2002. That’s when we first met her. She and Debbie have stayed in touch all of these years later. They have raced together, run together on her occasional visits to New England, and each raised families. Mary lives in the Bay Area and these are now her trails. It was great to see her smiling on the trails.
It would be awesome to see the Headlands unspoiled when the Miwok’s lived here and ruled the land. Their name lives on and the tradition of tramping on foot is alive.
Speaking on behalf of all the Livingston’s and our crew, we had a great time at the Miwok 100K.
Note: apologies for the awful watermarks on these images. I’ll fix when I get back to “my” Mac. Working from the road has its drawbacks. I’ve have many more (and better) pictures to share too.