I know what you're thinking: The other side of racing…what would that be? Answer: Not racing. Duh. But in this case, not only was I not racing, I was actually helping with the race and crewing for a friend. It’s pretty enlightening to see what actually happens in order to pull off one of these ultra things, and I had a great time last weekend being a part of all the behind-the-scenes action at Miwok.
My day began Friday morning (May 2) when the 3 hour drive from Truckee to Marin only took 2 ½ hours. I don’t know what happened to the Friday morning traffic through Sacramento, but I suddenly noticed an excessive number of Prii (pronounced pre-eye, plural for Prius of course) cruising the lanes next to me. This, along with the light coastal moisture in the air, told me I was clearly in the Bay Area, in spite of the early hour. I had planned to meet race director Tia Bodington in Corte Madera at 10 am. I decided to spend the extra time locating the closest Starbucks, and by the time I met Tia, I was well-caffeined and ready to go.
Tia had a giant U-Haul truck rented, and it was absolutely packed with water, coolers, bananas, boxes of food, boxes of GU, bags of GU20, tables, banners, “caution, runners on road” signs, orange cones, flagging and a myriad of other aid station sundries. I wondered how long it had taken her to pack and make the drive from Colorado. I also wondered if people get paid for being an RD, because they seriously should! I thought it might be rude to ask though, so I refrained.
Fellow volunteers Jeff, Hollis, Ken and Fred were there to help as well, and soon we set off towards the aid stations. Fortunately traffic was light on the Scenic Highway, as our little caravan slowly cruised the windy road: a fleet of Prii with license plate frames that read “Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run” led by a loaded U-Haul.
We spent the day cruising up and down the coastal headlands of Marin on a breathtakingly beautiful day. I got a great preview of the course, as Jeff pointed out much of the route while we drove along. At every stop, we lightened Tia’s truck while she consulted one of her many lists and told us how many bananas should go where. We visited Bolinas Ridge (where I noted the distinct lack of parking available,) Pan Toll, Muir Beach and the Start/Finish. Thanks to an incredible amount of work and organizing that Tia had already done, the day went pretty smoothly. I hoped race day would go as well!
At 4:30 I met up with Tate at the Marin Headlands Hostel where she had reserved a room. It was great to see her again! Tate and I had met last year at the TRT 50 miler, and I was excited to be pacing her on her first 100K. She had come down from Bend OR that day with friends Sean Meissner and Prudence L’Heureux who were also running the race. Although I didn’t know Prudence, I had met Sean once several years before at the Tahoe Triple.
After settling into the Hostel and touring the start of the course (which was a very short walk from the hostel,) the four of us went for an early dinner. Sean and Prudence were both fighting colds and everyone was interested in getting to bed early.
The Marin Headlands Hostel
After we all finished the typical night before organizing, I let the racers go to bed while I went down to the living room to socialize. The Marin Hostel is beautiful, with a huge kitchen, dining area and living room. It’s not furnished with your typical moth-eaten hostel furniture and chipped dishware either. The living room is filled with plush comfy couches, large windows and a piano, and you certainly can’t beat the location! I sat around chatting with other runner types, and soaked up the much-needed environment of runners. (I just don’t hang out with many runners here in Truckee.) I met Leslie who had recently run Diablo as her first 50 miler! I listened to tales from Shane, a runner who had helped on the search for the lost Western States runner last month. I also managed to rustle up a ride to the Bolinas Ridge aid station from the wonderful Kayla, who was planning a hike in the area on Saturday. She agreed to give both Shane and me a ride out there so we could pace our runners in and not have to worry about leaving (and retrieving) a car.
The Comfy Livingroom
On race morning my roommates were up at 3:45. I rolled out of bet at 5:20 to jog down the trail and catch the 5:40 start. I couldn’t find Tate, although I did manage to give a quick good luck to Prudence before everyone got on the “starting line.” I tried to take some photos of the beautiful sunrise, but I only had a little disposable camera, so I’ll be shocked if any of my pictures turned out. (I'll post photos later this week if they are any good.) I scanned the crowd and noticed someone I was pretty sure was Mark Tanaka. I was working up my nerve to introduce myself since he was literally surrounded by a who’s-who of ultra running, including Scott Jurek, Hal Koerner, and Bev Anderson-Abs among others, when Tia announced 60 seconds until the start. Hmm, maybe not the best time to run up and start chatting to the runners on the front line.
After seeing everyone off, I jogged back to the hostel and crawled into bed for another 2 ½ hours of sleep. Ah the luxury of being a pacer! Kayla and Shane and I headed off to Bolinas AS at 10:30 and arrived about an hour later. I knew I would have several hours to wait, so I dressed warmly and planned to shove the extra layers into my hydration pack for the run. It was chilly in the shade at Bolinas, and even with the warm layers I still joined a group of other waiting pacers following a patch of sunlight on its migration throughout the day.
Again, I found myself reveling in being surrounded by runners. There were a lot of people hanging around at Bolinas, including pacers, crew, friends, spouses and volunteers. I swapped stories with other runners, and watched the leaders come through on their way back to the finish while Peter-the-Vespa-guy gave us the lowdown on everyone. Sean came through in around 10th place and looking strong. I was excited to see Prudence in 3rd place for women, just 15 minutes behind Bev at that point! The excitement began to build as more and more runners came through. I realized that I was really glad I was running and not just crewing or volunteering. Being at a race and seeing all those amazing runners was so inspiring that I was jumping up and down with the need to run. I hadn’t realized OIga would be there, so I was excited to see her and cheer her on as she ran by. I cheered a few other familiar faces, and I knew Tate would be showing up soon, so I peeled off my extra layers and made sure I was fueled up and ready to run.
Tate re-stocked at the aid station and we headed off. She looked good, but she didn’t sound too confident when I asked how she was. I had never been a pacer before, so I was a little concerned about exactly what my duties were. Tate and I had talked about it a bit at dinner the night before and while she did have some goals as far as time, she didn’t really want to be “pushed” per-say. It seemed my role would be more to support, encourage, entertain and look for course markings. I personally felt that keeping us from getting lost was a major part of my job, so I focused on paying close attention to the flagging.
It was a long stretch in the sun between Bolinas and Pan Toll, and Tate did awesome. I think mentally this must be one of the toughest stretches of the race because you have already run over 40 miles, but the finish isn’t all that close. It was also the heat of the afternoon, and the chill of the Bolinas aid station was a distant memory almost as soon as we left it.
At Pan Toll Tate restocked from her drop bag and we discussed the merits of picking up her headlamp. It was really too far out to tell if we would finish before dark, and since I wasn’t totally sure what time it would be dark, it made calculations difficult. She realized she really didn’t have a great way to carry her headlamp, so finally decided against it. I had a good flashlight in my pack which I could shine for both of us if it came down to it. Decision made, we headed off.
The Coastal Trail looking back towards Stinson
I think it was somewhere through this section where the trail became massively overgrown with poison oak. It was almost funny, but I didn’t complain too much since that area was also nicely shaded. We cruised along and chatted with a runner from Sacramento named Jeff. Tate was having feelings of regret about the absent headlamp, but I think it was just late race anxiety searching for an outlet. When we got to Tennessee Valley, the volunteers assured us that we would finish before dark and I think we both felt a sense of relief.
After Tennessee Valley, Tate seemed to get her late race surge. She began relating her life story (as she put it) during a steady uphill hike. Somehow the miles flew by and Tate’s spirits were high. Clearly we were going to finish, and under 14 hours! Soon we came up behind a woman who I though might be Kathy D’Onofrio (based on Peter-the-Vespa-guy’s description.) Whenever runners hear that I am from Truckee, they invariably ask me if I know Kathy. Okay, of course I know who Kathy is, but I had never met her. (Incidentally, people also ask me if I know Betsy and Paul, and no, I don’t know them either.) The truth is though, I’m dying to meet other runners in my community. So I brazenly introduced myself to Kathy as we ran with her, and she was so nice! She was genuinely excited to hear that I was from Truckee. It wasn’t really an opportunity to trade contact info or anything, but anyway, the next time someone asks if I know Kathy I can proudly answer “Yes!”
Tate was on fire, so I had to leave my conversation with Kathy and sprint to catch up to her. We were nearing the top of the hill now, and we knew soon it would be all downhill. When we saw the beach and the finish line come into view I got pretty excited. We knew it was still a ways down there, but you could hear people cheering and screaming a long ways off. This was Tate’s first 100K, and there is something pretty emotional about a first finish at a given distance. It’s huge really, and as she flew towards the finish line, anyone who knows me will not be surprised to hear that I found myself getting a little teary. Go Tate!
She finished in fine style, and Sean and Prudence were there to offer hugs and congratulations. It was chilly on the beach and I wanted to get into some dry clothes right away, so I grabbed Tate’s and my clothes out of the car and headed off to change. We took care of business by washing off the poison oak, and Tate had a massive blood blister lanced by an extremely kind volunteer. Ouch! Everyone was happy with their day. Sean had run a solid PR for the course in spite of his illness and running 150(!) miles for the week. Prudence also fought illness to finish a strong 3rd and earn a coveted entry into this year’s Western States. Tate had finished her first 100K in an impressive 13:39 and qualified for the Western States lottery. I kind of felt like a wimp, having only run 20 miles that day.
I had a great time hanging out with everyone at dinner and breakfast the next morning before the Bend crew had to head home. A big congratulations to Tate for finishing a challenging race. I had so much fun pacing, and being a part of the action! Also, I have to offer a solid “good job” to Tia for putting on such a great event. Next year I will get online early enough to actually enter myself! (I hope!)
Next up: Silver State 50M. I’m not expecting big things since I haven't really been resting and am fighting a cold. Although the 7-day forecast can never be trusted, it looks like it could be a hot one. See y’all there!