The Miwok 100K, held in the Marin Headlands north of San Francisco, is a legendary race now in its 22nd year — and it has a lot of history. The race is fabled to be one of the most beautiful and iconic ultramarathons in the U.S. I met Tia Bodington, the race director, at the American Trail Running Conference back in September 2016, and that piqued my interest to the point that, when I started to lay out training races leading into the Bighorn Trail 100 (my next big race for 2017), I kept coming back to Miwok. Call it fate, good luck or mere coincidence, but I was one of the 500 runners that made the lottery for the 2017 Miwok 100K.
As race date approached, I felt confident in my training and set an ambitious finish goal, but, as we all know, ultrarunning is one of the most unpredictable endeavors ever….
Race: Miwok 100K (62.2 Miles)
Race Director: Tia Bodington
Location/Course: The course features fire roads and single track, and the 2017 course modification had a couple of miles of paved road. The course is hilly (approximately 11,800 feet of elevation gain and 11,800 feet of elevation drop), with spectacular views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, Mt. Tamalpais and the Point Reyes National Seashore.
Time Limit: 15 hours, 30 minutes
Runner: Shalini Kovach
Crew & Pacer: None. The race is extremely well supported. Aid stations and drop bags are accessible, and for 62 miles through the woods there was no need for a pacer or crew.
Goals & Training
Well, I was hoping for a 13- to 13.30-hour finish, and, don’t ask me why, but my head was stuck on that time. Of course, getting to the finish is always the top priority. As for training, leading into Miwok 100K, my peak mileage week was 65 miles with an elevation gain of 10,164 feet. I simply focused on climbing and running lots of technical terrain.
As the saying goes, “Getting to the race start is an unpredictable victory.” I found myself with a sore throat and stuffy nose on Wednesday, three days prior to the race. Ugh! Like most any “stable-minded” ultrarunner would do, I started to heavily self-medicate, and by Thursday morning, I was a walking zombie. I dreaded the fact that I had a race in two days and that my finish goal, although not completely out of the realm of achievability, was going to prove somewhat difficult to attain given my state. Regardless of how the race would break down, my bags were packed and I was on my way to the airport on Thursday afternoon.
Start to Muir Beach (8 miles)
It was 4:45 a.m. on Saturday, May 6, as we lined up to start what would be 62.2 miles of some challenging, quad-busting but incredibly breathtaking views for 14:24 hours under the California sun! My cold at this point had become a full-blown sinus infection, and lingering symptoms like mild headache, stuffy nose, ear ache/popping, loss of smell and little to no hearing in my right ear were becoming hard to ignore even as I stood there being swept away by the electrifying energy at the start of the race.
I had also decided not to take my sinus medication but rather stow it in my hydration pack, a decision that would save my rear mid-race when all my bullheadedness wore off. The clock stuck 5:00 a.m., and we were off! On recommendation from a few others that had run the race, I had lined up to the front of the pack, so as to avoid getting stuck in a conga line at the start of the race up the steep Dipsea Trail climb. We immediately funneled onto the single track as we climbed 2,000 feet in just under three miles. The cold Pacific air made it difficult to breathe as I climbed and tried to keep my footing steady in the light of my headlamp on the stairs, dodging the gnarly roots and rocks.
As we turned to descend the Deer Park fire road, I could hear a faint sound of the bagpipe being played at the Cardiac Aid Station. It was a pleasant wake-up sound, and I could see the sunrise far out in the distance. What made it even better was the steep descent that followed. It was like someone had just shaken me out of my funk. I was hot-stepping the downhill and passed a few runners as I made my way in and out of Muir Beach Aid Station.
Tennessee Valley (13 miles) to Bridge View (18.6 miles), then back to Tennessee Valley (26 miles)
By the time I hit Tennessee Valley Aid Station for the first time, I had shed all the layers I had started the race with and was somewhere between feeling hot and clammy. I refilled all my supplies and was on my way. I don’t recall much of what and how I was running, except that as I climbed over the hills, there was the panoramic view of San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Pacific Ocean. It was breathtaking, both literally and figuratively!
I was having difficulty breathing through my nostrils, and breathing through my mouth was extremely labored when climbing. My ears popped as I tried my best to enjoy the view and not let the constant thumping in my head bother me. My pace was excruciatingly slow, and this is when I decided not to focus on my goal finish time and instead to enjoy the scenery.
As I made my way back to Tennessee Valley the second time around, I was feeling sluggish — not quite halfway done and here I was just hating on myself. Another runner came up behind me and said, “Whew! Glad we made it out of there 30 minutes before the cutoff.” As we chatted on how tight the cutoff was given the difficulty of the terrain we were all hiking, the sun was out and it was starting to warm up quick.
Muir Beach (30.3 miles) to Cardiac (35.5 miles) to Bolinas Ridge (42.5 miles)
I felt a little unnerved about making the cutoff at Tennessee Valley by only 30 minutes simply, because I was unable to keep a steady pace and there was a sinking feeling of not being able to make the cutoff at Randall a few hours later. This is when I came upon Troy Meadows; it was his first 100K, and I noticed he was doing the “duck walk.” As we chatted, he mentioned having some knee issues, and I offered him some ibuprofen. As I reached into my pack for the ibuprofen, I saw my sinus medication. I debated in my head whether or not to take it, and if it would help at all. But, seeing as I wasn’t exactly doing all that hot and had been feeling worse as the day progressed, I decided it wouldn’t do any harm to take the meds. Here goes nothing!
Somewhere along this part of the run, I had actually started enjoying myself. My guess is the meds had kicked in. This is when I came upon Robert Myers. Deja vu! No, I mean for real! Robert and I had run a few miles together at Western States in June 2016. Robert lives in Auburn, and I’m from St. Louis, and here we were together again 10 months later. What are the odds of that? As we chatted and ran along, something inside me had turned on…I guess you could say it was the faith in ultrarunning and in myself. I was about 30 miles into Miwok, and I knew slugging along at the pace I moving was not going to cut it, so I decided to run.
I ran steady until I hit Bolinas Ridge Aid Station at 42.5 miles. This was one of my favorite trail sections on the course, the gorgeous Redwoods towering over the trails providing shade from the sun and the moss swayed in the cool breeze. For the first time in over 30 miles, I felt connected with running, the trails and my surroundings. This is what I live for! If I had all day, I would have simply wandered off into the woods.
This was also one of my favorite aid stations on the course. For starters, leading into the aid station were two motivational signs that resonated with me. The first one read, “The price of success is much lower than the price of failure,” and the second one read, “You can either throw in the towel or use it to wipe the sweat off your face.” I know they were both a bit cliché, but when you run distance, you must find something to hold onto if you want to continue forward — and these messages were mine to hold onto and move forward. As I approached the aid station and the volunteers started to top off my water, I was told I needed to drink more than I had been drinking. It dawned on me that I had hardly been drinking and needed to stay on top of my hydration if I was to make a run for the finish.
Randall Trailhead (49.2 miles) to Bolinas Ridge (55.9 miles)
I felt great leaving Bolinas Ridge at 42.5 miles, I was running hard and pushing pace and — finally — hit the turn to the downhill bomb to Randall Trailhead at 49.2 miles. Weeeeeeeeeeeeeee! I love downhills. I really, really do!
As I made it to the bottom of the hill, I cut a B-line for my drop bag, refilled everything and I turned to ask a couple sitting next to me what time it was.
The couple: “It’s a little before 4 p.m.”
Me: Doing the math in my head…. “I don’t need the headlamp, I’ll be at the finish well before 8 p.m.”
The couple: “NO! Take the headlamp just in case you roll an ankle or bust something.”
Me: “Good point! Should I take this jacket, too? It’s too hot right now.”
The couple: “YES! If you are struggling and it gets dark you will be cold.”
Me: “OK, OK, you are right!”
As I turned to make the steep climb back the same way I had come a few minutes earlier, all the way out to Bolinas Ridge for the second time, I happened up Andy Black. Who is Andy Black? Well, stalk him on ultra signup and find out for yourself. Super badass ultrarunner, and I wasn’t going to just keep running past him, so I decided to hike up the hill with Andy and share stories. As we made it up the hill, Andy once again reminded me I needed to run and not kill my time chatting with him.
Me: “Yes, I know! I’ll start running here in a few.”
So, I bid goodbye to Andy and told him I would look for him at the finish. With that, I was running hard again. I was in and out of Bolinas Ridge the second time with a quick shout-out from the volunteers: “Go get it! Just 6.3 more miles to go!”
Stinson Beach Community Center AKA Finish! (62.2 miles)
After leaving Bolinas Ridge, I kept running steady once we hit the Coastal Trail. About a quarter mile behind me was a line of eight or 10 runners gaining on me, and in my head I knew I had to keep plugging at it. I had no concept of what time it was and where in the race I was, but having run enough ultras, I know the last 5 miles to the finish are critical and can make or break your finish time. So, I just focused on moving forward, and each time I saw a runner up ahead, I reeled them in. I only slowed down on the technical sections of the trail, so as to not fall.
I had finally made it to the Matt Davis Trail. Earlier in the day, Andy Black had mentioned to me how steep the descent was — technical, rocky and root-strewn. The last 2 miles of switchback to the finish had it all, with wooded stairs thrown into the mix for good measure. This was it: I had to make a run for it.
I ran hard as I spiraled down the steep descent with tricky left turns and low-hanging branches. I had to stop and limbo three times under some fallen trees. I passed eight runners slowly making their way to the finish as I bombed the hills recklessly. There it was, the big rock signifying the final switchback. Across the bridge over the creek, and the final downhill stretched into town. I was levitating! Or maybe it was all in my head. Not knowing what the race clock said, I was through the finish, got my medal and stood there talking with Stan Jensen. Who is Stan Jensen? Well, look him up!
I didn’t make my goal time. Am I disappointed? Honest answer: nope! As I was told by my BFF Denzil Jennings, “If you enjoyed it, then time is irrelevant.” I hate it when he’s right.
Sometimes, you can’t fight your own body. Had I felt 100 percent and not been under the weather, would I have pushed for that finish goal and attained it? Possibly, but I don’t believe in “could have” and “should have.” This is trail running; you take what the trail gives you and how the day breaks down and you make the most of it. I made the most of Miwok 100K!
Up next is Bighorn Trail 100 in June. Six weeks and counting! Bighorn will be the most difficult 100-mile races I will attempt to date, and I will be flying solo, no crew and or pacers. I’m confident in my training, and if these legs don’t fail me, I will see my arse to the finish and have myself a Hardrock 100 qualifier!
(Still, seriously, ping me if you want to pace me at Bighorn.)
Garmin Fenix 3, Columbia Montrail Women’s Rogue F.K.T Shoe, Columbia Montrail Titan Ultra Short Sleeve Shirt, Columbia Montrail Titan Lite Windbreaker, Buff, InknBurn Spring 6inch Shorts, Injinji Trail 2.0 Midweight Micro Toe Socks, Petzl NAO Headlamp, Running Tee Shirt, Camelbak Ultra Pro Vest
Here’s a breakdown of the fuel and supplements I used before, during and after the race:
Hammer Nutrition Race Day Boost and Hammer Nutrition Fully Charged
Hammer Heed and Perpetuem mixed equal parts in a 17-ounce bottle, Hammer Gels (peanut butter and espresso flavors), bananas and Coke at aid stations. Every three hours, I took Hammer Endurance Amino, Anti-Fatigue Caps, Endurolytes and a Ginger Root Pill.
Hammer Recoverite and Tissue Rejuvenator
Author: Shalini Kovach is the founder and lead organizer of Terrain Trail Runners.
I used to run alone in peace and conformity. I knew no other way until I met Sawyer. He’s my forever running partner. He slobbers a lot, digs in the leaves, wags and woofs — and it’s impossible to ride in the car with him while we drive to the trailhead. Welcome to whiny-town! But I can’t imagine life without him.
As I write this, I turn to look at Sawyer, who’s never more than a couple of steps away from me. His big, brown eyes catch me in his gaze, full of mischief and curiosity. He makes me wonder if I could ever find a bond so strong with a human runner. Named after Tom Sawyer, from Mark Twain’s boyhood tale, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, we adopted him from the Central Aussie Rescue & Support Center — and by “we” I mean my husband, Brad, and our girls, Erika, Chloe and Alissa.
How did he come to be the best thing since Peanut M&Ms at an aid station, you ask? Well, it was one rainy afternoon in mid-May 2015 that we were out running errands, and I got suckered into visiting a pet adoption that was taking place, being told “we just want to look.” Like I hadn’t heard that one before. Thing is, I didn’t really want a dog. My life was already insanely busy, and to add the responsibility of having to take care of a dog — no thanks. But anyway, there we were looking at this wild thing. He had been a stray, just newly found, and he was frantically pacing and whining. We went into a small room where the girls could pet him and see how he interacted with them. He wanted nothing but treats, and then he’d run back to his foster mom. Maybe he was a little overwhelmed and nervous, she said. We got back in the car and then began the endless droning. “Please, please, please can we adopt Sawyer?” Ugh! As I sat there listening to all the arguments and proposals and deals that were being thrown at me, I couldn’t help but think how handsome Sawyer was. I reluctantly said we could go back and see what it would involve to adopt him. It was a faltering I will never, ever regret!
Fast forward to June 2015. It was the weekend of Kettle Morrain 100, and I was to be out of town for the race. There had been some talk of bringing Sawyer over for a house visit while I was gone for four days. Good! I wouldn’t have to deal with it, or so I thought. I got back in town, completely wasted from running 100 miles, and there he was in our home. I wasn’t sure what to make of him, and he wasn’t sure what to make of me, either. He still had that timid, stray dog air about him. So, we ignored each other that evening. On Monday morning, Brad went to work and the girls were off to school, and there I was alone with Sawyer. What am I supposed to do now? I mean, he was still handsome and all, but I didn’t really want a dog. The dude just happily followed me around all day. Next thing I know, our contact at the Aussie Rescue called and said Sawyer had cleared all his medical tests and ownership searches, and that he was ours to keep if we wanted him. All we needed to do is sign a few papers.
I’m not sure, I’m just not sure. I don’t think I want a dog. I put all my excuse cards on the table but was trumped by all the positive things that could happen if we chose to adopt Sawyer. The one thing that was laid on me over and over and OVER again was that his breed was so athletic and that he would make an excellent running dog. Ugh! But I like running alone. It’s my ME time. I looked at Sawyer, and if I’m being honest, I just didn’t have the heart to turn him away. And to see how excited the girls were to have him around…. So, I said yes, clearly stating that I was not going to run with him, as it would be too much trouble and I liked running alone. But, you see, it’s the simplest things that make us vulnerable, and when we least expect it, life can pleasantly surprise us.
As human beings, we often tend to complicate things. Relationships can sometimes end up becoming a tangled mess of emotions and feelings that never have an opportunity to grow or evolve. We resist and resent change. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you willingly open your heart to a dog, they will shower you with unconditional love that knows no limits. A dog enters your life with absolutely no demands, and if you’re open to the possibility of adventures together, they provide you with irreplaceable memories that live forever in you. It’s that simple!
So, here goes the tale of how I found the best running partner in Sawyer!
While I was recovering from Kettle Morrain in June 2015, I decided to take Sawyer on a run with me. I hated every moment of it! He was on a leash, and I felt like I was being pulled beyond my control. My 5-mile “easy” run at a 10-11 minute/mile pace was turned into an 8 minute/mile sprint that I didn’t know I was capable of two days after running a 100 miles. We tried this a couple more times, and it was nothing but frustration. The dog needed training, and who had time for that?
I decided I wasn’t going to run with Sawyer anymore, but each morning as I laced up, there he was, looking at me expectantly. I’d ignore him, and then the guilt of leaving him behind weighed on me so much that I couldn’t enjoy my run. There has to be a better way of doing this. Next run, I took Sawyer to the trail and decided to try him off the leash. It was 7 a.m., mid-week, a time when there was hardly any traffic on the trails. I was hopeful! Alas, as soon as I let him off the leash, he was gone. Just gone. Out of sight. I stood there completely horrified, as I had no idea where the hell had he run off to. There was anger and a weird sense of betrayal. How could he just bolt on me? I walked as I scanned the trails, calling his name, but Sawyer was nowhere to be found. After 10 minutes of yelling for him, I finally caught a glimpse of his furry face peeking at me from behind a tree about a quarter mile ahead. That’s it! I yelled at him, put him on the leash and was once again pulled into a sprint as we made our way back to the car.
We tried this a few more times with no improvement. If Sawyer wasn’t sprinting a half mile ahead of me, he was chasing squirrels, deer and wild turkey — or molesting the occasional turtle on the trail. He would excitedly jump on other people that we came across, and if we happened upon another dog while on the trail, it was impossible to control him. He was incorrigible!
But there was also something about him that connected with me deeply when we ran together. It was a feeling of freedom, limitless frolic, absolute euphoria that I felt when I watched him run. Seeing Sawyer run is a thing of beauty! I sometimes found myself wondering if I could ever run like that — effortless, free of inhibition, gliding over the terrain below my feet like the rocks and roots didn’t exist. It was absolute perfection! I dreaded running with him, yet I dreaded even more not to take him with me. How could a dog make me feel that way?
As the temperature got hotter that summer, I stopped running with Sawyer altogether. I’d take him on a hike now and then, but I had quit running with him due to the heat and also because it was frustrating that he just wouldn’t listen. It wasn’t until late fall and winter when I started to run with him again. At that time, I decided to keep him off the leash but carry it with me at all times. When Sawyer would take off, I’d stop and make him come back to me, give him a little talking to and then we’d be off again. If we came across other people on the trail, I’d call him and clip on the leash. I did the same when we’d encounter another dog. Slowly but surely, I was beginning to notice improvement. Sawyer had stopped chasing after deer, squirrels, turtles and or any other animals we encountered. He stuck to the single track and was never out of my sight, and he always stopped to look back and make sure I was in tow. He had also stopped jumping on other people that we came across on the trail, but there was still the issue of other dogs.
This is when I decided to use the good dog, bad dog behavior encouragement. I started to take his treats on the run with me. If he didn’t listen to a command, he’d get an earful from me. His ears would fold back and he’d have that guilty-as-charged look in his eyes. Every time he’d listen to a command, I’d give him a treat along with positive reinforcement. Next step was running with Sawyer on the leash. If I felt I was being pulled, I would stop running, give Sawyer some talking to and then slowly start back up. A few frustrating runs on the leash later, and we had our breakthrough. One morning as I ran with him on the leash from our house, which is a little over a mile from Castlewood, he got the hang of it and stopped pulling my ass along. Once we hit the trail, I let him off the leash. We repeated the procedure on the way back, and I was excited to see he actually started running on pace with me while on the leash!
So, there you have it! I’m closing in on two years of countless miles and adventures that I’ve been fortunate enough to share with mas loco Sawyer. I can’t imagine trail running without him. I’m glad I didn’t give up on him, and vice versa. I’ve found the most patient running partner, who never speaks a word yet shares with me a silent understanding and partnership that cannot be broken. Now if only he would stop charging at me in the middle of a run when he gets excited and wants to play, running in circles around me while I try to keep a straight face and not fall off the edge. But what would be the fun in that?
I will forever cherish every memory made running with Sawyer, and although he may never understand these spoken words, I do hope he knows how much I love him and the joy he brings to my daily life.
Go run with a dog, and live a little!
Our blog writers are members of Terrain Trail Runners, local athletes just like you, who want to share their love and knowledge of the sport.