A day of surprisesMay 7, 2007
As the results show, little went as planned at Miwok yesterday. For example, I ran the fourth-fastest time ever on that course, yet finished nearly 22 minutes behind ex-triathlete Lon Freeman, a guy I did not even list among the pre-race favorites. In fact, of the six men I did list (not counting myself), two of them (Eric Grossman and Dave Mackey) did not show up and the other four were not among the top four finishers. Brian Morrison ran strongly until slowed by some tightness in his knee, which eventually prompted him to drop out and save himself for Western States. Scott Jurek placed 5th in a slower-than-usual time, perhaps reflecting his limited recent training time on the trails. On the women’s side, Nikki Kimball was slowed by food poisoning and suffered a rare defeat, though losing to fellow North Face superstar Kami Semick is hardly an embarrassment.
But let’s begin at the beginning.
On Friday, I decided to do an easy out-and-back run over the last couple miles of the race course to get a feel for the course and make sure I knew how to reach the finish. The last couple miles include some steep hills, so I ran up and down, remembering only at the end that downhill running, with its remarkable capacity to damage muscles, is not an optimal pre-race activity.
As the race began the next morning, a guy in a white t-shirt took off ahead of everybody up the first major hill. “Is that Mackey?” I asked Scott and Brian. Nope — Mackey is taller, they said. Could it be Grossman? No — Grossman has a beard, somebody else pointed out.
We were now about ten minutes into the race, and I was still feeling good. “I’m going to apprehend the leader,” I announced semi-seriously. And off I went.
I didn’t catch the mystery man but stayed within a minute of him until mile 8 or so. Then I felt the first slight tingles of fatigue in my quads. At mile 8! This was very, very discouraging. Could it be the result of my ill-advised downhill warmup from the previous day?
I rapidly decided that I needed to do two things. First, run cautiously. Forget about Crazy White Guy and focus on running at a relaxed pace, even if it meant getting passed. Second, refuel aggressively. Drink lots of Gatorade and Gu2O to make sure my body had all the glucose and electrolytes it wanted, even if it cost me an extra minute or two in bathroom breaks.
Before the race, I had figured that I should be able to beat Jurek’s 2005 time of 8:43, and maybe even Mackey’s 8:28, so I carried their splits with me. At the Tennessee Valley aid station (11.9 miles), I was 2 minutes behind the Jurek of two years ago; at Muir Beach (16.0 miles) and Pan Toll (21.6 miles), I was 3 minutes behind. Not great, but at least I wasn’t falling apart yet.
On the way to Bolinas Ridge (28.4 miles), I was caught by Brian Morrison and Rod Bien. Still just trying to get deeper into the race without serious problems, I was happy to have some company for a while, and we chatted freely about the current race and previous editions of it. We approached the Bolinas aid station just about even with the 2005 Jurek split, which gave me a huge mental boost. And when Brian and Rod lingered at the aid station, I surged ahead without them.
On to the Randall Trail turnaround (35.6 miles). About 1100 feet of elevation is lost over the last 1.7 miles, so I zig-zagged from one side of the fire road to the other — sort of the opposite of running tangents — to make the downward slope more bearable. About 4 minutes before I reached the bottom of the hill, I met Crazy White Guy heading back up, meaning that he now had an 8-minute lead on me. Oh, well. I in turn now had a 1-minute lead on the ghost of Jurek and at least a couple minutes on everyone else. About the first eight runners I encountered on my way back up the hill cheered for me by name, which was both flattering and, since I didn’t know most of their names, embarrassing.
I continued to stay just slightly ahead of Jurek’s ghost’s pace through Pan Toll (now mile 49.5) and got an additional lift from seeing my great aunt and uncle there. With 13 miles to go, I felt assured of a second-place finish in an unspectacular but solid time.
And then on the three-mile downhill back to Muir Woods, a tall, skinny guy with headphones (later identified as Jon Olsen) went by me. As he approached, he said something about the runner behind him, trying to be helpful. Thinking that the skinny guy himself was not in the race — how could he have caught me when I was posting such steady Jurek-like splits? — I said, “Oh, I thought you were passing me.” In the nicest tone possible under the circumstances, he replied, “I am passing you.” Even worse, 4th place (Rod Bien, now accompanied by a pacer) was closing in as well.
I followed Skinny Music Fan to the bottom of the hill, and when we entered the woods, his pace slowed noticeably. I picked it up and blasted past him, regaining 2nd place; as I did so, he again encouraged me by name, again making me feel kind of bad.
Aside from his commendable sportsmanship, Skinny Music Fan had just done me a huge favor. By threatening my position and forcing me to respond, he had awakened me to the fact that my legs were now ready to run hard! I basically extended my surge through the rest of the race, dusting Jurek’s ghost and also successfully overtaking the ghost of Phil Kochik (2006). I finished in 8:31:31, a time that would have been even more satisfying had Crazy White Guy not just run 8:09.
And so it’s on to Western States on June 23rd. Crazy White Guy and Skinny Music Fan will both be there, as will Brian, Nikki, Kami, Rod, Phil, and about 400 other competitors. Right now my money’s on Crazy White Guy … but perhaps I’ll surprise him.