May 06, 2008

Miwok 100km Race Report

(A great start to our day with incredible views back over The North Shore Mountains)

It's midnight on Tuesday right now...make that 3pm on Wed...umm 9pm, and I have been putting off this race report for a few days already. I have been quite busy with work and still unpacking boxes into my new place since I flew back from San Fran, but in all honesty, I've been trying to get my head space right to do a proper race recap. Unfortunately all I've been able to think about since the race is my stupidity in missing that turn and taking away my legitimate shot at my racing goals, which were to break 9hr, as I knew it had not been done by a Canadian runner yet, and to finish top eight, which would have put me up amongst some of the big boys of the sport.

Anyways, it's over and done with, nothing is going to change what happened on Saturday so moving forward this has only added a ton of fuel to my ultra running fire. I have since laid out some lofty goals for myself in 09 and will be concentrating on hopefully doing as many 100k and 100 mile running events that I can handle and afford...umm it's May, wow can I ever get ahead of myself in a hurry...basically I'd just love to fast forward 11.9 months to Miwok 09 and do it all over again right now!!

I love how friends can help put things in perspective and although I have received some great comments and words of wisdom from many friends, this one stands out the most:

"Did you know that their was a family who ate their fingernails and boogers and then worms came out of their poop?"

Uhhh, hang on, nope that was from my friend Emily who teaches music in it is...

"Dewd - nice run! Too bad about the little scenic tour, that kind of sucks, especially since it was a "known" problem from before. Still, keeping track of the course is all part of it - you either have to pay attention, or suck it up and keep going if you end up wrong. There's a lot of folks who just give up if the end up off-course, but it sure stokes the fire in some others to come back. Good mental toughness on your part to hang in there and still have such a great result!"

Welcome To San Fransisco, Time To Get Yer Freak On!

We flew into San Fran at 10am on Friday morning and promptly headed to our hotels downtown. Between the eight of us we were in two separate establishments...I was in the 'tame' hotel, while the other half of the group were staying at The Holiday Inn. What the hell could be so crazy about T.H.I. you ask? Five words, "Gay and Lesbian Leather Fest", in full effect! I have never witnessed, nor desired to witness, so much tightly covered flesh on an individuals body before...x100 people!! Seeing a man throw his head into another man's crotch in the lobby of a hotel was also a bit startling, as was the individual who seemed to be carrying all the necessary 'sexual gear', or as Rune called it, 'the full party pack'!! San Fran was certainly living up to its reputation right from the get go!

From there we were off to 'Whole Foods' (an organic and high end grocery store) for our lunch and some race food. The show continued but this time it was the employees of the store who were competing for people's attention. Top three sights were a dude with his ear lobes stretched big enough to fit large cucumber through, the guy with the fully greased circular Charlie Chaplin mustache, and the dude who decided to shave half of his head bald and to keep the opposite side approximately two feet long!! It seemed like the old adage of 'do not stare, it's impolite' was out the window, for this was a city where people were fighting to get noticed. The freakier you dressed or presented yourself the better, and it all made for some great people watching! Not to be outdone by the humans, there was of course the miniature black poodle with the rainbow colored mohawk shaved into its back! Everywhere you turned there was something or someone who absolutely forced you to stare at it/them. Two and a half days later when we returned to the airport to fly out, everything looked so normal and boring that I turned to my teammates/friends and said, "Does it not feel like we just departed the San Francisco zoo!"

The Golden Gate At Sunrise:

The 3:30am alarm came all too quickly and although we went to bed at 9:30pm I had only managed a few hours of actual sleep. After lubing up half my skin with 'BodyGlide', taping over my nipples, and downing three bowls of cereal, were were out the door at 4:20am to head to the race start.
(The starting area as photographed after the race)

After a quick pre race announcement we were off and running at about 5:50am. We began on the beach and after a few hundred meters were funneled into a single track trail. My game plan, as always, was to start out conservatively and to ease into the race. The single track quickly spit us out onto a road and after 35 minutes of steep climbing we were presented with a spectacular sight as the sun had just crested the horizon and was illuminating the entire Golden Gate Bridge down below us! Just a km further and the steep climb lead us into an equally steep paved descent. I looked at my watch and although had intended to wait at least another 3-4 kms before really starting to run, I simply could not hold back on what comes so naturally to me. I leaned forward and was off and passing people like they were standing still.
(The Golden Gate as photographed after the race)

The pavement eventually gave way to a still descending double track trail and I continued to fly past people while feeling great and knowing that I was not taxing my body at all in the process. I blew through the first aid station at about 10k and at that point noticed Jen (Segger-Gigg) running strong up ahead. As I began to catch her I commented that this exact section felt as though we were racing in Baja again! Just ahead of Jen were the top two females in the race, Kami Semick and Beverly Anderson-Abbs. I slowly gained ground on them over the next few kms of climbing, but was fully aware of the fact that they should be close the 9hr on the day themselves and was hesitant to pass. As soon as the next large downhill appeared I told myself that I simply had to run my own race, which consisted of taking advantage of the downhills, working steadily on the uphills and concentrating on not loosing time throughout the flat stages, which were not many, as the race had over 10,000 feet of climbing and hence descending in it as well.

Look Out Below!

I proceeded to practically 'fall down' the steep terrain and was truly shocked as I was not only passing established runners, I was dropping them instantly! People who I recognized from major running publications were really, really tentative on the steep stuff! Even more shocking to me was the fact that these trails were also completely unobstructed and non technical. It's certainly true that if you can run and bike on The North Shore of North Vancouver, that you can do it anywhere in the world. I entertained myself and passed the time while daydreaming about many of these runner's trying to run downhill back wasn't a pretty sight, but then again, me verses any of them in a road marathon would be just as ugly I'm sure! I was surprised to receive compliments, while passing people, regarding my downhilling and it helped to keep me motivated on the next flat section heading into the 35k aid station at Pan Toll.

My calves started to flare up on me through this ~7km flat section and they really started to scare me. We were only a few hours and 25k in, still 75k to go...I could do nothing but continue my pace and pray that this pain would subside once we hit the climbs again. I was definitely slowing as I was processing all of this because I did a shoulder check and noticed Mark Tanaka and Kami Semick gaining ground on me. This forced me to up my pace and I did not see either of these runner's again until the 58km turn around.

I knew I was dialed on the day as I glanced at my watch and saw that it was closing in on 3hr. I expected to hit Pan Toll at 3hr and just as I was starting to wonder about my pacing the aid station parking lot appeared out of nowhere. 3hr exactly!!

I was so focused on grabbing my drop bag and departing asap that I did not even notice Danielle, Rune Melcher's girlfriend who was helping 'crew' for us on the day, standing right in front of me. I popped up, once I had exchanged my bottles for some fresh Carbo-Pro 1200, gels and a tube of electrolyte tabs, and just glanced Danielle saying HI as I was bolting outta there. No need to let anyone chasing you see you if you can prevent it!

From here we were back to climbing again and I was relieved to feel my calves subside ever so slightly. I grew confident in the fact that I'd be able to get through this race without being compromised from this injury and would deal with the consequences after the fact.

Hot, Hot, Heat:

The time was now around 9am, the sun was shining and the heat was rising. Thankfully there was also decent ocean breeze blowing from time to time which helped to regulate the body temperature. We were now running more exposed terrain however and I was quietly looking forward to the shaded areas again. The views down over the coast helped to pass the time and ease the pain. I could see two runner's within 1km of me on this open section and managed to track them both down and put some time into them before the next aid station, Bolinas Ridge, at ~46k.

It was leading into this aid station that I started to suffer stomach issues for the first time. I wasn't able to consume any more gel and even my 1200 was tasting a bit too sweet. I needed to mix it up somehow and get away from all the sugary foods. I hit a low and simply told myself that it would pass, I just had to continue strong and figure something out at Bolinas Ridge.

Once I arrived I made some stupid joke to the volleys there, I forget what I said but it eased my pain to see smiling faces and hearing laughter in the air. The volleys at this race were INCREDIBLE! You would pull in and boom, they'd grab your bottles, ask what you needed, go about getting it all ready for you, hand it over and kick ya in the ass to get you moving again! At some of the stations people would even run out to grab my bottles before I arrived and then sprint back to the water coolers to fill them up even quicker! It was spectacular and these people made a huge difference for me while fighting through the lows. I always knew there would be great people cheering and helping me, and all the other runner's along, and on average we hit an aid station every ten kilometers! Thankfully they had coke here and I chugged back as much as I could handle before they handed me back my bottles and kicked my ass outta there!

The Mental Struggles:

The 12km run between Bolinas Ridge and the Randall Trail turnaround point ended up being one of the hardest parts of the race for me. I completely misunderstood where the turnaround was and for some reason was under the impression that we looped back again right at 50k. I knew this course was an altered out and back, but for some reason was assuming that it was two versions of a 50 and not, as it turned out to be, a turnaround at 58k. I kept looking at my watch and watching the minutes climb. I had intended to hit the 50k mark somewhere in the 4h20 range, but that time came and went with no aid station in sight. I was also aware of the fact that we needed to drop down significantly before intersecting this aid station, and the route simply kept undulating without loosing any real elevation at all. My mind started playing tricks on me as the minutes ticked away, and I slowly started to feel more and more pain as the time slipped away from me. It wasn't until I saw ultra running legend Dave Mackey sprinting towards me that I started to do some math and realize that by hitting the Pan Toll aid station again as km 80, that we were indeed doing more than fifty to the aid station. I realized it would be closer to 60k as I finally hit the descent towards the turn around. Mackey had an INCREDIBLE lead over the field and it was minutes before I even saw another runner. Such a lead did he have that I started to wonder if I'd taken a wrong turn somewhere! In the end Mackey broke the course record by fifteen minutes!!

On the downhill I saw 2nd and 3rd running up, but did not recognize them. Hal Koerner was running strong in 4th and having only met him at Diez a few weeks prior he looked at me with a huge smile and said,
"Mr. Robbins, looking strong, nice work!"

I shot back a similar sentiment before he was gone, then watched Scott Jurek come past a few seconds later. I was also counting off of course to see where in fact I stood at this point in time. Volleys will give you feedback but I've learned to take all of this with a grain of salt as they are often too busy helping people out to fully pay attention to the race.

6th...7th...8th...aid station! Ninth after almost 60k! I did not intend to be this high in the field at the turn around but again was following my race plan and wasn't too worried about where that put me. I was still feeling physically strong although my stomach was growing to be more and more of a problem. I scarfed back some watermelon, downed some coke, put some ice in my hat as it was now quite warm out, was handed two freshly filled bottles and was off and climbing. I turned out to have quite a lead on 10th, which only helped to quicken my step up the ascent. There were a group of three guys running about 12th-14th and one of them pointed directly at me and said,

"YOU, are having an incredible race out here today! Nice work bud!"

I thanked him and was a little shocked. All I could figure is that he knew every other runner ahead of him except for me and was probably expecting me to blow up after passing him somewhere earlier on.

Nice Work, Looking Strong, Good Job, Way To Go...

I didn't think I'd be a fan of the out and back format of this race, but after running 60k it was quite nice to be getting so much human interaction as everyone was taking the time to cheer each other on as they crossed paths. It was also nice to see where I was in terms of time to the other runner's and to see where my friends / Montrail Canada teammates were running.

I mentioned in my original quick cap that I worked my way up to 8th, but what actually occurred here is Hal ended up having to drop. I saw him walking up ahead and initially reached for some electrolytes and gel to share with him, then I remembered that he was pretty seriously injured at Diez and I knew what had happened.

"Hal, how are ya? Is it the injury?"

"Done for the day unfortunately, but I made it farther than I thought I would!"

"Sorry man, do you need anything?"

"No, I'm fine, go get em, they're just ahead of ya!"

I was feeling energized in believing that I had closed the gap on the two runner's ahead of me and this feeling continued as Jen and I, and later Wade Repta, Rune Melcher and Cheryl Beattie all exchanged high fives and quick congrats to each other in passing.

I came into Bolinas Ridge again, at about 70k and saw Dom Repta standing on the sidelines. He hadn't been getting in the specific training that he had hoped for leading up to Miwok, and after making it about 45k on the day decided to become a cheer leader to the rest of us instead. I hit up the aid station, had my bottles filled with Gu2o, again stuck with the watermelon and coke as it was all I could stomach, and was outta there.

I had continued on my set pace but was starting to really feel a calorie deficiency in my stomach and had no idea of what the Gu2o was providing me with exactly. I was carrying gels but could not stomach the thought of them. I was well aware of the fact that watermelon alone certainly wasn't going to fuel me to the finish line and starting worrying that my body might shut down on me all together. I had never suffered stomach issues like this in a race before and was constantly aware of the fact that would become my biggest issue in making the finish line without bonking hard and blowing my race.

Scarecrow Legs and Pukey Mc.Pukerson:

I had kept my electrolyte intake as priority number one on the day, and started the race by taking in one tablet every thirty minutes. I came off of this plan slightly in the mid portion of the race as I felt it may have been too much when combined with the sodium in my Carbo-Pro 1200, gels, coke, etc, etc. This was a BIG mistake on my part as I ended up playing catch up with my electrolytes and ran out of Thermolytes for almost an hour. Heading into Pan Toll at around 80k I could see that I had closed a big gap on 7th and 6th place. I only caught the eventual glimpse of 6th, but I timed off 7th at less than a minute now! I was aware of the fact that I could not push it at all as my legs were like pins and needles as I played with the fine line between running and cramping. I've been to Scarecrow Leg Land one too many times in my racing and had no desire of going there again. With about 5km to Pan Toll I ran outta fluid. This was one of the most exposed areas of the entire race and the sun was beating down on me and not making things any easier.

I walked a very fine line all the way into the Pan Toll aid station at about 80k and then managed a full sprint towards my drop bag and my Thermolyte salt tabs. I immediately downed three and glanced at my watch, 6h57m for ~80k, I was still on my set pace for a sub 9hr race and felt like I had just dodged a huge bullet in getting past my cramping. The incredible vollys were once again going to work filling bottles, but as I glanced at the food table I could see nothing that I envisioned being able to stomach. I grabbed one of the to go cups of potatoes and salt and hit the trails again.

I took one mouth full of potatoes and proceeded to dry heave three times. I immediately spit it all out and dropped the cup in the garbage. I was officially worried for the first time. Whatever I was getting for calories from my fluids was going to have to suffice the rest of the way in. I knew that I had carb loaded well the day before, eaten a big breakfast, and done well with calorie loading through the first half of the race. There was only 20km to go, it was going to have to do!

There was still a bit of a downhill before returning to the flats again and I leaned into it and tried to go. The cramping grabbed a hold of my quads like a bear trap and I immediately slowed down and started to worry that my race might be over. I was going to be one of these dumb asses who goes out hard for 3/4 of a race only to crawl home in next to dead last. I swore at my legs, begged them to come around, prayed to whoever would listen...and then realized that I had only taken my electrolytes three minutes prior. Me to myself,

"It's okay, just relax, you're fine, you're going to get over this quickly, just give yourself five to ten minutes and I bet you'll come back strong..."

This Detour Adds 22 Minutes:

(for non Canadians this is a small play on words to a show called This Hour Has 22 Minutes)

Within a few minutes, as the trail flowed into the flat section again, I amazingly did get over my cramping and quickly went to work pacing myself through the last non hilly terrain of the day. I was counting down to the Muir Beach aid station and as much as I was suffering I knew that everyone else was as well. There was only 15km to go now, I glanced at my watch and knew that a sub 9hr was well within reach, especially since I always get a big adrenaline rush when I smell the finish in sight, which allows me to finish strong. I was getting excited and already dreaming about sprinting through the line and straight into the ocean. So excited was I that I started to tell myself to clear my head and concentrate, there was still 15km of running to go and anything could happen...anything...

I was down to my last three electrolytes, one now, one at 8hr, one a 8.5hr and ideally the finish line at 9hr. Things were looking good I thought, this should work out perfectly...then it happened, I passed a walker on the trail,

"Are you in the race?"

"YUP" I said as I continued running. I could see the trail intersection with the road up ahead and I knew that the Muir Beach aid station was just around the corner. I had just sucked back all my remaining fluids in anticipation of the refill that awaited me.

"I think you missed a turn."

I stopped dead in my tracks. I was now staring at a very unassuming, short, stubby, older gentleman with glasses on. He was very timid and seeing the shock on my face simply repeated,

"I'm pretty sure you missed a turn."


"I'm pretty sure you did, about a mile or so back. People miss it every year"


"I'm pretty sure you did."

The thing that was killing me about all of this, outside of the fact that I was watching my race go up in smoke, was the this guy simply refused to say that HE KNEW I missed a turn, even though he was 100% certain of it, he kept saying,

"I'm pretty sure."


"I'm pretty sure."

"ARE YOU F#$KING SURE!!!!!!!!!"

"I'm pretty sure."

I wanted to grab this guy and shake his head off! All I wanted to hear was some form of certainty from him and upon realizing this would not happen I dejectedly started back the way I came, but not before turning back twice...


"I'm pretty sure."


"I'm pretty sure."


Adrenaline and anger filled my body, partly due my aforementioned conversation, and partly due to my realization, as the minutes ticked by, that he was indeed, PRETTY SURE!

I timed the entire thing, one minute, three minutes, five minutes, seven was like my watch was in fast forward, eight minutes, nine minutes, DAMMIT, I thought he said a mile! I knew I had gone wrong as there was not a single piece of flagging tape or another runner in sight...ten minutes, eleven minutes....eleven minutes and thirty five seconds...SSSSHHHHIIIIITTTTTT!!!!!!!!!!!!

No fewer than a dozen pieces of flagging tape were in front of me now! This turn angled ever so slightly away from the main trail, in the direction I had initially run from. It was just enough of an angle, that while day dreaming about the finish line, or having my head slightly down, I had managed to miss what was on my left.

Eleven and a half minutes I thought, that sucks, but I also knew that I had a good ten minutes on 9th place before going wrong...maybe I could still catch him and right my wrong...then of course I managed to figure it all out...11.5 way, while running pissed off...I had a very lengthy and profane conversation with the foliage as I went about running a switchback climb. Not half a km up, there was a person sitting off to the side of the trail and cheering racers on. I didn't say it, but all I could think was, why the hell can't you walk 400 meters that way and do the same thing at the intersection!

I could see no runner's ahead, or behind as I climbed, and my mind was doing cartwheels at the possibilities of what had occurred ahead of me while I was taking the scenic route. Oh yeah, after the race I was able to look at a topo map and see that my detour was almost exactly five and a half kilometers in total length.

The switchbacks lead us into a hard packed downhill and I caught a glimpse of another runner not too far ahead. As I came through the Highway 1 aid station and was finally able to get more fluids into me I happened to ask where I was currently ranked.

They grabbed their papers, counted off and looked at me,


"I'm in 9th, that can't be right, I just took a 5km detour!"

"Ninth, and the next runner isn't too far ahead, good luck!"

Quads To Headquarters, What Did I Ever Do To Deserve THIS!!:

I was startled to learn that I had only dropped one placing in over twenty minutes of being lost. It just did not make sense to me at all, but it felt great to know that I was still top ten after everything I had just suffered through both physically and mentally. (As it turns out they were indeed wrong as I was in 12th and had dropped four spots. Maybe they were trying to make me feel better, and to an extent it worked I guess!)

There was one long hard pack road section immediately following Hwy 1 and I was able to time off the runner ahead of me at four minutes. I was pretty sure he was out of reach at this point and spent more time concentrating on not being caught. There was just over ten km to go to the finish line...ten km to end of my first 100km running race!

Here's what I remember about the last ten kilometers.
-Wow this is a long and painful downhill we have to run here
-Wow this is a long and painful climb we have to run here
-Wow this is a long and painful downhill we have to run here
-Wow there is actually another, steeper, more painful climb to run here
-Wow I'd rather shoot myself in the face right now than run that downhill...oh wait, I can hear the finish line...I can see the finish line...I'm gonna make it, I'm gonna live!! I might need a quad transplant or two to ever walk again, but I'm gonna make it!!

I sprinted...well it felt like sprinting, across that damn elusive finish line in 9h22m48s to officially grab 12th place overall!!!

I finished my first ever 100k, in a very respectable time, and can take nothing but positives away from this race...I'm still counting down every single day till Miwok 09 though!

More pics to follow in the coming days. Full results here



Anonymous said...

That was a REALLY enjoyable read!

The Chaser said...

you should strive to get "chicked" each and every day Gary...

Deanna Stoppler said...

I like the guy who kept saying, "I'm pretty sure." That cracked me up.

Way to go dude.

Anonymous said...

Nice job Gary- you're a bit crazy but your enthusiasm makes up for it!

garobbins said...

Thanks for the comments guys...I definitely strive to get chicked as often as possible, just not always that good at it!
Glad you enjoyed the read, we all know I'm more than a bit crazy, and not the good kinda's my left handedness, studies say I'll be insane in just a few more years!
I guess in hind sight that guy cracks me up...he was actually at the finish line and I apologized profusely for my language towards him during the race!!


Leslie said...

Geeez, your night at the Holiday Inn makes my night crashing the boys dorm at the Marin Headlands hostel seem pretty normal!

Nice work, even with a detour.

Leslie of Banff

Matt Hart said...

awesome run gary! i think it's funny that you care about "the fastest canadian time"! maybe you were the fastest running in montrails? or the fastest runner drinking carbo1200?

either way getting lost and pulling out a 12th at one of the most competitive ultras is huge. bask in this accomplishment.. well deserved man.

Gary Robbins said...

Thanks Hart! Until I can maybe get to say that I had the fastest time period, in one of these races, I'll grasp at what I can...Sean beat me for the fastest in Montrails...umm maybe fastest on Carbo Pro 1200...definitely fastest from Newfoundland...maybe fastest who can actually ride a bike too...I'll see what else I can come up with!! You're right though, and I get it!

Ray Barrett said...

Damn, I enjoy your blog a lot. It's like I'm in the race but don't have to experience the pain. In fact, I get to laugh out loud at least a half dozen times per race report. Seriously, it cheers me up.


Anonymous said...

Nice work! That shaking the hiker after missing the turn was very funny but SO TRUE! I remember doing the same thing at the Transrockies 3 years ago...

Congratulations again! Well done!

garobbins said...

Thanks so much Ray! Greatly appreciate the comments!! I'll try to keep suffering as long as it puts a smile on the face of a few people!!


Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Great105k run! Getting lost sucks, but I always look at it like good PR buffer for next year. Maybe that guy was hedging a bit because there's no way he could know, with 100% certainty, that they didn't reroute the course. Maybe you could ask for a percentage chance. "Pretty" is pretty vague. There's a big notice about the turnoff in the course description. I guess you and I now both realize that it pays to be VERY anal about carefully reading everything the RD writes, right?

garobbins said...

Yup, I'll be sure to memorize as much as possible in the future!
PR in 09 for sure, hope to see you down there again!