Sunsweeter DanO (Dan Olmstead) and I headed south to sunny weather leaving The Soggy Willamette Valley on Thursday. Breaking the trip up with a night in Ashland with more birds of a feather (Rob and Susan Cain, John Price and Erin Keller) made the 9 hour drive much more tolerable. We rolled into Larkspur to bunk down with the wonderful Tim and Diana Fitzpatrick. At the number pick up I reconnected with many citizens of the strange country of ultra running, and met a few faces to put names with.
Tim offered me the guest room, and Dan his daughter’s room, with the warning that he might come out as a teenage girl in the morning. I quickly staked my claim on the daughter’s room with “I want to wake up as a teenage girl!” After a short but decent night’s sleep, I arose at 3:15 to a pot of coffee. I ate oatmeal and felt like a teenager who got up too early. Tim and Dan were soon stirring, and by 4:45, we were out the door on our way to the beach.
It was chilly and breezy, but the forecast was promising mild temperatures and sunshine. In the dark it was hard to make out faces but I ran into Sunsweeter Lewis Taylor, Salem Super Star Pam Smith, and my Western States River to the Finish Pacer Jed Tukman. On the walk out to the beach start, I connected with my Corvallis contingency of John Lebeiskind, Ken Ward, and Frank Schnekenberger. Huddling on the beach, Scotty Mills held me close for a bit to warm me up. Such love in this community!
RD Tia gave us a briefing, then the countdown, and we were off, trudging through the sand to the single track at the end of the beach. The group came to a halt as the bottle neck formed. It was early, the trail was short, and it just didn’t really matter. I inched around a couple of folks and was soon running, with Jed right behind. We soon fell into a good rhythm and chatted about how our training/running was going. Unfortunately Jed was still recovering from a nasty chest cold and not sounding good. We hit our first long steady climb on the pavement. I caught and passed Darla Askew, as cheerful as ever, and looked ahead to see Amy Sproston, Pam Smith, and Helen Cospolich ahead. I guessed Krissy Moehl was up there somewhere too. Jed and I caught up to Karl Hoagland, and Jed held back and ran with him. Gradually the girls got closer and eventually we became a bit of a mass of gals, including Krissy. Onto the beach for the end of the first loop I was now in the lead, and not entirely comfortable with that, but I was running on feel and my HR was actually behaving, so I just went with it.
A pretty steep climb met us – lots of stair steps, and then more single track up. I kept my breathing under control, and HR was reasonable. I had memorized the miles for each aid station, and having the Garmin with the running total was comforting for my brain. I maintained a good effort and the lead into the Tennessee Valley aid station. I refilled my bottle, asked Devon to take my hat off for me, and cruised out. The cheers were as always, heartening.
Another long climb and we had 9 miles to the next aid station. I kept focused, and sensed that there was a woman behind me. Soon enough Helen caught up to me. We had not met before, so chatted a bit, then she pulled ahead, claiming her blood doping effect from living at 11000 feet lasts about half way through, followed by a bonk. She pulled ahead, but at the next level place I gained back, passed and headed downhill. I was cruising comfortably on an open dirt road, sweeping around a turn, saw a sign that said “Tennessee Valley 1.7 miles” and kept going, thinking it odd that we were going back that way, when Helen yells out to me from behind “this way Meghan!” Holy Hannah, I had missed the turn, and thankfully Helen was close and kind enough to call me back. I gradually caught back up to her, thanking her profusely. I didn’t really want to run and extra 3+ miles it may have turned out to be.
Gradually pulling away, I heard footsteps again, and was soon passed by Elvis. He knew me by name, so I had to ask “and who are you? Besides Elvis?” It was Ian Sharman, an incredibly fast dude, wearing what had to be a pretty uncomfortable and hot costume.
The trail section we were now on was sweet! Switch backs, runners voices, eucalyptus, lupine, grass, sunshine, ahhhhh. It was bliss. I had the slightest hint of hot spots on my right foot and tucked the thought in my brain that I might want to change shoes at Pan Toll.
After the lovely downhill, we crossed a road and began a very long climb. At the start I was feeling a bit slow and thought “uh-oh – was I too ambitious earlier? Am I going to get eaten alive by the ladies behind me?” But as I went along I felt stronger and stronger and could hear no one behind me. Eventually I could see Mark Lantz in front of me and was glad to see him out as his last race was ended with an injury 10 miles short of the finish. I followed him into the breathtaking Redwood stand, trying not to trip over my jaw at the beauty I was running through. Once I caught up to him we ran together, taking inventory on what was going on – he hadn’t had a lot of training because of injury and work, and I was behind on the mileage from training for Boston, but we both really wanted to finish 62 miles today. We cruised into Pan Toll together, and Devon was there again, and this time I asked her to take my sleeves. I told her she could sell all my stuff on Ebay.
Mark and I left the aid station together, and I was nipping at his heels as we headed onto the next section of beautiful single track. I was feeling quite good, so Mark asked me to lead. We flew along and I reminded myself it was not a 50k, reined it in a bit and BAM! I was chest to the ground. It was a good volleyball flatout, so I jumped up and kept running. “Just a flesh wound!” My knees were a bit knackered, but everything hurts after awhile anyway, so I ignored them and tried to maintain a reasonable pace. Mark stayed right on my heels, and we both did our fair amount of gasping and groaning, but with about a mile to go before Bolinas Aid Station, he said “I’m tired, I gotta rest”, so I suggested he not rest for too long and continued on.
I hadn’t heard any voices behind or in front, and when I cruised into the aid station, I was surrounded with all kinds of help. I got out quickly again onto what would be the toughest section for me – Bolinas to the turn around at Randall. I was slowing down and running alone, feeling a bit comfortable in my lead. I was sometimes reeling a guy in, but the undulations of the dirt road were not feeling good. My quads were feeling jelly like and the hot spots on my right foot were chatting to me. I analyzed that for awhile – maybe I should be planting better with the left foot, maybe I should land more flat footed, maybe the Rogue Racers were too minimal – then the front men came charging towards me – How Cool Was That! They were still in a decent pack of 4 (Dakota, Mike, Dave, Hal) and not far back was DanO in about 7th place.
I heard a quick cadence coming up behind me, and finally looked back to see Pam metronoming her way up. “Pammy! Good job!” She caught up, took a few steps in front and said “I just wanted to be able to say I lead the race!” She was moving better than I, and although she thought I would catch her on the downhill, I wasn’t sure I could even catch myself. We saw Lewis, Elvis, Nathan, and a few others, and Pam slipped out ahead. I told her I would see her at the finish, but she still wasn’t banking on staying ahead. “Regardless, Pam, I WILL see you at the end.” She pulled out of sight, as I jolted my way down.
Thirty-three miles into the race at 5:05. Yikes, I wasn’t sure I’d break 10 hours, but I really wasn’t all that worried about time as much as not bonking or being reduced to a miserable-sack-a-woe from lack of training, so I paced myself back up the hill, being greeted by more and more and more runners. Finally seeing Scotty Mills, who stopped to give me a hug and some love, reminded me of Theresa’s epiphany at Boston (Why am I running this? Because it’s 26 miles of love!). For the next few miles it was a great celebration of the folks that make up our wacko reality, all supporting each other in our physical and mental misery, but finding such great solace in it all…..well, that’s what it does for me, anyway. And right after that, Tim flew down, whooping “Life is GOOD!” Exactly.
Mark finally caught back up to me, and we started working together again. I made it back to Bolinas in good shape, asked someone to help me with my gel flask, Diana fished around for an extra S!Cap for me (I went through 10 already!). I asked Mark to lead back along the Coastal Trail, and it was me who was struggling to keep up now. I focused on his feet, and stayed with him until we spotted a male runner ahead. We were both in new territory now, neither of us running more than 40 miles in well over a month, so it was great that he felt competitive enough to go after him. I kept an even effort, still running, just not tearing it up. We still ended up at Pan Toll 2 together, fueled up, and this time I lead the way out for awhile, but at the next downhill, he stretched it out and I tried to preserve my quads and feet. My hot spots never really got worse, so I had that to be grateful for.
A runner was coming towards me, and I assumed someone out for some training, but he says to me “can I pace you? I’m Kevin!” “Absolutely!” Tim had suggested him as a pacer but Kevin had hurt his back the day before and was unable to commit. Fortunately, he was in fine form now, and went to task immediately. He had run from the finish line all the way out, so he knew exactly which way the course was going, where every nook and cranny and nettle and pothole were. He said Pam was fading, but still a good 6 minutes or so ahead. I knew I could only go so hard, but we fell into a good rhythm in the now flat, shaded single track. We exchanged a little of life stories so we wouldn’t be complete strangers by the time we finished. I was happy that I could cruise as fast as I was.
We reached Muir Beach Aid Station, and as per my instruction, Kevin made sure I drank from the cups there, had my bottle filled and ate a gel. We scooted out and began the climb out. I remembered this section from the NorthFace 50, only it was more runnable this time. Mark was ahead about 200 meters, and as I turned back, I saw Krissy arriving at the aid station. I felt strong enough to keep a good effort going, but I wasn’t breaking any speed records. I ran when I could, hiked when it made more sense. Kevin was very encouraging and always a few steps ahead, pulling me along. I ran the downhill good and hiked decently, and finally we arrived in Tennessee Valley. Again, Kevin made sure I got what I needed and we ran out. Krissy wasn’t anywhere in sight, so I felt fairly comfortable. As we began running out the switchbacks, I looked one more time and saw a yellow jersey come in, and thinking it was Krissy, was glad that I had some spring left in my steps and stayed focused and strong. Kevin continued to describe each section, how much climbing before we crested, when I should be able to hammer. I pushed hard and flew when we got to the last downhill. I asked Kevin to look back and see if we were being chased. He said two guys were coming fast, one in a yellow jersey. “Are you sure it’s not Krissy?” He said it was most definitely a guy, and soon they blew by. Kevin blurted out “did you guys just start running?” Only later did I learn the yellow jersey was Jimmy Dean Freeman and his pacer, on a mission.
At the bottom, Kevin promised only one more hill and it “wasn’t too bad!” I made a turn to find Mark bent over fiddling with his shoe. He got up and joined us, as did another male runner. Kevin described what was ahead – “we’re going to cross the road here, and turn by the barn, then a short climb up to that road.” It all sounded so easy but the road he was speaking of looked as high as the Empire State Building. Mark was running next to me as well as the other guy, and I told Mark “stay with him” and they pulled ahead. Jimmy Dean and his pacer were just ahead, and Kevin insisted I run the whole hill. I didn’t walk, but it was a bit of a stretch to call it “running”.
Kevin was great at stretching the truth. If it were the beginning of the race, what he described would be believable. But I lose all sense of relativity and something that is close means 5 meters, not half a mile. But his pushing me really helped. We hit the paved road and he verbally whipped me into top speed. “Okay, just let ‘er rip! Let’s chase those guys down! Toss your bottle, I can come back and get it!” I tossed my bottle and my flask and started flying down the road. I passed a couple of men and kept the others in sight. I was straining my eyes for the finish, and finally saw Tropical John cheering me in. I rounded the corner to the finish, a hug from Tia, and a sense of relief and satisfaction. I was second to Pam by 5 and half minutes, 9:45 overall.
I am eternally grateful to the Fitzpatricks for hosting me and setting me up with Kevin, for Kevin pacing a complete stranger and doing a fabulous job and to all the wonderful volunteers on the course!