Thursday, May 09, 2019

Riches to rags to Randall: a Miwok 100k race report

"No horses? Perhaps you could
spare some S!Caps, then??"
“A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!”

~ King Richard III, Act V, Scene IV, Richard III.
"Chew the S!Caps."

~ Chuck Wilson, Randall Aid Station Captain, Miwok 100k
Advice about ingesting sodium/potassium capsules lacks dramatic heft.

In the context of a 100k trail race, tho, those three words were the difference between an inglorious DNF and an unlikely finish to a long day in the Marin Headlands.

In three acts, (or to recap, as it were) here's how my day went:

"I'm gonna PR!"

"I'm gonna DNF!"
Tsk. This guy.
He has no idea
what he's in for.

"I'm gonna finish!"


The actual running of Miwok 2019 seemed easier than in 2017 (which I described as "one of my best running days ever"). The weather was cooler, I knew the course, and (I thought) I had a fair idea how the day would unfurl.

Ha ha ha, nope.

The theory did hold for a little while. After the annual slow, conga-line climb up the Dipsea Trail, everything felt quicker. I spent less time taking photos, less time in the aid stations, and less time in between. After the first 50k, I was on pace to sneak in under 14 hours, which would've been about a 40-minute PR.

That's IF the stomach issues hadn’t happened.


Not for the first time, my stomach situation started to go sideways at about 55k. This despite the fact that I conscientiously ate before I got hungry, drank before I was thirsty, and swallowed an S!Cap every hour, just for laughs and redundancy.

"All the world's a stage, and all
the men and women merely players."
As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII
Noticing the first hints of GI trouble the second time through the Muir Beach aid station (mile 30), I started eating saltines, because someone at some point may have told me saltines magically settle upset stomachs.

I don't know who it was, but I'll get them, someday.

And though I was still moving well and passing lots of people on the climbs, my stomach was deteriorating rapidly. Now fully in a dither, I rolled into Cardiac (mile 35) like, "I'll have all the saltines, please." Because sometimes to make the magic work you have to say "abracadabra" more than once.

Seven miles later, at the Bolinas aid station, I realized saltines are something your mom gives you when you're a kid, and the magic is that they came from your mom.

My mom was definitely not at the Bolinas aid station. I checked.


Over the 6.7 miles between Bolinas and Randall, my body was in full rebellion. The stomach pain was relentless, I couldn't take on any fluids or calories, and my joints felt like grinding gears. It got so bad I couldn't even run the 1.6 mile descent into Randall.

My PR was out the window, of course, and any finish at all seemed doubtful. I took my drop bag from a kind volunteer, plopped myself into a camp chair, and for the next 45 minutes I waited for a necromancer. Or a coroner, I really didn't care which.

Instead, I got Chuck Wilson, aid station captain extraordinaire, and the ultramarathon advice of a lifetime:

"Chew the S!Caps."

"Swallowing them whole does no good when your stomach is shut down," he said. "Chewing them gets them into your system and immediately sends signals to your extremities. Your stomach will feel better, you’ll feel your joints loosen up again, and you should be good to go."*

Chewing up an S!Cap, which is basically a mouthful of salt, sounded as awful as I felt. And honestly, I doubted the whole proposition. But, as has been demonstrated countless times throughout human history, desperation makes people do desperate things: I chewed the S!Caps.

In the most ridiculously unlikely turn of events...this magic was real. Within five minutes everything Chuck said would happen, happened. I got up and slowly walked around the aid station a few times and felt better still.
"Glenn! Got any S!Caps??"
(Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.)

I sat back down, changed my socks and shoes, then got up and looked for Chuck so I could thank him. He was nowhere in sight. Still, I'm pretty sure he was real, too.

After about 5 miles (and a lot of climbing) I was flagging a bit...SO I CHEWED UP ANOTHER S!CAP! And almost puked. Within a couple minutes, though, I felt better!

The more time that passed and the farther I ran, the better I felt. Defying all logic, my time over the last 6 miles was nearly identical to 2017. 

And the last, most technical descent of the course before the finish? I PR'd it.

Best of all, I finished feeling human, rather than like a zombie.
A few days later, I’m still trying to understand why my day went so upside-down. Aside from the fact that anything can happen to anyone, any time, that is.

"I'll not budge an inch."
Taming of the Shrew,
Introduction, Scene I.
I did everything I knew to do to keep myself right-side up during a long event, and it made *zero* difference. And the thing that saved the day was a hail Mary I had no reason or right to expect.

I sit here shaking my head, realizing (yet again) that any finish, any day, is a gift.

And grateful that there's still a little magic left in this world.
(* Not an exact quote, but as near as I can recall from my debilitated state.)
Miwok 100k


222/254 (overall)

31/40 (M 50-59)

Hoka Speedgoat 3 (mile 0-49)

Altra Timp 1.5 (mile 49-62)

Song(s) stuck in my head the entire time: 

"Heart and Soul" ~ Hoagy Carmichael/Frank Loesser
"That's Amore" ~ Harry Warren/Jack Brooks
"Material Girl" ~ Peter Brown/ Robert Rans

Western States Qualifier: snagged.