Report and Photos by Linda Wack
5:30am…….chilly, a bit windy, a buzz of excitement in the air. Rodeo Lagoon beach is a novel ultra start for the East Coast residents: Vicki, Farouk, Jim and moi. Vicki has already endeared herself to the registration folks by asking why we can’t have our goody bags at the start. They smile politely and another runner tells her that this is our incentive to finish. We line up on the beach just as the sky begins to lighten. We’ve had perfect sunny weather our two days here, and this promises to be another great day. Suddenly people break into a run, and the race is underway.
A lovely sunrise is peaking over the Golden Gate Bridge. We’re heading up the first big climb, and everyone is chatting away. I learn from a veteran about the hills at the end. The crest of the hill arrives and we’re off and running, still on the early miles of road. We turn to where the trail is to begin and I ask, “what is this brown stuff that looks like dirt?” “It’s the trail.” “But….but…where are the rocks and the roots?” Sheesh, these Californians are so spoiled. In the interests of fairness, I believe it is time to initiate rock migration season from the MMT trail. Westward Ho!
The views are spectacular. I didn’t think I’d find anything that topped Bighorn or the Ray Miller trail, but Miwok is at least an equal. Green rolling hills, high above the Pacific Ocean. Wildflowers all around (purple Lupines and yellow California Poppies, Gary). Heading into the Muir Beach aid station at 16 miles, I confide the plan I’ve hatched to the runner next to me. I’m going to move into one of those houses we see overlooking the quiet lagoon. After I win the lottery.
We leave the coastline and turn into Muir Woods. Huge, fabulous redwood trees, and the air is noticeably cooler. A three-mile haul to the top, but the trees are mesmerizing. After Pan Toll I see my favorite signs of the day, warning us about mountain lions and rattlesnakes. I’ve stopped so many times to take photos that I’m starting to doubt that I’ll finish before dark if I keep this up. But it’s an out-and-back course, and no doubt my 7 oz camera will be way too heavy to lift on the way back.
Which brings me to the next great thing about this race. You get to see runners on their way back. I see the frontrunners in the next section. Hmmm, let’s see, I’m at about 25 miles, and they are only…..20 miles ahead of me! This is a letdown, as I start to realize that I may not win this race after all. Nearly everyone has a friendly word of encouragement, and most of them look like they are enjoying the day on the trail.
At 30 miles I’m feeling remarkably good, and I put the camera away and pick up the pace a bit and start passing people. I see Farouk up ahead and pull alongside for a bit. His legs were feeling dead, so I continued on alone. It is here that Farouk learns one of those hard ultra lessons: just because you can see Linda running up ahead, it does not mean she is on the right trail. Sigh. It takes more than a half-mile before I notice that there are no returning runners. I keep running, looking for ribbons. I stop, and confer with Farouk at an unmarked intersection. Uh-oh. We turn around. Another bonus mile later I see the turn I missed.
We head downhill to the turnaround aid station, at 35 miles. Steep descent, and everyone is walking up the other side. This is a good time to mention all the people who ask me if I know Chris Scott or Gary Knipling, as I am wearing my blue train shirt. Kinda scary, isn’t it, what sort of expectations people might have of VHTRC members when they only know Chris and Gary. And I hate to damage your reputations, but the only people who asked about you were guys…y’all are slipping…
It is a lovely trip back through the redwoods and the wildflowers and the coastline. I feel good enough to keep up a steady pace and no one passes me in the second half. My quads send out Mayday signals on the steep 3mile descent, but I silence them with a couple of advils and a stern warning that we aren’t slowing down until the finish line. Near the end I keep thinking that I am close to the last long descent, and each time I’d round a turn and see tiny creatures high up on a ridge. Argh! I have to go up THERE? AGAIN?
Finally, the last descent is for real, and it is a beauty with the Pacific in the background. Vicki has finished already, and the other VHTRC’ers arrive before it gets too cold.
I highly recommend this race. I had a blast seeing all the natural beauty and talking to people out on the trail. Learned a lot about other ultras out west too! Must buy that lottery ticket.