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I had battled sore legs and cramping calves for 61 miles and nearly 12,000 feet of vertical gain to make it here: the last stretch of the Miwok 100K.
The steep, forested trail down to Stinson Beach grew dim as the sun set over the Pacific. Dark shadows emerged, covering loose leaves and scattered rocks, while several knobby tree roots protruded from the trail, as if baiting a fall.
I sprinted through increasing darkness, unapologetically passing other runners.
But when I pulled out my phone to check the time, my stomach sank. Fifteen minutes until the final cutoff. And I was … a mile away? Maybe more?
I might not make it …
My mind flashed back to last year’s race.
Cappuccino-colored mud puddles had filled the trails. I’d been drenched, covered in trail slop.
It was my first attempt at the Miwok 100K, and finishing meant trimming my only 100K finish time by over an hour to slip in under the 15:30 cutoff. All day I’d been skeptical of my ability to beat cutoffs. But after leaving the final aid station, I knew I had it.
Unworried, I caboosed myself to a trio of women on a steady pace. When they began trotting more cautiously down the slick-and-saturated final stretch, however, I glanced at my phone.
How did this happen?!
The cautious trotter at the end asked if I wanted to weave around them.
I sprinted freely for a few switchbacks, then hit another clog: five men and their pacers plodding steadily down the singletrack, fused together like a trail-running centipede.
“Excuse me.” I forced niceties.
“There isn’t much place to go,” a gruff voice called out from the arthropod’s midsection.
My compassion ran out with the drops of rain and sweat.
The first few men grunted as I trampled foliage to overtake them. The last guy snorted. I didn’t care. Finish.
I had to make sure my months of training paid off.
I had to make sure the last 15 hours weren’t wasted.
I had to—goddamn it. I really had to pee.
People cheered as I sprinted in, soaked by more than rain.
“Did I make it?!” I asked a woman holding a clipboard.
“Fifteen thirty-two,” she said calmly.
You don’t understand! I wanted to scream. I PEED on myself to get here!
“You’ll just have to come back next year,” she added, smiling.
Ha! I thought. That’s the last thing I’m going to do!
Yet when I found out I made it into the 2017 race, I was in, and determined to overcome the mistakes of 2016.
And I did, in the sense that I emptied my bladder several times before the final stretch.
But as I (again) sprinted through shadows, roots and leaves, I felt a familiar stab of fear. The shadows spit me out on a paved road about 200 yards from the finish, and I channeled every ounce of bolting ability I could muster.
Nearly tackling spectators on the other side of the finish line, I whipped my head around to the cluster of race officials behind me.
“Did I make it?!”
A petite woman with brown hair looked at me, doe eyed.
“One minute over.”
“That’s what you said last year!” I barked. Then I felt bad and walked away.
I could have kept track of time, paced myself … trained. It took until the next morning to decide to move on.
There will be another race, I told myself. Even another Miwok.
Later that day, I opened my email and gasped:
CONGRATULATIONS … all 2017 Miwok 100K finish times under 8:30:59 are now considered official finishers.
Race officials had reviewed the time it took runners to cross the start line and included a 59-second buffer, which added six official finishers—myself included.
Sixty-two miles and an entire day out, and it all came down to seconds. Seconds! The finish was finally mine.
It wasn’t until months later that I found out my official time: 15:31:02. Three seconds over?!
I wrote the race director. She replied swiftly that I was, in fact, an official finisher. (Phew.)
But my finish had become confused, lost its shine. Surely I could finish 100K without those piddling three seconds …
There’s only one way to find out.
Claire Walla writes and runs in Los Angeles.