The Miwok 100K is a longstanding ultrarunning classic for good reason. It draws a big field (450 entrants) and it’s competitive (past winners include Scott Jurek, Nikki Kimball, Hal Koerner, Anton Kupicka, Dave Mackey, Kami Semick, and Ann Trason). It’s also challenging with 12,000 feet of elevation change packed into its 61 miles and unpredictable weather. You can find yourself in dense fog and high winds that threaten to rip the race number off your shirt, or in a pouring rain, or you can bake under a hot afternoon sun. Some years you get all of the above.
In any weather, the course is drop dead gorgeous, encompassing a vast swatch of the luscious Marin Headlands of Muir Woods, Mount Tamalpais, Tennessee Valley, and Dipsea Trail fame. Rugged single-track will hang you out over the Pacific Ocean at one moment and then sweep you through a stand of towering redwoods the next. You’ll peer down into Sausalito Harbor through a grove of giant eucalyptus trees and then crest a ridge and find San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge spread out below your feet. You’ll navigate giant flower-filled meadows, cruise past the historic Pelican Inn in Muir Beach and then rock down the giant stone steps of the Dipsea Trail, where runners have been cursing their aching quads since 1905 in the oldest cross-country running event in the country, the Dipsea Race.
The race is named for the Miwok people whose inhabitation of the area can be traced back for at least 4,000 years. Just imagine the many generations of Miwok that would have traveled perhaps on the same trails you will be running during the race. Francis Drake encountered the Miwok in 1579. His ship’s chaplain recorded that they possessed a “free and loving nature” and that “they are exceeding swift in running, and of long continuance, the use whereof is so familiar with them, that they seldom go, but for the most part run.” How ironic? The Miwok were ultrarunners and now we tread in their footsteps.
During the race you’ll visit Tennessee Valley where you’ll find an aid station next to a large active horse ranch. Why “Tennessee”? Most old names reflect the Spanish colonial and Mexican periods of California’s history. Is the horse ranch somehow responsible? Were there ranchers from Tennessee who saw the hills of their home state in the big valley? Actually, the name of the valley and nearby Tennessee Cove comes from the shipwreck of a passenger steamship that mistook the cove for San Francisco Bay one night in 1853 in a dense fog. All 550 passengers managed to scramble safely ashore along with 14 chests of gold. At very low tide it’s still possible to see what remains of the engine of the S.S. Tennessee.
Miwok is a classic, too, for its standard-setting race organization. You can expect well-stocked aid stations with plenty of volunteers, superior course markings, three chances at your drop bags, an excellent barbeque at the finish, generous swag bags full of stuff sporting the funky Miwok logo, and a website with everything you need to know to have a successful race. Not surprisingly, Miwok is very popular. Entry is through a lottery held in December, so if you’re not running this year, mark your calendar to enter the lottery next December or “watch” the race on Ultrasignup.com so you’ll be notified about deadlines.
The Marin Headlands are just north of San Francisco on the California coast. The Pacific Ocean stretches to the west and the northern part of San Francisco Bay is to the east. You fly into San Francisco International Airport, drive up through the city, and reach Marin County by crossing over the sleek and elegant Golden Gate Bridge. Don’t forget the RD’s advice to take the Panoramic Highway across the peninsula to Stinson Beach on race morning rather than go Highway 1 the whole way.
Where To Stay
Accommodations in Stinson Beach itself are quaint, but booking them at a late date will be a problem. In Marin County, try the nearby towns of Mill Valley, Sausalito, Corte Madera, San Rafael and Larkspur. All are within about 30 minutes of the start and are full of delightful shops and restaurants. But if this is your first trip in the Bay area, don’t miss the chance to extend your stay and spend time in wonderful San Francisco. A day spent running in the Headlands followed by a day taking in the streets of San Francisco will give you some of the best experiences California has to offer. Look into booking a room in one of the city’s older hotels or try a Bed and Breakfast. Leave about an hour to get to the race parking from anywhere in the city; after driving on the windy roads in the dark, you’ll still need to park and walk to the start at community center.
Where to begin? In San Francisco, visit Chinatown, ride the cable cars, shop in Union Square, walk out onto the Golden Gate Bridge, loop down Lombard Street, stroll up and down Market Street and the Embarcadero, ferry boat out to Alcatraz, hit the museums in Golden Gate Park, and eat anywhere and everywhere. Buy a guide to historic San Francisco to get the full story of the Mint, the Haight-Ashbury district, Telegraph Hill, Coit Tower, and on and on. In Marin County, Angel Island is worth seeing by taking a ferry boat ride over from Tiburon, and Frank Lloyd Wright fans will enjoy the Marin Civic Center.
No self-respecting ultrarunner should call it quits until he or she has taken home a pewter medallion from the Miwok 100K Trail Race. This Northern California classic charms and challenges. Catch the spirit of the ancient Miwoks, the spirit of the grateful shipwreck survivors, the spirit of the early Dipsea runners, and the spirit of the many great ultrarunners who have run the trails of the Marin Headlands.