With that, let me switch to the topic of this post, the Tamalpa 50K race which also served as the US National Trail 50K Championships this year. The Tamalpa Club had aleady hosted this championship for their even and I still remember how intimidated I was to particiapte to my first Nationals back in 2007, when the event was directed by Greg Nacco. If you follow this blog, you know these Nationals get more or less competitive depending on who shows up. So they are not like the Olympics where all the very best elites meet from around the globe. Some championships attract more rising stars though and it was the case this weekend according to UltraSignup's statistics and time predictions: for once at a local race, I was in 25th position, uh! So, while we were looking forward to seeing who was going to grab the title, the first big surprise of the day was that it was raining! In August, and in California, while, in contrast, the Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc had perfect conditions in the Alps, at last!
Agnès had asked me on Friday evening if I had checked the weather forecast and I replied I never do as I don't believe they can really predict much with all the micro climates around the Bay. But, now, I wished I had because I would have probably picked my Brooks PureGrit instead of my super comfy Launch. Anyway, too late to drive back home, comfort of road shoes will have to do over grip of trail shoes.
Scott Dunlap and Mark Richtman that this looked more like the start of a cross-country race, if not 5K, 10K at most!
The back of the pack had barely passed the start line when the front runners had almost reached the end of the meadow as you can see on the second picture below:
On the first steep climb out of Muir Beach on Coastal Trail, I decided to not push too hard with all the other climbs ahead, get into my rhythm (Hal Koerner's diesel mode) and not look behind to avoid the pressure. Even with these precautions I caught up with a few runners ahead before the top, including 2 gals. I pushed the pace down to Pirate Coves, hoping to distance Mark. Running in the cloud, the visibility was very limited, maybe 2 or 300 hundred yards, so you couldn't see who was ahead or behind anyway. You could hear the Pacific roaring at the bottom of the cliff, but barely see it. Several times during the race I felt sorry about the folks coming from out of town as they missed the amazing views we usually experience on this course (Pacific Coast, Golden Gate, San Francisco, Rodeo, Stinson and Muir Beaches, Tennessee Valley, ...). Coastal Trail without the Ocean views in particular isn't as spectacular as it usually is.
On our way up to Wolf Ridge, I got passed by Ed Randolph, M45-49, and I was glad that I had moved to the upper age bracket because he looked very strong (he is 45). We ran close together for the next few miles, me being faster in the technical downhills, him faster in the uphills. I didn't stop at the Rodeo Beach aid station (mile 8) and was blown away to see Mark just behind me as we were now climbing up Miwok trail. I thought "wow, with all the coming climbing, that's going to be a tough battle, it's going to come down to, first, who doesn't walk on Cardiac, then who doesn't walk on the last killer climb, Steep Ravine!" Yet, I thought it was way too early to push more in the uphills. I did hammer down on the way down to the Tennessee Valley aid station though, where I had the surprise to see Agnès. I didn't stop there either, and was pleased to not see Mark behind anymore, at least not close behind...
From the time stamp of Agnès' pictures at Tennessee Valley, Mark was still just a minute behind me, still working on his prey... ;-)
After this climb I really enjoyed getting back to some speed on the way down to Hwy 1, on this smooth fire road section of the Miwok Trail. I looked back and couldn't see anyone behind but, again, the visibility was still barely a few hundreds yards. I enjoyed even more the last section of Miwok, a narrow and winding single track going down to Muir Woods Road. Before every race Agnès reminds me that the main goal of running is to enjoy it, so I thought of her (otherwise, most of the time, I'm more focused on pushing hard... ;-). We were at mile 17 and I was really feeling good but knew there was much ahead, starting with Cardiac, right at that stage, a 2.5-mile climb up to the Cardiac aid station. At least my mental was high and I was therefore resolute to not walk a step up that hill.
Apart for a few hikers, there was nobody to be seen in the fog all along, no distraction, just the focus on keeping moving forward on this runnable grade. Yet, in the last few yards before the aid station, there are high steps formed by roots, and I had to walk but managed to passed another runner who had stopped to take care of some bad cramping, then I caught up with Lon Freeman. When I first got into ultra racing, Lon was at the top of the game, having won for instance Miwok 100K in 2007, Skyline 50K in 2004, or, more recently, our Club QuickSilver 50-mile in 2012 as well as last year's Ohlone. So, it was intimidating to catch-up with him, especially as, very kindly, he told me that there were now only two Masters ahead of us. I didn't feel we were that fast compared to last year, and I was definitely not trying to win the Masters division in this competitive field, so it was great boost to know. Here we are, going through the Pantoll parking lot.
Miwok 100K a few months ago except that the weather was so different. Despite paying extra attention in this section made even more treacherous and slippery with the wet conditions, I was moving quite fast, so much that I caught up with Emily Harisson. Emily is so fast on runnable terrain but she looked scared in these switchbacks and that was going to cost her the National title, I felt sorry for her.
In the first stairs up the famous Dipsea Trail I could feel a cramp nagging in my inner left hamstring so rushed to take 2 S!Caps and my 3rd Gu. As much as I wanted to slow down and walk in this climb, seeing one of the runners I had passed on Matt Davis following me kept me moving. I saw 2013 record holder Alex Varner again running with friends, just before the bridge where we leave the Dipsea Trail to continue on Steep Ravine.
Ah, Steep Ravine... What else do you expect from such a name other than a killer last climb at mile 26...? I have always struggled on this one and can't even imagine or comprehend how the top guys must go through this section still maintaining sub 7 min/mile pace! As a matter of fact, I was in this section while the first runners must have finished already, yikes! I admit I walked part of it then. I was particularly impressed this year with the crowd on the trail, I had never seen so many hikers especially on such a technical segment. The passage of the ladder was quite an attraction when I got there with a group of 20 or so kids trying to go down! Fortunately it's large enough that I could still manage to pass on the side without losing much time. I kept jogging everything else my legs and lungs would allow me to and, with that tough mental, passed a few more runners before seeing Agnès at the top, at Pantoll, enjoying a brief rift in the fog before plunging back into it 1/2 mile later.
Here are 8 of the top 9 runners, from right to left: Paddy O'Leary (9th), Chris Vizcaino (8th), Benjamin Stern (7th), Daniel Metzger (6th), Jared Bessett (5th), Mario Mendoza (4th), David Roche (3rd) and Andy.
Caitlin won the Women race and title, finishing 45 seconds behind me, so I ended up not being chicked again, phew!
Co-race director and great XC and ultra runner herself, Diana Fitzpatrick was prompt to hand me my age group award, a superb Mountain HardWear jacket, a SFRC gift certificate and a few healthy food goodies. As for the USATF awards, it took more time while we were waiting for the various age categories to fill in (3 deep)...
Mark Richtman finished in 4:47:34, slashing the previous M60-69 course record by 20 minutes! He had trained hard, aiming at 4:30, but he got some cramping issues as well as some dehydration due to his water bottle breaking just after Stinson Beach. Without knowing how far behind he was all day, I owe him big time for keeping running hard in Steep Ravine in particular!
Firetrail on-site made pizzas were an absolute post-race delight and drinks were in abundance (yes, including beer, for those who run for that! ;-).
the value of Vespa: I was able to run a strong race just on 3 Gu gels, 2 cups of Coke and mini pieces of banana at mile 19, and 2 bottles of GU2O, or about 500 of calorie intake while Garmin estimates the overall effort at 3,500 calories, or 4,000 calories on Strava (I even doubt this fully takes into account the cumulative elevation but in any case, the Vespa Math still work and shows the energy had to come from some fat, eh eh).
We had 7 entrants from our team today and all finished, albeit in different times ranging from Rickey Russell's 4:27 to Kat Powell's 8:11. This allows to score a few points in the Men and Mixed divisions of our Grand Prix (although Excelsior and Tamalpa will likely be ahead of us for this race). Here we are, Keith, Marc, Jim and I, still fresh and dry, before the start:
On the way back we stopped by the San Francisco Running Company to materialize the two gift cards I receive from them, one from winning my age group at Tamalpa, the other at Miwok if I recall. I had seen a few of their employees training on the course in the morning, it was cool to see elite Jorge Marvilla again, in what must be his working attire! ;-) Thank you SFRC for your generosity and support of our local ultra races and community!
register on UltraSignup or visit the Stevens Creek Striders' Club website. And thanks in advance for spreading the word out!
Run Happy on the road or in the woods!