Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Western States 2007: done!

[See more pictures from the 3 pre-race days and race days in my Western States album, credit to the whole family and crew. ]

I spent so many weeks thinking about it, three days in Squaw getting into the excitement through the clinics, briefings and the raising of the flag, then so many hours running without stopping, it's hard to keep the report short. But if I had to summarize the experience in one word, it'd be: DONE! In two words? Well done! And now, in many more details...

Pre-race

After the training camp, I continued with my speed work sessions, twice a week for the next two weeks, planning on tapering seriously the last two weeks before the race. I finished my last 3 repeat miles session with a 5:22 mile, feeling good except an acute pain in my right quads. That was Thursday. Didn't run on Friday, then went for a 25-mile hilly and hot run on Saturday, from the house to top of Black Mountain, but the pain was such that I had to walk from mile 15 to 21 then call Agnès for a pick-up. My first DNF in ny running and training career... Needless to say, I was very concerned the quads wouldn't hold on race day with all the downhills on the course. Anyway, the following weekend, after a complete week off, I went for a slow 9-mile run on Saturday and 18 on Sunday and it was almost OK. And another week off except for the hike to Escarpment for the raising of the flag 2 days before the race.

We (the whole family) drove up to Squaw on Wednesday. Was hard to leave work for three days, but so great to get up to the mountains, really an Alpine scenery, reminding us of the French Alps we are missing but will visit again in July.

Great clinic from Mo Livermore on Wednesday afternoon, specifically for the newbies/rookies. Thursday's raising of the flag ceremony was very moving, and the hike impressed me so much, I understood why so many talked about not starting too fast on race day. Greg (my 3rd boy, 10) had some difficulty keeping up with the pace after the first mile but finally made it to the summit on time for a basic picnic and the flag raising. Felt good to see so many known faces upthere (Sophia, Brian, Whit, Roger, Steve, Simon, James, Caren, ...). We were among the last to leave, missing the clinics on blisters. Just as we were leaving, Christina and family were reaching the pass.
The Friday medical check went smoothly and quickly. Got 126lbs on the scale, which I felt was quite low dressed and with shoes. 126/72 blood pressure and 65 pulse, good to go! The briefing in the afternoon was informative, although I was still unclear about the rumor of no Dardanelles/Cal-1 station after Foresthill, and had to check with Tim afterwards. And its was again impressive to see so many champions lined up on this major event.

After the briefing I finally met with Karine (Herry), our champion from France, and her husband, Bruno, and sponsors (Green Magma). I even served as interpreter for her interview, although Karine could very well manage with her English. Met with Rob (Evans) my pacer after dinner, and went to bed around 9pm, hoping to sleep until 3am, but got up before 2am.

The race

It's hard indeed to find the right pace for such a long stretch, between all the excitement, the 2,300 elevation gain in the first 4 miles, the cool temperature at the start, the darkness, the different level of fitness between the elite runners and the rest of the pack. I ran/jogged/walked with the elite gals, catching up with Karine by mile 2. Reached the first aid station with Whit. Then left the station with Brian (Robinson), whom I was used to train with on Saturdays, before he and Sophia moved to Monterey. Brian reminded me to keep a conservative pace has we climbed the steep rocks to reach the Escarpment pass. At the pass, Rob, Kate, and Mark (Gulligan) were already up, cheering us up and taking pictures. Next meeting point with them: about 60 miles down the road...

Brian's strategy was to run the first 1/3 of the course (Robinson Flat) conservatively, yet on a 21-hr pace, then picking up the pace in the second third if feeling OK, and push in the last. I was happy to keep up with Brian as we were hiking the uphills, with my much shorter legs. Among many other amazing ultra achievements, Brian has finished the Triple Crown in 2001, hiking 7,371 miles in 300 days. I feel I had better listen to him and follow his footsteps. Unfortunately for him, he had some gastric/transit problems, which made him stopped several times. As I was spending more time in the stations than him, we stayed together until Robinson Flat (mile 31).

I didn't know the first third of the course, and was scared with what I heard about Duncan Canyon from last year. This year was very different though: a cool breeze as we were running into the desolation of the burnt forest, and not a single tree across the trail. Surely made it much easier than 2006.

From Robinson Flat, I knew the remaining 70 miles, from the training camp and also from having been the Last Chance aid station captain for the past 3 years (and again this year!). I was feeling good and so happy the right quad was holding. But it's only after Dusty Corner and telling Sophia Brian should not be far behind, that I really picked the pace up. First there is some runnable downhills in the shade, then this wonderful views of the canyon, and all the excitement of getting to "my" aid station, managed by my running Club, the Stevens Creek Striders, with a record 46 volunteers this year! Getting at Last Chance by 1pm was the only goal I had set for the first part of the course, I was pleased to reach the station by 1 and 3 minutes!

The thrill of going through Last Chance was as high as I expected it, yet everybody wanted me out as quickly as possible. Ate one of Tom (Kaisersatt)'s grilled cheese sandwich as I left the station. Enjoy Dick (Wedge)'s car wash. And the personal service of my ILOG colleague, Michael, in French. Ask a couple of questions about my weight management to Mark (Williams), an ultra expert (I don't want to say veteran), the first to have completed the crazy Barkeley 100-mile in the 90s. Waived at all my other buddies as they rushed me out, "down and up to hell" as Devil Thumb is next on our roadmap. (Photo courtesy of Jay Hansell.)
Robin and Rob from our club had analyzed my training run as I was wearing Robin's Garmin during the training camp. Rob was amazed at my 26' between Last Chance down to the bridge. Well, on Saturday, it took me 24' as I had only one runner to pass. However, this weekend, I didn't run any of the uphill and 35-37 switchbacks up to the thumb. Yet a good time of 59' from LC to DT, 11:23 pace, even including the 9' stop at LC.

I was not really hungry upthere, but enjoyed a few strawberries. And some soup again (I know, taking them together is not a great proof of sense of taste...). Mark (Godale) didn't feel good and asked for a chair to rest. Mark is amazing on flat courses, World Champion, 100km Masters in 2005, and 24-hr American record holder with 162.4 miles. I had met him during the training camp, and asked him what he found so tough at Western States as he had ran it 3 times now. His reply: "everything is tough!" Yikes. To my surprise, he picked two popsicles, the only station to offer this treat. I passed on.

Made my first and only "number 2" stop for the day at the port-a-potty right after exiting the station (sorry for the detail but one of my friends asked if we ever go to the bathroom during the race, so I mentioned some runners, and not only guys, manage to pee while running...). So I can enjoy one of my favorite parts of the trail, getting to Deadwood cemetery. I actually like the way down into Deadwood canyon, there are quite a few runnable sections as long as you avoid the scary poison oak (had a bad experience at Miwok). Flew by to try to make up for the hard climb to Michigan Bluff. 2/3 down the canyon I was stunned to see Mark Lantz walking. Mark had a major issue with his right eye, unable to run the rocky trail with only one eye. Mark had great hope "to kick my butt" on this race as we compete in the Pacific Association Ultra Grand Prix. Mark said he still had hope a change of contact lenses in Michigan Bluff would fix the issue.

So, here we are, passed the mathematical half, the 50-mile mark. I was expecting 3.5 miles from the Eldorado Creek aid station to Michigan Bluff, the volunteers were happy to tell me it was "only" 2.8 miles actually. And runnable as they said... Well, as I was catching up with Whit near the top, I told him I couldn't believe how long 3 miles could feel in this section. Walked most of it, as opposed to during the training camp, and was thrilled to see the family waiting and cheering at Michigan Bluff. Although my weight was OK, the Medical Captain noticed from the salt on my shorts that I had sweat a lot and asked that I take a cup of soup and pretzels. I told him I felt my stomach was shuting down, but he was satisfied I had no problem drinking the cup and eating. Like at most of the previous stations, the camera crew was taking close shots, not sure how nice this will get on screen, if ever. Alex and Greg accompanied me through the crowd, while Max was video taping. There were people everywhere on the road, almost not noticing runners passing by, was a bit confusing. After a few hundred yards, I was back onto the silent trail for the last canyon, Volcano, before the much awaited 100K mark of Foresthill where we could pick our pacer.

Going down Volcano is tricky because it's slippery (sandy rocks and dust). I couldn't stop thinking of the advantage local runners had over us by knowing all the switchbacks. Like Whit who had left RF ahead of me. Volcano Canyon has a very noce creek though, which I enjoyed to cool down. I caught up with Whit again just as we hit Bath Road. Roger (Dellor) told me Rob was waiting for me at the corner upthere, so I jogged most of the uphill and passed 3 or 4 runners.
I found Agnès and Rob just before Foresthill school and picked my headlight as planned. We then took off with Rob, and Rob urged me to go quick through the station. Was only the beginning of his great push to save minutes off my (too) long stops at the stations (that has always been my weakness, but I keep thinking that's overall not that crazy to take some time to make sure you don't leave the station missing something for the next 4 to 8 miles). Again, Whit left before us but stopped to his car before California Street (the street we take to go down to the river).

16 miles down to the river, you imagine it's easy. Indeed, there are some good downhill portions, but some uphills to break the rhythm, and then a long, long flat section along the river. I hit the wall during the training camp in this section by adding Foresthill to Rucky Chucky to the planned Robinson Flat to Foresthill 31-mile run. My first experience was not good although I had a much better one on the second day, meeting James on the course, then Simon and others at the river. That day I ran 2h20', today I was happy quite happy with 3 hours. On the way down after Foresthill, we were flying with Rob for a couple of miles before I experienced my first low of the day, the stomach really hurting for a mile. Rob suggested I tried to throw-up, but it didn't work, yet I got some air out of my stomach which really helped. I was enjoying the daylight in this section, as Tim T advised. At some point I hesitated removing my sun glasses and, sure enough, I was not seeing enough in the shade, so tripped and experienced my first tumble. Not too serious though as we were not going fast.

Was great to see Dardanelles (Cal-1) open after all. We were welcomed by cheering volonteers, and a huge gorilla. And cooled off with water sprays, pretty cool!

I got dehydrated (really thirsty) before reaching Peachstone (Cal-2), having used some of my water to cool off my head. Another great advice of Rob, which he had learnt from Brian while pacing him last year at Tahoe Rim Trail 100: don't try to save your water in this case. Open your bottle and drink all of it. That worked! I was relieved to get more fresh water at Peachstone, and very thankful to the two volunteers there. It's such a remote station to setup. And such a relief to find it just after the steepest climb in this section.

We left for more down hill and this long stretch along the river. Still enjoying the daylight with great views of the river which feels almost still at some points. I thought we would hit another station (Ford's Bar) but we reached Rucky Chucky much sooner than expected then. The family and Kate were waiting for us. Bruno (Karine's husband) was actually very surprised to see me, having closed much of the gap with Karine. He told me Karine was still 4th, and asked me to give her some encouragements if I catched up with her.

The river crossing is really a highlight of the run. Two aid stations, Rucky Chucky near and far sides, these volunteers staying in the cold water along the cable for hours. Big rocks on the bottom of the river and water up to the hip this year, that is not too deep. After crossing, Rob was pressing me to continue, but I really insisted to change socks and shoes. Had my second and last drop bag here, and I wouldn't leave the far side without using it. Felt much more confortable in dry shoes (Brooks Cascadia, leaving my Brooks Trance which did great on the first 78 miles) walking/jogging the 2-mile fire-road up to Green Gate.

Sophia and Roger was there again to cheer us up, coming from Dusty Corner, Sophia to pace Brian. Filled the bottles and got some food before heading up the single track to Auburn Lake Trails. Switching on our headlights, finally, for the last 20 miles ahead. Rob had a much brighter light than me, so went ahead. I usually prefer to set the pace, but Rob was perfect in indicating me the rocks and roots to avoid tripping. At this point, Rob asked for all the French keywords to set the allure. Plus vite, moins vite, arrête, attends, allez, ca va, oui, non, ... the french lesson was entertaining. Helped overcome the monotony of this section in the dark. And we kept a strong pace which, finally led us to pass Kami (F4) and Caren (Olsen, 34) who eventually finished 4th woman, an outstanding performance for her first 100-mile.
We share some interesting milestones with Caren. We both got the Dick Collins award at the Fire Trails 50 miles, last October, our first 50-mile. We both won the Ohlone 50K last May, her setting a new course record, me missing it by 100 seconds. And that was the first 100-miler for both of us. We'll keep hearing from her and seeing her on podiums for sure!

The way to Brown's bar seemed long, unable to remember it in the dark from my previous two training runs. Thankfully my new Garmin 305 kept adding the 1/10ths of mile, showing our progress. I triped and felt down a second time, but no damage. Between ALT and BB, I mentioned to Rob that we "just" had one half-marathon to go, seemed to me quite an attainable and encouraging milestone then. Brown's bar aid station is amazing. You can hear the loud music from almost a mile away, and smell the pizzas from half a mile. And the Christmas lights and decorations seemed so irreal in the context. Gave a taste of getting back to the civilization. Not for too long though as the trail, out of the station, is steep down, rocky and slippery. Was the turn for Rob for an acrobatic tripping, well recovered.
After Brown's Bar, on the fire road along the river, I put my second layer on, the one I grabbed at Rucky Chucky. Greg (Soderlund, Race Director) had warned us on Friday that temperatures could cool off quite a lot especially this year, and especially in the ALT area where he spoke about temperature in the 40s. The two training runs I did on this section, we took the fire road along the river up to Highway 49. But this time, we had to use a rocky and steep trail on the side, not so easy in the dark. On the way we passed Simon who seemed to have some trouble. At the award ceremony he told me his Achilles tendon bothered him and he was not having a good day, despite his great hope to benefit from the great weather to do a good time this year (his 6th or 7th Western States).

Got welcomed to the Hwy49 station by someone (I thought to be Jasper Halekas, hallucination...) who told us that we were on a 20h+ pace. I couldn't believe Rob when he talked about 21 hours at Foresthill. I was just blewing up the stats with a strong finish and it was feeling good. I didn't know the next 3.5 miles going to No Hands Bridge as the trail was under restoration back in February and I had missed it at the Memorial Day weekend training camp. The way up to the meadow was OK, we jogged it and it was fun to see the Christmas decorations upthere which, like Brown's Bar, seemed so irreal and out of context. But the next 2 miles seemed like eternity. My quads were still ok, but I wasn't seeing the rocks well and it was very dusty so I had to put back my scarf to avoid breathing the dust of Rob's foot steps.


We finally reached No Hands Bridge (see the above picture, courtesy of Gary Gade, aid station captain, where you can see how I felt about the just ending section...). The bridge was all lighted up, quite another thrill. Rob made sure I didn't miss the huge screen displaying a movie on... WS runners. I just could see a few images and we were off for the last uphill to Robbie Point. We couldn't see any light following us but, in the last switch backs before the road, heard some voices. I thought it was Simon, but it must have been Jonathan (Olsen, F7) who reached the stadium just after me.

We passed another runner as we ran the last uphills on the road, and it was so comforting to see Agnès at Robbie Point who ran the last mile with us, through a desert and quiet Auburn. I like road running so we kept a good pace and seemed like a final sprint when we hit the track, a surface I enjoy very much too. The announcer made a nice intro, even pronouncing Jean the right (i.e. French) way, and mentioning my 2005 Boston podium. In the last turn, Bruno handed me the French flag Agnès brought from home, and that Karine had used 12' before me for her 3rd place finish. 20 hours, 24 minutes and 47 seconds, yeah!! A last thrill from getting the medal from Tim (Twietmeyer), hugging and thanking Rob for such a great pacing, and seeing Agnès, Max and Alex in the finish line area. I had no idea at all about any ranking for me throughout the course, so I was suprised I had made it into the top 20 (18th overall, 15th male, 4th in my age group). For more stats and timing about my run you can look at the great WSER webcast.

The medical check out was much lighter than I expected (weight and blood pressure). Went for a finish line picture, then a massage which was great except that I got a stupid cold as they made me walk barefoot in the humid grass and rinsed my legs with cold water. Was frustrating after feeling so great and not having any cramp for the whole way. Agnès drove the boys back to the hotel in the meantime, then picked me up. Went to bed at 3:30 after a hot bath and slept until 8:30 when Agnès told me Peggy (from our Club) was scheduled to arrive at 9:15, so it was just time to go again.

After cheering Peggy for her last 0.2 mile (28:40 finish), I had to take care of some aid station-related business, and hanged up for several hours before the award ceremony. Had brunch with Agnès, Sophia, Brian, Whit, then chatted with Graham, Andy (both very satisfid with their races, and for good reasons!), Mark (Godale) who had to take a nap at Rucky Chucky and finished in 25 hrs, a few of the Aussies, and Cowman (bib 00) who dropped at Michigan Bluff but has really nothing to prove.

Inspirational to see Gordy finishing his 24th WS in 29:30, all smiling. Then the oldest finisher (70 years), 2.5 minutes before the 30-hr cut-off. And moving to see the first of the three runners finishing just over 30 hours (finisher medal but no buckle). When 1 minute and 2 seconds make a big deal even after 30 hours and 100.2 miles...

The award ceremony sarted at 12:30 and recognized three member of my running club as Friends of the Western States Trail:
  • Jerry Hill who has been the Last Chance captain for many years in the 80s and 90s, and still volunteers at many places every year

  • Bob and Marsha who have taken over for almost a decade, co-captaining with me these last 4 years
And recognized all the finishers starting with the top 10 males and females, and then going through the long distribution of the silver and bronze buckles.

Sophia and Brian:Overall I couldn't dream of a better day. I've ran just over 100 races so far, yet never done a negative split like this weekend. Something which really surprised me is that I didn't get any cramp. Probably because of the obligation to maintain weight and electrolyte in balance along the race. And I'd like to conclude by sharing my amazement at Gordy (Ainslegh), who not only ran this course 34 years ago, under 24 hours and without any assistance, but has run WS 24 times over 34 years, and again finished under 30 hours this year (29:30) at the age of 60. I'm even more impressed now that I know the entire course and ran it in one day. That's "pure endurance," Gordy!
Will be back for more "farther and faster" experiences!

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jean,

Huge congratulations on a great first 100. That wasn't me at Hwy 49, though - I was pacing Kim Holak and we were an hour or so behind you.

-Jasper

Peter Lubbers said...

Congratulations with your great accomplishment, Jean! Great report, too.

Mark Tanaka said...

Great job and account, and way to move up the 2nd half!

willgotthardt said...

Awesome Jean, both race & report!

I followed along all day via the webcast, exciting to see you make your way to that top-20 finish...incredible!

Cheers, Will G.

Anonymous said...

Well done! And Congratulations!
I was waiting for the blog all week! It gave me the chills reading your experience and I know it wasn't the AC at the office. It definitely inspired me to run farther and faster. I'm glad your quads were okay and you had no cramps afterwards (that's amazing, too!) Hope to see you at some local runs!

Toshi H.

Greg Pressler said...

Bon Courage, Jean!

Thanks for the great report. Since we have bib #99 in common (my bib # for the upcoming Badwater Ultra), I hope to draw strength from your outstanding performance at WS.

Way to go!

http://gregpressler.blogspot.com

kelly said...

Jean, Congrats on a great race!! It's so perfect when things go so well. Western States is just plain "magical". Rest up and stay healthy!!

Addy said...

Wow...congratulations!!!! Sounds like you ran just about a perfect race :) The pictures were lots of fun as well. I hope to some day eventually run this race, and your pictures and report make it even more appealing than ever!

Greg said...

Jean:

Incroyable ! I really enjoyed reading your race report - it is fun to imagine what the race must be like from your perspective.

S.Lang said...

Jean, your race report has given me further inspiration to run the WS100! Great race!

Leo D Alapont said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Leo D Alapont said...

Dear Jean,

I am both inspired and impressed. What you have accomplished is beyond belief.

By and by you have been building up to this great race. And it is a race like none other. It is one to behold.

Your dedication and preparation have shown in the results. And you keep getting stronger as you get older -- which is hard to believe -- but it is true in your case.

One day we shall run together again dear friend.

Nice work here. Thanks for the posting.

Leo