Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Mount Diablo 50K: which race strategy?

The idea came from ultraholic Rajeev during a run at Rancho where I complained about the lack of heat in the Bay Area to get acclimatized before Western States. I was not planning to race between Ohlone and Western States but Rajeev rightly suggested this PCTR (Pacific Coast Trail Runs) race on Mont Diablo. I had run to the top of Mount Diablo in 2001, on the road from the North entrance, and that was all I knew about the area, that is very little.

The day started very early with a carpool with Scott (Dunlap), a nice occasion to catch-up with him since last year's Helen Klein. We checked in around 7am and Jasper was already ready to go. With the start scheduled for 8:30, that gave plenty of time to discuss the running season and seeing many familiar faces coming in. I had even the good surprise of seeing again Team Tufunga, Rachel and Simi, who I met in January in Costa Rica for the Coastal Challenge. Here they are at the Coastal Challenge with Tica, the dog who followed us throughout Costa Rica and whom they adopted.
Unlike the first days of the Coastal Challenge, today was going to be dry and hot, and a Ranger made sure to remind all the runners that smoking was forbidden!
The briefing from race director Wendell was quite simple. Stay hydrated, follow the pink ribbons and if you don't want to get lost, stay behind Jasper (Halekas). Jasper lives in Oakland, works at Berkeley and these hills are his favorite terrain, almost his backyard. He set the course record of the Diablo 50-mile two years ago, and the record for the Diablo Marathon this year. Jasper also won TRT, the Tahoe Rim Trail 100-mile, last year, making him the US 100-mile 2007 champion. Needless to say, it seemed a good race strategy staying behind him indeed. Below, Jasper (grey top) and Scott (black cap), with me already hydrating:
Another noticeable runner was Graham (Cooper) of course. Last year, Graham had used this run as a pure heat training exercise, biking 40 miles to the start, wearing a hat and black layers, then biking back home. This year was different with Graham only earing his usual Olympic Club white singlet. I had the feeling Andy (Jones-Wilkins)'s course record of 2005 (5:10:15) was going to fall and I wanted to be part of it.

With a combined 25-50K start the pace was quickly set to high gear despite the first steep hills. Andy (Holak) took the lead in the canyon, followed by Jasper, I and Graham, all on a pace which seemed a bit unreasonable to me. After about 2 miles, Graham passes us and I decided to follow him, passing Jasper. By mile 4, on the way up to the Juniper Campground aid station, I passed Graham, which we reminded me our run at Ohlone last year (when I thought it was crazy to pass the winner of Western States 2006).

I had a nice run up to the summit (1:19), barely stopping to enjoy the amazing 360-degree view from the terrace. On the way down I first saw Graham followed by Jasper, the three of us remaining within the same 2-3 minutes all the way back to the start. I reached the start area in 2:12:42 which I learned later to be a new course record for the 25K race. For what it is worth since, unless Ruth Anderson, switching to a shorter distance was not an option today. I changed bottles taking two new ones from my cooler, with Sarah's assistance, and ate some chips, a piece of banana and cookie, and a baked potato dipped in salt (unfortunately not baked enough in my opinion).
And it was time to go as Jasper was getting in 2 minutes after me, followed by Graham less than one minute behind.

The first loop I didn't know the course. Now I knew how hilly it was, yet very runnable especially on the way down. Unfortunately, with such a fast start, the increasing temperature (in the high 80s), my followers' pressure and the hard to digest potato, the second hike up to Mount Diablo got quite painful, with leg cramps triggering by mile 19 (quads and hamstrings). Jasper passed me in the 18th mile, and Graham shortly after. I made a good halt at Juniper Campground, getting some ice in my water bottle and some on my cramping muscles (felt so good, thanks guys!). I kept pushing up to the summit (4:11), going up to the terrace again through a thick cloud of... earwigs (every step we were killing dozens of them, disgusting!).

To my good surprise, I was fine going down (no cramps). My last stop at Juniper was short but beneficial enough to get my bottle filled with ice again, a treat in this rising heat. I flew in the down hill but got into trouble for the last two flat miles to the finish. I kept thinking I could still match Andy's record except that I had to stop three times to walk and catch my breath, which cost me a minute. I crossed the finish line in 5:11:21, almost 6 minutes behind Graham and 23 minutes (!) behind Jasper who had added a new Diablo record to his credit: 4:48:48. Diabolic Jasper! Records are meant to be broken, but this one should be safe for a while. Unless Steve (Stowers) run next year...
I was quite beaten up from an overall fast run with such 8,900 feet cumulated elevation and the heat, and nauseous like many others would be at the end of the run. With salt all over my singlet and shorts showing that I didn't manage hydration well. Also, it was a race purely managed following my heart (run strong as long as possible), not the mind (pacing myself); result: starting too fast and crashing in the second loop. Not that you can expect a negative split on this course with the rising heat at mid day. But look at these two diagrams. The first one is elevation/distance, basically two big hills:
The same elevation profile now but with elapsed time on the horizontal axis. Not the same profile, like wind was blowing Mount Diablo. A good illustration of how much slower my second run to the summit was (the two descents being respectively 52 and 61 minutes). I love my Garmin 205!
A mix of 25K and 50K runners kept coming every 5 to 10 minutes (there were about 300 runners including the 8K). Whit (Rambach) finished 8th overall in 5:57, looking amazingly fresh and definitely ready for handling the heat on the Western States trail which he knows so well. Scott came in 6:10 and 11th place. Kim (Holak) won the woman division in 5:42 and 5th overall. Her next race is Hard Rock (100-mile) next week. Kim and Andy went for another 5K loop to make the most out of their trip to California, from Minnesota. Other results are posted on the PCTR website. Kim and Jasper, the overall winners:We stayed at the finish line for a couple of hours, enjoying the cold drinks, the shade and the fine ultra running company and it was time for Scott and I to drive back to the other side of the Bay. I was too tired to blog that same night, it's hard to blog after racing on a Sunday. In addition to physical fatigue, there was also the news of the tough races that other from our ultraholic group had gone through this weekend:
  • The most successful was Mark (Tanaka) who completed the Kettle Moraine 100-miler in 20:39 in insane weather conditions (heat, humidity, tornadoes, thunderstorms); Mark was the defending champion and placed 2nd overall this year, kudos Mark!
  • Still at Kettle Moraine, and in the same stormy weather, Adam Blum (my Western States pacer) ran the 100K in 13:55 and 13th overall.
  • In 100F and 100% humidity, and with a stress fracture for the past several weeks, Chihping (Fu) ran the Old Dominion (another 100-miler) and was forced to DNF before the 100K mark after getting lost three times on the course. Flying back to the Bay Area to find out that he was laid off after a merger, on Monday morning. A tough weekend.
  • In much dryer conditions, Michael (Kanning) was giving a shot to the US Junior 100-mile record in San Diego. After a fast start (sounds familiar), Michael dropped by mile 70 after more than 22 hours of running. Michael is running to raise money, make sure to visit his website.

Yet another ultra busy running weekend overall, leading to my last week of hard training before Western States, or the Auburn Track Meet as Karl (Meltzer) calls it (in reference to us finishing on the Placer High School track). By the way, check Karl's post where he included me in the favorite list. OK, not in red or blue, but on his black list, in case I really have an astonishing good day! What an honor but really no risk I'm going to challenge the 10 to 15 guys who can pretend to win this year (my bets are on Anton, which seems like a safe bet unless Anton gets lost as he is not very familiar with the trail). It is going to be an amazingly competitive edition, should be fun to watch on the race webcast.

All the best to all, and a good tapering for the ones going to Auburn at the end of the month!

PS: see more pictures on my Picasa album (some courtesy of Hao's wife who was handling both her and my camera during the race).


Jasper Halekas said...

"all on a pace which seemed a bit unreasonable to me"

That cracked me up. I think at that point my heart rate was about 178. And then you and Graham passed me and went flying by me - I wasn't sure I'd see you again that day.

Congrats on a good race and a great training run for Western States, Jean. I'm excited to see how you do there. I'm with Karl, I think you're a dark horse and could definitely sneak into the top ten if you run a good race. Good luck!


Unknown said...

Nice race Jean. You really tore it up on that first loop. I think that doing the first loop to fast is kind of a tradition for anyone doing the 50K for the first time. Congrats on 3rd place with some very tough competition. You are going to do very well at States!

Adam Blum said...


Fascinating report as usual. Congrats on a great race!

Kettle was indeed pretty amazing weather conditions. You pegged it: heat, humidity, tornadoes, thunderstorms. It was downright biblical: I was just waiting for frogs from the sky and rivers of blood. Still managed to be 4th to 50K at 5:08 amidst all of that. So I think I can reliably give you a fast 22 miles in a couple weeks.

Ran with Michael Hayden this morning and we were each discussing the merits of our "horses" (he's pacing Wardian).

- Adam

Anonymous said...

Bravo pour les 25 km, mais cela a nui à la suite!
Quelle vue tu devais avoir!
insectes: des pince-oreilles?

runstephane said...

Great job Jean, once again.
Congrats for this new podium and half-race record!
WS will certainly be tactical run; forget bugs, slippery descents and go farther faster! Ufos are with you!

willgotthardt said...

Another impressive race Jean, your speed continues to inspire...best of luck at WS100, I'll be following along via webcast.

Will G.

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Congrats on the 25k record (for what it's worth) and a fast race. I think you can finish up by Graham and those other guys, be the fast underdog in black print!