Sunday, May 9, 2010

Miwok 2010: perfect conditions

Perfect weather, sunny with breeze, pristine trail, dry but still soft, great competition, gorgeous views, the perfect conditions for a perfect race... But ultra requires a few more stars to get aligned to make it seamless and easy...

More context: I came back from a business trip to the East Coast on Friday afternoon during which I had again a series a very short nights (4-5 hours) including sleeping in the luggage claim area of Dulles airport on my way to Armonk, NY, due to a last minute flight cancellation. On top of sleep deprivation, I got a cold on Wednesday. With that, I woke up at 2 am last Saturday, sweating and wondering how much fever I had but could not find the thermometer so figured out a good long run in the hills will take care of my febrile state... I drove to Mountain View to carpool with Coach Greg, from our Quicksilver Club, and we arrived at Marine Headlands at 4:15 AM for an early check-in. Greg was volunteering at the start to get as many cars in the limited parking lot.
The race started on time at 5:40 on the Rodeo Lagoon beach as it was still dark. Although I was on the front line at the start I took a slow start and got stuck in the first single track uphill at the end of the beach having to walk, probably a good thing for my lungs. I ran the first miles with my red Buff covering my face to protect my lungs from the fresh and cool air, until sunrise.

The first miles of the course were changed due to some construction on Conzelman or Simmonds Road. Instead of going around the Visitor Center, we had two out and backs which allowed to see the whole field twice, before seeing every runner again at the Randall Trail turn around.This was the opportunity to see many familiar faces and get encouragements from local runners.

Carrying two bottles, I did not stop at the first aid station (Bunker Road). On the way up Rodeo Valley Trail, I caught up with Jenn Shelton. I told her how cool it was to run with the Born To Run heroin, but she admitted she wasn't a big fan of "that book" (people who have read it may understand why). Anyway, I kept pushing the pace and passing a few runners in the way. I ran a couple of miles with Rob Evans, before and after the Tennessee Valley aid station. Rob was very happy to have ran a 2:46 at the Nappa Valley marathon in March (same time as I ran last year for my 45th birthday) then a great 6:37 at American River. He felt his legs were still tired and he would eventually drop later when he saw he was not going to break 10 hours.

A quick stop at the Muir Beach aid station, long enough to get the encouragements, in French, from Suzanna Bon. Scott Jurek and Suzanna are going this month to Brives, France, to represent Team USA in the 24-hour World Championship. On the long way up to Pan Toll, I passed Brett Rivers and Thomas Reiss, and wondered if I was not going out too fast but felt ok 1/3 in the race. At least, no sign of asthma again today, phew!

A longer stop at Pan Toll to refill my GU2O bottle and eat a few chips with a GU (I know, this does not seem like the best culinary recipe). Nothing too notable for the next 8 miles apart from the gorgeous views, which you cannot really enjoy as the trail is so narrow it feels like running on a beam sometimes, and not even a flat one. As usual, it felt good to get welcomed by the cheerful volunteers of Bolinas Ridge aid station, especially for this first passage where they are still focused on the few runners going through (the second passage is more confusing as runners come in from both sides on their way out and back). I don't have good memories of this section from previous runs. On the map is shows as a relatively flat section (ridge), but it is actually quite rolling. Then there is this 1.7 miles plunge to the Randall Trail aid station in which we loose 1,000 feet of elevation just to have to climb them again. This year I saw only two runners before going down on Randall: Tony Krupicka had just taken the lead over Michael Wardian and was "riding the wind" (Tony's blog name), really making like it was easy... See this video from Jim (Hydrapak) of the race leaders at this point:

Just after passing through the gate I crossed Hal Koerner, then a few more of the lead runners, I believe 11 or 12 of them including World Champion Kami Semick. I feel nauseous just as I was getting into the aid station which is very unusual for me and did cost me a few minutes as I was trying to figure out what I could eat before getting back on the long climb. My pacer and teammate Gary Gellin was here to encourage me before we meet at Bolinas Ridge for the last 20 miles. Thinking of Tony and keeping in mind how easy him and Hal appeared at the top of the hill, I ran almost all the 1.7 miles. It felt good that I was able to do so but it was probably not very wise as I then struggled in the next 6 miles on Bolinas Ridge, starting being passed by a few runners. At some point, Thomas Reiss passed me and I was amazed by his "diesel mode" which I had seen Hal Koerner use at the North Face Challenge when I was pacing Michael Wardian in December 2008. For me it is hard to run that slowly and I either goes too fast or need to walk. Anyway, I followed Thomas for a while and eventually passed him before the aid station.
At Bolinas Ridge, it was really cool to get my bottle filled by ultra legend Scott Jurek. Gary was excited to get on the trail with me. With an elite cross-country background, Gary is super fast (and competitive!) and I warned him that I was not feeling so well at this point. I was probably in 15th position by then and here we went on the gorgeous Coastal trail. This time, not only was it challenging to stay on the "beam" but we were crossing the tail of the pack with runners going out of their way to let us pass: like at Way Too Cool, a sincere and big thank you to all of you for losing these precious seconds, not to mention every bit of energy, as you are yourself competing against the clock and the cut-off times. A couple of runners passed us and we found Agnès at Pan Toll. A handful of other runners passed us between Pan Toll, Highway 1 and Tennessee Valley aid station. On the climbs, my back and shoulders started hurting so bad that I had to switch to very slow walking. This back pain is something new that I get on long runs after my accident on the way to American River (in which our minivan got wrecked from behind). Need to work on this before Western States...
Stan Jensen ( welcomed us at Tennessee Valley and teased me that I looked better than my pacer. Sure... Stan has seen me in worse conditions the previous years so he knew he could joke about it. He told me later that he was actually glad to see I had managed to break 10 hours. Because, to him (and to me too!), it did not seem like a done deal even with one hour to spare for the remaining 3.8 miles...
Alternating walking and jogging, we got to the last hill where I got a surge and ran even some of the steep sections then sprinted down the hill to the finish line to cross it in 9:48:45. Disappointed not to improve my 9:41 PR but happy to finish under 10. 22nd overall, 5th in my age group, I'm still learning on this distance... See the overall results on Stan's Miwok website. Tony did not improve the course record but got his Western State spot easily with an amazing 8:02 finish (read his race report on his Running Times blog and see how hard it is to go fast even if it seems easy...). Although he didn't need the WS spot given to the second overall runner, Hal had also an amazing race finishing in 8:20. Kami took first in 9:10 followed by Devon in 9:36.
Miwok is such a great race, it is a privilege and luck to make it through the lottery. A special thank to Gary for enduring my slow pace in the last 20 miles, to Tia for perpetuating this Miwok tradition in a gorgeous place, and the many volunteers who made this ultra party possible! Hope to be back next year for my 5th Miwok.
More pictures (mainly from Agnès and a few from Gary, taken with his cell phone) in my Picasa album (mostly of the top 5-20 runners).

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