Sunday, April 29, 2012

Leona Divide 50-mile: feeling welcomed in South California

I'm on the go, flying right after another ultra to our IBM Impact conference in Vegas, so here is a short report about a great experience, my first ultra in South California!

Our QuickSilver Ultra Running Team captain, Greg, included this race in the Ultra Running League he launched this year. That's what got us to compete in Chuckanut (Washington State), Lake Sonoma 2 weeks ago and Miwok next week in North Cal, and Leona Divide 50-mile this Saturday, my second race of a series of five back to back, which I call my ultra Spring madness (5:49:59 at Ruth Anderson 50-mile last week, Leona Divide this weekend, Miwok 100K next Saturday, Quicksilver 50K and Ohlone 50K).

Greg, Bree and I drove down on Friday afternoon down to Lancaster and Palmdale where we met Toshi and Judy. We met Race Director, Keira Henninger, at the check-in and got a few tips, the main one that, despite an intimidating course profile displaying quite a long and steep uphills, the course was all very runnable.
Greg really likes the fancy race t-shirt design from Jesse Heynes' INKnBURN, ole!
It was quite chilly on Saturday morning when we got to the start area by 5:30 am.Temperature in the low 50s but more importantly quite some wind/breeze. I sneaked in right after the first row of runners on the start line which included many favorites for today's race (Tim Olson, Jorge Pacheco and Maravilla, Yassin Diboune, Chikara Omine, Jason Wolfe and Schlarb, Dylan Bowman, ...). Like at Chuckanut, a very impressive competitive field for this 20th anniversary of this race. (Photo Credit: Judy Hosaka)
The course starts with a good climb and I settled in about 20th of 25th position, quickly losing sight of the super fast leaders. My pace was just under 9 min/mile after the 3 miles of climb and quickly decreased as we sprinted in the long down hill to the 8-mile aid station. I didn't stop there as I was carrying 2 bottles and went on the next long climb to the 12-mile aid station where I just grabbed a cup of coke and two salt tablets. At this point we left the fire road for a very nice single track down to the 16-mile aid station, which is also the 42-mile one on the way back and the only placed allowed for crews. Judy took a few pictures and videos there. In the following 3-mile uphill, I started walking on got caught by the runner who followed me in the previous climb from mile 8 to 12, a great climber. I'm glad he did because he "waked" me up and was actually able to stick with him for the remaining of the climb and even continue on my own as he stopped to remove sand from his shoes. Speaking of sand, I never ran so many miles on such packed sand, most of the sections actually from start to finish. At places the trail was literally white which helped alleviate the midday sun.

My favorite section was the Pacific Crest Trail section before and after the aid station #7 and 9 where we actually ran in the woods (not to forget the special ambiance at this station manned by Jimmy Dean Freeman and his flashy and joyful Coyotes gang!). The second part of the 50-mile is actually a 38-mile out-and-back so we get to see all the other runners. The turn around is at the bottom of a 2.8-mile down-hill, like we have at Miwok. I was just starting going down when I crossed the lead runner who had a 5.6-mile lead on me, yikes! I kept crossing the leaders and counted 14 of them when I reached the aid station at the bottom of the fire road, mile 31 (50K mark). I quickly got my Gu2O bottle refilled, took another cup of Coke and a few chips and off I was for this long climb. Thankfully, it was still early morning (10am) and several sections of the fire road were still in the shade. And the breeze was still strong, keeping the air relatively cool, especially in the shade. On my way up, I was able to run half of it and saw Toshi, about a mile behind, and about 20 other runners including the top 8 women. Unfortunately, Bree wasn't part of them, I actually saw her at the top of the hill, she didn't have a good day. Also from our Club, Clare was a few minutes behind Bree, followed by Greg who was having a lot of fun taking pictures and videos, Scott and Nattu (Karen would drop on foot injury).

In the next section, I passed Scott Jaime (a very competitive Master) and another runner, then crossed hundreds of runners who were so nice to step aside and give the leaders the right of way. I'm particularly appreciative to all of them as they were on a uphill section and it's very tiring to stop and go in such conditions but that was the Race Director's instructions. I provided a lot of "Thank you" and "Sorry" at each crossing, I hope I didn't forget anyone (one even kindly replied "You don't have to feel sorry!"). The traffic actually intensified in the last section as we were catching up with the tail of the 50K race.

I remained in 12th place through the aid stations 8 and 9 (respectively miles 38.6 and 42.6). With 3 downhill miles to go I caught up with a fading Chikara, for whom it was a come back on the ultra trail circuit after a road racing season last year. I told him that we had to keep moving if we didn't want to get chick'ed (for the non insiders that mean being passed by a participant of the other gender...), and here he is, flying down the hill, leaving me in the dust, finishing ahead of me by 1 minute! You know what to tell Chikara to kick his butt... ;-) I crossed the finish line in an honorable 7:07:51, good for 12th this year and 3rd Master. Not too bad after last week's performance, on a course I didn't know.
Upfront, the fight for the win had been furious and Dylan Bowman, 26, of Colorado emerged as today's overall winner with an amazing 6:00:38, slashing the previous 17-year old course record by 21 minutes! Tim Olson took second, ahead of Jorge Maravilla by 19 mere seconds, in 6:07:34. Since Tim is already in Western States, Jorge was thrilled to get his own slot to participate in the Big Dance the last weekend of June between Squaw Valley and Auburn!
The aid stations were perfectly stocked and all the volunteers were extremely friendly and cheerful, each aid station with a distinctive theme and ambiance. A big thank to all the volunteers for allowing to enjoy such a wonderful and challenging course. And to Keira for inviting us to this special celebration and making us feel like at home in South California! I'm glad that Greg set such an opportunity to compete outside of our local Grand Prix, it's so nice to see other parts of our extended ultra running community and discover new trails!

Tamalpa had only 2 runners lined up today and Jimmy's Coyotes were all volunteering on the course so we had only two teams competing in the league this time, Ashland (Tim, Jenn, Hayden) versus Quicksilver (Jean, Toshi,  Bree). And, with Tim's amazing performance, we lost again, by 44 minutes (22:54:58 vs. 23:38:54). Like at the World 100K Championships in Italy last week, these Oregonians are really at the top of the endurance running game!
Before leaving for the airport, I got a few tips from Tim on his use of Vespa and could compare to what Chikara and I did. I took 3 GUs, a few potato chips and cups of Coke here and there and 3 bottles of GU2O, and one Vespa Concentrate every 2.5 hours versus every 1.5 hours for Tim. Tim is taking about 100 calories an hour, I was slightly below that. Learning and tuning...

Great experience and heat training, ready for a busy week in Vegas from Sunday morning to Friday afternoon, then Miwok 100K next Saturday before flying to Riyadh on Sunday. What a busy Spring... Have a great week all!

PS: see a few pictures in my Picasa album, including Judy's pictures (IMG_0084 to IMG_0117) and video clips at the 16-mile aid station


Bree said...

Jean, you are an ULTRA SUPER STUD!!! It was fun riding down to Leona with you. Good luck at Miwok.

Unknown said...

Very nice job Jean! Nice to see you again

Anonymous said...

Oui, un printemps bien occupé!
J'ai aimé les politesses en "croisant"
les suivants!
bon courage pour le job et les courses à venir