Sunday, March 10, 2013

Way Too Cool 2013: so cool!

My 8th participation in a row at this iconic North Californian 50K race which was also my first ultra back in 2006. This year, it was actually my 79th ultra race, time flies... With the presence of the King, a.k.a. Max King, Leor (Pantilat) and last year's course record setter, Gary (Gellin), it promised to be a fast race at the front. With a super dry winter :-( on top of that which made the trail completely mud-free and an amazing weather, sunny with cool temperatures, you had all the ingredients for a very very fast year.

After a challenging January with a nagging calf injury which kept me out of running and training for 3 weeks, I had a good February, logging 295 miles in 4 weeks (74 miles/week). Yet, even with a few track workouts with Bob and Jeremy, I still feel far behind my fitness level of last year. And 4-5 pounds over my targeted race weight. At least, with a business trip in New York the week leading to the race, I had a good excuse to taper.

I drove straight from a business meeting in San Francisco on Friday afternoon and hit the usual weekend traffic with speed alternating  between 65mph and above to... zero. I was actually super lucky not to hit or be hit... Between Fairfield and Vacaville, in one section where the traffic was fluid, I was following a Rav4 on the left lane when it suddenly stopped to avoid a car which did two full spins across the four lanes in a cloud of smoke before exiting the road on the right side which was, very fortunately, flat and open (no concrete, no gully, no tree, just flat grass...). I stopped in the left emergency lane to avoid the Rav4 and looked in the mirror to see the 4-lane traffic stopping behind us, phew! The only accident I had in my life was a rear-end which destroyed our mini van on our our way to American River in April 2010 (see picture), I certainly don't want to make "accident on the way to ultras" a tradition...

Anyway, had a good 8-hour sleep in one of the motels in Auburn (the same Leor was staying at) and was up at 4:40 am for some break before driving early to the start to secure a good parking spot. The moon's first quarter was amazing in the clear sky at dawn:
It was about 6:10 when I arrived at Cool and the first parking lot was already half full. Omni-present ultra volunteer Stan Jensen ( was assigned to my bib pick-up area and not too busy yet, so we could chat a bit.
Our Grand Prix co-chair, Bill Dodson, was also part of the early birds. At 78 he was the veteran of the race and still managed to finish 556th out of 831 finishers!
With more than 900 participants, race director, Julie Fingar, set a 2-wave start at 8 and 8:10. She also gave me a nice bib, 20, although, in such a competitive field, I was definitely not looking to finish in the top 20. My dream was just to break 4 hours again, which has been very challenging for me at this race (respective times from 2006 to 2012: 4:29:50, 4:45:42, 3:56:52!, 4:14:43, 4:58:32, 4:18:10, 4:06:00) with several occurrences of exercise-induced asthma or hypothermia.

I toed the start line 5-6 ranks behind the front runners, next to John Blue, Tim Twietmeyer (22nd Way Too Cool!) and Megan Arbogast. I passed the first mile mark in 6:27 which was barely fast enough to still see Leor and Max as they were switching from the road to the trail in the distance in a blazing sub-6 min/mile pace. Imagining their duel helped my pushing my own pace whenever I could on this rolling course.
I completed the first 8-mile loop just under 57 minutes (smiling while breathing on John Medinger's picture, above) and was able to maintain this 7 min/mile pace for the first half of the race. I traded a few places along the American River and felt really good in the uphills which was a great sign.

Yet, I was trying not to get too excited and making sure to hydrate properly as the second half is always the challenge for me on this course. ALT (Auburn Lake Trails, mile 21) was the first and only station I would stop. Thanks to the efficient volunteers, I was out in 40 seconds with my Gu2O bottle refilled, my average pace dropping from 7:23 to 7:25. Like my Asterix magic potion, I also swallowed a pouch of ultra-concentrate Vespa to keep the engine running at full steam (I ran the entire race on 2 GUs, 1.3 bottles of Gu2O and 1 small cup of coca-cola, and didn't even cramp once).

I kept passing a few runners especially in the hills but one almost caught up with me at the bottom of Goat Hill. Too bad for him, that gave me the guts to try to run the whole thing (those who know will appreciate...) which I did, at last! I was thinking of just stopping by at the Goat Hill aid station to hug the Birthday Boy, aka Norm Klein, but, not seeing him, I kept going and passed another runner. My average pace was down to 7:36 after the "wall" of Goat Hill (and the marathon mark) and, after 3 hours and 17 minutes of running, I started thinking I could break these 4 hours which gave me even more energy to maintain the effort in the last miles. Here is a picture credit to Eric Schranz from, around mile 28:
I didn't walk at all this year and that's what it takes to finish break 4 hours. I was thrilled with my 3:50:25 finish time. The first thing I inquired about, right after passing the finish line and thanking Julie for an amazing experience, was what happened at the front and Julie told be that 4 runners were under Gary's 2012 course record with Max clocking a blazing 3:08! Chris Vargo from Colorado Springs took second in 3:18 followed by Leor in 3:21. Gary gave everything he had this year to finish 6th overall and 1st Master, 29 seconds before Rod Bien who is now 40. Surprisingly I was third Master today, an honor I never got at this race, and 9th overall. This got me a nice bottle of The Climber, a wine from the Clif Family Winery (yes the same family at the head of Clif Bar!).

At 51 Megan Arbogast won the race in 4:06, 53 seconds ahead of Rori Bosio in an exciting duel of generations ;-). As Megan told me at the finish "hey, I didn't catch you this time!" Yes, first time I am not chicked at WTC, in 2008, winner Susan Beck passed me 3 miles from the finish and 1 minute ahead of me.

The Tamlpa team had a very strong representation and amazing presence among the top men finishers. On our side, after Gary and I, it seemed like there was a team meeting happening around 12:45-1pm with a few finishes in that quarter: Clare Abram (4:44), Scott Laberge (4:53), Lauren Lewis (4:54) and Andy Benkert (5:00). Our two other runners also finished close to each other, Stephen Strauss in 6:29 and Tim Allen in 6:35.

Again, in such perfect and pristine conditions, most of the runners had a blast and many were thrilled to have PR'ed this Saturday. A huge thank to Julie Fingar and her team for getting all the stars aligned and, although I quickly passed through all the aid stations but ALT, for all the volunteers who spent the day to assist so many runners out on these nice but remote trails. Here I am, hugging the WTC frog after the race:
The report wouldn't be complete without the mention of the double deep-tissue massage I got from the Monsters of Massage (ouch, it hurts but it feels good to get all these toxins quickly expelled from tight muscles). This massage allowed me to have a nice recovery run this Sunday.
I had to rush to get prepared for a red-eye to Mexico City that same evening so I left at 1pm after having had lunch with Leor and Erica. Thankfully the drive back home was without incident and much faster than the Friday afternoon commute.

My next race is American River, also managed by Julie (Northcal Ultras), and I count on her for an equally amazing experience now that the bar is set even higher! ;-) Well, it was good to get some rain in the Bay Area (while I was in NYC under some snow), out trails and more importantly our reservoirs, creeks and parks, also need water, not just sun. Have a good week all!


Paul Grimes said...

Congrats on your WTC PR! Great run!

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Great job, Jean. Sub-4-- wow!

Anonymous said...

Enchantés par ce récit à rebondissements!
Partageons ton bonheur de ton bon temps.
ravissante photo du DERNIER quartier
Pas compris "red-eye"
Papa et Maman

Big Johnny Burton said...

Hey great job Pierre! Looks like you are now officially "back" from your injury and in top form!

Jon Olson said...

Perfect conditions in deed. Congrats on a great race and a successful sub 4hour. I was a bit behind at 6:28. :) Still an excellent race with great aid stations. Nice report.

Scott Dunlap said...

Well done! Perhaps that 3-week break was just what the body needed.