Sunday, May 12, 2013

Quicksilver 50-mile 2013: some heat training at last!

Unlike my traditional race reports where I thank volunteers at the end, I would like to start this one the other way. Not because this event is put up by our club, Quicksilver Running Club of San Jose, and the main aid station manned by my other club, the Stevens Creek Striders, but because I was able to get a deeper experience and appreciation of the amazing effort required to direct and manage a successful ultra race. I think very few runners actually appreciate all this work as they only see what's happening on race day and usually picking on the potential flaws if any. I have been an aid station captain for several years at Western States (Last Chance), but even this doesn't match the entire organization which starts months ahead and continues for several days and weeks to tear the operation down and... get ready for the following year.

First, of course, the kudos go to Race Director, Pierre-Yves Couteau. Jeremy and I had the opportunity to hear quite a few stories about the stress of the weeks leading to the race, as we were carpooling with Pierre-Yves to Miwok last week. Between his job and family responsibilities, who knows if that stress wasn't the reason of Pierre-Yves's accident at Ohlone last year, one week after Quicksilver...
Pierre-Yves was assisted by Bree Lambert who was in charge of coordinating about 70 volunteers. For her too, this is a huge task which comes on top of her personal training job and her family. After winning the 50K this Saturday, Bree was in charge of the Quicksilver store, selling the very cool Quisilver 30th commemorative t-shirt among other tech Ts and fleeces.
Then come the Ficks. Paul and Darcy who, with their crew, put up the most extravagant post-race BBQ party on the ultra circuit! From dips, salads, 3 sorts of burgers, hot dogs, ribs, all freshly cooked on site, side dishes, fruits, cakes, snow cones, they work tirelessly not only on race day, in the heat, but several weeks leading to the event.
Paul even took 2 days off his software job to get the job done, what a dedication!
Paul is also our "Club Trail Officer" (CTO... ;-), leading trail maintenance work through Winter and Spring (see our December and January sessions) and, thanks to him, the trails have never been in such great condition!

I was able to see some of the magnitude of the preparation work as I helped for 5 hours on Friday, loading the rental trucks from our club storage room (you can't believe how much space all the aid station equipment require...), loading all the supplies from Paul and Darcy's garage, including 5 BBQs (and a smoker!), unloading the truck at the start/finish area, setting up the huge tents. We got great help all day Friday from a visiting participant from Walnut Creek, Tom Riley, one of Graham Cooper's friends. Thank you, Tom, and please come back anytime!

10-time Western States finisher, Kristina Irvin is in charge of the 6 aid stations and the second rental truck is for her to dispatch the aid station supplies around the park. Although we had a record 24 club members actually running this Saturday morning, numerous other club members helped at aid stations, for instance, Andy at the remote Sierra Azul turn around, Clare and Scott at Hicks Road.

And here is Harris, has the course sweeper (literally! ;-):
A special mention to Peggy Alfred who is the aid station captain at Dam Overlook and who assembled again a great crew from the Stevens Creek Striders to man the busiest station on the course (350 runners going through, one time for the 25K but three times for the 50K and 50-mile!). This year again, Agnès and Greg joined them for the first shift, plus Caroline, one of Greg's classmates.
I can't name the 70 volunteers so I'll extend my tank you to all of them collectively. And I do want to apologize for the ones manning English Camp especially as I was slightly grumpy not to find ice at my first passage, sorry about that...

With that, it's already 1 am here in London (Monday morning), so I'll be quick for the race itself. Chikara took the control of the race from the start and was not going to be challenged this year.
I ran the first 38 miles in second place in the 50-mile. I had a good first 50K and thought my pace was reasonably slow "enough" to keep up for the last 20 miles as I completed the first loop in 4:12 versus a 3:55 50K last year. But I did overheat, unfortunately... Last year I rant the 50K with my arm warmers as the temperature is too low for me at 6 am. But not this year and the heat got upon us pretty quickly, around 90F. I had asked Agnès and Greg to fill up my bottles with ice for my second passage through Dam Overlook at mile 19. I was a bit surprised when I got my first sip, it wasn't chilly at all. The ice hadn't arrived at the aid station by the time I ran through it the third time, after just over 3 hours of continuous running. I kept pushing up Mine Hill trail as 2 runners pointed me just 7 minutes behind Chikara, which I found surprising. There wasn't any ice either yet by 9:30 am for my first passage through English Town at mile 27 and that set me slightly off, which is really not a good in ultra (not only this is mean to the volunteers, and that mines your mental). Later on Facebook I reminded myself, and others, that ice is a luxury in ultras, there wasn't any years ago, and it's not very sustainable anyway as we contribute so actively in getting our Planet warmer...
I was still a miles from the finish, trying to run most of the Hacienda "roller coaster" section, when I saw Chikara coming off Virl Norton and took note of his split there (3:56). I passed the 50K mark in 4:12 and finally got ice in my bottles, in my shirt, in my hat, took a few sips of Coke, and off I went for the remaining 20 miles. This time, and despite seeing a runner closing on me, I had to power walk the steep uphills of Virl Norton and Hacienda, counting on the melting ice to cool me off. I was 28 minutes behind Chikara at the top of Virl Norton, and I was getting slower, ouch! Encouraged by the 50K and 50-mile runners we cross on Hacienda and English Camp, I alternated running and walking until I reached Englishtown (which had ice that time, yeah! ;-). The runner behind me was Karl Schnaitter, who passed me at the 50-mile mark to win the Ruth Anderson 100K.
As I was carrying two bottles and not eating anything from the aid stations, he was making longer stops at the aid station. He finally passed me at mile 38, just after Hicks Road, with an amazing ease and fast pace that I felt like I wasn't moving at all. Shortly after I saw Chikara coming down from the turn around, very string and fast. The next 3 miles to the turnaround, I thought I'd see Karl coming back and putting a couple of miles on me... To my surprise, I reached out the Sierra Azul aid station without seeing him, there was no way he could have gotten lost on this fire road. He was actually behind the car, taking care of some bad chaffing. As I was taking advantage of the ice again to cool me off, he left before me, still with a pace which I couldn't match (he has much longer legs and seemed full of energy, at least on the flats and downhills). I had left the aid station 7 minutes ago when I saw Graham Cooper, in 4th. Graham won Western States in 2009 and is a very strong finisher, but I thought I had enough lead to win my age group. I didn't stop at Hicks Road, except to get a confirmation from Clare of the remaining distance: 4.5 miles it was! I kept pushing the pace and finally caught up with Karl again just before the ridge as I was stronger in the uphills. I could barely follow-up on the way down on Yellow Kid trail and was thinking it was going to make a very interesting finish with the combination of steep down hills and a few uphills in the last 2 miles. To my surprise again, Karl stopped at Englishtown, with 2 miles to go. I went ahead and was now running against the clock. I ran the 50-mile distance in 6:48 3 years ago. This year, I covered the same distance in 7:08:56, 20 more minutes yet good for second overall and first Masters. Way way behind Chikara who had just missed his own PR by 1 minute (6:16) and way behind Gary Gellin's Age Group Course Record of 6:29 (2011). Not to mention Leor Pantilat's amazing Course Record he set in 2011 too at 6:01!

It was hot but not extremely hot so I'm not sure why I over heated this way. At least it was good heat training for Ohlone, next week, except that I ran 13 miles this Sunday, after landing in London in a chilly (55F!), rainy and windy weather: what a change of conditions!

Given the overheating incident, I was please to finish in reasonably good conditions and enough time to enjoy the BBQ party before driving to the airport (ok, with a stop by my house to take a shower... ;-). That was my 23rd 50-mile race, more than I raced marathons (21)! And this is my 333rd blog post, I had no clue I'd got that far when I started in 2007...

See about 80 other pictures from the lead runners, the Dam Overlook aid station volunteers and the Friday setup in my Picasa album.

Again, a huge thank you to all the volunteers who put up these events. With all my races, it's going to take a few decades for me to give back, I need to plan for that... In the meantime, see some of you at Ohlone next Sunday!


Marco Denson said...

great blog post as usual Jean. I've trained myself to never expect ice at the aid stations. so when I get it it's always extra nice. it still blows my mind how you are consistently on the top 5. you are an amazing runner. see you next week at Ohlone, at the start and finish, if you are still there when I finish. :-)

Phil S said...

Hi Jean,
This is Phil Shaw. I was the runner with whom you leap-frogged for 2nd/3rd place up on the fire road in Sierra Azul. You ran a great race, especially in that heat. It was awesome to see you fly by at mile 48. I was just too hot and had to stop for some ice in my hat.

I'm moving to the South Bay next month and look forward to seeing more of you and the Quicksilver runners out on the trails. Have a great run at Ohlone.


Anonymous said...

Encore bravo!
Et quelle bonne et gentille idée de nous parler des homme et femme de l'ombre.