Saturday, August 24, 2013

Tamalpa Headlands 50K 2013: yes, faster!

This was my 40th 50K today, one more thing to celebrate! :-) Same number of 10K races in my log, out of 217 races including 88 ultra races since 2006. Nothing to brag about compare to what Jason Reed must have on his wall, but it's starting to add up. Speaking of adding up, I thought I had logged many miles since I started to seriously work on, and enjoy, my running: I have 33,370 miles which represent 1.34 times the length of the equator, and I was blown away when I heard that John Medinger has just passed 100,000 miles, 4 laps around the Earth! John is known in our community for creating and directing Quad Dipsea for 30 years as well as Ultra Running Magazine which he recently transferred ownership to Karl Hoagland. And he is only 62 so he must have started a while back... I feel quite behind on that goal! ;-) As Agn├Ęs put it: "You don't have to set this goal..."
Anyway, it has been a long time since I ran this race. I've been first focusing on our North California Mountain and Ultra Trail running Grand Prix in 2007 and that race is an important milestone of our season although I admit that I've been more loyal to Skyline 50 (7 years in a row). To my defense though, the race didn't happen in 2009 and 2010. I ran the race back in 2007 then when it was the National 50K trail championship and in 2008. 4:23:42, 11th overall, 3rd Master behind Cliff Lentz and Steve Stovers in 2007 and despite a much slower 4:40:48, 3rd overall and 2nd Master, just behind Cliff again. Cliff was toeing the start line again this year and, after our chat at Skyline 2 weeks ago, I was expecting him to run strong today.
Back in 2007 and 2008, we started at Rodeo beach, yet running the same course/loop. I was looking forward to experiencing the start and finish at Santos Meadows, located between Muir Woods and Muir Beach. We started promptly at 8 am. Temperature was nice, despite the fog, and it was encouraging to see the fog actually dissipating in many places, for us to enjoy gorgeous views and quite some sun throughout the morning actually. It was a fast start and I barely settled in the top 15. Out of the 200 runners, there was a huge contingent of the local organizing club, Tamalpa, and these guys surely know the trails in their backyards!
I was very pleased to run the steep Coastal Trail hill off Muir Beach on fresh legs, rather than at the end in my previous editions. We were quite a pack running together up the hill, and I caught up and passed Victor (Ballesteros) and Bob (Shebet). Bob won TRT 100-mile in a blazing time last month, and I let him pass in the technical section down to Pirates Cove. As I wrote while I was racing in France, I am still fearing a bad fall after what happened in June last year. This lead group included Jon Olsen, 2012 100K World Champion, whom I had good chat with before the start as we were parked next to each other, Jonathan Gunderson, a fast local and Brooks-sponsored, Bob, Enrique Henriquez, 2nd to Chikara 2 weeks ago at Skyline, Cliff. Now, we were not even 3 miles in the run, there was a guy that I didn't know about who was already more than 2 minutes ahead of us and, again, we were not really cruising... At this time I thought that Dave Mackey's 2005 Course Record (3:49:41) was in danger and I told Bob that I was wondering how many runners may break 4 hours by just getting caught in the hunt. To put things in perspective, this course is on the hilly side, with about 7,300 feet of cumulative elevation and the biggest hills at the end of the race. To this day, only 8 runners had broken this symbolic threshold and that was certainly not my goal. As a matter of fact, as I was driving, I was thinking that I may have a counter performance today after the effort of Skyline 2 weeks ago and 62 miles of hilly training last weekend followed by 15 miles on Monday, a good track workout with my running buddy Bob, leaving only 3 days of tapering. For that reason I was happy to be just in the top 10 as we were now heading down Rodeo Beach. I didn't stop at the aid station and up on the long Miwok trail we were. I passed a couple of runners and was now in 8th place, not far behind Jon and Jonathan. Actually, as we were flying down Tennessee Valley, I pointed 7 of us in the same minute, something which is quite unusual in an ultra where we are usually more spread out. Of course, the famous lead runner was completely out of sight, way ahead already.

I did a very short stop at Tennessee Valley to grab a cup of Coke to help me swallow a GU. We were at mile 11.5 and I wasn't drinking much. Using Vespa, I just wanted a little booth before the next climb, continuing on Miwok trail and that helped staying with the group and actually passing Jonathan and Enrique. Enrique passed me on the way down to Shoreline Highway crossing and I passed him on the way up to Pantoll, on the illustrious Dipsea trail. I did pass another runner as well as Cliff before the top, which put me in 4th. I did all my best to keep pushing while not falling in the treacherous Matt Davis trail, 1,600 feet of downhill to Stinson Beach. I had refilled my Gu2O bottle at the previous aid station (Cardiac, mile 19.5), so I surprised the volunteers at Stinson Beach when they saw me flying through without stopping. I was now looking forward to the Cardiac climb. I ran almost all of it, including the stairs, but I must admit that I struggled a bit in the Steep Ravine Canyon. The many rocks, roots, steps and hikers on this section were all good excuses to walk and I had hard time restarting the running engine when the path was runnable. But I kept pushing and I believe my time was 3:55 when I flew by the Cardiac aid station. One volunteer yelled that I had 4 miles to go and that gave me a boost. I pushed in the next mile and couldn't believe it when I saw the parking lot and finish line from the ridge. It was not 4:05 and I thought I had a shot at the Age Group Course Record which I believed to be around 4:13. Little did I realize that we still had 3 miles to cover including an interesting series of switchbacks. I could see a few runners ahead on the trail but they didn't seem to be in the race. I kept pushing all the way down and finally crossed the finish line in 4:19:46, slightly better than my 2007 time. Not bad for an "old" Masters... ;-) I was indeed 4th overall and 1st Masters, behind Jon and Bob who are both 39, and will get in our competitive age group just as I'll move to the M50-59. Good timing for me! Without any hill training, Jon had clocked a 4:13:04, and Bob finished 1 minute and 32 seconds ahead of me; I had no idea we were so close.

It's always cool to keep improving my Personal Bests on similar courses, it makes me hope that I can still defy aging, to a certain extent... While I lost some speed in the downhills, I gained some in the uphills as I'm mentally stronger and can keep going where I was walking in the past. Also, thanks to Vespa, I always spend much less time in aid stations or dealing with GI issues. 2 GUs, 1 small piece of banana and melon, 1 small cup of Coke, 4 S!Caps and 1 Gu2O refill is all it took me to have a strong run. No bonking except for some walking in the technical sections of Steep Ravine, no cramp. 500 calories intake, 3,600 calories spent, that's the Vespa math, the difference came from some some body fat (so I can enjoy a good ice cream once back home! ;-).

Enrique finished 5th in 4:30. He was covered with dust as he fell flat in one of the switch backs, with less than 2 miles to go.
Another runner I didn't know, Fernando de Samaniego Steta, 29, finished 2 minutes behind.

Then if was Cliff less than a minute behind.
I stopped taking pictures of the finishers after that as my camera battery was too low. I thinks it's due to an upgrade...

Now, the bad news for my UltraSignup percentage... ;-) The winner was another local runner, Alex Verner, 28, from San Rafael and, for his first ultra, he had just smashed the Course Record by 7 minutes and 42 seconds! Way to re frame our own performances... Alex ran a 2:21 at the 2013 Boston Marathon! By the way, not only did I get the M40-49 AG CR wrong (4:03:11), the page doesn't seem to take into account 3 faster Master times from 2001 and 2003 (Scott Creel, Dennis Rinde and Carl Andersen). Or maybe the course changed in 2005. So, quite an incredible performance from Alex, welcome to the ultra world!

On the women side, my Quicksilver teammate, Bree Lambert, won in 5:11:02, with a short 2-minute lead on 2nd place, Amy Philipps. Both wearing Brooks Cascadia (yes! ;-), and both Masters. 3rd overall woman was Roxanne Woodhouse, 50. Bree with Tim and Diane, the Race Directors:
Amy and Bree:
Here are Bree and Amy discussing with co-Race Director, Diana Fitzpatrick:
I stayed for 2 hours but had to leave before all my teammates were back him. I talked to Bree, Lisa, Jill, Bernard, Troy and Corina. I didn't see Adam, Gary and Adona at the start. But, while he was at Pantoll, Jim saw at least Kat, Harris, Loren, Beatrice, Cecelia. And thanks to the results which have been promptly posed on the race website, it's great to see everybody finished!

The finish area had delicious home-made pizzas. Or maybe should I call them field-made as they were cooked in the portable oven of the Firetrail Pizza team under the direction of ultra runner, Jed Tukman, here with Jon Olsen:
Former Race Director, Greg Nacco, was running today. I chatted with him before the race, it's good to see such a fast runner on the trails. I just notice that Greg ran 20 of the last 21 editions of Quad Dipsea, what a regularity! Here he is with Tim Ftzpatrick who now directs the race with his wife.
And Tim with our Mountain Ultra Trail committee co-chair, Bill Dodson who, at 78, was likely the most senior race participant again today!
Although I didn't stop much at the aid stations, a big thank to the volunteers out there, your support is always invaluable! The course was very well marked which is to be noticed as I heard that some hikers removed the original ribbons in one of the course sections. A special thank to our Quicksilver club President who volunteered all morning, lonely, at the Matt Davis trail turn, to make sure we were not going on Coastal by mistake, which would have cost us many miles! Nice perks for finishers: a great Brooks t-shirt from the local store, Brett Rivers' San Francisco Running Company, samples of Udo Oil and body lotion (why not? ;-) and a convenient ultra light tote bag (ChicoBag). Plus, for the overall and age group winners, a very cool fleece and a nice bowl with a pack of granola from
There was a strong breeze which cleared the fog and made the post-race party quite sunny. I look forward to running this loop again. In the meantime, after last weekend's training run in the Headlands, I'll drive back a third time in one month for the Headlands 100-mile in 3 weeks. Speaking of which, it was cool to see the Abbs (Aland and Bev) and friends training on the course as we ran down to Rodeo Beach. That's going to be some serious running on these hills in September!

Jon Olsen, 2012 100K World Champion and also fan of Vespa:


Bea said...

I find it incredible that you have enough energy left over after a race to write such an in indepth and entertaining blog. Do you do a Vespa before writing as well?
Seriously...I am interested to know how often you do a Vespa during a race. And do you eat so sparingly during a 100 miler as well?

Louis said...

Alex Varner: an amazing trail runner; a record 5 consecutive fastest times for the Dipsea.

Unknown said...

Great report Jean. Most enjoyable with my late afternoon coffee.

Also very interesting hearing about your nutrition intake during the race. I'm always keen to learn more about what the elites are eating during their race!

Jean Pommier said...

@Bea, no, no Vespa while writing my blog posts, LOL! Vespa's standard "recipe": one pouch at -45 minutes, one at the start, one every 2 hours. And no carb intake for the first 90 minutes to make sure the body switches on fat burning. This is for intense effort. Maybe the intervals may be extended a bit when running slower. Don't hesitate to contact Peter Defty for more guidance.

Jean Pommier said...

@Louis: indeed, I didn't realize that, super impressive times on the Dipsea trail. Knowing that we run on that trail and Steep Ravine, a good knowledge of these trails may help, certainly. And blazing marathon times for sure too!

Jean Pommier said...

@Bernard: thanks for the note and sorry for the oversight of your name in the list of our team participants (fixed). As for the "elite", given Alex' performance which makes everyone else time so pale, I think "age grouper" is more appropriate... ;-) Anyway, it's fun to get these young rabbits to chase in races, it keeps us younger...