I'm running the Desert Solstice invitational mid December (24 hours on a track!) so the last thing I needed was hill training, especially on a strenuous and muddy course! My training have been more like 80-lap tempo runs at the local track lately... My main goal today, beyond battling for the team, was really to avoid a bad fall and break something. And the rain of the night made that an interesting challenge between slippery rocks and wooden stairs and other muddy patches.
Our Club President, Greg Lanctot, picked me at 5:30 to carpool to the start in Mill Valley. We arrived early and he got a good parking spot. I must say that it was a bit difficult to wake up at 4:30 am and get going while we were under pouring rain in San Jose. Thankfully though, it seemed that, for once, we were getting more rain than Marin County, phew! Indeed, when we arrived in San Francisco, the rain had stopped and it would not rain the whole race which made the day much easier.
There was a lot of "ultra power" behind the registration table with omnipresent volunteer, Stan Jensen, an ultra running legend, Ann Trason, John Medinger who has directed this race for 30 years among many other ultra accomplishments, and his wife Lisa Henson who has been a long time ultra runner and supporter of our sport and the General Manager of UltraRunning Magazine for many years and still writes a column in this monthly magazine (now led by Karl Hogland who was running today).
my Thursday's 35:41 10K Turkey Trot and I didn't want to trash my quads right off the bat. I settled behind John and Mark in the first series of stairs, then passed both of them in the third one, thinking that I'll likely regret my move later... ;-) There were about a dozen or so runners ahead, led by Dave and Chikara.
To my surprise, we did not go on Muir Wood road as for the three editions I previously ran (2009, 2008 and, before my blogging times, 2006), but on the trail across longing the road underneath. I knew that was the old course and that this trail had been washed out about 10 years ago, but I didn't know it had been restored and the race had been back to the original course these past 2-3 years. Needless to say, it added a few minutes each way (that is 4 times), especially in this humid weather.
At this point (mile 1.5) I was trying to keep Karl (Schnaitter, Excelsior) in sight which his bright yellow shirt made easier in the cloudy fog. I even managed to close some of the gap in the next technical section (and, no, we didn't take the Suicide Dipsea shortcut! ;-). I followed him and 2 other runners in the slippery Dynamite climb before we got in a thick cloud as we approached the Cardiac aid station. At the exit of the station, the visibility was so low that I missed the pink ribbons and inadvertently took left, and I'm glad a couple of volunteers noticed, yelled at me to steer me back on the trail, phew!
Although it wasn't raining per se, we were drenched with the droplets from the cloud and those falling from the trees and I felt chilly as I passed the ridge and hit the sea breeze. It was way too early to get cold in this race (mile 4) so I decided to keep pushing the pace and stick with Karl. We were really flying down the switchbacks and stairs of Steep Ravine and eventually passed a runner who was a better climber than descender. And I kept thinking "Be careful, don't trip, don't fall..." but it felt too good to run fast in this section and make up for the slow pace from the 700 stairs out of Mill Valley.
As we went under the cloud we got an amazing view over Stinson Beach, one that only a picture would make enough justice. I could see a couple of runners half a mile ahead but couldn't clearly spot Dave or Chikara. I crossed them, Dave first and Chikara on his heels, as they were already up the stairs on their way back, 3-4 minutes ahead. I reached the turn around at mile 7 in 1:04, oops that was a heck of a start. Actually, pretty close to what I was doing back then when I was running 4:19 and 4:20 except that it was a few years ago and I had no specific preparation this time. Carrying 2 bottles and taking Vespa, I didn't stop at the aid station. Mark was about 3 minutes behind so, despite what I thought was a crazy fast start, there was not time to waste or take it easier. Besides, he was followed by another member of our competitive M50-59 age group, David Smith. There is never an opportunity to rest in this sport...! ;-)
The return to Mill Valley is special in the sense that we cross so many runners. While I didn't have enough breath to return all the encouragement that they gave me, many using my name to make it personal which is really cool, I think I did explicitly thank all those who did stop on the side of the single trail. The toughest section is definitely going up the uneven stairs of Steep Ravine, with high stairs being so hard on the quads (especially for my short legs!). I was still following Karl whom I passed at mile 10 as he made a very quick stop at the Cardiac aid station. We literally flew down the next 2 miles, including over the trick roots in Cardiac and I was going so fast that I even created some gap in Dynamite which I was able to maintain down to Mill Valley. I'm sure there will more pictures popping up on Facebook but here is the only one I got of me, "in the misty cloud", credit to Kyria Wilson:
Similarly to the first turn around, we keep crossing runners albeit at a lower frequency as the pack keeps getting longer or thinner throughout the day. Again, big thanks to all of you who stopped on the side of the single trail to give us the right of way, it is so much appreciated! I tried to keep a good pace but certainly walked more than our first leg, especially on Dynamite and Cardiac. On my 2nd way down to Steep Ravine I was flying again and felt so happy to have avoided any fall so far. I reached the 3rd turnaround at Stinson Beach in 1:10 for the third leg, that is 3:30 total. On my way down to the beach I had pointed Chikara in the lead, 20 seconds ahead of Dave and 1.6 miles ahead of me. They were not going to break 4 hours this year but it was interesting to see the two of them battling in these conditions.
At this point, I knew I wasn't going to pull a 1:10 for the last leg, that I didn't have it in me to break the age group record which I thought was 4:30 from what I had seen on Gary Wang's RealEndurance website (and, my bad, it's just me who did read correctly, Gary is right of course!). I'm glad I didn't even killed myself trying because the records is actually 4:28 according to the Quad Dipsea website (Alfred Bogenhuber, 1991, and he also owns the M60-69 and M70-79 ones, what a Quad Dipsea guru! The M50-59 seems solid, especially with the race back on the original course, but I think Mark has a good shot at the M60-69 next year!).