Sunday, February 19, 2017

Fourmidable 50K Trail Nationals: formidable mud fest!

Wow, what a winter we got this time. Although so much water represents a blessing for California after 5 years of drought, I'm still wondering how much of it finds it way back underground where we pumped out so much these past 100 years; we seem better at drilling the Earth and getting precious resources out of it, not so good at replenishing our natural resources. Food for thoughts for some Silicon Valley entrepreneurs...
In the meantime, the local trails around the World Capital of endurance sports, Auburn, CA, offered us quite a mud fest this weekend for the USA Track & Field 50K trial national championships. For the past years, these championships were hosted by the Tamalpa running club, at the end of August: what a change it has been this time between super dry and super wet trails!

The change was also less than ideal from a calendar standpoint. I don't know for others but February is typically a month I am still building up on training toward the big 100K races in May and 100-milers from June onwards. And, personally, that made for a crazy February with this hilly race just 2 weeks after Jed Smith 50K (where I broke 3:20 again) and one week before the Riverbank One Day (24 hours on a track). At least I've nothing scheduled for March to compensate and recover... The thing is that I couldn't pass on a local championship, when we are blessed to have our dedicated North California race directors stepping up and bidding on these opportunities to gain more visibility.

With that, my main goal was to win my age group and, with the lack of appropriate training for such a course and trail conditions, I didn't feel it was a done deal at all when I saw for instance that Dan Barger was in the entrants list, then Ray Sanchez had registered at the last minute. I had never met Dan but he has an impressive ultra running resume and these trails are his training turf. Dan has 9 Western States finishes, spanning 30 years! He was 8th among the men in 1998 and had a very impressive top 10 finish in 2010 at age 44. I'm also very impressed with the sustainability of his ultra running career, UltraSignup listing his first ultra when he was 17! Here he is at our first passage on No Hands Bridge this Saturday morning:
Overall, that has been a very wet run for our feet, many puddles and running creek to cross, and many very muddy sections. I was super pleased with the grip of my Brooks Cascadias, I felt quite in control even in the deep mud on the way down to No Hands Bridge. As for the race, despite a blazing start below 7 min/mile pace, I only saw the leaders for a couple minutes.
I tried to keep up with the leading gals but I even lost them by mile 2 (photo credit: Nestor Medeiros)

After that fast start, I didn't see any other 50K runner from mile 3 to 30! Thankfully, we had the 35K runners on the course for some distraction and mutual encouragement. Speaking of encouragement, we got many from the aid station volunteers --THANK YOU!-- and I also had Agn├Ęs crewing for me today: she did her own ultra crew, showing up at all the allowed spots: the start, Gate 142, No Hands Bridge #1, Cool, No Hands Bridge #2 and the finish, wow! Here are few shots she got from these different spots.

Gate 142

No Hands Bridge #1:


No Hands Bridge #2:

At mile 30, I caught up with Michael Basuini; he looked so bad that I stopped to ask if he needed salt for instance. He actually begged for water and I offered him to take all what I had left in my bottle but he only took a few sips. Here is Michael at Gate 142, mile 5.
At this point we were on a section I knew from the inaugural Folsom Lake 100K ultra trail race I ran in 2015, so I was expecting the brutal finish, and it didn't disappoint indeed. To make the matter worse, 500 yards from the finish, in the last wall, I turn back and see a 50K runner closing on my, yikes! That gave me quite an adrenaline boost; not enough to break 4 hours and 30 minutes, but sufficient to take top 9, 7th in the men and first Masters, goal met and achieve!

With four races finishing on the same line (13K, half marathon, 35K and 50K) there was a bit of confusion and the USATF official gave my 7th overall medal to someone else, I will get mine in the mail. Dan took second in our age group and we finally had an opportunity to chat after all these years.

I was really happy with my performance, having pushed significantly but never in the red zone since I didn't see anyone behind for 30 miles. I did cramp on the massage table, but not during the race. And did quite some walking in the steep climbs (Cardiac, K2 and the last one) but that will be good training for this Summer's UTMB. I also needed to not kill myself before next week's 24-hour race anyway, not to mention I was just back from 10 days overseas, with 3 nights spent on planes and 3 stays in 3 different time zones (6, 11 then 9 hours...). We shall see how all this plays out, I'm certainly not following any text book here! Anyway, back to my result, it looked all good until I learned that Max King had won the race in a blazing 3:32. That's really an amazing performance as the course was much harder than Way Too Cool in my opinion, not only a lot of mud, but more cumulative elevation.

Cole Watson from Ashland, OR, took second, the our local elite David Roche, from Sunnyvale. 4th was Ryan Ghelfi from Ashland as well (with Max based in Bend, that makes 3 Oregonians in the top 4! And, to make this national championship more legit, 5th place, and last one to get in the money, was Ryan Woods, from Boone, NC, then Ian O'Brien from Granby, CO.

On the women side, Yiou Wang took the overall win, followed by Addie Bracy who was visiting from Colorado (she finished 30 seconds ahead of me).
Scott Dunlap was 2nd Master in the championship, winning his M45-49 age group. Here is Scott on No Hands bridge, then at the finish, with Western States Race Director, Craig Thornley:

Club mates John Burton and Gary Saxton took the M40-45 and M55-59 titles repectively. Also from our club, Jim Magill was racing and, at 70, I would be surprised if he didn't pocket the top spot as well (I can't find more than the top 17 results posted as of this Sunday night).

Great chatting with... the King about his running camps and upcoming events with Salomon; what a nice pro he is.
Special thanks to Race Director, Paulo Medina, for designing such a challenging course and hosting this championship with his SingleTrack Running event team. The marking was almost perfect, I just had a couple of hesitations when going down to No Hands bridge the first time. I'm very appreciative also for the few course monitors strategically positioned to make sure we were not missing key turns, especially at the confusing first passage through the Knickerbroker aid station. I'm not a big fan of the cup-less format, but that worked out. As usual, and although we only had a brief shower around 11 for less than 5 minutes, I got cold quickly after my finish and the hot soup helped, as well as the super nice hoody, part of the generous race goodies.
I also liked the chip timing strap, very easy to wear at the wrist. Just noting that my chip was half stuck-out at the finish, maybe it was the water, but I would have been bummed would I have lost it on the course. Worth checking the glue...

Thank you to all the volunteers who served us at the various aid stations, these ultra races could not happen without you!

As much as appreciated the cup of soup and two cans of Pepsi at the finish, I'm not sure if I missed a ticket for the food truck but I had to stop at an In-n-Out on the way back home as I was starving. That was another big difference with Tamalpa 50K's Firetrail pizza truck!

What a great event overall: I was anxious to see how I would fare on a muddy and wet trail after so many training weeks running flat miles, glad it worked out. My legs are certainly sore this Sunday, but I still managed to go for a 15K recovery run at 7:22 min/mile, fast enough to get rid of the extra lactic acid. An opportunity to thank the Monsters of Massage for the deep tissue massage at the finish.

And now looking forward to a good tapering week finally, before a few hundreds laps on the track next weekend!

PS: More pictures...

One minute before the gun
A start looking like the Way Too Cool one, including a downward first mile:

 David Roche and Cole Watson (Team Hoka) ahead of Max King at Gate 142
Ian O'Brien
Ryan Ghelfi
 No Hands Bridge aid station
 Cole Watson leading at mile 10
 With Max on his heels
 Then David Roche
 Ryan Woods (La Sportiva)
 Ian O'Brien (blue hat) and Ryan Ghelfi
 Michael Basuini
 Yiou and Addie battling through the No Hands Bridge 'lake'
 Ultra legend Tim Twietmeyer (blue top), never getting tired of cross this mythical bridge!
 Max going strong, through the Cool aid station

 Happy to be done and finally taking the time to look at the view (Auburn Dam Overlook)
 Legs weren't too muddy thanks to the many river crossings. As for the shorts...


Scott Dunlap said...

Awesome running with you again! Congrats on the well-earned Masters win, and good luck at the 24-hour!

Jean Pommier said...

Thanks, Scott! Likewise, congrats on your title and great seeing you again, has been a while. Next time should be in Boston I believe. Never know about the weather there, but should not be muddy at least. ;-)

trailmomma said...

FANTASTIC recap Jean! Welcome to the insanely muddy trails that is currently Auburn. :) It was definitely one helluva day out there. Congrats on your race and win!

Shir said...

great job, Jean! And thanks for the report.

Jean Pommier said...

Thank you, Pamela, and congrats to you for another finish of this local toughie!

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