Well, last week, I was actually in Los Angeles and did some hill training in the Hollywood hills, 2,300 and 1,200 feet, just enough to realize the lack of hill conditioning and readiness.
Incidentally, the first post I found on Facebook this morning was from Mark Gilligan, the founder and owner of the very popular web site in our ultra community, ultrasignup.com. Mark posted two pictures of him with this text:
10 years ago, before facegram and instabook, I came in second place at the Tahoe Rim 100 in 19:38. My name was not called out over a PA, my blog did not get 100s of thumbs ups, there was not a crowd of people at the finish line, it was just a great feeling to have given it my all.Mark is known for his humor and astute analysis and knowledge of our sport, and humor starting with some bragging to make the case against it! ;-) However, this is good insight and reading this made me wonder about the future of my blog and my race reports in particular. I teased him stating that I should do a race report exclusively on the beauty of the wildflowers, for a change. Anyway, I know Mark likes so spark controversy and sarcasm because his website has been a great vector of expansion of ultra races, and I'm sure he derives some sustainable revenue out of it (more than a million registrations have been processed through his site!).
Today there seems to be too much talk about awards, recognition, inequalities, sponsors, PEDs, etc. Let's enjoy the trails and not get so caught up in what others think.
But let's start with the wildflowers indeed. For a change. If I had known, I would have run with my camera this time. It was my 11th consecutive participation in this event and have seen a lot of change, first with the weather: from cold and wet to dry and hot, or windy, you never know what you will experience in the Marin Headlands, not to mention that we actually go through several of the many micro climates existing around the Bay Area. Indeed, for those not familiar with the event, here are a couple of maps to situate where the course is and which areas we have the privilege to run through.
With all the green on these maps, you can see the blessing we have to live and run in this area. I actually find a sacrilege for locals not to get to know these areas through at least some hiking.
For the past 4 years we have started the circumvention at Stinson Beach which offers ample parking. Initially were were starting at Rodeo Beach, which was more convenient coming from San Francisco or the Peninsula. But some construction work on the parking lot there triggered the change 4 years ago. One year, there was a high risk of fire so the race was reduced to 60K. This year, there was trail maintenance going on on the narrow Redwood Creek Trail, but Tia found an alternative to keep the same course layout overall, and the original 100K distance.
Back to the wildflowers, mind you! There were super abundant in the last part of the race, mostly on the Coast/Matt Davis trail, a section we cover twice on this out and back to the Randall Trailhead aid station and turn around. A multitude of orange California poppies which almost matched the color of the ribbon used for the exceptional good course marking, and many other species of flowers from white to blue, to yellow, pink, purple (thistle), and I'm sure other colors I'm missing in this enumeration. Oh, and a lot of green grass after this healthy went winter we have had this year!
Ok, so with that, I think I'm done with my race report...
Oh, no, to Mark's point about highlighting what we enjoy in this sport, I need to mention the volunteers of course, without whom we could not enjoy the trails this way, for 62 miles at once. Let's start with Race Director, Tia Bodington. A native of Marin County, albeit not a Miwok herself, Tia gives so much to perpetuate this old ultra running tradition in the Bay Area despite not living in the area anymore and all the obstacles related to running a large race through National and State sensitive environments, as well as competing with a plethora of ultra races nowadays. The event is so popular that it requires a lottery to get in. Tia is surrounded by a super strong team of volunteers and local running clubs have also stepped up to assist her in manning key aid stations. The inevitable Stan Jensen covering the start area before 4 am, then Tennessee Valley which we cross twice, then the finish area for a very long day. Hollis Lenderking who seems to live at the corner of Stinson Beach where he gives directions to runners at several local races. Steve Jaber (at TV) and Ron Little (at Bolinas Ridge) were part of the many volunteers keeping track of our times entering and exiting aid stations, along with the livensr.com crew providing a live webcast throughout the day. From the event preparation and post-race, the numerous course monitors, the remote aid stations remaining open for many hours and seeing runners going through twice, this is a ton of work and support that we, runners, are grateful for.
Yes, let's brag about the spectacular blooming vegetation, the spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, the Bay Area, the coastal cliffs, the Golden Gate and City by the Bay, the perfect weather we had this year with sun and breeze, the well maintained and dry trails and this army of joyful volunteers helping us all around.
Almost 300 of the 450 entrants made it to the finish, including about 20 who missed the 15 hours and 30 minutes time limit, 2 by mere 10 seconds, yikes!
As for me? Oh, I would have given you a ton of details if it wasn't for Mark's post above. What I was telling myself when running on the heels of Ron Guttierez on the first steep hill to Cardiac. That I thought we were on the wrong trail when going down to Muir Beach via the Heather Cutoff (with my hectic life these day I can barely process pre-race updates). That I thought I was way too close to Jesse Haynes by mile 9 as I arrived to Muir Beach, only to pass him a few miles later as we were going through Tennessee Valley the first time. That I knew it was too much of an aggressive start when I was in 4th place by mile 18, and even in 6th place by mile 35 just a couple of minutes behind Jesse and Ron. At that point, at the Cardiac aid station, Gary Gellin asked me how I felt. "Very tired" I replied and he added "Don't say that!" Yes, not only were my legs tired but my mental was quite gone although I'm proud to have continued this time, motivated by a 10th finish milestone. As a matter of fact, sorry for the bragging Mark, but, given the circumstances, I'm proud that I had the courage to switch to a survival mode, able to run most of the next miles to Bolinas Ridge around 11 min/mile with some walking but not too much. My intestines were hurting pretty bad. I stopped by the bathroom at TV at mile 26 but that didn't do. I stopped for 4 minutes at Bolinas Ridge and ate a few pieces of watermelon and that helped. So far I was running mostly on GU, GU2O, Vespa, Coke and a few pieces of banana. I was still on 6th place which felt weird when I saw Chikara coming back, with about 7 miles lead on me. A proof that the race wasn't as competitive as it used to be in the past, I wasn't worth being in the top 10 with all the walking I did on Bolinas Ridge. A long stop at the Randall Trail aid station, helped by aid station captain, Chuck Wilson, and teammate, Jim Magill. A volunteer gave me a piece of ginger candy and, while I couldn't finish it (I hate the taste) the little I was able to swallow helped with the GI distress. I was 0.1 mile up the trail when I saw the next runner come down, the gap was closing. At this point (mile 48), in addition to the survival mode I was already in, it became Mission Impossible to save my 6th place. I got caught by mile 52 by a younger runner who told me that everybody was looking as struggling as I was behind so that gave me a boost to keep moving to the next aid station (mile 55). I spent a few minutes in the bathroom to not much relief and, reluctantly, went back on the trail for the final stretch. 2 minutes later I got passed by 2 runners and asked for their age. One was struggling on an uphill and, out of breath, said 53: so long for an age group win, I thought... But then he added that he was actually just pacing his friend, Jame Player. And they teased me saying that James was 72, then 48 or so (he shows as 44 in the results, go figure). Anyway, as James was waiting for his pacer, I passed him and was moving along pretty well in the next mile, only interrupted by the numerous crossings with the runners of the end of the pack on this super narrow Coastal trail. James caught up with me, this time not with his pacer whom he had dropped, but another competitor, so I was now in 10th. 2 miles later, as was still struggling, 2 more runners flew by me before we dropped down to Stinson Beach on the treacherous Matt Davis trail with its killer roots, uneven stairs, rocks, branches and so much poison oak! Many hikers on the trail were adding obstacles and I felt particularly bad that most of them had no idea about the poison oak there were getting into to clear the way for us. Yikes, there is going to be a lot of itching this week. I used to be much more agile but, since I broke my shoulder, I've gotten extra cautious and was moving pretty slow in that section, convinced I was going to be chicked just before the finish line. I finished in 10:30:24, 7 minutes before first woman Molly Schmezle, closed call!
A visual summary of my run, worth another thousands words.
As I write this post, I only have one action shot to brag about, from Chihping Fu, as I was happy to still be running with Ron who was giving it his all, and Jesse who was still taking a measure of the Masters field on his first hill training too, in his preparation for Western States. We were returning to Tennessee Valley so about 24 miles in.
Actually, let me update this post with another picture from Chihping, as we crossed paths on Coastal between Bolinas Ridge and the finish, which also shows the wildflowers and amazing clear sky and views.
In front, Chikara finished in a blazing 8:46:37, way under last year's course record of 9:04. Yet, I was bummed when I heard he was passed by Franz Van Der Groen in the last miles, with Franz finishing 42 seconds ahead. Congrats to Franz for the win! In the Masters division, Jesse, 44, finished 4th overall in 9:49 just ahead of Ron, 49, in 9:56 (my time was 9:51 on this course in 2015). I felt very lucky that Ron is only turning 50 in 2 weeks, so I was able to win my age group despite so much struggling and walking in the last 20 miles.
Tia welcomed me at the finish with a special 10-time finisher fleece with my name, a super cool surprise! Here is a picture I purchased from wonderful photographer, Glenn Tachiyama (check his Miwok 2017 album, he offers very competitive pricing, get your own pics to enjoy and support his great work!):
Once again, I had to leave early, this time so I could vote in the French election which was a critical one to keep the far right at bay. While the Sunday results show a healthy margin for Macron (by 30 points), everybody was scared by what happened with misleading polls in recent elections in the UK and US so we couldn't take any chance. But we are not off the hook, we vote for the representatives in 4 weeks and the political landscape is a big mess after so many divisions and last minute temporary alliances in the Presidential election. What a world we are living in...
With that, I hope it wasn't too much bragging, Mark. What do you all think? Let me know by leaving a comment. Honest feedback, ok? ;-)
See some of you at Quicksilver in a week then!
PS: two more pictures I bought from Glenn
Before plunging into Pirates Cove, the recto: