Sunday, May 6, 2018

Miwok 100K 2018: ah, that jar of granola...

Let’s get the record straight: being on a keto diet, I did NOT want that prize which one of the sponsors, bungalow munch, offered for the top Masters. When Tia announced that on Facebook earlier this week, I even said that my money was on Paul Terranova, from Texas, who I thought would easily kill the 40+ men category. But ultra running always throw surprises to us, read on!
That was my 12th consecutive Miwok, although I dropped in 2016, getting cold at Bolinas Ridge with too many doubts in my mind, just 2 months after my mini stroke (TIA, pun intended for Miwok’s RD!). With that, last year marked my 10th finish! (Photo credit: Glenn Tachiyama, 2017)
Those reading my blog regularly have noticed that this was my 5th back to back racing weekend: American River 50 aborted at mile 41, a pity full Boston Marathon in challenging weather (3:06), a 6:20 50-mile at Ruth Anderson, then a 5K last Sunday (and, no, racing only 3 miles isn't easier when you try to run them under 6 min/mile!). The April and May madness doesn’t end here: next week is Quicksilver 100K, then Ohlone 50K the following weekend, followed by a 2-week break before a 24-hour but that will get to some June madness then.

For once, the weather looked great on the forecast, a sunny day with temperatures from 54F to 66F. But that wasn’t taking into account the hard to predict fog on these hills. While I had planned for a warm day, I was glad to have my arm sleeves and my Buff, as most of the time anyway.

4 am, Tia and her crew remain cool and in full control of the situation, what a cumulated experience in these volunteers!

I had browsed through the entrants list and didn’t spot big names must I must say that this race attracts a lot of out-of-state runners so that didn’t mean it was not going to be fast. And, at a minimum, there was Paul who won our Quicksilver 100K race 2 years ago, and a few Nationals.

Instead of the warm-up we do on shorter races, quite a few runners had to practice the Cardiac conga line in front of the porta-potties...
With 20 minutes to go, the pack starts gathering behind the start line.
With that, after car pooling with my friend and teammate Pierre-Yves, I actually started the race at the front for a change, here. But I let a few pass up Cardiac, settling down in 8th place I believe. Between the fog and the darkness at 5am, it wasn’t easy to tell.

I was so grossly undertrained for the hills, my butt was wondering what was happening that Saturday morning. My last major hill training was actually at UTMB, 8 months ago!! Some climb at the 50-mile Road Nationals 7 months ago, then one run to the top of Black Mountain on New Year's Day, then one on March 3, that's it! At this point I thought this race would mainly serve as a training run, which wouldn't be the first time.

I dropped my headlamp at Muir Beach, saw Christine Chapon on her way to some course marking and monitoring, and I head up the Middle Green Gulch trail followed by a runner from Hong Kong, Phil Wright, and Tony Molfino, a recent Quicksilver teammate. This is my favorite hill on this course but I was trying not to get too excited so early in the race. I reached the Tennessee Valley aid station at mile 13 in 7th place but exited in 6th as I didn't stop and passed one runner, Greg Miller (Greg seemed to have a video crew following him). Here is Greg at the finish:
For the next 5 miles, and despite the fog, I could see 2 tall runners ahead and was 2 minutes behind them after the descent from Bridge View, a section I managed to log a 6:19 mile on! I eventually caught up with them, plus another one, at the top of this 4th main climb of the day, where we were now crossing the middle of the pack on their way out (them on mile 15, us on mile 23). At least, on this fire road, there was ample space to cross, make eye contact and exchange smiles (as opposed to the Coastal Trail single track later).

When we got into Tennessee Valley for the second time, Steve Jaber was posted to ensure we were walking while crossing the horse stable area. Steve said I was in 6th and I was going too fast, but I argued it was a slow or slower year. Unlike Gary Gellin, I don't prepare pace charts for hilly course like this but we were indeed under 8:30 min/mile with 4 climbs in. That being said, apart from the initial Cardiac climb, the first section of the course is much more runnable than the second.

The two tall runners were Misha Shemyakin and Levi Webb. The other runner, Phil Kochik was walking some of the uphills but much faster than us in the downhills. We ran the next section from Tennessee Valley to Muir Beach all together, and my money was on Misha who looked really light and smooth on the uphills in particular. Now, I hadn't realized this at the time but Phil had won the race in 2006 and took 6th Men in 2009, some important data to have when betting... ;-)

Two pictures from Christine Chapon, course monitor at the bottom of Coastal Trail, to guide us toward Muir Beach, the first one as I rush down, the second as I'm still chewing the piece of banana.

Out of Muir Beach, it was Misha in front, then Phil, Levi and I. I passed Levi and Phil and kept an sustained effort in the Heather Cutoff switchbacks to maintain visual contact with Misha. Misha left the Cardia aid station just as I reached it,  to spend a few minutes to catch my breath, get my water bottle refilled, and enjoy Gary Gellin's jokes about my racing regimen. ;-) We were at mile 35 and my second GU2O bottle was at 15% so I decided to wait for the next aid station to fill it again. Since I changed diet, to keto or Optimized Fat Metabolism, I've had bad experiences taking too much electrolytes, or too little, but I didn't want to over do it today.

We missed Roger Delor at the crossing of Panoramic Highway, there was actually nobody. I recall hesitating going in front of a huge SUV then... On the other side, there is a staircase with high steps and both my inner thighs froze, ouch! 35 miles in, it was way too early to start cramping, yikes! While I learned to keep running when cramps occur in my calf, occasionally, there is little I could do without my adductors working. I had planned on taking one S!Caps every hour but had taken 6 more in case...

The next three miles were a real struggle. Three times, I couldn't even make one step. I took 2 S!Caps, each at 20-minute interval to avoid messing up my salt level. I hesitated taking all the GU2O I had left but I learned that from Rob Evans when he paced me for my first Western States, to fight hydration issues with all you've got, not trying to save some to make it to the next aid station. With that, I reached Bolinas Ridge with two empty bottles.

Franz Dill took care of refilling them, with some ice, and I also drank almost a full can of coke again, plus a piece of banana and watermelon. I was still in 4th place and had to stop several times again in the next rolling section on the ridge, unable to make a step when the adductors were locking in. I was torn between taking even more S!Caps but was concerned to get my kidneys in trouble so played on the safe side, albeit painful one with the cramps. I was now logging miles around 11 to 12 minutes and Phil eventually passed me about 1 mile before we plunge down the Randall turn around.

He encouraged me to follow him but that was one of these times I couldn't even make a step, losing another minute until it passed, then getting back to a slow jog with a stride as economical as possible, which is rather challenging to do on such a rolling terrain. To my surprise, I didn't cramp in the downhill and crossed the two lead runners, Franz van den Groen and Chris Jackson, about 0.9 mile from the aid station (in fast years, I would have seen the front runners coming back on the ridge).

It was great to see Chuck Wilson again, the Captain of the Randall aid station, who offered the best service at this low point of the race, elevation-wise at least (photo credit: Chuck).
Here am I, leaving Randall, photo taken by Agnès' aunt from the parking lot where Agnès could find a spot in time to leave the car.
While it was certainly encouraging to know I wasn't too far from the lead, now in 5th place. That being said, with the cramping and electrolytes out of balance, I feared the steep climb and the remaining 13 challenging miles to the finish.

These didn't disappoint! The climb was actually ok, I was able to alternate some running and walking, while crossing the other runners. Greg and Levi first, then Paul, finally, then 2 runners with black tops whom I didn't know. I was already 1 mile from the aid station when I saw Paul and still thinking of that coveted jar as all the others looked younger than 40...

I did some walking in the uphills on the ridge but was rather pleased to be able to jog the rest, with less cramping now (I was now on my 4th GU2O bottle, like my pre diet change hydration habits, and 12th S!Caps). I didn't stop at the Bolinas Ridge aid station for too long knowing that I will slow down significantly in the next remaining 7 miles. Sure enough, 1 mile later, one runner with a black top passed me with his pacer. That was a section in the woods where we were crossing the rest of the pack, so I couldn't pay attention to who he was.

I struggled on the Coast Trail but the extreme kindness of most of the runners getting out the trail to let me pass was overwhelming and helping getting positive thoughts and smiles soak in. This is one thing I don't like about this race is that the trail is so narrow and we slow down the progress of these runners, some who are already battling the cut-offs. I even got short of breath trying to thank everybody, hope I didn't miss anyone, I believe I must have crossed more than 50 runners in that section, plus a few hikers.

In case I lost you along this convoluted course, check this cool 3D flyover of my run, thanks to (click on this link, or the picture below).

Anyway, with that slow progression, Levi passed me as well about 4 miles from the finish.

Finally, at the top of the treacherous descent on Matt Davis, with it's roots, poison oak, rocks, switch backs, irregular stairs, the legs got quite out of control while I was so focused on not falling. Greg passed me and, with just one mile to go, Paul!
I was relieved from the granola jar pressure, at last, and could focus on just avoiding a fall and finishing this beast. My finish time was 10:16:10, good enough for 9th overall this year.

I finished with my traditional face mask of the tough days although I tried to convey to Tia how grateful I was to cross the finish line for the 11th time of the 15 editions has directed so far.

Now, back to the title, I congratulated Paul for winning that jar, a prize he had no knowledge about but that Meredith, his wife, and him welcomed for their trip back to Texas!
Then I asked if there was an age group prize as well, only to learn that the runner with a black top, Robert Verhees (from California, with only 4 races in UltraSignup), was actually 52 and had finished in 5th. I was actually surprised the jar wasn't even given to him then but even more so to come 2nd in my age group. Kudos to Robert for his 10:00:24 finish time, way to represent the old guys!
Ray Sanchez completed the M50-59 podium, finishing in 19th overall, just breaking 11 hours.

Most of the post-race food was carb so I just ate a few scoops of sausage, and some salad.
I was actually not much hungry: I took 6 GUs total, plus 2 cans of Coke during the race and a few pieces of banana and watermelon. And 4 pouches of Vespa (-45', 0, +3hr, +6hr). Oh, and 2 thin slices of dry sausage at Randall, I wished they had more of this non-carb option at the other stations! Overall, I'm happy to have made the top 10 once more, but really disappointed for getting my electrolytes out of balance, again. And, as a result, the embarrassing soreness in my legs this Sunday morning due to all this cramping. The good news is, thanks to staying on the lower side of the electrolyte balance, I didn't gain weight this time at least (otherwise, it can be 5-6 pounds which takes 4 days to dissipate). Also, thinking more about it, my struggle might have come from the lack of hill training too, that would make a lot of sense, it was a bit aggressive to go that hard on such a course, without some consequences.

Anyway, one more live test, and hill training run in just a week, QuickSilver 100K! That race being in our local Grand Prix, as opposed to Miwok this year (you can blame me, I had to make the cut), there should be many more familiar face on Saturday.

Kudos to Tia and her crew, first for putting up such a professional race but perpetuating this ultra tradition within a gorgeous location. But also for keeping Miwok such a mythical race which draws many runners from across the country, and also internationally (Panama, Mexico, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Brazil)! (It surely helps that the race is a Western States qualifier, as well as an ITRA even which gives points to UTMB in particular.)


Unknown said...


I can't believe I am just reading this now. In all my stories of that race, I talk about the guy in a blue shirt in front of me (you) and the guy in the blue shirt behind me (Paul). Are you running it next Saturday? Do you live in this area? I'd love to go for run with you. Excellent blog post BTW!

Greg Miller

Jean Pommier said...

Hi Greg! Thanks for the note, see you on Saturday again, then! Let's connect on Facebook, ping me!