Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Quicksilver 100K 2019: what an experience!

experience noun
ex·​pe·​ri·​ence | \ ik-ˈspir-ē-ən(t)s  \
Definition of experience
1a : direct observation of or participation in events as a basis of knowledge
b : the fact or state of having been affected by or gained knowledge through direct observation or participation
2a : practical knowledge, skill, or practice derived from direct observation of or participation in events or in a particular activity
b : the length of such participation
has 10 years' experience in the job
3 : something personally encountered, undergone, or lived through
4a : the conscious events that make up an individual life
b : the events that make up the conscious past of a community or nation or humankind generally
5 : the act or process of directly perceiving events or reality
The Merriam-Webster has all these different meanings for the word experience; skills, being affected, gaining knowledge, direct observation, length of participation, perception of an event, let's see how this word and 36th edition of this South Bay ultra running tradition played out.

First, 36 years in the making, what an outstanding tenure! Sorry for bragging about my Quicksilver running club, but proud of the amazing tradition our club founders have established in 1983, true pioneers of the ultra trail running phenomenon in North America. It wasn't long after the Western States movement, way before ultra running exploded in the 2000s. As a matter of fact, our club has been manning the Duncan Canyon aid station for several decades at Western States.

Speaking of history, this year's t-shirt featured on older design highlighting the rich mining history of the Almaden Quicksilver County Park which we enjoy on race day and all year around.

A few years ago, the logo of our club evolved to mark the emphasis on the preservation of Mount Humunhum in the nearby Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve which 50K of the 100K are run into.

Such history and heritage brings a lot of experience into this race, which extended from 50-mile to 100K to retain the Western States qualifier status, under Greg Lanctot's leadership while former Race Director, Paul Fick, focused on keeping his "Chez Darcy" open to offer what was known as the best post-race BBQ party of the West (and probably North America at least)! Thanks to the experience of our brother Stevens Creek Striders running club, the club who taught me ultra running initially, there is literally hundreds of man-years of ultra running experience provided at the aid station to serve both ultra novices and experienced runners.

This experience doesn't only come handy on race day. There is so much work preparing for such an event, and work after, countless of hours and volunteers. An example: here are Mike and Hugo, Striders, going to mark part of the course on Friday morning (under the command of co-Race Director, Stuart Taylor! ;-):

Think also about what each of the 12 aid stations need to have on race day, which quantity of watermelon, strawberries, cookies, gels, or water; depending on the time of the day (temperature), the distance (what runner will want), the number of passages through the aid stations (between the 50K and 100K, Bull Run sees 4 batches of runners from 9 am to 9 pm!). Thankfully we have our Queen of the aid station coordination, Kristina Irvin, bringing in all her experience of decades of ultra racing, including 10 Western States finishes. Like Kristina says: "I was privileged to race so much, it's may way to give back." And that includes very short nights leading to the race, including the last night where she camps next to the food truck at Mockingbird. So many things happening behind the scene, I just got a peek at it again, this time by helping her and Mike shopping at Costco (oh my, it had been 10 years since I visited this center for shopalcoholism, I forgot how huge this is...) and organizing the split of supplies among the 8 aid station locations.

People in line before Costco opens at 9 am!
 Some ultra food...
Thankfully, nobody suggested I race the 100K pushing such a cart, it was hard enough on flat asphalt! ;-)

The 100K starting at 4:30 am I had to wake up before 1:30 again, one week after doing if for Miwok. That's the insane part of this back to back double, I need to get to bed by 7 pm at the latest. A mark I missed again but I was sufficiently relaxed to sleep 5 hours and even wake up 2 minutes before my alarm clock rang. 1 avocado, 2 hard eggs, some avocado mayonnaise, simple and quick breakfast thanks to the keto/OFM diet. Although I had stopped by Sports Basement after my volunteer shift to pick up my bib, something I had never done for the 10 previous years I've run this event, I arrived at the parking lot by 3:30.

Unfortunately, as a famous person once said: "the first will be last" and the early birds got the parking spots furthest from the aid station, more on this later. The sky was full of stars by 3:30 but cloudy by the time co-Race Director, Stuart Taylor sent us on the first hill of the day after his briefing and not without mentioning that the check-in logistic worked better this year thanks to the waiver being sent before race day.

There were quite a few runners I didn't recognize on the start line so I remained on the second line and took it easy in the first hundred yards. After the first turn, I caught up with Thomas Reiss, a very competitive runner who ran for Innov-8 for many years (see his website). Thomas said he was thinking of running 12-13 hours and I have to admit I had no particular plan so I didn't replied but I thought to myself that breaking 11 hours was more my goal today (I ran the last 4 of the past 5 100K editions and, although the course had changed twice already over these years, my times have been respectively 9:45, 10:14, 10:25 and 10:22). That being said, with the gluteus injury which have been seriously impacting my training since last November and still hurts 6 months later, I was hoping to play by feel and... experience.

As always, with his traditional aggressive start, I passed Jason Reed shortly after the first mile which I ran in 11:36 if that gives you any indication of the slope. The next few miles became really interesting as we got into a thick layer of fog, even before English Camp. I could distinguish one headlamp ahead but had not idea how many were upfront. On Bull Run I caught up with a runner with a black top. He recognized me and mentioned he had read a few of my blog posts, while searching about this race. He was coming from New York and I thought he had an aggressive start for someone who may not be used to running in the heat and on so many hills. His name was Nicholas Mamrack, 24.

I didn't know his age at the time but could tell he was younger (31 years younger, duh!) and told him he should go first when we run down to the cemetery as I didn't want to trip so early in the race (well, or at any point as a matter of fact). We got to the course monitor leading everybody through this tricky multiple-way intersection which we cross twice. The fog was so opaque I couldn't see who this volunteer was. First, he had a powerful headlamp which he was pointing on us, making us even more blind. Then, we took the first left turn but the usual right turn had a big line drawn all across the trail, so I figured out it wasn't the right way, stopped, traced back and Nicholas finally saw a ribbon on the right. Phew, I ran these trails so many times, but never in such low visibility conditions, what a difference that makes!

We flew down the cemetery then and actually quickly crossed the lead three runners, the first one wearing a top with a large Google logo. Again, in all these years, and even with Chikara and Leor running, I had never seen such a fast start, wow!

Slightly ahead of Nicholas, there was another runner wearing a bright yellow top, albeit not from Excelsior. Coming back from the cemetery out and back, there is a good uphill where we cross all the other runners. The trail is narrow, not in great condition and, at 5 am, it's still quite dark. The fog made it even harder this year and I was super focused on not tripping, certainly trying to avoid looking up at others coming down, despite their nice encouragements. Back at the intersection the poor volunteer was losing his mind. There were now dozens of runners coming from all directions, it was worst than driving through a roundabout in Paris in rush hour! ;-) I contributed to the confusion, keeping running uphill too far, missing the left turn. Quickly realizing the mistake I turned back only to see the lead runners coming back from yet another wrong trail! So, all of sudden, the 6 of us in the lead got reunited but not for too long as the top 3 runners rushed again, leaving us in the dust.

Some time later in that same section at mile 5, about one hour in the race, one runner fell and dislocated his knee cap. Ultra reporter extraordinaire, Chihping Fu, arrived at the scene and wonderfully captured this moment with a picture which is worth an award in my opinion; the perfect lighting capturing the pre-dawn fog and all this compassion surrounding the injured runner:

I learned later that William Dai for instance (yellow top, Pamakids) stayed for 15 minutes before resuming his race with the assurance that a volunteer, David Foote, was on his way to check on the runner (David ran back to Hicks Road then drove the runner down to Hacienda where his girlfriend picked him up to go to ER, where surgery to fix his broken patella was scheduled for this Monday). After this incident, William will then pass many runners all day, finishing 50th overall in 14:15. We will all remember this living proof of our ultra community spirit, well done guys, what another ultra racing experience!

Back to the race, I quickly lost eye contact with Nicholas in the fog but managed to keep up with the other runner, with the yellow top, and we left the Hicks Road aid station (mile 6) together. However, the gluteus pain really prevented me from extending my stride and, with the fog, I lost track of that other runner as well, less than 2 miles into Sierra Azul. I kept running most of the climb and eventually emerged from the cloud to experience an amazing sun rise of the East Bay range, literally breath taking! I was actually thinking of Chihping and his camera, how much he would have enjoyed that moment. But the time was at keeping pushing uphill while not killing myself that early in the race, a subtle combination and balance.

I was welcomed at the Woods Road aid station by our ultra running team and aid station captain, Loren Lewis who was manually pointing our passage. He said 6 20 when I passed which I interpreted as you are in 6th place (that made sense from my earlier estimation and was encouraging) and 20 minutes behind. 20 minutes! While I could care less about making a podium today given the circumstances, I was stunned by how fast the lead runners were this year. We were only 12 miles in, almost 2 min/mile faster pace. Carrying enough fluids for 15 miles I actually didn't stop except to hand out my headlamp and rushed into the long downhill to Lexington reservoir. After the wonderful views above the layer of fog at the top, we plunged again in the cloud and I couldn't see if anyone was ahead on that fire road where you can spot a runner a mile away otherwise. To my surprise, just before the intersection with Priest Rock Trail, I had a glimpse of Nicholas and the runner with a yellow top. I wasn't expecting this because I didn't feel I had move that fast in the downhill.

Anyway, 2.5 miles later I was greeted at the Lexington aid station by my teammate and track workout buddy, Jeremy Johnson, a most refreshing tradition and boost before the biggest climb of the day. I got my GU2O (GU Brew) bottle refilled, drank a cup of Coke and ate a piece of banana if I recall and off I was. The aid station crew mentioned that the lead runner didn't stop to drink and they didn't see how sustainable that was. And I was pointed at 19 minutes behind which was also encouraging because, with the shorter stride, I could barely break 7 minutes/mile in the downhill, yet it didn't seem I had lost to much ground! And I was still smiling and in high spirit, phew!

Encouraged by this I did jog a good portion of Priest Rock, walked the steepest climbs, got a picture from the course monitor at the intersection (who was this?) and attacked the Dog Meat beast with strong spirits. I passed a few hikers but, still in the cloud layer, couldn't see any runner ahead or behind. I was almost done when I finally saw a runner behind, moving fast, with poles, and I thought "dang, this must be Thomas who was sandbagging at the start and is coming back. Or me falling behind pace..." That got me to push in the last wall and reevaluate what the next section was going to be. In my mind I thought the downhill to Kennedy Road was just 2 miles and that I had enough of a lead now that I could take it easy before pushing back on the return (the course has us doing an out and back to Kennedy Road), losing 2,000 feet and climbing them just after). Well, the trail sign indicated 4 miles to Kennedy so it was time to get moving. My GPS was right on 22 miles at the Dog Meat and Kennedy Trail intersection. With the extra pressure, I kept going but, still, without going all out as we were barely 1/3 into the race in terms of effort. 2 miles later, me still flying down, who do I see coming up? The Googler, still in first place and appearing super smooth and fast on the climb, and still now carrying any bottle; was he super human, I have never seen in my 13 years in ultra racing! That was Patrick and Ryan was in second place, less than half a mile away. 3rd place was still Sam Cox, new to ultra running this year (Way Too Cool 50K in March), who joined our Quicksilver team. I was so excited for him yet again a big surprised by the aggressive pace. Nicholas was in 4th and I reach the Kennedy aid station at the bottom of the hill (mile 25.8) shortly after the runner in yellow left. I took a few minutes to work on some chaffing, get ice in my water bottle, some Coke, watermelon, pieces of banana, and then it was time to welcome the runner who had finally caught up with me but, wait, it wasn't Thomas but another talented teammate, Gaspar Mora Porta. Before leaving I asked him how he was and when he replied 41 I thought: "well, you can have the Masters title and let me work on the M50; after all I wasn't even born to ultra racing when I was your age!" ;-) Feeling refreshed with the ice in my water bottle and some ice water on my Buff, I was energized and resolute to run as much of the next 4 miles up Kennedy as we were to now cross most of the pack coming down. Well, it took a while before I crossed any runner and a good mile before I saw Thomas who looked in good spirit too. Gaspar eventually caught up with me, I'd say half way. It wasn't that he was pulling much on his poles as we do in the Alps, but the poles helped him keep a smooth stride and quick cadence in the steepest section, I was very impressed and didn't have enough energy and stamina to chase him. Picture from Tom Qin (I must be pushing on virtual poles! ;-) ):
Even on the Kennedy rollers where you can sometime spot a runner ahead with the multiple ups and downs, no trace of Gaspar, he was gone on a mission! And I have to say that I was very happy with the team that three of us were in the top 7. Ah, these Kennedy Rollers, it looks like they are getting steeper every year or even that they had a few rollers every time. I can't even comprehend which geological phenomenon created such a natural roller coaster, of if it's someone crazy enough to have bulldozed them mechanically! A key challenge every time and, I know, it's not going to get any easier with age... I was thinking of that year when I almost killed myself in that section because some crazy club mates had decided to create a Strava challenge... It wasn't going to happen this year! I tried to regain as much composure upon arriving to the Woods Road aid station for the second time and, when Chris Gladding asked how I felt, I replied with what he described as a casual "okay..." Actually, at mile 31, I felt good to be done with the hardest part of the course, climbing wise. Besides, I had reached the station before Gaspar had left so maybe I hadn't lost that much ground in the last 3 miles. Or Gaspar had stayed at the station for too long.

Now, something strange happened. Just after saying "okay" to Chris, and as I stepped laterally to grab a piece of water melon, I felt a sharp pain at the top of my left foot, yikes! Well, finally something more painful than my gluteus, something which could eclipse it for a change but I needed both my feet to run the remaining 31 miles... After getting my GU Brew bottle refilled, and more ice water in the other, more vaseline to stop the nagging chaffing, it was time to get over the hump for the next mostly down 7 miles back to Hicks Road.

That section has really no difficulty but, once in a while, some lose rocks twisted my left foot and made the foot pain super sharp, making me wondering what that was and if I could even make it back to my car at Hacienda (mile 41) without risking some terrible damage. I paid extra attention to my footing and was able to reach Hicks Road without too much trouble and maintaining an 8 to 9 min/mile pace.

Again, Gaspar was still at the aid station when I reached it, getting his poles back into his drop bag as poles are forbidden in Almaden Quicksilver Park. Like at Woods Road, the top of my foot was hurting just with a few lateral steps to check on all the great food (I did grab a piece of avocado, a first in a race, a keto treat, yeah! ;-). I was almost going to mention my foot pain when I saw the aid station captain and teammate, Clare Abram, with crushes: so bummed for her she is off for this year season after the need to get her hamstring reattached... and really no place for me to complain to these outstanding volunteers about my little trouble in comparison! I also ate delicious strawberries, got more ice water and left the station ahead of Gaspar, now back in 6th place.

A mile later, I caught up with Sam. He had a low point, after passing the 50K point, the farthest he had ever run, but was resolute to finish. I gave him an S!Caps and we ran for a few minutes together then I went ahead in the downhill to Hacienda, knowing that I will make a stop by my car. While I felt so slow in this downhill, trying to preserve my left foot from too much pounding, Paul King, another club mate and volunteer who spent 5 hours monitoring this intersection, took this picture at the optimal time to show some flying...
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, my car was far from the aid station so, while I was changing top, putting some sunscreen on, refilling my Ultimate Direction running belt with a few GU gels, Vespa concentrate, and pouches of GU Brew powder, I saw Gaspar going through the aid station. From my car I then went to the aid station myself to get some fruits and ice water, and asked the volunteers if they had seen Sam, but was told he hadn't been through yet. I wasn't even thinking of chasing Gaspar but, a mile later, caught up with Sam, just before the Hacienda Roller Coaster, and passed him again as I pushed on the steep uphills while putting on the breaks in the downhill, for the fear of falling. Once more, I reached Mockingbird aid station, which is also the finish of both the 100K and 50K races, while Gaspar was still there. He left a few minutes before me and, as I was passing the timing mat, Ellen Taylor indicated I was in 7th place which was surprising because I didn't see Sam leave before me.

I was feeling ok but the legs were definitely tired so I stayed in an sort of 'eco' mode on New Almaden, looking forward to actually walk the rocky Buena Vista Trail, which I did. The gluteus was yelling again as I was extending the stride over the bigger rocks but the top of the left foot had now calmed down, a relief! And I caught up with Gaspar right at the entrance of Day Tunnel Trail. Gaspar was walking and I was just happy to stay behind but, after a few switchbacks, went ahead and ran most of the way up to Bull Run #1. What a relief to find the Stevens Creek Striders up there, the first club I joined when moving to the area. Hugo indicated that I was in 5th place indeed (Sam was behind me at Mockingbird) and 59 minutes behind the leader. After refueling (Coke, some fruits, ice water), it was time to move again and enjoy the lollipop look around Catherine Tunnel then the few miles of downhill back to New Almaden Trail. Nina Giraudo was sweeping and chatting with Christine Chapon while taking this picture:
I could feel cramps ready to strike in my quads so took the rolling trail moderately but was moving quite well when I ran into a big rattlesnake blocking the single trail. I stopped but it wasn't moving at all so decided to jump over his tail. Still, I always get a chill from these encounters... As for the poison oak, it wasn't too bad, kudos to all my club mates who worked on trail maintenance this Winter and Spring! Finally getting to Macabee aid station (mile 54) and welcomed by the volunteer on steroid, and also long time teammate, Mark Tanaka, aka Doc Noc: Mark is an ER Doctor and, with all his energy, you can be certain he isn't falling asleep during his multi-day shifts! It wasn't that hot but I was drinking more than at Miwok and got a 5th bottle of GU Brew, hoping that will keep the cramps at bay.

Still nobody to be seen ahead, nor behind, except the 50K runners now. I did walk some of Mine Trail but jogged most of it, while admiring the Guadalupe Reservoir so full this year, finally after more than 5 years of drought... There were also dozens of gulls flying over the lake, pure beauty! And notice that I didn't say seagulls, I had to consult with Steve Patt on Facebook to stand corrected and learn about the gulls we have here: Western Gulls, California Gulls, Herring Gulls, and Ring-billed Gulls! On the last steep climb of Provincia Trail, the cramps were getting so close, I just walked it. As I was resuming running uphill on Mine, 4 miles from the finish, both my quads froze, ouch! That stopped me right away and I was now out of S!Caps and had finished both my bottles in anticipation, to get as much fluid through my body and hydrate and drain these muscles. Last option, like I did at Miwok last week, take a few deep breaths and... that worked again! At least that allowed me to jog up to Bull Run #2.

Only 3 miles to go but my experience pushed me to stop for a few minutes and recharge, just in case. Well, I have to say that I was super impressed how the Striders were remaining calm given the circumstances: as I arrived at their aid station, 4 Rangers were on the side of the trail, 2 fire trucks, 1 emergency vehicle (ambulance), 3 Park Rangers vehicle and... an helicopter which was taking off. I learned later that the helicopter was taking the original lead runner, Patrick Rabuzzi, to the nearest hospital after he had collapsed, trying to reclaim the lead with 3 miles to go and running the last 10 miles in second place. What a bold and fatal move, I think I can safely say, from a lack of... experience. Our RDs confirmed that Patrick had finally been released from ICU this Tuesday, phew! Last time we had a similar story, it was our very own Race Director, Pierre-Yves, at Ohlone in 2012... Scary ultra moments, or ultra scary experiences...

After all this agitation, I left quietly, focused on keeping a stride as economical as possible to avoid any more cramping. Picture from Chuck Wilson:

With the hope of finishing in 4th now, after Patrick's DNF, that gave me a boost and I was able to push the pace in the downhill through English Camp, no more cramping!

With a mile to go, but still quite a few steep uphills, my watch showed 10:52... I wasn't going to break 11, for the first time, I felt ashamed yet remained super cautious in the downhills and grateful when I finally saw the finish line and I had not fallen. I crossed the finish line in 11:03:05 and, short of a podium, was quite happy to get the Masters title this year. To my astonishment, people started to congratulate me for my 3rd place, what a great surprise, the super bonus or cherry on the cake! I asked several times if they were sure of that, even as I write this post, I still don't understand when and where the runner with the yellow top dropped. And what his name is. It has been 3 days now that the results have been published, so I now believe I finished third indeed! ;-)

The Men 100K podium (from left to right: Pierre-Yves Couteau, Nicholas Mamrack, Ryan Montgomery and I):
 My 3rd pan trophy, out of 5 participations, really felt lucky given my (slow) time!
 Chatting with 100K winner, Ryan Montgomery
 Tasting the plated gold of my age group medal, with Jeff Pace, Jeremy Johnson and Nina Giraudo:
While this 3rd place is very fulfilling given the 6 back to back races since mid April, it was a bizarre year, performance wise: on one hand, and maybe thanks to the emulation of Patrick, Ryan had done a mind boggling performance with his time of 9:32, the 6th fastest time of the 6-year history of our 100K race; the course has changed twice already and he now owns the Course Record on that latest course design. In previous years it used to require to break 10 hours, to make the podium. This year wasn't even a hot one but Nicholas took second in 10:14 and I finished third, not even breaking 11 hours... Thankfully, there had been 50K runners finishing during this time or it would have been a very boring 100K finish to watch with such a gap between us three!

In addition to a super nice belt buckle (custom wood made), I got another surprise 500K plaque for having completed this race 5 times, thank you Ellen and Stuart!

Anyway, after such a detailed report, and better than words, here is an animated fly-over of our 100K course (click on this link or the picture below):

This time, I could stay all afternoon as Agnès was at a graduation ceremony in Los Angeles and I wanted to see John Trent too. It is a great custom in ultra running to wait for other participants to come in so I was really glad I didn't have a plane to catch right away.

Among these runners, look at Jim Magill (photo credit: Christine Chapon): it isn't dirt on his face but blood, all over! So impressed that he managed to finish the 50K at age 72 and after such a major fall in which he kissed one of the rocks of the tricky Bella Vista or New Almaden trail section... A model of consistency and tenacity!

With the tired legs it took me a while to actually walk to the food tent and grab a plate at Tiffany Trevers' kitchen (both pictures are hers):
With Jeremy after his morning shift at Lexington and before he went on sweeping the last 18 miles of the course, what a long day for him too!

Finally, right before 6:30 pm, John Trent's daughters finished their 100K one minute apart, what an ultra running family! (Jill Trent completed the 50K as well.)
Why was I waiting for John? To hand him a special plaque, the 2018 USATF Pacific Association Ultra Volunteer of the Year!
Our award banquet was held in February (that's a post I still need to write) but John couldn't drive from Reno that evening. Ultra is all about planning so we had penciled both our agendas to meet at Quicksilver, 2.5 months later, mission accomplished, checked! John has served our PA MUT(*) community for several decades: he has been the President of the Western States Endurance Run, has been on the Board of Trustees since 2004, is directing the SilverState 50K and 50M races, volunteering at many other ultra events and, last but not least of his overall contribution, is a prominent voice of our sport through his talent for journalism and writing! Thank you for your service, John!

Another person I want to highlight in this report is Bob Callahan who coordinated all the volunteers for this mega club operation, days and days of work to ensure the success of this event and offload this burden from the RDs. And, if it wasn't enough, Bob ran the 100K on very little sleep... yet managed to finish 48th overall in 14 hours, another outstanding ultra experience from many standpoints.

I made it home before sunset, thinking of all the runners and volunteers still out there...

Relieved to have survived these 6 consecutive races of the past 5 weekends, including these back to back 100Ks, but it's really not getting easier. As a mater of fact, the gluteus is hurting the most when I sit still so I wrote this blog post standing for a change. Weird running injury which is more bearable when I run, rather than walking or even sitting! I ran a slow 10K to get the legs moving on Monday, and 15K this Tuesday, that should do before Ohlone 50K this coming Sunday. Well, if the unexpected rain doesn't lead to the cancellation or postponement of the event like in 2015... The organizers are already negotiating an alternate course, that should be interesting.

And to conclude, back to the title, what an experience! Experience of this club, race directors and all the volunteers, experience for us, runners, of an unusual cool weather, experience to have managed the race and survived, unusual experience of these medical evacuations, all meanings of this word apply!

Have a great week in the meantime, short of heat training for those in the Bay Area (that's not going to help build more awareness and action on the climate change crisis...).

(*) Mountain, Ultra, Trail

PS: still not sure about the foot pain which only bothered me for 10 miles. Maybe just a nerve which got misplaced with all the pounding. Or maybe a sign I should change shoes, although these Brooks Launch have still so much spring despite this model having 1,089 miles in them (and it's my 11th pair of Launch which I get beyond the 1,000-mile mark, what a shoe!).
 Still super comfy but the sole does show some wear...


nsimcoff said...

You are a legend! Great race and nice report.

Duke said...

Superb! You are an inspiration to the rest of us old farts. Your mystery course monitor at the Limekiln/Priest Rock junction was Ramiro Garcia. You must have been flying up that hill.