Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ohlone '09: 1, 1 and... 2!

It was unusually cool at the start, at least for me who got acquainted with this race three years ago. The web site of the event is called, but we were surely under the fog this morning. Not something I was not accustomed for after the night run of my local Memorial Day weekend, but I did not know what to expect later in the day. I'm doing better in the heat and do need some heat training before Western States, but it did not seem that was the day for that. I had even put Moeben sleeves on, but decided to leave them to Agnès at the start after I heard Leor saying that we will be out of the fog before passing Mission Peak.
If you read my previous post, you know that I was expecting a front competition between Leor Pantilat, Lon Freeman and Graham Cooper. Well, with Lon and Graham not showing up, I wished Leor a great race and a successful quest for a new course record (CR - Sorry Kevin!). I lost sight of him in the first switchbacks at mile 2, in a thick fog. I was in second then before Andrew Sullivan caught up with me. Andrew is a triathlete that I had never seen in our races and Lon advised him not to try to chase Leor. Andrew knew that I had won the previous two editions so he definitely had done his homework. When I proposed him to pass me because I was not going to chase Leor, I mentioned that Leor was 20 years younger than me and Andrew replied he was 41. That got my attention because we were then competing in the same age group. And, seeing him running strong, I told to myself I will have to have a strong run up to Rose Peak to avoid a confrontation in the last miles...
Andrew passed me just before the top of Mission Peak. By the second aid station, Sunol, mile 9, he had just over one minute lead on me. Ultra elite Jasper Halekas who was crewing for Prudence L'Heureux told me Leor was 4 minutes ahead. I closed some of the gap on Andrew by the third aid station (Backpack Area). This is my favorite aid station because, among all the nice volunteers, you are welcomed by ultra legends Carl Anderson (check-in) and Ann Trason, with Ann always making fun of saying my name the French way! ;-) Working behind the buffet, Ann proposed me some strawberries (yummy) which, shame on my French taste, I mixed with potato and salt, to Ann's surprise. Then it was my turn to be surprised when Ann said to me: "don't try to pass him on the way up." I think she meant I should not rush, unless I misunderstood the whole piece of ultra wisdom. But that kind of puzzled me because, while I did not feel like pushing that much, I was closing on Andrew pretty fast in the next hilly miles (I would learn later from him that his quads had already crashed and were cramping badly by mile 12).

I mixed running and power walking on my way up to Rose Peak and increased my lead on Andrew to 9 minutes by the end of the loop at the 3,800-ft summit (mile 18.5). At the 5th aid station, Maggie's Half Acre, the volunteers told me Leor was 10 minutes ahead but then said he passed through at 10:55 when I was out by 11:09 (14 minutes). Just before the station, I crossed the volunteer who was rushing to place the box of bracelets that we were supposed to take at the summit, and he gave me one (and, my GPS be my judge, I swear I completed the loop and looked for the box at the summit).

It helps having run this race before, to realize that you are far from being done once you passed over Rose Peak, which was what I thought during my initial run in 2007, with Graham Cooper on my heels. I cramped so bad back then but kept moving, led by the motivation and excitement of being unexpectedly in the lead. Last year was a different story because it was so hot (you may remember two helicopters came on the course to evacuate a runner suffering from overheat, and who ended up being hospitalized for three days and making it, fortunately). This year, a nice breeze helped keeping the temperature reasonable, despite the bright sun (got a few sun burns on my arms...).

I skipped the unmanned Stewart Camp's aid station, mile 23.5, flying in the down hill, but starting realizing that I may be too short to improve the age group course record I had set back in 2007. I had in mind the remaining challenging parts of the course and, indeed, had to walk some of them. At the Schlieper Rock aid station, volunteers indicated a 18-minute lead for Leor. I was obviously not trying to catch him but I wanted to see if he was on his way to set a new CR. Before Mission Peak, I told Andrew Leor would finish under 4:30...

Reaching the last aid station, Stromer Spring, in 4:32 or so, I knew I missed my goal of finishing under my 2007 time of 4:40:59 so I decided to make a quick stop there to splash cool water from the spring on my head and singlet; that is such a treat! I then sprinted down to the Del Valle Park to finish in 4:45:53. Good for second overall and first Masters.16 minutes earlier, Leor set a new overall and Men < class="blsp-spelling-error" id="SPELLING_ERROR_24">Sawchuck will be glad to know that he is keeping the M30-39 CR (the first thing that Kevin inquired upon finishing was news about the CR, like he did in 2007 and 2008). On the same La Sportiva ultra running team, Caitlin Smith won the women division improving Caren Spore's CR by 12 minutes to an impressive 5:05. She was followed by Prudence who finished just a minute behind. It is interesting to note that both Leor and Caitlin are new to ultra (first or second year), belong to the same team, are under 30 and won their respective division at Way Too Cool; and they are both very nice of course! What a great entrance in the ultra world and community!In our Rhomobile/Quicksilver running team, Sean finished just below 5:30 followed by John (5:36) and Pierre-Yves one minute later. I left before seeing Andy and Jim.Simon took it easy after a very busy week on the Western States course. If some feel that my 122-mile Memorial Day weekend was crazy, listen to this: Simon ran 173 miles over the three days of the Western States Camp (Robinson Flat down to the river and up, Forresthill down to the river and up, Foresthill to the finish)! And if it was not enough, he ran 20 miles on Wednesday and a another tough workout on the track later this week. With such a regimen, he will surely be ready by States, although he is now on his way to visit the East Coast with his wife and boy before coming back to Squaw for the big race.
Overall, I am very happy with today's race, a reasonably fast performance thanks to the reasonably cool temperatures. Hydration and food intake was good, this is definitely a course, profile and distance which work for me. I plan on doing some heat training (at lunch time and wearing several black layers) over the next two weeks to fine tune my form. Several people reminded me that the Mount Diablo 25 and 50K were coming next week, this is tempting... Maybe I will see some of your there... In the meantime, you can visit my Picasa album where you will find pictures of the top 25 finishers (sorry, Leor, you were too fast, Agnès missed you!), including Catra who completed her own partially supported 100-miler in 33 hours. Way to go Catra!
The race was perfectly organized, with an outstanding marking of the course this year, including yellow and black "yellow jacket" ribbons to pre-announce each turn or trail junction. Congratulations to the three co-race directors, Rob, Larry and Helmut, especially as Rob is in "exile" in Netherlands. And a big THANK YOU to all the volunteers, especially the ones manning remote aid stations, and our Chef for the great post-race barbeque. Merci!!!

Before I close this post, and for those who could not join us today, we were running in memory of Kris Graham, whose family and friends, Team Kris, celebrated in a race that Kris has run 7 times between 1998 and 2006 (our paths did not cross on this course as I started running ultras only 4 years ago and Ohlone in 2007). You can find a picture of Kris and his family on the race web site. On this weekend of Pentecost, you could feel an amazing spirit floating around, mixing joy, smiles, respect and reverence. Not to mention the spirits of the native Ohlone Indians.
It was also very nice to see Tom Kaisersatt joining this ultra celebration, volunteering at the check-in, at Sunol, cheering me up 1 mile up the final hill, and waiting for Christina at the finish. Tom you are an inspiration to us all!See you all again next year!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

2nd BAWSMDWETC: quantity versus quality

BAWSMDWETC as in Bay Area Western States Memorial Day WeekEnd Training Camp. Nothing as official as the Camp Western States, but the start of a tradition after last year's inaugural version. The main goal of this informal camp is to avoid the travel up to the Sierras, the impact on the environment, the cost of staying there for three days, and more importantly the time away from the family. Of course, nothing can replace the ultra camaraderie and the Western States course experience offered by the official camp, but it is a matter of life balance (my "sustainable running" theme, balancing ecology, work and family/friends).

This year, I advertised my intended program on the ultraholic list:
  1. Night repeats on Mission Peak on Friday night and Saturday morning,
  2. Quicksilver 50-mile on Sunday,
  3. PG&E repeats at Rancho on Monday.
I was especially interested in nailing down details with the East Bary area specialists and I knew there were several of them potentially interested in such a Mission Peak... Madness. Which turned to be a real madness, although hopefully not a legal mess... See below my notes about this runs.

Overall, I accomplished what I wanted over this three-day weekend. Many miles, as many as last year, although quite some walk hence the title: quantity versus quality. But, although some elites would probably disagree, walking is part of ultra... running. Power walking that is. Especially when you cover 28,000 feet of elevation over 122 miles.

For the interest of time, both yours and mine, here is a compact summary of these 3 runs over 71 hours (from 6:30 pm on Friday to 5 pm on Monday):

Day 1Day 2Day 3Total
Location Mission Peak x6 Quicksilver 50-mile x1 Rancho PG&E x4
Distance (miles) 35 50 38 122
Distance (km) 56.3 80.5 61.1 198
Elevation (ft) 12,277 8,940 6,805 28,022
Elevation (m) 3,742 2,725 2,074 8,544
Time (elapsed) 7:42 8:40 6:18 22:40
Aid stations 5 1 3 9
Gel packs (GU) 4 7 1 12
GU2O (scoops, 1/10 oz of water) 4 5 8 17
S!Caps 4 8 3 15
Banana 1 1/2 1 2.5
Miscellaneous 2 cups of Miso soup - Chips Sniker - Chips 1/2 peanut sandwich - Chips - 2 pieces of dark chocolate
Calories (burnt) 3,097 4,620 3,673 11,390
Calories (taken while running - Approx.) 1,400
Running buddies Adam (#1) - Martin (#2-3) - Darshan (#2-4) - Chihping (#4-5) - Baldwyn (4am) Adam (on and off for first 24 miles) Max (#4)
Animals seen on trail
Snake x1 - Cows - Lizards Bobcat - Deer - Wild turkeys - Snakes x2 - Lizards Quails - Chipmunk - Lizards
Driving distance (round trip, miles) 40 34 9 83

Here are some notes and more details from each run. More pictures can also be found in my Picasa album.

Mission Peak Madness

With a 2,550 feet elevation, Mission Peak is to Fremont what Black Mountain is to Cupertino, on the other side of the Bay. I was looking for some night run and was intrigued with the concept of repeat that a few Ultraholics had put up back in February. When I shared the idea with the family, Alex said "but is it allowed to run at night?" Sure enough, he was right, the Park officially closes at 10 pm and a private security guide working for the nearby community took some pleasure to spend the night reminding us we were trespassing. I sincerely did not realize that it was such an issue. I understand that Rangers cannot patrol all the night and I am fine in taking the responsibility to run in the Park without surveillance, I mean without assistance because us, ultrarunners, do not really need surveillance to protect the trails. So, which other place can we use for our night training to prepare for our 100-milers? In the city where you have to stop at each intersection and wait for 2 minutes for the traffic light to turn to green? On roads where we can get hit by cars and trucks? Seems like there is no other option than trespassing to run in the parks... "Our land" as we sing...

Anyway, I did my first loop with Adam, ran all the way to the top and flew down the steep fire road to the parking lot. We completed the first 5.8-mile loop in 1:03 after crossing Martin and Darshan in our descent. I was quite chilly at my second passage to the top (still 41' for my second climb) and put my sleeves on for the third loop and a second layer thereafter. There were still hikers on the trail enjoying the sunset, which has been wonderfully captured by Darshan (see a few other pictures in his Picasa album):The Ohlone race starts with the climb to Mission Peak. Its website is called, and above the fog we were for the sunset (later, we were running in a thick fog at the top of the Peak). Photo credit, Darshan:The security guard mentioned above prevented Martin to complete his third loop. Chihping had just joined us before and was able to do almost 2 loops with me. Darshan left by midnight and Chihping shortly after, leaving the Peak to me for my last loops. At the end of the fifth loop the guard lectured or sermonized me again and I really thought he will call the Rangers or the Police to pick me at the next round so I shortened the 6th loop by a mile, ran without my flashlight on the way down, grabbed my stuff I had left on the parking lot, rushed to my car and left the premises by 2 am.
I really did not like this feeling of trespassing and that somehow ruined the pleasure of working hard on this steep hill. 12,000 of cumulative elevation over 35 miles, that was a good workout to start the camp with however.

The following graph also shows the elevation, but with time as X coordinates, not distance (illustrating my slowing down as I progress in the night):Quicksilver

I met Adam again at Mockingbird on Sunday morning. At 8 am which is the official hour the Park opens, so no trespassing this time! Adam came to run the first 50K with me, and I really appreciated his company. By mile 8 he had a bloody blister and paused at McAbee Road to take care of it. While I continued on the race course, he had time to run back to his car, drive on the other ide of the Guadalupe Reservoir on Hick's Road, run over the dam and catch me while I was running up Mine Hill for the second time. We ran together up to Bull Run (mile 24) and he then turned back to have a brunch with Judith before a company meeting in the afternoon: busy CEO!
Despite carrying two 26-oz and one 20-oz Ultimate Direction bottles, I was out of fluids shortly after my first passage through English Camp, but at least I did not get dehydrated as I got last year, with only two bottles. I slown down and took the opportunity of not racing this time to take pictures and read the postings describing this historical site, not about the Gold rush but the active Quicksilver mining operations 125 years ago.

Although I was tired when I came back to the start area after the first 50K, right on 5 hours, I was determined to complete the whole course and to log 50 miles today; I got back on the trail after a 15-minute break at my custom aid station. Needless to say, for the ones who know the course, I walked most of the steep mile up to the second passage through English Camp. It was sunny but, like on race day two weeks ago, a nice breeze prevented me from getting real heat training this weekend.
It took me 3:25 hours to complete the second part up to the turn around on Wood Road versus 2:46 on race day (after a 4:03 50K). Wood Road was really nice, almost all in the shade. Around 1 mile to Hick/Wood Road Park entrance, I even found below the trail a pool which is reasonably accessible and that I highly recommend on warm days.

Rancho PG&E

I trained for so long in the Rancho San Antonio Park that this trail is not very original and easy to depict. As a matter of fact, I never saw so many people on the trail than this Memorial Day and finding a parking spot was really an issue although I got lucky and waited for less than 15 minutes before being able to set my "base camp" at the lower parking (easy access to toilets and water).I started with the toughest loop, clockwise, starting with PG&E, then alternated anti-clockwise and clockwise before Max joined me for my fourth loop. In addition to some elevation again (a total of 28,000 feet over three days!), doing loops provides good mental training.
Again, more pictures of the three days in my Picasa album.

We will see how all these efforts and time spent on my feet (nearly 1/3rd of the 72 hours) work out for the upcoming Ohlone 50K next week, and the big race (Western States) in 5 weeks. Too much quantity? Not enough quality? Ultra is all about experimentation...

What is sure is that I'm starting Ohlone with the coveted bib #1 and, with Lon Freeman, Leor Pantillat and Graham Cooper on the starting list, it seems impossible to go for another win, 3 years in a row. It will be interesting to watch these three guys in particular, looking forward to it!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Back to Anjou: 25-year flash back

After the great running experience of last week's Quicksilver 50-mile, this week looked like tapering with "only" 49 miles. It was definitely a special week with this trip to France and a weekend spent with my Arts et Métiers ParisTech College class (officially called 183 but technically 86 if we follow the American way of the graduation date), along with the class preceding us of 25 years (the 158 class) and the one following us by 25 years (208), which integrated in last September. Here with my three "Gadz'Arts godsons", Kheepik, Lotage and Dree-Ghez:
Our class size was 132, versus about 100 for the 158 and more than 170 for the 208, not including a group of 30 Chinese students who integrated the second year, after 4 years of College in China.
Overall, we were close to 300 to gather at La Pommeraye (phss), near Angers, for a memorable weekend during which we discussed passed Souvenirs, live Traditions and how we intend to maintain over the next decades the Fraternity which ties our promotions since 1780 (yes, that is 229 years, re-phss!).
Anyway, partying and networking was more the theme of the weekend than running, although I was able to run 22 kilometers (13+ miles) in the Anjou country side on Sunday morning after a few hours of sleep. It was partly rainy, and I incidentally managed to find a great trail, the GR 3. GR stands for "chemin de Grande Randonnée" and represents a network of hundreds of miles across France. Like the one I used for my ultra around Mt St Michel last summer. Sorry, I didn't run with my camera this time so no picture of this scenic run through the vineyards, pastures, creeks with water mills and landscapes with numerous fortified castles. The only living souls I saw were cows (usual) and sheep (less common), and two motocross bikers (most unexpected on a hiking trail...). No hiker, no runner on this Sunday morning. Overall, a short run but somewhat good training for Western States with the lack of sleep over the past days (I was up for 22 hours on Saturday after less than 3 hours of sleep on Friday night...).
I'm flying back this Tuesday and look forward to the coming 3-day Memorial Day weekend. I will not join the Western States camp, in order to spend more time with the family. I plan on doing a local camp like I did last year (126 miles over three days), between Mission Peak, Quicksilver, Rancho and Black Mountain. Hopefully with some high temperatures to get some heat training for Ohlone and Western States.

See you on or off the trails!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Quisksilver 09: a great one, at last!

At the end of my Ruth Anderson race report, I invited you to visit my blog for a better ultra running story and experience with Miwok. Well, as most of you know, that was not the case at all as I experienced hypothermia on the legendary course through the Marine Headlands, just North of San Francisco. Keep reading and you will see that I just missed the schedule by a week. I am happy to report that this Saturday run was the good one, my first prefect race of the year! At last! Assuredly, ultra running is all about trial and errors and cannot work perfectly every time but, what gratification it brings when it does.
Although the Park is less than 30 minutes from home, and so close to San Jose, Quicksilver is not part of my train runs. I had some knowledge of the trail from running the course last year, self-supported, during my improvised local "Western States Memorial Day Weekend camp." Back then, I got dehydrated and completed the course in 8:33. So I knew what to expect in terms of elevation for instance (below), especially that the last 19 miles are quite brutal, but I did not know much about the appropriate pace.
Again, I came to the race with as few expectations as possible after a series of tough ones. I knew it was not going to rain and hoped the dryness of the air will please my lungs and keep the exercise-induced asthma away. Although I managed to take an earlier flight from Las Vegas, I did not sleep much during the week, less than 6 hours of sleep per night. Not to mention the "hotel food" through the week: you know, too good and too much... At least the week at IMPACT has been very productive on the business side, my "first job" -I call running my "second job"-, with an amazing coverage of the recent acquisition of ILOG. Additionally, TPSA, a professional association, confered me their first ambassador award, at their conference on Wednesday. Busy week!

The race directions said that the parking lot would fill quickly; I arrived there at 4:25 am and the gate was not open yet (4:30). I was actually the first runner to show up, most of the participants arriving around 5 am. It was still quite dark despite the full moon and, indeed, the parking filled up before 5:30. It was a bit chilly but everybody was prepared to experience heat later in the day. Overall it was a bright sunny day, with temperatures reaching 85F and a nice breeze over the hills and on the ridge, making it a perfect weather for an ultra. Finally, after Miwok, you could tell it was Spring indeed! Here we are at the start, photo courtesy of Hao who used my camera while crewing for his wife on the 50K (thanks Hao!).
Right off the start, Chikara (Omine) took off. I followed him with Simon, then was John Mintz, and I could hear Mark (Tanaka) and Victor (Ballesteros) chatting not far behind. I continued the discussion Simon and I started in the first hill of Miwok. The first mile is composed of serious uphills, which we ran conservatively as a warm-up. I was still in second and seeing Chikara when Victor passed me in one of these initial walls. I thought that I would not see him again and that, with Chikara and Victor, the course record of 6:35 that Graham (Cooper) had set last year was in jeopardy. However, I was surprised to catchup with both Chikara and Victor in the steep downhill which completes this initial 2-mile loop.We left the few spectators to get on one of the nicest trail of this course: New Almaden. Single track, rolling and whirling, a few bridges, in the trees, this is the nirvana of trail running. I felt really good and, although I was wondering if I was not going too fast, staying on Victor's heels, my Garmin was indicating a 8:30 minute/mile pace, so I thought I was safe. I heard at the start that Victor had forgot his Garmin today and he actually felt more relaxed. For the ones who do not know Victor, Victor took second in last week's Miwok, thus qualifying for Western States through the Montrail Ultra Cup spots.

Victor and I ran together up Mine Hill, Randol, April, up to the ridge. On the way down to the second passage through the Dam Overlook aid station, I saw Chikara and pointed him with a lead of 4 minutes. Victor was about a minute behind me then. Going through Dam three times was cool as the station is manned by my fellow Stevens Creek Striders. I did not stop for the first two passages but did the third time to get my Gu2O bottle refilled (thanks Peggy!). It was also nice to cross other runners during the climb up to the ridge (Bull Run trail). Chihping stopped to take a picture of me (below), and he posted a great coverage of the race. He told me I was still 0.5 mile or 4 minutes behind Chikara. From the initial 8:30 average pace when I first went through Dam, I was now down to 8:00 min/mile after 25 miles.
I flew down English Camp trail and through the Englishtown aid station (first passage) without stopping. I ran as much of Hacienda as I could although I had to walk some of the walls in the roller coaster section marking the end of the 50K. I told myself that, if I run the uphills, I had a chance of improving the age group course record on the 50K! But that would then have provided a good enough reason to drop at the 50K distance... For those who do not know the course, all the 50-miler runners go through the 50K finish before embarking for another 19-mile strenuous loop and it takes guts to leave the start/finish area when you have the option to score in the 50K instead. Anyway, I reached the finish line in 4:03. I thought that the age group course records were 4:01 for the 50K and 7:01 for the 50-mile so, with 4:03, my mind was all set to keep going on the 50-miler. Checking the records back tonight, I see that Francisco Gutierrez' 2000 CR is actually 4:04. So I know it is at reach for next year...!

Troy assisted me while I was changing bottles, taking two new ones from my cooler, drinking one pouch of Vespa, and he informed me that Chikara was now 10 minutes ahead of me. Certainly, I was not going to chase him and I was more thinking of Victor chasing me, imagining him just a few minutes behind. Back on Hacienda we go against the flow of runners, up to Englishtown. They were all very nice, providing encouragements especially in the 2-mile steep uphill to the Englishtown aid station, where the volunteers filled in my bottles with ice, such a treat! The temperature was above 80 but a breeze was making the heat bearable. At this point we leave the 50K course to go East on Wood Road into Sierra Azul. We then cross Hicks Road to keep going 4 miles on Wood Road (fire road closed to traffic).

I crossed Chikara about 15 minutes from the turnaround. At the end of the course, I found my RhoQuick teammates, Andy and Pierre-Yves, who were manning the station. More ice in my bottles, cap and singlet and I was flying down again for the last 9 miles. Photo credit, Pierre-Yves Couteau: I saw Victor about 2.5 minutes from the turnaround and that kept me pushing on the rolling Wood Road. Agnès missed me at the Hicks Road aid station by a minute then rushed to the finish. Crossing the 50-milers provided more motivation. Finally, when getting back to the Englishtown aid station for the third time, I just flew by, thinking that I might have a chance to improve the age group course record. As I was sprinting and pushing as much as possible in the last up and down hills, my quads were wondering what was going on but remained docile and cooperative until the finish line. I crossed the line in 6:49, improving the AG CR by 12 minutes. On one hand it seems slow compared to the phenomenal 6:15 overall course record set by Chikara this Saturday (but did I mention he is 20 years younger than me? ;-). On the other hand, my time is only 4 minutes off legend Ann Trason's best on this course. So I will take it as my best perf for this year. That was definitely a great day, at last for this season!
Great post-race party, mixing the 50K and 50-mile finishers, their family and crew, the volunteers. I stayed for two hours to enjoy the food, the ultra company, the dicussions and seeing many happy faces crossing the finish line. Kudos for a very smooth organization by the Quicksilver Running Club of San Jose, and special thanks to the volunteers at remote aid stations! It was my first official Quicksilver and I am already looking forward to coming back!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Miwok 09: is it May yet?

My first winter in Silicon Valley(1998-1999), I was amazed to hear some Californian say: "the reservoirs are full, rain can stop now!" What a special region where people dare to command the elements, so high tech! Sure enough, I became accustomed with these two seasons: some rain from October to April, then 5 months of blue skies and bright sun.

Our local Stevens Creek Reservoir has reached full capacity in late March. It seems like we have enough water now, although I know the drought is still harming our agriculture in Central California in particular.

So, why do I start my race report talking about rain, for an event occurring each year the first weekend of May every? Well, because it did rain a lot yesterday... After a perfect weather at Jed Smith, Way Too Cool, American River and Ruth Anderson, the elements took their revenge and throw at us the belated winter conditions which we somehow missed in the first quarter of the year.

Surprisingly the temperature at the start was not bad. We had a visitor from New York this year, David James. I ran the Coastal Challenge in 2008 with him and it was a pleasure to see him again, back on this course where he had to drop at the North Face Challenge last December on knee problem. He was wearing a singlet and told me with an odd look at my jacket: "is it cold weather for you?" Assuredly, I know I am doing better in hot temperatures than cold weather, and this Miwok edition was going to prove it again. After the first hill, by mile 3.8, I was glad to see Chuck (Wilson) on the side of the road to leave him my jacket as I felt really warm. Then I told to myself: "what if the elements change later...?"

On that first climb I chatted with Simon (Mtuy) who had just arrived the day before from his native Tanzania. Simon has competed in 9 Western States already and comes every year for a couple of months to train and run our local races before the big one at the end of June. Simon admitted that he was a bit sleepy with the jet lag. I invited him to join us next week at QuickSilver.

My main goal for the day was to finish and avoid another asthma crisis. I made sure not to get caught in the front competition and let Eric (Skaden), Graham (Cooper) and Mark (Lantz) go while settling down to an average 8:30-8:40 min/mile pace. I caught teammate Sean (Lang) up before the first aid station and we jogged and walked the second hill, in a thick cloud with visibility under 200 yards. I then ran the next 10 miles with Tony before I lost him on the way up to Pan Toll.

It was not really rainy at that point, but we were getting wet with the water dropping from the trees and the midst of the cloud. 2 miles after Pan Toll, I passed Mark (Lantz), to my surprise. We were right on 9 min/mile pace. The Coastal Trail was still in good condition, but it is so narrow that my shoes got quickly soaked by all the water on the high grass and herbs from each side of the single track. I felt good physically and mentally when I reached Bolinas for the fist time (mile 28) but asked Rajeev and aid station captain, George Miller, if they had soup ready. They said "no soup on the menu today" and I remember replying that it might be an issue for the rest of the pack. Retrospectively, I still do not understand how so many people have made it through the day with only a singlet or a t-shirt on! Here are some pictures of the wet scene, credit to Ron Little:

I took a few pieces of potato and banana and went on the Bolinas Ridge which I had bad memories from my first Miwok run (2007). Back then I was expecting a flat section from the approximate course profile, but it is actually more than what I call a rolling one. 2 miles after Bolinas I was walking up a hill when I heard a runner coming from behind: it was Mark who flew by me, not even caring about the huge water and mud puddles, just running and splashing through them. I was so cold and shivering, I did not want to get more wet and preferred losing a few seconds going round them. It was raining pretty hard at this point, with gusty winds.

I started seeing the front runners when I was at mile 31 (4 hr 48), before the "chute" down to the Randall Trail aid station. I was relieved to see Chuck there, with my jacket. I could not control my shivering, even when running, something which never happened to me. I was not disoriented, but distraught. I was pretty sure I had eaten and drank enough, maintained the right salt balance. But hypothermia was new to me and I didn't know what to do. Under the tent of the aid station, I found David (James) who had dropped, as well as Todd Braje, wrapped into a blanket. After his stellar performance at Way Too Cool in 2008, and his 5:30 50-mile at Jed Smith this year, Todd has joined the National US Team for 100K and will compete in the World Championship in 8 weeks in Brussels. Surely, he did not need to take more risk in this weather to get prepared, although I was disappointed to see him dropping. With Todd, Scott Jurek and Brian Morrisson on the entrants list this year, I was expecting Brooks to do well, but Scott and Brian did not even take the start. So Brooks was left with showing on the great finishers tshirts, and the many runners wearing Brooks shoes today (see below).

Getting my jacket back helped, although I was still soaked under it. Moreover, the 1,000-feet climb over 1.5 miles was a good way to warm-up. But, back on the ridge, the shivering resumed. Up there, I crossed the other teammates: Adam, Pierre-Yves, followed by Sean who was not feeling well. Actually, leaving Randall Trail, I also crossed John who was flying down, but dropped later eventually, as Adam and Sean did ultimately both suffering from calf issues.

I started walking a lot on the ridge, shivering and experiencing a very short breath. No coughing like my previous asthma attacks probably because, this time, I used the inhaler every 10 miles; I think it might have changed the symptoms and I'm afraid that was still asthma, on top of the hypothermia. Back to Bolinas, I asked Rajeev if I could get in his car to warm-up for 10 minutes. Ron Little was actually the volunteer on duty with this new aid station role: he told me he had the leader staying in his car after he dropped at mile 40. According to my Garmin, I spent 27 minutes at the Bolinas Ridge aid station, most of the time in Ron's car with the heater on, which my body could barely feel how deficient it was from body heat. I was feeling better but the shivering resumed as soon as I got out of the car. Wendell, who successfully turned the Pacific Crest Trail Runs into a business with his wife Sarah, was standing as an observer at the exit of the station. Wendell has accomplished so much in ultra, including several trips to the infamous Barkeley Marathons, I felt a bit embarrassed but dared to ask if he had an advice to deal with hypothermia. Without a word, without a blink, he took off his rain jacket to offer me his fleece, saying he will be at the finish to get it back, teasing me saying: "I know who you are!" I was 7 hours and 10 minutes in the race and I knew I had a few more to walk to the finish, 20 miles away, so it was a big relief to get this extra and dry layer on. A big THANK YOU, Wendell, Ron, Rajeev, George, Chuck for your combined help and critical support!

The way back to Pan Toll was long, wet and the trail was now extremely muddy and slippery. At some points the trail had transformed into a creek of running mud. I could not imagine how runners were doing it today with road shoes. I thought my Brooks Cascadia 4 behaved very well on this muddy terrain and I actually saw many runners passing me with Cascadias 3 or 4. Looking at runners' shoes actually became my activity to keep going with the many slow miles. I distributed some "Nice shoes!" to the ones wearing Brooks. Many runners were nice enough to stop by to ask how I was feeling, and I could not give a very positive answer except that I will finish! From feet to my neck, all my muscles were tired and soared with the continuous shivering of my entire body, something I had never experienced before. Several times, I thought I should appear better than I was feeling at the aid station to make sure nobody was going to pull me off the race... Apparently, I was not acting so well when you read the lines Rajeev wrote about my second passage through Bolinas:

"Jean looked like death warmed over. Like Lazarus he came back from the Land of the Dead and no doubt finished strong. Way to go all you warriors!"
Ouch! I must have felt better by the time I reached Pan Toll again, as I spent some time joking and thanking the volunteers for coming out in such a miserable weather. I also talked to Hal (Koerner) who was here to crew his girlfriend. I saw Hal again at Highway 1, then close to Tennessee Valley, running, or I should say flying, up the hill with his dog. Inspirational but, unfortunately, I was out of gas to run much at this point. At Tennessee Valley, Stan (Jensen) teased me that I have looked better at other races. I sat down for 30 seconds to enjoy a cup of hot soup (at last!) and a piece of pizza (yummy!). But Stand was not happy to see me on the bench and urged me to leave and keep going. I walked most of the remaining 4 miles except for the last down hill to the finish. I heard Dave (Comb) counting the seconds as I was approaching the finish line, for a special time of 12 hours, 12 minutes and 12 seconds. Not a good time for me, but a great time to remember. And definitely a Miwok which we will all remember for many years.

I literally felt into Tia's arms who was probably not expecting such a big hug... just offering the finisher medal. Fortunately Chuck was near by and supported me to walk near the gas heater under the tent, with the medical staff wrapping me in a blanket. I had car pooled with Scott (Dunlap) in the morning and Scott was nice enough to have waited for me despite finishing 1.5 hours before me. There was a lot of personal stories to be told and heard under the tent. For most of us, it was a slower run than usual but some managed to PR or to complete their first 100K. With a record number of starters, above 300, and the valorous volunteers working in such nasty conditions, that made many heroes this year.

Now, if you read my report down to this point, you must wonder what kept me going despite the conditions. Here are some answers, you will see that there were quite a few, enough to keep going. In no particular order...
  1. Avoiding a DNF (Did Not Finish) because of asthma. I wanted to terminate the series and I'm not sure I really accomplished that, with my breath being so short on Sunday, but at least I managed to cover the distance.
  2. Scoring points for our RhoQuick (Rhomobile and QuickSilver) team. We were 6 to toe the start line and I had no clue who will manage to finish, but I did not want me to be the reason for not scoring (we need at least three finishers in an event to get points).
  3. Scoring points in the PA USATF Grand Prix. Miwok has a a coefficient 2 and not everyone is registered with PAUSATF so, although that was a counter-performance for me, it is worth trying to finish once you are in a run.
  4. Counting and supporting the runners wearing Brooks shoes. No I did not keep track of the number, but looking at all these shoes kept me going!
  5. Fighting to get some pain training. Granted, this is a good reason for calling us, ultra runners, nuts! One of us said that his brain will remember that race much longer than his muscles. Indeed, I had no soreness in my legs the next day, just some in my neck and shoulders from the shivering, but I will remember this special Miwok edition for many years.
  6. Willing to get back to the start. What is nice with these out-and-back races, as opposed to the ones on a loop, is that you are not tempted to drop at every passage at the start. Moreover, I have been an aid station captain for several years at Last Chance (mile 43 of Western States) and I know the burden of having to get runners who drop back to the start or the finish. I do not know the final count but Tia talked about 60 people who had dropped when Scott and I left the finish line area around 6:30 pm. That must have represented quite some extra work for the volunteers to shuttle all these runners throughout the day.
  7. Thinking of others who cannot exercise because of sickness. Such as Dan (Moores), Tom (Kaisersatt), Pierre-Yves. Their own fight is an inspiration.
  8. Imagining my self walking on a tight rope. That is an image which comes to mind every time I am on this trail. It is so narrow that you sometime do not see the trail covered by the grass. And, this time, the challenge was doubled with the slippery mud after 300 runners used the soaked trail. The Rangers and hikers will not be happy with some sections being washed out with such traffic... Anyway, I as thinking of Philippe Petit on his high wire:
  9. Playing a little game in my mind. Some people ask what we think about when we run for so long. I usually respond that most of the time I'm focused on the trail when it is technical or narrow or going fast. Quite some time thinking about work and family too. And, this time, I got a new occupation which consisted in translating the conditions into imaginary traffic signs along the trail. Something like this puzzle:
I am in Las Vegas for one week now, attending IMPACT, IBM's conference on Smart SOA (Service-Oriented Architecture). An opportunity to taper before QuickSilver next weekend. Hopefully with a dryer and warmer weather. Indeed, back to the title of this post, isn't it May already?

PS: for the ones who missed my "pre-race report" as a poem, it was not visionary (Scott not showing up...), but check it out. Maybe for next year?