Sunday, June 27, 2010

Western States 2010: a very fast snow year

For those who don't have time to go through the report or prefer pictures to English prose, you can visit my Picasa photo album. Beware, though, there are 385 pix covering the 4-day weekend. With some comments. Enjoy!

You saw it on my two previous posts (Sunday and Friday), we had an official snow year in 2010. Usually it means slower times because of the added difficulty. However, this year, first the snow was not that bad in quantity. Second, it was actually very good quality, soft like it was fresh Spring snow. But, more importantly, the new section we used instead of running the ridge between Escarpment and Duncan Canyon, through Lyon Ridge and Red Star, was so much easier: from the very runnable down hill to French Meadows, to the flat section along the lake before the uphill through the devastated Duncan Canyon. With that, the start was incredibly fast and the from runners did beat all the aid stations expected times. Of course, being in the back, I missed the action but was told that it was amazing to see this pack of elite runners flying in, and actually flying through the stations in the quest for a new course record and for figuring out who was the best among them. Through the afternoon the reports from my crew was that it was going to end between a sprint between my two best bets, the "unknown" Killian Jornet, from Spain, and Tony Krupicka. As you figured out if you followed the webcast, Geoff Roes actually closed on them after the river to win the coveted cougar and setting a new course record. Geoff was named ultrarunner of the year in 2009 for a reason: he won the 6 100-milers he entered in and set course records most of the time (if not all the time). Bingo, same at Western Sates among such a competitive field! And Geoff continues the tradition of the North American winners at States, a tradition I thought Killian had a shot to break.
Getting the top 10 automatic entrant privilege was so challenging this year that I want to salute Andy Jones-Wilkins for having done it again despite this amazing competition. Right after the top 10 occurred the classic and friendly yet fierce competition among the local North California runners: Erik Skaden had sworn that he would not let Rob Evans pass him and, indeed, finished in 11th, against 12th for Rob, with a 31' gap. Rob did an amazing race, passed me in the hill up to Robinson Flat and confessed to have experienced only two downs during the day. He gain 40 positions in the overall ranking throughout the day! Karl Hoagland and Mark Lantz both made the top 20, finishing under 19 hours.

The women race was no less impressive with the top 5 in the same hour, finishing from midnight to 1 AM. Canadian Tracy Garneau took the pole position. Caren Spore repeated her top-5 finish like last year after a great come back. She passed me at Last Chance. Fueled by Vespa, she looked really determined and in great shape before the canyons.

Anyway, apart from the snow at the start and the freezing creeks we had to run though, it was a perfect day for great performances and many took advantage of it. Although I was really not into competing for a high rank spot in such a competitive field, my goal was to improve my 2007 time (20:24) and hopefully break 20 hours. With the fast start, I passed through Duncan Canyon much ahead of my previous runs. Later, Pierre-Yves told my I was actually on the initial leader schedule from past years, but it was not taking into account the much faster section along French Meadows. Duncan Canyon is manned by my Quicksilver running club and I got great and personal care from my teammate Pierre-Yves who will pace me through the night. Feeling that I started a bit fast although I had many people ahead of me (43 according to the webcast), I slowed down and walked all the uphill to Robinson Flat, getting passed by quite a few runners. I did not change shoes as I had planned to because there was actually another mile of snow after the station (and uphill to make it more interesting!). At Robinson Flat I had two volunteers helping out and staying with me the whole time while I was picking food and drinks. Despite this great care and attention, I ended up with the Raspberry GU2O which I cannot bear in my water bottle so I didn't drink any water for the next 5 miles in the very exposed section down to Miller's Defeat. Caren Spore caught up with me at Miller's Defeat but it's only at Last Chance which she will passed me as I stopped there for a while to recharge before the canyons and to take advantage of the special care of my other clubmates manning this station, the Stevens Creek Striders. Just before getting to Last Chance, I passed Chikara Omine who was in bad shape and that really affected my mental. I told him to stop at the aid station for a while and that we "ressuscited" more than one runners at Last Chance (what an ironic name). I was really happy to see him at Michigan Bluff where I stayed for 15 minutes, and even happier to see him as a finisher in the results, under 20 hours! Not a great time for such an elite runner but what a way to tough it out through the night (in the picture below, with his pacer Jason Reed at Rocky Chucky).
I didn't want to repeat last year's mistake where I faded in the El Dorado canyon and had to wait for 20' at Michigan Bluff to work on my fluids and weight, then through all the night. Unlike last year when I ran a large part of the switchbacks, I walked all the way to Devil Thumb. While easing off the pace, I kept thinking of the saying "the race really starts at Foresthill" (mile 62, km 100), but it was actually more tireness which was imposing my slowing down. I cruised down El Dorado, trading places with some other runners, and walked all the way to Michigan Bluff (only 2.8 miles but it takes for ever when you walk in a race). At this point, I was completely out of energy. I felt so depleted that, for 10 seconds, I did think of quitting/dropping at this point, how comfortable that would have been, but how much I would have regretted it later since I was still moving. Once I reset my sub-20-hour goal to sub 24 hours (silver buckle), I felt less pressure and shame of walking all the uphills.
My time into Michigan Bluff was not too far off my previous runs and I stayed in the station less than last year, so I was comfortable for a sub-24hr pace. I walked much of the trail up to the top of Volcano Canyon but was able to run the down hills and part of the uphill to Bath Road and Foresthill Road. My pacers Max and Pierre-Yves ran the last half-mile before the Foresthill aid station where I met my crew for the second time, as well as many known faces at this popular place. After the emotional boost going through the encouraging crowd, I had great couple of miles going down to Dardanelles, before experiencing another low leading to quite some walking and slow miles. The aid stations provided great support in this section which I covered in 3hr32', trading places with some runners, oscillating between the 66th and 61st position (quite a few runners passing me calling me by my name or mentioning my blog, comments which were very encouraging as I was experiencing my own downs).
After this nice run with my son, I changed pacer at Rucky Chucky, Pierre-Yves covering the "night shift." You can actually see Pierre-Yves in the recently-released DVD "100 miles to 40" which stars the Western States experience of Michelle in 2009, paced by Pierre-Yves. With this experience and other local runs, Pierre-Yves has been a great guide through the night, knowing all the various mileages between the aid stations, all the turns and canyons and depicting me what I could not see while focusing on the single track trail. This year, the current of the North Fork of the American River was so strong that we crossed by boat which was a first to me. The crossing was so well organized that there was no wait and we barely made it without getting our feet wet which saved another change of shoes.
We walked all the way up to Green Gate, in the dark before the full moon rise. I tried to recharge batteries at Green Gate by my legs were soared and I had a few slow miles in the next 5 miles to the Auburn Lake Trail (ALT) aid station, losing yet other positions, down to 66th again. Weight was still right on target and we kept going after drinking a cup of Coke and soup and eating some fresh fruits. Realizing that we "just" had 15 miles left, I had a physical and mental boost for the next 4 miles to Brown's Bar and passed quite a few runners. Pierre-Yves was super excited by the famous colorful and noisy fiesta going on there, and even got a beer, but I must admit I was eager to keep going.

I was able to maintain a reasonable pace in the next 2.7-mile section to Highway 49 Crossing which is the last medical checkpoint and 6.7 miles before the finish. We passed another runner before No Hands Bridge, then one on the way up to Robbie Point, despite an amazing push again in the last hill (that's become a specialty of mine, showing that I still have physical energy at the end, if I was not listening so much to the weakest part of my mental...).

Pierre-Yves was getting really excited with this strong finish and, with his encouragements, I kept pushing to pass 4 or 5 other runners in the last mile to cross the line in 52th overall, 16th in the M40-49 category (yikes, if doesn't help to age, but some do it better than others... ;-).
Overall, I used "Digging deep" as the title of my 2009 WS race report and I had to dig even deeper this year. I tend to do better in the heat but was not so acclimated this year. It wasn't super hot either which benefited others. I did ok in the snow and, despite making sure not to be caught in the upfront competition, started fast on this new course. Between the thinner and dry air and the dust, I felt short of breath for the major part of the run after Duncan Canyon but was able to keep the asthma under control with a slower pace. For what it is worth, the thing which I am the most proud of is to have kept my weight under control, right on target at +/- half a pound through the 9 medical checks! With all the fluid and food intake and quite a few pouches of Vespa thanks to Peter being on the course (Duncan Canyon, Dusty Corner, Foresthill) plus my drop bags, I don't really explain my lack of form and energy. It was great conditions to perform well and set quite a few records: 426 starters (with the limit set by the National Forest authority, it's going to become even tougher to make it though the lottery next year...), 326 finishers, 123 of us getting a silver buckle! Of course, I'm disappointed with the ones who didn't finish such as teammate Adam Blum (Michigan Bluff) or Bill Dodson who, at 75, was going for the oldest finisher record but was pulled out at ALT at 7:20 for missing the cut-off time of 7 AM.

I have another busy week at work starting tomorrow, so not much time to rest but I wanted to post this timely report. See also more than 350 pictures in my Picasa WS2010 photo album, thanks in particular to the coverage of my crew (Agnès, Alex, Greg). And see you again on this legendary course, either as a runner, pacer, spectator or volunteer (or any combination of the above...)!


Unknown said...

Wow, this is an epic report!! I'm always impressed when people who aren't being paid to train - running, cycling, tri... can go into those mental dark corners and muster a forward direction. Those 100s seem just as tough psychologically. -Gus

Anonymous said...

"this pack of elite runners flying in"

lol flying in at 9 minute pace! sure must have been suspenseful!

runstephane said...

Great job Jean.
Can't wait for next year! ;o)

Unknown said...

Bravo Jean !
garder son poids sous controle, interessant indicateur de forme, a conseiller en France !

Rudy said...

Great job Jean! I was at Peachstone and got a picture of you which I will get to you as soon as possible.

Golden Trails Dave said...

fantastic job once again, Jean! Congratulations on running a very smart race.

Tobias Gimmel, Brugg said...

Hi Jean
a tough one, this year, it seems ... congratulations for every step and move forward ... Cheers, Tobias