Saturday, May 17, 2014

Silver State 50-mile: let's now race!

After Miwok 100K 2 weeks ago which I called a training run, and Quicksilver 50K last week which served as a recovery run, it was time to race again this Saturday!

When Max announced the date of his graduation at Yale, I was slightly bummed as it fell the day of Ohlone 50K, my fetish race. I ran Ohlone 50K 7 times and always placed in the top 3, winning overall 4 times. At least that made someone happy, John Burton has an eye on that win (but he may not be the only one this Sunday). Anyway, that was the opportunity to run the only race which I still have run on our Grand Prix for the past 8 years, Silver State 50-mile in Reno. With the constraint to catch a red-eye to JFK at SFO on Saturday evening, I was blessed to join Marc and Toshi's carpool. We left San Francisco by 2 pm on Friday, and arrived just in time for the check-in and race briefing by Race Director, John Trent.
We stayed at the Super8, a few hundreds yards from the entrance of the park hosting the start and finish area. Very convenient and better than camping, but my room smelled like 20 people had been smoking cigarettes right before I got in, yikes! A motivation to enjoy the outdoors after a short sleep.

Here we are, Toshi, Marc and I, ready to rock and roll on that tough course. Let me add that both Toshi and Marc were aiming at the Silver State 50-mile / Ohlone 50K double this weekend! Quite hard core, which isn't surprising from these Barkley Marathon fans.
Being in Reno and farther away from the Bay Area, there were less familiar faces at the start than usual, but still quite a few. And a few speedsters as well. Among them, Bob Shebest, who won Tahoe Rim Trail 100-mile last July, and just turned 40, was my favorite. Especially as I thought he was local and training on these trail (which he isn't as he lives in Sonoma County). Chikara Omine, who won the Quicksilver 100K last week and holds the course record of the 50-mile with a blazing 7:05 was also here. We joked about him better not chasing his course record today after his 100K win on a grueling course at our club's Quicksilver. Eric Skaden was on the front of the pack on the start line, as well as Nikki Kimball.

We started right at 6 am, in a very nice breeze and good daylight. It was slightly overcast but we could see the moon and the sun could go trough the thin layer of clouds. I said high to a few runners, including JB Benna who was running the 50-mile today. He had a full crew from his company, JourneyFilm, with 4 cameras which covered almost all the aid stations. Looking forward to seeing the result (I got interviewed by Camron at the finish).
After a few turns, Marc took the lead, followed by Chikara. Bob was third and I was in 8th, following teammate Stephen whom I nicknamed "Dancing Shoes" as he was navigating around the rocks with such ease, lightness and agility. We were at mile 3 and I felt like I was running like an elephant instead, scared to trip and feeling pretty heavy. Not that my legs were tired after a full week of tapering but I didn't feel like jumping and bouncing. I passed Stephen at the first aid station (Radio Station) and slightly picked up the pace to catch-up with the 2 runners ahead of us by the second aid station, where I stopped briefly, knowing there were 5 hilly miles ahead to the 7,800-feet summit. On the large fire road, I passed them, then Chikara who was struggling. Chikara passed me before the summit but I didn't stop at the aid station and passed him on the way down, in the lose rocks sections which he had hard time negotiating in his race flats (although Toshi assures me Chikara set the course record in those). I must say I was very please with my shoe selection, running in the Brooks Launch again this Saturday (like Quicksilver last week). More cushioning was great to fly over the sharp rocks and the steep down hills.

I was now in third. I could see Bob in the distance, about 2 minutes ahead but I thought it wasn't wise to chase him at this point of the race (mile 14). Anyway, he is a much faster descender than I now am, I lost some of this skill with age and after breaking my shoulder in a bad fall on the Tahoe Rim Trail. I'll always remember how Bob flew by me at mile 30 of TRT 100-mile last year, very impressive. 10 years younger and much faster, Bob could have it today. The course has a long downhill from mile 12 to 19, sandy or rocky at times but very runnable. I got my bottles refilled at the aid station (3 volunteers), and went on the next steep climb on which I walked for the first time. But it's actually a short one and the rest is actually quite nice except for a "rocky waterfall" (a short and steep section of lose rocks) at mile 25, on which I spotted Bob less than 3 minutes ahead. Basically, I was losing a minute or so in the downhills and making that up in the next uphill. I saw Bob going through the 27-mile aid station. Unfortunately, Marc was there two and his lung problem triggered again. Marc couldn't finish Fuego y Agua 100K back in February in Nicaragua, and also dropped at Lake Sonoma. All tests have been negative so far, so he doesn't know what causes the issue. He kept going on, painfully hiking the steep downhill to the turnaround at mile 31 where he dropped.

I wasn't seeing Bob ahead on that downhill section which didn't surprise me since he is so fast going down. I was pleased though with my speed, just scaring myself twice and a stupid slow-motion fall while trying to avoid getting my feet wet at a creek crossing. I pointed Bob 4 minutes ahead of me at the turnaround, not too bad. I put my head down and here we were for 8 miles straight up to the summit again. I did some walking but jogged most of the next 5 miles to the intermediate aid station, at mile 36. By which I had reduced the lead to 3 minutes. I had seen the next two runners after the turn around but Bob and I had now created a sizeable lead, at least 5 or 6 minutes. After the Sandy Hill aid station though, there is a steep and... sandy hill which I decide to walk. At that point, I was perfectly fine with the idea of finishing second to Bob. But I could see that he was struggling as the lead was still not increasing when I was seeing him in the distance. Eventually, after passing more 50K runners on their way back, I caught-up with Bob in the last rock scramble before the summit. He was cramping very badly, legs and right side of his torso, but he left the aid station first. Sincerely, I had been on the verge of cramping too for a few miles now, but was able to keep it under control. With the cramps, Bob wasn't as fast as usual and I passed him with 10 miles to go, feeling great and happy to get some speed after the slow climb. My average pace at the summit had slowed down to 9:40 min/mile, it was time to make up for some time. From the course profile, I thought he was mostly down for 10 miles but not quite so. On the way back we had to get on super rocky trails, which were tough on tired legs. I kept pushing the pace despite nagging cramps by mile 43 and enjoyed a quick stop at the very windy appropriately named Ridge View aid station at mile 43.

The final section seems quite long actually and, rightly so as my GPS indicated 50.77 miles at the finish. I looked behind several times and couldn't see Bob or other 50-mile runner behind so I decided to walk a bit to catch my breath and enjoy the scenery. My main goal for the day was, first, not to get lost as I had heard that had happened to Gary Gellin a few years ago . I had printed out and taped the course profile and greap course map, but that was really unnecessary as the course was fantastically well marked, with so many ribbons plus chalk signage. My second goal was to improve the M50-59 age group course record of 8:40. My third goal was to eventually break 8 hours. And it really never occurred to me that I could win the race, I wouldn't have bet any money on me, despite Toshi teasing me at the briefing that I could get the champion wooden trophy.

Well, first I came in indeed in the 50-mile this year, not with a great time given the perfect conditions, but a solid 7:48, shaving 52 minutes off my age group record. And 3rd overall win this year! Bib #56 (will look name up when results are published) came in second 14 minutes later, then Bob who was exhausted after his long struggle with cramps.
Without much surprise, the women race was won by Nikki Kimball, paced by friend and local Jenny Capel.
What an honor to be this year's champion with Nikki!
Toshi finished just under 9 hours, ready to tackle Ohlone tomorrow! Although he was also exhausted by a final sprint and friendly duel with Eric Skaden.

Special thanks to Marc for taking pictures at the finish while I was recovering!

We left before 4 pm, without seeing Stephen, Amy or Jim finish, so I could catch my flight. By the way, Vespa worked wonders again and it was great to see VespaPower's owner, Peter Defty, on the course.

A huge thank you to the Silver State Striders and John Trent's team for putting such a professional and challenging event, mixing three distances for the pleasure of all (50-mile, 50K and half-marathon). I particularly liked the marking (wow!), the friendliness and competence of the aid station volunteers, the ice at aid stations, the selection of Gu and availability of S!Caps. I couldn't eat much more than fruits (and chocolate sherbet!) but we stopped at In and Out in Auburn on our way back to the Bay Area. The weather was perfect, no snow, no hail (unlike last weekend!), quite sunny and exposed but not too hot thanks to the breeze. The key for a successful run here seems to be ample hydration (air is slightly thinner and definitely dry, especially with the breeze/wind) and pacing ourselves to be able to run or jog the long up hills (like at Ohlone).

With that, the three back to back podiums, it's time for me to take 5 weeks off racing before the upcoming PCTR 24-hour Summer Solstice at Crissy Field in San Francisco. Although I ran 9 100-milers, I never ran for more than 21 hours, so I look forward to this new experience! In the meantime, more business trips ahead to DC and London and some family vacation in France and Malta. Living life the fullest! In the meantime, looking forward to reading your updates on Facebook and seeing the results of Ohlone tomorrow! Happy trails, Run Happy!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Quicksilver 50K 2014: a great recovery run

Last week, I tilted my post: "Miwok 100K: a fantastic training run!" Well, when you try hard on hills, it's all great but that takes a toll on your body and it has been years since my legs had been so sore after a race. Despite the pain, I went for a 6-mile run on Sunday and thought that would help taking away the soreness in the quads and calves. I went to a conference in San Francisco on Monday and even walking from one room to another was painful. I woke up at 5 am on Tuesday, exciting to meet Bob at the track again but getting down the stairs was still so difficult, I preferred to send him an email to cancel. On Wednesday, I really felt the urge to get these legs moving so I ran 9 miles. Rather slowly (7:40 min/mile) but the stride was rather smooth. Yet, on Thursday, my legs still felt really tired and heavy; slightly better on Friday but still to a point that I was starting being worried of all the hills of this Saturday run. I've ran the Quicksilver 50K course 5 times already, including twice as the first 31 miles of the 50-miler, and gained a lot of respect for this runnable but long hills.

I woke up at 3 on Saturday and the legs were now responding much better to a few stretches, phew! The race format has changed this year: instead of the 50K and 50-miles distances, and both races starting together, the 50-miler has been replaced by a challenging hilly 100K, starting at 4 am from Hacienda, while the 50K course remained unchanged and the "shorter" race starting at 6 am from Mockingbird. In addition to directing the Ruth Anderson ultras with Anil Rao for the Bay Area Ultra Running club, Rajeev Patel took on the race direction of this Quicksilver Running Club signature event. Kudos to him for giving back so much to our ultra community, this is a much more complex event to manage with more participants, a convoluted course, many aid stations with limited or restricted access and the best post-race BBQ of the West (I haven't ran enough further East to claim that it is the best in North America, but it's really exceptional). More on the BBQ later, first we have to race...

I arrived at the Mockingbird parking lot and, while it was still pitch dark, a few volunteers were already busy setting up and checking runners in. Rajeev's communicative enthusiasm set a great mood within the whole group of runners ready to hit the trail at 6 am. The sun hadn't rise yet but daylight was ample thanks to a perfect clear Californian sky. Before setting us off, Rajeev indicated that the temperatures would remain in the 60s in the morning and low 70s in the afternoon, quite ideal temperatures for the season, this event is used to see temperatures rising above 90F, which provides great heat training for the follow-up ultras of the summer. 60s and 70s, I thought to myself "let's rock and roll this!" And rocking and rolling we all went in front of the camera of the live cast!
The start is downhill so I went out quite fast, followed by the favorite of the day, Enrique Henriquez. Enrique is 15 years younger and really getting stronger and faster, especially at that distance. A great Skyline last August, a great Way Too Cool in March and winning Ruth Anderson 50K last month in 3:31! Besides, he didn't run Miwok 100K last week...  On the start line he asked me if he should take the course instructions that he had printed and I acquiesced. I know I got quite confused the first time I ran this race, even some volunteers misled runners in the past, which is why one of the ultra running tips is to not depend on others. But easier said than done when you race in a wilderness park which you don't know.

Enrique and I were running side to side in the first wall but he certainly looked fresh and easy and took the lead in the second steep hill on Viril Norton Trail. I managed to keep him in sight in the down hills of Hacienda and still, for about 2 miles on New Almaden. After the first steep hills in the first mile, our average pace wasn't so fast, around 8:30, yet my legs were already tired and the pace didn't feel comfortable enough. I backed up just a little and finally lost sight of Enrique, nobody to be seen behind. I passed the Webb Canyon water-only aid station just asking Jeremy Johnson if he was ok after his DNF at Miwok last week but flew down the tricky trail before I could really hear more than a yes. My first thank to the many volunteers assisting us today on the trail!

I kept pushing the pace up Mine Hill, remembering the great time I had running this section alongside Victor Ballesteros in the 50-mile a few years ago. And other great memories came up when I passed the location of the ex Dam Overlook aid station which had been manned by my other club, the Stevens Creek Striders, and at which Agnès and Greg volunteers several time. My time was 1:14 at that point which I estimated being 2 minutes slower than for my previous 50K races here (I'm not as precise as Gary Gellin when it comes to estimating and recording splits, I prefer running by the feel, but my blog posts are my memory nonetheless...). Here is a picture from Everitt Chock who spent the morning as a course monitor at the Dam Overlook/Guadalupe Reservoir View:
2 miles later I went through the new Randol Trail aid station, also manned by Quicksilver clubmates. I asked how far behind Enrique I was and the time they realized that I wasn't asking how far was the next aid station, I think they said 2 to 3 minutes. We were now at mile 11.

My average pace was now close to 8 and I kept pushing all the way to Mine Hill, just under the red zone, my legs still digesting the Miwok effor and me thinking of the remaining hills ahead. The Striders were moved 2 miles up Mine Hill to a new aid station at mile 16.5, Randal replacing both Dam Overlook and Caphorn. I stil had enough water and GU2O so I didn't stop, just thanking Chuck Wilson who wanted to assist. Someone yelled asking for my bib number and I yelled 124 in return, figuring out that they knew me well enough to make a note on the board. I enjoyed running down the long Mine Hill trail and, thanks for the great view of the trail, I regained sight of Enrique and estimated he had now a 1:50 to 2-minute lead on me, which clubmates and course monitors, Gary and Adona, confirmed when I passed the Guadalupe and Mine connection. Enjoying the downhill on Mine Hill, another picture from clubmate Everitt:
I ran all the hills on Guadalupe and finally reached the McAbee aid station, mile 21.3, where I got my Gu2O bottle refilled. I waived at the camera wondering who might be watching wen most of the action on the ultra scene was happening in the Canary Islands with the super competitive TransVulcania, and off I went on the 4-mile climb back to the Mine Hill aid station. I saw Enrique in the distance hesitating at the Mine Hill and New Almaden intersection, even checking his map I think, then pointed him still 1:50 ahead up in the Mine Hill switchbacks. I did run that whole section, now encouraged by the other 50K runners coming down Mine Hill.

Still on a hunt, I made a quick stop at the Mine Hill aid station where Andy added a few ice cubes in my water bottle. I saluted and thanked my fellow Striders, congratulating them for their great... Quicksilver shirts. Each volunteer got such a royal blue shirt displaying our new club logo and I'm not sure that was of the best taste of volunteers from other "competing" clubs. Well at least it will make for a souvenir of this great South Bay park, they are great technical tops!

My legs were still doing the job and, at least, I wasn't cramping today, so Miwok was indeed a great training run. I noticed that, unless I missed it, there was no marking at the end of Bull Run and entrance of Castillero, and no course monitor either (that would have been many lonely volunteers to have one at all the intersections highlighted in the course description!). For those who didn't compete this Saturday, the marking consisted in a few signs/posts and quite a few chalk arrows, but no ribbon. Personally, I feel that, if the Park Management allows it, ribbons would be much safer in the future, otherwise, more signs.

It was great to have a course monitor at English Camp, it's not a place you want to get lost. There, I was expecting to find the English Camp aid station like previous years, but none this year. I passed the camp at 3:30, sub 4-hour was going to be challenging this year. The aid station location was marked with chalk at the entrance of Hacienda, although there was no water yet (I learned it was set later as a self-service aid station). At 28 miles anyway, I wouldn't have stopped for a last refill, all the focus was now on giving it all. For those who have never ran this course, the finish is an epic roller-coaster on the Hacienda trail. So steep hills that it's almost impossible to run them after 29 miles in your legs, except maybe for Leor Pantilat, Gary Gellin and Chikara Omine, and down hills which are so steep they are even hard to run for the fear of losing control on the dirt and rocks, going too fast and crashing. With that, I admit I did a bit of walking but jogged as much to still aim at a sub 4-hour time. And then rushed in the final down hill back to the Mockingbird parking lot, where were started our journey 4 hours ago. I sprinted to the finish, with a time of 4:01:36. Dave Comb was at the timing table but looked really surprised to see me which surprised me since he should have seen Enrique a couple of minutes ago. Well, as it turned out, at the bottom of Hacienda, before the last turn to the finish, Enrique went on the New Almaden trail again, as we had done in the morning. It took about 1.5 miles to poor Enrique to figure out his mistake and eventually reach the finish line 20 minutes later. Enrique interviewed by Andy from

The URL is temporary but you can see my finish on the "Finish 7-10am" video. Fast forward to 2:51:00. Then a short interview while I'm still catching my breath from the final sprint, at 2:51:47.

Being 51, Yoshihiro Ishijima, the 3rd runner to come in, also had en eye on the M50-59 age group course record. Well, he was really aiming at it last year as I wasn't 50 yet and I was competing in the 50-mile anyway. Our age group record was first set in 1987 on the original course by Roger Daniels, at 4:06:55. On the new course, the AG CR did stand for 14 years, since Michael Duncan ran 4:21:33 in 2000. I missed the Ruth Anderson 50-mile one by 1 minute and 30 seconds, short of having checked record before the race, and initially aiming at running 100K, I was better prepared this time. Here is Ishijiro, just a few minutes shy of the previous AG CR:

And I was amazed by the freshness of the winner of the women race, I see an amazing potential in this young lady. Robin Young, 24, 5th overall in 4:36:35, 6th fastest time in the race 31-year history, and she was fresh like she had just run a 5K!
It was 10 am when I finished and the famous BBQ and extravagant buffet weren't open yet. After the Enrique incident, and a more feedback from the following runners, I actually went back on the course to further erase the chalk markings at the intersection of Hacienda and New Almaden. And gave a hand to my volunteering clubmates to unload supplies coming back from the early aid stations, do some cleaning, refills of the drink buckets and assisting a few 100K racers coming through for what was their 42-mile aid station.

As 50K runners were coming in from the West, the 100K competitors were traversing the Mockingbird aid station the other way, creating an interesting confusion around the legendary time keepers, Dave Comb and Stan Jensen (as Dave says himself, they are joined by the hip! ;-):

More volunteers to be thankful for, ultra after ultra...

The 100K race was won by speedster Chikara Omine, used to the top spot at this event. It's great to see Chikara back after a an injury kept him off the circuit for a few months. By the way, Chikara is an other "Vespa-fueled" athlete (Vespa worked great for me again today).
Here are two teammates and compatriots, both running the 100K distance this weekend. Frederic Garderes:
and Pierre-Yves Couteau, who had directed the race these past two years:
At this point, I had refueled at the amazing BBQ and buffet that Paul and Darcy Ficks put together for runners and their families. This is such a generous tradition in which they put so much time and energy year after year, along with their crew. So much diversity in meats (ribs, beef, chicken, sausage and even veggie burgers, with tomato, salad, onions and a variety of dressings), macaroni and cheese, vegetables, sushis, fried bread, fruits then around 1 pm, an extravagant buffet of desserts. I didn't eat that much (after all, I only ran 50K... ;-), so I'm sure I forget many things of the menu! It's also one of the rare races where families and friends have a free access to this top-class restaurant. Not to forget more than 15 different sorts of drinks!

Continuing on paying tribute to the volunteers, let me highlight Kristina Irvin who leads and coordinates all the volunteers and logistic for the numerous aid stations, all that before being the captain of our Duncan aid station at Western States in June. Kristina didn't sleep for 3 days which, stress aside, is good training for her upcoming Hardrock 100-mile as she admits.

And, then, a huge shout out to Race Director, Rajeev, who brings an unique blend of ultra running expertise and support to make every runner successful in their ultra endeavors. Special mention to our Club President, Greg Lanctot, who, assisted by Jeff Clowers for distances and elevations, designed this challenging 100K course exploring every hidden secret of our local County Park.

This ultra celebration was also the opportunity to catch-up with other runners and their families. I was delighted to see Chris Garcia completing his 50K. Chris got every severely injured last year as he was riding his bike from work and hit a door that a car passenger open as he was riding by. Days in ICU, months without moving, Chris admits that he'll never be the same runner as before but he was very happy to have been able to complete this hilly ultra. Steve Patt stopped by our table and we talked birds among other topics. Chuck Wilson, returning from his morning at the Mine Hill aid station. Then Catra Corbett who came to pace a friend on the 100K before he will pace her in a section of her 200-mile on the Ohlone Wilderness course next weekend! (You can read more about Catra in my blog interview at her 100th 100-mile celebration.) Panfilo Jimenez, from Modesto, who knows Jon Olsen well, also stopped by and asked for a picture with me, which he'll show to his friends next to my Vespa ad in Trail Running magazine last year! ;-)
With that, I felt mostly good during the race, but I felt bad for not doing as much to support our club event. I actually entered the ultra world as a volunteer, there will be a time for me to give back when I'm tired of racing that much. This Saturday was ultra race #98, 50K race #46 (more than twice as many marathons!). I called it a recovery run in the title because I didn't cramp and I felt much better this Sunday morning than a week ago after Miwok. So well that I went for 14 miles at 7:40 early this morning before catching my flight for JFK, writing most of this post in a middle seat (yikes!).

See some of you next week on the trails again, yes for another ultra race, the high altitude Silver State 50-mile in Reno, a course which I never ran. There will be less familiar faces than usual but I'm excited to car pool with teammates Toshi and Marc, Toshi going for his crazy Silver States/Ohlone again this year. As for me, no Ohlone this year unfortunately as I need to fly to JFK again right after the race to attend Max's graduation at Yale on Sunday. Time to taper again, which is convenient since I'm doing a road show on the East Coast this week anyway (New York and Chicago). Have a great week all!

PS: here are teammates Bree Lambert and Amy Burton, manning the least remote aid station, right in the finish area (mile 42 of the 100K). The picture obviously don't give credit to the later frenzied activity with the 100K runners coming, through, their pacers joining the fun, their crews helping out, and all the 50K finishers hanging out. A very busy aid station, mid day.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Miwok 100K 2014: a fantastic training run!

As I wrote in previous posts, because of my tibialis injury, I haven't been able to train as much and consistently as the past years. I'm still at 80 km/week, instead of the usual 100 km/week average of the past 4 years but, more importantly, I had focused on speed and track in January, so I have very little hill and mountain trail training, which proved particularly painful at Way Too Cool in March. For this reason, I'm glad to still be able to take the start of the many races I had registered for at the end of last year, and use them as training runs.

And, speaking of training run, how often do you have the opportunity to have one in the mythical Marin Headlands and Golden Gate National Recreation area, with fully stocked aid stations, myriad of expert and helpful volunteers, course marking, pristine trail conditions, sane emulation from competitive runners and, as a bonus, the opportunity to score points in our North California Mountain and Ultra Trail Grand Prix? Yes, this was the unique opportunity offered to us today and, icing on the cake, with a wonderful weather: quite some wind/breeze but almost no fog and a very sunny day overall with gorgeous 360-degree views on the Pacific, San Francisco, the Golden Gate, Sausalito, Treasure Island, Mount Tamalpais, and a run through a great variety of vegetation.

Peggy, from the Striders, carpooled with us to the start and we left Cupertino by 3:10 am. For some reasons, I was convinced the start was at 5:30 am, so I was planning on a good hour to get prepped up there. Well, on the way up, with Agnès driving, I checked the website and discovered with quite some anxiety that the start was at 5 am instead, oops! Agnès dropped us at the Community Center (start area) at 4:40, just in time to get our bibs and check-in. But no time to have a chance to visit the bathroom, it was going to have to do it...
The pack was already formed behind the start line and I squeezed in just behind my new M50-59 age group fellows, Mark Ritchman and Kevin Rumon, both running for the very competitive Tamalpa Running Club. Both finished ahead too at Way Too Cool as I was having a challenging day. They proposed to let me start ahead on the front line, but I passed on the offer, counting on a reasonable pace in the first steep uphill.
It was pitch dark and, thankfully I had decided to take my headlamp this time. But it is a 7-year old one and definitely change to upgrade, as I had hard time spotting the numerous roots and rocks. Something to improve and fix before I pace Pierre-Yves at Western States in 8 weeks!

With the limited sight, I actually had to work more with my senses, listening to the steps of other runners and guessing what was ahead. I was also blown away by all the rich pinewood and earthy smells. With the roots and soft ground, and the sound of a few nearby creeks, it reminded me of the trails in Chamonix in particular and the Alps in general. Those who ran the Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc can relate. After the steep climb on Matt Davis Trail, we got on Coastal Trail. I was still behind Kevin and Mark, as well as teammate Stephen, and actually happy about that as I had difficulties managing a few tricky and technical spots, in particular the washed out sections of the very narrow single track of the Coastal Trail. I passed Kevin just before the Bolinas Ridge aid station where I dropped my headlamp, then proceeded on to eventually catch-up Mark and Stephen, and Jonathan Gunderson. We ran the next rolling section together before Mark and I pushed the pace in the 1.7-mile downhill to the Randall Trail aid station. As instructed in Tia's detailed course instructions, I did bow to my friend Chuck Wilson, the aid station captain, who was quite intrigued and puzzled by my behavior and really wondering about what I wanted to say. My bottles were still good and up the hill I was, slightly ahead of Mark. To my surprise, I was now in 6th place. With the comfortable 10 min/mile average pace for the first 7 miles, I thought there would be 20 runners ahead of us. Teammates Gary Gellin and Chris Wehan were leading the race by a good margin, I was already 1.4 miles behind by mile 13, or about 12-13 minutes, yikes! Well, remember, my main goal was to get a solid training run, so being in 6th was already way above my expectations. Granted, apart from Gary and Chris, there were no international or national elites like this race was seeing a few years ago for instance with Tony Krupicka, Scott Jurek, Dave Mackey, Eric Grossman, Kami Semick, Nikki Kimball, Pam Smith. With that and the perfect weather and trail conditions, it was the day to place well.

From 10 min/mile by mile 7 by average pace was now down just under 9 minutes, which I was able to maintain to the top of the ridge and for most of the day, losing a few seconds in the uphills, gaining a few on the downhills. And, the great news, my tibia wasn't bothering me today, phew, progress! Speedster Alex Varner, 4th at the very competitive Lake Sonoma 50-mile 2 weeks ago, was volunteering at the Cardiac aid station (for the non-insiders, Cardiac is just the name of a 3-mile long hill along and crossing the legendary Dispsea trail. A hill which we descend at mile 26.6 then climb back at mile 55.4 when we are all exhausted. I'd say, an effort worth 50 times Boston's famous Heart Break Hill... As a matter of fact, we actually run on the Deer Park fireroad). Alex indicated that Gary was 19-20 minutes ahead at this point and that I was 4 minutes behind the next runner. Gary at Muir Beach:
When I arrived at the Muir Beach aid station, Agnès and Hollie (Gary's wife) were here, along some other familiar faces such as buffoon Victor Ballesteros (and most serious founder/owner of Victory Sportdesign), as well as a few members of our Quicksilver club who were crewing or going to pace later.
Hollie said that runner #3 was cramping bad, and he wasn't too far ahead. What I didn't know is that, after launching Gary on his speedy orbit, Chris Wehan had dropped by mile 19 as initially planned. I was then now in 5th. As I was getting back on the course after leaving the aid station, I saw Mark and Stephen a few minutes behind. I decided to push the pace again on the next climb, Middle Green Gulch and ended up passing two runners. I arrived to Tennessee Valley in 3rd and, after exchanging a few jokes with's Stan Jensen, off I was on one of my favorite climb, Marincello. A few years ago, I was pacing Mike Wardian at the North Face 50-mile, until Tennessee where he was taking another pacer, and I ended up running this hill next to Hal Koerner who taught me his "Diesel mode," slow and steady. I perfected it since then by actually putting my cap visor down to avoid looking at the endless hill and being intimidated by it. That proved useful for instance at my successful Headlands 100-mile last September. Anyway, I did climb the whole thing without walking, thinking that, this time, this will be enough to break away from Mark in particular. For one thing, nobody was to be seen behind for the next 7 miles. Here are two pictures from Stevens Creek Striders' club mate Dwight Brown, respectively miles 38 and 47:

On the (new) way up Rodeo Valley Trail, I had to start walking a bit and saw a few runners behind, but they didn't seem to include Mark. I walked more on the steep Miwok trail and, despite a few nagging cramps, tried my best to "fly" down Tennessee Valley again.
Agnès was there again, offering a Gu2O refill as well as my 5th Vespa of the day. Again, without seeing anyone behind, I continued on the steep Coastal on which I alternated jogging and walking. I lost quite some time in the treacherous rocky descent into Pirates Cove and cramps were becoming really an issue. With that, while I was running up on the other side of the Cove, I saw Mark flying down the rocky section and stairs with quite some speed and ease, darn! That's something I was used to do but I lost the guts after I fell on the Tahoe Rim Trail and broke my shoulder 2 years ago. Seeing Mark actually gave me a boost and, by the next aid station, our second passage at Muir Beach, I actually caught up with the runner in second place, Brendan Trimboli, from Colorado.
With about 8 miles to go, I didn't even stop at the aid station, just "hit and run" to the end of the bridge where Agnès took this picture:
With the cramps and the stress or fear of the upcoming climb back to Cardiac, I had really no intent to pass Brendan, just happy to hold on and aim at a third place on the podium. My main concern at this point was really Mark which was evidently making up time. Mark has been on 100K Road Team USA years ago so he is a phenomenal competitor, despite the nine years which separate us in our M50-59 age group. While I had not come to place overall, winning my age group was definitely a goal, beyond the long run and training opportunity.

I did walk a lot on Deer Park fireroad, made a quick stop by the Cardiac aid station to get my water bottle refilled by Alex Varner (how cool!). Alex told me to catch the runner 1.5 minutes ahead, but I replied that I was more concerned by Mark catching-up behind, so he replied "well, then, go!" Not surprisingly with my now much lower pace, I saw Mark coming in the aid station, less than a minute behind. Luckily, as he told me later at the finish, he didn't see me so he must have taken his time at the station or I'm sure he would have saved a stop. I pushed as hard as I could down the tricky stairs of the Dipsea Trail but I was so careful, I persuaded myself that Mark was going to pass me. I cramped very bad after the bridge crossing, I could barely walk but forced myself to hop the steps of Insult Hill and keep jogging. In the final downhill, I enjoyed the speed again and there was no sight of Mark, so I kept believing again. At the finish, some people must have wondered if I was drunk because I couldn't control the cramps and, from the pictures, I was really running funny, unable to control my stride with my legs going sideway. But it was good enough for third, a 9:43 time, 47 minutes behind Gary and 3 minutes behind Brendan. And 2 minutes or so ahead of Mark, close call! My kudos to Mark for such a performance and placing 4th, he is going to rock the M60-69 age group next year! And my thanks to him for pushing me to dig deep in such a race, quite a fantastic training run!

All my muscles were a mess, uncontrollable spasms from my calves and quads in particular. I did some stretching but that should still be painful tomorrow...
I did drink a lot today though and took quite a few S!Caps, so I think the reason of these cramps was more about the lack of training. Well, I think that this time I got a good training today for my upcoming Quicksilver 50K next Saturday (still a handful of spots available!) and Silver State 50-mile in two weeks! Also, Vespa worked its wonders again today. I took 2 pouches before the start, then one every 2.5 hours. With that, my intake consisted in: 5 GUs, a banana, 2 folding cups of Coke, 4 16-oz bottles of GU2O that is about 1,000 calories for an estimated 7,000 calorie-effort, most of the difference coming from the body fat I was carrying with me!

I thanked Race Director Tia for such a wonderful day.
The goody bag was cool and handy. I'll offer my beer bottle to our Club President, Greg, hoping this will ease his pain of not being to run today because of injury. The Brooks top is top, original shape and color and I like the silver-color inscription, great souvenir! A special mention for the wider range of sizes, this year, at least there were small sizes as opposed to the past 7 years, great improvement, that makes quite a difference!

I really enjoyed the service at the aid stations, very friendly and professional. While I'm still struggling with the reusable/folding cup to drink Coke (twice), I appreciate the green and sustainability intent. With the numerous climbs and descents, this is really a challenging course. Needless to say, that was my best Miwok at least in terms of placing. I had such terrible experiences, between asthma or even hypothermia. The course has changed in 2012, and it's hard to compare two different routes, especially when you take into account that climbs are run at very different times in the race. Dave Mackey ran a blazing 7:53 on the old course back in 2008 but that was amid strong competition, or emulation. In 2012 in won on the inaugural new course in 9:14 but he had ankle and foot issues because of too short socks so he couldn't push as usual. And he had nobody to challenge him anyway. With the few course adjustments here and there this year, I'm not even sure how Garry's course record will be accounted for (or mine for the M50-59 age group for that matter). I'm leaving this to our PAUSATF officials to figure out (Gary Wang, Bill Dodson, Hollis Lenderkin).

I also want to thank all the runners who provided encouragements as we were crossing path on Bolinas Ridge. I crossed a few runners again on my way back to Tennessee Valley, but the pack was much dispersed then after 8 hours of running. And I even crossed a few runners who were not half way while I had 5 miles to go. Kudos to you for giving out your best to stay ahead of the cut-off. As Race Director Stan Jensen said on Facebook in the evening, he feels sorry that he can't get a permit beyond 21 pm. Overall, he reported 372 finishers out of 567 entrants (likely less starters), that's indeed a tough race to complete.

Next year will be the 30th edition, I'm already invoking the Lottery Gods to get picked and be part of this trail celebration. It was my 8th consecutive Miwok and I look forward to more. Ultra #97 (well, 245 ultra runs including the non-racing/"pure" training ones), yet another successful one.

PS: I did a 10K recovery run this Sunday. I was so sore, I could barely maintain a 10 min/mile pace for the first mile. After the legs warmed up, I was able to smoothen my stride and settled on a 8:30 pace, even finishing at 7:00 for the last mile. I have to give Dean Karnazes, aka Marathon Man, credit for the benefits of such post-race recovery runs. Although it's quite counter intuitive when your legs hurt so much. As I told Agnès upon my return: "it hurts but it feels good..." ;-)

See a few more of Agnès' pictures in my Picasa album (lead runners and landscape/nature).