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).


Peter said...

Hi Jean!

Wow! Congratulations and HUGE thanks for the plug for VESPA (BTW, for readers Jean does not want to be sponsored....he buys his VESPA at Zombie Runner so his endorsement is as genuine as it gets)....

You coined the phrase "VESPA Math"

It doesn't add up but it certainly works....

Hope to catch up with you soon but I know that is hard to do!

Lorenski said...

For some reason, I also like Marincello. It is a good pitch with underrated views. I love the visor trick. I am going to use that. (And maybe, someday, try Vespa.)

David Lent said...

Thank you for the wonderful race report. It was a thrill to cheer you along Bolinas Ridge. You were running strong. It's nice to see that regardless of pace, we all experience similar challenges on technical trail. The encouragement offered by faster runners along Bolinas Ridge and again in the Headlands was truly special. The washed out Coastal half track took enormous concentration. My quads were useless at Pirates and Steep Ravine. I spent the last 3.5 hours doing cutoff and finish line math. I am proud to be a part of our ultra running community. Your blog captures the spirit of the day. Thank you!