Sunday, November 30, 2014

Quad Dipsea 2014: no fall, almost...

I didn't really want to run the grueling Quad Dispsea this year, I was good with the 13 ultra races I ran so far this year (with one more to go in December), including 12 out of the 17 events which make our California Grand Prix. And what seems to be an all-time record of 554 points in our Grand Prix history! But, after taking the team wins for Women, Mixed and Overall, our Quicksilver running club still had a slim chance to also get the Men win, so I answered the team call. To win though, we had to beat both Tamalpa in their backyard and the current leader, Excelsior; really not a small feat especially when the Tamalpa crew included Dave Mackey, the current Quad Dipsea course record holder, Victor Ballesteros (3 times 2nd place out of 5 participations) and Mark Richtman to just name three of their very talented runners.

I'm running the Desert Solstice invitational mid December (24 hours on a track!) so the last thing I needed was hill training, especially on a strenuous and muddy course! My training have been more like 80-lap tempo runs at the local track lately... My main goal today, beyond battling for the team, was really to avoid a bad fall and break something. And the rain of the night made that an interesting challenge between slippery rocks and wooden stairs and other muddy patches.

Our Club President, Greg Lanctot, picked me at 5:30 to carpool to the start in Mill Valley. We arrived early and he got a good parking spot. I must say that it was a bit difficult to wake up at 4:30 am and get going while we were under pouring rain in San Jose. Thankfully though, it seemed that, for once, we were getting more rain than Marin County, phew! Indeed, when we arrived in San Francisco, the rain had stopped and it would not rain the whole race which made the day much easier.

There was a lot of "ultra power" behind the registration table with omnipresent volunteer, Stan Jensen, an ultra running legend, Ann Trason, John Medinger who has directed this race for 30 years among many other ultra accomplishments, and his wife Lisa Henson who has been a long time ultra runner and supporter of our sport and the General Manager of UltraRunning Magazine for many years and still writes a column in this monthly magazine (now led by Karl Hogland who was running today).

Race Director, John Catts, sent us off at 8 am, after reminding and warning us not to go too fast in the fist fly of stairs (the race starts with 700 stairs up!).

Dave Mackey was still in Colorado yesterday but had flown in just in time to be at the start. To my surprise, Excelsior, which was surprised if not mad to see me toeing the line, got Chikara Omine in. Victor didn't show up (business obligation) but Mark Ritchman, as well as a other younger fast dudes and quite a few others that I didn't know. On the Quicksilver side, John Burton was just back from Hawaii and was feeling finally recovered from this September's exhausting Tahoe 200-mile. But we also had a big contingent signed up (bib # in parenthesis): Clare Abram (43) -- 6 Quad Dipsea Top-10 finishes, Andy Benkert (97), Donnie Blameuser (102), Guy Herr (182), Bill Holmes (188), Nickolas Kunder (207), Scott Laberge (57), Greg Lanctot (46), Loren Lewis (214), Jim Magill (220), Betsy Nye (50), Kat Powell (270), Corina Rahmig (277) , Troy Rahmig (278), David Roberts (284), Rickey Russell (4), Martin Sengo (296), Stephen Strauss (314), Stuart Taylor (320).

Despite John Catt's advice, we did rush up the stairs and I actually enjoyed the opportunity to start walking as my calves were still stiff from my Thursday's 35:41 10K Turkey Trot and I didn't want to trash my quads right off the bat. I settled behind John and Mark in the first series of stairs, then passed both of them in the third one, thinking that I'll likely regret my move later... ;-) There were about a dozen or so runners ahead, led by Dave and Chikara.

To my surprise, we did not go on Muir Wood road as for the three editions I previously ran (20092008 and, before my blogging times, 2006), but on the trail across longing the road underneath. I knew that was the old course and that this trail had been washed out about 10 years ago, but I didn't know it had been restored and the race had been back to the original course these past 2-3 years. Needless to say, it added a few minutes each way (that is 4 times), especially in this humid weather.

At this point (mile 1.5) I was trying to keep Karl (Schnaitter, Excelsior) in sight which his bright yellow shirt made easier in the cloudy fog. I even managed to close some of the gap in the next technical section (and, no, we didn't take the Suicide Dipsea shortcut! ;-). I followed him and 2 other runners in the slippery Dynamite climb before we got in a thick cloud as we approached the Cardiac aid station. At the exit of the station, the visibility was so low that I missed the pink ribbons and inadvertently took left, and I'm glad a couple of volunteers noticed, yelled at me to steer me back on the trail, phew!

Although it wasn't raining per se, we were drenched with the droplets from the cloud and those falling from the trees and I felt chilly as I passed the ridge and hit the sea breeze. It was way too early to get cold in this race (mile 4) so I decided to keep pushing the pace and stick with Karl. We were really flying down the switchbacks and stairs of Steep Ravine and eventually passed a runner who was a better climber than descender. And I kept thinking "Be careful, don't trip, don't fall..." but it felt too good to run fast in this section and make up for the slow pace from the 700 stairs out of Mill Valley.

As we went under the cloud we got an amazing view over Stinson Beach, one that only a picture would make enough justice. I could see a couple of runners half a mile ahead but couldn't clearly spot Dave or Chikara. I crossed them, Dave first and Chikara on his heels, as they were already up the stairs on their way back, 3-4 minutes ahead. I reached the turn around at mile 7 in 1:04, oops that was a heck of a start. Actually, pretty close to what I was doing back then when I was running 4:19 and 4:20 except that it was a few years ago and I had no specific preparation this time. Carrying 2 bottles and taking Vespa, I didn't stop at the aid station. Mark was about 3 minutes behind so, despite what I thought was a crazy fast start, there was not time to waste or take it easier. Besides, he was followed by another member of our competitive M50-59 age group, David Smith. There is never an opportunity to rest in this sport...! ;-)

The return to Mill Valley is special in the sense that we cross so many runners. While I didn't have enough breath to return all the encouragement that they gave me, many using my name to make it personal which is really cool, I think I did explicitly thank all those who did stop on the side of the single trail. The toughest section is definitely going up the uneven stairs of Steep Ravine, with high stairs being so hard on the quads (especially for my short legs!). I was still following Karl whom I passed at mile 10 as he made a very quick stop at the Cardiac aid station. We literally flew down the next 2 miles, including over the trick roots in Cardiac and I was going so fast that I even created some gap in Dynamite which I was able to maintain down to Mill Valley. I'm sure there will more pictures popping up on Facebook but here is the only one I got of me, "in the misty cloud", credit to Kyria Wilson:
I climbed the 700 stairs down with caution and was quite pleased by my time of 2:10 at the second turnaround. It took me a few seconds to open the zip-lock bag I was carrying with my Gu2O powder and Ann Trason teased me with a "keep cool!" As I was rushing out of the aid station, John Catts teased me too: "You easily have your age group!" To which I reply: "Actually, Mark is not far behind...!" Indeed, I saw him as I was climbing the seconds flight of stairs, I had increased the lead to about 5-6 minutes which isn't a lot with on more Double Dipsea to go...

Similarly to the first turn around, we keep crossing runners albeit at a lower frequency as the pack keeps getting longer or thinner throughout the day. Again, big thanks to all of you who stopped on the side of the single trail to give us the right of way, it is so much appreciated! I tried to keep a good pace but certainly walked more than our first leg, especially on Dynamite and Cardiac. On my 2nd way down to Steep Ravine I was flying again and felt so happy to have avoided any fall so far. I reached the 3rd turnaround at Stinson Beach in 1:10 for the third leg, that is 3:30 total. On my way down to the beach I had pointed Chikara in the lead, 20 seconds ahead of Dave and 1.6 miles ahead of me. They were not going to break 4 hours this year but it was interesting to see the two of them battling in these conditions.

At this point, I knew I wasn't going to pull a 1:10 for the last leg, that I didn't have it in me to break the age group record which I thought was 4:30 from what I had seen on Gary Wang's RealEndurance website (and, my bad, it's just me who did read correctly, Gary is right of course!). I'm glad I didn't even killed myself trying because the records is actually 4:28 according to the Quad Dipsea website (Alfred Bogenhuber, 1991, and he also owns the M60-69 and M70-79 ones, what a Quad Dipsea guru! The M50-59 seems solid, especially with the race back on the original course, but I think Mark has a good shot at the M60-69 next year!).

With that, the only think keeping me moving especially up the Steep Ravine stairs was to delay the time that Mark would caught me... I know he is so strong on these trails, so competitive and such a great finisher (cf our 3-4 Miwok finish in May), but yet my legs and the quads especially were really tired and tight from these steep hills and the lack of hill training these past months. By the time I reached the Cardiac aid station at the top of the ridge I actually felt really dizzy and was hesitant about what to do, between stopping to regroup and giving a chance to recover in the next 2-mile downhill. After drinking a cup of Coke I opted for the latter and was pleased with my choice as I could still run downhill quite fast while being super careful not to trip over roots or rocks. But the runners I crossed in this section must have wondered what was going on because I was still hurting and had some difficulty focusing and breathing. I think Greg took a movie of me as I was trying to control the sliding down Dynamite, which was now slippery like a ski slope, and he even told me that Chikara was way ahead which I could care less as I was struggling myself (sorry Greg! ;-). I even thought that this will turn to another UltraSignup ranking humiliation and maybe that contributed to keeping me moving for the final 2 miles.

I turned back several times, fearing to see Karl or Mark closing on my before the final mile but no one was to be seen. I still pushed the pace going down Bayview Drive and Walsh Drive, so happy that I had avoided the fall I was fearing so much about before and during the race. 1 mile to go, I was off the hook!

I ran down the first flight of cement stairs 2 by 2 and was again very pleased the quads were holding on (that's quite a load on them to handle gravity and provide some bouncing after 27 grueling miles!). At the top of the second flight, made of wooden stairs, I saw a lady coming up and, before I could realize, lost control and slipped on the super slippery stairs. Damned, here was the fall. Not too bad, nothing broken but the butt hurt and I had fallen on my elbows. While the tops of the stairs were slick, the edges are tough. The poor lady was confused and helped me find my glasses and off I was albeit even more careful in this slippery section. I resumed the 2x2 in the third flight, excited to hear the folks at the finish area.

I crossed the finish line in 4:38:31, the 8th fastest time in our age group over 31 years, I'll take that (4 of these times were set by the famous Alfred Bogenhuber, 2 by the other speedster Roy Rivers and one by another Bogenhuber, Max). Good this year for 5th overall and 2nd Master behind "Master Dave" (who actually holds the overall course record which he set last year in a amazing 3:48:45 at the age of 44! Making today's run like a walk in the park... ;-). 1:04, 1:06, 1:10 and 1:18 splits: not a great model of pacing but it could have been worse given the circumstances.
And here is a bloody elbow as a trophy:
Mark finished 7 minutes behind which is still amazing at 59, yet another proof point that he is going to crush the M60-69 age group next year! Here I am between two super strong Tamalpa ultra runners, Dave and Mark:
With Chikara's overall win (4:12), 3rd place finisher John Finn (4:31) and Karl's 8th place (4:46), Excelsior managed to pull the team Men win again and well deserved their 2014 Grand Prix win! On our side (Quicksilver Club), our new recruit Rickey Russell took 4th (4:35) but, unfortunately, we got some collateral damage behind with a few drops (including John). More than ever, we needed our top guns, Ian Sharman and Gary Gellin...

Debriefing with 2014 Quad Dipsea champion, Chikara Omine:

Chikara and Dave:

John Finn:
Rickey Russell's finish:
While I was joking that I had come to run just for the team and that it didn't work out from a result standpoint, it was certainly a great privilege to run this mythical Bay Area ultra for the 4th time. Besides, I got the honor to get my elbow washed and taken care of by Ann and Lisa, priceless! ;-)

234 finishers out of 335 or so entrants, that was definitely not an easy year. Big thank to John Catts for having taken on John Medinger's legacy at this race and bringing up a very challenging race to close our Gran Prix, along with his team of volunteers starting with the Tamalpa club of course but other clubs as well.

And now, back to flat miles if you don't mind...! ;-)


Lorenski said...

Jean, thanks for coming out. I know that is not the best course for you at this point in your season. You really did "take one for the team". Quick question: I saw you wearing the Brooks Pure Grit I. I love them but opted for something else yesterday, since the tread on the Pure Grit I seemed a bit smooth for all the mud. How did they work out? My non-Brooks choice was a poor one. Very slick all day. Left me thinking I need to look into a good "mudder" shoe. What is your best shoe in the mud? How did the Pure Grits work for you yesterday? (PS: I hear great things about the version III. Have you tried them?)

Scott Dunlap said...

Well done! Way to pull for the team.

Jean Pommier said...

Thanks, Scott and Loren!
Ah, Loren, the shoes, tough question/topic which I was trying to avoid... ;-) I found the Brooks Grit to work great on all the trail section, I just missed one step (slipped) in my first climb up Dynamite because I was pushing too hard on the toes (and trying to close on Karl... ;-). Otherwise, perfect grip in the muddy sections. Now, if you have grip in the mud, that usually means you'll slide on flat/wet slippery areas, like what happened in my last flight of stairs as I wasn't paying enough attention and lost balance when seeing a hiker coming up. The fact is that most of our ultras have some mix of trail and asphalt/concrete so there is no perfect solution. If I was consulted for a trail shoe though, I'd design a sole which mixes crampons and flat sections, which can really stick on flat surfaces. Note that the crampons of the Cascadia 9 are much larger than the original models so they may provide some of the effect. Now, these wooden stairs were really slippery, not sure there was much you could do not to slip at all except being extra careful (and perfectly balanced).

Mr. Humphrat said...

Jean good job I was out there as a spectator cheering for Ron Little and saw you twice. I took a pic of you at the Muir Woods creek crossing which I can send to you. My phone camera didn't do well with the motion of the runners but the setting is very pretty of course.

Peter said...

Another great VESPA powered performance Jean! Have fun at DS. Zach won't be there due to a touch of lingering tendonitis from World's as the surface was very hard and times very fast....he is fine but playing it safe...keep me posted if you need anything.