Sunday, May 3, 2015

Miwok 100K 2015: pushing hard to celebrate 20 years

Miwok 100K, an ultra tradition in the Bay Area, more exactly in Marin County, across the amazing Marin Headlands, just North of the Golden Gate. It was actually my 9th consecutive one and, now that demand far exceeds capacity for that popular race, just making into the lottery is a feat in itself. Race Director, Tia, sweetens the deal though, providing extra tickets to volunteers, which draws many expert ultra runners to man aid station, a great win-win for all, including the runners.

I flew back from Ohio again on Thursday night. In a pattern very familiar in a consultant's life, the outbound flight to Chicago was one hour late and, after a flight rebooking and a nearly-missed connection in ORD, I barely made it home by midnight, for an abbreviated night before a client call at 6 am. It was a set back because, with a start at 5 am for the race on Saturday, and a drive from the South Bay of 1 hour and 40 minutes, I knew I wouldn't sleep much on Friday night and wanted to make up that Thursday night for short nights during the week while I was at my client. Anyway, I went to bed at 7 pm on Friday and, strangely, woke up at 11:30 pm, thinking it was 1:30 am, the time I had set my alarm. I started preparing some breakfast before I realized my mistake and went back to bed for another hour and an half, oops...

My friend and teammate Pierre-Yves (Couteau) was kind enough to pick me on his way to the start, a great opportunity to catch-up. Traffic was so good that early in the morning that we made it to the race headquarters by 4 am to pick our bibs. Here is the QuickSilver Running Club's French Gang: Pierre-Yves, Frederic Garderes and I (missing Frédérique Garderes who wasn't running today):
It was pitch dark at 5am, there was no doubt we needed our headlamps for the start, in particular the first climb up to the Cardiac aid station. Tia's pre-race briefing was really short, basically reminding us about the detour on Bunker Road due to some construction on the bridge we were supposed to use. Here are two pictures from our QuickSilver Ultra Racing team Captain, Loren Lewis. The super bright headlamp in the middle is Ethan Veneklasen's. I'm on this right, talking to Mark Ritchman, an ex member of the Team USA of 100K, a few decades ago and still kicking my ass (sorry, I mean that in a good way... ;-) even now that he turned 60! (He almost catch me at the end of last year's race, phew!).
The second is funny because it shows me, in the center, as still checking my GPS while the front runners already took off! It had hard time locking enough satellites, I was hoping it would do it quickly in the run to get an accurate mileage.
With that missed start, I didn't exactly know where I ended in the lead pack, but, with 3 back to back ultras in March, and 3 back to back ones in May, I didn't want to push too much anyway, at least not too early in such a grueling and long race (100K is still quite a distance, especially with 11,000 feet of cumulative elevation and barely no flat section).

My Black Diamond headlamp disappointed me again, compared to some super bright ones I could see some other runners use. It was so dark though that any light was helpful and I managed to climb all the stairs without tripping. There were a few runners without a headlamp, the first 5 miles must have been quite challenging for them. There was a headlamp drop organized at the top of Cardiac but, with our aggressive pace, it was still way too dark for me to leave mine, and I'm glad that I kept it indeed for the long descent on Cardiac. I wasn't seeing the trail well enough though so I got passed by quite a few runners at this point. To make the matter worse, we were now running in the fog, and I cannot afford to take too many risks after my fall of 3 years ago when I broke my shoulder. One runner caught up with me and, very kindly, asked if I was ok after completely twisting my ankle in a hole, yikes. I've such flexible ankles that they resist to such treatment, yet I still worry it may not hold one time, especially at my age... ;-) Anyway, we chatted and I learned that Sam (Ritchie) used to live in SF but has moved to Boulder, CO. He had already run a 100-miler but that was his first 100K, and first Miwok of course. He said that he was aiming at finishing under 11 hours.

We ran together the nice and grassy Redwood Creek Trail then I pushed the pace to catch-up with all the runners who had passed me down on Cardiac. I love runnable hills and there are many on the Miwok course, a gold mine! I didn't keep a count but I see on's live webcast that I was in 25th position and passed 11 runners in the switchbacks up to Middle Green Gulch. I was back in the race!

I passed another runner on the way down Tennessee Valley, Lance Brady, who was running his first ultra! Way to pick a challenging one for a start (I'm a big believer that it's much better to work up the scale, starting with 50K to learn the ultra trade, but that's just my opinion...). On the way up Marincello, I had 4 runners in sight, a group led by Ron Gutierrez. I raced Ron many time over the past 10 years, I will always remember when he passed me at Whiskeytown in 2007 a few miles before the the finish as I was still having the lead but was struggling. A very strong Masters. I closed most of the gap with this group but lost a few minutes filling my Gu2O bottle at the Bridgeview aid station (the Golden Gate bridge was mostly in the fog but we could see part of it). I finally passed three of these runners before the top of the next climb, Rodeo Valley Trail and ran the descent down to Tennessee Valley close to Ron and Jon Robinson. Ron left the station first and I caught up with him at the very top of Coastal, before the plunge into the seclusive Pirate's Cove. Given that Ron flew by me in the dark down Cardiac this morning, without a lamp, I was glad he took the lead in this descent. However, I was slightly faster down the stairs so passed him at the bottom of the cove and created a small gap on the next climb. He remained close behind me from the Muir Beach aid station to the bottom of Cardiac and I decided to attempt to run up all Cardiac in order to create a definitive gap.

While the climb is gradual and runnable, it was hard mentally as I was remembering what happened last year: because we ran the course in a different order last year, Cardiac was the last major climb and I had to walk most of it, that's when Mark Richtman almost caught me. But, this year, it was only half way (miles 32-35), so there was no point in walking, there was much more ahead... With that, I was quite proud to get to Cardiac with nobody in sight behind. A volunteer refilled my Gu2O bottle and Maggie Tides filled my water bottle with ice. I was right on track with my intake of Gu2O but way behind on the water side, not having drank a full bottle in 35 miles. Ice helped me taking more in the next miles. The scoop was that I was welcomed at the aid station by Gary Gellin, last year's winner and one of this year's favorites. He had dropped, his legs not feeling strong enough after his top-10 effort and performance at Lake Sonoma 3 weeks ago (the weekend I ran the 100K Road Nationals). He was kind enough to indicate me the way out of the aid station when I thought we were going down to Stinson Beach again. I must say that made my day because I was convinced the second loop would start from last year's start.

After the overcast part of the run in the South of Marin Headlands, and the brisk marine breeze, it was time to move to another ecosystem in this amazingly diverse biosphere that the Bay Area offers. The Coastal/Matt Davis trail was now bathe with sun and, at this point, I couldn't tell if my top was wet from the mist we were running in earlier this morning, or the sweat from all these climbs...

Despite running Miwok for the 9th time and these trails in many other occasions, in other races or training runs, I had forgotten how much climb there is on the rolling Matt Davis trail... I was excited to see the Car Wreck again but had forgotten how many nice small groves/bosquets we had to go through before that one. Steve Reagan had posted on the Miwok FaceBook page this great story from KQED, still quite an old enigma...
I checked behind several time but, with the many groves, it's hard to really know if someone is on your heels. I couldn't see Ron so I was hoping I had finally created a comfortable gap. Ahead, I could actually see a runner in red, that kept my motivation high, yet I couldn't really push harder and close the gap. I was quite please with my average pace which I had been able to maintain around 9:00 until the Cardiac climb (number not taking into account a slightly shorter mileage reported my GPS). I was at 9:16 after the climb and my stop at the aid station, and reached the Bolinas Ridge aid station with GPS indicating 9:18. Another stop to get more ice, struggle with my folding cup to take some Coke, pick a few pieces of banana and water melon, and off I was on the rolling ridge with a 9:22 which I was quite proud to maintain for the next 4 miles. Here is a great action shot, credit to Nate Dunn, as I approach Bolinas Ridge at mile 42 (I'm surprised to look so good on this picture, looking like I was hoping this big tree with ease, when I recall it was actually so hard to climb it without cramping...).
Over the years, we have run this section either at mid course (the old and original course when the race started at Rodeo Beach), or at the beginning of the race like last year, or not at all 2 years ago when the race was shorten to 60K because of a risk of fire. I had quite a few struggles in this section due to either fatigue, asthma or hypothermia (2009), so this, the Bolinas Ridge and out and back down to Randall, is my Miwok beast. Thankfully, my mental is getting better, year after year, and I was able to tame the beast this year! I even passed Mick Jurynec, the runner with the red top, in that section. At this point, I thought I might have made it in the top 5, cool (especially as I was wearing bib #5, thanks Tia! ;-).

Apart for the mandatory walk through the Tennessee Valley stables in the morning, and a few stairs when stuck in traffic in the first climb, I was super pleased to have not walked a step in the first 50 miles. About a mile before the plunge down to Randall, I crossed a couple but none of them were showing a bib so I thought they might have been training. Just after the turn, I saw Galen Burrell who was looking strong, running the climb. I figured out that I was about 3 miles behind and, while it was a big gap, I thought it wasn't too bad either. Chris Wehan was about a mile behind and that was the only runners I saw before it was my turn to get into the Randall aid station at the bottom of the 1.7-mile steep descent. I assumed that Chikara Omine had dropped too since he was in the initial lead. Maybe, like Gary, he was feeling the effect of this amazing 7:06 100K at Ruth Anderson 2 weeks ago (where I only ran the 50-mile).

My friend and aid station captain Chuck Wilson helped with my bottle refills and confirmed that the first runner didn't show a bib, so I was in 4th, not third. Still, really not bad at 49 miles into the race. No time to waste then and I was quickly back on the climb. To my disappointment, I was barely 0.1 mile on the climb when I saw Ron flying down and thought: "shoot, I'm going to have to run this beast and push all the way for the final 13 miles..." Ron was followed by Jon Robinson and Mick Jurynec, then Ray Sanchez and Mark Ritchman. When I saw Mark I was 0.9 mile from the aid station. Mark said "Where are all the others??!" which I assumed meant that he was surprised to see me in 4th (or even 3rd since we couldn't see the bib of the lead guy).

I ran the climb for slightly more than a mile, but admit some walking in the last 0.5 mile of it, to catch my breath and keep some reserve for the last half marathon. I experienced the first cramps in my inner quads on the ridge and that had me walk part of the hills. I doubled on the S!Caps and water and took my last GU out of the 6 I carried at the start (would I had remembered that this race was gel-free, I would have taken 8). A huge tanks to all the racers I crossed in this section who gave encouragements. It is such a boost to have so many of you, and the volunteers, even shouting my name!

The bad news on Bolinas Ridge was to see Chikara in the pack. After being 4th at mile 35, he got lost and made it back on course much later, in 56th place at Bolinas Ridge 1, what a bummer!

This time, on the way back, I did a very quick stop at the Bolinas Ridge aid station just to get my water bottle filled with ice for the remaining 7 miles. Running Coastal reverse was challenging because I was so sorry to run against the flow of runners, having them stepping aside to let the lead runners go through. 99% of them were so nice to stop, I only had one incident with a female runner who wouldn't slow down and I'm sorry I hit her back pack, or I'd rather say she hit me with her pack, when I realized she wasn't going to let me pass. For those not running, this trail is super narrow, with many sections washed out, overgrown with grass ("calf washing" is what came to mind this Saturday), and miles of cut across a steep hill making stepping aside of the trail challenging. Again, huge thanks to all of you who let me go through, even providing encouragements. I hope you heard the hundred or so "Thank you so much!" which I whispered in return. I can't imagine how hard this must be for you to do this while some of your are battling against the cut-offs for this very long day.

I was moving fine and couldn't see Ron behind so decided to cruise to the finish. At some point though, I had a doubt that I had missed the turn down to Stinson Beach and asked two runners if they had seen lead runners going through. As they didn't, I retrace my way back uphill and, this time, saw Ron coming in who, very kindly, confirmed I was on course and had to keep going. That gave me a burst of adrenaline and I sprinted the next 2 miles to that famous turn where a volunteer was posted and confirmed the finish was 1.6 miles away. I was so glad to be that close and thought I even had a shot at improving my time from last year which I though was 9:46 (it was 9:43 instead...). But that wasn't counting for the trickiness of this trail with numerous switchbacks, roots, rocks and irregular stairs, not to mention hikers to slalom through and, with the addition of some random cramping of my quads, it wasn't worth risking a bad fall, never mind the time. Besides, after seeing Ron prudently negotiating the descent into Pirate's Cove, I figured out he would back off too.

I did sprint the final yards for a 9:51 finish, 4th overall and 1st Masters. Ron arrived 5 minutes later and I thanked him for the great fight we have had all day.

I also thanked Gary for dropping, he would have easily won the Masters division would have he decided to take it easier, but I know he has much higher standards than that!

Ultra veterans and volunteers, Stan Jensen and Hollis Lenderking congratulated me, with Hollis still wondering how I keep pulling such back to back performances. And, yes, I'm in awe myself...! ;-) As a matter of fact, I feel so blessed to have found the right balance so far to enjoy so much sustainable ultra racing. I must say that it is very challenging  to find that balance between super hard word and playing with the fire at the limit of what the body and mind can do, to remain injury free. Hollis gave me the friendly advice "Take care of yourself, now..." to which I replied "oh, yes, before QuickSilver 100K in a week and another business trip in the meantime..." The joy of an ultra life...
Because of the lottery format, there were more of our Excelsior buddies on the side line, helping out, than on the course, for a change. But that should give them more tickets for last year's edition.

Benjamin Stern, 23, won the race in 8:50, lowering Garry's winning time of last year by 6 minutes. Galen Burrell took second in 8:58. Chris Wehan 3rd in 9:36. Mark Ritchman 8th in 10:10, destroying the M60-69 age group. He was followed my Sam who was all smile with a 10:12 for his first Miwok, you killed it Sam! In my age group, Kevin Rumon took 2nd, 12th overall, in 10:33.

Here are a few other pictures from the finish area.

 John Robinson
 Mick Jurynec

In the women race, my teammate Bree Lambert led for the first 45 miles but lost the lead and race to Laura Richard (10:54 finish). Bree took second in 11:09 followed by Julie Fingar in 11:42.

Vespa (Vespa Power drink) made my day again allowing me to focus on the running, not the eating. I took 2 pouches before the start, then 3 concentrate every 2.45 hours. With all the hills, I could have used 8 gels instead of 6 but, yet, I never bonked and ate about one banana total, 4 cups of Coke and a handful of pieces of water melon. Now, I have to admit that, given the fatigue and stress with my business travels, I gave it all and experienced a low 10 minutes after the finish. Some emotional drain but mostly physically and I was thankful that Agnès drove to the finish to help me change and drove us back home. We had to leave early because of other commitments, and we dropped one of the race photographers in San Francisco on our way back (Andrew de Castilho).
Regarding the course, I would say it's much harder to run it this way than last year's configuration. Again, at least for me, Randall is the beast and I'd rather be done with it early. The other major benefit of last year course is that we were crossing most of the pack on the roomy Bolinas Ridge fire road. Given the size of the field, this is really a key argument for everyone's safety as well as fairness for the back of the packers. It is similar to the great improvement Julie Fingar brought to the Way Too Cool course.

As I mentioned earlier, I want to highlight again the amazing ultra experience and expertise that the volunteers bring to the (aid station) table(s), something which is very valuable to us, runners. Big thank to you all!
And a final shout out to Tia and her crew for offering us such a unique event, blending tradition, passion for ultra running, professionalism yet friendly atmosphere, amazing views and challenging course, outstanding group of volunteers, considerations for ecology and sustainable development, support from sponsors, not to forget the fight to get the proper permits to race in such a pristine area!
Last but not least, like Ohlone in 2 weeks, I'm grateful of these occasions to remember the native Indian tribes that we, Bay Area residents, owe so much heritage from. Here is a mention of the Miwok people that Jim Ruppert posted on the race FaceBook page:
In 1579, Sir Francis Drake visited what is now Marin County, and remarked on the distance running skills of the native Miwok people: "...they are also exceeding swift in running, and of long continuance; ... they seldome goe, but for the most part runne"

Great way to celebrate this 20th anniversary and long live Miwok...!


Anonymous said...

Hey Jean,

Good to see you (sort of) in the dark at the parking lot. Loved your write up and if I ever get back into shape, hope to see you again as a runner rather than a volunteer. Good stuff.

Charles Zuckerman

Anonymous said...

great job, jean! and thanks for another great report!


Scott Dunlap said...

Love the fist bump pic with you and Ron!

ronsfca said...


Great write up! I'm glad we were able to push ourselves all day.