Sunday, May 10, 2015

QuickSilver 100K 2015: very mixed feelings...

First, I want to apologize especially to all the volunteers for not being able to return their smiles and admitting that I had a terrific race this Saturday. The fact of the matter is that I was really sad as Agnès had left in the morning for Annecy, France, to accompany her mother who is in critical conditions. Her mom is 85 and has suffered many strokes for the past 5 years, she didn't recognize Agnes this Sunday morning and a peaceful departure would be a deliverance for all yet it is hard to say good bye and that made me cry several times on the course, especially in the tough uphills where and when I was really wondering what I was running for and after. The last and only time I had cry during a race was when getting at Dam Overlook, I think during one of my Rio Del Lago runs, and a volunteer announced me that our wonderful Tom Kaisersatt had just passed away after fighting cancer for several years. Today, the sadness was to think Agnès could lose her mother on a Mothers' Day week, how inappropriate that would be. Anyway, with that, I'm already not a party guy when pushing hard in races, that got me completely down.

The day had started very early with a wake up call at 1:30 in order to get breakfast three hours before an insanely early 4:30 am start. Our Club's ultra feast used to include three distances: 50 miles, 50K and 30K but, following a change of qualification criteria for Western States, our Board decided last year to swap the 50-mile with a 100K in order to offer an alternative to the overbooked Miwok, the other local qualifying option. Of course, while we couldn't fill the race 3 years ago, that completely changed the outcome and our 100K filled in 17 minutes this year! Kudos to our Race Directors Rajeev Patel (who also directs the Ruth Anderson ultras) and John Brooks (the head of Pacific Coast Trail Runs). (Photo credit: Everitt Chock)
Now, with a Western States qualifier comes responsibility and the team designed a very challenging course, not much from a technical trail standpoint (just a few rocky sections), but the cumulative elevation, 13,000 feet, which tops Miwok's 11,000 feet! Another difference is that QuickSilver has much longer hills as well as much steeper walls so, if you are not a good climber and have to walk all the uphills, that surely makes for a long day. For this reason, the time limit is 17 hours (16 hours to qualify for Western), with a few tough cut-offs along the way.

The other challenge of QuickSilver is typically the heat as these trails above San Jose are very exposed. Well, oddly enough from a weather standpoint in the midst of this major drought, not this year. First, it rained on Thursday, providing just enough moisture to make the trails soft but not muddy and, more importantly, avoid the usual dust in this dry season. Second, there was an amazing layer of fog over the hills and it would not dissipate for the first 6 hours of the race, providing more moisture and a perfect cool temperature to avoid our running engines to overheat in the uphills. Perfect conditions for great performances this year.

Last year, I ran --and won-- the 50K so I didn't know much about the 100K course except that it shared a few trails with the previous 50-mile course. Looking at Chikara Omine and Paul Terranova's times from last year, I felt that I'd be very happy to approach 10 hours this year and the course must be indeed much harder than Miwok. Chikara is one of our local elites and has been on Team USA for the World 100K Road championship a few years ago. He was injured most of last year but he is really killing it this year, having won American River, then Ruth Anderson 100K with a blazing 7:06. Last week, he was in 4th at Miwok, before getting lost at the mid point, and that allowed me to place 4th myself, but I was really sorry for his fate. And I was sure he'd want to rebound this Saturday while defending his QuickSilver 100K title.

Paul Terranova is also an elite ultra runner who became a Masters last year. He won the Masters category at the 100-mile trail Nationals in January, and he is a super strong ultra trail runner. He placed 19th at the very competitive Lake Sonoma in April and flew again from Austin to race our Club race.

Completing the "seeded" top 3 was Jesse Haynes of South California, also used to podiums. With that, I didn't have an eye on the podium myself although the awards did look amazing this year. My goals, besides coping with the stress at work and at home, was (1) to see what I could still pull out a week after Miwok, (2) win my age group (M50-59) and (3) improve last year's M50-59 course record for an extra 10 points in the Grand Prix. Interestingly enough, apart from the "youngster" Chikara, the top of UltraSignup's list included more mature runners ( ;-) ), and a few over 50.
In my age group, I always consider Craig Steinmaus as a strong contender when I see his win at Skyline 50K in 2001 or 2nd place at Way Too Cool 50K in 2003 with a 3:35. While that was 10 years ago, he still pulled out a 4:02 at Way Too Cool this year.

As for our age group course record it was set last year by J Russel Gill from Charlottesville, VA, at 12:31:58.

Regarding breaking or approaching 10 hours, Chikara had won in 3:51:52 last year, Paul was second in 10:05, Karl Schnaitter 3rd in 10:49 and Ken was the last one to break 11 hours (10:54). Looking at these results made even breaking 11 hours a challenge all of a sudden...
As you can imagine, it was pitch dark when we started and headlamps were not just luxury but mandatory. We started with the first climb, Mine Heel then veering left on the steeper English Camp Trail. We had our first glimpse of the amazing marking of the course, with numerous glow sticks to mark the turns, doubled by course monitors (aka volunteers!) at major turns. Like co-Race Director John Brooks reminded us before the start, this race has about 1 volunteer for 2 100K runners, an amazing logistic effort led by our Queen of aid stations, Kristina Irvin, our head of volunteer recruitment, Coach Marc (Klemencic) and many other club members. Between my current focus on racing, and my hectic business life not to mention the uncertainty and stress on Agnes' mother, that made me feel really bad of not helping more. A few weeks ago I was hoping to help Paul Fick setup the BBQ area on Friday but I flew back again from Ohio on Thursday night (10th week on the road over the past 3 months) and was tied up with client calls on Friday. I got assigned a 4-8 pm shift on Saturday afternoon so I knew I had to run fast this time in order to recover and change in the meantime, extra motivation! ;-) A picture from just before the start.
As usual, Chikara took off hard and grabbed the lead. I was close behind, running along side Jonathan Gunderson, Jesse and Paul, but, after half a mile, I decided to back off a little realizing all the uphills we had ahead of us. I even got chicked in this first mile and it wasn't even one of the three female favorites (Joelle Vaught, Darcy Piceu and my age group resiliency model, Meghan Arbogast who, at 54, still place overall most of the time!).

Knowing that this race is usually so hot, and that we start with a climb to warm up, I didn't put my arm warmers on this time, thinking the fog will clear off quickly. It was actually so foggy at Church Hill that I couldn't see a think with my very poor Black Diamond and had to stop before a steep down hill, making me lose ground on the leaders. I had to push the pace up Mine Hill and, with the momentum, I not only caught up but passed a group of 4 runners on Castillero, with Jesse and Paul who picked up the pace to follow me. We were then down to the Hidalgo Cemetery out and back but I couldn't follow-up them on the downhill, me not seeing a thing. That's it, after buying two Black Diamond lamps, I'm going back to Petzl and will buy a Tikka (thank you for the demo, John Brooks). Unless someone has a better recommendation, if so, thank you for leaving a comment below!

I could see 4 lights ahead on Wood Road Trail before Hicks Road. I knew Chikara, Jesse and Paul were ahead, but I didn't know the fourth on. Shortly after (not stopping at) the Hicks Road aid station manned by teammates Clare and Scott, I passed John Wros, 26, of Seattle. Paul wasn't too far ahead but I couldn't close on him, nor was I really willing to anyway. Around mile 9 we embarked on another steep climb up to Bald Mountain, Barlow Road Trail. That was another section which was completely new for me today so I was reduced to guess the dosage of my effort. I had prepared and taped a very nice profile and aid station chart but, when I wanted to check my mileage against it, it was not to be found in my packet, oops! (Hopefully someone found it because I thought I might have forgotten to take it finally, but I didn't find it later in my car either.)

We ran the 1.4-mile lollipop-format loop at Bald Mountain in a thick fog. There were 2 photographs up there to take shots in the sunrise, that was a miss! I felt sorry for them for having been up there at 6 am... With this out and back, we saw the rest of the field which was now really getting sparse after 13 miles. Thank you to many runners for calling out my name and encouragements, and letting me know I was in 4th, not far behind.

I did walk a bit on the long climb to the Kennedy Trail aid station and was quite bummed by that as we were only 18 miles in the race. I really had hard time dealing with negative thoughts off my mind despite knowing that I had to from a racing standpoint. Here am I, coming into Kennedy #1 and still running in the cloud, photo credit Paul King:
Again, I apologize to the volunteers, for instance Loren and Jill at that aid station, for being so cranky. They helped me refill my Gu2O bottle, I picked a few pieces of banana and watermelon while trying to catch my breath, and off I was for the long descent to Lexington Reservoir. Before the Limekiln transfer/intersection, I had a very brief glimpse of Paul and pointed myself about 3 minutes behind, not too bad. And I couldn't see anyone behind but, between the trees and turns, you never know.

I had a reasonable descent to the Lexington Reservoir aid station where I found more teammates and buddies (Jeremy, Sachin, Marc). Here is a picture from Tiffany Trevers of me trying to swallow two pieces of banana while taking two cups of Coke and trying to both breath and get the gas from the Coke out!!
That wasn't pretty, and I'm not sure I want to see the videos that I believe Marc and Jeremy were taking all along. Anyway, I was excited to see how much I could run of the next major difficulty of the course, Priest Rock Trail to Kennedy Trail.

After a few turns though, my mind was all on Agnes' mother and I couldn't push enough to even jog the uphills. I alternated running, power walking and a few prayers and that kept me moving. Looking at Strava, I find very interesting how close some of us where on that segment. There are only 65 results posted as I write this post on Sunday and we are missing most notably Jesse and Paul's results but it's amazing to see how Chikara killed it: 41:33 versus 48:59 for me in second, Mark Tanaka 49:36, David Sanderson 49:41, Brian Purcell 50:28 and Meghan 51:29. The last of 65 clocked 1:24:41 with a 153 bpm heart rate, this is surely an insane effort. Bottom line, although I felt I was so slow and kept looking behind who could caught up with me, it wasn't that bad after all.

I did some walking again on Kennedy and was relieved to finally get to the aid station where Jill and Loren helped me again, while Marc was helping another runner who was starting her loop. There is a few steep climbs out of the station to get over the ridge and I was glad to get back on the long downhill to Hicks on the other side. Teammate John Burton was sweeping and told me that 3rd place was just 8 minutes ahead of me, which I really had hard time to believe after what I thought was such a bad climb up to Kennedy. And he mentioned Chikara 12 minutes ahead, but I wasn't sure if he meant 12 minutes ahead of me or on 3rd. Anyway, the last thing I had in mind at this point was to get into a hunt. While I kept pushing the pace, I was more thinking of the remaining 30 miles ahead...

Similarly to the previous aid stations, I had hard time breathing while eating some watermelon, drinking some Coke and smiling at the same time, sorry, folks. A mile farther on Wood Road Trail, I crossed Tropical John Medinger who was enjoying our trails. Between ultra racing himself in the early years of ultra running, directing Western States for many years, and Quad Dispea for decades and more recently Lake Sonoma, logging more than 100,000 miles (yes, that's 4 times the Earth circumference, I've done only 1.55 x so far...) and creating and managing for several decades too the UltraRunning Magazine, John is a monument in our ultra running world.

The return to the start area, the Hacienda entrance parking lot, was a bliss, in particular the Yellow Kid Trail and this 3rd Strava challenge. After 40 miles, it wasn't easy to negotiate around the alternate lose and sharp rocks on English Camp Trail, then the irregular ones on Deep Gulch, but at least it felt good to go down. The clock was right on 6 hours and I spent a couple minutes at my car (change of Gu2O bootle, a couple of GUs, more Vaseline on some burning chaffing), then pick up some watermelon at the aid station before going up again. Marc confirmed I was still in 4th but I don't recall if he mentioned a time gap with the leaders. Anyway, at this point, with 22 miles to go, my strategy was more about preservation of 4th place and, since I had no clue what was going on behind, that meant I would have at least to keep moving...

My average pace was back to 9:05 min/mile. It had gone from 10:30 in the first climb at the start, down to 8:54 after Bald Mountain, up to 9:03 when leaving Kennedy AS for the first time, down to 8:39 at Lexington AS, up to 9:26 when reaching the Kennedy AS for the second time. Kind of a roller coaster reflecting the nature of the course.

Only 3 miles separate Hacienda and Mockingbird but they include a few steep hills especially on the challenging Hacienda Trail, fortunately followed by steep down hills on Viril O. Norton trail. It was great to see many familiar faces at that station which is also the finish for both the 100K and 50K. Mind you, Bree and Amy, I didn't stay long, mostly asking for an ice refill of my water bottle and Stan Jensen assured me I was doing great, when things were all black in my mind. I cried more on the next up hill to New Almaden trail but enjoyed this refreshing section under the trees on a trail which I did spend a few hours on to maintain, under the amazing leadership of our trail maintenance King, Paul Fick.

We don't run the whole trail now but veer left on Buena Vista trail. That section is basically a river of medium size rocks and I took the excuse of avoiding a fall at all cost to walk instead of trying to hop over the rocks. But the real excuse is that I was tired and needed a break to regroup physically and mentally. That proved beneficial as I was now passing the tail of the 50K race which had started at 7 am, 2.5 hours after us. I even got a few friendly Badass! encouragements on the way, either some people were taking notes of my mood, or it was for the aggressive person or tough guy meaning you find for this term in the dictionary. I want to think Tony meant the latter... ;-)

I had to walk some of the uphills to Bull Run #1 but I was moving when I saw John Medinger for a second time on April Trail. By the way, in the meantime I had my first experience of the tailings scramble, which I'm sorry to admit, I didn't really enjoy: going over a pile of lose rocks by mile 45 is no fun and even dangerous. That being said, if this is what got us the Western States and Ultra Trail du Mont-Blanc qualifying status, that's okay... And, with that, I want to congratulate the club members who designed such a course and such a beast which super-experience ultra runner Gary Wang even qualifies as a monster on FaceBook! Here is a series of great shots from teammate Shir Kochavi, of my struggle in the rock scramble.
Let's try with one hand...

Climbing above San Jose!
Looks like I'm done... Oh, no, wait, another wall ahead...

Thankfully, that was a short episode, I'm not sure I'm ready to move to Colorado, I certainly prefer our nice local trails such as the Great Eastern Trail where teammate Cecelia Chagoya was posted as course monitor and took this nice shot as I was getting at the intersection with the April trail loop:
At the top of Mine Hill trail, it was a delight to meet with the Stevens Creek Striders, my original running club for 14 years. As Striders we were used to man the Dam Overlook aid station but that aid station got moved up to Bull Run with the course redesign. I got more ice in my water bottle which was much needed to help me drink more. Chuck Wilson was the course monitor controlling we were getting in and out of the short Catherine Tunnel loop and then it was time to fly down to the second part of New Almaden.

Gary Saxton was monitoring the Mine Hill intersection and send me down toward Senador Mine Trail. The climb up Tina's Den aid station was now quite exposed and I had to alternate running and walking again. Great to see Pierre-Yves Couteau at the station for another refill of ice, and more watermelon and Coke (I was now avoiding bananas because they looked too green to me and I didn't want to repeat what happened at the 100K Road Nationals last month).

Half a mile of downhill was just what I needed at this point to recharge before the final long climb to Bull Run. Or what I thought was the final climb. Over the years, I learned to master this 2-mile climb on Mine Hill and, here I was, running most of it again. However what I hadn't really anticipated is the steep downhill detour down to the Enriquita aid station. I was glad to see more teammates at the bottom, like Frederic Garderes, but I couldn't take the risk to spend too much time, still not knowing if someone was on my heels or not. After more ice in my bottle (not sure what I'd do without iced water...), I ran and walk back up to Mine Hill, not seeing any 100K runners behind, phew!

That actually gave me a boost and, after a very short stop at Bull Run #2 for more ice, I rushed toward the finish, for the last 3 miles. I did pass quite a few 50K runners on the way and, although it was only 9:39 of running, my GPS battery was drained and it missed the last mile, the fastest one, dang! I crossed the finish line in 9:45:17, with so many mixed feelings, it was quite overwhelming. While it was an amazing time compared to the unique other edition, faster than Chikara's time from last year, and even faster than my time at Miwok last week, it was only good for 4th overall and I was 40 minutes slower than the winning time this year, Chikara had won in a blazing 9:05:48!!! Paul took second 10 minutes later, and Jesse 10 minutes behind. And, I hadn't realize that Jesse was also a Master, that made me third in this competitive class...

Short of winning such a nicely crafted pan, at least I had met all my goals today: winning my age group, setting a new age group course record (by 2 hours and 45 minutes) and even breaking 10 hours. Craig Steinmaus pulled a very serious performance as well with 10:28. My finish time is worth 93.25% on UltraSignup, not too bad given Chikara's kill. I'm very happy with the outcome and how I managed to balance some walking with a lot of running to maintain a good average pace. After Miwok, I slightly increased my GU intake to one gel an hour but it's still Vespa who allowed me to use body fat for most of the rest of the calories. After coining the expression "the Vespa maths," another concept coming to mind that I basically put myself on "Vespa auto-pilot" so I could focus on the running job (and GU2O, S!Caps and water for the proper hydration). Once all the stars are aligned, then comes the mental and the mixed emotions weren't helping especially when by myself on the trails all morning (seeing the 50K runners on the course from mile 42 to 62 brought some distraction). I was amazed not to get any cramp, it seems that my PG&E 3-peat of 2 weeks ago and Miwok last week provided some healthy hill training!

And who was behind me then? No less than my teammate Mark Tanaka who shaved 2 hours off his time of last year to take 5th in 10:08. John Wros from Seattle was 6th in 10:14 followed by Dominick Layfield from Park City, UT, 2 minutes behind. It has been a long time since we didn't have so many out of State visitors at our race! With a high UltraSignup score coming from the years he was at the top of the ultra scene, Thomas Reiss is now battling hip injury and very nicely stopped by the beer bar to say Hi and let me know why he was just happy to have finished today (11:42). I hope he finds a surgical way still compatible with his running passion and gift.

On the women side, age and experience prevailed again with the incredible Meghan Arbogast winning the race and placing 8th overall in 10:18!

Joelle Vaught of Boise, ID, took second (10:54), 2 minutes ahead of Darcy Piceu of Boulder, CO, that was close! They are respectively 54, 40 and 40, so the Masters race was quite a fight too: 3 of top 3 for female, 3 of top 4 for male!

And the six 100K champions!
Although I don't train much on these trails because I don't like driving for 30 minutes for a run when I have great hills closer to home, it felt great to be back in the area and see so many familiar faces, from runners to volunteers. Thank you all for your encouragements and the pictures some of you posted on Facebook!

Paul Fick did an amazing job gather family members, friends and volunteers to build and operate an entire kitchen and all you can eat buffet for more than 600 people! Not sure if everybody noticed but this party is also a celebration to honor Darcy, Paul's wife who left us so prematurely and suddenly after last year's race. It is so moving and inspiring to see Paul's faith and family support helping him cope with this loss. THANK YOU Paul! Here is Darcy working on her dessert table back in May 2013:
Now, time to bring up a touchy topic... For my volunteer shift, I got assigned to the beer bar which was very cool.
 Photo credit (next 2 pictures), Mark Tanaka, who had fun seeing me working! ;-)
 With Melissa, one of Darcy's 3 children:
 Picture from the back from Yujun Wang, who was in charge of the soft drink replenishment:

How cool is that indeed to hand out a beer to all the thirsty runners and volunteers, from a broad variety of brands and types, and for free! Well, cool except that, seeing the stock almost gone by 4 pm with about 200 runners still on the course, plus their crew, and potentially their pacer too, I decided to enforce the rule that the organizers had set and published this year, a change from the previous open bucket policy which we needed put in place to take into account the popularity and size of the event. To me, compared to most of other ultras, one beer is already a big deal, even more so when you can pick from a list of a dozen or so types, including a few good IPAs and international brands. But I'm not a beer drinker, beyond occasional social opportunities, so what do I know... Anyway, first, the ticket rule didn't seem to have been applied so far so that was an unpopular change for a few. Greg, our President, and Paul decided to restock around 6 so we could have at least beers for the remaining runners. I left around 7:30 pm, letting the key of the bar to Yujun, I hope he managed to save one bottle for Jim Magill at least! ;-) I'm sure that my enforcement will be discussed at one of the upcoming Board meetings. I realize it was a sensitive situation: on one hand, I was in the way of Paul's generosity who gives so much to support the club and make this event the best ultra party possible. On the other hand, our club leverages the time that hundred volunteers put into this event for free in order to distribute any proceeds to local non profit organizations. A fine balance in my opinion but I'll let the bosses rule.

Congrats to all the 182 finishers of this grueling 100K, you are amazing! Special thoughts for those of the remaining 42 entrants who either couldn't start because of injury or conflict, and those who couldn't finish. When I was hurting on the uphills I thought in particular of the slower runners who will have to walk hard to beat the cut-offs. It was a bummer to see the amazing Eldrith Gosney who, at 73, missed the cut-off at mile 42 by mere 6 minutes. And yet she was all smile when she brought me her ticket at the buffet. Such an inspiration and model of sustainable running!

Again, thank you for the volunteers who worked tirelessly to make this event a success, from the many months leading to it to the weeks to come. It's hard to imagine how we could be successful without Kristina for instance who leads all the aid station logistic behind the scene. Paul of course for the finish party, and his family and friends. Race directors Rajeev and John. Coach Marc who helps coordinate and recruit volunteers. The aid station captains. The Stevens Creek Striders. And hundreds of volunteers on race day working from 3 am to midnight.

From course design to marking and monitoring, aid station stocking, variety and placement, volunteer expertise and friendliness, professional organization, challenging course, qualifying opportunities, views over the Silicon Valley, mix of single, groomed or technical trails and fire roads, mix of sun exposure and shade, raising money for local non profits, expert logistic, on going and on-demand Uber-type shuttles between parking lots, great Patagonia swag, finisher belt buckle, multiple sweep teams, and the over the top finish BBQ party, this is to be by far the best ultra in the West, if not the continent! Ok, I'm part of the QuickSilver Club so I may be a little biased, but I let you voice your opinion in the comments! And not to influence your judgement more, but here is what Gary Wang the ultra connoisseur ( says about the QuickSilver ultras:

Finished my 19th Quicksilver today. The 100k course is a monster! 10 minutes faster than last year and I will take it! I love everything about this race. Quicksilver is one of oldest ultras in bay area. Great group of folks behind this special event over a few generations of RDs. What they give back to the community is truly impressive. Kudos to the RDs Rajeev Patel and John Brooks. Mahalos to the outstanding volunteers from the Quicksilver Running Club and Steven Creek Striders. So fun to see many familiar faces on these trails. Congrats to all the finishers and to boy wonder Chikara Omine and ageless Meghan Canfield Arbogast for the impressive wins.

And now you can cast your vote for the best ultra in the comment section below...! ;-)

PS: Agnes' mother made it through her 50th Mothers' Day this weekend, albeit not recognizing her daughter this morning. Painful wait for Agnes and questions about how we are going to make it to Alex's graduation at Georgetown on Friday. As for Ohlone for me next Sunday, that's going to be a stretch from a tele transportation stand point... For the moms and all those who still have their mom, hope you had a joyful celebration today!


Jon Olson said...

Jean, thank you for your great report and ultra experience. Always great to see you flying down the hills in the QS/Brookes Kit. Everyone who reads your blog can see how hard this time is for your family. Thank you for your honesty and QS supports Agnes and your family.

Lorenski said...

Another amazing performance. The outcome never seems as routine as your execution -- it awes everytime. And no worries about aid station pleasantries. We respect your "business mode" when racing. I was humbled to see you volunteering afterward. As far as enforcing the ticket rule, it was necessary to keep the party going. I will have a backup stash next year (of beer, not tickets).

Jeremy said...

Great race again Jean! And thanks for blogging. Sorry to hear about the family issues too. As for the beer thing: I think you made a prudent decision - Although for the life of me, I can't figure out how a Brother Thelonious Belgian Ale was still resting in that bucket at 9 p.m. after I was done sweeping. Maybe you hid it there for me?