Sunday, May 26, 2019

PAUSATF LDR Awards Celebration 2018: they love beer!

3 months have passed and I'm only reporting about this award ceremony, I'm surely going to lose my press pass on this one, if not already. I've never studied journalism but I used to at least be more timely at covering the ultra events I attended since I started this blog in March 2007. If not on the same day, at least just one or two days later. Oh well, who cares anyway... ;-) But thank you for reading, still... And, like I enjoy coming back to old posts as my memory fade, who knows, maybe someone will enjoy reading this in a few years so... better late than never as we say...
Looking back at that weekend of February though, I may have had a few good excuses, you decide... First and foremost, I almost didn't even make it to the event which was at 5 pm on Sunday in San Francisco. Indeed, the previous Saturday, I was competing in the 100-mile Road Nationals in Las Vegas. Yet, I still managed to break the M50-54 there, get a few hours of sleep, attend the award ceremony at 11 am on Sunday, drive to the airport, fly to SFO and get to the brewery at 2 pm, early enough to start working on my race report and help setting up the room. All that after an exhausting conference in San Francisco until Friday afternoon, phew... Then, on the following Tuesday I flew to Singapore and Malaysia for 2 weeks there. Then right away to New York (new M55-59 American Record at the 50K Road Nationals) and Europe in March and the 8-race series in April and May... Ok, bad excuses, I could have squeezed an hour... At least, 14 posts later, here it is, credit to the Memorial Day break and some long overdue rest for my gluteus!

Sunday February 17, 2019 it was then, at the Laughing Monk Brewery in San Francisco; what is not to love in such a name, right? The celebration was organized by our LDR Committee Co-Chair, Angie Longworth, from the club of the speedy Impalas. To attract younger generations and a new audience, Angie favored a casual setting over the traditional formal banquet format. Did that work? There were a few new faces but ultimately, everybody expected to be seated at the table, both for dinner and listening to the keynote speaker. Unlike most of my ultra running buddies and Quicksilver club mates in particular, I don't run for a beer at the finish line, but I have to admit they had quite a few original and tasteful beers to enjoy. Anyway, the only tradition of this banquet is that one of the clubs competing in the LDR Grand Prix, either cross-country, road or MUT (Mountain, Ultra, Trail), step up and organize the celebration the way they want so we are looking forward to who will take the baton for next year.

The Mexican food was catered by the parents of one of the LDR athletes and was fresh and copious, allowing for a second run. Again, I'm not a beer expert, more into wine, I assume you don't have to be too picky for food and beer pairing.

These celebrations have three key purposes: gather our LDR community, recognize the best accomplishments and get inspired by one of the legends in our LDR sports. It's my pleasure to report that we achieved all goals again this time. First, we had a packed house, and not everybody got a chair to sit but there were stools at the bar too.

A few other changes this year, like:
  1. our LDR chairs, Andy (Crawford) and Angie decided to cut on the litany of award announcements, inviting every Age Group champion and awardee to grab their plaque upon getting in;
  2. noticing that Hollis Lenderking wasn't attending, I had prepared some notes for the special MUT awards but Andy handed them over anyway, to save time; I will admit that I will miss Hollis' special toasts and kind words, a talent I saw him perfecting in the previous 10 celebrations I attended;
  3. as for the plaques, I stepped up to save the concept as a few of our LDR Committee members felt that they were not necessary, especially with the recipients which had not been claiming their trophy in previous years. It took me quite a few hours, and many email reminders, to figure out who wanted one, versus not. We saved a few plaques eventually, all better for the planet!
While I'm talking about awards and before I move to our guest speaker speech, a few words on the MUT side:
  1. A few new Age Group champions this year: Kristina Vogt Randrup (W30-) from Excelsior, Simone Winkler (W30-39) also from Excelsior, Jin Xiang (W40-49) from Excelsior again, Pen Perez (W50-59) from Pamakids. On the men side Samuel Clinton (M30-) unattached, Karl Schnaitter (M30-39) taking over the title from his Excelsior clubmate, Chikara Omine, and Dan Aspromonte stealing the title from his Quicksilver teammate Joe Swenson in the M60-69: quite some friendly competition and emulation out there!
  2. A few returning champions: Karen Bonnett-Natraj (W60-69, Quicksilver), William Dai (M40-49, Pamakids), the tireless Jim Magill (M70-79, Quicksilver) and myself for the 12th consecutive Age Group title, sticking to it! ;-)
  3. On the team competition side, the change we've seen over the past 10 years keep going, toward the largest and healthiest clubs managing a generation shift: when I started running ultras in 2006 our local scene was dominated by Buffalo Chips with a Grand slam (3 team awards out of 3) in 2006 and 2007 after Tamalpa and BAUR (Bay Area Ultra Runners) traded the top honors between 1994 and 2004. Then my club Quicksilver took over, culminating with 4 team awards in 2011 and 3 in 2013 and 2014. Then Excelsior took 3 in 2015, and sharing equally with Pamakids in 2016 and 2017. What happened in 2018? Pamakids won the Women, Men and Overall divisions, Excelsior keeping the Mixed one. Proving that the competition remains open and healthy!
Here with my fellow club mates (Quicksilver): Jim Magill (M70 champ), Nattu Natraj, Karen Bonnett-Natraj (W60 champ), Dan Aspromonte (M60 champ).

Let's now switch to the special yearly awards, these coveted awards unveiled during the evening.

First, the MUT Volunteer of the Year (VoY): for 2018 we awarded John Trent for his decades of support of our Pacific Association MUT community in various functions: through its Board of Directors, John has been very involved with the iconic Western States Endurance Run which serves as a benchmark throughout the world for 100-milers. John has also directed the Silver States ultra races (50K and 50-mile) for more than 10 years. John is also a renowned voice of our MUT community, exercising his talent for journalism in vivid articles in Ultra Running Magazine in particular. It took a few weeks before we found the opportunity to meet so I could hand him this well deserved plaque at Quicksilver 100K, where both his daughters ran the 50-mile and his wife the 50K. Some serious ultra family business!
Note that VoY candidates have to be a Pacific Association member during the season they are considered for an award. I'm mentioning this because many ultra volunteers are not and therefore excluded from this consideration.

On the Women side, the Ultra Runner of the Year (URoY) went to Diana Fitzpatrick, from Tamalpa. At age 60 (!) Diana finished 13th at Way Too Cool, 3rd at Ruck A Chuck and 23rd woman at Western States, setting a new Age Group course record and finishing under 24 hours (Silver buckle)! Meghan Law was co-nominated again this year, also with impressive marks well in her 50s.

And on the Men side, we had three nominees: Karl Schnaitter (Excelsior), Cole Watson (SRA Elite) and... myself. Being the MUT Chair, and further extending what Hollis Lenderking had worked on for more than 20 years, I had to come up with a framework to better formalize the selection criteria, which I'll share for the sake of transparency and so everyone knows what we are looking at:

Body of Work
No race result
5 significant MUT achievements
10 or more significant MUT achievements
International / National
No result in international or national competitions
Significant results at international or national level
Podium at international competition
Pacific Association MUT GP focus
0 PA race/result
4 or more PA GP results
7 or more PA GP results
Performance range
Single distance / format
Significant results in two distinct formats / distance ranges
Significant results across sub-ultra trail, and 1.0, 1.5 and 2.0 ultras
Historical performance (CR, AGCR)
No CR setting
Some CR setting, or CR-worth/close performances
Consistent setting of CR / AGCR across body of work
Age graded performance
Too old to get close to the podium, or too young for age being a factor (20-35)
Rocking the Masters division
Still killing it enough to make the podium or top 10

We look at results within our Grand Prix of course, but nationally and internationally as well. We look at ITRA rankings for the ultra and trail side, USATF records, recognitions. Our committee is certainly not as large as the 40 experts voting on the Ultra Running Magazine runners of the year, but we aim at applying as much professionalism.

For the men, we considered these athletes: Jon Olsen, Chikara Omine, Karl Schnaitter, David Roche, Cliff Lentz, Jean Pommier, Lance Doherty, Scott Trummer, Tim Comay, Gaspar Mora Porta, Thomas Reiss, Cole Watson. This list is a testament to the vitality of our MUT community in North California and Nevada. And if you feel we omitted someone for 2018, please let me know so we don't commit the same oversight this year (comment on this blog post, or in Facebook Messenger).

In other words, we don't just look at one dimension and the Pacific Association perimeter in particular. But participation in our local Grand Prix is still an important criteria too. Hope that helps everyone understand the process, and motivate many to push the envelope in all these areas.

Based on all this, our small MUT award committee elected me as the recipient again this year, that has been quite a year indeed for me. Cole is in another league from a purely competitive standpoint but had very few MUT races overall while Karl shined not only in his age group in our MUT Grand Prix but also with the most finishes of all participants, 9! To my wife's dismay, 2 more plaques on the shelves in my office... ;-)
And a very rare opportunity to see me wearing a trucker hat, in honor of our evening's sponsor and provider of gift certificates, the Runner's Mind store (Burlingame, San Francisco, Los Altos).

Forgive me for mostly covering the MUT side of this celebration. As a matter of fact, the Road side gets twice as many awards, with a short and long version, and there is Cross-Country (XC) of course. If you click on this picture below, you'll see the special awards in these categories (the first picture at the top, with masked plaques, was the one I prepared for Angie to promote and build some excitement before the event).
A few volunteers were also honored, like Mark Winitz, who officiates at most of our Road and XC events.

And now to the third key element of the evening, the motivational speech from our guest, Coach Greg McMillan (see his bio on his website).

I'm not going to aim at a transcript of the 30-minute speech, especially 3 months later, but here are a few notes I took during Greg's exposé on his decades of impressive coaching experience.

  1. Sorry, in coaching, there is a lot of "it depends..."
  2. Do the training so you can... do the training so you can... finally do the training. In other words, ask yourself: Are you fit enough to do the actual needed training? This requires a ton of patience. Like a good paint job requires the appropriate prep work.
  3. Figure out what is your runner type (why do run, what motivates you like pressure, pleasure, rewards).
  4. Learn to listen to your body so you can train at the level of your musculoskeletal system (and not beyond), your cardio-vascular system (note to self after my 2016 TIA...), your mental system, your respiratory system (another note to self...). (And, personally, I would add other systems such as family support one, or work.)
  5. Balance the ever changing press and rest cycle.
  6. Design your training and racing plans for success, build in some wiggle room.
  7. Maintain, and grow, motivation and build confidence. Confidence is a game changer, through the positive manipulation of your own brain.
  8. For coaches, empower you athletes to make decisions on their training.
  9. Keep working on and raising your racing IQ (e.g. pacing)
  10. Work on your self-limiting factors. E.g. being afraid to fail or feeling comfortable by doing less will protect you but may limit your performance.

Then a few other great points were raised during the Q&A session, engaging the audience even more:

  1. On aging...
    1. Be more gradual, especially with speed training
    2. Spread the stress
    3. Take much more care of your body (nutrition, stretching, recovery)
  2. On technology (the use of gadgets in particular)
    1. It's nice to have useful information
    2. But don't get in overdrive mode, feeling first!
  3. Cross-training? Oh yes, to remain healthy
  4. Diet? Favor clean food, and healthy base. Hint: think of your grand-parents' diet.
Et voilà, finally some coverage of this great event, very special thank again to Angie and her Impala Racing Team for stepping up this time, we had a great time mingling around our favorite LDR topics and we look forward to next year's 24th celebration!

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Ohlone 50K 2019: what was that?

Oh my, what did they do with my fetish race?! Pouring rain, slippery mud fest, creek crossings, 2 loops, 48F at the start, no wood block trophies, no pilgrimage to Del Valle, a revamped and super fancy website, a BBQ under a tent, a singlet with a new logo, the 32nd edition of Ohlone 50K was completely unrecognizable this year!
I'm kidding, this isn't my race of course, I'm just a big fan, and I'm in awe with what new Race Director, Andres Vega from BAUR (Bay Area Ultra Runners) and his team of dedicated volunteers managed to produce this year. By all accounts, based on what happened in 2015, this edition would have been cancelled given the weather circumstances, if it wasn't for the extra planning and diligence of Andres, as well as his negotiation with the park rangers and their collaboration and willingness to accommodate these crazy ultra runners!

Thanks to the volunteers so attached to this event, we got the first warning and heads-up on Tuesday on Facebook, that a loop format from Sunol could be the option saving the race this year. Later, Andres shared that, like 2015 again, he looked at the possibility to postponed to September but the Rangers didn't want to have a repeat of what we ended up with, 4 years ago, one of the hottest year and many drops because of that (while I strive in such conditions, go figure...).

The new course was confirmed on Friday and we received the new runner instruction packet on Saturday at 6 pm.
Upon checking in at 7 am this Sunday morning, I asked Andre how muddy the trails were going to be and he replied it shouldn't be bad as the Rangers had recently graded the trails so the water could flow over. And then it started pouring rain while I stayed in the car until 10 minutes before the start. Hmm, that was getting really interesting, again, nothing I've seen at Ohlone over the past 12 years (that was my 12th run over 13 years as I missed 2014 to fly to Max's graduation that year after running and winning Silver State 50-mile). Andres was nice to keep the option of asking for a special bib number upon registering; knowing local Scott Trummer and 2017 and 2018 champ was returning, I asked for 3 (my 2018 finish) or 12 (for 12th run) and got 12. I assume I wasn't meant to get an 11th podium this year... (The only time I didn't make the podium was in 2016 when I finished 4th, 15 seconds behind Rémi Delille, that was close!)

Anyway, on the start line, I openly admitted that this wasn't going to be my year. For one thing, I'm rather tired after running 7 major races the past 6 weekends: the 100K Road Nationals 2 days before Boston (although I dropped at 80K/50 miles with asthma in freezing temperatures), Boston, Napa Half Trail Marathon, Big Sur Marathon, Miwok 100K and Quicksilver 100K last week, phew! Crazy schedule with two last-minute additions, the 100K Nationals and pacing at Big Sur. I've never done so much hard back to back racing over 7 consecutive weekends, and I'm of course not getting younger.... Plus all the blogging and 72,000 miles flown in 3 months... Second, I still suffer from a gluteus injury which started in November. Although, after three 10-15K runs this week and extensive stretching on Thursday-Friday, I felt some good progress and was quite excited to see how it would play out this Sunday. With that my main goal was to not fall off the podium cliff too much still and assuredly win my M50-59 age group. Not only for the Pacific Association MUT Grand Prix points, but also for my 12th block of wood!

Andres sent us on park road at 8 am, under the rain. As soon as we hit the trail, it was like we were running in a creek, actually against the current. Scott quickly took the control of the race and I believed I was in 8th or 10th place. Teammate John Burton was not far behind, then a few runners I didn't know. After a few switch backs the single trail was so muddy and slippery, it was like trying to climb on a toboggan. It would have been comical and laughable if it was a group run but that was a race and it made my progression really difficult. Actually, it wasn't just me and, quickly, we closed the gap with Jon Kimura, 2nd last year, who was struggling even more than us. apparently with the wrong choice of shoes (Hoka road shoes?). Myself, I was wearing a pair of Brooks Mazana which I had used only twice in 2017 (Skyline 50K and the Golden Gate cross-country championships) and never since.

With the gluteus injury, I barely did much trail running. Besides, I focused mostly on road racing so far this season: in February, I missed our local 50K Trail Nationals in Auburn (FOURmidable 50K) as I was in Vegas, breaking the M50-54 100-mile Road American Record at the 100-mile Road Nationals. 3 weeks later, I missed Way Too Cool 50K as I was competing in the 50K Road Nationals in New York where I improved the M55-59 American Record as well. Both were mud fests and I see today's conditions mostly as a personal punishment for having attempted to escape the winter trail conditions! You see, guys and gals, it's all my fault, sorry about that... ;-)

After this painful first mile in which we gained 1,000 feet, the downhill wasn't easier either: twice I sled so much laterally that I thought I'd fly in the cows' pasture, scary! And the bad news: for every step I was sliding, either laterally, backward in the uphill or forward in the downhill, the gluteus was hurting so bad, that really got on my mind.

Finally, there was a short section before the first aid station at Welch Creek Road, mile 3, which offered good footing, plus a few hundred yards of smooth asphalt on Welch Creek Road itself. And then we were back to the mud fest for most of North loop. (Photo credit for next 3 pictures: Noah Simcoff)
Only 10 or so runners had gone through so I could still see some patches which seemed to offer some traction. Later on, it was like 100 cows had gone on the course, turning it into a really messy battle field. A posteriori, I still wonder how the Rangers authorized to use this trail because, it's no secret as of Sunday evening, we quite damaged it...

I ran most of the loop not too far behind another teammate, Stuart Taylor, Quicksilver 100K Co-RD, and another runner with a blue rain jacket (I kept my black rain jacket the whole way today as rain showers kept coming and going).

I actually passed that other runner as he made a quick stop at our second passage through Welch Creek Road aid station at mile 9, and ran the next 5 miles behind Stuart without being able to close the gap. We didn't stop at the Backpack aid station (cool to see Catra there), and I could see John not far ahead, but I lost Stuart in the Cerro Este trail and even more at Sunol as I stopped by my car to take care of some chaffing with all this humidity.

I stopped quickly at the Sunol aid station, hoping to get some Coke, to no avail, and swallowed another GU gel instead, before returning on the second loop, starting with this ugly slippery and steep uphill. It was raining but not as much as at the start, so the water stream on the trail had stopped. Instead, I let you imagine the conditions of the trail after 150 runners had gone through earlier in the morning: not pretty and really impractical. As I mentioned above, the first time it was somehow laughable, now, with tired legs, it was ugly and I had so much difficulty moving up with by left gluteus yelling at every other step. (Photo credits x2: Cynthia Chiu)

After that painful climb, I tried to push more on the slippery way down and eventually passed a runner at the bottom of Flag Hill Road. A runner not in the race, Tom Qin had pointed me in 8th place (while I thought I was in 6th), that made me 7th. Picture and video from Tom:

Alternating walking and jogging on the loop I couldn't see anyone behind for that whole loop but I could feel I was really slowing down in every uphill. As I entered this loop for the second time, I was blown away to see Scott finishing it! I had just passed mile 19, he was at 25. I told him he was amazing but I was also thinking how insanely fast that was in such conditions! And to my second surprise, he had two runners not far behind him, wow! I typically do well at Ohlone when it's super hot and others falter, but also when I have enough traction to run the uphills. Well, certainly no podium today, even the Ultrasignup ranking was going to get a big hit! From this point I tried to focus on keeping my placing and, as I stated above, win my age group. That meant keeping moving and not cramping. To this point, and I can't remember such an occurrence since I started running ultras 13 years ago, I had forgotten my S!Caps at home. Thankfully it was rather chilly today yet I was sweating under my rain jacket so I paid extra attention to drink both my GU2O/GU Brew bottles today.

Shortly after I left the Welch Road aid station for the 4th and last time, I heard some clapping and feared that must be a runner catching up. Sure enough, that runner with the blue jacket caught me in the big climb on Vista Grande Road, and I could even see a runner with a white top less than half a mile behind. Geez, top 10 today might be even more difficult than I thought. I managed to stay close behind him all the way through the Backpack Camp aid station and, like with Stuart in the morning, I lost him on the narrow Cerro Este trail. I did check several times behind me while pushing the pace on the fire road, around 7:30 min/mile finally, and managed to finish in 7th place, in 5 hours and 38 minutes, my worst Ohlone in 12 years, geez, not my conditions at all! (Photo credits: Keith Blom)

I stayed at the finish for 2 hours, seeing other runners finish and enjoying some food, including a delicious burger prepared by volunteers cooking under a canopy this year as it was still raining consistently. Scott had won in 4:24 as I could recall. Our Quicksilver Ultra Racing team did quite well with John taking 4th for his birthday, and Stuart a few minutes behind in 5th (~5:25).

Well, not quite... I wrote this post earlier this evening, while waiting to drive to SFO to pickup Agnès and Greg, on their way back from Alex's graduation this time (yes, I missed it to run Ohlone and attend the Toastmasters District 101 conference yesterday...), and before the results got published on Ultrsignup (super promptly I must say!). While Scott won in an amazing 4:26 indeed, second place was Adam Zastrow just 7 minutes behind, quite a remarkable performance to win the Masters division too! 3rd Jason Harcum, 30 minutes after Adam, then Damin Resh, 5:11, John in 5th (5:30), Stuart (5:33), Doug (5:37) and I in 8th (5:39:13, 32 more seconds than the elapsed time on my GPS, odd).

Well... and this is another update a week later, it appears that, very unfortunately, Adam made a wrong turn on the course and missed the Backpack Camp aid station and got disqualified, bumping all of us but Scott by 1 slot up. I'm still so impressed by Adam's performance as I'm sure this only accounted for a few minutes.

Also, if I lost you with this convoluted description of the loops and muddy ups and downs, here is Relive's 3D flyover. Note the elevation profile on the upper right of the animation (click on the image below, or that link).
Again, what a special/unusual edition for Ohlone but kudos to Andres and his whole team of volunteers who managed to keep the tradition alive for Year 32! Vey sincere thank to all of you, you rock!!! Keith capturing me joking with Andres right after the finish:
There were several photographers on the course, also braving the elements, I look forward to getting a few pictures to include in this post and prove you that I'm not exaggerating above when talking about the mud. Meanwhile, and to allow for another same-day report, here is one before a much needed leg wash at home...
I'll post an update later with more pictures then but, meanwhile, the crazy-super-cool-and-dedicated volunteer driving this special car challenged me to post a same day race report again, so here you are!
And with that, time to drive to SFO, then take a much deserved break, while many of you are now firing up for by goals and a few big 100-mile events for example in June and July! Stay healthy all!

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Quicksilver 100K 2019: what an experience!

experience noun
ex·​pe·​ri·​ence | \ ik-ˈspir-ē-ən(t)s  \
Definition of experience
1a : direct observation of or participation in events as a basis of knowledge
b : the fact or state of having been affected by or gained knowledge through direct observation or participation
2a : practical knowledge, skill, or practice derived from direct observation of or participation in events or in a particular activity
b : the length of such participation
has 10 years' experience in the job
3 : something personally encountered, undergone, or lived through
4a : the conscious events that make up an individual life
b : the events that make up the conscious past of a community or nation or humankind generally
5 : the act or process of directly perceiving events or reality
The Merriam-Webster has all these different meanings for the word experience; skills, being affected, gaining knowledge, direct observation, length of participation, perception of an event, let's see how this word and 36th edition of this South Bay ultra running tradition played out.

First, 36 years in the making, what an outstanding tenure! Sorry for bragging about my Quicksilver running club, but proud of the amazing tradition our club founders have established in 1983, true pioneers of the ultra trail running phenomenon in North America. It wasn't long after the Western States movement, way before ultra running exploded in the 2000s. As a matter of fact, our club has been manning the Duncan Canyon aid station for several decades at Western States.

Speaking of history, this year's t-shirt featured on older design highlighting the rich mining history of the Almaden Quicksilver County Park which we enjoy on race day and all year around.

A few years ago, the logo of our club evolved to mark the emphasis on the preservation of Mount Humunhum in the nearby Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve which 50K of the 100K are run into.

Such history and heritage brings a lot of experience into this race, which extended from 50-mile to 100K to retain the Western States qualifier status, under Greg Lanctot's leadership while former Race Director, Paul Fick, focused on keeping his "Chez Darcy" open to offer what was known as the best post-race BBQ party of the West (and probably North America at least)! Thanks to the experience of our brother Stevens Creek Striders running club, the club who taught me ultra running initially, there is literally hundreds of man-years of ultra running experience provided at the aid station to serve both ultra novices and experienced runners.

This experience doesn't only come handy on race day. There is so much work preparing for such an event, and work after, countless of hours and volunteers. An example: here are Mike and Hugo, Striders, going to mark part of the course on Friday morning (under the command of co-Race Director, Stuart Taylor! ;-):

Think also about what each of the 12 aid stations need to have on race day, which quantity of watermelon, strawberries, cookies, gels, or water; depending on the time of the day (temperature), the distance (what runner will want), the number of passages through the aid stations (between the 50K and 100K, Bull Run sees 4 batches of runners from 9 am to 9 pm!). Thankfully we have our Queen of the aid station coordination, Kristina Irvin, bringing in all her experience of decades of ultra racing, including 10 Western States finishes. Like Kristina says: "I was privileged to race so much, it's may way to give back." And that includes very short nights leading to the race, including the last night where she camps next to the food truck at Mockingbird. So many things happening behind the scene, I just got a peek at it again, this time by helping her and Mike shopping at Costco (oh my, it had been 10 years since I visited this center for shopalcoholism, I forgot how huge this is...) and organizing the split of supplies among the 8 aid station locations.

People in line before Costco opens at 9 am!
 Some ultra food...
Thankfully, nobody suggested I race the 100K pushing such a cart, it was hard enough on flat asphalt! ;-)

The 100K starting at 4:30 am I had to wake up before 1:30 again, one week after doing if for Miwok. That's the insane part of this back to back double, I need to get to bed by 7 pm at the latest. A mark I missed again but I was sufficiently relaxed to sleep 5 hours and even wake up 2 minutes before my alarm clock rang. 1 avocado, 2 hard eggs, some avocado mayonnaise, simple and quick breakfast thanks to the keto/OFM diet. Although I had stopped by Sports Basement after my volunteer shift to pick up my bib, something I had never done for the 10 previous years I've run this event, I arrived at the parking lot by 3:30.

Unfortunately, as a famous person once said: "the first will be last" and the early birds got the parking spots furthest from the aid station, more on this later. The sky was full of stars by 3:30 but cloudy by the time co-Race Director, Stuart Taylor sent us on the first hill of the day after his briefing and not without mentioning that the check-in logistic worked better this year thanks to the waiver being sent before race day.

There were quite a few runners I didn't recognize on the start line so I remained on the second line and took it easy in the first hundred yards. After the first turn, I caught up with Thomas Reiss, a very competitive runner who ran for Innov-8 for many years (see his website). Thomas said he was thinking of running 12-13 hours and I have to admit I had no particular plan so I didn't replied but I thought to myself that breaking 11 hours was more my goal today (I ran the last 4 of the past 5 100K editions and, although the course had changed twice already over these years, my times have been respectively 9:45, 10:14, 10:25 and 10:22). That being said, with the gluteus injury which have been seriously impacting my training since last November and still hurts 6 months later, I was hoping to play by feel and... experience.

As always, with his traditional aggressive start, I passed Jason Reed shortly after the first mile which I ran in 11:36 if that gives you any indication of the slope. The next few miles became really interesting as we got into a thick layer of fog, even before English Camp. I could distinguish one headlamp ahead but had not idea how many were upfront. On Bull Run I caught up with a runner with a black top. He recognized me and mentioned he had read a few of my blog posts, while searching about this race. He was coming from New York and I thought he had an aggressive start for someone who may not be used to running in the heat and on so many hills. His name was Nicholas Mamrack, 24.

I didn't know his age at the time but could tell he was younger (31 years younger, duh!) and told him he should go first when we run down to the cemetery as I didn't want to trip so early in the race (well, or at any point as a matter of fact). We got to the course monitor leading everybody through this tricky multiple-way intersection which we cross twice. The fog was so opaque I couldn't see who this volunteer was. First, he had a powerful headlamp which he was pointing on us, making us even more blind. Then, we took the first left turn but the usual right turn had a big line drawn all across the trail, so I figured out it wasn't the right way, stopped, traced back and Nicholas finally saw a ribbon on the right. Phew, I ran these trails so many times, but never in such low visibility conditions, what a difference that makes!

We flew down the cemetery then and actually quickly crossed the lead three runners, the first one wearing a top with a large Google logo. Again, in all these years, and even with Chikara and Leor running, I had never seen such a fast start, wow!

Slightly ahead of Nicholas, there was another runner wearing a bright yellow top, albeit not from Excelsior. Coming back from the cemetery out and back, there is a good uphill where we cross all the other runners. The trail is narrow, not in great condition and, at 5 am, it's still quite dark. The fog made it even harder this year and I was super focused on not tripping, certainly trying to avoid looking up at others coming down, despite their nice encouragements. Back at the intersection the poor volunteer was losing his mind. There were now dozens of runners coming from all directions, it was worst than driving through a roundabout in Paris in rush hour! ;-) I contributed to the confusion, keeping running uphill too far, missing the left turn. Quickly realizing the mistake I turned back only to see the lead runners coming back from yet another wrong trail! So, all of sudden, the 6 of us in the lead got reunited but not for too long as the top 3 runners rushed again, leaving us in the dust.

Some time later in that same section at mile 5, about one hour in the race, one runner fell and dislocated his knee cap. Ultra reporter extraordinaire, Chihping Fu, arrived at the scene and wonderfully captured this moment with a picture which is worth an award in my opinion; the perfect lighting capturing the pre-dawn fog and all this compassion surrounding the injured runner:

I learned later that William Dai for instance (yellow top, Pamakids) stayed for 15 minutes before resuming his race with the assurance that a volunteer, David Foote, was on his way to check on the runner (David ran back to Hicks Road then drove the runner down to Hacienda where his girlfriend picked him up to go to ER, where surgery to fix his broken patella was scheduled for this Monday). After this incident, William will then pass many runners all day, finishing 50th overall in 14:15. We will all remember this living proof of our ultra community spirit, well done guys, what another ultra racing experience!

Back to the race, I quickly lost eye contact with Nicholas in the fog but managed to keep up with the other runner, with the yellow top, and we left the Hicks Road aid station (mile 6) together. However, the gluteus pain really prevented me from extending my stride and, with the fog, I lost track of that other runner as well, less than 2 miles into Sierra Azul. I kept running most of the climb and eventually emerged from the cloud to experience an amazing sun rise of the East Bay range, literally breath taking! I was actually thinking of Chihping and his camera, how much he would have enjoyed that moment. But the time was at keeping pushing uphill while not killing myself that early in the race, a subtle combination and balance.

I was welcomed at the Woods Road aid station by our ultra running team and aid station captain, Loren Lewis who was manually pointing our passage. He said 6 20 when I passed which I interpreted as you are in 6th place (that made sense from my earlier estimation and was encouraging) and 20 minutes behind. 20 minutes! While I could care less about making a podium today given the circumstances, I was stunned by how fast the lead runners were this year. We were only 12 miles in, almost 2 min/mile faster pace. Carrying enough fluids for 15 miles I actually didn't stop except to hand out my headlamp and rushed into the long downhill to Lexington reservoir. After the wonderful views above the layer of fog at the top, we plunged again in the cloud and I couldn't see if anyone was ahead on that fire road where you can spot a runner a mile away otherwise. To my surprise, just before the intersection with Priest Rock Trail, I had a glimpse of Nicholas and the runner with a yellow top. I wasn't expecting this because I didn't feel I had move that fast in the downhill.

Anyway, 2.5 miles later I was greeted at the Lexington aid station by my teammate and track workout buddy, Jeremy Johnson, a most refreshing tradition and boost before the biggest climb of the day. I got my GU2O (GU Brew) bottle refilled, drank a cup of Coke and ate a piece of banana if I recall and off I was. The aid station crew mentioned that the lead runner didn't stop to drink and they didn't see how sustainable that was. And I was pointed at 19 minutes behind which was also encouraging because, with the shorter stride, I could barely break 7 minutes/mile in the downhill, yet it didn't seem I had lost to much ground! And I was still smiling and in high spirit, phew!

Encouraged by this I did jog a good portion of Priest Rock, walked the steepest climbs, got a picture from the course monitor at the intersection (who was this?) and attacked the Dog Meat beast with strong spirits. I passed a few hikers but, still in the cloud layer, couldn't see any runner ahead or behind. I was almost done when I finally saw a runner behind, moving fast, with poles, and I thought "dang, this must be Thomas who was sandbagging at the start and is coming back. Or me falling behind pace..." That got me to push in the last wall and reevaluate what the next section was going to be. In my mind I thought the downhill to Kennedy Road was just 2 miles and that I had enough of a lead now that I could take it easy before pushing back on the return (the course has us doing an out and back to Kennedy Road), losing 2,000 feet and climbing them just after). Well, the trail sign indicated 4 miles to Kennedy so it was time to get moving. My GPS was right on 22 miles at the Dog Meat and Kennedy Trail intersection. With the extra pressure, I kept going but, still, without going all out as we were barely 1/3 into the race in terms of effort. 2 miles later, me still flying down, who do I see coming up? The Googler, still in first place and appearing super smooth and fast on the climb, and still now carrying any bottle; was he super human, I have never seen in my 13 years in ultra racing! That was Patrick and Ryan was in second place, less than half a mile away. 3rd place was still Sam Cox, new to ultra running this year (Way Too Cool 50K in March), who joined our Quicksilver team. I was so excited for him yet again a big surprised by the aggressive pace. Nicholas was in 4th and I reach the Kennedy aid station at the bottom of the hill (mile 25.8) shortly after the runner in yellow left. I took a few minutes to work on some chaffing, get ice in my water bottle, some Coke, watermelon, pieces of banana, and then it was time to welcome the runner who had finally caught up with me but, wait, it wasn't Thomas but another talented teammate, Gaspar Mora Porta. Before leaving I asked him how he was and when he replied 41 I thought: "well, you can have the Masters title and let me work on the M50; after all I wasn't even born to ultra racing when I was your age!" ;-) Feeling refreshed with the ice in my water bottle and some ice water on my Buff, I was energized and resolute to run as much of the next 4 miles up Kennedy as we were to now cross most of the pack coming down. Well, it took a while before I crossed any runner and a good mile before I saw Thomas who looked in good spirit too. Gaspar eventually caught up with me, I'd say half way. It wasn't that he was pulling much on his poles as we do in the Alps, but the poles helped him keep a smooth stride and quick cadence in the steepest section, I was very impressed and didn't have enough energy and stamina to chase him. Picture from Tom Qin (I must be pushing on virtual poles! ;-) ):
Even on the Kennedy rollers where you can sometime spot a runner ahead with the multiple ups and downs, no trace of Gaspar, he was gone on a mission! And I have to say that I was very happy with the team that three of us were in the top 7. Ah, these Kennedy Rollers, it looks like they are getting steeper every year or even that they had a few rollers every time. I can't even comprehend which geological phenomenon created such a natural roller coaster, of if it's someone crazy enough to have bulldozed them mechanically! A key challenge every time and, I know, it's not going to get any easier with age... I was thinking of that year when I almost killed myself in that section because some crazy club mates had decided to create a Strava challenge... It wasn't going to happen this year! I tried to regain as much composure upon arriving to the Woods Road aid station for the second time and, when Chris Gladding asked how I felt, I replied with what he described as a casual "okay..." Actually, at mile 31, I felt good to be done with the hardest part of the course, climbing wise. Besides, I had reached the station before Gaspar had left so maybe I hadn't lost that much ground in the last 3 miles. Or Gaspar had stayed at the station for too long.

Now, something strange happened. Just after saying "okay" to Chris, and as I stepped laterally to grab a piece of water melon, I felt a sharp pain at the top of my left foot, yikes! Well, finally something more painful than my gluteus, something which could eclipse it for a change but I needed both my feet to run the remaining 31 miles... After getting my GU Brew bottle refilled, and more ice water in the other, more vaseline to stop the nagging chaffing, it was time to get over the hump for the next mostly down 7 miles back to Hicks Road.

That section has really no difficulty but, once in a while, some lose rocks twisted my left foot and made the foot pain super sharp, making me wondering what that was and if I could even make it back to my car at Hacienda (mile 41) without risking some terrible damage. I paid extra attention to my footing and was able to reach Hicks Road without too much trouble and maintaining an 8 to 9 min/mile pace.

Again, Gaspar was still at the aid station when I reached it, getting his poles back into his drop bag as poles are forbidden in Almaden Quicksilver Park. Like at Woods Road, the top of my foot was hurting just with a few lateral steps to check on all the great food (I did grab a piece of avocado, a first in a race, a keto treat, yeah! ;-). I was almost going to mention my foot pain when I saw the aid station captain and teammate, Clare Abram, with crushes: so bummed for her she is off for this year season after the need to get her hamstring reattached... and really no place for me to complain to these outstanding volunteers about my little trouble in comparison! I also ate delicious strawberries, got more ice water and left the station ahead of Gaspar, now back in 6th place.

A mile later, I caught up with Sam. He had a low point, after passing the 50K point, the farthest he had ever run, but was resolute to finish. I gave him an S!Caps and we ran for a few minutes together then I went ahead in the downhill to Hacienda, knowing that I will make a stop by my car. While I felt so slow in this downhill, trying to preserve my left foot from too much pounding, Paul King, another club mate and volunteer who spent 5 hours monitoring this intersection, took this picture at the optimal time to show some flying...
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, my car was far from the aid station so, while I was changing top, putting some sunscreen on, refilling my Ultimate Direction running belt with a few GU gels, Vespa concentrate, and pouches of GU Brew powder, I saw Gaspar going through the aid station. From my car I then went to the aid station myself to get some fruits and ice water, and asked the volunteers if they had seen Sam, but was told he hadn't been through yet. I wasn't even thinking of chasing Gaspar but, a mile later, caught up with Sam, just before the Hacienda Roller Coaster, and passed him again as I pushed on the steep uphills while putting on the breaks in the downhill, for the fear of falling. Once more, I reached Mockingbird aid station, which is also the finish of both the 100K and 50K races, while Gaspar was still there. He left a few minutes before me and, as I was passing the timing mat, Ellen Taylor indicated I was in 7th place which was surprising because I didn't see Sam leave before me.

I was feeling ok but the legs were definitely tired so I stayed in an sort of 'eco' mode on New Almaden, looking forward to actually walk the rocky Buena Vista Trail, which I did. The gluteus was yelling again as I was extending the stride over the bigger rocks but the top of the left foot had now calmed down, a relief! And I caught up with Gaspar right at the entrance of Day Tunnel Trail. Gaspar was walking and I was just happy to stay behind but, after a few switchbacks, went ahead and ran most of the way up to Bull Run #1. What a relief to find the Stevens Creek Striders up there, the first club I joined when moving to the area. Hugo indicated that I was in 5th place indeed (Sam was behind me at Mockingbird) and 59 minutes behind the leader. After refueling (Coke, some fruits, ice water), it was time to move again and enjoy the lollipop look around Catherine Tunnel then the few miles of downhill back to New Almaden Trail. Nina Giraudo was sweeping and chatting with Christine Chapon while taking this picture:
I could feel cramps ready to strike in my quads so took the rolling trail moderately but was moving quite well when I ran into a big rattlesnake blocking the single trail. I stopped but it wasn't moving at all so decided to jump over his tail. Still, I always get a chill from these encounters... As for the poison oak, it wasn't too bad, kudos to all my club mates who worked on trail maintenance this Winter and Spring! Finally getting to Macabee aid station (mile 54) and welcomed by the volunteer on steroid, and also long time teammate, Mark Tanaka, aka Doc Noc: Mark is an ER Doctor and, with all his energy, you can be certain he isn't falling asleep during his multi-day shifts! It wasn't that hot but I was drinking more than at Miwok and got a 5th bottle of GU Brew, hoping that will keep the cramps at bay.

Still nobody to be seen ahead, nor behind, except the 50K runners now. I did walk some of Mine Trail but jogged most of it, while admiring the Guadalupe Reservoir so full this year, finally after more than 5 years of drought... There were also dozens of gulls flying over the lake, pure beauty! And notice that I didn't say seagulls, I had to consult with Steve Patt on Facebook to stand corrected and learn about the gulls we have here: Western Gulls, California Gulls, Herring Gulls, and Ring-billed Gulls! On the last steep climb of Provincia Trail, the cramps were getting so close, I just walked it. As I was resuming running uphill on Mine, 4 miles from the finish, both my quads froze, ouch! That stopped me right away and I was now out of S!Caps and had finished both my bottles in anticipation, to get as much fluid through my body and hydrate and drain these muscles. Last option, like I did at Miwok last week, take a few deep breaths and... that worked again! At least that allowed me to jog up to Bull Run #2.

Only 3 miles to go but my experience pushed me to stop for a few minutes and recharge, just in case. Well, I have to say that I was super impressed how the Striders were remaining calm given the circumstances: as I arrived at their aid station, 4 Rangers were on the side of the trail, 2 fire trucks, 1 emergency vehicle (ambulance), 3 Park Rangers vehicle and... an helicopter which was taking off. I learned later that the helicopter was taking the original lead runner, Patrick Rabuzzi, to the nearest hospital after he had collapsed, trying to reclaim the lead with 3 miles to go and running the last 10 miles in second place. What a bold and fatal move, I think I can safely say, from a lack of... experience. Our RDs confirmed that Patrick had finally been released from ICU this Tuesday, phew! Last time we had a similar story, it was our very own Race Director, Pierre-Yves, at Ohlone in 2012... Scary ultra moments, or ultra scary experiences...

After all this agitation, I left quietly, focused on keeping a stride as economical as possible to avoid any more cramping. Picture from Chuck Wilson:

With the hope of finishing in 4th now, after Patrick's DNF, that gave me a boost and I was able to push the pace in the downhill through English Camp, no more cramping!

With a mile to go, but still quite a few steep uphills, my watch showed 10:52... I wasn't going to break 11, for the first time, I felt ashamed yet remained super cautious in the downhills and grateful when I finally saw the finish line and I had not fallen. I crossed the finish line in 11:03:05 and, short of a podium, was quite happy to get the Masters title this year. To my astonishment, people started to congratulate me for my 3rd place, what a great surprise, the super bonus or cherry on the cake! I asked several times if they were sure of that, even as I write this post, I still don't understand when and where the runner with the yellow top dropped. And what his name is. It has been 3 days now that the results have been published, so I now believe I finished third indeed! ;-)

The Men 100K podium (from left to right: Pierre-Yves Couteau, Nicholas Mamrack, Ryan Montgomery and I):
 My 3rd pan trophy, out of 5 participations, really felt lucky given my (slow) time!
 Chatting with 100K winner, Ryan Montgomery
 Tasting the plated gold of my age group medal, with Jeff Pace, Jeremy Johnson and Nina Giraudo:
While this 3rd place is very fulfilling given the 6 back to back races since mid April, it was a bizarre year, performance wise: on one hand, and maybe thanks to the emulation of Patrick, Ryan had done a mind boggling performance with his time of 9:32, the 6th fastest time of the 6-year history of our 100K race; the course has changed twice already and he now owns the Course Record on that latest course design. In previous years it used to require to break 10 hours, to make the podium. This year wasn't even a hot one but Nicholas took second in 10:14 and I finished third, not even breaking 11 hours... Thankfully, there had been 50K runners finishing during this time or it would have been a very boring 100K finish to watch with such a gap between us three!

In addition to a super nice belt buckle (custom wood made), I got another surprise 500K plaque for having completed this race 5 times, thank you Ellen and Stuart!

Anyway, after such a detailed report, and better than words, here is an animated fly-over of our 100K course (click on this link or the picture below):

This time, I could stay all afternoon as Agnès was at a graduation ceremony in Los Angeles and I wanted to see John Trent too. It is a great custom in ultra running to wait for other participants to come in so I was really glad I didn't have a plane to catch right away.

Among these runners, look at Jim Magill (photo credit: Christine Chapon): it isn't dirt on his face but blood, all over! So impressed that he managed to finish the 50K at age 72 and after such a major fall in which he kissed one of the rocks of the tricky Bella Vista or New Almaden trail section... A model of consistency and tenacity!

With the tired legs it took me a while to actually walk to the food tent and grab a plate at Tiffany Trevers' kitchen (both pictures are hers):
With Jeremy after his morning shift at Lexington and before he went on sweeping the last 18 miles of the course, what a long day for him too!

Finally, right before 6:30 pm, John Trent's daughters finished their 100K one minute apart, what an ultra running family! (Jill Trent completed the 50K as well.)
Why was I waiting for John? To hand him a special plaque, the 2018 USATF Pacific Association Ultra Volunteer of the Year!
Our award banquet was held in February (that's a post I still need to write) but John couldn't drive from Reno that evening. Ultra is all about planning so we had penciled both our agendas to meet at Quicksilver, 2.5 months later, mission accomplished, checked! John has served our PA MUT(*) community for several decades: he has been the President of the Western States Endurance Run, has been on the Board of Trustees since 2004, is directing the SilverState 50K and 50M races, volunteering at many other ultra events and, last but not least of his overall contribution, is a prominent voice of our sport through his talent for journalism and writing! Thank you for your service, John!

Another person I want to highlight in this report is Bob Callahan who coordinated all the volunteers for this mega club operation, days and days of work to ensure the success of this event and offload this burden from the RDs. And, if it wasn't enough, Bob ran the 100K on very little sleep... yet managed to finish 48th overall in 14 hours, another outstanding ultra experience from many standpoints.

I made it home before sunset, thinking of all the runners and volunteers still out there...

Relieved to have survived these 6 consecutive races of the past 5 weekends, including these back to back 100Ks, but it's really not getting easier. As a mater of fact, the gluteus is hurting the most when I sit still so I wrote this blog post standing for a change. Weird running injury which is more bearable when I run, rather than walking or even sitting! I ran a slow 10K to get the legs moving on Monday, and 15K this Tuesday, that should do before Ohlone 50K this coming Sunday. Well, if the unexpected rain doesn't lead to the cancellation or postponement of the event like in 2015... The organizers are already negotiating an alternate course, that should be interesting.

And to conclude, back to the title, what an experience! Experience of this club, race directors and all the volunteers, experience for us, runners, of an unusual cool weather, experience to have managed the race and survived, unusual experience of these medical evacuations, all meanings of this word apply!

Have a great week in the meantime, short of heat training for those in the Bay Area (that's not going to help build more awareness and action on the climate change crisis...).

(*) Mountain, Ultra, Trail

PS: still not sure about the foot pain which only bothered me for 10 miles. Maybe just a nerve which got misplaced with all the pounding. Or maybe a sign I should change shoes, although these Brooks Launch have still so much spring despite this model having 1,089 miles in them (and it's my 11th pair of Launch which I get beyond the 1,000-mile mark, what a shoe!).
 Still super comfy but the sole does show some wear...