Sunday, February 23, 2020

Mt Umunhum 14K: our first ever MUT Grand Prix Mountain race!

What an opportunity not to miss, our very first Mountain race in our MUT (Mountain, Ultra, Trail) Grand Prix series! For more than 25 years, our MUT Grand Prix was exclusively about Ultra, either on trails, roads or tracks, but that's only one of our three MUT disciplines. Last year, Nakia and I added a few races in the sub-ultra marathon Trail area: Napa Half, Pacifica 21K, Start City Half.

Ultra running has a very clear definition, albeit no upper limit (!): any distance beyond the marathon mark. In contrast, Trail running is more elusive as, first, we have many ultra races run on... trails and, second, it isn't meant to include Cross-country (XC), which is also run on trails. XC is typically in the 2 to 6-mile range. That leaves a 6 to 26.2-mile range for Trail running. But no mention of the course profile, trail races can be either flat or hilly...

And then comes Mountain races which, as you'd expect, should be at least very hilly or steep. If you live in the Alps, you'd even expect a Mountain race to be rocky and awfully technical. Yet, in New England, they have Mountain races on roads, how confusing...

At the most recent USATF convention I attended in Reno last December, some wording proposal has been proposed, amended then approved but re-reading it again today, I bet this will have to be modified again. If interested you can look at item 53 in this document.

Anyway, a few years ago, the consensus was "250 meters of vertical change per 5 kilometers", or 164 ft/km or 264 ft/mile. Mt Umunhum was advertised at 1,963 ft of cumulative elevation for 12K originally, or 163.58 ft/km, close enough. The distance was revised to 14K though. But, again, there is leeway in the definitions and we have great hills in our backyard, albeit not the Alps! As it turned out, my Garmin got 8.66 miles and 1,881 of elevation gain but theses watches haven't a great reputation for elevation gain accuracy.

There was much more excitement than our little race on Saturday: Race Director, Greg Lanctot, couldn't refrain from sharing his own excitement to be the first race ever to be authorized to go to the top of Mt Umunhum, also called the Cube (a huge concrete building which served as the base of a large military radar to monitor the Pacific during the Cold War). That part of the course was reserved to the 52K runners.

Quite some excitement as well with the dog race. Still jet lagged from my recent trip to Israel, I decided to drive down very early to secure one of the coveted parking spots at the start. That allowed me to cover the briefings and starts of all the races except the 24K at 8:30 as I was warming up to check on my hamstring injury. 7 am was the 52K, then 7:20 for the Canicross 2.6-mile, then 8 am for the 34K while our 14K race started at 9.

Check this video out and listen to not only the barking but Greg's pure joy and excitement to see such a diverse field enjoying our Almaden Quicksilver park:

The weather was amazing for a winter race: 52F with a few clouds at 6 am, then sunny and blue skies for the rest of the day. At the finish I met a family which was visiting from Canada where they had -40C when they left a few days ago. We really don't have any winter here...

The 14K race had filled with 100 entrants and I was super pleased with the Pacific Association response, an amazing show by the few local large teams like Excelsior and Pamakids as you'd expect, but a blue wave of Impalas too! Then a handful of runners each from West Valley Track Club, Quicksilver, Lake Merritt Joggers & Striders... I think Tamalpa had only 2 runners this time, still short of scoring a team. With that, this made for a super competitive event and fast start, especially with the course starting downhill! It reminded me of the humbling experience of running cross-country races...

(Photo credit for the Excelsior group picture: Simone's Facebook page.)

Having not run a single hill since Ohlone in May last year, and still not training much, I was not only excited per the above, but also quite anxious to see how my return to racing would play out on quit a hilly course. I placed myself behind the Impala gals at the start and I even decided not to chase JR Mintz when he surged in the first down hill, although he is in my age group. In the first steep hills though, I felt good enough to catch up with him, then decided to pass him as I was eyeing Jason Reed a few hundreds yards ahead.

The hamstring wasn't complaining but the legs and lungs could feel the lack of training so I had to keep it conservative and forget about the race leads. I was so happy to even be racing that I didn't mind being chicked by so many speedsters today! In every downhill, Jason would fly so fast it took me almost 4 miles to finally close on him. As I was passing, he mentioned that one of lead runners looked like in my age group. Well, if not 40, there were still 31points to grab if I, and my hamstring, could hold on. Indeed, although much shorter, our Trail and Mountain races are all worth the same coefficient than a 50K. This is meant to attract new participants in our series and that's working!

It's working so well that I was barely at mile 4 when I crossed the first runner coming back from the turn around at Hicks Road. He was going so fast, he won with a blistering 6:20 min/mile pace! Of course, it helped that it was all fire road, but still, 1,900 feet of elevation... Steven Kool, 25, from the Wolfpack team.

The potential M50-59 other runner, based on some white hair in his beard, was actually in 2nd place, 1 or 2 minutes behind. I counted about a dozen runners before I could get to the aid station where I didn't stop, carrying my own bottle of Gu Brew. 14K is certainly something you can run without fueling or drinking, but I like the habit of taking a few sips regularly anyway.

It was cool to see the rest of the field with this out and back format. I was pushing while avoiding the red zone given the lack of training and self-confidence. Caught into the competitive spirit, I lengthen my stride and, eventually, the hamstring started complaining around mile 6, but it was this mild pain which allowed me to run half a season in 2019. Actually slightly less as there has been some improvement lately, at last.

Flying down the trail, I almost missed the left turn at English Camp. I could still see two runners ahead in the last hill, including Ron Little. Nobody behind but I still kept pushing thinking Jason could still catch me in the last steep and tortuous downhill before the finish.

1:08:57 finish time, 7:55 min/mile pace, I was happy with it although this is really not going to look good on Ultrasignup: a 80% performance with Steven's blazing 55:12, ouch! That put me in 13th place overall, 9th in Men. My only regret was to have missed that finish when I saw what happened after Steve: 3 runners finishing within 4 seconds and the same 7:00 min/mile pace! I really wish there would have been a drone video of the final half a mile!

Charles MacNulty was able to save his 2nd place in 1:00:56. David Tran took 3rd in 1:00:57 and Samuel Clinton 4th in 1:01:00, what a close finish! Karl Schnaitter finished 3'27" later and I was the last one under 8 min/mile. Greg told me Charles was in the older guys division so I assumed he meant 50+. I was therefore happily surprised when Greg called Charles for the Masters podium. Indeed, Charles is only 46, 9 years difference help... ;-) Still, hats off to an amazing performance from Charles for taking 2nd overall in this field!

Top 3 overall:
M50-59 podium (2nd: Doug Fontaine, 3rd: J.R. Mintz):

On the women side, Becca Loman (Impalas) won in 1:04:48, followed by Angela Tieri (Impalas) just 16" behind while Lucy Andrews (Excelsior) finished in 1:07:14. Impalas fly, and not just on roads!

You'll find below a series of podiums orchestrated by both RD and MC, Greg, in his very own backyard.

From the comfort of your chair you can fly over our short but hilly out and back!

It was also time to celebrate the Queen of the PCTR volunteers, Shrina, who has been giving countless hours at PCTR events these past 4 years, along with her family. Many big shoes to fill for Greg and Jen, what great and found memories from the 24-hour events in particular, which requires so much from volunteers, all day and night long... Wishing Shrina the best, as well as to the PCTR owners and crew.

Another flawless execution from PCTR for our 2nd PA MUT 2020 Grand Prix race, thank you Greg and Jennifer, and all the volunteers! And, not to forget, the Park Rangers who allowed us to enjoy this public land on this occasion, despite the burden created on the neighborhood with so many cars to park...
Oh, kudos for the creative and original swag too, another very special and sustainable touch from PCTR (in addition to cupless aid stations, no-shirt option at sign-up and small-size bibs for instance):

Next GP races: Way Too Cool 50K in 2 weeks and Pioneer 50-mile Trail Nationals a week later!


M60 (Chuck keeps killing the competition...! ;-):
M70-79 (Jim pretending he can't climb a step after just 9 miles! ;-):

And a few more pictures (pre-race briefings, runners with or without dogs... ;-) ):

Jim and I with our team captain who decided to go to the Cube (aka the 52K distance)...

The winner of the Canicross, Ian Driver and co:

Bree, thrilled to run the 34K:

A thirsty one (and, no, it's not Catra's dashchund!):
Lucy, Victory Design's mascot (and her boss, Victor Ballesteros):
Teammate Keith Lubliner at the 14K finish:
With Angie Longworth, Women's LDR committee Chair:
And George Rehmet, RRCA National President nominee for next year:
Teammate Kat Powel, dancing at the 14K finish:
Clubmate Tiffany Trevers who scared us as she felt in the last downhill on severe cramping, in the 24K:

1 comment:

David Tran said...

Really enjoyed reading this Jean! Thanks for all the hard work that you put into the PA MUT org every year! See you on the trails again soon!