Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Quicksilver 100K 2018: my turf, Ben's cards, much love!

I know my race reports tend to be on the long side, what about the Race Director's one on Facebook at the end of a very long day:
Quicksilver Endurance Runs, Race (Director's) Report, Short Version: Ugh!
One word, you can't beat this! However, with all my infinite due respect to Stuart (Taylor, co-RD), Greg (Lanctot, co-RD), Kristina (Irvin, Queen of the aid stations), Paul (Fick, King and Chef of Chez Darcee) and the 150 other volunteers, one word isn't making justice to this ultra party. Nor my cryptic 6 words of the title of this post. So, once again, read on, and if you haven't already done so, I hope you'll join this local tradition soon, one way or another, running or helping out. Because, and that may be a surprise to some, it requires almost as many volunteers as we are allowed to have participants running these trails (by permit).

First, for those who don't know the natural gem our Quicksilver Club is associated with, this 100K race gets us through two amazing parks, right at the door of San Jose, the capital of Silicon Valley, 1 million people strong. We start in Almaden Quicksilver County Park, then over to the Sierra Azul preserver, part Midpeninsula Regional Open Space system and home of Mt. Umunhum, even more famous now that it's open to the public (shame on me, I still have to pay it a visit).

Rather than words trying to describe the extent of hilly terrain the 100K course goes through, I can't think of a better way that this 1-minute 3D fly-over generated by (click on image, or this link):
Now, if you prefer the words, I love this course description on our Club's website; it helps you decompose into smaller segments, a mental strategy pretty essential for such a long and tough course (for the ultra nerds you have this turn by turn listing, but that's way less poetic!). That map is also quite informative, especially the course profile.
Apart from the challenging cumulative elevation (estimated from 14,000 to 15,000 feet), we get quite an early start at 4:30 am. Tough on the volunteers too but, for the runners, that means either going to bed very early on Friday, or not sleeping much. I picked the safer former option, and was in bed by 7pm, for a 1:30am wake-up call in order to eat breakfast 3 hours before the start. I actually slept like a baby after helping out Paul loading and unloading his truck on Friday afternoon, then setting up the canopies for the 1-day Chez Darcee restaurant. Last year we had a crew of 4 helpers from his church, but none this year, so that was some good heat training and upper body workout, for a change! Huge respect and hat off to Paul again.
And to Kristina as well who was already hard working all Friday morning, with the tent set at Mockingbird to spend the night watching over all our supplies now in the open.
Thankfully, more volunteers (Stephen, Keith) joined us mid afternoon to give a few additional hands to Paul.
On Saturday morning, I arrived at the Hacienda parking lot around 3:15am and was well ready by 4:15am for the pre-race briefing. Unfortunately, there was still a long line of runners waiting to get their bibs and sign the waiver (and, of course that included Doctor Just-in-time Tanaka! ;-), so many that Jeff had to postpone the start by 15 minutes. At least it was already warm, but my Vespa protocol was now off by 15 minutes, dang! I tried to stay as relaxed as possible, in the excitement which was really building up around the start line. (Hey, among the flashy Excelsior shirts, you can barely see me, turning my GPS on, on the left ;-) Photo credit: Jose Cruz.)
A few words about my legs: after Miwok 100K a week ago, and 27 miles of heavy and painful cramping of my adductors, I could barely walk on Sunday and Monday. On Tuesday, I went for 7 miles and, although it felt great to get moving, the legs were still quite painful. Thankfully, the soreness almost disappeared on Wednesday, just in time to get the full benefit of Doods' massage at the Y that day. I felt so good after that, my goal was to preserve the sensation until race day and taper for 3 days, phew, luxury!

With that, I started the first climb with a moderate effort, losing visual contact with the 2 front runners who disappeared after a couple of turns, in the dark. I settled in 10 or 12th position for the first half mile then started gaining a few spots as the slope was getting steeper. By the out and back down to the Cemetery, guarded by Greg, assisted by his wife, Jen, and her lightsaber at the fork before Spanish town, I was in 7th place, just after Tony, whom I had shared a few of the early miles with at Miwok a week earlier. Studs, they say... ;-)

At Hicks Road, I left my headlamp to Clare and passed one runner who had stopped at the aid station, then another runner a mile later who had stopped to pee, to finally catch up with Tony. I then passed Tony too in the long climb to Woods Road, now in 4th. I caught up with Ray Avalos and we passed over the ridge together. I was carrying enough water, GU2O, GU gels and S!Caps to get down to Lexington so I didn't even stop to wish Loren a happy birthday, I flew straight down and that literally shows on Strava. I could feel I was going fast, maybe even too fast for such a race, but I had no idea that would translate into the 11th best time on that segment, Limekiln descent - Woods to Priest Rock: 6:58 min/mile, and no other faster time on any of Quicksilver race days, that's cool! Now, in all disclosure, Ben doesn't seem to be on Strava, that helps...
Let's talk about that Ben in the title. With an overall score of 95.3% over 6 results so far, 96.7% age rank, Ben Eysenbach, 23, was the top UltraSignup-seeded in the registrants. He was followed by Gaspar Mora Porta (Quicksilver), Ray Avalos, Thomas Reiss (Quicksilver) and I was in 5th. UltraSignup's CEO and Founder, Mark Gilligan, would say this isn't meant to be that relevant because, unlike the ITRA ones, these scores don't take into account the competitiveness of each event, but it still gives some indication of whom to expect.

Bottom line, at the bottom of that long descent, I was in 3rd place, reportedly 3 minutes behind Ben, and another Bay Area runner, Ian Driver. Sachin filled my GU2) bottle, and up I was again for the most grueling climb of the day, including the infamous Dog Meat section. At the top of it, Sean told me I was now 8 minutes behind Ben and 4 behind Ian. I had walked significantly more than previous years, trying to save some energy, both physical and mental, before the 4-mile long Kennedy Trail uphill section. (Photo credit: Sean McPhearson.)
Well, before that climb, we run the 4 miles downwards and that's really tough on the mental because, as much as you look forward to getting to the aid station, you know you've to retrace back this tough climb. And we were now exposed to the sun, although the breeze helped managing the heat all day in my opinion.

I saw Ben climbing back as I was still 0.70 miles from the turnaround, then Ian leaving the station as I was getting in. But I didn't get overly excited to rush back, I actually spent a few minutes to cool off, get some ice in my arm sleeves and cap, sponged my Buff and took another GU gel and a few pieces of watermelon. In reference to the title, it was overwhelming to receive so much help from the volunteers, and having so many people calling me by my name. That's certainly looked like my turf, although many people must think that I train on these trails all the time. The reality is that I only run these trails once a year nowadays, on race day, that's it! But I've competed here for more than 10 years, and this Club has been my second running family (more on this later), so everything looked really familiar this Saturday!

Climbing Kennedy Trail back, I was thinking of all the sections which Ben must have run, and increased his lead, yet I did walk some. The motivating part is to see and get encouragement from the runners coming down, some of them letting me know that I wasn't far behind Ian, although I couldn't see him. After the 4 miles up Kennedy, well, it's far from being over: now you get on the grueling "Dead Kennedy Rollers" which include a few very steep albeit short hills. I was super proud of only walking 3 times on that section, pushing so much that, this time, Ian was at the Woods Road 2 aid station.
So much love there again: special thanks to Jill for offering 2 slices of turkey breast as she knows I'm on a keto diet (I had particularly appreciated two thin slices of avocado at the bottom of Kennedy, very rare find at aid stations, thank you Kristina!). And I also owe big time to the Aid Station Captain, as well as our Quicksilver Ultra Racing team Captain, Loren Lewis, for catching that I was going to leave with my GU2O bottle almost empty, oops! We were at mile 30 and it was indeed time to get my second GU2O refill, like in the good ol' days when I was sticking to one bottle of GU2O and one bottle of water every 15 miles.

Fully reloaded I left the station, about 2 minutes behind Ian. To my surprise, I quickly caught up with him after the ridge as I was flying down toward Hicks Road now. To encourage him, I assured him we were not only half way but had gone through the hardest part and climbs of the course. Then I charged on. Not trying to catch Ben but feeling actually better than previous years, and good enough to clock a few 7-minute miles along the way and run all the short uphills.

At Hicks, more love again from all volunteers, including getting the headlamp I had left to Clare at our first passage. I remember asking for my gap with Ben, and I believe someone said maybe 12 minutes, but that didn't change my strategy, and getting some ice in my arm sleeves as well as under my cap, to keep my head fresh and cool. Again, I felt good enough to run everything up and down Hacienda, at mile 41. I can't omit to mention the huge surprise I had on what used to be the super fun and refreshing Yellow Kid single track, now a large boulevard: what is happening to this park, do they have plans to pave the fire roads and open them to car traffic??!!

Anyway, back at the start area, I made quite a long stop at my car, changing top for a sleeveless one (the first one being covered with salt already, with the breeze freezing the sweat in place), yet keeping my arm sleeves as sun protection and a way to get some ice on my arms. Took my 2nd Vespa pouch (not counting the two before the start), 2 more ziplocks with GU2O, 10 more S!Caps (I had taken 9 so far in the first 6 hours) then stopped for a few more minutes at the aid station itself to get water in my bottles and ice in my hat again. I must say, we are so spoiled with all this ice, it is to me an essential factor to handle such a heat, on top of nailing down hydration and electrolytes.

The Hacienda roller coaster was as hard as usual and I did walk the steep uphills, as it wasn't worth killing myself with 20 more miles to go. But after that, what a relief to fly down Virl O. Norton Trail the reach the Mockingbird parking lot, with the party going on. As MC, Greg was already on fire and was bragging about me in the mic. Pierre-Yves took care of my bottles, and I even took a cup of coconut water, something I had never done before. (Photo credit x4: Nina Giraudo)

The speedster of our age group, Cliff Lentz, who had finished the competitive 50K in 5th place overall an hour or so ago, stopped by to say hi.
On my way out, lifted by the crowd encouragement (so much love again!), I stopped behind Chez Darcee's kitchen to remind Chef Paul to save me some food as it was lunch time but I still had 18 miles to cover... (Photo credit x2: Tom Qin)

Ah, these 18 last miles, all within the Almaden Quicksilver Park now: great trails when you are fresh, but still a good piece of work after 40 miles of hilly running in the heat. Thankfully, a lot of nice single track in the woods and the shade help. At every uphill section, I started enjoying walking way too much so I kept forcing myself to run as much as possible, also using the 50K runners I was now passing as extra motivation. While my pace decreased to an average of 11 to 12 min/mile in uphill sections, I managed to run most of Mine Hill before the Bull Run aid station. There again, much love provided by my fellow Striders, the club I joined when moving to California and was with before I switched to Quicksilver. I have to say that, as you can see on Mary Covento's picture I was overwhelmed by the food options, so many fresh fruits in particular!
Despite feeling so good in this joyful competition, and the shade of the canopies, there was no time to waste and I enjoyed moving again on the flat section and the lollipop detour around Catherine Tunnel. As I was coming out of the loop, I saw Chuck who had sprinted from the aid station to take this short video.

I was now passing more and more 50K runners, all being very courteous to get off their way to let me pass on the single track. And I was still pushing the effort, thinking that moving faster would get me to the finish faster (that's rather simple math, isn't it? ;-). As I was approaching the trail junction with the Cinnabar trail/connector, two hikers were coming down and, while I raised my eyes to them... badaboom, a face plant, again (in reference to the bad fall I experienced on the island of Roatan in Honduras just before American River, then another fall at American River)...! The hikers must have seen me and worried because I stayed still on the ground for a few seconds, trying to make sense at what had just happened and assessing the situation. As I regrouped and resumed running, I felt a sharp pain in my right knee and stopped to see how bloody it was (I'm on blood thinner since my TIA, 2 years ago): to my surprise, not a single drop of blood, how lucky I was. As a matter of fact, I had fallen like I was doing a plank, on my forearms, protected by the arm sleeves, the knees slightly touching the ground, as well as the pelvis (I will discover some hematoma around my left hip again, in the shower). Mostly dirt all over, really feeling lucky that I didn't hurt myself more on that one, just losing a couple of minutes again in my hunt for 2nd place.

The next mile and half to the McAbee aid station felt long as I was longing for some water to wash my hands and muddy bottles. Fewer people I knew at McAbee, plus a bit of confusion, and indifference among the many 50K runners there, struggling with the fatigue and heat at this point of the course (54 miles for us, 23 miles for them). I got some ice in my cap again and off I was for the 5-mile stretch back up Bull Run, a climb along Mine Hill which I've always loved and found runable, either as part of the past 50-mile course, or even at the end of the 100K. That opinion was obviously not shared by the 50K runners I passed on that section and I stopped 3 times to check on 3 in particular who were struggling the most from the heat.

An anecdote as I passed the intersection where we used to go down to Enriquita: with enough miles without it, the Race Directors spared us from this ultimate out and back challenge and I was actually relieved but, oddly so, my legs thought otherwise and my left adductor decided to freeze right at this spot, the same way I started cramping at mile 35 at Miwok, one week earlier. Like it was all in the mind... The good news though is that I was now at mile 58, with only 4 miles to go, and nobody in sight behind. So I decided to walk that steep uphill at the end of Providencia Trail, before resuming a jog on Mine Hill, now crossing path with the rest of the pack of the 100K runners on their way to McAbee.

What a relief to get to Bull Run for the second time, in Striders' territory. As I was taking time to socialize and chat with Peggy in particular, a few minutes passed and I abruptly interrupted our conversation when I saw a gal flying by the station. I didn't recognize Cat (Bradley) who was in the lead in the morning and rushed behind, slightly annoyed to lose my 2nd place overall, and, as Mark Tanaka taught me more than a decade ago now, get chicked... But this gal was really moving and, while not even managing to catch her up, that got me to run Bull Run in 8 minutes, then the next two miles in respectively 9 and 8 minutes, phew! I eventually caught up with her in the very last downhill as she was concerned about slipping and carefully negotiating the turn, while I kept flying by, only to discover she was just on a training run, phew! ;-)

At least that gave me some wings to finish strong and get to the finish, sprinting to cross the line in 10:22:10, good enough for 2nd this year. (Photo credit: Michele Sun.)
Many kudos to Ben for holding on the lead from start to finish, with a winning time of 9:53.
While you can say that you gain experience and mental with age, such a performance at 23 is pure talent, and promise for more greatness in the ultra world, looking forward how Ben is going to confirm that these coming years, as we have too many shooting stars being burned out after a few seasons. To this point, I was really sorry to miss him, but it was great news to see Rob Krar back to trail competition and winning the 50K, almost breaking 4 hours. As well as Chris Denucci who is also coming back after a painful pelvis surgery, just in time to ramp-up for Western States (Chris took 3rd in the 50K).

To continue on the love, and to express all the gratitude I had with the opportunity to run this race, I got a big hug with ultra and omnipresent volunteer, Stan Jensen, then MC, aka Papa Bear, and, last but not least, co-RD Stuart. Special thanks to Stuart who had stepped up to direct our club races and putting so much energy and time into this key function, so quietly and modestly.

And after that I badly needed a chair, which Michele Sun offered to me!

In 3rd place in our 100K, 32 minutes later, was Ian Driver. As co-RD Greg repeated several times, that's the first of 5 years we only had 3 runners under 11 hours, so it wasn't a fast year for sure, despite the elimination of the detour down Enriquita this year (but, IMO, the out and back on Kennedy makes the course harder than the original one).

And here is the ladies' podium: Cat Bradley (26, Boulder, CO, 11:15), Wendy Stalnaker (40, Colorado Springs, 12:11) and Ken Huang (46, Tiburon, CA, 12:35).

It was my 10th consecutive Quicksilver ultra race, running the 50-miler in 2009 and 2013, the 50K 2010-2012 and 2014, and the 100K since 2015 (respectively in 9:45, 10:14 and 10:25 last year). With a 4th place finish 2 years ago, 3rd last year, and 2nd this time, I may have to come back... ;-) No, not for an overall win, because it's all a matter of other speedsters joining the party, like Chikara who still has his eyes and mind on breaking 8 hours on this course, or Paul Terranova who couldn't defend his title because of family obligations this year and had to run Miwok instead. Or Dominick Layfied who plans on returning next year, unscrewed, literally (he got surgery a few weeks ago to remove a few screws out of his feet!).

Note that all these years (since 2009), I managed to do quite some May Madness, with a back to back to back ultra with Miwok, Quicksilver and Ohlone (except 2014 when I ran and won SilverState 50-mile as I had to fly to Yale for Max's graduation, and 2015 when Ohlone got cancelled because of the muddy trails but a few of us still managed to run a fat ass on the Ohlone trail). I love this challenge and fitness test on the way to the big mid-year ultras.

As opposed to Miwok and thanks for cramping only once, my legs were not much sore on Sunday and I was fully available to Agnès for Mother's Day celebration (no running that day, but a great 100-mile ride to the Ocean, on highway 9 and other winding back roads near Davenport. I ran 9 miles on Monday, only 3 miles for lack of more time on Tuesday and 9 miles this Wednesday before jumping on another plane, to Raleigh this time.

Overall, I'm really happy to have iced (pun intended) my hydration and electrolytes this time. And managed to run the first half rather strong, while not falling apart afterwards. That even included a few good performances on Strava, although I've to disclose Ben, for instance, doesn't seem to be on Strava, so it's a partial and biased picture:
  1. 11/626 on the 2.9-mile down hill from Woods 1 to Priest Rock Trail
  2. 5/176 on the 15.3-mile section between Kennedy trail and Hacienda (but who dares to run all this point to point segment without stopping their watch in training)
But, most importantly, I appreciated spending more time in the aid stations, not feeling too much pressure and enjoying seeing so many familiar faces during and after the race, at the finish line party. Although I had kept my electrolytes in check, I have to admit that I was quite beaten up, especially with the last 3-mile push and it took me a while to enjoy some food from Chez Darcee. With my keto/OFM diet, it's really back home that I enjoyed the dinner with such a plate of sashimi, yummy!
Per Peter Defty's advice, I'm keeping carbs super low right after a race, and that definitely helps with a quick recovery. After these 6 back to back racing weekends (American River 50, Boston Marathon, Ruth Anderson 50-mile, Stow Lake 5K, Miwok and Quicksilver) I feel good getting in the 7th and last one of that MayPril Madness and frantic series with my 11th Ohlone 50K this coming Sunday (although, like with Ben this past Saturday, I don't look forward falling way behind Scott Trummer: not only is he a local of Livermore but certainly the strongest contender after winning the 2016 edition with a time close to Leor Pantilat's course record). After that, I'll take a break for one weekend, then it will be time for the PCTR Summer Solstice, another attempt at breaking the symbolic 140-mile barrier in 24 hours. First time I'll be on OFM, hoping that will do the trick.

I was sad to see afterwards that several teammates had dropped (Thomas Reiss, John Burton), but delighted to see Gaspar among the top 10. And I assume Mark Tanaka will be our third man to score on the team with 12:49. As for Tony, he had a terrible second half, still managing to tough it out and finish, but not without avoiding a trip to the ER to get some IV to fix his electrolyte imbalance.

I also heard about a few GI distress on Facebook, certainly something you don't suffer from while on an OFM/Keto/LCHF (Low Carb High Fat) diet. For the simple reason that you don't have to ingest much during the race, a big plus especially on such hot and long days. And I have to give kudos again to Succeed for the S!Caps formula (took 16 caps total) and GU Energy (I lost count because I picked a few from aid stations, so I think a total of 8 or 9 GU gels, and 4 bottles of GU2O/Brew; and, disclaimer, I'm a GU Energy Pro athlete, but I loved GU long before getting a discount; I also like that the products are made locally, in Berkeley; and very glad they gave so much products to support our race this weekend!).

Ultimate thanks to all the volunteers who allowed us to push the envelope again, right at the doors of San Jose and Silicon Valley. From the race directors to the aid station crews, the course monitors, course markers (Stuart, Ellen, Jeff, Coach Marc, ...), Kristina, Paul, ...

To the risk of appearing biased, it's my Club after all, I have to say that this is quite an exceptional event, first and foremost from the overall generosity governing all aspects of this ultra party:
  1. First, while some clubs manage to make a good profit on their race, ours profit goes to local charities, principally to foster well being and exercise among kids.
  2. Second, the profit is even not the driver. Take for instance the field which is quite limited by our permits, and much smaller than Miwok, Way Too Cool or American River. Then, the expenses on the BBQ which keeps increasing year after year because of strict food regulations, and where nobody is turned away for returning to the buffet, getting their pacer to eat for free too, or get a few beers. And the variety of food requiring all sort of rental equipment in the kitchen, not to mention all the work.
  3. And what about... shirts for 150 or so volunteers, such a variety of food at the aid stations, abundant ice (another rental expense), finisher belt buckles, plus very nice wooden buckle holders this year, porta-potties at most aid stations, generous drop bag policies (6 places plus your car at the start!), abundant course marking (ribbons and turn signs, before and after, and glow sticks at night!), canopies at aid stations (yes, more shade!), generous goody bag (love the folding cap, well done, I'll take it to UTMB this summer!), ample parking area at the start, ongoing shuttle service between the finish and start areas, course map and aid station fliers available at the start, chip timing, speedy result posting, unique top 3 awards (gold pans!), age group medals, free pictures at various points of the course, popsicles, EMT personnel on call at the finish line, several rental trucks to move all the aid station stuff and BBQ food, drinks and equipment, BBQ options including variety of side dishes and desserts, a variety of beers, a shaded area (priceless) for the post race celebration with rented tables and chairs, I'm probably missing many more important things which make this event so exceptional.
Actually, let me ask you: if you ran, or crewed, or paced, or spectated, or volunteered, what was your experience, and what do you think of this event? You don't have to be as lengthy as I've been on that post (my bad!), but don't be shy, please leave a comment, especially if you felt some of that love! ;-)

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Miwok 100K 2018: ah, that jar of granola...

Let’s get the record straight: being on a keto diet, I did NOT want that prize which one of the sponsors, bungalow munch, offered for the top Masters. When Tia announced that on Facebook earlier this week, I even said that my money was on Paul Terranova, from Texas, who I thought would easily kill the 40+ men category. But ultra running always throw surprises to us, read on!
That was my 12th consecutive Miwok, although I dropped in 2016, getting cold at Bolinas Ridge with too many doubts in my mind, just 2 months after my mini stroke (TIA, pun intended for Miwok’s RD!). With that, last year marked my 10th finish! (Photo credit: Glenn Tachiyama, 2017)
Those reading my blog regularly have noticed that this was my 5th back to back racing weekend: American River 50 aborted at mile 41, a pity full Boston Marathon in challenging weather (3:06), a 6:20 50-mile at Ruth Anderson, then a 5K last Sunday (and, no, racing only 3 miles isn't easier when you try to run them under 6 min/mile!). The April and May madness doesn’t end here: next week is Quicksilver 100K, then Ohlone 50K the following weekend, followed by a 2-week break before a 24-hour but that will get to some June madness then.

For once, the weather looked great on the forecast, a sunny day with temperatures from 54F to 66F. But that wasn’t taking into account the hard to predict fog on these hills. While I had planned for a warm day, I was glad to have my arm sleeves and my Buff, as most of the time anyway.

4 am, Tia and her crew remain cool and in full control of the situation, what a cumulated experience in these volunteers!

I had browsed through the entrants list and didn’t spot big names must I must say that this race attracts a lot of out-of-state runners so that didn’t mean it was not going to be fast. And, at a minimum, there was Paul who won our Quicksilver 100K race 2 years ago, and a few Nationals.

Instead of the warm-up we do on shorter races, quite a few runners had to practice the Cardiac conga line in front of the porta-potties...
With 20 minutes to go, the pack starts gathering behind the start line.
With that, after car pooling with my friend and teammate Pierre-Yves, I actually started the race at the front for a change, here. But I let a few pass up Cardiac, settling down in 8th place I believe. Between the fog and the darkness at 5am, it wasn’t easy to tell.

I was so grossly undertrained for the hills, my butt was wondering what was happening that Saturday morning. My last major hill training was actually at UTMB, 8 months ago!! Some climb at the 50-mile Road Nationals 7 months ago, then one run to the top of Black Mountain on New Year's Day, then one on March 3, that's it! At this point I thought this race would mainly serve as a training run, which wouldn't be the first time.

I dropped my headlamp at Muir Beach, saw Christine Chapon on her way to some course marking and monitoring, and I head up the Middle Green Gulch trail followed by a runner from Hong Kong, Phil Wright, and Tony Molfino, a recent Quicksilver teammate. This is my favorite hill on this course but I was trying not to get too excited so early in the race. I reached the Tennessee Valley aid station at mile 13 in 7th place but exited in 6th as I didn't stop and passed one runner, Greg Miller (Greg seemed to have a video crew following him). Here is Greg at the finish:
For the next 5 miles, and despite the fog, I could see 2 tall runners ahead and was 2 minutes behind them after the descent from Bridge View, a section I managed to log a 6:19 mile on! I eventually caught up with them, plus another one, at the top of this 4th main climb of the day, where we were now crossing the middle of the pack on their way out (them on mile 15, us on mile 23). At least, on this fire road, there was ample space to cross, make eye contact and exchange smiles (as opposed to the Coastal Trail single track later).

When we got into Tennessee Valley for the second time, Steve Jaber was posted to ensure we were walking while crossing the horse stable area. Steve said I was in 6th and I was going too fast, but I argued it was a slow or slower year. Unlike Gary Gellin, I don't prepare pace charts for hilly course like this but we were indeed under 8:30 min/mile with 4 climbs in. That being said, apart from the initial Cardiac climb, the first section of the course is much more runnable than the second.

The two tall runners were Misha Shemyakin and Levi Webb. The other runner, Phil Kochik was walking some of the uphills but much faster than us in the downhills. We ran the next section from Tennessee Valley to Muir Beach all together, and my money was on Misha who looked really light and smooth on the uphills in particular. Now, I hadn't realized this at the time but Phil had won the race in 2006 and took 6th Men in 2009, some important data to have when betting... ;-)

Two pictures from Christine Chapon, course monitor at the bottom of Coastal Trail, to guide us toward Muir Beach, the first one as I rush down, the second as I'm still chewing the piece of banana.

Out of Muir Beach, it was Misha in front, then Phil, Levi and I. I passed Levi and Phil and kept an sustained effort in the Heather Cutoff switchbacks to maintain visual contact with Misha. Misha left the Cardia aid station just as I reached it,  to spend a few minutes to catch my breath, get my water bottle refilled, and enjoy Gary Gellin's jokes about my racing regimen. ;-) We were at mile 35 and my second GU2O bottle was at 15% so I decided to wait for the next aid station to fill it again. Since I changed diet, to keto or Optimized Fat Metabolism, I've had bad experiences taking too much electrolytes, or too little, but I didn't want to over do it today.

We missed Roger Delor at the crossing of Panoramic Highway, there was actually nobody. I recall hesitating going in front of a huge SUV then... On the other side, there is a staircase with high steps and both my inner thighs froze, ouch! 35 miles in, it was way too early to start cramping, yikes! While I learned to keep running when cramps occur in my calf, occasionally, there is little I could do without my adductors working. I had planned on taking one S!Caps every hour but had taken 6 more in case...

The next three miles were a real struggle. Three times, I couldn't even make one step. I took 2 S!Caps, each at 20-minute interval to avoid messing up my salt level. I hesitated taking all the GU2O I had left but I learned that from Rob Evans when he paced me for my first Western States, to fight hydration issues with all you've got, not trying to save some to make it to the next aid station. With that, I reached Bolinas Ridge with two empty bottles.

Franz Dill took care of refilling them, with some ice, and I also drank almost a full can of coke again, plus a piece of banana and watermelon. I was still in 4th place and had to stop several times again in the next rolling section on the ridge, unable to make a step when the adductors were locking in. I was torn between taking even more S!Caps but was concerned to get my kidneys in trouble so played on the safe side, albeit painful one with the cramps. I was now logging miles around 11 to 12 minutes and Phil eventually passed me about 1 mile before we plunge down the Randall turn around.

He encouraged me to follow him but that was one of these times I couldn't even make a step, losing another minute until it passed, then getting back to a slow jog with a stride as economical as possible, which is rather challenging to do on such a rolling terrain. To my surprise, I didn't cramp in the downhill and crossed the two lead runners, Franz van den Groen and Chris Jackson, about 0.9 mile from the aid station (in fast years, I would have seen the front runners coming back on the ridge).

It was great to see Chuck Wilson again, the Captain of the Randall aid station, who offered the best service at this low point of the race, elevation-wise at least (photo credit: Chuck).
Here am I, leaving Randall, photo taken by Agnès' aunt from the parking lot where Agnès could find a spot in time to leave the car.
While it was certainly encouraging to know I wasn't too far from the lead, now in 5th place. That being said, with the cramping and electrolytes out of balance, I feared the steep climb and the remaining 13 challenging miles to the finish.

These didn't disappoint! The climb was actually ok, I was able to alternate some running and walking, while crossing the other runners. Greg and Levi first, then Paul, finally, then 2 runners with black tops whom I didn't know. I was already 1 mile from the aid station when I saw Paul and still thinking of that coveted jar as all the others looked younger than 40...

I did some walking in the uphills on the ridge but was rather pleased to be able to jog the rest, with less cramping now (I was now on my 4th GU2O bottle, like my pre diet change hydration habits, and 12th S!Caps). I didn't stop at the Bolinas Ridge aid station for too long knowing that I will slow down significantly in the next remaining 7 miles. Sure enough, 1 mile later, one runner with a black top passed me with his pacer. That was a section in the woods where we were crossing the rest of the pack, so I couldn't pay attention to who he was.

I struggled on the Coast Trail but the extreme kindness of most of the runners getting out the trail to let me pass was overwhelming and helping getting positive thoughts and smiles soak in. This is one thing I don't like about this race is that the trail is so narrow and we slow down the progress of these runners, some who are already battling the cut-offs. I even got short of breath trying to thank everybody, hope I didn't miss anyone, I believe I must have crossed more than 50 runners in that section, plus a few hikers.

In case I lost you along this convoluted course, check this cool 3D flyover of my run, thanks to (click on this link, or the picture below).

Anyway, with that slow progression, Levi passed me as well about 4 miles from the finish.

Finally, at the top of the treacherous descent on Matt Davis, with it's roots, poison oak, rocks, switch backs, irregular stairs, the legs got quite out of control while I was so focused on not falling. Greg passed me and, with just one mile to go, Paul!
I was relieved from the granola jar pressure, at last, and could focus on just avoiding a fall and finishing this beast. My finish time was 10:16:10, good enough for 9th overall this year.

I finished with my traditional face mask of the tough days although I tried to convey to Tia how grateful I was to cross the finish line for the 11th time of the 15 editions has directed so far.

Now, back to the title, I congratulated Paul for winning that jar, a prize he had no knowledge about but that Meredith, his wife, and him welcomed for their trip back to Texas!
Then I asked if there was an age group prize as well, only to learn that the runner with a black top, Robert Verhees (from California, with only 4 races in UltraSignup), was actually 52 and had finished in 5th. I was actually surprised the jar wasn't even given to him then but even more so to come 2nd in my age group. Kudos to Robert for his 10:00:24 finish time, way to represent the old guys!
Ray Sanchez completed the M50-59 podium, finishing in 19th overall, just breaking 11 hours.

Most of the post-race food was carb so I just ate a few scoops of sausage, and some salad.
I was actually not much hungry: I took 6 GUs total, plus 2 cans of Coke during the race and a few pieces of banana and watermelon. And 4 pouches of Vespa (-45', 0, +3hr, +6hr). Oh, and 2 thin slices of dry sausage at Randall, I wished they had more of this non-carb option at the other stations! Overall, I'm happy to have made the top 10 once more, but really disappointed for getting my electrolytes out of balance, again. And, as a result, the embarrassing soreness in my legs this Sunday morning due to all this cramping. The good news is, thanks to staying on the lower side of the electrolyte balance, I didn't gain weight this time at least (otherwise, it can be 5-6 pounds which takes 4 days to dissipate). Also, thinking more about it, my struggle might have come from the lack of hill training too, that would make a lot of sense, it was a bit aggressive to go that hard on such a course, without some consequences.

Anyway, one more live test, and hill training run in just a week, QuickSilver 100K! That race being in our local Grand Prix, as opposed to Miwok this year (you can blame me, I had to make the cut), there should be many more familiar face on Saturday.

Kudos to Tia and her crew, first for putting up such a professional race but perpetuating this ultra tradition within a gorgeous location. But also for keeping Miwok such a mythical race which draws many runners from across the country, and also internationally (Panama, Mexico, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Brazil)! (It surely helps that the race is a Western States qualifier, as well as an ITRA even which gives points to UTMB in particular.)