Monday, May 21, 2018

Full Circle at the 2018 Quicksilver 100k

3am has a special stillness in the mountains. It's as if the earth itself takes a breather from its perpetual spin to float in the dark expanse, and as gravity eases for just a moment, we all get a bit closer to the cosmos above. I had forgotten what that felt like - that connection to nature and the universe all at once. But its one of the many unexpected gifts that await us when we shake up our world with an adventure like the Quicksilver 100k near Los Gatos, CA. As the world sleeps, we are gearing up for a full day romp in this wonderful playground. I hadn't taken a single step yet, but was already happy and humbled.

(Boss says it's time to roll!)
(We are crazy, we are ultrarunners!)
(Plenty of smiles at the start)
Those first few steps could go either way today, honestly. I hadn't run a step in two weeks after a gravity-assisted marathon PR that reduced my quads to hamburger. But the QS100k wasn't on the agenda to race, it was just to finish, nab a Western States qualifier and some UTMB points, and share a sunny day in the mountains with ~200 fellow warriors. Another ~180 runners would tackle the 50k a bit later, and tempt us to drop as they dished out the world famous BBQ at the finish (aka, mile 41 and 62 for us 100k runners). All in all, a great excuse to enjoy every minute of this day.

(Catching up with my friend, DJ)
As retiring Race Director Greg Lanctot and Co-RD Stuart Taylor assembled us at the start, I could see there were plenty here ready to race. This is a perfect check point for Western States in June, with 12,000' of climbing and plenty of long hikes and downhills on exposed terrain in Almaden Quicksilver Park and the Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve. Defending Western States champion Cat Bradley was here, as was 100k Road Masters champion Thomas Reiss, Lake Tahoe Triple champ Gaspar Mora Porta, perennial favorite Jean Pommier, and a handful of 20-somethings that look like they could crush this course before lunch time. The 50k had legend Rob Krar up against Team inov-8's Coree Woltering, Chris Denucci, Montana's Rhea Black, the never-aging Cliff Lentz, and Helen Galarakis from Flagstaff...that race was going to be fast for sure! We all flipped on our headlights, and at 4:45am the 100k runners headed into the indigo hills.

(The sunrise glow greets us at the top)
The air was already warm (~65F), so it didn't take long for us to shed all of our gloves and sleeves. I paced along with Mark Tanaka and Ray Sanchez, joking that between the two of them and Jean Pommier up ahead, they had over 650 ultra finishes on ultrasignup. How do they do it?!? Well, they just race all the time...in fact, all three had finished the equally challenging Miwok 100k the previous Saturday. Mark did point out to me this would be my 100th ultrasignup result, so perhaps I am no slouch. Thanks, Mark!

(A few more minutes of shade!)
(Chris Eide and I get a smile boost)
(Feeling good!)
The trails were immaculately marked, so it was easy to go on cruise control and enjoy the scenery and company. There would be five big climbs today, and the first one went down easy like a a nice lemonade. As the sun crested the hill, we could see bunnies and quail darting back and forth between the shrubs. We were a bit more cooked on the second climb, where the aptly named "Dog Meat" brought most of us to a hike. My quads seemed to be holding up well as long as I took it easy.

(Dog Meat cooks us up!)
On the next descent, we saw the leaders coming back, with local Ben Eysenbach and Jean Pommier a few minutes ahead of a group of five. Cat Bradley looked good around 10th place, and all were running the climbs with ease. I got to the aid station at the bottom (mile 25), likely around 35th place, and fast hiked the return.

(Cat Bradley is all smiles)
San Jose's Qi Song was my trail mate as we covered the rolling hills back to the Wood Road aid stations (mile 31). We compared stories of the crazy Boston Marathon, running life in our late 40's, and admired the rattlesnake sunning just off the trail. She was a much faster climber than me, but I had one more gear than her on the flats. We had two or three others with us, all trading off and giving high fives.

(Chihping Fu!)
(Chihping and I have been dueling cameras for over a decade...this time we draw at high noon!)
(Wise hat choice)
At Hicks Road (mile 38), I noticed I was already trying to catch up on hydration. It was in the mid-70's now, but more so than the heat was the reality that I hadn't spent much time training for these super long runs. Reaching for the water bottles was a reminded thing, not an instinctual thing, and I had fallen behind by 30-40 ounces. My new pal Eduardo Nunez (we had met at the Marin Ultra Challenge 50k) seemed to be a similar state, regrouping but not giving up yet.  I chugged down as much as my stomach would handle, and headed out.

(Second half excitement!)
(Watch your step!)
We passed through the finish chute (mile 41 for us, but we'll be back!) and I got a selfie with Coree who helped me refill my bottles. He had taken a fall at mile 8 of the 50k, but rallied to get 2nd behind Rob Krar. Amazing! The BBQ smell was tempting, so I just hustled out to commit to the last third of the race, knowing it would be waiting for me.

(Coree helps me out after getting 2nd in the 50k!)
My form was getting sloppy as I warded off twitchy calves, and just as I worried about my shuffle on the single track, I caught a toe and took a digger that left my hands bleeding. Whoops! Well, not much to do about it now, so I pressed on solo for the next 90 minutes. By the time I reached the 4th peak (Bull Run aid station, mile 48(), my quads were in way worse shape than my hands. Luckily there were plenty of Quicksilver Club runners to get me seated, eating, washed, and sucking down popsicles. Eduardo joined me for a break, and with an inspiring calf-cramping dance, got us off on that last loop.

(Still smiling!)

(Last loop means lots of smiles)
The turkey/avocado sandwiches were just the trick for both Eduardo and me, and we had enough energy to run and walk our way to McAbee (mile 54). I tried the same recipe there, but it didn't stay down, so it would have to be the zombie climb back up the hill. The scenery was a nice distraction though, as the Lexington reservoir shimmered below us. In the suffering, I found that calm that reminded me that yesterday is gone, and tomorrow isn't here...best to make the most of right here, right now. I could see runners dotting the hills in front and behind me...I was solo, but not alone!

(The hills are filled with runners)
(Keep it moving...)
(Gravity is good!)
(Super volunteers get me rolling again)
Eduardo rallied me one more time at Bull Run (mile 59...almost there!), and we shuffled our way through the relentless up and down to the finish. So many runners passed me, but it was inspiring to see how they had so much energy and words of encouragement. I soon found the finish in 14:04, good enough for 58th place.

(BBQ time)
(Sport that buckle all day!)
(Excellent swag includes a glass, reusable cup, Patagonia shirt and hat, and buckle with frame!)
Once my stomach returned, we enjoyed some great BBQ and shared stories as the sun went down. Ben Eysenbach (9:53) had led end-to-end for the win, with Jean Pommier (10:22) and Ian Driver (10:54) filling out the podium. Cat Bradley (11:15, 7th OA) handily won the Women's division, with Wendy Staniker (12:11), and Ken Huang (12:35) finishing soon after. Overall, 166 runners (75%) made it under the cutoff. (all results) One other runner reminded me I was here for the 50k in 2007...11 years ago! I had come full circle.

I donned the excellent swag, and let out one last cheer as I headed home. My mind was clear and present, and my body was happy to sink into a week long break. Happiness earned is the best kind!

My thanks to the RD's and fabulous volunteers for such a great race!