Monday, August 29, 2016

Speed and Serenity at the 2016 Tamalpa Headlands 50k (USATF Trail 50k Championships)

No matter how you sliced it, the 2016 Tamalpa Headlands 50k was destined to be epic. The event carved a rugged course through some of most scenic and challenging trails of the Marin Headlands that would climb 7,000' along the Pacific Ocean, while running side by side with the fastest trail runners in the nation competing for the USATF Trail 50k National Championships. Race Directors Tim and Diana Fitzpatrick had their expert volunteer crew of Tamalpa Runners, local beer and pizza ovens at the end, and enough awesome swag to keep us flush for the summer. Now Mother Nature was throwing in a perfect slightly overcast day, and our clan of runners had come out in force. It was a great day to run!
(Tim gets us ready!)
Last year, I had shown up to this race so exhausted from work that I fell asleep in my car at the start line. Yeah, not the best preparation. This year was quite the opposite, not exactly by plan, and I was giddy with gratitude. My mind and soul were in wonderful harmony, sealed with a smile that hadn't left since Western States. My body was a bit tired from a week in Switzerland, but heck, I'll take that excuse any day. The trifecta of good fitness, good race, and a good day to run was here and I was going to soak it in. No time goals or need for excessive photos...just be present and behold the ordinary miracles of a day of adventure with friends.

(DBo, ready to roll)
(Defending champion Caitlin Smith
The starting line was a who's who of trail running, and nearly all the fast kids from the Bay Area were here. DBo (Dylan Bowman), (Alex) Varner, Jorge Marvilla (and son!), Team Roche (David and Meagan), defending Women's champion Caitlin Smith, Sam Robinson, Jean Pommier, and Scott Trummer were all ready to roll. If that wasn't enough, there were more world class stars in the corral than I could name - 50k/100k World Champion Camille Herron, Mountain Running World Champion Kasie Enman, 2016 Miwok 100k winner Cody Reed, Tim Freriks (2nd at the 2016 Lake Sonoma 50m), Lindsey Tollefson...holy speed skates, Batman. This race was going to be quick! 

From the moment the gun went off, my mind was as calm and random as the gentle coastal breeze on this glorious day. Here's what I recall:

(And we're off!)
Mile 1: Jean Pommier gives me a smile as we head towards the beach, and he sizes up the Masters bibs ahead of him. Somewhere in here is the great William Emerson, local Ed Randolph, and 2-3 others capable of a sub-4:30 time. Too fast for me, but Jean has gone that fast on three of the five times he's done this race. DBo seems taller than I remember....could be the trucker hat. 

(So that's what these hills look like!)
Mile 3: It's a bit disconcerting how many runners I can recognize from behind now. Their haircuts, body shape (with occasional tattoos), and gait are as defining as any thumbprint. Camille Herron's unique gait is way out front, while Megan Roche and Caitlin Smith pace each other out of Pirates Cove with striking efficiency. At least six Women are within a minute...this is a really fast group! 

(Climbs galore today)
Mile 5: In a decade of racing, I've never done this climb when its not soaked in fog, and my psyche isn't sure if a clear view of the steep trail is a good thing as it climbs towards the sky. Blue Bottle coffee tastes just as good when burped, with hints of hazelnut and cardamom, which is awesome. 

Mile 9: The Miwok Trail is packed with runners going the opposite way, far more than running the race. It's rush hour in the Headlands on this glorious sunny morning, and I wonder if the race limit had been raised to 1,000 it would have filled just as quickly. It reminds me of the mountain folk in Chamonix lining the course at 10,000' when UTMB is in full swing, and it charms me to know that experience is happening right now half a world away. Nous aimons nos montanges! Nous tous!!!

(Oh, yeah...better save something for Steep Ravine!)
Mile 12: I catch Jason Reed just after Tennessee Valley, where he recaps the Pikes Peak double he did (again) this year, two of four of his races in Colorado that week. He's closing in on his 2,000th race of all time, hoping to hit the milestone before his 40th birthday (he's got a few years yet, and is on track!). Comically, he is the second fittest person in his household as his newlywed wife prepares to compete in pro bodybuilding at Mr/Mrs Olympia. Amidst our fast strides he says we hit the halfway in 2:14, a sub 4:50 finish pace, just as we catch his buddy Karl and the eucalyptus groves fill our lungs for the descent.

Mile 18: I am climbing the Dipsea Trail in quiet solitude, and it feels lonely after sharing it with hundreds of runners at the famed 106-year-old race earlier this year. Strava says I'm climbing faster than ever...only an ultrarunner would go faster in a 50k than a 12k. Apparently Switzerland has given me new gears for the mountains, so I explore them at each switchback.
(Alex Varner takes on Steep Ravine)
Mile 24: The Matt Davis Trail is named after the guy who built this insane set of switchbacks by hand in 1929. It's hard to imagine looking at this canyon and thinking "well, with about 500+ odd shaped steps and 40 switchbacks, we can visit six microclimates in four miles and create a trail guaranteed to claim shins and ankles for generations of trail runners to come". My under-the-breath curses are offerings to his genius, and in return, I come out unscathed. 

(David Roche in the closing miles, photo courtesy of Joe Viger)
Mile 27: I pause at the top of the last climb, squinting my eyes to see where we ran to and from today. Three beaches, five hills, more valleys than waves in the endless sea that spreads before us. It's a full day, but part of me wants another lap, a round of seconds and thirds in this deliciously endless buffet. They call us crazy for waking at the crack of light to run all day, but we are the lucky ones, more centered and peaceful on our lactic-filled legs than anyone napping in the fragile caress of modern comfort.

(Jorge Marvilla and his crew come in for 10th place)
Mile 31: Tim Fitzpatrick's megaphone beckons me out of the canyons to a finish in 4:44, good enough for 19th guy and 2nd in my age group. It's a solid 30 minutes quicker than last year, much to my surprise, and more surprisingly I realize I could have gone much faster. Switzerland was more training than peaking, it appears, a welcome rookie training move after all these years. I guess I'll have to come back again!

(Cody Reed for the win!)
At the finish, we gorged on Jed Tukman's Firetrail pizza fresh from the mobile trailer ovens and enjoyed delicious Headlands Brewing beer made just for the occasion, while dazzling in all the wonderful swag. The finish times this year were otherworldly - Men needed a sub-4:17 for a Top 10, while Megan Roche (4:20) and Kasie Enman (4:23) both beat a 10-year-old course record to their way to 1st and 2nd for the Women. Cody Reed (3:43) held on for the win, with David Roche (2nd, 3:44), DBo (3rd, closing fast with a 3:48), Scott Trummer (4th, 3:50), Alex Varner (5th, 3:55), and Patrick Parsel (6th, 3:59) all going under four hours. Caitlin Smith (4:34) rounded out the Women's podium. Nate Bowen (4:25) and Bree Lambert (5:17) won the Masters, with Jean Pommier (4:27) adding another AG award to his trophy case. (all results)

(Women Top 10)
(Men Top 10)
(Great swag!)
(Strava says good job)
(The couple that eats trail together, stays together...and gets M2 and F1! Nice work, Team Roche)
Chris DeNucci pours me a beer as the sun peeks through the clouds and lights the way for more finishers coming down the canyon. Team Fitzpatrick put on a world class event in every way, and it somehow produced my best in these mountains when I least expected it. My congrats to the RD's and runners, and many thanks to the sponsors and volunteers that help them create such an amazing race. We will see you next year, for sure, and I hope you join us!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Fast Runners Will Hit the Headlands 50k This Saturday for the USATF Trail 50k National Championships

I'm getting excited for the Headlands 50k this Saturday! Race Directors Tim and Diana Fitzpatrick put together this great press release featuring some of the big names coming for the USATF 50k Trail National Championships. It's going to be a fast race!

Muir Beach, CA

Tamalpa Runners, Marin’s largest running club, will present the TamalpaHeadlands 50k trail race on Saturday August 27th, 2016. Designated for the second year in a row as the USATF 50K Trail National Championship, the race has attracted an outstanding elite field. The race also serves as a USA qualifier for the IAU/IAAF 2017 Trail Running World Championship. The Tamalpa Headlands 50K starts and finishes at Santos Meadow, located between Muir Woods National Monument Park and Muir Beach. The course takes the 250 entrants over some of Marin’s most rugged and scenic trails, including Pirates Cove, the Miwok trail, the Dipsea, Coastal, and Steep Ravine. With 7,300 feet of challenging and technical elevation change, the race is as challenging as it is beautiful. Founded in 1998 by Tamalpa Runners and awarded the National Championship race in five prior years, the Headlands 50k is coordinated by race directors Tim and Diana Fitzpatrick of Larkspur, California. A total of $5,000 of prize money will be at stake, along with course record incentives.

The men’s field brings a great combination of local and national talent. Notables from Marin County include:

  • Alex Varner (Quad Dipsea record holder; 2015 Sonoma 50M winner; 2:21 marathon PR; 2nd fastest Headlands 50K), 
  • Jorge Maravilla (2:21 Gold Coast Marathon 2016; two time Trail National Champion),
  • Dylan Bowman (3rd, 7th, 10th at Western States 100M, 15:36 in 2014; winner of The North Face 100K AUS and Tarawera 100K NZL). 
  • David Roche (Sunnyvale, CA) who finished 3rd place at Headlands last year will be back this year and is a threat to win. He won Cool 50K 2016 (3:19) and is a two-time National Champion. 
  • Team Flagstaffers Cody Reed (winner Miwok 100K 2016 in 9:04; 14:10 5K; Steeplechase 8:56) and Tim Freriks (2nd place Lake Sonoma 50M in 6:19; 14:02 5K; 29:31 10K) should be in the mix. 
  • Also Yew Ferarra (Upper Lake, CA), Matt Morales (Visialia, CA), Sam Robinson (Oakland, CA), Dillon Breen (Spring Valley, CA), Scott Trummer (Livermore, CA), Ben Stern (Acata, CA), David Kilgore (Palm Bay, FL), Patrick Parsel (South Lake Tahoe, CA) and Eric Senseman (Denver, CO). 
The top men will be going after Andy Wacker’s course record of 3:37:20 set last year.

On the women’s side, there is: 

  • Caitlin Smith (Oakland, CA) will look to defend her title from the 2015 Tamalpa Headlands 50K/USATF 50K Trail Championship (4:30:44). Caitlin is a two time Marathon Olympic Trials Qualifier (2:41 Marathon PR). 
  • Megan Roche, the two-time winner of Way Too Cool (2016 and 2015) and current course record holder there (3:41:56), with two National Championships to her name. 
  • Camille Herron, the 2015 World 50K and 100K Champion and 2015 50 Mile and 100K US Champion. Camille just added a win at White River 50M (2nd fastest time ever, 7:36) to her already impressive resume. 
  • Vermont’s Kasie Enman (2:37 marathon PR, CR holder at Giir Di Mont) could vie for a podium spot along with Lindsay Tollefson (Mammoth Lakes, CA, 3rd place Headlands 50K 2015 in 4:48), Tracie Akerhielm (Denton, TX), Emily Peterson (Mill Valley, CA), Kehr Davis (Great Barrington, MA), Ann Zielaski (Oakland, CA) and Bree Lambert (San Jose, former winner Tamalpa Headlands 50K-2013). 
The elite women will be aiming to improve on the course record of 4:25:15 set by Kami Semick in 2006.

Tamalpa Runners and Clif Bar are the presenting sponsors. Other sponsors include Ultimate Direction, San Francisco Running Company, Thirty Birds, Headlands Brewing Co, and UltraRunning Magazine.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Diana Fitzpatrick
Co Race Directors
Tamalpa Headlands 50K  

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Touring the Swiss Alps at the 2016 Sierre-Zinal 31k

Last Sunday, I had the great pleasure of joining 3,500+ mountain athletes for the 43rd edition of the Sierre-Zinal 31k in Valais, Switzerland. This race is one of the European trail running "classics'', so I was thrilled to be able to steal away from a family vacation to tackle its ridiculous climbs, and join the cowbell-laden crowds to cheer on some of the worlds fastest mountain runners. I finished exhausted, inspired, and humbled...there's nothing quite like racing in the Alps!

(Course profile - lots of climbing up front!)
There were no big goals for this race, aside from getting some good pictures and sharing a beer or two with some new friends. I've learned when stuffing a race into a family vacation it's best to leave a small footprint on the family plans - get in and out in 24 hours, never use the race as an excuse to do (or not do) any family activity, and don't return from the race a crippled mess that falls asleep at the dinner table. If the cousins don't even notice you were gone, you pulled it off! I snuck out after lunch in the Jungfrau Valley on Saturday, jumping on one of the impeccable Swiss trains to head to Sierre.

(the Jungfrau Valley)
(Family hike!)
As soon as I stepped off the train, I noticed something very different - everyone was speaking French instead of the German tongue that was dominant in the northern Jungfrau area. It didn't change the generous Swiss hospitality, and I was soon adopted by a table of Swiss friends geared up for the race that insisted I try every wine from the Valais area. They let me know if I had gotten off one stop sooner, it would still be German, and a few stops more it would be Italian. How strange! Although now that I think about it, one rarely has to drive more than 20 miles to find a neighborhood that speaks Spanish over English here in California. Cultural geography always reigns.

(Does this sign translate to "be careful" or "it's okay to dance and sing down this trail"? Both apply in the Swiss Alps)
My new Swiss friends were long time law school buddies here to celebrate a 60th birthday by biking 100k to Sierre, enjoying wine and food in a five hour dinner, then hiking the Sierre-Zinal race the next morning. Hey, my kind of people! They were in the "tourist" section of the race, a group of 2,268 that would begin at 4-6am with the intent of hiking the course in 5-10 hours. I was in the "runner" section, one of 1,200 who would start at 9:45am, finishing in 2.5-5 hours. We would likely see each other on the course, where it is tradition for the tourists to step off the trail and cheer on the runners. Fun! We would all face ~7,400 feet of climbing, nearly all of which was in the initial five miles, so I'm sure there would be plenty of cheering in both directions.

(the "runners" are ready to go!)
Thanks to the late start time for runners, the mid-70's weather cooked the starting corral into a potage of un-deodored sweat. Among the many dialects were a familiar montage - target splits, training, which of the elites were favorites this year, and did you watch Mo Farah last night win gold in the 10k. Runners around me referred to the aid stations and their target splits with ease, and when they heard I was American, could list off the American athletes who had done well here over the years - "You know Joe Gray? Ricky Gates? Sub-2:40. Very fast. Could almost catch Kilian Jornet and Marco de Gaspari. Stevie Kremer won here, Megan Kimmel second last year, in 3 hours. You over 40 years old, my friend? You need to run 2:38 to catch Jonathan Wyatt. He owns the overall and Veterans course record. Now Kenyans here this year. We will see. But you must go fast, very fast." Many had done the Sierre-Zinal more than four times, and it was a permanent part of their club schedules. This race was clearly a big deal.

(And we're off! Kind of...)
(Up we go!)
As the gun went off, we quickly slowed to a crawl as all 1,200 runners threaded into the two-wide trail that went would climb 1,300 feet per mile for the next three miles. Phew! I was about half way in this crowd, already wishing I had lined up earlier. No problem though - everyone was super fit, and it didn't take long for the pack to move about as fast as I would have done anyway. Some of the grades were almost too steep to hike - I was glad I opted for the inov-8 X-Talon 212's and their soft rubber to grab everything possible. Before too long, the town of Sierre was blur down in the valley below us.
(Squeezing into the single track)
(No pushing please!)
(Some local tunes along the way!)
At Beauregard (4 km), I realized my sunscreen was slipping off my body in the hot sweat and asked if they had some extra. Nope. In fact, if it ain't water, hot tea, electrolyte drink, fruit, raisins, chocolate, or cheese, you're outta luck. But all those tasted pretty damn good.

(Starting to run again)
(Breaking out of the tree line to incredible views)
We broke the tree line at Ponchette (12 km), and the views were jaw-dropping. Long trails full of runners hugging the mountain line, with the snowy 4,000m+ peaks of the Weisshorn, Zinalrothorn, Obergabelhorn, Cervin, and Dent Blanche in the background. This IS AMAZING! Once past the climbing, I started clocking 7-min miles along the flatter sections, passing dozens of runners. Slow on the climbs, fast on the American in the Alps!

(Another stoked runner)
(Heading to an aid station)
(Fast running on the flats)
(Euro runners flying by me on the downhill...a regular sight)
By Tignousa (16km), the heat and technical footing was taking its toll on many and slowing half the runners to a hike. Although we had gotten through the big climbs, there were still plenty of sections of hands-on-knees climbs over the granite stones. One guy passed out in front of me, face into the dirt, and had a half dozen runners at his side within seconds. Whoa...let's be sure to keep those fluids going!
(Load up!)
(Runners take over the ridge line)
(Amazing views!)
The crowds were super fun at Hotel Weisshorn (20km), complete with alpenhorns, music, and "tourist runners" enjoying picnics as we all went by. Such a great way to see a race! In fact, all the towns from here on were packed with locals cheering with all they had. It felt just like the Tour de France.
(Hotel Weisshorn)
(Climbs aren't over yet!)
(Mountains everywhere!)
(The descents get crazy at the end)
(Epic single track!)
(Heading into Zinal)
(And there's the finish!)
At Nava (25km), we hit the high elevation point of ~8,000' and begin a gradual descent that would become brutally steep in the last 2km. The European runners were impressive with their mountain skills, and I found myself getting passed by many as entered the final chute in Zinal. I finished in 4:12:51, just barely cracking the first 1/3 of finishers. The top finishers cleaned up with amazing times - Mamu Petro from Eritrea (2:32) and Michelle Maier from Germany (2:56) taking the top spots - it was hard to fathom how one could go that fast! (all results)

(Done and done!)
I shared a beer with fellow finishers, sharing our stories of triumphs and epic views, then skedaddled out to head back just in time for dinner. Aside from the sunburn and ear-to-ear grin, my family didn't suspect a thing. Only my soul and quads knew otherwise....

Cheers and bon cours to my fellow mountain athletes, and a big thank you to the race directors and volunteers for an amazing adventure! I highly recommend it if you can fit it in.


My gear for this race:
inov-8 X-Talon 212 Trail Running Shoes
inov-8 AT/C 6" Short
Injinji Trail Midweight Mini-Crew Socks
Injinji Visor

Monday, August 08, 2016

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