Category Archives: Race Report

Volcanic 50K Race Report- La boucle est bouclée

Last saturday, I raced the second of my 2 A-races of 2016 : Volcanic 50.

When I moved to the Pacific NorthWest back in 2012, I joined the TrailFactor group run. Joking with Todd Janssen (from Go Beyond Racing Team) one night, he offered to open a registration spot just for me to their newly event called Volcanic 50. At the time, this race being only open for 50 people, the spots were long gone when I heard about it. The race would take place 3 days after his offer and even though my training was not consistent at the time, I immediately accepted.

Volcanic 50 : The first race circumnavigating an active volcano

Only 50 people were allowed to run at that time (200+ as of now) and 2 aid stations were present (4 as of now). One particularity of this trail is the different “BoulderRunning” sections. Also very rocky and sandy, some other parts make one feel like walking on the moon.

In 2012, I was happy to finish in 6th place, 2rd Age Group and a time of 7h26min but the most important thing was that it is at that moment that I had the confirmation Mountain Running as my main appeal (my first mountain race being the Kilian’s classic 2011)

When planning my season calendar last winter, I decided to register for the 2016 edition of Volcanic 50. While I typically don’t run anything twice, I knew I would make an exception for my favorite races for their unique course but also to measure my overall improvements. Volcanic 50 would be one of these exceptions.

What I didn’t know was that it would be my last race in the Pacific NW. This being one of the first race I have done after arriving in the PNW and also the one that brought me to Mountain Running, I realize now that this was really the best way to end the season but also to end my “Pacific NW chapter”. As we say in French, “La boucle est bouclée“. This means “to end the loop”. The race circumnavigating a volcano, Volcanic 50 is really a metaphor for my “PNW Chapter” . I actually read recently an article written by Nick Triolo that expresses very well this circumnavigation metaphor.

The race

Coming up to the race, I was aiming to run around the volcano in 6h45 min. Knowing the course well by now, I knew I would not make the mistake again to get lost and was sure to save at least 20 min off my previous time. Combined with all my improvements since then, I was hoping to gain a total of 45 min. That being said, the weather forecasting low temperatures and showers, I knew at the start that I might be able to go below that.

The start being a bottleneck as the trail is pretty narrow, I put myself in the front pack and settled in the Top 10, making sure to follow my race strategy.

Sting or bee stung

Right before reaching the first boulder field, I got attacked by a yellow jacket and it didn’t missed me, OUCH! Yes, bee aware that this race has many of them!

Arriving at Aid Station 2, I was happy to be greeted and refueled by my friend and volunteer Jeremy Long. In 3rd place after having passed a bunch of runners in the long downhill (1,490 ft loss in 1.8 miles, average slope of 16%), I crossed the Toutle River and headed towards the beautiful trail going up the Canyon.

Crossing the Toutle River (Photo courtesy of Paul Nelson Photography)

I knew the next section would be pretty flat and I was happy to have passed so many people in the previous downhill as I knew they would perform better than me on the next long and flat section : the blast zone.

This blast zone is unique to run in and I was gladly welcomed by 2 mountain goats standing on the NW side of the Loowit Falls. Having been passed by a train of 3 runners, I was now 6th trying to lose as less ground as possible in this flat section.

Coming up the  3rd Aid Station, I felt even more like walking on the moon when I saw Yassine and other volunteers in NASA costume ! The perfect way to put back my feet on the ground during all this racing rush.

See for yourself !!

 

Catching up to the 5th runner, I tagged him up Windy Pass, seeing that his flat speed was not translated in the uphills. Was he experiencing some difficulties? I was hoping to pass him near the Aid station 4 as it becomes more hilly and technical afterwards. Sure enough he was running scared as he blasted through the aid station 4 where I had to stop to refuel. More time for me to catch up!

My friend Juliano & Veronica helped me perform a fast pit stop and I immediately focused on getting back to the 5th runner. After almost a mile, he was on my radar and I was hanging along. I proceeded on passing him through one of the last technical descent and knew I would get some ground on the last boulder field until the last descent where I would have to run scared to be sure that he doesn’t catch up.

After running 5 hours on tough terrain, there is nothing like adding the pressure of being chased! (Photo courtesy of Teri Photography)
After running 5 hours on tough terrain, there is nothing like adding the pressure of being chased! (Photo courtesy of Teri Photography)

I realized I had secured my 5th place spot when I was within several hundred feet of the Start/Finish altitude . Not only I was in 5th place but I was within less than 6hrs! Incredible as I had never imagined to be able to run that fast.

Knowing it was going to be my last race here in the PNW, I was planning on giving all my best and achieve my goal to run around Mt St Helens in 6h45 min. With a consistent training, a well executed race plan and good competition, I made it in 5h49min, a time that puts me in top 10 performance of the race, only 28 min shy of the course record and especially 1h37min faster than my 2012 time !

Volcanic 50 being my 2nd A-race after the BeaverHead 55K, I am really happy of both of my results as well as my overall 2016 racing season. The Pacific NW chapter is officially terminated. Time to move on our next adventure, Colorado !!!!

Result: 5th place, 2rd Age Group and a time of 5h49min.

GPS Track available here (32 miles, 7,400 ft elevation gain/loss)

Nutrition: Water, GLUKOS SportsDrink, HoneyStinger Gingersnap Waffles, HoneyStinger Chocolate Caffeinated Energy Gel, miscellaneous food from their well stocked aid stations.

The Lucky Number (Beaverhead 55K Race Report)

On July 9th, I raced the first of my 2 A-races of 2016 : the BeaverHead 55K.

I originally heard of this race via Eric Lubell after he ran the 100K in 2014 (first year of the event). Talking with Eric and further research convinced me that it was exactly the type of race that suits me : a Point-to-Point course in the mountains on a remote and technical trail including a 18 mile section on the Continental Divide Trail.

Continental Divide Trail Logo (Photo Courtesy of : The BeaverHead Endurance Runs)
BeaverHead55K

 

 

I headed to Salmon, Idaho on Thursday and enjoyed a beautiful drive through the Sawtooth Mountains.

When picking up my race bib, I realized that this year I am drawn to the lucky number 7. The same number than my Smith Rock Ascent race’s place.

As usual for those types of mountains races, I regularly checked the weather forecast during the several days prior to the event. Confirmed by the Race Directors at the briefing, thunderstorms were likely to appear in the afternoon as well as highly possible lightning, snow….etc All the good stuff! What the RD’s told us that a typical weather forecast app would not tell is that the bad weather typically comes from West of the divide.

Multiple times in past races, I have been lucky that the forecast was wrong (2011 Kilian’s Classic 45K, 2015 Standhope 60K) or that I was fast enough to finish before the bad weather kicked in (2015 San Juan Solstice 50M). However, I have always thought my time would come one day and that I would “pay” for all those missed times. I thought that this might be the day and my gear was set up accordingly : jacket, gloves and beanie (extra weight for sure but being in the mountains with such a forecast should be taken seriously).

 

The race

The start being a long uphill, we were all warmed up in no time! As usual, I made sure to run my race and follow my strategy.

The difficulties I had forecasted were the altitude (most of the race is spent around 9,000ft! Pretty high for me that lives at 300ft. Even though I usually respond to altitude pretty well, I know it affects my speed) and the second part that is reputed to be very technical.

It turned out I was 100% right and there were the main factors that influenced my performance : The altitude slowed me down as well as the scree field. I found it to be as hard as everybody had been describing it (race reports, RD’s briefing…) and it really felt like jogging on knives.

Arriving to the scree field (23.5 miles), my internal compass was set to look out for the West side of the divide and sure enough a storm was moving in. Time to pay my due !!! Once again, I was lucky that it held off and didn’t rage on all of us. I only experienced lower temperatures and a few water drops. Pfeww!!!!

A storm forming over the Divide during the race (Photo courtesy of : Ryan Kunz)

However, the same night would see storms with snow ! Once again I avoid the bad weather but it’s only a matter of time before I experience the forecasted raged weather during a race.

Snow on the course the day after (Photo Courtesy of : The BeaverHead Endurance Runs)
Snow on the course the day after (Photo Courtesy of : The BeaverHead Endurance Runs)

The scree part made me lose quite some time on my estimated split and I knew it was going to be hard to catch up the lost time on the last part. Of course I tried my best and even though I was faster than expected on my last split, I didn’t succeed on making up for the lost time on the scree and fell out of my goal by 15 mins.

In the end, a beautiful and tough mountain race just as I like them on new trails I have never explored before. My race was well executed and though I misjudged the scree section, I am happy to finish in 7th place (YES! The same number as my last race’s place) with a time that puts me in the top 10 performance of the race, only 30 min shy of the course record.

Result: 7th place, 3rd Age Group and a time of 6h32min.

 

Nutrition: Water, Tailwind SportsDrink, HoneyStinger Gingersnap Waffles, HoneyStinger Chocolate Waffles, misc food from their well stocked aid stations.

Smith Rock Ascent Race Report

Last Saturday, I opened my 2016 racing season with the Smith Rock Ascent. I ran the first edition in 2013 and immediately put it as one of my favorite local race. It is held in the beautiful Smith Rock State Park (Central Oregon) mostly known for being the birthplace of American sport climbing (Sport-climbing in the US? no wonder several French climbers played a big influence!)

Over the years, they have added a “4miler” and a “50K” but the 15-miler (≈ 3000ft elevation gain) remains my favorite as it suits exactly my type of running: It’s steep, exposed, fast and includes some technical parts. It consists of a lollipop course starting and finishing at the park entrance and going at the top of Gray Butte.

The views are beautiful (one can see the cascade volcanoes from Mt Hood to Mt Bachelor), the weather is usually sunny and warm at this time of the year and the organization is great.

 

3 years after, I wanted to participate again, see my overall improvements since then and enjoy some good competition as this race seems to attract fast runners. Both in my training and racing, I’ve always made sure to establish benchmarks in order to measure my improvements. It’s easy to run year after year and not necessarily notice the improvements/regression. As I like to train with purpose, I believe having such benchmarks help me not only validating my training, but also assessing and adjusting it if no progression is made.

Result: A solid 7th place, 3rd Age Group and a time of 2h04min. I shaved off 15 mins (1 min/mile faster overall) than in 2013 and confirmed my overall improvements built year after year.

GPS Track (15 miles, 3000 ft elevation gain/loss)

Nutrition: 500mL of water, 1 HoneyStinger “GinSting” gel

Running & Hiking in the beautiful Pacific North West

A good summary of the end of my running season along with some other interesting beautiful things in Oregon