gorge waterfalls
The beginning of the end (photo: Scott Applebaum)

Well, once again AC100 didn’t go as planned. Blood in urine and lower back pain forced me to drop at mile 60. This was the first time I had to drop from a race due to medical reason. I still had a great time though.

Sometimes you have to accept what the race is throwing at you at guess.

Below is a video recap of how the (first part of the) race played out for me. A big thank you to my crew and all the volunteers/spectators for all the love and support.

I’m not done with AC yet, and you’ll see me toeing the line in Wrightwood in 2016!

utmb mont blanc mountain range
Welcome to the French Alps! (Photo from Planpraz)

I could use a lot of excuses to explain my poor performance at UTMB this year. For example, I could say that I was not totally recovered from AC100 3 weeks prior, or that I was still jet-lagged from travelling to France. But none of that would be totally honest. The simple truth is that UTMB is a monster and that I was not prepared at all for what it had to offer me. This course is nothing like what you can find in your backyard (well except maybe in you live somewhere in Colorado), and excelling at it requires some very specific preparation.

Since I started ultra-running, almost 2 years ago now, UTMB has always been a race I wanted to give a try. Not only it starts and ends in my home-country, but also, judging by all the photos and videos about the race, the landscapes you run through look breathtaking (SPOILER ALERT: they really ARE, and much more!!). So, when my name showed up on the UTMB starting runners list the day after the lottery, my excitement was hard to contain. I was set to run Angeles Crest 100 few weeks before, so I figured out that this was perfect timing and that all the training I would put for AC100 would serve me well for UTMB. If only I had known …


My parents and I arrived in Chamonix the Tuesday before the race (the race starts on Friday evening).

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The Mont Blanc is always looking at you in Chamonix

I had heard about the electric atmosphere in Chamonix during the UTMB week, and let me tell you that all the hype is true and more! This town, at this time of the year, is Trail Runner Paradise. It is like Christmas before Christmas. Look up and you’ll see magical massive mountain peaks, close your eyes and you’ll hear an heavy crowd cheering for the runners finishing the UTMB sister races (there are 5 races during UTMB week in Chamonix, and everyday something is happening), hang out in the town and you’ll pass dozens and dozens of trail running shops with the latest geeky gear. Basically, for an entire week, Chamonix eats, sleeps and breathes trail running.

We spent the days before the race exploring the area, hiking some gorgeous trails and eating local. It was sunny and warm, but unfortunately, the weather was calling for heavy rain for race day. Well, at least I would have a chance to try most of the mandatory equipment]!

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Hiking above Chamonix. Those trails are STEEP!

Let’s go for a stroll around the Big White Guy

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UTMB profile

Starting a race at 5:30pm is quite interesting. You can spend a full night of sleep and take your time in the morning, which feels weird. I was lucky enough to have access to the Elite Starting Corral, so I just showed up 50min before the start of the race. The crowd was already dense and you could feel the excitement in the air.

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With my new-found shelter, all the rain in the world could not hinder my happiness state!
(photo by Pat Werhane)

The gun went off. Everybody tends to start really fast since the first few miles are flat, but I knew this was a long race so I just settled down into a comfortable rhythm, chatting with Jesse Haynes and Tony Krupicka until we reach the first aid station at Les Houches.

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Sharing the first few miles with AK
(photo by Passion Trail)

As soon as we hit the first climb, I realize that power-hiking it was not as easy as it should have been and I quickly accepted the fact that the race was going to take longer than my initial expectations. So I decided to make the best of the situation, moving forward the best I could while taking the time to enjoy the breathtaking scenery!

It started to be dark when I reached Les Contamines, the first AS where runners could see their crew. My parents and my sister were waiting for me there, and it was nice to see them. They were pretty excited, especially my Mom who couldn’t believe she was standing right next to Timothy Olson just few minutes ago when he was in the AS (yes, she is kind of an UltraRunning geek I guess ;)). The rain was still falling, so I put my jacket on and went into the night.

Night running at UTMB is something special. It’s cold, it’s raining, it’s very dark, but still, people are out there cheering on the runners. They set up campfires and cheer on every single runners, this race has a pretty damn amazing atmosphere in my opinion!

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Notre Dame de la Gorge marks the beginning of the campfires along the course

At least 3 bigs climbs await for the runners during the night, Col du Bonhomme (mile 27), Col de la Seigne (mile 37) and Arête du Mt Favre (mile 42). Each climb is steep and relentless, but the warm soup waiting for you at the top of each summit is rewarding and worth the effort! I was casually chatting with my fellow runners, and got the pleasure to share some miles with Mike Wardian, who didn’t have a great day either. The miles flew by, and I started the steep decent into Courmayer (mile 48). This was the second time I could see my crew. I quickly put on dry socks and refill my pack before heading back out on the course.

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Drop bags lines in Courmayer

It was 4:30AM in Italy, and while I was running in the streets of Courmayer, I got called out by a bakery worker who had just finished his first batch of croissant and wanted to know if he could offer me one. Unfortunately, my stomach was not that great at that time, so I politely declined the offer and thanked him. I started the steep hike to Refuge Bertone and felt good at first but suddenly felt very tired and I had to considerably slow down my hike. I finally reached Bertone, and took some time there to regroup, while enjoying a beautiful sunrise. The play of lights on the mountains were beautiful.

The next section was very rolling, and I really enjoyed it. It’s a nice smooth singletrack, and the views are top notch, especially under the morning light. Arnuva (mile 59) came pretty quick and I could already see the next big climb … the dreaded Grand Col Ferret. I took my time through the aid station and started the big climb that would bring me to the highest part of the day and into Switzerland. The climb to Grand Col Ferret was brutal and I was not able to match the pace of my fellow runners and quickly got distanced. After what seemed like eternity, I finally tagged the summit (mile 62) and got welcomed by a warm crowd! They told me I now had 13mi of descent before a short climb to Champex-Lac.

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Feeling happy at the top of Grand Col Ferret

If you’re in good shape at that point, you can really make time on the descent … well, I was not, so I did not ;). This section was hard mentally, because I was pissed off I was reduced to a walk on some of the portion of the descent. Fortunately for me, I got caught up by a local runner from Saint-Gervais, Alexandre Hayetine, just before hitting the pavement leading to La Fouly, and we were about to share the next 20mi together.

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My family waiting for me with a huge cowbell at La Fouly

I was amazed by the number different cheese they had at La Fouly AS (mile 68). They were all very good, so I sampled a few, and head back off on the course. My family was there, and they told me I was actually looking way better than most of the runners they have seen before me. Well, I figured they were probably lying to me so I could feel better, but still, that was great to hear some kind words.

I left the AS with Alexandre, and we made our way to Champex-Lac (mile 76), getting some weird looks by the Swiss cows along the way.

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Arriving at Champex with Alexamdre

There was a lot of carnage at Champex, and unfortunately I saw a lot of my running friends there. It was sad to see that Jesse Haynes had just dropped as he was having some problems to stay awake and preferred to call it a day. Dakota Jones was also there, and I convinced him to leave the AS with me. He dropped few miles later.

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Leaving Champex with Dakota

I ran the next rolling section before the steep climb up to Bovine (mile 83). I leap frogged with Alexandre on the climb, and we were moving very well. A lot of horned-like cows were on the trail, and we had to maneuver around with caution not to bother them too much while there were eating. We ran the descent to Trient together, passing a lot of tired runners in the process. We entered the AS, my Mom was there and quickly got me ready. She reminded me I only had 2 big climbs left.

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Pep talk by my Mom at Trient

The climb to Catogne (mile 90) was brutal. I started to feel really bad, and I encouraged Alexandre not to wait for me and to pull ahead, as he was still going really strong. My quads were starting to seize up, and it looked like the final 15 miles were going to be a remake of my Angeles Crest 100 race … The descent to Vallorcine (mile 92) was a death march, and it was a relief to see my family at the AS.

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The “FrenchTeam” patiently waiting for me at Vallorcine

I didn’t spend a lot of time in Vallorcine as I wanted to make the best of the last hours of light before entering the second night. I tried to move quick but I was in pain and it took me some time to came close to Col des Montets (mile 95), before attacking the last climb up to La Tete aux Vent (mile 98). I was struggling with every step as the second night was rapidly falling, and I was not at all enjoying the scrambling sections of the climb. There was a lot of cursing, and I couldn’t believe there was such a difficult climb at the end of a race. I finally tagged the summit, and made my way through the next boulder section to La Flegere (mile 100). It was very dark, and I wanted to be done. In the AS, I looked at my watch and saw that I could eventually break 30h if I started running. My quads were screaming, but I ignore the pain and started moving well again in the 5 miles descent!

The finish in Chamonix was insane, it was very late and already 90 runners had crossed the finish line before me, but I still felt received like I was the Champion!

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Finally done!

Overall, running UTMB was a dream come true and an amazing experience. This race was beyond my expectations, and I can’t wait to be back, wiser and more prepared to the challenge it has to offer!

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The starting line of the Angeles Crest 100M 2014 (photo: Ivan Buzik)

You know it is going to be a great and fun day when you toe the line of a race with all your friends. This year’s AC100 was no exception and prove once again that running is so much more than just an individual sport.

This race was very special for me. For the first time since I started running ultras (almost 2 years ago now) I had my family crewing for me. They came all the way from France for the race and I was very excited about that. For the occasion, I assembled a 100% French team, my good friends Christophe, Christelle and their son Aidan, as well as Philippe and Stephanie having also freed up their week-end schedule to come to the race and support me!

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The French Team! (photos: Diana Treister and Christophe Balestra)

The atmosphere at the pre-race meeting was electric. AC100 is quite an event in SoCal, and being part of it (as a runner, crew, volunteer or spectator) is always an honor. People are passionated about this race and it feels like time literally stops during the AC100 week-end. It’s all about experiencing the mountains, fast or slow it doesn’t really matter.

Wrightwood to Eagle’s Roost (0-30mi): Setting the pace

The morning of the race was warm. I was strangely very relaxed. A lot of people were expecting great things about me today, but that did not really affect me. In fact I was just very excited to finally run this race. AC100 had become a big focus of mine for the past 6 months, and I had trained like a mad man, meticulously studying every inch of the course.

ac100 start
The calm before the racing storm (photo: Mom)

All the SoCal running legends as well as the young guns were at the start. Dom, Chris, Jorge, Jussi, Howie, Tommy, Erik, Andy, Elan, Pam, Keira, Katie for sure this race knows how to gather some serious running talents!

5:00AM and we were off! My race plan was to be conservative for the first half of the race, and to try to push after Chilao (mile 52) to catch up the big dogs. Of course, being conservative didn’t mean necessarily walk the climbs and I ran every single steps of the Acorn trail at what felt a very comfortable pace. 3.5mi and 2200ft later, I was leading at the top in a new PR of 44min … well either that was going to be an amazing day for me or my “running feel” was totally off. The sunrise on blue ridge was gorgeous. I made sure to eat/drink in the semi-technical down to Inspiration Point, waiting for the downhill speedsters to pass me. At my surprise, nobody passed me and I was still leading the race when I arrived at the first aid station (9.3mi) in 1:30, 3min faster than record pace (again, a strangely comfortable 8min PR …). The crowd was dense at the AS, and I was welcomed with a lot of cheering love!! I ran by, quickly grabbing the new bottles prepared by my crew, before jumping into the small climb waiting for the runner when exiting the AS.

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Full speed into the Inspiration Point AS (9.3mi). Feeling easy and relaxed (photo: Mom)

Nobody was in sight and I was starting to wonder if I was going too hard or not. I was still feeling easy though, so I just thought that my hard training was paying off. I had a lot of fun on the 4.5 rolling miles between Inspiration Point and Vincent Gap, and I arrived at the bottom of Mt Baden Powell in 2:07, 5min faster than record pace … Once again, my crew did an amazing job and I was ready in no time to tackle one of my favorite 2500ft climb ever. Before leaving the AS, my father made sure I knew I was 10min faster than the splits I gave him before the race, to what I responded that I’ll take the next section very easy.

I made sure to slow down and I forced myself to cut my running with some power-hiking during the Mt Baden-Powell climb, reaching the top in just under an hour, exactly what I wanted. I was relieved to finally see someone when Jorge passed me at the end of the climb! I also got a glimpse of Chris and Michele not far below in the switchbacks. “Great” I thought, “The action is about to begin!”. I made sure to smile for the iconic “Larry Gassan’s Top of Baden Powell photo” and started the long descent to Islip Saddle.

During the down, I took my time and focused on good footing to avoid any ankle sprains (yes, they are kind of my specialty). Michele and Chris were right on my heels and we shared some miles together. I really enjoyed those miles, I really love the alpine views once you get on the ridge. After Throop Peak Chris took off, chasing Jorge who was not far in front of us. I slowly pulled away from Michele in the down and arrived in 3rd place at Islip Saddle in 4:30 (still 5min faster than my expected time … and new PR again ;) ).

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Having fun on the PCT. (photo: Hillary Coe)

Arriving to Islip Saddle is always special, the crews did not see their runners for 2-3h so they are are super excited when you finally show up. Also, this is the first AS where you are weighed so you have a first indication of how good you did with your nutrition/hydration on the first part of the race. Having ran out of water during the descent, I was ready to be reminded by the medical team that I should drink more, but it ended up that had just lost 1lb, so that was not that bad. It was only 9:30am but the heat was slowly starting to rise. My crew got me wet, gave me a ice-filled bandana and I was ready to go back on the PCT. Next step, the Williamson climb!

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Medical check and refuelling at Islip Saddle (photo: Jack Rosenfeld and Mom)

The ascent of Mt Williamson is relatively short (1.8mi) but butt-kicking. I was moving well though, alternating power-hiking and running. The sight lines are long on this climb and I got a glimpse of Jorge and Chris who were only 5-8min in front of me. I reached the top and started the rocky descent over Eagle’s Roost. I lost 3min for a much needed stop in the bushes and got caught up by Michele. We ran together into Eagle’s Roost, just 4min after Chris and Jorge. More ice, more water and I was back again in the hunting game.

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In and out at the Eagle’s Roost AS before grinding the 3mi road section (photo: Jack Rosenfeld and Mom)

Eagle’s Roost to Chilao (30-52mi): Seeking to please my feet

This next section starts with a 3 mile road section (the original PCT route has been momentarily closed to recreation since 2006 to protect critical habitat for the Mountain yellow-legged frog. A solution is being actively searched so this area can be opened again in a near future). Roads are not that bad, except when you have brand new trail shoes with an aggressive outsole, sticky rubber and 7mm-deep lugs (and no rock plate) … I can assure you that as soon as I started running on the road, my beaten feet were able to precisely locate every single individual lug on the outsole. I had run this section with the same shoes before without any problem, but I guess having the feet wet from the cold water poured down on my body at each AS, sensitized my feet a bit, a detail that I had overlooked. The pain was minor for the moment, and I knew that once back on the trails, this should be fine.

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“Dude, those lugs are fantastic on the trails … not on the road …” (photo: Christophe)

I ran the road section with Michele and we made the right turn into Buckhorn campground before entering the Burkhart trail. To our surprise, we got a sight of Chris just few yard in front of us. I pulled away from Michele in the down to the Burkhardt/PCT trail junction and passed Chris at the beginning of the Cloudburst climb. He told me Jorge was just few minutes in front and that I should catch him very soon. I don’t know why, but I like this climb. It is very exposed, all runnable and it is supposed to be hot. Unfortunately for me, a nice cloud cover had settled down and the canyons were not as hot as expected. In exchange for the clement heat, we got offered some humidity which made the ambient air even more heavy. I ran most of the climb before turning right on the PCT at the fireroad junction. Jorge was now in sight and he didn’t seem to move very well. I was hoping he was not having a bad day again, but apparently his recurring stomach problems were starting to manifest.

As I was about to pass him and take the lead again, mister Unicorn showed up and flew by right by me. “Glad to see you here”, I shooted, “I was worried about you!”. It’s always a pleasure to run with Dom. He told me he was in trouble earlier, having some problems to ingest some food, but that now he was ok. Yes, for sure he was ok now, seeing how efficient he was in the climb! He made a little gap on me during the few downhill parts of the climb and I arrived at the Cloudburst AS just before noon, few minutes behind him, happier than ever.

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Chasing the Unicorn on the Cloudburst climb (photo: Christophe)

Being at the Cloudburst Summit means that you have already done 37.5 miles. From there the monotonous but fast downhill section to Three Points awaits for you. My crew quickly refilled my bottles, poured me some more cold water/ice on, and I quickly took off. Except for my feet, I was still feeling really great, and most importantly, I was having a blast leapfrogging with all my friends for the lead!

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My crew and I were all having a blast at the Cloudburst AS (mile 37.5).
Check out those smiles! (photo: Mom)

As soon as I started the low grade descent, I knew that this section was going to be long. My feet were on fire now, and the only thing I could think about was to change my shoes at Three Points. It was still a relatively long way to there, so I forced myself to think about something else. I slowed down a lot in the hope of reducing the impact forces on my feet. I lost 10min on Dom just on this section, but I was still on my 19h splits though. When I finally arrived at the AS, my first words to my crew were about changing shoes! Michele arrived 1min later. I put on my 110v2, not the most comfortable shoes, but at least they have a rock plate. I thanked everyone and left the AS while Michele was still refueling.

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Much needed shoes change at Three Points. (photo: Mom)

The way to Hillier was pleasant. The trail is nice in this area and the only thing you have to take care off is to avoid the purple poodle dog bush. My feet started to bother me again once on the road of the climb to Hillier. “Damnit” I thought, “I should have put on dry socks too ;)”. The climb was not a problem, I ran all of it and did not even stop at the AS at the top. Just out of the AS, there was some fresh puke on the trail … I knew it was Dom. I started the technical down to Chilao and Michele joined me for the fun part in the boulders. We got to the AS together and we went on the scale for the second time of the day. +1lb … everything was fine.

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Coming into Chilao with Michele (photos: Mom)

I put on some dry socks and took off my magic weapon from my arsenal: Caffeine! The week before the race I had suppressed my caffeine intake, no coffee, no coke. The idea was to sensitize my caffeine receptors so I would have a pretty good kick when taking in caffeine on the second part of the race. Let me tell you, that worked pretty well! I chucked down and entire can of coke and I didn’t have to wait long to feel the adrenaline rush. “Let’s go for it!”, I told David (first pacer). Dom had left only 10min ago and I knew that with my new feet and all the sugary stimulating liquid circulating my body right now I could make up some time on him on the next section. I was in running heaven, and magic was about to happen.

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New feet, pumped pacer and large amount of caffeine = awesomeness (photos: Christophe and Mom)

Chilao to Chantry (52-74mi): The rise and fall of the French bull

We left Chilao more motivated than ever. Michele stayed there 2 more minutes, but I was convinced I’ll see him very soon. This is a 6.5mi section until Shortcut Saddle, some rolling ups and downs, then a technical down and a nice little climb before the AS. We were moving well and running was easy. David was excited to finally be running with me and we chatted the whole way. The technical down went pretty well and I was super excited for the climb. Approaching the climb, we heard some cheering up on the road. “That must be Dom” I though. I started to work hard on the climb, running every single steps of it. That was good, really good, and I was loving this climb. My crew was on fire at the top, screaming some loud “Allez Allez” like never before. David was doing great too, trying to keep up with me. 1:16 for the section, not necessarily super fast, but good enough to make up some time.

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Charging the climb and rushing into the Shortcut Saddle AS like an enraged bull (photos: Pap)

At Shortcut AS, I was in “Super stocked” mode, still feeling the effects of the can of coke I drank earlier. I chucked down 3 other glasses of coke, and I was ready to charge the long downhill up to the bottom of the canyon.

I didn’t even wait for David to finish to be prepared and I was ready to jump into the trail connecting to the fireroad when I got a surprise … Dom … This was Dom, he was still at the AS with his pacer, waiting for a bottle to be filled. I was so much focused that I didn’t even notice he was there when I arrived. Sounds like we were all going to have a downhill running party in a moment ;) I went on the trail, with Dom and his pacer on my heels. David caught us up later on and the 4 of us started the long descent on the fireroad. It was so much fun, running with a friend, 63mi into one of the best race the country has to offer, is priceless.

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One of the highlights of my race: Leading the race with Dom and having
some good time on the down from Shortcut (63-65mi). (photo: Peter Williams)

I slowly pulled away from Dom as he had some trouble breathing on the down. I was cruising and enjoying my time. My quads started to feel a bit beaten with all this downhill, but that did not worry me much at that time, I knew it was going to go up soon. Just as we were going to hit the bottom of the canyon, Ruperto showed up. “Wow, I didn’t see this one coming” I thought. For sure Ruperto looked super fresh and he was flying right now. We chatted a bit and then he took off, not much I could do at that point. My plan was to run the whole climb up to Newcomb AS and make up the time I had lost on him on the down. Surprizingly, after all this downhill running my legs were not very cooperative, and I couldn’t do more than walk the whole climb. Dom passed me and offered me some protein recovery drink. He knew I was having a bad patch and he wanted me to go out of the hole. I thanked him and watched him go away, hunting Ruperto. Newcomb AS, 15min back of Ruperto and 7min back of Dom. Well, I didn’t loose that much finally. I quickly said Hi to Maria Pacheco via the video system connected to Chantry and I went back to work. Time for some singletrack fun!

David and I entered the singletrack. This is a fun part of the race, you enter a forest and follow a creek before hitting a very steep road leading to Chantry. I was starting to feel better (the coke at Newcomb AS might have played a role here) and I was finally running again! And then, this happened. My left decided to break my strain-free experience and made love with a rock. I cursed, sorry. The pain was sharp but I could still run on it. I knew I had an ankle brace in a spare bag at Chantry with my crew. We did our best to move on. Michele passed me again in the switchbacks before the creek. 4th place now. Time to pull off some more magic ;) We finally hit the 20% grade road, and I got a surge in adrenaline. I wanted to run the whole stuff, and I did, passing back Michele in the process. Chantry, 19:14pm. Ruperto had left just 20min earlier and Dom was 10min in front of me. Michele was 1min back. It was going to be an exciting 4-man race until the finish. My crew was all smile.

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Left: Christophe getting ready to pace me on the last 26mi.
Right: My amazing crew at Chantry. You guys rocked! (photo: Philippe)

Chantry to the finish (74mi): The stone quads

I thanked David for the amazing job he did and I picked up Christophe at Chantry. I owe the guy a lot. He had paced me for the last 15mi of Chimera last year, we finished 2nd place but I didn’t offer him a lot of great running. For the last 26mi of AC100, I was ready to give his fitness justice. I didn’t really take my time at the AS, I wanted to put my ankle brace on and massage my quads with some Kool’n Fit, but somehow I changed my mind and I just wanted to go back on the game as soon as possible. 3 glasses of coke later, I was running with Christophe on the slope of Mt Wilson. For sure Christophe made me move well. He was the conductor and I was playing the running symphony, hitting every single note he told me to play. We reached the bottom the dreaded Winter Creek Climb and I started to feel good again. Half way into the climb, we saw two headlamp above us in the switchbacks, probably Dom and his pacer. We pushed a little harder and we caught back Dom at the bench. I wanted Dom to come with me, but he wanted to have some rest first. I knew I’ll see him soon. Christophe and I ran the last switchbacks before the top and we started the descent to Idlehour.

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Winter Creek running symphony, under the orders of the
conductor Christophe. (photo: Christophe)

Going down, I was now regretting not to have done the leg massage I wanted at Chantry. I was still able to run but my quads were starting to become two big rocks. We arrived at Idlehour. Ruperto had long gone 25min ago, but I still thought I could have a shot at the win if I could run the last climb up to Sam Merill. We left the AS and started to work on the climb. The ups were feeling goods but all the short portions of downhills were stabbing my quads a bit more. At one mile of the Sam Merill AS, my quads shut down, forcing us to walk. This is when Michele appeared, power-hiking like a mad man with his pacer. He passed us quickly and we arrived at Sam Merill. From there, it is 11mi of technical downhill, not really what you want when you have fried quads. I told Christophe that it was going to be a long night and that I didn’t think I could run any of the remaining miles. I tried to stretch my quads at the AS, thanked the volunteers and started our journey in downhill hell. It was long indeed. My legs couldn’t even bend anymore and the few times I tried to force myself to run made the situation even worse. The win was now out of reach, the plan B (<20h) also, but the plan C and its silver buckle was still a possible reality. It took us 4:20 to cover the last 11mi but we did it. We talked a lot, we even laughed at one point I guess, we had some good time, cheering on our friends passing us one by one.

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Stretching the quads with 7mi to go. (photo: Christophe)

I was mostly thinking at my crew, I was hoping they were not worried too much and not disappointed of my finish fiasco. Every single part of my body was feeling good though, except for the two rocks I had now instead of the quads. I was not angry, I was just happy to be here, in my way to (slowly) finish the race I had dreamed for a long time. I got passed by Andy with 2 miles to go. It was nice to see him. I was now in 9th place and that was going to be my final ranking.

All my crew was waiting for me at the road and we covered the last mile together.

I crossed the finish line in 22:43:55.

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Finish line delivrance. 22:43:55. (photo: Christophe)

I iced the quads, immortalized my AC100 finish at the Larry’s photo booth, and talked to a lot of friends.

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My post race: friends and Ice (photo: Mom)

That was a great race, probably the best race I have ever had. Sure, at the end I fell short of some of my goals, but I had so much fun running with all my friends that I am not even disappointed. I loved every moment of it. I am still new in this ultra thing, and I am still learning. See you next year!

Thank you to all the volunteers who have made this race possible. Congratulations to all the finishers for having tackled such a brutal race.

A big shootout to my family and crew. You guys have been amazing. Thank you David and Christophe for the few miles we shared together, you pushed me and I had a blast. Christophe, I promise, the next time we’ll run it all! Finally, a particular thanks to my crew chief Pauline, I am very fortunate to have you in my life and your limitless support is always something very special for me.

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With two AC100 legends. Dom Grossman and Jorge Pacheco. (photo: Maria)


I strongly encourage you to watch this super rad video by Joel Silva. I believe he perfectly captured what AC100 is all about: having fun in the mountains.

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Waterfall-fest on the course (photo: Paul Nelson)

Your first race of the year is always special. This is the race that you’re going into without really knowing if you did a good job on your early season training but hoping that you did. For me, this race was Gorge Waterfall 100k, my second assault to the 100k distance.

Back in January, I had to decline a spot in the HURT 100 because of a knee injury that occurred after Chimera 100 last year. So just the fact that I was healthy again and that I had just completed a great training block was good enough to make me happy whatever the result of this first season race will be. More importantly, I had to share the week-end with awesome friends, also running either in the 50k on Saturday or in the 100k on Sunday. What more do you want to ask for? Portland, Oregon, here we come!

The day before, Katie and I had a glimpse of part of the course while crewing/cheering on Dom and Andy, and supporting our other California based runners friends, Ethan and Billy. The boys were doing awesome, and it was very fun to watch. Andy finished the 50k in a very strong time, showing everybody that you can destroy a 50k on a 15mi/week training plan, and Dom showed once again his magic in an other “second part of the race Dom-ination showdown”, making up a 6 place deficit on the last 7mi to end up on the podium of the 50k! Oh, and Andy lost his bear in the process and gained a mustache. Anyways, we got to enjoy some waterfalls, and that made us very excited for the race to come the next day!

After an early 2:30am wake up call, we drove to the start line, pumped by the beats of Electric PowWow Drum from A Tribe Called Red. Oh yeah, an epic battle was about to happen.

4:00am, in a go-hard-from-the-gun Clam Clayton style, I quickly took the lead with Yassine and Rod. I love races starting with a big climb right off the start, and the Gorges 100k was no exception (did I tell you I love climbing?). It was (very) dark and raining, conditions that I like particularly.

gorge waterfalls start
Already in the lead right off the starting line (photo: Paul Nelson)

I settled in a comfortable pace for the climb, and the road quickly became a technical slick rocks-based trail. At the top of the 2.5mi climb I was alone in the lead, and I quickly dove full speed into the very technical descent delimited by a rock wall at my left and a dangerous cliff at my right. I thought that if I might fall, I should definitely better go for the left side. Adrenaline started to rush and I flew down the trail. Oh boys, it was good!

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Almost at the top of the first climb, with Rod and Yassine not far behind (photo: Paul Nelson)

At the first aid station, I was welcomed by the amazing volunteers, I refilled my bottles and grabbed some gels before going back playing on the trails. The first 12mi clicked right by and we hit the 3 mile flat road section. I was surprized not to be caught back by Rod on the road as he is well known for his blazing running speed. Well, I won’t complain. An other AS. Friends, gels, water and I was off again, entering Waterfall paradise. It was still dark, so I couldn’t really see Elowah Falls, but at least I could hear its roar! The good news is that I was about to pass by again on my way back in a few hours, so I won’t miss any part of the show.

The trails leading up to the Cascade Locks AS (mile 21) are so much fun and I really enjoyed my time leapfrogging tree branches, streams and rocks.

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Cascade Locks AS. In the lead, with Rod Bien and Yassine Diboun still right on my heels (photo: Billy Yang)

More trails in the forest, more fun. The scenery was gorgeous, there were trees everywhere. I really think the RD should rename the race the “Gorge(ous) Waterfall 100k”.

I finally arrived at the 30 mile AS, marking the turn around. I was still feeling really good and I was amazed by how well my legs were responsive.

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Approaching (top) and leaving (bottom) the turnaround AS. Still feeling really good! (photos: Paul Nelson)

I passed by the little wood bridge after the AS and I quickly ran into Rod, reminding me I was in a race. After a quick look at my watch I calculated that I had a 1-½ min lead on him, not much. 1 min later I ran into Yassine and Matt Cecill. Wow, this race was close. From that on, I started to push every single climb.

The sun showed up, offering beautiful views over the river. I tried my best to open up my stride, but the technicality of the trails didn’t make this task very easy. At least I knew that if Rod, Yassine and Matt wanted to catch me up, they’ll have to work very hard.

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Beautiful technical trails (photos: Glen Tachiyama)

The miles flew by and running into every single runners on their way to the turn around was very nice. They all cheered on me and I did my best to return them the compliments! I was so stocked to run into my friend Katie who was looking very good and was having what looked like an amazing time! She shot me a roaring “ALLEZ ALLEZ” before I disappeared into the switchbacks.

I finally was able to see all the waterfalls I missed during the first 50km due to the night, which made the second half of the race even more interesting. The trails here in Oregon are awesome!

gorge waterfalls scenery
Gorgeous waterfalls and trails. Oregon, you sure are a beautiful green state! (photos: Glen Tachiyama and Paul Nelson)

I made sure to run every single step of the last steep climb of the race to secure the win. I crossed the finish line in a time of 9:52, pretty happy with how I managed my race.

The post race party was awesome, pizza, friends, war stories. Rainshadow Running sure knows how to put on some great events! Do I want to get back there next year? Hell yeah!

If you want to really appreciate the views/atmosphere of this race, be sure to watch the fantastic summary video made by Ethan!

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One of the best part of training: the views!
(Parka Mesa Overlook, photo by Dom)

Two week-ends ago, while running up the slope of Winter Creek, Dom and I were chatting about one of our favorite running topic: Training. Of course, high mileage training was one of the subject we discussed, and I though I might share my very recent experience of progressively (smartly?) building a high mileage training program.

I developed a knee injury after Chimera 100M later last year, and I had to quit running for 5 weeks. I knew that coming back to running would imply some changes in my training habits and that I could not go right away into the mileage range I was used to before. So I went to the drawing board and designed a progressive training plan with some important principles.

#1 – The 10% rule

It might sound obvious, but you cannot just jump right away into a high mileage weekly regime. A lot of injuries develop because of too much stress put too soon on your body. The rule of thumb is to not increase your mileage more than 10% from a week to the next. You might want to adjust to what you feel is better for you, some of you won’t tolerate more than a 2-4% increase. Listen to your body and do not rush!

#2 – Mix the strategies to increase your mileage

Increasing your mileage can be done by two principal mechanisms:

  • running longer
  • running more often

Note that for the same distance ran, you’ll probably recover faster if you do a double day (2 shorter runs), compared to running the same distance in just one shot. Of course you can combine/mix the two strategies for the different phases of your training plan.

#3 – Avoid the technical stuffs at the beginning

This might be hard to accept for all the hardcore mountain runners out there, but running some roads is OK, especially if you’re coming back from injury. Running technical terrain is more demanding on your joints/muscles, so be patient at the beginning and just enjoy the act of running (without your favorite mountainous scenery). Once you feel that your body is used to run consistently again, incorporate progressively some technical running and elevation in your routine.

#4 – Do not forget speedwork

This is probably one of the most overlooked component of ultrarunning training, but speed is also important, so wake up the racehorse that lives in you and throw down some good speedworks into your training plan.

#5 – Recovery is an important component of the training

Running hard all the time is not easy (and not recommended). Know when to step back and run easy or you’ll pay a high price tag later.

Personnal example

As an example of the different points discussed above, below is a detailed log of how I have structured my training program since my knee injury.

DISCLAIMER: I do not say that you should do what I describe below, this is just what
worked for me. The goal was to be back in a 'good enough shape' to be able to run
a 100km race 13 weeks later (Gorge Waterfalls 100k).
Use this information at your own risk!

home made marthon splits
Blue: weekly mileage (exact mileage in Black); White: longest weekly run; Green: step-back week

  • Phase 1: Building an endurance base:

My 4 first weeks were basically a lot of easy/slow running on easy terrain (= a lot of flat roads). I was mostly increasing my mileage by running longer, especially during my back to back week-ends runs. In addition, I made sure to have at least 1 day of total rest (= zero running) per week. My back-to-back long runs were increased from a 12/15.6mi to a 20.5/22.1mi duo (note that I took 2 days off during the week leading to the 20.5/22.1mi runs). From this training cycle, I (re)developped a good endurance base to work with.

home made marthon splits

  • Phase 2: Running more, more often and stepping back:

After this first phase of training, the next 2 weeks consisted of running a little bit longer during my monday-friday runs, so I could still increase my weekly mileage without having to go crazy during the week-ends (my combined week-end mileage was actually smaller during those 2 weeks than at the end of the first cycle of training). The idea was to get my body used to run more often for longer. I also started to incorporate some structured speed work (interval training) at least once a week as well as some more climbing and technical terrain.

After that I did an easy step-back week, with almost no elevation gain.

home made marthon splits

  • Phase 3: Going big during the week-ends again:

The third phase of my training program was just a combination of everything I had done before:

— more running days (in fact just 1 day off during this 4 weeks bloc)

— longer monday-friday runs

— speed work and tempo run at least once a week

— bigger and bigger week end runs

Because I barely took any day off running during this training cycle, my recovery was achieved by balancing off the hard runs with some slow/easy recovery runs. I also did double runs days more often.

home made marthon splits

We are now 2 weeks away from Gorge Waterfalls 100km, and I am pretty happy with how I structured my coming back to running, slowly but surely ramping up my weekly mileage to finally run two >100mi weeks. We’ll see how it goes ;)

The details of all the runs can be found on my Strava profile.

Chimera Logo Chimera 100M took place in the Saddleback Mountains, CA, a few miles away from Lake Elsinore. Knowing part of the trails I went in with the conscious knowledge that this was not going to be an easy run, as Chimera is one of the toughest 100 miler in Southern California, on par with Angeles Crest 100. Being a rookie on the distance, I was not sure of what to expect, but I was more than eager to see how I could handle it. This year, we had the pleasure of running on a new beefed-up course, 10mi of fireroad having been replaced by 11mi of technical trails. The changes resulted in an added 1000ft to the already 22000ft elevation gain of the race. In addition Chimera is notorious for its bad weather, and as expected, the sunny +70F weather we enjoyed during the preceding week transformed into a low 40F rainy forecast on race day.

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New profile of the Chimera 100M race

Sugarloaf loop (0-11mi, 1:35)

While the sun was coming out at Bluejay Campground, Steve Harvey, the race director, invited all the runners to gather on the starting line to be ready for the 6:30AM race start, and gave his final words of wisdom. It was cold and pouring rain, but I couldn’t wait to be running!

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“At least it won’t be dusty” – Steve Harvey, RD –

The race started, and after half a mile a group of 4 of us had already made a gap on the rest of the field. Fabrice Hardel, the past two years winner of the event, was of course in front, and he was leading the group on what I thought was a very comfortable pace. The other runners were Igor Campos, the freshly new record holder of Cuyamaca 100km, and Jonathan Landis, who had passed me in the final 3 miles at Cuyamaca 100km. We were soon joined by Brian Peterson, winner of the gnarly Los Pinos 50km this year, and the 5 of us stayed together for the first loop of the race. This loop was the new addition of the race, 11 miles of technical trails, with some fun rolling little hills. The rain was making the trails a bit slippery, but my NB 1010v2 were doing a good job of keeping me on track. We were still going at a very casual pace, all chatting, and it felt like doing a training run with friends. The miles flew by, and we were already back to Bluejay Campground where I took off my AK pack and switched over to one handheld filled with a protein/carb mix that my crew, Pauline and Dom, had already prepared for me.

Candy Store lollipop (11-33mi, 3:36)

The next 22 miles were a big out-and-back lollipop. 11 miles down 11 miles up on a technical single track. The first 6 miles of the long downhill drove us in the middle of the forest up to Chiquita Falls Aid Station. The 5 of us were still running together, like a well oiled train, and I was feeling really good, running just behind Fabrice. After the aid station, where nobody stopped, the run opened and we could enjoy the surrounding cloudy mountainous landscape.

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The Chimera Train Express, tracked by the french locomotive

We finally got to the bottom and the Candy Store Aid Station, where we could see our crew. Helped by Pauline and Dom, I unloaded some clothes and exchanged my bottles in a flash before going after Fabrice who did not even stop to refill.

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Quick transition at the Candy Store AS before going after Fabrice

This is where we made a small gap on Igor, Brian and Jonathan who all stopped longer at the AS. Our lead did not last for long though, as Jonathan caught us and took off half a mile later at the beginning of the climb when Fabrice and I were on a pee stop. To be honest, I was kind of surprised by such a move this early in the race and I was eager to engage a chase but I finally changed my mind and just kept the good pace we were running at in the climb. This part was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed running it with Fabrice, exchanging turns and chatting in French. I guess this was kind of a remake of the Joe and Seb french-speaking duo earlier this year at Hardrock 100. We ran consistently, and near the top of the climb we re-passed Jonathan who had switched to a run/power-hike mode. The next couple of miles flew by, and after 5h15 and 33mi into the race, we arrived at Bluejay again. This would be the last time we see our crew before the Silverado Aid Station (mile 60) where we could also pick up our pacers.

Bluejay to Silverado, Santiago Peak #1 (33-60mi, 5:24)

The rain had stopped and I wanted to take some time at the AS to put warm clothes and change my socks. The stop ended up being way shorter than anticipated as my crew was over-energized by I don’t know what and got me dry and ready in record time! As a result, I left Bluejay 5min ahead of everybody else, feeling really good and enjoying the moment.

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Formula Uno pit stop = One happy runner leading the race after 33mi

Dom ran with me until the start of the Trabuco climb, giving me some tips on how to run the next section. I ran the whole climb at constant pace and did not even stop at the AS at the top as I wanted to bank as much time as possible on Fabrice, knowing that he would be right on my heels very soon. I entered the very rocky single track of the Tracbuco trail descent and ran the 6 miles of it as smooth as I could. Technical descents are generally not where I shine, but I was pretty happy with how I handled this one. In fact, at the Holy Jim AS at the bottom I still had the same 5min lead on Fabrice. As this point, Brian was just 20min behind him.

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Quick water sip at Holy Jim AS with Fabrice just 5min behind (photo by Lauren)

I quickly drank two glasses of water and took off to run one of my favorite part of the race, the Holy Jim Climb. I love long climbs, and I was excited to see how I would be able to run this one with 40mi already on my legs. As I started to climb, I recalled what Dom told me earlier, to run the first half consistently and try to make a push on the second half. The switchbacks of the beginning of the climb were a lot of fun to run on.

home made marthon splits
Enjoying some nice running in the SaddleBack Mountains

For the second half, I tried to push a bit, but I guess my legs started to feel a bit tired because I did not have the impression that I was going any faster. I was still moving well though, that was the most important. However, at 3mi of the summit of Santiago Peak, I looked back and got a glimpse of Fabrice gaining on me very rapidly. 2min later, we were running together again and we will do so until the summit. It was actually nice to have some company at the summit, because it was very cold and foggy. On the next downhill, I realized that Fabrice had better legs than me at that point, because I had to push a bit to try to stay with him. He slowly got ahead and arrived 5min before me at the Maple Spring AS (mile 53).

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Maple Springs AS with Fabrice. Just happy to be here (photo by Trisha Tighe)

When I arrived at Maple Spring, he had already finished to change his shoes and was taking in some calories. The volunteers were amazing, and we even got a picture together. I quickly traded my 1010v2 for my NB 1400v2, more suited for the fireroad-like terrain of the second half of the race, and we left the AS together. I could not keep up with him in the long downhill and I had to slow down as my legs were actually giving me some real pain. I knew that my crew was waiting at the bottom, and I was sorry to make them wait so long. After what felt like eternity, I entered the road section of the last 2mi of the downhill. This downhill was really beating me, and I just wanted to be done with it. I tried to play mind games, that helped, but not that much. Finally, as I was approaching the bottom, I got the surprise to see Théo and Lola waiting for me to run with me the last couple hundreds yards before the Silverado AS. This gave me a great mental boost, and I was feeling good again! Once at the aid station, I was glad to see everybody. Christophe, Christelle, Aidan, Théo, Lola, Dom, Pauline, and even Andy who made a 10h trip from NYC just to cheer on me. I was stocked to see all my friends and this gave me even more motivation to give my best for the rest of the race. I would have loved to stay longer with them, but the clock was ticking and it was time to chase Fabrice. He had left the aid station 15min before and from what my friends told me he was looking very good, but who knows, 40mi left is still a long way and a lot can happen. In addition, I was now running with my first pacer, Dom, aka the Unicorn, and I knew he would give me all the pep talk I would need to keep me on track.

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IN and OUT of the Silverado AS. Glad we got some good news at the check out!

Silverado to Corona, Santiago Peak #2 (60-85mi, 5:15)

The next section started with 2.5mi of uphill single track until the top of Bedford Peak. From there, we would have to run some rolling hills and climb up to the top of Santiago Peak again before running the long descent of Corona canyon. As the night was settling down, we enjoyed a great moonrise on the mountains. 35min into the climb we heard some cheering at the bottom, and we saw two headlamps running into the Silverado AS, probably the 3rd and 4th runners. That was the first time I had any kind of information about the runners behind me. I was alternating slow shuffle and power-hike, trying to keep my effort constant in the climb. We arrived at the aid station at the top of Bedford Peak and we got welcomed by Scott Mills. I took in some of their delicious chicken noodle soup and we took off after they told us Fabrice was only 15min ahead.

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Enjoying the moonrise on our way to Bedford Peak (photo by Dom)

I did my best to run as much as I could for the next miles, and we arrived at Maple Spring for the second time of the day. Here, same routine, I took in some chicken noodle soup and we were ready to go! As we were climbing to Santiago Peak, we were cheered on by the runners going down to Silverado, it was great to see all those runners, and we even saw Erin, looking good in her second 100 miler after having finished AC100 few months ago.

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Into the night at Chimera 100 (photos by Dom)

We finally tagged the top of Santiago Peak, it was cold and dark and there was no view to really enjoy, so we didn’t wasted time and started the long 12mi descent. Trust me, 73mi into a race, long descents are not that fun. I was starting to have some serious pain again in my legs, but Dom was giving me some good advices to run smoothly and limit the damages. We rapidly stopped at the Indian Truck AS (“give me more of that soup!”) and went for the last 6.5mi of the descent that I will have to climb up later with my second pacer, Christophe, once at the Corona AS. The pain in ultras is part of the game, so I was trying to keep smiling and enjoy the moment, there is nothing as great as running with friends in the mountains! At 1mi of the bottom, we crossed Fabrice who was already going up, he was still looking very good and we cheered on each others. Few minutes later, Dom and I got to the Corona AS, and I got welcomed by even more friends as Katie had also arrived to join the group.

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Just 15mi left! Still smiling at Corona AS.

Corona to Finish (85-100mi, 4:29)

I left the Corona AS with Christophe and we started the climb back to the indian truck trail aid station. The climb was only a 7% grade, but I had really hard time to run it. At that point, I knew that it would be very hard to close the gap with Fabrice and I started to become worried about keeping my second place. At the bottom of the climb, I was wondering if a sub-19h finish was possible, but after the first half of the climb I was going so slow that I was wondering if a sub-20h finish was even possible. We crossed Brian who was coming down to Corona, and Christophe told me we had about 1h15 on him. We finally got to the top where we cheered on more runners coming down.

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The ITT aid station!

After a quick stop at the ITT aid station, we went for the last 9mi of the race. I had done this section during a training run, but I didn’t remember how steep the remaining hills of the main divide road were. Even with all the cheering of Christophe, I was not able to move very fast and I walked most of them. My quads were burning and the downhills were not easier. We passed the horsethief AS and walked more steep hills. Finally, we got to the last AS at the top of the Trabuco Trail, and I had the surprise to see Jorge and Maria there! They told us we were just 2mi from the finish. Everything was painful, but I was very happy to be here. Christophe was still thinking that a sub-20h finish time was a realistic goal and in a final attempt to make me move faster, he told me that some French macaroons were waiting for me at the finish line and that the faster I would go, the sooner I could taste them ;) His trick didn’t have much effect on my slowness and we ended up crossing the finish line in a time of 20:19:13.

I was pumped up, all my friends were there, and they welcomed me with a Champagne shower! I couldn’t have been more happy.

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Champagne shower at the finish line

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Post-race celebration with friends

I’m extremely grateful to my crew and friends who all believed in me during the race. I couldn’t have done it without their support. Thank you all!

What I used during the race


  • Powerbar gels (35, w/ caffeine after 60mi)
  • Powerbar protein bars (5, one every 3-4h)
  • Powerbar recovery drink (at each AS w/ crew)


  • Ultimate Direction AK vest
  • Amphipod handhelds
  • The North Face Verto pro jacket
  • Salomon Exo S-Lab Twinskin short
  • New Balance MT1010v2 (0-53mi)
  • New Balance MR1400v2 (53-100mi)
  • Petzl Myo RXP

See you next year!

home made marthon splits
Chimera Belt

My goal for this 28th edition of the LA Marathon was ambitious (at least for me ;)): I wanted to run a sub-3h marathon. I knew it wouldn’t be easy as that would imply to shave almost 26min off my marathon PR (3:25:39, set at the LA marathon 2012), but I guess we also run to overcome challenges like that no? However I had the feeling that this goal was attainable after all the training I went through in the past few months to prepare for the TNFC 50K and the Bandit Ultra Run 50K. I was aware that I hadn’t really done my homeworks of road specific training, having mostly focused on trail running for the past 6 months, but I was doing this race for the 2 on the clock at the finish line, so basically I wanted to have my cake and eat it too.

This marathon was also special in the sense that I had some family visiting from France, and David (brother in law) had registered to the race in an attempt to run (and hopefully finish) his first marathon! Therefore, I was really excited to share with him the LA marathon route which showcases Los Angeles and the cities beautifully with its “Stadium to the Sea” route. The race is a lot of fun and a great way to visit Los Angeles, beginning at Dodger Stadium and running through famous cities and landmarks like Chinatown, Hollywood Blvd, the Sunset Strip and Rodeo Drive, before ending at the Beach near the famous Santa Monica Pier.

On the day before the race, we went to the race expo to pick up our bibs. I loved the atmosphere there, it was electric and we could really feel the excitement people at the expo had for the race. We stopped by most of the sponsor booths and grabbed a ton of goodies ;)

LA marathon exposition
With David at the pre-race exposition

The plan

If you search on the internet, you will find that there are a lot of recommended strategies to run a sub-3h marathon. Some call for a first slow five miles, followed by running on pace until mile 20, then a fast close. Others prefer negative splits where the first half is just slightly slower than the second half. Some describe just even splits. The problem was that even if I was in one of the better running shape of my life, from my previous experience with the marathon distance it was hard for me to imagine a finish as strong (even splits) or even stronger (negative splits) than the first part of the race. So in the end my plan was just to run the first half in more or less 1:28:XX so I would have roughly 4min to spare in the second half. I though it was also a good idea since the second half has more downhills, so in the case I cannot sustain the pace the downhills would help to limit any time damage.

LA marathon profile
Elevation profile of the LA marathon.

The LA marathon was just 4 weeks after the Bandit 50K. In between, I focused on doing some race specific trainings on road, such as intervals trainings during the week and long tempo-ish runs on the week-ends (#1 and #2). I then did for the first time a proper taper on the two last weeks leading to the race.

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My home-made pace band

The story

I didn’t sleep well the night before the marathon, probably a mix of pressure and excitement. After a quick breakfast, David and I headed out to Santa Monica to take the 5:30AM shuttle and we arrived at the Dodgers stadium with more than one hour to spare.

There was a lot of runners already there, and the conditions looked perfect.

40min before the start, I made my way to the corral B (previous sub-4h marathon finisher). Last year, I showed up too late and the corral access was already closed, so at least this year I didn’t do the same mistake. While waiting for the start, I chatted with some legacy runners, those guys are amazing and clearly know how to share their passion for the LA marathon. After some nice chats with my new friends, the gun went off, and suddenly we were running!

I started a bit faster than the planned pace, but I wasn’t too much worried about it as the first 3 miles of the race are basically all downhill and I wanted to bank some time before the first hills anyways.

Mile 1 - 6:32
Mile 2 - 6:34
Mile 3 - 6:46

In the next section we hit a good amount of hills. I ran them at a very conservative pace to limit my energy expenditure. Even if it was kind of early for a Sunday morning, there was a lot of spectators cheering on the runners, especially on this section, and that was clearly a mental boost for me! By mile 6, I was right on pace and the major hills of the day were already behind me. I crossed the 10km mark in 42:24, a bit behind schedule but feeling really good.

Mile 4 - 6:51
Mile 5 - 7:03
Mile 6 - 6:52

Miles 7-14 were basically all flat. Nothing much happened here, except that I had to quickly stop to empty my bladder right before entering Hollywood. I was running very relaxed, and my legs were responsive. I hit the ½ marathon mark around 1:29:XX. This was a bit slower than what I originally planned, but I was more than happy with it and I was still confident about my sub-3h goal.

Mile 7 - 6:36
Mile 8 - 6:44
Mile 9 - 6:48
Mile 10 - 6:43
Mile 11 - 6:38
Mile 12 - 6:40
Mile 13 - 6:47
Mile 14 - 6:45

We then ran through West Hollywood, followed by Beverly Hills. At mile 17 we entered the famous Rodeo Drive where a huge crowd was supporting the runners, spectators are amazing! At that point, I noticed that I was passing runners just by keeping my pace. I was still feeling really good, and those 3 miles flew by.

Mile 15 - 6:26
Mile 16 - 6:38
Mile 17 - 6:53

We turned back on Santa Monica Blvd just to be cheered on by a huge assembly of cheerleaders from various LA schools (the so called “Cheer Alley” landmark). That was surrealistic, they were screaming like crazy and I tried to pick up some of their energy to run this long slightly uphill section of Santa Monica Blvd. At mile 20 we made a right turn on Sepulveda Blvd, and started our way to enter the VA.

Mile 18 - 6:44
Mile 19 - 6:36
Mile 20 - 6:40

At the VA entrance the Cliff booth was waiting for us, giving gels to runners. I took down two more gels and my energy level went up. I looked at my watch, happily surprised by the time I was reading on it. I was on a good track to achieve my sub-3h goal, and mentally at this point of the race this was a huge boost. In addition, the route from the VA grounds to the finish is pretty much my home/work neighborhood and I knew I was going to see a lot of family and friends there, so I was more than ever eager to push myself and pick up the pace for the remaining miles.

Mile 21 - 6:49
Mile 22 - 6:42

Passing the Brentwood Golf, I got cheered on by Pauline and my mother. It was great to see them.

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Accompanied by Pauline along the Brentwood Golf

My buddy Christophe was hanging out a little farther, and he ran with me for almost half a mile. He took a bunch of pictures, including this one showing my underwear-based marathon suit.

LA marathon guillaume calmettes
Smiling and feeling really good with only 3 miles to go!

I also ran into Josh that I had met at the Bandit 50K and who was pacing some friends toward the finish. I did my best to give everything I had left on San Vicente Blvd, and I am pretty sure I experienced the runner’s high on that section until the finish line, because I never felt so good while running.

Mile 23 - 6:38
Mile 24 - 6:31
Mile 25 - 6:33
Mile 26 - 6:23
0.35 mi - 5:30

I crossed the finish line in 2:56:25, banking a new PR, and good enough for 104 out of 23,016 finishers.

A huge congratulations to David for having finished his first marathon! The second half was hard but he stayed focused and did it!

LA marathon medals
Happy marathoners

The Aftermath

I am super happy to have crushed my sub-3h goal. This is the first time I finish a marathon feeling really great, and I am sure this has something to do with my recent focus on trail running which forced me to double my training volume. In fact, I didn’t realize that during the race, but looking at my official splits I basically ran negative 10K splits the whole race, something I could imagine I was able to. An other interesting point is that my recovery after the marathon was super fast, probably an other effect of my increase in volume training.

I can’t wait to be back on the trails now!

LA marathon guillaume calmettes splits

Last week end was held the 2013 Bandit Ultra Run 50K in Simi Valley. This race went into my radar few days after I finished the TNFC 50K while I was looking for a good race to start off 2013. The Bandit 50K profile shows more elevation compared to the TNFC 50K, and consists of 2 long major climbs with 4 smaller climbs in between.

bandit 50K profile
The Bandit 50K profile

My preparation for the race has not been optimal. Early January, my back was blocked due to a vertebral displacement (T7). Hopefully, after I went to a Doctor of Osteopathy, the slightly out-of-place vertebrae was back into line and I was able to get back into running. The next two weeks, wanting to make up for lost time, I pushed myself a bit harder than usual. This may have weakened my immune system, as I got hit by the flu the first week of February after I went to Philadelphia to attend a conference. I still managed to log some (slow-paced) miles while recovering, which helped me to keep my morale high with the race approaching.

The day before the Bandit 50K, I went to rent a car (yes I know it doesn’t make sense to have been in LA for 2 years and to not have a car yet ;) ), eager to have a good time on the trails the day after. I woke up early and drove out to Simi Valley. A lot of runners were already there, and they were all looking very strong.

The race started and I managed to stay at the back of the lead group for the “warming loop” in Corriganville Park. Trey Barnes (the defending champion) and Chris Price (the race record holder) were setting the pace. I was not feeling very strong, but I was not feeling very weak either.

We reached the first climb and after we passed the tunnel under the 118, Chris Price and James Walsh started to pull ahead, with Kenneth Ringled trying to stay in contact with them. Halfway to the top I was surprised to find myself in 4th place and I wondered if I wasn’t going too fast considering what we will have to run for the rest of the race. I hold back a little bit and I rapidly got passed by Keith Yanov and then Chris Zurbuch who both looked very easy in the uphill.

bandit 50K guillaume calmettes
Halfway to the top of the first climb.
Photo Luis Escobar

At the top of the climb I was a couple of hundreds feet behind Chris Z and Keith, but the 3 leaders were already out of sight. We attacked the descent and hit the first major aid station (Hawaiian theme!), but I didn’t stop by as I had still plenty of water and 3 gels in my pocket. Right after the aid station we entered the Chumash trail, a long, snaking single-track descent, with great scenic views over the Simi Valley mountains. I loved every second of it and I had a lot of fun running it.

bandit 50K single track
Having fun on a top-notch single track.
Photo Erica Gratton

Approaching the end of the descent, I got passed by Matthew Ardine. He was really fast in the downhill but seemed to be less comfortable in the uphill as we constantly traded spots back and forth for the next few miles, me passing him on the climbs and him passing me in the descents.

We ran into the next aid station which was in a residential neighborhood and I re-filled up my one handheld with water. The volunteers asked me how I was feeling, and I told them I was feeling good and I was having a great time. Right after the aid station however, I missed the right turn at the bottom of the “Hot-Dog hill” (well maybe I was not feeling so good finally, lol), but hopefully I was called back almost instantly by the volunteers who prevented me to be off course for more than just a couple hundreds feet (thank you guys!!).

bandit 50K Hot Dog Hill
The “Hot Dog Hill”
and the right turn entrance I almost missed

After some more hills during which I took care of my nutrition/hydration, I approached the 15 mile half-course turnaround and I cheered Chris Price who was already coming back at me. He had a small 1-2 min lead on James Walsh and they both were looking very strong. Chris Z was now in third place as he had passed both Keith and Kenneth. Kenneth was actually still at the turnaround aid station when I arrived, 2:03 into the race. I quickly re-filled my one handled, ate my last gel and thanked the volunteers before heading back into the trail. I ran into Josh Spector, Trey Barnes and Margaret (leading woman), on their way to the turnaround, and I cheered them on as well as all the following other runners coming back at me. It was great to see all those runners having a great time on the trail.

In the next uphill, I caught a brief glimpse of Keith, and I calculated that I was just 3 min behind so I convinced myself to run harder. My efforts didn’t pay off as I still didn’t catch him back when I hit the residential neighborhood aid station (mile 20) for the second time of the day. I quickly filled up my one handled with electrolyte, and left the aid station with the idea of pursuing my effort to close the gap. In my hurry, I completely forgot to eat anything at the aid station and I didn’t have any gels left.

The day was starting to get hot, and I attacked the last 5 miles climb of the day. It was far from being a steep climb, but I didn’t have the energy to run it at the pace I wanted to, so I settled down into a slow-pace run. I was feeling really weak and my body was begging for calories. I finally reached the top of the climb, thinking that I will be able to ate some food while enjoying the killer view on the surrounding mountains that this spot was offering. Unfortunately the aid station at the top had water only (Damnit!) but a volunteer told me that next aid station with food was just a couple miles ahead. It was in fact the Hawaiian aid station I passed by at the beginning of the day. Once there, I drank a lot of coke, ate two potatoes and some salty pretzel, hoping to recover some of my energy.

bandit 50K aid station
The aid station at the top of the last big climb.
No Food, but killer view on the surrounding mountains!
Photo Luis Escobar

I felt a little better, I thanked the awesome Hawaiian volunteers and started the last descent back to Corriganville Park. The descent was very rocky and technical, and I got passed by Mike McMonagle in this section, just 1.5 mile to the finish, and I was seeing Matthew also gaining on me. Once at the bottom, I felt I had my energy back and I bombed on the last flat half mile to finish in 6th place in 4:40 (2nd in Age Group), 30 min behind Chris Price who set an amazing new course record.

bandit 50K win by Chris Price
Congratulations to Chris Price for his amazing race and CR!
Photo Billy Yang

After the finish, it was nice to introduced myself to and talked to all the local trail guys (Chris, James, Trey, Billy, Josh), they all are amazing individuals.

I stayed a bit to cheer on the runners finishing their race and then thanked everyone before leaving as I needed to return the rental car and go back finishing some work at the lab. This was really a really great Sunday! Organizers have put on a great event, and for sure I will be back next year !

Some note learned during the race:

  • messing up with nutrition in the second half of the race is not what you want to do

  • I need to integrate specific hill training sessions in my training and work on my downhill technique

My next race is the LA Marathon. This will force me to do more speed workouts, and to run at higher paces. Hopefully this will be beneficial for my future trail running races.

happy runner TNFC 50
Happy runner under the rain

I am not sure why I decided to run the 2012 The North Face Challenge Championship 50K as my first ever 50K trail race. I am not even sure why, a few months ago, I decided to give a try to trail running. But anyways, I signed up to the race back in august just before it sold out (yes, first hurdle successfully passed!). The TNFC 50 event weekend is mostly famous for its 50 Mile race, which always gather an exciting field of Men and Women elite runners, but as a virgin of ultra trail distances, 50km looked long enough to me.

I had seen photos from last year event, and the trails in Marin Headlands looked awesome, offering spectacular views over the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, in the week leading up to the race, weather was calling for heavy rain and wind and it was unlikely that we would run in the same perfect conditions than the 2011 edition. Confirmation of the bad news was given at the packet pick up when the TNF staff announced that California States Park officials had issued a mandatory re-route of both 50 Mile and 50K race courses to ensure the safety of all runners, as considerable damages occurred on California State Park trails due to weather. As a result, the entire course north of Muir Beach (and the associated big climbs) was out and the course was now basically a succession of smaller 800-1000ft hills. Well, at least the race was still on! (it happened that all the Sunday’s races — 5k, 10k, & half marathon — were cancelled)

happy runner TNFC 50
Profile of the 2012 TFNC 50K modified course

The next morning, I was up early, and headed out of my hotel room to catch one of the shuttle to Fort Barry (the main event site). Because of the heavy rain pounding the Marin Headlands, the start line area was just mud everywhere and 45 min before the start I was already cold and soaked … not really a good start ;) Still, I was excited to toe the line.

TNFC 50 start in the dark

I didn’t really have strong expectations for the race, but I was eager to see what my limits were and I was ready to push myself as hard as I could. My 3 months of solid training (relative to my standards) leading to the race had given me confidence that I could break the 5:00 mark, and I decided that this would be my goal for the race.

After Dean Karnezes gave us all a brief pep talk at the starting line, the race finally went on! It was still dark, but a headlamp was not necessary as the sunlight was slowly showing up. Surprisingly, I found myself running with the lead pack for the first mile. After a quick look at my watch, I convinced myself that the pace we settled in wasn’t a good idea if I wanted to finish the course, so I let the group of 7-8 runners pulling away. The first climb quickly arrived, and I was feeling good. Even if I wasn’t pushing too hard in the uphill, I came back on an passed a couple of runners. However, as I was reaching the top of the climb, I looked back and saw a group of 4-5 fast dudes charging behind me and quickly closing the gap on me. As they arrived to my side, I realized that they were the leaders of the 50 Mile race that started 2h earlier than the 50K, and they were already in their second loop. I was now running with some athletes of the Salomon Team, Miguel Heras, Greg Vollet, François d’Haene, as well as Mike Wolfe and Cameron Clayton ;) I couldn’t maintain their speedy pace in the downhill for a long time though, so quickly I was alone again, with a big smile on my face.

Guillaume Calmettes and Greg Vollet
Charging the downhill with Greg Vollet

The rest of the course was a succession of muddy climbs and slippery descents. I felt good the whole race, running the uphills at a slow steady pace and rolling the descents as best as I could. I tried to take in 150-200 calories per hour, popping a gel every 30-45min, and forced myself to drink regularly (even if I wasn’t feeling thirsty because of the rain).

The miles quickly passed without I noticed, and it was already the finish line! 5th overall in 4:14, 15min behind the winner, Joshua Korn from the team Salomon, I couldn’t ask for more! I threw my hands up in the air, being so happy to have run further than I have had, especially in those flood-like conditions.

joshua korn TNFC 50
Joshua Korn, winner of the TNFC 50K 2012
Photo Matt Trappe

The food at the finish line area was really awesome, and I spend the next couple hours cheering on the runners finishing their race. I missed the finish of the first 3 male runners of the 50 Mile race, as they were already done when I finished my 50K, but I had the chance to see the finish of the first female, Emilie Forsberg and her pacer, Anna Frost. Even if it was cold and rainy, the atmosphere at the finish line was awesome, trail running is all about sharing with others! A lot of great memories!

What a great first 50K trail race! Time to start getting ready for 2013 now!