Sunday, February 7, 2016

M50-54 American 50K record: a Rich-able 34-year quest at Jed Smith!

For those following my ultra running peregrinations, you must know I've been chasing my Age Group American record on that distance for 2 years. 50K is my fetish distance, by far the largest number of races of this format, it was my 55th today! (Next is 47 10Ks, 30 50-milers, 26 Half-marathons and only 22 marathons.) And it was my 8th consecutive participation (I couldn't participate in 2007 because of a trip to Tokyo, nor in 2008 as I was just done with the 6-day Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica).

So, for this 8th edition, and before turning 52 in a few weeks, I had hefty goals:

  1. Chikara was in, so I wasn't aiming for the win but for 2nd place (which has been the case for 5 out of 7 runs so far),
  2. and my age group win (40 points).
  3. I wanted to at least run faster than last year to set a new age group course record for 10 bonus points (3:21:58)
  4. But more importantly I wanted to set that new M50-54 American record which has been resisting for close to 34 years! (3:19:33 John L Sullivan (53) in Washington, DC on 1982-Mar-13)
  5. I thought I could even improve my PR, set on that course in 2012 at 3:19:09 (thanks to Victor's friendly emulation and competition).

With all the speed work I put in my training in January, all that looked doable, right? Based on who was registered on the web site. But, wait, look at what is written on the right tent in this picture: Race Day Registration...

Well, all week I wondered if Rich Hanna would get in on race day and, sure enough, when I arrived to the start line after our early carpool with Pierre-Yves, I saw Rich who confirmed he had just gotten in the 50K and shooting for the record. Rich is such a nice athlete, he even offered that we run together at 6:20 min/mile pace (the record corresponding to 6:25), but Rich is obviously a much faster runner than I am. For instance, Rich ran that course in 3:13 2 years ago (we were both 49), and has already broken 3:30 at Way Too Cool (he set our M50-59 age group record to a blazing 3:41 last year). Rich is particularly amazing because his specialty is cross-country but he is able to keep that same super fast cadence for 31 miles!

With this news, I must admit that I was devastated. Of course, very happy for Rich that he had finally the perfect opportunity to break this long-lasting record with the ideal weather and a course in pristine conditions, plus the official USATF label and course certification in place this year (as opposed to last year). Not to forget the chip timing handle by Rich's own company as a matter of fact (Capital Road Racing Management).

But, his participation meant that I had lost 4 of my 5 goals, so I was left with pushing hard enough to break 3:19 and PR, without the rest of the motivational goals. With his usual optimistic, Pierre-Yves tried to lift my spirit up, but he didn't know Rich, and there was no way Rich would miss this opportunity. Besides, he is so much faster and has run this course in times way under the targeted record, so it seemed like a done deal. I knew that I had a very little window of opportunity last year at the 50K Road Nationals and it made my sub 2-minute miss even more bitter.



During all this melodrama on my end, we still managed to see the start of the 50-mile at 7:30 am, our 50K starting one hour later. As usual, it was a small group, the event not being part of our Grand Prix. Karl Schnaitter took the control right away with a clear intention to run a fast 50-mile today.

Temperature was around 45F and forecasted to reach 65F in the afternoon, perfect conditions! And beautiful views of a much healthier American River than the past years.



Conversely, on the 50K, our group was close to 100 participants! Right off the bat, Chikara took off at 6:10 pace. Rich and I ran the first 3 miles together starting at a more conservative (everything being relative...) pace. Our first mile turned out to be slow actually at 6:26, in the first mile of of the out and back. Rich was trying to entertain some conversation but I told him I wouldn't hold a 6:20 min/mile pace if I had to talk... Our second mile, coming back to the start, clocked a blazing 6:04, with the excitement of crossing the rest of the pack and the course being slightly downhill. By the third mile we were at a 6:15 average pace with Chikara disappearing quickly ahead and Rich showing no intention to slow down and honor his initial proposal of running together at 6:20. Needless to say, that was too fast for me and I did slow down but barely losing 1 second on the average pace, closing the first 4.86-mile lap in 30'30" (6:17 pace) which was 30" faster than what was needed for breaking the record.

I ran the second lap in 30'45", loosing some ground on Rich but still pretty close. At the end of the third lap, I made a 12-second stop to change GU2O bottles and drink a Vespa so my lap got to 30:54. Without that stop I was still running at 6:17 and my legs started to notice and complain. A few signs of cramps got me to slow down a bit and double up on the S!Caps. 4th lap ended up at 31'10", there weren't much room for margin and, this time, between me slowing down and all the other 30K and half marathon runners on the course, I lost sight of Rich. As well as much hope to catch-up eventually. As mentioned above, my only remaining motivation was to PR and, at this time, I actually thought my PR was 3:19:42 (instead of the 3:19:09 listed above for 2012).

Between the few cramps, the fatigue and the motivation erosion, my 5th lap turned out to be an abysmal 32'27", ouch! That meant that I had to run the last lap at an average pace of 6:30. With cramps... I threw my bottles to the side of the course, near my car, to get my arms free and give it all. I managed to accelerate for a few hundred yards and Strava gives my miles 27 and 28 at 6:39 and 6:37. Not bad given the circumstances but quite not fast enough, except that my legs rebelled and punished me with more cramps. During my marathon years I learned to keep running with (painful) cramps, so I kept moving, albeit slower. I passed Pierre-Yves with more than 1/2 mile to go but only 4 minutes left to break my PR. Despite his encouragement, I couldn't run faster at that point, I was in the red zone at 6:47 min/mile and crossed the finish line in 3:20:55 (32'39" for the last lap). 1 minute and 18 seconds off this damned record...

I was so disappointed to have missed all my goals (5 out of 5!), I have to apologize to all for having been so grumpy after that finish. I know, how many 50-year old guys can run a 50K under 3:21? Or even break 3:30 on this distance at half this age? Couldn't I be just happy to take 3rd today behind two amazing champions? Having run a 2:47 marathon on the way? And getting a performance worth 96% on UltraSignup in spite of such competition? Oh, not to forget, being healthy and injury free... Indeed, many reasons to smile and be grateful for! Well, sorry, I still struggle at stopping pushing the envelope and keeping setting higher goals...

Chikara finished in 3:11:47 and Rich set a new M50-54 American record at 3:17:44, an improvement of 1'52". It was time that he gets the fame for this, he is such an accomplished distance runner in addition to being such a nice person dedicated to our sport.

Here is the informal and friendly Men 50K podium:
And with Race Director, John Blue:
7 podiums in 8 participations, one more reason to smile (I took 4th in 2013, coming back from injury).

Speaking of records, Bev Anderson-Abbs also set an American record for the distance, F50-54. Here she is, flying to a 3:48:06 finish, a women win (yes, the 50-59 age group is a tough one at Jed Smith! ;-), and 6th overall. And, yes, she looks easy because the Canadian record she set last year was even faster than this one!

Exactly 2 hours later, our Grand Prix co-Chair, Bill Dodson, also met his goal, improving the M80-84 American record for 50K by 7 minutes at 5:48:09. Bill now owns the 50K, 50-mile and 100K records in his age group, and he has a few others at reach (what about less than 64 hours for 100 miles, Bill?)!
While Bill was on his last lap, Karl Schnaitter won the 50-mile, breaking 6 hours (5:56:43). He, too, had an aggressive start, running the first 4 laps at a sub 7 pace, still managing to run the last 2 laps at sub 7:30 min/mile paces!
Adolfo Andrade took 2nd in 6:45:50

And Ray Sanchez cruised for 3rd Men, 4th Overall in 7:02:00.
While the competition was again dominated by the Excelsior, we had only 6 participants from our Quicksilver club today.

Pierre-Yves returned to the competition with a 14th place overall and 4:02:56

Marc Klemencic 4:34:24


Joe Swenson 4:44:47 and his first win in his new M60-69 age group!

Stephen Strauss 6:19:33

And Kat, Powell allowing us to score in the mixed division, 6:45:02.

A few things I learned from my run today:

  1. There are some stars that you can't control, for instance what the competition will be and what they will be capable of, and that can certainly affect some of your goals.
  2. After the long tapering in December, and more business traveling in January with irregular training, I'm still 6 pounds over my ideal race weight, I need to seriously work on this.
  3. I drank my two bottles of GU2O (typically 20oz every 15 miles), but only one bottle of water which wasn't enough and explained some of the cramping.
  4. Vespa did very well again but, running in the red zone for so long (sub 6:20 pace), I should have taken one or two more Gu gels (I only took 3).
  5. Record hunting is a dangerous sport when you are not the fastest in your sport or even age group... ;-)
  6. And, more importantly, happiness is a state of mind, and like someone (anonymous) once said: "Happiness is not having what you want, it's wanting what you have."

Again, it was a beautiful day on the American River, it felt so good to see much more water flowing than the previous years. Yet, El NiƱo has been pretty mild so far, we need so much more water to catch-up. At least a sunny weekend made our runs much easier and the Super Bowl fans are very happy too!

Big thanks to the Buffalo Chips club for organizing this yearly event, ideal to kick start the ultra season on a fast foot. And Co-Race Directors, John Blue and Dennis Scott especially, plus all the volunteers along the course (course marshals) and at the aid stations (which I never stopped at during the race to save precious seconds...). We even had a couple of cyclists marshaling the course and making the event and records even more officials.


..

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Back on track: not too fast!

Running in general, and ultra running in particular, are so experimental... Sure, there is the famous adage 'listen to your body' but, sincerely, if you want to push to the limit and progress, it's quite difficult to discern which size of the limit you are flirting with...

As you read last week, and with two more workouts at the track this week, this has been a serious 'back on track' month for me. Not only 'back at/to the track' but also a pleasure to enjoy some speed again. However, that reminds me so much of last year, and the previous years as a matter of fact, it's like pacing myself in a long ultra, I need to make sure I'm not getting too excited and ahead of myself, or rather ahead of my shape/form...

On Tuesday, I met Bob and Jeremy again and the speed work out consisted of 6 x 800m. We hit 2'40" twice, it has been a while since I ran 2 laps at 5:20 min/mile. But I skipped Thursday as I didn't feel like pushing more at the track this week. But the real reason is that, since last week, I could feel something high along my right tibia, a good signal to remind me that the track is actually a tough surface to train on.

Indeed, as much as I highlighted great properties for and from training at the track, people think that the rubberized surface must be very soft and easy on the joint, but that's actually the opposite. Because it is meant to increase traction, it is unforgiving for all the small (or big...) defaults we have in our strides since the sole pretty much stick to the track as soon as you apply pressure. Unless dirt on which your shoe can slide to make any correction. Moreover, a trail has many defaults which makes each stride different, as opposed to a smooth rack.

With that, I went to Alviso on Friday to run the 9-mile loop of soft dirt twice. Sure enough, I didn't feel any pain in my leg so, what did I do on Saturday... go back to the track for more! I initially wanted to run at least 26 miles so started at a more conservative pace than last week (1'45" laps or ~7 min/mile) but, after 10 miles, I wasn't so comfortable and thought I was going to run 'only' 64 laps (16 miles) instead. I managed to go beyond this, even picking up the pace in the last 2 miles, for a total of 20 miles again. But, this Sunday, the pain was back and I cut my run short at 10K to play safe.

Nothing too serious I think, and it's a good time to taper before Jed Smith 50K next Saturday anyway, but a good 'listen to your body' experience after a 334-mile month at an average of 7:15 min/mile, albeit mostly on flat terrain.

Back to the title, it is so challenging to dose our training appropriately: too much and you break then lose a lot of time having to recover and get back in shape, too little and you won't progress much or won't even know if you could have done better. Besides, all this becomes trickier as we age (less resistance before breaking and more time to recover if ever...). Keep it up as they say...! ;-)

While sometimes I'd love that training and performance followed some mathematical and predictable laws, it wouldn't be as interesting and motivating to explore our capability or to know that you reached an horizontal asymptote or, worse, a declining one, would it be?

The good news is that, in addition to attentively listening to our body, we can learn from what people share (blogsphere, Facebook, magazines, Strava, ...), and get advice, motivation, encouragement and/or reason from listening to others. Also, we have this amazing ability to (re)train our body and push the red zone further, as long as it is progressive.

Interested in hearing about your own experience. Which signs do you see, or feel, before a potential injury? What do you consider too much? Which strategy did you use to raise your own limits? How do you know you are close to your body limits while not going over the wrong side? Big but non philosophical ultra running questions to kick off this longer-than-usual month of February...