Sunday, November 4, 2007

Helen Klein 50 miles: easy out, tough back

Anyone who has run this race will understand the title easily. For the others, here is what it is about: the three races, 30K, 50K and 5 miles, start from the same place, the Cavitt middle school of Granite Bay, CA, North of Sacramento. The course is 98% bike path so a lot of asphalt and pounding. But more importantly, we follow the American River, first on its way to the Bay, so slightly down, then back to Folsom Lake and the dam, with a gradual 25-mile uphill. Nothing as brutal as in many other ultras where we climb thousands of feet, just 400 feet over 25 miles. Nothing as dramatic as the elevation diagram reported by the Garmin 301 shows below, with a disproportionate 400 feet total elevation:But enough to kill your legs and rhythm on such a road race. It's like going with the current for 25 miles, and against it for the other 25. Back to the title, it's then easy to start fast, and hit the wall on the way back. So did I.

Getting there

Like last year, I met with my car pooling angel, Scott Dunlap for a 3:30am start from the intersection of 280 and 92 . Great way to catch-up with the blog guru, with captivating discussions about business, blogging, running, family, and a smooth ride getting us at Cavitt school by 5:30am. Welcomed by some familiar faces, both on the runners and volunteers sides, although this is somehow a different running community than the Bay Area. Race Director, Norm Klein, went on with his half serious, half humorous pre-race briefing at 6:30. Unfortunately I missed part of it, needing to use the bathroom. Already (see below). We then all headed up to the start, on the levee, in the dark but with a wonderful sky switching from dark and bright stars at 5:30 to a colorful sun rise, announcing a warm day.

The start

Something new for me this year, the race started right on time. Last year, Scott and I, and several others, missed the start which was given 4 minutes ahead of the official time (7am). On the starting line, I had the pleasure to see Mark Lantz who I first met at this race a year ago, as he was getting on my heels by the last station and we were both cramping and pushing to finish under 7 hours. And since then, in other events but not since Western States in June. Actually he was lined up on the 30K due to Achilles tendon injury. Top performers from last year (Michael Buchanan, Jon Olsen and Mark Tanaka) were not here so Michael Kanning and Scott told me it was going to be my race. On the way to Granite Bay in the morning, Scott also told me about how impressed he was with Michael's improvement since his first 100K at Ruth Anderson in April, and first 100-miler at Rio del Lago in September. And that he had a chance to break his age group American record on 50 miles. And, indeed, off we are, me following Mark at a 6:10 minute/mile pace and Michael on my side.

Down the river

Despite a few seconds lost at each aid station, I was still averaging 6:22 by mile 15, at the 50K turnaround. I was running by myself in the lead, when my intestine started to complain and call for a pause. Finally stopped by the bathrooms at mile 19.5 for 3 long minutes, hoping that will do it. But I had to stop 5 more times after this one, losing precious minutes responding to nature's calls... I reached the 25-mile turnaround aid station just below 2:49, quite fast indeed.

Back to school

As I told the nice crew at the turnaround aid station, this is where the fun begins. To my surprise, the first runner I saw on the way back was Scott who, as a true reporter, stopped to take a picture of me. He was followed by Nick Bingham and Jason Dashow. I passed the marathon mark in 2:58 and kept going when not stopping at the bathrooms. By mile 30 or so I started walking from time to time, slowing enough for Nick and Jason to catch me, I believe around mile 34. Jason had his crew waiting for him and stopped to see them. I kept up with Nick for half a mile at a 7:20 pace, then losing him by mile 40 although I could see him in the distance from time to time. By mile 46.5 I caught him up, we ran together for half a mile, then I lost him again, conceding almost 5 minutes in the last three miles. Like last week at Whiskeytown, another second place, in 6:22:38. Or 30 minutes faster than last year when I got killed by some exercise-induced asthma, and enough of "faster" for this year. I was hoping for 6:15, that will be for next year.

I didn't know Nicholas and was surprised to discover yet another fast runner on such a race. A quick search on Zinsli's website shows that there is no shame losing to him: sub 18 hours Western States and 2:31 marathon! But just 4 races in the database over 5 years: there is still some mystery here... Maybe just not used to run in California, living in Reno.

After recovering for a few minutes, I went outside to welcome Scott whom I believe to be close behind. But Jason came first (3rd overall), in 6:38:48. Amazing time for a rookie on this distance! Jason getting to the finish line, "all wired":

As for Scott, as you can read in his race report, he struggled at the end but managed to break 7 hours on his 3rd participation to this event, finally! By 33", yeah! Congratulations, Scott!
Being part of the Brooks Inspire Daily program, I was excited to see Carol Rewik winning the 50-mile race, and wearing Brooks from head to toe! Carol belongs to a running team in Vacaville, sponsored by Brooks. Look at this picture taken right after her finish: doesn't she appear as fresh as after a 5K?

Lesson to be learned from the experience? Any reasonable runner will likely tell me I violated the very first commandment of running, i.e. pacing. Yes and no. First I enjoyed looking at how long I could sustain the 6:20 pace, not having to hold up, enjoy the present moment. Second, there is no way you set records if you are not bullish and bold right from the start. Third, the first part is easier so this isn't a course for a negative split. No, the main lesson is that I drunk a large bowl of chocolate milk at breakfast, when I should rather stick to tea on race days. Ahh, my love for chocolate... As for the shoes, I used light ones, the Brooks Racer ST, which I usually wear for races ranging from 10K to marathon. Might have been a bit too light for a double marathon.

Post-race buzz

Although the attendance is low, and the finishes very spread over the day between the three events, the fact that we gather in the school gymnasium after the race creates some animation. First there is the Thanksgiving dinner which, to be honest, I was not in good enough shape to enjoy, although it was important to refuel after such an effort and losing so much salt.

Great age group award handed over by Norm.

Then, as the dust settled on the 50-mile results, the final ranking of the 2007 series were proclaimed: Peter Lubers beating Scott Dunlap by less than 1% over 5 races:

I was the occasion to finally met Peter and all his family in person, after "meeting" through or on our blogs this year.

I couldn't leave without thanking Norm and getting some motivation out of a brief chat with the famous, illustrious and inspirational Helen Klein:

Helen, 84, had run the 30K in the morning. "Just 30K this time" she said modestly... Helen holds the world record for her age group on marathon, 50 miles and 12-hour. And other US records on ultra distances. See her amazing running history.

Almost 70 years separate her from a rising local legend, Michael, below with his father:
Michael, 15, lives in Los Altos and had seen my boys' names, Max and Alex, in local cross-country results (Max and his team are running the Central Coast Section finals this coming Saturday). But, with 3-mile course, cross-country is really too short for Michael!

And, to conclude, the ultra "People" section! Norm was wearing his Western States buckle. Mark (Lantz) had won the 30K easily in the morning setting a new course record at a blistering 1:59:21. He was coming back to the gymnasium to welcome Rena (Schumann) at her finish on the 50-mile, winning the Masters division. Then Erik Skaden stopped by too. Erik is a top US ultra runner and a 2 times 2nd place finisher at Western States (the "Raymond Poulidor" of Western States, for the Tour de France connoisseurs) . We were quite in good "ultra" company this weekend! Not to mention several rookies on the 50-mile who enjoyed the perfect organization, weather, course and aid stations. And all the valorous runners on the three distances. And the volunteers, most of them being ultra runners themselves, out there for so many hours.

After this post-race activities, it was time for Scott and I to drive back to the Bay, and for me to pack-up once again, have a quick dinner with the family before jumping on a red-eye for Boston to attend the TPSA advisory board and fall summit. Yes, running is only my second job... ;-)

A quick picture with the nice trophy (1st Masters), same as last year (note the red eyes before the red-eye... ;-):
A big thank you to the Kleins for this ultra event! Long life to such an inspiring couple!


Anonymous said...

Encore un récit interessant même si je ne comprends pas tout.
Evidemment épatée par Helen!

Dave - Atlanta Trails said...

First off, I loved the Raymond Poulidor reference. I've been a fan of the Tour for about 15 years or so and was fortunate enough to have attended three stages in the Alps in '98. Prior to the mess this year, I would have argued that Jan Ullrich is the new Poulidor despite is one win. He finished second 5 times, I believe.

Anyhow, congratulations on your age group award. Having read yours, Scott's, Peter's and Michael's reports, I feel like I was there.


P.s. You are scary fast.

P.p.s. That picture of you running away from the Kenyan is starting to become legendary!

Peter Lubbers said...

Hi Jean,
Great run! It was definitely not a negative split course, although that picture from the Garmin does make it look a bit extra dramatic.
It was nice to finally meet you in person!
And in reference to "Pou Pou," I think we can safely add Joop Zoetemelk to the list of classic second-place finishers (6 times in 2nd behind Merckx and Hinault). Let's hope Erik can actually win it in 2008.
Take care,

Michael Kanning said...


Nice work! As Scott put it in his report, you were "haulin' booty" last Saturday. To PR by 30 minutes and get 6:22 is just nuts-congratulations on a job well done!

Hopefully Skaden takes first at WS this year. However, if you keep running the way you've been performing lately, I think you will definately take first at HK next year!

You mentioned that you do speed work at the Homestead HS (my school) track super early in the morning on Tuesdays-mind if I join you next Tuesday? I've been wanting to go after a mile PR and I'm beginning to realize the benefits of speedwork for running fast ultras.


Jean Pommier said...

Michael, yes Bob and I usually meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays, i.e. when not on business trip or off because of injury. 5:45am at HS track, next to the science labs. However, I didn't put it in my race report because I was not sure, I pulled a muscle in my left calf in the last mile last Saturday, so not sure how long I need to rest to fix that before my next ultra on 12/2 in France. Just to give you an heads-up in case I'm not there on Tuesday.


PS: are you going to the CCS XC finals this Saturday? I'll be at Crystal Springs with Max and the Tino team.

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Hey, stud. I think I wrote had you not run Whiskeytown the week before, you'd've won. Just skipping the milk would've done the trick. You will never be sponsored by the dairy industry in a "Got Milk" ad.

Although I sometimes like to go out fast, I don't think I'll be trying to do 6:20 mile, or a sub-3 marathon split for a 50-mile race anytime soon, downhill or not. Thanks, by the way for recording and publishing the altitude profile.

Scott Dunlap said...

Always a pleasure to ride and race with you. I hope the red eye to Boston that night wasn't too bad!

Cheers, SD

BTW, you are welcome to swipe all and any pics from my site if you would like. Just give me some photo credit and link back, and we're all good.