Sunday, March 1, 2009

Napa: so close...

Or should I say: close enough? To make a long story short, I was shooting for 2:45, first to commemorate my 45th birthday and, second, to show that I was still capable of running a marathon in 2 hours and my age in minute. And for that, the race organizers were nice enough to give me the bib #245!

It was my 20th marathon, over just 10 years. My first marathon was the San Francisco Chronicle '99, my second official race after starting running seriously when we settled in California in 1998. An average of 2 marathons a year, although I did not log an official one last year, but more than 10 ultras. Overall, 12 marathons under 3 hours.

Here are most of my marathons in one chart showing:
  1. My age on the horizontal axis,
  2. The "2 hours + age in minute" chart (red line)
  3. The 3-hour mark (green line)
  4. An order-2 polynomial approximation showing a clear trend and convergence toward the red line.
Let's see in a few years if I can hold this correlation, the "Jean's law..."

And, for the ones who think that it works all the time, here are all my trials at the distance, the outliers being when I barely made it because of exercise-induced asthma (e.g. 4 hours at Big Sur and more than 5 hours at Phoenix):
Enough on the math and analytics side, let us talk about the day and the race (more pictures available in my Picasa album).

We drove up to St Helena on Friday night and had a great long night of sleep in the secluded house of our friends. It is always important to put some sleep in the bank in case the tension and excitement prevents you from sleeping well the night just before the race.
On Saturday morning, we drove down to Napa with Agnès, on the race course, the Silverado Trail. Which, unlike the name indicates, is not a trail at all but a road where speed limit goes as high as 55 mph, without all the traffic lights you encounter on Highway 29. That was a great way to get familiar with the course, from mile 8 to 26, and an occasion to realize that it was not at all a flat course, but a rolling one like at CIM (Calfornia International Marathon).
The Silverado Trail is home of about thirty of the best wineries of Napa Valley, providing to the runners quite some distraction and great views along the 26 miles.
At the expo, whose size was of the scale of the field, meaning small (2,300 runners against 25,000 at Boston), we met ultra legends Helen and Norm Klein. Helen was giving several motivational speeches and clinics throughout the day, and Norm was promoting the 50-mile and 50K Helen Klein Classic he will direct again on October 31st.
Later in the afternoon, the whole family drove to Calistoga to meet my running and training buddy Bob and his family. This way, we had covered the entire course on Saturday. Twice actually with both round trips.
Based on this acquaintance with the profile of the course, I started doubting about my goal and figured out I will have to push early on in all the uphill sections to maintain my goal of a 6:18 min/mile average pace, corresponding to a time of 2:45:00. I went to bed before 9 pm but barely slept between 1 and 3 am. I make a rule of finishing my breakfast three hours before the start of a marathon, which meant 4 am with the 7 am start. Agnès and Greg dropped me at the start and saw us taking off.
Less than 30 seconds in the run, as we were trying to pass people who did not have much to do on the front of the race, I found Bob and we settled on a 6:13-6:14 pace. As planned in my mind, I pushed in the uphill sections to maintain this pace. Bob stayed behind me for the first 12 miles for which we kept a very consistent 6:14 min/mile pace, leading us to a half-marathon around 1:22. It was recomforting to have Bob with me. However, I lost him just before the half, seeing Mark (Lantz) remaining close behind us, in a sort of observation position.
I was still on track at an average of 6:16 before the long hill of mile 20. At the top of it, my Garmin indicated 6:17 and I was happy with it, knowing that the last 6 miles were mostly flat, actually slightly downhill, along the Napa River and getting into the town of Napa.

By mile 21 I caught up with Nicholas Baldo, who seemed surprisingly young and, as I will found out later, is indeed only 18 years old. I had him in sight for the whole uphill and closing on him so, when passing him, I was surprised he not only pushed the pace but made several accelerations, hindering my running (i.e. changing from his trajectory to come right in front of me!). He played this silly game for three miles and that really upset me to the point that I asked him to find another target instead of bothering me! He is certainly an amazing and promising athlete, but, sorry, that's not a way to behave in a race...During this time, Mark passed us and I could not keep up. By mile 25 I realized I will have to run a sub-6-minute mile to meet my goal but I could not go faster than 6:26 at this point. I crossed the finish line in 2:46:32, a 6:21 average pace. Soaked, happy to be done and just a bit frustrated to have missed my goal of running 2:45 by so little. I would have considered the goal met with 2:45:59 so I ended up 33-second short, which represents a 0.3%miss or 1.25 seconds too slow for each mile. Sometimes people do not realize how much every second counts even in such long races...

After encouraging me at the start, then mile 8 (Deer Park Road), mile 12 (Zinfandel Lane), mile 16 (Oaksville Cross Road), the family did its own marathon to be at the finish line, not only to cover the event with photographs, but with a birthday cake! The boys even managed to light the candles up despite the persistent rain.
Bob came in a couple of minutes later, meeting his sub 2:50 goal. I chatted with Ted Nunes (another Brooks ID'er) and Ron Duncan (a member of our ultraholics Yahoo! group) who finished just behind Bob. As a matter of fact, as I type this post on Sunday night, the results are a bit fuzzy because of some obvious mistakes in the reported results (times and rankings).

We all gathered inside, re comforted by the High School volunteers dispensing some hot soup, bread, fruits and yogurt. I spent some time getting advice and light treatment from a physiotherapist for some stiffness in my left hip, and we lighted up the candles again so we could share the cake with Bob's family.
California needed and still needs a lot of rain to overcome the drought (and I'm not talking about the budget deficit here, but the real lack of rain and water which compromises the leading agricultural role of California in the US). Well, today has been good from this standpoint: the region really collected a few inches of water and it is still rainy and unusually windy in the Bay Area tonight. As much as I don't like rain when running, especially road racing, and despite the fact that it might have cost me these extra 33 seconds, I am enough supportive of sustainable development to see this rain as a blessing.

I will be back on the course, hopefully for a sunny day! And maybe some wine tasting too... During the race like for the Marathon du Médoc, or not? That is the question!

No time for resting: need to keep training for the rest of the season! Next milestone: Way Too Cool, my next trail 50K in 2 weeks...

PS: By the way, I got my Boston Qualifier, needing a 3:30 for my new 45-49 age group. Speaking of Boston qualifiers, here is a chart illustrating that my "2 hours + age in minute law" must have a statistical bug. Indeed, under increasing pressure from people who had difficulty keeping qualifying for Boston over the years, the standards have been relaxed and clearly show a non-linear evolution with age (blue chart --the red being the "Jean's law" one, again...). If I recall, the Boston standards were actually mostly linear before, adding 5 minutes every 5 years, similarly to what I identified and I am aiming at. We shall see how I feel about all that in 5, 10, 15, 20 years...
And, again, more pictures of this rainy weekend in my Picasa album.


Drs. Cynthia and David said...

Congratulations on a great race despite lousy weather and injuries leading into it! And Happy Birthday too!

Good luck at WTC!


Anonymous said...

Congrats on a fast time in Rainy conditions. I'm sure we were all thankful for little wind! There is something wrong with the results.
Not only are the standings off but so are the chip/gun times.
It has me listed as running 3:00:XX. Although I'd like to have that time next to my name my true time was 3:06:XX. I was standing about 3 people behind the mat at the start, and way off to the right. My gun and chip time should only be about one second difference.

Nice running..
go brooks!

Ron said...

Congratulations, Jean. Thanks for sharing your experiences and photos at this marathon.

Jean Pommier said...

Thank you, Cynthia, Ted and Ron!

BTW, the results have been fixed sometime this Monday. At least for the front runners. Amazing performance from local champion Peter Gilmore, who is even capable of much more (2:12:45 at Boston '06!!). And with 5-year deep age groups, I was the youngest in my new one, and took the honors, yippee! But no weight in wine, that was for the overall winners!


Anonymous said...

Je n'ai pas bien compris les graphiques...
mais pour le reste tu t'es vraiment bien comporté...sous cette bénéfique pluie
Bravo et bises

Tony Overbay said...

Amazing, Jean! When seeing you on the way back at RDL, Helen Klein, etc., you looked so strong I figure you've been doing this for 20 years, not 10! All of a sudden I do feel as cool :-) See you at AR50, Miwok, etc?


Scott Dunlap said...

You're still in the 2:40's club, which is pretty darn good. Nice work!


Baldwyn said...

Jean, happy birthday, thanks for a great read! Wonderful race, I'm stunned and excited that you used to be a 3:30 marathoner, and will hold out hope that I will get faster as I age, until I hit the Jean's Law line :)

TokyoRacer said...

Hi Jean,
Nice race! And thanks for your comment on my blog.
Sorry to have missed you at the start. At the finish I was too cold to stay around.
Winning my age group was nice (although there was no competition). My time was not...was disappointed that my legs gave out, again! at the end of a marathon. Back to the drawing board.
I returned to Tokyo last night, will post a report tonight.