Sunday, September 27, 2009

SNER Double-Marathon: a slow year?

SNER stands for the Sierra Nevada Endurance Runs and marks a special weekend of September on the ridge of the American River. The tradition was set by Norm Klein, the former race director of Western States and husband of ultra legend Helen Klein. Time passing, Norm transfered the baton to Julie Fingar and Greg Soderlund, who already co-direct Way Too Cool 50K and American River 50M.

For various reasons, SNER was not hosting the Rio Del Lago 100-mile which I ran last year. But there were still four trail distances to chose from: 12K, marathon, double marathon and 100K, with the double marathon being one of the races of the Pacific Association USA Track & Field ultra grand prix which I am competing in.

Unlike the rest of my Rhomobile-Quicksilver teammates who came to Granite Bay on Friday afternoon or evening, I car pooled with Scott Dunlap on Saturday morning, a great way to catch up with him since we met at Western Sates. I woke up at 2 am and met him at 3 which was really early. It turned out that we did not plan very well because we arrived in Granite Bay at 5 am for a race starting at 6:30. With my hectic workload these past weeks and sleep deprivation, I would surely have enjoyed an extra hour in bed. Instead, we enjoyed a second breakfast at Mel's...
Open 24 by 7, a concept I still have hard time to understand from an economical standpoint, even after 11 years in the US, but which comes handy from time to time.
With 4 races for this event, I thought the turnaround was relatively low. Julie gave a briefing to the crowd gathered in the gymnasium and I admit I missed some instructions as I was concentrating on my last minute preparation (water and Gu2 bottles, gels, S!Caps, timing chip, ...). Julie warned us about the expected high temperatures.

Here is Jimmy Freeman (center) who placed 3rd at Rio Del Lago last year. Today he was crewing for his sister (12K) and the first ultra of one of his friends.
I did not run with a camera and you will have to visit Scott's or other blogs to see pictures of the race. Chikara (Omine) quickly took the lead and left us in the dust. I tried to stay in sight of Mark Lantz whom I past very shortly as he made a quick stop to refill a bottle at the first aid station, Twin Rocks. We stayed together for a while: he led until Rattle Snake (mile 11.4) and I took the lead afterwards. We were then averaging 7:55 minutes/mile. I ran several sections up the terrible Cardiac hill (800 vertical feet over 1 rocky mile) and put a few hundreds yards between the two of us.

Reaching the Maidu aid station (mile 20.7), I asked the volunteer how far Chikara was ahead and she replied: "You are the first to come through!" That was strange Chikara had evaporated like that. Leaving Maidu I turned to see Mark coming in and thought it would not be long before he catches me as our average pace had fallen to 8:28 after Cardiac.

There are only 1.5 miles between Maidu and Auburn Dam Overlook so I did not stop at this aid station before the 4 miles down to the rive. I should have though because the heat at started to hit and I reached the turn around with an empty water bottle. I was the first one at the station, having completed the first marathon in 3:33. Stopped for a minute or so before Tim Twietmeyer urged me to leave, not before making a comment of all the salt I had lost and visible on my short. It felt god to see the Western States legend and be back on this section of the course where I had a great finish last June.

After running over No Hands Bridge for the second time I starting crossing all the other runners. And the first was actually... Chikara, who had gotten lost (8 minutes of course) and was pushing hard to make up the time. Saw Pierre-Yves (about 20' behind me), Scott (who stopped to take a picture...), Sean, Andy, but no sign of Mark. Chikara passed me on the way up to the overlook and, as I started walking the uphills, I was surprised to learn that I was only 3 minutes behind him at the top. Along the nice canal, my favorite section of the trail, before and after Maidu, I was amused at the lead times given by most of the runners I crossed, varying from 3 to 12 minutes between Chikara and I. Quite an elastic lead... I should note that I also received numerous and very nice words of encouragement which I tried to return when I could catch my breath. The last runner I crossed was at the bottom of Cardiac (mile 18 for him, 32 for me) and he gave me a nice "congratulations!" Not quite over yet with 18 miles to go.

From that point, I could not run the up hills anymore, with some cramps in the quads and dehydration. Last year, I actually had prepared better and ran this section with larger bottle. My water bottle was empty when I reached Power Plant, then again at each subsequent aid stations, which was not a good sign. At each station, I was given an update on Chikara's lead, around 10 minutes consistently, so I knew he was struggling like me. But no indication on who was behind so that kept me moving, while looking behind from time to time.

At mile 35, a scary thing happened to me. I heard a loud whistle just behind me and, sure enough, it was a rattle snake on the side on the trail. I had just passed him as he was 3 feet from the trail, the head off the ground ready to jump. Phew, first time this happens to me in a race...

The 6-mile stretch between Rattle Snake (how appropriate...) Bar and Horseshoe Bar was long and painful. I reach both aid stations with my lips hurting from the dehydration, and was glad to hear there were 3.7 miles to the finish. 3.5, 3.2, 3! 2.6 (1/20th of today's run), 2.3, 2! You could think that 2 miles is nothing when you do an ultra but these last ones are tough when they keep going up and down like a roller-coaster, not to mention your tank is empty. At each aid station there were signs with motivational quotes, some stations with 3 or 4 of them which was overwhelming when you are too tired to fix things. But, at this point of the race, the one which kept coming back in my head was the one I had read on the way back to the Dam Overlook, reading: "It's not over until it's over. And it's not over!" How true especially in ultras...

I passed the line in second position, in 8:17:40 which I felt was a miserable time compared to last year's winning time of Mark Lantz. Now, here is the scoop and the rationale of the title of this post (A slow year?). All day I was thinking that Mark had run the course last year in 7:05. Which is twice the time it had taken me to run the first marathon this morning. I was really impressed, as I am of all Mark's performances, because this year's heat was even not an excuse: I know for having run Rio Del Lago that it was hot too last year (although we might have started 30 minutes earlier last year). I ran the second half feeling ashamed for being so far behind this pace. Now, writing these lines, I double-checked the 2008 results to find out that it was actually 7:59:08. Still a remarkable time, under 8 hours, but not quite the same side of the hour.
When I entered the gymnasium, I found a Chikara whom I never saw like that, as tired as I was. Little did I know that he finished less than 2 minutes ahead of me, bunking badly after the last aid station and losing 8 minutes of his 10-minute lead in 3 miles. It was particularly embarrassing to see Lia Farley crossing the finish line less than 4 minutes after me, looking fresh as she had not run yet today! Ultra elite Bev Anderson-Abbs had won the woman division last year in 8:40 (taking second overall), making Lia's time of 8:21 really impressive this year. Note that Lia had placed 2nd at the same event last year, only 7 minutes behind Bev. So, overall, that was not such a slow year...

It took 30 minutes for Chikara's usual smile to come back:
Scott welcomed me at the school with a funny: "the only way I could beat you was for me to drop at the turnaround!" He got a ride back with other marathoners and had already showered. As the heat was increasing and peaking at 104F early afternoon, the list of drops kept growing. I had spent 20 miles power walking the hills, limiting the time at the aid stations to a minimum, battling against the slowing average pace, thinking Pierre-Yves and Scott were just around the corner ready to catch me, to find out that Scott dropped after falling (he is ok but he preferred securing his next marathon goal, in 6 weeks), and Pierre-Yves finished in 10:32, taking 2nd in Masters and 7th overall. With Sean placing 4th overall, that makes a good performance for our team and should consolidate our pole position. See the 2009 SNER Double-marathon results for more details on the 29 finishers (versus 24 last year). Here is Sean, who lost 30' getting off course after Auburn, and Scott:
It is not the most popular event in the area but I thank Norm for setting this September tradition and Julie and Greg for taking it forward. I am thankful to all the volunteers: with the heat, we could not have done it without their care, encouragements, the food, all the fluids they carried to remote places on the course, the sponges and water buckets, and the ice! And what a difference with Western States were there are three times as many volunteers as participants. Must have been the opposite this Saturday.

Thank you also to the race sponsors: Moeben, Bank Card USA, Montrail, Ultrasignup, Barbara's Bakery, Fleet Feet, Facchino Photography, and Monsters of Massage. And Brooks for the nice tshirts. I already highlighted the Monsters of Massage in previous posts (Way Too Cool race reports in particular), but I have an even bigger story to illustrate how amazing Ve Loyce's team is. Before learning that this double-marathon was selected in August for the ultra Grand Prix calendar, I had promised Aaron to run his Trailblazer 10K race to support a dear cause of the development of the Stevens Creek Trail. And when I say something... Since the 10K was on a Sunday, I figured out I would do both. See my upcoming post for the rest of the story then and see for yourself what Ve Loyce's massage achieved...

A first: double massage for a double marathon!
The friendly and super efficient Monsters of Massage: Ve Loyce, Debbie, Jeffrey (missing: Ve Loyce's wife who doesn't appreciate heat waves):
See you next year!


Scott Dunlap said...

You did great out there! Congratulations on your survival of the fittest 2nd place finish.

Thanks for carpooling too, and joining me at Mel's! Thank God for 24 hour restaurants or we would have had nothing to do. ;-)


Anonymous said...

Quel effort et quelle réussite!
La photo "salée" est très démonstrative pour Papa.

Erwan Japon said...

Bon, ben ca a ete chaud ca !
et oser courir un 10K le lendemain. Impressionnant, comme d'habitude...