Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Helen Klein 2009: perfect weather

One thing is sure about this year's edition of the Helen Klein Ultra Classic: the weather was perfect, from start to finish. Super clear sky with a moon almost full, cool temperature at the start, no wind, sunny morning and warm afternoon. A big big change from last year's persistent rain. A great way to celebrate the first part of Halloween on this very last day of October. As I was mentioning in last week's post, how lucky we are to live in California and have such a weather in the Fall. I am thinking of our friends training on muddy trails on the East Coast or in Europe...

This perfect weather played well for some, but not everybody. And I am part of the latter. 2006: 6hr42 for my first Helen Klein and my second 50-miler ever after I got the Dick Collins Rookie award a month earlier at Firetrails. 2007: 6:22, a blast and still my PR on the distance. 2008: 8:51, a heroic finish with a major asthma crisis and pulmonary edema symptoms. 2009: 7:12 with mild asthma. After my DNF on the same course at American River in April of this year, for asthma reasons, there is really something my body does not like in the area...

I left Cupertino at 4 am, after joining Sean and Pierre-Yves for our RhoQuick "team pooling." (RhoQuick is our Quisksilver Running Club team sponsored by Adam Blum's company, Rhomobile, just covering part of the race registration fees.) It was great to have Heidi as our driver to decrease the pre-race stress. Their dog, Gordy, enjoyed our company on the back seat. We arrived just in time to pick our bib numbers and listen to Norm's briefing at 6:30. The main point was that we were not starting on the levee again this year, but Norm assured that he measured the course and it was only a quarter of a mile longer. However, most of our GPS would later give a longer account, between 51.1 and 51.25 miles.
We started on the trail and in the dark; Chikara started like a rocket and disappeared after the first turn. I settled in 3rd once we hit the bike path (around mile 2), keeping Jamie Olson, a local runner, in sight. Quickly though, Jamie seemed to have issue with his quad and I passed him around mile 5. The first mile was slow because of the darkness (7:40 min/mile) and we significantly increased the pace on the asphalt. By mile 7 my average pace was down to 6:46 and would remain the same for 10 more miles as I was carrying two bottles and not stopping at aid stations.

I refilled my Gu2O bottle at mile 20 and lost a few seconds but felt ok, and actually decided to slow down a bit to save some energy for the second half. I reached the turn around (supposed to be 25 miles, but rather 25.5 miles) in 2:56 or 6:56 min/mile pace. I was in second and Chikara was still flying and had already a lead of more than 15 minutes. He must have run his first marathon around 2:45. Mine was just above 3 hours (3:03), yet another Boston qualifier if I had ended there.

As we were back on the same path, we had the opportunity to see all the other runners after the turn around. Jamie was still in third, followed by Pierre-Yves who seemed in perfect condition with a big smile. Right after him was Sean, without the smile... I actually do not recall if Ray Sanchez was behind or between them. At this time, I started having trouble breathing fully and slowed down significantly to 9-9:30 min/mile with some walking to help catch my breath and preserve my lungs. The rest of the run was mostly about trying to "shuffle" (running with short steps, an exclusive Jim Magill technique!) as long as possible, walking to breath, looking at my GPS to see my average pace increase (yikes), and looking behind to see if anyone was catching up.

It is only at Sunrise Bridge (~ mile 37) that I heard the aid station volunteers cheering up to welcome a runner as I had just left the station still working on a cup of soup. It was Ray who was having a great day today. He was shooting for 7 hours but finished in 6:45. I kept going with my slow pace, convinced that Pierre-Yves or Sean were going to pass me at any time, but kept going and finished in 7:12, good for third overall and 2nd Masters. Chikara had finished in an amazing time of 5:45, improving his own age group course record by 2 minutes despite the additional mile! And missing the overall course record set by Michael Buchanan in 2005 by mere 2 seconds, which makes his performance the best ever on this course. Worth some Thanksgiving dinner refueling:Sean finished in 5th (7:19) and Pierre-Yves in 8th (7:29). These performances should be good enough for our team to cash in quite a few points and solidify our position in the PA USATF ultra and mountain trail running Grand Prix. The rest of the team did well too: Keith Blom, 17th in 8:00, and Jim Magill, 34th in 9:16. As for me, I was glad that the field was less competitive than previous years and that Mark Lantz had decided not to toe the start line. As a matter of fact, we had crossed Eric Skaden and Mark on the trail in the morning arond mile 6 as they live close by and were training on the course. My win in the Grand Prix this year is not based on major performances (Mark got these ones), but my assiduity and persistence... The last race, the famous Quad Dipsea, will not change the odds but I'm going as (Tropical) John Medinger invited me based on my 3rd place last year. I just hope I will not break a leg or twist an ankle on this torturous course. And I will work on my... quads, in November...
A special mention for Bill Dodson, 74, from my other club, the Stevens Creek Striders, who is dominating his age group in the Grand Prix, this year again. Here is Bill, fresh after a 50-mile "promenade" in an amazing time of 9:34:A big thank you to Norm for perpetrating this running tradition in honor of his legendary wife, Helen. And for more than 40 years of race directing and volunteering in the ultra community! A big thank you to all the volunteers (including Helen, now 87!), some of them at aid stations open all day long. A big thank you to all the competitors for their encouragements as we crossed after the turn around! A big thank you to my RhoQuick teammates for their fighting spirit and emulation. And a big thank you to the sponsors, whose generosity makes such events possible and affordable.

Norm said that the tradition is all set to live; see you next year, then! And maybe at the reinstated Rio Del Lago in the meantime. Speaking of 100-milers, there are now 62 of them listed on Stan Jensen's run100s.com website! I remember the counter passing 40 just a few years ago, then 50 last year, this is another big increase. I put my name in the hat of next week's Western States lottery and, if not taken, this will be a sign that it is time to look at other 100-milers. Except that I'm now "stuck" for another year of "enjoying" the races of the regional Grand Prix... Like taxes, a good problem to have!

Train wisely and run happy!

PS: a few more pictures in my Picasa album.


Anonymous said...

Lu et apprécié.
Très bien en "chef"!

Rajeev said...

Even with your breathing problems you managed 7:12 and 3rd. place overall? You are not from this planet for sure!!

You have a lot of heart and I am in awe of you.