Sunday, April 11, 2010

American River 2010: Faster, at last

Most of you have heard about the difficulties I had in the past with asthma on this course and especially at this race. I was too new to ultra running in 2006 to enter this renowned race. I skipped 2007 because I was running Boston. Finally, I was excited to toe the line in 2008 although it turned to a disaster. My lungs started burning at mile 15 and I could barely breath. However, as I had never DNF'ed at the time, I thought it was not enough of a good excuse to drop and walked the remaining 35 miles, for a long day (8 hours and 53 minutes on the course, which is still a fast time for many...). Last year, same excitement and same punishment with the asthma kicking in at the same place. That time, I had experienced a DNF at the French National of 100K so I took the good excuse to see Agnès at Beals Point (mile 26.5) to drop, call it a day and turn to a different role as a photographer taking hundreds of pictures of the runners.

A bumpy and slow start

One of the reasons I run is for the stress relief running in the outdoors and on trails provides. However, sometimes it adds some stress when I take the competition too seriously. Which may actually be one of the triggers of my exercise-induced asthma as I still cannot find a consistent correlation with the weather, temperature, seasons, pollen, food, elevation, vegetation, air quality. Certainly, I have enough other reasons to be stressed and tired living a busy life, for not adding the pressure with the running, which I call my second job (training and racing). Well, Friday added an unexpected source of stress though.

After one of my sisters and her husband visited from France two weeks ago, we have more family this week with another of my sisters, her son and one of my aunts. The plan was to leave early Friday afternoon to avoid the traffic and do a short visit of Sacramento before going to the hotel. Unfortunately, work kept me until 3:30 and we did encountered the Friday afternoon traffic on 680. At Walnut Creek we were stopped in the traffic when a big pickup smashed us from behind. Glass all over inside the car but nobody hurt fortunately, except for the usual neck pain of the shock and hitting the headrests. Freeing up the 3rd lane to go to the emergency lane, there was a big noise which made me think that we were good to let the car here and miss the race. Fortunately, that was just the bumper and the car seemed drivable. Police and CHP were on site within minutes and, after getting all the insurance information from the other driver, we decided to continue our journey, in even more traffic as other accidents perturbed I-80.
With that, we reached the hotel around 8 pm. I went to bed around 9:30 but could not sleep before 11, for about 5 hours of sleep. My morning preparation was also slowed down by all the removing of tiny pieces of glass which ended up in my bag and in my bottles in particular, yikes!

Although I don't like making plans in ultra to keep a flexible state of mind to handle all the unexpected things which can happen during a long race, I had told myself that I will start slow, that is not faster than 7 minutes/mile. I was quite relaxed at the start, chatting with fellow Striders for instance, that I was still in the middle of the pack when the horn blew.

The race

It has been a long time since I passed a starting line actually walking. That reminded me of my first half marathons in Paris when I was still a mid packer and it was taking more than 5 minutes to pass the line after the official gun time start... Not as much here of course as we were only 500 or so runners. Moving toward the front gave me the opportunity to see a few familiar faces, despite the darkness. I caught up with Steve Bremner from Colorado, whom I first met at the Coastal Challenge in January 2008 and at this race. Steve was after the course record of M55-59 (7:15) and, like me, was trying not run faster than 7 min/mile in the first 15 miles (bike path). We were a group of 4, with Patrick Dellapace of Sunnyvale and Kevin Weill. Kevin had run AR last year in 7:01 and wanted to break 7 hours as well. Steve ran all the 20 marathons of Colorado last year and was complaining that he was loosing to much speed with years, certainly not anything close to my 1-minute-per-year-on-the-marathon "law." (Steve ran in marathon PR of 2:32 as a Master and his fighting to break three hours now.)

I had an average 7:03 min/mile and my GPS and caught-up with another Brooks runner in front. A couple of miles before the fatidical and feared 15-mile mark (for my asthma), I put my Buff over my face to avoid breathing the flying pollen I could see in the sun rays. From time to time I was taking full breaths to test my lungs and was pleased to not feel anything abnormal. With that, I ran most of the hill up Sunrise (mile 18) where I was welcomed by Hollis Lenderking (who manages our PAUSATF Grand Prix with Gary Wang), and Greg Soderlund (WS100 Race Director) who helped me fill my GU2O bottle. I left the station with an average pace of 7:04 to hit the trail to Auburn after this first asphalt and fast section.

From previous American River editions and struggles, but also Rio Del Lago 100 and Sierra Nevada double-marathon, I don't have great memories of this trail section. It is definitely a beautiful trail along the huge reservoir but, although there is not much elevation gain for the next 25 miles, it keeps going up an down. With some high rocks and steps hard to climb with my short legs, and a lot of poison oak to avoid. I kept pushing the pace despite seeing the average climbing. I passed the marathon mark around 3:05 and reached Beals Point after 3 hours and 9 minutes of running, or a 7:15 average pace, right on what I had told Agnès at the start. But no crew for me so a very short stop after having checked my place with Stan Jensen: 20th.

Still no presence of my crew at Granite Bay (31.7 miles), Buzzard's Cove (which isn't accessible anyway), Horseshoe Bar (38.14). At that time I was getting short of GU2O (I only drink lemon so I avoid the raspberry flavor usually available at aid stations), and had missed my 3-hour Vespa refill at Beals Point. I was also expecting Agnes to give me my sun glasses at Beals Point although that wasn't much of an issue with the overcast weather.

Entering Rattlesnake Bar, I didn't see Agnès either but she showed up a few seconds after I reached the drink table. Omnipresent Stan Jensen was also here (4th spot on the course I was seeing him), and helped Agnès with my GU2O bottle. Having just past another Brooks runner as I was going through the station, another one passed me too (Curt Casazza), with his pacer. Earlier, I was passed for the first time by Eric Johnson and his pacer.

Kevin Weill was the third and last runner to pass me this Saturday, in his quest to breaking 7 hours. With 20 to spare and 2 more miles, I thought the goal was out of reach but seeing him alternating running and walking kept me doing so. I saw the family in the last mile and that also gave me some encouragements in order to keep pushing and finish in 20th position overall and 6:58:50, phew! Kevin had finished in 6:57:32. He is just 20 years younger than me, he has many other occasions to improve even further!

To my surprise, that performance was good enough for 3rd Master. For what it is worth comparing years (different weather conditions, different competitive field), that would not have been enough for an age group placing in 2009 and 2008, but in 2007. This time Geoff Roes didn't get lost (as opposed to at Way Too Cool this year) and finished first. Second was a surprise to me, Andrew Henshaw, 24 years old and 4th overall at Leadville 100 last year. Former Olympian Max King must have been disappointed for taking 3rd, just above 6 hours (improving his last year winning time by 3 minutes). Unfortunately he missed the 2 qualifying Montrail spots for Western States. As he is not in Miwok, not sure which option is left for him this year. The woman race was won by Tracy Garneau. Not only Tracy signed the 7th fastest time over the 30 years of American River's history, she was also the first Master. I checked with her, she is definitely taking the Western States spot for June! After Horseshoe Bar (or was it after Granite Bay), Greg Soderlund teased me saying that there was still a gal in front of me. Having started in the middle of the pack, I was not sure if it was a joke to kick my butt but I was too tired anyway to chase someone after mile 35...

Got my ritual and salutary massage from VeLoyce (the "monster" of the Monsters of Massage).
Congratulated Victor Ballesteros for his amazing 6th place and time (6:15). Victor is turning 40 next month, he is going to dominate our Master category and I now cannot wait to turn 50... ;-). Also congratulated Rob Evans, 1st Master in 6:37.

Tim Twietmeyer and I teased each other about our performances and the fact that Tim only beats me when I have asthma (actually Tim has much faster times and PRs from his earlier years!).
Great volunteers, great field, great organization, great t-shirt from Moeben, great wind-blocking finisher jacket (although I'm still feeling bad to have missed the Brooks finisher jacket last year), it was a great ultra celebration and successful addition to this long last American River 50-mile tradition. Thank to Julie for perpetrating it and to all the volunteers for make it happen so we can run... happy!

Overall, I am indeed happy to have run with my full lung capacity (just a slight irritation after the race and the following day), and finally broke 7 hours on this course in my 3rd attempt. I should be capable of a faster time but it's not too bad given the circumstances, and I feel blessed I can still juggle with so many things these days. I am flying to Japan the day after Ruth Anderson (50K, 50M or 100K, that is the question...). Back from Japan for one day at home before flying to DC then New York for another week back just in time to run Miwok 100K then jump on a plane again for a week in Vegas beginning of May. Not the best way to rest and train but it's good to have a good "first" job these days...

Have a good week before I see some of you at Ruth Anderson in 6 days!


mbarnes said...

Vitamin D deficiency has been shown to be a major factor in asthma. The lastest study demonstrated a six fold reduction in asthma attacks for those on vitamin D. Take a look at The site also has links to a new microtablet formulation of vitamin D.

Scott Dunlap said...

I will be sure to ram your car from behind on the way to Miwok so you can clock another top finish! We now know the secret!

Glad to hear you are all okay...


parasghetti said...

Have you considered the hookworm for your asthma?

From nytimes 20080701:
Can hookworms protect against allergies?

And as heard on Radiolab 20100402:
An update on hookworms

And ThisAmericanLife 20100402:

RunSophia said...

Well done, Jean. Time to lift the curse off that course for you.

The Stretch Doc said...

Great Recap of AR50!!!

enjoy your travel times ..
and hey even Vegas when you get here. Hopefully it wont be scorching hot.