Saturday, April 9, 2011

American River 2011: older but faster!

American River (AR) is very central to the ultra ecosystem in North California: Western States 100-mile, American River 50-mile, Jed Smith 50K and 50-mile, Rio del Lago 100-mile, Sierra Nevada Run 52-mile, Way Too Cool 50K, Helen Klein Classic 50K or 50-mile, ... Unfortunately, it doesn't always bring good memory as I had many exercise-induced asthma attacks when running in that area, and not just in the Spring, but anytime in the year. Furthermore, and because of this exercise-induced asthma, I had my first and only DNF (Did Not Finish) in the US at American River (2009) after an epic asthma incident at my first run there in 2008, forcing me to walk from mile 16 to 50, a very long day, almost 9 hours...

For this reason, and as I mentioned in my post on Way Too Cool a month ago, today was a big test to confirm that SingulAir was working for me. I didn't have any attack since I'm taking it consistently (daily) since beginning of 2010. I still feel some irritation at the bottom of my lungs after tough races, but no bothering during the races anymore. And it certainly helps to run on two working lungs (that makes me think often of Tom Kaisersatt who suffered so much from the deterioration of his lungs, and I wear the LIVESTRONG bracelet in his memory).

After a hectic week and quite some sleep deprivation (4 hours on Tuesday night, 3 hours on Wednesday night, less than 6 hours last night but fortunately 8.5 hours on Thursday), and quite some stress juggling with so many activities, I didn't have much of a race plan, even barely a plan to get to the start on Wednesday. Thankfully, Agnès had no commitments this Saturday so she offered to give-up her day to drive and crew for me, that made a huge difference. And, incidentally, get you some pictures of the front runners as she covered 7 spots on the course, including start and finish (her own ultra... especially at the pace we were moving...). We left Cupertino at 3 AM.

It was 40F at the start at 6AM and quite dark. The start was further from the bridge than usual to accommodate the 800+ runners, a record for this race (because of the cancellation of Lake Sonoma last week, Race Director, Julie Fingar, accepted to take about 75 of the Lake Sonoma registrants). Despite the size of the crowd, it was quite easy to get to the front (a few familiar faces there but a few unknown ones too, apparently from Colorado, so it promised to be fast again this year, especially with the presence of Tamalpa's elite Dave MacKey).

I settled on a 7 min/mile pace. Teammate Toshi passed me and stayed ahead by a few hundred yards. Based on their advice at my first Miwok ("don't pass us!") I made sure to stay behind Erik Skaden and his running buddy, Mark Lantz (they are much faster than me anyway, so it's indeed a great advice to force to pace myself. Erik has 5 top-5 finishes at Western States out of 6 runs, including finishing second twice so I've always been very impressed by his athletic ability in ultra). However, after the fist mile, Erik left this group and got closer to Toshi, while I was feeling good and imperceptibly pushing the pace, stabilizing it around 6:50 with Toshi, Erik and Michael Fink in sight. The temperature was cool but the sky clear except for a few spectacular and gorgeous foggy areas over the American River, beautifully captured by Agnès:

6:50 seemed a comfortable pace and, unfortunately, that was Erik's pace today, slower than usual for him. I was running 6:40 when I got the asthma attack in 2008 so I didn't want to take the risk to push into the red zone. I say unfortunately because, at mile 15, as we were passed by another runner, Erik shared his frustration of feeling me on his heels and asked me to accelerate to follow the other runner. With so much insistence that, as I was reminding him of his advice above, he stopped to force me to run ahead of him, then followed me so closely that his hand hit my elbow 5 times. Quite an explicit and unorthodox way to pass the message....
Anyway, at the next aid station, Erik didn't stop and passed both of us. After that I made sure to keep even more distance for the next 15 miles before Erik disappeared. At this point (mile 31), IAU World 2010 100K champion, Kami Semick, passed me like she was sprinting to the finish (7:10 min/mile pace average at that time). It took only a few seconds for me to get passed by Ellie Greenwood, from Canada. I followed them for about a quarter of a mile, enough to see Ellie passing Kami. Very impressive head of the women competition, Ellie would finish first in a blazing 6:25 (not quite yet the 6:03 Course Record Ann Transon set in 1993), and almost 9 minutes ahead of Kami. Here is Norm Klein (a legendary ultra race director), interviewing Ellie at the finish:
From this point (50K mark), I had slowed down significantly to a 7:18 average pace and this would grow to 8:00 at the bottom of the last hill. I started walking some of the rocky sections, hoping the cramp which was nagging since mile 15 or so in my right calf would not trigger. As I was leaving Rattle Snake Bar (mile 41), I heard a lot of noise so it meant at least a runner was closing on me. A couple of miles later, in a switch back, I saw Mark Murray and another runner whom I took for Craig Thornley (but Mark told me at the finish that it was his pacer), two Masters. Mark ran Way Too Cool 5 minutes faster than me, so I thought I was doomed again, especially as he trains on this course (with Erik and Mark in particular), so he knows it much better than I do (I only race on this trail). However, I decided to push the pace to delay his passing. My pace was 7:53 after the hill I walked right after Rattle Snake Bar and I just lost a few seconds in the next 6 miles, skipping the Manhattan Bar aid station. No sign of Mark behind at the bottom of the 3.5 mile hill (or wall should I say when you look at the course profile, although this is a bit dispropotionate as the final elevation is only 1,200 feet), and kept pushing, alternating jogging and walking, while also skipping Last Gasp.
I was wearing bib #14 and ended up finishing 12th overall in 6:47:53, good enough for 3rd Masters, the first time I place in my age group at this race, and a PR by more than 10 minutes after last year's 6:58. Of course it helped that Victor Ballesteros wasn't here as he focused on the US 100K road championship, Mark Lantz had an issue with his ankle, Rob Evans wasn't running (6:42 last year), Gary Gellin focused is resting between two superb performance in March and the upcoming QuickSilver 50-mile, or even that Erik is only turning 40 next year (he will dominate our age group then). But I had to dig deep after this tiring week and lay down for 15 minutes at the finish to recover.
As he is so used to it, Dave MacKey took first overall in 5:51, at age 41 (on Zinsli, you can see all of Dave's races in California with 17 first place and 4 second, that's it, a model of consistency and domination...)! Another Canadian, Jason Loutitt of Vancouver, finished right under 6 hours with 4 seconds to spare, for a ticket to Western States thanks to the Montrail sponsorship. All results are already posted on the Capital Road Race Management website, and will soon be also on UltraSignup. After 13 hours, there were 600 finishers posted in this report. Here are Dave MacKey (#3) and Ian Sherman of San Jose who took fourth overall.

For our QuickSilver Ultra Running Team (QSURT), Toshi finished in 7:01, Eric Toschi 7:11, Sean 7:48, Adam and Clare in 8:20, Keith 8:27, Adona 8:34, Miki 8:49, Jim 10:09, Susan/Susie 10:36. Here with Toshi and Sean:
A big thank you to Julie for a very professional organization and pushing the envelope to take as many runners as possible on such a course. And to all the volunteers, with my apologies especially for the last aid stations where I didn't stop, or the ones in the 30-40 mile section where I was not feeling good enough to smile and say thank you (sorry...). A big thank you to Agnès for crewing like in the good old times and taking the pictures you'll find in the Picasa album.

I'm leaving the house at 5 AM this Sunday morning for another hectic week, this time in Vegas (Impact conference), then a family trip on the East Coast for a week. If we are lucky with our connections, we'll land at SFO at 12:30 AM the Saturday of Ruth Anderson (50-mile or 100K), so that's going to be another short night... Again, if we don't miss our 30-minute connection on the way back... Was great to see many of you at American River, hope to see some of you (albeit probably less) at Ruth Anderson in 2 weeks then!


Unknown said...

Way to go! Congrats for a kick-butt run.

Anonymous said...

Bravo, mon chéri.
SingulAir t'a donc bien protégé, même après cette semaine... épuisante à mes yeux!
et merci à Agnès
Bises pour vous deux

Sarah Lavender Smith said...

Congratulations! This is a very inspiring post with great details. What impresses me most is you were able to write it after your race! Way to crank out the report. I'm going to have to wait a while and ponder the event before I feel up to writing about it. (A somewhat disappointing day for me out there.)

Brett said...

Found you in the results, and was surprised to see 47 years old. I don't mean this as an insult, I mean this as a compliment - but man that is amazingly fast. You don't look even close to 47 years old. Way to show people half your age how its done!

Scott Dunlap said...

So glad no asthma attacks this year! A great finish time. Have fun in Vega$!

King Crimson said...

Jean, another fine race and race report, thanks for the detail. Go Brooks!

Anonymous said...

You are amazing! Congratulations!

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