Sunday, April 24, 2011

Ruth Anderson 2011: DSL

No, I am not going to teach you how the Digital Subscriber Line technology works, nor what Domain-Specific Languages are about. In the ultra verbiage, we have the infamous DNF (Did Not Finish), the less embarrassing DNS (Did Not Start) or even the DFL (Did Finish Last). For me, this edition of Ruth Anderson can be summarized in one new acronym: DSL for Did Start Late. Or even DSVL (Did Start Very Late)... Another and much longer title could have been "When things don't work out but you manage to make them work..." Read on...

The story actually started a couple of months ago when Agnès found a great packaged deal for a family trip to Orlando. The only glitch was that we were scheduled to fly back on Friday night, or actually landing at San Francisco Airport at 12:45 AM this Saturday morning, the same morning as the Ruth Anderson race starting at 6:30 AM... Al that on the last flight leaving Orlando and with a 35-minute connection in Phoenix, AZ. I have traveled enough (more than 1.4 million miles) to know that had little chance to work out but was still hoping to make it on time, even if it meant with a very short night. At least I had caught up with a lot of sleep deficiency with several 8 to 10-hour nights in Orlando (it helps to have teen who enjoy sleeping in during their Spring break ;-). Ironically, Agnès picked the last flight to maximize our time in Orlando but, after a week there, I must admit we were tired of the so-called amusement parks (what a crowd at this period) and had gotten too much sun burns to spend the day in the sun. So, after releasing our room, we spent the whole day in the hotel lobby, Agnes and Alex reading and me working... Something we could have well done at the airport while trying to get standby on an earlier flight. As a matter of fact, when we arrived to the airport, the agent told us right away that we had already missed our connection. The plan was quite empty because they had reassigned most of the passengers on other flights but there was no more options for us. After some negotiation though, based on my constraint to be at the starting line of a 100K race in San Francisco by 6:30 AM, the agent agreed to put us on the first flight leaving Phoenix, on another airline: 6 AM, with a scheduled arrival in SFO at 8:20 AM. The time to catch the shuttle to the ling-term parking, to get the car and drive to the start, this meant a 3-hour late start at best. We landed in Phoenix at 10:45 PM on Friday night and got to our room around midnight. With all the stress, I had trouble sleeping and got about 3 hours before waking up at 4 to be at the airport by 5 AM. The flight was 100% full this time but, luckily, the pilot got the airplane off the tarmac right on 6AM and we landed in SFO at 7:50. We ran through the airport and got at the curbside just at the shuttle was dropping a passenger. We were the only ones in the shuttle and our car was close to the entrance of the parking lot so we were quickly off to the starting line, Agnès driving, Alex as a co-pilot and me changing and preparing in the back (fortunately and wisely, just after returning from Vegas last week, I had prepared my race bag and put it in the car in case we had not enough time to drive back home before the race).

It was 8:32 AM when we got on the parking lot: I jumped out of the car, got my bib from Stan Jensen, used only two safety pins to attach it to my shorts and Rajeev's timing assistant jogged with me to the start, half a mile away, to get my "chip time". 2:07:50 after the official start. Quite a record when you realize that I was in the wrong state, on the tarmac in Phoenix, when all the runners were walking to the start... Here on my first loop, photo courtesy of Chihping (see his photo album on Facebook for more):
Ok, so, after this long introduction, I promise the rest of the race report is going to be shorter. For the first reason that there isn't much to tell about this race on a rolling course and 4.5-mile loop. The race is pretty much to cover either 7, 11 or 14 loops, depending if you go for 50K, 50 miles or 100K. And the main difficulty is mostly psychological as you can decide on the way which distance you want to stop, making it difficult for instance to go for 100K when you pass the 50-mile mark. Something I have been unable to do so far at this even for various reasons (one year I had trouble completing the 50K because of asthma, last year I decided to stop at 50-mile with a PR). At least, this year, and despite the bumpy start, I was resolute to do 100K at least for the team per Greg's assignment.

The first thing which differed from previous years is that, right off my start, I was passing runners. Usually, it takes about 2 laps to start lapping other runners but, with my 2-hour late start, all the runners were now scattered along the course. Just before getting on the parking lot, I saw a few familiar faces including Jon Olsen. It took me three laps to first catch-up with teammates Sean, Toshi, Adam. Sean was on the 100K too, Adam on the 50-mile and Toshi would end up winning the 50-mile. On the plane, I had set my goal around 8 hours, that is 7:43 min/mile pace, and promised myself not to start faster than 7:15. However, given the conditions, I had to contain myself not to run faster than 7 min/mile pace. I hold on a very steady 7:10 average for about 7 laps (about 3:07 marathon and a 3:42 50K if I recall). At the end of my next lap, a small group was looking at the turn, half-mile behind, for Joe Biden who was coming to complete the 100K distance in an astonishing 7:02 (6:48 average pace!). He was followed 10 minutes later by Jon Olsen. I caught up with Sean 2 more times. I was finishing my 11th lap and I thought he was on his last one but he had actually one more to go. Toshi joined Sean and paced him for his last lap; later on Toshi would end up pacing Jim in his last two laps, thus covering 100K total including his win of the 50-mile race! I ran most of the laps around 32-33 minutes but slowed down to 40-minute laps for the final ones. I crossed the finish line in a scratch (chip...) time of 8:05:23 which is by very far my PR at this distance given that I only ran Miwok otherwise.
Unfortunately, the official time will remain 10:13:13 in the records as this is a USATF-sanctioned event for which only the gun time counts. Anyway, I decided to run this Saturday for the points, both in the individual and team competitions. Both Chipping and Jim were injured but had committed themselves on running the 100K if the team needed it. As well as Greg who was open to keep going after the 50K if required. Fortunately, I was on time to tell them that I will cover that distance, yet we needed Jim to "shuffle" to the end as he is such an expert at it, always with a smile on his face (despite enduring knee pain in his final laps). At least I Did Start (never DNS'ed so far after 180 races including 58 ultra races), and while if DSL'ed (Did Start Last) I DFL'ed not (did not finish last), actually 4th overall on the 100K (3rd scratch time), out of about 10 finishers.

On the individual side, there was only Charles Blakeney in my age group, whom I passed 5 times during my "catching-up hunt" (a much more tiring one than this Sunday's Easter egg hunt...). I also passed Jason Reed several time who was enjoying a slower 100K after a blazing 2:49 Boston Marathon 6 days earlier and a fast Zippy 5K this Sunday. Here he is, enjoying the lentil soup on Rajeev's aid station vegetarian menu (well, he promised me it was soup... ;-):
The weather was perfect and propitious for great performances like it has been the case at Boston last Monday. About 55F throughout the day, overcast, no rain, just a breeze, it was ideal for us, runners, slightly chilly for spectators, volunteers and when we were done running. By the way, for those fearing the asphalt, I ran most of my laps on the sandy shoulder and it really alleviates most of the pounding as well as provides some variety in your foot stepping. Here is part of the team gathering around Jim just after his finish (photo credit to Jason, on Greg's camera). Notice Jim holding both his age group award plaque as well as a Guinness on the other hand. Yes, it's time to carbo load again!
The team did very well overall under our new colors (blue for the guys, magenta for the gals) and in our new Brooks shirts sponsored by The Running Revolution: one course record on the 50-mile (Clare), one overall win on the 50-mile (Toshi), a women team win on the 50K, mixed win on the 50-mile and men win on the 100K. By the way, here is a nice article on the team published in our local Almaden Times Weekly this week.

A very special thank you to Race Director, Rajeev (also a member of our QuickSilver Running Club), for keeping the low-key tradition of this event up in honor of local ultra legend Ruth Anderson. There are only two aid stations to man along the course but they remain open for more than 14 hours so a very special thank to these volunteers who gave their day up for us, in particular the ones of the South End aid station at which I stopped only once but who comforted me with the famous "Looking good!" at each of my 14 laps, even when I was not feeling as good in the last ones. Of course a unique thank you to the time keepers, Dave Combs and Stan Jensen, who cannot take any rest while collecting the 500 or more splits from 6:30 AM to 8 PM... Thanks also to the volunteers manning the food and fluid tables and Jeanette who refilled my 4th GU2O bottle.

Again, a low-key event compared to some other hard-to-get-in races such as American River, Way Too Cool or Miwok, not to mention Western States. Yet an ideal event to get exposed to ultra running in a very friendly and accessible environment. See some of you again next year then! In the meantime, yet another week of tapering before QuickSilver 50K next Saturday and Miwok 100K the following weekend. What a crazy race calendar, or let's say, great training runs every weekend... ;-). And, next times, I'll try to drive in to the start line instead of flying from out of State at the time the race starts...

PS: see also Alan Geraldi's albums on Facebook (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part III bis) for more pictures of participants (including the start which I missed...)


Joe Binder said...

Wow, Jean, what an epic trip to the start line and great performance after!

Greg said...

I second Joe... wow! You amaze us at every event. Next time, just have the pilot let you parachute down to the start.

Jean Pommier said...

Joe, what an amazing performance, you are really getting "Farther Faster" fast...!

Greg, thanks for the tip, I'll negotiate that with the airline crew for the next time ;-)

Toshi Moshi said...

An excellent demonstration of patience, improvisation, endurance and commitment! I am in awe of how you skillfully managed to work things out and carried it through till the end. I thought running 100k was tough, but you've added the flight delay, sleeplessness, the post-vacation stress, the will-I-make-it-on-time stress... Mind-boggling!

Thanks to Rajeev and the volunteers for making Ruth Anderson wonderfully accommodating.

Unknown said...

Amazing trip/running story...on my books you're still third place...As always, it was great to see you out there going fasssssssT!

Rajeev said...


I am still shaking my head at the blazing 8:05 for the 100K after all your tribulations!

It is very inspiring to watch you run and fight to achieve your goals.

See you in Quicksilver this weekend.


Anonymous said...

I love this story, because it's a good reminder not to get too anxious about being late.