That was my 5th time on this course, although the event was then named the Helen Klein Classic in the name of Race Director Norm Klein's wife, a world class senior runner. Since Helen stopped competing ultras well in her 80s and Norm had given enough nights directing ultra, including the legendary Western States in the 80s, the race transferred to Desert Sky Adventures first, then Julie Fingar's NorCal Ultras (she now has a "collection" with Way Too Cool, American River, Firetrails, Sierra Nevada and Last Chance!). With that, and various big construction projects along Folsom Lake and the American River (levee and bridge), the course has evolved but always includes climbing back to the Folsom Lake Dam and Cavitt School, actually twice now.
On the previous single out and back, I had quite a few different experiences. In 2006, it was my second 50-miler and I finished in 4th in 6:52. In 2007, 2nd overall in 6:22, which remained my PR at this distance until Ruth Anderson 2010 (6:07). In 2008, the run turned to a nightmare with one of my worst asthma crisis but, quite determined and with 1/4th of my lungs working, I still manged to finish in 8:51, in 16th overall. Some asthma again in 2009 and I clocked a disappointing 7:12, surprisingly good enough though for 3rd overall that year.
Victor was very relaxed at the starting line. After participating to the road 100K World Chapionship and spending a year focusing on this event (September 2011 in the Netherlands) but going through injuries during Spring, he was in great shape and was looking not only for a Western States qualifier (although his 100K race should have been way enough for that), but also to clock another Team USA qualifier on the 50-mile distance, that is under 5:50 (5 hours 50 minutes). I knew my goal was in big trouble and that even my A game would not match that (Victor is 41, therefore in our very competitive M40-49 age group).
With the recent Daylight Savings Time change, it was great to have daylight for the 6:30 am start, after the bright night with the full moon. I was feeling ok although quite tired after having been on the road to visit clients and prospects for 7 out of the past 8 weeks. 35,974 air miles, 18 flights, 4 different countries including 3 in the Gulf and 4 different states in the US. Not to mention the associated stress and the sleep deprivation working double shifts across so many time zones and catching up with emails at night after client meetings or speaking engagements at conferences during the day. Of course, I'm happy to have a solid first job and busy and full life, making running only my second job... ;-) Anyway, with that, I was excited to get some stress relieved through such intense exercise that is running an ultra or competing with great champions such as Victor.
Damn, this guy just doesn't give up!?"
coachgreg.org) was crewing for me today and handed me two new bottles (one Gu2O and one plain water). By the way, all pictures in this post are courtesy to him as he was juggling between his camera, my bottles and Bree's ones! I grabbed a piece of banana and quickly left as Victor didn't even stop. We stayed close behind for the next 5 miles and we were still on a 6:36 min/mile average pace by mile 20. Still feeling good, I passed Victor after Main Bar (mile 21) to at least share the burden of leading. Doing so, I even got our pace down to 6:35 in the next flat section and thought how stupid that was, or at least unreasonable, and how smart Victor was to just stay behind. We passed the marathon mark around 2:52, just 5 minutes over my recent 2:47 marathon at the World Masters in Sacramento in July. With 24 more miles to go, this too seemed really aggressive... At this point, I even experienced some vision trouble and was glad the lead biker was wearing a bright yellow jacket! I took a Gu in case that meant I was low on sugars, and also paid a bit more attention on my breathing as I certainly needed all the oxygen I could process to maintain the effort. Fortunately that passed after 10-15 minutes and I was able to maintain a good effort as we were climbing back to the Dam and the high school. Victor remained behind and I thought it was a safe and smart strategy on his end as we had still more than 20 miles to go. In this uphill section, our pace went down to 6:43 when we reached and left the school for another out and back.
We had completed the first 50K in 3:26, just one minute off my PR at that distance (Jed Smith 2010), oops, that was really crazy. Yet, feeling good and properly hydrated thanks to another efficient change of bottles from Greg at mile 28, I just took an S!Cap and a cup of Coke from the aid station and left a few seconds before Victor. At this point, I placed a big bet and decided to maintain the pace to see if I could preserve or even extend the lead. A BIG bet as we had 19 miles left to cover... No more lead bike to focus on, it was just me and, a huge asset, the encouragements of the other runners we were now starting crossing, either finishing their 30 or 50K, or coming to the school for the 50-mile turnaround. I want to say a big thank you to all of them in this post as I was saving my breath and just acknowledging and responding with a hand sign. To all of you, be sure your cheering meant a lot to me!
visualize on a map!). In this section, I decided not to check if Victor was behind and that I will find out about the lead once I negotiated the turnaround. It was great to see for the third time fellow Brooks fan, Eric Schranz, who was manning the Main Bar aid station. He was very pro-active in proposing help but I was set with my bottles and just took another small cup of Coke and one more S!Caps. Gordy Ainsleigh (the inventor of the 100-mile Western States Endurance Run) was refueling on his way back to the school. When we crossed paths earlier in the morning, I called for a high five, which amused him, but I'm sure his fluid helped me going beyond my limits! (Check the picture on his Wikipedia page, that's one of mine! ;-)
As I was approaching the school and passing signs such as "Smelling the Finish Line?", I was excited enough to sprint down the levee and so thrilled to cross the finish line and "break the tape" (literally, how cool) in a blazing 5:43:35. My third overall win this year, woo! Granted, it took me 10 minutes to recover and catch my breath from the effort as my body was really wondering what just happened, and 10 minutes is what ended up separating Victor and I (yes, that's me in his arms, and Jim all smile! ;-).
Mark Richtman, took 3rd in an amazing 6:04.
With that amazing performance (per others' qualifier), I should take the lead back in the Grand Prix by mere 3.9 points (1.0% of our 384 total...), phew! I know there isn't much glory in that, with Dave having only competed in 4 of the 7 eligible events for the count, but at least that pushed me to dig really deep, far beyond what I ever thought I could go. I'm also thankful to Victor for the friendly and tough competition he offered on Saturday as he was chasing different goals and got us on such an aggressive but needed pace for such a performance.
With regard to the course record, this is a complicated situation between the changes of race directors, race names and even courses. Compiling information from various web sites (Gary Wang's Real Endurance, Mark Gilligan's UltraSignup for Helen Klein Classic or this year's Last Chance, Desert Sky Adventure's Helen Klein records web page website ), it sounds like I clocked the 7th fastest time since 1996 and 2nd in the Masters division:
- '97 Carl Andersen (37) 5:26:12
- '97 Brian Teason (36) 5:28:56
- '98 Brian Teason (37) 5:29:48
- '99 Mark Godale (29) 5:35:12
- '97 Kevin Setnes (43) 5:36:03
- '98 Mark Godale (28) 5:42:03
Now, I've been asked how all this happened and I see five plausible explanations:
- First, the more stress and workload I experience at work, the more I seem to race well. Like this maximizes the stress relief I'm looking for when running, or as it gives me an excuse for not running at my best and just do what I can. The latter one is probably freeing my mental from some pressure as I usually not race well when I want to do "too" well.
- I almost titled my post "extra-vespa-ordinary" in reference to the Vespa "potion" I've been using for the past two years with quite some success. For instance, in this race, I only took 6 Gu gels, 2 pieces of banana and 2 small cups of Coca Cola. There is no doubt that this would not have been enough energy, at least for me, to run 50 miles at this effort level without digging extra calories from my body fat. This stuff works!
- Back to the mental, I've been improving and stopped just listening to my body when getting fatigue signals. Several times during the race, I had doubts I could keep up with that pace, less because of physical limits but more because it was something I didn't have as a reference in my 2,400-entry log. By lowering this negative thought and increasing the "you have to do it, you can do it!" thought or internal voice, I was able to get far beyond what I had ever experienced. Sure it hurts (I ran 6 miles this Sunday with painful soreness and at a slow 8:30 pace), but it feels good afterward!
- Fourth, I'm going to give some credit to Greg who crewed for me this Saturday. As a personal trainer and coach he has this talent of both pushing you and getting rid of the associated stress. Mixing strong encouragements, focus and positive thoughts with enthusiasm and fun. It definitely worked for me this weekend, made the heavy traffic on Friday less stressful and the race on Saturday so smooth. And it also worked for our team this year as we took all the team titles in the Grand Prix (Men, Women, Mixed, Overall) and most of the individual Age Group ones too!
- Last but not least, there is hard work. Since I started running consistently when I moved to the US in 1998, I never averaged as many miles per week as this year. Although I know other log many more, I'm at 63.5 mile/week year to date, and that includes short but intense speed work sessions, weeks off to taper before races and days off because of business travel or meetings. To counter balance, I've put more long runs on weekends, many of them as training ultras actually. And I like when hard work pays off (not the case everywhere... ;-).
Anyway, that's enough about my personal recount of this perfect race for me, there were 97 finishers out of the 140 or so starters, and I heard about other PRs in these perfect conditions. A big thank you to Race Director Julie Fingar for another very professional and perfect event organization and the great volunteers at all aid stations although I apologize for having skipped most of them. I'm sure you understand I was on a mission... ;-) And thank you to Lily for her deep tissue massage which allowed me to run this Sunday.