Sunday, November 11, 2012

Run d'Amore: not farther but much faster!

The inscription on the event t-shirt sums it up: "Run for Love - Love to Run"! Indeed, the race that Race Directors, Rajeev Patel and Alan Geraldi, put up was a celebration of the love for (ultra) running they have and that they want to share with the broadest community. Initially planned to be a low-key, fat-ass-style, self-supported event for the August Run-de-Vous ultras participants, the main goal was to honor the memory of late "Titanium Man" Pete Mingoa, who passed away shortly after completing his first 100-mile at Run-de-Vous this summer (photo below from Facebook, see Pete's facebook page).
The other characteristic of the event is that it included a 201K distance (125 miles) which, if completed under 36 hours, represents a qualifier for the infamous Spartathlon in Greece, one of Rajeev's favorite ultra. While I already have such a qualifier (100K under 10.5 hours) and that I'm not decided yet to go back to Greece for this race, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to try a new distance and race format in my "farther and faster" mantra quest. Furthermore, inspired by the performance of our Team USA at the World 100K, I wanted to take the opportunity to go beyond 125 miles, running as many miles as possible in the 24-hour time window.
The event included 5 ultra distances: 50K, 50 miles, 100K, 100 miles, 125 miles. We were 92 registered participants of all running backgrounds and multiple goals. I would say this is what makes Rajeev's events so unique, gathering participants motivated by speed or simply the challenge of covering the distance in the allotted time, even if that means walking. Beyond the walking, the limping, the shuffling, there is a personal story and struggle which a picture can't all convey (walking the course clockwise in the afternoon, Agnès captured most of the participants in this photo album).

From this initial project of self-supported and informal run, under Alan's professional leadership, the event turned to one of the best organized race, yet at a fraction of the standard fees for such ultras. Quite a feat knowing that we had to pay for on-duty Park Rangers for the use of the course overnight, and that, except at Western States, I never saw so many Emergency Medical presence at a race (5-6 technicians in multiple shifts).
For once, and because of the initial self-supported idea, I opted for relying on my own aid station and food. That being said, the official aid station seemed fully stocked. As I mentioned in my recon blog post last month, we were running on a 2.01-mile certified loop, so frequently back to that main and unique aid station.

Although some participants started as early as Thursday for various reasons, the official started was 6 am this Saturday morning. It was pitch dark, cold or let's say chilly (38F) and quite humid which resulted in a nice fog over the field at the center of our loop, in which it was hard to distinguish the imposing bulls. But at least the sky was clear, we were going to avoid the cold rain which the early-start participants suffered from on Thursday. The day turned out to be very sunny overall although the temperature barely reached 60F at mid day, which felt lower anyway as a North-East wind picked it up significantly in the afternoon.

I ran the first 2 loops with my QuickSilver UltraRunning Team mate, Pierre-Yves Couteau, trying to slow down as much as possible, something I'm not used to... I had asked Suzanna Bon and Jon Olsen for some of their 24-hour expertise tips and the plan was not to start faster than 8 min/mile for a 24-hour. Yet, and despite a quick stop every 2 mile plus a a few pit stops along the way, I settled for 7:50 min/mile for quite a few laps. I felt great passing the first marathon mark at 3:23 but, especially in the gentle uphill, my quads were whispering that they won't go 6 times that far without consequences... I eased the pace and started loosing a few seconds per lap, laps which I I was now covering in 16-17 minutes instead of the more aggressive 15-16 minutes (I was still on a 16 minutes/lap average at the end of my 24th lap, by mile 48!).

Among the front runners, I first lapped Kermit in my 7th lap,
then Pierre-Yves shortly after,
but it took me a couple of additional laps to lap ultra legend Kathy D'onofrio. Kathy was an ultra star when I was still at school, she won in particular Western States twice (1986 and 1988) and placing 2nd three other times!
With such a loop format, we keep passing each others and it's as many opportunities to exchange quick words of encouragement and support. I was particularly impressed with some participants who kept moving even if it meant just walking. You would be impressed to know that we can actually cover a lot of ground when we do that for hours or days! I'm very grateful to the words I received myself from others.

By mile 50, I was still ok and had slowed down to a more reasonable pace, around 8:20 min/mile, but I started contemplating the idea of "just" doing the 100-mile. I was even on a pace to improve my 12-hour PR (just short of 80 at San Francisco One Day, last December), and that was tempting to at least secure that, plus set a new Personal Best at the 100-mile distance. Furthermore, I had just landed back from Rio de Janeiro on Friday afternoon after a night on the plane and a tiring business trip including a 4-hour night between Monday and Tuesday and not much more sleep afterwards. Agnès, who came from 1 to 6 pm on Saturday couldn't be more happy with my decision as she was reluctant to have to come back during the night. To top it all, I'm running JFK 50-mile next Saturday, so I need to save some power in the batteries for that. So, 100 miles was my new goal, and that leaves me with other goals for the years to come (further distances and 24 hours or more events!).

Here are a few "milestones" of my run:
  1. First marathon: 3:23
  2. 50 miles: 6:40
  3. Second marathon: 3:34
  4. 100K: 8:26
  5. Third marathon: 4:04
  6. Twelve hour: 84 miles (new PR, 4 miles more than my New Year's Eve 12-hour last year!)
  7. 100 miles: 14:55:15 (new Personal Best, albeit nothing comparable in terms of course to Western States or Rio del Lago)
While I'm very happy with my performance especially given the circumstances which include the change of goal during the race, and especially proud of having run 100 miles under the 9 min/mile "barrier", that makes me even more appreciative of other performances such as: Tim Olson's 14:46 at Western States 2012 (8:51 average pace!), Hal Koerner's 13:47 at Javelina Jundred 2011 (8:16 min/mile), Ian Sherman's 12:44 at Rocky Racoon 100M 2011 (7:39 min/mile!!). Not to forget Mike Morton's amazing regularity at the top of the game with 13:11 at Umstead 100M, 22:52 at the grueling Badwater 135-mile or his recent win at the World 24-hour with 173 miles (8:20 min/mile for 24 straight hours...)! Ok, they are all younger, but still...

A word on nutrition and hydration. Hydration first. There is a trick with the loop format, is that you may think it's enough to drink at each stop and not carry a bottle. While I enjoyed running a few laps without having to carry anything, I actually made sure to run most of the laps with one of my Gu2O or water bottle. First, it's much more efficient to keep sipping rather than having to take in a few ounces at once at the station and, second, you'd better save the time at the stop to focus on eating. Overall, I drank quite a lot especially given the chilly weather. 5 times 16-oz Gu2O bottles and about the same of water! With that, and 1 S-Cap/hour, I never cramped or felt thirsty. Now, on the nutrition side, this is yet another Vespa success story. First, let me clarify something: while I'm a fan of Vespa, I'm not sponsored and buy my own products. Anyway, I took a pouch at the start then every 3 hours and, despite a limited food and calorie intake, I never bonked. I ate 1.5 bananas, a few potato chips, 2 biscotti, 2 cups of chicken soup, 1 cup of mash potatoes, 4 GUs, 3 coke. Total, including 500 calories from the Gu2O: 1,600 calories, versus the 10,000 or so I expanded. As I say, you do the maths! ;-) (For those who don't know how Vespa works, it's a drink supplement which helps your metabolism drawing energy from your body fat, knowing we all carry a boat lot in this form, much more than glycogen.)

By the way, that was my 200th race in my log, 76th ultra (38% of these races) and 7th 100-miler (3 Western States, 3 Rio del Lago including one drop at mile 71 last year), I feel blessed to have done that much since I settled in the Bay Area in 1998. I'm most indebted for that to the many race directors and numerous volunteers who put up these events and countless hours so we could safely enjoy our passion. In particular this weekend the kudos go to Rajeev and Alan for such a friendly yet professional organization. And their team of friends and volunteers who hung up in the cold nights in particular to assist us. With a special mention for our lap counter: talk about a tough job requiring so much attention to all participants going through a busy aid station, priceless to count on you!
What another ultra celebration with this fun community, without forgetting the reason who brought us all together, Pete Mingoa's memory! Thank you Rajeev, thank you Alan, thank you... Pete!

PS: again, more pictures by Agnès in this photo album, including a few shots of our most outstanding jester, Ed Ettinghausen, who completed the 125-mile race on Friday, then went on for his 35th 100-miler this year (!) on Saturday morning. This is the amazing part with ultra running, there is a start (anything beyond the marathon distance) bu no upward limit...!


Keith said...

Jean, it was very inspiring to see you there. Congratulations on a strong performance. Thanks for the encouragement to help me get through my run.

Keith said...

Jean, it was very inspiring to see you there. Congratulations on a strong performance. Thanks for the encouragement to help me get through my run.

Anonymous said...

Congrats Jean, amazing how you kept that pace on and on. Good luck at JFK!

Anonymous said...

and I forgot: Thanks for the nice photos and the delicious mashed potatoes Agnes!


Scott Dunlap said...

200 RACES!!! Formidable! A great way to bring in a new PR.