Sunday, April 7, 2013

American River 2013: most of the stars aligned

With 850 entrants and 828 finishers, this has been another amazingly popular and successful ultra event put up by Julie Fingar's NorCal Ultras organization, one of the largest ultra field in the nation (behind JFK's 50-mile with his 1,000 field permit and Julie's own Way Too Cool with 950 participants). The weather and course conditions also helped with the very high finisher rate: mild temperatures, overcast morning without the forecast showers, sunny in the afternoon, soft trails with only a handful of mud puddles.

To continue on the participation, it was a strange race from a competitive standpoint. This event was used to provide entry spots to Western States to the top 2 or 3 finishers and dragged illustrious names such as: Max King, Mike Wolfe, Dave Mackey, Geoff Roes, Anton (Tony) Krupicka, Todd Braje, Uli Steidel, Ellie Greenwood, Kami Semick not to mention our local speedsters such as Chikara Omine, Erik Skaden, Rich Hanna, Victor Ballesteros, Mark Lantz, ... Without this incentive but also because of the upcoming Lake Sonoma next weekend, what I call the "unofficial world championship" with runners coming from many US States but also Europe (see the entrants list), no big shots were toeing the start line this year.
With that, Julie gave me what Toshi called a seeded bib number, 9. After the 20 of Way Too Cool which got me to 11th place a month ago, and without the big shots, I started to think that I may have a redemption and make top 10 indeed. For those who have not followed me all these years, American River has indeed been a challenging race and course, with major counter-performances and also on of my 2 DNFs (Did Not Finish) out of more than 200 races. For some reasons, maybe the wild flowers, the pollen in April, the hatchery at mile 15, the vegetation, I've been subject to exercise-induced asthma three times out of 5 runs. For my first participation, my lungs were so inflamed by mile 16 that I jogged a few more miles then walked for 30 miles, finishing in 8:53 hours. I dropped at mid point in 2009, finally broke 7 hours in 2010 (6:58:50), PR'ed in 2011 (6:47:53) and had another bad "breathing" year in 2012 (7:55:57).

A special mention to Toshi, our ultra running team, who came all the way and very early in the morning (thanks for the wake up call, Toshi!) to distribute our new team shirts with the mention of our new sponsor, Zombie Runner, to cheer us up on the course and to drive a few team members from the  finish to the start at the end of a very long day. All that after participating in the Barkley marathons last weekend, unfortunately stopping on lap 2 unable to navigate this torturous "course" (for those who don't know this infamous event, there are actually no trails, it's bush whacking) in a thick fog after losing his compass (not that the compass would have helped me anyway). And, of course, always all smile!
This year, I was resolved not to start too fast and, at 6 am on the bike path, the more experienced runners let two young guys go ahead at a 6:30 min/mile pace. By the first mile, I was running with my fellow Masters, Mark Lantz and Michael Fink. Another Master, Louis Secreto from Sonoma was with us as well as Jadi Palko for a few miles.

We alternated the lead until I first pulled away as I didn't stop to the first 2 aid stations, then Mark took the lead before I passed him again at the third aid station where I didn't stop either. From the initial start at around 7:20 min/mile pace, we were now down to a very stable 6:48 min/mile which I would keep all the way to Beals Point, now running solo and passing the marathon mark right on 3 hours.
Now, while the breathing was fine (phew!) and the legs too, my belly started bothering me around mile 14. The GI issue became so bad that I had to stop first after Negro Bar, then at the exit of Beals Point. When going out of the bathroom I saw Mark coming but I didn't see him on the levee, so I figured out he had a challenging day too and also made a pit stop. Without telling all the details (Agnès' request ;-), I stopped 3 more times, in the open this time. The 5th time I came back on the trail, one mile before Rattlesnake Bar aid station, I saw Mark coming and figured out it won't be long before he passes me. Here I am flying through Rattlesnake Bar AS:
Needless to say, with the energy lost in controlling my intestinal cramps and the nausea, I had only taken 2 gels the whole way and one cup of Coke, so my pace had decreased. Yet, I decided to give it all to delay Mark's passing.
A big thank to Agnès for making it to 7 stops on the course (including start and finish), despite me stopping only at Beals (Vespa and GU2O refill). Similarly, a big thank to the aid station volunteers although I barely stopped: special mention to the cheerful Hawaiian crew at Beals, the remote aid station of Buzzard's Cove (thanks for the vaseline!) and the iced water refill at Horseshoe Bar and Last Gap! No chips, no banana, no GUs, no baked potato, no cookie, just three S!Caps from the aid stations, I'm sure the pack behind enjoyed the rich variety offered by the aid station more than I did. ;-)
By mile 42, Mark was still a minute behind. With his experience on this course and ultras in general and his best time of 6:23 in 2008, I was under pressure and resolved not to walk the uphills nor stopping at the creek which I usually love to do in that final stretch. For those who have never run this race, the final 3 miles are a steep uphill to the top of Auburn Dam. 900 feet of elevation in 2.5 miles, mostly on a gravel or paved road, so nothing terrible except at the end of a 50-mile race! ;-) I trotted most of it while checking behind for any runner and, not seeing anyone, decided to walk a few steps in the last mile to catch my breath. At the bottom of the hill, someone told me I was just 3 minutes behind the third runner, Paulo Medina, 28, from Peru.

But, assuming I would still have energy after a challenging race in which I barely took enough calories in, I was really not after top 3, but a PR and a good spot in the Masters.
I finished in 6:47:39, delighted to place so well after such a challenging race from a food and fluid intake standpoint. I immediately thanked Julie, the Race Director, for having made it such a slow year...
Regarding the PR, I had 6:52 in mind, little did I realized in the last miles that I would only PR by mere 14 seconds! But a PR is a PR, especially when you get close to 50... Speaking of 50, like at Way Too Cool, Mark Murray won his new age group. Also in this age group, legendary Tim Twietmeyer took 3rd for his 33rd AR50 finish (out of 34 editions)!

The race was won by Matt Flaherty, 27, of Chicago in 6:08,
followed by Eric Senseman, 24 of Madison, WI, in 6:20.
Paulo Medina was third, crossing the finish line 2 minutes ahead of me.
The women race was won by Pam Smith in 6:54 followed by Tera Dube in 7:11. So, how slow of year, or how lesser competitive field that was? I looked at the previous 10 editions and, coincidentally, you have to get back 10 years ago for my time to correspond to both 4th overall and 1st Master that year. In between my time would have corresponded to 6th overall in 2007 and 2007 but 18th in 2010. Oh well, like the lottery, you can only win if you play. Besides, it's hard to compare years as conditions keep changing. But this year's conditions where perfect, so no excuse on that end.

Our QuickSilver Ultra Running Team had 14 participants in the race this year, including 6 first timers at the distance(*), and we are delighted to report that all finished! Here is the list: Jean  6:47:39, Adona  8:48:19, *Loren  9:03:12, Joe    9:06:25, *Amy  9:12:40, *Lisa   9:16:04, Karen  9:37:24, *Gary S.  10:14:24, *Stephen M.  10:26:06, Harris Goodman 10:28, Stephen Strauss  10:49, Dan Marinsik  11:30, *Tim Allen   12:16, Kat Powell  12:22. This includes Stephen Marinsik who ran his first 50-mile at age 16. Stephen's father, Dan, his a 10-time Bad Water 135 finisher (2003-2012), so Stephen doesn't have for to go for ultra advices! Here is Tim at the start:
Continuing on the thank you note, let's mention the numerous sponsors that Julie has recruited to keep this event growing and support our sport (e.g. Patagonia, Clif Bar, Gu). I particularly liked the Honest tea Orange-Mango juice which I could taste at the expo at the finish line. Big thank to Joe for his finish line café, and in particular Jared who was still all smile as he was cooking his first burgers of a very long series:
Big thank to the Monsters of Massage, Veloyce and Tom for getting me back on my feet and getting rid of all these toxines in my leg after such a physical push. Almost no soreness this Sunday morning in my recovery run, you are amazing guys!
And then, to the risk of people thinking I'm paid for that (which isn't the case, I do buy the products at Zombie Runner), a huge thank to Vespa for helping me fueling most of this run from my body fat. Again, let's do the "Vespa maths": calorie intake about 500 calories (2 GUs, 2 bottles of GU2O, 1 cup of Coke) versus about 5,000 calories spent. Fortunately, since my January break, I do carry about 5 extra pounds which came handy this Saturday.

For me it was race #207, ultra race #80, 50-mile race #22 (versus 21 marathon races), AR50 #6 (including one DNF). And I'm not keeping track of the number of business trips... I'm leaving tonight for Europe (UK, France, Slovenia, Greece) hopefully not missing my connection on the way back as I return a few hours before Ruth Anderson 100K in two weeks! Life is full, life is intense, life is good!

Congrats to the 828 finishers, thank you again to the 350 volunteers, and see you all on the trails again soon. Or on line in the meantime, especially those not running (thanks for reading that far! ;-).

PS: a few additional pictures from Agnès, including some close shots of wildflowers in this Picasa album.


Drs. Cynthia and David said...

Amazing performance and wonderful writeup! You're an inspiration!

Anonymous said...

Congrats on the PR and I hope to race again with you in a couple weeks at Ruth Anderson (maybe keep you in sight).
Ultra running is turning out to be alot of fun with so many awesome people, but still so much to learn.
Safe travels.
Timothy Mallen

Paul G said...

Congrats on your PR Jean, great race! I was 36 minutes slower than I was last year, but as you said, I certainly don't blame the weather! It was a really nice day on the trails!

Anonymous said...

encore bravo et merci à Agnès pour les photos