Sunday, July 6, 2014

Ultra race #100: the longest day to celebrate!

Yes, June 21 was my 100th ultra race and what a better way to celebrate that a new race format, a 24-hour run! I wasn't supposed to be in town for the second half of June but my Mom's health led to a change a plan late May and an earlier family vacation than usual in Europe (see my previous blog posts from England, France and Malta). As a result, I was able to take part of this inaugural event in our Grand Prix which had been missing such an important format for at least the last decade. Besides, the race was organized by John and Maureen Brooks' PCTR (Pacific Coast Trail Run), proud of keeping Sarah's great legacy alive including the famous motto: "Serious Fun!" We are also grateful that John joined our Quicksilver club and ultra running team!

It was a low key and local event, nothing to compare with last week's Western States, especially in terms of competitiveness. For this reason, I was a favorite again. Despite being my first attempt at that "distance" as we say, our Grand Prix co-chair, Bill Dodson, offered to come and record all my splits in case I was going to set a new Age Group Record (M50-54). Although that record still shows at 140 miles on the USATF tablets, Ed Ettinghaussen, aka The Jester, has run 146.6 miles in 24 hours last Fall. And Ed was actually present to run his 17th 100-mile race, on his way to setting a new Guiness record of the highest number of 100-mile race ran in one year (which I believe is 40).

As you can see from the picture, Catra (Corbett) was also running, see more about her ultra passion, addiction and achievements in this interview. Yes, that was her 100th 100+-mile race back then, not "just" her 100th ultra race as it was the case for me 2 weeks ago. For the non insiders, an ultra is any distance beyond the marathon mark (26.2 miles or 42.195 km), typically 50K (31.1 miles), 50 miles, 100K, 100 miles, ...

The start was conveniently set at 8 am which meant a breakfast before 5 am for me which wasn't much of a problem since I had flown back from 3 weeks in Europe the previous day (Friday) so the jet lag woke me up even earlier than that. I woke up at 5 am in Annecy to catch my flight in Geneva so I had been up for 25 hours the day before the race which was less than ideal, maybe some late sleep resistance or deprivation training, but I don't recommend to do that the eve of a 24-hour race...

Getting into the race, I knew my biggest challenge was not to start too fast so I made all the efforts not to take the lead, knowing we were mixed with participants in the 12-hour and 6-hour races. I settled on a very comfortable pace between 8:30 and 9. After a few laps, my GPS distance was actually off the official marks (multiples of 1.06-mile lap), so I was actually not sure about the real pace. Besides, it was difficult to really gauge the effort as we were running against wind gusts for the northbound half-mile, more on this later.
We were a good contingent representing our Quicksilver club and, with this slow pace, I didn't see Stephen and Lisa for many laps, them running at a similar pace. On such a 1-mile loop though I kept passing slower runners and we exchanged encouragements most of the time: way to get entertain for those who think such format is boring. Furthermore, apart for the strong wind (15-20 mph), the weather was perfect and you can't get tired of the amazing views of the Golden Gate, the Presidio, Alcatraz and San Francisco, even for 100 times in one day!
As I mentioned above, that was my first attempt at running for 24 hours straight. I ran 9 100-milers actually but, not counting the two which I DNF'ed (Did Not Finish), my slowest time has been 21:30 at Western States 2010 so I indeed never ran for a whole day and a whole night. For this reason, I wasn't sure what to expect and, more importantly, how to decompose the distance in sub goals. I started feeling some fatigue in the 5th hour, mostly the wind gusts eroding my mental. It is around that time, after 50 laps, that the wind blasted John's computer table with two computers and a large display getting onto the ground to John and Bill's dismay, and me as well as I was approaching the finish area just at the time. Thankfully for me at least, Bill had kept a manual count and record of all the splits, so I was confident they'd be able to keep the count straight.
In these 5 hours, I had made more than a handful of pit stops, more stops than usual which I attributed to the long transatlantic flight (I tend to hydrate more than needed in such long flights) and some race-induced stress. These stops resulted into a few 9 and 10-minute laps, otherwise many of my 40 first laps were actually under 9. I slowed down slightly after mile 50 yet was pleased to be right on 80 miles at 12:00:00. 80 miles are my official PR for 12-hour although I ran 84 miles in 12 hours a Run d'Amore 18 months ago on my way to running 100 miles under 15 hours. Happy but tired, especially pushing against the wind at every lap. It was 8 pm and not getting weaker. I actually asked Catra if the wind was going to stay that strong all night and she wasn't sure, she advised me to ask John. I didn't even dare because there wasn't not much John could do about it anyway...

I kind of recall that the wind decreased shortly after midnight. The night was cool but, keeping running and running, and fighting this wind, my body temperature was fine and I ran all night with a very light wind breaker. My legs were fine, it was more my mental which was getting weaker. Pierre-Yves (Couteau) had stopped by on his way back from Sacramento for Darcy Fink's celebration of life, and he did help me during the evening with a few bottle refills and mixing some mashed potatoes (I was racing in Darcy's memory and in honor of my friend Ann).

Later, Greg (Lanctot) also stopped by after his trip to Sacramento and another obligation, and stayed all night and the next morning to support us which was super helpful for me.
Without my own crew, I was also helped by our team Captain, Loren Lewis, and Lisa's husband, Harris Mason, when they were not busy with their own runners or running themselves across the Golden Gate to enjoy the area and kill some time. (Photo: Pierre-Yves Couteau)
In 80 laps or so I had lapped Lisa only a couple of times so I knew she was running very well and strong. Lisa has had an amazing season so far and she had a sight on the Team USA 24-hour qualifying time (125-mile minimum for women). I told her that I didn't even know what it was for men but that guys making the team typically run more than 150 miles.
During the night it was hard to keep track of the other runners first because of the lack of light but more importantly because many runners were making long stops, to change, take a nap or even sleep for a few hours, or drop. Yet, John was well awake next to the computer screen and acknowledging each of our passages. I had released Bill of his official tracking function around 9 pm if I recall when I knew that I didn't have any record in me. Here is the time keeping triumvirat, from right to left: John Brooks, RD, Dave Combs and Bill Dodson.
From 145 miles, then 135, my revised goals were first to run without stopping for 24 hours to see what this was about and, second, cover at least 200 kilometers, that is 124.4 miles.

Running through the night was so peaceful but, with my previous long day, I was getting tired around 1 am. Based on Jon Olsen's experience at the 24-hour World Championships last year which he won with 167 miles, I had bought a bottle of 5-hour Energy booster. I mentioned that to Greg and he didn't object so I took it around 1 am. Wow, for someone who never drinks coffee, that was something. Again, not much physically as the pace was slow by then, but I was seeing much clearly all of a sudden! (4 next pictures from Shiran (Shir) Kochavi)
With that, it was amazing to see the day light coming back around 5 am, with 3 more hours to go. Slower pace and, more importantly, longer stops at the aid station which I started enjoying way too much ending up clocking laps over 15 minutes now, even a 21-minute one on my 101th lap, oops. It wasn't too long before Lisa lapped me back once. She was really moving and I didn't feel the energy to fight back to keep the lead much more. I had a 13-lap lead on Ed who had a rough night and, with 2 hours to go, that was enough to win the men division, and yet meet my revised goals even if it meant walking the last laps. Which is what I ended doing anyway. And, as soon as I started walking after 22 hours of running non stop, my body temperature dropped and I started shivering. Time for another pit stop, this time under the heated tent of the Red Cross crew with Greg helping me changing from head to toe.

I went back on the course dressed like for a winter run and, as I was feeling a bit better and started jogging again, I got too warm, peeling off layers in the last two laps.

I crossed the finish line with 15 minutes to spare, not enough to walk and jog another lap, satisfied enough with 120 laps and 127.32 miles overall for such a first attempt at the 24-hour format. In the last laps, a few runners had regained their form and both Mark Tanaka and Ed lapped me as I was walking. Ed finished 3rd overall with 109 laps, and Mark 6th with 104.
Extraordinaire Lisa won overall with 124 laps, that is 131.564 miles, all while smiling for 24 hours: many and big kudos to her!
We waited for all the remaining 24-hour finishers to come back to the "harbor" and got this super cool picture at the dawn of a new day.
I drove back home by myself which was slightly on the unsafe line at the end of a very long 31-hour day (not counting the physical challenge and fatigue of running 127 miles). By far my longest running day ever. Even pacing Pierre-Yves last week at Western States was less hours and miles on my feet. Craving for food after having run on Vespa and only 17 Gus total, I stopped by a Mac Donald's to learn that they were not serving meals before 11 am, damned! Thankfully, I found a Burger King which was more open to the idea of a hamburger and fried  at 10 am, and crashed in my bed by 11:30 am. Just slept for 5 hours to wake up and work on a work project.5 more hours before going back to conference calls on Monday morning then flying to DC in the afternoon, getting to the hotel in Georgetown by 1 am. I must admit I was really tired on Tuesday and wasn't 100% up to my game for the important customer meeting in the afternoon but it went ok. On Tuesday evening I even met Alex for a short 10K run in Rock Creek Park. I was still tired and short of breath and I had hard time keeping up with him despite a mild 8:30 min/mile pace on these nice trails, phew! Alex ran his first marathon last year in 3:38, a great performance for the little training he was able to put in with his studies and job, and he got in the Marine Corps Marathon again this year.
Special thanks to:
  • John and Maureen Brooks and their PCTR volunteer crew for setting up such a professional event, staying up for even more hours than us, wow!
  • Bill for staying for more than 14 hours and logging at least  85 of my laps!
  • All the runners for their encouragements as we were passing each other so many times in a day.
  • Loren, Harris, Pierre-Yves and Greg for the assistance at the aid station, with a special mention to Loren for taking pictures with my camera to make this report more visual.
I'm really glad I did manage to keep moving for 24 hours, that was a big endurance test, one which tested and pushed my limits, both physically and mentally when running against the strong wind. I'm very glad that I covered more than 200 kilometers in that longest running day to date, that's a nice symbolic milestone.

Now, I didn't meet all my goals but a few were certainly too aggressive for a first. Too many pit stops, not enough sleep the previous nights, drinking too much (for once!), no specific training, a very "positive" split (80 + 47 miles) or should I say negative, the lack of combativeness in the last 3 hours, some chaffing, the fatigue the following 2 days, there are quite a few lessons to learn from to improve. Running on Vespa mostly worked with one pouch every 2 to 2.5 hours: I topped it with 17 GUs, one can of Coke, 2 cups of soup and one bowl of mashed potato, not that many calories compared to those spent. Overall, I've even more respect for Ed's amazing M50-54 record at 144.6 miles.

Next race is in 2 weeks, the grueling Tahoe Rim Trail 100, "a glimpse of heaven... a taste of hell..." Some unfinished business to take care about from last year, yet again one my primary goals will have to start conservatively. You'd think that I'd know better about pacing by my 100th ultra race, but I'm still young at heart and taking the risk to push my limits while I can. Let's see how this plays in 2 weeks then!


M @readeatwriterun said...

This looks like a wonderful race! Do you know if they plan to hold it next year? It seems like one I'd like to put in my calendar. I'm guessing the loop is not too technical, which would be great for me, and the view is lovely!

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

To the previous commenter, they will most likely hold this every year at the same time (the weekend closest to the Summer Solstice). You could always email the race directors to make sure if not posted on the PCTR website early enough for you to decide. Great run, Jean!

Ed Ettinghausen said...

Awesome run Jean! Way to stick with it and keep those miles adding up til the end. With that many miles in your first 24-hour attempt, I'm certain it won't be long before you make that 144.6 look like child's play.

Keep up the good work. Looking forward to running with you again soon.