Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Desert Solstice 24-hour Invitational - Part 2: my race

As I mentioned in my previous post, that was my first time racing for so long on a track. Last time was for the World Masters 10K in 2011, only 25 laps!

After a busy November month, including adding Quad Dipsea at the last minute, I was very unclear on my goals for this event, even on race morning which wasn't so good from an mental preparation standpoint, oops!

A couple of weeks before the race, I wasn't even aware that there were three series of records: road, indoor and outdoor track. Thankfully, Nick Coury prepped me, please make sure to read the preamble of this post for more details about this very special race format.

Looking at the outdoor track records, the 50K and 50-mile records seemed at reach except that they meant a "too fast" starting pace to hold on for 24 hours. That was a serious dilemma as I was tempted by these records, yet wanted to also improve my 24-hour personal best (127 miles in June and 133 miles in September). I went to bed on Friday evening thinking that I would not chase the 50K record, but would go after the 50-mile and 100K ones, then see what happens, hoping to at least reach 100 miles and call it a day. In other words, not really racing for my best 24-hour as this meant starting faster than what was sustainable for 24 hours. I even created an Excel spreadsheet to map the records with average speed.
A few weeks before the race Nick connected me with a local ultra runner, Rich, who hosted me for the weekend, an amazing perk of this invitational. Moreover, I was sleeping in Rich's son's bed in which elite and former record setters Jon Olsen and Zach Bitter stayed in, the pressure was on!

After picking me at the airport, Rich drove me to the local ultra running store, iRun, where I met James Bonnett whom I got to know when we both ran Western States in 2007:
Here we are at the pre-race dinner, Jamil Coury and Sabrina Redden, and Erin and Rich:
Rich picked another participant on Saturday morning and dropped us at the track at 7:30. I was rushing to get ready when Eric Clifton told me I seemed a little too stressed... The wisdom of the experience... (For the non insiders, Eric is a living legend in our sport, he even has a Hoka shoe named after him. I met him for the first time at this year's Ruth Anderson in April). Anyway, I was barely ready and missed the pre-race briefing, thinking that at least, there was little chance I was going to get lost on this ultra simple course! ;-)

Right off the bat, we could tell that there were several races going on. At the pre-race dinner I heard that Kevin Grabowski's goal was to crush the 100K hoping to qualify for and make the 100K Team USA. At a sub 7 min/mile pace, Kevin kept lapping us. Mike Bialick had another goal, breaking 13 hours for 100 miles, and he was therefore running in second position. I settled for 3rd and here we went for many and more laps, the whole group at different paces.

Kevin was of course the first to reach the 50K mark (125 laps) in 3:36. Unfortunately, at that point, he had already started to slow down from his initial pace and, unable to reach his 100K goal, dropped 10 laps later. With great sportsmanship tough, he came back to the track after changing to take great pictures of all of us which he posted on Facebook. For instance, he captured great shots from the highlight of the afternoon when we were running under two magnificent rainbows after a light rain shower.
Mike was still running 1:48 laps like a metronome and lapping me every 12 laps or so. I was myself running laps at 1:53 +/- 3 seconds with the exception of my fastest lap in 1:47 (lap 65) and a 2:15 one (lap 67) for my first pit stop. I was even glad to pass the 50K mark in 3 hours and 56 minutes, 9 minutes slower than our age group American record, as this corresponded to my plan. Just before 2 pm, I saw Nick coming on the other side of the track with a flag marker and I was wondering which record someone else might be about to get. To my greatest surprise, it was for me, the most kilometers ran in 6 hours on an outdoor track in our M50-54 age group, and a World record! 75,203 meters. Oh well, I already ran 80 km in 5:43 on a rolling road course a few years ago, again, World bests or records on track are not always such a big deal.

I remained focused on my initial goals, starting with the American record for 50 miles, which I indeed improved by 7 minutes (6:26). For this other milestone, no time to stop to celebrate, I just kept running toward the next goal, that is the 100K one at 8:16:51 for our age group (also one of the 4 that Jay Aldous set on that track in 2011).
Here I am, still going strong after 6 hours and 40 minutes (lap 207), photo credit Andy Noise:
Unfortunately, after the 50-mile mark, I started having trouble clocking sub 2-minute laps. By the 232nd lap, I "only" had to run 18 laps in 40 minutes, that is 2:13 per lap, but I wasn't even capable of that anymore so I decided to stop and rest. The volunteers and my improvised crew were super helpful, providing me with a cot and sleeping bag as well as getting me to eat and drink.
After a 50-minute break, it was hard to run again but I was super glad to manage to run 70 more laps under 3 minutes which got me to the 75-mile mark. By lap 312 though, I decided to stop again and, this time, laying down for 24 minutes was not enough to get me re-energized. As much as I wanted to reach 100 miles in order to save my UltraSignup score, it wasn't worth enough to spend the night walking on the track. I called it a day, or rather a night, at 9:10 pm after completing my 327th lap (130.8 km or 81.2 miles).

It was a strange mixed feeling between the disappointment of having run so few miles in a 24-hour event and the joy and satisfaction of having set two new age group records, including a World best. But I left the track in high mood, thanking the Courys for the amazing experience and opportunity, my host, Rich, the volunteers who kept cheering us through their 6 or 8-hour shifts, and the super spontaneous crew which assisted me for 14 hours!

Rich, Nick Coury, I and Jamil Coury:
My "adopted" crew, Donna Riopel and Eric Clifton's wife:
Donna, and Emily:
Before leaving, I also saluted a few of the runners who were still going so strong and had 10 more hours in their 24-hour quest. It was an honor to run with so many of the big names in our sport. It had been a few years since I had seen Dave James whom I first met in Costa Rica at the Coastal Challenge in 2008. Unfortunately, he had a bad day and leg issues before the 50K mark. Jay Aldous had slipped on a patch of ice a few days before the race on his knee which was still bothering him. He still managed to run 444 laps (110 miles) in 18 hours but missed our age group 24-hour record.

Eric Clifton improved the M55-59 world record for 6 hours, missed the American 50-mile one but improved the American 100K record.
For his 38th 100-miler in 2014, Ed Ettinghausen, aka The Jester, was running smart and logged 115 miles (Ed is going to complete 40 100-milers this year, improving the previous Guinness Record which was 36). Here he is, chatting with Traci Falbo, with Kevin on their right.
On the women side, Katalin Nagy had a phenomenal race, logging 151.44 miles in one day! World record holder for 48 hours, Traci Falbo finished 5th overall with 147.68 miles, another very impressive performance.

I went for a 10K run on Sunday morning before flying back to the Bay Area on Sunday evening but took the entire week off (running) before flying to Europe for the Holidays. Again, this has been a very special opportunity to try something new in ultra running. I hope to be back as I certainly learned a lot, some knowledge I look forward to reusing in future races. My only regret is that, with a rank of 52.60%, this appears as a major counter-performance in UltraSignup (the insiders will relate... ;-). But even Zach Bitter got a 68% at Desert Solstice last year although he had set a new American record for 100-mile in a blazing 11 hours and 47 minutes, so who am I to complain... ;-)

That was a great way to wrap-up a long and rich 2014 season, looking forward to a great 2015 and wishing you all the same!

PS: Courtesy of Nick Coury, Aravaipa's CTO:
100-mile results: http://aravaiparunning.com/results/2014DSResults100m.htm
24-hour results: http://aravaiparunning.com/results/2014DSResults24h.htm
Splits: http://aravaiparunning.com/results/2014DSSplits.htm
And more pictures: http://photos.aravaiparunning.com/2014desertsolstice

1 comment:

Michael said...

Congrats on a wonderfully diverse year Jean, you're such a smart runner a truly gifted and hard working runner; many more records to come in 2015! p.s. I'm struck this time of year by how meticulous and professional the Courys are at tracking and keeping all these records. p.p.s. thank you for keeping a cool blog, been a wonderful experience reading and following all year!