Sunday, February 5, 2017

Jed Smith 50K 2017: still game but no match

I've quite a history with Jed Smith, not Jeddiah Smith the explorer, but that first race in our Pacific Association Ultra Grand Prix: that was my 9th consecutive participation this weekend! At the beginning of 2007, I didn't know of the existence of the Grand Prix. In 2008, I was in Costa Rica running the Coast Challenge, a 6-day adventure run. So 2009 was my first Jed Smith and it was held at the Gibson Ranch Park.

This race was also my 60th 50K so I started knowing something about that distance, although a flat road 50K is completely difference form a hilly one on muddy trails. This year, the weather threw us an interesting ball: after several years of drought, there was too much water flowing in the American River and too many down trees on the course we ran on these past years to the organizing club, the Buffalo Chips, had to find a new place just a few days ago and settled for their training 'stadium', a USATF-certified 2K loop starting next to their headquarters.

Good news: that made for an even flatter course (saving us the 12 passes over the American River). Bad news: it was going to be 100% asphalt (instead of 40% gravel) and many more loops (25 instead of 6).

As for the weather, Siri advised to bring an umbrella (she hasn't figured out that I'm an ultra runner yet, and I think I prefer it this way! ;-). However, while the course was very wet and on the edge of slippery, no sign of rain at the start, even better this way!

The 50-mile race had started at 8 with a dozen runners (see pictures at the bottom of the post), and we joined them at 9 am (30-minutes later than usual to give enough time for competitors who would have missed the location change announcement which was sent on Thursday, in case they had showed up at the American River Parkway).

I started at a 6:15 minute/mile pace, along with Excelsior's Karl Schnaitter and Paul Broyer, following a runner who I didn't know. Jed Smith always attract a few fast local road runners, either on the 50K or 30K distance, so I thought that was it. The course being right on 2K, that meant 8 min per lap would lead to 3:20 (3 hours and 20 minutes) which I felt was a good target given my recent training. In the past weeks, I've been diligently trying to slow down in my long runs in preparation for a 24-hour at the end of the month. Indeed, this is a strange beginning of the season with 2 Grand Prix races right in February when we used to have a nice build up with only Jed Smith, then Way Too Cool 50K in March, then 2 ultras in April, 4 in May, and the big hundred-milers from June to November. This year, we have Jed Smith followed by the Riverbank 24-hour 3 weeks later and Cool a week after. The Fat Asses are barely enough to get you ready and warmed up! And to make it worse, or more interesting, we have the 50K Trail Nationals in Auburn in 2 weeks (replacing the Nationals Tamalpa used to host at the end of November)! At least this will bring some variety between the asphalt of Jed Smith, the muddy and hilly trails of the Fourmidable 50K and the rubber of Riverbank's track. But, back to my comment on training, that meant that I was grossly not trained for a fast 50K this weekend, at least not as well as last year when I ran my 3:18:05 PR, and ended up with a stroke a few hours later...

It actually felt good not being in the lead and even letting some gap building with the front runner. So good that after a first 7:58 lap (above picture from Chikara Omine, with Karl just behind), I slightly picked up the pace and ran the next loops in 7:54, 7:51, 7:51, 7:49, 7:48 and even 7:45 for lap 9. With that, I was just a few strides behind the leader and even caught up with him at the beginning of lap 11 (km 20) to learn that he had just turned... 50! He had read my blog and knew a lot about me, while I had no idea who he was. Clearly, he was after the M50-54 American 50K road record which Rich lowered to 3:17:47 last year and we were well on pace for that. Which means we were going faster than my 2017 PR too, a dangerous zone to evolve in. As I found later, his name is Billy Mertens and he came from Colorado, when he teaches Economy at the University of Colorado. Lucky him that the course was changed at the last minute to this super flat loop!

Billy mentioned that he was worried he hadn't work his hydration correctly and, indeed, I had not seen him drinking much. Me? I was this ridiculous runner carrying two water bottles although we were going through an/the aid station every 1.25 miles. Yet, this saved me a few seconds as I never stopped at this aid station, but only twice at my own rudimentary one close to my car, to switch GU2O bottles at lap 19 and take a pouch of Vespa.

I don't recall when we got hit by some rain, I think in lap 12 or 13. It wasn't too bad except that it wet the course again and that affected/diminished traction, particularly in the turns and especially the sharp 60-degree one marking a 10-meter detour to make the loop exactly 2,000 meters. In lap 9 and 10 I started feeling a blister forming under my left foot and that bothered me. First, it's very unusual for me to get blisters, I think I got less than 10 despite having more than 44,400 mile in my log, and I attribute this from running exclusively in WrightSock double-layer socks. I thought the blister was due to that lack of traction, and the frequent turns (5 per lap) but it's only the next day that I realized it must have been due to the slight inclination of the road we were running on. After the finish, Billy mentioned that he also got blisters on the outside of his left foot so I'm pretty sure that was the cause. And maybe some speeding on this slippery asphalt as well... Interested in hearing if other runners got blisters too.

Back to the race, and the monotony of running that even 6:17 min/mile pace for 18 laps, or 36 kilometers. Last year's winner and age group record setter, as well as owner of the chip timing company, Capitol Road Race Management, Rich Hanna, ran a few laps at our side. It's always so inspiring to see how perfect and light his stride is, it gives you wings. Almost, I still had to run pretty strong to keep up with him and Billy... I ran lap 17 2 seconds faster than Billy, and 1 second in the 18th, so much (or little... ;-) that I caught up with him again and we ran the 19th lap together before I had to make my first stop to grab a pouch of Vespa. It was later than I had planned but, being screwed (i.e. not having a crew as opposed to the amazing handler Billy had), I got drawn into a race which wasn't entirely mine... And chasing a record which I had promised not to look back again... The blister had gotten really worse/bad and painful but it was more the feeling of cramps coming which forced me to let Billy go in that 19th lap, my first over 8 minutes (8:01). I made a second stop to grab a new bottle with GU2O and also swallow 2 S!Caps to keep the nagging cramps at bay. It was hard to see the gap with Billy growing and, after passing the marathon mark around 2:46 (versus 2:45 at the 50K Nationals last year), I lost much motivation and that translated into quite slower 6 laps to the finish (8:10, 8:18, 8:31, 8:37, 8:53, 8:36). I slightly picked it up in the ultimate lap, first because I knew that I was going to be done but also because I had now Karl in sight. I did lap him (I didn't know he was in 3rd place then) but it was mostly against the clock I was fighting, seeing the clock approaching 3:20 as I was a few yards from the timing mats. I saw 3:19:57 as I was crossing the line, but the chip timing system gave 3:19:59. Phew, at least that mere second was allowing me to break 3:20 on a 50K for the 3rd time in my life!

Karl took 3rd in 3:28:30, Paul 4th in 3:35:10 (a 15' PR for him!), Michael Fink 5th in 3:42:42. All results (including splits) on CRRM's website (and all distances here). Billy ended up smashing our M50-54 age group record with a blazing 3:16:29!

And here are 153 of solid running, three of the fastest old guys in the West! ;-)

Special thanks and kudos to Race Director, John Feeney, for holding the event despite the adversity of last minute course cancellation. And to the Buffalo Chips club for hosting us in their home turf. I hope I'll be able to run next year for a 10 consecutive strike, what ever the location is!

This Sunday morning, before hopping on a plane again, for a change (10 days this round, and 10 flights, SFO-RDU-IAD-FRA-RUH-JED-RUH-FRA-CDG-EWR-SFO, phew!), I went for a recovery run. After piercing the blister last night (what a relief, it was 3/4" long), I didn't know if I could even run for 200 yards. I ended up running 12.5 miles @ 7:30 min/mile. No soreness but the pain of the blister, could be worse. I'll spend more time on planes than running this week, I hope to log good miles next weekend in Paris.

PS: With that pace, I didn't have time to take picture while running so here are a few I took beforehand or afterwards.

The 50-mile start.

 Simone Winkler just after her 30K finish, coming back from a serious back injury a few weeks ago. And who discovered the next day that she had actually won her race, yeah!
 Karl and Simone, sweet ultra couple!
Quicksilver teammate Jim Magill who, at 70, has great intention to kill his age group in the Grand Prix this year. Smiling and feeling good to get the youngest again in his class! ;-)
 The ever gracious Barbara Elia, 72, just running a 30K today.
Gary Wang (ultrarunner, ironman and ultra sport analyst with his amazing database and portal)
Adolfo Andrade on his way to the 50-mile win (6:39:05)
Rick Santos, from Team Vision and Brooks fan, who guided blind runner Richard Hunter for the whole 50-mile!
 Jose San Grabriel:
 Ron Peck, running the half marathon, paced by her daughter who was so proud to tell you that Ron was her father and he was 75 (if you didn't get that, you weren't paying attention! ;-).
 Carl Jacob, from Team Tamalpa
And, as a bonus, the Strava equivalent of my ride back home. I couldn't resist sharing this cool feature of my new car (was time for a change after 18 years, wasn't it...? ;-)


Scott Dunlap said...

Another Sub-3:20! Amazing!!!

Anonymous said...

Congrats for your Sub 3:20 !