Sunday, March 5, 2017

Riverbank One Day: from screwed underdog to crewed sick dog

One week has passed and I'm still not sure how the switch happened. Let me start with the non alternative facts...

Agnès was supposed to come but, after crewing for me at the FOURmidable 50K trail nationals a week earlier, she had too much on her place before a 4-week subbing engagement at our local high school and let me go on my own instead. Hence the screwed in the title, an ultra running terminology I first learnt from teammate Mark Tanaka, who is a guru of running crew-less in most of his numerous 100-milers.

Now, an hour before the start, as I had setup my table in a convenient spot along the track, Tania Pacev asked if she could set a table for her runner, next to mine. Tania has been on Team USA several times as an athlete (100K World Championships) and is still involved for USATF to support the team at these 100K and 24-hour championships. I had met her at the 24-hour Nationals in Cleveland the two times I participated. Long story short, she decided that she would provide any support I would need, putting me in an unscrewed state. Here is my table at the end of the night, I didn't travel light this time (not my canopy as well as rain was initially expected but spare us):
Let's now talk about the underdog part of the title: This was my 7th 24-hour event and I've had a mixed bag of experience with this format. More precisely, it was my second one on a track (400-meter laps), with the others on 1-mile loops (San Francisco, Cleveland and New Jersey). My best distance so far has been 133 miles which isn't so impressive compared to the rest of my running resume. But, as Bob Hearn like to remind us, there is a big difference between running 50K fast and running for 24 hours and I can't deny that 50K is my sweet spot by far. With that, I was hoping to get something between 145 and 150 miles and, Joe Fejes bet on a potential 145-mile mark for me in his race preview. As a matter of fact, there was so much competition that I stayed away from Facebook for a few days before the race and, conscientiously, did not read Joe's article before the race, hoping to keep some of the pressure I was already putting on myself, off.

As for the sick dog, read on...


It was the second edition of this event, the Riverbank One Day Classic. It includes a 24-hour, a 12-hour and a 6-hour and, as its name indicates, we run on the track of Riverbank High School, about 15 miles of Modesto, CA. It was created by Jon Olsen, a 24-hour guru. After logging 158.5 miles at the 2012 Nationals, he went on to win the World Championships with 162 miles in 2013. He had a few bad seasons since then but he is resolute to make the team this time again, running Run4Water 24-hour in Lebanon, TN, on April Fool's Day, the day before the closing of the Team USA qualification cycle for this year's championships in Belfast, Ireland. With an expert such as John as co-director, his wife's support as co-director as well, and another ultra runner, Jeffrey Rowe, as 3rd co-director, you can expect not only a very professional organization, but also an amazingly supportive rally of local acquaintances, from Scouts to High School students. Here is Jon on Sunday morning, doing a few training laps on the track between his RD's duties.
There is so much contrast with my previous race, the FOURmidable 50K, where I didn't see another 50K competitor from mile 2 to 30; spending 24 hours running in circles on a track get you to see everybody else, either passing them, or being lapped, or seeing them stopped at their table or the aid station. Hundreds of encounters which I'm not going to list in a race report! With this format, it's therefore key to not lose focus on your own race, and it's not easy as you pass by your table or the aid station every 2 to 3 minutes.

On my end, here are the main points or phases of my race.

  1. The first 2 hours basically followed the plan. I was looking for 26 laps per hour and I did 28 in the 1st hour and 28 in the second. As a matter of fact, I was getting lapped often by the lead runners (e.g. Chikara Omine, Courtner Dauwalter, Gina and Steve Slaby), but was perfectly fine with that. Besides, although I was moving at 8:45 min/mile, Tania kept asking me to slow down at every lap, I got so tired of it... (Photo credit: event Facebook page.)
  2. After 2 hours, I started experiencing some diarrhea and had to stop every 15 laps or so with sharp pain in my guts, more specifically the lower intestine. The stomach was still working ok and I kept eating for a while and drinking as the temperature was rising, and in fear of getting dehydrated by the diarrhea. I was hoping the issue to stop after a few hours so I kept going without seeking treatment, for several hours. Unfortunately, that didn't pass or rather it worsen and, after about 10 hours in the race, I finally asked Jon for some Imodium. A few laps later, the nurse gave me two pills (I forgot what it was) and that produced the expected results after 20 minutes. Although, a new discomfort or pain was created by being the intestine blocked now...
  3. After these many hours of pain not really related to running, my stamina had decreased so much: for almost 10 hours, I had been able to maintain a decent pace given the circumstances but clearly missed my goal for the day. In a normal ultra race, I would likely have DNF'ed/dropped but, in a 24-hour, there isn't such a thing. If you stop, you get the mileage you are stopping at and still listed in the results as is.
  4. In the first 10 hours, I had completed 260 laps as planned so you think I just had to keep moving, right? With the diarrhea though, I had lost track of my nutrition and hydration, on top of my mental focus. I started walking to keep going and hoping for a rebound. But I hate walking, and I'm pretty bad/slow at it. I only completed 13 laps in hour 11, and 12 in hour 12. I ran a handful laps in hour 13 but logged only 15, then 17 in hour 14. By that time, it was 11 pm and the temperature had dropped significantly, getting down to 36 after midnight.
  5. Around 12:30 am I was moving so slowly that I decide I'd better stop for good and sleep for a while in the car, warming up my body on my heating seat. It took me about 30 minutes to settle in the car after changing layers and getting some hot broth, then I slept for 45 minutes.
  6. After this 90-minute break I came back on the track at 2 am, stopped by the restrooms for #2, still to no avail, but was stunned to be able to run smoothly again! I completed 43 laps at about 2'10"-2'30" a lap and was already seeing myself catching up a lot of lost ground. Unfortunately, by 3:45 am, I got cold again and had to go back to a slow walk which I did on 2 laps before getting back to the car for another break, hoping for another rebound...
  7. I slept for another 45 minutes (that's my natural cycle, I don't even have to set a watch!), and came back on the track around 5 am. Unfortunately, this time, the legs didn't cooperate, and slow walking was the only thing I could do. That was lap 384 and I was logging 11 to 13 laps an hour now. That's when I spent the most time chatting with others, taking pictures as the sun rose and just trying to kill the time... (Photo credit: event Facebook page.)
  8. Before the last hour, I did a few laps with the Slabys who were devising if they should jsut finish walking or do some jogging. That made me think that maybe I could try running again. With 50 minutes to go at 8:10 am, and convinced that my painful legs wouldn't stand the running, I still dare to try and, surprise, running was actually so much more comfortable than walking that I started logging laps at 1'50"! That allowed me to do 26 laps in the last 50 seconds, that is faster than I had ever run in this 24-hour. Although I looked like stupid as I was so far behind the leaders.  (Photo credit: event Facebook page.)
  9. With that final surge, my final lap count was 448.3 for a distance of 179.3 kilometers or 111.4 miles. So far from my goal but still some distance, and at least 100 miles, for someone sick as a dog... 11th overall and 8th men.

Here is a visual summary of my race with the cadence varying from the ideal 180 steps/min when running, down to 120-140 steps/min when walking. Way too much time on the red this time...


Meanwhile, other and more important personal stories were made throughout the day, and the night, and the morning... And can't tell all of them but here are a few to illustrate how diverse they are.

First and foremost, and worth the Mark Dorion Determination Award, was the World-class performance of Courtney. After beating all the men at Desert Solstice last December (and that wasn't even the first race she did that!), Courtney was first overall again with 625 laps or 250 km, improving the American Record for 24 hours on a track! I had seen her at Desert Solstice when I ran there in December 2015 but had forgotten about her so, when she kept lapping me in the first 10 hours, I thought she was a 12-hour competitor... No, she kept going consistently for 24 hours, a perfect race, and a big signal sent to the other countries competing in the upcoming World championships!

Behind her, the first in the men division was Rich Riopel. I had met Rich at Desert Solstice as well and knew he was super determined to make the team again (he ran 157 miles a few years ago), aiming at a minimum of 150 miles at Riverbank. He ended up with 612 laps, taking a solid spot on the team.

2nd in the men was Bob Hearn, proud owner of our M50-54 age group American record for 24 hours (as well as 200K on the track on the way) which he set at a whopping 149 miles last year. Bob was also super consistent although he bonked in the last 2 hours, ending up with 144.5 miles. He was super disappointed because he feels that 149 miles may not hold him a spot on the team with 6 more weeks before the qualification cycle closes (you can follow the latest news on that USATF page). On my end, I was super impressed in particular by how Bob ran in singlet throughout the freezing night, he was so focused and consistent.

Extremely impressive by his consistency and composure was Paul Broyer who took 3rd with a huge personal record: 135 miles. Paul had an amazing race at TRT last year and is striving at the very long ultras in particular: the new guy to watch, who was the real underdog, not on anyone's radar.

His Excelsior teammate, Chikara Omine, is well known on the circuit, having for instance finished 7th at the 100K World Championships last year. Chikara smashed the first 100 miles, covering that distance in less than 14 hours I think. Unfortunately, that was too fast and big of an effort to be sustainable and Chikara spent some time 'under cover' in the freezing night afterwards, bouncing back the in late and final hours.

Yes, Chikara spent several hours in this green bag and chair on the field... This is pure endurance...

Another local ultra runner, Bill Dodson, set a handful of M80-84 age group records last weekend. In addition to 50-miles and 100km, Bill improved the 24-hour record by close to 20 kilometers, enough to enjoy a few breaks during the night. That being said, you have to imagine the 36F temperature and damping humidity of the night to realize that this isn't how you want to spend a night at 82!

In a younger age group (M70-79! ;-), teammate Jim Magill (not McGill in the results), logged as many laps as there are days in a year, finishing 15th overall!

Like me, Peter Fish was also rushing a few laps in the final hours in his quest for a 100-mile mark which he got with a few minutes --and 3 bonus laps-- to spare, phew!

I walked a few laps with Don Winkley, 78, of Corpus Christy, TX, and learned quite a lot of ultra running history. Don was actually walking faster than I did around 5-6 am, so he kept me moving faster!
Ed (The Jester) Ettinghausen is also a remarkable power walker who taught me that you can actually do laps below 4 minutes while walking. But Ed didn't just walk a lot, he also ran a lot, so much that he completed 513 laps! Still far from his best but he had ran a 48-hour the week before and was running another 24-hour this weekend, one week after Riverbank! Ed already has the Guinness record for running the most 100-milers in a year, he is now after the most 100-milers in a lifetime record, and an accelerated track to get it!

Receiving a massage from his chief crew extraordinaire, Mrs. Ettinghausen herself (who has also amazing ability to keep Ed's table in order as you can see, weekend after weekend).
Here are the Slabys, Gina and Steve, whom I mentioned above, enjoying a walk in the final hours after putting so many miles in the first 12 hours.

2 years after getting into ultra running after immigrating to the State of Washington, from Ireland, Yvonne Naughton accomplished the amazing fate to qualify for her National team by exceeding their qualification criteria, 200K, by 12 additional kilometers!


On the non running side now, I want to highlight a few individuals who were so essential to the fun we could have on this track for 24 hours!

First, chip timer extraordinaire, John Brooks. Last year, John was co-directing, bringing his PCTR (Pacific Crest Trail Runs) experience. This year, after selling PCTR to our Quicksilver President, Greg Lanctot, John was just in charge of the timing with his MyLaps system. Of course, I use just ironically, this is such an essential function in a time event when every lap counts and you have about 50 runners logging tens of thousands of passage over the mat. John was early on Saturday morning and left a couple of hours after the event and, in the meantime, slept for about an hour in his sleeping bag, on the ground, next to his computer. This is pure dedication and proof of his endurance (he also spends days and nights running long distance events when not volunteering).

There have been many volunteers who made this event possible of course but I want to highlight Luis who, to my knowledge, is the only aid station volunteer who covered the entire 24 hours (minus a 2-hour sleeping break in the middle of the night). You see him below in his sleeping bag in the freezing morning, still waking up every time we had a request, amazing deeds of service for 22 hours, kudos and huge thanks, Luis!

There was also this gentleman who walked tens of laps on the inside in order to replace cones which Mark Dorion was knocking down while dragging his feet on the fragile tartan of the track. (Paul Kentor did let me know on Facebook after I published this post, this is Bill Schultz, veteran ultra runner and pioneer of the 6-day format in the US in particular, and now Race Director of Dawn to Dusk to Dawn.)
And a few photographers who posted their pictures on the event website.
Last but not least, the Scouts who setup the manual board which I was excited about before the start (there were only 3 or 4 updates throughout the day, so it wasn't so useful after a while. Besides, I couldn't care less about the rankings for the last 12 hours anyway...).

There are more volunteers to thank, for instance, those cooking the soups, Italian food, pizzas, pan cakes and bacon. Jon knows who they are!

Great swag as well, with special mention for the original laser cut aluminum plaques and medals, well done, Riverbank One Day Classic! (Oh, and for the Vespa pouch as well, taking Vespa every 3 hours is what allowed me to survive through this long day!)

Overall, let's say that has been another learning experience for me but I'm disappointed I'm not learning faster because, unless you are Ed, there are only a few opportunities to run a 24-hour in a year, from a logistical and body resistance standpoint. Still hoping to have a great one one day...

PS: it was a delight to see the San Luis Reservoir so full and the hills so green along 152 this year, what a winter we are having after 5 years of drought!

1 comment:

Ed Ettinghausen said...

Great report, as always my friend. And you'll get that 'the planets all aligned' 24-hour race soon enough. Sign up for another one and - Jest keep going . . .

Ever UPward & ONward my friend . . .