Saturday, January 20, 2018

One Day in Auburn 12-hour: great dancing around the Western States finish line, but failure still hurts

I started writing this race report on race day as I like to do when possible but it got way too difficult to recount the outcome, or even analyze what happened, so soon after the events so, here am I, returning at it 6 days later... As we say about failure: learn from it and move on!

This was a very unique opportunity so I stuck a bunch of goals into it, and, in this time of yearly resolution, not small but hefty ones. All for one night!
  1. At a minimum, improve the M50-54 Track 50K record of 3:40:51
  2. Then go on to improve the M50-54 Track 50-mile record of 6:09:41
  3. If anything left, try to improve the M50-54 Track 100K record of 7:43:14
  4. And if I had an amazing day, improve the M50-54 Track 12-hour record of 87.24 miles
  5. Win a (non competitive) race
  6. Live test the effects and benefits of my new OFM diet
  7. Experiment what it takes to start a timed-event at 6 pm
  8. Get some night running training and experience
  9. Learn what it takes to setup an event to all for record setting
And I was so ready to succeed, actually so prepared that this has probably been a recipe for failure, like it has in the past (I don't handle pressure well, even when it's just self-inflicted pressure...).
  1. I had all the pace charts ready, even beyond the 12-hour mark in case all the stars were aligning and I could continue on to 100 miles.
  2. I was 50-day in my new diet and had all sort of great workouts, including many laps at the track.
  3. Regarding the night training, a winter 6pm-6am event couldn't offer more, it was pitch dark from beginning to end, except for the (powerful) stadium lights.
  4. And I had spent tens of hours reading all the USATF competition rules, checking many with several USATF officials and other subject matter experts (race directors, timers, competitors and record holders), so much time that I thought I may well apply for a USATF certification, which I did as well.
As a matter of fact, I had more goals than I originally wanted. Initially, I was attracted by this event for the 6-hour in which I was going to go after the 50K record for sure and maybe squeeze 50 miles to improve both that distance record on track for our age group, as well as a 6-hour record. But there is no such thing as a 6-hour record for USATF, hence my switch to 12 hours.

And then the big day happened, this past Saturday. Finally, some relief from all the preparation stress... I must say that I was surprised myself by how relaxed I felt, despite the hefty goals and this preparation. I was able to sleep 9 hours the night before, and even fell asleep during a nap in the afternoon. Before big milestones, my heart beat would typically rise the night before, but not this time. And I was certainly not over-confident, I knew it was going to be challenging for having broken several records at the Desert Solstice Invitational 3 years ago, and learned the hard way about the physical and mental challenges of changing gears along the way toward the next record. 

There was some traffic on 680 and 80 and I stopped for 15 minutes to eat the lunch Agn├Ęs had prepared for me, it took me 3 hours to get to Auburn and I arrived at the famous Placer High School track. Why famous? Because it is the home of the finish of the Western States Endurance Run also known as the Western States 100-mile. A track that thousands have dreamt about reaching from Squaw Valley over the 4 decades of this history of this mythical race.

This time, we were given the opportunity to pass that finish line hundreds of times, what an opportunity! The event was put by Paulo Medina and his Singletrack Running venture.

When I arrived at the track around 2 pm, the 24-hour runners had quite a few laps in the bank after 2 hours of running in circle. And the weather was gorgeous, with a perfectly clear blue sky and temperatures raising to 64F by 3 pm. Yes, thanks to climate change, that's winter in California nowadays. Sorry, bad joke...
I set up 2 cameras to add to the two Paulo had already at the start/finish line, took pictures of the distance markers to document that he had followed the USATF record-setting rules, took pictures of the 24-hour runners while providing encouragements (see at the bottom of this post), set up my own aid station table then went back to the car for a nap per Peter Defty's recommendation. Peter is the owner of Vespa in the US and coaches me in my transition to my new keto/OFM (Optimized Fat Adapted) diet. I was so relaxed that I even fell asleep and it was almost dusk when I woke up. But I still had enough time to get prepared, not stressing out, remaining calm despite the internal excitement that was building up.

With darkness temperatures fell sharply to now 45F at the time of the start, 6 pm.
I prepared a few layers for later in the night but I was already shivering so I put my Brooks fleece hat on and even took my gloves with me in case. I also put my Brooks arm sleeves on, resolute that I was going to remove them after a few laps and warming up. But I didn't put my running tights on, just shorts.

The first laps felt really great, and it took me 2 or 3 fast ones to get to the 1:44-lap rhythm (record pace for 50K was at 1:46, one minute and 46 seconds, and I was shooting for a 2 to 1-second buffer to take into account a potential bathroom break, especially knowing that there wasn't porta-potties on the track so we had to walk about 100 yards off the track to the school bathrooms, and back). Here a few pix from the GoPro I had set on the start line.


At a 1-second lapse interval, I got tens of thousands of pictures, I'll spare you with more! ;-)

In a certainly more entertaining way, including drone-taken flyovers, you can see in this very short and upbeat clip which Paulo and his crew edited and published while the race was still on, that I was moving!
And passing a lot of runners on the track, most of them actually already graciously running on outside lanes, and going around a handful of the others, all while exchanging encouragement words or signs. After 20 laps or so, my hands were still cold so I put my gloves on.

Now, the results have already been published so there is little value in preserving much suspense and hiding that the day, or the night rather, didn't unfold as planned, or dreamt. Half way in my first record attempt, that it around lap 64 or 16 miles, the unthinkable happened, I couldn't maintain my stride: all the muscles around my hip started freezing and the trouble sneaked along my hamstrings shortly after. That came so suddenly, it was like a club or bat blew my head, I was devastated and lost all my motivation in an instant. I recall the first lap where I stopped next to the ultra queen and legend, Anne Trason, and walked a quarter of a lap with her. I still had a buffer of a minute for the record, so tried to resume running but could barely break 2 minutes for a lap, now. What a deception, not only for me, but for all the efforts Paulo had put into getting a certifiable event.

And now the big question: with the record attempts missed, what should I do? Even Coach Ann Trason couldn't tell, it was up to me! As you read below, I had a perfect plan setup, at least for the first 125 laps, but I didn't put any thought into catastrophic backups. Should I just call it a day and drive home? Should I go the car to get warmer and see if the legs would come back at least for a decent 12-hour (that didn't work last year at RiverBank One Day for sure)? Should I just walk and embarrass myself after such a speed start? Not to mention that I hate walking, I suck at it, and that's certainly not the part I like in ultra... running! Should I keep going and arm my average pace in my running log? Should I keep going to see if I still had a shot for the win? Or at least not lose to much in the ultrasignup ranking? I know, stupid questions for many, but, for the sake of transparency in my race reports, that's the battle which went in my mind for quite a while that night.

Since I still felt so cold after running 16 miles, and I was going to slow down anyway, I stopped to put a pair of pants on, as well as 2 layers of fleece. That certainly helped but, despite some power walking, I was still not sweating much. I had drunk Gu2O and water at my normal rate and, I I was now even adding a few cups of hot chicken broth. And I walked more, and more, and more, eventually and painfully breaking 6 hours for the first 50K, phew! Quite far from my original 3:40 goal, dang! As you can now see, I had decided to stay and just see how the night unfold.

In some laps, I did walk with Manuel Loverde, or at least I tried to keep up as he was walking faster than me, and still alternating 1 lap walking with 3 laps jogging. I was stunned when I found out that Manuel was 83, and his main goal was to break his own PR of 44 miles. He was on pace but he would have to keep it steady for the whole 12 hours. And, given the little competition in the 12 hours, he was now 3rd, with Annette Mensonides in 2nd, and me still leading.

Between midnight and 3 am I was able to jog a few hundred yards at once before getting out of breath. In addition to my muscle issues, I had contracted some exercise-induced asthma which remained only mild thanks to stopping running at mile 16. A second bummer for that night. I went through another change of direction (we changed from running counter-clockwise to clockwise every three hours) and called it a... night at 3:40 am. 184 laps in 9:40, shy of 46 miles, what a counter-performance! Although I still had a lead of 15 laps, Annette kept moving and I knew she was going to reach 50 miles. I went to the car and slept for 1.5 hours before coming back to grab my stuff, encourage all the runners still on the track before dawn, and thank Paulo and his valorous team of volunteers also battling the chilly temperatures created by a 100% humidity (see weather history).

Because, indeed, it got really humid during the night. Everything was so soaked, it was dripping like it had rained.

At some point, we were actually in a dense cloud, barely seeing the other side of the track, despite the powerful stadium lights. And that certainly didn't help, as I'm so much better in the heat.



But still, 40F, I've done colder than this, at least in day light. And I realize that trying to put the blame on such amazing winter conditions make me look like a pussy to those stuck in the snow right now...

So, what really happened? It was going to take me a few hours to find out. I left Auburn at 7 am and, this time, with almost no traffic and my urge to get to bed, it took me only 2 hours and 20 minutes to drive back home. And then discover on my scale that, despite not eating much, I had gained 6 pounds, yikes! Reading a lot about ultra running, I of course knew about the danger of gaining weight during an ultra, but that had never happened to me in my 12 years of active racing, I have always been able to maintain my weight or, occasionally, venture on the safer and easier to fix weight-loss side. I was aware that I kept drinking while walking, likely drinking too much electrolytes based on the lighter effort but what I thought would be on the safe side; what I couldn't make sense of though is why my struggle appeared at mile 16 when following my standard hydration plan and habits (20 oz of Gu2O every 15-18 miles and 1!Scap per hour, or more in very hot weather). Besides, I had made 3 bathroom stops while on the track, then before and after my post-run nap, so the kidneys were definitely still functioning, thankfully! And my legs or hands weren't swollen either.

What more, despite reducing my food intake for the next few days, my weight kept being stuck at this unusual level for several days. It's only this Wednesday morning that I lost the first of these 6 extra pounds, then 2 more on Thursday morning, getting back on my target and pre-race weight on Thursday evening. Finally, I could breath and run again.

Speaking of breathing, I went for a recovery run on Monday and, while the legs felt amazingly good, thanks to the short distance I actually covered in this 12-hour, plus the recovery benefits of the diet, I had to turn back after 400 years, still out of breath. On Tuesday morning, I went to the track with my speed work buddy, Bob, and we jogged 5 miles, the breath was back. The run on Wednesday was still a bit sluggish and, with the weight back to normal, I enjoyed a few miles at 6:45 min on Thursday, with 12 decent miles this Friday. Back to my intro, let's move on!

As for the learning, I clearly made three mistakes, all of which Peter had warned me about, so shame on me. The first one is that I shouldn't have followed a static hydration/electrolyte plan for a run which started in cooler temperatures and such high humidity (which I didn't see coming in the weather forecast). Second, and that's much trickier, this diet makes electrolyte balance more intuitive to find, I need to listen more to my body and I admit that I'm not sure what to listen to. Third, I should have warmed up, either before the start, or with slower laps at the beginning. Not that I injured any muscle but because my body was spending too much energy trying to warm-up during the first laps. Big lessons of physiology, expensive learning opportunity, if not financially, at least for the mental toll. After all, there are very few of these record-setting opportunities out there, not to mention aging doesn't help, so I still feel like it has been a huge failure. Yet, for the sake of turning the page, I did register to Jed Smith 50K a few hours after the race, and even setting my eye on another big goal for February!

Again, I was in awe with the work, energy and even own money that Paulo put into this event. Including the recruitment of such a dedicated team of volunteers, many having shifts of more than 12 hours, what an amazing commitment and gift to us, runners!

Speaking of volunteers, I owe a lot for instance to the timers who manually picked more than 80 of my splits in case the chip timing system would fail, and for record-certification purposes. It took me a while to realize they were still doing it despite me walking, and to release them from this duty, sorry!

I'm also very grateful to the energy I got from the super cool buffoons, Christa the DJ and Max the juggler, who kept entertaining us through the wee hours of the night. I have to say that I was walking faster on faster beat/tempo songs, food for thought for me if I have to go for another of these long walks around the track again.


For once, there were more than the very one and only Jester dancing on the track (aka Ed Etthinghausen)!

It was also cool to have another legend, John Vonhof, officiating as Medical Doctor for our safety. Still very glad that I never had to leverage his foot care expertise after 12 years of ultra running, but still very honored that he is serving our ultra running community by volunteering this way, despite and beyond his fame!

Congrats to all competitors who toed this legendary Western States finish line and kept moving for hours to push the envelope of endurance. I felt bad for Manuel who missed his 44-mile PR by 3 laps and 40 seconds to go, not realizing exactly which mileage he was after 12 hours. Unable to run anymore because of an autoimmune issue, Anne showed so much will by covering more than 100K, 70.5 miles as a matter of fact, walking and limping for 24 hours. What a physical and mental courage, in honor to her father in particular (first vignette below is a video).



Annette won the 12-hour with 51 miles.
In the 24-hour, and both from the nearby Roseville, CA, Bernard (Bernie) Sopky and Molly Knox won with 126 and 124.8 miles respectively. Bernie's winning secret? Certainly wearing a hat trough the day... and the night! ;-)

And I'm proud of teammate Martin Sengo who not only beat his goal of reaching 100 miles in 24 hours but went on to finish with 105 miles!
It was also great to see ultra media mogul (you can swap the words in any order! ;-), Eric Shranz, the prolific editor of the Ultramarathon Daily News and Ultrarunner podcast; albeit for a few laps as he was probably the first one to call it a night, not before running a sizable ultra with 40 miles though.
I'll likely be back. Actually, I'm already back in my mind, it's just the beginning of the year, not the time to get my resolutions derailed by a one-time incident. Or one learning opportunity as the optimists would say! Meanwhile, I've even more respect to the M50-54 record holders I had the nerve to challenge, Steve Stowers and Jay Aldous. Still a few months to keep trying, but time keeps flying! It's all good, let's Run Happy!




































1 comment:

Ed Ettinghausen said...

Great race recap my friend.

Dream BIG
and dare to fail.
DREAM EXTREME . . .
and dare to EXCEL beyond your grandest imagination!

Extreme
Dreamers
WIN!

Ever UPward & ONward . . .