Sunday, February 18, 2018

Jackpot 100-mile Road Nationals: bet big, run long!

This maxim was the tag line on the bumper sticker included in the goody bag, illustrating the energy and passion which race directors, Ken & Stephanie Rubeli put not only in this event but their business, BeyondLimits Running! Think about it: it's already quite something to setup one ultra race, but what about 6 ultras at once to make it a... festival, namely, the Jackpot Ultra Running Festival. Oh, and throw a marathon in the mix to reach out to a broader audience. As for the ultras, not any ultra but up to the dreadful 40-hour format, super hard not just on runners but on the organization as well when you think of the number of 4-hour shifts this require (Ken was looking for volunteers for 55 hours total!). 48-hour, 24-hour, 12-hour, 6-hour, 100-mile and 50-mile.
When I heard that the event had been selected to host the 100-mile road USATF Nationals, that got me excited as this is the only ultra running championships we have on the West Coast this year. Although, I was disappointed that the date conflicted with the second event of our Pacific Association Ultra Grand Prix which was held this Saturday too in Auburn with SingleTrack Running's FOURmidable 50K. And this is going to be an issue next year again if both organizations keep these dates because FOURmidable has been awarded the 50K Trail Nationals for 2019 and 2020 (after 2017 but having to let go to the benefit of New Hampshire which will occur in August 2018).

I procrastinated so much, hesitating between the two events that, when it was time to finalize the logistics, I realized that most reasonable airfares to Las Vegas were gone for this busy President's Day weekend. I decided to drive instead and it was a great decision since I'm actually going to stay for an IBM event his week in Vegas, killing two birds with one stone. It's more than 500 miles and 8 hours one way, but doable with a stop in Bakersfield and quite amazing landscapes on the way, including a few mountain ranges to go over. And I'm really pleased with the comfort and efficiency of my new Hyundai Elantra with which I easily top 40 mpg on highways.

Speaking of driving from the Bay Area, I almost did it with my teammate Jim Magill, whom I already carpool to our last race, Jed Smith 50K. But, first, Jim had a strained hamstring issue during Jed Smith so was really uncertain for the past two weeks and, second, Jim is retired and had more latitude to take his time on the way in and out. And since I decided to stay for another week in Vegas, it all worked out, albeit without car pooling.

The 48-hour was already 8 hours in when I stopped by the start for the packet pick-up. The weather was perfect: super clear blue sky, just a breeze and temperatures ranging from 40 to 70F (3 to 20C), a typical large amplitude for this location in the middle of the Nevada desert.

I was staying at a hotel 10 minutes from the start, an easy and a quick access to the start in this urban park and the start of all the non 48-hour events was set at 8 am, leaving plenty of room for a great night. I had some important goals for the 100-mile but, as opposed to One Day in Auburn, did a much better job at taking it easy and not stressing too much about.

Pre-race picture with Jim:

Yet, I missed the start of Ken's briefing, and the group picture, as I was finalizing my preparation and filling my bottles for instance.

As usual, it felt good to get finally moving after Ken sent us off and I was surprised to end up in front of the 100-mile race while feeling the pace to be so slow, just under 8 min/mile. The big shots were quite familiar to me as I met them several times: Jon Olsen, first American to run 100 miles under 12 hours a few years ago and World Champion of 24 hours that same year; and Mike Bialik, who made the 100K Team USA by winning the MadCity race when I was there in April 2015. There was prize money for the top 2 and, with both of them present, I was relieved of counting this money target in my list of goals!

So, which goals or big bets did I have left?

  1. Fist and foremost, since it was a National Championship, win my age group to get an 11th title. This goal didn't seem very hard: there were a few other 50-54 entrants but I didn't know if they were USATF members. As it turned out, I was the only one so I just had to finish the 100-mile distance in the 30hour allotted time limit...
  2. Second, attempt to place in the top 3, behind Jon and Mike; I actually thought this would have been a first, but I placed third at NorthCoast 24-hour in 2014. Well, again, for what it is worth given the little competition and elite attendance at our Nationals nowadays...
  3. Third, break 15 hours. First, because I already did at Run d'Amore in 2012 (14:54:58) but the timing system had failed there so I was hoping to get a more official PR; and, more importantly, also improve our American Age Group record which Brian Teason set at 15:02:30 5 years ago, for Road. Since Jay Aldous has set a blazing 13:52:29 for that same distance on Track, I thought there was reasonable room for improvement. As a reference, Brian's record corresponds to 9:01 min/mile and Jay's, 8:19!
After completing the first 2.5-mile loop, the course appeared to be much more convoluted and difficult to set a record on. First, there was 100+ feet of cumulative elevation for each lap, which would lead to more than 4,000 feet after 40 laps. Second, there was a mixed of concrete and asphalt, with a few sections of gravels including a short rocky and bumpy section, plus 200 years on uneven grass. And a lot of passing and crossing of other runners, with quite an uneven road etiquette.

There was still a runner ahead of us, but I'm not sure which race he was in, maybe the marathon who was won by Patrick Sweeney in 3:17, a few minutes faster than what Jon, Mike and I did. Similarly, Pete Banks passed us on his way to winning the 6-hour with 17 laps (42.5 miles) and probably a 1.5 or 2 miles in the remaining 12 minutes he had left. Other than that, the three of us were clocking laps just under 20 minutes. I passed Mike in the 10th lap as he had issues negotiating the rocky single track (he is such a great road runner and that section was really outside the norm for a road championship). I was really please by how I was holding the pace yet felt a bit of setback when Jon passed me with so much ease in our 19th lap as we were approaching the 50-mile mark.

With this little mental breakdown on my end, or bruise to my ego, I stopped for the first time at the aid station and went 3 minutes off pace, which allowed Mike to pass me as well. On one hand, I preferred it this way, given not only my age but the caliber of these two, I wasn't meant to lead the race for the first half anyway. And that allowed me to pay more attention to my own race and goals, including fueling. Although, given my new Optimized Fat Metabolism (OFM) diet, this was very limited, including electrolytes. Learning from the One Day in Auburn painful experiment, I was taking on S!Cap per hour and limiting the Gu2O to just carrying the bottle every 6 laps or so when leaving my water bottle at the main aid station to be refilled. I drank less than 2 Gu2O bottles for the entire race, as opposed to 1 every 15 miles before I switched diet. Note that it got warm during the day but I only took my hat off at noon and my arm warmers around 1 pm, not feeling so hot throughout the day. According to my racing top, I definitely did sweat, but I wasn't feeling it in this dry air. But I did drink a lot of water!
The second part of my race became this internal argument in my head between a voice which was telling me I could break 15 hours, and another big one stating otherwise. Meanwhile, I was loosing 2 or 3 minutes here and there and, my mile 75, lap 30, it was dark, getting colder and my mind was so fried that I did the maths wrong, I was certain I won't do it and I decided to walk some to let the pressure go. I also told myself that I will put a top layer up and my pants at the next lap. Unfortunately, slowing down was enough to cool my body down and I was now 1 mile away from my table and bag, having to spend 10 minutes near the fire pit of the main aid station, which helped a little but wasn't near enough.

The extra layers really helped getting back to some running but my mind was gone. I did another 10-minute stop in lap 34 (mile 85) then cruised most of the remaining laps around 25-27 minutes, but the last one under 24 minutes. Meanwhile...
  1. The big drama came in lap 26 when I couldn't spot Mike ahead anymore and saw him in his chair, completely livid and haggard and with two very bloody knees. He must have felt hard in the single track and I could notice in the previous laps that he looked exhausted when we crossed each other. Again, a very unfortunate outcome for a road championship where you are not supposed to trip on a rock.
  2. That got me back into the money, with all the stress associated to it which I didn't want; at some point, I even checked if Kermit Cuff was closing on me but he finished 3.5 hours later (Kermit could have easily won his 60-64 age group would he have renewed his membership).
  3. The one closer to me was actually another Team USA members, Traci Falbo, who ran a very consistent race, winning the women division in 17:03.
  4. And, with almost 5 laps to go, I actually saw Jon winning in 13:39 as I was going around the grassy area, at the finish line overlook. While I had only 12 miles to finish, it was going to take me 1 hour and 55 seconds...
So, I ended up placing 2nd overall with a time of 15:34:07. Not quite breaking 15 hours but quite a good performance given all the circumstances.

Nutrition-wise, I kept pushing the fat burning to new levels, with a very limited calorie intake during the race: 7 Gu Energy gels, 3 cups of Coke, 1 cup of vegetable broth, 2 pieces of watermelon, a handful of potato chips, 12 slices of salami, 2 1/4 of grilled cheese, 1 brownie, 13 S!Caps, 2 bottles of Gu Energy Brew, 6 pouches of Vespa Power (-45', start time, then 3, 6, 9 and 12 hours). Between 11 to 12,000 calories expensed, and way less than 2,000 calorie-intake. And it feels good to know Jon has been on this diet for 10 years, it gives me even more hope and belief.
My main mistakes this time were to get cold in the evening, missing the timing to put a layer one after I had slowed down, and not believing enough I could keep going (I didn't even cramped so it was really in my mind).

I stayed near the fire pit for almost an hour, exchanging ultra veteran stories with Jeff and Jim, but I was still feeling super cold after that. I eventually drown back to my nearby hotel, enjoyed a warm shower and was in bed by 1:30 am for 6 hours of sleep before getting back to the park for the award ceremony and see the last 100-mile runners finish.

All results available through the chip timing company, It's Your Race.

In other news, the 48-hour saw an amazing yet friendly duel between the celebrity Ed "The Jester" Ettinghaussen and Greg Salvesen, from Santa Barbara. Greg quickly got my attention when I stopped by on Friday because he was wearing last year's UTMB shirt which he got from running CCC. And also because he was so encouraging and gracious throughout these two days on the course. Greg ended up clocking 1 more lap than Ed for a total of 82 or 205 miles, wow! 3rd overall was Cheryl Simmons who did 78 laps, or 195 miles! Seeing them make me feel I'm so not ready for the 48-hour format...!

Speaking of The Jester, as if 48 hours weren't enough, or to train for more sleep deprivation for his upcoming 10-day event in New York (Sri Chimnoy 10-day), he stayed for a few hours to chat and support the 100-mile runners still on the course this Sunday morning (they had until 2 pm, hence the 55 hours of volunteering Ken had to fill).

Jim made it around 11 and was handled his finisher medal and 100-mile belt buckle from Stephanie. He also won his age group as well, in 27 hours or so (last lap not recorded in the live results as of this Sunday night).

While every participant had his or her unique ultra story to tell, something 2 researchers from Stanford were here to capture on video, the one which stood out for me was from the other Ed, Lyell, a local firefighter and medic who covered 100 miles in 42 hours while carrying his firefighter outfit and 50 or so pounds of equipment! Then, in the peak of the heat on Saturday afternoon, I saw him attending to another runner, then staying with her for the remaining of the race. Only to learn at the award ceremony that they are husband and wife, certainly a good reason to resuscitate her!

Impossible not to mention Ann Trason's 100-mile milestone, given the courage and perseverance it now takes her to hike this distance with her medical condition.

Pure inspiration from the front to the tail of the pack and the sideline as well, starting with Ken and Stephanie's story and the kindness of all the volunteers helping at the aid station. Oh, and all the Vegas-them bling too!
The weather was also perfect, apart from wind gusts rising on Sunday morning. But certainly much better than last year's stormy and wet conditions I heard about, phew!

Inspiration from Howard Nippert as well: Howard was the representative of USATF at the event and is the coach of Team USA for the 24-hour. He came all the way from West Virginia, not only to officiate, but also run the 6 hours, logging 22.5 miles. Which isn't a lot if you consider his lifetime athletic achievements, but amazing when you know that he got a kidney transplant last Fall.

We also had the visit from an ultra legend from Minnesota, Edward Rousseau, 78, who, short of completing the 100 miles after feeling too cold through the night, introduced me to his friend's product which I'm going to test tonight: Epsom-it, the Original Epsom salt soak without the tub! Looks like a good idea from a sustainable development, avoiding the need for water! And more practical too, ready to use/apply.
The course wasn't the one I expected for a faster performance, it will actually be redesigned for next year so check it out in a few months when Ken finds time to get back to the drawing board. Likely after his next BLU ultra festival happening in April. Wow, some people live the ultra life in Vegas as well!

Exhibits --

Jon's splits (as Ken mentioned during the award ceremony, Jon The Metronome...!)

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