Friday, October 26, 2018

Changan Ford 100K: 2 minutes too fast!

What a bizarre title, which runner would complain of being 2 minutes too fast... Well, read on!

I felt so prepared after an intense training through September (Will 7 50Ks do?), I had a big goal and dream for today and that included starting with a slow 3:45 first 50K.

Conditions could not have been better: an amazing organization, a small but super competitive and international field, a rolling course and, best of all, not the forecasted rain but a bright sun and blue skies, which allowed the course to quickly dry up from the night drizzling.

The race starting at 9 am, we had plenty of time to sleep in. I went to bed at 9 pm and had a good sleep until 3 am, but unable to get back to it afterwards. A few hours on the computer and plenty of time to get ready for the 6:45 am shuttle to the start then (we actually left at 7 and it took us about 45 minutes to teach the start). The early morning was still quite misty.
With my A018 bib, I had the honors to be in the first shuttle, with several outstanding runners from Europe (looks like we are going to work, doesn't it? ;-).

One of them, Jan, whom I met yesterday (see race preview post), mentioned the record holder of a famous ultra in Scotland, then introduced me to Giorgio Calcaterra. Giorgio is the most accomplished 100K Road runner with 3 World titles, 1 silver and 1 bronze (see his Wikipedia page). And a personal best of 6:23 at 40! At 46 he had no precise goal, at least not one he’d share with me at the start. I asked him what was his job, well, it’s running! (He has a running shop in Italy but spends most of his time training.)
Upon getting off the bus, we were welcomed by some Chinese dances and drums, in front of the massive Xianning Government building.

And a short video:
With one hour to kill, the lack of rain was particularly welcomed this morning. And, at 9 sharp, off we were on the central avenue of Xianning.

As expected with a combined event with 50K and 100K races, it was a fast start, likely under 6:30 min/mile. My plan was not to run any mile under 7 min/mile, actually aiming at average 7:10 miles for the first half, but, as usual, I had issues slowing down that much with the excitement. Even quickly losing sight of the front runners wasn’t enough to stick to my plan, I was still too fast. To add to the challenge of a smooth pacing the course was mostly rolling with long sections of gradual uphills or downhills with an elevation ranging from 60 to 180 feet. Nothing hilly per se, yet, my Garmin gave 2,700 feet of cumulative elevation for the first 50 kilometers, we need to reassess what flat means... ;-) Long story short, by the 25th kilometer, where I had a GU2O bottle waiting for me as a refill, I was already 4 minutes ahead of plan, not so good.

I could still hold 7 min/mile pretty easily if it wasn’t for some chaffing which started as soon as 10K, and quite some disappointment or frustration when I found out that, despite having a medical tent every 5K (that’s a lot!!), none had Vaseline, duh! Thankfully, I had some left over on me, that helped, but that got me worried about the rest of the race, especially with all the sweating as temperature kept rising.

Some excitement kicked again when we got on the 25K loop we had to run 3 times. And more rolling asphalt, now in the mid-day heat. The legs started to feel tired in the uphills section and my pace slowed down significantly, sometimes hitting 8 min/mile. I passed the marathon distance in about 3:02 but, struggling in the last 5K of that first loop, I started making plans for dropping at 50K. Such bad thoughts and so long for my dream of a PR and American Age Group record for 100K....

At 48K I crossed Giorgio who looked super smooth and moving fast. Then Jan wasn’t too far behind, maybe a kilometer (remember from yesterday's post that Jan is 60!). As I approached the 50K mat, I saw 2 100K runners who had dropped and I told them: “oh my, this looks way too tempting!” I passed the mat in 3:43 then got my 2nd GU2O bottle, asked for a chair, a sponge with ice water, and let 4 minutes pass before deciding that I would not meet my goal today and it wasn’t worth several if not many miles of walking.

Here is how these first 50K look from above, thanks to's 3D flyover (click on this link or the image below).

Upon getting back to my room for a good shower, I discovered a big blister under my left foot: unforgiving asphalt! And frustrating beginner mistake, I should have carried more Vaseline on me, if I had imagined there wouldn’t be any at the medical stations...

I was also disappointed that there weren’t any Coke at the stations, I would have welcomed a few cups. I actually thought it was on the list of aid station supplies but, reading the instructions again tonight, it wasn’t (but I did see the advertised cucumber! ;-).

Again, apart from that, the organization was impeccable. I was blown away by the number of SWAT/policemen along the course, so many volunteers too and in some long sections, road dividers every 10 meters or so.
The asphalt was super clean and in pristine conditions. And the TV coverage was impressive, with half a dozen of motorcycles and even a helicopter!

I’m sure the organizers are on track for getting a World championship soon!

Back to the title, I'm cheating a bit: 2 minutes too fast at 50K might have been OK. The real problem is that, especially in such a heat and on a rolling course, I shouldn't have been up to 5 minutes ahead of schedule at 30K, that wasn't reasonable and sustainable. And, yes, when you have such a big goal, going too fast by a mere minute has consequences, and even more so for a few minutes...

After my shower, I went to the side of the course which conveniently circumvent the resort we are staying at, and took a bunch of pictures while writing this race report. It was inspiring to see the lead runners, 11K from their finish, as well as many other runners still having 37K to cover, and I was thinking of the struggle I avoided myself... I took many pictures but Picasa wouldn't let me upload in Google Photos tonight, that might have to wait until I'm back to California on Sunday (100K runners, I'll add a link as soon as I can). Here is the photo album (please grab your picture if interested, I may not maintain this album for ever).

Two short videos of the lead man and woman at 89K, respectively Tatsuya Itagaki from Japan and Radka Churanova from the Czech Republic:

Seeing that even Giorgio struggled to get on the podium (he was in 6th with 11K to go, yet all smiles), and Jan dropped after running the first 50K in 3:29 then walking some until 75K, made me realize it was indeed not the perfect conditions after all.
Although I tend to do well in the heat, I was certainly not mentally prepared for it today. Excuses, excuses...

14th DNF in 160 ultra races over the past 12 years, and I'm still learning... Of course, I'm super disappointed for failing again, especially as that was my last attempt at this distance while in the M50-54 age group and I felt as prepared as I could be given my other crazy busy lives. Was I too well prepared and tired from it? Yet, I'm thrilled to have lived quite a unique experience again, being part of such an international event, thank you for the invitation, Changan Ford Automobile and Ms. Tao from Kiren Sports! Time to get back to the paying job and see what 2019 brings with an age group change!

*** Next day addition. A few additional encounters and pictures before leaving Xianning on Saturday morning.

Samuel Trudel, who represented Canada at this year's 100K World Championships in Croatia. Like me, Samuel was shooting for a time around 7:30 and was on pace for 3/4 of the race before suffering from a heat stroke at 75 kilometer. Another victim of the heat and rolling course, and DNF... :-(
And with the super organizer, Ms. Tao!

PS: bonus pictures from the nice shore of Futou Lake, near our resort.


Pierre Haren said...

Great job Jean, and 50K in 3:43 is still the dream of lots of mortals...

Jean Pommier said...

Thank you for following the action, Pierre! Yes, gratitude for doing all this, still! :-)