Friday, March 8, 2019

Caumsett 50K Road Nationals 2019: youngster's dreams

I have to confess, I do have a problem, I seem to have found the elixir against aging! No kidding, these 5-year deep age groups within USATF competitions keep me on my toes! Every 5 years, you have the opportunity to be the youngest again, and dream like a youngster. Again!

When I turned 50, I was still giving priority to our local Pacific Association Ultra Grand Prix. But now, after 12 consecutive Age Group season wins, I'm more open to other race opportunities. Also, I felt I missed a few Age Group record attempts when I switched age group last time. Not that it prevented me from improving the M50-54 100-mile Road Record less than 2 weeks before moving up, but, as Bian Teason reminded me on Saturday evening, it certainly doesn't become easier with years passing.

I flew back from Singapore on Friday, a 40-hour birthday, and, after learning that Agn├Ęs will be at a professional conference all weekend, decided at 5 pm to take a flight for Newark the next morning at 7 am with a return on Sunday night, reserve long-term parking, book a hotel room, a rental car and went packing... again, for some racing in the cold this time. The weather forecast had freezing temperatures, quite a difference from the last two weeks I had spent in 94-100F in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur!

I was supposed to wake up at 4 but, with the jet lag, was up at 3 instead. After many short nights with the past 8 weeks on the road, so long for storing some sleep before the race. It was pouring rain on the way to SFO and I was thinking of the 800 courageous participants of the Way Too Cool 50K that morning. As I landed in Newark, I had quite a few Facebook messages to read about how Way Too Wet that it turned out, a mud fest in the rain! Very impressed with all the stories, including Rich Hana who placed 10th at 54 just shy of breaking 4 hours again.

Stopped by Trader Joe's on my way to the hotel then drove to Melville to meet two ultra legends and friends, Brian Teason and Roy Pirrung as they were finishing their pre-race dinner at a local pizzeria. I told you about Brian in my Jackpot 100-mile post 2 weeks ago (where I was going after his previous M50-54 American Record). As for Roy, let's say he already made the Ultra running Hall of Fame and he was going this weekend for his 90th National title!

Once more, I woke up 1 hour earlier than what I wanted, just short of 6 hours of sleep but was very encouraged to see the clear skies and, 2 hours later, the sun! The forecast was giving cloudy skies and 20 km/h wind gusts but even the wind didn't seem to be an issue anymore, phew!

After registering at the last minute I was returning to the car when Brian and Roy arrived.

After much hesitation, I decided to run in shorts, not tights, and with three top layers, no jacket. I felt it was a bit bold given my sensitivity to low temperatures, but was betting on the sun and the sustained effort to keep me warm. Needless to say, a few elites were running in singlets...

Before we go into more details, let's talk about my race goals. There were quite a few, starting with not getting into trouble, health wise. 3 years ago, I broke the then M50-54 American Record with my lifetime PR of 3:18:12, but I ended up spending 2 days at the hospital in New Jersey after experiencing a mini stroke (Transient Ischemic Accident) and losing sensitivity in all my left side for 20 minutes, 3 hours after the race (plus vision for 20 seconds during the race, with 1.3 miles to go). That memory brought some emotion has I was returning after this 3-year hiatus. I was of course shooting for my age group title, although I didn't know who was going ot show up in our age group, beyond Brian. And, per the title, I was also dreaming of improving the American Record of course. This one still sets at 3:39:48 (Pete Kaplan in 2011) although Mark Murray ran a 3:32:16 at Jed Smith last year when I ran 3:26. I'm not sure why his record time hasn't been ratified at the yearly USATF Convention last November, it still shows pending in the record log. Bottom line, I had to run faster than 3:32 to be on the safe side, a time which I felt quite reasonable and attainable a few months ago. But, between the minimal training due to my gluteus injury and the 100-mile record and PR 2 weeks ago, nothing was certain. By the way, Mark's time corresponds to a 6:50 min/mile pace.

Now, what do I remember from the race? Mostly that it went quite fast... And, in that particular order of the laps, here we are...

  1. Lap 1 [20:02] - A group of 8-10 runners started off at a 5:30 (if not below!) pace. I rushed myself into a 6:20-6:25 min/mile pace to keep contact with the top 3 women. M45-49 Boyd Carrigton, whom I ran a few miles with 3 years ago before my stroke, passed our group, running a few seconds/mile faster, along a buddy from the Open division who was mostly focusing on his Marathon time (Caumsett gives an official Boston qualifying time with a mat specially setup at mile 26.2, very nice perk).
  2. Lap 2 [20:11] - Mid way on lap 2, the lead runner in the M50-54, passed me at mile 4 then run a few laps with the lead gals which I could still keep in sight. He wasn't on pace to break the new 3:16 record, but at least go under 3:20 and, at this point, I realized how good it was to have moved age group! (Photo credit: Lin Gentling, USATF)
  3. Lap 3 [20:03] - At the end of the lap I was getting two warm with my 3 layers and lost 20 seconds struggling removing one, ending up removing 2 at once, oops! I felt a bit cold after that but that wasn't too bad. I pushed the pace to close on the lead women to no availability, just managing to keep sight.  Overall I was glad to keep a pace below 6:30 through that first hour.
  4. Lap 4 [20:28] - This lap didn't start very well as, with my gloves, and even after removing one, I was struggling opening my small bag of S!Caps, so much that I had to stop and, Elizabeth, now in 3rd in the women race, flew by. I sprinted and caught up with her at the mile 1 mark, but she pulled away on the next uphill. She was on a great mission! (Photo credit: Lin Gentling, USATF)
  5. Lap 5 [20:45] - I got lapped for the first time by Austin Bogina, wow! As I learned from Zach Ornelas race report on Facebook after the race, he was after the 2:48 course record and on pace/track. Passing the marathon mat, I recalled thinking to myself "at least 3 more laps now" as it started to feel tougher and I was losing 5 to 10 seconds every mile compared to previous laps. It didn't help to get lapped by 6 or 7 other runners in that lap, but at least they were much younger and not Masters! ;-) Speaking of Masters, I finally lost sight of Boyd in the out and back so he had at least a 5-minute lead. Also, one mile in that 5th lap, it broke my heart to see Janet Cherobon-Bawcom slow down and stopped on the side with respiratory issues. She had such a fast race for a Master, super impressive high and long stride of an elite marathoner.
  6. Lap 6 [21:12] - After lapping Brian, I stopped at the aid station to get a S!Caps from my bag. Beyond that I don't remember much details except the reminding of keeping pushing when I wanted to just slow down. I also remembered liking the motivational signs which the organizing club, GLIRC, put on the side. I wish I had the courage to go back on the course after the race to take pictures of them, there were quite a few good quotes. Like, related to my post title, one from Walt Disney: "If you dream it, you can do it!"
  7. Lap 7 [21:50] - A quarter or so into this 7th lap something strange happen: the lead M50-54 runner whom I had mentioned earlier, Stefan Judex, was now jogging and toward me, apparently dropping from the race. That made me the second Masters, not even on my goal or wish list today!
  8. Lap 8 [22:22] - The main goal at this point was to hold the pace until the marathon mark. I dropped my bottles at the main aid station and felt so much free. I recall passing the marathon mat right before 2:57 (2:56:59), we'll see what the official time is. Still quite far from the 2:45 I got 3 years ago, but better than my 3:02 at the Redding Marathon in January. Progress! :-) As I was finishing this lap, I saw a runner that I had noticed before, without a back/age bracket bib, and who could have been 50 or 55, and, although I had a a 4-5 minute lead, I found that quite annoying (visibility of that back bib is a key rule in championships). In the out and back section at the end of that lap, I also witnessed one of the most exciting events of the race, Zach Ornelas closing on Austin in the last mile to take the win by 53 seconds. Austin ran sub 16:30 laps (5K each!) for 6 laps, just losing 4 minutes in his last lap, it was so close. Zach won in 2:50:01, he almost lapped me a second time, dang for my UltraSignup ranking (I would end up with a 75% performance because of him...;-) ).
  9. Lap 9 [22:36] - That lap was marked with quite some nascent cramping and I decided it was safer to slow down more than risking having to walk the last 2 laps. My pace was now down between 7 to 7:20 min/mile and I also lost a few seconds having a volunteer pulled a couple of S!Caps out of that small bag at the aid station. At the end of this lap, I asked the runner without a back bib how old he was... 55 he replied, dang! I was mad and that probably helped moving forward despite the coming cramps in the ultimate lap. I thought I was only running against the clock, I was now also running to save my age group lead...
  10. Lap 10 [22:24] - I was still running without bottles, feeling it was too late to catch-up on hydration at this stage. I had drunk only one bottle of GU Brew, and barely half a bottle of water. I took a 3rd GU gel to tough it out. Peter Defty had told me to work more on calorie intake than hydration given the cold, I didn't even follow that advice, I should have taken a couple more gels. Still amazed at how I can do without much calorie intake in racing and training. Not that I have so much fat either, but enough to keep me moving strong. I kept moving as fast as possible but that was closer to 7:10-7:20 min/mile now. Just enough to keep cramps at bay (calves and feet). I entered the out and back at 3:26 if I recall, it was getting really tight for 3:32. Unfortunately, I couldn't accelerate or sprint so I stopped looking at my clock to decrease the pressure. After the ultimate turn, I saw the clock still on 3:31. I crossed the finish line in 3:31:57, that was close, phew! I recall yelling a big YES at the finish, to the dismay of the few spectators who didn't realize what the was the big deal about, more than 40 minutes after Zach won. I know, back to the title, I look pretty old for a youngster with big dreams! ;-)

And here is a visual 3D flyover of these 10 laps, credit to (click on image, or this link):

I had given it almost all I didn't have: I mean, the lack of conditioning, the lack of rest, the lack of mental preparation for this, the apprehension or lack of confidence after the stroke 3 years ago, even all the diet infractions with 8 weeks of travels and business functions, 5 pounds over my targeted race weight... Given the circumstances I actually found myself quite lucky with the outcome: an impressive finisher medal, a USATF medal for top 9 male (I got chicked twice), a USATF medal and patch for taking 1st in my age group (3 minutes and 35 seconds, that was close), and even a check for placing 2nd Masters behind Boyd (who clocked an impressive 3:19:51). And a time worth another Age Group American Record assuming it's confirmed and ratified in November. Oh, and yet another comfortable Boston Qualifier if needed (2:57 versus the 3:40 minima).

With the Race Director:
 With Lin Gentling, the USATF Official today:

 A bunch of fun and very fast guys who all broke 3 hours today!

Regarding the record, I still believe I can do better than this but, more importantly, this leaves a lot of improvement to others. I'm sure Rich Hana can run at least 10 minutes faster than this, or Gary Gellin. And other youngsters in a few years. Let's see how long, or short, this will last.

On the women side, there was some surprise at the end, like on the men side: Tara had led for more than 7 laps but Elizabeth passed her to get the win in 3:24:06, Tara finishing less than a minute ahead of me in 3:31:05.

Brian teamed up with a runner less than half his age to break 4 again.

The rest of the day wasn't anything close to 3 years ago (no ER this time!), but quite painful. I had to rush back to the hotel to take a quick shower and drive back to Newark. The traffic was starting to load up as a major snow storm was on the radar for the evening. I made it to the rental car facility where I had the stroke last time, by 4 pm, right on time for my 6 pm flight. Except that the flight got pushed to 7:15 because of low visibility at SFO, then 8:15 as the plane now needed de-icing. We were in 2nd position for de-icing at 10:30 when the captain indicated that we had to get back to the gate. We deplaned at 11:30 pm, I got booked on the 9 am flight the next day, slept 3 hours on a chair in the terminal from 1 to 4 and wrote part of this blog as a zombie... Some good endurance training I suppose... That being said, the best recovery from an ultra comes from resting, sleeping well and eating well, better catch-up on this this week, that Sunday night was certainly suboptimal. And my gluteus is complaining a lot, post-race, but I'm amazed at how cooperating he is on race days!

Midnight, a whole 787 plane trying to get rebooked the next day...
6 am on Monday at EWR, post snow storm

Special thanks to the GLIRC club for hosting the Nationals again, providing us with such a perfect weather between two snow storms! It has been quite a few years now, it's becoming a classic. It's always on the cold side, that early in March, but the course is really conducive to some fast time with the 100% and very smooth asphalt (I thought of Bill Dodson who missed the M80-85 American Record by a few seconds 3 years ago, when the course still included an unpaved section in the out-and-back, with ice and puddles which made him fall twice). We can debated on the impact of the rolling profile, at least it helps working a different set of muscles.

After these epic last 8 weeks on the road, I'm looking forward to not traveling this week(*). And ramping up training and volume hopefully for all the races I've this Spring. See you on the roads or the trails, and stay safe in the bad weather this Winter!

(*) PS: that's what I thought when I wrote this on Monday but... on Tuesday night I was asked to fly to Saudi so, once again, here I am boarding another trans-Atlantic flight this Friday, back 10 days later...


Roy Pirrung said...

Way to fly young man--not only in the air, but on the Caumsett course too. Pleasure to see you take down two records in a short time and share the course with you as you continuously passed me. At least when you get to Saudi, you do not have to race. See you in a few miles...roy

John Kemp said...

Nice to meet you after the race Jean (I was 4th masters in a slow time for me) - inspiring to see how quick you still are - I hope I can catch up while I'm still young :)