Sunday, October 28, 2007

Whiskeytown 50K: F as in...

F as in...

A strange title, isn't? This week I was attending the 10th Business Rules Forum for ILOG, in Orlando, Florida. Between the time spent on the plane or in the hotel, such business trips provides opportunity to read newspapers I'm not used to at home. On Thursday, one article caught my attention Personal Best - Keeping The Gauge Off 'E' (E as in Empty). Or maybe it was the nice pair of legs next to it, illustrating an article on fashion and lingerie, in the ThursdayStyles section... Anyway, it was indeed an article on running, the NYTimes getting geared toward the upcoming big weekend of the New York Marathon (November 4), preceded by the US Olympics Marathon Trials on Saturday 3rd, gathering la crème de la crème of US marathoners in Central Park.

The article was actually nice, about the need to pace yourself, not a bad advice when you have 38,000 runners on the starting line of such event. A side column, 26 Miles of 'Om', included some tips from champions such as Meb Keflezhighi, Rod Dixon, Bill Rodgers. But the one I liked the best was this paragraph:
KATE O’NEILL, a member of the 2004 United States Olympic 10,000-meter team who this month ran her first marathon in Chicago’s heat, managing a 2:36:15. “I had a fifth-grade teacher who loved alliterations and encouraged us to use them as much as possible. So my mantra is ‘fun, fast, fluid and focused.’”
Fun, fast, fluid and focused, you see where my F as in... is coming from!

F as in... flying and freedom

Let's get back to the Whiskeytown 50K. It was the first time I was running this race so, on the starting line, I told Bev (Anderson-Abbs) we just have to follow her as she is so fast and almost local (from Red Bluff, about 35 miles South of Redding, Redding being 15 miles from the start at Whiskeytown Lake). Ron (Gutierrez) was there too. The race starts on the road for 1 mile and road racing is my specialty so I took the lead right off the start after exchanging a few words with Ron who was delighted with the colorful autumnal leaves. Flying like on this picture at mile 20, getting separated from your shadow, the key difference between running and walking:

F as in... feline

Around mile 6 I had the joy to see a bobcat. He was walking up the hill and I was running light enough so he didn't see me approaching from behind. I was less than 50 ft away when he finally heard me and ran off. Maybe not in fun way for him, but surely fast and fluid!

F as in... food and fluids

Not Kate O'Neil's fluid way to run. Or the one you can experience in the runner's high, which I did for instance from mile 16 to 18, flying down. But the various drinks so essential to maintaining your form through out such a long and strenuous exercise. I decided to run with one bottle, with my favorite lemon GU2O. Taking water and Coke and filling in the bottle with water at each aid station. Of course this dilutes the ideal proportion of the electrolyte so I carried with me a bag of powder (2 spoons) from which Agnès put half in my bottle at the 12-mile aid station and the other half at 20 miles. Was it enough electrolyte? If not, does that explain the nausea I experienced hiking up the Mill Creek trail between mile 21 and 23?

As for the food (yet another F as in...), I took 1 piece of banana, 1 GU and 1 S-cap every hour. And some potato chips at mile 20. On the low side for an ultra, but trying to hand as shortly as possible in aid stations.

F as in... fatigue and fear

I had no strategy to race against anyone but me here. Even if Mark Lantz would have shown up, I would have let him go ahead if he wanted to do so. Like some others, I read with amusement the suspense of the final match between Mark (Tanaka) and Ron at the end of Firetrails 50-mile: Early Halloween Horrors at Firetrails 50 (a must read! ;-). I took the lead without thinking, like I did at Skyline 50K. Like I was on my own, like it was an intense training run.
By mile 20, I was still on a 8:07 minute/mile pace, enough to match last year's course record set by Hal Koerner, who won Western States this year. And, looking at the course profile before the race, I thought the toughest was behind us in terms of climb. What was I thinking?

Getting in the 20-mile aid station then (Tower House Historic District), Agnès tells me Ron was 4 minutes behind me at mile 13 (aid station #3). I said "ouch!" and she asked "isn't it a lot?" I replied it was nothing on such a long race and ran off, after leaving my gloves, buff, and ZombieRunner's Moeben sleeves to her.

At the start, race director John Luaces told us that the creek was low this year so we shouldn't get our feet wet. Or maybe did he say or mean, not too wet. Anyway, between aid station 1 and 2, we had to cross a creek 3 or 4 times and I indeed managed to keep my feet dry, losing a couple of seconds at each crossing. Right below the 3rd aid station (mile 12.8) I slipped in the creek though; I was hoping we were done with creek crossing, not my favorite part of trail running in general and Way Too Cool in particular. And, indeed, no more water until... mile 21 for this infamous Mill Creek trail. Is it 20 or more epic crossings over one mile? I was not counting, but I'd say definitely more than 15. Some where you could barely see the trail on the other side and had to jump through bushes. A barely runnable section. However, I feel we were lucky with the weather, as I can't imagine how harder this section must be under pouring rain, which must happen often at this season given the proximity with Oregon and some nearby mountains.

Pretty much following Mark Tanaka's story, I was then taken by the fear of seeing Ron rushing on me as I was struggling restarting the machine after each crossing. To add to the fear, I was feeling a bit tired but more importantly, really nauseous. In the last mile before the 6th aid station at Boulder Creek Trail, I walked and jog, thinking of Tim Twietmeyer's advice: "if you get sick, get sick!"(see my Western States training camp write-up). I was thinking of making me throw-up and decided to wait for after the coming aid station. Which was wise as the nausea disappeared in the final duel with Ron. So the nausea might have just been caused by some sea sickness caused by going back and forth on the short switchbacks. Sea sickness which I'm subject to on boats, enjoying firm ground much more than water and sea. Sea sickness, likely not something which came in trail ultra running discussions before!

F as in... fight and frustration

Here we are, mile 24.5 and losing the lead to Ron who barely stopped at the aid station as I was trying out what to do to fix the nausea. And 7 hilly miles to go. Plus Bev who I imagined close behind us, although Ron said there was a guy coming 1 minute or so behind him (Agnès told me later that Patrick Dellapace and Ron were indeed together at mile 20).

A section of the race which shown my lack of training over the past two months. Some cramps were coming like at Skyline 50K, but it was more the lack of mental toughness which was letting me lose ground to Ron on the uphills. And catching up on the downhills, to the point I caught him at the final aid station at mile 28. Although I could see him in a distance, I lost 1 minute and a half in the final uphill, which I couldn't make up in the final 2 miles down to the lake and marina. 1'25" between us at the finish, and Bev 1'31" behind me, that was quite a close finish and we all benefited from some pull or push from each other. Exchanging some of our frustrations with Bev:

23-year old Patrick DellaPace came fourth, 50" before Alan Abbs who smashed his personal best on this course. See the complete results on the SWEAT web site. Below are the top 5 finishers at the start, from right to left: Ron (1st overall, bib #6, white cap and top), Alan (5th) and Bev (3rd) Abbs running for Team Sunsweet, me (2nd) and Patrick (4th, bib #24):

In retrospective I'm ashamed to be frustrated with such a result. Especially as I had no precise goal, so it's frustration against dreams which got formed during the run, once everything was going fine. Like Agnès says, a few years ago I was just running to finish and now I turned to being so competitive. A good lesson to keep the fun in perspective... By the way, even Bev seemed a bit frustrated not getting under 4:30. Despite setting a new course record for her age group and all the women age groups actually, taking first overall and the PA USA Track & Field 50K title (after the National title on this distance at Headlands 50K in August).

F as in... running flats

Seems a bit off topic but just a mention of running flats as there has been some related discussion in the ultra mailing list recently. Although there are some parts very runnable, and not just the road sections, definitely not a course to use flats on with all the creek crossings. As for me I wore my Brooks Trance which were perfect for the rolling sections, and ok for the creek crossing although more grip would help in this section.

F as in... friendly

How not to be friendly with all these volunteers giving their time so we can enjoy the trail and competition. From the organization, registration, website, check-in, the all you can eat and drink buffets along the course, and the soup at the finish. Despite the intensity and pressure of the competition, I try to be as friendly with everyone, at least I feel I'm getting better at it.

Two weeks ago I was getting my bib for the 20K of Paris. When I thanked the guy hanging me the packet, he looked surprised, but not even positively surprised, almost feeling assaulted. He replied "Hey, I've been here and doing that for 15 years!" I apologized... Although this may contain some cultural difference with regard to customer service, this also shows a major difference between our friendly ultra runs and the anonymous multi-thousand crowd events. Here are the nice --and cool as you can tell from the outfit-- aid station #3 crew:

F as in... foliage, forest and fall

By fall I mean Autumn, not falling. Well, falling leaves. The course is very shady, going through a wonderful and very diversified forest. With wonderful color tones at this period of the year, and dead leaves softening the trail. Being focused I missed the advertised views of the nearby summits and dormant volcanoes, but not the spectacular colorful foliage. Here is a compilation of some of Agnès' photographic works while waiting for me at aid stations 3 and 5:

F as in... friend, fidelity and faith

On our (long) way back to the Bay Area, we learned that Pierre-Yves, the son of Agnès' best friend, was hospitalized again and in very critical conditions. Agnès and Vivy have been best friends since elementary school, an example of fidelity. Just one year ago, Pierre-Yves has been diagnosed with lymphoma and went through so many chemotherapy sessions we lost count. Earlier this month he received a marrow transplant from a donor in Germany and has been in a sterile environment since then, and until doctors see if the transplant worked. Our friends called during the race to share the news, that Pierre-Yves got an infection of both lungs so he got put into artificial comma and breathing. We keep praying for him and I was thinking of him when battling in the Mill Creek trail.

Pierre-Yves plays and loves basketball. Thanks to the Make @ Wish foundation, he was able to spend some time with Tony Parker in August, fulfilling a wonderful wish. Here is a picture from the Make @ Wish website:
And with some of his friends in July at the Villejuif hospital:

I'm usually not too keen on mixing spiritual things with others but I can't resist in quoting one of this weekend's readings in this context:
"I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith."
Again, putting things in perspective, as these were Paul's words to Timothy (2 Tm 4:6-8) at the end of his life, not the end of a mere run.

Go Pierre-Yves, go, fight and win, the basketball match is far from being over, like your mother says!

F as in... farther and faster

When I told the family I was going to blog on the F letter (and not on the F word, Rob!), they were really wondering about the connection before they all see it: farther and faster, of course. Oops, it didn't come to mind during my run, but I can't escape the natural association indeed.

The nice thing with trail running is the variety of the courses. It's a 50K but not like any other. This provides many more opportunities to set PRs and improve on a particular course, not a particular distance. Like Bev set the course record for F30-39 at 4:40:57 the improve her time to set the CR for F40-49 at 4:32:44 two years ago and 4:30:34 this year!

Unlike at Ohlone, I knew the course record for M40-49 before the start (4:36:34 by Dave Covey in 2003) and thought it would be nice to improve it. Which I did, so that can be called faster. unfortunately not fast enough as Ron was 1'21" ahead of me to set the new CR for our age group. Will need to come back, like Bev...

As for the farther, here too, each course provides an opportunity to dig, if not farther from a distance standpoint (see the farther-further discussion), further in your mental and physical capabilities. Certainly the Mill Creek trail for me on this course.

Oh, another farther though, with yet another F as in... freeway. This is the first time I drive away that far for a race and an ultra. 570 miles in 24 hours, that's a lot of driving miles to offset with running miles (carbon footprint speaking)... Anyway, I'm so thankful to Agnès who has decided to come with me at the last minute and drive most of the way; that certainly helped alleviate some of the fatigue from the previous three weeks on France and Florida.

F as in...

So to recap, here are some "F as in..." words/alliterations: fun, fast, fluid, focused, flying, free, fearless, fatigueless, friendly, faithful, feline, not to forget the farther and faster of this blog. And let's keep frustration and fear out of this list, right?

Is it an exhaustive list? Not tired with these alliterations yet and have others to suggest? Let me know by dropping a comment!


Dave - Atlanta Trails said...

I like the themed race report. Seems to be a trend now. I'll need to do that some time.

Nice job on your finish (even if it wasn't quite what you had hoped for).


Unknown said...

great report. I've been out there dozens of times and have seen bears, but no bobcats.

Brad said...

I'm glad I drove the hundreds of miles to get there. I finally gave up trying to stay dry after the fourth crossing up Mill Creek. It's interesting to read your report and realize how I too go through similar situations during the race. I'm just finishing about 1:45 hours after you (and have no chance of placing)!

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

I told you all, Ron is one tough cookie! I'm sure on a good day you'd have beaten him (just like on most days, you would beat me). Since it seems he's racing more now, next year may turn into a very interesting year for the PAUSATF Masters division.

I also felt a little guilty driving up myself last year, even with the Prius. Ironically, I didn't need the points. Even more ironically, I had to DQ myself when I figured out on the drive home that I'd missed an entire aid station. I will never know if I would've still come in 2nd or not.

Thanks for the blogging tips. I will try to incorporate later.

Anonymous said...

i saw a black bear in my rear view about a quarter mile from the start of the race. i was stoked. my wife was nervous. anyways that was a great course. i think it was 18 creek crossings within that one mile. i don't know why i counted...distracting myself, i guess. i want to see photos of myself and another runner sprinting our asses off to the finish line. i beat him by like half a fingernail to get ninth place. RUN MORE HILLS!

Jean Pommier said...

Hi Robert,
Indeed, you were sprinting like you had seen in bear behind you, but that was Magellan Turner. Reminded me of my Quad Dispsea finish last year where Jasper (Halekas) did beat me by one second. More than a photo, a video of this would have been great, to capture the suspense of watching both of you rushing to the finish line.
Back to the bear, he must have been under the charm of your adorable girls. Make sure they know about the danger when hiking in family!
You are the second person to report a bear in the area, so that doesn't seem unusual. Thanks for stopping by the blog and the note,