Sunday, October 6, 2013

Rock'n Roll San Jose Half: yes, yes, yes, faster!

Another title for this blog post could have been: "faster, to my own surprise...!" After the good work and results of September, the overall win and course record at the Headlands 100-mile, then the win at Stevens Creek 50K last Saturday followed by a good 10K at Trailblazer the next day, I wasn't sure what to expect. On the start line, I was approached by a member of the West Valley Joggers and Striders club which has tried to recruit me these past years on their Masters Cross-Country team. But cross-country is really too short for me, not to mention the seasons overlap between cross-country and ultra running. Asked what I was shooting for, I replied that 1:17 would be great. My best at this distance is 1:15:04 at the International Paris Half in March 2006 and I clocked 1:15:04 after 4 attempts (1:18:47 in 2003, then respectively 1:15:44, 1:15:58 and 1:15:04). Being 42 then I kind of admitted or decided that I wasn't going to get faster at that distance and that's when I switched to ultra.

Brooks invited me to run this local half-marathon in 2010 and I couldn't resist, although, like this year, I had run a 100-mile a few weeks before (17:22:45 at Rio del Lago) and a 30:25 10K at Trailblazer the week before. Leveraging the fast course and the perfect weather, I pushed and finished in 1:15:53.

Brooks offered an entry again this year, a great incentive to get back to some speed on asphalt. With the September races, I couldn't even do any speed work so last week's 10K had to server as a short tempo run to "train" under 6 min/mile pace (5:51 average last Sunday). I logged a few miles on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, then tapered Thursday-Saturday.
Although my bib granted me an access to corral 1, there was no way to get even in the corral 10 minutes before the start, it was overflowing. I had seen some room on the start line actually and, thin enough, I actually passed through the fence, literally! The elites joined us with a couple of minutes to spare then we were off after the two wheelchair competiors took off and we listened to the National Anthem.

There were still about 50 or 60 runners ahead of me, including some slow ones (go figure...), but the Santa Clara Street is wide enough that it got safe to pass on the sides. About ten elite runners took of way under 5 min/mile pace, and I settled behind a group with the 4-5 lead women. I passed 3 of them between mile 1 and 2 and could still see 2 others 50 and 100 yards ahead. On Santa Clara, right after the start, my GPS was indicating 5:24 min/mile pace but I had it now stabilized at 5:37. I did passed a few other runners including one who, as I was on his side, said: "at last someone in my age group!" He asked for my age and told me he was "much younger", 44 (found his name in the results afterwards: Douglas Woods). And he stayed right behind. Usually, I'd rather run my own race and pace, must be my tendency to run for tens of miles on my own in ultra. But he was quite positive and entertaining and actually joined by another runner as I could hear them exchanging words. I was wearing my Quicksilver ultra running team top so they teased me, saying how impressive I was able to maintain such a pace as an ultra runner.

On the long 2-mile stretch on The Alameda, I told them that we were slightly slowing down, now at 5:38 min/mile on my GPS, maybe slightly more as the distance was on the optimistic side. We had passed the 5K mark in 17:26 and now the 10K in 35:19, faster than my 10K time last week, oops! With great sportsmanship Douglas took the lead and, after a few strides, I passed him again, getting us back to 5:37 pace. The other runner, Andrew Blaich, was now on my heels. Literally, so his shoe touched mine three times. Something which usually get me mad when we run in such an open area but I kept my cool, especially as Andrew was very apologetic, even offering me his free beer ticket. That was quite funny but I admit that I wasn't in the mood, or even in the capacity of joking and talking about it, all focused on maintaining a light and long stride and, even more importantly, holding on my breathing.

In the convoluted part of the course between mile 6 and 11, we still had sight on one of the two lead gals, and now another runner whom it take us 4 miles to catch and pass. We passed the 10-mile marker in 57:17, which is quite fast. Douglas said "wow, faster than my PR at 10-mile by 3 minutes" and he took off. I was not able to respond to the acceleration, but Andrew did so we were not spread over 20 yards or so. Half a mile later, Andrew passed Douglas and I saw Douglas holding his side, likely a side stitch caused by the slight change of pace. I passed him, exchanging a few words of encouragement, and tried to stay as close to Andrew as possible on the return stretch on The Alameda. Interestingly, we were now closing on the woman in 2nd place, who was herself closing on her competitor. Having been surprised by the long finish in 2010, and starting believing that I might break 1:15 finally, I was sprinting too, so much that I passed Andrew on South Almaden Boulevard, with less than 500 yards to go and could see the lead gals sprinting for the finish.By the way, I thought that, given 16,000 entrants, the race organization was perfect, except for one thing: as we were approaching the finish line of our half marathon, it was pure chaos as we were merging with the slow and erratic flow of the 5-mile "mini marathon" (what a name... ;-), making it quite dangerous actually and removing all pride of finishing in the top runners of this competitive race. So much that I was even handed a "mini marathon" medal in the flow of finishers where the poor volunteers couldn't figure out who had cover which distance.

Breaking my long standing PR by 10 seconds, I even pumped a fist on the finish line; some folks must have wondered what glory there was as I was surrounded by all sorts of runners at the end of their 5-mile. Oh well, there wasn't much to brag about indeed, the race was won in a blazing 1:02:46 by Ryan Vail, from Portland, Oregon, and sponsored by Brooks. At the award ceremony, Ryan told us that he was using this race as a last tune-up before the New York Marathon next month where he hope to finish in the top 5. In 2010, Meb Keflezighi also won the San Jose Half, in 1:01:45, one month before winning New York in a new PR of 2:09. Wishing the same to Ryan then! Ryan admitted that he had a good fight with California born and resident, Fernando Cabada who finished mere 27 seconds behind, wow! Overall, 4 runners ran under 1:05, the US marathon trial qualifier standard for the half, very impressive!
As for the women race, this is pure mystery, like I was chasing some chimeras. Indeed, at the award ceremony, three other ladies came on stage, the winner with a time of 1:17:40, so behind me! Maybe the other two were imaginary rabbits to get me to run faster. After all, most of us don't like to be "chicked" as we say in the ultra world. Not that I really mind by recognized and much younger elites anyway. ;-) Chimeras, bandit runners, disqualified, let me know with a comment below if you find out what happened. Or how you enjoyed that race too!
Ok, the results have just been posted and they do show Natasha Wodak, from Canada, winning the women race in 1:14:39. Making one of the two chimeras real then...!

How did we fare in the Masters? Donnie King, 45, from Calgary, won in 1:11:41. John Healy, 42, was second in 1:13:56 and I took third (20th overall out of 10,154 finishers!), or second in the M45-49 group. Douglas finished in 1:15:33, then Phil Daum, 47, in 1:15:55, also from Calgary! The winner of the M50-54 finished in 1:20:48, that gives me some hope for next year... ;-)

With that, I'm now off to Africa (Dakar, Senegal) in 6 days, for a 4-week IBM Corporate Service Corps engagement with Coders4Africa. It's much hotter and dryer there, and not so safe in the city, but I still hope to get some good running on that other continent. I will see some, or many of you actually I hope, at the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot at the end of November. For some more speed... ;-) By the way, that was my 26th half marathon race, a mythical number...

Before I go, a thank you note to Sports Basement's General Manager and Quicksilver teammate, Rich, for organizing a viewing of the movie "In the High Country" (DVD to be released in November), from runner/climber/film maker Joel Wolpert and featuring Anton (Tony) Krupicka's love for running and climbing in the Rockies. Master of Ceremony and UltimateDirection guru, Buzz Burrell, caught me off guard by inviting me to fire the first questions to Joel and Anton.
And here is John Burton's picture which got me in trouble at home because Agnès thought I was attending a running event... And, I promise, I didn't drink, ask Jim, our Club President! ;-)
Prior to the viewing, I had a chat with Buzz about a few improvements I'm looking forward to in the second generation of the hydration pack/vest he designed with Scott Jurek:
I must say that, although I met Tony several times and have read quite a few of his blog posts, I discovered another man in this movie: beyond the amazing runner, how much of a hiker, climber and scrambler (per his words), he is. And lone bobcat when not studying at the university (mountain lion and wolf wouldn't capture Tony's kindness, so I'm going with a smaller and better reputation animal as an analogy, hope you don't mind, Tony!). See Reese Ruland's review on iRunFar for more details about the movie. And this trailer:


Anonymous said...

It's hard to comprehend how you keep putting up these numbers. As you mentioned, your training would not suggest your performance. Truly amazing!


Jon Olson said...

Congrats on the run at RNR SJ. It was great chatting at Sports Basement, it was fun to talk local trails and your strive for maintaining speed even as you build your endurance strength. Continued success!
Jon Olson

Kathy McGroddy-Goetz said...

Great job! Enjoy Africa....

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