Sunday, April 9, 2017

MadCity 100K Road Nationals 2017: foolish, stubborn, lucky

While running these championships, the 3 keywords I had planned on using in the title were: foolish, shameful and ridiculous but I'll come back on that later, read on!

First thing first, let's talk about the goals I had for my second visit to Madison, 2 years after the 2015 Nationals.

  1. Let's start by the boldest. 2 years ago, I had my sight on the M50-54 American Record of 7:38, a mark which had stood for 33 years! Last year, a few weeks after my stroke, Steve Stowers better it by mere 12 seconds. Although Steve is much faster than me (he made the 100K Team USA), my feeling was that he didn't have a good race last year and I could hope to run faster than 7:38:32.
  2. Therefore, second goal, set a new PR after my 7:51:08 at Ruth Anderson 2013 (I had missed that goal at MadCity in 2015 with 7:51:08).
  3. Win my age group for a 9th National Title. For that, all I needed to do is finish because I was the only entrant in the M50-54 bracket...
  4. Maybe win the Masters division again, depending on what Gary Gellin would do after his attempt to break the 50-mile M45-49 American record (5:39:42).
  5. Not kill myself before running the Boston Marathon 9 days later.
  6. Not get another stroke...

Was I ready for these goals for this new edition of MadCity? As I shared in my previous post, and on FaceBook the night before, I thought I was. A lot of road training, a few 50Ks at the targeted race pace, a better logistic and mental preparation than 2 years ago thanks for having ran that race before, no pressure in my age group so I could run my own race, a perfect weather forecast. The only concerns were the usual job stress and, more importantly, the lack of sleep getting in the race. Between the jet lag and then excitement of my big goal, I barely slept 4 hours on pre-race night.

Speaking of readiness and logistic, let me share a few things about my packing for a 12-day trip including 2 races and 6 days of customer meetings. First, to avoid losing time refilling bottles as I didn't have a crew, I brought 5 Ultimate Direction bottles with me. One I kept with me to hydrate on the plane, and 4 in my suitcase.
No big deal so far, but see what I squizzed inside to save space in my carry-on, pop!
Overall, here is a panorama of my running arsenal.
And I forgot the liquids and gels which were in the TSA-approved quarter bag
A way to give a shout out to my sponsors and favorite brands which keeps me so engaged into running and racing: Brooks, GU, Vespa, Ultimate Direction.

Let's now talk about the race, shall we?


The ultra connoisseurs will have figured out with such a label, yes, yet again, I started too fast. I actually settled way behind the lead runners, running between bibs #1 and 2, respectively Mike Bialick and Caroline Boller, which felt like a good strategy. It is actually difficult to pace yourself on such a rolling course. Record pace was 7:22 and I wanted to run 7:15 but it my first 18 miles (3 10K laps) were between 6:46 and 7:02 with one exception at 7:11. In that 3rd lap, I realized that I had to slow down and let Mike go, not by choice but by necessity, because my legs were lacking energy. I tried to keep up with Caroline through the 4th lap but even that was getting too hard and I started clocking a couple of 7:20 and 7:30 miles. That early in the race, I was bummed! I even had to walk in the 5th lap, before the 50K mark. I ran the first 50K in 3:53 and marathon in about 3:07. From that point, I knew it was not going to be a big or great day, but a long one...

What happened? Surely, starting too fast but that isn't really the real reason because I certainly showed these past weeks that I could run 50 kilometers much faster than that. No, the real reason is that, as some who have followed my running 10 years ago might have guessed, the (exercise-induced) asthma kicked in again. Miles 16-18, I still remember this asthma wall although Singulair had pretty much cleared it from my mind these past 8 years. As I changed health insurance this year, I actually had a 6-week break in taking Singulair and resumed a week ago, so I hope this is the reason. The next races will tell.

Bottom line: no proper breathing means not enough oxygen in your muscles and that's really bad for running 100 kilometers...


In the 5th lap, I started asking myself the question: "is it worth continuing?" Fortunately, I had other goals to keep me moving, principally the one of winning my age group of... one. As stated above, the only thing I had to do was to finish. Within the time limit, that is, before the cut-off time. I don't think I ever ran a race where I had to worry about the cut-off, I'm sure some of the readers are thinking "welcome to the club!" Because, my mid race, my legs were so trashed, and my lungs burning, the best I could do is alternate a lot of walking with some super slow trotting. And, I admit it, I'm a super bad walker, that's just not my thing. But, once again, like at the Riverbank 24-hour in February, I'd better get used to and better at it because I feel there will be a lot of walking at UTMB in September...

So, from speed, my main goal was now just to finish. From record time, my goal was now death march. So long for positive thoughts, but at least some objective to avoid a DNF (Did Not Finish).


Things could have been worse, I was still able to move forward, albeit at an embarrassing pace of 15-16 min/mile, alternating walking at 18-19 min/mile and trotting at 10-11 min/mile. In short, that resumes what I did between 11 am and late afternoon this Saturday, so boring.

But let me highlight a few lucky things to brighten my post...
  1. First, I met John Hahn on lap 7 at the top of Manitou Way. From Madison and M45-49, I had lapped him on my 5th loop but we were now down to both alternating walking and jogging and it was great to have someone to speak to when walking. Alternatively, we were motivating the other to resume trotting up to a certain spot on the course and we covered this way 2 more laps together. On my 9th lap, though, I told John he should try to take the pace up to make sure I made the cut-off of 7:30. It was 3 pm, we were covering laps in barely one hour and a half now, and he had 3 more laps to go. I'm super glad he took off then as he managed to finish his first 100K within the allotted time! And very lucky I got to meet him and run a few laps together.
  2. Another unexpected outcome of my abysmal performance of 11:28 (yes, I managed to finish!), is that I won the Masters division! That was completely unexpected and, sincerely, not derved at all given my finish time. A few facts to explain what happened in our Masters division. First, as I was battling with my own doubts in lap 5, I saw Gary on the side of the finish line who had decided to drop when his legs felt trashed after only 4 laps in the race. Another Master contender named in the IAAF press release, Chad Ricklefs, wasn't at the start. But there was a M40-45 runner who had lapped me around 55K so at least that made me second in the Masters. As I look at the detailed results, I see that it was Barry Thurne who eventually finished in 12:44. He reached 80K 2 minutes before me and he must have stopped at the aid station, which is the reason I didn't realize I passed him (in National Championships we wear a bib with our age group in the back). With that, I won my 2nd crystal vase, which I think is even larger this time (I'm continuing my trip toward Boston in a few days so I shipped the vase back home, hope USPS will take great care of it!).
  3. Now, another interesting fact is that I was the oldest finisher in the 100K! How young does that make me look or feel now...?! ;-) As a matter of fact John Hendrix, 55, was an amazing gentleman, running with Rachel Hiers and, unfortunately, they didn't make the cut-off and had to drop at 70K.
  4. With this super shallow field, I even made the Top 10, Top 6 Men actually. Despite being all-chicked, that is ending behind all the female finishers, another first for me!
As I mentioned in the first line of this post, the first keyword which came to mind was ridiculous because, with 11:28, it felt quite ridiculous that I won my age group, the Masters division and placed in the Top 10 of the US 100K Road Nationals. I used lucky inside, but I feel bad for the participants who dropped, those who didn't show up, or couldn't make it. Overall, I'm sorry this removes some prestige to the USATF ultra running championships, but I'm still glad to have endured the pain of finishing to get all this hardware.
And that's on top of quite a few race goodies from the generous sponsors:

To conclude, what does all this tells me or us? Well, that, with these Nationals, you never know who is going to be there, so you have to try... your luck. As a matter of fact, this event was even promoted at the last minute to the rank of IAU (International Association of Ultrarunners) as the championships for the Americas, both North and South. Quite unfair to international delegations to send their best athletes (Brazil sent 2, and Canada, 2). Speaking of Brazil, it was fun to trade places with their two female runners, in the last laps, as they were running the whole race together in great (team) spirit.

The shallowness of the field also illustrates that trail is much more popular than road for ultra running in the US.

Still, please give credit to all the participants, and quite some competition at the front. The Men race was won by Jesse Davis, a 2:18 marathoner, in 7:06, making the Team USA right on his 100K debut. Isaiah Janzen took 2nd, 4 minutes later and Mike Bialick was the third and last runner to finish with an average pace under 7 min/mile, with a finish time of 7:12. Close finish! Caroline Boller continuers her stellar career by winning with a time of 7:51. She was already on the 50K National team, she now joins the 100K one! As for 2nd and 3rd place, I hope someone was able to caught a video of that finish as Julie Hamulecki preceded 2014 24-hour World Champion Katalin Nagy by mere 12 seconds!!

Anyway, I'm still very glad to have had the opportunity to participate in a championships again, grateful to Race Director Tim (Timmo) Yanacheck for organizing such a professional event and taking on the challenge of meeting all the standards to organize a National and IAU event, despite the lack of financial incentives. Special thanks to Lin Gentling too for representing USATF again, the encouragement and staying for the whole race.
Let me add that, with such a small field in the 100K (there are also a 50K and 5x10K relay races that day), you are in for a very personal experience provided by Timmo, for instance, a dozen of email updates before the race, personalized bibs and individual emails would you have a question.

And a special mention to the volunteers setting up the event and helping running it, in particular the two aid stations.

With that, I still feel I can improve my PR on that distance... In the meantime, see some of you at Boston in a week. For a short sprint this time! ;-)

1 comment:

runstephane said...

Well, not the pace we got used from you but hey, we can't improve each time--btw you still have your lucky star and explanations are quiet reassuring after I got a glimpse of the results :+) Congrats for one more group win.
I'm sure some speed next Monday will do great to your legs... and fortunately it will be less asthma in a big city. Happy marasprint!