Sunday, January 27, 2019

Redding Marathon 2019: thrilled to have dared to try!

It's a long title for a story which took even longer for me to recount: I started this blog on a flight on Monday, hoping for a next day race report, but here we are, a week later...

If you read my last post, you know that I've injured my left gluteus in November and it's still acting but I decided to run through it anyway to keep... going. Back in November actually, I was in such a great shape that I had envisioned going either at CIM (California International Marathon in Sacramento) or a downhill marathon in Arizona in December. Of course, that nagging injury derailed these plans. Do we still need to prove that I can run a marathon after doing so many, including on training runs? That was certainly not the goal; I just wanted to improve the qualifying time I entered Boston with, that is my slow time at Boston last year: 3:06:11, quite a counter-performance after the 2:44:50 which got me the 2nd place on the M50-54 podium 2 years ago...

Boston indeed gives us until February 1 to submit a better marathon time before attributing the bibs and start corrals/waves starting with the fastest time. There are so many fast runners at Boston that I suspect the 3:06 will get me in the 4 to 5,000 range, a lot of runners to run with or pass in the first miles... And the time has to be set on a Boston-qualifier event of course. Well, with my 6-week of professional travels starting this week (I started writing this blog post on my flight to New Orleans on Monday morning), that past weekend was my last chance and I had my noticed the Redding Marathon as fitting the bill.

Not a straightforward course with some serious downhill but a few hills longer than Boston's Heartbreak Hill, but more importantly, one which hadn't filled up yet and was even taking registration on race morning! Perfect for my crazy last-minute plans on squeezing or packing as much things as possible in life! See for yourself: we attended a concert on Friday evening at the Harker School (where Agnès teaches) and we had tickets for Saturday night at the Symphony Silicon Valley, including the 2nd Concerto for Piano in B Flat from Brahms, one of my favorite pieces of classical music which I have listened on my iPod dozens of times, if not more than a hundred. Watching this performance live, by Jon Kimura Parker, was actually a breakthrough for me: I hadn't realized how difficult the piano part was, and I even learned that Brahms was a piano virtuoso himself and premiered this monument himself in 1882!

The first decision to make was: could I even expect to run enough miles at 6:30 min/mile to make the trip worth. If it was any indication, the 6-hour race of the previous week showed me that I was seriously under-trained, not even able to run 6:45 miles for 18 miles. Now, based on my mantra that these races also provide good training, I decided to go to the track on Saturday morning where I was standing with regard to speed. After a 3-mile warm-up which wasn't enough to eliminate the gluteus pain but at least made it bearable, I went relatively hard and was happy to hit 11:53 for 2 miles (8 laps + some). After cooling down, including providing some running form advice to 2 other runners on the track, I decided the test was positive to give it a go! Now, there was some logistic involved, especially as Agnès wasn't up for driving that far all night, especially given the very rainy weather forecast for Sunday morning... I booked a room in Red Bluff, 30 minutes South of the start and figured out the crazy timing: I will leave at the intermission at 9 pm, drive 3 hours to Red Bluff, sleep 4.5 hours, wake up just before 5 to eat a quick breakfast then drive to the race shuttle buses to register by 6:15 then hop on the shuttle scheduled for 6:30. Phew, that was really aggressive and crazy indeed; this pre-race plan already looked like a marathon in itself... In the theme of shaving a few minutes from my qualification time, every minute of this plan was going to count, starting with how much sleep I'd be able to get.

Kimura's performance was so great that the first part of the concert went longer (the concerto itself is already 50-minute long!) and I got to the car at 9:20 and arrived at the hotel at 12:15 am, only taking 1 minute for a pit stop.
I woke up at 4:52 and ate one hard boiled egg and 1 avocado, showered, packed again and was on my way to Redding by 5:45. When this happened at 6 am, worth clicking on the video...

That actually made me laugh, thinking that I had driven all the way for this, and I was certainly not going to try to run a sub-3 marathon in such a storm again (for those who don't recall, 2018 was one of the top 2 or 3 worst conditions the event had in 125 years, part of the reason of had a slow time and why I was here). I decided to still drive to the shuttle area to at least say Hi to Tori Parks, who had been super responsive to my few emails about race day registration. 15 minutes later the storm passed and it was just drizzling. I asked for the registration form and filled it in, in case I was changing my mind to... well, get in, but waited until the 2nd of 3 buses left to give it, and get my bib. I was all in now, betting that AccuWeather's forecast of 2 days ago announcing just a few showers was more accurate than the up to date one from Apple, who was announcing storms from 8 am (start time) to 11! As a matter of fact, I asked one of the volunteers what to expect and she mentioned the potential storms but, since I was in craziness mode already, decided to get in anyway.
I remember thinking I should go at the back of the 3rd and last bus in case they were going to drop us in the middle of nowhere, in the rain. This way, I'd be the last one to get out and wet! ;-) And at the back of the bus, whom do I run into, Amy Burton, one of my Quicksilver Club teammate and who has run Boston many times. What a great surprise and coincidence, small running world!
Another amazing surprise was to see that the bus was dropping us next to the Shasta Lake visitor center and it was open for us! Given the small field, that was ample space to relax, change, finalize our drop bag for the finish line and, not the least, use the bathrooms!

20 minutes before the start, I went outside to warm-up. It was drizzling and I decided to run with a super light Brooks jacket, but changed my mind just before the start as rain stopped and the temperature was already quite high for January (I estimated between 55 and 60F).

Even with the team relays taking some of the top spots, I still managed to get right on the start line, next to a runner who definitely looked like he could win that one, especially after hearing he was from Bend, Oregon, where they certainly know a lot about speed and endurance! He was so tall that I decided not to get in his footsteps as we were running the first 800 meters on the dam itself, before plunging into what was going to be the steepest and longest downhill of the day.

There were already at least a dozen runners ahead at the end of the dam, many I assumed were on relay teams. I actually caught-up with the tall runner from the start and congratulated him for consciously staying at 6:15 min/mile pace when I was now down just under 6 min/mile, which brought great memories of my Boston 2017 race. We had a short chat, his name was Ryan, it was his first marathon and he was aiming at qualifying for Boston in a time in the 2:40-2:50 range. I took the lead before the end of downhill, around mile 2.5 and maintained a 6:25-6:30 min/mile pace for the first 10K, not too shabby for someone injured! Ryan passed me at mile 6 as I felt a need to slow down to a 6:35-6:45 pace for the miles 7 to 10.

And then we hit the first climb; not such a big deal in comparison to trail and mountain races of course, but still more than 300 feet over 2 miles so certainly a pace breaker, especially given my lack of training this month. At least it wasn't raining anymore, which was such another amazing surprise for the day. Besides, we were now going though a desolated area, the famous Carr Fire of September 2018. Many houses seemed to have survived the fire, but all the trees were burnt. Thinking of all the firefighters who had been engaged for weeks to battle the blaze gave me courage to, if not running fast anymore, at least not quit, when I thought that my main goal of improving my qualifying time was out of reach. With that, I still managed to run the thee steepest uphill miles (10, 11 and 14) under 8 minutes (7:16, 7:44 and 7:28 respectively). The legs were tight and I was fearing the 18-20 mile barrier which I hit the week before at the One Day in Auburn 6-hour despite running even slower than today. Yet, I so much enjoyed the downhill section at mile 15 that I regained confidence and clocked 2 of these miles under 6:30 again, phew!

On the subsequent flat section though, I was just able to maintain a 6:50-7:00 min pace and, bingo, I started feeling cramps forming in my legs around mile 19, so dialed the pace 10 seconds down again. It was a bit of a bummer but I had passed mile 18 in 2:00:30 (6:40 pace) so there was still some reasonable margin to break 3 hours. I drank more and stopped for at least 30 seconds at the aid station just after mile 19 to refill both my bottles (GU Brew/GU2O and water), and take a 3rd GU gel. 2 runners closed on me as I left the aid station and they passed me a mile later as my legs were really hurting now. We were now on the last out and back section but I had not memorized at which mileage the turn around was. The first runner I crossed was not even on a team but one that I had missed at the start, really moving fast (he would end up winning the race in 2:35). Second full marathon runner looked so light and young, then Ryan wasn't too far behind him. In that rolling section, I passed one of the two runners who had caught-up with me at mile 20, another Ryan, but Redding local, and 34. I kept pushing to the turnaround at mile 22 and the following two miles but, at mile 24, my legs kind of froze, all muscles cramping, from the hip to the feet. That must have been awkward to watch, if not painful, I had hard time keeping a straight stride for the penultimate mile, so much that Ryan passed me again.

Seeing the famous and innovative Sundial pedestrian bridge gave me just enough of a boost to stay behind Ryan and see him finish. I was so glad to have persisted to the finish, and actually signed-up for the race, yet not thrilled by my finish time, missing the 3-hour mark by 2 minutes and 18 seconds. 3:06:11 (Boston 2018) - 3:02:18 = 3:53... what a fight and epic adventure for 233 seconds! Was it worth it? Of course it was, it's always such a blessing to have the opportunity and honor to finish a marathon. Furthermore, given the low key flavor of this event, I managed to finish 6th overall and 1st Masters, for a beautiful ceramic age group plaque.
Here is's 3D flyover (click on the image):
I have to admit that I still don't understand why so few people enter this Boston qualifier race. The course isn't the easiest but it's very scenic. The organization is very professional (e.g. mile markers, chip timing, long sleeve top, shuttle to start, aid stations), the volunteers very friendly (reminded me of the ultra community spirit). After running the other race which SWEAT used to have as part of our Ultra Grand Prix (Whiskeytown 50K), back in October 2017 (giving away the first place by less than 2 minutes!), I had received the flyer for this marathon, year after year, and it was definitely on my to do list. Another reason making the finish worth! Oh, and that mega finisher medal and very nice tee.
I was also very glad to get to meet Tori Parks, the Race Director, a competitive Masters athlete herself. She had been super responsive to my emails, despite my craziness of waiting until the last minute to drive up and register.
And shout out to the SWEAT Running Club and the sponsors who allowed us to have fun in such a perfect weather last Sunday!
Back to my 'small running world' comment after meeting Amy, it's all about connection, see this one for instance: while I was waiting for a massage, I was chatting with 3rd place Sid, about his amazing first marathon performance.
I found out he was a Senior at Berkeley, like my 3rd boy, but there are many students there, so not such an amazing coincidence yet. No, the one in a million connection happened when he asked where I grew up in France. As I was describing my home town, a marathon relay runner walks by and said she spent her first 10 years in Montbazon, less than 10 miles away from my parents' place... Such a connected world indeed!! Her name is Kim Sannajust and she is a Senior at UC Davis.
The road for my trip back to the Bay Area was of course so much busier than in the middle of Saturday night, yet no major traffic jam. Still, 4 hours straight of sitting after a marathon is really not advised. Between this, the cramping, the insidious gluteus pain, the flying on Monday and a long dinner on Tuesday, I even thought a blood clot has formed in my right calf on Tuesday. I felt a super painful spot deep in the calf until Thursday morning and was really worried, having heard very bad story how such clot can develop in marathon runners, then go straight to the brain or lungs. The pain had decreased on Thursday, enough for me to take the risk to fly back to San Francisco, but still scary enough that I spent 5 hours on Friday morning to get an ultrasound done. I'll likely get a steep bill for this, but at least I had the peace of mind before flying to Europe this Saturday... And I'll know much better how to self-diagnose this next time!

PS: top 10 (and a bit of a generation gap! ;-)

1  Blake Zufall    M Redding CA 2:35:59 5:58 23
2  Ryan McLaughlin M Bend OR 2:46:54 6:23 30
3  Sid Baggo       M Orinda CA 2:47:41 6:24 21
4  Jace Hinesly    M Ashland OR 2:53:51 6:39 29
5  Ryan Spitz      M Redding CA 3:02:04 6:57 34
6  Jean Pommier    M Cupertino CA 3:02:18 6:58 54
7  Kirby Garlitz   M Klamath F. OR 3:07:47 7:11 27
8  James Wiseman   M Sacramento CA 3:12:24 7:21 40
9  Dan Lagoe       M San Jose CA 3:14:26 7:26 32
10 Kaitlin Greene  F Bend OR 3:17:31 7:33 28

Saturday, January 19, 2019

One Day in Auburn 2019: only 6 hours, thankfully!

One month without blogging, you bet something went wrong in December, thanks for checking! ;-) I was way too busy to blog or brag about it anyway. Besides, I didn't exactly know what was going on in the first place.

You probably missed it, as I did dismiss that detail in my own race report, but I did slip once during my fast 10K at the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot on November 22nd. I did pay much attention to a pain in my butt the following few days, attributing it to some soreness and lack of proper stretching after the race (a classic mistake for me especially for such a social event). I did run for a few days afterwards and was even contemplating showing up at CIM (the California International Marathon) the following week but bailed out. It was about time that I took my annual 3-week rest and I had logged enough miles to deserve it (i.e. I was already way ahead of my 100K or 62.2 mile/week average).

In addition to the frustration of not running during these 3 weeks, I got stressed out not only by a lot of pre-holiday deadlines at work but also because that pain wasn't fading out, at all, despite being excessively focused on doing absolutely nothing physical during this time. I resumed training for a few days between Christmas and New Year Day, with a few very nice runs with the three boys, in town for a few days, and the pain was exactly the same. Annoying at every stride.

I went to see my massage therapist on January 4 and she identified a spot, super deep in my gluteus. She prescribed a lot of stretching of that muscle, the use of a tennis ball, as well as vibrations. And no running of course, dang!
What an odd way to start the season. I was registered for the first event of our Ultra & Trail Grand Prix which, new this year, was this 6-hour race on the mythical track of Placer High School in Auburn. Why mythical? Because that's where the finish of the Western Sates Endurance Run (100.2 miles) is!
While the even started on Saturday with a 24-hour and 12-hour, our 6-hour was scheduled for 5 to 11 am on Sunday. Given the circumstances, I didn't bother booking a hotel, in case I wasn't even starting. On Saturday afternoon, I went for a 8-mile run at the track to see if I could sustain a 7 min/mile pace. And bear the pain. Thankfully, the pain wasn't increasing with the distance, that was a good... start. It was actually rather constant, still present, but enough that I could somehow forget about it after a few miles of warming up. With that, I decided to at least give it a go. The nice thing with timed events is that you just need to start to be a finisher. Although that wasn't my main goal to log just one lap in 6 hours...

As a matter of fact, this was meant to be my last attempt at the M50-54 records on the track and I had my eye on the 50K which Thomas Reiss improved by a few seconds last year, just below 3:40. Since I had clocked one 50K per week during the 7 weeks heading to my 100K race in China, most of them below that mark, and still ran a Road 50K below 3:30 last year, that would really been doable any day last Fall.

I drove up on Sunday morning, way before dusk. At least, it played well for us that there was some timing issue at the start of the 24-hour the day before, enough for the Race Director to redo the start at 12:22 pm instead of 11 am. With that, we were set to start at 6:22, leaving me the luxury to leave the house at 3:20. Quite an early call but at least, no traffic at all and a super smooth ride on cruise control for 98% of the time!

I arrived at 5:40 which I admit was a bit aggressive. When Paulo was giving his briefing, 3 minutes before the start, I missed it as I was still scrambling getting prepared, oops! But at least, learning from last year's 12-hour, I was... covered! I had 3 top layers, and kept a pair of pants on for the start. Plus a hat. Right in the first lap --as I couldn't feel my hands, not that it was super cold at all, but that's me-- I thought "shoot, I forgot my gloves in the car, it would have been nice to have a crew to get them". I chuckled when I found my gloves in the pocket of the jacket I was wearing during these loops. Note to self: think more...

The pain in the gluteus was definitely present but, again, didn't change with the pace so I stuck to the 50K-record plan which required to run all 125 laps at an average of 1:44. I was at 7:05 at the end of the 4th lap, slightly too slow, but I felt it was ok to warm-up (since I didn't have time warm-up before the race). The second set of 4 laps came at 6:50, then the third at 6:40, slightly too fast now. Backed down to 6:45 for laps 13-16, then 6:52, 6:49, 6:52, 6:51, 6:56, 6;54, much better and closer to the machine you need to be in such races. Broke 7 (7:01) for laps 41-44 (~ mile 11), then 6:57, 7:05, 7:10, 7:09, 7:09, the machine was falling off track already. Lap 72 was the first lap above 2 minutes (2:02) and, my mind took over to acknowledge that, 2 hours in the race, the lack of training was, well, paying off if I may say.

As we also say, from there, it's all downhill but I decided that there was enough competition on the track to keep going as far as I could, short of going fast or faster. As a matter of fact, to allow for the accounting of 6-hour races in our Grand Prix, Nakia and I set a minima for scoring at 42.5K, a good incentive to keep moving beyond the marathon mark. I had 4 hours and already covered almost 18 miles; why not 8.5 miles in 4 hours?

Looking at the results afterwards, I'm actually very pleased that only 7 of my laps were above 3:00. How many other 2:xx-laps did I do? Read on...

When I decided to include this 6-hour event in the calendar, the main feedback I got was the concern about a field limited to 30-35. Well, we were only 16 starters so that quota wasn't too much of a concern after all. I realize that this is super early in the season (but we close the season sooner in 2018, early November, and will close by mid October in 2019). The 5 am start didn't help either for those if us having to drive from the Bay Area.

My age group had 4 entrants. Actually, one of them, Eddie Schmidt, was announced by Paulo as going after the same age group records than me. But, later, Eddie said that was definitely a mistake. It was actually Eddie's first timed event. Around 3 hours, I checked the livecast to see where I stood. It was incomplete but it showed me still in first place and, I think, 11 laps ahead of Eddie (I was on lap 96 and he was on 85). An hour or so later the gap looked like 18, yet I'd admit he kept me on my toes. Meanwhile, Eduardo Vasquez passed Blair Howard in the 5th hour I think (again, it was hard to keep track as the screen on the track was only displaying the split and lap # of every runner passing by, for a couple of seconds, no ranking.
In the last hour (picture above, credit Stephen Strauss), I discovered that I was 3 laps behind Blair and that provided me some extra boost to keep moving despite very uncomfortable leg pain as I had cramped for 3 hours already, yikes! Note that the last gasp of competitiveness spirit and focus didn't prevent me from stopping for precious picture opportunities with a couple of local ultra legends, respectively Tim (Twietmeyer, 25 sub-24hr Western States finishes including 5 wins!) and Crag (Thornley, the latest Western States Race Director). After all, we were using (as in wearing) their track! ;-)

I could have spent more time during my slow laps to take pictures of other participants; I only caught Jim who, at 72, went way above the scoring with minima (42.5K), covering 50K plus one lap (126 laps total)!
Overall, I managed to log 167 laps total (41.5 miles) 2 laps behind Blair and 7 laps behind Eduardo (174 laps, 43.25 miles). As I write this on Saturday afternoon, Paulo is still going through the tens of thousands of splits (5 races total) and it seems like the chip timing system did miss a few laps from Eddie, albeit not enough to reclaim the M50-59 first place (that would have been a weird situation afterwards). Great job, Eddie, you did push me! :-)
With that, I was a big bag of mixed feelings: very happy to have started after all, and still managed to cover 41.5 miles, my first ultra and long run since October! Pleased to have put some points in the bank as I'm going to miss a few races this Winter and Spring with a lot of travel around the globe until April at least. Also glad that, with all the soreness due to cramping for a few hours, I couldn't even feel the gluteus issue; a proof that all pains are relative! And then the fun of seeing others on the track, starting with my 3 teammates (Dan, Jim, Stephen), plus the super nice volunteers who make all this possible.Now, I didn't feel so good about covering only 41.5 miles in 6 hours but, again, given the circumstances...
I took most of this week off (of running, that is), except for a slow 5-mile on Wednesday to kick start our site group run series, a cool idea from Jorge, an IBM colleague!

And, then, this Saturday afternoon, a few laps at the track, but more on this in the next post.

Special thanks again to all the volunteers. I only stopped at the aid station twice to get my bottles refilled, didn't touch the food this year since I was running on my own fat (keto/OFM), Vespa and 5 GUs total, but I enjoyed an In and Out burger and fries after the race, albeit cold, while driving back. Special mention to Paulo and John who manually clocked my first 72 laps when I was still working on the record. That's dedication!

And thank you to Paulo again for putting such an event on this track, it's such a headache to 24-hour races, especially a USATF-sanctioned event and the required stress and paperwork needed for record setting. While no records were broken during our 6-hour, 8 were in the first 12 hours. Mark Ritchman improved the M60-65 25K track record and Janice O'Grady, 70, broke 7 F70-74 records if I heard right. Way to go!