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!

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