Sunday, October 20, 2019

Ruth Anderson Memorial Run 2019: insane ultra stubbornness

Finally, one real personal running opportunity to blog about, after these 4.5 months since our epic Ohlone 50K. Albeit one I wasn't really looking forward to as these super long break still didn't allow for a complete healing of my injury (for those who missed the update my blog posted on its own in August, fissured tendon of the hamstring and bone edema on the pelvis attach).

In spite of the pain since last November (Turkey Trot 10K), I managed to pull quite a strong first half of the season and was counting on a summer break to heal for good since I was lucky not having entered any major event, like UTMB or other hard-to-get-in 100-milers. 11 races between January and May, including 10 marathons or longer distances, and 5 races of our North California Mountain Trail Ultra Grand Prix which gave me a lead in my age group all year around. So far. After Ohlone, there were still 7 other races so I was seeing the point gap shrinking and several contenders had a great shot at it if they were going to run all the remaining events: Jerry Flanagan (Pamakids), Excelsior's Cliff Lentz and Mark Tanaka, and my teammates Shiran Kochavi and Charles Blakeney. At it turned out, before this ultimate race of our season, only Charles could pass me with a win, and I know he would definitely aim at it in the 100K which he has completed many times before.

Before I delve into my own drama, I invite you to read Davy Crockett's superb account of who Ruth Anderson was. Several times during the race, I caught myself thinking of Ruth telling me to just think of her accomplishment and her endurance over many decades of outstanding running.
Sincerely, after reading this amazingly and meticulously ultra history piece last Sunday as I was trying to complete a timely report before having to go back to work before yet another business trip, I thought to myself: "who has time or is going to care about what I have to share after reading this..." But, for the sake of keeping my running journal up, at least for myself before memory fails me, let me try to post another race report after 5 months of silence...

Getting to Lake Merced by 5:30 am, with the full moon still illuminating the sky:

 Dave Combs, Loren Lewis and Stan Jensen working hard already:

In addition to work priorities throughout this week, I was also amazed at a few of others' accounts on Facebook:
  1. Pamakids' so exciting team collaboration and strategy to maximize their team points with this unique format to close the season (all runners start at the same time but elect to finish at the 50K, 50-mile or 100K marks, and both the 50-mile and 100K were providing Grand Prix points);
  2. Shiran sharing how fun he had after being forced to run slow because of pain in his calf, one week after racing the Dick Collins Firetrails 50-mile;
  3. Simone's feat of flying to Chicago right after her 50-mile race, to run the Chicago Marathon on the next day!
  4. Rajeev's joy of finally completing an ultra after several years off the circuit;
  5. And to top any of our accounts in my opinion, Tony's posts. Well, Tony is very prolific on Facebook so let me be more specific:
    1. First, Tony shared a picture of himself from his pre-running days, and I was blown away to discover where he was coming from, what another great and successful transformation journey! We love ultra running for its community spirit but there are so many things which we don't know about each others, still.
    2. Second, he shared on Friday that he had run 50 miles with stones in one of his kidney (insane), that he couldn't get them taken care of afterwards because if medical insurance issues (insane x2) and suffered through passing 7 stones while waiting for the proper medical authorization this week (insane x4). Oh my, what ultra running can do to us...
At least, with all that, and many other stories which I either missed or were kept in their owner's chest, head or heart, my own ultra stubbornness appear way less insane after all. Almost insignificant as a matter of fact... so let me get over it quickly for a change! :-)

Again, despite all the respect and attraction I have for this event, except the regret of never having met Ruth myself, that wasn't a race I wanted to run, for injury rehabilitation reasons. That being said, there are so many people who would just give everything to run a few miles, I have to at least appreciate the ability to still put a foot in front of the other, a classic ultra running mantra, and one which was going to be the main theme for me this time. Actually, given that I managed to log 90,000 steps last Saturday, just counting steps would have been overwhelming. That was my 13th consecutive year running this race so I can certainly interiorize the loop format and I do know every up and down section of it, even the cracks and roots which can trip you if you lose focus. My goal was then not to pay attention to the miles themselves, always an intimidating number in ultra, but to just count laps. How hard could running just 11 laps be after all?

Well, at 4.47 miles of a rolling course, not that easy of course, but still so much easier than climbing and, worse, descending technical trails in the Alps for instance. You could argue that this course is also unforgiving because of the asphalt but there are actually many opportunities to run on the dirt shoulder to make the pounding less brutal.

The standings prior to Ruth Anderson, published on Friday evening, thanks to the diligent work of our Grand Prix scorer this year again, Nakia Baird:

Here is what I had in mind getting into the race:
  1. Finish at any cost (yes, that's the door wide open to insane stubbornness...);
  2. Not just complete the 50-mile, but potentially the 100K in case I didn't get 4th place in our age group by the end of the 50-mile;
  3. Hopefully have 1 or 2 loops pain free, yet not start too fast;
  4. As a matter of fact, start at 8 min/mile so, if I had to run 100K, I could give a shot to our American Age Group record (8:43);
  5. Again, at least get a 4th or better age group finish which meant that, given we were only 5 PA runners registered, I just had to finish one of the two distances.
For once, I can't tell you the pace the front runners went off at! I did start really slow, around 8:30 min/mile, yet was dismayed that every step was painful already in the first slope along the golf course. Yikes, that was going to be a tough day if that slow of a pace wasn't even helping containing the injury pain. I went into this slow-moving groove and, while staying focused on my footing as it was still dark, was enjoying the clear sky where the full moon had now disappeared, letting some room for us to see stars before dawn, wonderful and ideal weather for a run!

In the haste of jogging to the remote start, and directing Verity to the start as she got to the parking lot with 10 minutes to spare (this has to beat any of Mark Tanaka or Chikara Omine's records! ;-), I had forgotten to take my 2nd Vespa pouch at the start, so I did stop to take one at the end of the first lap. I also removed the pants I had put on knowing that I will have issue warming up at a slower than usual pace.

What I recall from the second lap is that, with a complete lack of training, my leg muscles started tightening up. The good thing was that it started eclipsing the pain injury, so much I couldn't feel the injury by lap 3. On the not so positive side though, this was way too early for my legs to feel so fatigued, yikes! I had pushed the pace from 8:20 to 8 or so in the second lap when Jerry caught up with me and I tried to keep up. He looked so relaxed that, when he said he had to go 100K for his team, I thought he had a shot at the American record! Anyway, I couldn't keep up today so I had to retreat and my average pace kept falling from there. There is an expression in running, "It's all downhill from here," which is meant to provide some moral boost, but seeing my pace going downhill was clearly not such of a boost of course. The only thing I could do is going back to just counting the completed laps, really the main thought which got me through the day this time. Actually, to keep the report short (ahem, should I say shorter), let me jump to the finish of lap 6 when I was glad to switch my mental count to the number of remaining laps, assuming that I had completed half the goal, hoping that I wouldn't have to actually run 100K today as every step was already so painful.

What I felt the strangest this year is that, for the first 8 or so laps, I wasn't getting much lapped neither I was lapping so many other runners. Kind of if we were all slowing down the same way. Well, of course, Chikara was on a mission and did lap me twice, before winning the 50-mile in a blazing time of 5:51!
And a few other runners, like Simone who lapped me at the end of my 9th lap, also on a mission to win the 50-mile race! Speaking of insane stubbornness, Simone rebooked her flight to the Chicago Marathon to allow her to register for Ruth Anderson on race morning, defend and hold on her Age Group Grand Prix title, then rush to the airport, catch that flight and run Chicago on the next day! Could I have set some bad examples and standards in the past... ;-) There was a race in our race, and it was for the Women 30-39, wow!

At the end of lap 9, I stopped by the scoring table to ask Stan how close Charles was behind me. He estimated the gap to be 40 minutes or so, which gave some buffer but I didn't feel compelled to walk yet as I had already slowed down to a 13 to 13:30 min/mile painful jog and I'm such a slow walker. Besides, power walking actually put more strain on my injury by extending the stride and pulling my hamstring harder on the bone edema. I had just lapped Jerry who seemed like having such a great time with a dozen or so of his Pamakids teammates, but didn't know where Shiran was. With that, I was hoping to run more relaxed but the legs didn't feel up to letting go of the pain.

Shiran later described my smile as a grimace, well it was clearly a grimace all the way. It actually took me at least 30 minutes after finishing to really smile again in return to Stan, Dave, Steve or Anil teasing me. Shiran:
 With Anil:
Overall, it took me 8:37:14 to complete the 50 miles, such a counter-performance for me, yet good enough to win my age group in a shallow field. And retain my Age Group Grand Prix for the 13th year in a row, with Charles finishing the year in 2nd place after getting 60 points too with his 100K finish. Phew, what a suspense for the end of the season.
 Hurting... (I was so sore, I had difficulty walking for the next 2 days, ouch!)
 I didn't need medical attention, but sitting felt so good (thank you for the pics, Nakia!):
 Receiving Anil's honors! ;-)
You can find all the results and splits on Stan's resourceful run100s website.

Now that it took me a week to complete this report, Nakia managed to finalize all the scoring and, yes, this race was really exciting in many aspects: 5 Age Group individual titles were decided on the last race, as well as 2 Team wins. See all the scores on our Pacific Association website and special kudos to:
  1. Pamakids for winning the overall Team competition as well as the Mixed one!
  2. Excelsior for winning both Men and Women Grand Prix, again!

Special thanks to Steve Jaber and Anil Rao for their hard work organizing and directing this event, perpetuating this local Bay Area tradition paying tribute to this ultra legend. To Rajeev Patel for all the years I've known him as RD of this event. To volunteer extraordinaire Stan Jensen for keep track of 80 runners' times, lap after lap, assisted by Dave Combs. And all the volunteers who responded to Anil and Steve's call to assist us in our personal journey, for a very long day!

And another shout out to my fellow M50-59 competitors who made sure I had to fight until the end for the Grand Prix again this year. I was an easy target this year, several could have won the Grand Prix would have they focused more on it...

Time to get back to work, including the big task of designing next year's series of MUT (Mountain, Ultra, Trail) races. Hoping we get an even more exciting season next year with you all if you leave in our Pacific Association territory (North California and Nevada)!

Oh, and please stay healthy, it really sucks to get sick or injured...

PS: a chill on the way back (I got back to riding a big motorcycle last year), with a huge Harley on its side on the right of the road and 2 damaged cars on the left. I happened to be at the front of a second wave of cars which the highway patrol released after clearing up 280 hence this unusual picture of a deserted highway...