Sunday, March 29, 2020

To run or not to run, that is the question. More than ever...

This is a pressing question within our running community these days, in the midst of this behemoth pandemic and global health crisis our current generations are facing (I'm not saying it's the biggest, not to compare with so many wars or refugee crisis, but that's one which is "hitting home" around the world). And not just a metaphysical question, we have to make the right choices.

I'm not talking about the ongoing debate, is running is good for you or not in absolute. Surely, extreme running might have consequences. And no exercise at all, isn't good either. Some conditions also exclude running because of its pounding for instance.

First, a disclaimer, I'm not a doctor. Not even trained in the field of physiology. Worse, I'm probably reading too much, meaning too much uniformed opinions, creating all sort of bias. But since this blog is about running, and my personal experience of it... So here you are with the classic social media disclaimer, all my opinions and views are, well, my own... ;-)

Second disclaimer, I've never learned or practiced speech debate; there must be zillions more arguments to be made on both sides. Ok, maybe not zillions, but at least a dozen.

Third disclaimer, I don't even have time to spend hours aiming to create a complete thesis (or anti-thesis). I read on social media people complaining about all the time they get and how bored they get with confinement. For me, outside of, well, running... my life was already extremely digital, so it's just getting worse... Yet, it's an important topic and I felt important to at least spark a conversation about the issue.

With that, let's... ready... set... go!

Some of the benefits of running during our current fight against COVID-19

  1. "Mens sana in corpore sano" - At 79, Dr. Fauci exemplifies this Roman sentence by allegedly keeping running 3.5 miles every day, even while managing this overwhelming crisis, not just on the medical and scientific side by the way, but the political, communication and leadership issues too. This morning we learned about the German Finance Minister, Thomas Schaeffer, committing suicide apparently, or officially actually, on worries about the financial consequences of this coronavirus pandemic, falling in front of a train in despair.
  2. Breathing fresh air. Yes, I said, fresh, not contaminated. But also another fresher air than the place you are confined into. Of course, that assumes that you are able to keep enough distance from other people (I much prefer #PhysicalDistancing, as we actually need to remain caring for others and close socially).
  3. Getting some sun light. Our body needs a lot of it! Not to point of burning our skin of course but to synthesize Vitamin D from the cholesterol in our skin cells, an essential vitamin for our health. As much as I disagree with the father of Western States' political views, I fully respect Gordy Ainsleigh's radical position on the benefit of running in the sun (and I realize not everybody is blessed with our amount of sunlight in California, but light still goes through clouds!).
  4. Unplugging. Running outside is a great excuse to unplug from social medias, or from the extreme pressure of physical confinement. That's assuming you are not running while listening to the news. You can also unplug by walking, but then don't get your 
  5. Moving. Staying put at home, either because working for hours glued to your laptop and video conferences, or because you can't work at all, is really bad for our body. We can't all turn into couch potatoes, right? We need to get the blood flowing, the muscles to contract or stretch, solicit these healthy lungs. Running does all that at once!
  6. Sweating out. Sure, you can have a good sweat by jumping in front of your tv, but that's not the most natural way to do it. Although it was a while ago, men were born to run. To hunt for food. To move from one place to another. To escape danger. Too late to meet Caballo Blanco in person, but not to read or re-read... Born to Run as a great and entertaining reminder.
  7. Staying in shape. We don't know how long this is going to last. If it was only a few days, then we won't lose much of our conditioning
  8. Long-term immunity. I don't have a particular scientific proof or study on this but us, runners, are certainly reporting being more resistant to sickness over time. Closing the dots with the first point above, corpore sano...
A few cons of running during our current fight against this corona virus
  1. Virus effect acceleration. Second but even more importantly, exercising if you carry the virus and are about to show symptoms can kill you! One of my sisters, MD on the front light of the COVID-19 fight in France, warned me about this risk, last weekend. One of her colleagues, MD too, has a son in his 30s and he thought he would lose him to COVID this week. His son was coughing a bit and, like any runner, at least me, thought it would help to go for a run, that it would make him feel better afterwards. Well, the dormant virus literally exploded through his lungs and he had to get hospitalized that same night. This week we also heard about a pro cyclist in the US getting into critical conditions. The problem is that you/we don't know if we cary the virus or not. I certainly don't know for sure after flying to France, Austria, Israel, New York City this winter and coming back from a conference in Vegas, 3rd week of February, with a bad cough and inflamed lungs... I can't wait to be tested for the presence of antibodies, although I read about an inconclusive study conducted in Wuhan... 
  2. Immunity deficiency. How dare I to bring up this point while I finished the list of supporting arguments with the fact that running increases our immunity? It's a complicated matter and this article from the US National Library of Medicine for instance is not too conclusive either way. But it does mention, and it's common sense to believe it, that a strong and prolonged effort will eventually fatigue your body, including its immune system, during or right after it.  The lesson here is that, and it was well known before, strenuous exercise will likely first lower/weaken your immunity before boosting it. Not a good time to play with your immune system when going shopping for essential food for instance!
  3. Opportunity to breach #PhysicalDistancing. Sure, it's very noble to run alone but not everybody can do it without getting close to others in the process. Where I live, streets are always quiet and even more so now, side walks are large, so not much of a problem. But think of those who live in large and dense cities. Never seeing someone when you take the elevator? Not touching a door to go outside or come back? In Paris they had to close the city parks because there was no way people were walking or running always 6 feet or more away from other people. Should we mention that we, runners, exhale more than anyone else, so much than 6 feet aren't even enough? Guess what folks are doing in Paris? Running on the narrow sidewalk around the parks, even worse. In Italy, the authorities had to forbid all sort of exercise, period. And it was too late. Do we have too much freedom in a few of our societies preventing us from making the right call?
  4. Injury. Rarely, but bad things can happen when we run on remote and technical trails. When it doesn't, and assuming you can make it back to your car, it's usually no big deal for a trip to the hospital if blood is involved. Well, NOT NOW, bad idea.
  5. Breaching #PhysicalDistancing. To alleviate the risk of running alone in case something happens, we used to promote the social and safety benefits of running with buddies. Well, NOT NOW either!

Image may contain: 1 person, outdoor, possible text that says 'people normally people during quarantine'

My point of view...

  1. I still show more reasons for running than against it, please chime in to add to both sides.
  2. I'd say though that it's certainly not the right time to get into running! For many years, I did everything I could to promote the benefits of running and get more folks to join the movement. My rant of last weekend was about the timing. The very first weekend everybody was asked to respect #PhysicalDistancing, crowds of people usually staying inside (home, movies, bars, shopping malls) thought it was a smart idea to gather on single track trails... Duh! Hiking on remote trails require some skills too, to learn about the potential dangers (rattle snakes, poison oak, dehydration, orientation).
  3. We, runners, and most especially ultra runners, have to dial down. First personally, just don't run as much, don't go on remote trails, it's not the time to risk your lungs, an essential organ for running, and don't risk getting injured. Second, let's not brag about it socially. Sure, I get that pictures of flowers or hills can bring some fresh air to readers, but it's also an invitation to break the shelter-in-place orders. If some do it, why not me. For that, I apologize for my previous post. My only consolation or excuse is that I could see and write about the issue, which has then be relayed in the medias at the beginning of the week and led to the closure of most parking lots at local parks. But I still hear about people driving to parks and that's not what "essential travel" is meant for. Again, I got caught myself...
  4. For that, I will not race virtual events until the SIP orders are in effect, and not drive to run. I'm still running around the block, and much less than usual, hoping the excess of others won't lead our Governors to prevent even going out as it has been the case in China, Israel or Italy eventually.

What do you think? Well, I'm not asking what you think of the measures in place in general, if you are in the denier camp which is still so active in the US. To you, I'd say this: unfortunately, I don't see a win-win. If we don't act swiftly, what some people call over-reacting, then we can have a humanitarian catastrophe (I think we already have the proof we haven't done all we could have learned from other countries but let's see how worse this is potentially becoming). If we contain the pandemic then the deniers will say "see, there was nothing to brag about." If we don't, then we both lose anyway. That's what baffles me the most, that this pandemic still exacerbate so much division. I'm sad with the impact on our running world, but nothing in comparison with the gravity of this societal issue. Again, just asking for what you think about the limitation on running we need to exercise during such a pandemic.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Stevens (Patt) Creek 50K: crazy stir-craziness

I don't recall having heard about the word stir-crazy before Friday, when that was picked as the word of the day for our Amazon Cupertino Toastmaster club meeting (contact me if you want to join our club, we still meet weekly, albeit remotely of course right now). I had heard about cabin fever these past weeks, that was also a new concept to me. Which is ironic because, these past 20 years, nobody told me I must be suffering from these by spending so much time running in the outdoors...

This post was meant to be short, a simple virtual race report on a course I ran several times. It was meant to be a happy run, in the parks we love to run in all year round. A run to celebrate one of local ultra runners who has created this course and directed a race on it for 10 years or so, Steve.

We were 3 runners, not running together, not just because of staggered starts, but also because you typically run an ultra alone, at your own pace. What could go wrong? Unfortunately, it ended up creating a mess of mixed feelings in me, I managed to feel, on and after that single run... ashamed, grumpy, happy, sad, unhappy, disappointed, concerned, even more anxious, mad, revulsed, grouchy, dismayed, annoyed, excited, angry, irritated, glad, frustrated, guilty, more worried, distressed, embarrassed, bitted, amazed, compassionate, and, yes, not just stir-crazy, but simply crazy! Phew, I already feel slightly better getting all these out fo my chest!

That's a lot for one day, isn't it? Well, you can guess something got wrong and, of course, it has to see with the current coronavirus/COVID-19 crisis we are trying to survive from. Sincerely, I was hoping for a short post, because, unlike what I see on social medias that confinement gives more time to many, for me, it's the opposite, a deluge of online meetings. On Friday, I started at 6 am with Romania and finished at 9 pm with China, 15 hours non stop, not even a break to... exercise!

Speaking of exercise... Like Dr Fauci in the US who keeps promoting exercise during pandemics, and still run himself every day at 79 while managing this incredible crisis, the French Ministry of Sports had to describe what type of exercise was authorized in France, as of this Thursday (my translation): "Exercising outside means a walk or a short jog but respecting 3 key rules: stay within a short distance from your house, so within a few blocks, and keep it short and with absolutely no other contact than people you live with. You can go out with your children, or alone, but you cannot gather with friends. No biking unless it's to go to authorized/essential work, or to pickup essential goods. Running a 10K? No, not possible/allowed! The idea is just to get your legs moving." Adding with a pinch of humor (she is a former Olympian): "If you run a 10K under 20 minutes, contact the Guinness Book!"

Pretty explicit, right?

In Italy, facing an hecatomb, they purely banned any outdoor activity. When everybody knows someone who died, nobody needs to be convinced by more arguments!

Spain (text found in a fabulous article on Medium): Specific ban on taking kids out for a walk or seeing friends or family (except to take care of people who need help, but with hygiene and physical distance measures).

What about our local Santa Clara county order? Per 10.a.iii "To engage in outdoor activity, provided the individuals comply with Social Distancing Requirements as defined in this Section, such as, by way of example and without limitation, walking, hiking, or running." With social distancing defined in 10.j as "For purposes of this Order, "Social Distancing Requirements" includes maintaining at least six-foot social distancing from other individuals". That's pretty explicit too, right? No biking(*), right?

Of course, I feel sorry for the cyclists and mountain bikers who are excluded from the perimeter of authorized activities. I feel sorry for folks we used to meet friends to go out, or to the movies, or coffee shops, or even walks around the block. They can always lobby with their reasons to relax the current constraints, but that's not an excuse to break the current regulations and directive which, I'm sure where established with a lot of thoughts, based on facts. I do have a sister, MD, on the front line and, from the stress of seeing people sick and dying, she can't believe that people still don't... believe in the necessity of such measures.

This Sunday, as a frequent user and customer (!) of the County Parks, I received another invitation to "Reminder: County Park Trails Open - Exercise Outside" stating:
"Dear Customers, We believe connecting people to nature and outdoor open spaces is more important than ever during this unprecedented pandemic, as being in nature provides important personal physical and mental health benefits. Studies show outdoor activity helps reduce stress and anxiety. If you feel the need to reduce the stresses of sheltering in place, please enjoy the trails in a safe and healthy manner while practicing social distancing, and remember public gathering is not allowed during this Public Health Order."
Well, given the few usual customers, I was really happy to receive such confirmation. But they much has expanded their mailing list recently, or the medias leaked the invitation because, by mid day, park lots were full and, worse, many cars were parked on the side of Skyline Boulevard, in no parking allowed areas, at each trail head. Pure stir-craziness! I did so many runs on these trails these past 20 years and I've never seen so many people, at a time we should distance ourselves. Wrong move!

Now, let's switch to my anger... Of course, I love the fact that this humanitarian crisis finally made people realize that going outside, as a couple or a family, is healthy! Just frustrating that we had to crash our economy and social system to get there...

I wish I was wearing a side, front and back, stating that I had visited Israel (a week before they closed areas I visited there), France (total confinement), New York City (oops!), Las Vegas (I came back sick there, the worst place you can think of in terms of pandemic with boatloads of people coming in and out from all over the US and the world!), and other places hurt by the pandemic. Maybe others would have kept some distance... Maybe next time, I should run with a mask, that's scary. But it's so much harder to breath too...

Bottom line, this is not sustainable running at all. I'll find other places to run, mostly staying in my neighborhood per other countries' recommendations, sorry to let you down, local parks, but I think this will actually help you cope with a new local disaster. Think about it, the personnel in charge of maintenance of the restrooms at most parks have been deemed non essential. Leading to the closure of these facilities. With flocks coming in, not even used to behave outdoors. Any need to comment more on that...?

As the story develops this first weekend of the shelter-in-place order, my running buddies report the same issue from around the Bay and there are already talks about shutting down the Parks:

  1. SF Chronicle's report on East Bay Parks;
  2. Report of closure of Point Reyes because of too many visitors and the impossibility to enact #SocialDistancing;
  3. Chaos at Rancho San Antonio and Mt Umunhum parking lots;
  4. Overcrowded parking lots at other local parks;
  5. And more reports of the problem on Facebook.

Thinking more about the issue, I feel one of the biggest mistake was to call the health directive, #SocialDistancing. For many, the word social is now associated with (virtual) social medias. What about #PhysicalDistancing? Then maybe you get the 6 (horizontal) feet distance...

As for my run? Again, back to the mixed feelings and sentiments. It would be selfish to say that I was just happy to do a 50K. Sincerely, I didn't see the issue coming, and it really materialized much later in the day (I stayed home on Sunday, based on one I'm reading, I can only believe the issue got worse on Sunday). After winning three editions (2011-2013) I was really excited to give another try to that course, and respond to Steve's call to celebrate his birthday, St. (Steve) Pat(t)rick's and the Spring. And keep ramping up my return to training after 7 months off, last year. Besides, I was supposed to be in France for 4 weeks, starting last Sunday, to actually get a treatment on my hamstring injury, so it felt completely normal and reasonable to do this run. I didn't intend to push after last week's 50-mile National Championship, but it was too good of an opportunity to pass on, this non-group run, given all the circumstances.

On my way up Highway 9, it stared raining and the temperature kept going down. It was even chillier than last week but, thankfully, only drizzling. Well, I had said the same last week, before the rain turned to heavy pour... I got to the parking lot at 9:05 and was surprised not to see Steve's car (you can't miss it with his custom plate!). He arrived shortly after and left around 9:10 or 9:15. Not in a hurry, at least I thought, I started at 9:42.

50 yards in the steep downhill, I stopped to adjust my pack and thought, "if I stop every 50 yards, it's going to be a long day!" 200 yards later, the trail became slippery and I realized how foolish I had picked a pair of overused road shoes (1,322 miles in these Brooks Launch, and they are still so comfortable, especially on trails!):

Thankfully, most of the remainder of the course was just humid after some rain last week, and actually super soft and smooth to run on!

3 miles in, the rain had stopped and I was getting really hot under my jacket so one more stop to take it off. And a few other stops to get my phone out of the pack to check if I was still on the right course (I get so confused between all races, and orienteering isn't my specialty... And no ribbons today for a change!). With that, I was slow and it took me 5 miles to catch Steve. As opposed to the three official races back then, I walked some of the uphill to Saratoga Gap Trail. Partly because of the lack of motivation to push, partly because of the lack of training and conditioning, partly because of physical and mental fatigue (I knew coming back from injury was going to be challenging, and the injury isn't even over yet...). Instead of reaching the Saratoga Gap turnaround in 1:30, I got there after 1:54. I had left a can of Pepsi when driving back in the morning and drank 1/3 of it. Someone would have done a good movie: because Steve was interested in the rest of the can, I was holding the can with my rain jacket and was trying to pour the coke without touching it with my mouth. It gat rather messy, spilling such a sugary liquid all over me, I'm glad I was outdoor! Don't try that at home... ;-)

I actually crossed path with Steve again, about 0.8 miles from the Gap (I had lost 6 minutes over there). We stopped, carefully trying to keep as much distance as possible on a single track, keeping #PhysicalDistancing on a trail is really challenging. Really, it feels like people think they are distancing with their social connections if they go out (and/or off Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, ...). And, then, outside it's like we aren't socially connected to strangers on the trail, so what the heck? Again, the concept of distancing is... physical, not about social connections in the modern sense of it.

I didn't see Steve again, but he was able to finish the whole distance. A feat as a septuagenarian, green hats off, please! As miles were passing, or rather time in the day, I was getting into more people. And more people. For the past 15 years I've never seen this except on weekends at Rancho of course, the last place I'd go to these days. Couples on fire roads were not much of an issue, with proper announcing, but families and groups weren't all respectful of the directives. When I got back to the car at mile 20, I considered calling it a day. If I had known what was ahead, that is the number of people on the trails from there, I would have.

Well, I would have missed Jeremy, so I'm glad I continued. I thought Jeremy was finishing the 50K but he had no idea what I was talking about. Oh, and if Jeremy appears too close on that selfie, well it's just an optical illusion, a matter of perspective, after all he is taller than... 6 feet. We kept our distance to catch up after not seeing each other since I dropped out of track workouts a year ago.

For the rest of the run to Rapley Ranch Road and back, not only was I tired physically, but my mind was fried by the lack of civic sense of many hikers. If it was a competition I'd give the following prizes:

  1. First place to a family of 3 which I had to pass on a downhill single trail down to Alpine Pond. I announced myself once; not a move off the middle of the trail; a second time; not a single attempt to make room; so here I went, less than 1 foot on the side...
  2. Another family, of 5 that time: I was going up Ancient Oaks Trail, another single track, without much extra breath to spare. They were going down with no intent to try going on the side so I went off the trail, below it, lowering my head and covering my mouth. There was this cute girl behind who said after passing behind me, in French (!): "look, Dad, this guys is going to die!" Really funny indeed.
  3. To wrap-up the podium, a 8-year boy, his dad and grand-pa. I arrive at an intersection between a fire road and the last single track to the finish. I stop and show my intent to go on the single track which the little boy was blocking the entry of. The dad was already on the fire road so I mention the 6-ft distance requirement, once, then twice, hoping they would understand the situation. At that point, the boy excited to see me rushes toward me, dang!
I'm skipping crossing couples on fire roads, with them staying side by side and giving me a weird look as I was getting off the road in the grass. I know, this is a strange period, but didn't they get the memo? Sorry but not sorry, it's not me who was rude in that situation...

Insignificant anecdotes but, multiplied by 20 or more, not only that slows you down, but that's not the point, it just shows there are still many people not believing. I bet these two families are not living under the same roof for instance:

Or that group not only not keeping their distance but also blocking the entrance of the trail (the incognito picture doesn't do justice as it missed two other members in the group, but you can still see the baby)!
Did I mention that biking was not authorized. Well, I saw more mountain bikers than I saw runners this Saturday!

(*) Post update after a few comments on Facebook about my understanding that biking was banned. In paragraph 5 of the order, biking is not authorized. In 10.a.iii, biking is not included in the examples of activities excluded from the order restrictions (walking, hiking, running). Yet, that FAQ page, which provides great clarification, states that recreational biking is ok. So confusing... Starting with the fact that this FAQ page comes from the San Mateo County, not Santa Clara. Unfortunately, the equivalent page from Santa Clara isn't as good and doesn't mention biking... One thing I had not mentioned in my first version of this post is that, by any mean, it is not the time to get injured while exercising anywhere, but even less on remote trails. Not the right time to learn about safety on these remote trails. It's not that you would do it at your own risk, if you get injured and require hospitalization, you are doing it at the risk of others.

And so on and so on... Until the parks have to close as well. Then the beaches maybe? And the streets at the end... Some people have suggested fines to enforce distancing, surely there aren't enough Rangers out there to monitor hundreds of miles of trails!

Anyway, overall, a sluggish elapsed time of 5:55:26. In the spirit of the virtual race, I didn't stop my watch for my numerous stops (checking the course on the map, taking pictures, refilling my bottles, stopping at the car, handling or mitigating #SocialDistancing, chatting with Jeremy, adjusting my pack, taking my jacket off, retying my shoe lace, ...). In a race, I often skip aid stations or I stop for less than a minute to get water because every minute count, even in an ultra. This Saturday? My Garmin says I spent 33 minutes not moving at all, wow! That still leaves me with 5:21 of running, with too much walking. Comparing to Leor's 3:56 course record, or my 4:15, 4:17 and 4:32 wins, that looks embarrassing... Oh well, that was a virtual race with only three entrants...

At least it wasn't time wasted at the aid station to eat. I ran the 32 miles on 2 pouches of Vespa, 4 GU Energy gels, 1.5 bottles of GU Energy Brew and 5 S!Caps.
Also, I'm glad Steve shared his tip of using to track the progress versus a KML trace. That worked very well, and saved me the trouble of getting lost.
And the after the fact Relive fly over (click on the image or this link):

To conclude on a lighter note, since I wasn't in usual race rush and I took the time to stop here and there, here are a few pictures from this great 50K course with trails in perfect conditions.

Christmas Tree Farm (funny how, running through this section in the summer heat, my mind didn't print this reference to the winter Holidays... ;-) )
 Through the redwoods:
First return to Horseshoe Lake:
Poor guy, good luck to survive the new crowd on the trails, another likely collateral damage of #covid19...
 This time I stopped to enjoy the view, and learn about George Sheean:

 Stanford in the foreground and Mt Diablo in the distance:
 Ted Norton's rock:

 BART (Bay Area Ridge Trail) toward Rapley Ranch Road:

The gate at Rapley Ranch Road:
The view of the Pacific Ocean, from Ridge Trail, on Hawk Ridge Trail:

 I was glad there was nobody while I passed through this, back to Alpine Pond!
 Getting back to the finish, at Horseshoe Lake:
 Definitely a horseshoe shape!

Monday, March 16, 2020

2020 50-mile Trail Nationals: brutal test with a Pioneer Spirit

Less than 2 weeks after the 50K Road Nationals on Long Island and already writing about another National Championship, gasp! Short of being back to serious training with this 16-month hamstring nagging injury, maybe these races can be seen as some training. Besides, and I want to do a separate post about it for other reasons, I ran a solo 50K last week, back on Black Mountain. With that, I know some of you must not believe much of my injury complaints but I assure you I'm running at 75 to 85% capacity, with some pain on every left stride. Mild physical pain that is, compared to the pain of not running for 8 months without much healing. With that, I decided to give this season another try, then fly to France for 4 weeks right after the race to get a special shockwave therapy treatment over 4 weeks there. Well, that was the plan before the COVID-19 pandemic. So long for a hope to accelerate the healing...

Anyway, back to the joy of running, I was stocked to have the opportunity to run a USATF Championship in our backyard. Organizing such an event is a huge challenge for Race Directors and I'm very grateful Paulo Medina is a strong supporter of USATF for accepting that challenge, year after year (FOURmidable 50K Trail the past 2 years and now Pioneer Spirit 50M Trail Nationals). Very few (if any!) people don't realize for instance that the $5 to 10,000 prize purse for Championships do NOT come from USATF but the RD's pocket. I was stunned when I learned about that. While it may make sense for races with thousands of runners, like 5Ks, 10Ks or marathons, it's a tough requirement for an ultra championship with a few hundreds runners, or less. At this point, I need to digress and talk about COVID-19, since that's the inevitable topic of discussion. And, like most of any topic nowadays, the response to the pandemic became a divisive issue. For one thing, politics are highly divisive and the response to battle the virus is managed by... politicians, not scientists and doctors so... here you are! The more I'm thinking of the situation, the more it reminds me of an evolution of our world based on a complete lack of trust. Trust in the institutions, trust in the leadership, trust in the news, trust in the facts (!), trust in others. Unless it arranges us. I have a friend who shares a piece of wisdom every morning, with a quote, and I chuckled with two of hers, this week... The first one, from Descartes: "In order to seek truth, it is necessary once in the course of our life to doubt, as far as possible, of all things." And the second, from Paulo Coehlo: "When I had all the answers, the questions changed..." Think about it... what do we really know to be that sure about our opinions...?

Our local ultra running community was split on that event. A camp was for cancellation. Another one, for the confirmation. And the balance was impacted by news popping every hour from various levels of agencies, from federal, state down to county and cities. For the no-go camp, it wasn't even up to the Race Director but our local Pacific Association was to intervene to block the even from happening. As the Chair of the LDR MUT committee (Long Distance Running, Mountain Ultra Trail) I had to remind some people that we are only a grateful customer of RDs when it come to having their race on our Grand Prix (LDR Road goes through a bid, as there is money involved, but not for MUT). As for a Championship, it is awarded by our National body, USATF. As a matter of fact, USATF has cancelled a few championships because of COVID-19 (Youth and Indoor Masters) but gave Paulo a go ahead given the outdoor nature of the event as well as the small field (~110 entrants meaning likely less than 100 starters). One rule I learned early on in my ultra running life, 14 years ago, is that RDs have full power on an event. Well, not even now, they are still under the mercy of many jurisdictions (e.g. permits or health concerns, and we've see the effect of the California fires for instance the past 2 years), when not weather elements (UTMB, Ohlone, Miwok, Tor des Géants, ...). In consultation with local health experts and last-minute regulations, Paulo decided to go on with the event, but cancel the shuttling service in the morning. To me, it's still surprising that events are cancelled 3 months in the future when we see that China, despite being the first country hit, so caught by surprised, was able to curb the pandemic in less than 2 months. And we are the developed countries, with all the knowledge available, yet unable to learn from it...

Well, that's another long introduction but I couldn't avoid the topic and at least all the incertitude which got us to the start of this event. Including the weather: after months of alarming drought and lack of rain, the forecast had 100% rain starting at 5 am and for the whole day. We are such in dear need of rain, there was nothing to be upset about, but that promised an interesting day on the trails. This race has an average of 55% finish rate, really low in our sport. An excerpt from the home page:
This race is not for you if you do not like a challenge. The high heat and climbs of Northern California keeps the finishing rate of this race under 55% every year. Come test yourself.
We had been warned, this would be a brutal test! Since our Pacific Association award banquet last month, I had two plaques to hand over at this event. One to a participant, Tim Tollefson, whom we picked as our 2019 MUT Male Runner of the Year. Tim was a favorite today and didn't look like feeling any pressure at the start. Our 2019 MUT Female Runner of the Year, Meghan Laws, was officiating this Saturday as the USATF Liaison for the Championship. She also happens to be a local from Cool, California, short drive for her!

On the start line, I also met another favorite, Max King. We got to know each others at Chuckanut 50K in 2012 where, after a very unfortunate event, I caught up with him and shared a gel, after he was sent off course by a volunteer, while being in the lead. I met him again when he won Fourmidable 50K in 2017 in a blazing time of 3:30! At 40 and with 97 events in Ultrasignup, he still has an almost perfect score of 97% if it wasn't for that race and a couple of other exceptions. I was surprised he was voted only 9th ultra American runner of the last decade by the UltraRunning Magazine panel, but one of the kings of our sport in any case!

Apart from Tim and Max, that's all what I was going to see from the front of the race today. Not just because it was pitch dark at 6 am (mandatory headlamps) but because the competition was so high. Even with Agnès crewing for me today, she didn't manage to catch pictures of the top 10 men during the race.

How did my race go? Well, in short, it was long... During the first miles I was memorizing details of the trail, particular branches of poison oak, particular rocks, holes or roots while I was following Mark Tanaka, many details which I felt was going to make for a very long post, albeit not an interesting one... I'll get back on a few highlights but let's first talk about my goals to give more context:

  1. First and foremost, I was here for a patch. Yes, except for the top 5 spots with prize money, the high prize for the older guys in a National Championship is, in addition to a shiny golden medal, a coveted... patch! I'm a collector with already 13 of them, and counting... ;-)
  2. That meant that, to win my M55-59 age group, my second goal was to... finish!
  3. And to finish, my goal was to start. While I wanted to run Jed Smith 50K on no training, that was my first ever DNS (Did Not Start) because of a sharp pain in my knee which had caught a cold while running in freezing temperatures in Austria (I'm not kidding). Adding the COVID-19 incertitude, start wasn't a given this time.
  4. While USATF goes with 5-year age brackets, we go with 10 in our MUT Grand Prix. My 4th goal was then to do well in the M50-59 age group to get points (given the 1.5 factor for the distance, 60 points for 1st, 46.5 for 2nd, then 36, 28.5, 21, 18, 16.5, 15, ...).
  5. Not too much pain. With the injury, pain was a given but I was hoping it wasn't going to become excruciating with the longer distance as I haven't run beyond 50K for a long while.
What about the fun which Agnès always want me to have in races? Sure, given the persistent pain in my hamstring, and this wet conditions, why not...

Who was in my age groups?
  1. M55-59 running for the patch: two teammates from my Quicksilver Club, Harrison Blackwood and Keith Lubliner, and potentially Richard Parr from New York, although I couldn't establish if he was a USATF member or not;
  2. M50-54 running in my local Grand Prix 10-year age group: Ron Gutierrez, Mark Tanaka, Shiran Koshavi, William Dai, Jeff Wong;
  3. And there were 9 other M50-59 in the entrants list, albeit not from USATF.
A few memories I'd like to capture for my own perusal in a few years...
  1. Cool to Cool (3.8 miles): as I mentioned, I lost sight of the front runners before the end of the first mile! Even Ron was ahead. I settled behind Mark, thinking that, if he had a good day, I would still be just happy to tag along. I ran the first short loop just behind him then, benefiting from seeing where footing was trickier to avoid tripping. Around 1.5 miles though, I fully twisted my left ankle, ouch! A few painful steps but I was super glad to see that it hadn't lost it flexibility (I can still feel the twist as I'm writing this post on Sunday, but no real damage at least). I picked my water bottle at Cool (I was just carrying my GU Brew one on the first loop), and here we were, still in the dark.
  2. Cool to Knickenboker #1 (9.8 miles): leaving the aid station was actually a bit confusing. We were supposed to follow yellow ribbons but there were also pink ones and the yellow looked like dark greenish in the dark. Shortly after the aid station, Mark caught up with his new teammate, Karl Schnaitter (Mark left our Quicksilver team last year to join Excelsior). It looked like Karl had missed a turn. After another mile or so, Mark went straight into a mud pit and cursed for good. He had lost his shoe in the mud, shoot! There was actually a way to avoid the pit and I waited for Mark for 20 seconds; not having seen yellow ribbons for a while, but pink ones, I thought we might still be on the wrong course and told Mark I will catch Karl to let him know. Shortly after I saw a yellowish/greenish ribbon and yelled at Mark we were on the course, then continued to eventually close on Karl. A few hundreds yards ahead was Ron and the three of us reached the Knichenboker aid station together, now with some day light.
  3. KB1 to KB2 (14.9 miles): with courses sharing start and finish or, worse, races on a 1-mile loop or 400-meter track, some people wonder why we even run ultras if it consists in coming back to the point we started... So, what about even running when the next aid station is the one you just left, right? Well, it wouldn't be a 50-mile if we weren't running the whole distance (or more as a matter of fact, see below). That was an interesting loop because not at all what I expected. A mile in, and seeing more and more pink ribbons, I thought we weren't on the right trail. I thought that we were supposed to follow yellow ribbons until our second passage to Cool, then go down the American River to No Hands bridge. Well, we were certainly going down the river but I thought it was way too early. With Karl and Ron now 300 years ahead, I had to spring and clock a 6:50-min mile to catch Karl and share my concern. He reassured me that this was the right timing for our first descent to the river and, thankfully he was right. For miles we couldn't see anyone ahead, nor behind, so he'd better be right! I thought to myself "what a rookie mistake not to have studied the course more!" The thing is that I was recognizing trails as we were going, from various races (Way Too Cool, FOURmidable then, later, American River, Western States, Last Chance, Rio del Lago) but that was making it even more confusing. I'd better keep up with these two guys for as long as possible... On the long way up to KB2, I passed Karl and stayed in Ron's footsteps as he was keeping a steady 10 to 11 min/mile pace. Karl was the 3rd to reach the station but he didn't stop!
  4. KB2 to Cool again (17.9 miles): we picked up the pace on this flat section. However, at a couple of creek crossings which Ron and I negotiated to keep our feet dry, Karl went straight through and left us like his Simone was waiting for him at Cool (and no, she wasn't as she was actually running the race too!). A barely saw him leaving the Cool aid station and that was the last time I would see him again today.

  5. Cool to No Hands Bridge (21.3 miles): Ron and I ran the next descent to the river together, except for the last 500 yards to the bridge as I stopped to take my third S!Caps (after 3 hours of running). One highlight of that section was to see Western States Race Director, Craig Thornley with a few others, just before the bridge. In lieu of a high five, Craig extended his flexed elbow and, with my speed, I hesitated, fearing a brutal knock, but it worked out perfectly, with just a light touch, phew! ;-) At the aid station, I picked a small piece of banana and another GU before the big climb to Auburn. I would have taken some Coke but they didn't have cups...
  6. To Gate 142 (26.5 miles): ah, this mythical climb to Auburn! If you have run Western States (3 times for me), you can't be on that section without the chill of the dream of reaching the Place High School Track. That wasn't out goal today, but we did share a few miles of that course. As a matter of fact, Tony Nguyen, who will run Western States for the first time in June, COVID-19 allowing, missed the turn and went straight toward Robbie Point, that was bold, but costed him a DNF at the gate. Sincerely, I wished we had gone straight for all the great memories I had in that last WS section. But, no, Paulo wasn't letting us take the easiest and shortest path. Since FOURmidable, I know there is a much more difficult way up to Auburn and it includes going down back to the river several times! Straight up, straight down, and repeat. As we passed 3.5 hours of running in that section, me still a few strides behind Ron, it was drizzling again and I thanked the weather forecasters for being so wrong today. Yes, we had a few minutes of rain here and then for these first 3.5 hours but really nothing worth mitigating the drought. And then, all of sudden, and literally as I was thinking about that, pouring rain. Thankfully I had not dropped my light rain jacket and I did put my hood back on, impressed by Ron who kept going without any protection. As we were approaching the ridge and that gate 142, I told him that the lead gal was closing on us and that seemed to get him to pick up the pace. For me, I was already feeling so lucky to still be in Ron's footsteps at mid way, I couldn't push more and couldn't care less to get chicked. I stopped for a couple of minutes at the aid station, struggling to get some Coke as I had read the race instructions way too fast and lightly, and forgotten it was a cup-free race...
  7. To Oregon Bar (29.3 miles): with that long stop at the aid station, despite Agnès' assistance, I lost sight of that lead female runner and Ron. As much as the next section along the canal is my favorite one in hot weather, it was a different thing in pouring rain. The trail started getting slippery, especially the larger round rocks. Then Cardiac Trail... By the time I got there, it could have been renamed Cardiac Creek. There was so much water flowing on it that I couldn't see the rocks and holes. To make the matter worse, my inner tights started cramping and I thought that was it, that I will have to walk the last 22 miles or so, dang! With my feet in that impromptu creek, I stopped to take an additional S!Cap. I also doubled on water as well as inhaling more air. The combination seemed to do its magic (that's where you appreciate being older and not a rookie anymore) and I was glad we were taking the Cardiac Bypass to Oregon Bar instead of keeping down Cardiac. 2 volunteers there, with great smiles despite the pouring rain. To my surprise after such a slow descent of Cardiac for me, I saw Ron exiting the aid station as I was getting in. With 6 miles to go to the next aid station, I still stopped for a minute or so to take some water, a GU and a piece of banana. After 50K, and without any training beyond, I felt like entering an uncharted territory and having lost the stamina of keeping up with Ron. To my surprise, I saw him once more on the other side of the last big creek before Rattlesnake, and I was less than 2 minutes behind. On one hand that uplifted my (non) pioneer spirit; on the other, I felt like I had to slow down even more with 15 more miles to go. Well, 15 or rather 13 according to my GPS.
  8. To Rattlesnake Bar (35.3 miles): indeed, my Garmin was indicating 37.05 when I reached that aid station. A joy to see Agnès again, but a bummer to learn that I was off by 2 miles. At least it was good to hear that there was less than 3 miles until the next aid station, let's keep moving, albeit slower, at least steadily...
  9. To Horseshoe Bar (38.1 miles): 2.8 miles, yet not flat ones and I had more and more difficulty running the little uphills. I got chicked again in that section, but still no
  10. To Granite Bay (44.6 miles): one more gal passing me shortly after the aid station and, finally, one guy too, albeit not running the USATF championship (the 50-mile was open to non USATF members). This is the section I had my worst nightmares on, consistently (asthma at American River, DNF at Rio del Lago and many other sluggish crawls over these rocks and boulders). It has been more than 15 miles of trails transformed in creeks and bordered with poison oak all the way, my mind couldn't take it anymore. 6.5 miles at lower pace seem so so long, I was actually thinking of the struggle it would be for the back of the pack. With the walking in the uphills, I was clocking around 13 minutes per mile, yikes! My average pace was now approaching 10 minutes/mile... I was excited to see a guy waiting on the side of the trail and asked how far we had to go. When he said, about another mile, then 7 miles to the finish, while my GPS was indicating 53 miles, I thought to myself "this course seems elastic and getting longer as we keep moving, it has to be more than 50 miles..." Agnès cheered me up, just confirming that Ron was ahead, but no indication if someone in my age group was behind (there was some live tracking at Gate 142). All these miles I was running thinking Mark was going to catch me, like a ghost chasing me... When I stopped at the aid station, my legs cramped again, but that quickly passed, fortunately!

  11. To Beals point finish! At this point, my legs were really tired but I was determined to keep moving to see if I could hold my spot. I know the final rolling section quite well, I had some good memories created on it, some bad, and was able to get back to a 10 min/mile pace. I got super excited when I saw the levée getting to Beals Point until... I saw pink ribbons going on the right. Damned, Paulo was definitely preventing us from taking the easiest path... I kept moving but I got really tired, even more mentally than physically, after running beyond 50 miles on my GPS. It was on 52.25 miles when I crossed the finish line, I was really glad that was over. And, yes, it was still raining, not always pouring, but consistently raining. The weather men had it right, finally!
If you got confused in my above explanations, you can see the course we followed, from thousand feet above (click on the image below or that link):
Oh my, 8:53, that seems like such an awful time. In the entrants list, UltraSignup had predicted 8:38 and I thought that was on the long side. Oh well, on little and inconsistent training... I rushed to a chair under the food tent, and Agnès handed me a small slide of cold pizza. Meghan brought me the medal for winning my age group, then the famous and coveted patch.
I asked Meghan who won and was blown away to hear that Tim had finished in 6:22, with Max just 5 minutes behind! So long for preserving my UltraSignup score... For many years I was a hair short of 90%. But over the past 12 months, it has kept lowering... to 89.2% (although the age-graded looks better at 96%). At least, and as opposed to the ITRA score, all past years count so it helps I have 168 results accounted for... ;-)

While I had missed the Men podium picture by more than 2 hours, a few gals arrived after me so I could see the Female (top 5) podium:
I thanked Paulo for holding the event despite so much adversity, and apologized to him and Meghan to leave right away as I had better to change and get dry and warm quickly. Not to mention Agnès had still so much work to do this weekend to get ready to teach her French classes on line starting this Monday. The ride back home was tiring too for her, at high speed on the highway in pouring rain. I had slept only 4.5 hours before the race, I got 9.5 hours between Saturday and Sunday, to make for a better average.

My sincere apologies to my teammates who were still on the course when I left, for not waiting for you. Kudos on your respective finishes, Chris, Dan, Martin and Keith, again, what a brutal test for all!

Overall, not feeling too sore this Sunday, and very happy to have met most of the goals but 13.5 points in our Grand Prix. The injury isn't worse. The knees hold one. The lungs too. I drank consistently both water and GU Brew, like in the good old days. Vespa kept my physical energy high enough to keep moving forward and finish with a pace not too far from my 10 min/mile goal, all that despite proper training and conditioning. No chaffing. No blister this time. I never got cold. Still feeling like 20% off my peak level, but, again happy to have checked a few more goals and be back at running.

Ron finished in 8:36 and Karl, 10 minutes before. I'm super grateful to Ron for setting a great and smart pace, leading me to the mid point. My ghost Mark finished in 10:13 with another 50-54, William Dai, ahead of him in 9:25. So Mark didn't have that good of a day but all my respect for his numerous 100-mile finishes and teaching me not just the expression, but also how to run screwed (i.e. solo and without a crew). And it's also Mark that I remember learning the term chicked from, no comment... ;-)

Sincere thanks to Agnès for giving up a day and a half to drive me around and wait at all the aid stations in this weather while grading as many tests as possible from her students so she could spend her Sunday preparing virtual/on-line lessons for Monday... While that experience brought back a few great memories from my early years in ultra running, along with the boys, I was reminded that crewing has to remain very occasional now, and this event took its toll on the quota... :-/
Still, celebrating both patches as I was away for my birthday...
Extra thanks to the volunteers who not only braved the elements and helped us through the day, in this chilly and wet conditions, but also the stringent health measures to keep all safe. For what we hear on this Sunday, that may be the last running event of the first half of the year.

Again, what a change from Thursday, to hear everyone cancelling events as far as 8 to 12 weeks ahead when it's so hard to figure out things over a day or two in advance. And, again, when China, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong proved that a few weeks of diligent measures are enough to curb the alarming trends. Oh well, did I say in the intro that we needed more trust in each others. Here you go, back to the ones in charge to make the right decisions! On the Pacific Association leadership side, we are already alluding to having a white year, that is not scoring the whole year and keeping the Age Group champion status for another year. At least for the Road Grand Prix which may have too many cancelled events (if these events aren't rescheduled). On our MUT side, we have 17 scoring opportunities. One in April, which my well be cancelled, then Quicksilver which will not happen in May at least, Ohlone and Silver State in May and at least a race in June. Again, just a possibility for now, it wouldn't be reasonable to make a decision in a hurry when things can change so much within days, in either direction. We'll keep everyone posted as this develops.

PS: Paulo had suggested we take our swim suits as there was water in the lake. Maybe not the right day to go to the beach... ;-)

Friday, March 13, 2020

2020 50K Road Nationals: near Caumsett, at Hecksher State Park this time!

2 weeks have passed already, not much of a scoop in the result in the age of instant posting, but better get this race report out this Friday night as tomorrow is... yet another race day and... yet another National Championship: the 50-mile Trail Nationals on the Pioneer Spirit and Western States trails!

Ironically, I had written half this post on race day but got interrupted to celebrate my big day with running buddies. Then I got swamped again in work travel (New York, NY and Milwaukee, WI) all that in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic blooming... Anyway, here is what I had written on that Sunday March 1 of 2020...

I still consider myself injured as my butt still hurts at every left stride and it has been on going since November 2018 (Silicon Valley Turkey Trot 10K). So odd to think that most people always used to fear I'd break by logging so many miles, yet it was on a short 10K that it happened, after 20 almost injury-less years and more than 50,000 miles... There is a saying that every runner is going to get injured and especially those trying to push the envelope, but you always want to be the exception...

Anyway, after a 8-month hiatus which wasn't enough to completely solve the issue, I got two medical advices that I could try to run again in January. I did, without extending the stride much, including in Austria where something strange happened: while I was dreaming of running Jed Smith 50K and prepared with a 10-mile run as a short long run, it was below freezing and it's like my right knee got a cold. It took a good week to pass, thankfully, but that did cost me my first ever DNS (Did Not Start) nevertheless. But maybe it was more reasonable I didn't resume with an ultra right away...

The second race of our Pacific Association Grand Prix was last week's Mt Umunhum, our very first Mountain-format race of our Grand Prix. The hamstring was painless for 6 miles and the race was only 14K long, so that wasn't an issue.

Last Friday afternoon, that is less than 48 hours before the 50K race on Long Island, NY, I decided to get in and book a flight. The forecast was sunny for Sunday so what else could go wrong...? Well, what about the lack of training for a predictable missing component to success?

Short night between a great concert at the Harker School with the amazing and world renowned Kronos Quartet and an early flight Saturday morning, but a last-minute upgrade helped. I had forgotten that it was still quite a ride to go from EWR (Newark) to the middle of Long Island, through New York City, I arrived at the hotel just before 7 pm. With the tiredness accumulated all week to fight a bug I caught in Vegas, I slept like a baby, which is always much appreciated right before a race.

I had breakfast by 5:30 (I always want to be done 3 hours before the start) and even went back to sleep more, a good indication that I was either really tired, or extra relaxed as I wasn't going to shoot for a record like I did last year. Rich Hana broke my record at Jed Smith with 3:26, or 6:38 min/mile pace, when I have barely been able to break 7 min/mile in training... My goal this Sunday was to start around 7:10 and see if I could maintain it all the way. Based on previous years, that looked very reasonable, but I was so well trained back then...

As I mentioned, the forecast had the sunny part right. On Friday, they predicted 32F at the start at 8:30 but it actually turned to be 25F and windy, yikes! I'm so sensitive to the cold that I put all the layers I had packed in my suitcase on: long pants and shorts, plus 2 layers for the top, and hat, and gloves and Buff. And I stayed in my rental car as long as possible before the start, with seat heating on!

It wasn't as competitive as previous years because a few speedsters had been busy at the Olympic Marathon trials on Saturday. In front we still had two ultra legends, Michael Wardian and Camille Heron, whom I've met quite often already, as well as Boyd Carrington who had some tough competition in his M45-49 age group with Mike. Two other buddies I've the pleasure to meet at least at this championship, year after year, and both ex members of Team USA: Brian Teason, and Hall of Famer, Roy Pirrung.

Speaking of competition, ironically, our age group was the largest one of all, with 7 older guys in my 5-year age bracket out of 35 men overall. Weird. I started way in the back of the pack to check on rear age group bibs. I could see a few M55-59 but not all... I wondered if a couple didn't start, or had their bib hidden...

No drama with the format of this race, course wise, the same 5K loop, over and over. Here is how the series unfold for me:
  1. Lap 1: I was so much behind the pack that I lost sight of front of the race right away. I just had a glimpse of what was going on at the front at the end of that first lap, as we crossed the speedsters on their second lap. The first mile and half looked surprisingly easy and I realized what was going on at the turnaround: we were pushed by a strong wind through that first half. Oh my, the return was brutal against a strong wind, that felt like some hill training already and we were only 2 miles in. On that lap and the 2 next ones, I was able to maintain an average pace of 7:10 min/mile, breaking 7 minutes on the way out, and slowing down to 7:15-7:20 on the way back. So long for an even pace on a flat course for a change (this year the event moved to a new course, on the South shore of the island, instead of the usual rolling course of Caumsett Park).
  2. Lap 2: my shoe lace untied and, despite wearing gloves, my fingers were so cold, I lost quite a few seconds making a new knot, good thing I wasn't running for a record this time...
  3. Lap 3: I quickly lapped 2 other runners in my age group, that left 4 ahead, the hunt was on! The pace still looked comfortable although I had to push hard in the section back against the wind. If I recall, the wind was actually lighter on that 3rd lap, which was encouraging. On the opposite, being already lapped by the leaders wasn't so good for the morale. Other years, I was able to push that to the 5th or 6th laps, what a difference a year makes!
  4. Lap 4: I was just focused at maintaining a reasonable average pace as the hamstring had started acting again on the third lap. 
  5. Lap 5: apart from lapping quite a few other runners, including 25K and non-championship 50K runners, my major worry became the realization of a blister forming under the ball of my left foot, yikes! Not only it's hard to retrain the muscles and their memory, but it's amazing to think that there is also skin memory involved after such a long break! For the past 10 years I can count my blisters on my fingers, thanks in particular to the double layer Wrightsocks I've been wearing for 50,000 miles, I can't believe I got 3 blisters in the last 2 weeks, and in so few miles! Anyway I decided to stop by the main tent at the end of that lap, that it was worth losing a few minutes at that time, rather than having to shuffle or walk at the end. I felt in luck to see 8 EMT personnel inside. I asked one if I could have my foot taped and he has such a weird look at me, having just grabbed a sandwich, I felt my request was inappropriate and that wasn't going to be done quickly so turned back on the course promptly.
  6. Lap 6: apart from the great feeling of being pushed by the back wind in the first part, and battling against the wind on the way back, I recall being lapped again by the leaders who were on a sub 3-hour pace. And then I was worried about the blister growing up... That time, upon returning to the start/finish line, I asked for the medical tent and was directed to an ambulance on the parking lot. That was really not my day: as I arrived to the vehicle, there was a sense of panic with one of the EMTs yelling at two others "we have a job!" But it wasn't for me, they jumped on a light 4-wheel drive emergency vehicle to attend to someone on the course. Dang, I will have to run the last 20 kilometers with that darned blister. At least that was a good reason to slow down a bit. I had passed two other M55-59 runners but there was one of the registered 6 whom I could spot on the course, that kept me moving forward.
  7. Lap 7: the average pace was ineluctably going down but I was determined to find that missing bib. As I finished that lap, in the short section the out and back shared the same bike path, I did cross a runner with the bib #30. I had written down the list of runners in my age group and, bingo, that was one of them. No back bib, mystery solved (and that's an infraction to the competition rules). At least I had built a lead of almost 3 miles at that point, but I still needed to keep moving for the last 15 kilometers.
  8. Lap 8: the main memory I have of this lap is that the wind was getting worse and I had so much trouble moving forward on the way back, until I got passed by Kallin Khan who had taken the overall lead and was 1 mile away to the finish, still moving really fast despite that terrible head wind. Inspiring persistence and resilience facing adversity, wow!
  9. Lap 9: that is the lap we pass the marathon mark and get a potential official Boston-qualifier time, which is a great perk of this race for us ultra runners who aren't running standard marathons anymore. In 2016, I got a 2:47 on my way to a record 3:18. This year...? Ouch, 3:17. For the marathon mark. Still a qualifier by 18 minutes, but a slower time than my Boston finish last year, so not much useful. At the beginning of that lap, I finally managed to catch up with that runner wearing bib #30 (Michael Hunter). I stopped by before passing him and mentioned his hidden back bib...
  10. Lap 10: knowing that I had enough of a lead to win my age group, I actually lost some motivation and, against the wind, stopped twice to walk a few steps, until I realized I was going to have to sprint to the finish to eventually break 4 hours, duh. I wasn't able to sprint actually but picked up the pace from the 9 min/mile slog. 500 yards before the finish I actually saw a runner wearing a x5-x9 bib, and moving steadily, that pumped some adrenaline! Closing on him, that was M75-79, wow, there is really no limit in our ultra sport! More on this individual below.
I crossed the finish line in a time of 3:59:32, phew, close call for a pathetic sub 4-hour! There was no photograph on the finish line but you can see me in that video (not sure if that will start at the time of my finish, you can also try that link):
And a few pictures on the course:

Right after finishing, I went into the tent where the 50K awards had already been distributed (it had been more than one hour (!) since Kallin finished in 2:57:51!). To my surprise though, our USATF liaison for the event, ex Team USA herself, Lin Gentling, awarded me with a medal right away. I thought that was the first place for my division but, no, she said I made the top 10. I was blown away... in past years I had to run 40 minutes faster for that! Well, apparently, there had been a few computer glitches: in the final results, I'm only 13th male.
Needless to say, our world elite, Camille, won her race in 3:26!
The top 9 podium:

After that there was quite some wait as Michael (Hunter) finished 2nd in our division (4:35), then Brian (4:44). I reported the missing back bib incident to Lin who certainly took the protest seriously as she, herself, got disqualified from an international competition once, for that very same reason. Here is the rule from our 2020 USATF Rule Book:
Rule 341.6 - In Masters LDR championships, to be eligible for individual or team scoring or awards, a bib, supplied by the games committee which identifies gender and age group, shall be worn on the back.
Poor picture, but Michael's bib was under his white top the whole race.
I felt I owed Brian a request for consideration of that rule by the organizers. After all, I'm a Certified USATF Official myself so I do have to care about the rules... Eventually, after a wait of more than 30 minutes, it was decided that this wasn't enough of a photo finish so Michael kept his 2nd place, and, with his usual amazing life philosophy and sportsmanship, Brian agreed not to contest his 3rd place.
Then, some moments later... the celebration of this other birthday boy, Zeke Zucker, 76 years old! Zeke finished in 5:04, while Roy won his M70-71 age bracket in 5:46. Roy's 92nd National title, wow! Zeke was happy like a young boy!

More bling:
As I said, I started this post on race day but got interrupted for a very cool celebration of my own day with Brian, Roy, Lin and friends.
We didn't opt for a desert but the waitress was super nice and brought some cake anyway! And that candle...
A week after such a nice and happy celebration, Roy shared the terrible news of the passing of his wife, Chris. Thinking of you, Roy, and see you in a few miles as you say, Champion!

Just in time to wrap-up that report and go to bed, less than 10 hours before the start of the next race. It's going to be fun, it's supposed to be cold and raining all day! Can't complain, we are such in dear need of rain...

Take care all, indoor and outdoor, and let's be safe and keep our social distance!

PS: a few of the EMTs I didn't get to know...
As for the blister? 3/4 of an inch long... Better quickly teach my skin what endurance is again...