Sunday, October 9, 2022

Ruth Anderson 2022 with purpose: historical edition in Ruth's memory!

Ruth left us in 2016 so we'll never know her feelings about this year's edition. Reading about her though in this great piece from Davy Crockett, she was so much of a game changer for putting women especially at their due place on the marathon and ultra running map, it's most likely she would have been not just supportive but delighted. In 1976, she ran the Lake Merced event which consisted in a 50-mile and 100K (back then you were getting credit for both distances if you were finishing the 100K). According to another ultra historian, Stan Jensen, whose website you can support here, the Memorial Run only started ten years later. I have to assume the Memorial was added after Ruth passed away in 2016. Before that, I only remembered referring to the race as Ruth Anderson.

Let's start with the purpose I highlighted in the title. The format of this event makes it interesting from this standpoint. I ran all the editions from 2007 to 2019 and, rereading my first of 13 race reports, I can recall the struggle of deciding on the distance on the fly. In 2007, I had not run any 100K yet and was going for that distance, although I wasn't sure, 2 weeks after running Boston, then my first Miwok 100K a couple of weeks later. And this the real deal at this event: if your mind isn't fully set to a particular distance, first you may start too fast, then not manage your mind motivation tank properly to keep going after the shorter distance. It has become slightly less complex as the 100K has been dropped as an option these past years, but still, there is still a notable difference between a 50K and 50-mile. 19 miles or 4 more laps.

To make the matter more interesting, this is also the final event of the MUT (Mountain, Ultra, Trail) Grand Prix of our USATF Pacific Association. This means the last opportunity to get point and, in particular, potentially score 6 teams (1 Men, 1 Women, 1 Mixed x 2 distances). My Quicksilver Club used to score 9 teams in the golden years, a decade ago, Pamakids took over since! It was Excelsior's last chance to reclaim their Men title although that meant they would have to have the top 3 men on both distances, as well as another club than Pamakids taking second. While Excelsior brought their balzing fast runners, I've rarely seen so many Men in Green, quite another impressive show of leadership from their team captain, Pen Perez. On the individual side, 2 points separated Karl Schnaitter from Jonah Backstrom in the M40 age group, that was going to make for an interesting duel. In the M60, my club mate Keith Lubliner only had to finish the 50K in 2nd place in his age group to reclaim his pole position; simple purpose.

And there there are the personal goals, ranging from just finishing to setting a Personal Record, or, way more boldly, an American Age Group record, a National record for other or dual citizens or... a World Record! When I heard from co-Race Director, Steve Jaber, that CJ Albertson wanted to reclaim his 50K World Record this weekend, I couldn't believe he would take that rolling course for it. Personally, I ran good times at Ruth Anderson on the three distances but all my PRs were set elsewhere eventually. With that ultimate purpose from CJ, it appeared that having the event USATF-sanctioned and course USATF-certified might not have been safe enough for ratification. So Steve went out of his way to get the event an IAU (International Association of Ultrarunners) Bronze Label. That included having to fly a IAU-certified course measurer from Arizona to recertify the whole course again. Incidentally, while writing this post, I just notice that this Saturday was also the European 50K Championships, big weekend for that ultra distance! Also, to get in CJ's pre-race mind and mood, worth reading the piece that another elite and Ruth Anderson participant, Jeffrey Stern, wrote for UltraRunning Magazine this week.

As I highlighted in my previous and post-race blog post, CJ wasn't the only one with a record purpose. You see, from these amazing goals to the team plays and the more personal struggles of dealing with age or injury, there was a wide range of motivations but, all running in Ruth's memory, it was meant to be a a long day packed with action! On my end, ironically not a big purpose, still rebuilding from this 3.5-year injury. I didn't even need points to reclaim my age group, the new age group records were improved again last year and are now out of even my previous age group league/potential and I'm still so out of shape that I can't do good speed work. I was hoping to at least use this race as a benchmark of how far behind I am, hopefully breaking 4 hours at least. But, after clocking a few sub 3:20s in my 50s and right before the injury, maybe 3:45 (7:15 min/mile).

Without the 100K, and the move from April to October, it was good the RDs spared us from a 6 or 6:30 am start. 7 am looks so late for a start of an ultra now! That meant finishing breakfast before 4 am for me, so still an early wake up call. I arrived on site at 6 am and there was so much buzz already, albeit an unreal atmosphere with the heavy fog. But it wasn't chilly, it actually looked like perfect conditions for some record setting, a great start.

Given the World Record potential, three USATF Officials volunteered their day to ensure the event ran per the rule book. Certainly, this is the first time we got a gun start at this event and the famous ready, set, go! Ruth must have chuckled, seeing this from above. Needless to say, CJ and the lead bike disappeared in the fog in... record time! I settled on a 7:15 min/mile pace, happy to let Karl Schnaitter and James Scanlan's sub-6-hour 50-mile pace (7:12 min/mile), with found memory of starting below 7 min/mile myself when Jon Olsen and Chikara were working on their 100K Team USA selections. In the first lap we played cat and mouse with Verity: she was faster on the uphills, and I was faster in the downhills. No dramatic hills, the course only gives about 100 feet of cumulative elevation change per lap but my pace variations oscillated around Verity's super stable one. We also have such a different stride, I admired Verity's super efficient one, short but fast, and low kick behind. With that I also tended to pick up the pace on flat sections so much that I ran alone for the rest of the race. (Photo credit: Shira Kochavi.)

I had just completed my second lap when I got lapped, dang! I had decided to run with my camera to catch CJ in action but, the time I realized it was the lead bike, I only got his back. So impressively fast! Ironically, I stopped to take a video, yet ran one of my fastest miles at 7:02, as I was too much inspired by his speed and picked up the pace again.

In the second and third laps, I could already hear my glutes reminding me that they didn't work enough the past 4 years. My average pace was now down to 7:11 which didn't appear so sustainable but I decided to see how long I could hold that once comfortable pace.

I was carrying two bottles (water and GU Energy Brew) as well as 4 gels, 6 S!Caps, plus my phone and the car key, I was fully loaded in screwed (no crew) mode. All this to save excuses to stop at every lap. I had prepared a cooler with two other bottles but, with the moisture of the fog, wasn't drinking much. At least that saved seconds and allowed me to keep the 7:11 min/mile pace past the half point. I would only drop one of the bottles at the end of lap 6 as captured by Shiran (and, not these are precious bottles, I'm not throwing it in the compostable bin! Actually, if you have such grey or red Ultimate Direction bottle, and not using them, I will buy them! Seriously.)

I was finishing my 5th lap when the lead bike passed me again, wow! I was less than half a mile from the aid station, the clock was about 5:35 so he could indeed break 5:40!

At this point, I realized how my weak purpose wasn't helping. Not helping managing the pace. Not helping keeping enough motivation and stamina. I even thought of stopping to join the buzz around CJ's fresh World Record (2:38:43!!!!). I'm so impressed with his perfect execution of his plan, on such a course. Also how some can handle such pressure on big occasions like this. It's his first race result on UltraSignup, a score of 100% captures some of that perfection! With two more laps, I was thinking how disastrous this world-class performance will have on my own UltraSignup score. Like Steve Jensen reminded me later, at my age, I should stop looking at that age-insensitive measure. I decided to at least do one more lap. I'm at 9.5% of ultra race DNFs, not DNF'ing isn't as important as good performance for me, yet, I pride that all these DNFs but one (Quad Dipsea) were still beyond the marathon mark. 6 laps were 26.6 miles. We shall see then.

I should have taken a Vespa at mid way, I finally did my first stop (almost mile 22), to grab a Vespa pouch. Was I too weak? I had to ask Rajeev to unscrew the cap for me. These two stops (the aid station, and CJ's video) got me my first over-7:30 mile, at 7:50. Surprisingly, my glutes and legs were not crashed, it was more my mind. The Vespa helped and I was in better spirit by the end of lap 6, especially after passing the marathon mark around 3:13, another solid Boston Qualifier, albeit nothing we can use because of lack of official time capture. Well, even my 6-lap split would be a good one (3:16 at 26.6 miles).

And then I decided to continue. Never mind the score, at least for the DNF ratio, but mostly in Ruth's honor. Despite more than 40 minutes to spare, and having clocked mostly 32.5-minute laps, I wasn't even sure about breaking 4 hours anymore. Except for CJ, twice, I had only been lapped two other times: by Chikara on his pursuit to a new Masters record for 50 miles, and a long and dark hair running who must have been Firmin Villagran (bib 1503 not on the entrant list). With that I didn't know how many runners were still ahead in the 50K. In spite of a bit of walking and some nagging cramping in the last mile, I managed to finish in 3:54:24, in 4th place overall, and 1st M50 or actually Masters. For what it is worth as the Masters fight was really happening in the 50-mile race. (Photos credit: Shiran Kochavi.)

Am I happy with this result? Those knowing me can guess... Ahem, what about a 67.71% UltraSignup score as a starter? Or finishing 1h15 minutes behind the winner? Or 36 minutes slower than my PR? I know, that's very half-empty glass thinking. For one thing, in addition to be an exceptional athlete, CJ is 30 years younger, that's not a good excuse, but some years do count. Anyway, that way to look at the time is also what keeps me pushing and working hard. At least, it shows that I'm still hoping to re-improve, and that it's worth trying as I improved on my last 3 Road 50Ks (2020-2022). And, yes, I don't feel the injury anymore while racing, phew!

Hydration wise, I ended up drinking half of my usual intake. I took only 3 gels, 3 S!Caps, and, including 2 before the start, only 3 Vespa pouches. Good enough for a 7:33 min/mile pace overall, but I could have managed better.

Speaking of Vespa, what about Chikara's performance as another proof it does work? His wife, Diann, setup a table with burgers (Chikara is a big fan), water pouches, gels, carbonated water, but Chikara ran the whole race mostly on Vespa, taking a CV-25 pouch every other lap, that is less than one hour in between, at the blazing pace he was going.

Before the final out and back (2 x 0.51 miles to go):

And, when I say it worked, not just by mere seconds: Chikara ended up breaking a 41-year old record, covering 50 miles in 5:05:41. Think about it, Chikara wasn't even born when Bernd Heinritch ran 5:10:13 in October of 1981! As for the time, put this in perspective to the Open World Record that Jim Wamsely set in 2019 during an HOKA-organized event. Even more in awe with Chikara's performance as he suffered the same tendon injury than I had, last year. In addition to being 18 years younger, he also got two PRP injections (which my doctor deemed to risky given the depth in the glutes). So great to see Chikara back to Team USA form and potential!

Another picture with CJ at the finish. At a time HOKA has basically bought all the elites, super happy that Brooks found this gem and was able to retain him. Between CJ and Des, these two Mavericks are outstanding representatives to show that US-brand Brooks also works wonders!

As for Verity, she barely missed breaking 4 hours and therefore missed the Amrican and World Age Group record by less than 4 minutes, but she exploded the Australian one by 15 minutes! Oh, and she won the 50K outright too, what another feat!

Despite finishing the 50K before 11 am, I missed another same-day race report for many good reasons. First, I waited to see if Chikara was going to break 5:10. Then I spent time connecting with many, as well as providing encouragements to the runners still on the course. Then, when I was going to leave at 1 pm, Bill Dodson showed up. Bill is 87 and can't run anymore. He ran ultras for more than 20 years and still holds several M80-84 American Records. Recently, he asked his daughter, Estelle, to meet our ultra community at some local races. Being out of town, I had missed him at Firetrails 2 weeks ago, what a great surprise to spend time reconnecting this Saturday! Bill also handed me the keys of the MUT Chair, 5 years ago. It was so heart warming to see his joy sparkled by memories and messages of other runners. The most colorful of which coming from Eroll Rocket Jones, who you can't beat at this game!

So many volunteers to be grateful and thankful for! From the co-RDs, Steve and Anil, the entertaining MC and RD Emeritus, Rajeev, the manual time-keeping master, Dave, and his helpers, Wendell who graciously contributed his time and his chip timing infrastructure/operation, Anil's friends handling registration and the food and drink tables, and the course monitors as well as the crew manning the remote aid station. Plus Pen and Shiran behind their cameras. It takes a big village to keep this ultra tradition going. Again, Ruth would be proud!

One thing that stood out for the Officials who are typically officiating at Road, Cross-Country or Track & Field events, is the sense of community transpiring around the finish line, while clubs tend to stick together at other events.

By the way, what happened at the European 50K Nationals? While 13 ran under 3 hours, the fastest time was 2:49:20 by Houssame Eddine Benabbou Azizi from Spain. Ruth Anderson Memorial was the place to watch! It's odd not to see any Frenchman in the entry list; they are typically very competitive and Spain wasn't too far. Only explanation might be that 50K isn't a distance they keep track of records for, except for race walking (see the Masters records, from all Track & Field records page).

A few bonus pictures.

Selfies with celebrities, at dawn, on the way to the start.

With CJ, during his ultimate personal briefing.

Great finish times on the 50-mile:

Thia for the women win!
Very strong 6:13 time at 53 for James!
Karl almost breaking 6!

1 comment:

Ashish said...

Thanks so much Jean for such an awesome race report! Congratulations on your run and wish you all the best!!