Saturday, February 14, 2015

2nd Saratoga Fat Ass 2015: or is it dumb ass?

A barely took a break in December, just a few days while traveling through France and the Czech Republic over the Holidays, my ass didn't really have the time to put some fat on. Since the beginning of the year, short of eating an apple a day, I've been running at least an ultra a week, hoping that keeps the doctor away...

Agnès being in Austin, TX, this weekend with Max who is going to run his first marathon tomorrow, I was out of a Valentine today, a good excuse to spend a few hours on the trails on this Valentine's Day! After the first and original one, Keith Blom is also perpetuating that second Saratoga Fat Ass tradition and today was the day!

I thought I'd focus on speed at the track this weekend but my strategy this year to avoid last year's minor injury, is to ensure some variety in my training. After the fast Jed Smith 50K of last weekend, I ran 50 miles on concrete this week so it was time to hit the trails again.

Mark Tanaka had run the course yesterday (he was on E.R. duty today) and Chihping Fu will run tomorrow. Here is the group for the 8 am start:
The weather was gorgeous, actually even on the hot side for a winter run. And the trails were in perfect conditions, just soft enough from last week's rain, with a few branches and down trees here and there to make the run more interesting.

In these conditions, and profiting from the fact that Leor Pantilat never ran this fat ass, I was going after Pierre-Yves Couteau's "course record" of 4:42. After making sure everybody else had the course instructions (me included!) I took off in the lead and alone. The first loop is really trick when we get down over the huge boulders at the end of Ridge Trail as well as on Saratoga Gap Trail. Despite some pushing, my average pace was around 10:30 min/mile, from which I shaved a few seconds on the way up to Highway 35 on Loghry Woods Trail, then on Skyline Trail, back to the start.
I got back to the car with my GPS indicating 10.5 miles and 1:45 of running. A quick stop to refill my GU2O bottle, eat 1/2 banana and it was time to hammer down the second loop. I saw Keith 3.5 miles in that second loop as he was hiking it in reverse direction with a heavy back pack, training for the John Muir Trail (JMT) in June.
Everything was going fine, including the cruising on my favorite trail in this area, Travertine Springs Trail. While a few creeks were flowing, I was alarmed by how dry the area of the spring is this year. I've had my feet and legs really wet a few year ago in this area, not today! At the end of Travertine Springs Trail, I found the new bridge and I was actually so hot that I took the time to go down to the creek, under the bridge, to cool off my legs and head. A first in winter!

I felt refreshed and pumped up to hammer the way back up to Hwy 35, so much that I went 1.5 miles off course, all the way up to Indian Rock road, almost back to the Saratoga Gap parking area. Since I was going after a record, and like any good ultra runner would do anyway, I decided to go down to find where I went off course. If you see these signs, then you know you went way off course too!

I found another service road but it didn't seem right to run beyond these signs, would you agree?
Anyway, that seemed the only option so 1/2 mile up I went again, to end up in a private dead end, fortunately without any dog, phew! I retraced my path back and was pleased to find the rest of the group, as lost as I was the first time at this intersection. At least, my experience saved them the 4 miles I had run left and right and up and down on that road!

I led the group down to the sharp U-turn we had missed on Travertine Springs, after the new bridge. There was really no sign to be found, making it a very non intuitive turn. As I'd find out later, even Keith missed the turn but he thought it was just because he was doing the course in reverse direction.

With so many extra miles (4.4 miles exactly), worth 51 minutes including the discussions, plus the fact that I was now missing salt (I had lost 1 of my 4 S!Caps), I decided to just finish this loop, do a few more miles to Charcoal, to still make it an ultra.

Kevin Moore followed me on the way up from Travertine Springs and I gave him the water I had left as he was running with a 4-oz bottle only! I left him at Charcoal, then ran back to the start/finish. On my way back, I cross teammate Andy Benkert, from Santa Cruz, and Rida Chow (in Brooks!) who looked great. I was back to the car with my GPS indicating 28.55 miles, 4:52:22 and +/- 5,950 feet of cumulative elevation. Here is the course, including the section not to go on:
It was the year for a PR, but I felt like a dumb ass for having ran more than 4 miles off course on such trails, with the map in my hands...! Yet, it was a perfect opportunity to get some hill training which may get handy when pushing the pace again at the 50K Road Nationals in 2 weeks on Long Island. We'll see... At least I'm happy that I was careful enough on the first loop to avoid any injury. A bad fall would have been even dumber in retrospect.

A big thank to Keith for organizing this unorganized (has to be from a permit standpoint) and unofficial run. I'm glad I could run it for the 4th time (2011, 2012, 2013), and look forward to another opportunity to clock a good time, although I'm not going to wish we have such a summer weather next year. The worst drought in 1,000 years is the new headline, this is scary...

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Jed Smith 50K 2015: nailed it!

After last week's DNF at Rocky Raccoon, I was hoping for a redemption run this Saturday. And for that, I was resolute to be more reasonable from a goal and pace standpoint, no matter what the competition was going to be. From the UltraSignup ranking, the favorite was Chad Ricklefs from Colorado, with a very impressive 97.45% rank. He was followed by our own speedster Chikara Omine, then Michael Fink and myself. Karl Schnaitter was only in 7th position in the list but, at 32, he keeps improving and moving up!

My teammate Jeremy joined me for a car pool to the start and we left Cupertino at 5:05 am. We got quite some rain on Highway 680, but the sky cleared up on 80 and it seemed like it was finally going to be a perfect weather for the day, not the pouring rain which was announced, phew! How lucky for us runners, still how bad for the drought... Fortunately, rain should be back this Sunday, and we hope for more in February after a completely rain-free January.

We arrived to the Park around 7:15 am, just in time to see the start of the 50-mile race at 7:30. Here is Bev Anderson-Abbs at the start, working on another qualifier for Team Canada:
Bev will eventually win the race overall again this year, in 6:18:
Our 50K race started at 8:30 with more than 100 participants this year. There was a slight change of course with a detour around the second mile of the loop, but it was pretty much the same as usual, with a mix of asphalt on the bike path and levée, and a 2-mile gravel trail section. A pretty much flat course if not for a few changes of elevation when going on or under the bridges above American River.
Chikara took off like I did last year, probably at a 6 or 6:10 min/mile pace. I had shared with Jeremy that my plan was to not go out faster than 6:30 min/mile. After Rocky Racoon, Max and I went for a slow recovery 10K on Sunday. I then ran 10K on Wednesday, and again on Thursday evening but with a 5K at the track at 5:55 min/mile to see/check if the lungs had recovered from the bit of asthma I experienced in Texas. The test was conclusive so I was optimistic about that 6:30 pace. Last year, I had focused on the 50K distance so much that I had run mostly flat and fast miles all January, only to break just after Jed Smith and have to take 3 weeks off before the Nationals. This year, I didn't have that speed training, but much more variety, hoping this will avoid the issue. But as a consequence, I was surely not ready to go out at 6:15 as Rich Hanna and I did last year.

Speaking of Rich, he has to be the fastest 50-year old guy in the country now. Last year he ran Jed Smith in a blazing 3:13 when the current American M50-54 record has been set at 3:19:33 more than 30 years ago! But Rich wasn't quite 50 last year. With the short detour, the course didn't get the USATF certification and I thought Rich would therefore not go after the record since it couldn't have been validated. As a matter of fact, Rich is the Founder and President of the company doing the chip timing of the event, and many other races, Capital Road Race Management (CRRM). That keeps him too busy on weekends to race much, but he did jump in (and crashed our race! ;-) last year. Not this year fortunately for me, at least that was clearing up the M50-59 age group for me... Here is Rich, completing a loop for fun:
As we were running the first leg of the initial out-and-back, I could feel some soreness in my legs and butt, and thought it was going to be a tough day as we were only half mile in a 31-mile race... Fortunately, that dissipated quickly and I managed to get to my targeted pace, which meant that I was now settling in 3rd, right behind Karl (and very far behind Chikara who was already out of sight after just 2 miles of running!).

Actually, Karl's pace was rather 6:26 according to my GPS, even flirting with 6:25, so I decided to take some distance on the asphalt section. But, by the end of the first loop, I had caught up with him again in the trail section and we were right on 6:26. I was concerned that 4 seconds per mile could make a big difference at the end, but, as usual, it felt good that early in the race. At least, I was pleased that I was able to back off every time I was seeing Karl getting to 6:25, glad that last week's failure gave me some pacing wisdom at least.

The second loop was pretty much the same, keeping this very stable pace, and running smoothly and easy. And exactly the same in loop 3, getting us know to 17 miles. I picked my second bottle of GU2O and one pouch of Vespa and here we were again together on loop 4, still on what now felt like an optimal pace, 6:26. We kept passing other runners, from the 50-mile, 50K or now the 30K race as well, and I was giving encouragements especially to those runners wearing Brooks shoes (sorry, can't help myself... ;-). That made me relax and not think about some fatigue as we were not approaching the 20-mile wall. In the short uphills, I could feel that Karl was struggling, but he was then accelerating in the downhills and still running very strong on the flat sections. While we started the 4th lap side by side, he was still slightly ahead for most of this loop, still flirting with the 6:25 pace which I didn't want to get into.

He must have made a quick stop at the aid station at the end of the 4th lap, so I kept going, not accelerating but forming a small gap. In these last 3 laps we were successively crossing Greg Soderlund and Gary Towle, walking the course in the opposite direction. It was great to see Greg again. Greg has been the Race Director of Western States 100 for the past 2 decades and had to step down to fight kidney cancer. Without any kidney, he was still able to run a half-marathon last year and, being cancer-free for 2 years, he should receive a new kidney soon, what a combat and victory! Gary has been on the Western States Board too, for 35 years and serve as their Treasurer. Anyway, as I was half way in this 5th lap, Gary says that Chikara was just around the corner which I couldn't believe. For one thing, I wasn't getting faster, still right on that 6:26 pace. As I completed the lap, Rich Hanna was on the mic and told me that I was catching up indeed. That surely gave me a boost and, that time, I decided that I could take the risk to run slightly faster. I got the pace down to 6:25 min/mile in the next 2 miles but, at the turn around, with 2.5 miles to go, I started feeling some cramps and, not seeing Karl behind, I had to pull off the gas pedal. As I was going over the last bridge, with half a mile to go, I saw Karl closing on me so I pushed hard again.

I did cross the finish line just under 3:22, 2 minutes behind Chikara, and 30 seconds before Karl, close call! Excelsior took 1st, 3rd and 4th, easily winning the Men team competition again today. And they even formed a Women team, so they certainly have bigger ambitions in the Grand Prix than our Quicksilver Club has (or has not, with many members racing outside of the Grand Prix now). I got my 3rd Jed Smith beannie for winning my age group, as well as a nice and funny certificate for winning the Masters division:

In case you can't read form the picture, here is the inscription:
Let all who read this know: you've still got it!
While most of your peers have begun to grieve for their misspent youth, you are still reaching for the stars! Despite the iffy February weather, obnoxious cyclists, nausea, dehydration, nervous wildlife, failing eyesight, chronic training injuries, and the nagging effect of all those years of running, you ran as far as anyone, and faster than everyone over 40 on this day.
A good reminder that we do that for fun, thank you John...! ;-)

What I was the most pleased with today wasn't to be so close to the American Record (well, 2 minutes are still a big deal), but to have had the wisdom to get on such an even pace. Here were my splits on my Garmin:

  1. Out-and-back: 1.66 miles 10:41
  2. Lap 1: 4.94 miles 31:55
  3. Lap 2: 4.94 miles 31:47
  4. Lap 3: 4.94 miles 31:48
  5. Lap 4: 4.94 miles 31:38
  6. Lap 5: 4.94 miles 31:52
  7. Lap 6: 4.94 miles 32:16

Strava is also stating that I ran 30K just under 2 hours (1:59:42) and a marathon in 2:48:29, great day!
By the way, that was my 49th 50K race, maybe I'm getting it finally! Oh no, I know, every ultra race is different...

And it was my 7th consecutive Jed Smith (2009-2015), the second fastest (3:19:09 in 2012) and slightly faster than last year (3:25:19).

I didn't stop to any aid station but thank anyway to the volunteers who had accepted to potentially spend the day out there in the rain. It drizzled for 10-15 minutes, we were exceptionally lucky. I even teased Race Directors, John Blue and Dennis Scott, as well as volunteer and eminent ultra runner, Mark Lantz, asking them how much it did cost to their Club, the Buffalo Chips, to pay for such a perfect weather. A big thank to them for setting up such a professional event to kick off our Grand Prix season, year after year.

All the results are already posted as of this Saturday evening on the CCRM website.

I ran the whole race on 2 GUs, 2 20-oz bottles of GU2O and 3 Vespa pouches, that's it! Although it worked out very well form a nutrition and hydration standpoint, I must admit that I was starving when we finally stopped by In-and-Out Burger at Vacaville on the way back, around 3 pm. In the meantime, Jeremy had 2 beers to recover, and we had great time socializing with the Excelsior and Quicksilver teams, while encouraging the other runners on the course.
On our team, small contingent today: Marc finished 3rd, then Stephen Strauss and Keith Lubliner. No women team, not even a mixed, that's a slow start for us, especially given the overwhelming representation of the Pamakids Club of San Francisco, Excelsior and the local Buffalo Chips. 16 events to go in 2015...

Respectively, Jeremy, Marc, Stephen and Keith:

That was a great redemption run indeed, erasing the disappointment of last week's counter-performance. And, after these back to back races, 3 weeks until the 50K Road Nationals at Caumsett Park on Long Island, NY. With more training in perspective in the meantime...

Keep running happy and strong, all!

A few additional pictures...

Karl assisting his Team Captain, Nakia on the 50-miler:
 Michael Fink's finish (Michael used to beat me at this race):
 Julie Fingar's finish for the Women win in the 50K:
 Our bike leads (Co-Race Director Dennis Scott in blue):