Sunday, April 20, 2014

Ruth Anderson 50 Mile Race Report

Ruth Anderson seems to get a bad rap.  I get the vibe that flat is out.  It seems like ultra-runners are increasingly seeking out the rugged and remote with plenty of elevation change.  Oh, and loops are bad.  I have been guilty of the same preferences, but upon further reflection I find this trend troubling.  The challenge of ultra-running is of one against oneself.  It is very rarely dependent on the specific requirements of the ultra course selected.  Of course one's preparation for each individual challenge will be specific to those unique challenges, but in the end it is about how you tackle the challenge.  How much energy you put into the preperation and how committed you are to see it through.  In that vain I believe there is little difference between the Ruth Anderson 100 km run and the Western States 100 mile run.

Ruth Anderson consists of three races: 50k, 50 mile, or 100k.  The racer pays a flat entry fee and then can make the decision during the race (or before) of what distance they want to compete in.  Once you select the distance, the racer must stop at the finish for that particular distance.  If they choose to continue they are automatically competing for the next finish line and if they choose to quit at any point before they reach that next finish line they are counted as a "DNF" (did not finish - something every ultra-runner tries to avoid).  The race consists of 4.5 mile loops on a bike-path around Lake Merced in San Francisco.  It is a flat ultra and therefore a fast ultra.  If an ultra runner is seeking a distance PR they go for these kind of flat and fast courses.

Nice Views.

The loop.
My race went ok with respect to the goals that I set for myself:

1) Don't destroy myself two weeks before Miwok.

2) Help out Quicksilver for PAUSATF MUT points.

3) Have a fun time competing with and partying with fellow ultra-runners.

I started out with what I considered was a pretty relaxed pace.  Thanks to my newly acquired GPS watch and Strava, I actually know what that means, not that it necessarily changes anything for me, but it is fun to review the information.  Turns out what I considered relaxed, easy, flat pace is about 8 to 8:30 miles or so.  I maintained this for about 35 miles and then the pace started creeping up as the fatigue set in.  This is a very social race because you can usually find someone to chat with that is running a pace that you can settle in with.  I was running and catching up with various Quicksilver teammates including Pierre and John Brooks in the early miles, but spent most of my time getting to know a guy named George and then later spent a good chunk of miles with Scott.  Scott stood out to me because he has had an eventful early Ultra-career, including competing/completing the Wasatch 100 six times.  And he is a God fearing man with a young family, attempting to juggle his professional and family responsibilities with his demanding hobby.  We had lots to talk about.

I think it was lap six or seven when Jean came up to lap me.  He was going after the 50 year + 100 k record, but this wasn't his day, so he lamented to me that he was dropping to the 50 mile distance and bagging the record attempt.  I know this was tough for him and I tried to chat/cheer him up, but things weren't going good for him and I could tell he was just in "get it done" mode, so I decided to pace with him for the next lap and it was actually a relaxing, focused effort where the social was shut down, it was all about running.  And that was nice.

It was around this time that I was informed about the carnage up front on the 100k runners by Quicksilver Racing Team captain Loren, and president Greg who were managing the various runners and trying to set us up for maximum team scoring.  They felt confident that I was on pace to win the race at this point.  I was very surprised because the winning time in the 100k is usually in the 7 to 8 hour range, and I was pacing for maybe a 9 hour finish.  During the next lap I got excited about the prospect of actually winning the race even though it might be the slowest 100 k win in Ruth Anderson's history, but nonetheless it put some pep in my step.  I turned in a strong lap but then the next lap I could tell the fatigue was starting to get me.  I could feel the tightening in my legs, the strain and pain in my calves, and the extra pain of effort required to maintain a good pace.  I started to remember my goals for this race and it worked out to give me a get out of jail free card and a reason to slow down.  I believe I could have kept the pace and pushed through the pain, but I was not committed and that made all the difference in the world.  Once I made the decision, that was that, the eye of the tiger was gone at that point.  But I still had to cover the distance, which was not going to be a small feat in itself!

Once again opportunity presented itself when I was at the main aid station preparing for the next lap when Mark Klemencic caught up to me and was verifying that indeed he should drop to the 50 mile so that we could score men's team points in both the 50 mile distance and 100 k distance.  (you need three people to finish in a race distance to be considered for team points).  I inferred that his plan A was to complete the 100 k distance and he was asked to drop to the 50.  At this point I saw the writing on the wall and realized that Mark (and basically everyone else) was moving better than me and asked if he wanted to get the 100 k finish and I would drop to the 50.  I can imagine this would be a tough decision for him because at this point in the race everyone is very compelled to be done with it and he was expecting to be done within the next lap or so, so to think about going another four laps was tough, but he had originally set out for the 100 k and he set his sights on an age division win for himself, so he accepted my trade.  It turned out very good for Mark who put in some very consistent running and eventually getting second overall in the 100k and securing his age-group victory!

I gutted out the next lap and was very happy to be finished.  I didn't wreck myself, so I met goal number one.  In hindsight I am quite sure that I was not prepared for this race, but I sort of knew that going in.  I had been doing basically all of my running on trails, accumulating good vert.  Since I have Strava I can even quote some numbers:  my first week on Strava I ran 61.7 miles with 14835 feet of climbing, all on trails.  Running up and down hills prepares you for running up and down hills.  Maintaining the same stride, cadence, and even effort for an extended period of time requires very different kind of preparation.  But that was a catalyst for the goals that I already set out for this race, I knew I just wanted to be able to give Miwok my best shot.  (Miwok is a 100k race in the Headlands on the north side of the golden gate bridge.  It is very hilly, maybe 12000 ft of climbing).

Finally I want to give a shout out to the Fam who showed up to Lake Merced and cheered me on.  Joanne showed up with the kids, got the boys loaded up in the double-jogger and the girls set up on scooters and did a couple of loops around the lake counter-clockwise, in the opposite direction of the runners.  They passed me some coconut water (I love that stuff for running)  and gave me encouragement.  It is great when the family can share in on the fun.