Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Fastest Ultra in the West

SLUT runners were out in full-force; apparently I didn't get the uniform memo, though.

That's the tag line for the Jed Smith Ultra Classic, held in Gibson Ranch Park just outside of Sacramento. It definitely is fast, and with only 480' of vertical in the 50 miler, it is also flat. The course consists of a 3.31 mile loop that we 50 milers ran a little over 15 times. It's about 1/2 paved and 1/2 trail. I used to be of the opinion that these loop courses are obsurdly boring and that I would never run one. Well, I had my sights set on meeting the qualifying standard to be considered for the US 100km World Cup Team. To do that, I needed to run a sub-5:40 (that's 6:48 pace). To do that, I needed a flat and fast course. Jed met my criteria and happened to be the only localish race this Winter/Spring that fit in with my schedule. So I decided to make the 8-hour trek south with Fatboy, returning to run his second Jed (he won his other time there), and Chris was nice enough to join the fun to be crew-boy.

Fatboy tried to not get eaten by the uber-aggressive pre-race geese.

After my recent results at shorter races (marathon and less), I knew I had the leg speed. It's kinda crazy, but a 6:48 pace just didn't intimidate me. However, I hadn't run any really long runs (40+ milers) since July, so I knew going in that my limiting factor was possibly going to be my endurance. I just tried to tell myself that I definitely wasn't overtrained, so maybe the shorter, faster stuff I had been doing would get me to the start feeling rested and hold me over for 50 miles.
The long, gradual, paved hill...as opposed to the short, steep, dirt hill.

Todd Braje was there and he also had plans of qualifying for the team. I was hoping we would be able to run together for at least a couple of laps, but it wasn't to be. I tend to be a fairly conservative starter, while Todd went for it from the gun. After 5:30:50, Todd crossed the finish line completely worked. I wish I could have seen it. Congratulations, Todd - incredible performance. Enjoy Belgium.

As for my race, I eased into it, covering the first lap in a relaxed 22:40ish (I needed to average between 22:00 and 23:00 per lap), then slowly speeding up to low-22s for lap 2, and 21:50s for laps 3-6. I reached 20.5 miles in 2:15, very comfortable and very much in control. I reached half way in 2:46 and the marathon in 2:53. Cruising right on pace. Although I slowed a bit the next few miles, I took a gel (mainly fueling with Carbo Pro drink for calories), started feeling better, and even p.r.ed my 50k split in 3:32.

The uber-technical trail section; hey the arrow's pointing the wrong way.

At the beginning of lap 10, Chris told me I was doing awesome and he was getting reports from over the course that I looked great all around. Hm, perhaps the kiss of death? Somewhere in my 10th lap, things went bad. My lack of long runs was definitely catching up to me. I slowed waaaaaay down to 28:58. Lap 11, 28:59. Ouch. Lap 12 was when I hit the bottom. I was running a bit with Fatboy when I suddenly felt violently ill. Knowing I was about to puke, I decided to walk for a bit so my stomach could settle down. I actually really wanted to just sit down at an aid station and quit. It would have been so much easier. However, I knew I needed to get through the crappy parts because they're going to be even crappier at Western States and I was hoping that this would somehow make me a tiny bit more mentally strong. I was able to put down a gel and after a few minutes of walking, I started slowly jogging again. I finished that lap in a dismal 30:20.

Not necessarily feeling better, but just not about to puke, I was able to jog lap 13 in 29:00, putting me at 5:26 with 6.6 miles to go (if Todd had only run 4 minutes faster, I could have seen him finish). Obviously I had been far from my sub-5:40 goal for some time now. However, there were a couple other times I could still go after. #1, sub-6:34, my 50 mile p.r. from JFK in 2007; #2, sub-6:30, because, well, it's just one of those round numbers you want to beat; #3, sub-6:22, Fatboy's 50 mile p.r. (which would be sweet to do with Fatboy there running the race); #4, sub-Kanning (17-year old stud Michael had begun reeling me in the last few laps in his attempt at the under-18 national 50 mile record).

I was a little tired when finished, but man I look cool with my
Rudy Racing Red lenses and bright green Fleet Feet hat.

So with a few goals still to shoot for, I switched to my customary 2/3 Coke / 1/3 water for the last hour of the race. I seriously felt faster, but still only managed a 27 minute lap 14. That put me at 5:53. I grabbed my last bottle from Chris and went for it. 3.31 miles to go. Passing by the remote aid station, I took my only aid station water all day - mainly to say thanks to the volunteers. And I finally passed the awesome cheerleader guy on the trail for the 30th, and last, time. I gave him a high-5 and big thank you as I ran past. As I hit the pavement for the final mile, I knew I was going to p.r., go sub-6:30, and go sub-Kanning. However, I was still unsure about getting Fatboy's 6:22 p.r. I saw Fatboy right around that time (he was going the other way) and he shouted to me that I should just walk it in. I knew then that I had his p.r., too.

I was happy to finally reach the finish after 6 hours, 19 minutes, and 45 seconds. 7:36/mi. for 50 miles (although I doubt I ever actually ran any mile in 7:36...averages are weird like that). Four minutes later, Michael came thundering across the finish in an incredible 6:23:55. He's 17 years old...can you believe that!?!? Although he was 7 minutes off the national record, he was stoked to have p.r.ed by 26 minutes. Did I mention his age?? 17!! He told me he doesn't turn 18 until November, so he has lots of time to still get that record.

So I finished in an inconspicuous second place...somewhere between the fastest 50 mile time in the US in at least a few years, and the uber-17 year old. I was happy with that. It was cool to race against the current 50-mile stud and one of the future stars of this crazy little sport of ours. And obviously I found out that I can't fake a fast 50 miler off of marathon and 50k training.

Crewboy Chris and Fatboy headed out for the bell lap.

Not to be left out, Fatboy regrouped a bit, talked Chris into running the last 2 laps with him, and met his sub-8 hour goal with a mighty fine 7:56:45. If this race was using cross country scoring, with only the top 2 runners from each team counting, then SLUT (Sisters Little Ultra Team) easily won (don't you love the fictitious race-within-a-race that I make up?).

There was also a 50k going on at Jed that day and Chikara Omine blitzed the course in a super-fast 3:08. That's 6:04 pace, which is the pace I averaged at CIM. But he went 7.8 km farther. Yes folks, that's fast.

Complete results.

5 comments:

Michael Kanning said...

Nice work, Sean! I'm glad I was able to provide some motivation to keep fighting hard in the final laps ;) Congrats on the PR-I would say you're definitely capable of at least a sub-6:00 at this point and with some long runs you should have a great chance at making the 5:40 standard.

Perhaps we'll get a rematch next year! Best of luck in 2009!

-Michael

mtnrunR said...

way to run man. your day will come in june.
sj

mtnrunR said...

hey, i ment to say that fatboy ran super well also. that old man still has some speed in his legs. way to go eugene.

sj

ms sean, you better "bring it" this year at that little circle around the lake this year. that old skirt isn't going to cut it any more.

Darin Swanson said...

Good job of pulling out a PR on a day that did not go quite to plan.
See you at Hagg!

olga said...

Wow, what a great sandwich to be in! Congratulation on an awesome speed, Sean!