Sunday, April 24, 2016

Ruth Anderson Memorial Endurance Run - Heat in SF?

I'd heard of the Ruth Anderson Memorial Endurance Run, but all I knew for sure was that it was flat and paved. And loopy - you had to run multiple times around a lake.

It turns out, I really didn't know that much about the race. It's not flat, although the hills are very mild (my 50K ended up with just under 900 feet of climbing). If you like pavement, you could be on it for about 99% of the course. If you don't like pavement, you can be on dirt for about 95% of the course. If you don't like loops, well, that could be an issue, although since each loop is somewhere around 4.5 miles, and each loop has a wide variety of scenery and normal(ish) people sharing the trail, it really doesn't feel as loopy as you might think it would.

After my experience at the Riverbank One Day, running loops around a high school track for six hours, I figured this would be a good next step in testing my recovery. So I signed up.

An interesting thing about this race is that, although it has three distances (50K, 50M, and 100K), you just sign up for the race - you don't specify a distance. You get to pick your distance live, as you are running the race. When you get to the 50K finish, you get to decide whether you are done or want to go on for the 50M distance. When you get to the 50M finish, you get to decide whether to go on to the 100K. The trick is that, if you decide to go for a longer distance, you better make it, or you get credit for a DNF. (Another peculiar thing that can happen is if you lose track of how many laps you've done and overshoot your goal distance - you are now going for the longer distance.)

In any case, I knew that a 50K was all I had in me, and that was being a bit optimistic. I'm pretty well trained for a 10K, and could survive a Half Marathon pretty well, but a 50K? I haven't gone an ultra distance since the Brazen Dirty Dozen last July. Even so, I went into this race hoping for a 50K PR. Granted, that's not saying much since my PR was 8:24 at Way Too Cool a couple of years ago. But I figured if I had a good day, a 7:30 time at Ruth Anderson was possible. (Spoiler alert: Ha ha ha.)

The course. Note the positions of the race headquarters, the race start, and the 50K finish. There will be a test.
The distances at this race are all certified, which leads to some complications. Such as a start that's a half mile from the main race area (making the first loop a bit shorter than the others). And for the 50K, you go through the main race area and hit the actual finish line a quarter of a mile into the next loop.

The loop is pretty much flat, but as the day wore on, the hills grew.

The race started at 6:30 AM, but because we had to hike out a half mile to the start, we had to get there pretty early to get our bibs and set up our stuff. Fortunately, I was smart enough to bring a headlamp for the pre-race porta-pottie visit.

Hiking out to the start area. Some were wondering if we were doing a pre-race warm up lap, NASCAR style.
It was starting to get light out as we wandered to the start. It was nice and cool, but there were no clouds in the sky, so there was a promise of a LOT of sun later on.

There were many view-infested stretches along the course.

This was the unmanned mid-loop aid station. I figured I'd never really use this, but I figured wrong. That porta-pottie was very handy on the second loop, and the water became useful on the later laps. Some runners would leave bottles here so they wouldn't have to carry them for a whole lap. It was awesome that nobody seemed to mess with the stuff here - we were in a very urban area with a lot of people wandering around that were not part of the race. That the toilet paper survived the whole day was very cool!

Note how calm it is. Fortunately, that would change later on with a nice breeze helping us to stay cool.

The TPC Harding Park Golf Course clubhouse was inside the loop. While we never had to cross any roads, we did have to cross their driveway, and it was often pretty busy. But the golfers were very accommodating and almost never tried to run us over. Even more amazing, they somehow managed not to laugh out loud as they saw me "running" by.

One interesting thing about loop races is that, eventually, the faster runners will pass you. I had hopes of getting at least two laps in before getting passed. HA! Chikara blew past me shortly after I headed out on my second lap - he was on his third, and was running about twice as fast as I was.

There was one short stretch of single-track. It's a little hard to tell, but it was also slightly downhill.

Getting passed again.
The course was in a very urban area of San Francisco - there was almost always a road just off to our left, and the trails we were on were very popular for the normal people that live around there. But crowding was never an issue. The dirt path along right side of the trail was a blessing. There were a few places where the shrubbery had overgrown the dirt trail, and even a few places where that shrubbery included poison oak, but mostly it was like this and very runnable.

My goal was to bring enough pre-made bottles of Tailwind that I could just swap out my bottle at the end of each lap, and that worked out pretty well. As it got warmer, I did end up supplementing the Tailwind with water at the mid-loop aid station, but the Tailwind worked well and kept me going with no stomach issues.

Later in the day, crewing teams showed up on the lake, and it was fun listening to them yell out the strokes.

Yes, that's poison oak! 
William taking a short walk break with me up one of the "hills."
An example of a not so scenic bit of the course where the dirt trail ends for a short stretch.

There are several fun things about the above picture. First, this is my last lap, and there is only about two more miles to go for me. Second, that's Kelly blowing past me on her way to winning the 50M. She was very steady and determined - so impressive! Third, see that guy in the teal shirt just ahead of her? He turned out to be in the 50K race as well. I ended up passing him and beating him by a bit over two minutes. But he ended up getting second in his age group (20-29), and a nice plaque. But I took solace knowing that I beat a guy 30 years younger than me! (And I was solidly beaten by a guy 23 years older than me - 81-year-old Bill was amazing out there! I love how he makes the 69-year-old Jim and 64-year-old Eric look like kids!)

I really felt bad making this poor guy have to sit out here for so long, but found out later there were two others slower than me, which made me feel a bit better.
And this is it - my finish line, a quarter mile into the eighth lap. The Race Official didn't even have to ask whether I intended to go on to the 50M race since I was obviously totally wiped out. But now I had a quarter mile hike back to the race headquarters area.

My impromptu cheering crew!
My sixth lap was by far my hardest and least fun. I really struggled, and as I came in to the race area at the end of the lap, my intention was to stop and rest for a few minutes. Maybe a lot of few minutes. But as I went past these guys, who had all already finished their 50Ks, they started yelling encouragement at me, and it really pumped me up! I ended up doing a quick bottle exchange and headed back out immediately. My seventh lap turned out to be pretty good and significantly faster than the sixth. (And I feel confident that, if I had paused, a DNF would have been in my future.)

The timing and brain trust of the race.

Lap Details

As I mentioned earlier, each lap was about 4.5 miles.

  • Lap One (which was about 4 miles since we started out a bit): 49:50.
  • Lap Two: 54:10. I ended up completely running my first two laps. I was on top of the world!
  • Lap Three: 1:01:00. I wanted to run this whole lap, but ended up walking a few of the "uphills."
  • Lap Four: 1:10:00. By now I knew that there was lots of walking in my future. It was warming up. Also, by this time the charm of the course was getting a bit old since I'd seen it so much. An interesting thing (to me) was that, for a looping race, I was spending a LOT of time on my own. Normally at this kind of race, you see the other runners as they pass you (or you pass them, which wasn't something I was doing much of), but that wasn't happening that much here. One reason for that was that the loop was longer than the other races like this that I've done, which meant we were really much more spread out. In any case, I did something I rarely do; I broke out the iPod and started listening to music. That really helped on this fourth lap.
  • Lap Five: 1:11:00. About halfway through this lap the music got old, so I switched to listening to podcasts. Laps four and five were nearly identical times, and I felt confident I could keep up that pace.
  • Lap Six: 1:23:00. Yikes. I was wrong and I really started dragging. This lap was no fun. The sun was getting to me (although it was only about 71 degrees out), and my mental game was toast. During this lap I decided to take some serious rest at the race festival area, and decided that I was nuts to think I should be running the Western Pacific Marathon in two weeks. I was so done.
  • Lap Seven: 1:17:00. The impromptu cheering crew rescued me and I ended up with a pretty good lap. I put away the headphones and got back into enjoying the course. My legs were pretty shot, but I was still able to jog on the downhills.
  • That Last Quarter Mile: 4:07. I thought I had flown for that last quarter mile, but four minutes is not flying. Nonetheless, I got it done.
My official finishing time was 7:50:07. A pretty big PR, but not as good as I had hoped for. Based on how close I had come to all but giving up in this race, however, I was thrilled with the time.

The mug and coaster. The shirt is just to show the salt stains. The ribbon on the bib was in honor of the race's namesake, Ruth Anderson, who had died earlier this year.
A question you should be wondering about is who is Ruth Anderson and why is this race named after her. I know I was. If you do an internet search on "Ruth Anderson runner" you get a lot of hits. She was an amazing local runner that started running relatively late, and dominated ultra races while in her 40s and 50s. I'm sad I never met her, but thrilled that I got to run in the 30th edition of the race that carries her name.

A huge thanks to everyone involved in putting on this race - it was a lot of fun and a running memory that won't soon be forgotten.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see most of my pictures here.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

If you think running for 6/12/24 hours around a track is hard…

… you are right. But that's only because running for 6/12/24 hours is hard, no matter where it is. Going in loops around a track is just a different experience - one that just might surprise you.

Running the 6 hour version of the Riverbank One Day was not on my radar at all.

Then Lynnard, at the wildly muddy Brazen Badger Cove (my pictures here) put a bug in my ear while watching me slog along: "There's nobody signed up for the 6 hour; you will win it!"

After I made it home and cleaned most of the mud out of my body, I started looking into the race. This was the first year of the race on a brand new high school track in Riverbank CA, which is just outside of Modesto. With the 6 hour starting at 8AM, that meant I wouldn't have to get up horrifically early to drive over. Also, the forecast looked very promising for no rain.

And Lynnard was right - there was nobody singed up for the 6 hour. And there were some friends signed up for the longer times, plus a few very notable elites that would be gunning for records.

So I did it - I signed up (the $50 race fee was very reasonable for all you got) and then started to get others to sign up.

Mrs Notthat just laughed - there was no chance of getting her to do this. Others responding to my Facebook post also laughed; I mostly hang out with trail runners, and the only thing to most of them that would be worse than a road race would be wandering around a track for 6 hours.

But then one person jumped in. And another. In the end, there were 6 of us in the 6 hour. My win was no longer guaranteed (or even possible, given who some of those people were), but the event entertainment level had risen dramatically.

Simplified course map. Double-click to see the detail.
While no course map was provided, it turned out to be well marked and not very confusing. (I was actually planning to make a joke about the course not being well marked, but it turned out to be extremely well marked, as you will see later.) The direction switched every 6 hours - at the time I started, we were going counter-clockwise, with a switch at my 4 hour point.

A slightly distorted panoramic view of the course at sunrise.
I arrived just as the sun was coming up. At that point, the 24 hour runners had been going for about 13 hours. Many of the 12 hour runners had finished and headed home already, with a second shift of 12 hour runners just getting started. (There ended up being 31 runners total in the event.)

The 6 hour is a sprint compared to the other races. (It's entirely possible I will never be invited back.)
Our start was fairly uneventful. I tried really hard not to go out too fast (in spite of that picture), and did OK with that.

Peter, the eventual 6 hour winner, had started at 6AM and, even with more time on his legs, consistently passed me like I was a turtle. Note the cones - no chance of getting lost. At all.
Having never done this sort of event before, there were some etiquette issues I needed to get comfortable with. Those mostly involved when to cede the first lane to a faster runner.

Our official distance was going to be based on the assumption that we stayed in the inner lane. If you stayed in the second lane, you would add about 7.7 meters distance each lap. That's not a lot, but over 100 laps, that's 770 meters of bonus distance that you are not getting credit for.

Early on, Jesse E. (who ended up with a bit over 50 miles and second overall in the 12 hour) and I finishing a lap. Picture by a "done" Jesse J. who, it turned out, has a very inaccurate idea of what "done" means.
Officially, as long as you were moving forward, even if you were walking, you were entitled to the first lane. Unofficially, if a runner was coming up behind you, you really should move a bit over towards the second lane and let them pass you on the inside. This was my intent, and it worked out that way, with very few times that a runner had to pass me on the outside. And this turned out to be much easier than expected, mostly due to the fact that, even on a track, the runners spread out quite a bit.

(There were some walkers that clung to that inner lane no matter what, and I was fine with that too - it really was no big deal to move out a bit to pass them, although my Garmin showed that this did add a bit of unofficial distance.)

Finishing a lap. I loved that wooden scoreboard on the right. The aid station was just beyond it, with the runner area for tents and drop bags and such on the left.
How cool is that! Bacon!
There were a lot of amazing volunteers catering to our every need. The smell of bacon cooking in the morning and pizza showing up later in the day was pretty amazing motivation.

Note that the volunteers are lined up along the inside lane - anything to make a lap go faster! If you asked for something, they would have it for you on the next lap. Except my horse. They never got me my horse.
ACK!!! Sweepers! Timed races aren't supposed to have sweepers!
Coming into this race, I had done very little actual running. I had finished the Badger Cove 10K the previous weekend, but I had done a lot of walking on the hills and the sloppier sections. I really had no idea how much running I would be able to do at this event, but hoped to at least run a 10K without taking a walk break. Anything after that would be gravy.

As it turned out, I really like gravy, and I ended up doing something I'd never done before - I ran for a whole Half Marathon without a walk break. My achilles gave me no trouble at all, which was a huge relief. The leg muscles, however, were openly rebelling against this sudden onslaught of activity. So after the Half distance was covered, I switched to a run/walk strategy which quickly devolved into a walk/walk strategy. I was still moving well though, and was passing others consistently (and getting passed consistently), so I just kept on going.

The Jester, on his way to winning the 24 hour event. That guy was ridiculously consistent.
Another interesting bit - I had assumed that I would get really bored running/walking in circles and would need a distraction. I rarely run races with music, but had brought a bunch of podcasts and music to help me get through this. And I never once thought of breaking any of it out.

Peter posing by the scoreboard when he was done. He ended up winning the 6 hour with 34 miles!
There was one person that gave me the most grief about running circles around a track. Then she signed up. (Seriously, trail runners are complicated. Or at least a bit odd.)

Diane got her four hours in and was happy with the result, going much further and running a lot more than expected.
Jose with Natalie. Jose ended up starting late, but still managed 75.8 miles in the 24 hour. Natalie won the 24 hour with an astonishing 92.9 miles!  
Ageless Bill setting one of the 3 or 4 records he managed that day.
I spent very little time actually staying with anyone - maybe a quarter of a lap here or there, but constantly seeing people worked just fine at keeping my mind occupied. (That and trying to do math along the lines of "how many laps do I need to break 100" or "how many to get to a 50K" and such. To be clear, this math often turned out to be significantly flawed.)

Also, I really didn't want to stop for anything. I brought four bottles of Tailwind, and so had four very quick stops to change out my bottles. I would leave the bottle at the aid station and grab it every 6-8 laps, carry it for a lap, then drop it back off. This worked very well until my Tailwind ran out. I had more, and intended to just mix up more, but when it came down to it, I wasn't willing to spend the time to do that, so I switched over to drinking the race-supplied electrolytes (which ended up not working out as well, but good enough to get me to the finish).

That's Jon Olsen with a handful of "pacers" - a group of boys that were just out enjoying the afternoon and joined in for a lap. I believe Jon was the first American to run 100 miles in less than 12 hours a few years ago. He was also the brains behind this race.
At the end of each lap, we got to see how long that lap took, how many laps you had run, and the total distance (in KM). I was thrilled to have gotten to 100 laps!
That guy's done!
My goal coming into this was at least 20 miles, and if all went well, 25 miles. I hadn't realized that 25 miles equalled a triple-digit number of laps, so that became my real goal - 100 laps. I ended up with 101 laps, which officially worked out to 25.1 miles.

Yeah, I was tired. This bit of grass in the shade was amazingly comfortable.
I got up off the grass long enough to pose with Carly, who beat me by a couple of laps (and was first woman!), and John who ended up a close second to Peter.
According to my GPS, I nailed an ultra! (By 0.01 miles.)
This was really funny - somehow my GPS was convinced I had climbed nearly 1000 feet while circling that track. There was a small bump at the timing mat, but, wow! (When I uploaded this, the ascent was corrected to 25 ft, which is still high, but possible. I guess.)
An example of why GPS isn't always trustworthy. I promise I did not cut the course like this shows!
My splits. No real surprise, although you can really see where I swapped my bottles and that my lap 101 was definitely a "victory" lap. You should be able to click this and see a larger version, if you are curious.
Once I was done, the race wasn't over. There was still 4 hours to go for the 12/24 hour runners. And pizza to be eaten (by me).

The amazing Bill setting yet another record.
Lynnard, who gets the blame for me being here, near the end of his race. He ended up with 84.5 miles!
Ha ha ha - I love the "STOP" sign in the background!
With just a couple of minutes left in the race, these two decided to try to get one more lap in. This is a bit risky because you have to cross the mat before 6PM or else that last lap doesn't count. I suspect this was one of the faster laps either of these 24 hour runners did the whole race.

Ed finishing his last lap with about 5 seconds to spare. No worries. He ended up with a bit over 500 laps and 124.5 miles!

One of the reasons I wanted to run this was the chance to see Jenni and Jesse. They both ran the 24 hour. When I showed up at a bit after 7AM, Jesse was in jeans and had called it a race due to injury issues. Jenni had just gotten up from a nap and decided she would push to get to 100K and be happy with that.


It wasn't long before Jesse had changed out of his jeans and was with Jenni, putting in lap after lap.

This was near the end. I was starting to worry that we were going to have to tackle them to get them to stop.
Jenni ended up being second in the 24 hour with 76.5 miles (WAY over a 100K).

The haul. There is a coaster still to come - it will be engraved with our name and distance! And Ed the Jester gave me an updated wrist band!
This event was a blast - I'm so glad I did it and am already planning to be a 24 hour runner next year (100K or bust!).

I was totally amazed at how fast each lap went by. I was actually a bit sad when we reached the 3 hour mark since it meant we were already half done. (I will say though, by the 5 hour mark, I was very ready to be done - that last hour was tough!) I was also surprised at how reluctant I was to stop at the aid station - I just really wanted to keep going. No toilet breaks, no sitting breaks - just go!

Also, I was concerned about the constant left turns. Looping races with sharp turns are notorious for causing odd pains since you are very repetitively putting strains on the same parts of your body. But it turns out that, on a track, the turns are so gentle that you really have very little to do to make them. We switched directions in an effort to reduce any issues the turns caused, but all this really did was make the course look entirely different (for a few laps, in any case).

Things I would do different next time:

  • I would either have more bottles already made up or would have taken a few minutes and got more Tailwind ready to go. I really think that would have helped me in that last hour.
  • Leaving the bottle at the aid station worked out well, but next time I'll come up with a way to make it easier to grab and drop off - after a bit it was challenging to bend over and grab it.
  • I should have put on sunscreen. It got pretty warm and the sun really beat on you. I figured since we were not spending much time going in any one direction, we would not really get much of a sunburn, but that was wrong thinking - it was a very even sunburn though.

For a first time race, this went exceptionally smooth. If I could suggest anything, it would be to have some way to more easily work out which runners were running which race. Maybe bib numbers, or colored dots on the bibs, or something on the scoreboard would have worked nicely. The food and volunteer support was amazing! A HUGE thanks to Jon and John from PCTR for all you and your people did to make this so much fun!

And I can now find the city of Riverbank on a map!

That's it - move along…

PS: Here is a link to more of my pictures.

PPS: Here is a link to all of my pictures, in an easy to download format.

PPPS: Here is a link to a movie I put together that shows me running an early lap, for those of you that might want to get a feel for what it was really like. It also includes a fun bit at the end showing the awesome volunteers giving Jenni her cheer overtime she went by (and Jenni giving a jump each time).