Sunday, April 20, 2008

Death From 3 Causes: Work, Bullets, & Wind (But I Still Managed to Come in 1st)

Butt of Chihping Fu, registering even later than I did, after everyone left for the start, more than a half mile away. Hey, we need to move our butts!

Saturday, April 19, 2008, 0630 PDT: Debut race director Rajeev Patel counts down from 3 and starts the 21st annual Ruth Anderson ultras. (For those unfamiliar with the format of this race, the first paragraph from (among several) Steve Ansell's blog race report provides a good summary.) I had arrived with just enough time to see a few familiar faces, almost shivering in the cold.

photo by Kevin Kanning

So as I welcome the chance to start running and warm up, I also feel the apprehension of starting a race with my body and mind anything but rested and prepared.

Often pre- and early race talk includes the ritual of self-lamenting excuses for a suboptimal race-- "I've been sick with bronchitis." "I barely slept 2 hours." "I haven't been training at all due to my ankle." I could do this, legitimately, but it seems too whiny and gratuitous, so I decide that I can always, uh, blog about it later.

Before we round the reach the first aid station, Jean Pommier zooms ahead, with Alan Geraldi close behind him. I have no intention of chasing them. If Jean runs well and can run 100km in 7:15 today, more power to him, and he'll deserve all 80 of his PAUSATF Grand Prix points and maybe a spot on the national team except that I think he's still a French national. I step in line with 16-year-old Michael Kanning and John Burton, last year's co-RD doing his first race since his new baby. So long he's raced that even up close I don't recognize him from the back, and he thinks I'm joking when I stupidly ask him his name a lap later.

Love Your Mother

First time at the half-way aid station of the 4.5 mile loop (a little under 14 times equals 100km), I feel guilty drinking from a styrofoam cup and then tossing it. The 2nd lap I give a volunteer some stickers with my name and ask her to use that for each time I come around, but at lap 3 she tells me it's too windy and so the cups blow away. So I grab one of the water bottles I left in a bag by the start/finish aid station and deliver it during lap 4. This works great, eventually it's filled when I arrive each lap, and assuaged is my guilt at adding to the floating Great Pacific Garbage Patch by more blown-away styrofoam cups. I set up another bottle system for the start/finish aid station also.

Enviro-guilt doesn't help in an already brutal multi-lapped 100k run, especially a few days before Earth Day. Love your mother--reduce, reusue, recycle (in that order). Answer #1 to the latest tag, tagged serially by Catherine, Scott and Jon. (Actually I have other answers, but for a later post.)

After 3 laps, John B. tells me he's going to drop back to do some 8-minute miles, but proceeds to stay ahead of me until I pass him maybe at the half-point aid station. Michael K. stays with me until he drops back during lap 4. I catch Alan G. half-way through lap 5, he tell me he's surprised it took this long for me to catch up. I finally dump my jacket at lap 5--the wind keeps things chilly.

photo by Kevin Kanning

What Alan and everyone does not know is how crappy I feel and why.

1. Death from work

After AR50 on the 5th, we went to a toddler birthday party, then I basically worked 10 straight days. Ten straight days of any job is hard, but 10 straight days as an ER doc is hard up the butt, with a long pointed object. (Maybe this is why I love ultrarunning. Compared to these hard stretches, running and even sometimes puking all day is EASY and FUN!) Thursday and Friday I was off, but due to various things such as my wife's nail appointment, observation and conference at my toddler's preschool, and social events with work friends, I had little opportunity to rest and recover.

2. Death from paintballs

Thursday morning (April 17), leaving the call room after 4 hours of sleep, I'm still wondering if I'm going to go for paintball. I had missed the first time a bunch of us from work went to vent out our frustrations and rage on each other. So I had thought I should go this time. However, I was a little apprehensive about the reports that the balls actually hurt and often caused bruising even through a few layers of clothes. Plus, it was scheduled for 7-9 at night. And now here I was exhausted and short of sleep and with a 100k to run the day after tomorrow.

So Jen, with whom I'd left a message to ask if she wanted to carpool, calls me back. In a classic instance of BAD RUNNING JUDGEMENT, I'm like, okay, sounds fun, I might as be social, I'm in, let's do it.

So, in a couple of hours, I'm sweating under borrowed sweatshirts with this scratched up goggle mask thing, toting this semiautomatic contraption.

Let me waste U! photo by Leif Canfield

It's a lot of sitting around waiting for everyone to arrive in rush hour traffic. We finally get out onto the court at 7:50, dividing into two teams. Initially I find the balls don't hurt that much. Only 40 minutes into it do I realize my gun isn't firing correctly, which is why I'm getting knocked off before everyone else. After they replace my firearm, I get more aggressive, sprinting between the bunkers and toward the other team. Once I do this badass headfirst dive over a horizontal barrier. All part of the planned taper for my race. At 9:45ish, we're all getting sore and exhausted, a few of us have to work at 6am, so they suggest we play with modified rules to get rid of our purchased paintballs since they close at 10. Instead of having to sit out of the round when shot, you have to turn and head back to the home base and then you can stay in the game until your balls run out. Thing is, even when you put your hands up and say "I'm shot" and turn around, it's so chaotic and everyone is so trigger happy that you get pegged with 6-8 more shots as you turn around and make your way back to the base. So we all end up getting pegged more times in the last 7-10 minutes than we did the rest of the 2 hours.

paint, not hair gel

As we leave, our driver suggests we go out to eat, but luckily another friend offers to give me a ride back. He's got these nasty looking bruised all over (maybe he has a mild platelet/clotting disorder, I'm thinking). My thighs have small bruises on them, but what is really hurting is my left shin, from a ball fired close range, which feels like I strained it bad. So bad that I defer going to bed (2 nights before a 6:30 race, it's usually prudent to go to bed early), and stay up past 11:45 massaging and icing it, worried that this would really start to hurt say 35 miles in the race starting in 31 hours.

3. Death from wind

So from the start I was sore, sleepy, and feeling sort of stupid. Paintball was fun, but was it fun enough to run the risk of a really painful, bad race?

After 5 laps, I notice that my Garmin is beeping multiple times at the start/finish aid station. Apparently I have it set so it automatically records a lap at any place I pressed the lap button. So now it is recording too many laps. I spend much of lap 6 clicking through the Garmin trying to fix this, until my shoulders start to hurt from the position and so I give up.

pressing my lap button earlier in the race, photo by Kevin Kanning

After I finish lap 7, I decide I need to know where I am. I ask how far ahead Pommier is, and am surprised to hear that he has decided to call it quits at 50k (but given the wind, a very fast 50k.) Congrats Jean! I am relieved that I definitely won't be chasing him during the 2nd half of the race. Nonetheless, I'm sore and tired, and wondering if my body is going to keep up. The wind is actually getting worse and at times whipping sand into our faces (at times I was trying to work sand out from between my teeth, as if were pieces of meat...) or gusting us to a standstill as we head west from the half-point aid station towards the ocean. The wind seems to be the reason the majority of the 100 kilometer and 50 mile starters end up dropping at 50k.

By the start/finish after the race-- I was useful only as an obstacle for this tarp that blew away.

During the 2nd half, gels keep falling out of my back pockets for me to find and retrieve the next time around. During lap 8, I avoid 2 bicyclists going the other way, side by side, and my right leg hits a metal barrier marking a detour from the sidewalk. I almost land on my face. Lap 10 a large Harley gang storms by over several minutes. Not only is the noise rattling, I start gagging from the smog. (I tell my wife about this later, who tells me that Harleys are no different from other motorcycles in the amount of smog they produce, which makes me suspect she is nostalgic about her ex-boyfriend, a Harley-riding, Lamberghini-esque sportscar-driving vegan boyfriend, even though she claims to have rarely rode on his Harley and hated his sports car).

I had planned on pulling out my iPod for the last 4-5 laps, but it's so windy that I'm thinking the wind will keep blowing the earpieces out and I won't be able to hear anything above the wind anyways. A few times Bob Seger's "Against the Wind" pops into my head, but luckily the wind is so noisy that it even drowns out songs that pop into my head.

Peter Lubbers and Hao Liu (neither of whom I recognize all bundled up) are timing 50k splits and finishers. They tell me I'm clocking steady laps. However, around lap 11, I majorly start to decelerate. Where lap 2 took me 33 minutes, and even lap 10 less than 40 minutes, lap 12 takes 43, lap 13 takes 45 and my last lap takes 48 minutes. Last year I slowed down at the end, but not nearly as much, and even picked it up the last lap, perhaps goaded by the prospect of finishing under 8 hours, which I made by 3 minutes.

Joe and I. Joe is on the left, and I am on the right. Just making sure you don't confuse us.

A clue that I was slowing way too much was that I was never able to lap Joe Swenson. Last year I was chagrined to mind myself lapping him twice. Since my wife was waiting for me to get home and expecting me by 4ish, I got antsy. So this year, I was relieved but a little freaked that I never caught up with him. As a matter of fact, he was gaining on me, cutting a 37 minute lead at lap 11 to about 22 minutes at the finish. Excellent performance by Joe (his age-graded performance, and as he always points out, his weight-graded performance, creams mine)!

Joe Swenson finishing before I could call my wife.

Which was great with me. Baldwyn Chieh, doing his first 50 mile run, finishes his race only 3 minutes later and then comes back to the start. (He debut-blogged a very funny race report, which also describes, among other things, our drive up.)

Baldwyn Chieh, after finishing his first 50-mile run, under tough conditions

Rajeev hands me my award plaque, with a running guy sticking out from it. 8:45:06 is slower even slower than my time 2 years ago by 2 minutes, and far from the 7:57 I ran last year. But I don't think I'm in much worse shape than last year, and couldn't have run too much faster. I figure 15-25 minutes from the lack of sleep, 15-20 from the wind, and 5-10 from the paintball. But as far as coming in 1st rather than 2nd again, I think it was just a function of who else wasn't running this year.

I call my wife, and she's headed toward the Hayward Regional Shoreline for a walk with the kids. So I ask Joe if he can get a ride back to my house with Baldwyn, whose wife drove up later with his daughter, and take off. (This was in fact the plan if I found I'd lapped Joe twice again this year, that way I wouldn't have to wait for him to finish.) I get there just in time, but obviously it's too windy for everyone for any hiking. Uh--I guess I could've told her that...(duh!)

Too windy outside, we hung a little while in the nature center until it closed.

The volunteers were more than awesome and indispensable. 14 times such. Rajeev did a superb job in his first race as director.

Dave Combs and Stan Jensen (the master of, recording the numbers. Thanks for the detailed results & splits!

Steve Ansell (50-mile finisher), longtime ex-RD Steve Jaber (thanks Dave Combs for the tipoff), RD Rajeev, & (formerly unknown) volunteer Nicole Whiting

Carilyn Johnson and son from El Paso, 1st woman to finish the 50-mile run (was planning only only doing 50k, a reversal of the day's trend)

all smiles before the race

Here are links for other blogged reports (alphabetic by last name, links to specific Ruth Anderson 2008 posting):

Please let me know if I'm missing anyone.

1st published Wednesday, April 30, 2008 at 4:22pm (sorry, been working too many shifts again! -- 1st of 4 100k finishers of 15 starters, last of all bloggers)


Alan said...

Congratulations on the win and a great run. Overcoming not only the wind, but your work and family life to run 100km faster than I can do 50 miles - awesome! Nice report too (despite beginning with photos of Chihping's and Rajeev's butts).

runtrls said...

Mark, congratulations on your win, especially under such tough conditions! It was nice to read your report. One minor comment--the 'unknown person' in the photo with Steve Ansell is Steve Jaber, the old Ruth Anderson RD.

Dave Combs

Rajeev said...


I always laugh when I read your race reports.

Unknown volunteer #2 in the photo with Steve Ansell in it is Nicole Whiting. She is part of our Ultraholics group.

Jean Pommier said...

Ahh, Mark, I'm getting cold again reading your belated report... Hoping for some sun at Miwok in three days.

See you there, and this time, no option to cut it short, promised! ;-)


Baldwyn said...

Way to go, Mark! I wish I had thought of the running bottle at the aid station. I carried my first styrofoam cup for around 4 laps in my jacket pocket until it was too cracked to hold water. After ditching my jacket, I still carried cups, but would arrive at the next aid station with it full of sand. Also, I disagree with your wife. Motorcycles that are fuel injected tend to give off less smog than carbureted (which until recently almost all Harleys were) bikes, because they are more optimally tuned, and usually have catalytic converters.

jen said...

Congrats on the race! Great race report and pre-race paintball report. That sounds like an interesting event. Thanks for sharing!

rick said...

Ah Mark sandbagging is a time honored ritual, "yeah I haven't really been training as hard lately, problems with my leg, work and I've been eating poorly". Anyway wow your are so much taller than that Joe guy, yup, oh wait....

Congrats on the win and running in that wind.