Jean Pommier and I rode up together early in the AM, and I let him know that I needed 48 points out of 50 to catch Peter Lubbers, the current leader in the Ultrarunner.net Series. That meant I had to finish within 20-25 minutes of the winner, and given some of the fast winning times in the last few years, I was going to need some kind of miracle. I figured my only shot was to go out with the lead pack right off the bat and keep them in sight as long as possible, a strategy similar to the guys duking it out at the Men’s US Marathon Olympic Trials in New York on the same day (top 3 get to go to Beijing, 4th and below get a free t-shirt). Oh, the pressure!!! Actually, it was kind of fun to “have to” go hard for once. I hadn’t been this nervous for a race in ages.
As Norm and Helen Klein gave us last minute instructions, I was able to catch up with many familiar faces. 84-year-old Helen was suited up and ready to race the 30k, even after taking a shot at the Dick Collins 50m just a few weeks ago. She is my hero! 15-year-old Michael Kanning was recovered from the Rio 100, and looking to break the HK50 course record for 18-and-under. Catherine Sullivan and Gretchen Brugman were going for a Western States qualifying time (Catherine at her first 50-miler), as were quite a few others taking advantage of this “last race to qualify” on the schedule. The unstoppable Peter Lubbers was also ready to roll, meaning he was going to do every race in the Ultrarunner.net Series (and every race in his 10k series, and the Tahoe Ultra Triple – wow!). Tony Overbay must have enjoyed the Lake of the Sky 33m (his first ultra), for here he was going for a 50m just a few weeks later. Doesn’t take long for the bug to get ya!
At the starting line, I had my first glimmer of hope that I might be able to place well when the sub-6 hour runners like Michael Buchanan (2x former winner and course record holder) and Chikara Omine were nowhere to be found. Mark Lantz was doing the 30k to give his Achilles a rest, and Mark Tanaka and Jon Olsen were sitting this one out. But Ohlone 50k-winner Jean Pommier was here, as were a few others capable of going sub-6:30 like Nick Bingham from Reno, NV who came second to Hal Koerner at the Silver State 50k earlier this year. We counted down to the start as the sun poked up enough to show the way, and Mark Lantz led us out at a 6:40/mile pace. Fast, indeed!
About eight of us took a short detour thanks to some well-marked chalk from a race the previous day (oops!), but found our way back within a mile. Mark Lantz, Ed Brooks (30k), Michael Fink (50k), and Jean Pommier led the way, with Benjamin Muradyan (30k), Michael Kanning, Carson Teasley (50k), and first-time ultra runner Jason Dashow (50m) within site. The pace remained quick as we used the downhills to stay around 6:35/mile.
We strung out along the American River bike path, and the long stretches made it easy to see the runners ahead. I bypassed the first aid station (mile 3), knowing I had enough gels and water to make it to the next one. The gels weren’t going down easy though – when you run a fast pace, it’s tough to convince the stomach you need fuel. I could also feel a bio-break building up, and hit the john just after mile 5. When I emerged, Carson Teasley was cruising by and we paced together to the Main Street aid station (7.1 miles). Carson has had an exciting 2007 – a sub-24-hour finish at his first Western States, and his daughter arrived soon afterwards! He said he was out of shape, but he was doing great and holding a top 3 position for the 50k.
Soon afterwards, we saw the 30k runners turn around with Mark Lantz leading the pack and Ed Brooks and Benjamin Muradyan hot on his tail. The rest of us crossed the bridge to the Fish Hatchery (~10 miles), and they let me know that Jean was about six minutes ahead. My watch said I was still sub-7 minute pace, so Jean must be haulin’ booty. Somebody tell him to slow down or I won’t give him a ride back to SF! (ha, ha)
The parks on the east side of the river were packed with people, requiring some ducking and dodging as I stuck to the dirt trail aside the bike path. The cyclists were also out en masse, so I kept the iPod tucked away to be safe. The bikes were fast, but they gave me plenty of room and shouted encouragement. I couldn’t see anyone in front or behind me at this point, so I just kept the rhythm and got through the aid stations as fast as possible. As I stopped at the Walt Avenue aid station (21 miles), Barry (of “Race for the Soul” fame) refilled my bottles in record time, and let me know that Jean was the only one in front of me for the 50m, and was asking for the closest bathroom. Aha! A glimmer of hope!
The fatigue of the pace began to set in, which always happens to me around mile 20-22. I was doing well with water and electrolytes, but the calories were still a struggle. My body was saying “slow down”, but I kept pushing the pace. Jean Pommier went by, looking great and in good spirits. I saw the turnaround and instinctively went up the ramp, but made a quick shortcut when I saw the aid station underneath the bridge. My watch said 2:52. Sub-3 hour marathon pace?!? Oh man, this is going to hurt. ;-)
I took a 30-second rest, and as I did, Jason Dashow and Nick Bingham came into sight. They were much closer than I thought! I took off, but both of them caught me within a few miles asking how far Jean was. Nick looked particularly fresh, and it was clear he was holding back on the first half.
The next few miles went by in a blur, and I soon found myself at the 50k mark in 3:38. Hey, that’s a 50k PR! My body wasn’t nearly as excited as my brain and started to give me signals. A few waves of dizziness provided ample warning that my calories were running low. I did my best to choke down some gels, but my stomach was stacking it up rather than processing due to the pace. I slowed just a tad to get some food in, and the folks at Sunrise Bridge (mile 37) told me I was about 15 minutes off the pace of the “three leaders”. I’m late, late, late! I charged up the bridge to catch up, and the next wave of dizziness overtook me. I slowed to a walk, but not fast enough to stop the stomach rebellion that spread my half-digested gels all over the concrete. Damn! Time to take a short walk and recoup.
My body was so pleased to walk, I felt better instantly. There was no way I was going to be able to make a run for the Ultrarunner.net Series now, but I still had a race to finish and lots of smiling faces to see along the way. I took in more water, food, and salt and decided to walk until I felt the boost of calories (that took about 10 minutes). I got back into a shuffle of 9-minute miles just as the hills appeared, and started working my way back.
When I hit the last aid station, they said “2.9 miles to go”. I looked at my watch, and I had about 20 minutes to get under 7 hours. I knew it was flat (you gotta love the out-and-back courses!), so I put on some tunes (Daft Punk) and leaned forward to pick up the pace. The last few miles were smooth, and I crossed the finish in 6:59:15, good enough for 4th place.
Jean Pommier was there to cheer me on, resting after his 2nd place finish in 6:22:38. He and Nick Bingham had battled it out a few times before Nick pulled away to win in 6:17:58. Jason Dashow finished third in 6:38:48 – not bad for his first ultra!
Jean and I scarfed down turkey dinner as the remaining finishers came in. Carol Rewick won the Women’s division in 7:23:35, and Michael Kanning did beat the 18-and-under course record in 7:35:20, just seconds ahead of Peter Lubbers. Rena Schumann won the Women’s Masters in 7:49:24, and was welcomed by Mark Lantz who just set a course record for the 30k (1:59:21). Michael Fink blazed through the 50k in 3:39, shortly followed by Carson Teasley (4:09).
After a quick round of showers, Robert and Linda Mathis presented the winners of the Ultrarunner.net Series with their prizes. Peter Lubbers and Kathy Welch won overall (and $3k performance mattresses to boot), with Peter inching me out by just 1.5 points! Lucky for me the second place prize was the motherload of goodies – a two-night stay at Harrah’s Casino, dinner, a show, a cruise from Lake Tahoe Cruises, free Inov-8 shoes, Injinji socks, Haber performance sunglasses, goodies from Clif, Sunsweet, Sharkies, enough Heed energy drink to last a lifetime, and a wicked cool fanny pack from Fuel Belt. WOW! Gretchen Brugman also picked up some goodies for her age group win in the Series.
As cool as it was to get all the gifts, I was immediately reflecting back on how fun the whole Series had been. I felt like 2007 was packed full of adventure thanks to all the different race venues and formats, and Robert and Linda Mathis do a stellar job running those races. I would highly recommend the Series to anyone racing next year, and the famous Rucky Chucky 50k will be back on the schedule for sure. I’m very proud of Peter Lubbers for his consistent season, and couldn’t be more pleased to be the silver to his gold. Now, NEXT year we’ll see…
My thanks to the Klein’s and all of the great volunteers for putting on a fantastic race. I hope to see you all again soon!