Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Kicking Off 2009 at the Jed Smith 50k

Last Saturday, I had the great pleasure of joining ~100 ultrarunners at Gibson Park, CA, for the 31st annual Jed Smith Classic 30k/50k/50m. Dubbed the "Fastest Ultra in the West", the Jed Smith is a 3.3 mile figure eight loop course with just enough hills, dirt, and road to give your legs and mind some variety while cranking out the speed. The weather was near ideal, and by the end of the day records would fall, new PR's would be set by some, and good times would be shared by all.

(At the start of the 50m)

This wasn't going to be a record-setting day for me much in thanks to having (yet another) cold, but I was looking forward to seeing everyone. One of the great things about a loop course is that you actually DO get to see everyone many times throughout the day, rather than just the start. The Jed Smith 50k is also the first race of the PA/USATF Series, which I'm hoping to make a solid effort towards this year. I turn 40 in a few months, which throws me into the Masters ranks, but thanks to the new USATF rule I can still race in the 30-39 category as long as I score some points as a 39-year-old this year. So the goal for this race was (1) see how long I can hold a 7 min/mile pace to test my aerobic training, and (2) finish to get some official points on the Board. And, of course, get a few good pictures!

(Jean Pommier snaps a photo of the 50-milers)

I carpooled up with Jean Pommier, one of those super-fast Masters runners that makes turning 40 such a daunting milestone (Jean, you are supposed to get SLOWER when you hit your 40's!). Jean has been recovering from some IT band issues, so he would likely only beat me by 15-20 minutes today. ;-) We unloaded our gear, quickly noticing the setups of the more experienced loop runners. Chairs, tables, coolers, food, pre-filled bottles, iPods, clothes for every weather possibility - a fully customized aid station!

(Custom aid stations along the loop)

The 50-milers headed out first, and Todd Braje quickly set the pace up front. Todd clocked a 5:47 at the Helen Klein 50-mile in November under much tougher conditions, so we knew he had the speed. Right behind him were Sean Meissner, Michael Kanning, and host of other speedsters cutting through the morning fog.

(Todd Braje sets the pace up front)

A half hour later, the 50k runners headed out to chase. Chikara Omine, Thomas Reiss, and Michael Fink set an aggressive 6 min/mile pace and quickly put themselves in a three man race. The rest of us warmed up on the quick out and back before ditching our hats and jackets to begin one of nine loops. I stuck with gloves and sleeves for the first lap, and opted not to pick up the water bottle quite yet. Let the fun begin!

(And we're off!)

On the first lap I got a chance to see just about everyone (with the exception of Jean, whom I didn't see all day since he was 5-10 minutes in front of me). It's so impressive to see so many different people adding adventure to their lives with some ultra distances. Joe Palubeski was smiling his way through the 50-mile, while 73-year-old Bill Dodson charging the 50k and Rena Schumann was well on a 4:30 pace. Soon the 30k gazelles were released, guaranteeing you would pass and be passed all day long. I hit the first lap in 23 minutes, right on pace.

(Enjoying the first loop)

It was exciting to watch all the races unfolding in real time. Todd Braje was a man possessed, running his own race out front for the 50-mile. Sean Meissner was also looking good, fresh off his win at the Redding Marathon. My quick split calculations said both of these guys were running faster than all but the top 3 in the 50k and 50m! Chikara Omine led the 50k with Thomas Reiss just 50 feet behind, and the power strides of Michael Fink within striking distance. I would certainly be lapped by all these guys by the time I was done. Lap two came in at 23 minutes and change, as did lap three. My nose was running more than my legs, but I was holding up!

(Sean Meissner sets a blistering pace for the 5om)

The Buffalo Chips volunteers were awesome, getting us through the two well-stocked aid stations quickly and efficiently. Occasionally I would get a "split" letting me know how far ahead of me the next 50k runner was. Apparently I was around 8th place or so, and Jean was a half lap ahead on a similar pace. I stayed focused on my pacing (much in thanks to the song "Love Train" by Wolfmother running through my head), and finished lap 4 in 24 minutes. I dropped my gloves and sleeves and picked up my iPod to find a slightly faster song to obsess about. ;-)

(Three reasons to watch your custom aid station closely)

Gibson Ranch has lots of farm life around, including horses, llamas, pigs, and the ever-hungry geese that don't hesitate for a second to go for your M&M stash. As I rounded lap 5, a few geese even stepped onto the course to harass a few runners. I guess we are the ones trespassing!

Lap 6 (mile 20) felt a bit more strained for me. Although my sinuses were cleared up, my stomach wasn't feeling great and my face was radiating heat like something was wrong. I was also starting to get the twitching cramp-on-the-way feeling in my feet every time I hit the pavement. I did the math in my head, and quickly came to the conclusion that I was down on my hydration. Of course! I had yet to pick up the water bottle, so I was only grabbing a few 4 oz cups on each lap. On top of that, my cough/runny nose was producing a lot more liquid than usual. In short, I was getting too distracted! (who, me?) No worries, it's a lap course so I can pick a bottle up soon enough.

I noticed on this lap that Thomas Reiss had dropped, and Michael Fink was picking up speed. But it didn't look like enough to catch Chikara, who was still clocking 6 min/miles and looking light on his feet. I heard that Jenny Capel was winning the Women's division and was executing her usual late charge to gain some ground on me and others. Todd Braje was still well out front for the 50m, cranking out his tunes and giving well-wishes to all of us he passed.

(The sun broke around 11am, much to the delight of the farm animals)

I didn't quite finish lap 7 when the foot cramps started to slow me down. They seemed to hit as soon as I hit the pavement, and would subside with a little extra motion once I was back on the dirt. I finished the lap in 28 minutes, grabbed my bottle and some S! Caps, and slowed a bit to get back on track. Only two more laps to go, so I knew I could get there.

Chikara flew by me as I hobbled my way around lap 8, and he was all smiles at the finish line (PR of 3:08!) when I headed into my last lap. Lap 8 took me nearly 30 minutes, so I was definitely losing ground. I looked over my shoulder and saw Eduardo Vasquez dropping everything to sprint as much as he could for the last lap. Soon enough he flew right by me with his sites set on catching Jean.

(M30-39 winner Eduardo Vasquez and Jason Reed who snuck under 4 hours)

The last lap was a humorous attempt to hold off foot cramps, running with my toes curled harder than the wicked witch of the east. With a mile to go, Jenny Capel caught me and I did my best to keep her in sight as we rounded the last corner. I was shocked at my finish time - 3:57 for 6th place, and 2nd in my age group. My mind could only remember that last lap, and I had completely forgotten that I had cruised the first 2/3 fairly well! I took a seat and grabbed some food, catching up with Chikara (3:08), Michael Fink (2nd in 3:19, just a minute off the Masters course record), Jean Pommier (3:51), Eduardo (just 10 seconds behind Jean - almost caught him!), and Jason Reed (3:59). 63-year-old Ernest Takahashi clocked an amazing 4:17 to win his age group. The 30k also had some great finishes, with Mark Murray winning (2:00:02), just a few minutes ahead of Mike Bailey (2:03), and Mary Ohren (2:19) holding off Charise Parker (2:23) to win the Womens division. Everyone either had a stellar day or a rude reminder that it's time to pick up the training for 2009.

(Chikara grabs a drink after his amazing 3:08 PR)

Before the shock of the spectacular 50k times could wear off, we heard that Todd Braje was about to finish the 50m. He crossed the line in a course record 5:30, absolutely spent, but now qualified for the US National 100k team. The small crowd erupted in cheers! Todd is definitely one of the best in the sport, and I hope he decides to represent the US at the 100k championships. Soon after Todd came two more outstanding performances, with Sean Meissner grabbing 2nd in 6:19, and 17-year-old Michael Kanning taking 3rd with a stunning 6:23, nearly a half an hour off his PR. Amazing! Leslie Antonis won the Womens division in 7:52.

Jean and I said our thanks to the RD's and volunteers and packed up to head back home. This was a good checkpoint race for both of us, and we clearly have some work to do to be ready for the Way Too Cool 50k in March. But it was invigorating to share the course with so many runners and see the outstanding performances of so many. Thanks again to the Buffalo Chips and all the great volunteers for a fabulous race! 2009 is already shaping up to be a great season.

- SD


  1. I can't believe we were running the same race and I didn't know it! I've been following your blog for a while, and Jed Smith was my first venture into ultra territory. Parent health issues prevented me from training for most of January, but I completed the 50K and called it good. But it was great to hear the perspective of someone who was "racing" the race. Wish we could have met, though.

    Have a great race season, Scott!

  2. Scott,

    I volunteered at the woodside run last weekend. I helped out at the Scott Dunlap aid station. Thanks for being so generous. You missed a great run though. You're so lucky to have those beautiful trails as your back yard. See you at Miwok.


  3. No offense, but the geese were my favorite part of the report. :)

    All those finish times looked spectacular. 2009 race is officially under way!!

  4. Scott

    Excellent write up; Jeff Hartley, who i work with at Terracotta told me about you and your blog. I do mostly halfs and marathons but this write up almost has me thinking of going 50K. Almost!

  5. It was fun to see everyone, one way or another with this lap format. Amazing the two of us just stayed out of sight for 4 hours, a few minutes apart all this time.
    Looking forward to seeing you again at WTC (don't take your laptop in the car, ok?). In the meantime, keep the tread mill busy! And we'll see what I can do with shin splints at Napa... Do you think some wine at the finish can help?

    Farther Faster

  6. what a day! nice to have a first person account. i was planning on running the 50k as well,but have been sidelined. the 30k was a blast last year, if a little muddy, and the volunteers ARE awesome! Great job, especially for not feeling so well!
    And for Jean...wine at the finish of Napa cures all ills!!!

  7. Braje KILLED it. That's an incredible time!

  8. What is the recommended time frame, years running, and running mileage, per week, before someone should take on an Ultra race. I have not run a marathon, two 1/2 marathons. The Ultras just seem more fun, due to the diverse terrain and course structures, versus running a marathon. Thoughts. Anyone?

  9. Tony, that's quite an open topic and I'm sure Scott will give you great pointers (he may be on the plane somewhere over the US for not having responded yet, or closing on a large business deal ;-).
    IMO, it's more natural to go progressively by setting intermediate goals (30K, marathon, 50K, ...). You will read and find out by yourself that the human body has been meant to run long distances, yet we have to "re-train" it, so don't go for 100 miles without enjoying the satisfaction of completing the intermediate steps.
    Another important question is trail versus road, not necessarily the distance (sub vs ultra). Trail running is where the conviviality starts, which you don't find in most road races. And, yes, trail running is more diverse by nature, and more convivial due to the usual limited number of participants and the focus on the environment.

    Now, in terms of training plan, you start finding some on the web and magazines (e.g. Runner's World's 50-miler training plan). Keep in mind though that one of the ultra running joys is to experiment by yourself and, unlike for shorter distances, what works for some may not be the best for you. Depending on your ability but more importantly your goals and life style.

    BTW, here is a great book to start with: A Step Beyond: A definitive Guide to Ultrarunning.


  10. Tony -

    That's great you are looking at running at ultra! Although it is certainly possible to jump right into an ultra distance race, I would suggest easing your way into it with some shorter races. You will have to build up some long runs anyway, so you might as well hit a 30k, marathon, etc while building up to the 50k.

    Jean is right to also pick your terrain. If it's a trail ultra, be sure to tackle a few races on the trails.

    I would also suggest taking a look at the following:

    David Horton's Tips for First Time Ultra Runners
    Anne Lundblad's Tips
    Kevin Sayer's Tips

    Hope that helps!


  11. Thanks for including me and my "power strides" in your blog, Scott. I think I saw you at your finish. I am going to make a point to be a little less shy and say hello next time, since you clearly know who I am. I will see you at WTC.

  12. Thanks for the replies, I appreciate your time and will look at the sites. Thanks again, I will keep you posted.

  13. Haven't done an ultra in 10 years, but Gibson Ranch was a favorite place - a lovely unique kind of change. I always enjoy your reports, Scott - will trade you five years of old-guy training tricks for five years of youth!


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