Sunday, November 4, 2007

Won the 2007 Fuel Belt Grand Prix Series!

With Scott Dunlap

The battle is over! After the final times were processed for the Helen Klein 50 Mile race, it turned out that, with a total of 282.56 points against Scott Dunlap's 280.06 points, I won the fourth annual Fuel Belt grand prix series by 1.5 points; the smallest margin in the series' history.

Let's take a step back for a second. When I showed up for the Pony Express 100K at the end of March, I had no idea that I would be part of this exciting grand finale more than seven months later. Actually, I had only planned to run a few of the series' races, including TRT100, but once I found myself leading the series after race two, I decided to change my race schedule to incorporate the remaining races, despite the fact that that might interfere with my performance at some of the other races I had already planned. For example, running the Sierra Nevada 53 miler just five days before the annual Super Triple was definitely not something I would have planned, and if it was not for the lure of double series points, there would have been no way I would have run the Lake of the Sky 50K.

As some of the other dangerous contenders slowly disappeared throughout the season, it became (just as it had started out) a mano-y-mano duel with Scott where every minute counted. Since only the best five out of seven point totals were going to be used to determine the winner and since I had already run six races, I did not really have much of a chance to increase my overall points at Saturday's Helen Klein 50 Mile race. I actually ended up with a total of 353.55 points in all seven races, but only 282.56 counted towards the overall score.

Scott had actually beaten me head-to-head in a few races and would have certainly beaten me if he had not missed the turn at the Sierra Nevada 53 miler, or if his TRT injury had not prevented him from running the 12 Hours at Cool race. In the final series race on Saturday, Scott basically needed to either win, or finish within about 25 minutes from the top finisher to get the points he needed to knock me out of first place. Alternatively, in the unlikely scenario where I could beat Scott by about ten minutes, my first place would also be safe. My calls to Haile Gebrsellasie and Paul Tergat to try out the Helen Klein 50M race were left unanswered, so I had to effectively rely on some of the faster runners, or "Kenyans in disguise" as Norm Klein called them, to win the series for me. (Thanks, 6:17 1st place finisher, Nicholas Bingham!)

The slowest winning time in the history of the Helen Klein 50 miler was 6:23 and I knew I would not be able to get close to that. However, it seemed that some of the faster guys, like course record holder Michael Buchanan, Erik Skaden, Jon Olsen, and Mark Tanaka were not going to be at the race this year, so, in order to cover all the bases, I decided prior to the race to get ready for a "just in case" all-out effort . To be successful at that, it would make a big difference to have a crew that could provide my favorite food and drink as well as critical intelligence about the competition. I felt like one of those semi-retired bank robbers that you see in the movies when I asked my crew (Chris and Rebecca) if they could come out with me for "one last job." Fortunately, they were happy to join me.

When Rebecca told me the day before the race to bring a bucket and a sponge, I told her I did not think I would need it (it had been pretty cool recently), but that I would throw it on the truck just in case. I am happy I did, because it got really warm and in the later stages of the race I felt like dumping a whole bucket of water on myself every three miles.

On the Bike Path Along the American River

The out-and-back course along the American River is slightly downhill on the way out and, of course, uphill on the way back. My race strategy was fairly straight-forward: hold back big time in the beginning by running approximately eight-minute miles, and depending on where the front runners are at the turnaround point, launch an all-out attack, or run back in approximately nine-minute miles. Either way, I wanted to run the last nine or ten miles from Hazel Bridge fast.

I think there were about 150 runners at the start of the Helen Klein 30K/50K/50M. and we had to walk about a quarter of a mile from Cavitt Middle School to the start of the race at Folsom Dam. There were lots of familiar faces and Scott and I walked to the start with Catherine and Gretchen. The temperature was already pleasant, which should have been a clue that it was going to be hot. I lined up at the front, because this race is known to start precisely in time, whether you are ready or not.

Running with Mike Nuttal

The early miles just clicked by easily. It was easy to go too fast, so I had to keep checking my ForeRunner 205 GPS watch and remind myself to slow down a bit. I had also given Chris and Rebecca instructions to slow me down, to avoid the inevitable going-out-to-fast train wreck. I paced for several miles with Mike Nuttal, who, at age 58, had run an amazing 3:05 at Big Sur earlier this year. He was running again after being sidelined with a small injury, and he was trying to run a Western States qualifier (mission accomplished).

Scott Is *How Many* Minutes Ahead of Me?

I took a Hammer gel every 45 minutes and Chris and Rebecca swapped out my bottles for me at each aid station. From mile 18 to mile 31, there was no crew access, so I just grabbed a big water bottle and filled it up at the aid stations in between. In the final three miles before the turnaround point, I saw Jean Pommier, looking strong, on his way back in the lead, followed by Nicholas Bingham from Reno. Scott was about ten minutes behind Jean at that point and at this time, I knew I just had to finish the race and see what the final difference between the winner and Scott would be.

I reached the turnaround point in 17th place in about 3:30. It started getting pretty hot and when I reached Goethe Park (the 18 and 31 mile crew point) again, I was definitely ready for a bucket of water! The refreshing sponge-soak was what I needed and, re-energized, I felt ready to tackle the last 19 miles.

Orange Gatorade and Water: the Magic Combination

For the long wait (approx. 14 miles x 8:30 min.) in Goethe Park, I had given Chris my copy of CC Pyle's Amazing Foot Race that I had recently finished reading. The book is about the amazing transcontinental footrace (Los Angeles to New York) that was held in 1928 (meaning, no moisture-wicking gear, comfy running shoes, or iPods!). I just started reading another book called The Bunion Derby, which is also about that incredible race. I'll post my review comments on these two books on the blog when I am done. If you need some inspiration for your next long run, I suggest reading that book. Only about 50 out of 200 starters finished the race, and those who did averaged about 50 miles a day for 84 consecutive days!

The Patient Crew

The pacing strategy had paid off; I slowly started passing people. With nine miles to go, I felt good and started running faster. With five miles to go, Chris told me I was not far behind two people, one of whom was Michael Kanning. Michael was on track to break his 50 mile PR. I was going to set my own PR for the 50-mile distance as well, no matter what. The reason for this was that I had never actually run a 50 mile race yet. I had covered 50 miles in about 7:30 at the Pony Express 100K, but that was on a completely flat course.

Vicky and the kids (My second race intelligence team!) had arrived at Cavitt Middle School in time to see the winner finish and they were giving frequent updates to Chris and Rebecca, so by the time I hit the last aid station, I got word that Scott had arrived in a blistering fast 6:59 (a new PR for him as well). According to my pre-race calculations I knew that was not enough to beat me, but I decided to wait for the official word from Robert Mathis before jumping to any joyful conclusions.

The last one-and-a-half miles are run on a flat gravel path on top of Folsom Dam. As soon as I reached the top of the dam, I could see Will Cooper and Michael Kanning in the distance. I started running 7-7:20 miles in an effort to catch them (just for fun, of course), but there was just a little bit too big of a gap to close. The best part of the race was running the last tenth of a mile with Sean and Rocky, who had started walking towards me.
Finaly Done!
I ended up crossing the finish line in 7:35:54, six seconds behind Will and 34 seconds behind Michael (Did I mention Michael is 15 and running these races to fund cancer research? Yes, please donate to Ultra for a Cure on his blog!). I think Michael is now ready to break the junior American 100K record at the Pony Express 100K in May next year.
With Helen Klein (She Ran the 30K Earlier)

After the race, a traditional Thanksgiving meal was served. My stomach was still shut down from all the running, so I just treated my crew to the nice meal. I took a nice warm shower at the school gym and caught up with some of the other runners afterwards. I met the super-fast fellow blogger/runner Jean Pommier (2nd overall in 6:22!) for the first time in person.

With Jean Pommier

Some quick calculations showed that I had indeed won the series by exactly 1.5 points. After Robert and Linda Mathis finalized the results, there was an awards ceremony. Scott received an all-expense paid trip to Lake Tahoe and a bunch of other goodies and I received the grand prize, a $3000,00 Performaire mattress! At first this sounded like an odd prize for a running competition, but, after running 383 miles in just this series, I think I am going to need to rest for a while! On top of that, I received $200 worth of Inov-8 shoes, a pair of $150,00 Haber Sunglasses (polarized and super light!) and a truckload of other other goodies, like Hammer gel, Injinji socks, and so on.

Robert Mathis presents the Grand Prize (mental note: bring a comb to the next awards ceremony!)

The runners continued to come in, and everyone was looking good. Gretchen came in strong in 8:39 and looked ready to go for another loop. Catherine qualified for WS100 in her first try with a 9:51, despite the tough day she had a few days prior to the race.

Scott, Jean, and Gretchen

Thanks Norm and Helen Klein for organizing the smooth race and to Robert, and Linda Mathis for organizing the series and keeping track of the standings throughout the year.

With Norm and Helen

And, of course, special thanks to Chris and Rebecca for their tireless crewing support (I owe you big time!) and finally to Vicky, Sean, and Rocky for supporting me throughout the series (that means putting up things like jamming our trip to Europe between TRT100 (leaving the day after) and 12 Hours at Cool (Coming back the night before) as well as all those killer pre-race spaghetti and buffalo meatball dinners!).

A truckload of prizes
Next up, the final race of the year, the Turkey Trot 10K in Nevada City. I need a third place in the 30-39 age group there to win my age group in the other series I have been participating in, the 2007 Gold Country Grand Prix.


Dave - Atlanta Trails said...

Congratulations on winning that series! I can't believe how close it was at the end.

Rest well on that mattress!

Michael Kanning said...

Nice work, Peter! Fortunately, the aid of Tergat and Gebreselassie was rendered unnecessary, so congratulations on the series win! Even though you did a much better job at pacing yourself than I, it's cool that we have practically the same PR's now in the 50 mile.

As for the 100K record, I think I'll go for it on 1/5 at the hilly Bandera 100K in Texas and the Ruth Anderson 100K in March. However, I think I'll be doing the Lake Merritt Half Day in lieu of Pony Express which is on the same day.

Good luck at the Turkey Trot 10K!

Catherine said...

Pete, congratulations on a strong race after a long season. Also, congratulations on the series win. It was a lot of fun seeing you at HK. Good luck at the Turkey Trot. I will have my post up today for HK. It was an amazing day.

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

I will leave you and Scott the same message.

It's interesting to compare your open, blogged competition with Scott, with my battle last year with Jon Olsen. Neither of us would openly admit we were trying to win the whole thing, much less blog it. Jon of course is much faster than I, so even with a bigger buffer (calculated per multiple scenarios), I went into Helen Klein quite nervous.

Congratulations! We are now both part of the Performaire Nation.

Tony Overbay said...

Peter, congrats! And thanks so much for stopping by my blog and leaving the positive comments for both HK and LOTS. I saw you at HK and went over to say hello but you already had quite a contingent chatting with you. I'll make it a point to say hello at hopefully a few races next year. I'm glad I finally discovered your blog, I'll sign up and look forward to reading future race reports. From a mere two ultras I've already met a lot of wonderful people, can't wait for next year!


Anonymous said...

great job, peter! winning the super triple and the grand prix in the same year is a pretty awesome achievement. the excitement generated by the competition between scott and you had me almost want to start a pool to hustle some money from fellow ultra runners. :) great job again. recover well.



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