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 ultrarunner.net 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.
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 RiverThe 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 NuttalThe 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!
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.
Scott, Jean, and Gretchen
Thanks Norm and Helen Klein for organizing the smooth race and to Robert, and Linda Mathis for organizing the ultrarunner.net series and keeping track of the standings throughout the year.