Monday, April 23, 2012

2012 Ruth Anderson 50K

Finishing Strong! Photo Courtesy of Joe Swenson
This Saturday I had the pleasure of running in the Ruth Anderson 50K in San Francisco. This is a race I am quite familiar with -- having run it myself a number of times, and having also served  a short stint as co-race director (together with my wife Amy) before the current RD, Rajeev Patel, stepped up and graciously took over.

My previous best time at Ruth Anderson 50K, which was coincidentally also my 50K PR, was a sub 4 hour effort (3:59:37) that I ran in 2009 together with Quicksilver teammate Andy Benkert.

This year I wasn't sure what to expect. My training and fitness were both better than in 2009, but unfortunately I was just coming off of three weeks of inactivity due to a bad bout with type A influenza and a secondary sinus infection. My coach Caitlin Smith had given my the OK to run, but with the caveat that I should take it easy for the first 25 miles and then hammer the last 10K.

As we lined up for the start of the race I was feeling somewhat lackluster and apprehensive. My coach had given me a pep talk recently, reminding me that much of running is mental and ensuring me that I probably hadn't lost much fitness during my illness; and that if anything the time off was probably good for my body. I wanted to believe her, of course! Though I was still a little worried. I guess it must have showed on my face because fellow runner Charles Blakeney turned around and said, "John, wake up!".

The gun went off! And while my mind was still hemming and hawing, trying to figure out what it wanted to do, my legs showed no hesitation, quickly pulling me up to the front of the pack with the race leaders Jean Pommier, Victor Ballesteros, and Toshi Hosaka.

Toshi and John Working Together. Photo courtesy of Joe Swenson
Ruth Anderson is actually a unique race in that there are three separate races (50K, 50M, and 100K) all being run simultaneously with the option for a runner to choose which distance they want to run and any point in the race. When a runner reaches the 50K finish, the runner can either stop at 50k or decide to continue on to 50M; after crossing the 50M finish line the runner can similarly stop at 50M, or decide to proceed on to 100K.

I knew from talking to the runners before the race that Victor and Toshi were aiming to run the 100K and Jean was targeting the 50M. So while I found myself trading back and forth with Toshi for third place in the early miles, in the back of my head I realized that I was potentially in 1st place for the 50K (assuming that Jean and Victor, who were ahead of me, would continue on past the 50K finish).

To be honest, I was a bit intimidated to be running so far up in the front of the pack. And it didn't help when I looked down at my watch I saw that I was cranking off 7:15 miles (while I had averaged 7:45 pace in my 3:59:37 PR in 2009). On the otherhand, I was feeling great. If anything I felt that I was perhaps holding back too much. So I made a snap decision to turn off the pace/mileage/time function on my watch and only look at my current and average heart rate. My new goal was to keep my heart rate under 150, which is a pace I can comfortably hold during long training runs.

The miles quickly clicked by and found myself running past the 26.2 mile mark in 3:09 (3 minutes faster than my marathon PR of 3:12). Here I was jogging a new marathon PR! I remembered my coach's orders about trying to hammer the last 10K if I was feeling good, so I picked up the pace a bit. But due to the heat (it was warming up each hour as the day progressed) I was feeling the slightest twinges of cramping in my legs. So I decided not to drop the hammer completely and to just maintain a nice tempo pace for the last few miles.

Finish Line Celebration! Photo courtesy of Joe Swenson
I crossed the finish line with a winning time of 3:47:06, shattering my old 50K PR of 3:59:37 by over 12 and a half minutes! What a great day!

Here's a link to the Garmin stats:

A Tale of Two 10K's

It's been over a month and half since my last "Running John" blog update. And quite a lot has happened since then! I wish I could honestly say that I've just been way to busy to post anything, but I think it has more to do with the fact that I'm getting old and absent minded and completely forgot that I have a blog.

Anyway, here's an interesting tale of two 10K's, both of which I happened to win! Full disclosure: they were both small, low-key local races without highly competitive fields. Nonetheless, a win is a win. And one of them I ran with the flu (which by the way, in case you were wondering, is probably a really bad idea).

Base Camp 10K, Mar 18th (Orlando, Florida)

I generally travel to Orlando at least two (and sometimes three) times a year for work conferences. I always bring my running shoes with me and sneak in a few workouts between presentations with other hardcore running nuts like my buddy Bill Pritchett from Dow Corning. This year, since I had to arrive on the weekend in order to present at a "jumpstart" session on Sunday afternoon, I thought I would check to see if there were any 10K or 1/2 marathon races going on that weekend.

As luck would have it, there was a nice little local 5K/10K race being held not too far away. The 10K course was basically two laps around on a paved bike path around a scenic little lake (Lake Baldwin).

I made sure to get to the starting line extra early so that I could familiarize myself with the course and get a little warm up in before the race. Imagine my surprise when, being one of the first people to arrive, I found the port-o-potties already overflowing and the street covered with empty plastic cups? Was I late? Had the race already been run? No, as it turns out, St. Patrick's day was the night before and the race start line was located directly next to an Irish Pub. LOL.

As I stood on the starting line sizing up the competition, I only saw one serious-looking competitor who seemed like he might be able to give me a run for my money. He was a young, local triathlete named Jaelin Funk from nearby Celebration, Florida. As soon as the gun went out, he charged out into the lead at sub 6:00 pace. I had to quickly decide whether to let him go, or whether to try and stay with him. Instictively I sprinted up to and tucked in behind his shoulder.

Thankfully he slowed down a bit after the first few hundred yards and we hit the first mile in a comfortable 6:03 pace, followed by 6:09 for the second mile. I noticed that Jaelin was starting to let off the gas (and was breathing considerably harder than me) so I decided to attack. I put in a slight surge and immediately got some separation. From that point on, I ran comfortably in the lead by myself with only the lead bicyle as company. After running 6:07 for the third mile, I shut things down a bit and jogged a 6:16 and a 6:18 for miles four and five, before finally picking it up a bit with a 6:07 last mile.

My winning time of 37:57 (6:07 average page) was a new PR and the first time I had ever run under 39 minutes! Needless to say, I was stoked!

Asha 10K, Mar 25th (Sunnyvale, California)

Just one week after my 10K win and PR in Florida, still high on victory, I decided to race another 10K. This was a race where I finished 2nd overall the prior year, so I figured that with my new found fitness level, I should have a reasonable shot to win, or at least to make the podium.

Unfortunately, the Burton household had just come down with the flu the day before the race. I toe'd the starting line with a bit of body ache and a slight fever thinking that while I wasn't going to be running a PR, I should at least be able to tough out 6 miles and hopefully fight for the win.

Asha is a pretty small low-key event where both the 5K and 10K runners start at the same time and run the first 1.55 miles together (before the 5K runners turn aound). So it can make it a bit confusing at the start of the race as you are never sure who is running which distance. And the start is always a bit of a madhouse as they have quite a few young kids running the 5K who invaribly go out hard at 6:00 pace for the first 200 meters (then abruptly slow to 10:00 pace for the rest of the race).

The first half mile (and last half mile) of the race was on a muddy single track.So to avoid the clutter and confusion I decided to go out hard and take the lead. That way, if anyone passed me, I could try to at least ask them if they were doing the 5K or the 10K.

After holding the lead through the muddly first half mile, I eased up a bit when we hit the paved road and let two runners pass me. One was a rather serious (and fast) gentleman who was thankfully only running the 5K. The other runner as a highschool kid wearing soccer shorts who looked like he was probably going to blow up and slow down by the end of the first mile.

Predictably, the soccer-runner abruptly slowed down and was never seen or heard from again. I jumped in behind the 5K guy and drafted as he did the work and pulled us to the 5K turnaround. After that I was on my own for the rest of the race, trying to keep the lead pace bicycle in sight. I ended up finishing with a winning time of 38:27, which was 30 seconds slower than my PR the previous weekend (though not bad considering that I would spend the next 3 hours laying on the couch at home wrapped up in a blanket with a fever).