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:

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