November 3, 2007

Going For Broke at the Helen Klein 50 Mile

(I "went for broke" in the early miles of the HK50. But could I maintain the blistering pace without falling apart? Complete photos at Flickr.)

Last Saturday at around 6:30 A.M. my Dad and I arrived at Cavitt Junior High, the start of the Helen Klein 50 Mile, just in time to scope out the field before race director Norm Klein sent us on our way. A large field of 149 would be testing their limits in the 50 mile, and even more were to run in the 50K and 30K. Among the familiar faces were Benjamin Muradyn, doing the 30K as a speed workout (18.6 miles for speedwork...ha!) in preparation for an attempt to qualify for the Boston Marathon, last years winner Carol Rewick, the indefatigable Eldrith Gosney, and, of course, Peter Lubbers and Scott Dunlap about to duel for the final time in the 2007 Race Series.

In making a strategy for the pancake-flat 50 miler, I had entertained some thoughts that I had a very slim chance of winning the race, as the top 3 runners of the 2006 race were not participating this year. Then I noticed Jean Pommier at the start, who not only finished 4th last year but recently finished in 1:10:23 and 38th/18,751 at the International 20K of Paris not long ago. That's quite a combination of raw speed and endurance...

...and, seeing as I don't have any race photos with a Kenyan behind me, I knew 1st place would have to wait for another time. Sure enough, when the race started, Jean took off like a shot. I did too, but only in the sense that I was starting out way too fast. At around five miles, I got in a nice running rhythm with 47 year old middle school math teacher Bob Mersereau ("I've got a billion tests to correct before Monday!" "Oh, that's too bad. And I've got a lot of homework to do tomorrow!") and Chris Pope, from Utah, doing the 50K. We talked, laughed, and questioned our intelligence in deciding to run ultras as we ran down the bike path. Our humorous conversation made the miles go by effortlessly, despite our continued sub-8/mile pace. At one point we discussed the power of working together, as we were doing in a group of three. "Yes, but if you combine our level of intelligence, you get about 1.5 people." We reached mile 12.5 in exactly 1:40:00, which translates to a 6:40 50 miler. I asked Bob what his goal was. "Oh, maybe 9:20." What?!! Why are you going this fast, then? He explained that he was 'sandbagging' so as to have a big cushion of time for after the turnaround. I told him that if he continued to sandbag at that rate, he'd soon have a beach.

(From left: Chris, Bob, and some weird guy utilize the power of working together)

Chris turned around at the 15.5 mile mark and would eventually finish the 50K in 6th. Bob and I kept going. I started to feel the pace around mile 18, but then found an outhouse and emerged feeling fine again. We began to close in on the turnaround when the first 50 mile runners passed us going the other way. Predictably, Jean was in 1st, looking great, and Scott was in 3rd. Bob and I reached the 25 mile mark in 3:23, where I was in 8th place. Bob was slowing down, so he let me go and I proceeded to chase down 7th place and 1st woman Carol Rewick. I caught her and reached the marathon mark in 3:35 or so, and although I have yet to run a road marathon, it was a PR.

I was cruising, and just like at the Firetrails 50 Mile, was having a great day. Also like Firetrails was the advantage in the next section of cheering on the rest of the field as they neared the turnaround. Peter was about a mile behind me but looked good and seemed to be pacing himself well. But finally, at around mile 30, I began to slow. Then things got really tough at around mile 35. I was trying desperately to maintain a steady pace that would get at least below 8:00 and sub-7:30, this race's BHAG, if possible. It was also getting warm, maybe 80 degrees or so. Carol, who, unlike a certain bone-headed teenager, knows how to pace herself, passed me in this section, and kindly encouraged me on before disappearing in the distance.

I reached Fish Hatchery, the mile 40.1 aid station, in about 5:45, 9th place, and terribly thrashed. At this point I reminded myself to simply practice CFM, continuous forward motion, and I would reach the end. I then made a goal to protect 9th place. This would be challenged by "Mike", a super nice guy who I recognized from previous races. We came into the mile 42.9 aid together, but by then I felt a little bit better, and increased the pace. Mike fell behind. I continued towards my goal, struggling but managing to keep a good pace and stave off the warmth and lack of shade. I reached mile 47 in 7:07, with another runner right on my tail. Still determined to hold on to 9th, I sped up, soon reaching the levees of Folsom Lake. "10th place man" didn't fall behind completely, but never came within 50 meters of me. Finally, I came to the last stretch of lake before descending towards the school, sprinting and crossing the finish line in 7:35:20.

(The final sprint to a new PR)

Overall, I was extremely pleased with the race. Since I hadn't run a flat 50 miler since last year, the extent of my current abilities in the distance had been a mystery to me. Beforehand, I had figured that it was reasonable that I could run sub-8:00 and, if I had a major breakout race, sub-7:30. We came really close to that, and perhaps if it had been a little cooler and the course had featured, ironically, slightly more elevation change, we would have reached that goal. What? More hills? The problem with completely flat courses is that you use the same set of leg muscles the whole time, whereas in hillier routes the muscles which normally just hang along for the ride get to do some work too and even the load. For this reason I was more exhausted at the end of the 300 ft. elevation change Helen Klein then at the 15,600 ft. elevation change Firetrails, despite giving it my all in both. But no matter; I am super happy with the race and had lots of fun. 7:35, which is a pace of 9:06/mile, was a PR by 41 minutes (as one of my cross-country friends once told me, "Ultramarathons must be the only sport where you can PR by nearly an hour. In XC it's great if you can take a few seconds off your time.") and 9th/149 was my highest place in terms of place versus size of field. Last year I finished in 9:25 and 66th. I am always looking forward, seeking every advantage possible to improve my ability, and this dedication has continued to manifest into great performances on race days. In terms of improvement, we are certainly on the right trajectory!

Many others proved they are as well. Jean, although he didn't quite win, ran a 6:22 for 2nd place and a 30 minute PR. Whoa! The winner, Nicholas Bingham, whom I'd never heard of, was apparently a former marathoner who decided to step up to ultras and literally ran away with it in a debut time of 6:17. Scott gave it his all to turn in a PR of 6:59, just barely breaking 7 hours and taking 4th. He was very pleased. "Perhaps I've even got a 6:40 in me somewhere!" he mused. Carol took 1st woman and 6th overall in 7:23. Peter finished just 34 seconds behind me to take 11th. He did an exemplary job of pacing himself, and, if we had been running the Helen Klein 51 Mile, would have certainly beaten me. Bob took 19th in 8:09, so apparently the sandbagging technique worked quite well for him. But I am most impressed by the performances of three other runners who I never even met. The results have just been posted and I was very surprised to find out that there were three other teenagers in the race! Although I never saw any of them, a big congratulations goes out to 19 year old Jonathan Heinz (8:36), 17 year old Brook Stevens (10:03), and 19 year old Marissa Licon (12:42). It's rare to see even one teenager in an ultra, so to have four in one race probably sets some kind of record and I'm pleased not to have won my age group by default, as generally occurs. Jonathan, Brook, and Marissa, I hope to see you all in the future.

As for "Lubbers vs. Dunlap", the 2007 race series champion is...Peter Lubbers! With a total of 282.06 points to Scott's 280.56, he just barely took the title and mattress in the closest finish in the history of the series. Congratulations to Peter on the win and to both for doing their best in what was a great year of ultrarunning for both of them.


(Peter wins the race series!)

Thanks goes out to my Dad, who once again made the 3 hour drive to take me to the race and spent most of the day driving to the aid stations and cheering me on. I promise one of these days to give him a break! Thanks to all the volunteers for filling my bottles, letting me steal all the food from the aid stations, and being encouraging and awesome. Thanks to all the cyclists, most of whom were very courteous in dealing with us crazy runners on their bike path all day. Thanks to race director Norm Klein for flawlessly organizing the race. Norm said to me afterwards, "you're becoming a real man now!", and for those of you who know Norm, you'll understand why I was so flattered to hear that coming from him.

Congratulations to all who ran yesterday! Next up is the Woodside 50K on 12/1. Perhaps there I can make an attempt on my first ultra win...but for now, I plan on resting a couple days before devising such plans. I am confident, however, that I'll be back for the 2008 Helen Klein 50 Mile to experiment the limits of my abilities once more.


Taken by Paul Charteris


Leslie said...

It is so awe inspiring to see you out blazing the trails. Congrats on an awesome finish.


Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Congrats again on a great run and almost getting BFHAG!, as well as a very well written report.

I don't remember having that kind writing skill at 15. However, we were still using typewriters then.

Too bad I was scheduled for overnights all weekend. I would've had a decent chance at winning the whole race and more importantly, showing up in your blog. (Jean Pommier just got edged by Ron Gutierrez at Whiskeytown 1 week earlier, otherwise he probably would've caught the Reno guy). I must say work, including one extra unpaid hour for the time switch, was less fun.

If I'm not mistaken (I'm fuzzy on the details), you definitely can trash Michael Hayden's Junior 100k record, whatever junior means, if he has the record, etc. You have a busload of piecemeal coaches at your disposal.

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Here it is, from his blog, but not verified:

"I currently hold the Junior National Record in the 100K-10:55@Mad City."

Sounds quite doable, without killing yourself in the process. I guess you have 2 years (?) Don't know if only certain 100k races are allowed to count. No pressure though.

hao said...

congratulations, Michael! what a way to set a pr! got to love the going for broke strategy. my hats are off to your incredible effort. rest well. hope to see you on the trails soon.



Paul Charteris said...

Great stuff Michael

Jeez, you are getting strong!! Thanks for the great detailed write-up. I was out there taking photos at the first aid station at mile 2.5. I got a good photo of you - and a great one of Scott too incidentally.

Cheers, Paul

Michael Kanning said...

Leslie, Mark, Hao, Paul-thanks guys!

Paul-Nice photos! I put a link to them on the report.

Mark-Sorry about "the whole job thing". I laughed when reading, "I would've had a decent chance at winning the whole race and more importantly, showing up in your blog." I don't know where you get your priorities, man! But you're right about one thing; if you were there, I have no doubts that I would have instead been 10th/150.

To the best of my knowledge, these are the current junior national records in ultrarunning:

50 Mile-6:16:25, Karsten Schultz, 1977
100K-10:55:14, Michael Hayden, 2007
100 Mile-19:13:12, Michael Hayden, 2007
24 Hour-111.099 miles, James Bonnett, ?
48 Hour-128.996 miles, James Bonnett, ?

"Junior" means under-20. I think the 100K is definately within reach. And even if it isn't right now, I have over 4 years to break all 5 records. Perhaps that's the next "BFHAG"! (F stands for fantastic, right?)

See you guys out there!

Peter Lubbers said...

Nice writeup, Michael! It was fun trying to catch you in the last few miles.

I predict that you will get the 100K record next year sub-10 should definitely be within reach. You can try it in May at the Pony Express, which is flat.

Now, don't burn yourself out though!

Dave said...


Nice write up. In continue to be impressed not only by your efforts to raise money for a cure and your athletic achievements, I am also impressed by how mature you seem to be. I'm sure your parents are very proud of you!

Gretchen said...

Way to go Michael, looked like you were having fun out there. That's quite a PR!

Addy said...


Amazing job out there :) I looked up the results when they were posted to see how everyone did was was very happy to see that you had done so well!

That's crazy about all the young people doing races. I'm not feeling so young anymore :D

I might see you at Woodside. My leg is still being weird so I haven't been running, but I'm thinking that even if I don't do the 50k, I'll probably volunteer. How exciting that you'll be going for a win!

Congrats again

Tony Overbay said...

Holy Cow, Michael! As I've just entered the ultra game and have been reading a bunch of race reports in the process I missed that part where YOU'RE 15!!! :-) Well done, what an inspiration! I've written up a couple of race reports on my blog as well, but it's primarily a site for my newspaper columns. If we can connect via email I'd love to get a bit more info from you and I'll get something on my site or in the paper to spread your cause. Great work, hope to see you next year!


Celeste Maisel said...

Hey Michael,
Congratulations on your great run! That's really amazing and inspiring. I'm think I'm going to go on a really long run now, haha.

I hope you are still interested in doing The Relay, and I'll e-mail you the information as soon as I get it. I think I am going to try to have a team bonding kind of thing over the Thanksgiving holiday and if you are around it would be great if you could come!