Sunday, 14 December 2014

TNF San Fran Marathon

I’d been looking for a season finale and had picked out TNF50 as a good option. The TNF50 out in San Francisco is probably the highest quality field in US ultra running, normally stacked 20-30 deep in quality runners.

After Chicago Marathon I had a few easy weeks and built back but issues that arose before continued. During the fall season I’d been coaching XC over in Pennsylvania, supply teaching around South Jersey and lecturing at Rowan University so I’d been spending 2-3 hours per day sat in a car, which for me means Piriformis/psoas issues.. Even during Chicago I could feel the usual nerval pains and since then it had got worse with pretty severe groin and stomach pains whenever I picked the pace up. I’d raced Philly half two weeks prior to the 50 miler as a final test and ran an uncomfortable painful 1:17 when I’m sure I’m comfortably sub 1:1 5 at least (my PR is 1:13:36), during that run whenever I tried to pick it up my core just felt inflamed. As I was to fly into SFO the night before the race, 6 hour non-stop flight across the US, 2-3 hours sleep, then race a 50 miler, I knew I was risking further issues so then emailed the RO’s asking to switch to the 50k.. I’m almost back fit but I know after long periods sitting I need proper recovery and stretching, mobilization work to not get further issues at the moment; so the 50 miler wasn’t going to happen; it’s just too big a race to pull off like that.

Through seeing a local physio and lots of psoas/hip flexor/hip adductor stretches I actually trained well in the final 10 days and ran 7.5 miles on the Wednesday before at 6:20 min mile pace and felt comfortable so knew I was coming back to fitness.

However storms had hit San Francisco over the past week and as we arrived at Philly airport we were told the flight was already delayed. I went to chat to the airline and asked what chance did the flight have of leaving on their new predicted time and explained why I needed to know ‘Zero chance”, we aren’t expected to take off until 9:15pm.. This meant a 3-hour delay and us landing in SFO after midnight needing a good hour to get to our accommodation. So I emailed TNF50 organisers and asked could I drop further and just run the marathon because that started at 9 am allowing a 4-5 hour sleep after the flight before getting the shuttle over to the Marin Headlands.

Gwen had seen an IHOP nearby so at 6:30 am, probably due to the jet lag, and pretty awake we headed for pancakes before I got the 7 am bus out to the starting zone. At 3 am I was woken by a group of girls coming back to the hotel who had enjoyed a night of some sort of chemical stimulation and wanted to shout about it… at that moment my back was sore, my groin ached I thought no chance but strangely at 6 am I felt pretty good but also knew I couldn’t come all this way and not run in such stunning terrain. I knew I could get through a marathon regardless as I’d done lots of 13-17 mile runs over the past 2-3 weeks.

We headed out over the Golden Gate Bridge and the cloud was already set in but it was now pretty light and slowly made our way deep into the Marin Headlands until we came out the other side at a scene which resembled the Highlands, but with the pacific Ocean looming in the background. The start area had fires going and was pretty easy to get around with few toilet issues.
At any unfamiliar race I always want to know the start/finish situation.. get that first mile done no issue.. come back in knowing the set up.. when do you need to kick? Any stings in the tail? Best line in? So I walked, jogged and did strides for first k or so out when I could view the first but of the course. Coming back I felt good and knowing the marathon here would lack much depth actually felt pretty confident of getting a win.

At the Start line Dean Karnazes gave a few words but I was off stretching and basically just stood as close to the actual start line as I could and was looking at who would be threats, you always get a bit intimidated but I’ve learnt never judge a book by it’s cover when you get there and you see so many skinny fit looking runners... during the handshake I tried to get some info on who every one… size people up.. I’m  pretty confident by now that I’m not getting the win. Soon we all moved to the start line and we set off bang on 9 am. I surged to the front and a guy joined me, then another guy popped in. I think maybe I opened up dialogue first, just who knew where they were going? Where they were from… it turned out we had a Brit, an American and two French guys at the front early on.. the pace early on was really comfortable.. may be low 6’s on slight down hill road, so I slowly squeezed the pace and we moved on to trails and went through mile 1 at 5:50.. with a trail marathon I always think just run on effort you would for a road marathon, but work harder on the hills and try to conserve energy on descents.

My main threat I guessed was the French guy.. they run in the mountains.. climb and descend well, so at the first ascent I just thought I may as well try to see what the situation was and hit it hard and pushed up the hill, opening up a gap. I heard nothing and had that hopeful thought that maybe it was the dream move and the race was over.. but even within 100m of cresting the summit the route had a minor switch back which allowed me to glance back and I could see 2-3 runners pretty close.. and looking good. As a mountain runner I always fancied dropping people on descents so hit it pretty hard but soon the French runner was on my shoulder.. soon after I’m staring at the soles of his sense ultra trainers.. I’m now thinking “shit!” I’m wearing adidas boston boosts, a road shoe. He’s in a nice trail shoe on wet muddy trails.

We descend pretty quick but I cover him and feel OK and then we start to climb back and I re-pass him. At this moment I’m now all but convinced this race is won as by now all I could see was him but we were in cloud.. but generally I think if you ascend quicker than them and they descend quicker, generally their legs give in before yours do due to them hammering descents..

So I climb away, crest the summit and here he is again.. so he pushes on, I follow, he picks up the pace, I glance at my watch.. 5:25 pace.. the pace keeps building.. 5:20… 5:15.. at the mile lap my watch shows 5:13 for mile 9 in a marathon when my pr s 5:59 the base we hit flatter trails and both run upper 5:50’s and I still feel OK but worryingly he looks good. We get to the next aid station and he’s wearing a soloman vest so has his food and pushes on.. I’m carrying nothing so have to pause for food and water and then chase him down. After two sharp turns I see him climbing away and push on, slowly bringing him back but suddenly I realize he’s pulling away. Every switch back I lose him, then see him again and he’s definitely pulling away. I take of my shirt as by now the sweat is pouring off me but it makes no difference… I talk myself through it, it’s mile 10.. 16 to go.. it all changes 16-18 miles in.. ease off recover.. get back on track.. I was paying for racing him down that hill my quads felt dead. So we descend and at switch-backs I keep getting the odd glance of him and he’s clearly going well. We descend down and enter the aid station just before mile 12 and I get a ‘go Iain’.. it’s no less than Frosty who I know from living in Wales, so that’s a much needed lift.. its now a gradual down hill and I settle into low 6’s pace.. no one behind.. no one ahead.. my plan was just run comfortably and see what happens as I had no idea on the route ahead, the sight says ‘coastal path’ but paradoxically it instantly climbs.. looking up I see the French lad still running well but seems closer.. every time I see him he’s closer.. suddenly the win is on again so rejuvenated I try to push on but more measured this time.. Suddenly he’s there.. 100m away.. I can see him turn to look and I can’t work out why he’s so close but turning the next corner I hit what he faced.. slushy, clayey mud.. just no grip at all and he’s in trail shoes, I’m in road shoes..

I back off and slowly follow but randomly glance back and realize I’m not alone.. the rest of the field is suddenly in view, this two horse race now has more horses.. so I’m mindful not to look back again and just think ‘you’ve caught him, he’s closer than 3rd is to you.. focus on him’ .

We then start the long descent to the turn around past ascending 50k and 50 miler runners and its clearly a hard return but pleasingly the gap is rapidly narrowing.. so at mile 15 I know I’ve caught him and as we turn around I open a gap but immediately I’m faced by a few runners coming in behind me so know I’m far from safe.. and one looks great.. better than I feel. Knowing the climb is very visible I don’t glance back as I know there is nothing I can do and all I’ll do is let him know I’m tiring. So I climb away and try to keep it ‘comfortably hard’. The climb just keeps going and I try to chase down 50k/50 mile runners and latterly 50 mile runners as the 50kers head off and then start the descent, looking at my watch I’m back running in the 5’s again so I’m getting confident.

After the long descent, maybe 21 miles in we hit the last food station and I pour coke and energy drink in and climb away. Again at the same aid station Frosty is there and she joins me for a few paces and I have that worrying moment she’s going to try to hug me.. I’m covered in sweat, spit and coke.. it was great to see her and she’s always so positive.. but I am literally dripping in spilt fluids, drool and perspiration..

By now I have no idea of my gap, I generally don’t give up places late on in races and know as long as I run close to MP should be OK… every descent I’m back down at low 6’s, high 5’s pace so grow increasingly confident.

The route now retraces the first loop so I know the route and know that the last 4 is quick, and was fairly confident that as long as I crest the last major summit in the lead I was OK, and I was, this time I descend well sub 6 min mile but was still comfortable that despite the lack of 5:14’s I was OK. the route then suddenly appears and I forget there is a sting.. one last climb.. I ask the guy which way? In now broken Manc…  he looks vague then says “I’m just a spectator”.. so I run the last hill hard as it’s only a few hundred meters and then push and push. My toe is now cutting up as I could feel the grit rubbing but I push on knowing that if I hit the 5:30’s I’ve won.. I kept looking back and saw no one and pushed fairly hard trying to encourage others and getting encouragement off them and then hit the final road climb. I love races when you can cruise in and enjoy it.. so I cruise around the bend and listen to the announcer… nothing.. I see the finishing chute.. nothing..  OK 50 milers, 50 k’s are out there but I’m about to win the marathon.. so I cruise in and nothing. Just silence. I walk up to the girls for my medal.. they look confused.. eventually they give me a 50 mile medal..

So, hungry I walk off in search of my kit bag and food. The food was great, bag was no issue. so I’m sat enjoying some pasta, bowl of soup and suddenly there’s all this commotion as the marathon winner finishes..

I didn’t want the accolades, I just wanted the prizes.. running is expensive, I’m a poorly paid immigrant. So I head over and ask to speak to someone and just say, whilst eating my pasta, “I finished a while back?’ It reminded me of finishing 4th in the world champs and Steve Edwards asking me how it felt to lose bronze, my reply was ‘eh? I’ve never been higher than 4th?’ Steve looked panicked, here the guy looks at me and just seems to say WTF? But they were great and checked my number and all was OK, I won a nice TNF jacket. It was on all on my GPS watch so no questions could be asked.

Anyway it all worked out, the shorter distance races are full runs

Great race and event. Very fast trails.. Where else could you run a marathon with 5300 ft of ascent sub 3:20? Less distance, maybe 3 miles more and similar ascent to the Yorkshire 3 peaks to put it in perspective to the UK runners, which is on good trails.

Looking at the results I was pleased with the caliber of runners I beat, the guy who lead early on was a 2:38 marathoner so to eventually finish a good distance ahead was pleasing.. and the rest all seemed to have solid pedigrees.. It was a strange race as it felt the ‘fun run’ being the shortest race on the day but it was still a marathon with 5000+ feet of ascent so a nice work out and finish to the season..

We then had a nice afternoon in San Francisco, seeing the Sealions, nice breakfast at a cafe sat outside on the side walk and flew back to Philly and the cold...

A few days off and build back for 2015 and hope for more PR’s..