Pacific Coast Trail Runs puts on a lot of really good races that cover distances from 10K to 50K usually. They also have a couple of timed events, of which the Lake Merritt half-day is one. For this event, there is a six hour and a twelve hour event. Both involve running around Lake Merritt (surprise!), a 5K loop, until you are 30 minutes to an hour from the goal time, at which point you are redirected to a 0.7 mile loop for the remaining time. Sounds boring? Exactly. That was part of the motivation for doing this. It seemed like a good mental test. It also seemed like a good place to try to break 40 miles (my longest distance race before this was 35 miles), potentially break a course record (40.4 miles in 2008) and maybe even set a course record if no one else does. Lastly, this race was meant to put my money where my mouth is. Anyone who’s run with me knows that I can talk a lot of talk. One of the claims I often make is “I feel like I could keep this pace up indefinitely” when running slower than an 8 minute mile on the track. Well, six hours seems a lot closer to “indefinite” than recovery laps on a track does. So this race was my “put up or shut up” event.
Going in, I had certain expectations about the course. The website had described it as “flat with 70% dirt and 30% asphalt path”. But that was last year. Since then, the city of Oakland decided to make about 75% of that dirt path into concrete sidewalk. That might not have been so bad, except there was not a lot of places where you could run in the grass next to the sidewalk without risking a sprained ankle.
This was not a big race (74 runners between the 6 & 12 hour events) and when we lined up at the start, I found myself at the actual starting line. As usual, I had a lot of nervous/anxious energy to start, so I went out pretty fast. A couple of people kept up for the first half lap, but then dropped off. I knew I needed to slow down, but figured I could at least lead the first lap, so I kept it up until I crossed the start again. While it was really cool to lead that first lap, it was also a bit confusing since I had never been there before. You’d think it isn’t that difficult to find your way around the perimeter of a lake, but with the sidewalk construction still going on, there were some detours I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to take or not. So I erred on the side of caution and went the longer way whenever I had to make a choice – I didn’t want to get DQ’d for cutting corners. But it turned out that the shorter ways were correct. Ultimately this didn’t matter since I was leading the first 2 laps and people were following me. After that, the race director clarified the course, which really wasn’t all that much shorter (maybe a 10th of a mile per lap).
It took me a good 5 laps to really settle down and get to a pace I thought was maintainable for 6 hrs. This was particularly difficult because I had to let two people pass. But I knew I wouldn’t finish if I kept up a 7:30 mile on concrete. Unfortunately, once I ratcheted down to a reasonable pace, my heart rate wasn’t coming down as much as I wanted (or needed). I’m not sure if it was still anxiety or, more likely, some dehydration in that I woke up that morning with Montezuma’s Revenge (though there was no “uh-oh” moment, fortunately). Actually, after about four and a half hours, I took a 2 minute porta-potty break because I didn’t want to gamble on a fart. Turns out I could’ve.
After about three hours, I was really starting to feel the concrete in my quads and hips. I started having to walk parts of the concrete. Not for lack of energy but for lack of pain threshold. However, I was still lapping a lot of people (and not just the 12 hr people).
With about 45 minutes to go, I did a little calculating and realized I was not going to break 40 miles unless I sucked it up and ran through the pain. I really did not want to, but I know I’d be disappointed at the end if I didn’t run at least 40 miles. As you can witness in some of the photos, I was running in quite a bit of pain, but I had to still pick it up. With about 28 minutes to go I was diverted to the small lap. Three small laps might have gotten me 40 miles, but I wasn’t positive and I did not want to chance it. I knew I had to go for 4 laps. Each one I went a little harder and I thought I might collapse after the 2nd one. At the end of the third small lap, I chugged what was left of my electrolyte, threw down the bottles and ran as fast as I could (which was not very fast at the time). I completed my last lap at five hours and fifty six minutes. Not quite enough time to do a fifth lap (unless I suddenly felt like I could run at a 5:30 pace), but I knew I had at least broken 40 miles and was glad to be finished. As I crossed, I got a solid high-five from the winner, who broke his record from last year by almost three miles.
Of all the marathons, ultras, triathlons, trail races, road races, swimming races and any other event I’ve done, I’ve never felt so terrible. My legs (quads especially) were shaking uncontrollably, everything hurt, I felt nauseous, I wanted to sit down, but couldn’t because it hurt too bad. But I was proud to be one of three people who went over 40 miles on the newly side-walked course and proud to be one of three people that broke the previous course record. Overall, I came in third (sorta tied for second, but the other guy went the same distance in a little less time) and took first in my age-group! An 8:44 average pace was a little slower than I claimed I could go indefinitely, but the experimental conditions were less than ideal. I can not claim success or failure on that point.
Other items of interest include, really cool bibs; everyone received a personalized cloth race bib with their name on it (no race number!). Also, the race was webcast with constantly updated standings as well as the ability for people to email the runners. That was a nice touch and I’d like to thank Mike, Kyle, Jens, Gina & Sebastian, Fred and Craig & Kristina for sending me some funny emails that got me through some tough mileage in the middle of the race.
Lot and lots of pictures available. I had set up a time-lapse camera to take a picture every 5 seconds, but it crapped out after 2 hrs. You can check out the video and more details here. Janice also showed up for the last 2 hrs and took some of the pictures as well.
Distance: 40.8 miles, pace: 8:44
Place: 3/39 overall, 3/25 Men, 1/8 M 30-39
Lap Time Avg Speed Distance
1A 0:22:40 7:11 3.15
2A 0:46:31 7:33 6.31
3A 1:10:35 7:37 9.47
4A 1:35:51 7:59 12.63
5A 2:02:04 8:18 15.79
6A 2:28:08 8:14 18.95
7A 2:55:21 8:33 22.13
8A 3:27:02 10:00 25.29
9A 3:58:01 9:44 28.47
10A 4:32:01 10:40 31.66
11A 5:03:14 9:52 34.83
12A 5:32:00 9:04 38.00
1B 5:38:15 8:53 38.70
2B 5:44:28 8:50 39.40
3B 5:50:30 8:33 40.10
4B 5:55:56 7:37 40.81