Sunday, August 5, 2018

Skyline 50K 2018: Cliff and I

No, not Cliff Bars, my energy brand is GU (born and raised in Berkeley!) as you can read in all my Race reports (disclaimer: I’m a GU Pro athlete too). And, no, I didn't fall off a cliff. But I'm talking about Cliff Lentz, who is keeping me on my toes in our M50-59 age group. Or keeping me honest. Or keeping my ego in check I should say...

I first met Cliff at the 50K Trail Nationals in 2007, when he won our Masters division at the Tamalpa Headlands 50K, easily. Cliff focuses more on road races, long and short distances, and runs 50K Trail races occasionally. For a few years he had other priorities so wasn’t training much and that gave me an edge. But he is back at it and that shows. I took second in our Age Group at the Impala Stow Lake Stampede 5K, 20 seconds behind who? Cliff of course!

I was looking for our “match” at Skyline last year but some GI issues derailed my plans. Thankfully, such issues are now history since I switched to Peter Defty's Keto/OFM diet 9 months ago, a great thing! Yet, I haven’t been running as fast this year, so my head was filled with doubts at the start. Starting with the extra 4 pounds which I couldn't get rid off while tapering this week...

I car pooled with one of our newest and fastest Quicksilver member, Jay Hsu. Jay is getting faster and faster on road marathons, he is going to get under my 2:37 PR sure, I’m sure! Last week, he actually took 2nd overall at the hilly SF Half in 1:18.

We got to the start around 5:50, ample time to pick our bibs and snap a few pictures of the early start, then chat with other runners before our 7am start. Here is Race Director, Adam Ray (Scena Performance), sending off the early starters at 6am.

Right off the bat, at 7am, our race was dominated by Excelsior, whom I nickname yellow jackets with their bright yellow and black tops (except Cliff who is running for them but wears a white top).

Despite a sub 7-minute first mile, I was already in 7th or 8th place, I couldn’t exactly tell. The course was changed again this year and it was quite a long gradual climb for the first 7 miles, but I managed to stay behind Cliff, not without a good sweat and deal of effort. Yes, it had been a long time since I trained that hard in a uphill, I could feel it!

Carrying two Ultimate Direction bottles, one with GU Energy Brew, and getting my energy from fat (my new diet) and Vespa, I didn’t need to stop at the aid stations so we alternated positions when Cliff was making his occasional refill stops. A sustained effort got us to pass 2 other runners (1 Excelsior and 1 Pamakids).

On the climb to Skyline Gate, mile 15.5, Cliff actually passed Jay, but I was too short of breath and torque to respond to the acceleration. I saw Jay leaving the aid station as I was getting in, but had to refill my GU2O bottle at mid course, which took me a couple of precious minutes.

From there, it was a sprint to see if I could make up some time on Cliff. I caught up with Jay at the bottom of the treacherous French Trail, and we climbed back on the other side of the canyon together, unfortunately with some walking on the super steep sections. I actually passed Jay before the ridge, then closed the gap with the next runner ahead. That was Nate Seltenrich, whom I caught up with as well at the very end of our Ohlone 50K race in May.

Actually, we both passed another runner, just before going through Big Bear aid station for the second time, I think it was Erik Gobbell. At Big Bear, I asked a volunteer who was recording our bibs, how many runners were ahead and he said that Nate was in third. That meant that Cliff was now in second, wow! That gave me a surge to push in the next big uphill, so much that I did pass Nate before reaching the ridge. I then flew down the next section to Bort Meadow where I just slowed down to ask how far ahead Cliff was: "2 minutes!"

I still had about 7 miles to go, and I had to double on S!Caps as I could feel some nagging cramps coming. Yet, my next mile was 6:47! I was actually visualizing Cliff running strong and fast too but thought that maybe, if I could shave 15 seconds off every mile...

At this point though, it became even more important for me to keep pushing in order to break 4 hours. But finishing 3rd was a great outcome if I was going to miss the age group win, so I did check behind too if someone was also accelerating in the last miles.

The last mile was on a new asphalt section so I ran as fast as I could and managed to finish in 3 hours, 58 minutes and 57 seconds, phew! I was really happy with that but my joy got tarnished a few seconds later when I heard the announcer say that I was in... 4th place. Dang, so long for the tip I got at Big Bear, although that probably helped me pushing harder actually!

Meanwhile, as a matter of fact, Tim Comay (Excelsior) had won in 3:44:03, followed not by Cliff but Jay's friend, Yu Hsiao, a competitive triathlete, who took second in 3:50:48, for his first ultra! And Cliff? He had finished in 3rd indeed, 56 seconds ahead of me, that was close, but that emulation doesn't impede our camaraderie, on the contrary!
Kudos to the top 3 then:
By the way, Jay finished in 6th, in 4:04:12
On the women side, Kristina Randrup, 19, had great hopes after taking 2nd here last year. While she indeed led for a good portion of the race, that wasn't counting on the experience of Caroline Boller who holds many National Championship titles. Caroline ran 4:25:41 today, Kristina, 4:33:51.
Out of 12 consecutive Skyline 50K, that was my 8th time breaking 4 hours. I felt I ran strong today,  the weather was perfect and everybody had a shorter course (about 0.9 mile short) so, looking at others' times, I'm not sure why we haven't been faster. For one thing I found the first part harder. Looking forward to hearing from other veterans of this event.

Speaking of which, Adam went out of his way to create 5-year Skyline 50K awards, that's a cool 3D memorabilia to add to the collection!
I stayed for an hour and a half to enjoy the BBQ and meet other finishers but we had to drive to Berkeley to meet Greg early afternoon so missed quite a few of you, sorry! Still managed to see our team Captain, Loren, finishing, a day after racing The Ridge 60K, this is bold!
A great morning on the trails anyway, hoping that everybody finished today! With a 3:50 am wake-up call, better get to bed early this Sunday evening...
Thank you to Adam and his team (Brian, it was great to see you again, good luck at Pine to Palm 100 next month). Thank you for keeping this super long 50K tradition running in the Bay Area and maintaining high standards in both camaraderie (e.g. reminding us of the essence of the trail spirit at the start) and professionalism (e.g. chip timing). Oh, and thank you for the extra burden of recreating the legacy logo on the t-shirt. Here is a nice series!
And special thanks to all the volunteers, especially those at the aid stations I snobbed by not stopping, hope you forgive me! ;-)

Next race: TDS (Tour des Ducs de Savoie) between Courmayeur and Chamonix on 8/29. Where I will regret the smooth and easy trails of Skyline 50K... ;-)

PS: additional pictures from the finish (credit: Agn├Ęs)

Tim Comey
Yu Hsiao
Cliff Lentz
Brendan Washburn (8th, and also a 50K Rookie)

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Save The Bay: let's do this at work!

What a great mission to save the San Francisco Bay (wikipedia), such a unique place blessed by mother nature with a dozen of different ecosystems and also the birth place of the renowned Silicon Valley! In this age of industrial and urban development, it takes a lot of leadership, grit, money and time investment to protect natural landscape against real estate speculation and that's what organizations such as Save The Bay or POST (Peninsula Open Space Trust) exemplify in the Bay Area. (Note to IBMers: IBM matches gifts to such environment-protection agencies, that double your generosity!)

Our IBM Silicon Valley Lab (SVL) site leadership brought us an opportunity to literally give a hand to the former with an on-site operation to transplant recently germinated seeds of a native specie into individual pots.

I have to say that, when I was told we were going to plant trees, reading glasses weren't the first tool which came to mind! But I will definitely take them with me next time I do this. Indeed, isolating baby plants which were measuring less than 1/4" and removing ground from the fragile roots with a chop stick, was all about minutia and patience. When we see redwoods in our nearby hills, we certainly forget that they grew from a few original microscopic cells, what a journey life is! Well, the trees we were working on are a species which only exist in the marshes of our South Bay and will only grow up to 1 feet, nothing majestic about them! Except if you are a small mice and thrive under these big trees to their own scale, being protected from predators by the density of these bushes and eating their seeds.

Not any mice, mind you, but another breed which only exists in the Bay Area, nowhere else on the planet!! We are talking about the tiny Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse, so accustomed to our local marsh it evolved and learned how to swim as well as drink salt water!

Another of this local and endangered species is the Ridgway's Rail, which feels so good at home here that it doesn't even migrate!

Between two calls, I was able to transplant 50 plants in about an hour. We had about 5,000 to do overall, so the 100 or so volunteers came very handy!

I've run so many miles at Alviso when working from our North San Jose location at the end of North First Street, this restoration project really stroke a personal cord and I really look forward to follow-up events, especially on or around the Bay Day of Saturday October 6, 2018 (to save the Bay, save the... date! ;-).

In particular, I would like to see how our minuscule plantations have fared when it will be time for them to get to their targeted marsh, in the rainy season (November onwards).

Special thanks to all the people who organized this event, and in particular to the dozen of volunteers from Save The Bay who taught and guided us in this sustainable development effort. And to my IBM colleagues who stepped out of their desk and computers to volunteer their time to support such a great initiative!

Way to make a positive impact, IBM SVL!