Friday, November 27, 2015

Silicon Valley Turkey Trot: run, walk or... trot, all for good causes!

It's amazing how this special American tradition has turned to a running celebration over the past years. Ultra queen Ann Trason posted on her FaceBook page yesterday an article mentioning that 786,730 runners finished a turkey trot in 2014! Turkey trots have become a national phenomenon. And, thanks to the vision of Carl Guardino, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, and his wife, San Jose is proud to host the largest Turkey Trot in the country with close to 25,000 participants.

This year was my 7th participation out of 11 editions. My first one was actually for our local USA Track & Field Pacific Association 5K road championship which I ran in 2009 in 16:34. While a 5:20 min/mile pace felt fast to me, I finished a few minutes behind the top international elites, quite humbling. This year, the men podium consisted of athletes from Kenya, Canada and Morocco respectively, while an Ethiopian won the women race (here they are, congratulated and interviewed by Mark Winitz).

Eliud Ngetich (Kenya):
Buze Diriba (Ethiopia):
Here is a glimpse of the women race.

Buze Diriba (Eth), Kim Conley (course record holder from Sacramento, CA), Alisha Williams (Golden, CO), Betsy Sanya (Kenya):
 Jessica Tonn (Seattle, WA, Brooks team), Marisa Howard (Boise, ID), Monica Ngige (Kenya):

After 2009, I ran the 10K every year: 35:05 in 2010, 35:20 in 2011, 35:06 in 2012, 36:09 in 2013 and 35:41 last year for the 10th anniversary. Although the 10K distance isn't my focus since I switched to ultra running 10 years ago, I really enjoy this speed test at the end of the season. And, like other participants shared, this opportunity to run through San Jose neighborhoods which we may not got to know otherwise.

After my 24-hour run 2 weeks ago (only 123 miles, but a new M50-54 American record at 12-hour with 85 miles), I had a few 8 min/mile recovery runs while I was in Saudi Arabia and just one speed work session last Saturday where I ran, for the first time, a back to back 10K at the Fremont High School track, with a 10-minute recovery break in between: 36:34 and 36:43, it felt good to get back to below 6 min/mile pace, phew!

This year again, after pouring rain on Tuesday, the weather was perfect, sunny, albeit on the cool side. I decided to run with long sleeves, gloves and hat, but that turned out to be almost too much. The start line area was jammed with slow runners who were just trying to bomb the start pictures, but, right off the gun, I managed to get in the top 20 runners. I ran side by side with Jose Pina Sr for a few strides, but let him keep contact with the front runners as I had no intention to match his pace. We were slightly below 5:25 min/mile after 500 yards, so I eased up a little to find my own sustainable pace. I was amazed at the diversity of ages within this group of 20 lead runners, from high schoolers to a few Masters (or Seniors like me), and of course, many from the most competitive Open division.

I passed the mile 2 marker in just under 11:30 minutes (5:45 pace) while my GPS was indicating a 5:38 pace, so I kept pushing and did pass 2 other runners. I could see the lead pack a few hundreds yards ahead but there was no way I could go faster. There were about 7-8 runners, and then a single runner between that group and I. I had planned on taking a GU gel just before the start but forgot. As I had trouble maintaining the pace after mile 3, I took it at mile 4 instead, that certainly costed me a few seconds but helped for the finish. In the last mile, I was hearing a runner closing behind and had to sprint in the last 200 yards to avoid getting passed, although the results placed him ahead of me (the difference between gun and chip times). 35:49 was my finish time, not too shabby for a "Senior..." ;-)

And I was thrilled on Thursday evening to see in the results that I had made the Top 10 again, first in my M50-54 age group and 2nd Masters, behind Jose of course. Now, to be honest, the real elites were in the 5K races, so there isn't so much glory in placing in that popular event. After all, the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot is less about competition than it is about raising funds for local charities, and having fun times to celebrate Thanksgiving!

IBM was sponsoring the Main Stage of the Festival Area for the 4th year and, right after I crossed the finish line, I rushed back to my car to change and get ready for our stretching routines at 9:30 and 9:45. This year, they were led by Anita Lee, both an IBMer and renowned fitness instructor teaching at the YMCA, 24-hour Fitness and Bay Club, and certified and expert in BodyPump, TRX, CXWorks, GRIT, Body Combat, Body Flow, UJAM and Zumba! Accompanying her, with Max on the other side, I got a really good stretch after this fast run.

A few finishers benefited from these stretching routines too but many were more interested in the free food available throughout the finish area. Come on folks, like you had not enough to eat later that afternoon! ;-)

With the multitude of starting waves, and the range between competitive runners and family walking the 3 or 6 miles with kids, it's really challenging gathering all the IBM participants for a picture at the finish. Short of one capturing the more than 100 participants we had under our company name, here is a small sample.

I also met a few people I knew from other races or running clubs, and this very special group, commemorating Valentine, the daughter of our friends Tanguy and Virginie who died in a tragic car accident near Seattle, 2 years ago.

Anyway, amazing conditions to combine fun with this opportunity to raise $1 million for the 4 selected charities benefiting from this event. Thank you again to the Silicon Valley Leadership Group for organizing such a professional and large event, making Silicon Valley proud!

Running in Riyadh: Al Muruj Park (Double Tree)

No, I didn't find the equivalent of Central Park or the Golden Gate Park in Riyadh, but just a little green patch. As a matter of fact, I didn't even find it on my own: a local colleague, whom I was telling about my struggle of running on a treadmill as you could read in my previous post, indicated this small park just behind my hotel, the Double Tree. By the way, I highly recommend this hotel, very nice personnel, nice rooms with very modern equipment, excellent breakfast buffet, 24x7 gym. And you know you are there when you smell the chocolate chips cookies! ;-)

After 4 nights of feeling like running in a hamster wheel inside, I was delighted to run outside around this park. Its circumference is almost equivalent to a track at 0.23 mile. With that, it took me 60 laps to do 13.8 miles, yet it felt so much better and pleasant than the same distance on a treadmill.

The park has a few users from kids and their mothers at the playground during the day to groups of men gathering at night to chat. But the real inhabitants of the park are feral cats, by the dozens. It's not legal to have pets inside, at home, so people stop by to feed these cats.

The park is bordered by a rectangular and wide sidewalk, lit by a few street lights which make running at night easy (again, that's important because, with 11 hours of time difference with California in Winter, jet lag is a real issue and an evening long run may actually help you falling asleep more easily afterwards).

Again, nothing comparable to a real urban park, but enough to breathe some air and a safe place to run right behind that hotel without having to cross streets and fight against the dangerous traffic. Finally, a way to escape the dreary treadmill, phew...!

PS: I was in Riyadh during the weekend of the tragic and deadly terrorist attacks in Paris. It felt really odd to be in such a well established and accepted Islamic State, ruling with force and terror as well and, yet, getting associated to the pain felt in France with the coloring of the Kingdom Tower... A very ambiguous position for Saudi Arabia between conflicting political interests on all geographic, economic, ideology and religious fronts...