Saturday, March 25, 2017

PAUSATF LDR 2016 Awards Banquet: 10th MUT GP in a row!

Here is a belated post to cover this event which occurred 2 weeks ago already, but it was on a Sunday evening and I couldn't get this done before getting back to my first job, and especially an intense 8-day trip to Vegas for InterConnect, IBM's largest conference.

First, let's clear the acronyms in the title:

  • USATF stands for the USA Track & Field, the name of the association overseeing our ultra running sport;
  • PA is for Pacific Association, the regional chapter covering North California and a part of Nevada;
  • LDR stands for Long Distance Running, which spans races from 1 mile and 5K to 100 miles or 24-hour events;
  • MUT is the LDR committee governing the Mountain and Ultra Trail events. Other committees are XC (Cross-Country) and Road, with Short and Long categories, the Long one being limited to the marathon distance.
  • Finally, GP stands for Grand Prix, a set of selected races in which each PAUSATF participants get points based on their finish place within their respective 10-year age group (see my very detailed Anatomy of a Grand Prix I posted last year).


2016 was my 10th full year participating in out MUT Grand Prix. My first ultra was Way Too Cool 50K in March 2016 but I wasn't affiliated with USATF then, still with the French FFA. I registered later this year, got a few points for the last two race of the year and started running most of the Grand Prix events in 2007. There has been quite some hefty competition over the past 10 years such as Victor Ballesteros, Mark Lantz, Ron Gutierez, Karl Hoagland, Kevin Sawchuk, Rob Evans, Mark Tanaka, Cliff Lentz, Pierre-Yves Couteau, and even the strongest Masters of all, Dave Mackey, who was visiting from Colorado to run one or two of our GP races every year. But my dedication to running most of the 17 yearly races, year after year, paid off and allowed me to win my age group for 10 years in a row, not something I had envisioned at all when starting running ultras in 2006!

To be honest, there are so many events in our MUT Grand Prix that few of the best local runners score in more than 2 or 3 of these races; showing up consistently, and getting to the finish line, will then lead to a good score. That being said, I still had to push hard to pull this out, and this competition has been a great source of motivation to run more than 130 ultras in 10 years.

In addition, in these 10 years, I've been nominated for the PA Ultra Runner of the Year a record 7 times! I had no idea I was short listed again this year, but I'm glad Chikara got picked again after his amazing performance at the 100K Road World Championship last year which allowed Team USA to get another gold medal. Proud of being listed along famous names on the international ultra scene.

  1. 2007: Mark Lantz, Mark Tanaka, Jean Pommier
  2. 2008: Eric Skaden, Jean Pommier
  3. 2009: Victor Ballesteros, Chikara Omine
  4. 2010: Victor Ballesteros, Chikara Omine
  5. 2011: Dave Mackey, Jean Pommier
  6. 2012: Jon Olsen, Jean Pommier
  7. 2013: Ian Sharman, Jon Olsen
  8. 2014: Alex Varner, Jean Pommier
  9. 2015: Chikara Omine, Mark Richtman, Jean Pommier
  10. 2016: Chikara Omine, Jean Pommier

As Hollis mentioned, only one of us was going to have the honor of getting a 3rd PA URoY, and that was... Chikara (PwC wasn't here to swap the envelopes!). Being 19 years younger, I see a bright future for Chikara in this competition! ;-)

Enough about me (I know...), there were 46 individual age group awards distributed that night, and 26 team recognitions. Plus 4 service awards and the listing of national awards, records and best performances. Like the Oscars, without the videos, music, and the red carpet. A good selection of the MUT awardees, with a majority from Excelsior this year:
You can see Bill Dodson in the middle, without his pile of plaques as he won his 80+ Men age group in all (!) the LDR Grand Prix: cross-country, road short, road long and MUT!! Plus the 70+ one for road long as well, wow!

As a team, we did 3rd in Men, 2nd Women and 3rd Overall behind Excelsior and Pamakids who took the top spot in Men and Women respectively. Only two awardees from our Quicksilver Club this time, with Joe Swenson happy to have left my age group since he turned 60.
You see, size doesn't matter, ultra runners come in all shapes! ;-)

This year's guest speaker was coming from South California to share his amazing late coach and road runner career and insights.


It was intriguing to hear about the struggle he went through in his early adulthood, although that part might have been more appropriate to a younger audience. I was also surprised by the number of injuries he suffered from, some really serious. I actually take pride in avoiding injuries, one key trait of the sustainable running concept I'm promoting, so that part didn't resonate much with me as well. Or maybe one can argue that I'm not training and running hard enough, but I'm not convinced, I'd rather remain as consistent as these past 10 years. At least, Pete is definitely a model and inspiration for Masters athletes and 5-10K road runners in particular. You can check his website for more information about this books and coaching programs.

Big thanks to our PAUSATF officials who stepped up this year again to organize this banquet, short of a club doing it. And, in particular to our LDR MUT committee co-chairs, Bill Dodson and Hollis Lenderking, who have given so many hours of their time and expertise to make these Grand Prix so exciting and successful. Bill, for your prompt scoring with Cynci Calvin, and Hollis, for your very kind and thoughtful words, at the banquets as well as when you volunteer at races.
And now on for the 22nd year of PAUSATF LDR celebration, on the trails or the roads! And, if you are not part of our association already, please consider joining us, to share the fun!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

2nd Saratoga Fat Ass 2017: working around the weather

First, let's get the record straight: after 3 major races in February (a sub-3:20 50K at Jed Smith, a Masters win at the 50K Trail Nationals 2 weeks later and 111 miles at the Riverbank 24-hour the following weekend), I don't think I have a fat ass to get rid of. As a matter of fact, since I adopted Vespa in competition a few years ago, I'm living on fat in all these races!

Still, the fat ass, that is the unofficial, social, early season runs are great training routines and provide opportunities to get a break from the racing rhythm while meeting friends in a more casual setting. I was travelling in January and missed the first Saratoga Gap fat ass, which is a long standing tradition for our South Bay ultra running community. A few years ago, Quicksilver team/clubmate, Keith Blom, launched the 2nd Saratoga Gap Fat Ass in the month of February. As everybody knows by now, even in Europe, California got the water that we missed for the past 5 years. While this is all good, because it came all at once within 2 months, it created quite some perturbation on the ground. For instance, Skyline Boulevard (Highway 35) lost at least one entire section (both lanes gone). With that, Keith had to postpone the February event to this first weekend in March. Since the original date conflicted with the FOURmidable 50K, and I wasn't running Way Too Cool 50K this Saturday or the 50K Road Nationals in Caumsett, NY, on Sunday, I had really no good excuse to miss this year's edition! One could argue that it seemed close to last week's long run on the track but I had already ran 44 recovery miles throughout the week, so I was back on my feet, although I wasn't considering pushing too hard.

Despite the new March date, there was still some incertitude on the event. First, the main road to get up the hill to the start, Saratoga Gap, was closed all week because of multiple landslides. Fortunately, it reopened just in time on Friday, saving the detour by Page Mill. There were also questions about which trails will be closed. Thankfully, Steve Patt scouted out the entire course on Friday and reported that it was all runnable but for a few fallen trees requiring some climbing over or going a few steps aside the trail. To add to the good news, our local meteorologist and outdoor guru, Leor Pantilat, announced rain only in the afternoon (at least in Auburn for Way Too Cool, which is rather far from a weather forecast). But, indeed, the weather didn't look too bad in the early morning. All that convinced me to drive up to Saratoga Gap one more time (I ran the original/classic/1st Fat Ass in 2007, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2015, and the 2nd one in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016. In retrospective, I find it so cool to have all these runs documented in my blog, can't certainly keep as many details live in my head with the time passing...).

After waiting for 5 minutes at the one-lane light at the top of Highway 9, I reach the parking lot just in time with 10 minutes to get ready. Keith was already there with Jeremy, Stuart and Dennis, Andy arrived at the same time, and Rida a few minutes later. It wasn't really raining but we were in the midst of the cloud and I was already chilly so I put two layers on (I had forgotten my rain jacket and was hoping it wouldn't get wetter than that, oops!). Everybody left at 8:01 am, without even taking the traditional group picture. I started a minute behind and passed Dennis, Rida, Andy and Keith in the first hill, catching up with Pierre-Yves a mile later and we ran together down to the Castle Rock campground, updating each others on our respective families, recent races and plans and projects for the year. In the first hill after the campground, Pierre-Yves said he'll walk a bit and I went on to see if I'd reconnect with Jeremy and Stuart, ahead. I was super careful going down Goat Rock and was thinking of the first time I had met Jeremy, on that same section, and was blown away by his footballer agility and speed. I finally caught up with both of them as they were enjoying a break at the campground, the only water point on the course (which we pass at mile 3, 7 and 17). I was happy to have company again for the way up to the start.

Here is a picture taken by Andy Benkert who captures very well the type of weather we had this Saturday morning and the smokey views:

We completed the first loop (~10.5 miles) in about 1:45. I refilled my GU2O bottle and took a few brownies before we went on the Skyline to the Sea trail this time. Jeremy had so much speed and pleasure on the downhills, it was inspiring to see. Myself, I was happy to just stay behind Stuart as I was still feeling cold and rather tired. My favorite section of this whole course, Travertine Trail, was quite wet again this year, which is the way it is supposed to be in winter. Yet, barely enough to get wet shoes and socks. I took the lead on the fire road up to the campground again, then Skyline, and the three of us regrouped at Saratoga Gap for more calories in. We probably stopped for 5 minutes and I was really getting chilly again with the humidity and relatively slow pace so it was time to hammer the next loop with Jeremy. I felt bad that we weren't waiting for Stuart but Jeremy told me Stuart had issues with his IT Band and was probably not going to go down the painful Charcoal fire road with us. Jeremy was flying down Charcoal and it was hard to keep up, even on the Table Top loop. At that time, I was thinking that he was going to hammer down the last uphill but, as a matter of fact, I finished slightly stronger, thinking that this wasn't such a tough uphill compared to what I will experience at UTMB in a few months...

I got back to the car right before 1:00 pm, for 4:58 of elapsed time and 4:41 of running time. Jeremy arrived 5 minutes later.

I wore my old pair of Cascadias again, like at FOURmidable, it's time that I give a try to the Brooks Mazamas or Pure Grit 5 for UTMB!

Strava is giving a cumulative elevation of 5,325 feet, from the Garmin activity, not sure how accurate this is.

On our way back, we had both seen Keith and Rida running together as they were starting their last loop. Andy and Stuart's cars were gone, but Pierre-Yves' one was still there so he was on his third loop too. Sounds like Dennis also completed the three loops.

I'm super grateful to Keith for organizing this event again, and postponing it to a date all good conditions were met (for me anyway, not for those running Way Too Cool of course). And to Jeremy for the great motivation and company through these 5 hours. What a great way to log 

Overall, what a recovery week after Riverbank! I ran between 6 and 10 miles every day of the week, this demanding fat ass 48K on Saturday, and 15 more kilometers before getting on a flight to Raleigh, NC, at 2 pm this Sunday. 83 miles for the week, you don't want the engine to stop running...! ;-)


No racing in March for a big change, just looking forward to the training, on a variety of terrain to stay healthy and to account for the diversity of what's coming up: road racing in April and heavy trail racing in May. Hope to see many of you on the trails or the road in the meantime!