Saturday, October 3, 2015

East Bay errands: Oakland and Alameda's shoreline

It was our first Cal Parents weekend and, despite being in the Fall and a year in which we expect El Niño, it was a hot and sunny one! As a matter of fact, it was our first parent weekend because, for various reasons, we never managed to make them for Yale and Georgetown for Max and Alex. Better not miss this opportunity to experience another American tradition!
We only live 50 miles away but there is always some traffic on our local highways so we decided to stay overnight in Oakland. Friday was too busy with lectures, visits and the dinner to squeeze a run in and I had some catch-up to do on Saturday morning (and more this Sunday before leaving for Chicago and tapering for next weekend's Folsom Lake 68-mile race).

We stayed at a hotel which had 'waterfront' in its name and I was really looking forward to a scenic run in the morning. Unfortunately, with the millions of people living in the Bay Area, it's not quite a continuous trail along the Bay's shoreline, see for yourself:
And in more details in the Oakland area, you can better see all the holes in the shoreline:
Preparing for my run on Friday evening made me work on my local geography... As much as I've run a lot in the area, there is so much to learn and explore. In this case, I had heard about Alameda when driving on 680, but I had not realized it was a city on an island, in front of Oakland. Our hotel was actually facing another island, the US Coast Guard one, albeit a smaller one, and definitely not a place for a run (Federal property, no trespassing!).

Long story short, there were a few hundreds yards of boardwalk but it took me about 3 miles to reach a significant stretch of bike path, entering the Martin Luther King on Tidewater Avenue. With the sun rise, and the birds busy looking for fish, that was a really nice run and, before I knew it, I ended up close to OAK, the Oakland International Airport. Rather a busy and unwelcoming place to run but the traffic wasn't too bad so I ran the 1.5 miles on Dolittle Drive, toward Alameda.

But, before going though Alameda, I thought I had time to go around the loop which I had see on the BayTrail map. I had promised Agnès I will be back at the hotel by 9:30 but despite running sub 7 min/mile it was 9:30 by the time I finished this 5-mile loop, oops! I wasn't sure how far I was from the hotel but it took some sprinting to get back at 10 am, just in time to grab a breakfast before it closed, phew! You can see some of that stress in the pace getting faster and faster below... ;-)
By the way, there was some fog preventing me from seeing much of San Francisco but, otherwise, the views from the West side of Alameda must be gorgeous!

After a quick shower and check-out, we managed to see part of the Centennial celebration for Cal's Campanile.
The campanile has a carillon with 61 notes!
After that, Agnès and I split, her going to see the Amélie musical at the Berkeley Rep, and I going to the homecoming football game. It was quite a good fight and we were delighted to see the Golden Bears winning their 5th straight games this season, amazing debut!

Yesterday was more academic with lectures on 'The Stress and your Brain", "Research on self-compassion", "Music: Art and Science" and "Neuroscience: your Brain at Berkeley". Amazing professors and amazing students which make Cal Berkeley the number one Public University in the World. It felt great to get back to school for this occasion, a nice break from work.

Have a great week!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Stevens Creek 50K, Aquinas climb, Trailblazer 10K: a very busy running weekend!

This year again, there was a lot of buzz going on regarding our local Stevens Creek Trail. First, the Stevens Creek Striders had their ultra race event on Saturday, including a 50K, 30K and half-marathon, going through the Stevens Creek Canyon. And, on Sunday, on the other end of the trail, the Trailblazer 10K and 5K races at Shoreline.

But, no, I didn't do the 50K/10K same-weekend double which I did back in 2013, I was just volunteering at the 50K on Saturday.

Under Jim's leadership, our Club (QuickSilver Running Club of San Jose) was manning the Saratoga Gap aid station yesterday. After an 11-mile stretch without an aid, the runners were quite happy to find us to refuel for the next 9-mile section.

I worked the timing with our Club President, Greg Lanctot. Here we are under Peter Hargreaves' supervision, Peter Hargreaves (photo credit: Tiffany Trevers who, in the afternoon, won the half marathon race).

In addition to writing down bib numbers and times on paper, we used the ex-Race Director, Steve Patt's PocketTimer app, which made it really easy and so much official. We officiated for more than 4 hours, just to say that the runners were quite spread out especially given the staggered starts. It must be quite another experience to time a cross-country event when you have dozens of runners crossing the finish line within less than a minute!

Anyway, great way to see the race from another angle, from the front to back runners, and taking time to catch-up with club mates.

After seeing these runners enjoying the trails, and since I was passing through Saratoga anyway on the way back/down, I decided to drive to Los Gatos to give a try to the Segment of the Month, a challenge organized by Jeff Clowers and advertised in the Quicksilver Trail Runners group on FaceBook. This time it was 3 miles straight up (see the Strava segment), a climb of about 1,300 feet. One of the key challenge of that segment was actually getting to the start: a super steep road on which you can't park. Thanks to Jim's insider tips, I did park on Lookout Road, then went on to climb the Sheldon Road up to the gate. It was 2:30 pm when I got to the start, with temperatures of about 85F and I was already sweating hard and thirsty before even starting. Long story short, I was gasping for air after 2 miles in the red zone and had to stop 3 times to walk a few steps to catch my breath. Not only was it hot, but I had many things going through my mind, most importantly questioning what I was doing here, instead of tapering before the next day's 10K... Not sure I was a the top, I continued on the rolling section until my GPS reached 3.6 miles to make sure I had at least covered the whole segment.

The descent was much easier of course and I made sure to enjoy the stunning views over the Bay Area. A noisy F-20 flew by quite low and I thought of the aerial views like the ones I was experiencing this afternoon, that these pilots get all the time! Back home, I was pleased to see that despite getting only the second all-time performance on this climb with 27:09, that is 1:57 behind Mike Helms, I still had the best performance of the month, yay! Oh wait, 2 hours later, that time was improved by super fast Chris Wehan by... 1 second! Yes, that is one second, how inconvenient that Strava truth was! Oh well, later in the evening, the group was chatting about even-faster Dave Roche attempting to break 21 minutes this Sunday!

Meanwhile, I ran the Trailblazer 10K for the 11th time this year. I have not been able to run every year but had a good consecutive series these past 7 years. Overall: 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009-2015, so 11 out of 21 editions. And two wins 10 years or so ago, after the local Kenyans stopped showing up, and before Jose Pina, Sr, took control of the race! At 51, and after winning the grueling Ohlone 50K last week, winning a 10K was really not part of my goals today, I just wanted to see how fast I could still go after so much focus on ultra running these past months and years. Thankfully, my running buddy Bob got Jeremy and I back on the track for some speed work these past weeks, that helped regaining some leg speed.

Now, when Jose wasn't to be found near the start line with one minute to go, I saw a window of opportunity. When Race Director, Aaron, called the sub 7-minute/mile runners and only 5 of us moved toward the start line, I told to myself, "maybe this year gain, let's see..." There was a 13-year-old in that group and I was doubtful he would hold 6 min/mile especially after hearing him talking to his buddy about 19 minutes for 5K and trying to break 42 minutes for 10K, the math didn't work. Yet, he took the lead right off the start, as well as a much taller runner. I was just behind them when we got on the bike path and our pace was 5:30 after 500 yards. At that corner, they slowed down so much that I almost hit them from behind and, going around to maintain the pace, I took the lead. I stabilized my pace around 5:40 for the next 2 miles. Still that was really not comfortable but I had to keep pushing to maintain and increase the lead. As I was approaching the mile 2 marker, which is just before a bump in the levee, I was moving to the left side, ready to plunge in the left turn, when an old and grumpy cyclist came to my side and pushed me on the right. I got that I was on the wrong side but had to let a big bad word out of my mouth when, on top of it, he slowed down in front of me just after passing me. I did pass him on the short climb out of the chicane, I was really mad. Anyway, he passed me again on the flat section, without saying a word fortunately, as I was myself trying to remain calm...

The rest of the race was fortunately eventless. I did slow down a bit in the last 3 miles, finishing in 36:29 for a 5:52 average pace. Not my fastest 10K, but good enough given the circumstances. And good enough for a win this year, short of more competition! Here are the top 4 finishers of this morning's 10K race, 2 of them being 50 plus! You are never too old to keep moving! ;-)

Speaking of which, here is one of my ultra racing buddies, Bill Dodson, who, at 80, was enjoying this short 5K course, bare foot, before running the Twin City marathon next week. Not that marathon is much distance for Bill, he set a new American Age Group record for 100K in April, then for 50 miles one week later in San Francisco!

Five minutes after I crossed the line, Agnes surprised me: she had biked from home and was disappointed to have just missed my finish. Bob took 4th in the 5K, which is good news after the knee surgery he went through earlier this year.

Learning from previous years, when we've waited for more than an hour to get the results and awards, albeit also enjoying the kids race in the meantime, I went back on the course to run it again, this time in a more comfortable 41:53 (6:44 min/mile). I even chatted for a few seconds with Don Murdoch, who taught me track workouts back in 2000, and passed a handful of runners finishing their 10K loop.

Here is the start of the cool kids' race:

Back to the title of this post, it was such a busy running weekend that the turn out of the event was much lower than usual: it is hard indeed to compete with the Rock 'n Roll half-marathon which was held this morning in San Jose. Same thing yesterday, the Stevens Creek ultras were far from filling-up. More generally, as much as this is such a great thing to get more people healthier, there may be an over-abundance of running events on the market. It has been only 10 years since I started running ultras and, in this period, the number of 100-milers in North America went from below 30 to a whopping 142! As a result, the competition is very uneven, you have to pick your battles. With that, I won the coveted newly released Microsoft Band, which I look forward to try and write a review about (now that I moved to a Macbook and iPhone, I hope it talks some Apple language...). After winning 2 XBoxes at this race, Microsoft has been good to me! ;-)

Anyway, that event isn't much about competition, but a fund raising opportunity to help prolong/extend the Stevens Creek Trail through Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Los Altos and Cupertino so we can hike, bike or run from the Bay to the hills (and, beyond, to the Ocean!). Since such a trail wasn't designed at the right time, when 85 was built especially, we are so grateful to have volunteers giving up hundreds of hours to advocate for a solution and address this urbanism flaw. It was great to spend some time with Ross Heitkamp, the webmaster of the Friends of the Stevens Creek Trail, who updated me on the trail outlook.

And I also met an IBM colleague, Linda, who volunteers in this association. There were many volunteers this morning, about 30 of which coming from Cupertino High School, a few who even knew me then. Linda (left), giving the start of the kids' race:

That was my 48th 10K race (I've run 54 50Ks, so 10Ks are only my second favorite format), and 15th race of the year (only 2 non-ultras). Next is the inaugural 68-mile Folsom Lake Ultra organized by Single Track Running in 2 weeks. Was great to see so many people on the Stevens Creek Trail today, keep up the great job of getting healthier and enjoying the outdoors!