Monday, September 1, 2014

Train and work hard, taper easy, race and play hard, repeat!

The first weekend of September we celebrate Labor Day and it's an opportunity to have an extended 3-day weekend, an opportunity to... work more as I highlighted in my blog already (Labor Day 2013: what a laborious week!, 2012: Labor day: back to (running) work!, 2010: Labor day: how hard are you working on your running?, 2009: Labor(ious) Day weekend: 4 stories, 1 post). You see from the titles of these posts, as much as we were all meant and born to run, I do consider we need to put some work in our running, so we can enjoy more of it! I also think that the multiple uses of the word laborious reflects the potential fatigue from the first 8 months of the season and especially the tiring runs and races in the Summer heat.

As many of you know, I like racing for the opportunity to test and push my limits. Racing so much also provide great, that it hard, training opportunities, training intensity that you would not necessarily reach training alone or even in social and fun runs. Moreover, racing also provides great opportunities to have fun by meeting other participants, volunteers and crews, and discovering new places and trails. And an "excuse" to taper from time to time!

After last week's Tamalpa Headlands 50K, I ran 10K on Sunday but was still too sore on Monday. I ran all the other days of the week for a total of 42 miles. On Saturday, I went back to the track for another long tempo run. I wasn't sure how long for but, as it was late morning and quite hot (88F), I set a goal to run laps at or just under 1 minute and 45 seconds, all in lane 2. After the 72 laps of 2 weeks ago, I reached a new milestone with 80 laps this time! One more step toward a marathon and an ultra on the track... Well, quite a few steps actually as my Fitbit counted 25,950 steps for these 20.3 miles (I was curious about how longer a lap is in lane 2 and, of course, the Internet has the answer! See: Track Training - Differences in Lane Lengths). I was very pleased with the regularity of my laps, I only ran 6 laps slightly above 1:45 for 3 bottle-change stops and 3 changes of direction (every 5 miles). Average lap time: 1:44, spot on!

On Sunday, I wanted to have a more precise goal to log a few miles and I chose to run from home to the Palo Alto airport. I had been months since I did this run and I thought it was going to be a short ultra (28 miles or so) but forgot it was closer to 33 miles, thankfully with a few water stops on the course. It's about 5.8 miles from home to the start of the Stevens Creek trail in Sunnyvale, then 6 miles to Shoreline Lake. By Bixby park in Palo Alto, my GPS shows 15.4 miles, a place with restrooms and water fountain which I sometimes use as a turn around for 50K goals. I did stop for a while to cool down, I really needed it! Then I went on around the Palo Alto airport and golf, stopping again for a few minutes at the Baylands Sports center. There was a breeze but, for some reasons, I couldn't bear with the 90F temperature and blazing sun at noon. I ran back to Shoreline, along 101 and made another stop at the Lakeside café which was super crowded. Got a Coke and some ice and, still under 7:25 min/mile, went back on the Stevens Creek Trail toward Sunnyvale and Cupertino, seeing less bikes than 2 hours earlier in the morning. I covered the 33 miles in 4 hours and 4 minutes, not counting the handful of long stops I made to drink and cool off. Our Summer is definitely not over, glad there is still water at these drinking fountains, phew! Can't wait for a rainy Fall and Winter now...

Another 12-mile run this Monday, and in 90F+ temperatures at mid day. I would have run a few more miles but I was pressed by... work. Yes, on Labor Day... Overall, not an extravagant ultra training weekend, "just" 108 miles for the week, and flat ones, but at a better/faster pace nevertheless.

As for playing, I did enjoy following quite a few fellow runners at the grueling UTMB (Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc). Francois d'Haene won with a magisterial new course record of 20 hours and 11 minutes, improving Killian Jornet's record (20:36 in 2011) and Xavier Thevenard (20:34 in 2013)! To put things in perspective, Anton Krupicka finished in 26 hours and Michael Wardian finished 10 hours after Francois, yet he placed 123 overall, out of more than 2,000 starters. On the women side, Rory Bosio of California won this year's edition again, twice in a row! After training quite a few times on the course, I need to get this beast on my program sooner than later.

Hope you had a relaxing Labor Day Weekend, yet didn't stay on the couch! Have a good and short week all, or a full one for those who are not reading from the US or Canada.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Tamalpa Headlands 50K 2014: slower but barely fast enough?

It was only my 4th participation to this event so I can't say I have the same love story that I have with Ohlone and Skyline. Actually, it started on a bumpy road in 2007 when the event was serving as the USATF National 50K Trail Championships. Back then, I was still thinking that a 50K was merely a marathon with 8 more kilometers, how hard could it be. I had pleasure re-reading my 2007 race report and remembering my excitement about participating for the first time in a national event, only to find out that very few runners flew in from other states so we were competing among the usual suspects. It was my first encounter with Cliff Lentz who dominated our Masters division. Taking third after Steve Stowers who made the 100K Team USA the next year wasn't small feat. Yet, I wasn't so proud of my time of 4:23, it will take a few years before I appreciate that the course is actually quite challenging.

2008 was a strange edition. Only 77 entrants, championships cancelled at the last minute and most of us having slower times. Given the small field, my 4:40 was good enough for 3rd overall and 2nd Masters behind... Cliff of course!

Fast forward 5 years, my third participation was in 2013, on a new course, now starting from Muir Woods instead of Rodeo Beach. And a great experience with a Personal Best and Masters win for my last year in the M40-49 age group. And 4th overall behind Alex Varner who crushed the course record, Jon Olsen before he went to win the World 24-hour and Bob Shebest who had just won Tahoe Rim Trail 100. Good times.

This year, I was mostly looking a last good battle with Mark Richtman before he turns 60. Mark pushed my limits at Miwok where we finished a couple of minutes apart after racing for 100 kilometers on a hilly course. Mark has been on the Team USA for 100K a couple of decades ago and he can't wait to turn 60 to dominate this new age group. Unfortunately, he was just back from 5 weeks of hard work throughout Europe (Switzerland, France, Italy, Croatia) with another super athletic friend, on elliptical bikes. When he came back in the area last week he went for a run to find out that the lack of running had taken a toll on his quads so, despite being in an incredible shape, he decided to pull out and save his quads from a potential injury, rather than putting his hope to set a new Age Group course record at Western States next year. Ultra wisdom.

Another motivation would have been our Grand Prix team competition but, with the strong Tamalpa participation (18), another Excelsior show and Jeremy who didn't want to push as he is a few weeks from a 100-mile in Idaho, it was determined we didn't have a chance this Saturday.

Since I have many more points than I need to win my Age Group Grand Prix for the 8th straight year, the only remaining motivation was to have another good training run and take a shot at the AG Course Record. Which, according to Gary Wang's RealEndurance.com was 4:29:43 . How hard could that be after running 4:19 last year, right...?

Actually, that was from local Mark Ritchman of course, back in 2005 when he had just turned 50. And I believe this was on the previous course. Since then, Mark ran a 4:32:58 in 2011 which I assume was on the revised course. In any case, I didn't want to take any chance so 4:29:43 was what I set my mind as the time to beat this year.

On Friday, Eric Shrantz posted on his UltraRunnerPodcast.com that he was expecting a showdown between Lon Freeman and I. Although not racing a lot, Lon was dominating our local circuit when I starting running ultras, winning for instance the famous Miwok 100K in 2008, and also Quicksilver 50M or Ohlone 50K this year. While I was looking for running with Lon again, I thought Eric had really overlooked 6 youngsters and speedsters in the entrants list. Not to mention Mark, Karl Schnaitter again (see our Skyline 50K finish of 3 weeks ago) and Quicksilver teammate, Stephen Wassather. With so many runners much younger, some less than half my age, I was rather thinking that it would be a performance to already get in the top 10. By the way, that was not counting Yiou Wang from the Asics Aggies, who Gary Gellin was even giving for not only F1 but also M1 (overall winner).

With that, Race Director Tim Fitzpatrick let us go at 7:30 am, for a heck of a fast start. It was foggy with temperatures in the 60s, perfect conditions for running hard. I settled in 14th on the first single trail, close to Cliff, Karl, Stephen, Lon and Yiou and we climbed the steep Coastal Trail out of Muir Beach together, already loosing sight of the top 6 runners. Stephen and Karl led our way down to Pirate Cove, me happy to follow Yiou in the tricky trail going down the cove. Yiou's strength is the uphills and I would have passer her on a fire road, but, since I broke my shoulder, I'm much slower and more prudent on any technical downhill.

Lon and Cliff were slightly behind and I decided to keep pushing and keep up with the younger folks and ran all the steep uphill out of the cove (you need to know the trail to really appreciate... ;-). On the way down to Tennessee Valley, I hammered down to catch-up with Stephen and Karl, flying by Yiou who was struggling going faster yet returned my encouragement. One guy looking like Anton Krupcika joined us at the end of the fire road, climbed up to Wolf Ridge with us but left us in the dust in the technical trail going through the bunkers, before going down to Rodeo Beach.

Stephen and I climbed Miwok Trail together, with Karl quietly staying a hundred yards behind. At his point (mile 8.5) I couldn't see much of Lon or Cliff, not even Yiou which surprised me. I didn't stop at the Tennessee Valley aid station wither and kept pushing the pace on Miwok with Stephen shortly behind, then Karl.

Karl caught me first at the end of the Miwok Trail, around mile 17, about the same distance where he passed me at Skyline earlier this month. We could keep sight of him all the way up to Pantoll on the legendary Dipsea trail, up to the infamous Cardiac aid station (not the aid station, but the Cardiac hill! ;-). This time, I had to make a stop at the aid station to refill my GU2O bottle, it will be the only stop I'll make for the whole race, thanks to taking Vespa and carrying the 3 GUs I took that Saturday. I was slightly tired after the climb and pushing to not lose Karl and took an extra S!Caps as I could sense some cramping coming. I decided to ease-up on the way down to Stinson Beach, and could see Karl less than 2 minutes ahead at the top of Matt Davis Trail but lost sight of him in the switchbacks, especially as I was really careful hoping over all the roots and steps in this section. I used to love this technical section but, now, it feels much longer and painful. Here is a picture at the Matt Davis trail junction, photo credit Pam Wendell (she graciously posted 285 pictures in a FaceBook album):
Stephen caught me at the end of the trail and we reached the aid station together, him doing a quick stop, me just flying back (sorry Andy Ward for not acknowledging much your encouragements and Kevin Rumon for taking you by surprise as you were away from the table! ;-).

I had my first steps of walking at the bottom of the Dipsea Trail, mostly to catch my breath while taking my 2nd Gu and one more S!Caps but I told Stephen we had to keep moving, albeit shuffling the stairs up. We couldn't see Karl anymore in the distance that meant we had lost at least 2 minutes on him. On the other end, I couldn't see anyone behind either which was good because I didn't feel like pushing much anyway. I even lost sight of Stephen in Steep Ravine in which I walked way too much to my taste. I took a third Gu to give me an extra boost for the final mile up to Pantoll and that helped me getting moving again as soon as I reached Old Mine Trail.

I reached the Cardiac aid station after 4 hours and 2 minutes of running. I first asked Alex about his course record and he replied it was safe. Then I asked a volunteer how many miles to the finish, she said 3.8 miles. I had 27 miles on my Garmin, that meant basically 4 miles under 7 min/mile, time to move. I was happy to see my GPS average pace going in the mid 6 min/mile range and kept pushing as much as I could. Many of theses miles are very runnable, so that helped. But then I reached the final 25 or so switchbacks of Heather Cutoff Trail and I was getting really concerned to see the time flying and the pace now back over 7 min/mile with all the needed stops at every switchback turn. And, after a final sprint in the flat meadow, really relieved to cut the finish line in... 4:27:36, good for an new age group course record indeed, and just good enough for top 10, phew!

Now, back to the title: while this time was good enough to meet my main goals, let's talk about the team competition. With most of their members helping out with the event and two of their 3 lead listed runners, Mark Richtman and James Nielsen, not running, Tamalpa didn't do so well yesterday. Excelsior took advantage of the situation for winning the team competition again with Karl, Cliff (4:45) and Jason Reed (4:54). Jeremy surprised me by finishing in 5:15, way ahead of his goal. What I didn't realize before playing with all the data in Excel is that we ended losing to Excelsior by a mere 3 minutes and 20 second difference. I would have known, I would have pushed more in Steep Ravine, just for the sake of being done with the season. Anyway, like some people say, it is what it is... Kudos to Stephen for a very strong 4:23 for his first run on this course!

One big surprise upon finishing was to see Yiou who was there, eating a piece of pizza. I couldn't believe she had passed me so that meant she had dropped. Indeed, shortly after passed her on the way down to Tennessee Valley, she slipped in the downhill and torn a muscle in her quad. She has so much potential on the marathon, it was a bummer but certainly a good decision to not push further.

The race was won by Ivan Medina, 28, in 3:47:35 for his first 50K. Gallen Burrel was second in 3:52 and Sam Robinson took third in 4:04. Here are Sam and Ivan (#3):
Sam chatting with Gary and Holly:
A few men in blue after the effort:

Jim was all fired up telling about the top 3 M60-69 finishing within a minute! (Well, that's before Mark Richtman joins their age group in a few months...)
A huge thank you first for Tim and Diana Fitzpatrick for directing this top class even now in its 28th edition (ultra volunteer Stan Jensen was proudly wearing a "1996 Point Reyes 50K" t-shirt, letting Jeremy and I know that the Headlands 50K had been created to replace that event, due to a permit loss). Second, the hosting Tamalpa Running Club with many members manning the aid stations and keeping us safe at road intersections: thank you to you all, volunteers! Special thanks to Tamalpa member Jed Tukman for bringing to the finish line his delicious thin crust pizzas, straight from the oven:

Between the great finisher goodies (Brooks t-shirt, impressive medal, Barking Frogs buff, EO and Flora Udo's Oil samples, cool tote bag) plus great prizes for age group winners (North Face hood, Bungalo Munch muesli and bowl, Victory Design Coyote 1 organizer) it felt like Christmas in August!
Thank you to all these sponsors who support our ultra sport and community!

Sorry for not having more pictures from the course itself, short of having a crew today or carrying my camera, but you can find many in the previous posts highlighted at the beginning of this post.

My legs were sore this morning but I don't regret having gone for a 10K recovery run at 7:30 min/mile pace, this will allow me to resume training quickly this week. My next goal is a flat 24-hour event in a month, so I'm going to stay away from hills for a few weeks.

PS: for those interested, here is a sneak preview of the results before they are posted on UltraSignup (click on the picture to zoom).