Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Running in Columbus, Ohio: Olentangy Trail

Business travel isn't always fun, especially when flying domestic, but I love to discover new places especially when they are as runner-friendly as Columbus, OH. Downtown is pretty boring, especially at night and during the week, when there isn't a big hockey game, but the Mayor and his Parks & Rec are really committed to getting the local community fitter.
They designed a network of bike paths which extend dozen of miles from downtown, ideal for some long runs. Incidentally, the weather this week has been perfect, quite sunny after a major storm on Sunday and temperature around 70F at the end of the afternoons. I was able to go on a run twice this week and enjoy the 14-mile trail along the Olentangy river. It's now time to taper again before this Sunday's 50K race.
Needless to say, Columbus is the nationwide capital, like Cupertino is for Apple. Here is Nationwide's headquarters, a 1978 building on Nationwide plaza:
On the Nationwide Boulevard, you pass a monument which looks like a ruin from Italy or Greece, with Corinthian-style columns:
Well, thanks to Google, I learned that this wasn't coming from Europe but the remains of a local train station, Union Station #3.

The best way to catch the Olentangy trail from downtown is to hop on Long Street and run toward the West, you will find a trail starting in North Bank Park and a bridge going over the estuary of the Olentangy River and its confluence with the larger Scioto River.
The bike path has mile markers which you can't miss:
The path goes on for miles along the quiet river:
After 2.5 miles, you run along the campus of the Ohio State University (OSU), home of the Buckeyes:


At about mile 4, you pass under the Lane Avenue bridge,
where you can stop and cross over to visit a very special monument to honor cancer survivors on the other side of the river, an opportunity to think of all the people who know who are battling cancer so courageously:

See my Picasa photo album for more pictures of the 16 motivational plaques around Victor Salmones' sculpture:

On my way back, after sunset, I started seeing flashes in the dark bushes and wondering if I was hallucinating... No, I can still run 16 miles safely, it was just a myriad of fireflies or, as the locals call them, lightning bugs. They are quite hard to photograph while flying but look closely at this black picture, you should see a fluorescent green spot (it not, you need to see your eye doctor! ;-).
And here is a closer look and more interesting view of a Photinus firefly:
Again, that's only one of the trails composing a much larger network, some trails still under construction or only planned, but a major commitment to bikers, including commuters, something which reminded me of what I've seen in Scandinavia for instance in Sweden this winter.
With that, if you ever stop by Columbus, Ohio, you'll know where to run!

Have a great rest of the week and see some of you at Skyline 50K, that will be my 8th consecutive one, 47th 50K race, looking forward to it!


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Tahoe Rim Trail 100-mile 2014: yikes, again...

It was the 9th edition of Tahoe Rim Trail 100-mile, not quite the 41 years of the mother of all trail 100-milers, Western States, but a history and legacy is steadily forming in Nevada. And, along the history of the event, the creation of many very personal stories as participants experience both "A glimpse of heaven, a taste of hell..." (as the event tag line says). From our Quicksilver team, Mark Tanaka was back for a 5th finish. Defending champion, Bob Shebest, had already 3 finishes under his belt, each time shaving 2 hours of his time. Victor Ballesteros was back after three bad experiences and DNFs on this course. And, including the 50-mile distance, there were runners coming back for their 10th participation.
In comparison, my own story with TRT 100 is rather short. 2 years ago, I got in but broke my shoulder the day before the training runs, farther on another section of the TRT, a few weeks before race day: DNS (Did Not Start). Last year, I really enjoyed discovering the course in the first 50-mile loop but messed up my stop at the main aid station and got dehydrated and lost motivation in the next 12 miles, dropping at Tunnel Creek 4 (4th passage through that aid station): DNF (Did Not Finish).

This year, it was supposed to be "my" 100-mile scoring event (we can only score one 100-mile event in our Grand Prix) except that I later decided to fly back from Europe in June to run the 24-hour race which was added later to our list of events and where I logged 127 miles, getting the points of a 100-mile event. With that, my main goals became to improve the M50-59 age group record which was at 23:03.

Agnès and I drove to Carson City and arrived just in time for the check-in (I hadn't realized it was such a drive from the Bay Area with the long stretch on Highway 50). Quite a few familiar faces but also many runners coming from other states with a handful from abroad (Canada, Mexico, France).
For the pre-race briefing, the Nevada State Assembly amphitheater was filled with an unusual population, several hundreds ultra runners all anxious to hear about the race details and conditions, especially the weather forecast.
Last year was exceptionally hot and dry but other years are actually chilly with some of the trail sections covered with snow, so quite a range. And the week leading to the race had an unusual high number of storms with lightning on the course as well as rain and even hail. At least this was cooling off the area and it wasn't supposed to be as hot as last year. And here is Dean explaining the subtle use of the timing mats at Tunnel Creek:
While it was amazing to get the timing chip technology introduced to this event for the first time, I must disclose from the feedback I received from family members and friends and my own when tracking other team members later, that the website needs some important user experience redesign to become more intuitive...


For those following my blog, you might remember that I did run a "fat ass" in June with Guillaume Sautai in, or more precisely around, Rouen, France. Guillaume included TRT in a family vacation, touring the American great west. Here he is, at the start, between myself and Frederic, another Frenchman of the Bay Area and new teammate on our Quicksilver Ultra Running Team.
Chatting with Guillaume while getting ready...
We started promptly at 5 am. The temperature was already in the high 60s and it felt good to run before the sun hits us later in the morning.
Bob Shebest immediately took the lead and I thought I'll never see him again. I really wanted to pace myself (read: not start too fast) and, without pushing at all, settled in 3rd place for the first climb. Last year I didn't take a lamp with me and had to piggy back on the runners in front of me and guess where the rocks and roots were, which is a bit stressful and risky. This year, I took a headlamp with me which I switched off at 5:30 (you really need light for 20 minutes).

On the final switchbacks of the climb, we caught up with Bob, then he disappeared in the next downhill section, he is such an amazing descender! Just keeping jogging the last uphill before Hobart (mile 7), we caught him up again and I actually passed him to take the lead as he made a stop at the station, while I had enough fluids in my two bottles to cover the first 11 miles to Tunnel Creek 1. We were a group of 6 runners and, for what it is worth, that is nothing, I was the first to get to the "photo shoot" as we were passing a ridge with the sun rising. Bob passed all of us again in a down hill, then we passed him again on another climb. Sincerely, the pace felt ok but my plan wasn't to race against Bob so that got me uncomfortable. In the switchbacks down to Tunnel Creek I even told the group "I'm too hold to be at the front!"

We reached Tunnel Creek at 6:54 am, that is 4 minutes faster than the race plan I had printed out on Thursday, credit to Frank Schnekenburger's UltraSplits website. Despite power hiking the 3.5 miles and 1,700 feet elevation gain up to Tunnel Creek, my crew, Agnès and our friends from Incline Village, missed me by 2 minutes. The time I find my drop bag to take a Vespa, I was the last of our group of 6 to take the plunge down to Red House. I could still see Bob in the lead but, with 2.5 miles of steep downhill in which he excels, that was the last time I was going to see him that time. Here is Bob in a solid lead by mile 17:
With the pounding of rushing down the steep trail, my intestine started to hurt really bad. I started to have some GI (gastrointestinal) issues earlier in the week while teaching at a boot camp in Austin, TX, and was hoping to have it under control by race morning, but not quite so unfortunately. It became unbearable on the way up to Tunnel Creek 2 and, with the pain, I had hard time smiling at the runners who were crossing in that section and nicely providing us with encouragements.
As I reached the aid station, the medical staff took my weight which was just one pound below the weight on my bracelet. Then I rushed to the porta-potty, my first of many stops to take care of my diarrhea. I was still able to drink but, too uncomfortable with my GI system and being a bit nauseous, I wasn't eating much, certainly not enough to sustain the effort throughout the day and night at this rate. In retrospective I should have stopped longer at the station to take care of the issue but, with the racing spirit in my mind, I went on toward Bull Wheel, albeit now at a much lower pace which was kind of depressing only 20 miles in the race.
I got passed by a few runners in that 9-mile section to Diamond Peak, making 3 or 4 stops behind bushes or rocks to take care of the painful "business..." It almost feels that the saying "shit happens" is appropriate in my race report to sum-up my morning, sorry for the crude expression...

It was a relief to see my friends at Diamond Peak, along with teammates Toshi and Sachin. Toshi had come from the Bay Area to pace me from mile 50. 2 weeks ago, he was already on this Tahoe Tim Trail completing an amazing feat, covering the entire loop, 165 miles, in 75 hours, solo and unsupported! They helped me refill my bottles and off I was on the incredibly steep 2-mile ski slope up to Bull Wheel. Not only steep but also sandy, making each step a challenge, especially under a burning sun now. By Diamond Peak I was still right on track according to the 20:40 pace chart, not far from my 2013 splits.

Including a long and painful "pit" stop near the summit, it took me 60 minutes to cover the 2 miles between Diamond Peak and Bull Wheel, yikes, slow motion! As I was approaching the end of the hill, Chris Calzetta caught up with me. Chris joined our team 4 years ago and had a few very successful ultras before getting injured then moving to Monterey and focusing on work and soccer. It was his return on the ultra scene and he seemed to really enjoy the day so far, power walking the steep hills with his poles. We ran together for a few hundreds yards after Bull Wheel but I told him not to wait for me and, indeed, I lost sight of him pretty quickly. I got passed by another handful of runners in the 3 miles to Tunnel Creek 3, on a trail which is both somehow technical with the big boulders and busy as we cross many of the 50-mile and 100-mile runners on their way to Bull Wheel 1 and Diamond Peak 1.
Agnès welcomed me at Tunnel Creek and I told her how bad my GI issues were getting. After another stop at the porta-putty I finally decided to take the few minutes needed to assess and address the issue. I had in my drop bag a medicine to treat stomach and GI issues, which I should have taken at my first or second passage through Tunnel Creek. I also asked for ginger candies which I had heard can help in such cases. Like at Diamond Peak, I was 4 pounds below my Friday PM measure, which was still manageable.
I left the aid station with Victor who started the day with a conservative pace and seemed to finally have a good day on this course. I was barely jogging and he was running so I didn't see him for very long. I actually walked most of the 5 miles to Hobart, getting passed by more and more runners and feeling quite depressed with my average pace falling down, now over 11 min/mile. What I like in ultra running is really the running part, not the walking one... During that section, I decided that I was too sick to meet the goals I had set for the day and that I will stop at mile 50. I spent 30 minutes at Hobart, taking 2 cups of soup, a delicious smoothie, cooling off my head with ice water and staying in the shade of the tents. That helped but I still didn't have the energy, at least mentally, to run. I asked a volunteer (Ken, 10th last year) to text Agnès that I'll drop and to release Toshi so he could pace Chris who didn't have a pacer.

Again, I walked most of the next 3 miles to the next aid station, Snow Valley, at mile 43. That seemed so long, I was really not interested in spending all night moving at that slow pace. I enjoyed the great service and company of the Boy Scouts manning the aid station and stopped for another 15 minutes I believe, able to drink a cup of soup and a few chips. The intestines were now feeling better and I started jogging again but I couldn't even keep up with Mark Tanaka who was himself on a rebound after a tough morning.

Five miles from the 50-mile checkpoint, I got passed by two runners who were shuffling solidly and I decided to try to pick up their pace. It felt really great to be moving and running again and I felt better and better, passing other runners in these final miles getting us to the barn. It felt so great that, upon getting to the aid station, the idea of dropping wasn't so clear to me and I was confusing the volunteers and Agnès with my hesitation. Seems like I was even smiling when I reached the aid station... ;-)
On one hand, with 11 hours for that first loop instead of 9 last year, 90 minutes behind my race plan, it was very clear that I had missed my key goals for the day. But there was still a possibility of finishing, maybe even under 24 hours, or even under 23 hours. Now, with all the pit stops, I was chaffing pretty bad, with the GI issue I had not fueled properly all morning, and my mental was pretty low having had planned for the last 15 miles for a drop at the end of the first loop. To add to the bad excuses, the weather was turning pretty bad in the area and it indeed fired a few nasty hail storms on runners later in the afternoon.

Looking at the results, I'm amazed at Bob's performance with not only another win but in a blazing 17 hours and 38 minutes, a new course record (previous one was set by Thomas Crawford, 30, in 2010 at 17:47)! 2 hours and 45 minutes ahead of second place, Mark Austin, from Boise, ID (Mark who came last year to win the 50-mile race in 8:38). Chris placed 5th in 21:30, Victor 17th (23:28), Mark finished his 5th TRT just under 24 hours with 1 minute to spare (and "screwed" that is without any pacer or crew the whole day and night!); Amy Burton (QuickSilver) took 3rd in the women division in 24:08, 1 minute behind Jamie Frink, Guillaume placed 24th in 24:16 and Frederic completed his first 100-miler in 26:03. And Charles Cheya of Sacramento improved the previous M50-59 age group course record by almost half an hour (22:35:31). We were 10 QuisckSilver team members to toe the line and 8 did finish, quite a successful rate overall: Jill in 29:53, Stephen 30:36 followed 4 minutes later by Scott (30:40), Harris in 32:57 and Jeff in 34:08. And it was inspiring to see other team members stepping up to pace us: Toshi, Guy, David, Greg, Clare, Sandra, Lisa, Harris, kudos to you too!

Apart for the late afternoon storms, the weather conditions were much better than last year, at least not as hot (correction as I read some comments after my original post on FaceBook, the night was actually chilly and even the award ceremony got cancelled on Sunday afternoon because of lightning, rain and flooding. Good for another yikes!). This, plus the support of the volunteers all passionate about ultra running, contributed to many personal successes. It remains a tough course and the loop format is certainly part of the challenge of this event especially if you had a bad experience in the first 50-mile loop.

On Sunday, our friends, Agnès and I hiked up to the Tunnel Creek aid station again to get my drop bag, a good excuse for a morning exercise and some post-race stretching. It was so impressive to see the last runners going through the aid station before the 10:05 am cut-off at mile 85, and also the volunteers who had been up and busy since 5 am the previous day.
That's ultra... volunteering, with Noé Castanon being a prime example of, volunteering when he can't run, even when recovering from shoulder surgery. Here I am with Noé, proudly carrying my Victory Design drop bag (thank you Victor! ;-):
Overall, I'm of course disappointed for having failed at meeting my goals at this race again and adding another DNF to the list (5 out of 101 ultra races in 9 years). But I feel that diarrhea is still a good enough excuse to have only covered 50 miles and it wasn't worth more pain given that I race so much. My main regret beyond of course not getting the unique 150th Nevada State anniversary belt silver minted medallion, is that, after 10 attempts, I'm still struggling at the 100-mile distance. Speaking of racing, next one is in 2 weeks, Skyline 50K, a distance which fits me much better (it will be my 47th!).

Congrats to all who succeeded at TRT, good luck to those who didn't, for a rebound, and I always enjoy meeting you on the trails, or the web!