Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Mount Diablo trail maintenance: ultra gardening

That was a special weekend: after a good week of training for American River, I spent more time than a long run on Saturday, not running but working on the trail. It was also a special weekend because the Barkley 100-mile has been on and Flyin' Brian Robinson is still not done as I started writing this (more on this at the end of this post).

Service requirement

Here is a precision for the non ultra insiders: in addition to registration fees and potential qualifying standards, several 100-mile races require that every participant provides some service back to the running community. The two acceptable forms are: volunteering at an ultra or trail race (setting it up or helping out at one of the aid stations) or doing some trail maintenance. Typically 8 hours of your time.

Last year I didn't do the trail maintenance but provided these hours by serving as Captain of the Last Chance aid station (mile 43 on the Western States course), for the fourth year. This year, I'm co-captaining again, with Robin (Bob and Marsha left the Bay Area and moved East last year). Robin has just retired from Adobe and takes a lot on his shoulder. So much that it provides me with the opportunity to do trail maintenance. After all these years enjoying the trail, it is time I get involved in their maintenance (other than removing branches when I lead the way of our Saturday morning runs in Woodside for instance...).

400 runners x 8 hours, that 3,200 hours of service or about 2 full-time equivalent person working for a year. You would think that the Park Rangers would be thrilled by such a help, and that it would be easy to give a hand. Well, not really. These trail maintenance operations have to be organized and there are not that many despite the many trails we have around.

Thankfully, I received an invitation from PCTR (Pacific Coast Trail Runs) who had put on their busy calendar two opportunities: one on Mount Diablo in April, and one at Big Basin later this spring. Agnès wanted to drive back to Mount Diablo, remembering good times we had with the boys running on the slopes, in the grass and the colorful poppies. Unfortunately, the boys have grown up a lot and have busy scheduled of their own, so Agnès had to stay, in particular to drive Greg to the Fencing Academy in the morning.

For the ones who do not know yet, PCTR has been created by Sarah and Wendell, two local ultra runners. Their venture is so successful that they both left their job for this running "company." And they even recently offered a permanent position to Marissa, so ultra is creating jobs, a sign of maturity for this young and increasingly popular sport. A story similar to Philippe's one in France who left his job to manage the ultrafondus magazine, full time. Kudos guys and gals!

We were about 20 to gather this Saturday morning. About half had similar service requirement sheet to fill in, either for Western States or Angeles Crest. The others where genuine volunteers, or maybe interested in getting the trail in good shape for their coming Mount Diablo 50 run (in 2 weeks).
Some familiar faces such as Chihping, the Ultrailrunning Family Man and blogger, and Kermit. Kermit surprised me by announcing that he accepted that Vincent paces him for his Badwater run this summer. I had posted messages in different forums on Vincent's behalf, to advertise Vincent's pacing offer. Vincent plans on running the 2010 edition of Badwater and got a sponsor who pays for airfare for him to come and pace this year. Vincent was thrilled with the news. Sarah, too, for having helped making the connection, following my post. And, last but not least, Kermit for getting someone as competent and experienced as Vincent as fourth pacer to complete his crew. Yet another happy outcome of my efforts in connecting the dots between the American and French ultra communities!
The ones who had planned to work for the entire day were sent to the end of the trail (by car). I stayed with Tom (Kaisersatt), an active member of my club, The Stevens Creeks Striders, and our friend club, San Jose Fit.
We worked on the loop close to the Rock City/Living Oak parking area and campground. I'm not sure if we even covered one mile in more than 4 hours, but we certainly did a meticulous job. Hundreds of poison oak branches, which was the main task assigned to us. But, because or thanks to the tools which we got, Tom started to transform some sections from single track to double track.
Sarah had told us to think of horse riders and also tall runners like Scott Jurek to make sure we were cutting not only the low branches along the trail. And also to go quite deep on each side to make the exercise worth and lasting for 5 years.
Not sure about 5 years, but the runners coming on this trail in two weeks should definitely appreciate this section! I wish the same is done to the Miwok trail before May... Where I got badly hit with poison oak last year.

Here is a very particular rock formation which the Diablo 50 runners will notice while running "our" manicured section:
A very green Mount Diablo in the foreground, and foggy Bay Area in the background:
American River training

After the great run at Way Too Cool, I'm excited to race again this weekend. Running American River 50-mile (AR50), between Sacramento, the California capital and Auburn, the worldwide capital of endurance.

This is a particular race, half road, half trail. Sometimes with mud and rain, but it should be dry and warm this weekend. Put quite a few miles in these past weeks, yet nothing compared to what Anton Kupricka is putting (180 to 200 miles per week, when I ran a total of 277 miles for the long month of March). I am so excited he is coming to run AR, this will be the first time I have a chance to see him in person! If you remember my tagging questions from Mark Tanaka, I hesitated between Anton and Karl Metzler for the person I wanted to meet on the trail and picked Karl. Maybe I will see both of them this year actually!

Driving all the way up to Mount Diablo (60 miles, not so good from a sustainability standpoint...) I had planned to run after our trail work. But, between the overcast weather, the fatigue and the fact that Agnès could not joined, I decided to drive back home instead. It is one of the running paradox: I am less tired running 6 hours straight than spending 2 hours in a museum, walking and stopping at each painting. Same this Saturday with these hours of "ultra gardening." I'm just not trained and used to it...

After my PR on 5K at Big Bunny Fun Run last Sunday, I set a PR on my course from home up to Black Mountain (I even saw Pierre-Yves and David at the top). The training week then included a 2:29 800m (the last of a series of 6 with 1 minute rests) on Thursday, and a fast 9.3-mile loop at Rancho on Friday. I thought I had also PR'ed on this loop and checked my running log: that was only the 8th time out of 72 runs of this loop since 2000. Close, still. On the way down, on PG&E, my Garmin 205 GPS marked 4:23 min/mile, and my legs had difficulty coping with the speed and gravity. But I really enjoyed the speed!

On Sunday I went back up to Black Mountain plus a 4-mile loop on the other side of the mountain (Bella Vista Trail), back trough Rancho San Antonio and Cupertino, working on speed and mental. Thinking of Brian on the Barkley course helped me a lot and I barely stopped during the 29-mile/4-hour run, even in the steep uphills.

Let us see how all this will pay off on Saturday!

The Barkley weekend

It should be worth at least one single post, but I was not there to take pictures or get the details of this incredible race. Or is it really a race, or more an ultra hike?

The so-called Barkley marathons started in 1986 but it is only in 1996 that Mark Williams was the first to complete the 100 miles within the alloted time of...60 hours! We are so proud to have Mark in our Stevens Creek Striders running club in Cupertino, and I'm grateful to him for having provided my with strong ultra foundations. Since Mark's achievement, 6 people have repeated this fate, with Brian being the last one, this weekend, setting a "course" record of 55 hours and 47 minutes. To give an indication of the difficulty of this run, most of the 35 participants have trouble completing even one 20-mile loop under the time limit of 12 hours, despite their ultra experience. 7 runners completed the so-called "fun run" of 3 loops (100K).

To learn more about Brian, see the end of my February 29 post. There are also a few pictures of his last step to the finish "line" on Monday, here. Needless to say, the American ultra community is in awe seeing such a fate. Even the French are speaking of this on the UltraFondus' forum.

And since so many things are connected within this ultra running community, Sarah's significant other and PCTR partner, Wendell, was also running Barkley this weekend. He did not make the cut-off time of the second loop unfortunately. Here are some of his words after his attempt:

I did most of loop 2. I actually felt pretty good until I hit the greasy mud wall going up Testicle Spectacle. It was hands, knees, and a stick trying to get up. I was totally spent when I got to the top. I continued for another couple hours until I hit Rat Jaw that had more of the same. I knew my Fun Run goal "slipped" away and I decided to head back to camp.

We're looking forward to seeing Brian come in. We're all amazed at what he's doing.

Despite the toughness, Wendell is already a candidate for next year. But this time, Sarah and Aaron will make the trip, with some vacation time in Tennessee.

During the weekend, the Greek "god" of ultra running (insider comment), Yiannis Kouros, was making an attempt to take back the indoor 48-hr world record to a Japanese, at the BRNO 48-hr indoor even in Czech Republic. From what I could find on the web, he missed the record, yet won the event (of course!) and ran 408 km (254 miles).

254 miles in 48 hours on a track, indoor. 100 miles in 56 hours on the Barkley course. And some want to compare ultra running (as a whole) to marathon, from an effort or performance standpoint (see the controversial post of Lance, the Harlem runner)... These are both amazing fates, but they just cannot be compared. Period.

A busy running week, time to tapper for AR...

See you there!

PS: oh, by the way, everything in this post is deemed true, despite the special post date. At least to the best of my knowledge! ;-)


Anonymous said...

C'est bien d'avoir participé au défrichage!

Pierre-Yves said...

Hi Jean, I really like reading your blog, there is a lot of passion and information in it.
All the best for AR50. Greetings from Shanghai (on a business trip).
PS: I have to run on these horrible treadmills, the only way to stay alive due to the pollution and the traffic.

Dave - Atlanta Trails said...

4.23 min/mile? WOW!

Jean Pommier said...

You are such a great reader, Dave. Yes 4:23 pace but in a steep downhill. I've hard time to believe guys go faster than than on track, without the gravity.

Needless to say, it's not safe to keep an eye on the CPS while flying that fast on a trail. But it is a fire road, so OK.

Have a good weekend,


willgotthardt said...

Have a great AR50 Jean, you're on a nice roll, hope it continues for you. Excellent post, as always.

Will G.

Anonymous said...

Salut Jean,
Que veulent dire PR , AR et les autres abréviations ?
Sinon comme le dit ta maman, c'est super cette idée d'apporter de son temps pour entretenir nos parcours de jeu.
Je ne serai pas contre un petit 50 miles en californie ;o))
Soul94 (ufo)

Jean Pommier said...


Désolé, j'essaye de ne pas abuser, mais c'est vrai que j'utilise trop les abbréviations du jargon local.

- PR: Personal Record (record personnel). On dit aussi parfois Personal Best.
- AR: American River
- WS: Western States
- WTC: Way Too Cool

Bon, et UTMB, c'est Francais, ok? ;-)

Merci pour ta lecture, et dis moi si tu arrives à passer nous voir en Californie.

Un super site pour les informations sur l'ultra, et le nom des courses les plus connues ici: celui de Stan Jensen.

Jean (alias Pom sur le forum ufo).