Monday, May 26, 2008

My training camp: a memorable weekend

Memorial weekend. Of course, first and foremost, a special day to remember all the US Veterans, like I did last July for my own ultra along the beaches of D-Day (below, my grandfather welcoming the American soldiers in 1944 in Trévières, the town he was the mayor of):
But, when you are fan of ultra and Western States in particular, the Memorial Day weekend is synonym with a 3-day training camp on the Western States trail (see my report from last year's camp).

So, how 51, 37 and 38 do sound to you? There are not seconds, yards, minutes or meters for a track workout. They are not even kilometers but the miles I logged over these three days, almost from the comfort of my home (a way to avoid paying $4 a gallon...). 126 miles and 21,409 feet of elevation (positive and negative). 203 kilometers and 6,525 meters for the readers on the other side of the Ocean. Following a 32-mile week with no break after Ohlone. I just didn't know I was capable of handling this...

Apart from the ultra camaraderie which I did miss, running all these miles by myself, the other big missing component from the camp was the heat. But, from what I heard, it was even cooler and even rainy up there on the Western States trail. Indeed, I was not there this year. The main reason is that I'm flying to Europe very early this Tuesday morning, for a 10-day business trip, and it was adding too much to drive away from the family for 3 more full days. Although most of the three days were spent running, I enjoyed Agnès and the boys in the morning and the evening.

Overall, a very memorable weekend, one to remember. And more details below for the record. Almost worth several blog posts...

Quicksilver 50-mile

In one image, here is the intricate Quick Silver course:
It was 2 days after the big fire in the Santa Cruz mountains, but the clouds below are not smoke, and the firemen where just training on the Hacienda Trail.
Everything is very runnable on the Quicksilver course, you just keep going up or down. My main problem on day 1 was that I missed the sign at the start: "Next aid station: 31.5 miles..." Not gas station like you see on the highway. I'm kidding, there was no sign, actually just 3 cars on the parking lot in the morning and the afternoon. I left with my two Ultimate Direction bottles, one filled with GU2O and the other one with water and was out of fluid by mile 21, at the end of Senador. I had spotted on the map a Park entrance there, so did the detour (0.3 miles) hoping to find some water but nothing, I had to experience the thirst that many of the miners must have gone through in this huge mine of the 19th century (with still many artifacts, very much worth the visit).

I met Anton (Krupicka) after his win at American River and I asked him what it takes to learn how to run for tens of miles without drinking and eating like he does. He replied that you need to teach your body and that includes crashing (well, not completely, not dying!), and that he was usually not taking anything unless going for 40 miles and more. With that in mind, I decided to try this regimen for 10 miles, which forced me to walk some of the Mine Hill Trail up to Bull Run. I was also a bit disoriented at English Town and did not find the English Town trail to go down to Hacienda, but did a detour following Mine Hill down to the crossing with Hacienda (adding 0.3 miles).
Needless to say, I was happy to get to the car, my only aid station for the day. In 4:45. Did not have much to eat but drank has much as possible and, after a 15-minute break wondering if it was reasonable to continue, I decided to go for the remainder of the official 50-miler, at least up to Wood Road where I could decide to skip the 8-mile out and back in Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve at Hicks Road. I was already walking a lot by then but decided to still go as far as possible on Wood Road. Trying to find a sign of the turnaround (there was still some chalk from the race of 2 weeks ago on other part of the course), I pushed 0.2 mile beyond the 4.0 mile mark on my Garmin. Had an easy run back to Mockingbird (start and finish parking lot). The real difficult part mentally was to start another loop after the 50K, going up and away from the start, it made the return a breeze. Speaking of which, it was cool all day, no more than a few minutes of sun shine during all day. I was thinking of the Western States training campers whom I knew were experiencing rain and hail showers.

Completed my run in 8:33, which made me appreciate how incredible Graham (Cooper)'s performance was two weeks ago, improving his own course record now down to 6:35:28. I'll be back, with more aid stations along the way to get faster!

At home Grégoire had offered Agnès a full rest day, cooking himself the three meals. I joined the family for a succulent dinner, followed by a movie (Matrix 3 for Max, Alex and I, and The Mask for Agnès and Greg).

Ohlone: look, I'm back!

Rajeev had told me on Friday about the potential rain on Saturday and that I should wait for Sunday to look for heat (training) on the Ohlone course. I had fun coming back on the course one week after winning the 50K. Today I was just aiming at going up to Rose Peak and back, for 38+ miles, time permitting as I needed to get back home by 4:30.

After 3.5 hours of running I was at 18.5 miles, less than a mile from the summit, but had to turn around because I knew the way back up Mission Peak would be challenging. This time again, I missed water in my 18-mile stretch from and to Sunol. But this time, I dare to ask two hiking gals for some of their water as they seem to have plenty along huge backpacks. Filled-up at the only working tap, near the horse corrals (the brand new drinking fountain is broken...) and up again to Mission Peak with a mix of walking and jogging.

37 more miles on day 2, in 6:58. A picture, back home:

Rancho San Antonio: for the mental and pacing tune-up

For day 3 I decided to drive even less and go at Rancho San Antonio (Cupertino). Less elevation, although not much flat either as you can see below but, more importantly, the mental training of doing loops. I did the first one clockwise, starting with PG&E (steeper), the second loop anti-clockwise, then the same again. At least this time I had an aid station (car plus drinking fountains) every 9.5 miles. The toughest being to find a parking spot as many hikers and walkers were out for Memorial Day.

As planned, I called Agnès at the end of loop 2 so she can join me at the end of loop 3. Agnès did some Nordic Walking, with Greg, and Max joined me for a premiere: pacing me for the last 9.5 miles out of 38. That was a test for the two of us as I asked him to pace me from Foresthill down to Rucky Chucky at Western States in one month!Last week on Wednesday I ran with Adam (Blum), another ultraholic (thanks Rajeev!) and he proposed to pace me from the river to the finish. Adam is very fast. He was going to Portland this weekend to defend his 2nd place at the Forest Park 20K, which he did (2nd overall again this year).

Bottom line, I learned a few things over this very personal and individual camp. That you can recover after crashing by keeping moving. Yet, that drinking is important (I knew it, I just believe I'm too old to follow Anton's precepts, or cannot afford to take the risk of crashing often enough...). I confirmed Max as a pacer for the 16 miles after Foresthill. Last year I discovered I could run 100 miles over 4 days, this year 126 miles over 3 days and even more elevation. I saved a lot of gas by not driving to the cold Western States trail and, more importantly, I did spend some quality time with the family before my 10-day business trip to Paris. I decided to register to Mount Diablo 50K, hoping this will provide the heat training for Western States, unless it keeps cool like that until the end of June... Running alone is part of the ultra experience, but I do look forward to seeing you all on the trails in June!


Dave - Atlanta Trails said...

Maybe I can join you at the end of some of your longer runs in the fall...

What an accomplishment this weekend...not just physically, but mentally!

Peter Lubbers said...

Sounds like a great and memorable weekend, Jean. It's great that your son will be pacing at WS100!
All the best,

Adam Blum said...

Wow that is some training weekend! So is this no water thing really helpful for training? At Western States you can explain to me why!

As for my own paltry 20K, I'm not sure that being beaten by seconds for a second straight year is something to be excited about! But thanks for the kudos anyway. I did feel fast enough out there Sunday to not slow you down.

Rajeev said...


What a memorable weekend. Kudos to you for digging deep at the end of 31.5 miles, in Quicksilver, and continuing on to finish 51 miles!

You are indeed a champion!!


Chihping Fu 傅治平 (超馬阿爸) said...


Very impressive! So is your report. You basically covered the best trails in the area without much carbon footprint.

Therefore, I made a WS100 bib#44 for you.


GB said...

Jean what a great report on your 3 day 'camp.' Congratulations on 126 miles over just 3 days! Wow! I cannot even imagine.

I was wondering how you'd feel about Anton Krupicka's methods at the end of the 3 days. He's probably been running like that for so long now that it's nothing to him. And yes, he's young!

Looks like you had a great weekend running AND with your family. Isn't that the best?

When I lived in Cupertino I ran at Rancho so often, and I LOVED it. I miss it there. I'll have to get back and run those trails again sometime soon.

Looking forward to reading about your Diablo 50K.

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Sure beats my 4 straight overnight shifts of 9, 12, 10 and 10 hours, with water and food deprivation replaced by sleep deprivation since the longer than normal shifts precluded my getting an adequate 2nd nap during the daytime. Even if my weekend were free, doubt my toddler or my wife would stand for it. Sounds like you are very prepared for States. Great job!

willgotthardt said...

Great photo of your grandfather (WWII), that's very cool...looking forward to chasing you & Jasper up & down Diablo (twice), see you out there.

Will G.

Anonymous said...


this is hao. i saw you at rancho on memorial day and you looked great for having logged all those miles. see you this weekend at diablo 50k.



Anton said...


I'm impressed; very solid three days of running. I must say, though, that this time of year (i.e. summer) I definitely carry water on most runs of 25 miles or more and usually take a gel or two with me as well...I HAVE done runs of up to 30ish miles/4hrs without water or gels (certainly not 40 miles) but they are almost always in the winter time when temps are much lower.

Just wanted you to know that you in no way should feel like age is hindering you--I need water and calories, too!


P.S. See you at WS in a couple weeks!

Jean Pommier said...

Thanks for letting me and other readers know, Anton. I would not want to spread bad (and potentially dangerous) advice on your behalf!

Glad to see you enjoyed your first experience on the Western States trail. Hope you won't get lost on D-Day, since you are unlikely to follow anyone... ;-)

Have good 100-mile tapering (!) weeks and see you in Auburn!