Monday, August 30, 2010

Black Mountain: did I see you up there yet?

Two weeks since the last post. Time flies and I missed the weekly pace, sorry about that. It's not that I was short of thoughts to share about my running. As a matter of fact, I did run 159 miles and climbed 13,400 feet since my last post about this first dad-son half marathon. Not as many miles as I wanted but cannot complain too much, when others would like to log that in a month or two.

Between lot of work (for a change...), meetings, conference calls, slide ware, emails and one sales call in Salt Lake City (it's always cool to meet prospects), my free time got split between training hard for my upcoming 100-miler, my Toastmasters Orbiters Club Officer duties (including officer training, organizing our summer picnic and the design and editing of our very first newsletter), family before Max leaves for Yale and friends (two picnics last weekend). With that, very little time to write, or even sleep...

I had great runs over the past two weeks:
  1. The day after the Wild West Half Marathon with Max, I took the afternoon off and, after sailing with our friends on Lake Tahoe, left Incline Village by 5 PM to climb Tunnel Creek trail and run 6 miles out and back on the Tahoe Rim Trail to the top of the Diamond Peak lift. What a treat to run on this amazing trail going all around the Lake for some 185 miles. That really gave me the bug to run the whole trail one of these days. Ahh, one more item in the to do and Bucket list...
  2. A couple of days later I was in salt Lake City and having dinner in Sandy, just below the Wasatch mountains. There again came another bug to run the hard Wasatch 100 (miles) and here you go, one more project...
  3. This past week, I was in town and so was my running buddy Bob, so we managed to get "back on track", meaning back to the Moutain View High School track for some speed workouts. It felt so good to get some fast laps. On Tuesday we did a series of 4 1,200 meters and my fastest was 3:57. On Thursday, a series of 3 miles, clocking 5:13 for my last one. I could feel muscles and fibers in my hamstring which I didn't feel for a long time with the fast leg speed and longer stride. Speed work is really something important to include in our training, and I didn't do enough of it these past months with all the racing, insanely early calls, and travel. Fortunately, the five high schools of our local Cupertino High School District are building 5 brand new tracks in the area, so this will give even more opportunities to get... back on track!
  4. A nice run last Wednesday at Alviso with one of my colleagues, with temperatures close to 100F. Finally some heat training!
  5. Quite a few loops in the neighborhood, some neighbors must get bored to see me passing by... I actually found a new 3.1-mile loop (5K) minimizing road crossings, which I did 8 times over three runs in the past two weeks.
  6. Last but not least, I had three long 30-mile runs gravitating around Black Mountain. Enough miles to come with a series of thoughts and anecdotes, so here you are in a special section of this post.
Here is a panorama I took in March 2010 from the top of Black Mountain (click on the image to enlarge):

Popular Black Mountain

Black Mountain dominates Cupertino and is situated within the city boundaries. Yet, for many years, I have rarely seen anyone up there but a few adventurous hikers and the usual ultra runners whom I'm quite connected with through various groups and clubs. Well, I'm not sure what happened recently but this has changed, at least for the past two weeks. Here are some vignettes illustrating the newly popularity of the place.
  1. A week ago, I was doing my solitary, tough and long run starting from home and climbing to the top of Black Mountain on Montebello Road (asphalt), then looping on Montebella Vista before coming back through Rancho San Antonio. As I was completing the Montebella Vista loop, I ran into teammate Sean. He was with another runner, Michael, and it was their first clinb to the top of Black Mountain, after many runs within the Rancho San Antonio vicinity. You see, that's at least two new people visiting this amazing spot where you get a 360-degree view on the Bay, Mount Hamilton, Mount Diablo, San Francisco, Oakland, Mount Tamalpais and the Ocean. It was a short 15-mile run for Sean, twice as much for me, yet we both hammered the trail down to the main parking lot. I told Sean that I would have never pushed that much on my own and he replied that it was the same for him; that illustrates the benefit of training with a fast partner... I completed the 29.5-mile loop just under 4 hours (3:56), right on 8 minute/mile pace which is good given the 4,200 feet of cumulative elevation.
  2. Last Saturday, I parked at Rancho San Antonio and was pleased to actually find a parking spot at 6:30 in the morning (the lot usually fills up even earlier on weekends!). I was rushing to meet with a group of ultra runners strating from the Rhus Ridge entrance on the other side of the Park. Just after the Farm, I passed a group of about a dozen runners and Louis called me out. I had seen him at the start of Skyline 50, it was his second 50K. I asked where they were going and he replied... "to the top of Black Mountain!" And that I will probably be there before them. I don't know if it was their first time, but there hasn't many runners doing the 15-mile round trip from Rancho San Antonio, so way to go guys and gals!
  3. I did meet the other group at the top of the steep climb from Rhus Ridge. It has been a while since I did this run and it felt great to reconnect with Mike, Chris, Charles and David. As we were approaching the top of Black Mountain we crossed quite a few Indian hikers coming down. It wasn't even 8 AM so that mean they must have started their hike around 6 AM if not sooner! Again, very unusual to see that many people on the trail, that high and that early in the day.
  4. Just before the summit, we ran into two runners, Doug and Susan who stayed with us for the remainder of the 20-mile loop (I did 10 more miles from and to the main parking lot). They recently moved back to California, Doug's home state after years spent in other countries and states, the latest being Utah. Doug admitted nothing beats the Bay Area weather and they had a lot of fun enjoying again our treasured trails. Welcome back Doug and Susan!
  5. It was even more suprising to see so many hikers this morning that the weather was really not good. After the heat wave of a couple of days ago, the wind was blowing hard at the top, pushing fog and clouds, and it was really getting chilly, likely in the low 60s. Fortunately, we ran the rest of the loop in the sun. Anyway, as we stopped at the Black Mountain camp ground to take some water, we ran into the other Mike. And to add more to this illustration of the popularity of Black Mountain, there were at least 8 tents on the campground. Even at Memorial or Labor Day, I never saw that many.
  6. Our Saturday run continued through the Foothills Park, open to Palo Alto residents only. After a short stop at the Interpretive Center, we went on Coyote Trail, Chris leading the way. I was with Mike and we were talking about our professional careers when we saw Chris turning back with another runner: they had just seen a moutain lion crossing the trail in front of them and camping in a nearby bush just above the trail. I wanted to continue and take a picture, but Chris and Mike said it was really a bad idea and joked saying that would be my last picture and make a great final post, yikes! So we turned back and found another trail to avoid this section. Doing so, Charles, Doug and Susan caught up with us which made a larger group in case we were going to encounter this beast again. We stopped at the Park entrance to warn the Rangers and tell them about our encounter, in a park which is really busy on weekends and many kids playing out there. Sorry, no picture of the animal, but better this way.
  7. I said bye to Mike, David and Charles near the Rhus Ridge parking lot. Indeed, with this affluence, they could not find a single spot so they all parked in a nearby street. Running across the small lot, I saw a Police car and policeman and noticed that the gate was opened. I was wondering what what going on and, as I was pushing hard on the way up to Windmill Pasture, crossed a Ranger. He stopped his huge truck to let me go, but I stopped by to tell him about the mountain lion incident. Before I could even start, he asked which car I had as he was looking for the owner of a car which just got broken into on the parking lot. Damned, with the popularity of this park and this mountain comes the insanity of insecurity, how sad. That's why some "hard core" ultra runners are against promoting the joy of our sport and would rather keep our community exlcusive. A dilemma... At least, my running budies got lucky this time that they could not park on the lot that morning! Back to the Ranger, I told him about our encounter and he was not surprised. He said that if you see deers, then this is mountain lion's food so the lions aren't far (and indeed, several deers we saw during our run). He also said that mountain lions are rarely seen but they are out there and watching us. Brrr, I thought they were all sleeping during day time...
  8. On Sunday, I left home for another of my Montebello Road and Rancho San Antonio loop. I carried my camera the whole way, hoping for great views from the top. There wasn't clouds like the day before, except over the Ocean as most of the time, but the air was not pure, so we couldn't see very far. No pictures of that run then. I passed a couple of bikes on the way up on Montebello Road but got passed by one, a mountain biker who I saw in a few occasions before. Tall and long legs, he is amazingly fluid. In the steep sections, he is going back and forth between the side and middle lines of the road, a sinusoidal trajectory along imaginary switchbacks to be more efficient. I thought that I'll ask him his name if he comes down the same route and, close after the Ridge winery, I saw him coming down really fast yet yelled "Who are you?" He put on the brakes, passes me but stop shortly behind so I run back and, getting to my camera, told him "I need to take a picture of you!" At these words, he leaves promptly and without looking behind at me, so he clearly wants to remain anonymous, oops! I've heard about an ex Ironman champion and triathlon coach living on Stevens Creek Canyon Road, maybe that's him.
  9. At the bottom of my Montavista Trail loop, I saw two hikers looking at a map and I stopped to help. They were looking for the Table Top Mountain, but were off the map so I sent them to the top of the... popular Black Mountain since there were just 1.5 miles away from it (albeit steep miles). However, before leaving them as I was completing the loop clockwise, I made sure they knew that there was water at the campground if they needed any (it says that it is not potable but we do drink it and Charles said that it is going though two UV filters, as long as the electricity is up at the campground). I actually saw them at the campground as I was leaving after refilling my Gu2O bottle, and I indicated the shortest way back to Skyline Boulevard where they had started in the morning. Again, new people on Black Mountain!
  10. At the campground there was also 2 horse riders, which is also uncommon. They were coming from the Stevens Creek Canyon road I believe. Busy camp ground this weekend! On my way down to Rancho San Antonio I saw a handful of runners and then of course many people around the Farm, which is one mile away from the parking lot. I completed the loop again in a record time in 3:55:59, pushing all the way through the streets of Cupertino. In addition to 2 bottles of Gu2O and 2 S!Caps, I had taken only 1 Gu (100 calories) and a Snickers bar (240 cal) while SportTracks rated my run at 2,900 calories spent. Needless to say, I was starving and enjoyed a chicken Caesar salad with Alex. Still 20 minutes after my run and a short hot shower my lips where blue and I weighted 124 pounds instead of the usual 127-128. I was much better after soaking for 15 minutes in the jacuzzi and a 30' nap, ready to work for several hours on presentations and catching up with emails. Not much time to rest, life goes on.
You can see a few pictures of our Saturday run in my Picasa album, as well as previous runs from Rhus Ridge: August 2010, October 2009, April 2009. As well as other pictures taken around Black Mountain in March 2010,

Ok, that's it for the Black Mountain news. Until I see you too up there, ok?

One last thing: this weekend was the Angeles Crest 100-miler and also the UTMB (Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc). Being familiar with the course, it is the latter that I followed partially. Actually very partially as the race was stopped after 20 miles (out of 104 miles) due to bad weather conditions (rain and snow) and a major mud slide on the course on the Italian side. To make up for the disappointment of the interruption, the organizers proposed to the participants to run the second half, also known as the CCC for Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix, the part of the course which I ran solo this past July (except for the finish through La Flégère). Unfortunately, not all runners received the text message. Jim Magill did and ran the CCC instead then, but not Mark Nassi from the Bay Area, creating a double frustration for him. It was the 6th edition of UTMB and they had bad weather before but that was the first cancellation. The alea and hazardousness of mountaineering...

I'm on my way to Austin, TX, for business and I will be tapering for the next two weeks. Take care, stay healthy and run happy!


RunSophia said...

ahhh, Black Mountain! Once a weekly run to the top, now infrequently with more time in the car than on the trail. Sorry to have missed the mini reunion of old friends - and the cougar sighting.

Lee J said...

The other day I saw 2 gals running pretty quickly up the mountain. Not used to seeing people run that fast (and they were two of the fastest female runners I have seen on a training run too), my friend who I was running with speculated that they ran for a college team (Stanford perhaps? or maybe one of the other college teams across California).

Perhaps you might know who I'm talking about? I was certainly impressed.

Jean Pommier said...

Sophia, thank you for saying hi. We also miss you. As a matter of fact, I think of you and Brian at each of these Rhus Ridge as I we run along Los Trancos Creek and remember charging down this section with Brian. BTW, the trail isn't getting better, not sure how long it's going to hold against erosion and slides...

Lee, with all this traffic, it's hard to keep up with all. Your encounters don't ring a bell. This trail definitely provides great hill training.

Anonymous said...

Do you know of any flat and fast 5k races in the bay area within the next week or two?

Jean Pommier said...


If you can wait for 3 weeks, I highly recommend Trailblazer 5 or 10K in Mountain View.

Otherwise, here are a few pointers you can explore:


Running in the USA (races in CA) (Bay Area)