Monday, December 26, 2011

Happy Boxing Day, Mike and all!

A nice occasion for my 52nd and final post of the year, the celebration of a tradition which started in Great Britain before spreading through the Commonwealth countries; a tradition of wealthy people giving a gift to their servant right after Christmas which evolved into sharing left overs from Christmas celebrations and therefore putting things back into... boxes. Nothing to see with boxing, the combat sport! In countries celebrating Boxing Day it also became a sort of our American Black Friday, a day with big and now cyber sales.
I missed Mike's invite last year and was looking forward to participating into this year's run as we were in town for the Holidays. The timing was also perfect for Max who is leaving tomorrow night for a tour of the East Coast with his Yale a cappella group, the Society of Orpheus and Bacchus or SOBs. Beyond the running experience, it turned out to be the perfect group for Max to connect with many discussions around architecture and industrial design with such gurus of the disciplines in the Valley (Mike, Barry, Dirk, ...).
I had not planned on running today actually as I was 2 weeks in my yearly "maintenance" break and was going to make it 3 weeks, resuming with a very long run at the Coastal Trail Runs' New Year's One Day 12-hour event in San Francisco, running circles on the 1.061-mile loop at Crissy Field in San Francisco. Hopefully the weather will be nicer than when it ran for 8 hours during my first and only attempt at this ultra format, in September 2010. If you happen to be in town to celebrate the new year, please consider stopping by, I plan on running quite a few laps in 8 minutes or so.

Back to Boxing Day, it got really special as soon as I heard about Mike's recent adventure on Labor Day (September 5). Mike, a very experienced ultra runner was running in his neighborhood when he felt pain in his chest and left arm. He was able to jog back to his house, calmly, before his wife drove him straight to the hospital where the cardiologist decided to do a triple coronary artery bypass the same day, not leaving much time to even think and worry about it! The next day, Mike was back on his feet and walking. With an amazing will and discipline, he kept walking and jogging every day, adding a few minutes each day. And here we are, less than 4 months after such a major surgery, with Mike hoping to run the whole way from Portola Valley to the Ocean, about 20 miles! Because Max and I left the group at Skyline, at the time I'm writing this post, I don't know if Mike accomplished his goal but I can tell you that we left him in good company and he was in great shape running most of the 3 miles up to Skyline!
As Max had to be back home by 12:30 pm and I was technically in a running break, resting, we took left on Skyline and got on the Windy Hill trails. After starting the run in the fog down into the Valley, we were now above the cloud and the views were wonderful will all the emerging hills including Mount Diablo on the East side.
See a few more pictures in my Picasa album.

Clay was now leading the way and really picked up the pace on this trail he knows so well, living in Portola Valley himself. We had about 7 miles of running on the road up to Skyline and just above 7 miles to run back to the car, mostly on trails. This part of the loop reminded me of our monthly Saturday morning Windy Hill run which I used to do with Sophia, Brian, Charles, Mike, Chris, Greg, Craig, Ed, to name a few, and Pierre Tardif who still sends us the weekly email (I only do Rhus Ridge the weekends I'm not racing).
14 miles in perfect weather and trails in perfect conditions, I hope the running gods will forgive me for this temptation to run during my official yearly break. I was actually going to blog about an article Agnès and Greg liked in the November 2011 issue of Competitor, in which Scott Jurek share his wisdom about taking a break every year and the benefits, both physical and mental. I couldn't find the article on line ("Don't Run, Gain Weight, Hang out - You will be a better runner, seriously") but I had heard this tip from Scott earlier and you can read more from it in this post: Gimme A Break!

Speaking of hanging out, I attended a private projection of Unbreakable -The Western States 100 this week and I highly recommend watching this epic recount of the front competition at Western States 2010 (Geoff Roes, Anton Krupicka, Killian Jornet and Hal Koerner). And, while 99% of the movie is about these 4 amazing champions, plus great personal insights from Western States 100 founder, Gordy Ainsleigh. An inspirational and must-see DVD for any trail ultra runner, either experienced or aspiring, and an amazing technical fate from filmmaker JB Benna and his crew.
Now, back to the title, Santa dropped quite a few... boxes to my house and he must have great hopes for my 2012 running season! Cool pairs of shoes from Brooks (a special web edition of the super cool blue Green Silence and the newest PureGrit, the trail model of the PureProject product line). I also ordered a few books and DVDs at ZombieRunner and 3 boxes of Vespa CV-25 which should give me enough energy for a while.
Well, we are already discussing our Quicksilver Ultra Running Team plans for 2012 and it seems like I'll be running 5 ultras in a row in April-May, including a few races outside of the Grand Prix so I'll definitely need the Vespa boost indeed. Stay tuned, I'll share more in January after I have the opportunity to let you know about my New Year's Eve run and reflect back on the 2011 season.

In the meantime, have a great New Year celebration and all the best for 2012, on the trails, on the road, at work or at home! Talk to you next year then!

PS: while Max and I were running, Alex was on the Skyline-to-the-Sea trail which he completed with his friend Jeannie in 11 hours (a 28 mile-hike)! Quite a memorable and healthy Boxing Day this year... ;-)

PS-2: just talked to Mike who made it to the Beach, safely, phew! Great story to share with your cardiologist, Mike and inspirational for his other patients, congratulations!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

5,000,000 meters: done!

Two things to make up for the lack of posting last weekend. 1. The passage of another milestone and first for me with 5,000 kilometers logged year to date and 2. an tribute to the trees bordering my neighborhood running loop.

1. 5,000,000-meter milestone

3 years ago, I put my name in one of the challenges posted in the UltraFondus forum. UltraFondus (which can be translated literally with "fans of ultra" in a sense of being mad or crazy about our sport) is both a super sleek and professional magazine about ultra and a community, mostly French-speaking and France-based. Several unofficial challenges are proposed such as 5 million meters of running in one year, 100 thousand meters of cumulative elevation in one year, or 1 hour/day of running. In 2008, I reached a peak in my running log with 4,560 km that year (2,834 miles). This year, I noticed that, by the end of June, I was averaging 63 miles per week which was right on target for 5 million meters for the year and decided to keep monitoring this KPI (Key Performance Indicator, something we use in business to mean a specific metric or number related to performance). The more we were progressing through Summer, and with the preparation for my yearly 100-miler in particular, the crisper the achievement of the goal became. However, I must admit that, certain weeks, keeping the 62-mile/week average was too much of a constraint and pressure, so much that I told Agnès I promised myself not to pout this goal on my list in 2012.

Anyway, last Sunday, I did pass the 3,100-mile mark and I'm actually at 5,087 km this Saturday, enough to take a few weeks off before my 12-hour race on December 31! From noon to midnight at the Crissy Field in San Francisco (Coastal Trail Runs' New Year's One Day)! Yes, while almost everybody else speaks about the end of the 2011 season, I still plan on adding a 18th race to my log on the very last day of the year, and at least 100 kilometers to reach 5,200 km in 2011, that is the symbolic weekly mileage of 100 km or 62 mile/week.

I've never ran that much in a single year and that probably explains why I also became stronger as I also managed to increase my mileage while increasing the average speed at the same (all these miles at an average of 8:01 minute/mile) as you can see on the following chart (kilometers on the left scale, min/mile on the right one):
Again, what a year 2011 has been so far and, with this late race on December 31, my yearly assessment will have to wait for January...

2. Fall in Cupertino: a tribute to our local trees

All these years, I thought that we really didn't have much of a Fall in the Bay Area, that this was a big differentiator with the East Coast and New England in particular. However, and it was time as we are really getting close to the Winter now, I was amazed to see such a variety of colors in the many trees planted on my neighborhood 3.1-mile loop. Tall, mid-size or small trees, conifers or leafy, lemon, orange, apple, apricot, plum, cherry trees, straight or convoluted trunks, decorative or even decorated trees, light and dark green, brown, yellow or red foliage, local or foreign species, oak, maple, birch, cypress, pine, several types of palm trees and cactus, too many species to identify and name them all! A picture is word a thousand words so here is a collage to provide you with an overview of this variety, in one shot. And you can see more in my Picasa album (76 pictures!).
So, too many species to name one by one, yet a special mention to the ginkgo, my favorite one for several reasons. First because that's the favorite tree of my parents and my Mom in particular. With my 5 siblings, we offered one to them when we moved to a new house near Tours in France in 1976 but it never grew as well as the many ginkgo trees we have in Cupertino. The shape of the leaves, their softness and tenderness, the nice green of the foliage in the Spring and the way it turns to a flamboyant yellow in the Fall, here are some of the characteristics which make this specie so special to us. And I could mention the therapeutic properties that our local Asian population must sink from this tree too.
Here you are with some musings about our rural neighborhood which has so many trees. I would not be surprised if we had one tree per inhabitant in Cupertino, another blessing of our area.

With that I'm ready to take 3 weeks off as my traditional yearly break and resume with a very long run on the 31st. To the risk of overwhelming you with numbers and statistics again, that's post number 51 this year, so I shall do one more to meet my other goal of blogging once a week! Stay tuned then, and very happy holidays to you all, whatever you are still logging miles or having a healthy rest too! So, the Brooks way, it time to say... Run (or Rest) Happy!!! ;-)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Silicon Valley Turkey Trot: back to (speed) work

After my blazing Last Chance 50-mile (I still have hard time fully realizing what happened... ;-), I went straight back to work with a 10-hour work day on Sunday to finalize a proposal for Saudi Arabia. I was able to blog about the race, late in the night and, after a 3.5-hour sleep, got swamped into another busy week at work, hence missing last weekend's blog (I'm trying to skip to a weekly rhythm). No blogging but some running still and building up of some speed. I actually ran every day after the race with an interesting progression of the average pace:
  1. Sunday (post-race recovery run): 6 miles @ 8:44 (including 3 miles with Agnès!)
  2. Monday (legs still quite sore): 6 miles @ 8:06
  3. Tuesday: 9 miles @ 7:03
  4. Wednesday: 12 miles @ 6:45
  5. Thursday: 6 miles including 3 of speed work with Bob (400s in 82 to 75")
  6. Friday: 9 miles @ 6:28
  7. Saturday: 29 hilly miles (Rancho, Black Mountain, Foothills Park in Palo Alto, Rhus Ridge) @ 10:17 (social run... see pictures of Charles, Mike and Chris ;-)
  8. Sunday: 27 flat miles (Cupertino to Shoreline and back) @ 7:34
  9. Monday: 9 miles @ 6:59
  10. Tuesday: 6 miles at Mountain View High School track @ 6:55
  11. Wednesday: rest day, a one-day "tapering" before the Turkey Trot.
That was probably too many miles to really prepare for a 10K but I'm also working on my 100K/week average for 2011, and I'm on track with 64.03 so far, with about 5 weeks to go! At the top of Black Mountain last Saturday:
Back to the Turkey Trot on this Thanksgiving morning. First, it has been a huge success from a participation and fund raising standpoints. Last year we were 11,000 to run or walk, this year the organizers had set the cap to 17,000 before extending it to 21,000 and the event filled up! 90% increase, this is a huge achievement and momentum, especially in the midst of an economic downturn, which is very timely as the raised funds will be used to provide hundreds of thousands of meals for people and families who struggle in this environment. Congratulations and thanks to the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and in particular to Carl Guardino, their CEO. Not to mention that Carl spent all morning on the podium, cheering on the mic for all of us, all that after being seriously injured in a car accident a few days ago (broken leg and hip). What an example of commitment and service! Here he is, interviewing the Elite 5K winner:
For me, it was my 38th 10K race since I arrived in the Bay Area 13 years ago, out of 194 races. And 17th race this year with 13 ultra marathons. As much as I like the speed and format of these shorter events, road racing isn't my specialty or focus anymore, but I like the variety that it brings in my year-long running season.
The start was delayed and we had about 10 minutes of wait as it started drizzling. Thankfully, the rain stopped before we even reached the first mile mark. After a few hundreds yards I was probably in 20th despite a 5:20 pace. My breathing was fine but I couldn't get my stride longer or faster, yet was able to maintain a 5:27 pace for the first two miles and passed a few runners in the 3rd and 4th mile. There were still about 6 very fast runners ahead. Right after the mile 4 mark, the course had an out and back on the right on Park Avenue. As I was approaching the turn, I saw one runner going right first, then quickly back on the course as we had to take left. He was with rising star Jose Pina Jr, in the lead of this fast race at only 14!
At this point, the other leaders were not to be seen in the out and back and I figured out that they had taken the wrong turn and would therefore be disqualified for not running the whole distance. Indeed, from my Garmin GPS track on SportsTrack, the out and back was exactly 0.5 mile (4:23-4:73) and it took me 2:52 to complete it. I could close some gap with the runner ahead of me, Jeremy Judge, but not much with Jose. I passed Jeremy before the 6-mile mark (Jeremy gave me a nice "good job" which I thought was very ) and he stayed close behind but I out sprinted him eventually in the last hundreds yards, crossing the finish line in 35:20. Not quite the 34 minutes I was looking for but not bad given the circumstances. With the snafu of the leaders, I expected Jose to have taken 2nd and me, 3rd. That was at 8:35, keep reading...

At this point, I jogged back to my car to grab my Brooks Jacket and my camera, then "swam against the current" of the 5K runners, looking for Agnès and Greg. They were wearing the superb and fancy red tech race tshirt, as several thousands of other runner were, so it required a lot of attention not to miss them. I finally found them, a quarter mile from the finish, they were having great fun!
We then gathered in the finish area and, in the middle of such a crowd, were able to see a few other friends (Luc and his family, Greg, Adona, Pierre-Yves and Adrienne, ...).
Most of the crowd then dissolved with participants joining their own Thanksgiving celebrations. Last year, I drove back home and came back with Agnes for the award ceremony (3 hours after the finish of the 10K...), this year I decided to stay to watch the elite races. I participated in that race and PA USATF 5K championship 2 years ago (16:34), but it's quite humbling to run with guys so fast (13 minutes...) and 20-25 years younger...

The elite women 5K started at 10am and I was amazed how a pack of about 10 gals was still together after 2 laps (out of 4). It did split in the 3rd lap but 14 runners finished in the same minute, from the winning time of 16:02 to 16:52! The top 3 were: Jackie Areson from Oregon (of course! ;-), Aziza Aliyu from Ethiopia and Kellyn Johnson from Arizona.
video
Moving to the men, also a very impressive pack of runners leading for a couple of laps and a record of 9 runners under 14 minutes. I had seen Alan Webb setting a course record last year and saw his course record broken this morning by an Australian runner with an amazing 13:33!
Top 3 were: David McNeill of Australia (13:33), Stephen Sambu of Kenya (13:37) and Diego Estrada of Arizona. That's respectively 4:22, 4:23 and 4:24 min/mile pace, this is speed! And, back to the title of this post, certainly a lot of work to get there...
Finally, around 11:45 and in the rain this time, it was time for a chaotic and expedited award ceremony. Quite some confusion on the 10K results with 2 of the top runners claiming that they were send the wrong way by race volunteers so were entitled the wins despite having run a much shorter distance. I went from 3rd down to 4th overall and 6th in the results published tonight on Race Central. Oh well, this is a fund raising event, not an official competition (the big guns were on the Elite races); it is a time for grace and thanksgiving, and I'm definitely thankful for such an amazing year, especially with my running, and for my supportive family and friends. Not to forget the organizers, sponsors and all the volunteers who made this fun run possible and such a huge success to support our local communities!
Hope to be in town to run this race again next year, and join such a joyful and healthy crowd!

PS: you can find a few pictures of the event in my Picasa album.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Last Chance 2011: not missed!

This is quite a name for a race, for an event held in November, just in time to get a 50-mile qualifier for the Western States lottery. With the great times I had this year at American River and Dick Collin's Firetrails, getting such a qualifier was the least of my worry this weekend but, according to the organizers, 120 of the 140 starters on the 50-mile distance this Saturday were chasing this dream, so it was serious stuff for many. And for me too for another reason since I had missed the big opportunity to bank points in the Grand Prix at Rio del Lago, chasing too many goals. That was a 132-point opportunity which I missed and, after Dave Mackey took the lead in the Grand Prix with his Firetrails win, this weekend was my "last chance" to catch-up. Last chance as Dave isn't running Quad Dipsea, and I had only one option: win my age group. Which became quite challenging after Victor Ballesteros and Michael Fink registered a few weeks ago...

That was my 5th time on this course, although the event was then named the Helen Klein Classic in the name of Race Director Norm Klein's wife, a world class senior runner. Since Helen stopped competing ultras well in her 80s and Norm had given enough nights directing ultra, including the legendary Western States in the 80s, the race transferred to Desert Sky Adventures first, then Julie Fingar's NorCal Ultras (she now has a "collection" with Way Too Cool, American River, Firetrails, Sierra Nevada and Last Chance!). With that, and various big construction projects along Folsom Lake and the American River (levee and bridge), the course has evolved but always includes climbing back to the Folsom Lake Dam and Cavitt School, actually twice now.

On the previous single out and back, I had quite a few different experiences. In 2006, it was my second 50-miler and I finished in 4th in 6:52. In 2007, 2nd overall in 6:22, which remained my PR at this distance until Ruth Anderson 2010 (6:07). In 2008, the run turned to a nightmare with one of my worst asthma crisis but, quite determined and with 1/4th of my lungs working, I still manged to finish in 8:51, in 16th overall. Some asthma again in 2009 and I clocked a disappointing 7:12, surprisingly good enough though for 3rd overall that year.

Victor was very relaxed at the starting line. After participating to the road 100K World Chapionship and spending a year focusing on this event (September 2011 in the Netherlands) but going through injuries during Spring, he was in great shape and was looking not only for a Western States qualifier (although his 100K race should have been way enough for that), but also to clock another Team USA qualifier on the 50-mile distance, that is under 5:50 (5 hours 50 minutes). I knew my goal was in big trouble and that even my A game would not match that (Victor is 41, therefore in our very competitive M40-49 age group).

With the recent Daylight Savings Time change, it was great to have daylight for the 6:30 am start, after the bright night with the full moon. I was feeling ok although quite tired after having been on the road to visit clients and prospects for 7 out of the past 8 weeks. 35,974 air miles, 18 flights, 4 different countries including 3 in the Gulf and 4 different states in the US. Not to mention the associated stress and the sleep deprivation working double shifts across so many time zones and catching up with emails at night after client meetings or speaking engagements at conferences during the day. Of course, I'm happy to have a solid first job and busy and full life, making running only my second job... ;-) Anyway, with that, I was excited to get some stress relieved through such intense exercise that is running an ultra or competing with great champions such as Victor.
On the flat levee, we started right on my target average pace which was 7:00 min/mile pace which corresponds to a 5:50 50-mile time. Not that I was thinking of breaking 6 hours today, but that's a comfortable pace to start with. However, while Victor and I were following another runner, whom I supposed was on the 30 or 50K (three events held together), Victor picked the pace up after the third levee segment as the bike path goes down. As the miles passed, and the bike path steadily goes down along the American River, I was looking at the average pace on my Garmin 205 going down too into what I felt was a dangerous zone. 6:50, 6:40, finally reaching a plateau at 6:36 min/mile! I asked Victor if that was his 100K competition pace and he replied with a smile: "just slightly faster." We weren't even at mile 10, I thought I was really going to get into trouble soon...
Yet, with the perfect weather and conditions, it felt good and exciting to keep up with Victor and see how long I could extend that, eventually. Around the 10-mile mark, I slowed down a bit and was about 100 yards behind, while Victor remained with the lead bike. I did a quick pit stop and lost eye contact with both of them around mile 12 but was able to pick up the pace and catch-up before the 15-mile turnaround (at the Folsom Inn Parking Lot). As Victor commented on this picture from Greg on Facebook, Victor seems to say: "Damn, this guy just doesn't give up!?"
Our team captain, Greg Lanctot (coachgreg.org) was crewing for me today and handed me two new bottles (one Gu2O and one plain water). By the way, all pictures in this post are courtesy to him as he was juggling between his camera, my bottles and Bree's ones! I grabbed a piece of banana and quickly left as Victor didn't even stop. We stayed close behind for the next 5 miles and we were still on a 6:36 min/mile average pace by mile 20. Still feeling good, I passed Victor after Main Bar (mile 21) to at least share the burden of leading. Doing so, I even got our pace down to 6:35 in the next flat section and thought how stupid that was, or at least unreasonable, and how smart Victor was to just stay behind. We passed the marathon mark around 2:52, just 5 minutes over my recent 2:47 marathon at the World Masters in Sacramento in July. With 24 more miles to go, this too seemed really aggressive... At this point, I even experienced some vision trouble and was glad the lead biker was wearing a bright yellow jacket! I took a Gu in case that meant I was low on sugars, and also paid a bit more attention on my breathing as I certainly needed all the oxygen I could process to maintain the effort. Fortunately that passed after 10-15 minutes and I was able to maintain a good effort as we were climbing back to the Dam and the high school. Victor remained behind and I thought it was a safe and smart strategy on his end as we had still more than 20 miles to go. In this uphill section, our pace went down to 6:43 when we reached and left the school for another out and back.

We had completed the first 50K in 3:26, just one minute off my PR at that distance (Jed Smith 2010), oops, that was really crazy. Yet, feeling good and properly hydrated thanks to another efficient change of bottles from Greg at mile 28, I just took an S!Cap and a cup of Coke from the aid station and left a few seconds before Victor. At this point, I placed a big bet and decided to maintain the pace to see if I could preserve or even extend the lead. A BIG bet as we had 19 miles left to cover... No more lead bike to focus on, it was just me and, a huge asset, the encouragements of the other runners we were now starting crossing, either finishing their 30 or 50K, or coming to the school for the 50-mile turnaround. I want to say a big thank you to all of them in this post as I was saving my breath and just acknowledging and responding with a hand sign. To all of you, be sure your cheering meant a lot to me!
Giving it all, I was able to get the average pace down again by a mere 1 second in the next 9.5 miles to 6:42 by the Main Bar aid station ultimate turnaround (yes, this convoluted course has 3 turnarounds, check the race website if you are getting lost in my recount, and want to visualize on a map!). In this section, I decided not to check if Victor was behind and that I will find out about the lead once I negotiated the turnaround. It was great to see for the third time fellow Brooks fan, Eric Schranz, who was manning the Main Bar aid station. He was very pro-active in proposing help but I was set with my bottles and just took another small cup of Coke and one more S!Caps. Gordy Ainsleigh (the inventor of the 100-mile Western States Endurance Run) was refueling on his way back to the school. When we crossed paths earlier in the morning, I called for a high five, which amused him, but I'm sure his fluid helped me going beyond my limits! (Check the picture on his Wikipedia page, that's one of mine! ;-)
Although I was definitely tired after such a fast 41-mile run, I was not going to sit there and wait for Victor, so I promptly went on. With 9 miles to go came the first cramp signals but it was too late to slow down as I had now about a 0.8-mile lead on Victor. Only at this point did I start thinking winning might be possible, although that would require to keep pushing all the way up to the dam to avoid a potential final sprint with Victor on the levee. Again, the encouragements and smiles from the other 50-mile competitors I was crossing or passing helped a lot and I managed to lose only 8 more seconds off my average pace. In the final 4 miles I turned back to check if Victor was coming back on me and the fact of changing my stride for that triggered some cramps so I figured out it was safer to just look ahead and keep moving. No signs of Victor on the levee, I was now pushing to compete against the clock. After dreaming in the morning of breaking 6 hours and entering the sub-6-hour "club" for 50-mile, I was now thinking of the amazing 5:42 that I remembered Todd Braje clocking here a few years ago (to only find out later that it was actually 5:49, the year the course had a trail detour at the end. It's at Jed Smith that Todd ran a 5:30 50-miler in 2009. He was 32 and I think that got him on the National team).

As I was approaching the school and passing signs such as "Smelling the Finish Line?", I was excited enough to sprint down the levee and so thrilled to cross the finish line and "break the tape" (literally, how cool) in a blazing 5:43:35. My third overall win this year, woo! Granted, it took me 10 minutes to recover and catch my breath from the effort as my body was really wondering what just happened, and 10 minutes is what ended up separating Victor and I (yes, that's me in his arms, and Jim all smile! ;-).
 At 56, former winner of Way Too Cool (1998), Helen Klein (1996) and Skyline (1994), Mark Richtman, took 3rd in an amazing 6:04.
Our Quicksilver Ultra Running Team did quite well again with Erick Toschi taking first overall in the 30K, Bree Lambert taking 2nd overall/woman in the 50K and Clare Abram 2nd woman in the 50-mile, second to Bev Anderson who is back racing after her knee surgery last year.

With that amazing performance (per others' qualifier), I should take the lead back in the Grand Prix by mere 3.9 points (1.0% of our 384 total...), phew! I know there isn't much glory in that, with Dave having only competed in 4 of the 7 eligible events for the count, but at least that pushed me to dig really deep, far beyond what I ever thought I could go. I'm also thankful to Victor for the friendly and tough competition he offered on Saturday as he was chasing different goals and got us on such an aggressive but needed pace for such a performance.
Like Agnès said on Saturday night when I came back home: "this would be a good time to retire..." But, sincerely, I'm too much hooked now not to try other challenges, if not Faster, at least Farther...

With regard to the course record, this is a complicated situation between the changes of race directors, race names and even courses. Compiling information from various web sites (Gary Wang's Real Endurance, Mark Gilligan's UltraSignup for Helen Klein Classic or this year's Last Chance, Desert Sky Adventure's Helen Klein records web page website ), it sounds like I clocked the 7th fastest time since 1996 and 2nd in the Masters division:
  1. '97     Carl Andersen (37)     5:26:12
  2. '97     Brian Teason (36)     5:28:56
  3. '98     Brian Teason (37)     5:29:48
  4. '99     Mark Godale (29)     5:35:12
  5. '97     Kevin Setnes (43)     5:36:03
  6. '98     Mark Godale (28)     5:42:03
But, again, apart from the detour that I know from having run it in 2009 and 2008 and which did cost a few minutes to Todd Braje and Chikara Omine in particular, I don't know enough about that race in the 1990s to see what has changed. What I would say though is that climbing back twice over the dam didn't make it easier than when we were running the simple out and back along the American River. On the other hand, it was motivating (for the leaders at least...) to see other runners in the final stretches. If you ran this course back in the late 1990s or early 2000s, please consider leaving a comment with your perspective and some historical information!

Now, I've been asked how all this happened and I see five plausible explanations:
  1. First, the more stress and workload I experience at work, the more I seem to race well. Like this maximizes the stress relief I'm looking for when running, or as it gives me an excuse for not running at my best and just do what I can. The latter one is probably freeing my mental from some pressure as I usually not race well when I want to do "too" well.
  2. I almost titled my post "extra-vespa-ordinary" in reference to the Vespa "potion" I've been using for the past two years with quite some success. For instance, in this race, I only took 6 Gu gels, 2 pieces of banana and 2 small cups of Coca Cola. There is no doubt that this would not have been enough energy, at least for me, to run 50 miles at this effort level without digging extra  calories from my body fat. This stuff works!
  3. Back to the mental, I've been improving and stopped just listening to my body when getting fatigue signals. Several times during the race, I had doubts I could keep up with that pace, less because of physical limits but more because it was something I didn't have as a reference in my 2,400-entry log. By lowering this negative thought and increasing the "you have to do it, you can do it!" thought or internal voice, I was able to get far beyond what I had ever experienced. Sure it hurts (I ran 6 miles this Sunday with painful soreness and at a slow 8:30 pace), but it feels good afterward!
  4. Fourth, I'm going to give some credit to Greg who crewed for me this Saturday. As a personal trainer and coach he has this talent of both pushing you and getting rid of the associated stress. Mixing strong encouragements, focus and positive thoughts with enthusiasm and fun. It definitely worked for me this weekend, made the heavy traffic on Friday less stressful and the race on Saturday so smooth. And it also worked for our team this year as we took all the team titles in the Grand Prix (Men, Women, Mixed, Overall) and most of the individual Age Group ones too!
  5. Last but not least, there is hard work. Since I started running consistently when I moved to the US in 1998, I never averaged as many miles per week as this year. Although I know other log many more, I'm at 63.5 mile/week year to date, and that includes short but intense speed work sessions, weeks off to taper before races and days off because of business travel or meetings. To counter balance, I've put more long runs on weekends, many of them as training ultras actually. And I like when hard work pays off (not the case everywhere... ;-).
So, no miracle or silver bullet, I could actually add proper hydration as I drank about 5 16-oz bottles during the race, while I was stunned how little Victor drank in comparison. In any case, I swear, and both my GPS and Victor are here to testify, I ran the whole course and it was indeed 50 miles! ;-) At least what this shows is that, if you are yourself aiming at improving, there is hope in what our body can do...

Anyway, that's enough about my personal recount of this perfect race for me, there were 97 finishers out of the 140 or so starters, and I heard about other PRs in these perfect conditions. A big thank you to Race Director Julie Fingar for another very professional and perfect event organization and the great volunteers at all aid stations although I apologize for having skipped most of them. I'm sure you understand I was on a mission... ;-) And thank you to Lily for her deep tissue massage which allowed me to run this Sunday.
Now looking forward to another similar break through, keeping defying aging and realizing patience is of essence. Next race will be the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot (10K for me, 5K for Agnes and Greg), there are already 12,000 entrants with a 17,000 cap. And the Western States lottery in parallel, fighting the challenging statistical odds. In the meantime, you all Run Happy!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Moving to a traveling blog? Not quite yet!

This year, I've logged 63 miles/week so far, more than any previous year. However, this Fall, I've been averaging more than 5,000 air miles a week, so maybe I should turn my Farther Faster blog into a traveler log... DC and Florida this week and most likely Toronto next week, the ball keeps rolling...

With that, it felt strange to be home for a whole week. With Agnès in France and Greg busy with high school home work, his last week of the water polo season and a few hours of volunteering, I worked hard at trying to clear my backlog of emails and requests from all over the map, as well as logging a few training miles.

This Saturday for instance, I ran another 50K training run, mixing a few "social" miles with the Striders (my Cupertino running club) then pushing the pace up the back of Black Mountain (via the Stevens Creek Canyon Road). 4 hours and 15 minutes for 31 miles, 35% on road, the rest on trail and a cumulative elevation of 5,000 feet. To enjoy another week of perfect weather, albeit cooler than last week, thinking of all the population in the North East experiencing their first major snow storm of the season.
When I think of the time I was running one or two marathons a year, 5 years ago, and now I run 50Ks as training runs and have 157 ultra runs in my log, including 65 ultra races... It's amazing what the human body is capable of with some training and will...!

I also went to the track twice this week (Mountain View High School, 5:45 am) and enjoyed being pulled by Bob's speed. No question that increasing your mileage isn't helping getting you faster so it's important to keep track of the... track and the speed work. I even ran 4 miles at 5 am this Sunday morning before driving to the airport to catch my early flight.

The weather was very nice tonight upon landing in DC, the snow is gone. Hope everybody is safe by now. Have a good week all, and Happy Halloween for those celebrating and treat-or-tricking! :-)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Back to running paradise: anti Rhus Ridge

18 hours on a plane (2 from Riyadh to Dubai and 16 from Dubai to San Francisco), 23 hours door to door, 30 hours bed to bed (including/minus 3 hours of sleep on the plane), what a trip... As much as I enjoyed this first experience in Arabia, and I feel I'm going to go back soon with all the banks and business over there, I'm glad to be back home, in this running paradise! I went for a 9-mile run before going to bed on Thursday evening, nothing better than that to reset your body and mind clock. The temperature was 78F which some people would find high for late October but that felt almost chilly after running in 100F in Riyadh!

On Saturday, I slept in and missed our monthly Rhus Ridge run. I decided to still go but run the loop anti-clockwise to give me an opportunity to see a few familiar faces. Indeed, in Palo Alto's Foothills Park, I met David, Craig and Ed then, later, Chris G. then, 10 miles later, Chuck, at the top of Black Mountain, and Lee and Winnie as I was approaching Windmill Pasture in Rancho San Antonio Park. I ran solo but it turned out to be quite a social run after all. On Bella Vista trail up to Black Mountain, I actually met Gayla whom I've not seen for maybe 4 or 5 years. As I was getting acquainted with ultra running 6 years ago, Gayla was always running with Charles (Stevens) and she was a diligent participant in our Saturday morning long runs. Unfortunately, it was at that time that her knees started bothering her to the extent that the frequent cortisone shots were not even a solution to the pain. It was great to see her trotting down the trail and learning that she follows me on my blog with assiduity.

The weather was amazingly wonderful. I know this is kind of a strange juxtaposition, but it was actually hard to believe as we approach the end of October: pure blue skies, temperature around 80F (28C), some breeze, trails in perfect conditions, no sand/dust pollution. Speaking of pollution, my lungs were actually complaining and somehow irritated as I started the run, still recovering from the dust I must have inhaled in Riyadh in particular. Fortunately, after Thursday and Saturday runs, they were not bothering me on my Sunday run, phew!

Going anti-clockwise on our standard Rhus Ridge loop, I ran 29.5 miles at an average pace of 8:50 min/mile.
On Sunday, the weather was still perfect and I ran up to the top of Montebello Road, adding the Waterwheel Trail loop as a bonus for a total of 21.7 miles at 8:35 min/mile with stops at every creek crossing to cool off. Yes, a warm October and still creeks running, I told you, this is running paradise! With that, I ran 170 miles since Firetrails 50-mile and I'm averaging 63.6 miles/week since January 1, slightly ahead of my 62.1 mile/week (100 km/week). And, with such a weather, there is no excuse not to keep up with this goal!

No picture on this post (I covered this Rhus Ridge run several times already, for instance in this post with a link to a photo album), but I'm adding maps of my runs in Dubai, Riyadh and Manama to my previous post.

Have a good week and take care especially if you don't have the same luck as we have in the Bay Area with the weather...

Monday, October 17, 2011

Running in Arabia

It promised to be hot, and hot it has been. I'm not even back to California yet but, for what it is worth as we are in the Fall, I managed to log quite a few miles of good heat training. 13 miles upon my arrival in Dubai, 16 miles just before leaving to Riyad, 23 miles in Riyadh on Friday (which is their only "week-end" day but I still managed to work 10 hours with Europe and the US for another long and busy day until 3 AM...), an 8-mile tour of the city at midnight upon my arrival in Bahrain, and 16 miles again in Riyadh. Between the 11 and 10-hour jet lags over the past 2 weeks, the work on Saturday and Sunday, the multiple visas to hop back and forth between these three countries in Arabia, the three different currencies, the 8 immigration control points, the traveling in coach with the pilgrims to Saudi Arabia or travelers to India in particular, I must admit that I'm on one hand completely disoriented and exhausted and, and the other hand, glad and excited about this business opportunity to discover new countries and cultures.
Speaking of cultures, what a difference between so close countries! Dubai reminded me of Singapore while you can feel Riyadh is closer to Africa... Oh well, we have our own interesting diversity for instance in Europe between Germany and Italy to pick only two, or San Francisco and New York in the US. The main similarities between these three places are the language and some sky-scraper competition although Dubai easily wins in this area. Here is my preferred one: the twisted Infinity Tower (still growing... ;-):
So, I'm tired but not from running, which provides such a stress relief. I was excited to blog on tips about running in these three countries but I'll be frank, these aren't the best places on the planet to run. Beyond the heat and humidity, the locals even discourage you to go out given the associated dangers of running either close to the traffic or to make bad encounters. I did check the web for some local runner tips or experiences and couldn't find much up to date. Yet, few cities "resist" to my eager to discover them with my Brooks running shoes and, for the lucky readers who have the opportunity to visit one of all these three places, here are a few tips. To your own risk...
  1. Follow the main arteries. The maps you can find on the Internet or at hotels are rarely in English and rather simplified anyway, focusing on highlighting the largest roads for cars. Indeed, here, given the hot weather and cheap gas, everything is designed around and for cars, so you need to get along, especially in the new Jumeira suburb of Dubai. Of course, as always, or like the salmons coming back to their breeding place which I saw in Issaquah 2 weeks ago, run against the traffic so you see cars coming.
  2. Don't be ashamed to appear like a zombie. As I could see, and that was confirmed to me by a few locals, nobody runs here so you'll appear like an alien. Many drivers will use their horn, and I'm not sure if it's in a nice or bad way (I hate it anyway...). You'll also get a weird look from people in the street. Keep going...
  3. Keep a low profile. Both in Riyadh and Bahrain, I ran into areas patrolled by the army (like the Ministry of Interior in Riyadh, but in Bahrain too next to the Pearl Monument). I asked where they wanted me to go, I can tell you they were quite surprised to see a runner so close. In retrospective, colleagues told me it was really dangerous to play around such places in the Saudi Kingdom in particular. Watch your steps... And, oh ladies, I can't imagine how locals would take seeing you in running shorts or skirt, or a sport bra...
  4. Carry your own water. Don't count on finding drinking fountains! Actually, you will see quite a few at the entrance of the many mosques, but I'm not sure the water is meant to be drunk, rather used for ablutions (like men use the lavatory sinks at the airports to wash their feet... which isn't so elegant...). For my long run in Riyadh, I carried 2 bottles which wasn't even enough for 3 hours in 100F/38C temperatures. On my way back to Olaya, I stopped by a very large and modern supermarket and, with assurance, got in before a security guy pulled me out because I was wearing shorts in a muslim place. I know it wasn't appropriate for a mosque but a supermarket... Several others guards arrived and I made the case that I was going to pass out (not really although I was definitely very thirsty and I had lost a lot of salt again on my shirt), that was enough to get an exception (and weird looks again from shoppers, both women and men, oops).
  5. Day or night. On this one, I don't have a clear cut. Late night is better in terms of traffic (less of it) and lower temperatures. But you aren't visible from drivers in certain dark places and this is less picturesque too. By the day, you will see more but suffer from the heat. For instance, in Riyadh, it was 29C at night, 38C at mid day. And October is the nice season, temperature goes up to 55C in summer... But, pick either late night or the day, avoid the end of the day where drivers are tired and not accustomed with the dimming light.
In Dubai, I was staying at the Marina in Jumeira and ran on Al Sufouh Road, a wide avenue parallel to the sea. A few sandy sections, a few with nice grass along luxurious hotels, but mostly sidewalks otherwise. See a few pictures in my Picasa album.
In Riyadh, I was staying in the Olaya district and decided to run South, the most difficult being to cross the huge highway interchange next to the hotel (Holiday Inn Olaya which I don't recommend between the super noisy rooms and some mean personnel at the front desk). It took me 8 miles of not so pleasant run along the busy King Fahd Road to reach Wadu Hanifah, but that was really worth the pain. There, I found a river and ran 3 miles along it on a nice trail, plus 3 miles back, far away from the car traffic. I could have gone further, beyond Fath Makkah Road but I had to come back to the hotel to deliver a web presentation to our European team. From 5 pm on my day off, I went on with emails and calls until 3 am... Here is a link to my photo album.
In Manama (Bahrain's capital), I went around the city, starting South on Lulu Avenue, left on Salmaniya Avenue, right on Shaik Daij Avenue toward the Gulf, left on Al Fateh Highway (there is a boardwalk on the other side but you have to cross eight lanes before the interchanges of the highways going to the airport and the Muharraq island). Another alternative is to take Exhibition Avenue then Government Avenue. This circuit was fine at midnight as the traffic was light and I barely stopped to cross the main intersections, but that must be another story during the day. Since I ran at midnight, I didn't carry my camera, just took a few pictures from my hotel room and from the cab the next day.
Hope that gave you a flavor of these Arabian places and some insights in case you have the opportunity to visit and plan on running. Talk to you next time from sunny and ideally-temperated Bay Area!
PS: tonight, I was invited by the local team to a traditional Saudi restaurant in Riyadh and, to stay on the running tips topic, two colleagues indicated to me a 6-km loop around and across the Prince Sultan National College (close to crossing of King Abdullahbin Abdul Aziz and Abi Bakr As Siddiq Roads). If you know or discover other places to run in Riyadh or Dubai, please leave a comment!

PS: for some reasons (connectivity bandwidth?) Sporttracks didn't download the maps when I uploaded my GPS information while I was in the Gulf. Here are three of them to give you more insights about the places I ran.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates:

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia:

Manama, Bahrain:

Monday, October 10, 2011

Firetrails 50: all stars aligned

No two ultras are alike, that's why many of us, ultra runners. are so addicted to this sport. The course, the terrain, the cumulative elevation, the distance, the weather, the competition, the organization, the size of the field, the aid stations, running with a pacer or not, having a crew or running self-supported, these are a few of the variables. So many stars to align, it's like playing the lottery, you have to keep trying!

With all my travels (Anchorage, Alaska a week ago, Seattle this week and now in the Middle East for two weeks), the only positive thing I did going into this race was tapering. Seattle, and Issaquah in particular, are actually great trail running places, if you don't mind the rain, but I refrain from running any mile this past week. Yet, I was stressed out by the lack of sleep and felt compelled to add to Tim Long's pre-race comments that I had the same excuses as Mark not to perform well (overworked and sleep deprivation in particular). Furthermore, I was stunned when I saw that Dave Mackey had decided to run the race and enter at the last minute. Certainly, having won the past two editions and set a course record last year in 6:19.
We started promptly at 6:30 after listening to Julie (Fingar)'s Race Director briefing. It was still quite dark and a few runners were using headlamps but the first two miles are on a bike path, so it was manageable to run without. Jonathan Gunderson and I were at the front and we were quickly joined by Dave. Dave engaged the conversation in French, which he learned a while ago when he was studying in Maine. We chatted for a while and, as we were approaching the first mile mark, I told Dave I didn't want to slow him down, that he had a course record to work on! Jonathan followed Dave while we engaged into the first hill. One tall and bold runner passed me and followed them. While we were still on the bike path, Chris (Calzetta) caught up with me. If you follow my blog, you will remember my run with Chris at Skyline 50K this August, from start to finish. Chris lives in Monterey and will join our Quick Silver Ultra Running Team for the 2012 season. Speaking of QSURT, we had an amazing participation this weekend with 15 entrants, almost the whole team!

After the first aid station at which we didn't stop, we were joined for a few miles by Sean Curry whom I had met at a Quick Silver training run in San Jose this Spring. It was Sean's first 50-miler and he was therefore running for the Dick Collins Rookie award, although not so hopeful as he had seen in the registrants list many fast runners being rookies at this distance too. Sean was running in Five Fingers and without any bottle which was quite aggressive on a trail 50-mile. Sean ended up running in 8 hours and 8 minutes for 22nd.

We passed Jonathan shortly after Bort Meadow, the 2nd aid station. Going up and down to Big Bear with Chris brought up the good memories of Skyline 50K as this section is common to both races. We passed a few of the early started, some of them calling my name as we were flying in the steep downhill. We then caught up with the tall and bold runner after the Big Bear aid station and chatted before he stopped at the restrooms we pass by when going through the redwoods, one of my favorite sections. Michael Garrison was coming from Honolulu, just for the race, having flown on Friday evening and leaving on Sunday. Arriving into Big Bear Gate aid station, photo credit to Gary Saxton:

Jonathan and Michael passed us again as we were refilling our bottles at Skyline Gate. Jonathan had a very efficient crew (father?) who was allowing him not to stop at aid stations. We passed Michael very close to the aid station as, dazzled by the sun, he had missed the turn and was going to continue on Skyline back to the start... And Chris and I caught up with Jonathan again before the next aid station where he passed us again, before we passed him on the way up to Steam Train. As we were approaching the road crossing, I believe I saw Dave a mile away at a point where we passed 8 minutes later. I thought it was too short of a lead and our pace was way too fast if we were so close to Dave, although it seemed right. We refueled at Steam Train and continued on Skyline to enjoy the wonderful 360-degree view from Mount Diablo on the right to foggy San Francisco on the left. That's where we started crossing the Golden Hills marathoners who had started from our turn around at 9 am. As usual, the race was led by Leor, although I was surprised to see another runner quite close to him in second place in this challenging uphill section. Uphill for the marathoners, downhill for us until the turn around. It was great to get the cheering of the runners we were crossing. As we were approaching the turn around, it was our turn to cross path with Dave. We did as we were 3 hours and 18 minutes in our run and I made a mental note of the spot to check how much lead he had on us.

We did a good stop at the turn around to refuel before the long climb up to Steam Train. Before leaving I told Graham (Cooper, who was supposed to run but had to attend his kids' soccer game later that morning) that I believed Dave was not going to make the record but he thought otherwise. I also saw Garry (Gellin) who is recovering from his great 100-mile debut at the Bear 100 two weeks ago. We then crossed all the other 50-mile runners, jogging most of the uphill with me walking from time to time to catch my breath, to make up for the 18-year gap between Chris and I... Another short stop at Steam Train and down we were, keeping crossing runners. Shortly after the aid station, Chris was ahead and asked me if I wanted to pass; a fraction of a second of inattention on my end in this technical section and, yikes, I felt flat on the ground, sliding on my left arm and leg. It went so fast but I could see my head approaching a rock and I was fortunate to stop just before hitting it, phew! My knee was bleeding and I had other bruises on the shoulder and thigh, but no big shock. The most damage was scratches on the glass of my GPS. This is my second real fall in 27,000 miles I ran over the past 13 years, the first one being at Quad Dipsea a couple of years ago, with no other damage than scratches on another GPS... (Quad Dipsea 2009: chasing too many turkeys...)

We crossed Chuck Wilson who was sweeping on the 50-miler, less than a mile from the Sibley Park aid station. Another short stop and I took the lead on the way down into the canyon with Chris leading on the way up to Skyline Gate. We reached the aid station in 5:08 with about 14 miles to go. We stayed for a minute or so (I took some chicken noodle soup which was great at this point of the race) and we rushed down, picking up the pace, getting our average pace down from bout 8:50 to 8:35 in the next 5 miles, back through the redwoods.

With 2.2 miles to Big Bear, we didn't stop at the small aid station. At this point we were passing quite a few of the marathoners. After a short stop at Big Bear, we went on the last big and serious uphill of the day, the hill which we ran all the way at Skyline 50K. Today though, I had to stop several times to catch my breath but Chris shuffled to wait for me. We crossed Baldwyn who took this picture of me during one of these power walking moments.
After the top, we picked the pace again and didn't stop at Bort Meadows as our goal was to make it under 7:15, my PR of three years ago. Stan Jensen was recording all the bib numbers and thought Chris was my pacer! We passed local runner Christine (Chapon) in the next flat section and she joked that it was insane we were running faster than marathoners. ;-) By the way, Christine is in charge of recruiting volunteers for the North Face challenge at Marin Headlands in December, so please consider helping out (more details online). The last section was changed this year because of the recent weather which washed the trail out so we had to climb up to Pirate Cove which was ok although I, again, had to walk a few times. At the aid station the volunteer (in their cool Pirates outfits) told us there were 4.5 miles to the finish and we had about 30 minutes. Fortunately, the next mile was mainly downhill and we ran it pretty fast, keeping a good pace too in the final miles along Chabot Lake. As we were approaching the finish area, I told Chris it was his turn to cross the line first, which he refused. We crossed in the same second, me staying just behind, happy to take third today in 7:02:55, slashing my PR on this course by almost 13 minutes! Not bad for 50 miles with about 9,200 feet of cumulative elevation. A big thank to Chris for the mutual pacing and emulation. With this first Firetrails under his belt, Chris can now aim at a sub 7 and chasing Dave more aggressively next time, he definitely has the potential!
Dave took first of course but, experiencing some stomach issues and lacking serious competition to push the envelope, ran slower than last year with a 6:34. Yet, that makes three wins in a row. Galen Burrell won the marathon. He passed Leor at mile 11 and, not feeling well, Leor dropped at mile 20. Leor won the past 4 editions in 3:19, 3:16, 3:15 and 3:06:39 last year. Galen improved Leor's course record by mere 3 seconds! Here are Dave and Galen:
Thanks to co-Race Director and UltraSignup founder and owner, Mark Gilligan, results were promptly posted online:
Great BBQ at the finish, amazing finisher schwag and custom age group awards, with the perfect weather and NorCal Ultras' super professional organization, it was the perfect ultra party for all.
Toshi took 5th in 7:28 Pierre-Yves placed 8th with a 7:39 PR. Fearing not to make the top 10 for the first time in many years, Mark placed 12th indeed. Bree lost some time after going of course and took 3rd overall.
Vespa worked very well again. I took 5 GUs, a few pieces of banana and brownies, and some chips, but not much overall, plus one small cup of soup. I stayed right on target on the GU2) with one bottle every 15 miles. I could (read: should) have drunk more water to avoid a few cramps. Took a bit more S!Caps to be on the safe side after my crash at Rio Del Lago, although the temperature was just perfect this Saturday.

As for the shoes, I had not heard about the rain which washed the trails out last week while I was in Seattle and took a big risk running in the brand new light and flat PureConnect but it worked perfectly too (see my review of this model). Jonathan was wearing the PureGrit which are ideally designed for the trails with more grip.
A big thank you to the volunteers who included many familiar faces, many experience ultra runners which is a great plus. I had my first 50 mile here, taking the Rookie award in 2006, what 5 years that has been. I felt I knew 1 runner out of 3 or 4, it is becoming so familiar to run these local races. It was my 4th Fire Trails, 16th 50-miler and 65th ultra. And one of my most enjoyable experience, the perfect alignment of stars that you keeping running after... The ultra bug...

Although I didn't run with my camera like I did last year (the ultra digithon), you can find a few pictures from the finish in my Picasa album.

I wrote this post on a 15-hour flight, talk to you next time from somewhere in the Middle East, hoping to get some runs in, and some heat training at least which I'll save for next year (just kidding...)!

PS: ran 9 miles on Sunday morning before my flight, and a half marathon at midnight upon getting into Dubai (86F/30C and 66% humidity...): the ultra season goes on!