Sunday, August 21, 2011

Running in Des Moines and training on empty

Yes, I'm finally getting tired! Not of running (phew! ;-) but after a few short nights last week: 3.5 hours on my red-eye flight to Chicago on Sunday night, right after Stevens Creek 50K, then 6, 5, 6, 5 hours the following nights. Not the pattern you'd expect for a recovery week after an ultra. Yet, or on top of it, I ran 40 miles during the week and 51 miles this weekend, including a 50.5K training run this Sunday in 4:36 and with 4,300 feet of cumulative elevation (and 20 miles/2,600 feet yesterday). A solid 91-mile week of training on tired legs, a good experience before the upcoming Rio Del Lago 100-miler in 3 weeks (I'll fly to Washington DC next weekend for Alex's orientation and convocation ceremony at Georgetown next weekend, so not much running to expect there).

I spent 4 days at a client in Des Moines, Iowa, this week and was able to squeeze in 3 runs. Here is what Runner's World says about running in Des Moines in their useful review:
From the fringes of 12-block-square downtown Des Moines, trails-long, long trails-spin off in all directions and snake their way through suburban parks, wooded corridors, farmlands, wildlife-laden enclaves, and small towns.
I didn't have time to explore the whole 24 miles of the Saylorville-Des Moines River Trail, but a third of it for a 16-mile out and back. Enough to experience the pleasure of running on a nice bike path, in the woods and along the wide river. Actually, if you visit right now, there is a lot of construction going on on the 3rd and 4th miles and you are sent on a detour through boring neighborhoods. I decided to go on the closed trail section on my way back and got stuck in sticky muddy sections... Below are a few pictures of this run, with a few others in my Picasa album.
I also ran to and around Gray's Lake at the Southern end of Des Moines, on the Meredith Trail. The loop around the lake is 2.0 miles and flat, providing a great opportunity to do some speed work, at dawn or dusk when the foot traffic is light.

Overall, I was amazed at the small size of this State Capital, the flag which shares its colors with the French one, the numerous French names, from some of the streets to the name of the city itself, and the number of bridges! And I didn't have time to visit the famous Iowa State Fair which was up this week, but that was probably safer, food wise... ;-)
It was a busy racing weekend for quite a few with the Waldo 100K in Oregon and Leadville 100-mile in Colorado. Becoming a ritual, 41-year old Dave Mackey crushed the course record by 4 minutes at the former event (results). Ian Sharman has a tough but fabulous race too, taking 2nd and probably first to post his race report! As for Leadville, the overall win went to an outsider from South Africa, Ryan Sandes.

And next week is the big ultra weekend in Chamonix, France, with the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB, ~100 miles), the Courmayeur-Champeix-Chamonix (CCC, ~50 miles), the TDS (Sur les traces des ducs de Savoie, literally on the steps of the dukes of the House of Savoy, ~67 miles) and the PTL (Petite Trotte à Léon, literally Leon's short jog, ~185 miles for teams of 2 to 3 members running the whole distance together). I ran all the sections of the UTMB course and have family living in Chamonix, so I wish I'd be there. One of these years...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Stevens Creek 50K 2011: fast recovery run!

Yes, the title is ambiguous: is it about a run toward a fast recovery or a fast run to recover? Let's see...

After last week's good work at Skyline, I was able to run 44 miles this week. I didn't run on Saturday, a short 1-day tapering before this Sunday's new 50K race. And Thursday was my shortest run as you are going to see.

Thursday night All-Comer Los Gatos meet

As you know, I still do a lot of speed work at the track thanks to my running buddy, Bob. That is when our busy work and travel schedules allow us. While I'm focusing on longer distances, Bob has made significant progress on the 400 meters in particular, breaking the 60 seconds barrier. He participated in a few of the summer all-comers meet at Los Gatos High School and I was excited to join him for the final one, this Thursday night. Unfortunately, he broke a rib in a mountain bike fall a week ago. I went anyway and decided to focus on the 5,000 meters. Like the 10,000 meters at the World Masters mid-July, it was the last event of the evening and we started around 8:30 pm. And like that same race, I started on the outside. Quickly settled in 6th or 7th place for the first two laps, but soon realized that wasn't sustainable. With tired legs, I wasn't able to extend the stride and I was grasping for more air. In the next laps, I got passed by a handful of runners, I had hard time keeping track as we were about 30 runners on the track, all at different speeds. I passed the lap counter: 7 laps to go, 6, 5 and 3! Yes, I got lapped by the first runner who was really fast. Yet, because I was pushing hard, I thought I was going fast with a 4:04 for the first 3 laps and 8:14 for the first six. I'm so not used to these races, I didn't realize I was actually slower than for my 10K in Sacramento. There, we were each assigned a judge who was counting the laps for us in case we got lapped. I crossed what I thought the finish line just under 16 minutes, sincerely not realizing that I was missing one 400-meter lap, yikes! What a rookie mistake and a shameful situation as a few other runners stopped by afterwards and wondered what happened. My GPS was indicating 3.12 miles but it's only when I got back home and looked at my splits that I realized my mistake. Although there was actually no recording of the times for that particular race, I want to apologize to those I told that I ran 5K under 16 minutes... My PR is 16:42 at the San Jose Turkey Trot in 2009, and that was already a tough one to pull...

Here is a picture of Bill Dodson, with the pain on his face illustrating that speed work on the track is tougher than running 30 miles, for us ultra runners... ;-)

Stevens Creek 50K

Stevens Creek is the name of the river running on the other side of Black Mountain in the Cupertino hills and flowing through the Stevens Creek County Park  into the Stevens Creek reservoir which is, by the way, still full in August (we kayaked with Alex on it, 2 weeks ago, I highly recommend!). Stevens Creek Striders is one my two running clubs and I logged most of my marathon training miles on the Stevens Creek trail. That's a lot of Stevens Creek but let's add two more: Stevens Creek 50K and Stevens Creek Software are two of Steve Patt's babies. With the first one he combines two hobbies: ultra running and raising money for the Audubon Society to preserve the environment and also support his passion for bird watching. With the second, his professional activity, he sponsors the race he directs: quite a close and sustainable ecosystem! Steve and Chihping:

I was going to help out at an aid station like in 2008 but Steve was interested in heating up the competition at the front of the race so it was too tempting to pass on the coveted spot. Before seeing how the head of the race would unfold, my goal was to run with Pierre-Yves to improve together the age group course record he set at 4:36 last year (which was an unusual cool year). Here is Steve delivering his pre-race briefing in which he included the reading of a text from the sixties about the protection of the hills over the Peninsula, hills which we can now enjoy so much as our playground for trail running:
We started promptly at 9 am and I settled in 4th, chatting and catching up with Mark Tanaka on his latest family adventure in Montana. My GPS hadn't properly charged on Saturday so I was just running with a stopwatch, something very unusual for me. It felt odd but good to be freed up from the pressure of tracking the pace and mileage though. Pierre-Yves was happy to have run the first mile with me and said I should pass and keep close contact with the two leaders, who happened to be the first two of last year's race: Jay Thomson from Santa Cruz and Juan De Oliva from Reno.

I kept some distance to avoid breathing (or eating...) the dust raised by the front runners and, in the long descent in the Stevens Creek canyon, finally took the lead. Juan was the first to catch me on Canyon Trail and passed me without a word as I hesitated between two trails at a creek crossing. We kept climbing up Table Mountain Trail, the three of, Juan, I and Jay.

Although we were only 7 miles in the run I would call the Juan's tripping the turning of the race. He passed me when I hesitated on the way to cross the second creek and was doing great in the uphill. Being on his heels, I noticed how he was breezing through the nose, much more silently than Jay and I. Also, his super efficient low and short stride. Eventually though, this led him to trip on a rock and fall flat on his knees and hands. I was so closed behind that I had to pass him but I turned back to check he was ok and he indeed followed not far behind as we continued our ascent to Skyline. I kept pushing the pace and arrived alone at the Saratoga Gap aid station, for a 30-second stop to get my water bottle filled in by Peggy. From the start to both aid stations, Peter and Peggy where omnipresent this Sunday and I'm glad they helped out, you'll see later why especially. Chuck Wilson, who had also ran Skyline 50K last week, had taken the earlier start and was refueling at the aid station.

I left the aid station just as Juan and Jay arrived, my split was 1:28. I crossed more bikers and hikers than runners on this out and back but saw Pierre-Yves followed by Mark, and a couple of others including the early starters. Then at Charcoal, I switched to the other side of Skyline for what will turn out to be a solitary run. After the exposed area but great views, this section leads us back to the start and has wonderful shady trails (Bay Area Ridge Trail and Long Ridge Trail). And the course marking was amazingly precise for such a low-key and close/small-field event. The good news is that there were far less bikers on this side so I was moving quite fast, until one biker told me he had seen a rattle snake on the trail. I slowed down for a few hundreds yards to carefully scan the trail but didn't see it, fortunately.

Steve and Ernesto helped me at the main aid station (mile 19) which I left with a 2:33 split. Unlike last week, I did some walking in a few uphill sections as the temperature was rising and my legs felt heavier and tired. I twisted my left ankle twice (~ mile 16 and 21) but it is flexible enough for it to hold. I felt better when I was approaching the aid station and was hoping to find there a sponge and bucket of water as I prepared when manning the station 3 years ago. Instead, I found Peggy and Peter wrestling with a canopy as they had just arrived to set up the aid station! Nothing was on the table yet when I first passed before going to the gate for the turnaround, and they weren't even scheduled to man this aid anyway, but, as experience ultra runners and long time volunteers, they know the drill and were able to help other volunteers getting me some ice and water in my bottle. My split when leaving the aid station was 3:20.

I crossed Juan 6 minutes after I had left Rapley Ranch Road, then Jay less than one minute behind. Knowing they were between 10 to 15 minutes behind motivated me to keep pushing in most of the hills. On the way back, there was a clear sign indicating to go on Hawk Ridge Trail although there was no ribbons after the trail crossing. I was relieved to finally find one pink ribbon/marking at the bottom of this long descent but then, no ribbon nor any indication at the next intersection between Hawk Ridge and Ancient Oaks Trails. I stopped for a minute, trying to figure out the way to go and decided to reach out to the course description that I had luckily printed out and I was carrying in my pocket. A few dozens yards after the fork, I found a tiny piece of ribbon, one inch long, on the ground. This happens from time to time in races, sometimes must have removed the ribbons in this area. Among the top 5 guys (Jay, Juan, Pierre-Yves, Mark and I), I was the only one not having run this race, so I was hoping they wouldn't get lost.

Some walking in the uphills again before sprinting down to Alpine Pond (crossing Everitt), then up again on BART and sprinting down to Horseshoe Lake, crossing Chihping who managed to take this picture:
I crossed the finish line after 4 hours 15 minutes and 40 seconds of running. I had run all day thinking that Leor Pantillat had set the course record two years ago in 3:36 so I wasn't particularly impressed with my performance. That was before Steve tells me that Leor had actually run a "jaw dropping 3:58:35" and that my time was the second fastest in the 10-year race history. Given Leor's elite status, that was putting another perspective on my time.
While I looked behind several times in the last miles if Juan was closing on me, he actually finished in 4:38, 3 minutes slower than his time last year. But he was very disappointed because he got lost three times in the last section. Jay finished 3rd in 4:47, against 4:24 last year. The 2011 podium:
Pierre-Yves took 4th in 4:56 and Mark 5th in 4:59, followed by the women race winner, Pamela Kennedy, in 5:08. 3 of the top 5, plus Chihping, Jim, Adam, Larry, that was a great show of QSURT, our Quick Silver Ultra Running Team! Not to forget Kat who volunteered at the start.
Western States has about 1,500 volunteers for 400 runners and likely more than 1,000 spectators and crews. Stevens Creek 50K has 80 registered runners, not all of them starters, 51 finishers this year, but likely less than 20 volunteers to man 3 aid stations and mark the entire course so meticulously (and deribonning...). A great thanks to all of them for allowing us to run this great course and a very special thank you to Race Director, Steve!
That was my 30th 50K race, versus 21 marathons, this has become my second most frequent after the 10K (36 of them). I really like this distance combining speed and endurance!

And, for me, another great Vespa story with such an amazing recovery between races. Yes, back to the title, both a very fast recovery and a fast run. Not farther this time but faster...

PS: for those not running ultra in the area, Catra is a "figure" on the circuit with 54 100-mile finishes listed on UltraSignup, not counting the unofficial ones she does while we "only" run 50K at Ohlone. After last week's Headlands 100-mile, she was running this weekend.
Unfortunately, she had a bad fall, as you can see...
What a tough and resilient ultra lady!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Skyline 50K: rising stars in the cloud

No, I didn't get knocked out and see stars flying in my head, actually this has been another great day, and another great Vespa experience. We were missing local stars such as Leor Pantilat, Chikara Omine, Dave Mackey, Gary Gellin, Ian Sharman or Joe Binder to name a few but, read on... We do have a serious problem with our National debt, but we are not short of stars in the area and, while that doesn't make up for the trillions, that's priceless...!

First, instead of doing it at the end of the post as usual, I want to thank Adam Ray for having taken over the race direction of this event, most especially in its 30th edition (1982-2011)! It is one of our local race gems that didn't get the popularity of other races yet, but so worth participating in for many reasons. It's a fast course if you like speed, thanks to the wide fire road, yet there are wonderful sections of technical and single track trails. It's 90% trail, so close to San Francisco, yet in the woods. Great aid stations and volunteers who are all very aware of the specificity of ultra racing. Unpredictable weather which illustrates the multiple micro-climates of the Bay Area, but usually on the cool side, which is refreshing after some other very hot races in June or July. Not crowded event which makes it more convivial. And great t-shirt and gizmos in the doggy bag thanks to Zombie Runner in particular and North Face for the sponsorship of the award prizes. Skyline 50K, its RD and all the volunteers rock, thank you for allowing us to run on these hills!
And a special thank to Agnès who spent her early morning to drive around, drive to 7 of the 9 aid stations, and managed to take a few pictures despite the difficult foggy conditions (see my Picasa album).

Back to the race, Victor Ballesteros was here today, coming back from a low season because of a hip injury. He told be that was a warm-up run for him as he ramps up training before running the World Championships of 100K Road in September. Among the ones I was expecting to push the pace today there were also Toshi (Thosikazu Hosaka), from our Quicksilver Ultra Racing Team and Chris Calzetta, who did beat me by two minutes to win the Quicksilver 50K race in May.
But it's another runner who took the lead right off the starting line, Kota Reichert, followed by Andrew Sullivan. Kota was wearing a shirt from the super fast running teamm the Aggies, so I was not surprised by the speed on the asphalt, just wondering how he would hold this speed on the trail for 31 miles (Kota is a 2 times 2:29 marathoner and 1:08 on the half marathon). Anyway, there was no way I was going that fast and I settled for a 6:45 min/mile average pace on the rolling section of the bike path on the South shore of Lake Chabot.
Toshi and Chris were right behind me, with Victor not far behind. Carrying two bottles, I didn't stop at any aid station except Skyline Gate at mile 14 where Agnès handed me two new bottles and I grabbed 3 potato chips, 1/8th of a banana, and 1 S-Cap with a sip of Coca-Cola. Flying through the aid stations (and I apologize to the volunteers for the apparent lack of consideration...), helped keeping a consistent and aggressive pace and save time, a few seconds here and there (a tip I got from Charles Stevens). At Bort Meadow we lost Toshi and Chris stayed on my heels the whole climb up to Skyline where he was faster on the flat sections with his long legs and stride and I was catching up in the up and down hills. Shortly before getting to Skyline Gate, in the mist of the cloud, I saw a very fast runner coming at us. At first, it was so foggy that we could only see someone moving fast, then it got clear that the guy had a bib on his chest. It was Kota, flying down the trail and when I yelled he was off course, he replied: "They sent me off this way!" That was weird, unexpected and, to me, clear that would disqualify him. Anyway, when we got to the aid station, there was still some confusion and a few folks mentioned that there was then only one guy ahead of us by 2 minutes, Andrew.
Chris let me pass ahead for the descent down French Trail as I knew the course and was fast zigzagging and jumping over the roots with my shorter legs (no, I'm not one of those goats that we saw close to Skyline Gate!). Not just because of the name (French!), I love this trail which penetrates such a dense forest of redwood trees (adequately name Redwood Park). Chris followed as we climbed the steep Starflower Trail, then French Trail again. I proposed him to pass if he wanted but we kept moving as is. We finally caught up with Andrew less than a mile before coming back to Bort Meadow.

Again, I proposed to Chris to go ahead but we kept moving together at a good pace, around 7 min/mile pace to and past the last aid station, Bonker Bay, where Stan Jensen welcomed us while recording our split. Chris did a quick stop and caught up after the steep downhill to the trail along the North shore of the lake. There are still three miles of flat trail and bike path and I knew Chris could have easily picked the pace up and pass me but we finished together, Chris graciously staying by my side after asking if I had ever won this race. After his great performances this year, including a 18:45 finish at Western States 5 weeks ago, it was really a very nice act of sportsmanship. A few strides from the finish line, I asked him to come next to me so I could grab his arm and Dave Combs and Mark Gilligan would make a tie, "a spirited tie" per the race director's words on Facebook this Sunday night. We crossed the finish line in 3:46:34. At 29, Chris is only getting started and he'll do great on the ultra circuit!
I was just catching my breath when we saw Victor coming in less than 2 minutes behind us. I had asked Agnès if there was anyone closing on us when passing through Big Bear on the return and she said no but Victor was then told by the Bort Meadow volunteers that he was just 5 minutes behind us, definitely gaining on us. I don't think I could have gone much faster anyway had I known, but Victor definitely is back on track for making such a routine run his best time on this course, after running 25 miles the day before.
At this point we learned that Kota had covered the course in a blazing 3:16, thus improving the course record. I told Adam that, while it was his decision as Race Director, it didn't seem right to me as this was clearly a case of going off course. I actually learned later that the volunteers at Skyline Gate saw him coming from another trail behind the station (along the parking lot) then, and even more puzzling, that Chihping, who had been checking the course marking for us since 5 AM this morning, and saw us passing by on French Trail, didn't recall seeing another runner running the loop clockwise. Not to mention that the white arrows on the ground must have clearly appeared to be the wrong way. Anyway, with that, I think the best for Kota to show he is a start is to come back next year and crush the course. The right way... (Kota in red, below.)
The rest of our Quicksilver Ultra Racing Team/Running Revolution did quite well too. First with Toshi taking on 6th just a few seconds shy of a sub 4-hour. Then Harris Goodman finishing in 4:53 Scott Laberge in 5:17 and Adam Blum shortly after. On the ladies side, Adona Ramos took first place in an impressive 4:33:24, with Tera Dude on her heels, a mere 11 seconds behind! Clare Adam was our second team member to score, taking 3rd overall in 4:54:11 and the trio was completed by Kate Powel. Way to go team!! Here is Toshi in the finish chute, all smile as usual despite giving it all to get under 4 hours:
That was my 5th Skyline. 3:48:12 in 2007 (Fast and foggy), 4:17:20 in 2008 when I strangled my quads with an inappropriate strap (S as in...), 3:54:20 in 2009 (Version 3 of 28), 3:43:00 in 2010 (A perfect #4) and 3:46:34 this year. I love this fast course, I'll certainly be back. At the very least to see how Kota, Chris or other stars are going to improved the long lasting course record that Tom Johnson set at 38 in 1997 (3:32:37, see Stan Jensen's website).

Last thing, a few details about my Vespa experience. First, like Peter Defty advised me, and something which did work at the World Masters too three weeks ago, I took one pouch of Vespa 25 45 minutes before the start, one pouch of Vespa Junior a few minutes before the start and another one (Junior) at Skyline Gate after 1 hour and 40 minutes of running. I took my first GU 1 hour and 30 minutes after the start which is late but this is to ensure the metabolism starts to burn fat instead of sugar (knowing we carry in our body, at the start, 20 times more fat calories than glycogen). I took a second GU at mile 20 when Chris and I passed Hugo and to make sure I had enough power for the last 11 miles. And drank 2/3 of my GU2O bottles and water bottles (could/should have drunk more actually and finished the bottles). Overall that's 350 calories intake (*) for about 3,000 calories spent according to my Garmin import into SportsTrack. I did not get any cramps, which is a first for me on this course, and did not walk any of the up hills (had to keep Chris on his toes! ;-). I was definitely able to get energy and calories from other sources than pure glycogen. And, I promise, I'm not paid to promote this product, I just want to share it's working so you give it a try too if you want to improve your ultra experience and recover better!
This week I plan on participating in the Los Gatos All-Comers meet on Thursday night and help out at Steve Patt's Stevens Creek 50K next Sunday. My next big goal is Rio Del Lago on September 10 and I need to keep some volume and intensity through August then. Again, like after the World Masters, no time to rest on the laurels... ;-)

Have a great week, and a special "Run Happy" to those enjoying this activity!

(*) GU2O 16oz: 100 x2 x2/3 = 130 - GU: 100 x 2 = 200 - 1/8 banana: 10 cal