Sunday, March 25, 2012

Rain over here, drought down there: please help!

How ironic... For the past three weeks I have been wanting to echo Tropical John Medinger's call for help which he released as part of his editorial of the March 2012 issue of UltraRunning Magazine. A call to help the Tarahumara who are going through the worst drought ever in their canyons. And, here on the West Coast, I was running in the snow last weekend and in the rain this Saturday in California. Yes, we didn't see much of a winter and here is the rain coming to celebrate the first days of the Spring...

March is the issue of UltraRunning Magazine which goes over the previous year's performances thanks to Gary Wang's masterful crunching of ultra numbers and his RealEndurance.com website in particular and also Mark Gilligan and Bill Carr's Ultrasignup.com. Nowadays, every bit of data is available on the web but it still takes the energy and passion of a few to consolidate such a flow of information into something more consumable and searchable. 2011 was such a year for me, I managed to get listed 7 times in this issue!

  1. 1 point in the UltraRunner of the year ranking (ok, versus 238 points for undisputed winner Dave Mackey... ;-)
  2. In the "Four or more wins" page which is really something and likely not to happen anytime soon :-/ but you have to enjoy the moment! :-)
  3. Overall winner of Skyline 50K, the 71st largest ultra (thanks Chris Calzetta for sharing this!)
  4. 8th best 50-mile performance of the year (it helps the course was flat, but still, 5:43 was quite something)
  5. 34th best 50K performance of the year (and that was 3:28, we'll see what this year's 3:19 at Jed Smith will score for 2012)
  6. The results of the low key Saratoga Fat Ass on page 81
  7. My win (79.6 miles) at Wendell's New Year's Eve 12-hour in San Francisco.
I missed the 100K listing because I was 1.5 hours late at Ruth Anderson (the 8:05 would have been good for #17) and the 100-mile listing with my drop at Rio del Lago. We'll see how 2012 goes, so far so good... And I keep training harder than ever, with 100 miles this week, resuming training the day after running Chuckanut! It feels good to run below 7 min/mile again and I'm planning on joining Bob and Jeremy at the track this week now that my 10-day cold is over.

Anyway, back to the title of this post, the Tarahumaras need your help! With their legendary discretion, they are not going to ask directly but it's good to have Christopher McDougall, the now renowned author of Born To Run, and the legendary Caballo Blanco, advocating for this nice running community and letting us know how much they suffer from hunger this year because of this exceptional drought which slashed their harvest to less than 1% of the usual levels (yes, a 99% shortage...)!

They are several ways to help:
  1. Per John's editorial, you can send money to a local association, Cadena, an organization dedicated to providing disaster relief aid and which is run by the Jewish community in Mexico. John says that you can send a payment via PayPal to cadena@cadena.org.mx.
  2. Personally, I chose to give again to Norawas de Raramuri, the foundation Caballo Blanco presented to us at Mike's house in October 2009 (see Caballo in the Bay: not a ghost!). Check the button Donate at the bottom left of the home page (I had to click several times not to get an error message tonight...)
(Photo credit: Scott Dunlap, October 16, 2009)

If you are not convinced and compelled or ready to take action yet, please consider reading other calls for help:
Thanks for helping this remote running community and enjoy the rain if you have some, or the good Spring weather if you are getting out of a rainy and snowy Winter!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Chuckanut 50K: another comfort zone

As I said last week after Way Too Cool, I knew I was stepping out of my North California comfort zone with this race in Bellingham, on the border between Canada and the State of Washington, called the Evergreen State for a reason, the abundant forest nurtured by abundant rains... It is also unusual for me to fly to races, the carbon footprint being an excuse for me to focus on our local races as we are so blessed to have many in or near the Bay Area. And then there was this amazing convergence of competition to honor the 20th anniversary of this race with many 2:2x marathoners per Gary's term, that is guys running between 2:20 and 2:30 (and a few 2:1x ones actually!). Despite the rainy reputation of the area, I believe I wasn't the only one to be surprised by the weather conditions on this weekend. We actually had some trouble flying from San Francisco on Friday afternoon because of the bad weather coming from Seattle along the Pacific Coast. My plane was one hour late and Toshi and Judy's one almost 3 hours. With that, we only got to he hotel in Bellingham around 9pm. Thankfully, Gary was there early and was able to pick our bib numbers in the afternoon. Dave Mackey didn't have a room so Gary invited him to share ours, before another room became available with a last minute cancellation. With a room on his own and no family around, Dave had his best night for a long time, 8 straight hours! ;-)

Gary had run the race last year, placing 9th one week after taking 3rd at Way Too Cool. This year, Gary won WTC, setting a new Course Record (both overall and Masters) and he was excited about coming back for another back-to-back. Before going to bed, Gary shared his knowledge of the course and I'm grateful because that helped me visualize the whole profile. The sky was super clear at 10 pm so we fell asleep wishing for sweet dreams of a nice sunny run this Saturday. A look by the window at 6 am brought a different perspective though, with a good rain going. When we picked Gary at Starbucks, Dave said: "look, it's turning to snow!" (1st photo, credit Greg Lanctot)

Greg drove all of us to the start where we checked in then rushed back to the car when Dave announced that the start of our first wave wasn't at 8 but 7:50 am. So, here we are, at the start line by 7:48, in the cold rain, but no count down going. The start was actually at 8 and I was glad to wear my rain jacket, among many runners in singlets... (photo credit: Greg Lanctot)
Gary had told me that to aim at top 20 this year, you had to run the first 6 miles under 6 min/mile. I was happy not to shoot for such a goal... I settled for 7 min/mile for the first 4 miles, feeling like a back of a packer with maybe 50 runners in front of me. Just before the first aid station, Clayton Beach at mile 6.1, I passed Jen Shelton and mentioned to her how gracefully she was running, then Joelle Vaught and Toshi who were conversing and Brett Rivers from Tamalpa. Here is Greg's video at the entrance of the aid station (I'm the "yellow jacket" followed by Brett in blue, then Toshi and Joelle, Jen, Pam Smith, ...):
I went through the aid station without stopping and embarked in the first uphill of the day on Fragrance Lake Trail. It was still raining at the bottom but quickly turned to snow as we were gaining elevation with the snow starting sticking on the ground around 900 feet. I had a quick look at the quiet Fragrance Lake, still keeping a close eye on the many roots crossing the trail. We had a nice downhill section afterwards which was slightly muddy going through what looked to me as a rain forest. I was moving fast but had to stop to retie my shoe laces just before the second aid station on Cleator Road. I got passed by 3 runners in the meantime. I passed a couple of runners on the long and steady climb on this wide Cleator Road. At some point I decided to run in the few inches of fresh snow, getting more traction. Brett was a few yards ahead but didn't stop at the 3rd aid station so I lost sight of him. Indeed, I made a rather long stop there, asking a volunteer to refill my GU2O bottle. We were at the half marathon mark and I remembered the next aid was 7 miles away. After the aid station, I was following a tall runner who had some difficulties in this very technical section. After I passed him I really enjoyed hoping and jumping over roots, steps, rocks, the trail being not slippery but just soaked enough to provide a soft landing when jumping from rocks. I kept thinking of the fast and tall guys ahead and how impressive it must be to see them flying down. Needless to say, with the remoteness of the trail and the weather conditions, there were no spectators!

A couple volunteers were picking our numbers at the switchback marking the middle of the course. I don't recall exactly my time but it was slightly over 2 hours. After going down Chuckanut Ridge Trail we were now on North Lost Lake Trail which was very soaked and muddy. Here again, it felt almost better running in the fresh snow, aside from the muddy single track. I was thinking of how the trail will become after 650 runners have gone through... After 40 runners, it still looked beautiful, it seemed like running in the wonderful pictures Glenn Tachiyama shares in his Tribute to the Trails calendar (which raised $18,500 for the State of Washington trails this year). Glenn was actually shooting in the middle of the steep Chinscraper hill and got great shots of some of us sliding in the mud! (See in FaceBook his "Chinscrapper Flip & Slide" album.)

I passed a few runners before the fourth aid station located at the bottom this infamous Chinscrapper and didn't stop, excited to see what this beast was about. As Gary told me that everybody had to walk it, I felt not ashamed to do so too, although I was surprised to find some short downhill sections between steep uphills one. My Garmin indicated close to 1,100 feet at the aid station and almost 1,900 of the hill. I actually saw Brett a few switchbacks ahead but couldn't close the gap. Running with Tamalpa and training on the Dipsea trail, Brett has amazing strength in such uphills. It felt good to be done with this last hill, with 3 miles of downhill ahead to get back to sea level then the final flat 10K. I pushed the pace in the downhill feeling great, using Vespa and having only eaten one GU before Chinscrapper to get a boost. I caught up with Brett who was complaining about cramps. I kept pushing, getting my average pace down from around 9 min/mile at the top to 8:30 by the 5th aid station, Clayton Beach again. I didn't stop either at this aid station and kept moving fast, passing a few runners in the next 4 miles. With 2 miles to go, I passed a runner who was begging for gels. I stopped, had trouble opening my jacket pocket and gave him a GU. He was wearing bib #18 and it's only later that I found out he was actually the king of our sport, no less than favorite Max King. Poor Max was leading by mile 22 on Fragrance Lake Road and missed the sharp left turn where the course marshal wasn't posted yet. He kept going down and went of course for about 4 miles, killing any hope of a win with such competition just a few minutes behind him. Sage Canaday was just behind and made the same mistake but was fortunate enough to get warned by someone before going too far off course. I was of course far from the excitement going on at the front but read with some excitement the Byron's coverage of the race on his iRunFar tweet. As Gary said at the finish, it had some flavor of a championship! Here is a great shot from Greg of the top finishers (photo credit: Greg Lanctot):
From left: Dusty Caseria, Chase Parnell, Jason Schlarb, Tim Olson, Adam Campbell (bending), Mike Foote, Mike Wolfe, Gary Gellin, Dave Mackey.

I finished in 4:23 in 31st place and 6th M40-49. My strong finish showed that I could have pushed more along the way but, given the circumstances, especially the heavy workload during the week and my fighting of a virus since Monday, I was quite happy with this time, one week after my 4:06 Way Too Cool.
Of course, it was far behind Gary's performance who doubled too, with a 14th place this weekend (4:02) and 2nd M40-49 (behind Dave Mackey, 7th) after his overall win at WTC! At the front, there was much suspense in the men race especially after Max' errands. Jason Loutitt led for at least 15 miles but finished 8th. Winner Adam Campbell, from Canada, was still in third a few miles from the finish. On the women side, and also from Canada, Ellie Greenwood keeps dominating the ultra world and had a magisterial win, even improving the course record she set last year by 3 minutes despite the trail conditions. She finished 22nd overall in 2:09, 24 minutes ahead of the second woman, Jodee Adams-Moore, with Joelle Vaught 90 seconds behind in third.

The delicious home-made soup of Krissy's mom and the gas heaters under the food tent next to the finish line were most welcomed by all the runners. Apart from a few short rain showers, the afternoon ended up being mostly sunny. Krissy Moehl did a fantastic job directing her tenth Chuckanut and celebrating this 20th anniversary of this event.
At the amazing post-race party she thanked all the volunteers who helped making this event so successful and safe despite these winter conditions. In addition to overall and age group winners cash prizes and goodies, Krissy had many sponsor goodies left to give away and MC Scott Jurek had trouble coming up with enough ideas to pick lucky recipients.
After a few Irish songs by a hornpipe quartet to properly celebrate St Patrick's Day in addition to the great local beers, a rock band took over the stage to get us swinging until 9 pm.
The attendance was mostly composed of volunteers and their family and quite a few elite runners who had not left just after the race. Our Quicksilver gang represented California, clearly in minority today. Tropical John Medinger, Lisa and Tia Bodington were covering the event for their UltraRunning Magazine and a few Tamalpa runners completed this small Californian contingent (Dave, Brett, Gary Wang). Out team captain, Greg, in conjunction with Hal Koerner from Ashland's Rogue Valley Runners and Jimmy Dean Freeman from LA's Coyotes started an ultra running league this year. For this inaugural race, our team took third and Team Bend, first, winning an owl which matched quite well Jeff Browning's glasses! ;-)
The Rogue Valley team placed second and Tim Olson took home the second prize mushroom. Next league game will be Lake Sonoma then Leona Divide, both 50-milers.
Here is to mark the birth of the URRL, the Ultra Running Racing League, our Quicksilver team taking third this Saturday thanks to Toshi battling through the cold and the mud (and shopping for these fun awards in the afternoon with Greg):
 The party was great although I didn't know it was going to be outside. Between the low temperatures of the end of the day, the chilly wind and the Ocean humidity, my cold of last week which was better right after the race (yes, running a tough 50K can do wonders!), my cold worsen during the night and I completely lost my voice, with my throat hurting. Oh well, 3 weeks until American River 50 (miles), and likely another trip to Dubai in the meantime, ample time to recover and put in more training miles... (I went for a 10K recovery run upon coming back home this Sunday.)
To conclude, in addition to Krissy of course, I want to thank Greg (Lanctot) for getting me up there, out of my comfort zone. It's certainly challenging to compete in such a young and talented field but that keeps you younger... It was also a challenge to meet Winter so close to the Canadian border but the Brooks PureGrit were the perfect shoes for the day and made the run much more comfortable, as well as the rain jacket I kept all the way. I actually slipped only once during the whole race, as I missed one step while looking ahead to Brett on Chinscrapper, right before Glenn Tachiyama's professional eye and unforgiving camera; I look forward to seeing the shots he got of me when I was crawling up that large flat boulder on four legs... Overall, an amazing ultra celebration in winter conditions, I can now say that I was not only nuts enough to run a Chuckanut and that I did survive not just any Chuckanut but the XXth!

PS: a few more pictures in my Picasa album.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Way Too Cool 2012: way too what?

It was certainly not too cool this Saturday, temperature wise. Not as warm as the 78F we had in Sacramento on Friday afternoon though, thanks to some clouds in the sky, but warm enough for me to run with one layer on, and for a few others to run shirt less. Otherwise, it was of course way too cool to run in Cool again, partly on the Western States trail and in particular that cool race celebrating a local frog.
It was my 7th Way Too Cool. The official website was mentioning the 15th annual running but the event has been on since 1990 making it the 23rd edition this year (Tim Twietmeyer only missed 1991 and 2003 so it was his 21st!). Here is Tim (left) with Stan Jensen, at the finish:

Before sharing more details about my race, here are a few "way too..." vignettes as a summary
  1. Way too dry (part 1). I've never seen these trails in such amazing running conditions in March, barely a puddle and trace of mud except for 3 creek crossings where we got our feet wet. While it provides amazing running conditions, this really shows that we didn't get much of winter in North California. 19 runners broke 4 hours including 2 gals and 11 masters!
  2. Way too fast. With such dry conditions and perfect temperature, it was the day to set Personal and Course Records and both male and female CRs have been improved indeed (for this course which changed significantly a couple of years ago).
  3. Way too pro. I should say "so professional", speaking of Julie Fingar's management. With 200 volunteers, chip timing, an expo, big name sponsors, live video streaming, custom-made cupcakes, fully stocked aid stations, announcer at the start and finish line, the events organized by Nor Cal Ultras stand out and become has professional as the main road events.
  4. Way too crowded. This one isn't from me but I did hear it from a middle packer: with almost 800 participants on such a great course with many long single track sections, it creates long lines of runners at times.

As you might have read in my previous post, I was still in Dubai on Friday morning. The trip back home was long (23 hours!) and the connection in DC particularly stressful because of the delay caused by the sun flares/storm. Agn├Ęs picked me at the airport and we headed straight to Eldorado Hills where she had a seminar, Friday evening and Saturday. That was ideally located, 20 miles from the start which I drove to early to secure a spot in the main parking lot. That was a good move as I had to use the bathrooms several time before the start. Indeed, although I flew more than 1.5 million miles for business and can handle jet lag pretty well, the only thing which I never managed to get right after such slights is GI issues. It always takes a few days for my transit system to regroup but, unfortunately this time, I had only a few hours and the thing was pretty messed up start from the start. With that, I was still at my car when I heard the count down starting and barely made it into the pack at the sound of the gun.

The start was so crowded that we had to walk first, then sprint and slalom to reach the head of the race. I ran the first mile in 6:15 (it's all road and slightly downhill) and settle after a pack of about 20 runners around the top three gals. I ended up just behind Erik Skaden when the trail turned to a narrow single track. Around mile 7 we passed master blogger Scott Dunlap who took this amazing shot while running. Scott is really mastering the art of "backward, single hand, arm length, in action, over the shoulder" photography! All that at 7 minutes/mile pace... (photo credit: Scott Dunlap)
Indeed, I closed the first 8-mile loop in 56 minutes and probably around the 20 or 25 position (photo credit UltraRunnerPodcast.com).
My intestine was hurting but I was still hoping that will clear-up in the way down to the river. As a matter of fact, the pounding in the steep downhill to Highway 40 crossing just made it worse and I had to ease the pace by a few seconds by mile 13. I stopped for the first time at mile 16, for 3 long minutes which got my average pace to fall from 7:12 to 7:22 and I saw about 8 or 10 runners passing. It felt better for a few hundreds yards before the cramps and diarrhea started hurting again. I passed a few runners who were wondering how I managed to come from behind (Ray Sanchez, Mark Murray, Jady Palko, ...) and they passed me again as I had to stop again... Not a good day although the legs were working fine.

With the gastro intestinal mess I couldn't eat anything which wasn't too much of a concern as I was using Vespa. But I was also resisting the need to drink, just forcing myself to empty my GU2O bottle which I managed to do by mile 20. At the ALT (Auburn Lake Trails) aid station, a ranger helped me refill my GU2O bottle. He then proposed to fill in my water bottle and, to my surprise, it was still almost full, I had barely taken a sip of water. That wasn't good either, that's my "Way Too Dry (part 2)" vignette because I did get too dry myself indeed... I took one GU for the whole race, I'm glad fat burning covered for the rest (yes, the Vespa effect...).

I stabilized the pace just below 8 minutes/mile in the relatively flat section before the steep Goat Hill in which I passed a handful of runners. (Photo credit Nor Cal Ultras)
At the top of Goat Hill, I got a hug from Norm Klein, and a quick accolade from Helen. I apologized for being late and not having time to stop by then rushed for the final 5 miles, the intestinal pain becoming more tolerable. I passed a few other runners and finished in 26th position, missing my goal by 6 minutes (4:06:00). It was the day to break 4 hours and 19 other runners had done it today. With teammate Gary Gellin even breaking 3.5 hours, winning the race and setting a new course record of 3:27:43. That should be an age group CR which should last for some time! Here are Gary and Holly before the start:
You can check the recording of the live video streaming in one of these sections, by finish time (I'm afraid Gary went too fast to get caught by the camera...):
  1. 3:43:15 - 4:27:39: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/21014788 (my finish is at 22 minutes 50 seconds into this one)
  2. 4:32:35 - 5:27:45: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/21015697
  3. 5:30:44 - 7:13:37: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/21016790
After Jed Smith and a strong training this year, I definitely had the potential to do better to celebrate my 30th 50K, but this is still honorable given the circumstances. With all the bad exercise-induced asthma incidents on this course, it's actually my 2nd best time (3:56:47 in 2008 on a different course). I heard that many runners set PRs this Saturday, it was indeed a unique opportunity to do well in such perfect conditions.

A big thank you to the 200 hundred volunteers who assisted Julie, her NorCalUltras team and us, before, during and after the race, with such a perfect logistic! And so many cupcakes...
Special thanks to Ve Loyce and his Monsters of Massage for their deep massage. This allowed me to run 16 miles this Sunday; it's almost time to taper again before next race, Chuckanut 50K in 6... days (no, not weeks!) in Fairhaven, WA. I'm going out of my North California "comfort zone", in new territories and picking one of the most competitive field ever. Just to give you some perspective, there are 27 overall or age-graded "100%" entrants in the 700 deep field! Another indication is that Gary, who just won Way Too Cool, would be happy to finish in the top 20 there (he appears in 24th position in the past performance-ordered registrant list, I'm in 84th position...). Definitely out of my comfort zone... ;-)

Talk to you from Washington State next time then!

PS: if you live in the South Bay and like music, Max and his fellow a cappella SOBs (Society of Orpheus and Bacchus) from Yale are stopping by and will give a concert in Cupertino on Thursday evening, March 15 (tickets at http://www.yaleclubofsiliconvalley.org/article.html?aid=130 or at the door).

Friday, March 9, 2012

Stretched Dubai: more cars than runners...

This is my second business trip in Dubai in 5 months and there should be quite a few upcoming ones over the next few months. I arrived there on Saturday night and left on Thursday night for a full working week (the weekend is Friday-Saturday in the Emirates). With 12-hour working days on the client project plus a few hours to catch-up with emails, not much time to run except at night. Upon getting to the hotel on Saturday after a 21-hour trip, I left the hotel at 11 pm and ran toward downtown (North). There was a good breeze from the sea and the temperature was very nice, in the 70s, which is cool for the area so, despite the fatigue of the flight, I managed to maintain a 7:10 min/mile pace for 24 miles, running to the harbor and back to the Mall of the Emirates.
On Monday night, I ran in the opposite direction, toward the Marina, for 12 miles out and back, at a slightly slower pace as this was a tapering week before Way Too Cool 50K this Saturday.
To give a sense of scale, the red segment in the above "flower" (the Palm Jumeira, an artificial/reclaimed island covered with luxurious buildings) is 1.2-mile long (the island is about 3x3 miles or 5x5 kilometers).

Sorry for the ones expecting pictures, I didn't run with my camera this time and, again, it was quite dark except for the glow of the cars (you can still look at the pictures I posted last October). You cannot run on the seashore because of the private hotel and palace beaches. But, a block from the sea, you can run along Jumeirah Road which goes on for many miles, at least 20! As you can see on this map, Dubai stretches for almost 40 miles between the sea and the desert, not to mention the vertical stretch of the many skyscrapers including the highest in the world. Needless to say, in such an affluent countries, people don't cover these miles by foot but in luxurious cars for the wealthy, or buses, cabs and metro for the others. I haven't see any other runner this week, although the temperature was perfect, but many Porshes, BMWs, Maserattis, Ferraris, Mercedeses, Bentleys, ... among an ocean of Japanese cars.
I barely made the connection in DC this morning. We had to take a lower route between Dubai and Washington because of major solar flares/storm. Our flight ended up being one hour longer (more than 15 hours!) and we got at the gate at the time my next flight was boarding, not good... Fortunately, I traveled with a carry-on and managed to go through immigration, custom and another security check in less than 20 minutes, good enough for a sprint to the next gate and boarding among the last passengers, phew! Agnes picked me at SFO and here we are in Sacramento this Friday evening, 50 hours have passed since I last woke up in Dubai, I was fortunate to sleep for about 10 hours on the plane to catch-up with some sleep deficit.

For those not running Way Too Cool tomorrow (or another race this afternoon), you can follow some of the action, live, on the ultralivevideo channel (start: 7:30-8am, 8-mile: 8:30a, finish: 11:30a-1:30p, all Pacific times). Speaking of time, we are changing time on Sunday morning, the Spring Forward. See many of you at Cool, sweet dreams in the meantime!