Sunday, October 28, 2012

Run d'Amore recon: San Martin race track

I had registered to Wiskheytown 50K which I ran only once, my first year in ultra, in October 2007 (I enjoyed re-reading my race report on the "F as in..." theme). The past years, I didn't even register because I had already secured the Grand Prix and one more 50K wasn't going to make a difference so late in the season. This year, I still wanted to race as I missed a 100-mile race because of the broken shoulder this summer and was excited to come back 5 years later to see if I'd enjoy the 20 or so creek crossings more than the first time. However, after I signed up, Max made plans to visit from Yale for a long weekend and I didn't want to miss two days out of the four he was in town (a 5-hour drive each way plus a hotel night). So, after getting the permission from our team Captain, Greg, I opted for a DNS (Did Not Start) or rather a DNG (Did Not Go).
Instead, I drove South, down to San Martin on 101, just before Gilroy. More exactly to Coyote Lake-Harvey Bear Ranch County Park, the place of Rajeev's Run Des Vous 100-mile in August and the upcoming  Run D'Amore in two weeks. Run D'Amore will have 4 ultra distances: 50K, 100K, 100 miles and 201K. The latest, 125 miles, is meant to provide an opportunity to qualify for the grueling Spartathlon in Greece (qualifiers include 100K under 10.5 hours or a non-stop 200K race regardless of time). While my last Miwok already qualifies me, I'm not sure I'm ready to enlist myself for this remote race. My goal is more to cover a distance which I never ran so far, and maybe go even farther, as many miles I can cover in 24 hours (the event is 36 hours). By the way the race is co-directed by Rajeev Patel and Alan Geraldi and, while being a low-key event capped at 100 participants, there are still about 50 spots available, you just have to pick your distance and signup on! Alan and Rajeev put a lot of efforts in organizing this event which, if the weather remains as good as it was this week, promise to be a great and pro ultra celebration. Come and join us to set a new PR at any of these distances!

The website clearly advertise the fact that the course isn't flat. It consists of a 2.01-mile USATF-certified loop with about 100-feet cumulative elevation. While 100 feet don't represent much, it will make 5,000 feet for the 100-miler. Less than many mountain trail ultras, yet not flat either. I wanted to have a taste or feel of that "undulating" elevation and ran 16 loops this Friday afternoon (about 52 km). The course is actually a bike path whose asphalt has been redone a few days ago so is in perfect condition. It looks like a racing track, I mean one for go-kart or Formula 1, so much that I couldn't resist the urge to "speed up" and ran all the way between 6:50 and 7:10 min/mile pace. It was windy, the sky was so clear, the air so pure and the temperature in the 70s, it felt strange to think we were almost in November. If only the weather could be the same in 2 weeks... Look at the salt I lost in this warm conditions (I think the salt got fixed by the dry air and wind):
Besides the few bikers, horse riders, dog walkers and hikers I met during these almost 4 hours on the course and helped breaking the otherwise monotony on such a lap format, here are three anecdotes:
  1. While my right shoulder isn't bothering me much now during the runs, I still avoid carrying a water bottle in my right hand. I then left a bottle at the start of the loop, on the side of the bike path and, to my surprise, it had disappeared at the end of my 6th lap. I chased a lady who was walking pretty fast toward the parking lot, with her dog, and saw her hiding the bottle. She had emptied the content (Gu2O), removed the handle (large Ultimate Direction bottle), assuredly ready to take it home. I couldn't believe it when she said that she had found in on the trail and was just going to leave it at the trail head... Thankfully, I had taken my Gu2O box with me so I could refill the bottle with a new mix. Wow, better be careful on race day and watch out for our belongings...
  2. A few laps later (approaching the marathon mark in 3:05), a horse rider tells me to be careful because she saw a mountain lion near the bike path, at the base of the hill. Here again, I had hard time believing it as I had passed through this area already 12 times. At the end of my run, the Sheriff was on the parking lot and I asked him if it was possible, especially in the middle of the afternoon. I was astonished when he replied "Oh, yes, all the time, let me check this out!" I'm now wondering what can happen as we run all night in this area...
  3. In my last lap, a walker whom I was crossing for the 3rd time stopped me an asked what I was training for. This time, it was him who had hard time believing we'll be running for 24 or 36 hours on this course in 2 weeks... ;-)
Here is a quick synopsis of the course. The start area:
The first straight section of the "hill" (we turn left before the real hill in the background!):
The end of the uphill section (bench on the right):
The downhill facing West:
The parking lot (horse trailers):
Harvey Bear Ranch:
And the history behind this place (click on the image to read):

Saturday, October 20, 2012

QuickSilver Challenge: on the other side of the fun!

[For those only interested in the pictures, here is the link to my Picasa photo album (volunteers at registration, 10K runners at Buena Vista, half-marathon runners).]

Our QuickSilver running club (San Jose) organizes two major running events each year at our hosting QuickSilver Almaden County Park, a treasure of 34 miles of hilly trails just in/on the outskirt of the Capital of Silicon Valley. In May we have the hot (temperature wise) 50K and 50-mile ultra races, directed by Pierre-Yves. In October, a 10K and half-marathon, directed this year by Race Director, Bree, and RD Assistant, Lolo aka Lauren, both in glowing colors and great spirits, both recto:
and verso:
Having the race in October is the opportunity for some Halloween flavors among the volunteers at the registration table. Jim as an ultra religious dignitary for a change:
I ran the half marathon only once, in September 2009, in 1:29, but it was another course. Indeed, the course was changed this year and I'd say is more challenging, with more single track (New Almaden) and cumulative elevation (to be confirmed). I helped Adam, then RD, marking the course last year and, this year, it was time to give back again and be on the other side of the... fun (I mean not racing): my duty was to be a course monitor for the first 4 miles of the race. I left the start area around 7:20 am to mark this section and in particular the intersection with Buena Vista trail where I then sent the 10K runners onto the left, while the half-marathoners were going straight on New Almaden. That gave me the opportunity to took pictures of all the runners (I think I only missed a couple), see the Picasa album.

And, among the 144 pictures, here is the winner for this year's half-marathon, also the defending 2011 champion, Yoshihiro Ishijima:
And the most exquisite volunteer couple on the course today, Keith and Kay, trying hard to sell their ultra food ;-):
Once all the runners went through the following intersection on Prospect #3 trail, which I monitored for a couple of hours, I myself ran the rest of the course, encouraging the back of the pack runners and stopping at the aid stations to catch-up with my fellow club members. I was exciting to see so many new faces among the runners, this race being the first trail experience for many. And it was funny to see the faces of the runners when offered ultra food like peanut jelly sandwiches or S!Caps... A few runners even admitted they had no idea so many trails existed so close from the city. Which is exactly the reason our club organizes these events, to democratize trail running and the blessings our rich park system represents for all the Silicon Valley people. Overall we could have had a few more runners to leverage such a professional logistics setup by Bree and her team of volunteers, but at least we had a hundred folks particularly happy to test their physical and mental limits on these hilly trails thanks to this... challenge! Good job to all, kudos to the volunteers who stayed at their post for more than 5 hours, the time for all runners to go through (e.g. lonely Gary who distributed the green bracelets at the English Camp turn around and almost got his water bottle and cell phone stolen by a thirsty female runner!) and special thanks to Bree for stepping up as RD! See you all next year!

PS: race results will soon be posted on the UltraSignup event page.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Running in Napa

I spent a couple of days in the wine country, more precisely in Napa, for an IBM customer event. I was excited to be back there although I knew there won't be much running with meetings from 8 am to dinners finishing after 10 pm, and the rest of the night to catch-up with emails... I can't believe it has been 3.5 years already since my Napa Marathon run in March 2009, and I enjoyed the (wet...) memories which came back from reading my race report. Since then, I ran a 2:47 marathon at 47, so I'm still on my "Jean's law" (you'll have to read that old post to understand this one... ;-).

I woke up at 5:30 am on Wednesday and left the hotel at 6 am. It was pitch dark and I thought it would be safer to stay on the asphalt of the Napa-Vallejo Highway. We were staying at the Meritage, about 4 miles South of Napa. I was surprised how busy the highway was and, dazzled by the lights of the cars and truck driving at 60 mph, I had hard time seeing my footing. Fortunately, I spotted a trail sign at the Streblow Drive intersection. The sign said "River to Ridge Trail", keywords which all sounded great to me. Despite the total darkness, I decided to go toward the East ridge of the Napa Valley. I didn't want to fall again (see my broken shoulder episode...) and proceeded very carefully and slowly to avoid tripping on rocks or roots. After 0.6 mile, I saw some orange lights on the trail. I slowly walked toward them, they appeared to be a few live coals (dying fire), then I distinguished a dark shape which looked like a body, lying across the trail. Again, it was so dark that I could barely see what it was and I got scared enough, I just turned around. While I usually like to spot places to run after I ran them, I admit I didn't run up to the ridge. Yet, is seems like a great place to run if you are staying in Napa. Check the River to Ridge Trail information page.
As you can see on the map, the trail connects into the Skyline Wilderness Park and the Skyline Trail in particular for much more trail running!

And as the name says, the trail actually connects not only to the Napa River, on the West side, but to the relatively short Napa River Trail (3.1 mile or 5K). If you stay downtown Napa, you can hop on this trail on 3rd Street, near the train station hosting the famous Napa Valley Wine Train and it's moving restaurant, and go South. Check this blog for a description of the Napa River Trail with pictures, and the aerial map in Google Maps.

Note that these two trails belong to the huge network of trails constituting the San Francisco Bay Area Trail and Bay Area Ridge Trail, which I run so many sections of at the South of the Bay. 500 and 355 miles respectively! And two of the reasons I'm so thrilled to live in this region for those who wonder or ask...

Exploring these two trails, I ended up running a half marathon which was a great and healthy escape to burn quite a few calories from the great food and wines we were spoiled with during these three days. Yes, Napa is not only a place to drink great wines, it's also a place to eat awesome cuisines. And a place to run, eventually...! ;-)

PS: although the Napa Marathon is run on the Silverado Trail, don't be mistaken by the name, this is a 30-mile road, not a trail. And a busy road along many wineries so who knows how people are driving between the tasting rooms...

Listen to your body. And to your log too!

Listening to your body is an art. Our body is so complex, it's probably a science too. So much that I must admit my ear isn't so acute in this area. Thankfully, I maintain a very detailed running log on the side and here are two stories illustrating how this helps me and can help you.

Since I resumed training after the 6-week break following my shoulder fracture mid-June, I pushed hard to make up for the loss of mileage. Last year, and without even having set this as a goal before mid-year, I passed the symbolic 62.2 miles per week threshold, or 100K per week. At some points, it felt like some unhealthy pressure yet I was glad I kept the pace throughout the year, with even enough room to take my yearly break in December before my first 12-hour event on New Year's Eve. I was 180 miles ahead of this 62.2-mile/week goal by mid June when I felt. Maybe that was a sign I was too tired and pushed too hard. However, something that I don't track in my log is the hours of sleep, but I recall that I had a 4-hour sleep 2 days before which is a better explanation. Add to that this was a long 39-mile remote and solo run and I was out of fluids for the last 5 miles, and tripped because I was looking at a house below in Tahoe City, so these are more rational reasons. After all, per my log, I had just increased my mileage by 10% which is reasonable as a progression (you don't want to build-up mileage too fast).

Anyway, I'm now back on track, ahead of this average goal again by 105 miles, that has been quite a few miles in August and September. 285 and 403 miles respectively. Yes, 400 miles in one month, I had never run that much in a single month! And, back to the title of this post, that's where the log is useful: I hadn't noticed that I was running that much, 95-mile weeks, but I felt unusually tired and thought it was just from work and the shoulder pain interfering with my sleep. At least the log explains part of it and I've already cut on the distance this month and will continue as I'm traveling to the Gulf again this week. Yet, building up such mileage should help for the 24-hour event I'm aiming at, mid-November, the week before JFK 50-mile's 50th anniversary which I'll run too.

Overall, I feel my log is helping me a lot in my training, especially as I don't have a coach (or rather that I am my own coach). If I was just listening to my body, there would be days I many not find the courage to go our and push the envelope. So the log both provides stimulation and reason. It also helps tracking the mileage for each pair of shoe, and when I need to retire them, something I can't figure out just by listening to... my body. 2012 isn't over yet, here is a snapshot of one of my log dashboards as of today (the sudden slow-down of the average pace is when I added a lot of ultra trail running in my running regimen):
I know there are many who don't need or want to keep a log. I was actually amazed that was the case for Graham Cooper, an elite ultra runner who won Western States in 2006 (see my interview of Graham after our 2007 Ohlone race). So, what about you? Are you keeping a log too? Obsessed about it as I may be sometimes...? Or, like Graham, not caring and not keeping track? And just listening to your body...? ;-) Please let us know with a comment on this post below!