Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: a year in quick review




With 3,250 miles and 425 hours added to my running log this year, there is of course a lot to say, it has been another great year. Now, if you follow my blog, there shouldn't be much of a surprise. For the interest if time, both yours and mine, I'll be succinct, focusing on a few statistics and highlighting a multi-dimensional analysis of my 2012 races.

Races - This has been a great year from a racing standpoint, both from a variety and performance standpoint. Here are the new races I enjoyed in 2012: Chuckanut 50K, Leona Divide 50-mile, JFK 50-mile, 3 major, very competitive and popular events. In addition to meeting new ultra running crowds, especially on the East Coast or Washington State, these three events were celebrating special milestones, respectively their 20th, 20th and 50th anniversaries.

Here is a graph summarizing in one picture the 15 races. 2 criteria are objective: the distance (sphere size) and the performance relative to the top finisher (per Ultrasignup.com). The other 2 parameters are totally subjective: the color represents what I recall to be my perceived effort and the abscissa (horizontal axis) represents how much relative fun I had.


An additional legend is for the acronyms of the races, from left to right: AR: American River, WTC: Way Too Cool, SK: Skyline, MW: Miwok, JFK, TB: Trailblazer, RA: Ruth Anderson, TT: Silicon Valley Turkey Trot, CN: Chuckanut, JS: Jed Smith, LD: Leona Divide, RdA: Run d'Amore, SC: Stevens Creek, QS: Quiksilver, OW: Ohlone Wilderness.

Mileage - This is the easiest number to track, either by wearing my Garmin GPS or running courses which I already measured before. And the more meaningful in terms of training when it comes to ultra running. As I commented in my previous post, I got caught again in the symbolic goal of 100 kilometers a week average. I was ahead of this goal by mid year before I fell and broke my shoulder. Not counting the 6-week break to heal and the inter-seasonal 3-week break in December, the average is actually close to 121 km / week. With the broken shoulder, I ended up doing most of my 2nd part of the year mileage on flat courses, instead of hill training. That explains some of the decrease in average pace (red line in the chart below with the scale on the right, the blue bars representing the "mileage" in kilometers with the scale on the left).


Consistency and Improvement - These are 2 categories I used in my 2011 review, so let's reuse them here. I'm quite happy with the consistency of my races these year. No DNF and the lowest performances were relative to elite guys (e.g. Max King at JFK). I'm also very happy with some of the performances, notably my new PR at the 50K distance (3:19:09, thanks Victor for the "pull!") and my new personal best at the 100-mile distance, breaking 15 hours albeit on a flatter course than my other 100-miles (14:54:58). And, despite a focus on ultra distances, I didn't lose too much on the 10K (35:06 at the Turkey Trot and 35:21 at Trailblazer), which is a good sign.

Locations - In addition to the new races above, I kept visiting new places abroad for work: Saudi Arabia, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, Greece, Mexico, Hong Kong, Brazil, and also a few new places in California and on the East Coast. A great source for blogging and sharing running tips for travelers, but a lot of time spent in the air (157,180 miles!)...

Grand Prix - My first participation to the USA Track&Field Mountain Ultra Trail Running Grand Prix was in 2006 when I debuted at the ultra distances with Way Too Cool 50K and Helen Klein 50-mile. 2 races weren't enough to win the Grand Prix but participating to 12 events the next year did it. I won my age group division again in 2012, making it 6 wins in a row. Although it is becoming more and more challenging in a very competitive Masters (M40-49) division, I have one more year in this age group so will give a last try. Needless to say, it all depends on other top Masters such as Dave Mackey, Leigh Schmidt, Gary Gellin, Victor Ballesteros, Rich Hanna, Mark Lantz, Eric Skaden, if they will focus on this series of local races or other national ones.

Club achievements - Our Quicksilver Ultra Running Team did amazing again in 2012. First, we had quite a few additions, now counting close to 40 members. In the Grand Prix, we took 4 out of the 6 age group wins in the men and the same in the women division! Collectively we took home the Women Team award, placed 2nd in the Men division, 3rd in Mixed, and 2nd Overall. And our club has a renewed board and revamped website too!

Injuries - This is a new category for me in a yearly review. For the high mileage and intensity I put in my training throughout the year, not to mention a lot of racing, I was proud to have avoided injuries for almost 30,000 miles. I attribute that to some luck but more importantly to the quality and variety of the Brooks shoes I'm running in (using at least 4 different models every week). Now, I did a bad fall in June on a 39-mile training run on the Tahoe Rim Trail after sleeping only 3 hours 2 nights before. Didn't hurt my feet or legs, ironically, but broke my shoulder in multiple areas which kept me 6 weeks totally off running. The good news is that I recovered most of my range of motion after 5 months. It also served as a good lesson and a great test or training for pain endurance... I'm now looking for the next 30,000 miles without injury... ;-)

Blog - This is blog post #52 this year, right on a weekly pace, phew! Or let's say average pace as there has been a few weeks in July where I had nothing to share about my running, or lack thereof.

That's it, a few more hours to savor 2012 before turning the page and jumping into another year and running season! I'm very grateful for the ability to run so much especially when I hear about issues, injuries or sickness, others have encountered this year. Here is to 2013, to all your running wishes, dreams and... resolutions!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Running: everything is relative

No, I'm not going to write about the theory of relativity here. Sometimes, ok many times, I wish I could move my body mass faster, and ideally at the speed of light, but I'm already busy enough fighting aging and keeping improving my times. And even a percentage point is good enough!

I want to highlight one marvel of our sport: there are millions of runners around the world and everyone sets his or her own goal. From competition to pure pleasure, either running solo or as a team or in a group, either running on his own or joining a club, from racing hard to jogging, from 60-meter to no limit, from under 10 seconds sprints to multi-day challenges, from running on a track to asphalt, concrete, trails, sand, mud, snow, ice, the variety that our sport offers is endless.

You may want to run to meet people if the rest of your life is lonely. Conversely, you may want to run on your own, to take a break from overwhelming people interactions at work and want to reconnect with yourself and Mother Nature. You may run to escape an addiction, or you may become addicted with running. We can even use different words such as jogging, trotting, shuffling, crawling, cruising, pushing, flying, it is rarely just about sprinting. The only thing which defines running as opposed to walking is that you don't have to have either foot on the ground, you can indeed fly and have both feet up in the air at some point. I like this simple yet powerful fact about our sport.

Back to the title you must wonder: why is he putting the topic on the table now? What prompted this philosophical title? Two things. First, after the Turkey Trot 10K (yes, it has been a while...), I looked at the age-graded results and, while I was in second position out of 8,000 finishers which isn't bad, I was intrigued by the women in first place. She was 88 and was given a 111% for running a 1:04 10K. I was actually surprised by the 111% and, indeed, that was 20 minutes faster than the current world record for the Women 85-89 age group, wow! In running, everything is relative...  The only issue with this one was that this person was actually 40, not 88. And nothing to be bragging about for my pole position in this ranking: first the real fast guys were running their own 5K invitational race; second, this was mostly a fund-raising and family-oriented event so many were not here to compete seriously. Yet, if you feel age gives an unfair advantage to those in their 20s or 30s, it's good to know that there is an algorithm out there to level the performances (see the age-grading rules and these age-adjusted 10K times). Yes, everything is relative in running, everybody is welcome to participate to their own ability or purpose and this is a way to compare your performance with your peers. To make your running experience and achievements relative to others'.

The second reason I'm thinking about this aspect of our sport is my own experience this week. After my yearly December break to recharge both my physical and mental batteries before a new ultra season, I resumed running last Monday with an easy 16-mile run and 64 weekly mileage. While I couldn't wait any longer before getting back on my feet, resuming training is always delicate for me as I want to rush back despite Agn├Ęs' warnings. Beyond the pleasure of being out there, the opportunity to burn the extra calories that the holidays spoil us with, the eager to go for long runs as I was off this week, a pain in my right calf helped bringing me reason for ramping up more slowly. Yet, one primary reason driving my weekly mileage was to meet my 100-kilometers-a-week goal. Although I did it last year without planning for it, I made a resolution last year that I wasn't going to be locked into such a goal again and, despite the 6 weeks of forced rest in June and July to fix my broken shoulder, I was close enough to do it again, and break or fail on my sand-bagging resolution... ;-) The point is that this goal became one of the reasons and drivers for running extra miles while my body was just suggesting to go back home and rest instead. When all goes well, that's why it's so important to have some precise goals such as a particular distance, time or race in sight. Or SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Action-driven, Realistic and Time-bound (e.g. run one 50K in the next 6 months and train seriously for it).

So, given that running isn't measure in an absolute way, what was your own reasons to run this week? What were you shooting for in 2012? What are you aiming at in 2013? It's resolution time, I will share my running season plans early in January but I want to hear from you in the meantime!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Marshall Ulrich: Running long on empty

A long due post and review of a book which I bought last Spring and read over the summer. Overall, a book for the hard-core ultra-runners. If there was the equivalent of the Motion Picture Association for ultrarunning, I'd assign a Restricted to it (with Chris McDougall's Born to Run and Scott Jurek's Eat and Run in the PG-13/beginner category). Yet, a great book, easy to read, a captivating account of a trip across the USA on foot and many useful tips for those of us who want to keep pushing the envelope always further.
Marshall is a phenomenon in the world of endurance. Not just running: he also climbed numerous remote mountains including the mythical Mount Everest and the seven highest summits of the seven continents, and placed in many of the most competitive adventure races. And not just endurance in physical exercise: Marshall had his share of intense and shaky personal life and emotions, though his child and adulthood. A model, or let's say example, of extreme determination and pain resistance. He has a wikipedia page, a website advertising his public speaking engagements, coaching programs.

While the book is mostly about Marshall's run across the US in 52 days, it is a memoir linking this race against the clock and injury to many other milestones and anecdotes of Marshall's life and personal journey into extreme endurance. While it's fascinating to follow Marshall's physical and mental struggles through this challenge which he called his ultimate ("this was the last thing on my tick list"), this isn't an introduction to ultra running, it's for the mature audience... Now, if you have several years of ultra experience, you'll relate to the concept of rumination (p 135), time compression (p 149), and may be ready to leverage a few training, nutrition and hydration tips (e.g. p 166). As a fan of Vespa, I liked to read about the confirmation of the power of fat burning (p 67). Now, and even after having ran 77 ultra races and 120 more in training, I still have hard time putting my arms around the following two mental strength tips. The first one is that, if you experience pain in one part of your body, you just have to think (and believe...) that this part doesn't belong to your body anymore, hence the pain neither (p 132). Sure! The second one corresponds to the state that ultra legend Yiannis Kouros (holder of 134 world records!) frequently experiences of feeling his mind floating outside his body and watching him run (p 130). A way to detach yourself from your physical pain, of course! And that discussion about extreme pain control happens half way in the book so you can imagine what the second part of the book is about...

Again, an amazing life story about pushing the limits of the human body and mind, and a few inspirational and useful tips for the ultra braves! ;-)

I used my Sustainable running label for this post but I don't believe Marshall's running regimen can work for everybody, for the common mortals... While Marshall's track record proves that this extreme mileage is sustainable for him, Running on Empty is more about sustained running, running for 50 days at a 10 minute/mile pace in spite of adversity, unmerciful weather, hectic relations with sponsors, financial hurdles, uncertainty, doubt, pain, injuries, mental and physical fatigue... Hopefully not something you'll have to do everyday if you picked running as a hobby! ;-)

Here is a link to a great video clip summarizing Marshall's philosophy about ultra running and pain management (the video server seems down for the holidays though...). More videos can be found on Marshall's website or YouTube.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Sustainability: collaborating with Mother Nature

Today's trail maintenance work made me think of the fine balance between enjoying the outdoors and paying our due respect to Mother Nature. For some environmentalists, we should leave nature untouched. For others, we are entitled to do anything we want with natural resources on the planet. While I'm glad that we have extremists in the first group fighting the damage we, humans, do in the Amazon with deforestation or, closer, in Canada and North Dakota with unspeakable oil or tar sands exploitation (so bad that I'm sure the next generation is going to say about us: "what were you thinking, dudes...?!"), I would argue that "cutting" trails in parks is actually good for both parties, humankind and nature.

Although she can't speak for herself, I'm pretty sure that Mother Nature would confirm that she likes the visit of people respecting her. And, by respect, I don't just mean love but also care. That's another great thing about ultra trail running is that our sport invites us to give back to the trail with such trail maintenance work, since we are often the primary users of these trails, especially the most remote ones.

In our Quicksilver Running Club we are blessed to have leaders and members taking this very seriously. The Club has adopted one of the key trails of the Almaden Quisksilver County Park, New Almaden, a single track which requires a lot of care as it winds across trees and creeks in the San Jose hills. At the head of the yearly program is Paul Fick. Paul is an ultra runner, has directed the Quicksilver 50/50 races, is a chief cook at our ultra races BBQ, and our CTO (Chief Trail Officer)! He has been organizing these trail projects for the past 10 years and has countless story about the history of the park, the club or ultra trail running in Norther California.
We were only 4 volunteers this morning but, thanks to recent rain, the ground was very soft so we accomplished quite a lot. For instance, we widen the trail section which was known as the Tunnel Love because it was entirely covered by poison oak (yes, the poisonous one!) and forming a tunnel above your head. After years of fighting this abundant and dangerous vegetation (sorry Mother Nature...), look at how nice and safer the section now is:
Farther up, Paul had us destroy a trail, that is soften the ground to grass could claim the space back. It felt odd to Jeremy, Tim, Morgan and I to damage such a nice trail and we can certainly say that it takes much less time to eradicate a trail than it takes to build a new one.
3 steps of the trail restoration process:
Now, back to my title, this illustrates the subtle negotiation game between us and nature. In this case, we gave some space back. Otherwise, we worked at reclaiming some inches to widen the existing trail to make it safer for its users. A nice give and take and man-nature balance example. Speaking of negotiation, not that we had much say into it, but I thought it was cool that Mother Nature gave us some good weather all morning while we were working, with rain just starting as we were getting into our cars right on 1 pm! How nice of her!

You can check the dates of the upcoming projects on our newly redesigned club website and we look forward to seeing you not only on the trails but also joining the fun of this volunteering work! For a sustainable negotiation with Mother Nature...

Sunday, December 9, 2012

POST's 35th anniversary: don't postpone the gift!

I already told you about this organization but it was 5 years ago already (yes, time flies...), so worth a refresher and another... solicitation...

The Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) was established in 1977 and helped save more than 70,000 acres of our most precious open space in the Bay Area since then. A picture is worth a thousand words, see below for yourself how much greener our area has become over a single generation (click on the map for more details):
While these areas might have been green already (redwood forest, farm land, grassy hills), the accomplishment is to have protected these areas against developers and further urban expansion.

Back to my title, two angles to my invite:
  1. First and foremost, if you live in the area and are not familiar with all these parks and opportunities to breath and (re)connect with Mother Nature, be our guest! Having these treasures at your doorstep is a GIFT that very few other large urban areas have (believe me, I travel a lot around the world... ;-)
  2. Second, preserving this precious and valuable land against other interests has a cost. And, given the pricey real estate around, it is actually very costly. So, while we are blessed with very generous donors thanks to the wealth created by local entrepreneurs, any contribution is welcomed! I was actually surprised that, over the 35 years of POST's history, they have only counted 17,000 distinct donors. For a population of several millions, over so many years and with such impressive track record, I hope this does not reflect the size of the community enjoying the outdoors and our nearby open space in particular... By the way, if (I mean when...) you decide to chip in, and in case you work for a large corporation, please check if your employer would not match your GIFT (IBM does! :-) but you have to follow these specific instructions).
Thank you in advance for considering supporting this cause so essential to our local sustainable development and see you on these trails then, in the open... space!