Saturday, August 24, 2013

Tamalpa Headlands 50K 2013: yes, faster!

This was my 40th 50K today, one more thing to celebrate! :-) Same number of 10K races in my log, out of 217 races including 88 ultra races since 2006. Nothing to brag about compare to what Jason Reed must have on his wall, but it's starting to add up. Speaking of adding up, I thought I had logged many miles since I started to seriously work on, and enjoy, my running: I have 33,370 miles which represent 1.34 times the length of the equator, and I was blown away when I heard that John Medinger has just passed 100,000 miles, 4 laps around the Earth! John is known in our community for creating and directing Quad Dipsea for 30 years as well as Ultra Running Magazine which he recently transferred ownership to Karl Hoagland. And he is only 62 so he must have started a while back... I feel quite behind on that goal! ;-) As Agn├Ęs put it: "You don't have to set this goal..."
Anyway, it has been a long time since I ran this race. I've been first focusing on our North California Mountain and Ultra Trail running Grand Prix in 2007 and that race is an important milestone of our season although I admit that I've been more loyal to Skyline 50 (7 years in a row). To my defense though, the race didn't happen in 2009 and 2010. I ran the race back in 2007 then when it was the National 50K trail championship and in 2008. 4:23:42, 11th overall, 3rd Master behind Cliff Lentz and Steve Stovers in 2007 and despite a much slower 4:40:48, 3rd overall and 2nd Master, just behind Cliff again. Cliff was toeing the start line again this year and, after our chat at Skyline 2 weeks ago, I was expecting him to run strong today.
Back in 2007 and 2008, we started at Rodeo beach, yet running the same course/loop. I was looking forward to experiencing the start and finish at Santos Meadows, located between Muir Woods and Muir Beach. We started promptly at 8 am. Temperature was nice, despite the fog, and it was encouraging to see the fog actually dissipating in many places, for us to enjoy gorgeous views and quite some sun throughout the morning actually. It was a fast start and I barely settled in the top 15. Out of the 200 runners, there was a huge contingent of the local organizing club, Tamalpa, and these guys surely know the trails in their backyards!
I was very pleased to run the steep Coastal Trail hill off Muir Beach on fresh legs, rather than at the end in my previous editions. We were quite a pack running together up the hill, and I caught up and passed Victor (Ballesteros) and Bob (Shebet). Bob won TRT 100-mile in a blazing time last month, and I let him pass in the technical section down to Pirates Cove. As I wrote while I was racing in France, I am still fearing a bad fall after what happened in June last year. This lead group included Jon Olsen, 2012 100K World Champion, whom I had good chat with before the start as we were parked next to each other, Jonathan Gunderson, a fast local and Brooks-sponsored, Bob, Enrique Henriquez, 2nd to Chikara 2 weeks ago at Skyline, Cliff. Now, we were not even 3 miles in the run, there was a guy that I didn't know about who was already more than 2 minutes ahead of us and, again, we were not really cruising... At this time I thought that Dave Mackey's 2005 Course Record (3:49:41) was in danger and I told Bob that I was wondering how many runners may break 4 hours by just getting caught in the hunt. To put things in perspective, this course is on the hilly side, with about 7,300 feet of cumulative elevation and the biggest hills at the end of the race. To this day, only 8 runners had broken this symbolic threshold and that was certainly not my goal. As a matter of fact, as I was driving, I was thinking that I may have a counter performance today after the effort of Skyline 2 weeks ago and 62 miles of hilly training last weekend followed by 15 miles on Monday, a good track workout with my running buddy Bob, leaving only 3 days of tapering. For that reason I was happy to be just in the top 10 as we were now heading down Rodeo Beach. I didn't stop at the aid station and up on the long Miwok trail we were. I passed a couple of runners and was now in 8th place, not far behind Jon and Jonathan. Actually, as we were flying down Tennessee Valley, I pointed 7 of us in the same minute, something which is quite unusual in an ultra where we are usually more spread out. Of course, the famous lead runner was completely out of sight, way ahead already.

I did a very short stop at Tennessee Valley to grab a cup of Coke to help me swallow a GU. We were at mile 11.5 and I wasn't drinking much. Using Vespa, I just wanted a little booth before the next climb, continuing on Miwok trail and that helped staying with the group and actually passing Jonathan and Enrique. Enrique passed me on the way down to Shoreline Highway crossing and I passed him on the way up to Pantoll, on the illustrious Dipsea trail. I did pass another runner as well as Cliff before the top, which put me in 4th. I did all my best to keep pushing while not falling in the treacherous Matt Davis trail, 1,600 feet of downhill to Stinson Beach. I had refilled my Gu2O bottle at the previous aid station (Cardiac, mile 19.5), so I surprised the volunteers at Stinson Beach when they saw me flying through without stopping. I was now looking forward to the Cardiac climb. I ran almost all of it, including the stairs, but I must admit that I struggled a bit in the Steep Ravine Canyon. The many rocks, roots, steps and hikers on this section were all good excuses to walk and I had hard time restarting the running engine when the path was runnable. But I kept pushing and I believe my time was 3:55 when I flew by the Cardiac aid station. One volunteer yelled that I had 4 miles to go and that gave me a boost. I pushed in the next mile and couldn't believe it when I saw the parking lot and finish line from the ridge. It was not 4:05 and I thought I had a shot at the Age Group Course Record which I believed to be around 4:13. Little did I realize that we still had 3 miles to cover including an interesting series of switchbacks. I could see a few runners ahead on the trail but they didn't seem to be in the race. I kept pushing all the way down and finally crossed the finish line in 4:19:46, slightly better than my 2007 time. Not bad for an "old" Masters... ;-) I was indeed 4th overall and 1st Masters, behind Jon and Bob who are both 39, and will get in our competitive age group just as I'll move to the M50-59. Good timing for me! Without any hill training, Jon had clocked a 4:13:04, and Bob finished 1 minute and 32 seconds ahead of me; I had no idea we were so close.

It's always cool to keep improving my Personal Bests on similar courses, it makes me hope that I can still defy aging, to a certain extent... While I lost some speed in the downhills, I gained some in the uphills as I'm mentally stronger and can keep going where I was walking in the past. Also, thanks to Vespa, I always spend much less time in aid stations or dealing with GI issues. 2 GUs, 1 small piece of banana and melon, 1 small cup of Coke, 4 S!Caps and 1 Gu2O refill is all it took me to have a strong run. No bonking except for some walking in the technical sections of Steep Ravine, no cramp. 500 calories intake, 3,600 calories spent, that's the Vespa math, the difference came from some some body fat (so I can enjoy a good ice cream once back home! ;-).

Enrique finished 5th in 4:30. He was covered with dust as he fell flat in one of the switch backs, with less than 2 miles to go.
Another runner I didn't know, Fernando de Samaniego Steta, 29, finished 2 minutes behind.

Then if was Cliff less than a minute behind.
I stopped taking pictures of the finishers after that as my camera battery was too low. I thinks it's due to an upgrade...

Now, the bad news for my UltraSignup percentage... ;-) The winner was another local runner, Alex Verner, 28, from San Rafael and, for his first ultra, he had just smashed the Course Record by 7 minutes and 42 seconds! Way to re frame our own performances... Alex ran a 2:21 at the 2013 Boston Marathon! By the way, not only did I get the M40-49 AG CR wrong (4:03:11), the page doesn't seem to take into account 3 faster Master times from 2001 and 2003 (Scott Creel, Dennis Rinde and Carl Andersen). Or maybe the course changed in 2005. So, quite an incredible performance from Alex, welcome to the ultra world!

On the women side, my Quicksilver teammate, Bree Lambert, won in 5:11:02, with a short 2-minute lead on 2nd place, Amy Philipps. Both wearing Brooks Cascadia (yes! ;-), and both Masters. 3rd overall woman was Roxanne Woodhouse, 50. Bree with Tim and Diane, the Race Directors:
Amy and Bree:
Here are Bree and Amy discussing with co-Race Director, Diana Fitzpatrick:
I stayed for 2 hours but had to leave before all my teammates were back him. I talked to Bree, Lisa, Jill, Bernard, Troy and Corina. I didn't see Adam, Gary and Adona at the start. But, while he was at Pantoll, Jim saw at least Kat, Harris, Loren, Beatrice, Cecelia. And thanks to the results which have been promptly posed on the race website, it's great to see everybody finished!

The finish area had delicious home-made pizzas. Or maybe should I call them field-made as they were cooked in the portable oven of the Firetrail Pizza team under the direction of ultra runner, Jed Tukman, here with Jon Olsen:
Former Race Director, Greg Nacco, was running today. I chatted with him before the race, it's good to see such a fast runner on the trails. I just notice that Greg ran 20 of the last 21 editions of Quad Dipsea, what a regularity! Here he is with Tim Ftzpatrick who now directs the race with his wife.
And Tim with our Mountain Ultra Trail committee co-chair, Bill Dodson who, at 78, was likely the most senior race participant again today!
Although I didn't stop much at the aid stations, a big thank to the volunteers out there, your support is always invaluable! The course was very well marked which is to be noticed as I heard that some hikers removed the original ribbons in one of the course sections. A special thank to our Quicksilver club President who volunteered all morning, lonely, at the Matt Davis trail turn, to make sure we were not going on Coastal by mistake, which would have cost us many miles! Nice perks for finishers: a great Brooks t-shirt from the local store, Brett Rivers' San Francisco Running Company, samples of Udo Oil and body lotion (why not? ;-) and a convenient ultra light tote bag (ChicoBag). Plus, for the overall and age group winners, a very cool fleece and a nice bowl with a pack of granola from bungalowmunch.com.
There was a strong breeze which cleared the fog and made the post-race party quite sunny. I look forward to running this loop again. In the meantime, after last weekend's training run in the Headlands, I'll drive back a third time in one month for the Headlands 100-mile in 3 weeks. Speaking of which, it was cool to see the Abbs (Aland and Bev) and friends training on the course as we ran down to Rodeo Beach. That's going to be some serious running on these hills in September!

Jon Olsen, 2012 100K World Champion and also fan of Vespa:


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Marin Headlands: here we come again!

Blog post #350, and what a week! From a presentation about sustainable running to the Silicon Valley Triathlon Club on Monday to some track workout on Thursday and 62 miles of strong trail training this weekend including 34 on the Headlands 100 course this Sunday: Marin Headlands, here we come! For those who don't live in the area, Marin Headlands is this open space just North of the Golden Gate bridge, an amazingly well preserved area comprised of woods and hills providing great trails and outstanding views on the Ocean, the City, Alcatraz and Angel Island and the North part of the Bay. As I was joking with a teammate, I could set a tent up there for a month: training run this weekend, Tamalpa Headlands 50K race next weekend and PCTR Headlands 100-mile in 3 weeks.
Back to the beginning of the week: the day after racing Skyline 50K, I was invited to share some tips about running with the very active local Silicon Valley Triathlon Club at Sports Basement. I chose to use my favorite theme, Sustainable Running, and to illustrate key tips with personal stories from my encounter with the real elites in our sport such as Scott Jurek, Ann Trason, Max King, Ellie Greenwood, Killian Jornet, Anton Krupicka, ... There are a few things I would change in my slides and pitch, but I got great questions from the audience which showed a genuine interest to learn more about running "at a high dose..." I must say that I'm very impressed by what triathletes put into training, dealing with three sports at once, when we have already enough with one. It was a great experience to face an audience while I usually only share about my running experience "virtually" through this blog or a few Facebook message.
With conf calls starting at 5am and a busy day at the office, I couldn't go to the track on Tuesday but was able to join Bob, Jeremy and Mike on Thursday morning (5:45 am). We had a great work out, with 12 400s between 76 and 84 seconds. Teasing me about the upcoming washing-machine format of Headlands 100 (we alternate direction between each of the 4 25-mile loops), Jeremy got us to run the 12 laps... well... washing-machine style, which ended up to confuse the only other user of the track who was doing 800s. What can I say, it's good to have fun that early in the morning! ;-)

I had to skip Friday due to some sharp pain on the exterior of my left knee and wasn't sure how this was going to hold on Saturday. I started slow on Saturday morning but it did hold so I ended up going to the top of Black Mountain on Montebello Road, then on the other side (Bella Vista trail), for 28 hilly miles at 8:20 min/mile.
This Sunday, I picked Sachin in Sunnyvale at 6am, then Toshi in Belmont and we met Jim and Keith at the Tennessee Valley trail head. It was 7:30 am when we were ready to start and there were quite a few cars already of runners on the trail. Ann Trason arrived just as we were going to leave, an ice pack on her ankle and getting ready to run with another group. Toshi and I went ahead on Marincello as I wanted to run slightly under race pace. I'm so grateful to Toshi for accepting to pace me in September, one week after running Wasatch. We ran the 13 miles to the start line (Rodeo) via Fort Baker in 2 hours, and, in the washing-machine style, rand these 13 miles in an opposite direction also in 2 hours. Given the dense fog at the start, I didn't run with my camera. I didn't regret it initially but later when we ran under the Golden Gate Bridge for the second time as the views of the Bay were gorgeous, especially the two America's Cup super yachts training in the morning before the 1:30 pm race.
Sachin, Jim and Keith had missed the Alta Trail connector in the morning and ended up wandering in Rodeo Valley. Toshi and I were already at mile 18 when we finally met them on SCA. After these first 26 miles, we stopped at the car at Tennessee Valley to refuel before completing the other loop on the course to Muir Beach. Of course, after 4 hours, we were not running on fresh legs anymore, but I think this is a much tougher section overall, especially the climb to Coyote Ridge and steep descent (and climb back) to Stinson Beach. Oh well, each loop has 5,000 feet of cumulative elevation (20,000 ft overall for the 100-mile), these feet have to come some somewhere...! ;-)
Among many trail users on this sunny Sunday, we met a few familiar faces including, surprisingly, international elite, Kami Semick, as focused as I usually see her on race days. We also saw a group of fast runners from the Tamalpa club training for next week's 50K in their backyards. Looking forward to a new "trail meet" on such a gorgeous and challenging terrain, and after some tapering this week. Marin Headlands, here we come again!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Skyline 50K: runnable hills, at last!

After the treacherous trails in Corsica and the Alps, after my aborted TRT 100 (dropped at 62 miles), I was so very much looking forward to running on the smooth trails of this East Bay race. It was my 7th consecutive run but it's nothing compare to the history of this race which is now in its 33rd year!

I was also looking forward to the "late" start of the race, 7 am. Yet, I was up before 4 am in order to take, and digest, my breakfast 3 hours before the start. We also got 5 more minutes as the start had to be delayed to allow for the last runners to check-in. This is a very popular race, kind of a "back-to-racing" event after the July holidays, and Race Director, Adam Ray, was able to squeeze in a few additional dozens runners for a record 281 entrants.
With that, there were a few fast competitors in the mix and I wasn't expecting to place well today. Right off the start line, I was still running around 6:30 min/mile, yet was barely in the top 10! I wasn't too concerned though as all these guys appeared way younger than me... ;-) I had seen Cliff Lentz in the entrant list. It has been a few years since I saw him in an ultra, I just recalled how fast he was especially on the road. We ran a few miles together and he told me that, between family and a new business he started, he wasn't training enough and using this race as a training run before the Tamalpa Headlands 50K in two weeks. And that he was looking for running a 4:15 today, and cruising along, while not walking the hills. Well, we were in 5th and 6th at that point and "cruising" at 7:10 min/mile pace over the rolling hills, quite a good pace.

It was very foggy, and humid, and I had hard time keeping a sight of the two runners ahead of us, respectively with white and red tops. Carrying two bottles (Gu2O and water), I didn't stop at the first 3 aid stations and lost Cliff after the second aid station. I maintained a 7:20 pace until Skyline Gate, pushing up the hills. The visibility on the ridge leading to the Skyline Gate aid station and turn-around was a couple hundreds yards, making the huge eucalyptus and pines surreal and magical.

I was surprised to be welcomed by Will Gotthardt at Skyline Gate. Will was in the entrants list but told me he was still injured. With the humidity of the fog, I had not drunk all my Gu2O bottle and didn't need a refill. However I was looking for some Coke and banana, two usual items at aid stations, but none were to be found today. I grabbed and swallowed a Gu and off I was after asking Chihping and Will how far ahead was the runner in 4th: "2 minutes" they replied! I tried to go as fast as possible down French trail, flying over the roots in particular, but I couldn't see a damn soul in the next few miles, apart from the amazing Park and radio volunteers at a few key turns. As Adam told me after the race, these volunteers show up years after years, in an organic and self-organized manner. How cool for the RD and us, runners. A big thank to these dozen of course marshal volunteers!

Despite feeling like I was flying, but due to the uphills, the switch backs, and some fatigue after the mid point, my pace was slowing down and it was now around 7:45 when I left the next aid station after stopping for 40 seconds to refill my Gu2O bottle and take a second Gu before the upcoming big uphill. I say around because the indication of the distance on my GPS was slightly off the mileage displayed on the new and nice boards.

Still no runner in sight, neither in front or behind. I ran the entire Big Bear hill, thinking of the great time I had in this climb with Chris Calzetta a few years ago (and I just see that the race website has a picture of Chris and I in the course description section, leaving Skyline Gate, how cool! ;-). Kept pushing down the Bort Meadow aid station, which I crossed without stopping, like the first time (sorry volunteers!) and finally caught up with a runner, Benjamin Beeler, 21. Benjamin told me that the runner with the red top was a few minutes ahead and that I was now in 4th. I didn't stop at the next aid station either but asked Stan Jensen about that lead which he said was 4 minutes. I continued pushing but I knew I wouldn't gain 4 minutes in 3 miles so I was just now aiming at breaking 4 hours which I did with 2 minutes and 47 seconds to spare, phew!

Top three were ultra stud Chikara Omine, 31, in 3:40:09, Enrique Henriquez, 35, in 3:49:24 and Noah Brautigam, 24, from Truckee, in 3:53:45. I took the M40-49 age group again and got a great hoody from Adam for that in addition to the nice finisher t-shirt and tot bag, not to forgot the ginger candies from our Quicksilver ultra running team sponsor, Zombie Runner! ;-) Cruising (!), Cliff finished 6th overall in 4:06:57 and second in our age group.

Thanks to Steve Patt on the finish line and the great timing software that he wrote and markets himself (Stevens Creek Software), the results were posted on the web in a near-live manner., another great perk of this race. And speaking of organization, let's not forget the top-class BBQ, rich buffet, fresh drinks and even draft beer.

Our team had a big show off with 25 entrants, almost 10% of the field! On his birthday, Dan Decker won his age group in a blazing 4:17:57, just 4 minutes shy of the M50-59 course record. He actually finished 2 minutes ahead of the next M50-59 runner, Mark Richtman, from Tamalpa. I chatted with Mark afterwards and learned that he had made the USA 100K team a while back (he is now 58) and he still enjoys speed, assuredly! Amy Burton also won her age group and 4th overall in the women race. A race which was won by Tera Dube --wearing Brooks Pure shoes!-- just 2 minutes shy of Beth Vitalis Master Course Record!
See in my Picasa photo album a few more pictures, mostly of the finishers passing under the race banner.

Tomorrow is a big day, I'll be speaking to the Silicon Valley Triathlon Club about sustainable running, sharing stories and tips about marathon and ultra marathon training and racing. Hope to recruit a few fast guys for some new competition on the trails... You know, competing with young and fast runners keep me young... ;-)

PS: I'll add a few more pictures, later, gotta run for now...

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Running in Thailand #1: Bangkok's Lumpini Park

In my "Running in..." series, here is an easy one. If you look at Bangkok's map, there aren't that many green spots around and some of them are actually either horse tracks or highly secured official buildings, none of them opened to us, runners. Both based on running routes found on the web and recommendation from my IBM hosts, Lumpini is definitely the place for a run if you are staying downtown.
Most of the international hotels are within a 1-mile radius from the park. The park is composed of a large lake, tropical vegetation and a wide 2.543-kilometer road around the lake.
Yes, the marking is down to the meter at the start and end of the loop with a large sign every hundred meters too.
What really surprised me the most is that I ran there both early morning and at mid day and I couldn't believe the difference it made. Not from a temperature standpoint as it was hot anyway in the morning but from a park traffic standpoint: unlike most of other cities, the park is crowded at 7 am and nearly empty at 1 pm. That reminds me why we see so many Asian people walking at Rancho San Antonio at 6 am in Cupertino, healthy early birds...! In such a morning crowd you found a few runners and joggers but hundreds of people practicing T'ai Chi or other forms of exercise and aerobics in large groups. The outdoor version of our "occidental" gym... Organized the Asian way with certain times for bikes and rollers.
The other reason I mention this major difference beyond the indication to let you pick the time you want for your run is that the deserted hours leave the grass fields and lake banks open for very strange animals, huge and impressive reptiles coming out of the water to claim the park back (the park is closed from 9 pm to 4:30 am). Look at this tongue...!
They have the strange name of Water Monitors or Varan malais in French. Given the cohabitation, I figured that these beasts must be armless until I saw one tearing apart a huge fish with his teeth, oops.
There are water fountains in the park but it is recommended to only drink mineral water in Thailand. If you are not carrying your own bottles, there are a couple of vendors you can purchase water from. With the temperature and humidity, just keep in mind to drink a lot! There are also several public restrooms, I believe they ask for 5 Bahts (~15 cents).

And for those who cannot visit, here is the link to a few pictures in my Picasa album, enjoy the tour! I ran a marathon at the end of the week and ended it by returning to the Lumpini park once more, so you can check my next post too for additional pictures of this perfect and optimal running spot in Bangkok. Come back to the blog and visit more of this city which never sleeps but always smiles! :-)
PS: for those who don't exactly situate Thailand (my case before this trip), here is a map showing the ASEAN countries, some really having convoluted boundaries, starting with Thailand.