Sunday, September 29, 2013

Trailblazer 10K: more about Stevens Creek...

Like I concluded in my previous post about yesterday's 50K race, what a "Stevens Creek" weekend! Yesterday, I won the Stevens Creek 50K for the third time in a row; this Sunday morning, I was toeing the start line of the Trailblazer 10K for the 9th time in 13 years. I love this race so much that I couldn't resist to the urge of registering in spite of running a challenging ultra race the day before. Actually, I did run the race in 2009 the day after running the Sierra Nevada double marathon (52 miles), so that sort of double wasn't a first. What was new though is that both races were along the same Stevens Creek, albeit miles apart. Yesterday, close to the spring of this stream in Palo Alto, today, along its ending in the San Francisco Bay in Mountain View.

I love this race because it benefits a trail I ran thousands of miles on when I was working with ILOG, first in Mountain View, then in Sunnyvale and before we got acquired by IBM. From 1998 to 2008, I trained for many marathons on this trail and actually my first ultras too, and worked on my speed in particular while enjoying amazing views of the Bay and the migrating birds.

It was typical "Sunny California" weather today again, bright blue sky and cool temperature in the early morning. The organizers announced that they had topped 1,000 registrants which is perfect to create more awareness for the wonders of this trail. The title and hosting sponsor, Microsoft, had many participants wearing their green team shirt. By the way, that's another reason I like this race: I won it a couple of times and won two XBoxes, which the boys enjoyed at the time. That was before the Pina family took over, more on this below! ;-)

While doing a 2-mile warm-up, and it wasn't difficult to warm-up actually with the quickly rising temperature, I met my running training buddy, Bob who was here to fine tune his Chicago marathon training with his other training partner, Jun. Bob and Jun's goal was to run right on 6 min/mile pace. They ended up averaging 6:04 which is very good and close enough: they certainly have passed the test, they are ready! :-)

The winner of the previous editions, both overall and Masters, Jose Pina Sr, was here again this year, as well as his two speedster sons who were running the 5K (Junior runs cross-country in high school so I bet his coach doesn't allow him to race longer than 3.1 miles but, comes the end of the season, and he beats me at the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot 10K!).

Race Director, Aaron, set us off at 8:30 am. I settled in 10th place with a pace around 5:50. Jose couldn't even take the lead as a new "kid" in town started at a pace which I estimated to be right on 5 min/mile by the first mile, phew! Maintaining a sub 6 min/mile pace, I passed a few runners in the second mile and was getting close to Stanley (Peng) when we both saw Jose starting walking on the side of the trail, apparently due to GI issues. We passed Jose then and we were respectively in 4th and 5th. I passed Stanley in the 4th mile, right after Michael's restaurant, and kept pushing to chase a runner with a green top (Serge Le Normand) whom I passed with 1.2 miles to go when we got back in the crowded 5K finish on the levee.

I was very happy to place third overall and 1st Masters, the day after my 50K win and the last year in the competitive M40-49 age group. Jose Sr.'s misfortune was alleviated by the overall win of Jose Jr. in the 5K, which got him a Microsoft Surface tablet with keyboard. Jose Jr.'s little brother also won his age group, what a family!
The 10K was won in a blazing time of 32:36 (5:15 min/mile pace!) by Benjamin Mears, 24, of Google, followed by Masahiro Takaoka, 30, in 34:59.
My time was 36:24, a 5:51 min/mile pace which I'll need for the San Jose Rock'n Roll Half Marathon next weekend. Yes, no time to breath and rest, Brooks invited me to that event, so better run strong. And happy as we say at Brooks! :-) Here I am with Stanley who took second in our age group:
That was my 41st 10K race after my 41st 50K race yesterday. A coincidence which only shows that these are two of my favorite distances!

Ultra runner Bill Dodson, 78, easily won his age group despite running the whole 5K barefoot again!

Let me conclude with a photo montage of the highlight of this family-oriented event, the kids run. So fun to see the high energy flowing out of this new generation and kids being geared toward healthy habits!

See you next year for my 10th Trailblazer I hope!

PS: for those wondering how to do such races back to back (and you can also check with Stephen who placed second yesterday, he was going for a half marathon today!). First, a lot of good stretching right after you finish, to get as much lactic acid out of your muscles. Drink a lot of water to drain this acid (and pee...!). Eat protein (I occasionally use recovery drinks to speed up the metabolism). Drink Vespa during long races (available at Zombie Runners in Palo Alto or online). Get a deep tissue massage. Sleep and take a nap during the day. Run in different models of shoes. Warm-up for a few miles before the next race to get the engine (re)started. Relax and listen to your body to avoid overuse injuries.Take it slightly easier than usual and pick up the pace in the second half if you can.

Stevens Creek 50K: 3-peat!

This Saturday was my 3rd participation to this local and relatively low key event set by Steve Patt to raise money for the Audubon Society. Steve and his wife are passionate about birds and very active members of the local chapter of Audubon. And Steve is also an ultra addict so that a perfect opportunity to bridge his two passions. Not to mention his work and company as Steve is the Founder of Stevens Creek Software which creates mobile apps including, of course, an ultra race timing software! And, albeit the low profile of this race, Steve pay special attention and pride to designing very nice custom trophies for the top finishers:
This year, my other club, the Stevens Creek Striders, stepped up to help managing the event. Which is somehow a natural thing with such an event name. The Striders have already been manning the Rapley Ranch aid station at the North end turnaround and helping out there in 2008 was my first encounter with this race.

My first run was in 2011 and a good "fight" between the 3 J's: Jay Thomson who had won in 2010, Juan de Oliva Martinez, and Jean. I was discovering the course while trying to keep up with Jay and Juan and that eventually pushed me to dig deep and win with the second fastest time of the previous 10 years, setting up the Masters Age Group Course Record at 4:15:40. Here is a artistic rendering of the start of that edition which Steve used for this year's overall winner plaque. One more motivation to run strong today!
I came back in 2012 to defend my title and, without much competition and some good heat, ended up running a much slower 4:32:54.

Jay was back on the registrant list so I was expecting to have to run faster this year. I didn't see him at the start though and learned at the finish that he was tied up at a wedding. Here is a nice panorama shot from Michael Dhuey a few seconds before the start:
Instead of Jay, right from the start, I had a much younger and fast runner on my heels for the first 5 miles. (Photo credit: Michael Dhuey)
Stephen Gunnar Wassather actually recently joined our Quicksilver Ultra Running Team after moving from Santa Cruz to Santa Clara. (Photo credit: Michael Dhuey)
I had a slightly longer stride on the steep downhill and did create a small gap by the time we were down to the bottom of Stevens Creek Canyon but I got confused by the lack of ribbons at the intersection with the Upper Stevens Creek trail. I didn't recognize the creek crossing but thought I might have missed it while flying down the trail so we erred for about a minute trying to make sense of the marking, or lack thereof. I decided to keep going down and, eventually, we did find the proper crossing about half mile later.

Thinking of the 2011 race when Jay, Juan and I ran that section together, I kept pushing the pace on the steep climb back to Skyline and lost sight of Stephen. I passed a few of the early starters, starting by ultra globe trotter, Chuck Wilson. I reached out the turn around aid station after 1 hour and 32 minutes of running and, thanks to the great help of my fellow Quicksilver teammates manning the aid station, Pierre-Yves and Jim, I was out with a fresh bottle of ice water in that same minute. (Photo credit: Michael Dhuey)
Retracing my way back along Skyline, I saw Stephen, he was about 2 minutes behind, really not much of a lead so I kept pushing, running all the uphills but one, before the 19-mile aid station at the start and finish area. I reach that point in 2:33 and was out as my Garmin indicated 2:35 of running.

Again, not knowing how far behind Stephen was, I kept running all the uphills of the next 6 miles to the turnaround, even passing a couple of mountain bikers on the way. I wasn't super hot and not as hot as the previous years I believe, but even the breeze wasn't cooling me down, expect in the shady sections in the morning. The section to Rapley Ranch is actually very exposed and it was now noon. Peggy and Mike were working the aid station and I left them my water bottle to fill while I went on to touch the gate marking the turnaround, right on 3:20. 45 minutes for the out section, I thought I could do 50 minutes for the back and improve my Masters CR. Which, at this point, I remembered being 4:13.

It was 3:27 when I saw Stephen, that is about a 12-minute gap between the two of us. I was still running strong in the down hills but I walked some of the uphills. My Garmin indicated 29.4 miles at Leor's Course Record time (3:58). I tried to run as fast as possible down to and around very nice and picturesque Horseshoe Lake, but that didn't quite make it to the Age Group CR, missing it by 1 minute and 40 seconds. Oh well, I was also trying to save some energy for the next day race, the Trailblazer 10K benefiting the Friends of the... Stevens Creek Trail. A very "Stevens Creek"-oriented weekend with such a double!

I finished with a time of 4:17:19 and 3rd overall win at this event. Stephen took second, 15 minutes later and Michael Jimenez third in 4:55. Here we are:
 And with Race Director, Steve:
While we were running, local ultra speedster, Gary Gellin placed 12th overall and first Masters at the Ultra Race of the Champions (UROC) in Colorado, among an amazingly competitive field. Surely, Gary can set a new AG CR at Stevens Creek 50K would he enter that local race.

Like at Headlands Hundred 2 weeks ago, I didn't eat much thanks to my use of Vespa. 3 GUs and a few pieces of fruit, 6 S!Caps (between the good sweat and the breeze, my top was quite "salty" and I wasn't the only one...), 1.6 bottles of GU2O. I hang out for 2 more hours at the finish to see a few more runners finishing their first loop, and others finishing their second. Here are the Chief Zombies, Don and Gillian spending quite some time on the trail together. Great to see you guys enjoying your most cherished outdoors and escaping your busy store for once. And thank you for your sponsorship, your support of our ultra community and the goodies!
Ultra race #90 and 41st 50K, still love this distance in particular, and ultra running in general especially in such a pristine area so close to home! Thank you to all the volunteers who made this race possible again, starting with the Striders and Quicksilver clubs but many others, for instance the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society that the event raised $750 for. Thank you to Strider Michael Dhuey for being at 3 places on the course to take great pictures and share them on Facebook. And a particular thank to Steve for showing us that these trails and hills are great to share across several of our communities: runners, hikers, bikers and bird watchers! And let's what I have left on this Sunday for the Trailblazer 10K, what a "Stevens Creek" weekend!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Ian Sharman: an ultra champion and professional coach

Thanks to an event hosted by our local Sports Basement running store in Campbell, we had the privilege to listen to our very own teammate about his recent win of the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (TM), smashing the record of this 27-year exclusive event by 5 hours, that is about a 7% improvement!
Ian has already shared many insights about his four 100-mile races on his blog:
  1. Western States - 16:20:25, 4th overall
  2. Vermont - 15:57:42, 4th overall
  3. Leadville - 16:30:02, 1st overall
  4. Wasatch Front - 21:01:30, 2nd overall
If you didn't follow Ian's busy summer, such results show an amazing consistency at the elite level. It is also the result of a friendly but fierce competition with his countryman Nick Clark who finished 6th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st respectively at these same races, only conceding 30 minutes to Ian overall in his unofficial Grand Slam (Nick didn't pay the Grand Slam fee).
With a few pictures in the background, this Saturday even was basically a live and interactive blog, 2 hours of captivating insights on this intense ultra running as well as tips for training. Unfortunately, the time (Saturday, noon to 2 pm) or the weather (first pouring rain to celebrate Fall) dragged a small audience of which about 2/3 was from our ultra running team and running club, the Quicksilver Running Club of San Jose.
For one thing, although it has been going for almost 30 years, the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning isn't for everybody: since 1986, only 288 runners have completed the Grand Slam. For one thing, it's very hard to remain injury-free not only during the hard training, but also during these events. And running one 100-mile is already enough of a fate for many, or out of reach for even more runners...

Ian has already shared his top 5 tips on his blog after Western States and Vermont : Rest, No race between races (sic!), Eat well, Quality Sleep, Massage. Here are a few additional tips gleaned form his pitch this Saturday:
  1. Power hiking - What stroke me the most in Ian's racing tips is that he hikes significant portions of course. Ian got speed, he is a 2:32 marathoner. But when it comes to steep hills, his recommendation is to save energy by power hiking at a 12 or 13 min/mile pace. Ian believes that he might have hiked about 50% of the Wasatch course. In some steep sections, he could see himself hiking faster than Nick was running. Hiking use less energy, less bouncing than running. It's more sustainable, it helps keeping the heart rate lower.
  2. Hiking training - To prepare for hiking fast in races, Ian incorporates significant hiking on steep hills in his training regimen. Wearing a weight vest to strengthen his legs and core muscles, and feeling light in races without the vest. You need to do specific training for hiking because that makes the muscles work differently. Training consists in hiking as fast as possible, to get used to it, at 13 minutes/mile or even faster.
  3. Hiking at altitude - Hiking is also great exercise to get acclimated faster at altitude without burning yourself out before a race.
  4. Heat training - In addition to time in the sauna, static or exercising, Ian runs in the heat with 3 layers on (I've done that at Rancho and, yes, that gets you strange looks from the hikers you meet on the trails ;-).
  5. Low mileage - Ian prefers quality to quantity, and that's part of his coaching program philosophy and design. Typically 80 miles/week at the peak of this training. If running more than 100 miles/week, Ian feels tired afterwards and can't train has hard afterwards.
  6. Pacing - At least for the first 80 miles, go by the feel, don't try to stick to a specific or expected timing. Don't go 100% both in the up and down hills, save some energy for the finish.
  7. Coach - Ian didn't bring this topic directly but as a response to a question from the audience. Indeed, there is a steep learning curve to get ready to successfully run a 100-mile and a coach can bring many specific training and racing tips.
  8. Crew - You don't really need one if you are fast, in shorter ultras. Crews are useful though for giving or taking the headlamp at the right time/point, or bring the right stuff at certain aid stations. A heck of a job to crew for a long event and on a course with remote aid stations.
  9. Recovery - With such a series of races, 3 to 4 weeks apart, there is no room for speed training. The training was mostly done before Western States. Then each race served as... long training runs.
Ian has another 100-mile on his schedule this year, Javelina Jundred next month. Then he should get back to some speed (sic!) with marathon racing at the end of the year and next year. Ian has also been selected for the 100K World Championship on Team Britain but he isn't in a hurry to race such an event (Jon Olsen told me that this year's event which was finally scheduled to occur in Dubai at the end of December has been cancelled anyway). Ian stated that the IATF World events were not as competitive as other events such as Western States, UTMB (Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc) which drag the best ultra runners from around the world.

The event was advertizing Ian as "Pro Ultra Runner." Don't get mistaken, our ultra running sport still doesn't pay much and certainly not anything close to what's needed to support a family. But Ian lives from his running coaching business, with clients from many countries around the globe. He works with them mostly by phone and email and reports great success for his mentees. Here is his coaching business web site.
I enjoyed learning from Ian, thanks to Sports Basement for this opportunity! It was a busy morning for me as I squeezed a hilly 28-mile run this morning (Rancho San Antonio, Black Mountain, Foothills Park in Palo Alo, Rhus Ridge). It had run the night before, just in time to celebrate the first day of the Fall, and the smell of the trees and grass was amazingly wonderful. I saw quite a few deers who enjoyed the new weather. We missed rain so much last winter, keep it coming now! I actually made it on time for the presentation at noon, after a shower and quick lunch at home, except that I drove to the wrong store, Sports Basement in Sunnyvale, ouch! At least I discovered a new running store, in Campbell, where Barnes and Noble was used to be. 68 miles this week since my Headlands 100 win last weekend (certainly quite more modest event than Ian's estival hundreds), with more this Sunday. I know, I'm not following the tips from the master... Next weekend will be busy with Stevens Creek 50K on Saturday and Trailblazer 10K on Sunday. Then I'm invited by Brooks to compete in the Rock'n Roll San Jose Half Marathon the following weekend. Then it will be time to leave for 4 weeks in Senegal for a humanitarian project in Dakar sponsored by the IBM Foundation, as part of IBM's Corporate Service Corps. This is still an ultra life... ;-)

Monday, September 16, 2013

PCTR Headlands Hundred: 100-mile redemption!

Not much suspense, the news already spread on Facebook, that has been a gorgeous and successful day. Here are some details to complement the pictures, short posts and update emails, making up for the lack of broader live coverage due to lack of connectivity at the start/finish area and Tennessee Valley. Enjoy the race report and Agnès' pictures!

The stage (course and format)

To really follow the action on this event, one needs to understand the format of the event. First and foremost, the race occurs just outside of San Francisco, in the amazing Golden Gate Recreation Area, just North of the most famous Golden Gate. It is a very hilly area, bordered by the Pacific Ocean on the West side and the San Francisco Bay on the East. When the weather is clear, which was the case this weekend, the course offers stunning views of the seashore, the City, the entire Bay Area up to Mont Diablo on the East and Mt Tamalpais on the North, the Golden Gate from above and beneath, Angel and Treasure islands, Alcatraz, Muir Beach, Pirates and Tennessee Coves, ... And, for those on the 100-miler, that means daylight and night views of the City by the Bay. I must say that I'm usually to focus on my footing when I do race, unless I'm carrying a camera, but, this time, I enjoyed more of these views as a way to relax and appreciate the wonders of this fabulous site.

The course is a 25-mile long loop and the format is what we call "washing machine" that is we run the loop first clockwise, then change direction. 50-milers run 2 loops, 100-milers 4 loops. With such a format, it takes some extra mental strength to get back on the course 4 times to climb what you just descended and revisit sections that you might have been struggling earlier.
There are 2 major aid stations, the start/finish area at Rodeo Beach which we visit 4 times, and the Tennessee Valley one which we pass through 8 times. The two lower key aid stations, albeit strategically located and useful ones, at Vista Point, under the Golden Gate bridge (worth a visit of Fort Baker if you've never seen the Golden Gate bridge from beneath), and one at Muir Beach. Due to major construction of the access road and parking lot, Muir Beach wasn't accessible to runner crews. I symbolically gave the "Aid Station Oscar" to the guy who was manning the aid station by himself through the Saturday night, is such a spiritful manner, what an entertainer!

While there is nothing comparable to the elevation or altitude of UTMB (Ultra Trail of Mont Blanc) or Hardrock 100 for instance, there is very few flat miles. We start at sea level and climb several times at 1,000 feet, not that high, yet the cumulative elevation is 20,000 feet overall for the 100-mile, more than the one at Western States. Trails contain fire roads and quite a few single tracks, as well as stairs, making for some technical tricks. Yet, nothing compare to some mountain races in France or Colorado for instance.
Another big parameter of that particular race is the weather. While we started under a cloudy sky, it cleared quite soon, leaving us with a very sunny sky all day. A few patches of fog wrapped the ridges through the night, but that was a wonderful weather overall (as you can see on the America's Cup images actually, including stunning views of the bay and the Golden Gate and the Marin Headlands in the background: while we were running in the hills, Team New Zealand almost cap sized in race #8...).

The background

After my setback at TRT (Tahoe Rim Trail) 100-mile in July, I did spend more time preparing for this event, both physically, mentally and logistically. I went in TRT without a pacer, without spending time on the trail, without even a plan to run through the night. This time, I "hired" Toshi as a pacer, we went on the course together to run 34 miles on the loop, I successfully raced on some of these trails this year (Miwok 60K and Headlands 50K), so I was on a much more familiar territory.

Also, these Bay Area trails better suit me than the very technical ones in steeper and rocky mountains.

Last but not least, I had not realized that getting Toshi as a pacer was topped by having Judy and Sachin joining Agnès for such an efficient and entertaining crew. With that I was all set for a great day!

Lap 1

It felt a bit awkward to start a 100-mile that "late", that is at 7 am, instead of the usual 5 am (well, except UTMB which is really out of norms with a 4 pm start in Chamonix). But that allowed for a good night of sleep before a long day, and a smooth car pool ride with Keith and Dan.

Also, with a combined 50-mile and 100-mile start, there were about 50 runners ahead of me at the start line. Our first mile was straight up on Coastal Trail. When I passed Mark (Tanaka) after a few minutes, he thought I had started late since he was expecting me to be in front. Being mixed with 50-milers, it was difficult to gauge our pace. Although I didn't want to start too hard, it felt good to be running again after a week of tapering since Austin, and I kept passing runners, settling in about 10th. I ran through Tennessee Valley, the fist aid station at mile 4, and here we were for another climb on Coastal Trail, above Tennessee Cove, then down to Pirates Cove before the steep downhill to Muir Beach. At the top of the hill, a 100-miler participant with bin #146 (Alejandro Mares) passed me. I didn't know him and was quite impressed. I figured out that he must have been the favorite in the UltraSignup listing, Ben Hian, who has won a handful of major 100-milers over the past 15 years (San Diego, Rocky Raccoon, Angeles Crest) and placed in a few others. Ben is now 44 so I thought that was the end of my goal of improving the Age Group M40-49 Course Record set by Joe Palubeski at 19:39 (Joe was running the 50-mile this weekend, along with his friends Bev and Alan Abbs who were in the 100-mile).

At the Muir Beach turnaround, I saw Jonathan Gunderson a few minutes ahead so I was now in third. I climbed the next steep 2 miles slightly faster than Alejandro, then passed Jonathan just before our second visit to Tennessee Valley. Now in first place on the 100-mile, I knew I was going slightly faster than what I had planned for. From our recon training, I knew I was able to run the loop under 4 hours, but my goal was not to since we had 4 loops to cover today. At the bottom of Marincello, I was just behind Karl Schnaitter from Mountain View. Karl won the Ruth Anderson 100K a few minutes ahead of me in April, he was in the 50-mile race today. Marincello is a 1.5-mile fire road and, thanks to a stronger mental and running the hill along Hal Koerner after I had paced Michael Wardian at North Face, I learned the way to run the steady climb without stopping. The trick is really for me to what Hal calls the Diesel mode, or lower gear, so you don't lose your breath. I was tempted to pass Karl but there was no point in the 100-mile and we ended up running the next 38 miles close to each other.

By the time we went down the Vista Point aid station under the Golden Gate bridge, there was only one 50-mile runner ahead of us and agreed with Karl that it probably meant 1 or 2 runners missed a turn. Quicksilver teammate Gary Saxton took this great shot as we were climbing up the ridge on SCA trail.
Our first 25-mile lap was 3:35, way way faster than what I had originally planned, at this point I thought it was going to be an interesting day. And I was already thinking of starting my race report with something like: "Sorry, folks, I would hope that I had learned better about pacing..." (Yes, I do think about my blog posts when I run, that keeps me busy! ;-) I spent what seemed like a long minute finding my drop bag, then I took a pouch of Vespa and was out of the aid station in less than 3 minutes.

Lap 2

A mile from the turnaround, I cross teammate John Burton who was then 3rd in the 50-mile race, and urged me to take it easy and slow down. I knew he was right and I was already trying hard to slow down so I made a commitment to myself to power walk anything steep upcoming. Which isn't really the case of the 2-mile stretch of Bobcat Trail which got us back on the ridge (Alta and SCA trails).

Coming back from the second passage at the Vista Point turnaround, the traffic started increasing on Coastal Trail and SCA. An opportunity to salute others and thank those letting us pass. And an opportunity to also see the gap with other runners. Jonathan was still in second place in the 100-mile, then Alejandro, then world-class elite Bev Anderson Abbs, with her husband Alan a few minutes later. Mark Tanaka and Julie Fingar (holder of the woman course record) were close to each other. And another club mate, Pierre-Yves Couteau, close behind with his UTMB finisher top.
I saw the same leading group again in my climb out of Muir Beach at mile 42, in about the same order.

Then it was time for a 4th passage at Tennessee Valley (TV), mile 46, where Toshi was all ready to fire it up despite my much faster than expected time. Judy, Sachin and Agnès were also quite excited to unveil the surprise that Toshi had worked on for this event, custom-made t-shirts with an original design advertizing my blog tag line and using the colors of our Quicksilver Ultra Running Team tops, how sweet!
Way to go "Team Pommier - Farther Faster", I think I now have a new extended crew for life, how cool! :-)

As a pacer, Toshi had to pick me at Rodeo Beach, 4 miles and a couple of hills away. He followed me 200 yards behind and we met at the start/finish area. To put our ultra lives into perspective, Toshi had completed the Wasatch 100-mile race a week ago, and he was now going for a 54-mile hilly pacing gig. What a commitment!
I completed the second lap in a much more reasonable and sustainable time of 4 hours and 9 minutes and was still feeling great. Karl had won the 50-mile race in 7:47 and I saw John coming in for 2nd as I was on Coastal Road.

Lap 3

I stopped for 5 minutes at Rodeo Beach, I don't even remember why so long for... Maybe it was just to clear my mind and appreciate the achievement of having covered half the distance under 8 hours. And start thinking of what to avoid to spoil the rest of the day.

As we were climbing the steep Coastal Trail for the second time, I did slightly more walking yet I could alternate running and walking on Wolf Ridge trail as we were crossing the other runners, most of them in their final stretch to their 50-mile finish. Jonathan was running with Alejandro and there were about 25 minutes behind. Then I saw Bev still in 4th, as we were reaching the ridge before plunging onto Miwok Trail.

5th passage at TV, mile 54, with the special attention of my crew. This time, there were no more 50-mile runners ahead of me on Coastal and, with a lead of at least 30 minutes, I didn't cross any 100-mile runners in the climb out of Muir Beach. I was certainly not as fast or not pushing as much as in the first loop, but I figured out that would be the rule for the runners behind. Yet, I was curious to see how far I could keep up with a good pace in this race and how much I could improve the Age Group course record.

The 6th visit to TV was also the 100K mark (mile 62) and I was still in great shape and spirit. Not sure how long this would last, and long enough to not need my headlamp before Rodeo Beach, I asked Agnès if she would consider driving to Vista Point in case. As it turned out, Judy and her had spent some time trying to get Keith on the trail after he had considered dropping at mile 38, and they did succeed, but he eventually dropped a mile later, so leverage the drive with my crew to his car at the finish line.

It was great to see my crew at the Golden Gate Vista Point (mile 68), get my headlamp, a wind breaker jacket which appeared to be useful at the top of the ridge, and change my top.
We crossed Jonathan with his pacer, Rick Gaston, and estimated the gap to be around 35 to 40 minutes (gap which Agnès confirmed later at Rodeo). I don't recall if we saw Alejandro, but Bev was still going strong, without a pacer. Then there was this runner, bib 103, who appeared to come back from nowhere and was moving really fast. That was Dominic Andreotti who knew my name from American River. There were a few interesting permutations in the leading group on loop 3.

I completed the 3rd loop in 4:43, which I was happy with, and just in time before it became to dark to run without a light. Speaking of too dark, we crossed a few runners on the trail during the night, who didn't have any light. I don't know if it was on purpose, to leverage the bright moon before it disappeared around 2 am, or because they didn't grab their light in time from an aid station, but kudos to them for keeping moving in the dark.

Lap 4

We left Rodeo Beach around 8:30 pm, after having drunk some chicken noodle soup Agnès had brought in a thermos, and it was time to switch our lamps on. As a consequence (darkness), the description of this loop is going to be less picturesque. Actually, on the ridge, we got caught in the fog and, in addition to some natural fatigue, this slowed me significantly as I paid attention to every rock and turn to avoid falling. Going down Coastal Trail to Conzelman and Moore Roads, the views of the light of San Francisco were magical!

My crew was at Fort Baker again and I got a second cup of soup. With a few chips here and there, and half a dozen of small pieces of watermelon and banana, that's about the only solid food I would take for the whole race.

We alternated running and walking on our way up to the ridge and, between headlamps beams thrown to each other, and the mix of runners in their 3rd or 4th loop, it became more difficult to figure out who was who but it seemed like I was still having a lead above 30 minutes. Toshi urged me not to run too fast on the Marincello down hill to avoid crashing later.

It was now basically coming down to running 12 miles in 3 hours from TV. Unfortunately, the climb up to Coyote Ridge Trail on Miwok was starting wearing me down and even the steep downhill on Coastal. It was particularly frustrating to see my average pace now approaching 11 min/mile, even slowing down in downhills! But, again, one my major goals was now to avoid falling, so better be extra careful in the dark.

While going though the Pirates Cove, we did a few checks to see if anyone was closing behind but, apart from some moon light, the hills remained pitch dark. As we were approaching TV for the last time, mile 96, Toshi kept doing more maths around the Course Record. He thought the record was around 18:17, while I remembered Karl mentioning 18:44 when we ran together. I had printed out the site webpage so we were able to check for sure at TV. It was 18:44 indeed (Nathan Yako in 2009) and that left us with one hour and 17 minutes to run the remaining 4 miles. Never a piece of cake at this point but worth the try especially with the corresponding mental boost. Old Springs is a 1.3 mile moderate climb and it took me half of it before getting into a slow running rhythm which I was eventually able to find. I was even able to run a significant portion of the steeper Miwok Trail to the Wolfe Ridge. At this point, the trail had still a few tricks such as lose rocks and irregular stairs, but it was all down to the beach and the finish! I crossed the line in 18:22:25, at the sounds of my crew's cow bells and cheers of the dozen or so volunteers manning the aid station in the middle of the night.
Race Director and PCTR owner, John Brooks, congratulated me and gave me a very cool award: a custom made wooden box covered with the map of the course, and which will provide the perfect storage for my belt buckles.
Dominic came in second, about 30-35 minutes behind.
Results are not posted yet as I publish this report, I heard that Bev finished in 4th, also setting a new course record in 20:27, with her husband, Alan placing 5th overall in 21:15 (in Alan's words, he has been "wife'd" again! ;-).

As per our Quicksilver racing team and club: Marc Laveson won the trail marathon in a blazing 3:12. John Burton placed second in the 50-mile followed by Adam Blum and Gary Saxton. In the 100-mile, in addition to Keith, Dan also dropped at mile 50 on GI issues which started mile 18. In the men Mark Tanaka, Pierre-Yves Couteau and Jim Magill (on his birthday!), all finished.

For her first ever 100-mile, Lisa Hughey had an amazing experience, covering the distance in 24:40. Here is Lisa's finish, photo credit Clare Abram:
Also attempting this distance for the first time, and with an amazing support from teammate Loren who paced her for 38 miles, Kat Powel did cover the whole 100 miles albeit missing the final 33-hour cut-off at TV.


First, I want to thank all the wonderful folks who made this experience so rewarding and enjoyable. Starting with John who directed this event, stayed up for so many hours and accepted to enlist this race onto our Grand Prix calendar. All the volunteers he has recruited to set the race up and down as well as cover the very long hours the four aid stations remained open throughout the weekend. The volunteers who did such great job marking the course with thousands of color-coded ribbons and those who added glow sticks at night. What a team effort to allow us to run in such an exceptional venue!

In addition to this support, I was particularly glad to get so many stars properly aligned. While I couldn't manage the weather and felt so luck with the range of temperatures and overall conditions, I got my hydration perfectly in check with 7 bottles of Gu2O (close to my standard one bottle every 15 miles rule), water, a few cups of Coke, 3 cups of soup, and one S!Cap every hour. On the nutrition side, I did the perfect Vespa game: one pouch at -45 minutes, then start time, then every other hour. I did skip one take at TRT at mile 35 and that did cost me some bonking eventually. I wasn't going to give it a chance this weekend and it proved successful. I did take quite a few GU gels, about one every hour, mostly to provide some quick boost before the major uphills. But nothing close to the calories I did expense in 18 hours: yes, the Vespa Math work, body fat made for the difference...! ;-)

Now, let's keep things in perspective: while an overall win is always a great source of satisfaction, this isn't one of the major 100-milers on the circuit. And I'm sure some youngsters will improve this Course Record in years to come. But, for me and in the meantime, what a great way to conclude my M40-49 "career" in our Pacific Association Ultra Grand Prix! Although there are still three other events on our calendar this season, I didn't need anymore point to win my age group for the 7th consecutive year. My main motivation for racing this weekend was to erase the counter performance of TRT, and keep learning about this distance which has still many mysteries or surprises to me. It was my 9th 100-mile our of 89 ultra races so far, and two DNFs (Did Not Finish) at that particular distance. Not my fastest (14:54 on pavement and 5,000 ft cumul. at Run d'Amore last year), but my most successful taking into account the challenging course profile. A 100-mile redemption...! And not much time to celebrate before jumping on my next business flight this Monday morning... This is an ultra life, hope you have your own fun and rewarding one! :-)

PS: again, more pictures from Agnès in my Picasa album.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Running in Austin, Texas: Barton Creek Greenbelt Trail

A quick post as I'm not even supposed to run this weekend... Yes, I admit it, I struggle with the tapering part of ultra running. 2 weeks without running while watching Wasatch and the amazing friendly battle between Nick Clark and Quicksilver teammate Ian Sharman, I can't, well, stand the idea, I need to move too! ;-) After not running for 4 days, I went for an easy 9-mile run on Saturday.

This Sunday, I flew to Austin in the morning, met an ex-colleague then hopped on the Greenbelt, so close to downtown Austin. Most of the runners actually stay along the Colorado River, running around Town Lake. Trail runners though have the option to leave the city and get on an 8-mile trail along the Barton Creek, or let's say the rocky bed of the creek as it is completely dry, at least at the end of a hot summer.
The trail head is located just South of the cool Barton Springs Pool. Yes, a cool, and crowded, place for two reasons: first, this is a natural and open air pool open all year. Second, the temperature of the water varies from 68F in the winter (20C) to 72F in the summer (22C) making it a great place to cool down when temperatures are approaching 100F as it was the case this afternoon.

There is a water fountain and restrooms at the entrance of the pool near the trail head. After that, you need to rely on your bottles or backpack bladder for water. And, yes, Austin can get hot in the summer!

The greenbelt trail is rather technical in a few sections and I enjoyed racing mountain bikers, while still making sure I didn't make a stupid fall one week before my upcoming 100-mile race (I kept thinking of my fall in Chamonix one week before Tahoe Rim Trail 100...). The creek is also bordered by cliffs which rock climbers enjoy. The trail has markers every 0.25 mile. I was coming from the Johnson Creek Trail and had already ran 3 miles before getting to the trail head, so I turned back at the 5-mile mark, to make it a 16-mile run. And a good sweat! Not sure I will need this ultimate heat training in the Marin Headlands next Saturday, but it felt good to get moving and discover a new trail before another week of (running) abstinence... ;-)

Congrats to our 4 Quicksilver teammates who started and finished Wasatch this weekend (Ian, Toshi, Karen, David). With a very special mention to Ian who placed second to Nick, but won the 2013 Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (tm!), smashing the Fastest Known Time by almost 5 hours!!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Labor Day 2013: what a laborious week!

When most people see Labor Day as a "no Labor" day, for me the long weekend is usually the opportunity to work harder on my second job (running...) as well as catching up on the first one, not to mention the emails coming from the rest of the World which is not celebrating, at least not this weekend (Labor Day is May 1st in France for instance).

With all my racing, I'm never really out of training, nor tapering, there is always a new race to train for. That's why I sometimes say that I use races as training runs... Right after last week's Tamalpa Headlands 50K, it was then time to train again and, despite a ton of work and meetings at... work, including one drive to San Francisco for a client meeting, I managed to run every day and log 212 miles over the past 10 days: first the 31.1 miles of the race, a recovery run on Sunday (16.6 miles @ 7:26 min/mile) then flat runs during the week, either in my neighborhood or at Alviso: 18.6 miles @ 7:12, 12.4 @ 7:24, 11.3 @ 7:07, 12.4 @ 6:55, 11.3 @ 7:10. Some runs at 5am, others at lunch time, and one at 3 pm after a long 6am-3pm "morning shift."

I left the office on Friday evening at 9:30 pm with enough work for several weeks, but I really wanted to log as many miles as possible on the trails this weekend before tapering for the Headlands 100-mile in 2 weeks. On Saturday I ran to the top of Black Mountain. There must have been a special event at the Ridge winery because Montebello Road was unusually busy, making it dangerous for the many bikes and the only runner on the road (yes, that would be me... ;-). From the top, I did the Bella Vista loop on the other side, then Waterwheel on the way back, for a total of 28 hilly miles @ 8:16.

After this hilly terrain, I needed something flat for my long run on Sunday. I ran to the start of the Stevens Creek Trail in Sunnyvale, on the new foot bridge over Hwy 85 which is 5 miles away from home, and went all the way to and around the Palo Alto Golf and Airport for a total of 33 miles @ 7:17 (a 3:10 marathon and 3:47 50K). The weather was hot and the bike path had more bikes than runners on it but it was very nice overall, especially seeing all the pelicans at Shoreline.

Today, Labor Day, I went to Rancho San Antonio Park at 6:30 am to run 4 loops in a washing machine way, that it alternating the direction of the loop as we will do for the Headlands 100. Much shorter loops of course, 9.3 miles instead of 25, yet a great mental training to leave the car each time and get back on the section you just flew down on. The weather was unusual: cloudy yet warm as, for once, it had barely cooled down during the night. I started straight on PG&E, the steepest section of the loop, and I was sweating a lot despite a moderate effort and the fact it wasn't even 7 am yet! Most surprisingly, I did pass hikers all the way to the top, that means some of them must have started at 6 am if not earlier! That being said, having people on the trail motivates me to keep running the whole way and that wouldn't stop: on such an Holiday, the trail was indeed busy all morning! I completed the first loop in 1:19 (one hour and 19 minutes), refilled my bottles at the car and was off to the second loop, in reverse, starting by the farm and Rogue Trail this time. I ran the second loop in 1:20, the third in 1:20 also, and lost a minute in the 4th loop. 37.2 miles  in 5:21, that makes for a good excuse to taper, now! And spend even more hours at work... Happy with this 98-mile weekend:
You'll notice my new Garmin 310 XT GPS, which I got on Tuesday. Ok, that's going to seem old for the gizmos aficionados but that's such a great deal nowadays for 20 hours of battery life and a heart rate monitor. I had not used an HRM for the past 10 years, it surely is another interesting source of feedback to "listen" to your body. I need to consult with Gary Gellin, a guru in this area though as I never really learned and appreciated the science behind these numbers. In the meantime, I was amazed how my heart beat remained stable around 130 (+/- 2 beats) despite sensibly taking up the pace after 5 miles in an 11-mile run.

By the way, I saw a few (Stevens Creek) Striders "working" on their running at Rancho today, it was certainly a busy place today and it's great to see so many other people enjoying the outdoors on that special time off opportunity!

Hope you had a great Labor Day yourself. If you are looking for a job, hope you find it soon. If you had to work today, hope your work was fruitful and valued! That's one thing I like very much about this country, is that work is usually valued although, many times, not all jobs are being equal. If you have 20 minutes, listen to this TED talk from Mike Rowe (Dirty Jobs):

Not related to "running work" but to the Labor Day theme. With that, as we say, "keep up the good work, all!"

PS: speaking of dirty jobs, I got quite dusty on the trails this weekend...
 Thankfully a good water shoot got my Brooks PureConnect back to their original Royal Blue color for the next run in town!

And I was actually amazed how much dust I got on a 18-mile run on Cupertino's sidewalks, not even around constructions, not a single section of trail, just on the apparently "cleaned" concrete sidewalks:
I thought the air was pure here, except closer to the Lehigh Hanson Cement Plant and Quarry... Makes me wonder what we are breathing...