Saturday, January 25, 2014

Running in Kista: Sweden's Silicon Valley

Arrived at the hotel on Thursday morning at 2 am and left on Saturday at 3:50 am, so long (or short...) for much tourism during this short stay in Stockholm, Sweden!. But, between client meetings in the day and conference calls with the US in the evening, and despite snow and 18F temperatures (-8C, brrr...), I still managed to run 12 miles each day!
Speaking of tourism, I was staying in Kista (pronounce Shista), Stockholm or Sweden's mini version of Silicon Valley. Indeed, quite a concentration of IT and Technology companies, including two IBM locations: the Nordics headquarters and the Swedish Sales office and client center. According to Wikipedia, Kista even got a high-tech nickname: chip-sta (which makes sense only if you know how to pronounce Kista the Swedish way... ;-). IBM, Oracle, Microsoft (I haven't seen an SAP building to make the MISO soup complete, but I bet they do have some presence here), Siemens, Huawei, Agilent, are some of the big and international names but there are also dozens of local high tech companies logos displayed along the few roads and streets of Kista, overall a small neighborhood 10 miles North of Stockholm.
This business area isn't by any mean a photogenic area which will attract or appeal to tourists but I was amazed at the running opportunities it offers. Before going out, I asked the receptionist of the hotel for some tips about where to run, if there were nearby trails and the lady looked at me like I was crazy. Why would someone run in freezing temperatures and in the snow...? I thought I was going to have one of these dangerous and unpleasant experiences of running on busy road against the car traffic but, just a few yards from the hotel, I saw a sign for a pedestrian path to the nearby metro station and a bike path with directions toward... Stockholm. 15 kilometers of bike path, that was even more than what I could squeeze in before my next conf call.
Like in Denmark earlier this week (see my Wednesday post), I was amazed at the consideration given to bikers with miles of stand alone bike paths which provide total peace of mind as they form a network clearly separated and distinct from the car traffic. Clearly this has been designed and integrated by the urbanists, not as an after thought like in many other places unfortunately. For instance, there is a dedicated lighting system in some areas, and numerous underpasses, not just under main arteries such as highways, but simple streets too.
Another proof of the high commitment to bikers in this country was the fact that some snow plowing engines had cleared most of these miles and spread either salt or sand to ensure the path wasn't slippery. So well that I could run at 7 min/mile with my Brooks Green Silence for 24 miles without any fear of slipping down.
Now, it was cold and I had most trouble keeping my hands warm despite two layers of gloves... I'm so much better at handling high temperatures... That makes me realize again how much easier it is to train in California as opposed to places with "real weather" and seasons. And was also in awe to see bikers commuting in these freezing and snowy conditions, Scandinavia is definitely a leading example of ecology on all fronts.
Bottom line, in case you are visiting Stockholm and need to log a long run, follow the bikes (as I did for instance last time I was in London) and you'll find many miles of great bike paths to run on (mind the cyclists...). 

Now looking forward to coming back to "my" sunny and warm California in a few hours after this refreshing experience. Although we desperately need some of the rain that the East Coast and Europe have too much of...

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Running in Copenhagen: The Lakes (Søerne)

After my 2013 year in review post, you'd expect to see my 2014 plans by now. Well, not quite yet, still working on a few details... In the meanwhile, I'm back to Scandinavia, more precisely Copenhagen, Denmark and Stockholm, Sweden. 2 years after my last visit here.

In spite of long working days and evenings, I managed to run 3 times in Copenhagen (Sunday evening just after landing and checking in, early Monday morning before going to the office and late Tuesday evening). But, sorry Little Mermaid, I was too rushed to do much tourism this time and come to see you at the other side of the city. Next time, promised...!
Instead, I ran on the Copenhagen running "stadium", that is around the Lakes.

The Lakes of Copenhagen are another emblematic fixture of the city, having been designed and built in the Middle Ages in order to provide the city with a water reservoir. See the Wikipedia article for more details. They are called Søerne in Danish and the lakes respectively called Sankt Jørgens Sø (English: Saint George's Lake), Peblinge Sø (English: Student Lake) and Sortedams Sø (English: Black Pond Lake or Black Dam Lake), from South to North. (Picture from Wikipedia)
From a running standpoint, they are almost the perfect spot for urban running: 2-mile long for building mileage, a mix of pavement and dirt/gravel, a separate walk path from the bike path (Danish are avid bikers as a mean of transportation, even in freezing temperatures!), reasonable lighting to run at night (sunset around 4 pm in winter...), many runners at any time of the day to have some company (including quite a few fast ones for good emulation! ;-). Why did I say almost then? Because the full loop crosses several avenues with heavy car (and bike...) traffic and that Danish are very disciplined, or I should say civic, so every pedestrian wait for the green light to cross, no jay-walking here! And there is only 2 underpasses out of 8 intersections.

With that, I tried the three options. First, the full loop which is almost 4 miles (3.95 miles according to my Garmin).
The next day, I did three upper loops to leverage the 2 underpasses and minimize the traffic light stops.
Finally, last night, I did 12 3/4-mile loops around the first lake: 100% asphalt and flat, no wait to cross intersections, a good long tempo run.
Temperature was right on 32F, or 10 degrees less with the wind chill factor, but at least there wasn't any snow in the city (just saw a few patches on the way to the office in the suburb).

Again, this isn't the most touristic route and part of the city, see my December 2010 post for that, but a great place to log a few miles if you are in town. And still great views of the local Danish architecture. (Picture from Wikipedia)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

2013 in review: more consistent and still slighly faster

Here you are, the year in review in 6 words, not even a picture, how concise is that? But you are not expecting me to only say that, are you...?! ;-)

For lack of change, this has been quite another amazing year in many areas and, for the sake of this blog, running wise especially. Slightly less variety than in 2012 when I ran Leona Divide, in South California and, out of State, Chuckanut and JFK, yet I participated to three new races this year: the Montagn'Hard in the French Alps (yes, it was... hard!), Tahoe Rim Trail 100 and Headlands 100.

As usual, let's start with my analytical bias and look at a few numbers:
  1. Mileage. 3rd year in a row that I log about 3,248 miles for the year, that is an average of 100 kilometers/week. I only took 2 weeks off running in December so I actually finished at 101 km/week. Overall, given my other job and activities, that's pretty much the max of quality training I can do. More on this in my upcoming 2014 goals post.
  2. Average pace. Slightly slower than 2012, right on 8:00 min/mile, but more elevation as I couldn't run much hills after my shoulder fracture in 2012. I did run 300 flat miles in Senegal but all in rather hot temperatures (85-95F) so that didn't help much.
  3. Number of races. Back to the 2010 and 2011 levels (pre-2012 fracture) with 18 races, ranging from 5K to 100 miles. While this is low compared to some crazy guys or gals racing every weekend, these 18 races included 14 ultras and I placed in most of them.
  4. Number of ultras. In addition to the 14 ultra races, I also did 20 ultra training runs for a total of 38 which is a record for me (35 in 2011 and 2012). Long are the years were I was following the advice of my best Medical Doctor, my sister Marie, of not running more than one or two marathons a year... ;-)
  5. Number of hours. 441 or 8:23 average each week. That doesn't count changing, waiting for the Garmin to find the satellites, stretching and showering.
  6. Number of blog posts. As I was mentioning in my last post, 54, close enough to my weekly frequency target.

Here is the recap of the races (more details in my pages at UltraSignup or Athlinks):

Race Age group Overall Time
PCTR Woodside 50K 1 1 4:01:03
Silicon Valley Turkey Trot 10K 1 15 0:36:09
Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose Half 2 20 1:14:54
Trailblazer Race 10K 1 3 36:23:00
Stevens Creek 50K 1 1 4:17:19
Headlands Hundred  1 1 18:22:25
Tamalpa Headlands 50K  1 4 4:19:46
Skyline 50K 1 4 3:57:12
Tahoe Rim Trail 100M DNF (mile 62)
Montagn'Hard 100K (*) 2 6 9:45:23
Ohlone Wilderness 50k 1 1 4:54:38
Quicksilver 50M  1 2 7:08:55
Miwok 60K 1 6 5:24:19
Ruth Anderson 100K 1 2 7:51:08
American River 50M 1 4 6:47:39
Big Bunny Fun Run 5K 1 3 16:20
Way To Cool 50K 1 9 3:50:25
Jed Smith 50K 1 4 3:46:50

(*) Switched/dropped to 60K - not in official standing.

A few more notes, chronologically:
  1. January -  I resumed training slightly too fast at the end of 2012 and was concerned with my calf in which I thought I had pulled a muscle. I took 3 more weeks off in case and went straight to my first ultra race without much training.
  2. February - As usual, the season started with Jed Smith 50K which was my first run in three weeks. Started with an "easy" 7 min/mile pace to warm-up and the calf held on so I was able to slightly pick the pace for a couple of laps before slowing down with GI issues. Finished way behind Chikara but my time was still good enough for winning my age group, phew! 295 miles in the month, much better than the 72 miles of January.
  3. March - Started with a very successful Way Too Cool 50K, breaking 4 hours by 10 minutes, placing 9th in this competitive race, and 2nd Master in the Grand Prix. Had fun running a 5K 2 weeks later at the local Cupertino Big Bunny Fun Run. 293 miles overall.
  4. April - Another great run at the American River 50-mile with a Personal Best of 6:47 and 4th overall, 1st Masters (lucky it was a slightly slower than usual year). 2 weeks later, I set a PR at Ruth Anderson 100K, which I should be able to improve if I don't start too fast next time... 302 miles including a few in a new country, Slovenia.
  5. May - The busiest ultra month, as usual. First, a great Miwok albeit a shorter one this year (60K instead of 100K) because of a high fire risk alert on the North section of the course. 6th overall out of a competitive field. One week later, took second to Chikara in the Quicksilver 50-mile then, another week later, yet another win at Ohlone 50K! 7 consecutive runs and quite a consistent performance on my favorite course with this series of top 1-1-2-3-3-1-1! 236 miles total, many racing ones.
  6. June - No racing but a lot of training with my record monthly mileage since I started running: 448 miles! Not counting the tavel miles as I ran in California, Portugal and France (Paris, Normandy, Corsica).
  7. July - Two hard mountain races and I might have been tired after too many training miles in June as I didn't fare well in both. First, I ran the Montagn'Hard which has two distances: 100K and 60K. Real mountain running with much more elevation and rocks than what we have in California didn't suite me well and I dropped at the 60K finish. 2 weeks later, I did well on the first loop of the Tahoe Rim Trail 100-miler, only to drop 12 miles later slightly dehydrated and lacking motivation to run through the night. No knowing the course didn't help, we'll see next time. 223 miles, including a few in Bangkok.
  8. August - Back in the groove with two races of my sweet spot distance, 50K. 4th overall and 1st Master at both Skyline 50K and Tamalpa Headlands 50K. 377 miles.
  9. September - 3 great races so another busy racing month. First and foremost, an overall win and new Course Record at the PCTR Headlands Hundred, certainly the highlight of my 2013 season and a redemption from TRT. Very grateful for the support of Team Pommier (Agnès, Toshy and Judy, Sachin) with very cool custom-made t-shirts! And Toshi pacing me for the last 50 miles one week after his own extra tough Wastach 100! Felt like 90 or so ultras ago when I started racing beyond the marathon distance! ;-) The overall win at the Stevens Creek 50K was less prestigious but still a nice 3-peat. Good performance too with 3rd overall, 1st Masters at the Trailblazer 10K, the day after the Stevens Creek 50K! 340 miles.
  10. October - I had to bail out from Firetails 50-mile because of a trip to Senegal (4-week IBM's Corporate Service Corps mission in Dakar). But Brooks invited me to the much flatter San Jose Rock 'n Roll half marathon which turned out to be the second highlight of my season with a much unexpected PR by 10 seconds (1:14:54). 20th overall (chicked once, yikes ;-) and second in my M45-49 age group to a Canadian. 292 miles, many of them in hot temperatures in Africa.
  11. November - After being sick for a few days upon coming back from Senegal, a so-so 10K at the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot 10K with a 36:09, still good enough to win my age group. 298 miles.
  12. December - This time, I only took a 2-week inter-season break from running early December, resumed training with a couple of weeks and a last minute 50K race (PCTR Woodside) on December 29 and ultimate and 4th overall win for 2013! 125 miles.

Overall, yet another fantastic year, I'm particularly pleased with how much experience I gained to "fight" the aging process (my last year in the Masters division). Some credit goes to Vespa, the supplement which helped me optimize my fueling in races. And Brooks for the shoes which fit me so well. And the fun of racing with the Quicksilver Ultra Running Team (we placed first as a team in the Women, Mixed and Overall divisions, 3rd in the Men division of the Pacific Association USAT&F Mountain Ultra Trail Grand Prix, and I won my age group for the 7th year in a row!). Anyway, way more details than you are probably interested in, especially if you regularly follow my blog. But, like Robin Sharma reminds us, it's a good practice to look back at the previous year when setting new goals for the new year. So, not surprisingly, my next post will be forward looking into 2014. Belated post some of you will say but, trust me, with the pressure for signing up to races months and months in advance, I've been thinking about 2014 since last November already...

Run happy out there, and looking forward to keeping reading about your own 2013 recaps and 2014 plans! Let's make big and smart goals!

(*) Specific, Measurable, Assignable/Attainable/Achievable/Appropriate/Aspirational (you pick!), Realistic/Relevant, Time-related/Time-bound (see Wikipedia)

Photo credits: Agnes Pommier (Quicksilver) - Jerome Nayrat (Montagn'Hard) - Agnes Pommier (Headlands Hundred) - Michael Dhuey (Stevens Creek 50K) - Michael Duhey (idem) - Agnes Pommier (TRT 100) - Agnes Pommier (Ohlone)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

PCTR Woodside 50K: fast pre fat ass

I'm back, sorry for the long break on this blog, a good month to recharge! For one thing, I did take my yearly inter-season break in December, albeit only 2 weeks this year. After bragging about my mixed feelings regarding the pros and cons of stopping the momentum I built on in 2013, I received several advices, one of which saying that I don't necessarily have to stick to the 4-week break that Scott Jurek recommends in particular. Every year, I almost injured myself when resuming training too quickly in order to get ready for the first race of our Grand Prix season, Jed Smith 50K on the first weekend of February. So, this year, I only took 2 weeks off and had two easy weeks to ramp up. The other reason for not posting anything in December, beyond laziness or business doing many other things with this "free" time, is that I aim at publishing 52 posts a year and I was already at 54 by the end of November. Anyway, as I said, I'm back, the 2014 counter is reset anyway! ;-)

And I'm not even going to do my 2013 year in review or share about by many goals for 2014 but tell you about my very last race of 2013, the PCTR (Pacific Coastal Trail Runs) Woodside 50K which occurred this past Sunday, December 29. With my focus on the PAUSATF Grand Prix (GP), it's rather unusual for me to run the PCTR series but I wanted to get one last race in 2013 and see if I could log a 4th overall win. I had 4 of these wins in 2011 and 4 again last year except that the latter didn't count for Gary's UltraRunning Magazine listing because two of these races had less than 20 finishers, which is fair. That was actually my second PCTR race this year as Race Director, John Brooks, accepted to get his Headlands Hundred to be part of our GP schedule.

My other goal for this race was to enjoy this wonderful course which I had heard so much about, so close to home. And last but not least, get some good exercise as we desperately wait for some snow in Tahoe.

Upon getting to Huddart Park, I was pleased to see such convenient parking lots all around the start/finish area. I also like how the starts of the 4 races were staged, with the 50K being first (other distances were 10, 17 and 35 km). While my first ultra race was Way Too Cool in March 2006, my second was Angel Island in July of that year, and also my first overall win in an ultra. With PCTR's mantra, "Serious Fun", these races are not as competitive as the Montrail Cup races for instance, yet, some fast runners join from time to time. For example, the course record is owned by Keith Bechtol who ran an amazing 3:36 back in 2008. The second fastest time is Leor Pantilat's 3:39. They were respectively 23 and 24 when clocking these times. With that, I was just dreaming of breaking 4 hours.

Right from the start, Ben Johnson took the lead and I had hard time keeping him in sight. By mile 2, there was only one other runner I could see behind in the switch backs, Daniel Kono. I caught up with Ben in the fourth mile as we were climbing up Crystal Springs. Ben knew my name but I didn't know him so asked "Where are you from?" Although Ben is listed as living in Folsom in UltraSignup, he said "Ashland" to which I jokingly replied "Oh, you should definitely be in front then, you Oregonian....!" Ben said he was still tired after running the North Face San Francisco earlier in December and was going to take it easy. Given his speed in the initial downhill I thought that I'd rather build a serious gap before the last 5 miles which are all downhill on this course.

I kept pushing the pace although I only knew about the course profile from looking at the elevation charts from the PCTR website. I kind of guessed that the challenge of this course, beyond the two big climbs, was to maintain the effort in the short ups and downs on Skyline Trail. Using Vespa, I didn't stop at the first, second and fourth aid stations, and only once at the third to get my GU2O bottle refilled and grab a cup of Coke. With the current drought the trails were in pristine condition, not to forget the bright sun which provided enough light under the majestic redwoods, perfect conditions for a fast run. With that I was a bit disappointed to see my time of 2 hours by mid course, with the upcoming 4 miles up to get back on the ridge, on Skyline Trail. I ran most of the uphill, encouraged by the runners we were crossing in this section. I was so focused, or in the groove, that I didn't realize when I passed the Oak and Bear Gulch connector on the way back. I inadvertently told the first two runners I crossed on Bear Gulch that they were on the wrong trail, I'm very sorry about that and apologize, hoping I didn't ruin the rest of their run. Thankfully, they didn't seem to believe me anyway and kept going down, phew!

With all the turns and trees, I couldn't see anyone behind and was just hoping that the gap was large enough to avoid a sprint in the finish area meadow. But I had no idea of what was happening behind and that was quite stressful. While that kept me pushing, I was quite tired of maintaining a 8 min/mile pace in the ups and downs of Skyline Trail, but glad Vespa kept my energy level high enough to keep moving. After asking for a confirmation of the remaining mileage to the volunteers at the last aid station, King's Mountain, I rushed in the downhill. While I was visualizing Leor in the rolling Skyline, I was now thinking of downhill running guru, Ian Sharman. On tired legs (and older ones too... ;-), that wasn't enough to get the pace below 6 min/mile though but, quickly glancing behind from time to time, that seemed to be enough to keep the lead until the finish. The pounding on the final road section was tough on the knees but it felt good to hear the noise coming from the finish area, finally.
I crossed the finish line in 4:01:03, not quite under 4 hours, as I initially expected without knowing the course, but good enough for an overall win this year.
I felt lucky that nobody faster showed up this year and told John that was quite a slow year, despite the perfect conditions (and course marking).
Upon looking back at the results, I was still quite pleased to notice that my time was the 5th fastest time from the 22 past editions (the race is held twice a year). Again, perfect conditions, especially for winter, but still.

It was quite an unexpected and good surprise to see Agnès, Alex and Greg at the finish line, for a photo shoot opportunity! ;-)
Daniel came in 2nd place, 3 minutes later. He told me that he believed to have seen me in the distance since mile 15, quite a long hunt, I had no idea!
Ben finished 3rd in 4:08:29.
In quite a duel, Jennifer Pfeifer won the race finishing 37 seconds before Bev Anderson-Abbs. Also from North California (Redding), Luanne Park took the third spot on the female podium.

To complete this report, let me quote John's own write-up below. Congrats to him for building on Sarah and Wendell's initial enterprise, keeping attracting so many new people to trail and ultra running, recruiting knowledgeable volunteers and organizing very professional events. It will be good to see John compete in the Grand Prix in 2014, between his own races.

Back to the title, for the non insiders: January is usually the month we ramp-up after the holidays, aiming at burning the extra calories (or pounds) gained during the rich meals of the year end celebrations with casual 50K runs called Fat Ass. But since I resumed training mid December anyway, I'm obviously not waiting for the Fat Ass runs to get out of the couch.

Great way to close on a successful season. That was my 18th race in 2013, including 14 ultra races, and my 52nd 50K race so far, as many as my 10K races, time flies... Legs weren't too sore on Monday but I didn't go for a run, just a hike at Wilder Ranch State Park on Monday with the family and a short one at Fremont Older on Tuesday to watch the last sunset of 2013. Today (New Year's Day), I ran from home to the top of Black Mountain, coming back through Rancho San Antonio, for 29.5 hilly miles (3,800 feet). I met Agnès and Alex at the top of Montebello Road after their hike from Rancho on PG&E.
One of my 2014 resolutions is to not run as many miles as these past three years and I'm starting with 2 ultras in 4 days, hmm. Anyway more on 2013 (review) and 2014 (goals) in upcoming posts this January. Until then, Run Happy out there!

Good Morning!

What a fantastic day we had at the Woodside Trail Run yesterday.  It was such a great vibe on the trail and at the start/finish area.  The attitudes of our runners exemplify all the right things about our sport.  The weather was the best we’ve ever enjoyed at with this event.  It made for some very fast times and many posted new personal records.

We welcome the 81 first-time rail runners to the PCTR family and 37 runners that can now call themselves “ultra runners” after completing their first 50km event.  I was moved by the emotion and elation at the finish line.  You are all inspiring and the reason we hold our events.

There are  some individual results we also want to recognize:

10km:  Luke Baxter from San Francisco finished first among males with 47:55.  Sarah Clarke of Mountain View was the first female with 58:20.

17km:  Christopher Denucci from Menlo Park was the first male with 1:14:09 and Sian Turner from Truckee the first female with1:30:21.

35km:  Lennard Hachman from Menlo Park was the firstmale finisher with 2:41:10.  Laura Harmen from Corvallis, OR was the first female, at 2:57:32.

50km:  Jean Pommier of Cupertino flirted with breaking the four hour mark with 4:01:03.  Jennifer Pfeifer from El Dorado led a deep, fast women’s field with 4:23:41.

We can’t hold events without the support of volunteers.  16 energetic folks gave their day to help you  reach your goals.  The event was  successful because of their help.  Most are trail and ultra-marathoners just like you, others are friends and family of runners, and some, like Booth and Tina, run and then volunteer at the finish area.

I will be posting results on in just a few minutes.  For new trail runners, this is the website where we post your results for all of your PCTR events.  Your results will be saved under your  personal profile so that you can track your trail running history.

Important timing note:  There are several runners that changed distances just prior to the start or during the event.  If you do not see your posted time, please email me and I will correct it for you.  Remember, the official time is based on computer timing, not the clock that was staged at the finish line for convenience.  

We wish you the best of runs in 2014! Check out our 2014 event calendar on our webpage.  Feel free to email me if you’d like some  recommendations for events.  You can learn more at


John Brooks
Race Director, PCTR