Sunday, February 23, 2014

Why do we (ultra) run: for some hardware, really?

Last weekend was our annual Pacific Association USA Track&Field Long Distance Running (LDR) 2013 award banquet. A great opportunity to gather the fastest or most assiduous and persistent participants of our North California running Grand Prix. I was even surprised that LDR included cross-country this year, I don't recall that was the case the previous years. With that, LDR covered any distance above 2 miles, up to Jon Olsen's 168 miles of his win of the World 24-hour championships, quite a broad spectrum!

The ceremony was held at a Chinese restaurant in San Francisco last Sunday night (I don't particularly like events on Sunday night because I'm too busy with work during the week to blog right after, so here is the belated report). If you are acquainted with our club or one of my club mates, you might have already seen our Quicksilver President's live coverage of the event on Facebook starting with this post: "Picking up some hardware with Quicksilver Running Club..."
Which leads me to ask this question: "are we really (ultra) running all these miles for the hardware" I mean the plaques and trophies? When my wife tells her French class students about what I do as a hobby, they can't believe or comprehend that a mug or a coaster is all we get for finishing an ultra marathon or even winning it! Certainly there must be other motivations than that or we would just go to the nearby department store to get a new mug... ;-) More on this further down in this post.

So, as a team, for 2013, we took home the Women, Mixed and Overall titles, leaving the Men title to the youngsters and speedsters of Excelsior, Tamalpa taking second in that category (see all the results on the PAUSATF website). Here is Greg with the Mixed Team plaque, isn't he handsome?
And special thanks to our 2013 co-captains Toshi (Hosaka) and Marc (Laveson) for leading us to such a successful year!

In the women division, Amy Burton placed first in W30-39, Bree Lambert first in W40-49 and Kat Powell won her W60-69 age group.
In the men division, only two top wins this year, Jim Magill in the M60-69 and myself for my last year in the most competitive M40-49 age group (a record 66 participants in that group alone), in the largest USAT&F association in the nation.
This is my 7 consecutive Grand Prix win and I feel obliged to "play again" and, although it means aging, I'm looking forward to moving up to a new AG this year.
Running after the goals offered by such a Grand Prix is indeed one of the reasons I keep racing as much as I do. But it's only one of the many. Another reason is the camaraderie that we experience in competing and training as a team, or even across our teams within our league. Here is our joyful table at the banquet, of course only a small subset of our 80-member strong club.
Another reason I enjoy ultra running so much is that it is still a low key sport in which the elite is so approachable and genuine. For one thing, there isn't much money thrown into our sport, nothing to brag about in Hollywood or Beverly Hills and even make a leaving of in the first place. Take for instance the guest speaker of this year's banquet, Jon Olsen, from our very own Pacific Association. In 2013, Jon won the world 24-hour championship then set a new 100-mile US record by breaking the symbolic 12-hour barrier. Jon is a teacher in Modesto and, with a lot of modesty and referring to his strong faith, shared how his hobby, and hard work, got him to the top of our sport. See Jon's blog "Just a Hobby:)" for more details on this inspiring story.
Here I am with Jon just before the Tamalpa 50K race, last August.
One more reason ultra running is so special is that all ultra runners have a very unique story. Either the way they started, how long they have been doing it, how they are fighting adversity and pain, how they keep this extreme commitment with other life priorities, what type of ultra running they prefer, there is so much variety in these experiences we often refer to ultra running as a life-long experiment. No matter the heroic feat that you've done, there will be someone else who has done twice you just did or will soon do. Exciting on one side, frightening on the other, ultra marathon running is defined by only one thing, any distance beyond 26.2 miles, and that doesn't have any upper limit...

Among these exceptional ultra runners, you will find many who spent hours and days volunteering to serve other ultra runners, the essence of our community spirit. Then you find a few who devoted years of their lives to our sport. After Hollis Lenderking and Gary Wang who received life-time achievement awards these past years for serving on our Mountain Ultra Trail committee for more than 20 years, it was the turn of Stan Jensen to be recognized for his countless hours he gave back to our community at aid stations and maintaining his website.

Omnipresent on the road racing circuit, Mark Winitz was also recognized for a quarter of century serving our Pacific Association with such dedication and passion for promoting our amazing local athletes and races. Here is Mark (right) presenting a special bib to Carl Guardino, the CEO of the Silicon Vally Leadership Group and organizer of the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot, last November.
Here are our two Mountain Ultra Trail committee co-chairs at the officials table, Bill Dodson (left) and Hollis (middle), with Jon and wife Denise (left):
Speaking of exceptional people, the day before the banquet on Saturday afternoon, we did celebrate an exceptional couple which I met through my other club, the Stevens Creek Striders, Andrew Johnson and Penny Beeston, originally from Australia. Unfortunately, it was a celebration of the end of Andrew's 14-year battle against Leukemia during which he kept an unbelievable and inspiring optimism, smile and continued interest in others. (Picture courtesy of Michael Dhuey, Stevens Creek Striders Turjey Trot, November 2004.)
During this time, Penny raised tens of thousands of dollars for cancer research, running many marathons and ultras herself and even 3 IronMan, coaching several Team In Training running and triathlon teams, working, raising 3 kids, volunteering in various clubs and at many races, pacing friends when not racing herself.
So, while hardware (medals, plaques, belt buckles, trophies) is appreciated as a visible recognition of our physical accomplishments, it is certainly not worth as much as our own self-realization and pleasure of running and the enrichment we get from social connections and genuine relationships in our community.

"Why we run" is such a broad topic, let me finish this attempt at an answer with an excerpt of a questionnaire from Dr Martin Hoffman of UC Davis as part of one of his recent studies to help us understand ultra running better. You see from the length of the list, this isn't a straight answer, we are all different... But here is a good resource in case you are still waiting for a good reason to get started and join our healthy (and slightly crazy! ;-) community! Oh, and for you ultra runners, what is the primary reason do you run?

1.             To help control my weight

2.             To compete with others

3.             To earn respect of peers

4.             To reduce my weight.

5.             To improve my running speed.

6.             To earn the respect of people in general.

7.             To socialize with other runners.

8.             To improve my health.

9.             To compete with myself.

10.          To become less anxious.

11.          To improve my self-esteem.

12.          To have something in common with other people.

13.          To add a sense of meaning to life.

14.          To prolong my life.

15.          To become less depressed.

16.          To meet people.

17.          To become more physically fit.

18.          To distract myself from daily worries.

19.          To make my family or friends proud of me.

20.          To make my life more purposeful.

21.          To look leaner.

22.          To try to run faster.

23.          To feel more confident about myself.

24.          To participate with my family or friends.

25.          To make myself feel whole.

26.          To reduce my chance of having a heart attack.

27.          To make my life more complete

28.          To improve my mood.

29.          To improve my sense of self-worth.

30.          To share a group identity with other runners.

31.          It is a positive emotional experience.

32.          To feel proud of myself.

33.          To visit with friends.

34.          To feel a sense of achievement.

35.          To push myself beyond my current limits.

36.          To have time alone to sort things out.

37.          To stay in physical condition.

38.          To concentrate on my thoughts.

39.          To solve problems.

40.          To see how high I can place in races.

41.          To feel a sense of belonging in nature.

42.          To stay physically attractive.

43.          To get a faster time than my friends.

44.          To prevent illness.

45.          People look up to me.

46.          To see if I can beat a certain time.

47.          To blow off steam.

48.          Brings me recognition.

49.          To have time alone with the world.

50.          To get away from it all.

51.          To make my body perform better than before.

52.          To beat someone I've never beaten before.

53.          To feel mentally in control of my body.

54.          To get compliments from others.

55.          To feel at peace with the world.

56.          To feel like a winner.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

2014: a year in preview, Insha'Allah!

Finally, let me write down my 2014 plans, second week in February, it is about time... On one side, there isn't too much mystery thanks to the early signups that are published on But that's "only" 6 races so far and you know I'm likely to aim at a few more races, having averaged 18 races/year these past 12 years. As many of you know already, after racing 92 ultras in the competitive M40-49 age group, I'm excited to move "up", something which may surprise a few, starting with my parents who, at 91 and 79, are fighting aging... Now, I really enjoyed the ride in the Masters and I made sure to take advantage of all these "younger" years. I know a few runners who either started getting injured or losing stamina around this symbolic 50-year milestone, so I do have some apprehension mixed with the excitement of becoming the youngest of the Senior division, for a short while! ;-)

Like many, my first goal in running and racing was to get to the finish line. Then I aimed at improving my times. Then I worked at getting a Boston Marathon qualifier. Then came the local podiums, then even a few international Masters podiums (Boston marathon, Paris 20K, World Masters marathon), a few overall wins and age group or even overall course records. All that trough a nice combination of hard work, some luck, and a lot of fun. For the first time, I've now an eye on a few US national age group (AG) records, for ultra distances (at 2:29, the AG record is clearly out of reach!). More intimidating challenges but pushing the envelope is what keeps me... running! And training and working hard...

With that, my main goal for this year is speed on flat courses. For that, I'm doing more speed workouts at the track, spend less time on hilly trails and log many miles under 7 min/mile. It has only been 5 weeks in 2014 but there is already a noticeable change in my pace chart:
With no further ado then, here are the races that I would like to run this year... Insha'Allah...
February 1 - Jed Smith 50K, Sacramento, CA - Checked! Good test run but not 50 yet so no points for the Grand Prix.

March 2 - Caumsett Park US 50K Road Nationals, Long Island, NY - I hesitated between the Napa Valley Marathon and the Razor Back ultras in San Martin, but that will be an opportunity to run a USATF-certified 50K. Still need to figure out the logistics. And the weather is going to be a potential big unknown factor coming from sunny and (too) dry California.

March 8 - Way Too Cool 50K, Cool CA - 1,000 entrants, but still feeling good to make this lottery for this Californian "winter" classic.

April 5 - American River 50 miles, El Dorado Hills, CA - Ironically, after appearing to have figured out this race after struggling really bad initially, it's going to be a new course.

April 12 - Mad City US 100K Road Nationals, Madison, WI - Another USATF-certified event, which I know nothing about...

April 19 - Ruth Anderson, likely 50 miles, San Francisco, CA - Race Director, Rajeev, let us pick the distance during the race, between 50K, 50-mile and 100K, we'll see depending the first quarter of the season.

May 3 - Miwok 100K, Stinson Beach, CA - Hopefully 100K this year (race was shortened to 60K last year).

May 10 - Quicksilver 50K, San Jose, CA - Our Quicksilver club main event, with the 50-mile being replaced by a new 100K. With the super stocked first half of the season, will likely go for 50K and maybe after the age group course record.

May 17 - Silver State 50 miles, Reno, NV - Max will graduate from Yale that weekend so I can't run Ohlone (putting a halt to an amazing 7-year ride). The graduation events are Sunday and Monday, so I can still run Silver State on Saturday and jump on a place in Reno or San Francisco to make it.

June 14 - 24 heures de la Voie Romaine, Lillebone, France - That will be my first attempt at running for 24 hours non stop. A popular event in France.

July 19 - Tahoe Rim Trail 100 miles, Carson City, NV - Some unfinished business there. There are 4 100-milers and 1 24-hour event in the Grand Prix, I have to run at least one of them (I'm missing two while I'm in Europe in June).

August 10 - Skyline 50K, Castro Valley, CA - A no brainer, good mid-season test.

August 23 - Tamalpa 50K, Muir Beach, CA - A challenging hilly one, but a good opportunity to break the monotony of flat miles.

September 20 - North Coast 24-hour, US 24-hr Nationals, Cleveland, OH - I've read a few good things about the quality of this event, but I have no clue what it is to run, first, for 24 hours and, second, in September in Ohio.

September 27 - Trailblazer 10K, Mountain View, CA - A local race which supports a cause dear to my heart, the Stevens Creek and its associated trail.

October 11 - Dick Collins Fire Trails 50 miles, Castro Valley, CA - I was in last year but had to cancel because of the trip to Senegal. Hope I can make it this year, that was my first 50-mile back in 2007.

November 2 - New York City Marathon, New York, NY - I put my name in the hat (lottery) but not sure I even used the right option, we'll see. Every time I mention that I run marathons and beyond people assume that I ran New York, so I have to...

November 27 - Silicon Valley Turkey Trot, 5 or 10K, San Jose, CA - IBM will be a sponsor for the third year, and this will be the 10th edition of this Thanksgiving morning event which has grown to 23,000 participants!

Phew, that looks daunting when listed on one page, doesn't it? But it's 10 months worth of racing, so there is time to adjust depending on multiple factors. I know some of you must think that I'd rather focus on one or two big races but that's not my style. Besides, I've seen people missing their entire year when putting all their bets on one event, either because the event was cancelled or the stars weren't aligned for them on D day. Now, I realize many things can happen, hence my use of Insha'Allah in the title. Especially as I'm battling a sharp pain this week in my right tibialis anterior which forced me to take a few days off this week. And for those curious about my multiple mention of this expression, see the posts about my Senegalese experience.

Beyond all these races, my goal is to run slightly less miles overall but... faster. Still try something "farther" with the 24-hour format. Yes, still excited about living my Farther Faster mantra in a new decade! And looking forward to seeing many of you again on the trails or on the web, run and browse happy out there in 2014!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Jed Smith 50K 2014: call me a rabbit

I hesitated between this title and "a good tune-up" knowing that I was in bed, shivering, on Monday night, after I came back from cold Scandinavia. Luckily it wasn't the flu which already killed 10 people in our County, age 41-62, not even elderly. I was still very tired on Tuesday but managed to work for 15 hours, at least it provided a good excuse, or obligation, to taper...

I tried to organize a car pool plan with some of my Quicksilver teammates, but ended up car pooling with 2 members of my other running club, the Stevens Creek Striders, John (and his wife who came to drive us back, first class service!), and Alison. We got in just as the 50-mile race had started, at 7:30. The sky was incredibly pure and clear, with temperature on the cool side as the sun had just rose.
The 50K field was the largest ever but it's still a low key event with 110 entrants. The scoop of the day was that Rich Hanna, local elite and owner of Capital Road Race Management (the timing company for the day), had registered that morning. So long for a possible win. Besides, Rich and I are the same age for a few more weeks (I'm turning 50 first, he'll follow in 5 months), so that was going to also be a Master win.
This was my 6th Jed Smith and 43rd 50K race in 8 years (I ran twice as many 50Ks and 10Ks as I ran marathons, these two distances are my sweet spots). I love this race which marks the start of our ultra running season and North California Grand Prix in particular. Low key but always attracting a few very fast runners who are after national records or qualifiers for national teams (Todd Braje ran the 50-mile in 5:30 a few years ago!). Race Director, John Blue, and his running club, the Buffalo Chips, put up a very professional event on a flat and fast course. Furthermore, I have to love the event mantra too which I swear I didn't know when I picked the title of my blog: "Jed Smith Ultras - I ran far, I ran fast!"

My plan for today was to use the run as a test of how long I could hold a 6:15 or 6:20 min/mile pace. I've been training a lot at sub 7 and even sub 6 min/mile and did manage to complete my 10-mile (more exactly 40 track laps) under one hour, my marathon training long tempo run, last Sunday, the day after flying back from Stockholm. With that, running at 6:10-6:15 min/mile seems effortless and that's the pace I set for the beginning of the race. Rich stayed in my foot steps and we were following the lead bikes for the first lap (the course is a 4.86-mile loop which we cover 6 times plus a short 1.92-mile out and back at the start to make it 31.1 miles).

Rich took the lead at the beginning of the third lap (mile 12). A mile or so later, I'm not sure what happened, I didn't feel an acceleration but I caught-up with him and almost passed him. That was enough to give Rich a kick and he quickly pulled away. I still had him in sight at the end of loop 3 but I was definitely losing ground although my Garmin was still indicating a 6:14 min/mile pace. I couldn't really understand what happened as Rich had told me that he was aiming at running at a 6:25 average pace and, as I found out in the results afterwards, he had run lap 3 and 4 at a blazing 6:04 pace and lap 5 at 6:07, wow!

Back to my tune-up test, I was slowing down in the 4th loop finally but did manage to pass the 20-mile mark with an average pace of 6:20 but without much pride as I had started slightly too fast so I kept slowing down afterwards. With the excitement of the fast pace, I also didn't drink as much as I should have (less than one Gu2O bottle for 31 miles, versus 1 every 15 miles usually, and not even one bottle of water) and felt some cramps coming in my legs in the last 5 miles which led me to "cruise" the last lap at a 7:17 min/mile pace. Here is a cool shot from Mark Gilligan (founder and owner of around mile 24:
I crossed the finish line in 3:25:19, pretty far from my 2012 3:19 PR, and very far from Rich who set a new M45-49 US 50K record by more than 2 minutes, in 3:13:07! Without even trying hard, that's saying a lot on what he can do in the M50 age group in a few months... Karl Schnaitter completed the podium, taking 3rd in 3:28.
Rather satisfied (2:49 marathon by/on the way!) and taking as a lesson that 6:10 is too aggressive as a pace for me to sustain for 31 miles (I know, it shouldn't come as a surprise... ;-).

From a team standpoint, we had 3 no-shows so that did work very well. Yet, Lisa won the women race in 3:59, kudos. Here we are, from right to left: Melanie, Lisa, Harris and I:
With John (Brooks, PCTR owner and Race Director) who recently joined our team and who finished a few minutes after that group picture:
On the 50-mile side, Bev (Berverly Anderson-Abbs) set a new course record, covering the distance in 6:14 and taking the overall win.
Bev is 48 so, between Rich, her and I, that was the day of the "getting older" Masters! In the Men 50K,  8 of the top 10 were over 40...

Clare, from our Quicksilver Running Club, took 2ndoverall (pictured with one more lap to go).
And Julie Fingar (RD of Way Too Cool, American River, Rio del Lago and other major events), 3rd overall (top 3 overall all women!).
Again, a great event to start the season on the right foot, highly recommended if you haven't responded to the Sacramento Chips offer! Big thank you to John for directing this event again this year, and all the volunteers although I didn't even make one stop at the aid station to shave a few seconds off... It's always good to have you around in case.

A few additional pictures (Joe McCladdie Photography, and Mark Gilligan from were also covering the event at various spots on the course).

John's finish:
Race Director, John Blue, congratulating Bev:

John and Bev:
Some ultra runners run for love...
and beer... ;-) (Special pic for Greg!):
Bill Dodson, 78, our Mountain and Ultra Running committee co-chair, completing the 50K:
Barbara Elia, 69, taking the time to pose, before her last lap in the 50K:
With my other club, the Striders:
The insanely low American River (usually we have water up to the boat ramp and runners soak their legs in the water. Definitely not this year...):