Sunday, September 27, 2015

Stevens Creek 50K, Aquinas climb, Trailblazer 10K: a very busy running weekend!

This year again, there was a lot of buzz going on regarding our local Stevens Creek Trail. First, the Stevens Creek Striders had their ultra race event on Saturday, including a 50K, 30K and half-marathon, going through the Stevens Creek Canyon. And, on Sunday, on the other end of the trail, the Trailblazer 10K and 5K races at Shoreline.

But, no, I didn't do the 50K/10K same-weekend double which I did back in 2013, I was just volunteering at the 50K on Saturday.

Under Jim's leadership, our Club (QuickSilver Running Club of San Jose) was manning the Saratoga Gap aid station yesterday. After an 11-mile stretch without an aid, the runners were quite happy to find us to refuel for the next 9-mile section.

I worked the timing with our Club President, Greg Lanctot. Here we are under Peter Hargreaves' supervision, Peter Hargreaves (photo credit: Tiffany Trevers who, in the afternoon, won the half marathon race).

In addition to writing down bib numbers and times on paper, we used the ex-Race Director, Steve Patt's PocketTimer app, which made it really easy and so much official. We officiated for more than 4 hours, just to say that the runners were quite spread out especially given the staggered starts. It must be quite another experience to time a cross-country event when you have dozens of runners crossing the finish line within less than a minute!

Anyway, great way to see the race from another angle, from the front to back runners, and taking time to catch-up with club mates.

After seeing these runners enjoying the trails, and since I was passing through Saratoga anyway on the way back/down, I decided to drive to Los Gatos to give a try to the Segment of the Month, a challenge organized by Jeff Clowers and advertised in the Quicksilver Trail Runners group on FaceBook. This time it was 3 miles straight up (see the Strava segment), a climb of about 1,300 feet. One of the key challenge of that segment was actually getting to the start: a super steep road on which you can't park. Thanks to Jim's insider tips, I did park on Lookout Road, then went on to climb the Sheldon Road up to the gate. It was 2:30 pm when I got to the start, with temperatures of about 85F and I was already sweating hard and thirsty before even starting. Long story short, I was gasping for air after 2 miles in the red zone and had to stop 3 times to walk a few steps to catch my breath. Not only was it hot, but I had many things going through my mind, most importantly questioning what I was doing here, instead of tapering before the next day's 10K... Not sure I was a the top, I continued on the rolling section until my GPS reached 3.6 miles to make sure I had at least covered the whole segment.

The descent was much easier of course and I made sure to enjoy the stunning views over the Bay Area. A noisy F-20 flew by quite low and I thought of the aerial views like the ones I was experiencing this afternoon, that these pilots get all the time! Back home, I was pleased to see that despite getting only the second all-time performance on this climb with 27:09, that is 1:57 behind Mike Helms, I still had the best performance of the month, yay! Oh wait, 2 hours later, that time was improved by super fast Chris Wehan by... 1 second! Yes, that is one second, how inconvenient that Strava truth was! Oh well, later in the evening, the group was chatting about even-faster Dave Roche attempting to break 21 minutes this Sunday!

Meanwhile, I ran the Trailblazer 10K for the 11th time this year. I have not been able to run every year but had a good consecutive series these past 7 years. Overall: 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009-2015, so 11 out of 21 editions. And two wins 10 years or so ago, after the local Kenyans stopped showing up, and before Jose Pina, Sr, took control of the race! At 51, and after winning the grueling Ohlone 50K last week, winning a 10K was really not part of my goals today, I just wanted to see how fast I could still go after so much focus on ultra running these past months and years. Thankfully, my running buddy Bob got Jeremy and I back on the track for some speed work these past weeks, that helped regaining some leg speed.

Now, when Jose wasn't to be found near the start line with one minute to go, I saw a window of opportunity. When Race Director, Aaron, called the sub 7-minute/mile runners and only 5 of us moved toward the start line, I told to myself, "maybe this year gain, let's see..." There was a 13-year-old in that group and I was doubtful he would hold 6 min/mile especially after hearing him talking to his buddy about 19 minutes for 5K and trying to break 42 minutes for 10K, the math didn't work. Yet, he took the lead right off the start, as well as a much taller runner. I was just behind them when we got on the bike path and our pace was 5:30 after 500 yards. At that corner, they slowed down so much that I almost hit them from behind and, going around to maintain the pace, I took the lead. I stabilized my pace around 5:40 for the next 2 miles. Still that was really not comfortable but I had to keep pushing to maintain and increase the lead. As I was approaching the mile 2 marker, which is just before a bump in the levee, I was moving to the left side, ready to plunge in the left turn, when an old and grumpy cyclist came to my side and pushed me on the right. I got that I was on the wrong side but had to let a big bad word out of my mouth when, on top of it, he slowed down in front of me just after passing me. I did pass him on the short climb out of the chicane, I was really mad. Anyway, he passed me again on the flat section, without saying a word fortunately, as I was myself trying to remain calm...

The rest of the race was fortunately eventless. I did slow down a bit in the last 3 miles, finishing in 36:29 for a 5:52 average pace. Not my fastest 10K, but good enough given the circumstances. And good enough for a win this year, short of more competition! Here are the top 4 finishers of this morning's 10K race, 2 of them being 50 plus! You are never too old to keep moving! ;-)

Speaking of which, here is one of my ultra racing buddies, Bill Dodson, who, at 80, was enjoying this short 5K course, bare foot, before running the Twin City marathon next week. Not that marathon is much distance for Bill, he set a new American Age Group record for 100K in April, then for 50 miles one week later in San Francisco!

Five minutes after I crossed the line, Agnes surprised me: she had biked from home and was disappointed to have just missed my finish. Bob took 4th in the 5K, which is good news after the knee surgery he went through earlier this year.

Learning from previous years, when we've waited for more than an hour to get the results and awards, albeit also enjoying the kids race in the meantime, I went back on the course to run it again, this time in a more comfortable 41:53 (6:44 min/mile). I even chatted for a few seconds with Don Murdoch, who taught me track workouts back in 2000, and passed a handful of runners finishing their 10K loop.

Here is the start of the cool kids' race:

Back to the title of this post, it was such a busy running weekend that the turn out of the event was much lower than usual: it is hard indeed to compete with the Rock 'n Roll half-marathon which was held this morning in San Jose. Same thing yesterday, the Stevens Creek ultras were far from filling-up. More generally, as much as this is such a great thing to get more people healthier, there may be an over-abundance of running events on the market. It has been only 10 years since I started running ultras and, in this period, the number of 100-milers in North America went from below 30 to a whopping 142! As a result, the competition is very uneven, you have to pick your battles. With that, I won the coveted newly released Microsoft Band, which I look forward to try and write a review about (now that I moved to a Macbook and iPhone, I hope it talks some Apple language...). After winning 2 XBoxes at this race, Microsoft has been good to me! ;-)

Anyway, that event isn't much about competition, but a fund raising opportunity to help prolong/extend the Stevens Creek Trail through Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Los Altos and Cupertino so we can hike, bike or run from the Bay to the hills (and, beyond, to the Ocean!). Since such a trail wasn't designed at the right time, when 85 was built especially, we are so grateful to have volunteers giving up hundreds of hours to advocate for a solution and address this urbanism flaw. It was great to spend some time with Ross Heitkamp, the webmaster of the Friends of the Stevens Creek Trail, who updated me on the trail outlook.

And I also met an IBM colleague, Linda, who volunteers in this association. There were many volunteers this morning, about 30 of which coming from Cupertino High School, a few who even knew me then. Linda (left), giving the start of the kids' race:

That was my 48th 10K race (I've run 54 50Ks, so 10Ks are only my second favorite format), and 15th race of the year (only 2 non-ultras). Next is the inaugural 68-mile Folsom Lake Ultra organized by Single Track Running in 2 weeks. Was great to see so many people on the Stevens Creek Trail today, keep up the great job of getting healthier and enjoying the outdoors!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Ohlone 50K 2015: so much walking, yet...

I got into today's race with many mixed thoughts. A few doubts on one hand. First, I was only in 5th position in the UltraSignup predictions. These predictions and list of entrants have disappeared from the UltraSignup website, but I recall the first one being young, coming from Ashland, Oregon, and fast with an UltraSignup score of 98%. Second, for those not familiar with this race and what happened this year, the event had been moved from May to September due to some rain 4 days before the start (you can see that we would have had a wonderful day on the trails back then, would the race not be cancelled by the Park management). Third, I had done some good trail maintenance yesterday with our QuickSilver Club, and my back was really sore when I woke up this morning. I was wondering and worried about how this would play on this challenging course. Last but not least, the reschedule of the race prevented me from participating in this year's 24-hour Nationals in Cleveland this weekend and it felt odd to have to follow that epic race without being part of it.

On the other and positive hand, this is my favorite race. Having ran it 7 times and won it 4 times, this made for a special connection with the Native American Ohlone spirit, this course fits me well! Also, the temperature was forecasted to reach 100F today, and I'm doing much better in the heat than the cold.

With 14 members of our ultra racing team, our QuickSilver Club had a great representation today. Here are 11 of us, seconds before the start:

Agnès drove Frédéric, Louis and I at the start and we arrived just before 7 am. A sample of our local ultra French Connection! ;-)
I took the initiative to clean the mess in the porta potties before the bus arrived, they evidently had been used by hikers for at least a day or two...  yikes! And, note to the Race Director, the toilet paper was already quite sparse... Not sure how it ended up, the line was still long right before the start...

Here is ultra volunteer Stan Jensen (see the bottom of the article I posted yesterday) welcoming Mike Palmer:

With the challenging course profile and the expected heat, a few opted for an early start at 7 am.

The rest of us started at 8, after a briefing from Eric, the son of Race Director Larry England. The temperature was 64F in the shade of Mission Peak and it felt good to finally get moving before the sun showed up. It wasn't as a crazy start as when Leor set the course record to 4:16, but still, I wasn't going to try keeping up with the group of 6 ahead of me, led by youngsters and speedsters, Rickey Russell and Yew Ferrara. Rickey, 30, is a teammate and did beat me by 2 minutes at both Skyline 50K and Tamalpa 50K last month. I actually didn't knew Yew before meeting him at the finish, I learned later that he had placed 10th at our recent 50K Nationals in Marin Headlands, finishing 17 minutes ahead of me. And then there was another young and tall runner, carrying a blue hydration pack, whom I assumed was our visitor from Ashland as I saw him in the distance taking the overall lead in our climb to the top of Missions Peak. Here is Yew, leading right off the starting blocks!

I used to not walk any section of this climb but I wasn't in the mood today and when I saw Yew alternating walking and running, I thought the walking part was a good idea in the steepest uphills. We traded places a few times but he was then passing me back really fast, showing great climbing power. With that, I reached the top of Mission Peak in 7th position and I could point the 3 leaders right at 2 minutes ahead. I reached the first aid station, Laurel Loop, just under one hour, and passed 2 runners who made a quick stop there. As opposed to the previous years, I did stop at the second aid station, Sunol, mile 9.5, to get some ice in my water bottle and cap. Poto credit, Peter Hargreaves:

I saw Peter and Peggy there, from the Stevens Creek Striders, who were enjoying the shade and, in a rush, took a wrong turn, getting down straight to the creek! Thankfully, there was water so I knew this wasn't right--we are supposed to cross over a bridge-- and Peggy and other volunteers were already yelling to catch my attention. Hmm, thinking about it, I would have set the aid station differently, on the other side of the trail leading to the bridge. Phew, back on track (well, on bridge), photo credit, Peter Hargreaves:

Anyway, I had already about 90 minutes of running and I was now at the bottom of the climb beast. I couldn't see the leaders anymore but I had the feel that they couldn't be very far because I kept moving reasonably well in the uphills. I did pass a few of the remaining early starters in that section, and was chased by one of the two runners I had passed at Laurel. It was already hot but there was no time to lose so I ran, or rather jogged, most of the uphills, hoping to reconnect with the 4 runners now ahead of me at some point. Before too long, I passed the runner with the blue pack first but he wasn't from Ashland after all. I was now in 4th place.

I begged for some more ice in my water bottle and my cap at the 3rd aid station, Backpack Area, and took 2 small cups of Pepsi, 2 S!Caps and 1 piece of banana. The next climb through Hawks Nest is brutal and I was looking to damping my head at the faucet for a few seconds like I had done back in May but there wasn't any water left in this severe drought.

Continuing on, I passed another runner who was struggling and then saw Rickey who was struggling too. At the start, Rickey wasn't sure he had recovered from Tamalpa yet, and the heat and fast start didn't help either. I asked him to hang on as we needed points for the team. I was now in second but it took me another couple of miles before I could see the front runner. I maintained my effort and was closing on him but, with this heat, didn't want to kill my self only half way in the race, so did some walking too.

It was Yew, and I saw him leaving the 4th aid station, Goat Rock, mile 15, just as I was getting in. This is a very remote access aid station and ice was very scarce here, with a volunteer spending a lot of energy trying to break the ice... A volunteer who knew my name helped refill my GU2O bottle and, in the meantime, I assumed that the water was in the blue tank, but it was the electrolyte, so I inadvertently added electrolyte to my water. It didn't taste very good (I'm picky so I carry my own citrus GU2O powder bags with me) but thankfully it was quite diluted as my bottle was already almost full of water. I tried to convince myself it wasn't going to derail my progression... ;-)

Despite these few minutes at the aid station, I could still see Yee not too far ahead and we alternated running and walking up to the top of Rose Peak. We passed teammate Keith Blom who was volunteering today, had started at 6:30 and ran the entire course to check all the markings, and add a few more ribbons here and there: way to go, Keith!

We got our bracelets proving that we had completed the loop at the summit, and flew down the next aid station, Maggie's Half Acre, at mile 19.7. This time Yew and I were in the station at the same time but he still left first. I had thought of passing him by mile 17 but that's when I felt a first cramp in my left hamstring, yikes! By the time we reached the top of Rose Peak, both my hamstrings were hurting so I was just happy to stay behind at that time. Thanks to more S!Caps (3 to 4 an hour), drinking a lot, a couple of cups of Pepsi and some water melon, I felt better and passed Yew at mile 22. Knowing what was ahead before the finish, I made sure to do a quick stop at Stewart's Camp at mile 23.5, to water my cap and buff. Conversely, Yew probably skipped this unmanned station as I found him right on my heels at the bottom of this long downhill. As I started climbing again, both my legs froze and I thought I was finished but, with strong determination and painful effort, forced myself to keep walking at least. That worked and, a few hundred yards later, I was able to run strong again to build up some distance between the two of us. I saw Race Director, and IBM colleague, Larry just before Schlieper Rock, and he didn't seem surprised at all to see me in the lead again... Ah, if people knew the effort this is requiring... ;-) Anyway, my GPS was showing 4 hours and 30 minutes of running and I almost apologized to Larry how slow of a year that was going to be. We were are mile 26 and with 5 challenging miles to go, I wasn't even sure I was going to improve our M50-59 age group record which Jeff Boote set last year at 5:23. When my initial goal was to break 5 hours again. Yet, having Pierre-Yves' heat stroke in mind, it wasn't safe to push much harder.

Anyway, I was really hoping to get a lot of ice at this aid station but got only a few cubes which melt right away. The quads and hamstrings were hurting really bad in the countless switchbacks down to the river and I'm glad I didn't cross any hikers as it would have been hard to stop on this slippery dirt. At least, I was grateful to Mark Tanaka's clean-up of the poison oak which he did in May, as I couldn't see much of it as opposed to previous years. Thanks Mark (and maybe the drought help)! Getting down to the river, I was super disappointed to find it dry as I was dreaming of damping my hat in it. Going up again was super hard on the legs and I imagined Yew was making up time in the switchbacks. That motivated me to push as hard as I could in the last and very exposed uphill of the course which was now radiating heat like a furnace. I kept looking over my shoulder and was really relieved when I got to the top without saying anyone behind.

I kept pushing and, this time, was really relieved to find the Stromer Spring flowing: I put the top of my head down into the reservoir, that was so refreshing! And a volunteer was kind enough to fill my bottle with ice so I could drink more to help with the cramping. Flying down to Del Valle, I thought of Tom Kaisersatt who was brave enough to climb this last mile despite his late stage lung cancer, to encourage his Stevens Creek Striders club mates. Yes, Tom, you are still such a running and life inspiration!

I was so happy to win this race for the 5th time in 9 years and 8 participations (couldn't run last year because of Max's graduation), I let my joy explode before crossing the finish line in a time of 5:05.

And what better way to celebrate than in company of the ultra running queen, Ann Trason, and Dirt Diva, Catra Corbett?

Or even Catra's ultra elite dog, Dirt Doxie, aka TruMan, who got his very own and special award for running a 50K?

This is the first time I don't finish under 5 hours but, given the circumstances, I'll take it as we say! Speaking of circumstances, it wasn't pretty behind. In addition to the 79 or so entrants who didn't start, there was an unusual rate of drops/DNFs (Did Not Finish), with people backtracking to Sunol. And I think only 6 runners broke 6 hours this year...

We were supposed to drive Frederic back home but he dropped at mile 20 after experiencing nausea and dehydration. Without any cell coverage at the finish, but thanks to a network or radio amateurs covering all these remote aid stations, it took us 2 hours to find out. We drove back to Sunol which we reached moments before Fred arrived with other runners in a Ranger's pick-up. Always going there by foot, I had never realized how remote even Sunol was, and more so the other stations which have no road access at all. No wonder why this is called the Ohlone Wilderness...

The results are not published yet but I think Yew finished 10 minutes or so behind me.

Our team did quite well today: John Burton took 3rd in 5:35, and, with a lot of courage to keep going after falling apart around mile 12, Rickey finished in 5th place. Way to tough it out, Rickey!

You can find a few more pictures of the starts and finishers in my Picasa album (please give credit to this blog by including a link if you use or post, thanks!).

By the way, while this appears to me like a feat beyond my dreams, do you think winning Ohlone 5 times is a record? Despite what I thought and mistakenly told Ann, not even! Dave Scott won 8 editions, even breaking 4 hours (yes, four) twice! And Beth Vitalis won 6 times (and, would she have started this morning, I bet she would have had a good chance to get a 7th title). Anyway, I wasn't running ultras when he was and never met him, but I'm certainly not in his league, and I know Leor could win every year would he focus on that event. But we are all glad to see his splendid pictures and accounts of his high country hiking adventures instead.

A quick word on nutrition: 3 Vespa (2 before the start, one at the top of Rose Peak) did their magic again! I ate 2 pieces of banana, 8 small cups of Pepsi, 4 GUs, 2 pieces of watermelon. And drank 2.5 bottles of GU2O. Less than 800-calorie intake and more than 3,500 calories consumed, you do the math, I still have fat to burn to fuel my races! ;-)

Overall, Ohlone is traditionally hot anyway, the temperatures we experienced weren't that exceptional. The difference though is that, this late in the season, the ground is much warmer already in the early morning. And the air must be dryer too. I think the second factor explaining the high number of no shows and drops is that we are late in the season. Many people had tough races this summer, and were still tired.

This time I stopped at most of the aid stations exceptionally, so I'm even more grateful than ever to the volunteers who spent their Sunday in such a heat to attend to our needs. And of course to all the volunteers who worked on the pre and post-race logistic, and the flawless course marking. And a special mention to Eric England who came from Portland to support his father's race, and took over the BBQ, a very hot place to be on such a hot day...! And, of course, huge thanks to Race Directors Larry England and Ann Trason for taking on the big responsibility of organizing such an event in a wilderness and having offered us this unusual Fall edition to make up for the May no go (without any additional cost!). I bet they will hear from the Rangers who got busy transporting runners from the Maggie's Half Acre aid station back to Sunol all afternoon...!

I hope everybody made it back home safely, and that we all have a cooler end of the season, easing up into El Niño hopefully. Run Happy and stay cool...!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

QuickSilver Club: we run, play and (trail) work!

First, our complete name is the QuickSilver Running Club of San Jose so, for sure, we run, that's the main purpose! But we do many other things together and, with a sport which is fundamentally individual, it's key to add and rely on the social connections and support which a running club can bring to its members. If you live in the South Bay, are an adept of trail running or what this is about, please consider joining us, we welcome members of all ages: Coach Marc takes care of our Youth team and Jim still brings us points for our Ultra Running Team by running 100-milers at close to 70!

So, what else can we do apart from running? Well, among other things, we eat and drink for sure (some even enjoy a few beers from time to time, not just water or GU2O! ;-), play, mingle, volunteer, crew, pace, recognize, encourage, coach, learn, help, cook, serve, network, organize, speak, listen or even argue (over Jim's procedural motions! ;-), strategize, plan, recruit, cheer, motivate, entertain, direct (races), participate, relate and sympathize, give back, pay (our club dues for sure! ;-), dress (occasionally, for the Pacific Association USA Track & Field annual award banquet, or in costumes at the Western States aid station at Duncan Canyon), drive or fly (many miles to many places) and inspire. Oh, and above all, we enjoy: the company, the outdoors, the local trails, the competition, the trail, road or ultra challenges, heck, we enjoy life!

But, again, we also work hard. On our running and fitness, but also on the races the Club organizes, and the trails of our local backyard and playground: the Almaden Quicksilver County Park.

This morning, 7 of us joined our CTO, Paul Fick, who wears many hats in our Club. After running many ultras himself and directing our popular Quicksilver ultra races in May for years, Paul serves as our CTO and CBO. CBO for Chief BBQ (if not Banquet) Officer in May, and Chief Trail Officer all year round. Paul reminded us this morning that we have adopted the New Almaden trail back in 2003 and he pointed out a few of the major improvements that we brought to this trail.
Today's project consisted in removing a few stairs and lowering a section which was plunging into a creek crossing. It was one of the hardest job I had done on this trail, we'll see how I feel tomorrow to race the hot and hilly Ohlone 50K tomorrow! We removed a lot of ground, sculpting a sort of gully, a couple of feet deep. With the drought, it was quite dusty and I'm sure we ate quite some dust this morning.
Our crew today was composed of Ashley, Scott, Paul K and his son John-Paul, David, Paul F of course, and I. Here are David and Paul K wearing our Club racing top.

Back to the other fun things we do, 3 weeks ago we had our Club picnic in Los Gatos, a nice way to reconnect with teammates and their families, outside of the race context and rush.

Again, if you live in the South Bay, we'd be delighted to have you join the fun. You can visit our website for more details. I just realized that our membership has grown significantly as part of USATF, we even passed the 100-member barrier this year!

And for those reading from far away, I hope you also get such a support from a local running club: there is so much to give and receive from club mates, don't miss this part of running, and ultra running in particular. "One for all, and all for one!" as they say! ;-)

PS: like we are blessed with many hills, trails and races around the Bay Area, we also have many other clubs, so let me mention the first one I joined, almost 15 years ago, which taught me so much about trail and ultra running: the Stevens Creek Striders in Cupertino. In particular, please check out their upcoming trail races on September 26 (50K, 30K, half-marathon).

And a few more pictures of these two Club events...

############# TRAIL WORK

Receiving the instructions from the Park Ranger.

Meeting another groups of volunteers, the Sheriff's Search and Rescue team, doing their fitness test.

The trail as we arrived:

And how it looked when we left, 3 hours later:

Back to the Mockingbird entrance parking lot, with our tools, and today's trophies, 5 wooden stairs:

############# CLUB PICNIC

El Presidente, Greg, introducing the Board
 Our Ultra Racing Team Captain, Loren:
 Greg, praising Coach Marc's amazing work with our Youth Team (Marc in red):
 An attentive audience!

 Jim's traditional opportunity to remind us about the long history and origins of our Club:

I even got highlighted for my 4 hours of volunteering in May, right after placing 4th at our 100K! But, really, with 118 ultras over the past 10 years, and despite a few events/opportunities a year, I'm seriously in debt with regard to volunteering. Here is the introduction from iRunFar's great article on an ultra volunteer, Stan Jensen:
One of Stan Jensen’s mentors, Dick Collins, once said, “One of the key principles in this sport is volunteering. You cannot just show up, pay the entry fee, and run. You have to give back.”. 
A really wise ultra advice to make our sport sustainable...

(Photo: Frédérique Garderes)