Friday, November 27, 2015

Silicon Valley Turkey Trot: run, walk or... trot, all for good causes!

It's amazing how this special American tradition has turned to a running celebration over the past years. Ultra queen Ann Trason posted on her FaceBook page yesterday an article mentioning that 786,730 runners finished a turkey trot in 2014! Turkey trots have become a national phenomenon. And, thanks to the vision of Carl Guardino, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, and his wife, San Jose is proud to host the largest Turkey Trot in the country with close to 25,000 participants.

This year was my 7th participation out of 11 editions. My first one was actually for our local USA Track & Field Pacific Association 5K road championship which I ran in 2009 in 16:34. While a 5:20 min/mile pace felt fast to me, I finished a few minutes behind the top international elites, quite humbling. This year, the men podium consisted of athletes from Kenya, Canada and Morocco respectively, while an Ethiopian won the women race (here they are, congratulated and interviewed by Mark Winitz).

Eliud Ngetich (Kenya):
Buze Diriba (Ethiopia):
Here is a glimpse of the women race.

Buze Diriba (Eth), Kim Conley (course record holder from Sacramento, CA), Alisha Williams (Golden, CO), Betsy Sanya (Kenya):
 Jessica Tonn (Seattle, WA, Brooks team), Marisa Howard (Boise, ID), Monica Ngige (Kenya):

After 2009, I ran the 10K every year: 35:05 in 2010, 35:20 in 2011, 35:06 in 2012, 36:09 in 2013 and 35:41 last year for the 10th anniversary. Although the 10K distance isn't my focus since I switched to ultra running 10 years ago, I really enjoy this speed test at the end of the season. And, like other participants shared, this opportunity to run through San Jose neighborhoods which we may not got to know otherwise.

After my 24-hour run 2 weeks ago (only 123 miles, but a new M50-54 American record at 12-hour with 85 miles), I had a few 8 min/mile recovery runs while I was in Saudi Arabia and just one speed work session last Saturday where I ran, for the first time, a back to back 10K at the Fremont High School track, with a 10-minute recovery break in between: 36:34 and 36:43, it felt good to get back to below 6 min/mile pace, phew!

This year again, after pouring rain on Tuesday, the weather was perfect, sunny, albeit on the cool side. I decided to run with long sleeves, gloves and hat, but that turned out to be almost too much. The start line area was jammed with slow runners who were just trying to bomb the start pictures, but, right off the gun, I managed to get in the top 20 runners. I ran side by side with Jose Pina Sr for a few strides, but let him keep contact with the front runners as I had no intention to match his pace. We were slightly below 5:25 min/mile after 500 yards, so I eased up a little to find my own sustainable pace. I was amazed at the diversity of ages within this group of 20 lead runners, from high schoolers to a few Masters (or Seniors like me), and of course, many from the most competitive Open division.

I passed the mile 2 marker in just under 11:30 minutes (5:45 pace) while my GPS was indicating a 5:38 pace, so I kept pushing and did pass 2 other runners. I could see the lead pack a few hundreds yards ahead but there was no way I could go faster. There were about 7-8 runners, and then a single runner between that group and I. I had planned on taking a GU gel just before the start but forgot. As I had trouble maintaining the pace after mile 3, I took it at mile 4 instead, that certainly costed me a few seconds but helped for the finish. In the last mile, I was hearing a runner closing behind and had to sprint in the last 200 yards to avoid getting passed, although the results placed him ahead of me (the difference between gun and chip times). 35:49 was my finish time, not too shabby for a "Senior..." ;-)

And I was thrilled on Thursday evening to see in the results that I had made the Top 10 again, first in my M50-54 age group and 2nd Masters, behind Jose of course. Now, to be honest, the real elites were in the 5K races, so there isn't so much glory in placing in that popular event. After all, the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot is less about competition than it is about raising funds for local charities, and having fun times to celebrate Thanksgiving!

IBM was sponsoring the Main Stage of the Festival Area for the 4th year and, right after I crossed the finish line, I rushed back to my car to change and get ready for our stretching routines at 9:30 and 9:45. This year, they were led by Anita Lee, both an IBMer and renowned fitness instructor teaching at the YMCA, 24-hour Fitness and Bay Club, and certified and expert in BodyPump, TRX, CXWorks, GRIT, Body Combat, Body Flow, UJAM and Zumba! Accompanying her, with Max on the other side, I got a really good stretch after this fast run.

A few finishers benefited from these stretching routines too but many were more interested in the free food available throughout the finish area. Come on folks, like you had not enough to eat later that afternoon! ;-)

With the multitude of starting waves, and the range between competitive runners and family walking the 3 or 6 miles with kids, it's really challenging gathering all the IBM participants for a picture at the finish. Short of one capturing the more than 100 participants we had under our company name, here is a small sample.

I also met a few people I knew from other races or running clubs, and this very special group, commemorating Valentine, the daughter of our friends Tanguy and Virginie who died in a tragic car accident near Seattle, 2 years ago.

Anyway, amazing conditions to combine fun with this opportunity to raise $1 million for the 4 selected charities benefiting from this event. Thank you again to the Silicon Valley Leadership Group for organizing such a professional and large event, making Silicon Valley proud!

Running in Riyadh: Al Muruj Park (Double Tree)

No, I didn't find the equivalent of Central Park or the Golden Gate Park in Riyadh, but just a little green patch. As a matter of fact, I didn't even find it on my own: a local colleague, whom I was telling about my struggle of running on a treadmill as you could read in my previous post, indicated this small park just behind my hotel, the Double Tree. By the way, I highly recommend this hotel, very nice personnel, nice rooms with very modern equipment, excellent breakfast buffet, 24x7 gym. And you know you are there when you smell the chocolate chips cookies! ;-)

After 4 nights of feeling like running in a hamster wheel inside, I was delighted to run outside around this park. Its circumference is almost equivalent to a track at 0.23 mile. With that, it took me 60 laps to do 13.8 miles, yet it felt so much better and pleasant than the same distance on a treadmill.

The park has a few users from kids and their mothers at the playground during the day to groups of men gathering at night to chat. But the real inhabitants of the park are feral cats, by the dozens. It's not legal to have pets inside, at home, so people stop by to feed these cats.

The park is bordered by a rectangular and wide sidewalk, lit by a few street lights which make running at night easy (again, that's important because, with 11 hours of time difference with California in Winter, jet lag is a real issue and an evening long run may actually help you falling asleep more easily afterwards).

Again, nothing comparable to a real urban park, but enough to breathe some air and a safe place to run right behind that hotel without having to cross streets and fight against the dangerous traffic. Finally, a way to escape the dreary treadmill, phew...!

PS: I was in Riyadh during the weekend of the tragic and deadly terrorist attacks in Paris. It felt really odd to be in such a well established and accepted Islamic State, ruling with force and terror as well and, yet, getting associated to the pain felt in France with the coloring of the Kingdom Tower... A very ambiguous position for Saudi Arabia between conflicting political interests on all geographic, economic, ideology and religious fronts...

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Running on a treadmill: help, need tips, please!

I love the outdoors! If it wasn't for the pleasure of enjoying the fresh air, I'm not sure I would love running so much. Conversely, I hate running inside and especially on a treadmill. Thankfully, I live in a paradise from many aspects and, in the context of this running blog, not only for the perfect weather we have in the Bay Area but also the amazing profusion of trails around, from flat ones along the Bay, to hilly ones either East or West.

I've visited 49 countries so far and ran almost everywhere... outside! In Singapore, it was so hot and humid at times, that I used the hotel's treadmill from time to time but, otherwise, I ran in South Africa or Senegal even when it was deemed to be unsafe. I ran through Hong Kong and Shanghai. And many other busy places and suburbs, to the point of writing quite a few posts labeled "Running in...", see in the right margin. In Paris, I even had to cross the Seine one night on a bridge on the Périphérique, which is the highway going around the whole city, not meant for pedestrians, oops!

So, when I visited Saudi Arabia for the first time in 2011, I ran 22 miles across Riyadh, only to find out the next day that my local colleagues thought I was crazy because I didn't realize I could have offended some local officials and religious. This time, Agnès explicitly asked me to stay inside and, with the 11-hour time difference, and therefore jet lag, it was a good thing that the Double Tree gym was open 24 hours a day!

3 days after my 24-hour race, I was still recovering so didn't push the pace but, even at 8 min/mile or 12 km/h, it felt so uncomfortable bouncing on this machine, with all the noise that it makes. The first night, I couldn't go longer than 8K (8 miles), I was so bored, feeling like in a hamster wheel in a cage, and I really hate this idea/thought...

The second night, I uploaded a movie on my iPhone and that distracted me enough to go for 20K, not even to the end of the movie... 8 miles the following day and a half-marathon the 4th night. I really wanted to run more, but couldn't indoor, even while watching a movie on my small iPhone screen.

So, here is my question to you, if you manage to log many miles on a treadmill yourself, either by convenience or if you live in areas to hot, cold or humid to enjoy the outdoors: what are your tips to make that, if not enjoyable, at least bearable?

I hope to hear back from you, because, with the overall insecurity around the world, I may need to get back in the wheel and better get used to it to log a few of my miles occasionally. Thank you in advance!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

NJ Trail Series One Day: multiple goals

As the saying goes: "Chase too many rabbits, and you will not catch either one." And it doesn't have to be rabbits of course...

NJ Trail Series One Day is the last ultra race which I had put in my calendar in the second half, hoping to improve my 133-mile PR at this format (at last year's 24-hour Road Nationals) and starting with a redemption for the disappointing 129-mile performance at the San Francisco Summer Solstice back in June, plus, with my DNF at the 50-mile Nationals 2 weeks ago, a redemption of that one as well. Big goals...

Now, running is only my second job and I'm fortunate to have a great first job to pay the bills, so it takes precedence on my work and travel schedule. 3 weeks ago, my calendar was earmarked with a consulting gig in South Africa and, given the time difference, I had to fly to Johannesburg on a flight leaving JFK at 10:40. Between the international check-in and the return of my rental car, the 1 hour 40 minutes drive between Augusta, NJ and JFK, a shower at the site of the race, some post-race recover, that meant I could not run beyond 5 am with a race starting at 9 am on Saturday, hence mission 5 hours. I used that as an excuse to focus on two Age Group (M50-54) American Records: 12 hours and 100 miles. The first one was set by John Maas in 2012 in Minneapolis at 84.64 miles, the second by Brian Teason in May 2013 on that course in 15:02:30. I don't know John, but I met Brian, first at the Invitational Desert Solstice 24-hour last December in AZ, then in March at the 50K Road Nationals in NY. Amazingly humble and gracious person who keeps sharing nuggets and quotes of human intelligence and wisdom on his Facebook page.

Brian has a very impressive ultra running resume, and here are just a few lines, excerpt from a recent message of the Race Director of the Snowdrop Ultra 55-hour Race which is not only a race, but also a relay and, more importantly, a fund raising event (and, yes, that's 55 hours, like Catra will enjoy doing for her birthday in 4 years! ;-).
He is a 21-year ultra-running veteran. In his 1st 100 miler, he finished 3rd with a sub-18 hour performance. He is a 3 time USA 50 Mile Champion (2x’s road, 1x trails) with a PR of 5:23. He is a 2 time member of the USA 100K Team.
With that, I knew it wasn't going to be easy, yet, I have already run 100 miles under 15 hours a few years ago at Run d'Amore, so it seemed that the bigger challenge would be to run 85 miles in 12 hours, something I never did (my two attempts at the distance were 78.6 in Oct 2010 and 79.576 in December 2011, both at Crissy Field in San Francisco. And, yes, 5 miles makes a big difference, not to mention 5 more years of age... Oh, and both these runs were not part of a longer format either.

Because, indeed, while I was going to focus on the 12-hour first, then on 100 miles, you know my phobia about losing percentage points in the UltraSignup rankings and that event was going to be reported as a 24-hour, with a few serious contenders in the mix. So I also had to think of running as long as many miles as possible or doable or bearable beyond 100 miles...

Starting with Le Grand Serge Arbona who has been on Team USA for 24-hour world championships. And, as I was going to find out, a few laps into the race, another amazing distance runner, Phil Mccarthy, who holds the American Record for 44-hour road with 257 miles! Just before the start, Race Director, Rick McNulty (with his wife, Jennifer, as Co-RD), teased us that we should follow Phil at least for the first loop in case we weren't sure about the way, since he has run it so many times, but I thought he meant at the 3 Days at the Fair event which is also part of this NJ Trail Series (72 hours). Speaking of Trail Series, most of the course is actually an amazingly smooth road, like a car racing circuit, with long straight lines, long curves, and a few chicanes to bring some variety, plus just enough feet of elevation to make several groups of muscles work repeatedly. With the perfect weather we had this week, which may be a bit of a gamble in November in the North East, I found the course much more suitable for top performance than San Francisco's Crissy Field loop (risk of wind, sandy half, mostly flat and two straight lines). But, again, I would certainly have said the same thing would we have had a snow blizzard blowing this weekend...
I arrived at the site just after 8, coming from Dover. We started promptly at 9 am, under an overcast sky and temperatures in the mid 60F. While a few local runners were complaining about the heat, it felt perfect for me, I didn't even have to use by Brooks arm warmers. Three races started at 9 actually, our 24-hour, a 50K and a marathon, with a 6-hour starting at 6 pm and a 12-hour starting at 9 pm. With that, and a 1-mile course, there was a lot of passing and the game became to recognize the patterns between the runners leaving the interior way, those not, those in groups, those zig zag-ing. At least that brought some variety to remain alert and think of something else than the monotonous and brutal pounding of so many miles on asphalt.

The average pace for 85 miles in 12 hours is 8:28 so I thought of aiming at 8:15 to take into account time for breaks (pit stops and bottle refill). Not having a crew, I took the excuse of running after a record to ask a few volunteers for help. Many runners had actually quite a serious crew, with tables, tents, chairs, ice chests and a ton of food. Being on the road for 2 weeks, with only a carry-on, I was not even able to bring enough GUs for 24-hour, as I was limited by the famous quarter-size bag limit for liquids and gels... Not to mention that I could not pack more than one pair of running shoes, or even much warm running gear, so a good weather was a blessing!

Back to the pace, I could not even slow down enough and ended up running most of the first 6 hours under 8 min/mile. While it felt comfortable, at least for the first 50K, I knew this could get me under trouble... To increase the pressure, one of the local runners I shared my goal with while running, told me that the course record for 12 hours here had been set by no less than Valmir Nunes at 80 miles, Valmir having won Bad Water and the Sparthatlon among many other feats. Oops, I had to bring on my A game then...

While I was pushing the pace, there were still a few 24-hour runners keeping up, which was a bit insane. I don't have all the stats, but I think that Phil and another runner were only 4 or 5 miles behind when I passed the 50-mile mark in 6:48. At this point, I was averaging 8:10 min/mile and, running some maths in my head, thought 85 miles was well in reach, I was more thinking between 87 or even 90. Then, I was thinking, from there, I'll have 3 more hours to run 10 miles, a walk in the park. Oh well, like it was my first ultra...

First, the night fell upon us around 5 pm, that's the issue with running in the Fall (yet, probably better than humidity in the Summer). Besides, it's not a great excuse because the course is so well lit that you don't even need a headlamp, something I really appreciated. Yet, from an internal clock, darkness is night... We were just 8 hours in the run, that was short/early to switch to night... Interestingly enough, around 4 am, we were finally bathed by some low sun rays, it was almost unreal. But that meant that the sky was clearing up for the night and, with the associated breath, explained the chillier temperatures announced in the weather forecast. I'm doing so much better in heat, yikes...

With that, I did slow down (finally...), and I think I ran the 100K around 8:32, that is around 8:15 min/mile. Still a good margin, except that many of my laps were now close to 9 minutes, so that wasn't a good trend. Rick was still quite optimistic but, with 4 miles to go and about 36 remaining minutes, I'm super appreciative that Serge accompanied me for the final focus and push it took to complete 85 laps in 11:58. Unlike some official time-events where the actual distance is measured wherever you finished when the horn blows, only completed laps would count today. Bottom line, that's going to be 0.36 miles added to John's record, pending the official certification by USAT&F which may take up to 2 years. And assuming no other M50-54 runners has done better on a USAT&F-certified course and event in the meantime...

I was quite worn out by that final push but still hopeful of running 15 miles in 3 hours to give a try to Brian's 100-mile record. I went on one more lap and, feeling cold, stopped by the car, changed and put my rain jacket on. I continued with a few laps but got sweaty under the vest and started shivering which was a bad sign. I decided to warm up in the car for a while and, at this point, made a stupind mistake: I was parked next two two tents and didn't want to turn the engine with the risk of waking them up, so I just tried to sleep, hoping I'll dry up in the meantime. First, I was shivering so much, it was hard to sleep but, I set my clock for 1 hour and 20 minutes and when this woke me up, I was super cold. At that time, I realized I could just drive the car a few hundred yards, and, indeed, got much better after about 20 minutes with the heater on, phew! With that, I lost 3 precious hours and was feeling so much better when I came back on the course. I had left the course in 1st place and was now in 6th but made it back quickly in 3rd place.

Serge, who is also 50, had told me he had barely trained for this race so he was 'just' hoping to run 110 or 120 miles today. But, at 12 hours, he had already logged 77 miles, so he had a much better day than expected. On the contrary, Phil had troubles before the 12-hour mark, and called it a day I believe around 19 or 20 hours. Then there was Megan Stegemiller who was actually leading the race, overall. With 6 hours left, I was 11 and 10 laps behind Megan and Serge, respectively. I was going to give it a try but, unfortunately, my adductors froze like it happened at the Summer Solstice in June, and that forced me to stop in the car for another 'warm air blowing' treatment, which, fortunately, resolved the issue and allowed me to have a few great laps in the last hours.

Serge was still running strong, despite fatigue and pain the legs and won the race with 135 miles. Far from his best (over 150), but on the high end of his expectations for the day with not training going in the race. Megan not only won the women race with 129 miles, which 4 miles over the Team USA qualifying standard for 24 hours. And I took 3rd with 123 miles. See full results in Rick's Google doc.

One record in bank (pending approval), one record missed, and another proof that it is super hard to keep going when you start fast. Yet, I needed the 85 miles for the first goal... But it's still so unnatural to think that it is so hard to run basically a 50K (32 miles) in 12 hours... One thing is for sure, I could have been smarter about my first stop, saving 2 hours at least, or getting a better return on the 3-hour stop rather than fighting with the shivering for 2 hours. Anyway, you can't rerun un ultra, this is been a great outcome overall. Many participants went through their own struggling, missing 100-mile or 100K goals, for instance (one was actually chasing a 150 miles as a matter of fact). I want to highlight Clifford who kept walking for 24 hours and managed to cover 59 miles. For one thing, he was wearing Brooks shoes (my ex-sponsor! ;-).
Rick and Jennifer were amazing the whole way, not only before the start (e.g. super responsive with emails) and post race, e.g. cleaning up the place in record time and giving us personalized and autograph license plates! But also on the course as a matter of fact as they did a few laps to accompany their daughter who did 27 laps! And, of course, attending to all our needs during the race, following our progress and time tracking, providing encouragements to us, and directing the few volunteers at the aid station. For once, I don't have much pictures, as a matter of fact, none during the race, but here is one of the cooks who served us so diligently though the night and morning, as far as making us egg/bacon sandwiches for breakfast at the finish! When I asked him if he was a runner, he replied: "yeah, but I never ran more than 100 miles like you guys!" That's quite humble, isn't it? Oh well, he plans on running the 3 Days at the Fair event, so he will go "ultra 100-mile" eventually...! ;-)
Very professional organization and a very friendly ultra community, I'm really glad I had the opportunity and privilege to be part of this edition! Thank you for offering this perfect setup to test and push our limits again, this is all what ultra running is about!

I want to give one more shout out to Vespa which really helped me minimizing my calorie intake during the first 12 hours. I also had 3 full servings of mash potatoes afterwards (a tip I found on my own but was later confirmed by Jon Olsen, 24-hour World champion), and took about one GU gel and 1 S!Caps an hour, plus a few cups of Coke, a few pieces of banana here and then, and one cup of chicken noodle soup. Oh, and one piece of cheese cake during my 3-hour stop, since I had time to digest! Could not resist it when stopping by Trader Joe's on Friday night (making the cashier wondering on which diet I was, and, after I told him what I was up to, he couldn't believe someone would run for 24 hours... ;-).
And the Brooks Launch were perfect to deal with all the pounding, combining cushioning and lightness needed to move fast.

PS: short of pictures during the race, here is a visual description of the course, post race (everybody was gone, but Serge and I as we were trying to get an hour of sleep before driving on our own), otherwise you'd see the tents and cars on the side of the course before and after the finish. But, overall, there was plenty of parking space.

The start, between the two trees. The white/green building on the right serves as the timing headquarters, the red building on the left (behind the trees) is the aid station kitchen.
 The super stocked aid station kitchen (closed promptly after the race).
The first turn on the right (and the steepest bump of the course), with the conveniently located and spacious restrooms, including 4 showers, in the background.
 Second turn, left, then right (chicane).
 The out and back to make the exact 1.00 mile distance (albeit, with all the sharp turns, GPS are easily getting 2-3% off).
 The turn around at the ned of the ~150-yard out and back.

The way down the Conservancy, a great opportunity to get some leg speed for variety.

 The start of the great curve.

 Entering the longest straight line.

 A chicane through Gate 8.
 Cutting on the grass for optimal trajectory.
Line before the last left turn to the start/finish.