Sunday, January 22, 2017

Back on track. And struggling to get slower...

How dare I, what impudence with such a post title! But let me explain what I mean...

First, amidst so much frustration with the current politics and direction of our country, what a joy and pleasure it is to run bad-pain-free. I had so many interrogations in the Fall of 2016, every run was filled with some incidence of leg or foot pain, I was wondering where I was going. Of course I can feel my legs but I'm back to being able to forget about it so I can do some good work in my training sessions. Including getting back to speed!

Now, I have quite a few diverse goals in February, ranging from a flat 50K (Jed Smith), and hilly one (Fourmidable 50K Trail Nationals) and a 24-hour event on a track. Thankfully, no speedy 5K but, yet, running for 24 hours is very different from a short ultra. For the 24-hour I desperately need to get slower and I'm struggling with that, hence the title of this post.

It has been a while since I've gone to the track, actually more than 9 months, this is so embarrassing. It was with Bob and Jeremy and the rest of the year flew by between a crazy work, business travel and racing schedule for me, and a bike accident for Bob. Earlier shit week, I saw a post on Facebook from Rich Riopel, currently #9 on the Team USA qualification list for the upcoming World 24-hour championships, relating one of his track training run: 112 laps in 4 hours, that is 8:30 min/mile pace. That's even faster than what we can indulge during 24 hours, but I thought I'd give that a try.

It was supposed to rain all weekend but the rain somehow stopped around 9 and I started my laps at the nearby Cupertino High School track around 11 am. There was a bit of breeze but not offering too much resistance overall. Basically, the exercise consisted in running laps in about 2-2:15 minutes.

First, the good news: I was able to...

  1. run laps for 4 hours, more than I have ever done while training on a track;
  2. hold a super steady/regular pace for the whole 4 hours;
  3. get a standard deviation for all the laps of 2.3 seconds;
  4. and run three of the laps right on 2:00 minutes!
At this point, you must wonder what went wrong then, don't you? Here are the not so good news:
  1. well, the three laps at 2 minutes were actually the slowest, and they happened when I stopped for a few seconds to grab a Snicker bar or change GU2O bottles;
  2. all the other laps were faster then, averaging 1:53, that is, way too fast;
  3. I ended up squeezing 127 laps in 3 hours and 58 minutes, about 32 laps per hour (a total of 31.6 miles, or 50.8 kilometers);
  4. I need to get much slower than that...!
Not quite the 7:10 min/mile pace reported by this GPS watch (based on the length of the track, my average pace was 7:33), but still way too fast than a targeted 8:30 or 9:00 min/mile allure...

But the thing is that it was quite a comfortable pace for 50K in 4 hours. One strategy would be to stop once in a while. I know some competitors alternate running and walking; that would surely slow me down as I'm a slow walker, but I don't like walking for a start. And stopping has it drawback too as it's usually hard to get moving again. No, the solution seems to just run slower, which is of course not an issue once you bonked, but what a challenge it is for me at the beginning of a race...

At least, in the process, I was able to test my new Garmin Forerunner 230 on the track. I will write more about this new GPS watch in another post later, in the meantime, here are a few shots comparing the recording with my Garmin Forerunner 310XT. The big differences are:
  1. Garmin 230: distance: +0.9%, elevation gain: 806 feet instead of 0 (maybe I'm swinging my arm too much?), no lap recording (by distance only).
  2. Garmin 310XT: distance: +5.3% off, elevation gain: 10 feet (close enough), lap by position recording.
I was hoping to use my new watch (given at 14 hours of autonomy) for the 24-hour, but the lap-by-position recording is very convenient to avoid keeping count. I found that update, and tried it this Sunday, but couldn't get the number of laps to be displayed (only the current lap-by-position average pace). In any event, while I find strange that Garmin isn't stepping to the plate (this is a just a developer's contribution), this isn't going to display as much information as the lap-by-length feature. What a limitation, and I'm glad I didn't even go to the Fenix watch, which has the same limitation. And it's called progress...

By the way, I also found this amazing resource answering all the questions you may have related to mileage on track. It contains many online calculators, here are just two excerpts of that long web page:

I don't know who you are, but thank you Coach Dino!!

Anyway, I'm looking forward to getting additional guidance from 24-hour veterans, both on the training strategy to get slower (sic), and the use of GPS devices to keep track of progress while running in circles for 24 hours...! For the others, sorry for this boring story of running 127 laps on a track, alone and just for the sake of training. For my defense though, I'd say that I saw a few people coming in to the track and field, either to run, jog, walk, play soccer, folks who stayed for a few of my laps, and that was a sane distraction from checking my watch at every lap. Great training practice overall, let's work and play hard!

Garmin Connect - Garmin Forerunner 230
 Garmin Connect - Forerunner 310XT
 Strava - Garmin Forerunner 230
 Strava - Garmin Forerunner 310XT

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Running in SoCal: Quicksilver Club reunion on the trails, in Thousand Oaks

Look who I found in Thousand Oaks this weekend: Fred, an ex Quicksilver ultra racing teammate who moved there a few months ago with his family! His wife also goes by Fred (for Frédrique) and did a few ultras with our team as well these past years.

The weather was gorgeous this Saturday morning with a nice breeze clearing up the air for amazing views of the surrounding mountains, and temperatures from 62F when we hit the trail at 9 and 68F by noon: tough winter conditions to train in South California... The trail was also very soft thanks to heavy rain a few days ago, leaving just a few muddy and sticky sections.

Because of a heavy commute back and forth between Silicon Valley and here last year, Fred hasn't been training consistently in 2016 and did lose some of this fitness but I was glad to have him as a guide to explore the convoluted trails up and down the various canyons cutting though Wildwood Park, along the Mount Clef Ridge (see map from the Conejo Open Space Foundation).

Overall, only 13 miles in 2 hours, not counting many picture stops, but some great hill and technical trail training which will be useful in a few months in the Alps!

In addition to the amazing views of the surrounding valleys and the Santa Monica mountains, here are the main highlights of this park.

With such a name, Paradise Fall has to come to the top. Nice flowing after this week's rain in particular.

Then Lizard Rock which you reach on steep switchbacks which reminded me those of the climb to Mission Peak at the beginning of Ohlone 50K.

Panoramic view from under the Lizard Rock:
 View from the top of Lizard Rock
 The water treatment plant
 Fred summiting Lizard Rock

We climbed to the topic of Mount Clef Ridge, crossing landscapes which have been used by Hollywood in many movies, and westerns in particular.

On our way back, we passed by a sort of Tee Pee monument, probably in memory of the Chumash Native American tribe which lived here for 8,000 (yes, 80 centuries!) and as late as the 19th century when they got decimated by diseases brought by Europeans then Spanish settlements.

Because the trails are shared with mountain bikers and mountain biking is such a prevalent sport in this area, here is a cool idea for bikes to announce themselves, the Bike Bell Box!
By the way, from every ridge in this park, you can't miss that Thousand Oaks is home of Amgen, the largest independent biotech company ($21Bn revenue, ~19,700 employees).

I finished my run with an additional climb to the top and end of Lynnmere Trail at the Southern point of the Park, to find this cool sort of cairn, as a huge heart.

Indeed, what's not to love on these hilly trails with amazing views of mountains in every direction! Special thanks to ZeFreds for their hospitality and this opportunity to discover a new running paradise in California!

PS: I'm glad Frédérique gave me a heads-up that the trail were rocky and possibly muddy, otherwise, I would have only brought a pair of Brooks Launch. Instead, I took a pair of old Cascadias which I had not used for quite a few years. The model which included the pretty cool sole with the Western States 100-mile course and Scott Jurek's then course record of 15:36:27.

2017: I'm in! Big time...

As I alluded in previous posts, after several insane more-of-the-same years, I'm ready for some change in 2017. Not necessarily easing off yet, but getting off the main PAUSATF Grand Prix path which I've pretty much beaten for 10 years. 

  1. First, and this may not come as a scoop to most of you since the lottery results have been published in December, I got into Miwok! And it is a popular lottery so it is a big deal. At this point you must think though that this isn't anything new and, you are right, this will be my 11th participation but, since I dropped last year, this is the opportunity to complete a series of 10, albeit not consecutive. Also, when I put my name in the hat, the race wasn't supposed to be on the Grand Prix schedule, so it was a genuine foray outside of the GP path.
  2. Second, also public news, I entered Jon Olsen's Riverbank One Day Classic in February. And, yes, that would be another 24-hour day of running on the track for quite a few laps hopefully.
  3. Third, I must have been one of the first to register for Ohlone 50K right at 8am last Saturday morning. I missed the 2014 edition to attend Max's graduation at Yale so that will be my 10th participation as well, at this fetish event which I won 5 times!
  4. After procrastinating for a few weeks, I had to rush to get one of the very few remaining spots in the new 50K trail championships event which Singletrack is hosting in Auburn, the capital of ultra endurance, mid February (replacing the National Tamalpa had been hosting for several years in August). I will be far behind the super fast dudes like Max King or David Roche, but there is a separate M50-54 league to compete in...! ;-)
  5. Too busy at work, I missed the (gold) rush to get into Quicksilver 100K by a couple of hours but put my name on the wait list, hoping I'm high enough on to get in and do the May back2back2back for the 7th time since 2009 (I know, this looks like pussy compared to those adding the Silver State 50-mile and Ohlone 50K on the same weekend in May...).
  6. In the non ultra category, but just 26.2 miles, and those following me on Facebook had a hint back in September, I got into Boston!! This one wasn't too hard to get in with a 2:45 qualifying time, except that I got this mark while running the 50K Nationals in March and that race wasn't on the standard list of events recognized by Boston, hence the few additional weeks to get a confirmation. This confirmation actually arrived while I was still wondering what my foot injury was, and I wasn't in the mood to talk about it back then. Needless to say, I'm quite excited to get back to Boston. This will be my 5th, after running it in 2001, 2003, 2005 and the stormy 2007. Keeping the found memory of getting on the podium there in 2005 as Top 10 Master (time flies...).
  7. Last but really not least, and this is big, well for me anyway, I finally decided to get into... UTMB, the infamous Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. Yes, one of the toughest 100-miler out there, wish me not just luck, but a ton of mental and courage to tame the beast, as I know the difficulty of the course too well for having trained on it several times, including with Scott Jurek and the competitive Lafuma ultra racing team. This is really a scoop because the lottery is meant to happen this Sunday, January 15, but I qualified for an automatic entry thanks to my current ITRA ranking which is still above 750. One sure thing, phew!
    Which isn't small feat as they don't weigh in your age in the calculation. I must admit that I've never been excited by the size of the event, the likelihood of bad weather and, again, the difficulty of the course, but, especially given what happened in 2017, I figured out that I had better leveraging this 'international elite' status sooner rather than later.

I will likely add more races depending on form and work and travel schedule, but, hope you would agree, these 7 initial race entries already constitute quite an aggressive program, phew! Time to go work and... play hard!

Looking forward to seeing many of you at these events. And let's work at all staying healthy so we can not only toe these start lines in 2017, but the finish lines as well. Go big or go home as the song says...

Friday, January 13, 2017

Running in Dallas: downtown Trinity Skyline

It may appear like a misleading title knowing you can run miles away from downtown Dallas along the Trinity Sklyline.

But the point is that this amazing system of trails is accessible just a few blocks away from downtown. Now, that may be of interest only to visitors staying in hotels in downtown Dallas. Indeed, it is my impression that nobody really lives downtown, that all these skyscrapers are office buildings only. And I did confirm that with someone who has lived in the area for many years. In any event, you can get on The Trinity by taking Commerce Street and passing by a place with an appealing address, Riverfront Boulevard, but where you don't want to stay, a State of Texas detention center.
Once you are between the two levees, following the bike path or trail is pretty straightforward. Although it is actually not that straight as you can see on my Strava tracks. Indeed, if you stay on the large you still need to go around the several sewers discharging into the Trinity river.

In addition to the great views of the city's skyscrapers, the main points of interest are the various bridges you pass under, most notably the aerial and suspended Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge:

I like in particular the huge flags on each side of the viaduct which look like a border between Texas on one side and the United States. Pun intended given the current nasty arguments about building a wall with Mexico...

On the South side, here is another elegant bridge, also named after a Margaret, the Margaret McDermott Bridge which is set to open this year!

Not sure what's going with Margaret in Dallas but here is a cow also named Margaret!
Next to Lucy and a few other sculptures at the Tramell Crow Park (under the bridge of Sylvan Avenue):

By the way, as you can see on this picture, the bike path has Texan dimensions: it is wider than many side roads in France, two trucks can easily cross!

As for the bridge of Commerce Street, it exhibits a much heavier and basic design, with a lot of concrete which a few street artists have enhanced with their paintings.

I went on for 3.5 miles North of Commerce Street and it seems like the trail keeps going for a few more miles.

Again, pretty straightforward way to log some flat miles in if you are staying in one of the many hotels in downtown Dallas.

PS: at the end of my work meetings, I discovered these flocks of great-tailed grackles covering the trees and making so much noise, see this video:

Quite productive birds to cover the side walks with smelly guano...
Watch out when walking under these trees between dusk and dawn!