Wednesday, November 7, 2018

2019 Pacific Association MUT Grand Prix: good old + some very new stuff = more fun!

Disclaimer: this post is an open letter aimed at the current and potential participants of our Pacific Association MUT Grand Prix. But everyone is welcome to read to understand what this competition is about, although I then recommend reading my 2016 post about the Anatomy of an Ultra Grand Prix, before. Well, if you are dead serious about ultra and trail running...! ;-)

For the background and context of the MUT Grand Prix in general, and the yearly calendar in particular, I'll refer you to my post of last year: PAUSATF MUT Grand Prix 2018 Schedule unveiled: to the next 25 years!

However, I'll add this important preamble to the 2019 calendar: MUT stands for Mountain, Ultra and Trail running, three different sports, so it wasn't meant to be only about ultra running, be it on trails, roads or the track, although this has been the exclusivity of our MUT Grand Prix through its first quarter century. The scoop of this year is that we are introducing a few sub-ultra trail races in our series, counting on this to attract a new audience, which would in turn get exposure to ultra distances, for a win-win!

Now, and the reverse of what I did last year, let's cut to the chase, give you this 2019 schedule, then provide some editorial notes about it afterwards.

Ready, set, go 2019!
  1. One Day in Auburn 6-hour (first scoop, a new 6-hour event, on the track, and PA-exclusive registration; limited field due to the track format but RD open to work something out if capacity is quickly reached out; 6am-12pm on Sunday 1/13);
  2. Jed Smith 50K (the classic season opener to get you legs moving on a safe flat course);
  3. FOURmidable 50K (the 2019 50K Trail Nationals!);
  4. Way Too Cool 50K (the largest 50K trail race in North America and the largest Pacific Association contingent of trail runners in a single ultra race);
  5. American River 50M (another classic mixing road and trail and finishing in the mythical world capital of endurance, Auburn);
  6. Anguish to Angwin Half-marathon (the first sub-ultra trail race, in Napa Valley for a change!);
  7. Miwok 100K (a classic, popular and challenging one, 4 ITRA points, Western States qualifier, and 500-large field);
  8. Quicksilver 100K (another hot classic to tune up your training for the summer ultras, also with ITRA points and Western States qualification status);
  9. SilverState 50M (but not the 50K since we already have so many 50K trail races, including a few in the North East);
  10. Ohlone 50K (30+ years and another great heat training opportunity, guaranteed!);
  11. One more sub-ultra trail in the June-July time frame, date and location to be confirmed by end of November;
  12. Skyline 50K (one of the oldest trail 50K races in North America, if not the oldest, and a safe and fast course for rookies);
  13. Star City Half-marathon (another trail half, this one organized by Excelsior);
  14. Tamalpa Headlands 50K (ex National Championships course and 1/3 of the field was from the Pacific Association in 2017);
  15. Headlands Hundred 100M (making great use of the amazing views and hills of Marin Headlands);
  16. Dick Collins Firetrails 50M (the return of a super classic to honor another local ultra legend and initial role model in our ultra running community);
  17. Ruth Anderson 50M and 100K (but not the 50K as it was too many events for teams to score; our only 50M and 100K Road events; and a season conclusion to see teams competing for the last points of the year!).

Phew, right?! ;-)

Regarding the races which are hard to get in, specifically Quicksilver 100K which is likely to require cyber speed if online registration fills again in minutes, and Miwok 100K which has a competitive lottery (~1 pick for 2 applicants for 2018), here is a new arrangement we've negotiated with the RDs to allow for fairer team competition:
a. Every team who competed in the Pacific Association USATF MUT Grand Prix team competition in 2018 (team points) will be guaranteed enough entry spots for a total of 6 runners, enough to score two teams (Men, Women or Mixed).
b. Team runners should attempt to register for the race when registration opens on 11/8/2018 and, in any case, before the end of the fourth registration day (midnight Pacific time, on November 11, 2018).
c. If team runners are wait listed, then spots in the race will be reserved up to a total of 6 per team, including those who made the first cut off.
d. Since the intent is to allow each team to field a minimum of two scoring teams, as least one of the 6 guaranteed spots needs to be of a different sex than the others.
e. There is no opting out from a team for registered runners (we'll take the club they are affiliated to upon registration).
f. Eligible team runners must have active 2018 AND 2019 USATF membership (any membership started or renewed on or after November 1 counts against 2018 and runs through the end of 2019)
g. In case of team runner added from the waitlist (if less than 6 managed to get in initially), at least one has to be a woman if no woman was already registers before the online cut-off (respectively man if all other team entrants are women).
h. If 6 or more team members made it through the initial registration cut-off and are all of the same sex, the race director will add one more team member from the wait list, of the other sex (if any has registered by the deadline).
i. Picking from the wait list will be by order of online registration (entry submission time).
Let me draw your attention on the rule f: you'll need to be current with USATF by the time the potential extra slots will be drawn from the wait list. The good news is that any renewal after November 1, runs through the whole following year. So get your membership for 2019 now!
Visit: ($30 for 1 year, or $100 for 4 years)

Comments on this calendar:
  1. Yes, it's a lot in one year but...
    1. It's not as much as we used to have a few years ago when we were over 20 races;
    2. You can look at this as two series into one (Ultra running, and sub-ultra Trail running),
    3. 47% of the 75 participants to the survey last year were supportive of more races, versus 38% wanting less,
    4. The Road Grand Prix has 15 events (short and long), we have 17, but we cover much more running variety (distances from half marathon to 100 miles, terrain ranging from trail to road to track, flat or hilly profiles).
  2. More races mean more opportunities to score, both individually and teams;
  3. We are hoping the addition of sub-ultra trails appeals not only to a new audience but also to those who cannot run all the longest distances;
  4. We are also offering a broad geography coverage between South Bay, East Bay, Marin County, Napa Valley, Sacramento, Auburn, and up to Reno;
  5. More options for having fun overall, while pushing the envelope and having a sane emulation among Pacific Association members!
With regard to the rules, we will amend then slightly mainly to:
  1. Include 6 and 12-hour events (only 24-hours were eligible so far)
  2. Simplify the scoring with three categories:
    1. Factor 1.0 for all distances < 75 km (and 6-hour timed events);
    2. Factor 1.5 for distances between 75 km and 125 km (and 12-hour timed events);
    3. Factor 2.0 for all distances > 125 km (and 24-hour timed events).
Updates will be made available before the end of the year (2018).

If you have questions, best forum is the Facebook group "PA Mountain Ultra Trail GP (Pacific Association Grand Prix)". If you are not on Facebook, you can leave a comment on this post.

With that, hoping you have a great 2019 season with our Pacific Association and that you will consider including many of these races in your running plans for next year. Let's also thank all these Race Directors who devote their time and energy to bring us such an amazing series of races in our North California backyard! And a toast to your successful competition in this 27th MUT Grand Prix then!

Friday, October 26, 2018

Changan Ford 100K: 2 minutes too fast!

What a bizarre title, which runner would complain of being 2 minutes too fast... Well, read on!

I felt so prepared after an intense training through September (Will 7 50Ks do?), I had a big goal and dream for today and that included starting with a slow 3:45 first 50K.

Conditions could not have been better: an amazing organization, a small but super competitive and international field, a rolling course and, best of all, not the forecasted rain but a bright sun and blue skies, which allowed the course to quickly dry up from the night drizzling.

The race starting at 9 am, we had plenty of time to sleep in. I went to bed at 9 pm and had a good sleep until 3 am, but unable to get back to it afterwards. A few hours on the computer and plenty of time to get ready for the 6:45 am shuttle to the start then (we actually left at 7 and it took us about 45 minutes to teach the start). The early morning was still quite misty.
With my A018 bib, I had the honors to be in the first shuttle, with several outstanding runners from Europe (looks like we are going to work, doesn't it? ;-).

One of them, Jan, whom I met yesterday (see race preview post), mentioned the record holder of a famous ultra in Scotland, then introduced me to Giorgio Calcaterra. Giorgio is the most accomplished 100K Road runner with 3 World titles, 1 silver and 1 bronze (see his Wikipedia page). And a personal best of 6:23 at 40! At 46 he had no precise goal, at least not one he’d share with me at the start. I asked him what was his job, well, it’s running! (He has a running shop in Italy but spends most of his time training.)
Upon getting off the bus, we were welcomed by some Chinese dances and drums, in front of the massive Xianning Government building.

And a short video:
With one hour to kill, the lack of rain was particularly welcomed this morning. And, at 9 sharp, off we were on the central avenue of Xianning.

As expected with a combined event with 50K and 100K races, it was a fast start, likely under 6:30 min/mile. My plan was not to run any mile under 7 min/mile, actually aiming at average 7:10 miles for the first half, but, as usual, I had issues slowing down that much with the excitement. Even quickly losing sight of the front runners wasn’t enough to stick to my plan, I was still too fast. To add to the challenge of a smooth pacing the course was mostly rolling with long sections of gradual uphills or downhills with an elevation ranging from 60 to 180 feet. Nothing hilly per se, yet, my Garmin gave 2,700 feet of cumulative elevation for the first 50 kilometers, we need to reassess what flat means... ;-) Long story short, by the 25th kilometer, where I had a GU2O bottle waiting for me as a refill, I was already 4 minutes ahead of plan, not so good.

I could still hold 7 min/mile pretty easily if it wasn’t for some chaffing which started as soon as 10K, and quite some disappointment or frustration when I found out that, despite having a medical tent every 5K (that’s a lot!!), none had Vaseline, duh! Thankfully, I had some left over on me, that helped, but that got me worried about the rest of the race, especially with all the sweating as temperature kept rising.

Some excitement kicked again when we got on the 25K loop we had to run 3 times. And more rolling asphalt, now in the mid-day heat. The legs started to feel tired in the uphills section and my pace slowed down significantly, sometimes hitting 8 min/mile. I passed the marathon distance in about 3:02 but, struggling in the last 5K of that first loop, I started making plans for dropping at 50K. Such bad thoughts and so long for my dream of a PR and American Age Group record for 100K....

At 48K I crossed Giorgio who looked super smooth and moving fast. Then Jan wasn’t too far behind, maybe a kilometer (remember from yesterday's post that Jan is 60!). As I approached the 50K mat, I saw 2 100K runners who had dropped and I told them: “oh my, this looks way too tempting!” I passed the mat in 3:43 then got my 2nd GU2O bottle, asked for a chair, a sponge with ice water, and let 4 minutes pass before deciding that I would not meet my goal today and it wasn’t worth several if not many miles of walking.

Here is how these first 50K look from above, thanks to's 3D flyover (click on this link or the image below).

Upon getting back to my room for a good shower, I discovered a big blister under my left foot: unforgiving asphalt! And frustrating beginner mistake, I should have carried more Vaseline on me, if I had imagined there wouldn’t be any at the medical stations...

I was also disappointed that there weren’t any Coke at the stations, I would have welcomed a few cups. I actually thought it was on the list of aid station supplies but, reading the instructions again tonight, it wasn’t (but I did see the advertised cucumber! ;-).

Again, apart from that, the organization was impeccable. I was blown away by the number of SWAT/policemen along the course, so many volunteers too and in some long sections, road dividers every 10 meters or so.
The asphalt was super clean and in pristine conditions. And the TV coverage was impressive, with half a dozen of motorcycles and even a helicopter!

I’m sure the organizers are on track for getting a World championship soon!

Back to the title, I'm cheating a bit: 2 minutes too fast at 50K might have been OK. The real problem is that, especially in such a heat and on a rolling course, I shouldn't have been up to 5 minutes ahead of schedule at 30K, that wasn't reasonable and sustainable. And, yes, when you have such a big goal, going too fast by a mere minute has consequences, and even more so for a few minutes...

After my shower, I went to the side of the course which conveniently circumvent the resort we are staying at, and took a bunch of pictures while writing this race report. It was inspiring to see the lead runners, 11K from their finish, as well as many other runners still having 37K to cover, and I was thinking of the struggle I avoided myself... I took many pictures but Picasa wouldn't let me upload in Google Photos tonight, that might have to wait until I'm back to California on Sunday (100K runners, I'll add a link as soon as I can). Here is the photo album (please grab your picture if interested, I may not maintain this album for ever).

Two short videos of the lead man and woman at 89K, respectively Tatsuya Itagaki from Japan and Radka Churanova from the Czech Republic:

Seeing that even Giorgio struggled to get on the podium (he was in 6th with 11K to go, yet all smiles), and Jan dropped after running the first 50K in 3:29 then walking some until 75K, made me realize it was indeed not the perfect conditions after all.
Although I tend to do well in the heat, I was certainly not mentally prepared for it today. Excuses, excuses...

14th DNF in 160 ultra races over the past 12 years, and I'm still learning... Of course, I'm super disappointed for failing again, especially as that was my last attempt at this distance while in the M50-54 age group and I felt as prepared as I could be given my other crazy busy lives. Was I too well prepared and tired from it? Yet, I'm thrilled to have lived quite a unique experience again, being part of such an international event, thank you for the invitation, Changan Ford Automobile and Ms. Tao from Kiren Sports! Time to get back to the paying job and see what 2019 brings with an age group change!

*** Next day addition. A few additional encounters and pictures before leaving Xianning on Saturday morning.

Samuel Trudel, who represented Canada at this year's 100K World Championships in Croatia. Like me, Samuel was shooting for a time around 7:30 and was on pace for 3/4 of the race before suffering from a heat stroke at 75 kilometer. Another victim of the heat and rolling course, and DNF... :-(
And with the super organizer, Ms. Tao!

PS: bonus pictures from the nice shore of Futou Lake, near our resort.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Changan Ford 100K preview: I've been containerized!

While most of you are working your first job, this week is all about my second job for me. Well, not spending the whole week running as a matter of fact, because it already took me 2 days to get here in Xianning, and I'll spend Sunday flying back to California.

Tomorrow, Friday, is the big race, the 100K for me (there is also a 50K, and a 5K). We start at 9 am, 15 hours ahead of Pacific time. Weather forecast has some cloudy skies, potential rain showers and temperatures between 15 and 22C. I went to run 10K on the course today and it is quite humid, good sweat ahead!

Now, to address the enigma of the title, this isn't about the Kubernetes or Docker of my first job, but look at the shell of my bedroom, that's a real container!!

And it's really comfortable inside, the full comfort and equipment of a hotel room!

It's so cool, the whole resort concept is called SweetBox!
Even more interesting and playful at night!

An aerial view of the Honeymoon Bay Resort (not from me, but a picture in the lobby).
Now, we are here to race (work, right?! ;-), and that's quite an international and competitive crowd the organizers have assembled (serious 1.5-hour briefing during which we went through all the rules of this IAU Bronze-certified competition, both in English and Chinese).

I'm actually the only one from the US. In addition to 36 men and 6 women from China, the rest of the field is composed of 39 men and 20 women from 19  other countries: Japan, Italy, Latvia, the UK, Netherlands, Australia, Czechoslovakia, Spain, Ukraine, Canada, Korea, Mongolia, New Zealand, Hungry, Lithuania, Argentina, Australia, Sweden and the US.
Here I am with a legend Veteran, Jan Albert Lantink, from the Netherlands. After setting a world record for M55 2 years ago with a blazing 7:07, he set the new world best for M60 at 7:29 earlier this year and is here to improve that, wow!
Check Jan's own website.

I wasn't sure which food I'd find at the resort so brought way too much (and that got me a full check of my luggage, not by TSA but the Chinese security personnel during my connection in Beijing). Not the perfect buffet for someone on OFM/Keto, but still a few reasonable options to avoid carbs.

It was great that my flight landed 25 minutes ahead of schedule as that allowed me to catch the last shuttle at 10 pm last night, for the 1hr40 trip between Wuhan international airport and Xianning.

While waiting for the shuttle, a group of volunteers bombarded me with questions to practice their english; teenagers are really into learning english now, what a change!
More news tomorrow, time to go to bed and see what some jet lag let me to sleep tonight... I think I'm all set!
Thanks for reading, and have a good rest of your week, work hard too! :-)

PS: bonus track, the 10K I ran this morning to get the legs moving on tomorrow's course (a super wide and smooth asphalt, which many workers were washing today to make sure it's immaculate tomorrow!). And, yes, works even in China! (Click on picture, or this link.)

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Running in Nashville: Cumberland riverfronts

Not, it's not a typo, I really mean the plural of riverfront. Well, it's trivial that every river has two fronts or they would be lake or sea ocean... And Nashville isn't the only city to have built a running and bike path on each side of their crossing river. I can think of Austin for instance (although I highlighted another nearby trail 5 years ago), Dallas' Trinity Skyline, a few major European capitals to a certain extent (e.g. Paris, London) and, more recently for me this past June, Krakow and it's Vistula River. This may be a book idea, a guide to running on both banks of cities by a river! ;-)

I had to book my trip to Nashville in a hurry, when most hotels downtown were either already sold out or with prices way too high for an IBMer. With that, I stayed in different locations including one night closer to downtown, in Vanderbilt, 1.5 miles from downtown and the Cumberland River.
After my great run near the airport on Tuesday morning, I went for 10 miles on Wednesday night and 7 miles before early calls on Thursday morning, to explore these riverfronts. And I came back with a mixed report. If you are looking for just a few miles, then Nashville has what you are looking for! For us ultra runners, our hopes are short lived, in every direction I tried, and I have been pretty exhaustive:

  1. Northbound left bank: you hit the end of the trail before Jefferson Street, about 1.3 miles from Broadway.
  2. Southbound left bank: I found a way to log 1.4 miles without much road crossing, but, at least in the dark, couldn't find something runnable after route 24.
  3. Northbound right bank: nice concrete trail along the massive Nissan stadium (football that it, you know, the one they play with the hands ;-), but the trail ends at the limit of the parking lot, so just 0.3 miles worth.
  4. Southbound right bank is even worse. Although, looking at Google Maps more closely, I believe you could go on Davidson street for 2 or 3 miles then get back on trails at Shelby Park and Shelby Bottoms. But that's a stretched urban connection to call this riverfront running.
Anyway, if you are for a long run, you may have to go back and forth or loops leveraging the 1-kilometer long John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge and very large sidewalk of the Korean Veterans Boulevard / Ridgeway bridge.

All in all, not the most outstanding riverfront from a (long) running standpoint, you've been warned! Or leave a comment to prove me wrong in case I missed something while running in the dark yesterday evening! ;-)

Still, always great to run a few miles outdoor, especially in this perfect weather this week, and a spectacular sky at sunrise this morning!

With that, a series of pictures for a virtual visit of this side of Music City, realizing millions of visitors don't come to Nashville to run, but enjoy the musical gems. And drink. Seriously that is.

Nashville's nigh life headquarters (Broadway and 2nd/3rd streets)
 Cool diagonal crossing like in Tokyo:
 And ugly train and its terminus station right on the waterfront:
 Profile of the ATT building
 Cumberland riverfront:
 Views of the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge:

 Views of the Gateway bridge:

 The Nissan stadium:
 Back on Broadway:
 The other side of the iconic AT&T Batman Building (it even has a Wikipedia page!):
 Customs House:

 Frist Art Museum (Agn├Ęs would have love these exhibits):

 The classy Union Station...
 ... one floor over the train track:
And this quick tour wouldn't be complete without some reference to Country and Bluegrass music!
 The brand new Music City Center,
 and it's tribute to Song Writers (Hall of Fame):
 And the super popular Grand Ole Opry House which we had for ourselves tonight!