Sunday, December 30, 2007

2007 in review: by the numbers

Here we are, at the end of 2007, and already training for the 2008 season. Not much time for a break. Not much time to reflect on what happened in 2007, but let's do it!

Our annual family letter, Le Cupertino, contains a few stories, in addition to the 40 articles I posted since I started my blog back in March. And the stories are not all about running, as our family has many other activities! Moreover it is in French, so many of you won't appreciate the text, but you can still look at the pictures!

In this post, I'm looking back at 2007 through some numbers. Unlike Graham Cooper who shared with me in his interview he was not keeping a log of his cross-training sessions (run, bike, swim), I've maintained a log file very consistently since 1996.
A detailed Excel spreadsheet which makes the training work more tangible to me. 1,620 records/lines for the runs, plus a few records for cross-training (mostly stationary bike when injured), plus charts and dashboards. So, let's look at some numbers and statistics:
  1. Distance: ran 2,277 miles (3,664 km), that is 12% less than the 2,600 miles of last year.
  2. Time running: 340 hours running, or 9:15 hours more than last year.
  3. Number of runs: 164 versus 225 last year. This one surprised me, that means a bit less than one run every other day in average.
  4. Number of races: 18 versus 19 last year.
  5. Number of ultras: 11 versus 5 last year.
  6. Number of injuries: 3 (hypothetical stress fracture at the 2nd metatarsal in January, shin splints in October, calf contracture in November) versus none last year.
  7. Shoes: since I started this log I've used 25 pairs including 15 from Brooks. My top and preferred model is still the Trance (from Brooks), with a pair which I just retired after 1,575 miles. My second preferred model is the Burn (still from Brooks), not for the trails though. I've three pairs of Burn which have logged more than 1,000 miles on road (one up to 1,320). For more on Brooks shoes, you can read a recent article from Scott Jurek on his blog. And, more humbly, my post on the 10,000 miles I've run in Brooks shoes (and that makes 11,600 miles now).
  8. DNF (Did Not Finish): still 0, and not counting...! And it's not that I didn't take some risks like lining up at the Saintélyon in December despite the calf injury. The other race I'm proud of finishing was Miwok, despite the asthma. But how could I have dropped with such a great support and patience from my pacer Rob (Evans)!
  9. DNS (Did Not Start): 2 (San Francisco Half in February, and Run Wild 10K, where Agnès enjoyed my bib)
  10. Entry fees: $1,080. And that's not counting travel, lodging, shoes, accessories and apparel. Hmm, is running really free like many people think? Well, maybe not if you race at least... And despite the increasing support of sponsors. Of course, some of these fees go to charities, which is great. And you also get some t-shirts, shorts, awards, prizes, food and drinks and so much valuable support from non paid volunteers, plus the access to incredible places and parks. Which is why we, runners, have this feeling of receiving much more than what we are giving!
  11. Elevation: I don't log elevation for each run, for the simple reason that the information wasn't much available when I started back in 1996. Now, thanks to the Garmin (Forerunner 201 and 205), I do have more information on this in SportTracks. For instance, during July, my most busy month with a total of 323 miles (520 km), my Garmin logged +48,442/-49,265 feet of elevation, that is +14,765/-15,016 m. Definitely not something I was familiar with when training for (flat) road marathons!
Overall, by the numbers, it hasn't been a pure "Farther Faster" year since I've logged less miles, yet spent more time on roads and trails. However, this year has really been focused on ultra after I had run my first two 50-milers in the Fall of last year. And you cannot expect to go as fast on hilly and tricky trails... Plus, it's hard to relate on the intensity of the runs in a log. But I definitely went farther with my first 100K (Miwok) followed by my first 100-miler (Western States). And I went faster on some courses, improving my 10K PR by 4 seconds (33:57), slashing my times on 50K (Ohlone, Skyline) and 50 miles (Helen Klein). Last but not least, I won my age group in the Pacific Association USA Track & Field ultra Grand Prix. Which gives me the right to play again, hopefully not running too many ultras in one season (in addition to the ones during the Coastal Challenge week).

The picture would then be perfect, but for the injuries. Nothing serious compared to some others, yet making me appreciate how superior some elites are who don't seem to have any limit in the effort they can put in races and hard work in training. There is no limit in ultra, in how much farther and faster you want to go, yet you have to get your body and mind to cooperate... And I do believe everyone has a unique physiology and thus a physical limit to work on. And work with.

With that, good luck to all for a healthy and enjoyable 2008 on the trails!

Farther and faster if you can...

PS: speaking of numbers, see below my Western States bib, 99, a number which I found interesting at the time. Before Sophia Lewis told me it brought her luck, with her 3rd F40-49 place in 2003. 4th M40-49 for me in 2007, close enough!
Photo credit, permission and Copyright: Glenn Tachiyama, a great contributor to our sport through photography. From his Dusty Corner's series, June 2007.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Royal Gorge: cross-country skiing and cross-training

Last weekend we made a last minute plan to visit one resort we had discovered last winter, Royal Gorge. This is the paradise for cross-country skiing, just look at the features listed on the home page:
  • More than 9000 acres of skiing terrain
  • An annual snowfall exceeding 600 inches
  • The largest groomed track system in North America (308km)
  • Ninety impressive trails
  • Four user-friendly surface lifts
  • Two overnight lodges: Rainbow and Ice Lakes Lodge
  • A spacious day lodge with first class facilities
  • The world's largest cross country grooming fleet
  • Fifteen kilometers of snow making
  • Eight rejuvenating warming huts
  • Four refreshing trailside cafes
  • Several stimulating Inn to Inn trails
  • A base elevation of 7000 feet
And all this is real, we can testify! I would even add that the resort is so large, and this sport still not too popular, so you see very few people on the trails. Something which resembles the ultra and trail running, doesn't it? No crowd, no waiting in line, perfect rental equipment, easy parking. And even free hot tea in the convenient warming hut on the trails! Agnès, the boys and I really like this way to enjoy the snow and the mountains, away from the crowded downhill ski resorts.
Another great feature of Royal Gorge is its location: the first ski resort on highway 80, after Auburn (yes, the Western States finish and the Endurance Capital of the World!). Just two miles off Hwy 80, this is really convenient and make the trip up there much shorter than to other Lake Tahoe locations (3h30 with last weekend's surprisingly light traffic).
Cross as in... cross-country skiing and cross-training of course. I had taken a two-week break to mark the end of the 2007 season and it felt good to get back to some exercise. Agnès, Alex and Greg where striding, and I was skating (while Max is away, touring China for 12 days with one of his friends). I'm not a good skater so it makes me work harder on the legs and arms. Although I was surprised not to get sored muscles on Monday actually.
I must admit however that we did stop to all the warming huts, per Greg's request, so we didn't push the envelope too much.
The real come back to training occurred on Christmas Day, Tuesday, with 2 PG&E loops at Rancho San Antonio, in respectively 1:16 and 1:15. Could barely walk on Wednesday with sored muscles and a nasty inflammation of the MCL (Medial Collateral Ligament), on the inside of my left knee. The good thing about injury is that they make you learn about anatomy and discover the many wonders of the body. But that's the only positive thing I find in them because I don't like neither the pain or the obligation to decrease the intensity of the training or having to take a break...
The park was so crowded on this Holiday, mostly with walkers and hikers. Was a pleasure to see and catch-up with Lee and Winnie Jebian on my fir climb of PG&E, then, at the end of the run, Michael Kanning, our local 15-year old ultra star! Michael was running with his aunt and uncle, getting ready for the Bandera 100K in Texas next weekend (1/7/08). Just before getting back to school...

Back to the new injury, as any inflammation, it's bothering more when resting (cold) than running (warmed up), but not preventing from running, although it's probably not helping healing... I ran 6 easy miles on Thursday, 5 faster ones on Friday and a long and tough marathon this morning: from home to Stevens Creek Park for our weekly Stevens Creek Striders Club reunion, then up to Black Mountain through Stevens Creek Canyon Road and Trail, the Monte Bello Open Space Preserve and back through Rancho San Antonio's Rogue Valley. I had not planned for such a long run and had taken only one bottle of GU2O and two GU gels. It wasn't enough fuel and, back at Rancho's parking lots, I called Agnès for a pickup. That makes 55 miles over 5 days, pushing to get as much quality training in before the Coastal Challenge.

Last but not least for the local news, we are still missing the rain here. We had a few rainy days and showers, enough to give this wonderful fresh snow at Royal Gorge. And enough for some mud this morning, but the reservoirs are so low, we need much more than that! I know, readers in Europe must find weird that we are looking for bad weather. But water is essential to the balance of the Valley, and not just here actually.

That's all for this week, getting ready to wrap the year up, with Max flying back tomorrow!

Farther Faster, with great family time over the Holidays.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Coastal Challenge route is out!

Agreed, that may not be relevant to most of you, only 70 participants will enter this event. But that won't be my last post on the Coastal Challenge, sorry, so I hope you bear with me. And follow me during this 6-day raid at the end of January.
Anyway, just received the big news today, a preview of this year's course. The organizers have posted several Google Earth screen shots to introduce the 6 stages.
We will start in the Alajuela province, North of San Jose, the capital. And go across the entire Guanacaste province, to end up close to Nicaragua, in the North West extremity of Costa Rica. More questions on Costa Rica's geography? Just ask the CIA (no kidding!).

Based on the screen shots, I created my own place marks in Google Earth. Here is an overview of the journey through Costa Rica (click on the map. Also, using "guess" in the labels I mean that is the approximate location I got from the pictures on the TCC website).
Stage #5 seems very long but it is actually split into two parts, with a bus transfer planned in the middle. Not sure how the timing will work, or how the legs will react to such a pause between two long runs. Racing every day will be already new for me, but two runs the same day, that will be another new experience.

As for the 6th stage, it ends at a resort on a beach, I bet we will all very much look forward to it! Keeping enough juice to swim in the Pacific Ocean... There is one picture from the beach posted on Google Earth (credit: mvillani), seems gorgeous!
Sorry for the ones who can't attend this year. I promise I'll post pictures... To make you dream... Farther and Faster...

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The French Connection: views over Silicon Valley

I often wonder who reads my blog. Recently I started using StatCounter and found out that many of you stop by, from all over the world, without leaving a comment. Anonymously. Which is the beauty of the asynchronous and open model of the world wide web.

Last week I was exchanging some emails with Phil, the editor of UltraFondus, a wonderful magazine on ultra running, in French. And Phil introduced me to one of his friends, Vincent Toumazou, who was trying to reach me to see if we could meet this weekend. Vincent was coming again in California to attend the AGU Fall meeting, which has been hold for 40 years in San Francisco and gathering 15,000 geophysicists from around the globe! I saw quite a few of them on the plane on my way back from Europe last Saturday. Reading and annotating scientific publications, preparing slides, quite an unusual studious ambiance on a flight to Silicon Valley. Per their website: "AGU is a worldwide scientific community that advances, through unselfish cooperation in research, the understanding of Earth and space for the benefit of humanity." Right on for my interest in sustainability!

As a matter of fact, I had read Vincent's account of the Cannonball ultra race a few days before we connected. And Vincent knew everything about my 2007 season from my blog. Vincent has his own website too but composed of static pages, not a blog, so more maintenance work to keep it up to date. The usual saying is "small world" but I prefer the expression "connected world" to describe these coincidences and unforeseen connections.

We were both flying from France to San Francisco on Saturday (December 8), although on two different itineraries. I emailed Vincent instructions to get on the train, picked him up at the Mountain View station on Sunday morning and 2o' later we were set to go for a run in Rancho San Antonio Park.
We decided to take it easy as Vincent was still recovering from a 24-hour event (where he ran 200 km!), and I am recovering from last week's Saintélyon, and officially in an inter-season break (shh!). Well, looking for some sun and heat in this clear and cool morning, we ended up at the top of Black Mountain, while talking all the way (something I'm not used to) and stopping for some stunning views over the Bay. Up North to San Francisco (see below, over the Palo Alto and Standfor hills), Mount Tamalpais and beyond.
Mount Diablo and Hamilton on the East side, and the Pacific Ocean on the West side.
I rarely saw that far in every directions, Vincent is quite lucky.

We climbed to Black Mountain via Chamise Trail, through Rogue Valley. On the way back we used the shortcut getting us back on the Upper Meadow trail, then the Wildcat Loop down to the Farm and the parking lot (see the map). For a total of 14.8 miles (~24 km), 2,500 vertical feet (~760 m) and amazing views, perfect for this guided tour of trail running in Silicon Valley.
Shower and lunch at home, captivating discussions about our passions and projects, and it was time for Vincent to head up North to meet with his colleagues at the AGU symposium in San Francisco.

Let me know if you are interested for such a tour when visiting the Bay Area!

Au revoir!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Saintélyon 2007: cold and tough, but back on trail!

4 weeks without running, such a long time off the trails. So much time wondering about how to best heal after the Helen Klein Classic, while maintaining my shape for this last race. I know I'm too impatient when it comes to injury healing. It's just tough to miss one of my passions...
This could have been my 3rd DNS (Did Not Start) of the year after missing the San Francisco half marathon in February, for what I thought to be a metatarsal stress fracture, and last week's Run Wild 10K. Apart from my running buddy Bob who knows only I could make the right decision, nobody was comfortable with me getting in this last race of my 2007 season. Even I wasn't, thinking lining up was the best recipe for disaster and for my potential first DNF (Did Not Finish). Yet I wanted to see what my calf was up to after 4 weeks of rest, plus it was tough to miss such an opportunity to finally run my first ultra in France.

I was in Paris for business anyway, and had all the logistics setup to visit my good friends in Lyons this weekend, the Gallots, and my godson, Matthieu. At least I would use my TGV tickets and spend the weekend with them even if I was not taking the start. It was also an opportunity to meet again with Karine (Herry) and her husband and coach, Bruno (Tomozyk), after meeting at Western States in June then during our training week on the UTMB (Ultra Trail of Mont Blanc) course in July. Karine was invited by race management with the whole VIP package. But, like me, Karine wasn't much excited about this season closing race because she has also had a calf issue for the past two weeks, a contracture, something new for her after 10 years of running. She had just terminated a mesotherapy treatment with the last injection on Thursday.

Before leaving for Lyons on Saturday, I went for a jog in Paris on Friday night to test the calf. 10 easy kilometers (6 miles) in 54', on my favorite Parisian course along Parc Montsouris, down the street where my parents live. Could still feel the calf pain from time to time, so I was still wondering about running the next day when I got to bed, past midnight. For this race starting at midnight, the jet lag played well here, getting more than 11 hours of sleep and waking up at noon. Caught the 3pm TGV and arrived at 5pm in Lyons for some quiet time with Fred and the boys. Back to the train station by 8pm to get on the commuting train which arrived at 9:12 in Saint Etienne, fully loaded with runners. Perfect timing to get the bib before 10pm. From 11 I was waiting for Karine and Bruno but they only shown up 15' before the start, Karine enjoying some last minute sleep in her 5-star hotel room. We sneaked in the first rows behind the starting line, with the head of the 4,400-runner pack much covered by the regional medias. We listened to U2's "Light up my way", a perfect introduction to this night run and last invite to check our headlights. And here off we were, for a rolling course (distance scale in km, to be divided by 1.6 for miles, and altitude in meters, to be multiplied by 3 to get feet).
I ran the first 500m with Karine and picked a slightly faster pace in the hills as we were going through the suburbs of Saint Etienne. Before the race I had applied some heating ointment on the calf, before strapping it. After km3, I felt a violent burning all around the leg and thought that was some sort of allergy or reaction between the ointment and the latex. The burning was painful although it brought some sort of re comforting heat in such cold temperatures (36F at the start and going down to 32F during the night). Thankfully the burning stopped after 3-4 kilometers and I was then wondering which skin damage I will find when unstrapping after the race.

I was pleased to see Bruno and get some of his encouragements at the first aid station by mile 10. Needless to say, there was almost nobody on the course to cheer us up in the middle of such a cold night and on such a remote course. Following one of the ultra running 101 rules, I decided not to try anything new today. Given the food served is really different in France from the one we have in the US, that meant I had to rely more on my own supplies such as GU2O and GU. Also that I won't try to drink the hot tea, and was left with only cold water when my body had surely enough intake of cold air and fluids. Some Coke was served which I used, as well as dark chocolate tablets and bananas. The rest was mostly dried fruits (raisins, apricots, plums) and gingerbread. No potatoes, no chips, no gel, no energy bars. I thanked and cheered the volunteers, telling them I came all the way from California and they said: "at least one who is nice with us!" As I was asking if the others had really been mean to them, they admitted that it wasn't the case, but few were expressing much recognition...

We had 4 kilometers before passing the highest point of the course at 2,500ft. But the altitude isn't what makes this race tough, it's the constant switch from down to uphills, adding up to 4,000 of vertical gain, and forcing to always restart the engine. That's one reason knowing the course well can really help. Anyway, from km25 I started feeling the feared calf pain on the uphills and thought that was quite early in the race and night. I decided to ease up a bit and walk from to time, yet keeping a close look at the average pace and keeping it below 6mn/km, or 10km/h by maintaining a good pace in the downhills.

In addition to the slope, the difficulty quickly came with quite some mud making some of the trails very slippery, and getting our shoes wet. The abundant mud was the results of bad weather and rain over the past weeks, not something I'm familiar with given our lack of rain so far in North California. But at least it wasn't raining tonight. We could actually see the rising moon and some stars, between the clouds. As for the mud, I first heard about it on the train for Saint Etienne, from local runners experience with this race and course, way too late to reconsider my selection of shoes. I had brought a pair of Brooks Trance from the US. Not the best in the mud but a reasonable choice and great cushioning to preserve my calf from the pounding of 20 miles of asphalt.

The rest of the race was about the same: more downhills and uphills, freezing temperatures, pain, almost no spectators in the middle of the night, passing some runners and getting passed by others, great volunteers at the aid station, and the joy of seeing Bruno from time to time, 6 times in total if I recall. 2/3rd in the race he told me Karine was not in top shape, about 6 minutes behind me, and kidding me about the fact she was getting back on me.

Bruno was at the aid station at the bottom of the last hill of the course at Sainte Foix lès Lyon and give me helpful encouragements for this tough 1.5-mile stretch, and 8 miles to go. An interesting part, with the slope being very hard first and getting slightly easier, yet it was challenging to resume running that far in the race. I was running great in the subsequent last downhill, where some had obviously issues with their quads. Lyons was still sleeping at 6am, in a humid fog and the street empty as I reached the river for the last 7 kilometers. Glad to get to the finish line where the speaker announced my name and was welcomed by Matthieu. I waited for Karine to come in as I was expecting her to close the short gap Bruno had told me about. She came in 8 minutes later, to place 4th woman and 2nd in her age group. Such a great performance for a champion with an injury! A picture of Karine and I taken by Matthieu, at the finish line:
As for me, a finish time of 6:44:52, good enough for a "Silver Saintélyon" award (to be self-printed on the web). 170th overall, 63rd in the M40-49 age group. Not too bad with the injury, but rankings showing how much more competitive ultra is in France compared to the US.

In addition to my own personal experience related here, this race was the opportunity to confirm some of my findings about ultra running in France. For the interest of time I'll do another post on this topic, to compare the French and American approach to it and their own development.

See you on the web later, in a week or so, farther and faster...

Monday, November 26, 2007

Run Wild: from the bench...

Quite a different perspective to attend a race from the bench, as I save my calf before next week's Saintélyon after pulling a muscle at Helen Klein Classic 50-mile. Interestingly enough, this is the second time I go to this great race in San Francisco, but not run. Last year, I was accompanying Max and several of his cross-country buddies for their first 10K. It was the day after my great 5th place at Quad Dipsea in 2006 and walking was enough exercise for my legs then.

So my turn to play the coach, the photographer and cloakroom for the rest of the family, a chore which usually falls on Agnès shoulders. So much duties that I missed most of the pictures this time, because of the low light... This year the whole family entered the event, Agnès taking my bib. Agnès' hip hasn't been bothering her for about a year now, since she was diagnosed with arthritis. She and I are enjoying every moment of this remission and know that th mechanical problem hasn't disappeared though and will require some surgery at some point. But later rather than sooner...

The Pommiers' clan was joined by only one member of the Tino cross-country team this year: Dennis, whom we picked up at 7am before driving up to the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. The weather was over-casted and chilly.

Greg was the first to finish his race on his favorite distance, 5K, in 28 minutes flat, not his PR. But it wasn't easy to manage a run in a 3,000-runner field, sharing the same start and part of the course on 5 and 10K and with miles more or less marked from what I heard.

Max completed the 10K course in 38:59, a few more seconds than his first 10K last year on this course. Despite finishing 26th overall, he only placed 8th in a very competitive M14-19 age group in which the first, Andrew Deck, took second overall in 35:38 and the second, Mathew Humphreys-Marti took third overall in 36:07. At least Max has several years before him to improve in this age category, and I'm proud that he is so up to the challenge.
Dennis, another member of Tino's cross-country varsity team, finished in 43:02, shortly followed by Alex, finishing his first 10K in 43:43.
As he is turning 14 on Christmas Day, Alex was hoping to place in his M6-13 age group which he surely did, placing first and getting a medal. Such a reward after a great cross-country season and so many efforts to work despite some foot problems and injuries. We are proud of our new "Pommier champion!" As our friends tease us, we must have some Kenyan blood from several generations back...

In this crowd, likely to reach 5,000 with the runners crews, the sponsors, the volunteers, I missed Agnès' finish on the 10K. In good shape and excited to be back on a race, Nordic walking, Agnès decided to switch from 5K to 10K. Which she covered in 1h21, with more than 100 runners and walkers behind her. But the goal was not the time, just to enjoy a family running event as she was before her hip problems.
The boys noted that, in addition to the costume parade, that was the best running post race expo and goodies they ever saw, and really enjoyed this part as well. With my interest in sustainability, a special mention of one of the sponsors, Bay Solar Power Design, which was educating on the benefits of solar panels for both residential and commercial. And of course, this race was benefiting the California Academy of Sciences, a great place to visit in San Francisco's Golden Park.

Here is a quick overview of the traditional post-race costume parade and contest:

That's French haute-couture and elegance, isn't it (Jen Vaughn from San Francisco)?
Quite an "Aussie" way of running!
Overall a fun run which I hope to do at some point, ultra calendar permitting...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

POST: developing Silicon Valley's green wealth

POST stands for Peninsula Open Space Trust. It celebrates this year (2007) its 30 years of accomplishment toward expanding the open space preserves around the Bay Area. Here is an excerpt from the About POST page:

"The mission of the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) is to give permanent protection to the beauty, character and diversity of the San Francisco Peninsula landscape for people here now and for future generations.

We encourage the use of these lands for natural resource protection, wildlife habitat, low-intensity public recreation and agriculture.

Since our founding in 1977, POST has helped to give permanent protection to 60,000 acres of land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties – an area one and a half times the size of San Francisco and 12 times the size of Yosemite Valley."

12 time the size of Yosemite Valley, wow!

This week I received a fund raising request to help on a specific project. POST has recently acquired a stunning 1,047-acre piece of land along Skyline Ridge. The property is near the town of La Honda on the San Francisco Peninsula. I invite you to visit the specific GoMindego website they have setup to promote this preservation and restoration project.

I'm so excited at the idea to discover new trails in this preserve which lies between Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve and Pescadero Creek County Park, two areas we ran through with our Mid-Peninsula saturday morning group.

So excited that I immediately went online to support the project (they are making it very easy to donate online). And I hope you can support this project as well, especially if you run in the Bay Area and enjoy our unique and priceless hills and park system., Go!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Tino at CCS Finals: Crystal Springs, again...

The years follow each other and they don't seem alike... Last year the varsity team was so thrilled to make it to the CCS finals, it had not much further expectations and everyone ran their own race at Toro Park. Toro Park, a course where other good memories were formed again at the Chieftain Classic in September.
This year, the qualification for the CCS finals was much easier and anticipated. At least for the boys. For the girls, only Sumika and Cecilia were going to run the finals. The boys were led by seniors Abiy (Gebrekristos) and Mrinal (Bedi), junior Stas (Rumyantsev) and sophomore Max (Pommier). The rest of the team was composed of Peter (Chu), Derek (Zhou), Dennis (Rong).

The weather was good, overcast but not chilly, no wind, no rain. We were just missing the sun which we had in Cupertino before leaving in the morning.
There was a mix of tension and excitement at the start. The team was next to San Jose's Willow Glen, exchanging nice and friendly handshakes with them.
It was expected to be the race of Willow Glen's Mohamed Abdalla as touted by the San Jose Mercury News article: Crystal clear: Course record tough to break. A course record which has stood for 33 years!
The course has a very fast start with the first half mile down hill. By mile 1 Mohamed had a solid lead when coming back to the starting line.
Abiy was close behind in 7th position.
Mrinal had a great first mile but was lacking power in the subsequent hill.
Unexpectedly, Stas was behind Max by mile 1, having a bad day.
In the second mile, Max passed Mrinal who was not having a good day either. Below is Max leading a group and Mrinal just done with Cardiac Hill.
All that meant that the team will not rank well today (10th). However, Abiy managed to finish 8th overall, qualifying for the State Championships in Fresno, Thanksgiving weekend. What a champion for our school, who will be missed next year! As for Mohamed, no course record, not even a win today. Today's champion was Gambileg Bor, from team Jefferson, although running as individual, in 14:56 (versus 15:08 for Mohamed).
As much as we were happy for Abiy, much disappointment was on everyone's face after the global counter-performance of the team. As Max put it: "we ran this course 6 times this season, we are tired of it..." With a time of 17:00, that is 10 seconds more than his PR on this course this season, Max was disappointed. Again, the expectations were very different from last year going into the league championship. Everyone has put so much into the season since August, 3 hours of training 6 days a week, some weeks with three races, it's time to enjoy the achievements. Such as taking home the FUHSD (Fremont Unified High School District) XC champion title, breaking a 5-year streak for Cupertino rival Monta Vista.

With that it was time to move on the varsity girls event at 10:30. Sumika (Shiokawa) and Cecilia (Wu) lined up for Tino at the start. Sumika ran a smart race, finishing 6th overall, passing Jessica Rodriguez of Sacred Heart (also named the Fightin' Irish for a reason...), who used her elbow and shoulder to push Sumika in the bushes, quite illegally in my opinion, as she was going to pass her in the last 300 yards (the picture was taken just before the incident at Jessica was drifting on the left side of the trail , blocking Sumika).Sumika was actually a good sport in taking the outside, and strong enough to slow down, switch to the inside, re accelerate and finally pass her opponent in the last turn. Sumika is another champion who Tino will miss next year. Congratulations, Sumika, and good luck in the State Championships!

After the traditional post-race speech from Coach Armstrong, commenting the results (look for Division 3), we all headed back to Cupertino for a great improvised team lunch at Chili's of Cupertino. After an animated lunch with 28 people, several speeches included thank yous to Coach Armstrong, the parents and the students. Several good occasions to remind us how lucky we all are, either for this opportunity to run as a team, the blessing of having all we need, for the parents' support, and such a dedicated coach.
Way to go Pioneers! Good luck Abiy and Sumika in two weeks. And see you all for the Track & Field season in a few months. Back to work, to go farther and faster...

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Helen Klein 50 miles: easy out, tough back

Anyone who has run this race will understand the title easily. For the others, here is what it is about: the three races, 30K, 50K and 5 miles, start from the same place, the Cavitt middle school of Granite Bay, CA, North of Sacramento. The course is 98% bike path so a lot of asphalt and pounding. But more importantly, we follow the American River, first on its way to the Bay, so slightly down, then back to Folsom Lake and the dam, with a gradual 25-mile uphill. Nothing as brutal as in many other ultras where we climb thousands of feet, just 400 feet over 25 miles. Nothing as dramatic as the elevation diagram reported by the Garmin 301 shows below, with a disproportionate 400 feet total elevation:But enough to kill your legs and rhythm on such a road race. It's like going with the current for 25 miles, and against it for the other 25. Back to the title, it's then easy to start fast, and hit the wall on the way back. So did I.

Getting there

Like last year, I met with my car pooling angel, Scott Dunlap for a 3:30am start from the intersection of 280 and 92 . Great way to catch-up with the blog guru, with captivating discussions about business, blogging, running, family, and a smooth ride getting us at Cavitt school by 5:30am. Welcomed by some familiar faces, both on the runners and volunteers sides, although this is somehow a different running community than the Bay Area. Race Director, Norm Klein, went on with his half serious, half humorous pre-race briefing at 6:30. Unfortunately I missed part of it, needing to use the bathroom. Already (see below). We then all headed up to the start, on the levee, in the dark but with a wonderful sky switching from dark and bright stars at 5:30 to a colorful sun rise, announcing a warm day.

The start

Something new for me this year, the race started right on time. Last year, Scott and I, and several others, missed the start which was given 4 minutes ahead of the official time (7am). On the starting line, I had the pleasure to see Mark Lantz who I first met at this race a year ago, as he was getting on my heels by the last station and we were both cramping and pushing to finish under 7 hours. And since then, in other events but not since Western States in June. Actually he was lined up on the 30K due to Achilles tendon injury. Top performers from last year (Michael Buchanan, Jon Olsen and Mark Tanaka) were not here so Michael Kanning and Scott told me it was going to be my race. On the way to Granite Bay in the morning, Scott also told me about how impressed he was with Michael's improvement since his first 100K at Ruth Anderson in April, and first 100-miler at Rio del Lago in September. And that he had a chance to break his age group American record on 50 miles. And, indeed, off we are, me following Mark at a 6:10 minute/mile pace and Michael on my side.

Down the river

Despite a few seconds lost at each aid station, I was still averaging 6:22 by mile 15, at the 50K turnaround. I was running by myself in the lead, when my intestine started to complain and call for a pause. Finally stopped by the bathrooms at mile 19.5 for 3 long minutes, hoping that will do it. But I had to stop 5 more times after this one, losing precious minutes responding to nature's calls... I reached the 25-mile turnaround aid station just below 2:49, quite fast indeed.

Back to school

As I told the nice crew at the turnaround aid station, this is where the fun begins. To my surprise, the first runner I saw on the way back was Scott who, as a true reporter, stopped to take a picture of me. He was followed by Nick Bingham and Jason Dashow. I passed the marathon mark in 2:58 and kept going when not stopping at the bathrooms. By mile 30 or so I started walking from time to time, slowing enough for Nick and Jason to catch me, I believe around mile 34. Jason had his crew waiting for him and stopped to see them. I kept up with Nick for half a mile at a 7:20 pace, then losing him by mile 40 although I could see him in the distance from time to time. By mile 46.5 I caught him up, we ran together for half a mile, then I lost him again, conceding almost 5 minutes in the last three miles. Like last week at Whiskeytown, another second place, in 6:22:38. Or 30 minutes faster than last year when I got killed by some exercise-induced asthma, and enough of "faster" for this year. I was hoping for 6:15, that will be for next year.

I didn't know Nicholas and was surprised to discover yet another fast runner on such a race. A quick search on Zinsli's website shows that there is no shame losing to him: sub 18 hours Western States and 2:31 marathon! But just 4 races in the database over 5 years: there is still some mystery here... Maybe just not used to run in California, living in Reno.

After recovering for a few minutes, I went outside to welcome Scott whom I believe to be close behind. But Jason came first (3rd overall), in 6:38:48. Amazing time for a rookie on this distance! Jason getting to the finish line, "all wired":

As for Scott, as you can read in his race report, he struggled at the end but managed to break 7 hours on his 3rd participation to this event, finally! By 33", yeah! Congratulations, Scott!
Being part of the Brooks Inspire Daily program, I was excited to see Carol Rewik winning the 50-mile race, and wearing Brooks from head to toe! Carol belongs to a running team in Vacaville, sponsored by Brooks. Look at this picture taken right after her finish: doesn't she appear as fresh as after a 5K?

Lesson to be learned from the experience? Any reasonable runner will likely tell me I violated the very first commandment of running, i.e. pacing. Yes and no. First I enjoyed looking at how long I could sustain the 6:20 pace, not having to hold up, enjoy the present moment. Second, there is no way you set records if you are not bullish and bold right from the start. Third, the first part is easier so this isn't a course for a negative split. No, the main lesson is that I drunk a large bowl of chocolate milk at breakfast, when I should rather stick to tea on race days. Ahh, my love for chocolate... As for the shoes, I used light ones, the Brooks Racer ST, which I usually wear for races ranging from 10K to marathon. Might have been a bit too light for a double marathon.

Post-race buzz

Although the attendance is low, and the finishes very spread over the day between the three events, the fact that we gather in the school gymnasium after the race creates some animation. First there is the Thanksgiving dinner which, to be honest, I was not in good enough shape to enjoy, although it was important to refuel after such an effort and losing so much salt.

Great age group award handed over by Norm.

Then, as the dust settled on the 50-mile results, the final ranking of the 2007 series were proclaimed: Peter Lubers beating Scott Dunlap by less than 1% over 5 races:

I was the occasion to finally met Peter and all his family in person, after "meeting" through or on our blogs this year.

I couldn't leave without thanking Norm and getting some motivation out of a brief chat with the famous, illustrious and inspirational Helen Klein:

Helen, 84, had run the 30K in the morning. "Just 30K this time" she said modestly... Helen holds the world record for her age group on marathon, 50 miles and 12-hour. And other US records on ultra distances. See her amazing running history.

Almost 70 years separate her from a rising local legend, Michael, below with his father:
Michael, 15, lives in Los Altos and had seen my boys' names, Max and Alex, in local cross-country results (Max and his team are running the Central Coast Section finals this coming Saturday). But, with 3-mile course, cross-country is really too short for Michael!

And, to conclude, the ultra "People" section! Norm was wearing his Western States buckle. Mark (Lantz) had won the 30K easily in the morning setting a new course record at a blistering 1:59:21. He was coming back to the gymnasium to welcome Rena (Schumann) at her finish on the 50-mile, winning the Masters division. Then Erik Skaden stopped by too. Erik is a top US ultra runner and a 2 times 2nd place finisher at Western States (the "Raymond Poulidor" of Western States, for the Tour de France connoisseurs) . We were quite in good "ultra" company this weekend! Not to mention several rookies on the 50-mile who enjoyed the perfect organization, weather, course and aid stations. And all the valorous runners on the three distances. And the volunteers, most of them being ultra runners themselves, out there for so many hours.

After this post-race activities, it was time for Scott and I to drive back to the Bay, and for me to pack-up once again, have a quick dinner with the family before jumping on a red-eye for Boston to attend the TPSA advisory board and fall summit. Yes, running is only my second job... ;-)

A quick picture with the nice trophy (1st Masters), same as last year (note the red eyes before the red-eye... ;-):
A big thank you to the Kleins for this ultra event! Long life to such an inspiring couple!