Saturday, April 28, 2007

Boston 2007: in the eye of the storm

Everybody has heard about the terrible weather of this year's edition by now. During the expo, the organizers made sure to pass the message that there was 99.99% chance the race will be maintained, whatever the weather will be. There were concerned runners won't show up, and more importantly, volunteers. A few hours before the start, officials were reporting 10% of the bibs were not picked, about the same ratio as previous years. Yet, every runner received over the weekend an alarming email from race direction about the risk of hypothermia. In addition to taking care of ourselves (slower pace, wearing more layers), the email provided some guidelines to resurrect anyone who may suffer hypothermia. Needless to say, the family was quite excited by such a perspective...

Just before boarding in San Francisco, someone I don't recognize says "Hi Jean Pommier!" Was Mark Gallinger, who trains with Rob Evans (a very experienced and talented ultra runner, who offered to pace me at Miwok and Western States this year) and Jasper Halekas (from the competitive Vasque international ultra team). Mark had seen me at Fire Trails last year. He had strong hope to do well in Boston despite the weather.

At the expo, on Saturday morning right off my red-eye flight from San Francisco, I got my bib autographed by the legendary Pam Reed, and one of my ultra idols. Pam has run 300 miles without stopping, is an international elite in 24 and 48-hour races. For sure that was good enough to "protect" my from the storm for 48 hours. Pam and 2 other ultra runners did the double on Monday, that is leave Boston around 5am for Hopkinton and back, on the marathon course. Not a first for Pam who did it a few years ago right after the London marathon two days before, as she relates in her book, The Extra Mile.

I had met the rest of the family at the airport as Agnès and the boys were on another flight, and everybody enjoyed the goodies and excitement of the expo depite the fatigue of the red-eye.

On Sunday we drove up Merrimack, NH, covered with fresh snow, to visit our good friends Bob and Annick. After a mild winter in California, walking in the snow the day before the marathon felt a bit irrealistic. Not to all the Nor'easter runners who trained in such a bad weather all winter. That was turning to an advantage to them, at least or at last! Bob had prepared salad and chicken for my diet, that worked great!

On Sunday afternoon, the boys prepared cardboards to support their favorite runners, Bob and I.
On Monday morning and the way to the start, Agnès, Alex and I did the usual stop by the ILOG office in Southborough (we are celebrating our 20th anniversary this month and I joined ILOG back then, so a long ride, quite an ultra in the software world actually). A few miles from the runnners' drop in Hopkinton, I enjoy this quiet and comfortable stop to get ready. Two years ago I had found the door closed but, this year, Kurt was in the office to welcome us; was nice of him especially as we were much earlier than the previous years (8am instead of 10), thanks Kurt!

It was still raining in Hopkinton State Park, but a great and warm ambiance was filling the school bus, much recomforting. Getting to the start line from the drop bag buses in Hopkinton was less of a challenge than previous years thanks to the double wave start. The coral perfectly managed, I entered in the first one 10 minutes before the start, covered with a garbage bag. Couldn't find Bob. Figured out he was stuck in the pack.

Relatively smooth start, I quickly picked the pace up, passed runners on the edge of the road. After half a mile, I finally found into Bob and we ran together for about 8 miles at a 6:15-6:20 pace. The rain was light and there was not much wind in the early and down-hill first miles. Temperature was not too low, yet I really enjoyed wearing the scarf that Agnès gave me to avoid trigerring asthma with too cold air. I was so relieved with it that I decided to keep it most of the first 16 miles up on my face. With my bib covered by my running tights, my rain jacket, a hat and a cap, glasses, gloves and the scarf on my face, I was barely recognizable.

Indeed, I was really prepared for and expecting the worst weather. A bit too many layers, but I appreciated the rain jacket when the wind and rain at the end of the course. When some runners were running in shorts and topless, for the amusement of the local TVs!

At the 15K mark (0:57:43) I stopped to get a S! Cap and a GU out of my pocket (a big deal with the tights covering my shorts...). I thought Bob had passed me in the meantime, so I accelerated, and even more when passing the exhilarating Wesley College girls, definitely the highlight of the marathon. Our dearest cheerleaders seemed less numerous and packed than previous years, yet you could hear them half a mile away, so motivating.

Pushed in the first hill in Newton, stopped for another GU and S! Cap at mile 17 when I was feeling a cramp coming, then pushed all the way to heart break hill and the finish, passing quite a few runners and getting passed by only three in the last section. Was not good enough for a podium this year, 23rd in the 40-49 age group instead of 10th in 2005. Thanks to Saturn, here is a pic at the finish wich looks like an official podium! ;-)

Met Bob at the massage are. After several pit stops in the hills, he finished in 2:58, his best of four Boston. Didn't see Scott (3:07), see his race report. In addition to Bob in the following picture: Tony Arreola (training in Los Gatos), 3:12; John Stannard (our Stevens Creek Striders running club); Lydia Pelliccia (Craig's wife, an ILOG colleague), 3:50, goof for another Boston qualifier. Not pictures, Mark Gallinger was disapointed with his 3:25. He will take his revenge two weeks later by winning the Mt Diablo marathon!

It got so windy and cold in the afternoon that the family was anxious to leave the city as quickly as the heavy traffic was allowing!

André Paradis' strategic "support"! ;-)The alert email message providing time at every 5K marks or so worked perfectly this year, keeping family, friends and colleagues aware of my splits. And not much suspense this year as I was able to keep the pace quite on par with my goal.

So overall, the weather was not as bad as the alarming forecast did prepare us for. We were actually quite lucky, because it got worst again on Tuesday (I did a recovery run on Tuesday afternoon and had enough of cold rain after 6 miles). We were somehow in the eye of the Noreaster storm on Monday, hence the blog title.

At least there was no risk of hyponatremia like in London two days before (see the deadly occurrence reported by The Sun), and in Paris the day before with exceptionally high temperature (report, in french). Global warming... Yet, these two marathons were both won in 2:07 (10 runners under 2:10, including Ryan Hall, USA, 23-year old, for his first marathon!), when Robert Cheruiyot won Boston this year in 2:14 versus 2:07 last year (as another data point Peter Gilmore ran 2:16 this year, versus 2:12 last year). So quite satisfied with only 2 minutes above my Boston 2005 time.

Not faster this time for me, although quite a good time in such bad conditions. Not farther distance-wise, but definitely further from an effort standpoint. Worth the trip, as always, especially with the visit to our East Coast friends.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Not farther but, fortunately, faster

[You may want to skip to my Big Bunny Fun Run 5K race report]

When setting this year's race program up, I knew I was chasing many goals. When you switch to ultrarunning and ultramarathon, you run marathons as training runs. Training for a marathon is a very different exercise, and seems like a distraction or detour.

After last week's 50-mile Ruth Anderson race, which I transformed as my last long run before Boston by switching from my initial 100K goal, I wanted to know if I was still capable of running fast miles. I know, everything is relative, it's not that I got slow in ultras, but it's really a different pace. So, by fast for me, I mean sub-6 minutes/mile pace. After RA, I didn't run on Sunday April fool's day (despite Dean's advice that you should actually run the day after such ultras), and ran an easy 8 mn/mile 7-mile loop with Michael, a co-worker, at Shoreline Park, close to ILOG.

As I mentioned in my "Boston, you've got mail" article, I still include in my weekly training regimen 2 sessions of speed work at the track, with my friend Bob.

Tuesday 3

So here we are for one of our last speedwork sessions before Boston. As usual, 2-mile warm-up from 5:45 to 6am. I decide Bob to go for a mile repeat (a series of miles) below 6. It's dark, we can't see our watch at the 200m-mark to check the pace. Bob is leading, he has a great stride, we work really well together. Unfortunately, he drops after the first lap, and I find him after my second lap with an accute pain in his harmstring. He has been complaining about his harmstring for a couple of weeks now, especially after his last business trip to Spain. Fortunately, he got an appointment in the afternoon at SMI (Sports Medicine Institute in Palo Alto, the place I got my Vo2Max test), for a specialized deep tissue massage, so he will just stretch in the meantime.

After this initial 800m, I continue the session with a mile at 5:43, then 5:45, and a 800m in 2:32. Not my fastest 800m, but speed is back, feels good already!

Wednesday 4

Michael was supposed to come with me but cancels as he is working on a nasty bug in his product with Gregory. I decide to do my 6.8-mile loop at Shoreline Park again today. Start at a reasonable 6:30 pace. I didn't even think of pushing much, since I originally planned for an easy run between the two speed works of this week. Yet, after a couple of miles, I increase the pace. Bottom line: my third fastest time on this loop, 42:29. 6:13 mn/mile, I can do better.

Thursday 5

Back to the track. Bob does feel a bit better after the massage, yet not completely healed. Wisely, he doesn't show up and decides to wait until Sunday for a potential tempo run.

After a 2-mile warm-up, I start the mile repeat at 5:45, followed by a 5:35. Between each mile, 1:20-rest (20" per lap). For the last mile, I start with a 1:14 lap, uh! 2 laps in 2:29, I'm holding... 3 laps in 3:54, I don't even remember if I've ran that fast in our 1,200-repeats or pyramids. Anyway, I keep pushing to finish in a blazing 5:07.

5:07, that's a new milestone for me. Can't say it's my mile PR, as I never really ran one mile to check, only repeat miles. But it's the fastest I've ever run in such speedwork sessions. Last time was a couple of years ago, 5:09.

Feels really good, a few days after a 50-miler. And 10 days before Boston, to get back to my marathon marks. Needless to say, after loosing a few pounds at RA, pounds gained inparticular during my injury break of January-February, I'm back to my ideal racing weight (126lbs - 57kg).

Friday 6

I like to rest the day before a road race, and tomorrow is...

Saturday 7

Big Bunny Fun Run, 5K, in my home town, Cupertino, CA! Right around the block from where we live, this is really an event the family likes to participate in when we are in town. More than 400 runners/walkers this year, quite a good turnout. As one of the city's 13 Teen Commission members, Alex is a volunteer and goes on site to setup the post-race food buffet at 7am.

9am, it's so packed that it's even hard to get a good stop on the start line.

Barely kidding, there were some kids which are so competitive that they rushed at the start like we were running a 100m dash. Needless to say, there are off oxygen after the first turn in Cupertino's streets.

At 300m, I'm still behind too "resisting" teens, who I pass. Before the first mile (this year the miles were not marked, but I know the course and can easily say from the clock), I hear a runner breathing in my back and trying to catch up. I decide to hold the pace, which I could feel was fast. After 1.5 miles, I'm on my own, following the race official truck opening the way.

Pushing all the way, to a 16:09 finish for first overall, and... 5:12 mn/mile. OK, I need to measure the course, to see how close to 5K that really was, but I really did run fast this time.

After crossing the line, I go back on the course to meet with the rest of the family.

Alex also ran in the 10-13 age group, not placing with 20+ minutes.

Greg, who entered the same age group this year, did an amazing 22:32, his PR on this distance which he likes. A 13-lap credit for his school exercise program this week.

Max who is acting in his high school amazing Guys And Dolls Sping musical, and had a late representation the night before, missed the start this year.

Enjoyed the post-race buffet with great fruits and muffins from Whole Foods. As top finisher, I got a free coffee at the Cupertino Library Coffee Society store, which our family coach, reporter and photographer, Agnès, appreciated very much. A big thank you to the Coffee Society's cool crew and Whole Foods for their sponsorship of the event.

There are always amazing prizes at the post-race raffle, like a $200 gift certificate for Alexander's Steak House, 2 free passes to Raging Waters, other restaurant coupons and tickets to sport games. Not for us this year, but an age-group winner plaque for me, the 6th year for this fun race.

Sunday 8

Bob is still tapering, to make sure to properly heal before Boston. He followed such a consistent 4-month marathon training program, shape shouldn't be an issue for him next week.

So I decide to go to Homestead track for an ultimate tempo run. Not on my own, actually, the three boys come to the field with me, while Agnès is cooking for our Easter lunch (a delicious lamb --the traditional French gigot d'agneau-- and chocolate tart, yummy). BTW, the boys didn't really come to run with me, or count the 40 laps for me, the bring books and homework with them... Yet, it's nice to have company for the hour.

My supporting crew

So, here we are for 40 laps. No warm-up, I usually use the first laps for that. Although, with the great weather and some excitement from the week, I start off below the 6 mn/mile pace with 2:54 for the first 800m. 5:48 for the first mile, I slow down to 5:55 for the second. 10" to drink at mile 2.5 which I pass at 14:25. Another brief stop (not the clock though) at mile 5, then none from lap 20 to 40. I indicate some of the count downs to the boys while passing.

10 miles in 58:33, 5:51 mn/mile. I was shooting for something close to 6, close enough, and on the right side.

Faster than planned, yet the boys are looking forward to returning home for lunch, must be ready by then! Not to mention the traditional egg hunt which Greg is so excited about.

On the running side, that was quite a good week, and I enjoyed the fast miles. We'll see how it plays for Boston after a tapering week, a dissociated Scandinavian diet (1) (hence some exercise on Monday and Tuesday), and hopefully enough sleep and not too much stress.

Stay tuned. 'Till Patriot's Day!

(1) In French, le régime Scandinave dissocié.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Boston 2007: you've got mail!

Just got my 111th Boston packet in the mail! Right on schedule, hopefully the same for the 23,000 other entrants.
OK, that won't be the 111th for me, just the 4th. In what became a tradition since I qualified in 2000, the family and I are flying there every other year, taking the opportunity to visit the Paradis, dear friends living in Andover, MA.
André, Ann and Steve Paradis, with my sons Max, Greg and Alex after the 2005 finish

So, after 111 years, what's different this year?
  • First, the start time. 10am instead of noon. I already met quite a few people who like this time much better. Personally, coming from the West Coast, I thought noon helped handling jet lag and decreasing the rush to the start, especially as this is a point to point course, so getting to the start is logistically challenging. However, an earlier start makes a lot of sense for slower runners, and will allow race management to close the course by 4:30 pm in Boston. I though the change was also to minimize the confusion with the Red Sox' Patriot Day game, but not at all since the game, traditinally held in the morning, will only start one hour earlier.
  • Second, a 2-wave staged start. The elite women will still start 30 minutes ahead of the elite men, a 2005 rule to avoid a potential pacing of them by "slower elite" guys. In addition, the rest of the pack will start in two waves. One at 10am (bibs up to 9,999), the other one at 10:30 for the bibs 10,000 and above.

So, please, be on time, and see you there if you managed to qualify and afford the dream of running this legendary marathon!

I'll be there with my friend Bob McDonald, my biweekly "speed co-worker" (Homestead high school, in Cupertino CA, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5:45 am, everybody's welcome!). I also hope to catch up with Scott Dunlap as this will be our first race in common this year.

Bob paced me at my first 50-miler (Fire Trails)

And Bob and I will miss Leo Alapont, who was used to run with us on the track bi-weekly as well, but moved to Eugene, OR, last year, took a new job, and didn't put enough training to come to Boston again this year. Fortunately, he has many years ahead of him to catch up!

Leo at the 2005 finish

By the way, since I just completed a 50-miler as a long run and am more thinking of ultras this season, including Western States in June, I don't dream of getting back on the podium like in 2005 (top 10 Masters), but who knows what farther and faster leads you to... ;-)

The 2005 Masters podium: blurry, but the red spot, that's me!

Farther and faster,


Sunday, April 1, 2007

Ruth Anderson, 50K, 50M or 100K?

This blog entry title is a big question, which you have plenty to think about while running Ruth Anderson (RA). As opposed to HK (the Helen Klein run) where you have to decide on 50K or 50M before starting, and for which the course is an out and back anyway, RA gives you the option to decide on the go. 7, 11 or 14 loops.

I was going for the 100K. In order to test (and taste...) the distance before the much harder Miwok 100K in May. Yet, I couldn't keep from thinking that was not the best way to get prepared for Boston in 2 weeks. So

4:30am - Meeting Chuck and Christine to car pool from Sunnyvale. Chris entered to run the 50 miles. Chuck was just going to drop us before heading to his own hilly 50K training run in the Headlands. Nice chat on the way about their participation into the Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica, and some other great annecdotes from Chuck about his long carreer in ultra, across the country. Great setup to get to the start of an ultra. The Coastal Challenge stories were particulary interesting to me as I won a free entry for the 2008 edition. Thanks to TrailRunner Magazine, and Chuck who referred me to their lottery last year. More in another blog, later this year.

With Chuck and Chris (nice shoes, Chris! ;-)

5:30am - We arrive to the North parking lot at Lake Merced, at the limit between San Francisco and Daly City. Still dark despite some moonlight. The race had filled-up with 70 registrants, so an easy check-in, at the light of a few gas lamps. Chat with familiar faces. Chuck introduces me to Stan Jensen, the "ultra statistician" and webmaster of the famous and essential Run Hundreds website. Who kept track of all our splits throughout the day, so many numbers, 44x7 (50K entrants) + 10x11 (50M) + 12x14 (100K) = 712 to be exact!

Amy overseeing the check-in, StanJ in the background (left)

6:30am - John and Amy, the RDs, gave us 15 more minutes of daylight by delaying the start to 6:45. As the start is about half a mile from the main aid station, the group heads East, in a nice and friendly atmosphere. And, surprise, Dean Karnazes joining us, free from any engagement this weekend (Dean seemed as surprised as me to be here, and the family didn't recognize him with his longer hair).

6:45am - After a last briefing from John, especially on the rules about which distance you finally decide to enter when you are done, we start just before sunrise. I decide to stay with Mark Tanaka, who I've run with several times now. We let 5 runners take a faster pace and settle on what seemed to be an easy pace. Mark tells me how last year everybody rushed at the start trying to keep up with the amazing Chikara (7:42 for the 100K in 2006 for his first 100K!). My GPS (Garmin Forerunner201) indicated 7:15 mn/mile. Chikara kept saying it was still too fast, but worth trying, and we'll slow down in the second 50K.

2.25 miles from the main aid station (the base camp), we reach the South aid station (the satellite station). First salute to the two incredible volunteers who manned the station all day, Kevin and Jim. An homonym, Jim Pommier, but from Belgium, not France, so no connection that we both know between our families. Although remote, I saw some of the Bay Area Ultrarunners and SF Dolphin South End running club fellows coming by for some company, later in the day.

First pit stop for me, I've certainly visited the bathrooms too many times on this race, and could tell I was not the only one after a few laps... (Uh, with so many laps, 70 entrants, not to mention the many walkers, joggers, runners, bikers around the lake on this Saturday morning, and only one toilet at each station, it was probably not nice to see them on Sunday morning...)

Anyway, after our first lap, Mark said that we were 1mn faster than last year crazy start, so I really wondered if my GPS got derailed, although the distance seemed quite accurate, as usual on such an open course. I told Mark he was a machine, he seemed really in such a good shape. We kept right on the 7:15 pace for 2 more laps. As I was stopping at each station to drink and eat (and sometime more...), I had to sprint to catch Mark up. By the third lap we passed three runners, one of whom stayed with us for a while.

As I was enjoying a stop at each aid station, and got tired of playing the catch-up game with Mark everytime while he was getting the pace down to 7:12 average by mile 20, I started loosing some ground. Yet I was happy with my first marathon time, about 3:10, which I felt was not too fast, although a Boston qualifier, for what it is worth in such a context. The GPS was still indicating an average pace of 7:15.

The base camp (main aid station)

By the fourth lap I used the scale I had brought to try to understand my ability to manage weight during an ultra (a big requirement for Western States). What was my surprise to see I had already lost 3 pounds in 18 miles. I'm used to lose a few pounds while training, I need to learn how to replenish better during the effort before D-day. Needless to say, I felt I was drinking and eating enough, at least more than during training runs, although not carrying water bottles with so frequent aid stations. I lost 1 pound over the next 4 laps (18 miles), and half a pound in the next 14 miles (if you wonder about the digital precision, it's a Tanita scale).

Anyway, when the family arrived on site to encourage me, I was already 50K in the race, and had decided that won't be the day for the 100K, especially as I was thinking of Boston. Thought a 50-miles will be enough as a long run. So I had 4 more laps to go with this new goal. Yet, it wasn't smooth as I was somehow disappointed by this change of goal. Who knows what would have happened if stopping to 50 miles was not an option.

In my 9th or 10th lap, something stranged happened around the North-East corner of the lake. 6 Daly City Police cars, with a few more policemen scrutinizing the bushes. I couldn't refrain from thinking of the only race report I had found on run100s' website about RA, and read on Friday night before going to bed: the accident of 1997. Unfortunately for the race report, I didn't dare to stop to ask what was going on, I had enough with the noise of the ball trap shoots, figured I'd better keep running, away from the scene!

Some walking in the last laps, although no cramps, but quads tired with a lot of asphalt (when Mark was consistently running on the side dirt path, whenever available). Losing 5 to 10 seconds on my average pace at each aid station to finish at 8:14. As I was in my last lap and slowing down, I got passed by the famous "other red hair" guy that Jim kept asking me about every time I was passing his aid station. Pieter Vermeesh, from Jim's cherrish Belgium. As I didn't see who started ahead of us, I only found out later I was actually "lapped" myself, and that Pieter was on his way to an amazing 7:27:53 on the 100K.

Anyway, at the end of my 11th loop, I got my last kick in the butt when I realized I had to speed up to beat my PR of Helen Klein last year (6:52:08). And hopefully another one when I saw Dean behind me. So I pushed on the last uphill and was happy to see my son Alex at the finish. Dean was one minute behind and, after asking who was ahead of us, decided to go back home after such a good training run, as usual the same way he came, i.e. by foot (see his book).

With Dean, right after our close finish

Shortly after I finished, Mark passed by on his way to a sub-8 100K (8:42 last year).

Nothing could stop Mark today!

6:52:03, a new PR by 5 seconds... "A few seconds over 80 kilometers, what a regularity!" said Mom, who was visiting from Paris this week. Well, my plans were much different, but I was happy to take second place overall in this small field, 1st in masters. I've yet to avoid the wall on this distance, always farther and faster.

A plaque from Amy and John, how nice!

Congratulations to Peter and Mark for their show on the 100K, to Thomas for an amazing sub-6 50-miler, to Gary and Alan for their close finish on 50K, to Wendy, Lisa and Julie for taking first in each race. And to all the others posted on the result page!

A special thank to the new race directors, Amy and John Burton, everything was perfect, even the weather! And the volunteers for their extended presence throughout the day, the great all you can eat buffets and the priceless encouragements.

If you've run the race, see also my race album, courtesy of Agnès. She didn't got all of you though, check if you are lucky!

Farther and faster,