Sunday, September 30, 2007

Trailblazer 10K: faster again!

Two weeks off as a training technique, what is that? As you know, I've been injured since the 50K I ran at our Club's Clambake. After a 2-week break, with no running but some stationary bike workouts at my work's gym, I was anxious to get back on the trail. And particularly excited with such event which I won twice in the past. And more importantly, an event which supports and benefit the Friends of the Stevens Creek Trail, a trail I now use to get to Shoreline Park from El Camino. A trail which I would actually like going further South, though El Camino, Sunnyvale, Los Altos, up to Cupertino. As a matter of fact, my company, ILOG, has moved a few mile along 85 to the Fremont intersection last May, in the middle of the missing section of the trail, the section which would make the connection between the Cupertino hills and the Baylands.
Part of the excitement was also to have Greg running in the 5K. During cross-country season, Max and Alex are not allowed to compete outside of the school club races, and Max had a tough 5K yesterday anyway, at the Stanford Invitational.

In addition to Greg, and our coach and master head crew, Agnès, my friend and speed work training buddy, Bob, shown and signed up for the 10K too.

The weather was perfect: cool temperature, soft breeze, crystal clear blue sky, sun. The access very easy with ample parking on the Microsoft campus, making it so convenient, right off 101.
This isn't a very competitive event, certainly nothing to compare with a race sanctioned by the Pacific Association of USA Track & Field Federation. So a podium here depends on who shows up. And Jose Pina did, so I knew I was not getting much chance at repeating last year's win, today. Indeed, Jose took the lead right at the start and I almost killed myself trying to keep up with him for the first two miles. According to my Garmin 205, the trail was perfectly marked, each mile as well as the overall 6.2 miles. 5:14 for the first mile, that wasn't really sustainable, the second mile was more in the 5:22 range. However I kept Jose in sight all the way, even when we got back in the 5K runner crowd in the final mile. Thanks to Jose as a great pace setter, I did set a new PR on this distance, with 33:57. Or a 5:28min/mile pace. Second overall but a good and satisfying enough achievement! Below, in the shade, my heel (in Brooks Racer ST) to the butt in the final sprint...And, no, this isn't a special effect or a trick from Agnès, there was really a stop sign on the finish line!!! With that, we will soon need a driving license for road racing...

Bob placed third overall, 2nd of the masters. More results on the race website.
I always wonder for how long I will be able to improve my times, especially on such "shorter" distances. That's all the idea behind this blog's name, and it's great to see there is not only hope, but results! Later in the day I was amazed to learn that Gabrelassie had improved the best time on marathon, by 29 seconds (4:04:26). I still remember the day Paul Tergat did it, on the same course (Berlin), claiming then that the record won't be broken for a long time. It took only four years, records are really meant to be broken, although some last longer than others. There doesn't seem to be a limit, and hopefully the improvements will remain from natural human performance.

Below is Greg flying to the finish line in a time of 25:50 (5K). 9th in a competitive 2-12 age group dominated by...Jose Pina, son! It's not the first time we see Jose, 10, winning his age group, and definitely not the last time. In the background, Felicity, the daughter of Dennis, from the Striders, my running club (which, by the way, shares the Stevens Creek name with this event beneficiaries).
It is not easy to repeat perfection, year after year, but, once again and "as usual", the organization was perfect today! In particular the numerous and efficient volunteers, of all ages, from the parking lots, registration, food and drink tables and all along the 6-mile loop, at every turn. Great post-race food: the famous coffee cake from Hobee's (yummy, see below), fresh fruits from Whole Foods, Odwalla cereal bars. A big and special thank you and congratulations to Aaron Grossman, who successfully manages this event every year.

And, as often in this type of event, a very long award ceremony which concluded by a no shorter prize drawing. Made even longer as many participants had left by 11am therefore more bibs needed to be picked. The Microsoft package was only for the first overall man and woman so no XBox for me this year. But, much smarter, many books to pick from for the age group winners. Camping with Kids for Bob, the perfect father of three girls while, father of three boys and ultrarunner, I chose a book for a much longer hike (or run...?): the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail...

4 participations to this Trailblazer event since 2002:
  1. 2002 - 34:19 - 4th overall
  2. 2003 - 34:52 - 1st overall
  3. 2006 - 34:16 - 1st overall
  4. 2007 - 33:57 - 2nd overall
I missed 2004 because of the French Nationals of marathon and 2005 because of Paris-Versailles (an international 10-miler). Otherwise, this is definitely a favorite event I like to include in my race schedule and I encourage you to check it out next year if you live in the Bay Area. Always scheduled for the last Sunday of September.

Et voilà! A great performance but... the shin splints and the pain are back, now! At least everybody agrees that it's completely normal and that I shouldn't complain, just blame myself for keeping running instead of taking 6 weeks off. Colleagues at work and my sister in France, Marie, my remote medical coach. OK, so back on the bike this week, and I'll only run half this distance next week at the Run of the Bulls 5K. Can't miss this fun one either, and hoping it's short enough to keep the inflammation under control. Before the International 20K of Paris on 10/14.

Trail safely out there!

PS: as a bonus, the detailed map online to check on the distance, on Google Earth or Google Maps!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Tino at the Chieftain Classic: a great start!

Saturday, September 15. I had returned from a business trip to France 36 hours earlier and told Agnès that I would handle the long car pool down to Toro Park in Salinas (70 miles each way). A way to share our parental responsibilities as well as to enjoy seeing the boys competing, as many races were happening during the week and work days.

Max has been at Tino since last year, coming from Hyde. He was joined by Alex this year, from Lawson Middle School. Both run in the cross-country team headed by Coach Armstrong. The school's official name is Cupertino High, but runners go with the nickname Tino, as it appears on their uniform. Coach Armstrong maintains a lot of information on the team activities and results on his website.

Last year was marked by both boys' and girls' varsity teams making it to the Central Coast Section final meet, something which had not happened for many years (Cupertino High School will celebrate its 50 years in 2008).

Sport is very intense in high school, especially compared to what we were doing at the same age back in France. The season actually starts way before the beginning of school. Coach Armstrong sets a whole summer conditioning program, culminating with the last two weeks before school: two sessions every week day, plus one long run on Saturdays.

Being prepped by Max, Alex was not too surprised by such intensity. Although they sometimes complain about the hard work, it was pleasant to see that their efforts are already paying off, in particular at this meet.

After 3 miles of dirt trail mostly:
  1. The JV (Junior Varsity) boys (with Alex) placed 2nd overall
  2. The varsity boys team placed 3rd overall (Max holding the plaque below)
  3. As for the girls, Sumika got passed in the final sprint for a very impressive third overall.
A special mention for the girls: the team is small this year so, to allow Sumika to compete at the highest level for her senior year, they are just enough to form a team of 7 and run at the varsity level which is challenging. This is where you see that, although running is an individual act, cross-country is a team sport. Way to go, girls!

This is really a great start for the teams, showing much improvement over last year, as Coach Armstrong noted to everyone's satisfaction.

A big thank you and congratulations to the organizing school, Palma High School. A very professional job, along with the presence of the officials from the Pacific Association of USA Track & Field.

Way to go, the new generation! We stay tuned for great news this season. And see you next week at the Stanford Invitational!

Clambake: a cool Striders' event

Sunday, September 16. I was excited to join my club mates, from the Stevens Creek Striders, for this annual event combining running, potentially ultra running, and social gathering for a picnic around the traditional clam chowder, hence the name of the event. I was excited first because I had been in France for 2 weeks without the opportunity to run on trails. But, secondly and more importantly, because, with all these travels and races, I have less opportunity to meet with my club mates and friends.

We were set to start from Saratoga Gap at 7am. Slower runners started at 6:30. The morning run is made of two options: first Saratoga Gap to Big Basin headquarters, then from Big Basin down to the Pacific Ocean, at Wadell Beach. You can see the full program, online, on our club's website.

Last year, I was preparing for my first 50-miler, the Dick Collins' Fire Trails, so not only did I run those two legs, but I also added a night run from home to Saratoga Gap, 12 miles, including the hilly ascent on highway 9.

The first leg is given for 18 miles but my Garmin 205 indicated 15.3 miles, without loosing the signal like the 201 was before. So I'd say 15.5 max.

That Sunday, Agnès and Alex were wolunteering at the Cupertino Fall festival. Clambake requires some logistic, bringing a dish to share for the potluck at the beach, and the ride back home. The family not being able to join this year, at the last minute, I decided to "just" go down to Big Basin and run back to the car at Saratoga Gap, a perfect training 50K.

The start was actually quite chilly as you can see, our small group in the fog:
Wasn't getting much better for the first pit stop at the crossing of highway 9:
However, less than 3 miles from the start, what a fun and nice suprise to find this aid station, unmanned and anonymous, yet so well stocked. Penny talks about the "Clambake Angel", saying that is quite a thoughtful person, especially as the date of the event changes from year to year, so he or she needs to check the website to make sure this is the right weekend. I'm not sure how many years this tradition have been up but, last year, when our group found the table, we couldn't believe it was for us, we thought it was for another event or race, so we didn't dare to help ourselves. This year, the angel went a step beyond, adding a sign mentioning the "clambakers." A bit like "dude, that's for you guys!" So, although we now know this is for the clambakers indeed, the mystery still remains: an insider, an ex-member, someone who lives around, an actual angel, ...???
Oh well, looking at the much detailed and visual account of this event, including the picnic, by Robin, one picture caption says: "Mike's food table", so maybe the angel is one of the several Mikes we have in the club...
Shortly after, at mile 6, we found our real and official aid station crew: Pat, Elvira and Peggy. Needless to say, Peggy had rather run with us but has been injured since her Western States. From this aid station, I took off, met the aid station crew at China Grade, then at the Big Basin headquarters, after making a short stop at the finish line of the Bib Basin Redwoods runs from PCTR (Pacific Coast Trail Runs), to salute Wendell and Sarah.
The aid station crew at the headquarters:
After refilling my bottles, I was then back on the same trail, passing some of the PCTR 50K runners, and crossing the other club members, making their way to the headquarters. I've run the uphill to Saratoga Gap twice during the local "Fat Ass 50K", the first week of January, always struggling. Although the weather was much nicer than in January, I struggled again while trying to do a negative split (going faster on the way back). Things got even worse as I got stung by a yellow jacket, twice, at the elbow. Ouch! I'm somehow allergic and it took three days before my arm came back to normal after being so swelled and painful. One of my colleagues at work told me I should run with a bit of vinegar which should take care of this if applied immediately. Especially in the summer when yellow jackets get pretty nasty. I'll keep that in mind, it's a good tip indeed.

Just after passing the place of the mysterious aid station, now gone, 5 hours later, I had the surprise and pleasure to see a coyote. Although he looked at me while I was coming in his direction, I was not fast enough to take a picture before he disappeared in the woods. After running so many miles at Rancho San Antonio Park on the Coyote Ridge trail, I finally saw one!

One mile to go (crossing of Hwy 9) and, in the background, the great view we missed 5 1/2 hours earlier:
Anyway, I managed to come back to Saratoga Gap, 3 minutes faster than our way to Big Basin. With a big pain in the front of my lower left leg, pain which I interpreted as a weird soreness for three days, before realizing it was actually a bad shin splints. Damned! At least, it's good I was not up for Rio del Lago (a 100-miler of the Pacific Association Grand Prix), the following week, as you can only get points for one 100-miler, the same year, and I got my 132 points in June. So not missing any big event, we'll see if I run the Trailblazer 10K next week. A race which I won twice already and particularly like for the support it brings to a trail I've trained on so much over the past 9 years, to and around the Mountain View Shoreline Park. At least I signed up for it, and will be there as Greg will run the 5K.

Again, this Clambake event is fun, as well as all the activities of our club so, if you live in the Cupertino area, I invite you to join us: the club, now (it's very cheap) and Clambake, next year!

Sunday, September 2, 2007

OM: a Mid-Peninsula ultra tradition

This year marked the 18th edition of this Mid-Peninsula private ultra event in the Bay Area. A gathering of the local ultra community held every year, the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend (first Monday of September).

The event has three parts:
  1. A bike ride, starting at 7:30am,
  2. A run, starting at 9:30am,
  3. And a party, at 5:30pm.

And, in a very informal format, you can do any combination of 1, 2 or 3. For instance joining the group for the run only, or the bike ride and the party, or even only the party!

I skipped the bike ride, and joined Joel, Denise and Zachi after theirs. Roger was going on, on his bike, to save his knees from the pounding of the run. Here are this year's OMers at the start of the run:
The group before getting on Razorback Ridge trail:
Joel and Denise leading, close to the Windy Hill summit (1,975 ft):

Everybody made it to the summit! Steve (1st on left) and John (3rd from left), who joined us from San Francisco, were parked nearby on Skyline and left us here (they had rushed to the other entrance to meet with us earlier this morning).
See my OM2007 Picasa album for more pictures of our run and the party.
Back to the OM history, the format and rules have not changed for 18 years. Only locations and courses may vary from one year to another according to various constraints. For instance, last year, our morning "base camp" for the bikers and runners was Montebello Parking. This year, the meeting point had been set to Windy Hill, weeks before the Cupertino Stevens Creek fire last week. What a coincidence. This year's party was hosted by Zachi. 2005 and 2006 by the Dellors, Joel having a wedding at his house in 2005.

Joel told me more about the history behind this tradition at last night's party. You can see Dave on the left with one of the original OM t-shirts, Joel, and me taking notes:Joel actually organized and hosted the event from 1990 to 2004 and has therefore the most vivid knowledge and memories about how it started. It began as an FBA, or Farewell Bay Area, event to mark the departure of a German couple, going back to their home country. Something which is very typical of the turnover in Silicon Valley, with engineers or executives and their family coming for a multi-year stay in one of the most fascinating business place in the World.
Here are some initial milestones of the OM, on the back of Dave's t-shirt. The first and original event, or "Ostmeyer's FBA" in 1990, Ed's 40th in 1991 and Joel's 50th in 1992.
Thus was born the OM, named after Ost Meyer. "Ost Meyer? Who is that?", would ask the honoree German citizen several years later hearing about this ongoing celebration. "My name is not Ost Meyer, but Oscar Mayer!" Oh well, the tradition was already anchored in the local ultra community's minds, and Ost Meyer it will stay for ever! This actually shows another trait of the very international community of Silicon Valley, and the difficulty to keep track of names from all over the world. For instance, some people where calling me "Jean-Paul" by concatenating Jean and Po (it's true that, in France, there are many first names made of Jean and another first name). Fortunately, we now have Internet (emails, blogs, race results) to check the real spelling of names. But not much back in 1990.

By the way, another key name belonging to the OM history, and this group of ultra runners, is Ed Richardson. Ed died in 1995 and I will devote one post to him soon.

This year, the special milestone was Pierre's 45th birthday. Here is the birthday boy, behind his very special and appreciated Margarita bar:

Pierre is an amazing runner, who ran Western States twice, placing 11th overall in 2001 and 7th in 2002. Last year he moved to Santa Cruz and you can check some of his company's palm tree trimming work online:
Are you wondering what happened to Oscar since then? Well, we all are... The web only talks about the Bavarian immigrate who set up a successful hotdog business in Chicago in the 19th century. In the early 1990s Oscar did stop by Joel's house and they met, but he lost track of Oscar since then. Maybe this blog will help restore the connection!
Interested in joining this community and commemorating the OM? There is no membership actually. The key activity is our Saturday morning training runs, for which we rotate over these 4 locations, from North to South:
  1. Woodside School (Google's directions)
  2. Wunderlich (directions)
  3. Windy Hill (directions)
  4. Rhus Ridge (directions)

There are other parks and preserves in the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD) (25 actually, or more than 2,300 protected acres!), but these 4 locations provide enough variety and a good monthly roster easy to remember.

The first three locations are in Woodside, the third one on the Los Altos Hills side of Rancho San Antonio Park (which has its main entrance on the Cupertino side).

We have about 70 runners subscribed to the weekly mailing, on a list currently managed by Pierre, or Zachi when Pierre is on vacation. However, between other commitments, injuries, races, business trips, only a handful or dozen of us show up every week. We all start together at 7:00am sharp, then split by ability or depending on the mood, for shorter or longer loops (usually ranging from 6 to 23 hilly miles).

If interested in joining this group, feel free to leave a comment on this post with a way to get in touch and I'll pass the contact info to Pierre and Zachi.

A special thank you to Zachi for hosting this year, and working the BBQ, for Roger's bread and sausages and Pierre's delicious Margaritas!

And from all the 2007 OM'ers, and their significant other: "See you next year, and happy trails in the meantime!"

Farther, faster, the convivial way!