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!