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...