Thursday, March 27, 2008

Reaching Wall without hitting it

Happy birthday, blog!

March 27, 2007. One year ago, my first post. Happy birthday "Farther Faster blog!"

To celebrate and mark this milestone, here is a long due report on a run during which I decided about getting into blogging. A solitary run where I thought I could not just keep my joy of trail and ultra running for myself. That I needed to put some souvenirs in writing to keep them fresh for many more years.

Ironically, last week, I happened to discover the blog of a fellow passionate runner in Harlem, after he had made very controversial comments about ultra runners and one of my heroes in particular, Scott Jurek. A blog Lance started one day after mine, and decided to stop today after one year and 400 posts. More than one post per day, versus one a week for me, a much different pace which may explain some divergence of views between him and our ultra community! Wishing Lance to catch the ultra virus, sometime.

So, once upon a time, one year ago...

Badlands National Park, South Dakota - March 24, 2007

There is hitting the wall or running through the wall, as we say about marathon. But I prefer the running over the wall version which leads us to ultra marathon... Ultra is all about managing your physical and mental resources to go further, faster, and without hitting the wall. So here is the wall story... At a time many people and some of my friends put the final touch to their training for a spring marathon (Boston, Paris, London, Big Sur, Avenue of the Giants, Marine Corps, San Diego, etc.).

It started with a free companion ticket on United, my cherrish airline (975,000 miles since I moved to the US). And the convenience of having my parents at home for 2 weeks so Agnès and I can enjoy an intimate get away. Looked at the US map to find a place where the five of use would unlikely fly or drive to. I wanted New Orleans but it's not a great UAL destination. Albuquerque? Seattle? What about Rapid City, South Dakota, said Agnès? "The Badlands National Park is going to disappear from erosion in 5,000 years, we'd better go to see it now!" she added.

5,000 years? Ouch, that seems so far away and yet so close per earth's scale; indeed, an interesting place to rush to! Fortunately, as we found out from the Park Rangers, with an erosion of 1 inch per year, the experts give to the Badlands concretions another 100,000 to 500,000 years (uh, seems like a great software estimate range, no? ;-). Phew, what a relief, our children have some time. Well, that's if we protect the Earth enough in the meantime, from global warming and other pollution and degradations.

Here we are, landing in the small and clean regional airport of Rapid City, and getting to the hotel in... Wall. South Dakota. 808 souls. Wall, what a name for a marathoner! And finally a connection with our blog running theme!

Reaching Wall without hitting the wall
Saturday morning, 5:12am (4:12am Pacific, it's tough to live with an ultrarunner sometimes...), I wake Agnès up to make sure we get to the entrance of the Park before dawn. Wall being at the Eastern end of the Park, we drive all the way to the West, enter the Park as the sun rises, and Agnès drops me at the first parking... 26 miles away from... Wall. Almost the perfect distance, and enough to go for another preparation of passing the wall (between mile 17 and 19 for me) without hitting it.
Of course, no competition and race pressure, no fear of not making it as Agnès was driving through the Park, staying within a 2-mile range all the way, doing her own safari in this deserted place.

In the following picture you barely notice the road from the colorful ground layers. Now, once you have found it, look closer for the minuscule black spot in the middle of the picture, that's me! (You may want to enlarge the picture by clicking on it.)

We were not completely alone in the Park, there was some wildlife:
And what about this big one that Agnès caught running through the grass?A porcupine, playing hide and seek with a cactus!Passing the Homestead Overlook, an opportunity to remember the many Homesteaders who immigrate from Eastern Europe in particular with their dream to own a piece of land. A way too dry land, unfortunately...Fortunately, I had my water bottles with me because, even in winter, it is really dry, and I could feel how happy the cowboys could get when approaching Wall, known for its drugstore, its hot coffee and free fresh water!
And here am I, reaching Wall... without hitting it! 3h10, a good training, good long run and good sign for my 2007 edition of Boston.
Quite a Western atmosphere and setting, with good representation of both Native Americans and Cowboys:

More about the Park

"I love this Park. It's like running on Mars!" told me Scott Dunlap about Badlands, SD (hum, SD... ;-). Sincerely, I did not think of Mars back then, I must admit I don't know Mars that well. I hope to get some of Scott's fortune (and wealth! ;-) one day to get upthere (on Mars) and find out. But Scott is right, Badlands is the closest you can imagine Mars from NASA's pictures.

In terms of comparison, there are actually many others, because the Park actually features several very distinct and characteristic landscapes.

The best expression I could think of while running there is "the middle of nowhere." Especially as we only saw 2 cars in the Park for the three hours we spent there. (I bet it's a different story in summer although, it will never be crowded as it is so remote.) A very remote feeling then, with an infinite view in all directions. Nothing comparing to running in even remote mountains and forests.

When going through the Park there is some reminiscence of Bryce Canyon, my preferred National Park by far. And a resemblance with the Artists Palette in Death Valley. So many different geological features and colors within 20 miles, a concentrate a nature's beauty! See for yourself:

Definitely worth the trip. Either as a runner or a tourist, or both...

A wall for who?
The Park is surrounded by an endless plateau so the hills really appear like a wall from many miles away. A wall for the buffaloes which were chased, respectfully, by the Native Americans. A trap for the Native Americans, chased and exterminated by the US Army (see the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890). A trap for the buffalos which got decimated. A symbol for generations of Homesteaders hitting the wall in this infertile land and having to re emigrate to other places. All not good examples of sustainable development. With the erosion doing its work to eliminate ans slowly erase this dramatic and picturesque place. Naturally this time...

South Dakota

After Wall our tour of South Dakota turned to a real safari and ultraphotography (720 shots over two days).

Clear and sunny skies:
Pristine creeks such as the frozen French Creek (yes, French!):
Wild buffalos:
And bighorns:
And this is just a small selection of animals, shots, views, souvenirs...

A tribute to American leaders

Our trip ended with a visit to the famous, monumental and unavoidable Mount Rushmore. No way we would have missed such postcards!
400 workers, 14 years, 60-foot high portraits, tons of dynamite and rocks removed, this is really...ultra sculpture, isn't it?

To conclude this long and illustrated post, I would like to express all my gratitude to Agnès. I am always keeping in mind that, in a couple, no passion can be fully and sanely lived without the other's consent and active support. I'm grateful to Agnès for letting me put so many hours into running, training, racing and now blogging. For better or for worse as we promised each other, and never for granted!
Farther and Faster, to get this blog... further!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Big Bunny Fun Run 5K: a nice quick parenthesis

I love this local run, with a start around our block. Walking to the start, not even a street to cross, how closer can it get! With familiar faces, familiar streets, and after 6 participations, it is really becoming a familiar race. And a family race with the three boys running with me and Agnès as our coach and event photographer. Our race.

Held every year on Holly Saturday (Easter weekend), I only missed the 2003 edition because I was running my second Boston marathon that weekend (I have run Boston every other year since 2001). With only 3 miles, it is a nice break in my ultra running, quite short compared to the 40-mile long run I did last Saturday for instance. A sort of parenthesis...

Although earlier in the year than usual, the weather was as perfect as the past years: pure blue sky, sunny but cool enough temperature at the 9 am start, trees blooming all over the place to celebrate this second day of spring. Add some competition and a completely flat course and you have the perfect recipe for a fast time.
A couple of years ago we missed a turn and did not pass by Eaton elementary school, shortening a bit the course by 0.1 mile. This year my Garmin 205 indicated 3.06 miles, close enough to 3.1 miles, or 5 kilometers.
As usual, a fast start especially in the kid age groups. After a few yards I was in 3rd position, with a 5:16 pace. And after a few turns, I took the lead in Blaney as we were approaching my house. And kept it until the finish. Passed the 2-mile mark in 10:33 and kept pushing to finish first overall, finally breaking 16 minutes on this distance: 15:54! Not farther, but definitely faster, yeah! 16:54 in 2002, 16:50 in '03, 16:06 in '05, 16:33 in '06, 16:09 in '07: some consistency, regularity and... progress! Not farther this time, but faster, even at 44, cool!
Right after the finish I went back on the course to encourage the boys. Max was close behind in 18:34, taking 2nd in his competitive 14-18 age group. Max had a track competition with his school yesterday in which he ran the last leg/mile of a 1,200-400-800-1,600 long distance relay. He was really tired with little sleep over the past weeks due to his current play in his school's musical: Seussical (see this week's announcement). Yet, he ran 5:04 yesterday and will surely break 5 minutes soon (still one of my goals, although I'm note really training for it, focusing on ultras...).
Alex is also very involved in Seussical having spent tens of hours on the set construction over the past 5 weeks, and being also part of the lightning crew and run crew during the shows. By the way, you can still purchase tickets if you are in the area, an amazing Broadway-style show by high schoolers! Alex is also the Chair of the Cupertino Teen Commission and was volunteering early this morning to set up and man the registration desks. Needless to say, he was also lacking some sleep to to be at his best this morning.
I accompanied Greg for his last kilometer in which he got a surge and passed a lot of older runners, and a blast for a final sprint to the finish line, competing neck to neck with another boy of his age group.Yes, running and speed has become a family virus... A healthy one though!
Nice chats with several members of my running club in Cupertino, the Stevens Creek Striders. Also met Christine and Pierre-Yves, a French couple who has lived in the Bay Area for 12 years now, whom Agnès had invited for this run. Christine has been playing field hockey with the French National team before moving here. She now runs half marathons and triathlons. Trying to find his sport, Pierre-Yves started running 18 months ago, and already ran 2 marathons including a 3:12 at Napa this year. He already find ultra trail running more interesting. He is going to be a pacer at Western States in June, to get a flavor of it. I also learned that Pierre-Yves is part of the regular readers of my blog, always nice to put a name and a face on readers! Today he placed second in our M40-49 age group, running under 19 minutes, close behind Max. Great start, Pierre-Yves, and good luck in going "farther, faster!"
The morning ended with a long award ceremony. First, an amazing set of 40 or more raffle prizes ranging from $10 to $500 value. Then medals, plaques and trophies for seven three-deep age groups for each gender (42 awards total). A big thank you to the personnel and volunteers of the Cupertino Park and Recreation Commission for a perfect race and event, led by the popular and cheerful Big Bunny!
See you next year, if the race doesn't fall on the same weekend as Boston...

Friday, March 14, 2008

Jean, another ultrafondu, by Vincent

Ultrafondu (latin ultra: exhalted, exagerated - french fondu: melted and fond: long distance running) fem: ultrafondue, pl. ultrafondus (1) n. person passionate about ultra running; (2) adj. crazy about ultra running!

Ultrafondus the monthly magazine of the Francophone ultra running community. Available through subscription or at

Ok, I concede, these definitions do not come from the Harrap's or the Collins, but they are much needed before reading this post.

This week and weekend I am in Paris for business and found two copies of ulrafondus at my parents' where I have my subscription delivered to. Vincent (Toumazou) had given me some heads-up and I was anxious to read the January issue. For the frequent readers of my blog, they will recall the visit of Vincent in the Bay Area last December, our run at Rancho and the nice lunch at home afterwards.Vincent is a contributor to ultrafondus and interviewed me with questions covering many aspects of my running career. Resulting in 5 pages in the printed magazine including pictures the editor selected from my online photo albums and blog posts! Of course it is in French which the francophone readers will appreciate, for once on my blog. The magazine is not online, but you can access the electronic copy I have uploaded on my website (pdf). By the way, the title is a nice play of words from Vincent: Gens d'ultra, Jean de Californie. Gens means people (ultra people) and his homonym of my first name.

ultrafondus is really a top class running magazine. First the presentation is impeccable, professional, colorful, modern. Second, and even more importantly, the content is amazingly rich and captivating. Not only for us, ultrafondus, but also for our family and friends who can share thanks to these articles some of our passion and understand better why we spend hours and days on the trails. Furthermore, it is printed on glossy paper which makes the layout and numerous color pictures standing out and enhancing the text beautifully. It is hard to convey such a high standard of quality through words, you really have to experience it by yourself. To me, with 80+ pages of such quality, it's like getting a new book on ultra each month in the mail. Kudos to the ultrafondus team! How is this relevant to most of you, the non Francophone readers of my blog, especially in the US? Well, it actually is to some extent thanks to connections between the ultrafondus and UltraRunning (UR) magazine teams. Last year Philippe (Billard) and (Tropical) John (Medinger) have met in France, exchanged ideas and engaged into a collaboration to establish links between the American and European/Francophone ultra communities. For instance, once a month, ultrafondus now include a translated article from the last issue of UR. I have to think that ultrafondus influence the UR team to move to the color cover last year, something which received a lot of positive from the UR readers on the ultralist forum. By the way, I am also an avid reader of UR, and contributor too (the next issue should include a write-up on the Coastal Challenge). I am also a subscriber to other magazines (Runner's World, Trail Running, California Track & Running News), plus reader of books, and DVDs... Yes, definitely, I am an ultrafondu...! Maybe yet, an ultranut...

I met Philippe for our inaugural "French fat ass 50K" in Rouen in January. Philippe is the Editor-in-Chief of ultrafondus. His passion has always been journalism but his parents pushed him to get in IT (Information Technology) for a safer career. In College he majored in IT and, after a few years in application development, made the jump into IT journalism, working for the major French publication, 01 Informatique, after getting back to school to study journalism. Later, he discovered running which he added to his range of passions. Naturally, he made another career move, leaving the IT world to specialize in ultra running journalism. Took a stake into the small ultrafondus corporation and that became his full time job. It is nice to see passions being combined this way! Similarly to what Sarah and Wendel accomplish with their Pacific Coast Trail Run (PCTR) venture in California, surfing today's ultra wave!

Here we are, with Rouen in the background, in very good ultrafondus company: Annick (Le Moignic) in charge of proof-reading the magazine before publication, Philippe, Stéphane (Couleaud), another ultrafondu, and I:
As a serious ultrafondu, I went for a run this weekend. It was a special and packed weekend with the last 3 games of the annual 6 nations rugby championship (Italy-Scotland at 2pm, England-Ireland at 4pm and the much expected Wales-France at 6pm). I left my parents' at 9:30 in the morning, initially for a run of at least a marathon, starting with La Coulée Verte (see my review of this great run along the TGV line). By mile 13 I was feeling good so I took the road toward Palaiseau. Stopped by the very nice church of Vauhallan with a crypt from the 5th century, Clovis time (the King of the Franks at the origin of the Gaul reunion), which is really prehistory for us living in the US... I kept going on to Saclay, along the National Center for Nuclear Research to end up in Gif-sur-Yvette 20 miles from my parents'. I stopped twice a bars to get my bottle refilled (with water, not beer!), yet missed electrolytes for this long (long) run. 40.4 miles in 5h22, I had enough exercise to enjoy three rugby games on TV! By the way, that is my third longest training run since I have been running.

Unfortunately that afternoon, the Wales-France fight turned to the Wales' advantage. There was a lot of expectations from both sides. Wales had to win this last game to complete a grand slam (5 victories). France had to win the game by more than 22 points to place first of this year championship. To simply win to place 2nd and, because England had just won over Ireland by more than 22 points, would finish 3rd of the championship if losing this game. Which is the scenario which finally happened...

In the evening and late in the night we did celebrate my older brother's 50th, despite this disappointing news on the rugby side. Thierry is a fan of rugby and played for many years, first in our hometown club of Tours in 2nd division, and later with his school, Sciences Po (for Institut des Sciences Politiques, a top grade management and administation school in Paris). Last month he received the prestigious Hintze award from IFACI, the French association for internal audit he belongs to. Much to celebrate with family and friends!
Here are some French-flavored notes from abroad. Back to the Californian trails next week.

Plus loin, plus vite!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Way Too Cool: cool, at last!

All last week I was both excited and quite anxious at the same time. Wondering how my third run of this popular race will turn out. I was not blogging yet early March last year, so you didn't hear much about it from me. Basically it was not a good experience because of some exercise-induced asthma, like at Miwok later last year. A disappointing 4:45:42, with a lot of walking in the second half of the course. The year before (2006), that was my first ultra, and I simply crashed, going out too fast (4:29:50).

But, since Miwok, I stopped taking the Echinacea supplement I had used for several years to prevent colds. Reading the instructions printed on the bottle, Agnès discovered that this supplement should not be taken when you are subject to asthma. Oops, what are the instructions for? To be read, dude! Interestingly, I did not have any more asthma crisis since then, but a few colds last fall and winter... Between occasional colds and exercise-induced asthma, the choice is easy! And now I can compete more consistently, with my lungs back!

This week then, I was hoping to use as the title of my weekly post: "WTC 08: too cool, at last!" As you see, I have dropped the "too" because I had a great experience, yet there is room for improvement. And competing at this level is still hard work...

By the way, a precision for the non (ultra) insiders (Hi Mom!) so they can understand the title: Cool is a small community close to Auburn, CA, the world capital of endurance sports and finish of the the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run in June. The race could have been called "Way to Cool" but it is actually "Too Cool" indeed to start the ultra season this way. The Californian way!

It all started with a great, quiet and long night at our favorite hotel in Auburn, the Best Western Golden Key Inn. This hotel is perfectly located for WTC and Western States (the finish), and Agnès and the boys appreciate very much its pool and jacuzzi. Half the hotel was probably occupied by runners that Friday night so the hotel had the breakfast set for 5:30am!

As usual, a very well organized and smooth registration process. A great sweatshirt and cool Brooks (!) technical t-shirt in the goodie bag. Plus the March issue of UltraRunning magazine (found my subscription copy in my mailbox on Saturday afternoon, but at least the one from WTC is clean -- I don't know why the copies I receive in the mail are consistently damaged with teared up covers; must be our mail(wo)man who is passionate about ultra too!). Was fun to go through this special issue reviewing 2007 performances, on the way back, while Agnès was driving. And find my name in several pages/listings, along with illustrious names! ;-)

With such a large field (457 entrants) I saw many familiar faces from the ultra community and had a few chats as we had some time before the 8am start (the Evans, Bev about the Coastal Challenge, Stan Jensen, Graham Cooper, etc.). It was cool at the start (42F) and the temperature was forecast to jump to 70F by mid day. A very sunny day. We changed time this weekend (daylight savings), two weeks ahead of spring, but it was definitely a spring day. Many were wearing singlets with or without gloves. I thought it would be safer to have short sleeves and, apart from several sunny sections at the end, I was happy with my choice and kept my silk gloves the whole way as the breeze remained cool and most of the course was in the shade anyway. As for the shoes, I have the feeling I was the only one with trail shoes in the lead of the race; I saw many road shoes and flats which were indeed OK since the trail happened to be completely dry, unusual at this season. But the Cascadias 3 are almost as light as racing flats, great multipurpose shoes.
By chance, Agnès got a shot of the eventual winner, Todd Braje, #112, from Eugene, Oregon. Turning his head and with bib #1 is Lewis Taylor, last year's winner, also from Eugene. One head above the pack is Tim Twietmeyer who must have run WTC close to 30 times now. And if you zoom, you will find my head (white cap, sun glasses) next to his left arm. A packed start...
As expected, the start was darn fast. At least for four reasons: the first 4 miles are downhill, including the first 1.3 on a paved road, the field was the most competitive ever and everybody wanted to warm-up in this cool morning. Like two years ago, I started with a comfortable 6:15 pace but at least this time, I was not leading, I was probably in 30th position! As usual, Andy (Jones Wilkins) was on fire and telling ultra tales to the company.

I passed Scott (Jurek) as he was really taking it easy around mile 5. Like when I passed Graham (Cooper) at Ohlone last year, I thought "what am I doing, I'm going to regret that..." Anyway, I told Scott how nice it was to see him in California again.

Then, in the technical downhill to the fist aid station, I was on Eric (Skaden) and Hal (Korner)'s heels. Really a good and dream company, isn't it?

At the Hwy 49 crossing, everybody was cheering Scott and he got his water bottle filled faster than me. I stayed behind him for the next 2 miles and it was really great to have the opportunity to see this legend from so close and so long. Cool? Not, too cool! In the technical sections, he is like a bird, or a tightrope walker, keeping his balance with his arms wide open. Too bad I could not tape that, but I will keep these images in my mind for a long time. What an inspiration!

As we approached the steep uphill to Brown's Bar, Scott ate something and drank a lot. I was a bit surprised as we were only 45' in the race. Surprised too to see how much he was sweating with only his Brook singlet on. When I was wearing two layers... I figured out he must still train in cold weather in Seattle and that was the start of heat training for him. We had a short chat about how different this trail was from late June at Western State and, when he learned who I was, he remembered I had sent him some tips I harvested from my week on the UTMB course last summer. He apologized for not having found the time to respond, then we talked about each of our week with Karine (Herry) and Bruno (he stayed at their bed and breakfast after UTMB last year). Then a bit about his race program for 2008. Such a nice and talented runner. And one other proof of the real sense of community of the ultra running family, a sport in which the elite is still so approachable.

Anyway, we reached the bottom of the climb to Brown's Bar and it was time for me to wish a good one to Scott as he kept running, leaving five of us in the dust, walking... I was not going to see him again for the next 23 miles...

I ran the next two miles behind Erik (2nd at Western States in 2006 and 2007) before losing his track. Finally, nobody in sight in front or behind me, I was getting my own race and settled to a pace which I felt was still very fast (too fast?), yet was mine.

I was glad to get to ALT1 (our first passage at Auburn Lake Trail), with a river crossing just at the bottom of the station, then a warm and comforting welcome from quite a large crew. Got my water bottle filled and, in a rush, dipped a baked potato in salt, put it in my mouth with a piece of banana and two pieces of watermelon... Yikes, what a cocktail, which I kept swallowing for the next mile. Rob, my pacer last year at Western Sates, taught me not to waste time at aid stations. Here is the result, so long the gastronomy and the opportunity to get to know the crews better...

In the uphill after ALT1, I was thinking how Graham and Tim passed me then last year, when I had already trouble breathing. I told myself "not this year!" The next 3 miles were fine. I was pleased to see the GPS indicating 17 miles at the 2-hour mark. That was very encouraging for my sub-4hr goal, although i was conscious the start was easy and I tend to start too fast and pay for it at the end... In a technical downhill to a creek, I almost tripped before passing Michael Buchanan. I was surely getting tired and this didn't help. Michael passed me back in the strenuous and steepest climb of the day, Ball Bearing. As well as three other runners. Short stop at ALT2, mile 20, to refill my Gu2O bottle. The volunteer said I was about 25th then. She was close indeed. Then came the section where we cross the back of the pack. The single track is really narrow and most of these runners are so nice to do acrobatic figures to jump on the talus to let the lead runner rush on their way back to the finish. I felt so grateful, and also embarrassed for these runners who had to stop for us, some of them who will be on the course for 8 hours or more. I don't remember how many of these and the nice smiles and words of encouragement. Every time I made sure to say "Thank you, and have a good one!" and after maybe 50 of these, I started losing my breath... In a passage I was slowing down I got passed by Roy Rivers. Roy is a Marin County running celebrity, excelling on the Dipsea course in particular. In one of the Runner's World forum threads about WTC last week, we were discussing the bets Karl Metzler had made in one of his posts. And not knowing many of the guys coming from Oregon, my best bet was on Roy's win of the M50-59 age group. Easy and safe bet: Roy finished 22nd overall, 2nd of the Masters (I was happy with third...). Last year I actually missed a turn at mile 7, continued on a fire road, crossing a gate. 2 other runners followed me, including Roy. We had to go back up the hill and that cost us at least 5 minutes, not to mention we were then back in the pack for a tricky section. With this sprint, plus a bad fall trying to pass a runner, this is were my asthma got triggered, way too early in the race. This year, I was paying more attention to this turn, and I just had to follow Scott anyway. Roy, still charging in the last yards (you won't give him 50 years, trust me!) for a 3:53 finish time:
In the last stretch I got passed by Edward Randolph, then Hal (Korner) in the climb to Goat Hill aid station (Hal was the perfect Goat, hopping from one rock to the other). Here he is at the finish, all smile, as fresh as getting in Robinson Flat to tackle 70 more miles! (For the non-insiders, Hal won Western States in 2007! And Robinson Flat is the station at mile 30, the equivalent of what we run at WTC.)
Despite the fatigue, it is always nice to see Norm up there, always joking, kidding and encouraging the runners. Last year he was wearing a woman costume, with quite some colorful make-up! Nothing fancy this year. Norm was surprised to see a chip on my shoe, he had not realized we were "chip timed" (like for American River 50-mile and Western States). Looking at my hesitation in front of such a buffet (including soup!), a volunteer asked me "What do you want?" To which I replied "Oh, just get to the finish!" Before leaving, Norm also complimented me for my gaiters asking where I found them. They are from Dirty Girl Gaiters and I love them! Especially with the Cascadias which are quite low and get dirt in them easily. The gaiters are light, soft and exist in may colorful models. They are also "dirt cheap" ($13, incl. shipping). I picked an international model on which France and the US flags appear next to each other (as well as many other nations). They got actually "portrayed" by Andres, our official photographer at the Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica (Photo by J. Andrés Vargas -

By the way, for the non insiders, Norm is a legend of ultra. For running himself, but for at least two other reasons: being the husband of Helen Klein, a holder of many 70 and 80 year age group records on marathon and beyond. And also for setting up several ultras in the area, including the Helen Klein Classic the first weekend of November and Rio del Lago 100-mile in September.
I had 3:20 on my clock and the station sign was claiming 26.2 miles (good for yet another unofficial Boston qualifier!). Actually the GPS said 25.2 which felt more accurate. Yet that meant that I'd better get going to finish under 4 hours as I had lost much of my initial speed. I did not leave without wishing Happy Birthday to the "old goat" though!

I passed Erik (Skaden) in a short climb after the station. 2 miles later, I heard someone sprinting behind me. I jumped on the side of the trail to let pass the lead gal, Susannah Beck, yet another member of "Team Oregon", showing an outrageous superiority today. Susannah was on to set a new Course Record, breaking the one Ann Trason set 15 years ago, by 4 minutes! Wow, she was really flying. And, although 39, that's only her debut in ultra...
Barely stopping at the Hwy 49 crossing, I just grabbed a coke. I heard bells, and learned later that was Greg from the car as Agnès was driving back to the finish. Some walking in the last hill, with Eric Grossman (VA) and Bradley Mongald (WV) at sight. They were talking a lot and had to sprint or I would have caught them on the finish line! After such a difficult finish and some incertitude in the last miles about the reaching of my sub-4h goal, I let my joy explode on the finish line (unusual enough to get noticed! ;-).
My pace chart really shows my struggle in the last 10 miles. The scale doesn't really show that I was running many of the first sections at 5:30 to 5:40 min/mile. And the last ones around 9 min/mile when not walking. Overall, I ran the first 10 miles in 1:10, the next 10 in 2:20 and the last 10 ones in 1:30. Not a good progression or trend, it was time to reach the finish!
Although the elevation gain and loss is only about 3,500 ft (the scale of the chart below is a bit exaggerated on the vertical axis), this is not an easy course: some downhill sections are tricky, there are a few steep uphills which break your rhythm, many rolling sections in which you have to constantly adapt your pace while going up and down, and narrow single track most of the way.
In many races, we are so spread out that we don't see anyone between the aid stations. What surprised me the most this year is that we were constantly passing or being passed, showing a much higher density of the lead of the race. Besides, it was really fun to run among such an elite field.

All the results have been promptly posted on line on Saturday evening. 442 finishers: not a record year but quite a good one (WTC has always a very good finisher rate, usually above 95%). I was the last one of 28 to finish under 4 hours this year. The last record was 16 (2002) and the number is usually around 10. For what it is worth since the race does not count for the Pacific Association USA Track & Field Ultra Grand Prix this year, I was 3rd of the Masters. And since age groups are only 5-year wide above 35, I can't wait to be the youngest in my new age group next year!

I was expecting an Oregon versus California match: Oregon had an outrageous win overall. 10 of the top 25, the two first overall runners (male and female), the top 3 males! Ouch, they surely know how to train in winter and they are up to the legendary skills developed in this State for sprint and distance running. With Scott taking 4th less than 3 minutes behind the winner, that completed the superiority of the Northwest region over California. Way to go, guys, and see you back in the heat at Western States!

There are a few more pictures from Agnès posted in my Picasa album.

From last year, I remembered the benefit of getting a massage right at the finish from the amazing Monsters of Massage (Newcastle, CA). At Boston we get students and the massages tend to be quite light. Here you get the pros, the "monsters", and they press your muscles down to the bones! I barely feel any soreness as I'm writing these lines on Sunday, kudos VeLoyce!
Runners kept coming in the tent to get a ball of soup or a Pepsi. Or a massage. Or some ice to heal an injury as there were quite a few casualties: Bev, who won last year, took second but could barely walk after the finish, suffering from a terrible tendinitis. Rob (Evans) who pushed me to break 4 hours, completed the course in 4:08 despite injuring a tendon too. Caren (Spore) had fallen and her hand was bloody. Eric (Grossman) had scratched his arm through a bush and had blood all along. Oops, did I hear my father (a medical doctor) saying that running in general, and ultra in particular, is not safe...? Let's change the conversation then...

While waiting for the massage, I caught up with Kenny Brown and his wife, from San Jose. When I was mostly road racing in the Bay Area, he was one whom I was only seeing from behind. A 2:31 marathoner (Napa) and 1:10 on half marathon. He placed 3rd here last year in 3:47, and taking off with the lead runners again, he placed only 23rd this year in 3:55. He plans on continuing mixing cross-country, road racing and ultra, so we will see him again on the trails!
I had another nice chat with Scott about his plan to race in Europe again this summer (at least the Spartathlon which he won two years in a row already and where he would like to challenge Kouros' time).

Scott autographed my Brooks ID (Inspire Daily) singlet:
I discussed with Will (Gotthardt) about his race. I met Will for the first time at Ohlone 50K last year, his playing and training backyard. Will has been running ultras (50K) for only a year and plan to run his first 50-milers at Firetrails in October, where he will be well positionned to get the Dick Collins Roocky Award. We talked about the great opportunity that WTC represents to meet and run with the top ultra runners of the country. He had a blast himself, running in Nikki (Kimball) and Graham (Cooper)'s company, two Western States winners.

I thanked Race Director Greg (Soderlund) for the perfect day (and organization!), and for giving me this special bib number, 44. Although I told him I might be only 11 (see the whole story about me being born on 2/29, California time...).

This is such a professional job, definitely a full time job. Including of course the fate of assembling such a top class team of volunteers manning the 3 aid stations (2 double) which need to remain open for the entire day. The stations were perfectly stocked and even soup was served, in the morning!

A chat with the Western States "founder", Gordy (Ainsleigh). I told him that I contributed a picture for his Wikipedia page (below); he didn't know and will check it out. Gordy came with his chiropractor table and an irresistible offer: "I will fix (realign) your body for $1!"
With such a good representation of the West Coast ultra "who's who", hanging over at the finish line was a treat. Being like in "ultra heaven!" Unfortunately, all good things have an end and Agnès was anxious to drive back so we left by 1pm.

But, was it enough about running? No! Being in Auburn this Saturday, I wanted to take the opportunity to get an overview of the finish of our coming American River 50 (a 50-miler, first weekend of April). 2 hours after my finish, we parked at the Auburn Dam Overlook where I saw a runner (Lon) who had evidently just run that last hill. I asked him for the directions and he indicated I will find a paved road going down to the river. I was surprised because I thought only the first half of the course is paved (the part I know from Helen Klein 50-mile), and the rest on trails (which were very muddy last year as it rained as much during the race as it did during our Boston marathon weekend). Anyway, here am I, going down to the American River which I reached after 1.7 miles, at a power station. Preserving my quads which were still hot after the 50K, I went down 800 ft in 15 minutes and came back up to the parking in 19 minutes. Bottom line is that I didn't see any road or trail down at the river so I believe that was not the AR course... At least I have a sense of the final elevation we will have to go through in the last 2 miles, in 4 weeks.
See you all in 4 weeks then, for more fast miles!

Farther, and faster...