Friday, April 25, 2008

Appalachian Trail: a mega sustainability sensor

It was Earth Day on Tuesday this week, the perfect occasion to celebrate one of the natural wonders of the US, the Appalachian Trail.

I was giving a talk at Informs Practice, an Operations Research conference, in Baltimore, Maryland, last week. The boys were off for Spring break so the whole family made the trip to Washington, D.C., a rare occasion to combine a family and business trip.

I myself took Wednesday off and we headed to West Virginia, a state which we had not visited yet. More precisely to Harpers Ferry, the headquarters of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC).

I have several connections with ATC and the trail. The first and strongest, Steve Paradis, one of our best friends, who is the Chief Operating Office of ATC and lives in Harpers Ferry. Agnès had known the Paradis family in Andover, Massachusetts, for a long time, from students exchanges when she was a teen, and I got introduced to them shortly after meeting Agnès, in 1989. Here is a short biography of Steve from the ATC website:

Steve Paradis, Chief Operating Officer: Steve’s involvement with the A.T. dates back to a southbound thru-hike he completed over the winter of 92-93. Since then, he has volunteered as a corridor monitor and is currently the monitor coordinator for the Dartmouth Outing Club. He served on the ATC Board of Managers, Finance Committee, and Stewardship Council. He served briefly as an officer on the ALDHA board.

Coming to ATC from industry, Steve has held positions in R&D and product development in the paper industry as well as in production and global manufacturing operations with Hewlett-Packard. He earned his B.S. and M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from M.I.T. and holds an M.B.A. from Stanford University.

Steve has hiked-through the AT and brings a very attractive mix of hiker and industry experience and expertise to the ATC. Knowing Steve so well, it is hard for me to imagine a better officer to lead the 50 staff of ATC and the associated network of 30 clubs, themselves federating the 6,000 volunteers maintaining the Appalachian Trail. Lucky ATC!

Another connection is through Flyin' Brian Robinson who was the first person to hike the three cross-US scenic trails within the same year (Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail). A feat called Triple Crown, which Brian topped this year by completing and winning the Barkley 100-mile, while setting a course record, at the beginning of the month. Brian was used to live in the Bay Area and I learned a lot from running the hills with him. If you recall my account of my first Western States, we ran the first 32 miles together last year. I rarely see Brian now that he moved to Monterey, but will see him again on the Western States course in two months.

Third, I heard again about AT when Steve asked me what I thought of Karl Meltzer's project to set a new speed record on AT this summer. ATC is a bit concerned with the buzz around this attempt. As Karl is one of my ultra heroes, whom I still have to meet on the trails (see my 2008 wishes), I tried to reassure Steve of Karl's best and positive intentions and genuine interest in trail protection and promotion through our sport.

Last, the trail gets to Georgia in the South, the State of Atlanta, where Dave leaves, one my most diligent readers, and one of my connections with the trail and ultra running community on the East Coast. Dave is a proud member of GUTS, the Georgia Ultrarunning and Trailrunning Society, which I'm sure makes good use of the Appalachian Trail.

The Appalachian Trail

The AT doesn't yet cross all the US (at least the official one, because some claim a longer international version). It goes from Georgia in the South, to Maine in New England. With a length of 2,175 miles it is the longest marked trail in the US and it crosses 14 states overall and 8 National Forests. It took many years to connect all the segments and was established by Congress in 1968, 47 years after Benton MacKaye's original idea in 1921. Although a unit of the National Park Service, its maintenance relies on 30 local clubs and associations gathering 6,000 volunteers along the trail. This amazing work and countless hours are orchestrated by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, which received a formal delegation from the National Park Service to maintain and protect the trail.
I only ran 23 miles this time, that is about 1% of the trail. Needless to say, I have not seen much of it. In addition, the weather was perfect: pure blue sky, nice temperature with a light breeze and the trail was in perfect condition, having dried up from the winter season. Yet, there was some sections with a lot of dead leaves and tricky rocks making the run more tiring than what expected, and representing more work than I should have put in 3 days before Ruth Anderson 100K (or 50K...).

Steve is showing me the marking of the trail: 1 white stripe = keep going straight; 2 s announce a turn, with direction to be read bottom-up. Blue stripes indicate an access trail (a trail getting hikers to or off the trail, about 160 miles of them).
I started my run from Route 40, with this bridge crossing Highway 70, and going South toward Harpers Ferry.
And, not carrying a camera, here am I, 23 miles later, getting close to Harpers Ferry where I met Steve and the family along the canal, the only flat section of the day.
During these 3 hours, I saw less than 10 people, a few through-hikers with huge backpacks and half a dozen local hikers. Note that, according to Steve, I had run a part of the course of the famous JFK 50-mile, although I can't find a confirmation on the website. I'll surely be back to run more of the AT, and maybe this mythical race on the East Coast. The largest ultra event in the US, with more than 1,000 finishers last year, yet, quite a smaller field than the SaintéLyon I ran last December, in France, with 8,000 participants (including more than 2,500 on the complete 42-miler, a race starting at midnight on a muddy course and freezing temperatures...).

After a shower and getting the boys and Steve for a canoe tour on the Shenandoah River, I went back to the AT Conservancy headquarters for a visit and the traditional picture that most of the hikers get in front of the building and plaque:
Inside, there is a room that many AT hikers will recognize: "their" room, with a couch for some rest, pictures and maps following the progress of some hikers and volunteers on the trail, a box of lost-and-founds in which hikers can either leave surplus or get some missing stuff, several artifacts illustrating the trail history and a computer to send and check emails. I takes about 5 millions steps to hike the whole trail and this comfortable and well equipped halt is definitely worth to get re-energized along the way!

The MEGA-Transect initiative
Now that you know more about the trail, let's get to the title of this post. As you can see on the above picture, the AT, in red, has a very sizable dimension compared to the size of the North American continent. With 250,000 acres of protected land, and 2,000 occurrences of rare, threatened, endangered, and sensitive plant and animal species, the AT represent a unique and huge living laboratory and a excellent opportunity to monitor the effect of global warming in particular. In that sense, it represents a mega sensor for our sustainable (or non sustainable...) development.

The picture is actually a copy of the cover of a very interesting report presenting this global initiative.

How mega is this sensor? I'm not very good with square yards, this is really not metric at all... So here are the detailed maths to give you an idea:
  1. According to the NFL, a football field is 120 by 53 1/3 yards = 6,400 square yards
  2. One acre = 4,840 square yards
  3. 250,000 x 4,840 / 6,400 = 189,062
A surface equivalent to 190,000 football fields, how mega is this? Many more fields than in the whole United States for sure.

The MEGA-Transect project aims at three goals:
  1. Monitor – Collect and analyze new and existing data on key indicators of environmental health from agencies, organizations, researchers, and citizen scientists.
  2. Understand – Transform data into status reports and track trends through analysis, synthesis, and modeling.
  3. Inform and Engage – Inform and engage the American public, decision-makers and stakeholder organizations to manage and protect the A.T. environment, attain the goals of existing natural resources and environmental legislation, and to make sound decisions for positive change.
Like for the maintenance of the trail, it relies on the volunteers for many of its related actions. Steve confessed that an interesting challenge was to have the scientific and volunteers collaborate into this program, with of course very different backgrounds and even motivations. To me, a very significant program illustrating the challenges and opportunities related to sustainability (or sustainable development), a theme we are promoting within SiliconFrench, our local Francophone networking association, in Silicon Valley.

Here are some of the captivating facets of the MEGA-Transect project highlighted in the report:
  1. Citizen Science
  2. Forest Health
  3. Invasive Plants
  4. Rare, Threatened and Endangered Species
  5. Mountain Birds
  6. Seasonal Life Cycles
  7. Landscapes
  8. Water
  9. Air Quality
  10. Visitor Impacts
As you can see from this list, all key topics for the future of our planet, and our existence. Long life to this program and a mega thank you to all the volunteers involved in this Citizen Science! Also an example to follow for us, on the West Coast, with the Pacific Crest Trail...

Farther and faster, the sustainable way...

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Ruth Anderson: gone with the wind...

Is it Spring yet? One could wonder this weekend with temperatures in the low 40s in the morning and... gusting winds. When I flew back from Washington, D.C., on Thursday, temperature was 89F at mid day in San Jose. What a change and contrast in two days!
We were 48 at the start this year, a small number although about the same as previous years, except for last year's record participation of 68 runners (photo credit: Kevin Kanning). We had the wind in our back for the first mile so a reasonably fast start. However, I stayed with Michael (Kanning), Mark (Tanaka), Alan (Geraldi) and John (Burton), last year's Race Director (RD). Alan told us about his coming Badwater, this July. Sure this run would not provide much heat training for it! I asked John for some news about their baby (Amy was pregnant when directing the race last year). 8 months now and sleeping at night, on the right track! We were oscillating between 7:30 and 7 min/mile pace and I took the lead keeping a very stable 7:00 +/- 2 seconds. Actually Alan caught up with me by the end of the first lap (each lap around the lake is 4.5 miles) and I made sure not to follow him. We closed the second loop together but I left the aid station before him and was not going to see him again. (Photo credit: Kevin Kanning.)
I was still on a 7:00-7:01 average pace after the fourth lap and feeling very well except for a few needed stops by the bathroom, like last year although a bit later in the race this year. At the end of the 6th lap, I passed the marathon mark in 3:05 and thought at that time that it would too fast for a 100K but would make a good 50-mile time if I could hold the pace. However, in the 7th lap, I got really tired of the wind in the South part of the lake and decided I the run had lost the fun for me, and that was not worth continuing for 5 more laps. Another factor contributed to my decision: seeing and passing Michael walking 1.5 mile form the North aid station. (Photo credit: Kevin Kanning.)
I decided to call it a day and sprinted to the finish line of the 50K. For the non insiders, Ruth Anderson is a race where you have the option to stop at any of the three distances: 50K, 50 miles or 100K. But once you have reach one of the distances, you must either stop or have to continue to the next one to be listed in the results. Hao Liu and Peter Lubbers where the timers on the 50K and had to wait for at least 30 seconds before I made my mind as I didn't want to regret my choice (Peter whom I did not recognize with all his layers on, his cap and sun glasses on, oops! Peter, sorry about that. I was not expecting you at Lake Merced. Was very nice of you to come down from Tahoe to help Rajeev out!). 50K it was for today, in 3:44:58.
I had come with several goals: (1) have a fast road 100K time in preparation for a potential participation into the French Nationals at the end of August, a race sponsored by Brooks; (2) erase my counter performance of American River, 2 weeks ago; (3) put a good number of points in the PA USA Track & Field Grand Prix, after the fact that Way Too Cool did not count in this year; (4) close some of the 75-point gap that Mark (Tanaka) established after two races (Jed Smith while I was in Costa Rica, and a great American River); (5) last but not least, have fun with a local race and easy logistic. All these goals were gone with the wind, blown away by the gusting winds coming from the Pacific Ocean.

I was therefore kind of disappointed to "drop" down to the shortest distance today but, given the conditions, a mere consolation that was still a PR on this distance. My best 50K so far was Skyline in 3:48, with much more elevation. So a bit faster, with the wind replacing the hills. Other consolation: a very nice plaque awarded by Rajeev, this year's Race Director. Rajeev had assembled a great team of volunteers who had to endure such bad conditions for a very long day. A big thank you to all of you guys (see the post scriptum for more)! I also kept asthma under control, with just a bit of coughing on the way home. I later learned that wind was in the 30-35 mph range (more than 50 km/h) and got only stronger during the day, so had less regret of having picked the shortest route.

I was blessed to have these consolations compared to Michael's misfortune, today. Michael dropped after 6 laps, a big disappointment when you know he was after the US Junior National record for the distance. Michael is only 16 so he has some time to meet this goal, very much at reach if only he starts slower (the record corresponds to a 10:33 min/mile pace). His father, Kevin, was here to encourage him, take pictures and drive Michael who does not have a driving license yet. Since Agnès had only planned to come to see me finish the 100K and drive me back, she was not even on her way yet. Kevin was very nice to drive me back home (we live not far from each other) and, after a hot shower, I was really glad to get in the jacuzzi to finally warm up after this cold morning, thinking of the runners still on the course. Special congratulations to the 4 valorous 100K finishers, Mark Tanaka, Joseph Swenson, Charles Blakeney and Lisa Huerta, with Mark winning the race in 8:45, 50 more minutes than his time of last year.

Before closing on this report of a race named after Ruth Anderson, I found these words about her in one of the USA Track and Field website pages:

Ruth Anderson pioneered women's ultrarunning in the 1970s, a time when virtually no American women practiced the sport. She established numerous American ultradistance women's records, and in doing so became an inspiration for the first generation of American ultra women, who led the world ultra rankings well into the 1980s. Anderson, born in 1929, is the namesake for the Ruth Anderson 50 km / 50 mi. / 100 km held in San Francisco each April since 1993.

She became active in the national federation's fledgling distance running committees. In 1986 she was a founding member of the first Ultrarunning Subcommittee of USA Track & Field. Anderson continues today as a USATF committee member and volunteer for long distance running in general, and ultrarunning in particular. For her pioneering accomplishments in the sport and her performances, Anderson was the inducted into the USATF Masters Hall of Fame in the initial class in 1996 and is one of four ultrarunners in the hall.

Surely the best way to remember her is by running this event, and I hope more will join in the future.
On Sunday I wanted to put the missing miles in. On my way up to Black Mountain, I got on the course of The Relay, on Stevens Creek Canyon Road. The Relay is a very special race taking place every year: a 200-mile run, from Calistoga in Napa Valley down to Santa Cruz, with teams composed of 12 runners, each of them running 3 legs, between 3 to 9 miles each. 190 teams or 2,280 runners, raising money for Organ 'R' Us, a beautiful running event. It was fun to see some runners on this road, with the ballet of their accompanying vans and crew. I got into the excitement and, instead of Black Mountain, ended up at Skyline Boulevard at the end of Highway 9. In addition to crossing Cupertino, I had run leg 28 (labeled as hard), 29 (very hard) and 30 (very hard), for 12.2 miles of most up hills. At the top, among the crowd, I ran into Stan Jensen who was volunteering again, with the Palo Alto Running Club, providing security oversight along the exchange on this road with a lot of dangerous traffic. Stan had spent his Saturday carefully recording our splits at Ruth Anderson. In addition to his very informative website, Stan is everywhere on the running circuit and I will see him again at Miwok in two weeks.

The way down was much easier and I totaled 55.6 miles over the weekend, good long runs in preparation for Miwok (hilly trail 100K on May 3rd).

See you there!

PS: from Rajeev's follow-up email, a praise to all the volunteers at this year's edition:

David Sirbiladze
He partied till 1:00 am Saturday morning and woke up again at 3:15 a.m. to drive with his nut of a friend, Rajeev Patel, to Lake Merced where he, single handedly, out up the 10x20 volunteer tent.

Steve Jaber
I learned so much from this amazing man about race directing. He was everywhere, taking care of all glitches.

A friend of Juliane Scheberies, was amazing all morning and many hours past noon. She was the heart and soul of the North aid station.

Anu Singh
She boiled a load of potatoes the evening before before sitting down to make the goodie bags. She then got up real early to drive up with me to the race where she volunteered in the North aid station.

Lily Patil
She too drove up early with me and helped out in the North aid station until she had to leave around 10:00 a.m.

This man was like my personal genie - he manifested all the things I needed within minutes! He was there from 5 a.m. until almost 3 p.m., all the while helping get stuff for both the aid stations.

Arul's wife, helped out in the North aid station, all the while warming hearts with her beautiful smile

Cori, Mohan, Anil, Chandrakala (CK), Renuka
These hardy volunteers braved the gale force winds in the South aid station with an ever present smile and a helping hand.

Nicole Whiting
She showed up just after noon and spent the next 4-5 hours helping man the North aid station. She made and handed out hot soup to the runners and other volunteers and had a smile for everyone.

Manjula Jonnalagada
Manjula helped out in the North aid station and worked tirelessly for all the hours she was there.

Deepa Ramam
Showed up with a sleeping child and her parents and helped out including getting sandwiches for all the volunteers.

Stephanie Huynh, Wendy Hong, and Danielle Cha
These 3 young girls showed up at 6:15 in the North aid station and helped out until they had tpo leave at 10:00 a.m. These young girls are from a local school, Lowell High School, displayed great spirit and a willingness to help.

Hao Liu and Pete Lubbers
Your 50K timers, along with Jeff Jones, sat all by themselves timing your 50K finish and did it with a smile.

Shekhar Hemnani and Rajeev Char
Your 50M timers, they helped bring down Race Central after the race and were there till the end helping the last 100K runners finish.

Hollis Lenderking
Shouting out bib numbers in the morning, he came back again later on to get stuff for the race. Thank you Hollis.

Dave Combs and Stan Jensen
The numbers duo. These two manned their timing tent with an efficiency that I could only stand and admire. Knowing that they were in their tent crunching numbers let me spend my time with other race matters.

Jeff Jones and Lyal Holmberg
Jeff helped out in the North aid station, manned the 50K finish area and then headed to the South aid station where he and Lyal worked until the very end.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Pura Vida in UltraRunning magazine

First, a quiz: do you recognize the three runners on the cover? Read down to the end for the answer...

This week I received my issue of UltraRunning. With ultrafondus, they are my two favorite magazines. This issue is special: there is a long section on adventure running, a sport I discovered this winter. The section features several remote and multi-stage races, including a 1-page article on The Coastal Challenge by... me!

As the course change every year I tried to give the article a generic spin, conveying the philosophy of the event, rather than going back to the details I already provided you with in my series of post on the TCC (not tired about it yet? ;-).

For instance, I start with the following very special cocktail recipe:

Mix 130 miles of running through the Costa Rican jungle, 7 stages, a handful of micro-climates, breathtaking views, top quality food, ultra running camaraderie, a pinch of competition, outstanding logistics, rustic but non-dry camping. Shake for 6 days and you will get a memorable Coastal Challenge cocktail. No counter indication!

This is also known as the Pura Vida Cocktail, the ultra and healthy way, of course! Read the magazine for more...
And now, ultrafondus presses me to write a much longer article to be published overseas. Like I had not enough with a two jobs, blogging and many other activities... Patience and tenacity...

This is also a special issue in another way: UltraRunning is starting a series of articles featuring running clubs, kicking it off with... The Stevens Creek Striders, my running club in Cupertino (I'm also a member of the Association Sportive des Vétérans de Paris)! Here we are, manning the Last Chance aid station at mile 43 on the Western States course, in June 2005 (I was the co-captain with Bob and Marsha).
And one year later, same place, celebrating 25 years of service to the race.Thanks to the Striders I can join USA T&F (Track and Field, Pacific Association Chapter) and compete in the US; thanks to the Vétérans de Paris, I can register with the FFA (Fédération Française d'Athlétisme) and compete in France (although far less). I work for a global company (900 people, 15 offices in 9 countries), and my running business is global too! That said, there are so many new places I still want to visit and run at/in.

Yes, Farther, an endless dream...

Once more, Pura Vida to you all!

PS - The response to the quiz: Zeke Tiernan, Kyle Skaggs (the brother of Erik who came in 2nd at Way Too Cool this year) and... yes, Tony Krupicka (you should have known if you read my American River post last week!). Kyle and Tony are on their way to something very unique: both winning the Moab's Red Hot 50K (0r 55K actually). A tie, setting two course records at once! By the way, Kyle is 23 and Anton 24 so they have a huge "Farther Faster potential" ahead of them... (Need to patent this expression and pick a unit. Any suggestion? ;-)
PS: adding links to the scans of both articles in this issue of UltraRunning (April 2008):
  1. A Pura Vida experience Experience
  2. The Stevens Creek Striders

Sunday, April 6, 2008

American River 50: never give up!

Ouch, right when I thought I was healed from exercised-induced asthma... I was going to wait until Miwok next month before claiming victory, but there is actually no victory, unfortunately. As you might have read in my Way Too Cool post last month, I had finally a great race there after two tough years, with my lungs functioning perfectly this time, which I attributed to stopping taking Echinacea supplement after Miwok '07 which was then the last race I suffered from asthma.

A long day

The day was perfect for a great race. Cool, mostly sunny with just a few clouds during the day, great competition, dry trail. With such a good setting plus the great form and training of these past months, I had told Agnès I was shooting around 6:45 for my first edition of this legendary race (29th year!). 2 years ago I was barely on the ultra circuit as I had ran my first 50K at Way Too Cool. Then, last year, I had to pass, because the race was the same weekend as the Boston Marathon (which I have ran every other year for the past 8 years). I gave her provisional splits from Keith's great online tool. We decided that there would be too much people at Beals Point (with potential pacers waiting) and agreed she will rather come with Greg at Negro Bar (mile 23.5), depending on the time they will take before leaving the hotel.

We stayed at the Larkspur Landing hotel, which is really convenient, just 1 mile away from the start. So convenient that I jogged 3 miles before the race, making a round trip to pick my bib then enjoying the comfort of the room to get prepared. Arrived just in time though, and got stuck in the pack trying to get on the tiny bridge we were starting on before taking the bike path (there must me an historical reason for such a setting, because this is really not the most convenient way to handle a pack of 500 runners...).
The start was given right at 6am and, in a short initial loop, we were first going down the river, for about 1.5 miles, before going up the American River for the remaining 48.5 miles, hence the name of the event. It was much darker than I thought and, as I was navigating between the runners to reach the head of the race, I paid extra attention not tripping on the side of the bike path. Steve (Bremner) recognized me as I was passing him. Steve is from Colorado and ran the Coastal Challenge with me this year. He followed me and I introduced him to Mark (Tanaka) and Michael (Kanning) who were chatting and had apparently decided to run together today. Steve and I went on, despite Mark's warning that the pace was fast enough. Steve followed then decided to slow down, wishing me a good race and that I won't see him again before the finish! As it turned out, I did see him indeed, and Steve had a great race, taking first place in his M50-54 age group in 7:13.

The first loop got us back at the start line where spectators were waiting for us. I had finally settle for a 6:35 minute/mile pace, seeing the flashing light of the lead bike 4 to 500 yards ahead. I was running on my own when I passed Agnès, 22 minutes in the race.
To the second, I kept this same exact pace for 10 miles, keeping an eye on the lead group in which Anton Krupicka had already taken his singlet off. I was running really smooth and well when, all of a sun, I felt this known inflammation in my lungs. Mark (Lantz) and Kenny (Brown) were with me at this point and I had to let them go to slow down. The start of a very very long slow down throughout the day... I was still running up to the Nimbus Overlook (photo credit: Peter Zinsli) and in the top 15, but that was the last piece of uphill I was going to run today:

After Negro Bar, I started getting passed by runners. First, Mark and Michael, still running together. Mark ended up in 15th position this year, 6:42, against 6th overall last year and 6:52 in a much more difficult rainy weather and muddy course. Good for 3rd of my age group, M40-44, behind Jorge Pacheco (6:20) and Mark Lantz (6:23). As for Michael, he easily won his age group (M1-17!), finishing in 7:47 and 40th overall. Way to go, guys!

With my breathing difficulty, I was hoping to see my crew, Agnès and Greg, at Negro Bar (mile 23.5), with my inhaler. No sign of them so I kept cruising as we were still in a relatively flat section of the course. Same at Beals Point although we had said it might be a too busy place to meet (actually this station has a huge parking lot, so it would have been a good option). Steve (Bremner) passed me right after Beals, then Jenn Shelton, from Bend, Oegon, who ended up winning the women division in 7:02 and 20th overall (Jenny Capel taking 2nd in 7:13). In his usual focused and steady way, Tim Twietmeyer passed me at mile 31, just before Granite Bay. With the fast start and the cruising, I passed the half-way mark in 3:05 and the first marathon in 3:16. For what it was worth, another Boston qualifier...

I was finally much relieved to find Agnès at Granite Bay (mile 31.5). She handed me my inhaler from which I could barely take a puff as inhaling and breathing was making me cough. Enjoyed the station for a couple of minutes, told my crew I was sorry for them because that was going to be a long day, as I didn't want to give up and preferred walking the rest of the course. It was 10:15am and, with my inability to run the up hills, still quite a few hours ahead of us. Agnès said she will be at the next station then, but I didn't see her before Rattlesnake Bar, 8.4 miles, 3 aid stations and... 2h15 later... In the meantime I kept being passed by nice folks who almost asked me if I was ok while I was stopping on the side of the single track to clear the path, while paying attention to the abundant poison oaks (yikes, I got badly hit again on Mount Diablo last week, clearing the path for the runners of the Mount Diablo 50-mile race, next week). Among them I met Ted (Nunes) from the Runner's World forum, and Eric (Schranz) another member of the Brooks ID (Inspire Daily) team. Several runners actually proposed me an inhaler, I never realized so many run with one on them.

Rattlesnake is where Kermit (Cuff) passed me. And Ken (Gregorich) who told me he was like me, having a very bad day. Kermit, though, was all smile. I told you about him in my previous post, after meeting him at our trail maintenance work on Mount Diablo, and the connection I established through Sarah (PCTR) with Vincent Toumazou, who will pace Kermit at this July Badwater. This picture of me getting in Rattlesnake Bar shows that even the down hills were difficult today, usually one of my specialties.

Discussing race strategy with Greg!
With the "never give up" spirit of the 49'ers (the pioneers of the West and founders of all these trails), and the moral support of my crew and friends, I went on for more miles up to the next and last "bar", Manhattan Bar (for sure, the Pioneers had a hard life, but many bars along the trail to get some carb along the way!).

In many stations I was welcomed by people who recognized me, like Burton from the trail running community on the Runner's World forum, at Horseshoe Bar. This time it was Jerry (Hill), one of the founders of our Cupertino running club, the Stevens Creek Striders, and long time Friend of the Western States Trail.

As my average pace was increasing inexorably and now up to 10:15 min/mile, with 7 miles to go, I was wondering if I would break 9 hours or not, especially with the last 3 steep miles up to the finish line. It really forced me to dig as deep into my lungs as possible to walk and jog the last miles to finally finish, with Greg on my side, in 8:53. A lesson of perseverance and courage, for me. And stubbornness too. Not my first one, quite similar to my 2002 Desert Classic Marathon adventure in Phoenix, Arizona, where I was in top position at mile 8 and had to walk the remaining 18 flat miles at 15 min per mile to be sent to the hospital at the finish where I stayed for half an hour before seeing anyone and deciding to leave.

So, yes, asthma is a serious handicap when it kicks in. And when it does, it makes me appreciate even more my past performances, when it does not... One thing is sure though: despite what some people think, it is not because I started fast that it kicked in this weekend. I was in great shape and it was my pace. Although I am keeping a detailed running log, there does not seem to be a single triggering factor among pollen, cool temperature, stress, dry air, speed, nutrition. I was hoping Echinacea was THE thing, but this weekend's experience contradicts this hypothesis. Unfortunately. So I will continue the experiments and, again, enjoy the races where I have my full lung and 80-VO2-max capacity! After 10 minutes sitting in the shade of the finish line tent, the pain of the end was quickly surpassed by the great feeling of accomplishment (I surely take the ability to run an ultra too much for granted) and the joy of getting to the finish line, overcoming the challenges and... meeting with exceptional people such as Anton Krupicka, finally!

Overall this day provided me with an opportunity to see more runners than usual although, despite the slow second half, I did see only the first 25% of the field (finishing 111 overall among 466 finishers). A big thank you for the support of the ones who passed me, and the gentle pressure of the ones who did not and helped me moving forward. I never thought as much of you as this Saturday, these many hours that you spent after we had finish our run. I cannot mention everyone of you of course, but what about Gloria Takagishi who did not miss any of the 29 editions of this race and finished this year again in 12:41!

More than usual, and same for Agnès and Greg, I enjoyed the views of the places we went through. Flowers, rocky sections, the never ending Folsom Lake, canyons, wild turkeys, jack rabbits, this is just one of the pictures taken by Agnès, of the local California Poppies, the State flower symbol:

Last but not least, more time to enjoy the volunteers, providing the same personal and outstanding service and support to every runner, from the elite to the slower ones, and over so many hours in the day. And let's not forget the usual flawless, yet remarkable, organization of Greg Soderlund and his team.

The Kanning-Pommier Challenge

Before closing this post, a short additional story about this week. On Thursday, the Cupertino High School, Max and Alex' school, was visiting Homestead High School, of Cupertino, for a Track and Field dual meet. The Pioneers (Tino) against the Mustangs (Homestead). Interestingly, Homestead is the track where Bob and I do our speed work sessions, twice a week, the best track in the area. I was alerted not by Max, but by Michael (Kanning), the same Michael I mentioned above and also a Brooks ID'er (i.e. Inspire Daily team member). Michael was only going to run the mile, since it was just 2 days before AR. Max was up for the mile and 3,200m (2 miles), despite his lack of training as he focused much more on drama and the Seussical musical lately.

Michael's PR on the mile was 4:59, at 16. Max is 15 and is PR from last year was 5:04. A perfect setting for a match. I told Max not to think of the follow-up 2-mile race. He gave everything he had left after 6 tiring weeks (the musical), ran a great race, passing Michael in the last turn, with 200 yards to go. Michael fought back to the end and passed Max just before the finish line, right on 4:59. With Max setting a new PR at 5:00!

Although the meet turned to Tino's advantage, overall, with my poor performance at American River, Michael won the Kanning-Pommier Challenge 2-0. Way to go, Michael, just by yourself!

I will see some of you at Ruth Anderson in two weeks. Happy miles in the meantime!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Mount Diablo trail maintenance: ultra gardening

That was a special weekend: after a good week of training for American River, I spent more time than a long run on Saturday, not running but working on the trail. It was also a special weekend because the Barkley 100-mile has been on and Flyin' Brian Robinson is still not done as I started writing this (more on this at the end of this post).

Service requirement

Here is a precision for the non ultra insiders: in addition to registration fees and potential qualifying standards, several 100-mile races require that every participant provides some service back to the running community. The two acceptable forms are: volunteering at an ultra or trail race (setting it up or helping out at one of the aid stations) or doing some trail maintenance. Typically 8 hours of your time.

Last year I didn't do the trail maintenance but provided these hours by serving as Captain of the Last Chance aid station (mile 43 on the Western States course), for the fourth year. This year, I'm co-captaining again, with Robin (Bob and Marsha left the Bay Area and moved East last year). Robin has just retired from Adobe and takes a lot on his shoulder. So much that it provides me with the opportunity to do trail maintenance. After all these years enjoying the trail, it is time I get involved in their maintenance (other than removing branches when I lead the way of our Saturday morning runs in Woodside for instance...).

400 runners x 8 hours, that 3,200 hours of service or about 2 full-time equivalent person working for a year. You would think that the Park Rangers would be thrilled by such a help, and that it would be easy to give a hand. Well, not really. These trail maintenance operations have to be organized and there are not that many despite the many trails we have around.

Thankfully, I received an invitation from PCTR (Pacific Coast Trail Runs) who had put on their busy calendar two opportunities: one on Mount Diablo in April, and one at Big Basin later this spring. Agnès wanted to drive back to Mount Diablo, remembering good times we had with the boys running on the slopes, in the grass and the colorful poppies. Unfortunately, the boys have grown up a lot and have busy scheduled of their own, so Agnès had to stay, in particular to drive Greg to the Fencing Academy in the morning.

For the ones who do not know yet, PCTR has been created by Sarah and Wendell, two local ultra runners. Their venture is so successful that they both left their job for this running "company." And they even recently offered a permanent position to Marissa, so ultra is creating jobs, a sign of maturity for this young and increasingly popular sport. A story similar to Philippe's one in France who left his job to manage the ultrafondus magazine, full time. Kudos guys and gals!

We were about 20 to gather this Saturday morning. About half had similar service requirement sheet to fill in, either for Western States or Angeles Crest. The others where genuine volunteers, or maybe interested in getting the trail in good shape for their coming Mount Diablo 50 run (in 2 weeks).
Some familiar faces such as Chihping, the Ultrailrunning Family Man and blogger, and Kermit. Kermit surprised me by announcing that he accepted that Vincent paces him for his Badwater run this summer. I had posted messages in different forums on Vincent's behalf, to advertise Vincent's pacing offer. Vincent plans on running the 2010 edition of Badwater and got a sponsor who pays for airfare for him to come and pace this year. Vincent was thrilled with the news. Sarah, too, for having helped making the connection, following my post. And, last but not least, Kermit for getting someone as competent and experienced as Vincent as fourth pacer to complete his crew. Yet another happy outcome of my efforts in connecting the dots between the American and French ultra communities!
The ones who had planned to work for the entire day were sent to the end of the trail (by car). I stayed with Tom (Kaisersatt), an active member of my club, The Stevens Creeks Striders, and our friend club, San Jose Fit.
We worked on the loop close to the Rock City/Living Oak parking area and campground. I'm not sure if we even covered one mile in more than 4 hours, but we certainly did a meticulous job. Hundreds of poison oak branches, which was the main task assigned to us. But, because or thanks to the tools which we got, Tom started to transform some sections from single track to double track.
Sarah had told us to think of horse riders and also tall runners like Scott Jurek to make sure we were cutting not only the low branches along the trail. And also to go quite deep on each side to make the exercise worth and lasting for 5 years.
Not sure about 5 years, but the runners coming on this trail in two weeks should definitely appreciate this section! I wish the same is done to the Miwok trail before May... Where I got badly hit with poison oak last year.

Here is a very particular rock formation which the Diablo 50 runners will notice while running "our" manicured section:
A very green Mount Diablo in the foreground, and foggy Bay Area in the background:
American River training

After the great run at Way Too Cool, I'm excited to race again this weekend. Running American River 50-mile (AR50), between Sacramento, the California capital and Auburn, the worldwide capital of endurance.

This is a particular race, half road, half trail. Sometimes with mud and rain, but it should be dry and warm this weekend. Put quite a few miles in these past weeks, yet nothing compared to what Anton Kupricka is putting (180 to 200 miles per week, when I ran a total of 277 miles for the long month of March). I am so excited he is coming to run AR, this will be the first time I have a chance to see him in person! If you remember my tagging questions from Mark Tanaka, I hesitated between Anton and Karl Metzler for the person I wanted to meet on the trail and picked Karl. Maybe I will see both of them this year actually!

Driving all the way up to Mount Diablo (60 miles, not so good from a sustainability standpoint...) I had planned to run after our trail work. But, between the overcast weather, the fatigue and the fact that Agnès could not joined, I decided to drive back home instead. It is one of the running paradox: I am less tired running 6 hours straight than spending 2 hours in a museum, walking and stopping at each painting. Same this Saturday with these hours of "ultra gardening." I'm just not trained and used to it...

After my PR on 5K at Big Bunny Fun Run last Sunday, I set a PR on my course from home up to Black Mountain (I even saw Pierre-Yves and David at the top). The training week then included a 2:29 800m (the last of a series of 6 with 1 minute rests) on Thursday, and a fast 9.3-mile loop at Rancho on Friday. I thought I had also PR'ed on this loop and checked my running log: that was only the 8th time out of 72 runs of this loop since 2000. Close, still. On the way down, on PG&E, my Garmin 205 GPS marked 4:23 min/mile, and my legs had difficulty coping with the speed and gravity. But I really enjoyed the speed!

On Sunday I went back up to Black Mountain plus a 4-mile loop on the other side of the mountain (Bella Vista Trail), back trough Rancho San Antonio and Cupertino, working on speed and mental. Thinking of Brian on the Barkley course helped me a lot and I barely stopped during the 29-mile/4-hour run, even in the steep uphills.

Let us see how all this will pay off on Saturday!

The Barkley weekend

It should be worth at least one single post, but I was not there to take pictures or get the details of this incredible race. Or is it really a race, or more an ultra hike?

The so-called Barkley marathons started in 1986 but it is only in 1996 that Mark Williams was the first to complete the 100 miles within the alloted time of...60 hours! We are so proud to have Mark in our Stevens Creek Striders running club in Cupertino, and I'm grateful to him for having provided my with strong ultra foundations. Since Mark's achievement, 6 people have repeated this fate, with Brian being the last one, this weekend, setting a "course" record of 55 hours and 47 minutes. To give an indication of the difficulty of this run, most of the 35 participants have trouble completing even one 20-mile loop under the time limit of 12 hours, despite their ultra experience. 7 runners completed the so-called "fun run" of 3 loops (100K).

To learn more about Brian, see the end of my February 29 post. There are also a few pictures of his last step to the finish "line" on Monday, here. Needless to say, the American ultra community is in awe seeing such a fate. Even the French are speaking of this on the UltraFondus' forum.

And since so many things are connected within this ultra running community, Sarah's significant other and PCTR partner, Wendell, was also running Barkley this weekend. He did not make the cut-off time of the second loop unfortunately. Here are some of his words after his attempt:

I did most of loop 2. I actually felt pretty good until I hit the greasy mud wall going up Testicle Spectacle. It was hands, knees, and a stick trying to get up. I was totally spent when I got to the top. I continued for another couple hours until I hit Rat Jaw that had more of the same. I knew my Fun Run goal "slipped" away and I decided to head back to camp.

We're looking forward to seeing Brian come in. We're all amazed at what he's doing.

Despite the toughness, Wendell is already a candidate for next year. But this time, Sarah and Aaron will make the trip, with some vacation time in Tennessee.

During the weekend, the Greek "god" of ultra running (insider comment), Yiannis Kouros, was making an attempt to take back the indoor 48-hr world record to a Japanese, at the BRNO 48-hr indoor even in Czech Republic. From what I could find on the web, he missed the record, yet won the event (of course!) and ran 408 km (254 miles).

254 miles in 48 hours on a track, indoor. 100 miles in 56 hours on the Barkley course. And some want to compare ultra running (as a whole) to marathon, from an effort or performance standpoint (see the controversial post of Lance, the Harlem runner)... These are both amazing fates, but they just cannot be compared. Period.

A busy running week, time to tapper for AR...

See you there!

PS: oh, by the way, everything in this post is deemed true, despite the special post date. At least to the best of my knowledge! ;-)