Monday, May 26, 2008

My training camp: a memorable weekend

Memorial weekend. Of course, first and foremost, a special day to remember all the US Veterans, like I did last July for my own ultra along the beaches of D-Day (below, my grandfather welcoming the American soldiers in 1944 in Trévières, the town he was the mayor of):
But, when you are fan of ultra and Western States in particular, the Memorial Day weekend is synonym with a 3-day training camp on the Western States trail (see my report from last year's camp).

So, how 51, 37 and 38 do sound to you? There are not seconds, yards, minutes or meters for a track workout. They are not even kilometers but the miles I logged over these three days, almost from the comfort of my home (a way to avoid paying $4 a gallon...). 126 miles and 21,409 feet of elevation (positive and negative). 203 kilometers and 6,525 meters for the readers on the other side of the Ocean. Following a 32-mile week with no break after Ohlone. I just didn't know I was capable of handling this...

Apart from the ultra camaraderie which I did miss, running all these miles by myself, the other big missing component from the camp was the heat. But, from what I heard, it was even cooler and even rainy up there on the Western States trail. Indeed, I was not there this year. The main reason is that I'm flying to Europe very early this Tuesday morning, for a 10-day business trip, and it was adding too much to drive away from the family for 3 more full days. Although most of the three days were spent running, I enjoyed Agnès and the boys in the morning and the evening.

Overall, a very memorable weekend, one to remember. And more details below for the record. Almost worth several blog posts...

Quicksilver 50-mile

In one image, here is the intricate Quick Silver course:
It was 2 days after the big fire in the Santa Cruz mountains, but the clouds below are not smoke, and the firemen where just training on the Hacienda Trail.
Everything is very runnable on the Quicksilver course, you just keep going up or down. My main problem on day 1 was that I missed the sign at the start: "Next aid station: 31.5 miles..." Not gas station like you see on the highway. I'm kidding, there was no sign, actually just 3 cars on the parking lot in the morning and the afternoon. I left with my two Ultimate Direction bottles, one filled with GU2O and the other one with water and was out of fluid by mile 21, at the end of Senador. I had spotted on the map a Park entrance there, so did the detour (0.3 miles) hoping to find some water but nothing, I had to experience the thirst that many of the miners must have gone through in this huge mine of the 19th century (with still many artifacts, very much worth the visit).

I met Anton (Krupicka) after his win at American River and I asked him what it takes to learn how to run for tens of miles without drinking and eating like he does. He replied that you need to teach your body and that includes crashing (well, not completely, not dying!), and that he was usually not taking anything unless going for 40 miles and more. With that in mind, I decided to try this regimen for 10 miles, which forced me to walk some of the Mine Hill Trail up to Bull Run. I was also a bit disoriented at English Town and did not find the English Town trail to go down to Hacienda, but did a detour following Mine Hill down to the crossing with Hacienda (adding 0.3 miles).
Needless to say, I was happy to get to the car, my only aid station for the day. In 4:45. Did not have much to eat but drank has much as possible and, after a 15-minute break wondering if it was reasonable to continue, I decided to go for the remainder of the official 50-miler, at least up to Wood Road where I could decide to skip the 8-mile out and back in Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve at Hicks Road. I was already walking a lot by then but decided to still go as far as possible on Wood Road. Trying to find a sign of the turnaround (there was still some chalk from the race of 2 weeks ago on other part of the course), I pushed 0.2 mile beyond the 4.0 mile mark on my Garmin. Had an easy run back to Mockingbird (start and finish parking lot). The real difficult part mentally was to start another loop after the 50K, going up and away from the start, it made the return a breeze. Speaking of which, it was cool all day, no more than a few minutes of sun shine during all day. I was thinking of the Western States training campers whom I knew were experiencing rain and hail showers.

Completed my run in 8:33, which made me appreciate how incredible Graham (Cooper)'s performance was two weeks ago, improving his own course record now down to 6:35:28. I'll be back, with more aid stations along the way to get faster!

At home Grégoire had offered Agnès a full rest day, cooking himself the three meals. I joined the family for a succulent dinner, followed by a movie (Matrix 3 for Max, Alex and I, and The Mask for Agnès and Greg).

Ohlone: look, I'm back!

Rajeev had told me on Friday about the potential rain on Saturday and that I should wait for Sunday to look for heat (training) on the Ohlone course. I had fun coming back on the course one week after winning the 50K. Today I was just aiming at going up to Rose Peak and back, for 38+ miles, time permitting as I needed to get back home by 4:30.

After 3.5 hours of running I was at 18.5 miles, less than a mile from the summit, but had to turn around because I knew the way back up Mission Peak would be challenging. This time again, I missed water in my 18-mile stretch from and to Sunol. But this time, I dare to ask two hiking gals for some of their water as they seem to have plenty along huge backpacks. Filled-up at the only working tap, near the horse corrals (the brand new drinking fountain is broken...) and up again to Mission Peak with a mix of walking and jogging.

37 more miles on day 2, in 6:58. A picture, back home:

Rancho San Antonio: for the mental and pacing tune-up

For day 3 I decided to drive even less and go at Rancho San Antonio (Cupertino). Less elevation, although not much flat either as you can see below but, more importantly, the mental training of doing loops. I did the first one clockwise, starting with PG&E (steeper), the second loop anti-clockwise, then the same again. At least this time I had an aid station (car plus drinking fountains) every 9.5 miles. The toughest being to find a parking spot as many hikers and walkers were out for Memorial Day.

As planned, I called Agnès at the end of loop 2 so she can join me at the end of loop 3. Agnès did some Nordic Walking, with Greg, and Max joined me for a premiere: pacing me for the last 9.5 miles out of 38. That was a test for the two of us as I asked him to pace me from Foresthill down to Rucky Chucky at Western States in one month!Last week on Wednesday I ran with Adam (Blum), another ultraholic (thanks Rajeev!) and he proposed to pace me from the river to the finish. Adam is very fast. He was going to Portland this weekend to defend his 2nd place at the Forest Park 20K, which he did (2nd overall again this year).

Bottom line, I learned a few things over this very personal and individual camp. That you can recover after crashing by keeping moving. Yet, that drinking is important (I knew it, I just believe I'm too old to follow Anton's precepts, or cannot afford to take the risk of crashing often enough...). I confirmed Max as a pacer for the 16 miles after Foresthill. Last year I discovered I could run 100 miles over 4 days, this year 126 miles over 3 days and even more elevation. I saved a lot of gas by not driving to the cold Western States trail and, more importantly, I did spend some quality time with the family before my 10-day business trip to Paris. I decided to register to Mount Diablo 50K, hoping this will provide the heat training for Western States, unless it keeps cool like that until the end of June... Running alone is part of the ultra experience, but I do look forward to seeing you all on the trails in June!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Ohlone 2008: two strikes!

Returning and defending champion... It was a very unusual situation for me, something unique which I tried to savor as much as possible. It certainly comes with some pressure although I had no goal to reedit last year's outcome, given some of the big names in the participant list this year. Although I knew through Will that Lon Freeman (2004 winner) and Steve Stowers (2nd at the US 100K Championships a month ago) were not going to run this year, there were still 8 former winners in (5 on the male side, 3 on the female one). What I found the most interesting from the experience is that it probably gave me some insight of what the elites are going through when showing up at a competition, with a lot of expectations from others. Of course, at a small scale in my case... ;-)

My lucky day started with Agnès finding a parking spot right on the parking lot next to the starting line. I was actually surprised with the number of hikers, some of them having started early to avoid the heat, many of them being upset with the annoyance of such a 200-runner group getting ready for a race.

While getting ready, here is a non-running but personal anecdote: a huge Saint Bernard passed by and I asked Agnès for a picture as a souvenir. The volunteer Ranger who was patrolling with his mountain bike told us that this dog was coming every year on race day to share some of the excitement.
So, especially for my sister Sophie and my parents, here is a similar picture of me with another Saint Bernard during a school ski camp, some 35 years ago... And, no, it's not my son Greg, it's me! And, yes, we both love dogs, but our backyard is too small to own one in.Anyway, I had checked in early then, before the buses unloaded the runners coming from the finish line. Many familiar faces for such a local race, actually more known faces since I joined the Running World forum and also as this was my second Ohlone.

It was in the low 60s at the start, not too bad for such a late time. For once I wished we would have started at 5 or 6 to get down before the peak of the heat as we were expecting temperature in the 90s. On Saturday I was actually in Gilroy and the temperature was just over 100F at the CCS championships of high school track and field where a few Pionneers (Tino) were representing Max and Alex' school. We went with Max to see Rio running the 300m-hurdles and Stephanie on the long jump. The pole vault competition was quite impressive: watching at the athletes in international meets, I had not realized how hard it must be to actually pass a bar that high (see some other pictures in my Picasa album).

Here is a very fast Eric Surprenant flying over his 300m-hurdles series:What a technique and a perfect jump:Oops, not this one (note that between the pole and the bar, everything is quite flexible in this sport)!

Back to Ohlone, Rob got us started around a few minutes after the hour and Ron (Gutierrez) took the initial lead. As usual, Mark (Tanaka) was telling the group stories, and Mark (Lantz) was just on my heels with Don (Hogue) on my side. After a few turns on this first steep hill up Mission Peak, I found myself leading and decided it was time to walk a bit in case I had started too fast. As a matter of fact, we were all surprised not to see Graham (Cooper) at the start and I told Mark (Lantz) we were going to miss him for leading us and setting the pace (I learnt at the finish that Graham was attending his son's triathlon competition). I had come to train on this side of Mission Peak last Sunday, so I was pretty comfortable. But that is not a good indication, I always feel comfortable at the beginning of a race...
Kept pushing the pace all the way to the top, followed by Mark (Lantz). I thought that it may be silly going out that fast but at least we would have put some miles before the inferno which was announced for mid-day. There was actually some breeze at the top and the way down to Laurel Loop aid station was a... breeze. It is there last year that I had passed Mark and Kevin to catch up with Graham just before Sunol (aid station at mile 9).

Last year, we caught-up with Lee (Jebian) just before the summit, as he had taken an early start in order to make the cut-off. This year, Lee started even earlier and I saw him before going down to the Sunol parking lot. There were about another dozen runners who had started early, whom I passed within a few miles after Sunol.

After Sunol it is about 10 straight miles up to the summit of Rose Peak so the strategy was the same as last year: "run when you can, power walk to catch your breath." The trail is very exposed in this section, but some breeze was still make the temperatures bearable. Was great to be welcomed by Carl (Andersen) and Ann (Trason) at the Backpack Area aid station, such an honor to be helped by two ultra legends! Ann proposed me some jelly-peanut butter sandwich and Carl was surprised when I said "oh yes!" He thought that was no proper food for a French guy, to which I replied that I was now almost American. With that it was time to continue up the hill although I had not seen any runner/pursuer since before reaching the top of Mission Peak.

Leaving Backpack Area is where Graham told me to take the lead last year, and when I wondered what I was doing, passing such an elite runner. Like I used Rob (Evans) as a virtual pacer at Miwok this year, I used Graham in my mind to estimate where he would walk in the steep hills or push. I'm getting into something with virtual pacing, that helps my mental...

A special thank to the volunteers at Billy Goat Road aid station. These guys have to camp the night before up there, as it is so remote and far from any road. In addition to carrying a big load to support 200 runners in such a heat. Needless to say, I was not expecting ice there, but it was great to get a sponge to cool my neck and back.

I kept running as much as I could in the uphill, still surprised not to see anyone behind. After more walking though I got to the loop at the top of Rose Peak. Completed the loop under 9 minutes and still no news of anyone (last year we were about 6 runners in the loop before I was done). Only Chihping (Fu) was enjoying his run up there (he started early too) and took a couple of pictures of me as I entered in the loop and after the Maggie's Half Acre aid station. Something new this year: to make sure everybody was actually going through the summit, we had to pick a nice "Ohlone Wilderness 50K - ZombieRunner" colorful bracelet from a box at the top. A nice souvenir, in addition to the great finisher RaceReady t-shirt. Photo courtesy of Chihping Fu, on my quest of the Ohlone 50K bracelet!
With a 15-minute lead, and no cramping (I started cramping last year around mile 20), I started believing this could be another win if I was not losing more than 1 minute per mile. I had eaten much more than last year but, despite carrying two bottles, felt a bit dehydrated. I paid attention on drinking more as the heat was really getting higher than last year. I had no idea of my splits from last year but could tell I was slower. For sure the course record was safe today, but I thought I had a shot at breaking 5 hours if I was not making mistake going down the last canyon. Photo courtesy of Chihping Fu:
I believe I missed the self-service aid station of Stewart's Camp. The volunteers at Schlieper Rock were helpful and great cheerleaders. One said I could see the lake, but I didn't even try. I remember the pain of getting through the last canyon and quickly left to get into the steep and technical subsequent down hill to the river. Stopped at the river down the canyon to fill my cap with cold water which helped in the last climb to the ridge.
I did a quick stop at the last aid station, Stromer Spring, which has plenty of water from the refreshing spring (splashed myself one last time!). Although I was flying in the downhill, I found the heat in these last two miles the most difficult of the day because of the lack of breeze. For sure the day must have turned to the announced inferno on Rose Peak for the rest of the pack.

Sprinted to the finish in a time of 4:57:36. 16:37 slower than last year, without Graham "pushing" me in the uphills, and a much hotter day, but good enough for another pole position.
The family (Agnès, Mom and Dad who are visiting from Paris, and Max and Greg) was at the finish this year but expecting me to get to the finish line from the other side. There were all surprised to see me sprinting from behind them, although they knew I was first from the radio reports.Kevin Sawchuck took second, about 22 minutes behind me, and was happy the heat preserved his 2002 course record for one more year! Mark Tanaka was third and will get his points to consolidate his first position in the Grand Prix. He was followed by Kevin Swisher, then came Beth Vitalis, sprinting for taking first of the female division and improving her own personal record on this course. A familiar race she also won in 2002, 2003 and 2006.
So, here I am, with another opportunity or obligation to defend my title, quite an expected outcome of the day for me! I was hoping to get this pressure off, but it's actually fun to finish first of course. Again, several serious runners did not show up, and some others had had many races lately. Mark (Lantz) had a great American River and Miwok, Mark (Tanaka) too, plus a win at Ruth Anderson 100K and a great Quicksilver 50-mile last week, and Ron ran Quicksilver 50K while I was just running a 10K (yet, a fast one), last weekend. Mark (Tanaka) is taking the Grand Prix very seriously and has quite a comfortable lead on Mark (Lantz) and I, and he was thrilled to finish 3rd overall and 2nd in our age group. I was impressed with the ease local Will (Gotthardt) finished 7th overall, what an improvement from last year, Will!
Great food at the finish with a fine barbecue and a real Chef! A very special thank to the volunteers who manned such remote aid stations, in this heat. Hope the runners did not give you too much hard time because of the conditions. I did certainly enjoyed seeing all of you!
Not to forget the amazing job of Race co-Directors, Rob Byrne (below) and Larry England. And the support of the sponsors: ZombieRunner, The North Face, Trail Runner magazine, GU (my favorite!) and Johnson (a lumber company, I believe having something to the nice awards).I really like the Indian spirit of these races named after the local Native American (Miwok in Marin County North of the Golden Gate, and Ohlone in San Francisco, the Peninsula and the East Bay). A great source of inspiration, connection with nature and endurance, and peaceful mind. That was my last race before Western States and I very much look forward to both the upcoming heat training and tapering. And I believe I will be back next year then!

PS: bonus tracks...
  1. Google Earth map of the course;
  2. The course on Google Maps;
  3. A few pictures from Agnès, posted in my Picasa album (start and finish, with the top 18 finishers);
  4. The elevation profile captured by my Garmin 205 (1st chart), quite close to the official one posted on the race website (2nd graph).

Last minute! As I write this blog on Sunday night, I just see on the RW forum that a runner fainted on Rose Peak and runners stopped to take care of him, and managed to call 911 which sent helicopters and the Park Police on site, followed by a medical unit from Stanford. That he got evacuated in critical conditions and I don't know more as of this Monday morning (he was reported as still unconscious last night). Our prayers to him and his family.

Dot, from the forum who was volunteering at the Billy Goat Road aid station (mile 15) reported that only 132 runners went through out of 183 registered runners (although not all of them actually took the start). An unusual drop rate.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Human Race 2008: a busy running weekend

A busy weekend, running-wise:
  1. Max' PR on Friday night at Lost Gatos and the Pioneer's qualifications for ;
  2. The Human Race on Saturday morning for Max, Alex, Greg and I, and numerous Pioneers from Tino, either running or volunteering, and also my colleagues from our new Running/Walking club at ILOG;
  3. Volunteering at the Dam Overlook aid station at Quicksilver 50K/50M, with the Striders;
  4. A get away in the hills with Agnès for Mothers' Day on Sunday.

Los Gatos track meet

I flew back from business meetings in Washington, D.C., just in time to have a quick dinner and drive with Agnès and Max to the Los Gatos Track & Field meet. Max was only going to run the fun mile at the end of the meet, hoping to improve his PR again and finally break 5 minutes.

It felt good to get back on this track, where I first met Leo, Bob, Daniel and some others, when we were training hard on the marathon. Our typical workout on Saturdays was a 4-mile tempo run in 21 or 22 minutes. I still remember the first time I join: I was impressed by all these guys and the coach advised me to stay with the second group, but it took only a couple of laps before I decided to join the top guys. That was in February 2005, 2 months before I got on the podium at Boston. You surely helped guys!

Anyway, we were here tonight to cheer up the local high schoolers as it was getting dark and chilly. We chatted with Craig (see my Miwok post) and his wife, her daughter running in the 4x400m with PALY. We saw a few of the Pioneers (from Tino, Max and Alex' high school) in their last races: Sumika, Abby and Stas in the 1,600m and the girls and the boys in their respective 4x400m series.

Overall, there were quite a few good news for the Pioneers and Coach Armstrong, with the following qualifying for the coming CCS Trials:
  1. Michelle for the shotput,
  2. Rio on the 300m hurdles
  3. Peter, Roger, Rio and Terrence on the 4x400m
  4. Stephanie for the triple jump and high jump.
And, for the last event of the meet, Max who finally broke 5 minutes, setting his new PR on the mile (1,600m to be exact) at 4:56. It was an informal event, yet a great one to setup a PR on a USA Track & Field certified event. Mrinal (from Max' team) and Kindu, from Santa Clara, supported Max in his quest by pacing him. Following Coach's plan, Max maintained a very even pace with 75, 73, 74, 74 laps. Kudos, Max, it is going to be tough for me to catchup on the mile, your are now the fastest on this distance in the family!

The Human Race

I already gave you a bit of background and history about this race in my Human Race '07 post, last year. It is the fifth time I ran it now (2003, 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008) so it is really becoming a Mother's Day tradition. In addition to the fund-raising tradition of this 15th edition of this key event for the Volunteer Center of Silicon Valley: way to go, VCSV!

It was 42F in Cupertino at 6 am when I woke-up to get my breakfast, but the temperature was quickly rising with such a clear morning. Warming-up was easy on the closed roads and nearby trail and I ran through the campus once to get familiarized with the convoluted finish across the Google campus with even more tables in the patio than previous years. Yet I was still warming-up on the start line, or was I levitating after learning more about the Dalai Lama, whom Max is writing an essay on? Zoom and see for yourself, this is a good shot from Agnès:

I wish I would be that light... Isn't the picture hilarious?

Anyway, here off we go! Jose on the right, Daniel (PhillipsA race report for a flat and road 10K has to be much shorter than a multi-hour ultra marathon. Basically:
  • After a few turns, the course changed from previous years and we hit a dirt trail;
  • I must have missed the marking of the first mile and, as a result, was glad to have my Garmin 205 with me for distance and pace tracking;
  • I quickly took the second position in the race, keeping Jose at sight, although I had really no intention to keep up with him after the hilly 100K I ran last week at Miwok;
  • I was glad to get to the second mile in 10:55, yet surprised to find the official 2-mile sign as my GPS was indicating 2.20 miles;
  • Shortly after we were getting back on the 5K course and it was a bit confusing to go through the back of this other pack, navigation during which I lost track of Jose;
  • Grabbed a cup of water at mile 2.5 then found Jose again as the 5K and 10K courses were separating again near the Shoreline lake;
  • The rest was pretty event less, just making sure to maintain the 5:30 pace all the way, until the exciting finish in the middle of the Google campus.
Finished in 15:10 which was 5-15 seconds slower than my three previous runs here. Yet, it was faster if you take into account the additional 0.2 miles, not counting that it was more dirt trails than usual on this race. Could actually have been a PR it was not for this extra 350 meters. Funny how 0.2 miles can make a difference when you usually run 5o or 100 miles on trails... 2nd overall and 1st of the masters (40 years and above), it helped not seeing the Kenyans this year!

Jose was again the first to reach the finish line:
And 20 seconds later...
As for the 5K, all the participants were amazed with their times because it turned out to be only 2.6 miles, a few volunteers inadvertently leading the runners on a shorter course.

A family business... Jose and Jose Pina, father and son, took home two gold medals. The Pommiers, two gold and one bronze. Max placed fifth overall on the 5K and 1st in the M13-19 age group, with Alex taking third. Greg completed the 2.6 miles in 25 minutes.

Once we were all back to the base, repleted with Hobee's delicious coffee cake and the organic essn drinks, Agnès could take off for some Nordic Walking on the 5K loop. She he training for a sprint triathlon in Fremont in June, yet cannot run because of her hip (arthritis) and the pounding on the road. She will replace the run with some fast Nordic Walking, an activity her hip has tolerated over the past year. She was back after 34 minutes, more time than needed to be able to attend the award ceremony.

My parents are visiting from Paris for two weeks, and my mother really enjoyed this big running party, nice company, great music, generous goal and perfect weather.
And with Tim, the Executive Director of VCSV:

Tino had an impressive representation, among the participants but also the volunteers. They were here to raise money for their 4-year Kenya Dream project, whose goal is to raise $100,000 to help a high school in Kenya. A special thank to you, the volunteers, for your encouragements. You guys and gals rock!

By the way, who is this colorful volunteer?
Oh, yes, that's Rio, our 300m hurdler!

This year also marked the first participation of our recently created Running/Walking club at ILOG, the company I have been working for over the past 20 years. It was nice to see even more familiar faces to such a running event. Our next goal is to have more people participating to the Trailblazer races in September. Standing from left to right: Jeanne, Kelly, Elie, Greg, Emilie, Stephanie, Michael (missing on the picture: Delphine, Nicolas' wife):
Last but not least, the spirit of National Semiconductors was reigning over the crowd. This year again the won the corporate and individual challenge of the most funds raised: $55,000 for one single company, wow! We, ILOGers, have a long way to go...

Quicksilver 50K/50-mile

Like last year, I had decided not to run Quicksilver. Last year it was more to heal after my asthma crisis at Miwok. This year, I could have done it but it was nicer to Agnès and the family that I participated in this family run (the Human Race) rather than "yet another" ultra. Besides, it's providing some sane and safe tapering before Ohlone, where I will be the returning champion (I just received my #1 bib, really cool!).

But I had promised my running club, the Stevens Creek Striders, that I will join us as soon as the award ceremony was done, at the aid station our club is manning at this local race. I arrived at the Dam Overlook station at 11:30, quite late to see the leaders or even the bulk of the pack, despite the station being crossed three times by the runners, making it very busy in the morning.

It was a good opportunity to sync up with my fellow club members and of course provide assistance to the last runners as they were getting into the rising heat of the afternoon. Several of these runners were surprised not to see me running today. I even accompanied Lee and Winnie (Jebian) half a mile up the hill, on their way back to the finish through English Town. Not that it was the first time before I volunteered on Western States before I was running ultras, but it felt really good to give a bit of all the support I usually receive from volunteers, now that I know what it feels on the other side.

Results are now posted, showing yet another impressive performance from Graham (Cooper) who improved again the course record he had set last year. Graham and I at the finish of Ohlone in 2007:Mark (Tanaka) did very well, consolidating his comfortable lead in the Grand Prix, while Ron (Guttierez) took first masters on the 50K. See you guys on the other side of the Bay next week!

Mission Peak tune-up

Busy Sunday for Mothers' Day, with Agnès and my mother at home. Breakfast prepared by the boys, cycling-related gifts for Agnès, church, a lunch at a nearby Chinese restaurant and... a quick getaway with Agnès on the other side of the Bay, direction Mission Peak, one week before my return to the Ohlone 50K race which I won last year.
We were parked at the entrance of the Ohlone Wilderness by 4pm, quite late to get out for a run, but good to be out there with Agnès nevertheless. Agnès went straight to the summit, Nordic walking, and I took the route of the race with one detour as I missed a left turn on Horseback trail. I was expecting some heat training but it was actually pretty chilly at the summit. Agnès had already summited when I got there after 5.5 miles and I found her hopping on the rocks below the summit as we were heading down. I climbed the straight route to the summit again for some additional hill training and to make the run a half marathon. Despite the late afternoon, there were quite a few hikers, who were wondering what this crazy guy was doing, going back and forth...
With that, looking forward to seeing some of you next week. I realize that being a returning champion is really a unique experience, it's really hard to win an ultra these days. Moreover, there will be 10 past Ohlone winners coming back and, apart from Dave Scott who dominated this race in the 90's with 8 wins, nobody else has won this race twice on the men side. Given the tough competition who is joining and is certainly eager to add a new name to the list, I'll make sure to remind myself that I am primarily running for fun...

More news next week then!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Miwok 08: tougher, faster

Miwok. A strange name which has its roots in the Native American culture. The name of the people who were living in North California and were speaking the Miwokan languages. The name of a trail in the Marin Headlands. A legendary name in the ultra community, at least in the US and on the West Coast. And, with fame comes issues getting in nowadays, with too many candidates for too few spots, even if we were more than 300 starters this year. As you might recall from one my of January posts, it took a lot of planning and "cyber celerity" to get into the 2008 editions. Rumors circulate that Miwok is going to turn to a lottery system next year. The same year as Western States will change its lottery rules to address the overwhelming demand and limitations of the lottery system itself, challenge by the increasing number of the two-time losers (up to now, the ones who did not get pick from the hat two years were automatically in the third year, upon still meeting qualifying standards then).

Miwok. A hilly and challenging 100K, in an incredibly nice and protected area, the Marin Headlands, a National Recreational Area just a few miles North of San Francisco and part of the Golden Gate biosphere, created by UNESCO. A tough course which leads some to call it "me, walk" as even some downhills are tough to run. Mathematically the distance of 2.4 marathons, but much more with almost +/- 10,000 feet of elevation.

My first Miwok turned to a bad experience because of asthma kicking in before the first 20 miles, and a lot of walking to get over all the uphills, ending up in a disappointing (for me) 10:53 time. With all the walking, and despite the incredible boost I got from Bob (Evans) who paced me in 2007, I had not only good hope to improve this year but put a great time, shooting for around 9:15.

The day started really early, waking up at 2:30 to get some breakfast and drive to Palo Alto to Craig's place. Craig is a member of our mid-Peninsula Saturday morning ultra running group and his sister, Lisa, was volunteering at Pan Toll. Other members of this car pool crew were Mike (also working at SRI with Craig) and Charles, whom we picked on the way, in San Francisco (Mike, Charles, Craig and I, photo credit Craig/Lisa Heinselman).
With 4 runners on board and a volunteer, we received the VIP treatment and were able to park next to the drop bag areas and 10 yards from the registration table. At 4:20 am we were among the first runners to check in and the opportunity to talk to Stan (Jensen) and Tia (Bodington) before the rush. A rush which actually happened later this year because of the new parking rule and the checkpoint sorting out vehicles and routing non car poolers to a remote parking. This delay got us to start just before 6 am instead of 5:45, giving us daylight for the sandy leg on the beach.

Chatted with Scott Jurek walking to the starting line, telling him I had put my (virtual) money on him on Karl (Meltzer)'s betting blog post. And introduced to him Eric, another Brooks ID'er, whom I'd met at American River. Stood at the starting line next to Hal Korner, last year Western States winner, and Bev (Abbs-Anderson) and Kami (Semick) the two favorites on the gals side (with Devon not making it from the waiting to the final entrants list).

I was resolute to start slow this time, to preserve my lungs in this cool and early morning. In the first hill, I caught-up with Mark (Tanaka) who was telling Kami all about his issue getting to the start line because of a Southbound-101 detour. I'm always amazed how Mark can keep talking while going uphill. On my side, I was not really up getting on the conversation, to save my lungs. Quickly we reached Bev and Mark seemed to entertain both of them now. On my side, I passed Simon (Mtuy) who had an issue with his shoe. Simon just arrived from Tanzania 2 days ago, for two months of ultra racing in the area, culminating with Western States. He passed me around mile 30 last year when I was struggling, and I thought I'd better not pass him too early this year, yet he was walking with one shoe so I went on. Got into Mark (Lantz) and Erik (Skaden). I was actually surprised to see Mark today because I had not seen him neither on the entrants nor the waiting list. He said he got in only on Thursday so had not properly tapered and was just running Miwok as a training run. See below for what it means and, if it was part of a tactic to impress me, it very much worked. Erik said that if I was going to pass him today, I had better to stay ahead all the way today. Erik is so strong, especially the longer the distance is, the only times I passed him were at Way Too Cool this year and Headlands 50K last year, both times where he had a bad day. Anyway, I made sure not to pass Mark and Erik except that, on the first downhill, Mark went ahead and Erik said he could not run that fast so I stayed between the tandem. As we left the section with a great view over the Golden Gate and San Francisco (photo credit: Craig), Rajeev was posted to lead us back onto the trail. The top 5 runners were already out of sight at this point.

Intelligently, Mark slowed down in the second hill after the Bunker Road aid station where we did not stop still having enough fluid in our bottles, just enough time to see DirtDiva from the Runner's World trail forum. I had memories of walking that second hill last year, yet did not feel the need this year. On the other side, on our way down to Tennessee Valley (horse stables), I caught up and actually passed Jon (Olsen) and Topher (Gaylor). Leaving the second aid station, I was actually confused between the Miwok and Headlands 50K courses and headed on the right, thankfully corrected by the volunteers who had to yell "left!" several times before I switched direction, with Jon on my heels.

Last year, I ran and walked the third uphill with Bev, Kami and Nikki (Kimball), who were chatting all the way. This year I almost did not walk and started thinking that I was maybe going too fast when I saw Scott (Jurek) not far ahead. By precaution, I walked the sections he was walking... By mile 14 I was about 50" behind him, with Jon, Topher, Ed, Mark, Mark a few turns behind. (Coastal photo, courtesy of Craig.)

Last saw Scott before aid station #3 (Muir Beach) where, among others, Chuck (Wilson) cheered me up. Jon caught me before Deer Park fire road hill in a nice flat section and we ran part of Deer Park together before Topher joined us. Jon told me: "we are on a 8:30 pace (*), make sure to keep some energy for the turnaround," and to Topher: "Nice gear" and they both left me in the dust. For sure, Jon was right, yet I wonder how much did his remark affected my mental, as I started focusing on bad thoughts such as "did I indeed start too fast," "will I hit the wall," "when/where?" Really not good thoughts for such a long ultra and more than 35 miles to go... Erik also passed me before the top.

Reached Pan Toll (mile 21.7) in good shape although I would have taken fresh calves if it was possible, a bit worried to feel some leg fatigue that "early" in the race. Was welcomed by Roger (Dellor) and all the volunteers pressed me to leave (Roger's picture, from Robin's album). I was a bit anxious with the coming "nice" section. It is one of the most beautiful parts of the run, with a trail rolling along the ridge, through grassy slopes and wonderful views of the Ocean and the coast. But this is the section where I broke down last year. A ran all this section without seeing any other runner and was relieved to get to Bolinas Ridge without any breathing problem. Got welcomed by very nice volunteers who knew me and told me I was on a 8:40 (*) pace. I replied that this was based on a big assumption that I could keep up with the current pace... I left after getting a bit scared learning that the next section to the turn around was another 7 miles. A section which very much seemed to me like a roller coaster last year, a series of short up and down hills and the famous chute to the turnaround aid station (which you have to then climb back). The only good news being that the turnaround is actually not at midpoint but 35.6 miles.

Was welcomed at Randall Trail by Winnie and Lee (Jebian) and Chuck again. As I left the station, I saw Kami and "the two Marks" (Lantz and Tanaka) coming down, flying on me like flies. I was not feeling too well, actually OK physically but not so well mentally. I jogged/walked the steep uphill and got passed by 4 runners including Kami, just as we reached the gate and managed to stay close to this small group whom I called in my mind "the train" for another mile or so before letting them go. As a matter of fact, I didn't even noticed Mark (Lantz) in this group and only found out when I reached the finish, 30 minutes after him!

Meanwhile, it was a pleasure to get smiles and encouragements from all the runners we were crossing on our way back, that really meant a lot. Craig took a picture of me in this section:

I was ashamed to be too breathless to reply to all salutations and encouragements. On the way back to Bolinas, I passed Hal who was walking and asked what happened (he was in 4th position after the turnaround). As I was teasing him to come with me, that I really really needed a pacer, he replied that he had a foot injury and could not push further. I saw Christine (Miller) at my second stop at Bolinas Ridge and, turning back as I was leaving, noticed Mark (Tanaka) coming in. I thought he was going to catch up with me soon, definitely before reaching Pan Toll, 7 miles away. Kept running as much as possible, seeing the orange (La Sportiva) spot from times to times in the background.

Finally reached Pan Toll, still in 13th position and was really happy to see Agnès and Greg, as planned the night before. Agnès helped me refill my last of 4 lemon Gu2O loads, Robin (Mills) was covering the event with his camera, Roger asked me how I was going and Chris (Garcia) teased me has we were leaving the aid station together, him on a training run to the Tennessee Valley aid station where he was going to volunteer for the rest of the day.
I saw an orange runner coming in Pan Toll as I was leaving. However it was not Mark (Tanaka) but Bev (in other words, not La Sportiva, but Sunsweet, sponsor-wise). This gave me some hope to hold on for one more station... Here is Mark at Pan Toll, 3 minutes behind Bev and I, apparently preparing for some "Vaseline operation" (Mark is an Emergency Room surgeon...):
The way from Pan Toll to Highway 1 crossing is a long down hill (Deer Park) followed by a tortuous uphill through a lot of vegetation including poison oak which got 8 inches of my arm skin last year. I was still seeing Bev behind but maintaining the gap. Was relieved to get to the Highway 1 crossing aid station where a volunteer recognized me and noticed that I was much better than in 2007 (I was amazed that I left such memories behind me last year!). Got encouraged by learning the finish was only 7 miles away, although I knew there were two big hills in the way. My Garmin 205 was indicating 53 miles, not sure where I had missed the 2 miles to make the total to 62 miles. Needless to say, I was not asking for two more miles!

I jogged most of the 2-mile up-hill, yet I had trouble accelerating on the long down-hill to Tennessee Valley, fearing cramps which I could feel were just ready to trigger any time. I must have lost quite some time to Bev on this down hill, because she was almost on me after Tennessee. That gave me the last kick to get over the last long hill (Wolfe Ridge). It felt really good to see the beach, Rodeo Lagoon and the finish line although the last hundreds yards have some short painful, tricky, rocky and slippery trails and stairs. My legs had really enough of this, I was happy finishing 13th, although not so happy to miss my 9:15 goal. Yes, for sure, I had started too fast for that anyway. Happy to see Agnès and Greg, and many other familiar faces at the finish (photo: Robin).
Felt a bit stupid about my race strategy with some comments Erik and Mark (Lantz) made about my pacing strategy (or lack thereof), but I will survive the embarrassment, and will try learning from it.

A thank you to Bev for keeping a healthy pressure behind me, her orange jersey which I mistaken for Mark's one...

With Race Director Tia Bodington and Bev.
Overall, with 9:41, this is a PR on my 2nd 100K and 2nd Miwok and I was thrilled to finish 13th overall and 3rd of the masters division; yet, with such competition and pushing all the way, I don't remember any other race as hard as this one for me. That put even more perspective on the feat of the top performers of the day, with an amazing course record set by David Mackey, under 8 hours (7:53, wow!), 30 minutes ahead of Jon, who took second (below, Jon running through Pan Toll, with his crew and pacer).

Virtual pacer and virtual crew

There were so many people knowing my name along the course that I felt like having a virtual crew, something which was really unexpected. It felt good and I thank each of you although I can't name you all. And a big thank you to all the other volunteers, your service was top class and outstanding!

In addition, and although I didn't ask for his permission, I used Rob (Evans) as my virtual pacer on my way back to Bolinas Ridge (the aid station where pacers are authorized, something which really makes a difference and that Jon leveraged appropriately). Reminding myself of all the positive encouragements he had given me in 2007 as I was struggling on this course, thinking of what he would advise me to take/grab at the aid station, pushing me to keep running the uphills, maintaining a gentle but steady and competitive pressure. Rob was on the entrant list this year but has not recovered from his injury at Way Too Cool in March. Rob, thank you again for such an inspiration! Please recover quickly so we can see you and Kate on the trails again.

A new old kid in town

With the shame of showing that I'm still very new to ultra running, after only two years of competition, I will admit that I never heard of David Mackey before seeing he was the favorite on Karl's blog. A quick search on (Peter) Zinsli's website tells quite a story: first at JFK 50, 2 wins at Way Too Cool, one win at Badwater, 2nd place at Western States in 16:30... For sure, in sports, knowledge is key for betting successfully!

Now, the big question raised by Karl is "with this entry, will David run Western States again this year?" With all these late entrants thanks to the Montrail UltraCup, Western States is going to be incredibly competitive this year.


The Cascadias 3 worked beautifully this weekend. It is another course where road shoes can do the job, yet the Cascadias are light enough on the nice runnable sections, and provide good traction on the steep and dusty ones. Good job Brooks!

With that, see you at Ohlone. I'm going to skip Quicksilver first because this is a special family weekend with Mothers' Day and my parents visiting from France, second because I'm running the Human Race in Mountain View with the boys (Max, Alex and Greg), several colleagues from ILOG and a few members of the Tino cross-country and track and field teams (Max and Alex's high school). Yes, only 10K, which will provide some tapering before Ohlone, where I will be the returning champion and happy to leave the title to the strong competition lining up again this year. Missing Quicksilver again this year, so long for the Grand Prix points, have fun without me, guys!

Farther, Faster and... Tougher!

PS: as a bonus, here is a great shot from Robin, of Agnès not showing the stress of her C.R.E.W. (adopted) definition... Cranky Runner, Endless Waiting...

(*) not minute/mile, but a 8 hours 30 minute Miwok!