Sunday, June 29, 2008

Western States 2008: and what about TRT?

[Note: more picture available in my Picasa album.]

As mentioned in my previous post, KiwiPaul had setup a group run on Tahoe Rim Trail for this Saturday morning. To get as far as the smoke as possible, the start was set at the top of Mount Rose (actually the Meadows), then heading South to Spooner Lake (see map).
With 34 ultra runners on the group picture, the group was impressive and represented almost 10% of the Western States starter field. Agnès dropped me right on time for the picture (I almost missed the start because we were waiting with Agnès and Greg at the parking at Mt Rose pass). But the time to get my bottles and pack ready, I started at the end of the pack, or the line as we were running on a single track. I quickly caught up with Benoit (Laval) who was speaking French with Jennifer (bluetrailgirl). After catching up with them, I ramped the pace in the pursuit of the leading group. I didn't know Jez (Bragg, the 27-year old UK ultra prodigy) but figured out he was going to run with Simon.
I passed all the group and, all of sudden, saw Simon and two other runners coming behind be as I had slow down to take one GU and S!Cap. I stopped to take a picture of them coming. We had run the first 7.4 miles in 60 minutes, on a very nice trail with many downhills. Below, from right to left: Russ, Jez, Simon, Joseph (d'Alassio) and I:
Caren was close behind Russ. The second hour included more uphills and wonderful views on both sides of the ridge. I refilled my bottle from my bladder and filled one of Simon's bottle too. Jez seemed very easy in the uphills, I hope he comes back next year to have a great match with Anton (Krupicka) and maybe one or two of the Skaggs brothers if they make it through the Montrail race series. For an exciting M20-29 age group competition!
I let Jez, Simon and Jo go as we were approaching Snow Valley Peak. I stopped at a snow patch to cool down, gave the rest of my water to Caren. Running at this elevation for so long was new to me, and we all seemed to get thirsty faster than usual.
I met Sharon Broadwell from Norway and her two pacers again as we were approaching Spooner Lake.
At the finish, met the whole Mtuy family who came all the way from Tanzania (visit Simon's Nomadic Experience website).
Not easy with a 6-month old baby, although he is already a pro with the Ultimate Direction bottles (no kidding, he was really drinking water from it!):
I also talked with Mary Kimball, Nikki's aunt who was here to crew Nikki again, after doing it at UTMB (Mont Blanc) for Nikki's win there last year. Mary lives in Oregon and speaks a perfect French thanks to severals years spent studying in Geneva and Chamonix. Mary asked me to say hello to Karine (Herry) in case their paths don't cross again soon. Below, Mary with Nikki and bluetrailgirl:
Overall, with a taste of the coming Tahoe Rim Trail 50-miler and 100-miler (not for me, but for Bev and also Adam who was supposed to pace me this weekend from the river to the high school), that was wonderful run. A great third therapy session to heal from this Western Sates 2008 DNH (or loss like some people said). Quite a successful session, thanks to Paul. Agnès picked me at Spooner Lake and we headed back to the Bay Area after a last swim in Lake Tahoe and saying good bye to our friends who provided such a wonderful vacation to the family: water skiing, wake board, paddle boarding, tubing, kayak, sail boat, helicopter tour, that was better than Club Med!
With that, 1 confirmation for next year's edition, 2 great runs and three blog posts, I think I am healed and can go on with my ultra life. Hmm, it's Sunday, maybe I'll go for 20 miles on Los Gatos Creek trail this afternoon since tapering is long gone now and it's time to think of my coming races in August (Skyline 50K on 8/3, Headlands 50K on 8/23, and the French Nationals of 100K on 8/30). After the whole month of July in France (half vacation with the family, half work at our Paris office).

Talk to you next time from France!

PS: again, more pictures from this run in my Picasa album.

Western States 2008: Inaugural Fat Ass

[Note: for the ones who prefer images to text, you can jump to my Picasa album.]

The cancellation news hit the wire on Wednesday night. On Thursday, I went through my first therapy session: a blog post in the morning followed by a day of work at our company office in Incline Village and a nice family dinner with our hosts and friends, at Azzara's on Tahoe Boulevard.

I had expected an email from race management about the revised scheduled for the weekend runners' activities, but, like the cancellation announcement, I got nothing in my mailbox. After dinner though, I received an email from Chihping (Fu) talking about a potential run from Squaw as 5 AM on Friday morning. That he heard there would be other runners joining. This is just the news I was expecting to free my running urge up! I set the alarm to 3 AM, left Incline at 3:50 and got to the deserted parking of Squaw Valley at 4:30. Dark but... clear sky, the smoke was gone!!!
At 5, I found only one runner, Kirk. Kirk is one of the 36 Grand Slam candidates this year (4 100-milers during the summer), which starts with Western States, so on the wrong foot this year. Stan (Jensen) is actually looking at an alternative race to keep the Grand Slam alive in 2008.
Half way to Emigrant Pass, I ran into Chihping, who was running back from his first 3 AM loop (Chiphing has had a stress fracture, but nothing would make him stop, even a canceled race...). After exchanging a few camera shots, I continued the ascent with a couple of other photographic stops to capture the magnificent views of the sun rising above Squaw Valley. The temperature was still cool at dawn, in the low 40s F.
I ran solo all the way to Red Star Ridge, stopping along the way for more shots and to enjoy the views of this very clear morning. No snow on the trail, cool temperatures in the morning, that would have really be another perfect year, like the 2007 edition. A year to see some course records falling, most likely, except that Mother Nature decided otherwise. Good for Scott (15:36 course record), Tim (17:17 Masters course record) and Roger (20:34 M60-69 CR).
With my hydration backpack and two bottles, I had the equivalent of 5.5 20-oz bottles which was just enough to avoid drinking in the tempting springs (I got Giardiasis back in February, so I am now more cautious). And with no aid stations set-up, I missed the usual baked potatoes, chips, cookies and other good food we have on the course. Bottom line, with quite a few stops on the way, I was happy to make it back to Emigrant Pass just under 6 hours.

There, the solo run ended as I started seeing other runners. First Lee and Winnie Jebian shared the great news that we were automatic entrants for 2009. Nice for us, tough for others, but, according to most, the best and most fair decision. Lee also told me that I will find Sophia and Brian Robinson on the way down (Brian is know for his triple crown in 2001 and his recent win at Barkley this year, the 7th to finish this 100-miler in more than 20 years - And Sophia excelled on the ultra circuit a few years ago, but has encountered a series of bad injuries since, very unfortunately).
We then saw Simon (Mtuy) and Paul (Charteris) on their climb to the pass. And Sharon Broadwell from Norway with one of her pacers, on her way back to Squaw (see more in my next post about on Tahoe Rim Trail).
At the finish line (or official start line actually) I found Benoit Laval. Tim (Twietmeyer) was there too. As I walked-in for the check-in, Stan Jensen gave me my medical bracelet as a WS2008 souvenir, and I picked my goody bag. Then some shopping at the WS100 Store (thank you Don and, a participation in the medical study and it was time to attend the briefing. Quite disappointing with a much smaller crowd than usual (understandable) and the noticeable absence of most of the elites, especially on the men side (Nikki, Bev and Caren were there to represent the other gender quite well). The highlight of the briefing was the explanation of the bagpipes tradition by Tim: in 1981, for his first (0f 25) participation in the run, the protocol was to follow the bagpipes to the start line. No run this year but the bagpipes played again 2008:

I chatted more with Benoit, introducing Simon to him as Simon plan on running Le Grand Raid de La Réunion. Also met Scott (Dunlap), very relaxed with so much tapering (so much that the race was not even happening!). And Paul (Charteris, aka KiwiPaul) who was working on a plan for a group run on the Tahoe Rim Trail this Saturday (more on this in my next post).

31.5 miles, +/- 6,400 feet of cumulated elevation, all the souvenirs of last year coming back, perfect trail conditions, that was a great inaugural summer fat ass (for the non ultra insiders, see my January post on Les Balcons de Rouen for the explanation of this curious expression). Hopefully not a tradition though as this is the first time in 35 years that the run has been canceled. Needless to say, I went for this run because the sky was clear and the smoke gone that morning. In the afternoon, race management insisted at the briefing that no runner should try to go further as the firefighters were working hard on the wild fire threatening Last Chance in particular (the aid station which our club, the Stevens Creek Striders, have been manning for 27 years, and which I was co-captaining for the fifth year, with Robin Mills this year).
A good active second therapy session to handle this DNH. With more to come this weekend in Tahoe... A DNH is not going to prevent us to go farther, right?

PS: again, more images of the day in my Picasa album.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Western States 2008: DNH like... Did Not Happen

If you are not familiar with ultra, there are a series of TLAs (Three-Letter Acronyms) starting with DN which have pretty bad connotations. There are several variations/combinations but the most common ones are:
  • DNF (Did Not Finished): the scary one, the demon that most of us do not want to meet on the trails during a race. Actually some say that if you have never DNF'ed that means that you have not pushed enough. I disagree, I think that finishing an ultra is a key part of the game, unless you are getting your body into serious trouble and damages (physical injuries).
  • DNS (Did Not Start): this one happened to me and is usually the result of pre-race injuries. To me it is actually a proof of reason to make such decision. You have been training for an event, you are going to lose the entry fees and potentially other expenses (hotel, airfare), but you listen to your body and decide not to take the start. It happened to me last year and it is actually OK.
  • There is also another variation, DFL for Did Finished Last, which sometimes quite an accomplishment because it means that you did make it indeed within the cut-off time.
Why this introduction? You might have heard it already, Western States has been cancelled yesterday (Wednesday evening) by the Western States Board of Trustees. Actually, like many other runners, I did not receive Tim Twietmeyer's email personally but through others like aid station captains (I am one for Last Chance, with Robin) or various forums and mailinglists. Amazing how bad news fly really fast, preceded by rumors.

With that, I'm coming with a new DNx: DNH, for Did Not Happen (could also be DNO, Did Not Occur).

First time for this legendary event, in its 35-year history. There were years with too much snow, others with too much heat, others using another route around Duncan Canyon which was destroyed by wildfires about ten years ago. But no year as bad as this week.

A bad news for all. First all the runners as this is such a difficult event to get in (1,200 applicants for less than 400 spots). The ones who trained hard to make the cut-offs and get a bronze buckle. The ones who were dreaming of a silver buckle. The ones flying from abroad (Europe, Asia Pacific) and the East Coast. And the incredibly deep elite field that Greg (Soderlund, the Race Director) and Montrail had managed to gather in a single 100-miler this year. Like Karl (Meltzer) said, it was supposed to be the "Auburn track meet", while the Olympic Trials of Track and Field are happening this weekend in Eugene, OR. Bad news for the runners' families, friends and crews who had made all these plans to support us, the lucky entrants. Bad news for the pacers who also got involved in tricky logistics, for the joy of seeing their runner meet their goals and also have an opportunity to run on this mythical course. Likewise, a bad news for the 1,500 volunteers who had signed up to give their time and dedication to make this run happen. A bad news for all the other runners and relatives who were excited to follow the race on the webcast. And a very bad news for the ones who had to take the decision, i.e. the race management itself.

Of course, that is for the people touched by the run. Which is nothing compared to the people affected by more than 800 fires throughout California, and more than 300 in the area.

The real heroes

We, runners, all had our own dreams of showing what we were capable of on this course. With different levels of physical and mental achievements, but all with a grain of heroism. However, there is a lot of selfishness in this and my first thoughts when I got the bad news were to the firefighters out there. There are the real anonymous heroes to me, the ones fighting so hard and diligently to save others lives and properties, save the forest, save the trails we are enjoying all year around.
Actually one of the many good reasons for the WS Board to cancel the race is to leave the roads open for the firefighters to do their job. The Western States course is crossing many remote areas and, in the middle of such a natural catastrophe, the last thing you want is hundreds of cars of the runners crews going back and forth on the narrow roads and fire trails.

These heroes are so anonymous that I don't have a particular name to highlight. So let me just quote Tim and Greg's message acknowledging the support of the local agencies in dealing with the situation.
We would be remiss if we did not publicly thank the men and women of the American River Ranger District, particularly Jan Cutts and Ed Moore, for their consultation and constant flow of updated information regarding this very challenging fire situation. The City of Auburn, City Manager Bob Richardson, and officials from Placer County, in particular Tom Christofk, Placer County Air Pollution Control Officer, and Dr. Richard Burton, Placer County Public Health Officer, have also been invaluable sources of information and advisement. Thanks to all of these trail partners.
And, again, let's keep all these valorous firefighters in our thoughts and prayers.
So many stars aligned...

When you run an ultra, you realize how many stars need to be aligned to make it a good experience, for you and your crew. Starting with not getting injured despite many months and hundreds of miles of training leading to the race. Handling the burden of travel, either long flights or long drives and staying in new places, managing potential jet lag. The food and digestion. The sleep. Proper hydration. The terrain (rocks, mud, dust, creeks, etc.). The weather. The air quality. The fatigue and stress from work or other personal situations. The list goes on and on. And each of these stars gives you an opportunity to learn something new at each run and/or race.
This year I have hard time imagining that I had not aligned all the stars before the start. I did not have 300-mile training weeks like Tony (Krupicka), but I have never been as ready as for Western States this year. Even my drop bags for Robinson Flat and Rucky Chucky Far Side were ready and tagged one week in advance.

But there is a big star which needs to be taken account, to be never forgotten, another big lesson from this week: Mother Nature has a big say in ultra trail running. Snow has threatened Hard Rock until late in June, or obliged the Big Horn 100 race management to change the course last weekend. Here, and unlike what people may think, the fires are actually mostly natural. Just in one day (June 21st) the local Tahoe National Forest got hit by 3,200 lightning strikes. 3,200 sparks, lighten matches or opportunities to start a fire in such a dry season. The result: more than 840 fires throughout California, with 312 wildfires in Northern California. There are so many that the firefighters are only going after the ones threatening people and houses. For the others, Mother Nature is doing its healthy and natural forest cleansing job. Silently but with quite some smoke...

What really matters...

This is another good opportunity to reflect on what is really important in our life, and why we are passionate about ultra trail running. Health, life balance, exercise, personal physical and mental challenges, stress-killer, way to reconnect with nature, source of inspiration, ...

If we do include health in the mix, then there is no question the run had to be canceled because of the smoke pollution hazard. Whatever you use to define life balance, health must be part of the equation. With a bigger coefficient than the personal accomplishment of covering a distance in a given time.

In all the debates and heated discussions following the cancellation announcement, it went all the way from "what a catastrophe and bummer" to "it is not a big deal, there are other things more important in life and there will be other runs."

Now, the story which touched me the most in all this buzz is the grief that Ninegirl is going through and for which she was hoping running Western States could help her. She just lost her husband, Roger, two weeks ago, and was going to run Western States to find some peace and re comfort. Roger was a Tevis Cup finisher, the 100-mile horse race which gave birth to Western States. I can't think of a person more affected by this missed opportunity. All my sympathy, Kathy.

When grief can be a reason for running ultras.

For me, the other lesson out of this is that I improved in terms of flexibility, such a key skill for ultras. I could have been devastated or angry, but I was just so prepared for anything to happen (ok, I concede, during the run), and to take it easy, that I was sad of course but not as much as I would imagine if that happened a year ago. Yes, there will be other races. Actually, this year, I was impressed how some elite runners just canceled some of their races to focus on one event such as Western States. I think this is a key for outstanding performance indeed (keep your mental as focused as possible on one event/race). Yet I'm happy I had done so many races during this first half of the season (8 ultras since January). At least the training has been used!

Did Not Happen?

OK, it's Thursday and I had planned to hike to Escarpment Pass for the raising of the flag. But, with no update from race management on the program of this weekend (they announced "runners activities" still up before we all leave the area), I preferred returning to work.

I will go to Squaw tomorrow (Friday) to get some of the WS 2008 excitement. Not sure about showing up at the start on Saturday morning to commemorate the 35th edition. May be too tempting to run to Robinson Flat... 50K like... the Summer Western States Fat Ass?

So a bit of the event will happen this week and my DNH is a bit harsh for all the work put in by race management but, of course, the real thing is gone, vanished. DNH, go back home and come back next year (anxious to see what the selection rules will be for 2009...). Quite an expected outcome.

More over the weekend with news from Squaw.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Heat training: at last

Yes, 99 Farenheit, at last! This is a strange situation: I am not particularly found of heat, I actually prefer cold weather and my skin is not handling the sun very well. I am also very concerned with Global Warming. But, these days, I was hoping the temperatures would rise as high as possible to give me a chance to get acclimated to the heat before Western States.

I went for a run at lunch time on Monday but the temperature was around 75F (24C). Ran at the track with Bob on Tuesday morning, at dawn, then at Rancho again later in the day when the temperature had raised to 85F (29C). Had lunches on Wednesday and Thursday and ran again at Rancho on Friday, finally in a decent heat (96F / 36C), and no breeze. With two layers of my warmest winter gear and black running tights on, that started looking like running in the Western States canyons.

On Saturday, record temperatures were forecast again. I went at Rancho with Max at mid day and the temperature got to 100F (38C) which provided some insight to Max for what to expect after Foresthill on the way down to the river (Max will pace me from Foresthill to Rucky Chucky). Again, two layers of black and warm running gear provided another good sweat and prepared my body and mind for next Saturday.

At last, above 99F (37.2C), the title of the French movie Betty Blue, hence the above picture...

I cannot believe how lucky we are we the weather here: I wished for some heat and here it comes, just in time. Gone during the night so we can still have a good sleep. And gone this Sunday when I'm done with running and all set for a good week of tapering. The Bay Area is such a unique place!

While I'm on the heat training topic, Scott (Dunlap) was telling me the other day at Mount Diablo about other techniques he had heard about:
  • Hal Korner jogging in place for one hour in a sauna;
  • Graham Cooper racing Mount Diablo last year with several black layers on and a hat;
  • Turning the heat on while driving your car.
I tried the second technique this year, plus the spa often (104F) and not putting the air conditioning on in the car even when temperatures got above 100F; we will see how it works and goes. I realize that last year was exceptional at Western Sates with no snow and reasonable temperatures in the canyons (in the 90s). I'm not sure what to expect this year but I feel much better acclimated to heat than I was in the middle of the winter when running the Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica.

See the lucky ones enrolled in Western States this Thursday (raising of the flag) and Friday (check-up and briefing). 'Till then, have a great tapering. And, for the others, see you on the Western States webcast (bib #44) for near real-time tracking!

Farther, Faster...

PS: and you think I am crazy? Check out what runners will do this July again for the Badwater 135-mile. My ultraholic buddy Alan (Giraldi) was training there this weekend in 120F (49C)! No shade, no breeze, just the sole of your shoes melting on the black road. Yes, there is always something further in ultra (and more insane, I concede...).

Saturday, June 14, 2008

A mermaid for Father's Day!

I discovered a mermaid this weekend. Actually 700 of them, but one is most special to me, Agnès.
I met Agnès in 1988 and running was one of our shared hobbies, like skiing and photography. As a runner, and inspired by my results in marathon training and racing after we moved to California in 1998, she was dreaming of running a marathon too. She raced 10Ks and a couple of half marathons (San Francisco). In the winter of 2003, she came back with a strong pain in the groin which she attributed to a bad fall on the slopes. After three years of various treatments and many visits to doctors, the pain was still subsiding. Despite her very high resistance to pain, she was having trouble running and was limping more and more. During the visit of my parents to California in 2006, my father suggested she gets an x-ray taken of her hip and, finally, the diagnosis was established: hip arthritis, which will require a total hip replacement. Knowing that prosthesis usually last for 18 years, Agnès is trying to delay the procedure as much as possible. In the meantime, no more running though, to avoid the shocks, and the deal is that I am running for the both of us! To replace her strive for exercise, Agnès is an avid and very active participants of spinning classes, NIA (a mix of martial art and dance), and swims a lot. She also discovered Nordic Walking during our visit to good friends in Switzerland, Monika and Tobias, which is perfect for her to enjoy the outdoors and the trails. But more importantly, her ability to have postponed the procedure for 2 years now certainly relies on all the core work she did with her Stott Pilates reformer instructor, Sophie. When smart exercise beats medicine...

The readers who are ultra or avid runners know how much our passion is demanding on our families and spouses in particular. Agnès is very supportive of all my running endeavors but, for once, she wanted to experience the excitement for herself and have her own challenge, her own competition. And today she competed in her first triathlon, a first for the family!

The event being in Fremont (East Bay) and in June led me to think it will be very hot and actually funny to swim in open water. Actually, we are still having a strange Spring because it was overcast this Saturday morning and the temperature in the low 60s felt pretty chilly to the boys and I, especially when seeing all the participants waiting for the start in the water. There were 700 participants today, starting by waves of 50 to 100 (age groups and/or proficiency). There were also participants engaged in a duathlon (run - bike - run) like Agnès' good friend Kelly.
As Agnès is so better than me in swimming, I was expecting her to do well at the 400-meter. But she was not used to run in open water, having tried only once, in May. With the main goal of having fun, she switched from freestyle to breast stroke, yet getting out of the water in the first half of the group. She walked up all the beach to get to her bike (a brand new road bike for Mothers' Day!), got her dry suit out and put her running shoes one. Triathlon is so technical and rely so much on the fast transitions, I must admit I am not tempted (besides, I don't like much the water like some may have seen in Costa Rica).
3 loops of about 4 miles and it was time for another transition, to the 2.5-mile run. On which Agnès used her Nordic Walking skills to complete her first sprint triathlon in 1:24 (detailed results will be posted on the Mermaid site shortly). Under her 1:30 goal.
The boys and I were proud of Agnès and delighted to see her joy at each passage and at the finish. We were also joined by our friend Sylvie, an enthusiastic supporter.
And we now have a mermaid at home!

Last minute edit to add Alex' clip of the mermaid in action!

Western States tune-up

Once back home, I left for some heat training up Black Mountain. Two layers like when I run in winter at Tahoe, black running tights, black hat, I just did not put the gloves on. Max came with me for the first 4 miles up to the Stevens Creek Reservoir, then I ran and walked up to Montebello Road. Saw a couple of cyclists who were surprised and impressed, then a few hikers on the other side of Black Mountain. Came back through Rancho and crossed Cupertino for a 29.7-mile run in a conservative 4:36 (+/- 3,600 ft elevation).
And finally in some sun and heat although not the 100F+ temperatures we may find in the canyons at Western States in two weeks. But at least I won't be wearing the two layers, which were pretty heavy with all the sweat. With two stops on the way to fill in my bottles, hydration was OK this time, although I got down to 119 lb. I could have surely enjoyed more food if there have been aid stations on the way, but I will have to wait for race day now!
I have run a lot lately and training hard, although it seems so little compared to what Anton is logging in. In an email he sent me last week, he said that tapering was his least favorite part of running. May be he means getting down to 100-mile weeks...

On Sunday I did not feel like running (to Alex' astonishment) and went for an unusual work-out: a 32-mile bike ride, first up to Montebello Road (up to 30 mph on the way down, this is so much more dangerous than running!), then to Palo Alto on Foothill Expressway. I definitely prefer running, I am not a triathlete...

The weekend ended with a deep-tissue massage in San Jose, a Fathers' Day treat from Agnès. All set for starting the well-deserved and healthy tapering for Western States!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Mount Diablo 50K: which race strategy?

The idea came from ultraholic Rajeev during a run at Rancho where I complained about the lack of heat in the Bay Area to get acclimatized before Western States. I was not planning to race between Ohlone and Western States but Rajeev rightly suggested this PCTR (Pacific Coast Trail Runs) race on Mont Diablo. I had run to the top of Mount Diablo in 2001, on the road from the North entrance, and that was all I knew about the area, that is very little.

The day started very early with a carpool with Scott (Dunlap), a nice occasion to catch-up with him since last year's Helen Klein. We checked in around 7am and Jasper was already ready to go. With the start scheduled for 8:30, that gave plenty of time to discuss the running season and seeing many familiar faces coming in. I had even the good surprise of seeing again Team Tufunga, Rachel and Simi, who I met in January in Costa Rica for the Coastal Challenge. Here they are at the Coastal Challenge with Tica, the dog who followed us throughout Costa Rica and whom they adopted.
Unlike the first days of the Coastal Challenge, today was going to be dry and hot, and a Ranger made sure to remind all the runners that smoking was forbidden!
The briefing from race director Wendell was quite simple. Stay hydrated, follow the pink ribbons and if you don't want to get lost, stay behind Jasper (Halekas). Jasper lives in Oakland, works at Berkeley and these hills are his favorite terrain, almost his backyard. He set the course record of the Diablo 50-mile two years ago, and the record for the Diablo Marathon this year. Jasper also won TRT, the Tahoe Rim Trail 100-mile, last year, making him the US 100-mile 2007 champion. Needless to say, it seemed a good race strategy staying behind him indeed. Below, Jasper (grey top) and Scott (black cap), with me already hydrating:
Another noticeable runner was Graham (Cooper) of course. Last year, Graham had used this run as a pure heat training exercise, biking 40 miles to the start, wearing a hat and black layers, then biking back home. This year was different with Graham only earing his usual Olympic Club white singlet. I had the feeling Andy (Jones-Wilkins)'s course record of 2005 (5:10:15) was going to fall and I wanted to be part of it.

With a combined 25-50K start the pace was quickly set to high gear despite the first steep hills. Andy (Holak) took the lead in the canyon, followed by Jasper, I and Graham, all on a pace which seemed a bit unreasonable to me. After about 2 miles, Graham passes us and I decided to follow him, passing Jasper. By mile 4, on the way up to the Juniper Campground aid station, I passed Graham, which we reminded me our run at Ohlone last year (when I thought it was crazy to pass the winner of Western States 2006).

I had a nice run up to the summit (1:19), barely stopping to enjoy the amazing 360-degree view from the terrace. On the way down I first saw Graham followed by Jasper, the three of us remaining within the same 2-3 minutes all the way back to the start. I reached the start area in 2:12:42 which I learned later to be a new course record for the 25K race. For what it is worth since, unless Ruth Anderson, switching to a shorter distance was not an option today. I changed bottles taking two new ones from my cooler, with Sarah's assistance, and ate some chips, a piece of banana and cookie, and a baked potato dipped in salt (unfortunately not baked enough in my opinion).
And it was time to go as Jasper was getting in 2 minutes after me, followed by Graham less than one minute behind.

The first loop I didn't know the course. Now I knew how hilly it was, yet very runnable especially on the way down. Unfortunately, with such a fast start, the increasing temperature (in the high 80s), my followers' pressure and the hard to digest potato, the second hike up to Mount Diablo got quite painful, with leg cramps triggering by mile 19 (quads and hamstrings). Jasper passed me in the 18th mile, and Graham shortly after. I made a good halt at Juniper Campground, getting some ice in my water bottle and some on my cramping muscles (felt so good, thanks guys!). I kept pushing up to the summit (4:11), going up to the terrace again through a thick cloud of... earwigs (every step we were killing dozens of them, disgusting!).

To my good surprise, I was fine going down (no cramps). My last stop at Juniper was short but beneficial enough to get my bottle filled with ice again, a treat in this rising heat. I flew in the down hill but got into trouble for the last two flat miles to the finish. I kept thinking I could still match Andy's record except that I had to stop three times to walk and catch my breath, which cost me a minute. I crossed the finish line in 5:11:21, almost 6 minutes behind Graham and 23 minutes (!) behind Jasper who had added a new Diablo record to his credit: 4:48:48. Diabolic Jasper! Records are meant to be broken, but this one should be safe for a while. Unless Steve (Stowers) run next year...
I was quite beaten up from an overall fast run with such 8,900 feet cumulated elevation and the heat, and nauseous like many others would be at the end of the run. With salt all over my singlet and shorts showing that I didn't manage hydration well. Also, it was a race purely managed following my heart (run strong as long as possible), not the mind (pacing myself); result: starting too fast and crashing in the second loop. Not that you can expect a negative split on this course with the rising heat at mid day. But look at these two diagrams. The first one is elevation/distance, basically two big hills:
The same elevation profile now but with elapsed time on the horizontal axis. Not the same profile, like wind was blowing Mount Diablo. A good illustration of how much slower my second run to the summit was (the two descents being respectively 52 and 61 minutes). I love my Garmin 205!
A mix of 25K and 50K runners kept coming every 5 to 10 minutes (there were about 300 runners including the 8K). Whit (Rambach) finished 8th overall in 5:57, looking amazingly fresh and definitely ready for handling the heat on the Western States trail which he knows so well. Scott came in 6:10 and 11th place. Kim (Holak) won the woman division in 5:42 and 5th overall. Her next race is Hard Rock (100-mile) next week. Kim and Andy went for another 5K loop to make the most out of their trip to California, from Minnesota. Other results are posted on the PCTR website. Kim and Jasper, the overall winners:We stayed at the finish line for a couple of hours, enjoying the cold drinks, the shade and the fine ultra running company and it was time for Scott and I to drive back to the other side of the Bay. I was too tired to blog that same night, it's hard to blog after racing on a Sunday. In addition to physical fatigue, there was also the news of the tough races that other from our ultraholic group had gone through this weekend:
  • The most successful was Mark (Tanaka) who completed the Kettle Moraine 100-miler in 20:39 in insane weather conditions (heat, humidity, tornadoes, thunderstorms); Mark was the defending champion and placed 2nd overall this year, kudos Mark!
  • Still at Kettle Moraine, and in the same stormy weather, Adam Blum (my Western States pacer) ran the 100K in 13:55 and 13th overall.
  • In 100F and 100% humidity, and with a stress fracture for the past several weeks, Chihping (Fu) ran the Old Dominion (another 100-miler) and was forced to DNF before the 100K mark after getting lost three times on the course. Flying back to the Bay Area to find out that he was laid off after a merger, on Monday morning. A tough weekend.
  • In much dryer conditions, Michael (Kanning) was giving a shot to the US Junior 100-mile record in San Diego. After a fast start (sounds familiar), Michael dropped by mile 70 after more than 22 hours of running. Michael is running to raise money, make sure to visit his website.

Yet another ultra busy running weekend overall, leading to my last week of hard training before Western States, or the Auburn Track Meet as Karl (Meltzer) calls it (in reference to us finishing on the Placer High School track). By the way, check Karl's post where he included me in the favorite list. OK, not in red or blue, but on his black list, in case I really have an astonishing good day! What an honor but really no risk I'm going to challenge the 10 to 15 guys who can pretend to win this year (my bets are on Anton, which seems like a safe bet unless Anton gets lost as he is not very familiar with the trail). It is going to be an amazingly competitive edition, should be fun to watch on the race webcast.

All the best to all, and a good tapering for the ones going to Auburn at the end of the month!

PS: see more pictures on my Picasa album (some courtesy of Hao's wife who was handling both her and my camera during the race).

Sunday, June 1, 2008

A French re-connection weekend

A weekend in Paris and several opportunities to reconnect with my French connections. Hey, I didn't say The French Connection, just my running connections over here!

A marathon in 3:14 on La Coulée Verte on Saturday morning, the 40 years of my club in Paris, the ASVP (Association Sportive des Vétérans de Paris) and a off with a few ultrafondus between Versailles and Dampierre (Yvelines county).

La coulée verte

Literally, something like the green gully or the green valley. It is a nice trail and bike path going for about ten miles along the TGV (our bullet train) line to the South of Paris. For more information, see my detailed description of the course. This post is actually one of the most visited on my blog, with people looking for a run in or from Paris. I even have a colleague from one of our European offices who heard about this trail from my blog, cool.

This Saturday, I had to cut my run short because of the ASVP lunch so I just ran a marathon. I was thinking that, before moving to California in 1998, I was really glad to have long runs of 13 miles on this course. Now, getting to Massy (the end of the trail) from my parents' in Paris' 14th district is about 10 miles and is too short for me especially as I am tuning up my training for Western States. To make the run longer I went around and through Verrières-le-Buisson, turning around at the half-marathon mark (on my Garmin 205, which I believe is very accurate on this flat and open trail).

The temperature was perfect, few people and bikes on the trail, great conditions for a good run. 1:36 at the half and 3:14 for the marathon, good for a Boston qualifier.

40 candles for the ASVP!

When I turned 40 I wanted to run in the French Nationals and other competitions in France. For that, I had to join the FFA (Fédération Française d'Athléthisme), the equivalent of our USA Track & Field Asscociation. And, like for USA T&F, I needed to join a club. There are hundreds of them in France, including more that one hundred in and around Paris, so many to chose from. I initially thought of the PUC (Paris Université Club) for the reputation and convenience (meetings in Charléty Stadium, close to the ILOG office) but the conditions and welcome ended up not so great. Since I had just turned Masters then, which translates into Vétérans in French, I contacted the club which seemed specialized in this age group, the ASVP (the V stands for Vétérans which means Masters in French)!

In May 1968, when many others were engaged in social and political arguments and battles in France, a group of athletes in their early 40s came with their own revendication. At the time, in France, there was no other category in races and championships than the open category. As a result, clubs were losing interest in their "aging" members. As a positive way to express their disagreement, this group created a club to gather Masters and, as a first action, they wrote a letter to the FFA to make the case of an age group for 40 years and above, which was already the case in Germany and some Scandinavian countries for instance. The Masters category was created a year letter and we were gathering this weekend to commemorate the creation of the club, 40 years ago.

Gathering for a marathon... lunch! A 5-course lunch and seated for 5 hours around the table, it has been a long time since I've done that, I'm really lacking training in this area. Oh well, I should be running more than 60km tomorrow...

With more than 50 people all with a passion for running and more than 40 years worth of running souvenirs and memories, there were lively discussions. And it was an opportunity for me to learn more about the history of the club. The most notable performance of the club, beyond this influence on the recognition of the Masters category, was a 3rd place at the French Nationals of cross-country in Fontainebleau. The team was composed of Blanchard, Colliot, Vinet, Duault and Goiset (in the order they finished that year), with Vinet and Goiset still being with us. That year, the ASVP lost to the AS Police (1st) and the Army Squadron of Rennes (2nd).

Vinet has been on the National Track & Field team for several international selections on 5,000 and 10,000 meters (his PRs are 2:31 on the 1,000, 8:29 on the 3.000, 14:36 on the 5,000 and 30:44 on 10,000). He was still running the 10K in 33 minutes at 41. Before joining the ASVP, Vinet was with Colombes Sport between 1952 and 1062 then the ACP (Athlétique Club de Paris).

Another illustrious club member was Roger Petitjean who has been the captain of the French team of cross-country for several years. Unfortunately, Roger frequently lost to French legends such as Jason then Mimoun, like Raymond Poulidor with Anquetil and Merckx on the Tour de France... (below, a picture of Roger, from, copyright Roger-Viollet) Of course the ASVP is not the older club in France. There are actually several clubs which already celebrated their 100 th anniversary like the famous Racing, Stade Français or the ASVP friend club, SAM (Société Athlétique de Montrouge).

Unfortunately, nobody had a digital camera so, no picture, sorry...

Actually, later the following week, Jean Duponq sent me a couple of scans from the old good times.

A group picture of the club members, presumably in Vincennes, and sometimes in the early 90s (already some grey and white hair, but a great mood and spirit...):
Unexpectedly Jean met the elite runner Arturo Barrios of Mexico, at his hotel while visiting Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Arturo was famous for setting the world record of 10,000 meters in 1989 (see The New York Times article). Yet, Jean told me that Arturo was very nice and approachable, and kind to discuss their shared passion and even sign an autograph.
Jean continued his journey through South America to run the Corrida of Sao Paulo (Brazil):
"Off des Yvelines" with 3 other ultrafondus

Meeting place: Sunday morning at the entrance of the Château de Versailles. Code name: Off des Yvelines. Direction: South West.

But, first what is an off anyway? I told Phil that I of course new the word, but had never heard it used in this context in the US.

Off is used here like it is used in art festivals to describes events which are on the side of the main track, off the program, unofficial. It can also be off pressure. For us this Sunday, it was really off-road and sometimes off-the-trail actually. And off pace for me compare to my run yesterday. With even off-the-records jokes, stories and gossips. Really casual and cool anyway.

Phil had even another rationale: for the French purists who would not want to acknowledge the English origin and meaning, off could be the off in the French officieux (unofficial, casual). It surely makes sense and convey the adequate meaning, but that really seems like an after-thought justification, not much of an etymological one.

As for ultrafondus, the regular readers of my blog will remember my post of last March in which I introduced the concept, the magazine and my 5-page interview in this ultra running magazine. For the others you have to click on the above link to understand this French neologism and wordplay.

I now have a few connections with the ultrafondus community and one email announcing my visit to France is enough for a mobilization of the network to get a run organized for me, Ze Californian! Like the great Fat Ass we ran around Rouen in Normandy last January.

We met for a start at the Château de Versailles (Place d'Armes) at 9am. The hordes of tourists were on their way for the visit of the castle. At the train station, we saw many Japanese and still a few Chinese (they just got banned from their government from visiting France because of the protests against the Olympic torch in Paris last month...). We left this busy part of town for a much quieter one, going South and quickly getting in the forest. Phil was our guide for the day, first using his memories from the many years he had trained in the area before his parents moved 40 miles further South, 11 years ago. Phil was also using a (car) GPS to get overall directions toward his parents' house, 32 miles away from the start by the road. Needless to say, such a GPS is of some help but does not show trails, only roads and highways, so the navigation gets really approximate sometimes...
Here is a satellite view from our start, picturing the amazing layout of the park of the castle as viewed from the sky (click on the picture to enlarge and see our route):
The complete route is posted on Google Earth and Google Maps. In Versailles we entered the forest (Forêt Domaniale de Versailles). Our first stop was at the bottom of the so-called "Oak of Louis XIV" for a group picture (from right to left: Stéphane, Thierry, Phil and I):
Phil told us it was the oldest tree around but we learned from his mother at the end of the day that the real oak which had seen Louis XIV had died since and has been cut. Don't tell Phil, he will be so disappointed and may actually get traumatized by the news and the end of this legend from his childhood... ;-)

By the way, all the pictures from this run are from Stéphane, aka runstephane on the ultrafondus forum. You can see more pictures in his Picasa album.

Leaving Versailles' forest, we crossed a quite modern (~30 years old) urban area (Guyancourt, Montigny-le-Bretonneux, Voisins-le-Bretonneux). We erred at the entrance of the Forêt de Port Royal and ended up in a large farm of the Agronomic Research National Institute after crossing a stream and high grass fields (with ticks...). This is really getting off...control and reason, when we got caught inside the INRA farm...
Pommiers? Not completely lost yet...
With our feet wet and checking several options to get back on the original planned route, we were definitely not going the shortest path and Thierry started feeling the heat and wanted to return to Versailles on his own after these first 13 miles. Phil discouraged him, arguing rightly that we were half way between the start and Dampierre where Stéphane had parked his car with some food.

A policeman ensuring the security for a local bike race (we saw a young gal with the French tri-color jersey) told us the way to Milon-la-Chapelle.
We left Milon running/hiking up the famous hill of la Madeleine (Côte de la Madeleine), the steepest and longest hill around for local bikers (a bit of hill training for Phil and Stéphane for their return to UTMB in August, although it is not that long actually!).

A bit of heat training for me for Western States... ;-)

We asked our way to several hikers, got conflicting directions until one shown us a detailed map with the GR11 leading to Chevreuse and Dampierre. It was 1:15 pm and we were 20 miles in our run when we got to Stéphane's car in Dampierre. Stéphane had brought the perfect ingredients for a great aid station: coke, mineral waters, quinoa/tomato/mozzarella salad, potato chips, sausage, bread, dry fruits.
Dampierre has a large castle too and is therefore pretty busy with tourists. But this Sunday was also special with an Art Festival and many artists displaying across the town. There are also many special events throughout this year to celebrate the creation of all the counties (départements in French) around Paris. It was used to be only two huge ones 40 years ago called Seine and Seine-et-Oise. In 1968 (yes the same year the ASVP was born!), 5 new counties were created out of the split: Yvelines (78), Essonne (91), Hauts-de-Seine (92), Seine-Saint-Denis (93), Val-de-Marne (94) and Val-d'Oise (95). Our "off des Yvelines" was another way to celebrate this anniversary.
After 30 minutes of re planning and wondering about the timing for the rest of the day (I had to be back to Versailles by 5:30), we left Thierry at the car. He was going to drive to a place with several lakes/ponds and will wait for us about 6 miles from Dampierre. After our break, Phil started showing some signs of fatigue and we alternated walking, jogging and...sprinting (go figure, it became a game, really an indication that we are...ultrafondus!).
Anyway, after 27 miles and 6 hours we reached the pond of Saint Hubert where Thierry was waiting for us and decided to end our run here, then drive to Phil's parents who were waiting for us. Their hospitality was particularly warmhearted and re comforting, with drinks (beer, orange juice, water, coke, hot chocolate, coffee), food, laughs and more ultra stories. We really felt the ultrafondus family spirit and it was hard to leave in a rush because of my time constraints. We were even given a copy of the latest issue of the ultrafondus magazine, just off the press, which includes my 6-page article on the Coastal Challenge, with a great picture selection and lay out made by the magazine designers. Kudos again to the ultrafondus team!

Was another busy and very enjoyable running weekend, on the other side of the Ocean. Ultra running, the international and universal way...

PS: scoop! Phil is going to the 6 days of Antibes next weekend, and here is a sneak preview of his new technique to save time, sleeping right off the side of the road (yes, yet another off...). Beware, competitors, this seems to be an even better technique than Dean Karnazes', who claims in his best-seller book that he sleeps while running!!
And another secret: Phil even smiles while sleeping. This definitely shows great optimism and mental, less than one week from the event. Good luck for next week, Phil!