Sunday, October 26, 2008

Dear Tom: live strong and long!

Tom, we need you, your smile, your love of running, your support to go the extra mile! You gave so much to many of us, runners, it was nice to come and support you for this very special Metro Silicon Valley marathon. The 11th edition of this marathon in San Jose and the 11th for you. 20 years of running marathons and ultra marathons. What a string and what a courage from you given the circumstances.

Yellow, the color of hope

What a colorful party you got going to accompany you for these last 5 miles of your progressive marathon. Music, bells, cheering, friendship, personal stories, camaraderie, team and club spirit, perfect weather, all the components were here to build long lasting memories.
Better than words, here are almost 200 pictures to remember this moving experience: ONLINE PHOTO ALBUM. Including quite a few pics from our personal one-on-one with Tom, as he wished and asked for before the start:
And you will see in the album that some are ready for Halloween, this week!
So many familiar faces from your club, the San Jose Fit, and our club the Stevens Creek Striders, you had more than 100 people today caring for you, Tom, and wishing you courage to keep the fight like you already did admirably so far. What a lesson for us and yet another source of inspiration!

More can be found of on you in:
  1. A Mercury News article this week,
  2. My Rio Del Lago race report.
And photographer and journalist Mark Tantrum walked these 5 miles with us to make a special coverage and story of your adventure in the Saratoga News (scheduled to be published/released on Tuesday 11/4). Check it out!

The Striders

I am less familiar with our "cousin" club of San Jose Fit, the Fitters, so can't list all your friends there but the Striders were well represented: Charles, Peter, Penny, Peggy, Michael S, Michael , Christina (who had run the half in the morning leading blind runner Sharlene Wills in 3:13), Dennis, Robin (who also ran the half in the morning) and Alison, Amanda, John, Bill (just out of Church), Brian and Sophia (who drove from Monterey in the morning) and probably others I'm missing.

After the 5 miles from Blackford Elementary to the finish, we hanged over for a while, with Tom catching his breath and encouraging more Fitters getting to the finish line. Then, like wild animals freed up from their cage, we ran back to mile 20, crossing the last runners on our way.
In addition to the Fitters and Striders, I had also invited the Ultraholics: Adam Blum joined us around mile 23 (he ran the half in 1:29, including taking pictures!) and Rajeev and Anu joined us at mile 25, at the park Tom took a well deserved 5-minute break.

Overall, I walked and ran 14 miles today. Like Tom put it in our one-on-one, "you probably never ran that slow" but that's forgetting about my 5-hour Phoenix marathon of 2003, with my first major exercise-induces asthma crisis. Breathing difficulties which make me appreciate even more Tom's accomplishment of today. With 30 hilly miles yesterday and 51 flat miles in Miami last week, I'm going to taper a bit this week before the Helen Klein 50-miler of next Saturday.

For the love of running which Tom exemplifies! Tom, live strong and long, please...

PS: Tom and Mark Williams at Last Chance aid station on the Western States course, June 2006:

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Miami Beach: a flat run

Hi from Florida, hi from Miami Beach! Another state with palm trees. Another state with a strong Native American history (14,000 years ago!) and hispanic background (500 years ago). Another state with a lot of sun, which produces many fruits and produce to the rest of the Nation. Another state on an ocean. Many similarities with California. Actually, many people imagine Florida and California are alike, but that is not knowing North California.
I went for a run right after checking in this Saturday evening at the Loews Hotel. Putting in miles after a day on a the plane felt good. Actually, it made me realize how I appreciate our nearby hills in the Bay Area, the variety of our trail system, as well as the cool temperatures at night, and the relatively dry air.

The boardwalk is interrupted by numerous private accesses of the beach front hotel and apartment complexes, huge buildings facing the Ocean and giving some depth to the flat and straight beach. I ran partly on the beach on a mix of soft and packed sand section
Overall it was a very flat run, despite the errands of my Garmin. I knew that tracking elevation was not the device's specialty, but it was an 8.5-mile out and back and the profile does not really reflect the symmetry. Besides, I surely did not go under sea level! Anyway, the scale is less than 50 feet so, compared to my usual runs in the hills and mountains, it was a flat run indeed.

This Sunday evening, I ran 10 miles in 1:07, including a few on the sand and against a pretty strong headwind. I ran most of them on the very nice boardwalk though, a mix of concrete and wood floor/board which reminded me "les planches de Deauville." Still the same flat profile, maybe a good tune-up and preparation for Helen Klein 50-mile in two weeks.

The 24-hour IAU World Cup in Korea

Wow, check the final results, my French compatriots did quite well in Korea this weekend (the World Cup was organized by the International Association of Ultrarunners).

Men (team final standing):
  1. Japan
  2. France
  3. Russia
  1. France
  2. Japan
  3. Germany
On the men side, Ryochi Sekiya from Japan covered the most ground with a total of 272.443 km, followed by French Fabien Hoblea with 266.152 km. 272.443 km, that's 169.3 miles, or exactly what I ran over the past 3 weeks since Rio Del Lago. 3 weeks or 24 hours...

In the women division, the French "dream team" took the first three places: Anne-Marie Vernet with 238.762, Anne-Cécile Fontaine with 238.328 (quite close!) and Brigitte Bec with 229.818 km. I have seen Brigitte win the 2008 French Nationals Road 100K in Sologne two months ago. (Picture from the album posted by the
The total field was 106 men and 55 women, kudos to all!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog action day: Poverty

October 15, 2008. Today is blog action day and, although the theme is not directly related to running (my blog topic), I want to be part of the action. I will be quick as today is also work day...

Here are two topics I would like to quickly address related to this overwhelming issue of poverty.

1. Fund raising for a humanitarian project in Ethiopia

Our son Alex, 14, has setup a chapter of the United Nations Association of the USA at his high school in Cupertino. He is the co-President and has been joined by 50 other students including Max. Their goal is to fill in a container with supplies and deliver them to a village their are in touch with in Ethiopia in July 2009. Our garage is full of boxes with used school books, clothes, toys and educational games.
They are organizing a fund raising event on Sunday November 2nd, in Cupertino. In addition to leading the group, and working hard on the school curriculum, Alex is doing real business life jobs: public relations including getting in touch with local officials and other humanitarian organizations, strategic marketing (business plan), operation marketing (flyers, mail blast), accounting, purchasing (negotiation with sponsors and vendors), operation management (planning, staffing, human resources), etc. And that is on top of activities he has with the other clubs he belongs to (Red Cross, National Honnor Society), having served on Cupertino's Teen Commission over the past two years and being his class' President and Prince...

You can help this project in many ways:
  1. Come at the gala and enjoy group performances from 4 continents, delicious desserts, drinks ($50 tickets on sale now),
  2. If you cannot join us on 11/2, send a check or contact Alex for a pledge (alex _at_ cupertinouna _dot_ org),
  3. Spread the word by sharing this invitation or the URL to this post with your friends and colleagues.
This is really a project to help a poor community in Ethopia in a very sustainable manner, with supplies which will help a young generation of Ethopian getting a good education. A project to fight poverty, actively and beautifully. Thank you in advance for your support in addressing poverty this way!

By the way, Ethiopians are great runners so here is a connection with my blog! Our son Max, the cross-country runner, is excited to visit this village and hope to learn some running tips from locals before his Senior XC season. I will be happy to share what he gets...

2. What would you miss the most?

When thinking of poverty, we are invited to wonder what we would miss the most if we were to lose all we have. Money, freedom of speech or religion, comfort, notoriety, quality of life, food, work, music, love, car, ...? We have so much, the list is much longer than that and it seems even indecent to keep going when we know than billions of people live, or survive, with less than $1 a day.
I belong to a generation which did not experience major privations and priorities are difficult to set right in such a context. Looking at all the options, there is one thing which I find the most important though: water. As a runner, I rediscovered the benefit of drinking water for our body and health. At times, I even got a sense of what it would feel not having enough water when running out of it on long runs (e.g. my Western States training run at Quicksilver at the end of May). Of course you can argue that I could simply stay home and will not be thirsty, but we do need water, whatever activity we do. Life without water would be like living on planet Mars, we would just die. I feel so lucky to be on Earth, on the Blue Planet, a wonder! Here I am enjoying drinkable water straight from the glaciers, on the UTMB (Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc) course in July 2007:
When I think that we take showers with drinkable water, we water our backyards with drinkable water, we wash our cars with drinkable water, we flush toilets with drinkable water, I imagine that our grankids will think that we were not thinking straight. This is pure non-sustainable development. Of course we recycle water but we waste so much and pollute so much in doing so, when we would need to do so little if we had put the right systems in place.

As I'm preparing a business presentation for next week I got into this eye-opening ad in the book "Presentation Zen" (by Garr Reynolds). Garr is highlighting the quality of Sangeeta Kumar and you can see other of his compelling art work at
Unfortunately, this particular one did not display well on my screen so let me retype the message:

5,110 gallons of water for 1 year of showers
2,464 gallons of water for 1 pound of beef
And the underlying message says: Water | Showers vs. Eating Beef

Yikes, we are really crazy, aren't we? I'm not vegetarian yet, but thankfully I rarely eat beef. And I will eat even less knowing this fact and impact on water consumption.
Last week I was speaking in a workshop on sustainability in San Francisco and it felt great to share on my company's experience in getting greener as well as greening others thanks to our Supply Chain optimization solutions. It was also a great opportunity to remind all of us that sustainable development is all about appreciating how things are connected and inter-dependent and that we have to care of others in our global development, with equity. So we do not all fall into poverty...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Firetrails 50: 2 years later

October 7, 2006: my first 50-mile on this Dick Collins Firetrails course (FT). I was a rookie on this distance and placed 3rd in 7:25 (and won the Dick Collins rookie award). Great memories from the first 50 kilometers and tougher moments for the last 20 miles. So much ground covered in ultra since then, so much lessons learned, personal experiences gained, yet so much to learn in this highly experimental sport.

I had a business meeting which made me miss the run last year. Fortunately, the same meeting (our Sales Kick-Off) happens next week, so I was able to fit FT in my busy racing schedule, just two weeks after Rio Del Lago 100-mile, and 3 weeks before Helen Klein 50-mile.

The course

The Firetrails course goes up and down along the crest of the Oakland and Berkeley hills, an out and back from Lake Chabot to the South, to the turn around of Lone Oak, in Berkeley. It provides amazing views over the San Francisco Bay. Here is an aerial view with the Pacific in the background, and you can make your own by looking at my Garmin recording which I've uploaded on Google Earth (or Google Maps for a 2D map):
Saturday was chilly and the wind cleared the air so well that, from the section in Tilden Park, you could count the windows of the Transamerica Pyramid in the city. Well, maybe not while running, but if you were taking the time to enjoy the breathtaking view. Here is a picture from Agnès taken from Skyline Boulevard, South of the Skyline Gate aid station:
As for the cumulative elevation, I had heard about 9,000 feet which seemed a lot as this was also the total for the overall Rio Del Lago 100-mile. Actually the race web site talks about 7,800 feet. Once I uploaded my Garmin recording into SportsTrack, I got +6,600/-6,648. In any case, there are plenty of up and down hills and very few flat sections as the following chart shows:
Among the most difficult sections, surely the long climb back to Steam Train is the toughest. The front runners actually get a kick there as we cross the rest of the runners on their way to the turnaround. I would vote the second toughest section the last climb, right after Big Bear, with 9 miles to go. Otherwise, as the race of the name indicates, there are many fire trail sections making the course rarely technical.


Ann gave a short briefing to the runners of the early 6am start (the official start was given at 6:30).
Ten minutes before the start our ultraholics group led by Rajeev had some fun, trying to keep warm in this chilly morning. Here we are, from left to right (the fastest to the slowest someone said... ;-): Rajeev Patel, Martin Casado, Sean Lang and I.

The race

Do not panic, I will not go in as much details as in my last race report (Rio Del Lago). This Saturday, there was less suspense for first place. Actually there was a bit in the first mile as we did not see favorite Hal Korner at the start. Hal has won the 2007 edition of Western States and, 4 weeks ago, Angeles Crest 100. Victor Ballesteros took the lead right from the start, followed by Mark Gilligan. Victor was a rookie on this distance last year and set a blazing rookie course record of 6:46. I had not seen Mark for a while, not racing in the sames races. Mark had a series of injuries over the past year and DNF'ed in many of his races. He was here to get a WS qualifier in case he is picked in the Two-Time Looser (TTL) lottery. Mark is the man behind the cool UltraSignup website.

After 2 miles, I saw a headlight catching up and I thought it was Roy Rivers. Despite being 51, it was Roy's first attempt at the distance, making him a rookie. Roy is extremely fast and he always beats me at Quad Dipsea (his turf) and even did at Way Too Cool this year. When the light finally reached us, we found out it was Hal, not Roy. In the first steep hill, we lost Mark and Victor kept the lead, followed by Hal, then me. Victor did not stop at the first aid station. Hal stopped to drop the light he was wearing around his waist, and I did too to grab a cup of water (I was only carrying one bottle of Gu2O). In the next miles I could observe Hal's very smooth running, with short strides given his long legs, a very economical and efficient biomechanics for ultra trail running.

Around mile 6 I passed Hal who was making a pit stop, then Victor on the way down through the nice forest of Eucalyptus. I let Victor and Hal go at mile 12, for a pit stop, and I started having some breathing issues with the 8 min/mile pace. When I saw them again, it was near the turnaround where they had a 7-minute lead on me, at the bottom of our 3-mile climb back to the Steam Trains aid station. I estimated that I had about 7-8 minutes on the fourth runner (from the Mount Diablo team), so I kept pushing the pace, alternating walking and running, while crossing the other runners on their way down.

At mile 37 (Skyline Gate), I found Agnès and Greg.
Agnès had driven up there with Robin and Peggy. Robin paced Dennis and Peggy paced Penny, whom I had carpooled with to the start in the morning (we are all from the same club, the Stevens Creek Striders).
I had told Agnès I would at best reach Skyline Gate after 5 hours, and I was already late by 25 minutes. Hal was actually 25 minutes ahead of me at Skyline:
And Victor, 20 minutes:
Fortunately, Skyline marked the end of my low for the day, and the last 13 miles went better. I completed the last part in 1h20, although my Garmin marked 49.1 miles at the end so I suspect the last section to be a bit shorter (the turnaround should be at mile 26 but I had 25.3).

After Skyline, Agnès and Greg continued the crewing and I saw them at Big Bear, Bort Meadows then at the finish. At Big Bear, I stopped and posed for the traditional picture with my homonym Mr. Pommier, from the Tamalpa Runners (light blue t-shirt):
Greg ran the last 100 yards with me, isn't that cool?
Finish time: 7:15:35, 10 minutes faster than 2 years ago. Certainly, the conditions were different. In 2006, I had prepared all Summer for this big ultra running deadline. In 2008, I had run a tough 100-miler two weeks before and I was seeing Firetrail "just" as a short 50-miler. It is not much that my legs were tired, it is the mental and focus which was not as acute as 2 years ago. Interestingly, what kept me pushing all the way on the second part is the fear to miss the lead of the M40-49 division. But the next runner was 21 and arrived 20 minutes after me and the second M40-49 1h04 behind me. The field was surely missing the top guns in my age group (Mark Tanaka, Mark Lantz, Ron Gutierrez, Jeff Teeters, etc.).

Post race

The overall event is masterly managed by two ultra legends, Ann Trason and Carl Andersen (and I should add their dog Zoe). It is hard to describe Ann's career in ultra especially for me who has joined the community a couple of years ago. Ann has a page on wikipedia but not much in it (some ultra historian must step up...). Not much compared to legends of other popular sports. 14 times winner of Western States (including 10 years consecutively) and still holding 3 age groups records at that event (F18-29, F30-39 and F40-49). Ann also broke twenty world records during her career. But, more than fame, she is looking at running again. Also, after 9 years, Ann and Carl are looking at someone to take over Firetrails for 2010 and beyond.
Carl has also an amazing list of ultra achievements and still holds many course records, some of them after 15 years (e.g. 6:26:42 at Firetrails in 1996, 3:52:29 at Quad Dipsea). People talk about Carl as Quad Dipsea King: over 25 years, there has been only 3 sub-4hr performance on this grueling course, 2 from Carl and one from young ultra genius Erik Skaggs in 2007.
Browsing the web, I just learned more about how Carl and Ann met, check this link out! After a beer, guess who they had their first date (and duel)... on the "Berkeley Fire Trail...!"

The registration and web site are perfect. The course marking, aid stations and volunteers are top. And the post-race BBQ is... over the top! Succulent burgers, pasta salads, drinks and Ann's home-made soup and desserts are even offered complimentary to the runners' crews. A burger was enough for me, but Greg and Agnès surely enjoyed Ann's treats:
Of course, behind Carl and Ann, there are many volunteers who make such an event a success. From the manning of the aid stations, the marking of the course, the network of radio operators, the time tracking which included a live web cast thanks to Steven Patt's software (Stevens Creek software), the chefs cooking for hundreds of people and a very long afternoon, the Park Rangers supervising our crossing of the roads, ... Sponsors provide key support too: Gu, Andronico's, FleetFeet (nice wind-blocking vest!), TrailRunner magazine, ZombieRunner, UltraRunning magazine, RaceReady. And let's not forget one man that I did not have the privilege to know personally, thanking him for the spirit he left and which we can all feel in the ultra community: Dick Collins.

At the finish, I was welcomed by my RDL pacer and ultraholic Adam (Blum). He had run the Golden Hills marathon (starting at our turn around), gave me five when we crossed each other near the Steamed Trains aid station and placed 6th overall in 3:52. In the final stretch he encouraged Caren Spore but was disappointed when he learned that she missed the course record by 3 seconds! Yes, sometimes, every second count in a race, even on a trail...

We left this ultra fiesta shortly after Sean finished (he had carpooled with Rajeev in the morning and we dropped him in Saratoga). I was happy with the result, yet it is only in the car on the way back that my body got warmer. I was chilled all morning, so different from the over heating experienced at Rio Del Lago 2 weeks ago. Yes, we do not really have seasons in California, but the weather does change from time to time... I love this area, an ultra and trail running paradise!

PS: oh yes, I tried Vespa for the second time (along with Gu2O, Gu, SCaps! and some ultra food). I'd say it worked again, will pursue the experiment...

Bonus track: Agnès and Greg's pictures in my Picasa photo album.