Sunday, November 30, 2008

Quad Dipsea: we all did it!

For the ones in a hurry or who prefer pictures over narration, you can jump to my online Picasa photo album with comments, photo credit to Agnès (and special thanks for her patience this Saturday!). For the others, here is my race report...
I was thinking of "He did it!" for the title of this post, to capture Erik's feat but, in retrospective, it is more important to say that we all made this special Thanksgiving ultra celebration. From cheering, crewing, volunteering, running, walking, crawling, flying or hopping over the stairs and roots, we were several hundreds to come on the famous Dipsea trail for this 26th edition of Quad Dipsea. And, even if we did not make to the front page, we all either did it (to the finish) or witness a big thing in the Dipsea history...


The days of November leading to the race have been quite buzzy. First my pitiful run at Helen Klein 50-mile with something which resembled more to a pulmonary edema than another asthma crisis. Then a minor surgery on the 5th which ruled out a tumor as the cause of the hematuria of last August after Headlands 50K. 2 weeks of rest afterward where I focused on core and static leg musculation work. Like before Western States, I did many series of sitting with my back against the wall, totalling 85 minutes. A good preparation for the ups and downs of Quad Dipsea. As I told you last week I resumed training 10 days ago and did a good and tough 29-mile QD test last weekend. Some speed work at the track on Tuesday with Bob, a reasonably fast run on Wednesday, under the rain in case we had rain during the race.

On Thursday, I joined my club mates, the Striders, for our annual and fun Thanksgiving Turkey Trot Relays at De Anza College. Max was volunteering at the much more official, crowded and faster Turkey Trot runs in San Jose so I was the only representant from the family this year. (Photo credit of Turkey Trot pictures: Peter Hargreaves.)
Our relays consisted in teams of 3, each of us running 4 300-meter legs on the track. To increase the training, I didn't follow the rule of crossing the field to go to the next relay start but jogged the 200 meters around the track making it 10 laps (Mike, here are the maths: 300 meters for each 3/4 lap relay leg + 200 meters to get to the next start = 500 meters x 4 times for each relay x 2 relays = 4,000 meters or 10 laps! ;-).
Needless to say, I enjoyed the speed on such short distances and first teaming up with Andrew and Angus Beeston, then Angus and his sister, we won the two rounds/relays. Here am I, adopted by the Beeston family! Will my third citizenship be Aussie?? ;-)
Between this late training sessions, two nights under 5 hours, one because of work and one to get up for the insane Black Friday tradition (we showed up at 5:30 am at Office Depot, missed the sale to end up purchasing a new computer at Fry's in the afternoon, at the regular price; so I believe Black Friday works for retailers indeed...). Anyway, quite relaxed without the pressure of having to score to win our USA T&F ultra Grand Prix this year, I was quite relaxed and enjoyed 7 hours of sleep the night before the race. Pierre-Yves stopped by our house and Agnès drove us to the start which was also a great way to alleviate the stress of getting to the start line in Mill Valley. On our way we made the classic pit-stop at the view point right after the Golden Gate, and saw Dave Combs (ultra list and omni present ultra volunteer) and Steve Patt (from Stevens Creek Software and a Quad Dipsea veteran).

What a difference for me compared to 2006! Two years ago, I was a 50-miler rookie at Fire Trails and got a free entry in Quad Dipsea as part of the Dick Collins Rookie award package. I barely knew a handful of runners and was quite intimidated. This year's Quad Dipsea was my 30th ultra race and I really feel part of the local community, with many faces being familiar, from the runners to their crew and the volunteers. Yet, I remain excited like a kid when I have the opportunity to meet ultra elites like the Ashland, Oregon gang (Kyle, Erik, Jenn this weekend, or Hal Koerner at this year's Fire Trails) and Tony Krupicka again. This young and cool guys, with long leds and ultra endurance, how inspiring!

The race
I was in 2nd row on the starting line, just behind Erik, and I reached the beginning of the stairs in 10th or 12th position. With the other front runners, we ran most of the first series of stairs. Jenn (Shelton) passed me half way up the hundreds stairs, hopping from step to step like a gazelle. In the last section of the stairs, each step has a plaque commemorating people and families associated to the history of this famous trail. I recognized a few names from the running community and I found this touching and motivating. As a matter of fact, I don't remember noticing these plaques during my first Quad Dipsea two years ago, nor my three previous Double Dipsea so maybe this section has been "remodeled" recently.

I passed Jenn before the top and she passed me at the end of the road section as she was flying before we got back on the trail.

At the Cardiac aid station, I got a boost with the encouragements from my fellow club mates, the Striders. Chuck (Wilson) took care of my only request: a cup of water (I was carrying enough GUs for the whole race, and a pouch to refill my GU2O bottle at the first return to Mill Valley).

The section from Cardiac to Stinson Beach is my favorite, with a variety of trails, blazing views over the Ocean and the coast, and a nice downhill to the beach, where the Double Dipsea starts from. My GPS was showing 6.4 miles when I crossed Erik on his first way back to Mill Valley and encouraged him on his quest for the course record (sorry, Carl...). Based on the fact that the course is given for more than 7.1 miles, I thought "Geez, he already put me 1.4 miles!" However, my GPS had the turnaround at 6.8 miles so that made only a 0.8 mile lead. Still... I was in 5th position at the turnaround and just under the hour (59 minutes). Feeling good although a bit concerned not to see Victor (Ballesteros) and Roy (Rivers) in front of me to name a few. Two years ago my splits where 59-63-67-71 so I thought the pace was OK.

I felt good on the way back. I passed Tim (Knudsen, from Denmark) and almost caught up with Fritz who was in third place in the technical section after the Cardiac AS (quite a few roots and slippery switch backs). Tim negotiated the stairs better than me (not my strength indeed), so I reached the Mill Valley turnaround still in 5th and in 2:01 (I ran Double Dipsea in 2001, 2002 and 2003 with a PR of 1:59 in my third. Unfortunately, between volunteering as the Captain of Last Chance aid station since 2004 or running Western States in 2007, I have missed the race since, because of the conflicting date).

Among Agnès' picture series, one which I particularly like is this one from Erik where you can see him leaving Stinson Beach for the second time, under three hours, and rushing out before his cup of water even touched the ground. When every second counts in an ultra...

On the third leg, I walked more steps than in the first one. Not too far from the start I saw Roy Rivers and I thought my lead on him will not resist for long. I kept pushing the pace, trying to stay close to Tim alternating the lead on our way up to the Cardiac AS for the third time. At Cardiac I found Leor (Pantilat) who had run in 2nd for the first two legs but was not feeling good at all (dizzy and cold), with the volunteers now advising him not to drop and keep on for the last 1.5 legs. I first met Leor at the finish of Fire Trails in October after he won the Golden Hills Trail Marathon and set a new course record. Leor followed me for a mile or so but it is another runner who reached the Stinson Beach turnaround with me. I was pleased to see Graham (Cooper) volunteering and Stan (Jensen) told me I was doing great (3:06, as opposed to the 3:01 reported in the splits published as of this Sunday night in the results sheet; with special thanks to John and Stan for the prompt publish!). Agnès was there of course but, unless the first time at the turnaround, Kyle and Anton had already left the station to rush to Mill Valley to see Erik's finish.

Except for some walking in steep stairs and uphill sections, the last leg was eventless as I maintained my third position until the end. Seeing Chris Hauth closing the gap on me before the last descent into Mill Valley, I thought he may catch up in the stairs like this hectic finish two years ago when Jasper (Halekas) passed me in the very last stairs and we finished 4th and 5th, 1 second apart! I crossed the finish line in 4:19:19, one minute and 32 seconds faster than in 2006. Farther Faster, yeah! Still, an impressive 27 minutes and 3 seconds slower than Erik who, finally, did beat Carl's record by merely 13 seconds! 16 years later... Like Erik told me "close but feeling much better being on this side of the record!" (Erik was referring to his first attempt, last year, when he missed the record by 48 seconds).

Although Erik is today's hero, Carl remains the King of Quad Dipsea for me, for so much consistency in the nineties. And, if anything else, his Masters' Course Record of 3:57 seems very safe to me (when I think that I am 20 years older than Erik, I feel old... But Roy Rivers did beat me in 2006 at age 49 and today's oldest runner was 82, so age is not the main factor. Still, long legs do help, and I have short ones, oops! ;-).

The other hero of the day should have been Fritz. For his first Quad Dipsea, Fritz took second overall, in 4:15:28, a time similar to Michael Buchanan's win in 2006 (4:15:25). But Fritz is still unknown in our local ultrarunning community. He won the San Jose marathon in October in 2:37 while fighting cancer. Two weeks ago, I informed John about this amazingly inspiring story which you can read here: He is beating cancer and winning marathons. When I reached the finish line, Fritz was resting under the tent, with a friend, but apart from the excitement reigning among the crowd around the finish line. I could not find the words to approach him so I hope to see him again in races to touch base and catch up. Like for Tom Kaisersatt who is also battling cancer, ran Quad Dipsea 10 times and came to the start to encourage his son who was running this Saturday: keep it up, guys!

Runners kept coming in, Suzanna Bon finishing first in the female division, after Jenn dropped at the Mill Valley turnaround. Suzanna was wearing Brooks' Cascadias and hope to join me into the Brooks Inspire Daily group. With 3 overall win in 100-milers over the past 18 months, she well deserves this recognition and support. As for me, I ran in Trance this time, which I thought was a better choice on the stairs and dirt sections, despite the lack of the Cascadia's grip on the few slippery sections.

GPS-wise, my Garmin 205 Forerunner indicated 27.11 miles at the end, versus the "advertized" 4x7.1=28.4 miles. Although I did not verify it, I'm sure the count of steps is correct (4x671=2684); but the mileage is almost impossible to check with a measuring wheel, on such a convoluated course. As for the cumulative elevation, SportTracks reported +7,278/-7,323 feet versus the disclosed +/-9,300 feet, but I concede the Forerunner is not the best instrument to measure this data given the resulting simplified elevation chart below:
Also the elevation/time graph shows that I did slow down in the second part but not too much:

Before closing this race report, special thanks to the volunteers, especially my club mates, the Striders, who saw and helped close to 1,000 runners at the Cardiac aid station (237 starters, 4 times). The management of the race was as great as usual and the perfect weather brought the final touch to a wonderful "ultra" Thanksgiving celebration.

So, it is now certain, with this new age group win, I am extending my lead in the Pacific Association USA T&F Mountain Ultra Trail Grand Prix, M40-49 age group, winning for the second year in a row. It has been a big fight with Mark (Tanaka) and a long race season which I am happy to see ending (10 full months since last January's Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica, 14 ultra races and 7 sub-ultra ones!). And I look forward to as much competition next year... Farther, faster...
PS: again, don't miss my Picasa album with Agnès' pictures augmented with my comments (and let me know if there are inaccuracies or missing info/names)!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

QD Test and Birthday Trail Party

Back on my feet after a two-week break! Initially the surgeon had talked about 3-week off exercising but, when I saw him this week, he claimed he never said that and I could resume training as quickly as I wanted. Enough said, I went for a run on Thursday and it felt good (7 miles at 6:18 min/mile pace). Too much work on Friday, so the weekend was welcome. With, as a result, two running-related stories in one post: a QD test and a birthday "trail" party.

QD Test

No, it is not yet another test to get through before College (SAT, PSAT, SAT2, ACT, CBEST, GMAT, TOEFL, NMSQT, CLEP, GMAT, ...). No, QD test it is not a medical one either. QD stands for Quad Dipsea, the shortest but one of the toughest and most grueling ultra in the PA USATF series (Pacific Association USA Track & Field). 28 miles of technical trails, 9,200 feet of cumulative elevation, 2,680 stairs! The race is held each year on the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, and this will be the 26th edition this year. "Tropical" John Medinger is the current race director (John is also the Publisher of UltraRunning magazine, "the voice of ultra running since 1981").

The Dipsea trail is well known of runners and hikers in the San Francisco area. Between Mill Valley and Stinson Beach, and around the summit of Mount Tamalpais, it is the course of 3 popular races which all fill in very quickly:
  1. Dipsea (the single),
  2. Double Dipsea (one out and back, the same weekend as Western States so, between being the captain at Last Chance and running WS, it has been a while since I didn't run it),
  3. and Quad Dipsea (2 out and backs, starting from Mill Valley).
Quad Dipsea is also the last race of the PA MUR (Mountain Ultra Running) Grand Prix. As it turns out, despite my counter-performance at Helen Klein 50-mile 3 weeks ago, the other contenders in my age group did not show up so, thanks for my hanging up to the finish, I was able to take the lead over Mark (Tanaka), with enough points to win this year's Grand Prix again, unless Mark beats Carl Andersen's age group record of 3:57:08. I know Mark must be very frustrated with his decision of not participating in HK. As a matter of fact, his hectic work schedule could have permitted him to join us, but he ran a local non official race in San Francisco instead, so he could stay closer to his family that first weekend of November. Anyway, that means I won't have to kill myself at Quad Dipsea, it releases some pressure. Which is good because of three key reasons. First, I want to enjoy the show with a few top guys coming to beat long-standing course record set by Carl Andersen. Second, this is a tricky course and I'd rather not injure my ankles in the stairs. Third, it has been a long season, with little breaks since last January's Coastal Challenge, and I look forward to the winter break in December and January. At least to stay off competition for a couple of months because, as you can guess, I am not going to remain inactive for 2 months!

Anyway, Saturday had perfect conditions for testing my fitness before Quad Dipsea, hence the name of QD Test: agenda open until 5 pm, bright blue sky, temperature on the cool side but a warm sun and light breeze, trail in perfect conditions with just enough moisture to eliminate the dust. I used one of my long and reasonably hard routes, climbing up to Black Mountain along the Stevens Creek Reservoir and Monte Bello Road, then down on Old Ranch, Bella Vista and Canyon trails, followed by the long and steep 1.5-mile climb up to the campground and summit, on Indian Creek trail. A nice tour through the Monte Bello Open Space Preserve (see map).

From Black Mountain, I switched to the nearby Preserve and got on the Rancho San Antonio side (map), going down on Black Mountain trail to the Duveneck Windmill Pasture, then to the farm on Chamise and back home via McClelan Ranch Road. That's about 50% road, 30% dirt fire road and 20% non technical single trail, so very far from the Dipsea conditions (meaning, much easier). Furthermore, for 29.6 miles, the cumulative elevation is 3,450 feet versus more than 9,200 for QD, as indicated on Stan's run100s website, for "only" 28+ miles.I was so happy to get on for a long run, my first since the pathetic Helen Klein, that I got quite excited on the way up to Black Mountain (2,800 ft). Not overly but enough to PR by 2 minutes at 1:34 for the first 11.5 miles. However I hit the wall at mile 17.5, 1 mile into the 1.5-mile climb back to the summit. I was doing great, imagining and visualizing Erik Skaggs going light in steep uphills (I never saw him or met in person, but I can only guess from his performances). Erik is the main favorite for Quad Dipsea this year (Erik won last year with the 2nd fastest time ever, 1 minute behing the record Carl set in 1992). Well, I might have pushed the engine too far because the last 12 miles were less pleasant than the first ones, albeit the negative elevation going through Rancho San Antonio and the flat section in Cupertino. I had lost 5 pounds, taking only 3 gels (actually doing an experiment with a mix of Cliff Shot, Hammer Gel and GU (I need to write a comparative review on them, there certainly are differences between these brands). It took me three hours and a good dinner to recover.
Nonetheless, it was a good QD test. I had set a new PR on this loop, by 4 minutes, just getting under 4 hours. And I know that my legs are back but I'm still not super fit after this 2-week break in my training and the end of a long season. Now, looking forward to the weather we will get next Saturday...

Birthday trail party
After the hard work on Saturday, a very different format for my run this Sunday. Chris had organized a "trail party" to celebrate Chuck Wilson's 60th birthday. Like yesterday, the weather was perfect and 20 of us were off on the trails to celebrate Chuck's milestone.

More friends joined us for the following pot-luck, hosted by Joe in his house with wonderful views over South Bay. We all shared stories about Chuck, how we met, funny anecdotes, crazy runs, personal connections. With more than 25 years of ultra experience, and races all over the World, Chuck has a lot of stories to share himself and is also an "ultra encyclopedia." Like one runner told me a few weeks ago about Chuck, "insert a coin, and he will not stop talking about ultra for hours!" You could not miss the birthday boy today in his bright Ohlone shirt (a nice way to think of Rob Byrne, Ohlone RD, who could not make it from his exile in the Netherlands):Congratulations, Chuck, and long life on the trails. See you at Quad Dipsea next weekend, and good luck at the North Face Endurance Challenge 50-mile in Marin County on December 6th. Your real birth date, what better way to celebrate your 60 years than that!
PS: I posted 90 pictures of our nice run in my Picasa album: check them out!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Speed through other's dreams

As I am prevented from running for a couple of weeks after a surgery, and unable to properly train for the coming Quad Dipsea (November 29), that leaves me with more time to nurture my running passion through others' stories, and dreams. Three in particular this weekend: the CCS XC finals for Max, a realized dream for Tom, and the NCAA West Regional XC Championships at Stanford.

CCS cross-country finals

This Saturday we drove back to Toro County Park in Salinas for the 2008 Central Coast Section cross-country finals. The play-off event represents the last milestone of the cross-country season before State (i.e. the California championships). Led by Coach Armstrong, Tino (aka Cupertino High School) had qualified one varsity team (7 boys) and one girl, Shona. Several parents drove down (the usual suspects...!) as well as a few other teammates: Kristin, Daniele, Steven, Steven C, Michael, Dennis. The boys were: Max, Peter A, Ahmad, Nick, Daniel, Eric and Peter C.
Althoug temperatures are generally 10 degrees higher than the Bay Area, which is good for crops, it was unsually hot, in the mid-80Fs. After a blazing start by Peter, Max led the boys and finished in 17:25, albeit disappointed for not matching his 17:22 of the beginning of the season. Overall, everybody had a tough time fighting the heat and the team placed 12th among 18. The most impressive team was Mountain View High School, both the boys and the girls.

Also new this year, the team had moved from Division 3 to Division 2, just passing the school size threshold because of the addition of a few Freshmen this year. With only two Seniors in the team this year, these two facts may explain why this is the first year in many that no Pionners will participate to States. Below is a picture of the impressive start of the Division 2 boys race (click on the picture to enlarge):
The results are not published yet, but will be at the following page. In the meantime, more pictures of this warm day, on my Picasa album.

Tom's dream

If you read this blog regularly, you may be familiar with our friend Pierre-Yves and his fight against cancer at age 14. After 2 years and one bone marrow transplant, the battle has been successful so far and every day is a blessing for him, his family and friends. In the midst of such an uncertain outcome, we got the opportunity to become familiar with the Make-A-Wish asociation whose goal is to fulfill the dream of young people facing cancer. Pierre-Yves was given the opportunity to spend one day with his idol, French basketter Tony Parker (see a short paragraph on this memorable day).

In a manner similar to Make-A-Wish, Bill reached out to Tom's friends among the Stevens Creek Striders and San Jose Fitters to offer Tom something really unique and meaningful to him: a flight over the Bay Area and Pacific on board of a 1945 fighter jet. The aircraft is named Runner Ridge III which is rather appropriate given Tom's passion for running. This is a P-51 Mustang. For those who don't know, Tom is a pilot and has flown hours over the Bay Area. As a matter of fact he clocked 350 hours on a plane similar to the vintage ones displayed in the airport museum.

We stopped by the Hollister municipal airport on our way back from Salinas and gathered with other representatives of the Striders, to share Tom's joy, before and after his aerial experience: Peter, Bill, Penny, Lena, Andrew and Mike.
Here is a video of one of Dan's take-off on YouTube, as well as other pictures and short videos of Tom's realized wish on my Picasa album. As for our wish? That Tom heals quickly, please!!

Flying Oregon

With our trip down to the Monterey County, we could not attend the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) West Region championships held in Stanford this year. Like all the observers, I'm really impressed with the winning time of Galen Rupp: 27:41 for a 10K ran on a golf course, and a 50-second gap on the second runner. Granted, Galen is top class, a 2008 Olympian! Oregon is really a great source of distance elite runners, no wonder why they also excel in ultra (Hal Koerner, Todd Braje, Erik Skaggs, Dan Olmstead, Lewis Taylor, Jeff Browning, Ian Torrence, Sean Meissner, Susannah Beck, Kami Semick, Prudence L'Heureux, ...).

You can read more about the preformance of the locals on the Stanford Cardinal's web site. Good luck to all at the Nationals on November 24! Sweet speed dreams in the meantime...

Is that all?

Oh no! This weekend was also Javelina Jundred in Arizona and Ultracentric in Texas (Tony Mangan won the 48h race with 202 miles, or 202 laps...). And of course thousands of other running stories around the Planet... When hobbies and sport contribute to building a peaceful and more united World.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Two hearts: a new birth!

What an intriguing title for a runner, isn't it? Indeed, although it may get handy to push the pace, I am not going to announce the transplant of a second heart, at least not literally. But, figuratively speaking, Agnès, the boys and I got a second heart on Friday, when taking the oath and becoming US citizens!
Technically speaking, we do have dual citizenship as both countries recognize the concept. While taking the oath, I was not sure about this aspect of the process as it is clear that, as US citizen, the text makes no concession to allegiance to any other country, state, sovereignty or kingdom. However, and thanks to the infinite content available on the web, I found this interesting document clarifying our position: Citizenship Laws of the World (233 pages as it lists most of the countries in the world with their position on dual citizenship in particular). What a surprise for me to discover so many countries which do not recognize dual citizenship, at least 100 of them! Thomas Friedman wrote The World Is Flat, but the world is still very fragmented and has many intricacies for real global citizens. I knew about the case of China (not recognizing), and Germany which somehow relaxed the rule a few years ago. But I was surprised to find India, Spain, Japan, Singapore, and Belgium for instance in the list of the countries excluding this concept form the constitution. It actually makes a lot of sense to avoid the ambiguity of accepting two (or more...) sovereigns, and the potential associated legal incompatibilities. However, at the age of information age and global trade, reasonable treaties could handle such situations. Furthermore, having to deal with the authority of two people or entities simultaneously is not so infrequent; for instance, children and their parents or, in the corporate world, employees reporting into a matrix organization (e.g. IBM...).

Anyway, I am very glad that my two countries, France and the Unites States of America, are friends enough to recognize this dual citizenship concept, bilaterally. That likely made the oath ceremony of this week less poignant for me since I was not losing my French citizenship, as opposed to what must have happened to many of my new compatriots given the diversity of the audience. Yet, it was quite emotional to go through this new birth, in the words of the master of our ceremony. At least for us, it was a birth on one side, and not a death on the French citizenship side.

And how does all this relate to running, the theme of my blog? Well, it does to some extent since I now have the opportunity to represent both nations, two nations which are very strong in the area of running and ultra running in particular. Ok, granted, I am not in the league of elites which would make a difference by bringing a medal at worldwide events. More modestly for me, it means though that I can now participate to national championships in the US. I may even be able to enter both French-citizen and non-European-citizen lotteries at UTMB, at least until they figure out this loophole...! As you see, not a big deal, citizenship is not much a criteria in our sport of ultra running where the most important is camaraderie, pleasure and exploring our own personal limits and capabilities.

As illustrated by this old flag of 1781 representing the French Alliance, I pledge to be an active part of the multicultural richness of America, while perpetuating the long lasting friendship between France and the USA.
Starting with commemorating a common milestone in our countries' history: November 11 1918, the Armistice marking the end of World War I. The date is a bank holiday in both countries, called Veterans Day in the US (in France we have another day commemorating our veterans and the end of WWII in particular, May 8th). One generation only later, the American soldiers were back to Europe to free Normandy, including the small town of Trévières, which my grandfather was the mayor of (pictured here with American soldiers in August 1944 - See more details in one of my previous posts).
See also the France Will Never Forget website including the following June 2007 video:

So many gave their life to preserve Freedom, I wish the world finds more peaceful ways to do the same and expand this right to all nations. One of the many challenges Barack Obama will have to address in his coming appointment.
[Photo from AP Photo by Rémy de la Mauvinière - Colleville-sur-Mer, 6-Jun-2007]

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Helen Klein 50 miles: did finish!

2006, the Helen Klein Classic was my second 50-miler, a few weeks after my first one at Firetrails. I was not blogging yet, but I remember I had great hope to set a fast PR, falsely considering a road ultra as being much easier than a hilly trail one. Sure enough, I started too fast and struggled on the way back of this out and back, finishing in 6:52 with many cramps in the final stretch to Cavitt School.

2007, you can look at the whole story. Again, a fast start and a tougher back but a much better time of 6:22.

In 2008 my hope was two-fold: first improve my time and PR (the Farther Faster part of me) and, second, put points in the bank for the USATF Grand Prix. The first goal surely turned out not being reasonable given the terrible weather conditions (rain and wind) as well as the same trail detour as at Rio Del Lago to get around the on going construction on the levee. As for the second goal, without Steve Stovers, Mark Tanaka, Mark Lantz, Gary Wang and Ron Gutierrez at the start as usual contenders in my age group, we were left with Ray Sanchez and Charles Blakeney for the ones I know (our age group has 29 people in the standings so far this year, versus 55 last year).

I car pooled to the start on race morning with Pierre-Yves Couteau, whom I met earlier this year at the Cupertino Big Bunny Fun Run 5K. But today was not Pierre's first venture in ultra: he has run Firetrails 50 already among other ultras and he is progressing very fast as you will see below.

We arrived at Cavitt School just on time to pick our race packet and listen to Norm's briefing at 6:15. Norm had spent the night in the gymnasium but did not get much sleep, between the noise of the rain on the roof all night and the worries coming from race directing in bad weather conditions. He actually delayed the start of the 50-mile from 7 to 7:10am so we had more light for the first detour around the levee.

Listen up! (RD Norm Klein, who has directed Western States 100 for 14 years, and completed the run too)
Even his wife, Helen (middle), is listening carefully to the last minute instructions (although officially retired from competitive running, Helen ran the 30K on Saturday, in 4:50):
With the pouring rain, I was happy to see this runner on the course without his cave man costume!
A picture with Helen before the start:
The race

The detour was the only trail part, about 1 mile each way. It was a bit slippery but not too bad. I followed Todd Braje for the first miles but he quickly went out of sight after Negro Bar. With the tricky trail section, our first mile was slow and we picked up the pace when reaching the bike path with sections ran in 6:30-6:15. Fast but keep in mind that the first 25 miles are going down along the American River, with 300 ft elevation loss in the first 10 miles. Seeing Todd winning Way Too Cool last march in 3:30, I knew that was his race. Actually, course record holder Michael Buchanan was on the entrants list but did not show-up. That would have been a great match to watch!

The rain was not too bad at the start and came and went. When the rain stopped, the wind accelerated the drying of our tops but not the shoes. The first 10 miles were eventless. It was my third attempt at using Vespa in races and Peter advised me not to eat anything in the first miles so my stops to the aid stations were short, just to grab some water to complement the Gu2O I was carrying in my bottle.

When I got to the Sunrise Bridge aid station, I had already slown down to 7+ min/mile pace but I was already quite breathless, potentially announcing another crisis of exercise-induced asthma. Sure enough, by the next aid station, Rossmoor Bar which is marking the turn around of the 50K, I knew it was not going to be a good day (in addition to the rain). Like my last big asthma crisis at American River last April.

I kept slowing down and saw Todd on his way back, 1.5 miles from the turn around, going strong and easy. I reached the Guy West Bridge aid station in second place, a few seconds before Pierre-Yves, then Michael and Ray. We reached the turn around in 3:11.

Out of breath, I let Pierre-Yves, Michael and Ray go, not without some regrets to be missing the good allure. Eduardo Vazquez stoped when passing me to propose some salt caps. I thanked him but replied I was suffering from asthma. Alternating walking and jogging, I crossed the rest of the 50-mile participants. I saw Charles Blakeney when we were 2.5 miles from the turn around and figured out he will catch-up with me in the remaining 23 miles. In many occasions I looked for him, behind, but the field was thin and sparsed so I did not get passed by too many runners.

On the long way back, the most important event happened at the 50K mark, the Goethe Park aid station. I choked for the first time there, feeling so much fluid in my lungs (I don't wish you this experience if you can avoid!). I was spitting orange mucus, something that never happened during previous crisis, so that did not sound good. With that, I seriously considered dropping at this point. At American River, two things were different. First, I had never experienced a DNF and felt that asthma could prevent me from performing well but was not a good enough excuse to drop if I could still make the cut-off times. Second, Agnès and Grégoire were there to crew me and provide assistance, including my inhaler. If you follow my blog regularly, you will remember that I did have a DNF in August. And I had no crew this Saturday. Fortunately, one volunteer proposed me her inhaler. Unable to take a full breath, or even a small one for the matter, I barely took a puff but that definitely helped for the next two hours. The other reason I did not dropped is that, despite all the support of the volunteers, I could sense that it was not practical to get me back to the start. One of the volunteers even mentioned that the next station was only 2 miles away so I should try. So, after stopping for 14 long minutes, I went on with my alternance of waling and jogging.

At Rossmoor Bar (mile 34) I decided to give another try for the next station. Helen Klein Classic is known for the numerous aid stations. Some are as close as 1.8 miles, and the longest stretch is just above 3 miles. It is great because you don't have to carry much, but, if you are here for a PR, you don't want to spend two much time stopping at each (17 stations total). Now, if you are not on the front of the pack, you certainly enjoy these frequent opportunities to get some support as I experienced today.

I was glad to be welcomed by the cheering volunteers at Sunrise Bridge. They conveniently relocated the aid station a few yards from the original place, under the overpass, like the Guy West Bridge aidstation did too. In particular I received personal encouragements from runningfreeusa, from the Runner's Wold blog, who proposed me hot chocolate or broccoli-cream soup. I first instinctively leant toward what I like the most, hot chocolate, but decided soup was probably much better, with an S!Cap. The soup was hot, making up for my cold wet clothes and socks, and I left the station, walking and sipping the delicious and nutritious beverage. Just a half-marathon to go...

Had my Gu2O bottle refilled with the powder I was carrying, at Fish Hatchery (mile 39.5) and went up the bridge on which I could not even jog, between the short breath and the strong wind. At Main Street, the volunteers had set a convenient RV, stucked as they were in a sampy area. I choked for the second time when leaving the station and really scared me with this feeling of the lungs full of liquid, unable to breath. It passed after a few long seconds and I continued walking, albeit even slower. Fortunately, the next aid station, Negro Bar, was less than 2 miles away. There, one of the volunteers found in his car an old inhaler from which I took too small puffs.

At the last aid station, Folsom Dam Park, I was welcomed by the joyful Winni and Lee Jebian. Despite the bad weather and knowing about my asthma, they were cheerful and gave me some boost for the final miles. I got passed by three runners in the very final mile which is quite unsual for me. Actually I was going to jog the last hundreds yards down from the levee but choked for the fourth time, when Michael Persak and his crew (wife?) passed me. I choked quite badly again just 300 yards from the gymasium, explaining the 3 minutes separating me from Michael. When I approached the gymnasium, Norm yelled: "come'on, nobody ever crossed this finish line walking!" Well, it may have been a first, but I was surely satisfied enough to just pass this damned finish line. 14 miles of good running and 36.5 of walking in apnea and in the rain, that was a long enough torture for me today... Oh, no, it was just the fun of ultra endurance, the one I and we all like, right? ;-)


Todd had won in 5:49, not a course record (5:36) but a blazing time given the weather condition, the muddy trail detour and the extra lenght of the course this year (about 0.8 to 1.2 miles I believe). Pierre-Yves could not keep up the initial pace and finished 5th, yet in a great time of 7:15. Second was Ray, in 7:01, less than 40 seconds before 16-year old Michael Kanning. Complete 2008 results on the website.

As for me, Norm, Helen and Pierre-Yves took care of me, letting me lay down for a while until I could find some enough air and energy to take a very recomforting hot shower. Before leaving, we enjoyed the Thanksgiving dinner, and the carrot cake was the final touch for my recovery. As I write this post on Sunday afternoon I still have a very limited breathing condition, but I don't have any soreness from the limited physical effort given my current fitness. Now, if someone can just provide me with a trick or cure to avoid these random occurences of exercise-induced asthma! Something different from the "you should stop running" which I get a lot after such incidents... Meanwhile, I'm enjoying the traditional carrot cake:
Charles finished 8 minutes behind me. I thanked him for the mental push although he probably did not realize he was that close at the end.
Here I am with Steve Holman (10:06) who recently joined our ultraholics group:
Here are the traditional pictures with the Kleins. First, with Pierre-Yves, the "other" Californian Frenchie:
Thank you again, Norm and Helen, for the opportunity to run in your area and for another perfectly organized event. Norm, I'm glad Helen is letting you directing "her" Classic next year. And hope you find someone to take over Rio Del Lago.
And, before closing this post, two major things:
  1. First, a special thank to the volunteers. More than the traditional thank you, which is still well deserved when you realize that no event would run without you. But a special one in these terrible weather conditions. It is one thing to stay in the heat for a day, and not run a race when you are a runner, but the pouring rain and wind made it so much more difficult, especially the stations which did not have an overpass bridge near by or canopies. THANK YOU!
  2. Last but not least, running on thin air made me think during all the run of my friend Tom Kaisersatt who is fighting to keep his lungs. Keep it up Tom, your fighting spirit helped me again yesterday to get to the finish line!