Friday, December 26, 2008

I am it, again, tagged!

I have yet to respond to a tagging of last June but this one is about the 2009 running plans so it cannot wait. Thank you Rajeev and, by transitivity, Alan for the opportunity. In turn, I will try to reach out to some out of state runners, and aiming pretty high at ultra elites, and bloggers, hoping to learn more about their own 2009 plans: Anton Krupicka (we discussed the possibility of him running a few European races this year), Scott Jurek (I recently learnt that he will go to the Coastal Challenge, will he come back to Western States, like Lance Armstrong to the Tour de France?), Karl Meltzer (he is coming to WTC! But what's next before his return on the Appalachian Trail in 2010?). I'm also taking the opportunity to extend the tagging game and tradition to two runners in France, to see if the virus will take over there: Stéphane Couleaud and Vincent Toumazou.

Here are the questions:
1. What was your 2008 running highlight and running low?
2. What race are you secretly planning on doing (or contemplating) for 2009 but haven't made it known to the public....until now.
3. Where would you like create and direct an ultra that (to your knowledge) none exists?
4. What is your "primary" race for 2009?
5. What is the most exciting thing about your upcoming race schedule?
6. List your planned races for 2009
1. What was your 2008 running highlight and running low?

My best 2008 experience was to win Ohlone again, with my parents present on the finish line this year. It was hot and I was excited to get some heat training before Western States as well as being a defending champion. Of course, I know I was lucky with Jon (Olsen) and Graham (Cooper) not showing up that day despite being registered. I'm sure competition will be fiercer in 2009, despite the new date coinciding with the Western States Memorial Day weekend training camp.
The Coastal Challenge was such a new and unique experience, it was of course another big highlight. The second place at Rio Del Lago 100-mile felt good too. Also, I particularly enjoyed a few self-supported ultras in several regions of France last July. Overall, my 58 blog posts this year contain many positive running stories, I feel blessed!

The lows have been mostly associated with asthma (or pulmonary edema?) crisis, especially at American River and Helen Klein, where I had to walk many of 50 miles. There has also been my stupid injury of August (Skyline 50K) and the following disturbed race schedule of August, culminating with my first DNF, at the French Nationals of road 100K. I'm glad this part of the year was quickly erased by the successful Rio Del Lago run.

2. What race are you secretly planning on doing (or contemplating) for 2009 but haven't made it known to the public....until now.

Well, this is the issue with 2009: moving to IBM in February, I really don't know what my travel plans are going to be anymore. Like I say, running is only my second job, so the first one will dictate. With that, I decided to focus on our local Pacific Association USA T&F Ultra Grand Prix, assuming there will be little business travel involved or authorized (IBM is a big advocate of online and virtual meetings).

With that said, I registered for the Napa Valley marathon, which will be held on my birthday! Interestingly enough, I have run Boston in 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2007 but I don't have a marathon qualifier in 2008 to run 2009 (despite running a marathon almost every weekend, now!). Furthermore, Boston will be on the Monday following Ruth Anderson, the race organized and directed by Rajeev again this year, which I plan to run for the third time.

So, overall, nothing fancy until July at least. If the season goes well, I hope to compete in a 24-hour event in the second half of the year. Oh, and maybe JFK too for a first East Coast ultra trail race?

3. Where would you like to create and direct an ultra that (to your knowledge) none exists?

I will play the sustainability card on this question and go for an ultra no farther than... in Cupertino. Rancho San Antonio, Black Mountain, I would love to see some competition on my training "play ground."

4. What is your "primary" race for 2009?

That has to be Western States. Although I realize that, just saying this increases the pressure. What I liked with my first Western States (2007) is that my main goal was just to finish under 24 hours, alleviating quite some pressure and allowing me to have a stressless race. Actually, with the level of competition to be expected this year, with 2 batches of Montrail Cup events winners, better not try hanging with the front runners this year. Given the low odds that I will enter Western States again in the coming years, I feel my main goal should be to make the experience as enjoyable as possible. I'm especially excited about having Max pacing me from Foresthill down to the river, as originally planned last June, with Adam (Blum) taking over on the far side of Rucky Chucky for the last 22 miles through the night. Besides going back on the Western States trail, additional excitement comes from all the ultra starts who will line up this year. More keep being added to the list, starting with Marco Olmo the winner of UTMB (Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc) for the past two years, at age 58 and 59!

5. What is the most exciting thing about your upcoming race schedule?

Hum, would the lack of surprise fit the most exciting criteria? ;-) Actually, nothing really fancy in my plan so far, we'll have to see what can be added during the second semester.

6. List your planned races for 2009

Ok, by now, you know about the Grand Prix. The list of events is not official yet but, based on last year's schedule, here is what my plan should look like.

  1. Jed Smith 50M
  2. Nappa Valley Marathon
  3. Way Too Cool 50K
  4. American River 50M
  5. Big Bunny Fun Run 5K
  6. Ruth Anderson 100K
  7. Miwok 100K (if I am lucky with the lottery)
  8. Quicksilver 50M
  9. Ohlone 50K
  10. Western States 100M
  11. Skyline 50K
  12. Headlands 50K
  13. Trailblazer 10K
  14. Firetrails 50M
  15. Helen Klein 50M
  16. Quad Dipsea 28M
You see, no big scoop, yet a busy ultra schedule. Let's see how the Big Blue story unfolds and allows for some additional variety in this program!

All the best to you for 2009, work, family and running-wise!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Birthday Baldwyn!

Happy birthday, Baldwyn! What a way to celebrate your 40th birthday, setting up an ultra like an official race and inviting us to join you for this special and unique celebration! The website design and accuracy, online registration, course description (with pictures!), course marking, course measure with a wheel, well-stocked aid station, finisher award, home-made beer with custom label, perfect weather, stunning views over the Bay, camaraderie, everything was perfect, over the top actually! But... something was missing: more participants to this birthday party.It's The Years was set as an invitation to run your age in miles, with this year's inaugural event celebrating Baldwyn's 40 years. Just back from France and officially in an inter-season break, I was tempted to run 44 miles but had a good excuse this Saturday: at 1 pm, Alex and his UN Club were organizing an event to present the progress of their project toward sending school supplies to schools in Ethiopia. That meant that I had to drive back from Castro Valley by noon. I deceided to drive up earlier in order to fit one 5.8-mile loop before the official start of 8 am. I left home at 6:10 and was on the course by 7:20 with just enough light to read the detailed instructions and find my way through the first convulated turns of the suburban start.
At 1.5 mile from the start, I had an hesitation on a turn at a Y-shaped intersection. Miraculously, Mark (Tanaka) appeared from nowhere, in the dark dawn, to show me the way! From his email of 3:30 am, I knew he was up, marking the course. It was already the end of his third loop. Thanks to Mark's ribbons and Baldwyn's detailed explanations, I had no other guessing for the remainder of the course although I did stop several times to enjoy the sunrise and take pictures (see my Picasa photo album), including panoramas of these stunning views over the Bay, San Francisco and the East Bay hills.
I met Baldwyn at the end of my first loop, which I had run in 48 minutes not counting the stops at the vista points. I changed direction for the second loop (clockwise, 48 minutes) and again for the third loop (anti-clockwise, 49 minutes, also not counting the stop at the main aid station). At the end of this third loop, Baldwyn and Mark were at the aid station and the three of us ran a loop together (that was Baldwyn's second and Mark's 6th). I ran my 5th and last loop in 53 minutes, finishing just after noon. I quickly took off and arrived to Alex' high school at 1:25, just in time to attend the event: presentation, silent auction and raffle. Here too, the Holidays had their toll on the audience (low participation), but not on the high spirit to celebrate the successful fund raising which will allow the shipping of much needed supplies to provide education to young Ethiopians, such a demonstration of sustainable development initiated by high schoolers.
29 miles, not quite my age, in miles, but more than my age in kilometers, not too bad... And yet another ultra of course. By the way, perfect soil, soft and not too slippery after last week's bad weather (rain and snow). Quite some hill training too which reminded me the nearby Ohlone course, in miniature. Overall, my Garmin Forerunner 205 recorded almost 1,000 feet of cumulative elevation per lap, with a total of 4,800 ft. Not the best instrument to track elevation but that gives you an indication of the great training opportunities we have all around the Bay Area, and all year around. And the great weather, and the stunning views...! ;-)
PS - Last minute update: birthday boy completed 6 laps, with his brother and a couple of work colleagues joining him during the day. 1-lap short of his original goal but still a very nice way for an ultraholic to celebrate this milestone. As for his dog, Cub, he ran the first three laps (17+ miles!) and wanted to keep going but Baldwyn and his wife thought that was enough for a dog, barefoot... Here is Cub, with Baldwyn and Mark, after Baldwyn's first lap:

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Running winter break: more free time!

No race report and very little running this week. Just some speed work with Bob at the track on Tuesday before getting on the plane for Frankfurt and Paris, then 8 miles this Sunday evening. A 14-mile week, that is all! I'm glad to be off training pressure as the weather was cold this week and humid this weekend.
My other running-related experience of the week was the registration for Way Too Cool (WTC). I registered to American River 50-mile on Thursday night: it was easy and stress less as the event is not filling up too fast which still surprises me. This Sunday at 8 am Pacific or 5 pm in Paris, and race director Julie Fingar were opening the registration for WTC. If you don't know or missed my Ultra and Cyber sprinting story, last year, WTC's online registration has been filling up in a matter of minutes for the past years. I managed to got in 2007 despite a big mistake: to make sure I had the fastest connection, I had decided to go to the office on Sunday morning, just to discover on my way that I had forgotten my badge. I came back home right at 8 am and was able to secure a spot despite the registration having opened a few minutes ahead of schedule, as I will find out later.

This year, I was not sure I would have access to the Internet at the right time, being on a business trip in Paris. I had carefully crafted instructions for Agnès and the boys to do the registration from California on my behalf (and, yes, I do accept all the waivers). I called 15 minutes before the deadline to make sure they were up and ready and Agnès confirmed Alex had already started checking the website in. Right on 8 am PST, Agnès called me back to inform me the registration was indeed open but they were unable to go through, yikes! I rushed to my computer and, sure enough, I could not go through either from Paris, keeping getting this scary screen:
Here is the text of the over flow notification if you cannot read it from the screen shot:

We are experiencing higher than normal volume and are therefore unable to process your request at this time.

Please wait several minutes and then try again.

We apologize for this inconvenience.

Of course I know the race is popular, a big deal for the Ultra Montrail Cup contestants and the elites looking at getting a Western States entry through placing in the top 3. I know that the 450 entries disappear within minutes. However it is hard to believe that there are actually more than a thousand ultra runners accessing the site at once and that the platform cannot handle a sub 1,000-transaction load. Or maybe I'm underestimating the appeal of this event...

Anyway, I tried to access the site several times, just worsening the server situation, and was relieved when Agnès called me to confirm my entry! If everything goes well with training, that will then be my 4th WTC next March.

Overall, I cannot wait for my friend Mark Gilligan to release the registration feature of his UltraSignup website (you can already check out a few promising features).
That is it for the running part of my week. Not much, which means that, after a hectic work week, I had more free time this weekend that I used on two alumni reunions. The first one on Saturday to celebrate the 25th anniversary of my Arts & Métiers class (Angers, 1983-86) and the second one on Sunday for the 22nd anniversary of my Cerics class (Sophia-Antipolis, 1986-87). It was good to see people I spent so much good time a quarter of a century ago and, as we all agreed, we have not changed much over this time! ;-) At worst, I'm skinnier now that I have switched from running track (800m) to ultra trail running...

Have a great week, en route for the Holidays!

PS: two really non running-related pix...

With my conscripts (from left two right, Joe, 29An207, 2Malte, 29An206 and Lotage, 29An208):
And a handful of my 30 Master's Cerics classmates:

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Pacing in the ultra Mecca

For once, it is not a report about one of my races. As I told you last week after my great Quad Dipsea experience, I am enjoying a break away from competition for two months. However, when David (James) contacted me 10 days ago in order to pace him at the North Face 50-mile Challenge, I happily told him that I was free indeed. Little I knew about the level of competition at this event.

Before we get into the details of this Saturday, here is a link to my Picasa photo album (176 pictures and one video of the start). Enjoy! You can also look at Diane's wonderful shots in her photo album (especially as she covered the part I could not, while pacing on the way back from Pan Toll).

I met David at the Coastal Challenge, last January, in Costa Rica. It was his second Coastal Challenge and my first. I took second of the 6-day race, he took third. He won one of the toughest and longest stage and, despite a bit of competition, he helped me and saved me twice from drowning, in our aquatic adventures (in a torrent first, and in the Ocean the last day). Here he is, below, with Chuck Wilson, another friend who ran the Coastal Challenge three times and introduced it to me. This Saturday was Chuck's 60th birthday and I managed to get a special announcement from the speaker right before the final race instructions!
Kyle Skaggs, Matt Carpenter, Uli Steidel, Geoff Roes, Leigh Schmitt, Michael Wardian, Hal Koerner, Guillermo Medina, Karl Metzler, Kami Semick, Susannah Beck, Nikki Kimball, and more illustrious names which I may miss, newbie that I still am after 3 years in ultra. That looked like a dream starting line for any race director! Something which I have seen so far only at Western States or the races sponsored by Montrail (e.g. Miwok).

The start was given, on time, at 5 am (check a short video in my Picasa album). It was very early for a 50-miler, but I believe the reason is that the organizers wanted to preserve some time between the various races (50-mile, 50K, half marathon, 10K). Headlamps were mandatory for all runners for the first 2 hours and definitely needed as it was pitch dark despite a wonderful clear sky, full of stars.

After the started I stayed for a while at the nearby Youth Hostel, chatting with Peter Defty about his product, Vespa Power, a supplement which has been working very well for me since I started taking it in August. This is a product which comes from Japan and there was a Japanese delegation here this weekend, with an elite runner getting on the podium! Here they are, at the post race picnic:
I took the shuttle back to Rodeo Beach where I parked (thanks Marissa!) and left the parking lot around 6am, up on the Coastal Trail and Hill 88. I was going to pace David from Pan Toll (30 miles) to the finish and was excited to run up to Pan Toll rather than drive there: Peter offered me a ride and I could have asked Tony (Krupicka), who was crewing for Kyle, and Jenn (Shelton), pacing Susannah (Beck).

I passed a few runners between Tennessee Valley, Muir Beach and Pan Toll and took a few pictures on the way (see more in my photo album).I reached Pan Toll (11 miles) around 8 and the top runners had already gone through the aid station (18 miles for them). There, I found Topher Gaylord who had dropped (food poisoning during the week) and was starting getting cold after this early morning effort. Soon after I was shivering too, so much that I had issue signing the pacer waiver... I also met with Catherine Poletti who was waiting for Michel, her husband. Michel and Catherine organize the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, the famous 101-mile ultra event run through France, Italy and Switzerland, the last weekend of August, on a course similar to the difficult one of Hardrock.
After discussing with Topher and Catherine, Peter (Defty) told me "my runner", David, had dropped and just left. I had missed him by a minute or so. His knee was hurting, and David told me he had torn his knee indeed a week ago. I was not surprised then, but really disappointed for him, who came all the way from New York and was so excited. So excited that he reached the first aid station, Tennessee Valley, in the lead! He promised to come back though!

Rob (Evans) informed me that Michael Wardian was going to get paced by our friend, Mark Gilligan (UltraSignup) for the last 6 miles, and that he would certainly welcome a pacer from Pan Toll. I had never met Michael (we were both going to run Western States last June but it got canceled because of the California wild fires) but I knew from my reading of Runner's World that he was very very fast (see article): 2:21 marathon PR, US 2008 50K and 100K champion, etc. I told Rob I was going to give it a try, since I had come to this race to pace someone and it was actually my first pacing experience. Waiting for the front runners to come back to Pan Toll (their mile 30), I had some time to chat with Tony about potential races for him in Europe and his other plans before our Western States rally, or the Auburn "track meet" as it is also called.

In the shade of the redwoods, I was still shivering and decided to cross the road to get in the sun and see the top runners coming in (I posted good shots of the top 10). 1, 2, 3, ... 13 runnners and still no sign of Michael. This was certainly unusual and I decided to come back to the station to ask Rob if he had heard about anything about Michael. Just the time when Michael finally showed up, more than 25 minutes after the front runner... Michael was devastated but Rob did not leave him the option of dropping, annoucing him that I will be pacing to Tennessee Valley, for the next 14 miles. We quickly left the station and rushed in the woods on a trail which I was not familiar with (not a trail we use at Miwok and Headlands 50K). I took the lead and we were really cruising, flying over the roots and passing 50K runners. Michael was telling me about his mistake at the turnaround, getting lost and much farther down a steep hill (the same than Miwok?) up to a point where he could tell from the face of the hikers that he was the only runner they had seen today... He estimated to 45 minutes the time he had lost with this detour and, of course, that was not counting the damage done to his mental. I gave many words of encouragement, some he could not hear with my soft voice or not understand with my French accent... We walked some of the uphills but, geez, what a stride in the downhills and few flat sections!

Michael ran out of water 2 miles before the next aid station, Old Inn. I could not pass him any of mine since this is against the rule. As a matter of fact, Michael was sweating a lot and was pouring some water on his head at each aid station, when I was still quite chilly especially in this section, almost all in the shade of the redwoods. Before Old Inn, we got on the Dipsea trail for about 2 miles, including the start of the climb to Cardiac. On the road section, we were flying and I told Michael my GPS got down to 5:15 min/mile! He replied that he felt much better going fast than struggling in the uphills...

We passed two 50-mile runners in Frank Valley: Philippe Rolly and Zacariah Miller. But it is only 1 mile before Tennessee Valley that we caught up with Hal Koerner, and that was the last competitor Mark and I could help Michael catch up with. Of course, for someone of Michael's caliber, finishing 9th was much disappointing, yet he thanked us for helping him finish instead of dropping at Pan Toll. What a ride for my first pacing experience! "Only"' 31 miles (50K) of running on Saturday, but I was happy to see the finish line (I ran some of the last section with Hal Koerner and the last 2 miles chatting with Zacariah). Michael (in blue, and running in Books!) and Mark (green) at the finish:
I stayed for a while in the North Face "village", seeing many familiar faces, but had to leave by 2pm as we had 9 guests for dinner. On the way back though, and to take advantage of this incredible good and clear weather, I stopped to capture some of the wonderful views of Rodeo Beach, the Golden Gate and the City (see the album for more).Overall, the event was masterfully managed and you could actually tell that North Face had poured quite some money in it. It was an incredible "ultra celebration" and surely the prize money contributed to this national and international gathering. My only whining? I've never seen an ultra with so much junk (mostly gel packets), in the US (trail cleanliness is one thing which surprises our visitors from France and I hope we can keep this American tradition on). I just hope that this is not the result of too much competition driven by the appeal of monetary prizes...