Sunday, January 25, 2009

Down under and behind...

I missed my weekly post last weekend. Did not write a single line despite the three-day weekend in remembrance of Martin Luther King Jr's Birthday. By the way, it would have been his 80th birthday, which surprised me because I always feel MLK to be of another age. But he died so early, way too early, although his life was certainly not given for nothing, especially as the world watched our new President's Inauguration, which kind of eclipsed JFK's 80. Or maybe it subsummed it!
So, what is going on with my blog? Well, it has to see with my running, which is not going well these days. I did not mention it in my previous post about our Crystal Springs Watershed fun run but, in the last 5 miles, I had developed some inflammation along the inside of my right tibia. It must have been a combination of the slower than usual pace, the frequent and long stops every 2 miles plus the ramp-up of the beginning of the season with good speed work sessions with Bob at the track. Bottom line, I did not run for 5 days, resumed training for 2 days just to find out that the inflammation was still burning, stopped for 9 days and ran 10 miles this morning; and the fire is still up, unfortunately (The run organized by Adam was a great run though, and I will cover it in a separate post next week.) Needless to say, this is not a great way to train for the coming Jed Smith 50-mile in 2 weeks. Nor the following Napa Valley Marathon, Way Too Cool, American River, Miwok, etc. Behind #1. Big BEHIND...

To keep in shape, I did a few bike rides over last weekend and some core training (Pilates), but it does not really feel the same. I get bored, I miss the trails in the hills, having to remain alert, the camaraderie of group runs, etc. Plus, I am so ashamed to get passed by fast bikers on Foothill Expressway or Stevens Creek Canyon Road, this is definitely not my sport! Feeling so slow and... behind, #2.

Then there is work, the full steam blue-washing process of getting on board at IBM, with an acceleration since the deal got confirmed to the press beginning of January. It feels good to be challenged by such a large organization which just announced record revenues and profits in the midst of such an economic meltdown. Moreover, it feels good to have a job and be busy when the unemployment rates are hitting record highs. Requests come from all over the place and you do not want to miss an opportunity to establish connections within this matrixed corporation, as well as contributing to a successful integration. Just overwhelming at times. Behind #3...
Processing inbound emails: behind #4. Getting ready to move away from 20 years of ILOG history and fully migrate to my new ThinkPad (without a TouchPad, yikes!): behind #5. Working on my tax return: started, but a bit behind: #6. And I could go on. With our busy lives, no matter how much we do, and we do a lot at work and at home, there is the feeling that 24 hours are not enough each day to get to the bottom of the todo lists, or wish lists...

Bottom line, missing last week's post was my big BEHIND #7...

Now, what about the "down under" in the title? It is actually linked to my getting behind on the blog because I've used some of my free time to respond to an interview with fellow blogger Kiwi Paul Charteris, to complement his series of tips on Western States (check his blog). Paul moved to his native New Zealand in the summer of 2008 but he will be back to California for the big race in June! Like many other "strangers", Paul has been adopted by the melting pot community of North California and we cannot wait to see him back here, with his communicative enthusiasm for trail and ultra running. Here is a group picture at the start of a run Paul organized on the Tahoe Rim Trail course as a therapy for getting over this year's cancelled Wester States. Paul is the third from the left in the first row:
Anyway, this is one of the many small excuses I found to explain why I was getting behind with this blog. I realize there is not much running-related content in this post but I hope you bear with me. In the meantime, I will keep working on my patience skills, patience, rest and time being key remedies to heal most of injuries...

Take care on the trails!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

#100: Crystal Springs Watershed fun run

#100 is not for my 100th run (I have 1,810 lines in my running log!), but my 100th post on this blog. I had celebrated my 27th post similarly to how you enter the ultra world by running one step beyond the 26.2-mile mark. The world of ultra blogging in this case... Like for my first 100-miler, this is quite a milestone. It is while running through the Badlands back in February 2007 that I decided to embark on the blog journey, but little clue I had about where this was going to lead to. I am still enjoying the experience and keep receiving some encouraging feedback, so let's continue the journey, and thank you for your reading and visit on this forum! Keep the comments flowing, please!
100 is also related to the incredibly nice long run of this weekend. No, not 100 miles, but almost 100 years since the area we ran through has been closed to public use and access. A military zone? A contaminated one? No, a very well protected piece of land along Highway 280 and containing something which is getting more and more precious: drinkable water!
In December, Charles (Stevens) forwarded me an invite from George Miller to join a rare opportunity of running through this pristine area. First come, first served and limited to 18 runners and two docents (Suki Martin and George, this Saturday). A fund raising opportunity for a scholarship that the Coastside Running Club will sponsor a cross-country runner of Half Moon Bay High School going to College with. Thank you Goerge and the CRC!
Better than plagiarizing what I found on the web to describe this area in more details, I invite you to read a great write-up from Ron Horii, and I promise this is worth the surfing. In a few words, this is a piece of land on San Mateo County but belonging to San Francisco, in which the city owns several huge and open air reservoirs for its water supply. These lakes are artificial and part of a much larger network of water supply for the Bay Area called the Hetch Hetchy Water and Power System, reaching out to Yosemite on the East.
That was a fun run and a very social one during which we had plenty of time to connect, talk about our running experiences and take pictures. Many pictures, more than 160 and several panoramas.

Suki and George were our two docents with the rule being to have one with the front of the group and one at the back. With a foot injury, George was actually biking. We were 18 lucky guests: Vikki, Ron, Eric, Franz, Mike, Noel, Chris, Mike, Dan, Luis, Janet, Patrice, David, Laura, Ed, Mike, my running buddy Bob and I, coming from the entire Peninsula, from San Francisco to San Jose, a perfect representation of the Silicon Valley ultra running community. Under the supervision of the Ranger on duty, and George's one, we followed the rules carefully, in appreciation of the unique gift of being authorized to run through this watershed. You can see how serious the San Francisco Water Department is about the application of the rules in this story, by Neil Mishalov.

The run was exclusively on a large fire road in perfect condition given the lack of rain we had so far this fall and winter. From Cahill Ridge to Fifleld Ridge the views were stunning on both sides of the ridge. It was like flying over the Peninsula, seeing from above the three reservoirs (Crystal Springs to the South, Pilarcitos then San Andreas) as well as San Mateo, Hillsborough, Burlingame, Millbrae, San Bruno, SFO airport, South San Francisco and even Twin Peaks and Oakland in the distance. Pilarcitos is actually the oldest of these three artificial lakes leveraging the hilly profile and the San Andreas fault along the Peninsula, between the Pacific Coast and the Bay. When approaching the City at the North end of our run, we had great views of Marin Headlands on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge and could even see the Farallon Islands, 20 miles off Point Reyes. To give you more context, here is a situational map found on the San Francisco Water Department website:
In addition to the perfect conditions of the trails, I never saw one with so many and large mile markers as well as so many toilets, one every 2 mile! More than in most marathons, despite the fact that running and hiking groups are rarely admitted on the trail and limited to 20 people max. Another hint which makes you appreciate the attention given to the high protection of the billions of gallons of water, for our pleasure and safety. Running while appreciating and protecting the environment, another example of sustainable running, one of my pet topics.

By the way, as a Brooks IDer (Inspire Daily member), it was great to see so many of us --one third of the group-- wearing Brooks shoes this Saturday; the following picture is an illustration of the diversity of Brooks' catalog! ;-)
On our way back, Bob, whom I do speed work with every Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and Mike (Topper) could not refrain from restating how blessed we are to live here to enjoy such amazing trails and weather. It was good to see Mike again after he spent a year focusing on biking to heal an armstring injury. Mike is an amazing runner who taught me a few important lessons for competing in ultras, and whom I met at our Saturday group runs. He ran Western States 5 times and placed in the top 10 4 times (and 12th the other time). I'm glad he will be joining us back on several of our key local races. Here is Mike (white vest) with Ed (in blue):
Did we see wildlife in such a protected area? Actually not much, as we carefully stayed on the fire and service road. But, as the picture below attests, we could see some traces of mountain lions' picnics. That is, when starving George leave them some left-overs...! Of course we saw all sorts of birds and, just before leaving Skyline Quarry, 3 (live) deers on the inside side of the fence.
With that, I invite you to have a visual look at our run by browsing my online photo album (175 pictures including 5 panoramas). Make sure to click on the Slideshow button and enjoy the views!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Steatopygous Quinquamillia

Not sure who named this run this way but it is assuredly more poetic than the raw "Saratoga Fat Ass 50K". Not sure either where the Fat Ass tradition started, but this local one is clearly an old tradition in the Bay Area, with trace of years 1996 and even 1983 on the website. For detailed information on the run, see Stan Jensen's website (the ultrapedia...).

I ran this Fat Ass for the first time in January 2005. It was only the second time I was running more than 26 miles. I was still focusing on the marathon and road racing and, 3 months later, I even got on the Boston podium. My first official ultra race was only a year later, at Way Too Cool 2006. Needless to say, I found this run difficult, especially in the cold rain of early January. I passed on in 2006, ran it in 2007, and missed it in 2008 but replaced it with a fat ass in France, where I introduced the concept along with a run organized in Rouen by Annick, with a few other ultrafondus.
This year, the weather was ideally sunny although chilly in the canyons and woods. We drove back from Tahoe on Thursday evening, where I ran three times in addition to two days of skiing. I ran up to the Mount Rose pass (20 miles) and ran 10 miles in the snow on New Year's Day. Despite this acclimation to low temperatures, and like the previous years, I was cold all the way and could never warm-up but in the jacuzzi... This confirms that I do better in hot weather.
On Friday evening, I hesitated joining a few other ultraholics on the East side of the Bay for the Epiphany Run. That is another fat ass format (informal ultra to burn the calories accumulated during the Holidays), to commemorate Tropical John's birthday (the Quad Dipsea magi!). I finally opted for the local run, a shorter drive from my house. Per the webiste instructions, I was set to go at 9am, the time corresponding to the fast runners. Surprisingly though, there were quite a few cars on the Saratoga Gap parking lot but everybody seemed to have left already. Even Brian Robinson whom I recognized the hybrid car and whom I suspected to have come with Sophia and their local friend Whit Rumbach.
By 9:07, Kristina Irvin showed up from the trail. Like me, she was surprised nobody else was on the 9am start. There were only two names on the log sheet left on his windshield by race director, Dave Kamp! We left together and Kristina told me more about herself, for instance that last year's Western States was supposed to be her 10th one, that she ran 7 100-milers over last summer, including PRs at Hardrock, Leadville and Vermont! And that her fantasy goal is to PR at Western States, 16 years after her first run there. We ran the first mile together and then I ramped up the pace to see if I could catch-up with earlier runners. And warm-up a little as it was quite chilly despite the bright sun over the trees. I stopped a few minutes on Hickory Oaks Trail to capture a few shots, including this 360-degree panoramic view (click on the picture to enlarge):
The rest of my run has been very solitary, passing a few runners on the way. It was great and recomforting to find the aid station set up by Winnie and Lee Jebian at China Grade Road. There, Pat was trying to warm-up in a little spot of sun light. She was really cold and decided to join Lee in his car to let Christina continue on her own. A couple of miles later I saw Winnie and Linda, then Ed and David P, David K, then Penny and Lina at Waterman Gap.

Race Director, David Kamp, on his way to Waterman Gap:
Like the previous years, I bonked on the way up to Saratoga Gap. Cold, nauseous, bored, I was glad to see a sign indicating only 6.4 miles to the finish from Waterman Gap. Overall my GPS gave 29.2 miles for the course after downloading the data in SportTracks. It might have been tricked by the elevation, the trees, the canyons and the switchbacks but I doubt this is a full 31-mile, 50K course. I completed the loop in 5:47, including the time to take pictures, 10 minutes at the China Grade aid station and 17 minutes to cross the creek and find the Iverson's Cabin Site at the maintenance yard (mile 9). So, not great but better than my previous two editions.
I found Chris and Charles on the parking lot. They had started at 8am. Then saw many names on the log sheet including an impressive 5:07 by Whit, 5:12 by Brian, 5:45 by Adam Blum and Sean. I put the heat on in the car and only got warmer soaking in the jacuzzi for 20 minutes. I already look forward to the heat training at Ohlone in May!

A big thank to Winnie and Lee for driving the minivan around and offering a well stocked aid station. With that, the ultra season is officially open, let's get back to training and racing seriously, and have a great 2009, all!

PS: see more pictures in my Picasa photo album!

A nice loop, illustrating the wonders of the Bay Area: so close to the urban area (North) and wonderful views over the Pacific Ocean, with precious hills and woods in between.
A challenging course, starting with a long and easy downhill, followed by a steep uphill of about 6 miles and 6.5 miles up to Saratoga Gap to finish: