Friday, April 24, 2009

Miwok 09: Scott again?

Miwok is just around the corner, next week, and I really look forward to it! Principally for the company as we will be several hundred runners toeing the start line. Including some big shots who are still trying to make it into Western States. This is the last of 6 Montrail Ultra Cup races, each of them providing the top 3 males and 3 females an entry to States. I also look forward to running Miwok for the amazing scenery. For its challenging course and ups and downs. And, hopefully, to have a good race, without asthma, after it triggered badly at American River and Ruth Anderson.

That has been a busy week again at work, with many and long hours. Several times this week I started conference calls with Europe or the East Coast before 6 am, and unplugged after 11 pm. But I managed to run a strong 20-miler on Wednesday and a great PG&E loop at Rancho this Friday. Only 9.3 miles but some hills and the last mile under 5:30. I definitely have speed this year, I'm just missing my 80 VO2max lungs when asthma is burning them...

Anyway, I captured one more piece of excitement about Miwok, the one related to seeing Scott again coming down to run in California. In my second poem on this blog, another acrostic, with rhymes this time, and another format, 20 x 10 (I know, this isn't a canonical way to describe a poem, you can see my engineer-background resurfacing...). Here you go, my way to put a bet on Scott, before Karl (Meltzer) publishes his own bets on Monday.

Here is a picture of Scott running with Tarahumara runner Arnulfo Quimare, in Mexico's Copper Canyons(source: The painful truth about trainers, in MailOnline):

Scott is back on the Miwok course next week!
Competition will surely not be weak,
Or they would not run in the Montrail Cup...
Teammate with Brooks, I am all fired up
To take the start with such a nice hero!

Joyful should we all be at ground zero,
Up so early for a very long day...
Rodeo Lagoon will see us today,
Enjoying as much of the bright daylight,
Killing the need to turn on our headlight

Randall Trail is marking the turnaround
Opposite point where some get their rebound;
Consistent runners have found their pacers,
Kudos Tia will give to finishers.
Scott will give it all to show up the first!

After 9 Miwoks no way Scott can burst!
Grabbing the wins for him seems so obvious,
Although each race brings its own mysterious
Insights that the elites manage to use,
Nailing down the hills which our quads refuse!

With that, talk to you in one week, or after Miwok if I don't see you there!

With Scott, after Way Too Cool 2008 (no he wasn't 21, but I was 44...):
With Tia (Bodington, RD) and Bev at the finish in 2008:

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Ruth Anderson 09: almost perfect...

I ran Ruth Anderson for the first time in 2007, two weeks before Boston (one of my first posts on this blog). It was my first attempt at the distance before Miwok and, because of the proximity to the Boston marathon which I always take seriously, I switched to 50-mile option at the last minute, finishing just 2 minutes ahead of Dean Karnazes. I had a great Boston afterwards, 2:45, so I did not regret my decision. Ruth Anderson has this particular loop format in which you can decide to stop at 50K, 50 miles or got the full distance of 100K.
Last year, the weather was terrible with gusting winds. Getting to the 50K mark in first place and 3:44, I decided it was enough and called it a day although I had come to complete the full distance again.

This year, I had no excuse to to switch to a shorter distance than the 100K. First, we were running as a team (RhoQuick for Rhomobile, Adam's company, and the Quicksilver of San Jose running club). We need at least three finishers in an event to score points so the plan was to have Andy, John and Adam compete in the 50K and Sean, Jim and myself in the 100K. Second, with my DNF at American River two weeks ago, I needed to take the opportunity of running the longest distance of this low key event to score as many points.
The conditions were ideal this morning. The weather was perfect: cool temperature at the start but not cold, overcast with clouds clearing quickly in the morning, a mix of sunny and shady sections. The trail was of course in excellent condition as you can stay on the bike path (asphalt) or run on the side. The course is simple, a 4.51-mile loop with one aid station every 2.25 miles. Professional and helpful volunteers. Easy access and parking. Great ultra company: many old-timers and new comers alike. A few days, only 30 runners had registered, but Rajeev managed to gather 75 of us, a record for this event. And a nightmare for the Race Director to stock so many goody bags at the last minute (see my note about the sponsors below)

The Race

Taking into consideration the bottleneck which formed at the single toilet before 6:30 am, Rajeev was considerate enough to delay the start by 10 minutes, to 6:40. At 6:25 I was still in the line, without my running shoes on, definitely not ready. I rushed to get prepared in 4 minutes, a PR for me by far, and this extra stress might have contributed to what happened later during the race. Rajeev let us go after giving his Race Director briefing, consisting mainly in paying homage to Ruth Anderson (see her story at the end of my 2008 race report), thanking the generous sponsors and volunteers and clarifying the rules about the distance selection.

Two guys left in a hurry, as they were aiming at breaking the 50K course record. Scott (Dunlap), Michael (Kanning) and I followed in a much more conservative pace of 7:45-8:00 min/mile pace. Michael said that he was shooting for 8:15 hours on the 100K, hence aiming at an 8:00 min/mile pace. I was hoping to do 7:45 today, so I pushed the pace a bit, down to 7:15 for the first lap. In the second lap, Scott who was running the 50K, two days before running Boston with his Dad, pushed the pace below 7. I started following before getting back to reason. I was still around the 7:15 pace, in my 4th lap when, damned, my lungs started making noise again, like at American River two weeks ago. That was mile around mile 17. At the next passage to the main aid station I took two puffs of my inhaler, which helped but the damage had already spread to the bottom of the lungs, limiting my respiratory capacity significantly. I slew down, to an average 7:23 min/mile by the end of the 5th lap, 7:28 at the end of the 6th and 7:42 after the 7th lap, deciding on ending the suffering by taking third overall in the 50K just under 4 hours.

Leveraging the fact that the top two runners on the 50K dropped, Scott accomplished the feat of taking first overall, in a personal record of 3:37! Scott will turn 40 just before Miwok in two weeks so he left me the M40-49 award, just in time! Andy and John from our RhoQuick teamed sprinted right after me to also finish right under 4 hours. Adam completed his 50K a few minutes later. With Adam and Andy:
Like Scott said: "I don't know many runners who can still complete a 50K under 4 hours, with asthma." Indeed, as much disappointed as I was not to meet my goal of running 100K this morning and preventing the team from scoring on the 100K, which was a big deal in terms of points, I feel blessed to still be able to finish an ultra and, more importantly, to not be bothered by asthma all year around while training. As a matter of fact I was back to training the day after AR, and ran 62 miles over the weekend last week to prepare for RA. All that when pollen alerts are in full force these days.

Pollen, cold temperatures at the start, dryness or humidity, special plants or trees, I still cannot make sense of any correlation between these exercise-induced asthma crisis. The most likely factor I can still think of is stress. Definitely that week was stressful, to the point that I looked at carpooling options only at 6pm last night. Not to mention the rushed preparation to get to the starting line this morning. As for the stress of doing well in the race, I thought it was moderate, yet probably at 7 on a scale of 10. I need to get all the stress cursors below 5 by Miwok...

Agnès picked me up at 11:30 and we left after seeing Michael starting his 10th loop. He had a comfortable lead in the 100K with 4 loops to go, yet he was surely going to slow down as he was still at a blazing 7:24 min/mile pace when he caught up with me and passed me in my 6th loop. For those who do not know Michael yet, he is 17, has been running ultras for several years already, including 100-milers, and is in the pursuit of breaking several long-distance American Junior records.Behind, Sean was taking it easy after an amazing sub-7hr performance at American River. looking forward to seeing the results once they are published later this weekend on Stan's webiste.

Like at American River, I had the opportunity to look at the many expressions on the runners' faces as they kept passing through the main aid station. See some shots in my Picasa album.

A special thanks to our sponsors and a very special volunteer!

Especially with the inexpensive fee that Rajeev is asking to enter Ruth Anderson ($45 for a 100K, I bet the cheapest race in North America!), such event could not happen without the support of the volunteers and a few sponsors. Zombie Runner, Vespa, PowerBar, Gatorade, Fluid, lululemon athletica. But the one who topped it all is with no doubt Shannon's Moeben. As I mentioned earlier, with all the last minute entrants, Rajeev and Shanon had to work around the clock to have the so convenient Moeben sleeves printed with a nice Ruth Anderson logo and graphics, on time for this morning race. Kudos Shannon, and THANK YOU for supporting the ultra community so actively. (Picture below from this year's Way Too Cool.)
As for the volunteers, I would like to put Stan (Jensen) under the spotlight. For years, Stan has been volunteering hours to all the local events in addition to providing us with a wealth of information on his website. This was not supposed to turn to his primary job but, unfortunately, Stan has been hit hard by the crisis and he is calling for our support. If you know and use the site already, you know how valuable it is. If not, then rush to it and please consider making such a donation to show your support and some giving back to an outstanding volunteer!

With this asthma issue, the thing I liked the best about running today, in addition to the first three laps which felt great, was to blog about my experience and the event. Happy to share my passion with words and pictures, although it does not seem nice and easy some times... Hopefully, Miwok will be a good experience this year to put back some nicer stories up on this blog!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Rhus Ridge: so close, so far

On my 15-minute ride back home after this morning run I was thinking: "how amazing to live so close to this open space and outdoors!" I felt like I had traveled so far this morning, running through the green hills of the Mid-Peninsula, in the cold and windy cloud at the top of Black Mountain, then along the sunny Arastradero Reserve of Palo Alto and Los Altos Hills and returning to Cupertino through Rancho San Antonio Park. A nice and social long run of 29 miles. Far, yet so close. What a blessing to call this area, Home!

I invite you to follow our run through 90 pictures posted in my Picasa album.
Blooming wild flowers:
Wonderful landscapes and views:
Handsome company:
Happy and peaceful Easter to all!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

American River '09: giving up...

While cruising along American River this Saturday morning, I was thinking: "all (ultra) paths lead to... Auburn!" Well, not exactly. You may recall from last year that I had a terrible experience for my first American River 50 last year: after 15 miles of good running, my exercise-induced asthma kicked in, forcing me to walk 35 miles, resulting in a very long day. In 2008, with the excitement of seeing Anton (Tony) Krupicka running, I had started pretty hard with a 6:36 min/mile pace. To avoid the same experience, I promised myself not to start faster than 7 min/mile and that's what we were at for the first 15 miles with teammate Sean (and Rob). Unfortunately, right after the Sunrise aid station (mile 14.91) I started hearing some strange clicks and wheezing emanating from the bottom of my lungs... Sure enough, my breath got so short in the next mile, I had hard time keeping running even at a slow pace. Fortunately, I had taken with me an inhaler and took 2 puffs at mile 16. It helped getting the situation under control compare to last year when I got the inhaler from Agnès only at mile 38, but it was too late, the damage was done and I knew I would have to walk the second half to make it to Auburn. I barely passed the marathon mark with a Boston qualifier and decided to call it a day when I reached the Beal's Point aid station at mile 26.8 in 3:32. Last year was different: first, Agnès was waiting for me at Horseshoe Bar (mile 38) so I didn't have much option than to keep going. Second, I had never DNF'ed back then and thought asthma was not a good enough reason to drop. Since then, I experienced my first DNF at the French Nationals of road 100K, then an awful asthma experience (or maybe a pulmonary edema actually) at Helen Klein in November. Last and not least, my lungs processing less oxygen, not only my muscles started feeling tired, but I also got a major headache, my hands were swollen and I had hard time reading what was written on the t-shirt of runners who were passing me or running the other way. Bottom line, it was not worth the 5 to 6 hours of walking I would have had to do to reach Auburn this Saturday. There will be other races and American River editions. This Sunday morning my nose was running which indicates that I have probably made a serious allergy to the pollen. Nature is wonderful through its Spring rebirth, but there are some inconvenience for those sensitive to allergies. And I cannot complain much since this has never bothered me during training, only a couple or three crisis a year in races.
Enough about me... Pierre-Yves had carpooled with us so we had to pick him in Auburn. To draw the deception out of my mind, and while we were waiting for the rest of the Quiksilver/Rhomobile team and the Stevens Creek Striders members (Lina, Peggy and Bill, crewed by Bill and Mike), I took literally hundreds of pictures of runners (253 at Beals Point and 122 of the top runners in the last hill to the Auburn Dam Overlook). I recognized many faces, gave encouragements and quite a few runners were wondering what I was doing behind the camera today... Seeing so many different expressions helped me healing from the frustration of not completing this renown ultra race. Expressions were ranging from smiles to grimaces, joy to pain, relaxed to focused, worried or anxious... I'm happy to share them on Picasa, although please forgive me for not adding comments and names on each of these 400 pictures. And please consider buying from the Pro, Facchino Photography, Keith having made a business out of his hobby and passion for sports photography. Otherwise, if you like some of these pictures, (1) make sure to save them on your disk in case I need to get rid of this space in Picasa at some point and (2) if you include a picture in your blog, please reference my blog per courtesy.
Anyway, after our prolonged stay at Beal's Point, it was time to drive up to Auburn to see the leaders coming in. I had heard that some folks were trying to set a new course record (5:32 against Tony's 5:42 of last year) and I was ready with my camera on by 11:20 in the last section of the course, the last steep uphill before reaching the Auburn Dam Overlook parking lot. But the first runner actually came in at 12:06pm, Max King. It was so impressive to see him running such a steep hill, albeit his finish time was a bit disappointing. From an informed source, he was actually more interested in any of the top-three men Western States spots than setting a course record or an overall win actually. in contrast, Chikara (Omine), who had already made it to Western States, and in his usual style, lead for a large part of the race with a very aggressive 6 min/mile pace. I was happy to seem him coming in third. Kami Semik controlled the women race form start to finish. Interesting to note that 5 out of the 7 top women were Masters.
All the results are posted on Capitol Road Race Management's website. For their first American River, Sean did an amazing 6:51 and Pierre-Yves 7:26. Andy and Adam finished together and their time (7:51) will be the third one considered for the ranking of our team in the PA USAT&F competition. Good job guys!
Again, more in pictures in my Picasa album, enjoy! And see you next year. It took me three attempts to have a good Way Too Cool, my next American River will be the right one!