Sunday, June 28, 2009

Western States 2009: digging deep

I spent the whole day and evening with Dan Moores in my mind. As you might have read in my previous post (Western States: H -9), John Trent had shared with us three pieces of wisdom and requests, during the tribute he paid to Dan during the race briefing:
  1. Run with an open heart, to give some room to Dan;
  2. Smile at Bath Road, the aid station manned by the Auburn Running Company, Dan's store;
  3. Run smart, especially to handle the heat
Regarding the second point, I'm not sure how the smile came up after 60 miles, but I did thank the volunteers and stopped by to sign the board which was then moved to the finish line. It reads "Dan, you'll Always Be Running With Us."
I did pretty well on item number 1, at least I believe. Every other mile or so, I actually kept asking Dan how I could run smarter. I did not have any specific plan for this year's run except to make it an enjoyable experience in case this was my last Western States as it had became so difficult to get in through the lottery. Like in 2007, my second goal was to finish (with a 50 to 60% finisher rate, it is certainly not a given!) and my third goal was to finish under 24 hours (for a second silver buckle). Then, of course, with my Farther Faster mantra, I was hoping to improve my 2007 time of 20:24, depending on the circumstances, and possibly breaking 20 hours, based on my shape this season. To some, I also said that, with such a deep and extremely competitive field, I would be very happy to place in the top 20 again (bookmaker Karl Meltzer had 22 names in his short list). After hearing John's speech about Dan, I added one last minute goal: to honor the race. Which is an ambiguous one, because it may take many forms, from giving it all with the risk of burning out and dropping, to running a smart race to have a good finish, and finish alive!
With all that, my overall goal was not to stress as I believe this may be the major factor triggering my exercise-induced asthma in important races (this has not been confirmed by anyone from the medical field, at least not to me, but I am out of ideas in terms of correlations, having had crisis in any season and any weather). On purpose or because I am not a rookie anymore after 4 years competing in ultra running (although I still consider myself as a newbie especially when joining the Western States Endurance Run crowd), I was not overly excited. With about 18 races a year including 12 ultras, I probably race too much to maintain the excitement even within my crew, i.e. my family... Yet, Western States is unique for its very long history, being a prime event in North America in particular and in the World as you will see in the top 3 ranking. So, excitement there was on the starting line this Saturday at 5 am in Squaw Valley. So much excitement that, after one switch back on the road up to Escarpment, we missed a turn. I was following Dean Karnazes when, suddenly he turns and start running down. I thought he had forgotten his sun glasses but then, him and others started shooting "wrong way." Interestingly, I had done the same mistake on Thursday morning for our trek to the flag raising... Back on the right track, the elites had to come back to the front, so it was nice to review who was there finally (several key names where missing because of injury). I wished good luck to Scott (Jurek) and he replied with a "Bonne course!" (have a good race). Exchanged a few words with Benoit Laval, David James, Jasper Halekas, Victor Ballesteros, Marco Olmo, Beverly Anderson-Abbs, Caren Spore, Graham Cooper, some I would see again during the race, some I won't.

Between the leaders who were relentlessly running despite the steep slope and the back of the pack walking, the 400 starters stretched over a mile on the illuminated ski track. I reached Escarpment in 53 minutes and got on the single track on the other side of the mountain, followed by Eric Skaden. The pace was quite fast so there was really no need to pass, which is one main cause of injuries early in the race when runners try passing and trip down. Around mile 5 I caught up with Brian Robinson. Brian is known for being the first person to get the Triple Crown in one year (hiking the three cross-country trails in the US). More recently, Brian was the 8th runner to complete the crazy Barkley 100-miler. Brian and I ran together to Robinson Flat in 2007 and I owe Brian big time for setting a reasonable pace back then. Brian said that, because of the missed turn at the start, he was surprised to get in the lead for a short while. We ran together for a couple of miles, and with Nikki too. Going faster in downhills (Brian is so good at power hiking up hills), I caught up with Brian Morrison (first to reach the Auburn track in 2006 before collapsing) and Erik Skaden (2nd overall in 2006 and 2007). The pace seemed right although I was surprised and worried to be running with these fast guys. I finally lost them after the Red Star Ridge aid station (mile 16), thinking that I had better settling for a slower pace. In 2007, I started the race in 70th position and finished 18th. This year, the splits give me in 26th which, based on an exceptional deep and competitive field, was probably too fast of a pace for me.

Andy Jones-Wilkins passed me around mile 18 (he was fourth in 2007 and a favorite for the Masters division). I then ran solo to Duncan Canyon (mile 24). The aid station is manned by my other running club, the Quicksilver of San Jose, and it was a lot of excitement to see familiar faces. In particular, my teammates Pierre-Yves Couteau and Jim Magill, with Pierre-Yves putting some sun screen on my shoulders, arms and legs. It was also great to see Peter Defty who had several runners using Vespa on the race. Peter handed me a pouch which I quickly swallowed before the tortuous exit of the stations (short but steep and rocky down hill).

At the bottom of Duncan Canyon I could not find the trail on the other side of the creek and had to wait for two runners to come through. One of them was Michael Wardian, whom I knew from pacing him at the North Face 50-miler last December. Michael just flew back from Europe where he placed 6th at the World Championship of road 100K, quite an intense long run to prepare for Western States instead of tapering! Anyway, like in December, Michael got out of fluid and I was also getting out of gas, just one mile before getting into Robinson Flat (almost 30 miles). I decided to change shoes and, fortunately, Chuck Wilson gave me a hand. He was there crewing for Christine Miller. Despite the help, about 15 runners passed through the station and I retrograded to 40th. A tough setback from a mental perspective. That was my first physical and mental low point of the day. Fortunately, the next 13 miles were mostly downhill, including my favorite aid stations manned by friends (Dusty Corner) and club mates of the Stevens Creek Striders (Last Chance, where I served as the aid station captain for several years before getting the Western States virus...).

As Dan (Moores) was still in my mind, I was so thrilled to see Tom and Mike at Last Chance, two long-time volunteers battling cancer. I gave them a hug, before getting assisted by one of my work colleagues, Michael. I enjoyed the buffet and the "car wash" from Dick, who received the Friend of the WS Trail award in 2007 for many years of service to the runners at Last Chance. I had caught-up and passed Brian (Robinson) before Last Chance but, with all the time I spent enjoying the Striders' company, he left the station ahead of me. On the way down to swinging bridge (Deadwood Canyon), I passed Benoit Laval who was walking, before dropping at Michigan Bluff. Benoit told me Marco (Olmo) was 5 minutes ahead of me, but Marco also dropped at Michigan Bluff, after the "deadly" canyons.

I felt good going down Deadwood Canyon, like in 2007, and passed Brian again. I felt so good that I power walked the 37 tortuous switchbacks up to the infamous Devil's Thumb. On the way, I passed Kriss (Moehl) and Brian Morrison, which might have an indication I was still going too fast. Up at Devil's Thumb aid station, the third medical checkpoint, my weight was still right on 130 pounds, which was perfect after 48 miles in the heat and almost 9 hours of running. Again, Brian (Robinson) flew through the aid station and passed me. I lost him just before going down El Dorado Creek, the third canyon. I even had to walk in this long downhill section as I was out of gas for the second time, and short breath as well. The 3 miles up to Michigan Bluff, from the bottom of the canyon, seemed really long with the heat and mostly walking. Finally, I found the family waiting for me at the station and, like in 2007, the medical staff asked me to stop for a while to work on my fluids and salt. I was down to 125 pounds and stopped for 19 minutes. Since my power hike to Devil's Thumb, I felt thirsty and that would last for hours after the race, despite drinking ounces of water, Gu2O, soup and Coke. Looking at the picture, I just realize that the medical staff T-shirt of this year had the following inscription: "Tell me where it hurts." Well, my joints (knees, ankles, hips) hurt and I was wondering if that could be linked to dehydration. When I left Michigan Bluff, I was still ahead of my 2007 time chart, but down to 13 minutes as opposed to 33 minutes at Robinson Flat. It was 4 pm and hot, although I did not feel too bad about the heat thanks to the handkerchief I was wearing around the neck, filled with ice cubes. Gordy Ainsleigh certainly did not have this luxury when running this course more than 35 years ago, 1,500 volunteers, tons of ice, drinks, water, food. Here is a quote from this Sunday's Auburn Journal edition:
"In that first race, it was so hot I couldn't even focus on the road. There was a lot of convection currents, and my brain was baking. I made the decision to keep putting one foot in front of the other until I could not put one foot in front of the other. That was the last time I considered quitting."
Indeed, when you cannot run anymore, you still have the option to walk. As long as your vitals are ok, hence the 12 medical checkpoints along the course. The reporter added that Gordy, now 62, had competed in 23 editions of WSER, with 22 finishes. Unfortunately, Gordy dropped at Miller's Defeat this year. Anyway, back to my race report, I did a lot of walking before feeling better in Volcano Canyon (I definitely have good quads!), thinking even more of Dan as I was approaching the Bath Road aid station. My third high of the day was to meet with the family again at Foresthill (mile 62, or km 100), especially Max who was going to pace me from Foresthill down to the river. We had great running sections but overall more walking than in 2007 when Rob Evans paced me. I was back on the same schedule as 2007 at Foresthill and lost 12 minutes on the 16-mile section down to the river. Max had never run more than 10 miles and really enjoyed the experience. He was amazed by the beauty of the trail and the views, as well as the kindness of all the volunteers. 3 miles before the river, we caught up with Brian (Robinson) again, who was now paced by his wife, Sophia Lewis (7th woman at Western States 2003).
By the river (Rucky Chucky) my weight was up a little, around 126-127, good enough for the medical staff to let me continue. My second pacer, Adam Blum, who paced me at Rio del Lago last September, and the sponsor of our rhoquick running team, was waiting for me on the other side of the river. I was so tired and it was almost the end of daylight, I got really cold in the river and was shivering when reaching the other side, where I changed shoes for the second time (the Cascadias 5, the 2010 model Scott Jurek was running in at the start). Nikki passed me at the bottom of the uphill to Green Gate, she is so fast hiking up the hills. I would keep seeing her from time to time in the next 22 miles to finish just a minute behind her. But that was definitely not the Nikki we know, she really had a bad day, yet she tought out a 4th place (disappointing for her who is used to overall wins, but at least she can come back next year with an automatic entry!).

The 10 miles between Green Gate and Brown's Bar felt really strange as Adam and I felt we were doing well, yet we did not see any runner. I was in 30th positiong and it seemed like a big gap formed with the front runners. Finally, we passed three runners as we quickly went through Brown's Bar (nice potatoe soup, and super cool station staff there!) and a few more as I started sprinting up to Highway 49. Agnès and Alex were there, my weight right back on 130 (phew!), and we left in a hurry when I hear Simon getting in the station. Simon has been a top 10 finisher at Western States and I took that as a sign that he would finish strong. I was then in 25 th position, with 6.7 miles to go. We passed a few runners before the illuminated and legendary No Hands Bridge and literally sprinted the way up to Robbie Point (I'm anxious to see the splits). We had 14 minutes to finish under 21 hours when we hit the road, with 1.4 miles to go including some steep uphills. Seeing the clock in the last 100 yards showing 20:56 was a relief: my final time was 20:56:49, 32 minutes more than in 2007. 22 nd overall versus 18th, 18 th man versus 15th, and 7th Master instead of 4th in 2007. Overall, not farther (this was my 3rd 100-miler), not faster, but definitely tougher that what I ever experienced in running. Yes, I told you, I am still a newbie! Still running with my (open) heart, based on my feelings, and maybe not smart enough from time to time. But smart enough this weekend to finish in one piece!
I got cold on the finish line but not bad enough to get a bed in the medical tent (several runners were getting an IV...). Graham (suffering from shin splints) and Simon arrived together, 12 minutes after me. Agnès, Alex, Adam and I left the stadium around 2:45 and I was in bed by 3:30 am, 25 hours after getting up on Saturday morning, for 6 hours of sleep before getting back to the Auburn High School for the award ceremony. Which, with temperatures still above 100F and many heroes to celebrate, was turning to another ultra experience. Here are the top 10 men of this competitive 2009 run, with three continent represented in the top 3 (America, Asia, Europe):
I am thankful for so many things and people on this Sunday night: having been part of this legendary Western States tradition, having done everything I had to get to the finish line under 21 hours, the relentless work of 1,500 volunteers who make this race possible, the associated logistic and hard work of race director, Greg Soderlund and the WSER board, all the people involved in maintaing the Western State trail (and hopefully making it am historic National trail for further generations to enjoy), the crews and my loving one in particular, the blast of running 16 miles with Max, the support of Adam, all my fellow runners whom, as Tony said, I competed with, not against, and even the challenging weather conditions without which Western States would not be what it is.

See my Picasa album for more pictures of this long day (200+ commented pictures, and a few short videos). And see you on the trails or the blogsphere soon. My next races are in August and I will spend three weeks in France in July, so I will enjoy the well deserved break. Hope you have a nice summer break as well!

PS: ahh, blogging on Sunday when the race ended less than 24 hours ago is ultra blogging, please excuse the typos, I will correct them later, time to go to bed... Sorry too for the long post. This is also ultra blogging, yet, a short recount of a long day...

Friday, June 26, 2009

Western States 2009: H - 9

It is getting really close and the to do list is down to a very few items: relax, eat well, sleep well, hydrate well, relax, relax.

A short post to point you to a few (well, more than 100!) pictures, for a visual overview of the pre-race activities of this Thursday and Friday:
  1. The trek to the raising of the flag at Emigrant Pass on Thursday morning,
  2. Two clinics on Thursday afternoon: Crewing the Western States Run by (Tropical) John Medinger, and WS Trail by Charles Savage (going for his 17th WS100) and Dana Gard
  3. The registration and medical examination on Friday morning, and
  4. The pre-race meeting on Friday afternoon.
It is going to be hot, although "only" in the high 90s-low 100s. But, with the exceptional competitive field, although some elites got injured in the way of training hard for this even and will not be part of the "track meet" (e.g. Max King, Anton Krupicka, Jon Olsen). Still, there are 20 guys who can win this year and wish all of them good luck for handling the pressure. Myself, I want to get as much fun as in 2007, running this race like it was the last time as it is so difficult to get in these days.

The most moving moment of these two days has been the homage paid to Dan Moores during the pre-race briefing by John Trent. Dan died from leukemia yesterday after a battle matching his passion for ultra running. I med Dan several times on the WS trail and at his store (the Auburn Running Company). We also exchanged emails while he was staying at his brother's place in the Bay Area when receiving treatments and his bone marrow transplant. Last year, Agnès and I got registered on the National Bone Marrow Registry, hoping we have the opportunity to save lives. Similarly to the transplant which worked for Agnès' best friend's son, Pierre-Yves, who has been in remission for 2 years now. Please, please, consider getting on the registry too! In the meantime, John invited use to run with an even more "open heart" to make room for Dan during our run tomorrow, and to smile as we pass through the Bath Road aid station which Dan has manned before running Western States himself. As John recounted, Dan waited a while before running Western States: he wanted to be ready, ready enough to honor this lengendary race. The third recommendation John gave use to commemorate Dan tomorrow was to run smart. Dan, we will think of you during our long day this wekeend. I know you will be watching us!

With that, see the lucky ones who have the honor to toe the line tomorrow morning, see their valorous crew, their supportive pacers, the 1,500 or so volunteers, and you all who will be following our progress on line on the Western States live webcast! There is even a feature to get notified by email for a particular runner. I will wear the bib #45, as in 45 years... (a special favor from Race Director, Greg Soderlund).

Sunday, June 21, 2009

My Brooks tapering camp: Day 4

Early running for a few but tapering for most of us this Sunday morning, as we prepared to leave after these vibrant three days at Crystal Mountain. Exchange of emails at breakfast and promises to stay in touch via our various electronic channels: Brooks’ websites and newsletters, our ID Yahoo! or Facebook groups, blogs, emails. I had brought my laptop to the lodge to show the pictures of the third day. Apparently, looking at some tired faces this morning, I had captured some of the excitement of the first part of the night, but missed some as I left the party around 10 pm to blog and upload my photo album. Maybe it is better this way from a privacy standpoint… ;-)
It is time to thank Brooks for such an amazing event, perfectly organized and offering so many activities over 3 days. Like someone said to Jesse and the team: “you guys are so detail-oriented, you injected in this event the same professionalism and passion as you put in your running shoes!” Indeed, the level of detail and personalization Brooks’ Marketing offered us at this camp surpassed what you find in the best and costly professional conferences. What stroked me the most is this constant balance between information sharing and feedback gathering, in a relaxed and playful environment. The Brooks team kept providing us with information on the products and corporate directions, while seeking feedback and new ideas at the same time. A nice give-and-take and win-win exercise.

It was particularly enlightening to see the variety of experiences and profiles within our group of “ID campers.” This illustrates the difficulty a running shoe and apparel company faces when having to design products to cover all the needs, preferences and wishes. On one side we had ID’ers representing the track, who participated for instance in a focus group on spikes. On the other side, a few ultra runners. A few very competitive triathletes. Fans of cross-country. And many racing on roads, from 5K to marathons. Across these different types of running, we had other dimensions represented: coaches, personal trainers, athletes of all abilities, medical staff, event directors, writers. And, on another dimension, anyone from the very vocal to the more quiet ones, yet everybody remained involved and engaged throughout the camp. A great demonstration of management of group dynamics by Steve, Jesse and the team; kudos guys!
As an inaugural camp, Brooks set the bar very high for the upcoming ones, another proof of the dedication of the brand to running and being a visionary and leader in the industry. The success is visible, more and more people are adhering to this vision and it is going to be exciting to see Brooks preparing its 100th anniversary in 5 years. I wish to other members of our Inspire Daily program the opportunity to participate to such a camp. To participate to Brooks' "Symphony in Blue!"I got some nice views over the Bay Area on my flight to SFO, before getting back home for a nice Father's Day celebration with a dinner prepared by the boys.
While I was having a great time in Washington, although the opposite of the required heat training for States, Agnès has arranged our plans for my upcoming “Track Meet” (that’s how Andy Jones-Wilkins likes to call Western States as we finish on the Auburn High-School track). We’ll be leaving on Wednesday then, as I will be on the panel of Interfrench's event on the topic of Leadership during mergers and acquisitions this Tuesday evening.

Talk to you later this week, from Squaw. In the meantime, go Farther, Faster... in Brooks!

PS: like for my previous 3 posts, more pictures can be found in my Picasa album.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

My Brooks tapering camp: Day 3

Day 3 had a similar structure than Day 2 so, although the content was totally different, it almost became like a routine. A nice one that is, which will end tomorrow though...

Our morning run was again quite chilly. I did another 7.5-mile out and back on the other side of the valley, and we ran through a few patches of snow (and much more snow for those who went to the top and over the ridge). The Cascadias were the perfect shoes to avoid slipping on these patches. I'm planning on running Western Sates next week with three models of Cascadias, the 3, 4 and 5 (changing pairs at Robinson Flat then at the far side of Rucky Chucky).
After breakfast we started our group activities with a team competition. 4 teams and 4 games, with the Pink and Orange teams finishing in a tie, and the Orange taking over by a few strides in the final rematch.
Then, similarly to yesterday's apparel focus groups, we had footwear-related stations to visit from 10:30 to noon. Blind testing of shoes from Brooks and competitors, evaluation of new designs and new insoles, votes on color designs, contest on shoe coloring (yes, we worked hard! ;-).
After lunch, Keith Hanson told us about the Brooks Hanson Distance Project he created in the Summer of 1999 with his brother, Kevin, to get the US distance running to the next level. Great successes in such a period with, overall, 21 runners representing the US at the World Half-Marathon Championships since 2001. One of the Hanson team, Mike Morgan, shared some personal stories about the super intensive training he is going through.Following Keith's presentation, like yesterday, we could pick 2 out of three breakouts, presentations offered by three ID members: Kate Conwell on Core Strength, Katherine Phillips on Coaching for Women and Bill Hoffman on Race Event Planning. Bill provided us with interesting tips, illustrating a long checklist with his experience as Meet Director of the Brooks Memphis Twilight Classic, an even he created in 2003. I then attended Kate's session. Kate is an elite at pole vault and finished 6th at the last US Olympic trials. Here's a link to a video interview of her, courtesy of the Seattle Times. She had selected some of her favorite core strength exercises and I'm glad we were actually not doing the full repeats that she is used to put when training consistently, because many of these exercises are really challenging. But sure beneficial, no doubt about that!
We all gathered again to listen to John's presentation on the 2010 models and got some free time before taking the chair lift up to the Summit House Bistro. At 6,872', this is the highest restaurant in the State of Washington. The view was supposed to be stunning except for the thick cloud up there, not to mention the sub-40 temperatures. Speaking of heat training for Western States, it was colder than my winters in the Bay Area... Anyway, we had the whole restaurant for ourselves, great food, great ambiance, and yet another competitive game, in the form of a trivia on Brooks and the Hansons' Distance Project.
The way down on the chair lift was pretty cold, with the breeze, and it felt good to get to the bar of the main lodge for a hot party. A closing celebration which is easier to describe with colorful pictures than thousand words... (click on the picture below to enlarge it)
Again, check my Picasa photo album out for (many!) more pictures, and a few short videos illustrating this busy and fun day.

Tomorrow is Day 4, mostly packing and driving back to the airport. Just in time to get back home for... Father's Day! Have a good night in the meantime.

Friday, June 19, 2009

My Brooks Tapering Camp: Day 2

Today was a special day as the area celebrated the end of a record 29-day "drought." Most of us were not so happy to see the rain come back during our morning run. The absence of sun and the altitude made the run quite chilly and the low ceiling blocked any view of the surrounding mountains. I'm glad I could see Mt. Rainier above the clouds before landing in Seattle yesterday.
After a short night either for the East Coasters who woke early because of the jet lag, or for the ones getting to bed late, we gathered at the Main Lodge at 7 am for our morning run led by Scott. 2 miles down the road before getting on the famous Pacific Crest Trail, and more specifically the steep Morse Peak Trail. We needed to get back to the Lodge by 8:30 for breakfast which was a nice time constraint for keeping the run short as I am, or at least should be, tapering. The funny part of the run was that, for once, Scott was behind us, as he stopped along the way up to provide several coaching sessions to a few of our group members. We were several upfront wondering where "he" was, surprised he was not catching up with us. I put "he" between quotes because that reminded me the story of the Caballero Blanco whom Christopher McDougall chased in the Copper Canyons and recounts in his newly released Born To Run. Here is our very own Caballo Blanco ;-) :
I came back to the Lodge with my roommate Robert Heppell, from Chicago and originally UK, after a 7.5-mile loop.

At 9:30 we played to a get-to-know-you activity consisting in finding others' fun facts, and mapping them on Bingo-style cards. A nice ice-breaker. My fun fact? I had forgotten about what I had sent the Steve actually: I hated cross-country when I was in middle school because it was to muddy. It's not that fun of a fact out of context but my running changed a lot since then: I now log most of my miles on trails, I got through so much mud in Costa Rica's Coastal Challenge, and I'm surrounded this weekend with so many ex super fast high school and college cross-country runners. Anyway, the 64 other fun facts were all over the map, and not just the US map with Dan Shaw who have been kidnapped in Columbia after hiking the tallest mountain there. He is here with his wife, Alyssa, and their 11-week boy, and you can imagine that if was not a fun fact back then when Alyssa did not hear back from Dan for 7 days...
At 10:30 we had a fascinating presentation from Rich Zartman on the ins and outs of the shoe design process. Basically, after re situating what design is about and all the stakeholders involved, Rich walked us through all the steps of the 18-month process in 18 minutes. A process which connects the preliminary product concept and idea to the actual shoes we can buy in retail stores. Fitting the standard sample and wear testing size, I got a chance to try on the coming Green Silence, a super cool concept both from a performance and sustainable development standpoint. Super comfy and super re comforting to learn about all the improvements on the engineering and manufacturing process side to minimize the footprint on the environment. Brooks is really leading the way here, so much that they decided not to patent the BioMoGo technology, making soles biodegradable, so other brands could benefit from this major innovation. See Brooks' Green Room for more on this early 2010 model.
We then proceeded to 3 focus groups on the apparel: learning from the new material, commenting on all the features of new models and participating in a brainstorm exercise led by Beth Brewster who heads the Apparel PLM (Product Line Merchandising). We were also given the opportunity to participate in a contest for new t-shirt designs. This is a competitive group, and the Brooks folks know how to keep us on our toes!

After lunch we could pick 2 out of 3 30-minute long group activities among Yoga for Runners, Sports Nutrition and Sports Psychology. All three activities were contributed by Inspire Daily members. Anne Preisig did a great job at leveraging Yoga techniques to stretch our back, hip and leg muscles, certainly not my forte. After the 10-step ultra success recipe from Scott last night, it was the turn of Stephen Gonzales to share 12 tips on how to develop mental toughness, with examples for each of them. A lot of content for 30 minutes, but a great checklist to keep handy [Connaughton, Wadey, Hanton & Jones, 2009]:
  1. Belief you can achieve your competition goals (and set them right)
  2. Self-belief in abilities that make you better than your opponents
  3. Insatiable desire to succeed
  4. Bouncing back from performance setbacks
  5. Pushing boundaries but keeping composure
  6. Accepting anxiety & coping (caring and getting serious about events, but keeping relaxed)
  7. Thrive on/under pressure
  8. Maintain psychological control with unexpected adversity
  9. Ability to focus during training
  10. Remaining focus during competition
  11. Not being affected by others (their success or failure)
  12. Remaining focused during life stresses
For that, he recommended to work on a few skills:
  1. Goal setting (SMART: Specific, Measurable, Adjustable (mine was Attainable), Realistic, Time-bound), with three dimensions (process, performance, output)
  2. Imagery (in the elements if possible)
  3. Self-talking (shutting the negative voice up)
  4. Control your "controllables" (pre-race routines, dress properly, hydration and nutrition, setting a flexible race strategy, ...)
  5. Arousal regulation (throwing some fun and random elements into training)
A lot of insights to leverage and work on! Stephen also strongly advised reading the book Running Within.
The rest of the afternoon was free, some went for a second run (in the rain and chilly temperatures), others (including me) getting a very professional massage, then hanging out by the fireplace for more blogging and discussions.
After dinner we had an interesting challenge to create a concept for a Brooks running event and the eight groups came with interesting ideas, some groups even sharing similar ideas. I thought our group had done quite well, but we did not even make it to the top 3, probably not enough outside of the box. The party moved from the sun deck to inside due to the bad weather, although we could see stars in the sky tonight, so there is hope for some sun and views tomorrow!

Get to run, or to sleep actually, we are meeting at 7 am again tomorrow morning. Have a good night and talk to you tomorrow after Day 3.

PS: pictures of Day 2 posted in my Picasa album.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

My Brooks tapering camp: Day 1

A tapering camp?? Did I catch your attention...? A few months ago, Brooks invited the Inspire Daily members to fly to Seattle, WA, for a 4-day running camp. I knew this would fall right in my 2-week Western States tapering, but I did not want to miss this opportunity to meet other ID’ers and learn more about Brooks, the Company, its employees and the products. All that at the foot of Mt. Rainier! That seemed to good to be true and, sure enough, like in the most popular ultras nowadays, there were more candidates than available spots. And, like Western States 2 years ago or Miwok this year, I was lucky enough to make it through the lottery!

I flew out of SFO this Thursday morning and we landed in SeaTac one hour and 40 minutes later, a nice flight above the chain of volcanoes through Oregon: Crater Lake, The Three Sisters, Mount Jefferson, Mount Hood. Finally, after an unusual weather so far in June, the sky was clear above the Bay Area. In Washington the plane crossed three layers of clouds, something which I’m not familiar with. The amount and size of clouds surely explains how green this State is. Green like Brooks, which pushed sustainable development to the next level through environment-friendly products and processes (more later on this topic).
A shuttle brought us to the Brooks Headquarters in Bothell, North of Seattle. Compared to the other major running and sport companies Brooks is actually an amazingly small company when you see the broad reach of the Brooks products and the number of models. What helps them standing out of the crowd though is the focus on running (shoes and apparel). The small size of the company makes it nimble, agile and hyper focused on customer satisfaction. The Brooks customer support team has been rated the best in the industry for the past seven years. All the employees are very active and most (90%) are runners which brings an amazing energy and source of innovation, as well as intimacy with the running ecosystem. Picture from Brooks' website:
Our journey up to Crystal Mountain hit the late afternoon traffic of all the Microsoft and Boeing employees commuting South. Our bus driver provided useful comments as we crossed the Indian Reserve East of Auburn; we then entered the Mt. Rainier National Forest and its winding road (Enumclaw Chinook). An amazing density of conifers. Again, green, green, green. Except for some recently logged sections showing a heavy usage of this forest.
We reached the Crystal Mountain around 6:30 and quickly met for dinner as many members of our group had flown from the East Coast early this morning and were starting feeling the pain of jet lag. We then had a pitch from the Brooks Marketing team, led by Dave. Although I have been running in Brooks for 10 years now (since April 1999 to be precise!), I learned a great deal about the company. Here are some random notes:
  • Mission statement: "To inspire others to run and be active" (and, as an ID'er, daily...)
  • Our group at the camp consists in 65 participants from 30 states; 60% are coaches (College, high school, middle school, club);
  • I learned that, among 8 consumer segments, I belong to the Alpha Runners, the ones who defined themselves as... runners. And that Dabblers denote the occasional runners.
  • We watched some of the many videos Brooks is making available on sites like:, or
  • And Dave told us that we'll "hear" more about the Green Silence tomorrow...
Scott (yes, Jurek!) came last to conclude the evening, and the timing was not ideal as some were really getting tired at 1am on their biological clock, or not much into ultra running (yet!). For the others, it was a joy to see Scott again and listen to his personal stories about Badwater, Western States, Hardrock, Tour du Mont Blanc, Spartathlon or the Copper Canyon (I'm reading Born To Run and will share more about that in a book review after Western States). Before he publishes a book on vegetarian cuisine, which he promised he was actively working on, Scott shared his 10-step recipe for ultra success:
  1. Embrace the pain. The "good" pain, the discomfort which makes you progress and push the envelope. Don't try to resist to it. By the way, it applies for any distance. Learn to come back from the lows.
  2. Listen to your body. Hyper important especially in ultra running not to get injured.
  3. Get specific. Set precisely your goals, what to want to achieve. And design the corresponding training to achieve your goal.
  4. Cross train. Not necessarily another sport, but other activities (e.g. weight lifting, core training, yoga).
  5. Stay balanced. Incorporate all the other aspects of your life, all the pieces making the running possible. Personal/family life, work life, and nutrition too.
  6. Seek the satisfaction. Visualize and keep your best finishes in mind (e.g. for Scott, Spartathlon, Hardrock)
  7. Never give up.
  8. Give back! Help others (pacing, crewing), man aid stations at ultra events, do trail maintenance.
  9. Stay motivated. After 15 years of ultra competition at the top level, Scott admits that it's not always easy to get out in the cold, the rain, and train hard. His advice: run and train with friends. And find new great places which motivate you.
  10. Keep it fun. Scott shared his personal encounter with Giorgio last summer on the UTMB course near Courmayeur, a 63-old ultra runner who "lived his life to its fullest" (he died a few months ago, while running). Giorgio had run the 6 editions of UTMB, after having two hip replacements and still smoking (literally) while running ultras. And always smiling.
Before taking a few questions, Scott concluded his multi-media presentation with a few motivational quotes including this one, acknowledging that many of us, ultra runners, are wandering...
Not all those who wander are lost.
J.R.R. Tolkien
It's now time to go to bed; I must be the last one still up as we approach midnight... We are scheduled for a run at 7 am tomorrow morning, with Scott, before he leaves us to fly for a press conference in Auburn (California, not Washington!) on Saturday. I gave him a copy of the poem I had written for his 10th Miwok in May, hoping to see him back there next year... You see, I am a true RunningSuperFan! Talk to you tomorrow then, after Day 2.

PS: more pictures from Day 1 in my Picasa photo album.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

My Stevens Creek ultra marathon

I spent this Saturday morning immersed in the spirit of our local Stevens Creek. With several connections to that name, actually:
  1. Stevens Creek, the creek;
  2. Stevens Creek County Park;
  3. Stevens Creek Reservoir;
  4. Stevens Creek Striders, my Cupertino running club;
  5. Stevens Creek Trail;
  6. The Friends of Stevens Creek Trail;
  7. Stevens Creek Wildlife Corridor;
  8. Stevens Creek Tidal Marsh Trail;
  9. Stevens Creek Hetch-Hetchy Trails;
  10. The Stevens & Permanente Creeks Watershed Council (and their blog)
  11. Stevens Creek Boulevard;
  12. And Stevens Canyon Road.
My initial goal was to attend two dedications of new sections of the Stevens Creek trail this morning: the Moffett Boulevard Overcrossing and the El Camino Real to Sleeper Avenue. I ended up by running 31.2 miles (50K), from Cupertino to the Stevens Creek Reservoir, down to the Palo Alto Baylands, trough Shoreline Park in Mountain View and running through Los Altos and Sunnyvale. 4 hours and 15 minutes of running over 5 hours.
Most of my runs are now on trails so I usually don't use the street mode option in SportsTrack, but, since this run was more "suburban" than usual, here it is:
I hope you too enjoy these extensions of the trail. From Sleeper Avenue in Mountain View, you can know walk, run or bike as far as Byxbee Park near the Palo Alto Airport and Golf without crossing a road! The City of Mountain View and its partners have really done their part of the job to link the Cupertino hills to the Bay. Unfortunately, it now comes down to three cities, Los Altos, Sunnyvale and Cupertino to resolve political imbroglios to find the way to finish this wildlife corridor.

In the meantime, please consider supporting the Friends of the Stevens Creek Trail association, and join us at the TrailBlazer 10K or 5K race at the end of September (Sunday September 27, 2009). This is a great race (or walk), with ample parking and easy logistic (you start and finish at the Microsoft parking lot), for a good cause and with great company. I won the 10K race a few years ago, then PR'ed in 2007 getting just under 34 minutes; I look forward to running it again this year, between a few other ultra marathon races I have scheduled for the remaining of the season.

By the way, that was my own improvised version of a "Stevens Creek 50K", but the official one will be hold in September (9/12), directed by Steve Patt.

Here are some pictures taken along the way of my morning run. You can find more of them in my Picasa album.

I first ran from home to the main parking of Stevens Creek County Park, where our club, the Stevens Creek Striders meet every Saturday morning at 8:30 am, for a run in the hills before gathering for breakfast at Hobbie's.
From the Stevens Creek Reservoir, I then ran down to the new start of the Stevens Creek Trail, at the crossing of Sleeper Avenue and Franklin Avenue. On my way, I passed the last open field in Mountain View, a farm which is going to soon be likely transformed into a large housing development.
I was convinced that the dedication at Sleeper Avenue was at 10 am, and 11:30 for the Moffett Boulevard overcrossing, but it was the other way so I sprinted down the trail to arrive just in time for the ribbon cutting (after missing the speeches though).
After crossing the bridge for the first time with the rest of the 100+ attendees to the ceremony, I continued my run on this trail which I ran thousands of miles on, since I moved in the Bay Area in 1998. I did not have enough time to make it quite to Palo Alto's Byxbee Park, but far enough to see the pelicans who are back already at Shoreline and in the Baylands.
On the way back, I mused and stopped to observe an egret fishing:
I had run 24 miles when I arrived at Sleeper Avenue for the second time, and in time to hear the end of Mr. Patrick Kwok's speech (Santa Clara Valley Water District) and see the unveiling of the commemorative plaques by the Mountain View City Council:
On my way back to Cupertino I passed by my company, on Fremont (unfortunately, we are moving away from the trail to the IBM site on North First Street, in October):
Then over 85 on the old overpass between Belleville/The Dalles and Bernardo:
Then over 280 on the brand new overpass at Mary Avenue:
As you can see, a lot has been done in the area for bicycles and pedestrians, let's be grateful to our city representatives and... lobby for more so the Stevens Creek Trail can connect the Bay to our precious and well preserved South Bay and Mid peninsula hills and Santa Cruz Mountains.

In the meantime, let's thank some of major stake holders in getting the "Trail Ends" sign... "Further, Faster" (the name of my blog...): the City of Mountain View, Bay Area Quality Management District, California Natural Resources Agency, Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, and Intuit, Inc.