Saturday, August 29, 2009

S as in...

You have been warned, there will be many words starting with s in this post... And a quiz at the end to see if you spotted them! Overall, this article is about the impact of multitasking, or multiple priorities, on my running.

So, back to the title: S as in...

Silence. 3 weeks without blogging, that never happened to me on this blog and I don't feel so good about it hence my desire to share some explanations or excuses. Apart from one or two weeks I missed over the past 2 years and a half, you know I have been very consistent with my weekly "pace." Fortunately nothing dramatic or serious, just some fine tuning of my life balance (which explains my tagging of this post with "Sustainable running").

Stress. Quite some stress at work but, fortunately, the good stress because it is so precious to have a job these days. As we continue our integration into IBM, what is commonly called the "blue washing" process, it is particularly important to find the right spot within this organization, the right place in which you can clearly bring value to this $100 billion business and global enterprise (it is hard to know for sure how many employees we actually are, around 350,000). There are many opportunities but you have to commit on a few, a choice and commitment which is not easy when you come from an 850-people organization where you used to touch on and influence many things. For me, that means by default getting deeper (or higher?) into Service Engineering. I actually added Service Marketing because these two Professional Services functions are really close in our business. What is good is that I get many opportunities to work with very interesting people including, for the Ss, STSMs (Senior Technical Staff Members) and IT (Software) Specialists. But also DEs (Distinguished Engineers) and Fellows. Very stimulating yet requiring a lot of swapping between numerous virtual seminars, enablement sessions. Lotus Notes become indispensable to deal with hundreds of appointments and the battle for time slots in each others' agendas. Speaking of swaping there was an interesting article in this Thursday's edition of the San Jose Mercury News (Stop scanning the page. Focus!) about a study led by Stanford University researchers and showing the inefficiency of the multi-tasking advocated by the Millenials (or Generation Y). Although my main job orbits around Service Engineering, I get involved into other themes such as, for the Ss again, Smarter Planet, Smart Work, Smarter System Engineering, Web Services, SCA (Service Component Architecture), ESBs (Enterprise Service Buses), semantic modeling, System Z, SCM (Supply Chain Management), CPS (Custom Planning and Scheduling)... And as part of my marketing reponsibility I also collect and work success stories.

Souvenirs. One of the important tasks required at IBM which is new to most of us is to self-manage our career path which leads to self-assessing and self-marketing our accomplishments and capability. There is a very formal process for getting through some milestones which requires to document your contribution to the organization and overall business. A sane practice but quite overwhelming when you have to catch-up with it after 22 years! A very interesting one though which leads you through many souvenirs. I've been through 22 years worth of mail boxes, looked at some reports of Smeci engagements (one of our original expert system shells), read about my debuts as a Software Engineer, a few successful projects in Singapore in the early 90s, how we started our methodology (ILOG Solution Implementation Standard), my first large consulting engagement with SNCF upon my return from my military service in Switzerland (note the Ss...), the creation of the Customer Support organization, the golden years of our Industry Solution Division during the Internet boom, the launch of our certification programs (e.g. our JRules Silver exam), my involvement in ILOG's strategy over 22 years... For this documentation exercise, you have to stress your strengths, speak exclusively about yourself in positive terms, which is good for self-esteem yet leaves a taste of selfishness when you are not used to. And to keep all that in balance, I went back to a book which one of my sisters recommended to me a few years ago when I was working with a personal coach: De l'estime de soi à l'estime du Soi - De la psychologie à la spiritualité (literally: From self-esteem to the esteem of oneself - From psychology to spirituality), from Jean Montbourquette, Editions Bayard. Ok, fair enough, this isn't about running, but that helps me doing some sanity check.

Sleep. Not as in sleepless, but as in sleep less. Leveraging a maximum of opportunities in a global organization covering 170 countries around the globe but headquarted on the East Coast means many very early morning meetings (5 am, 6 am). And, with all the interruptions (thanks to SameTime, our instant messaging platform!), I end up catching up with a lot of tasks late in the day, or in the evening. Last Tuesday, I woke up at 5 to meet Bob at the track for some speed work, was in a conference call at 7 am after taking a shower at the office and went to bed 20 hours later at 1 am the next day... Not so good for running, sleep is very important to ensure good performance. Thankfully, I don't sleep a lot but I sleep well, especially when I can make a short pause in the spa (hot tub), under the stars, before getting to bed.

Schedule. You figured out by now, my schedule has been pretty much driven by work these past weeks. Fortunately, I had no race scheduled between Skyline 50K at the beginning of August and the Quicksilver trail half marathon mid September. More opportunities and time to work on weekends, but less opportunities to blog about running...

Slow, sloppy and speedy runs. Yes, without the focus on running, I had some slow runs over the past 3 weeks. Yet I managed to run 152 miles over the past three weeks which is good. This is actually right on my weekly mileage for the year (54.55 miles/week) which is interestingly and amazingly very close to the number for 2008 (54.50 miles/week), athough my running patterns have been significantly different (e.g. I do not have a 100-miler race coming in September this year). The good news is that the stress also helped me getting some of my fastest miles for a long time. Last Sunday, I worked most of the weekend, skipped Saturday and went for a run on Sunday afternoon. I ran 10.8 miles at 6:00 min/mile pace (5 loops around the neighborhood), quite a good tempo run considering (1) I was not on a track and (2) I started at 6:26 min/mile and ran quite a few miles under 6 to get to the 6-flat average. Two days later, I met Bob at the superb track of Mountain View High School for some speed work (they are resurfacing the entire track at Homestead High School, where we usually meet; surfacing which is a bit over the top given the economic situation and the fact that the track was in near perfect conditions). Bob was not feeling so well after his birthday celebration on Monday but led the first of a series of 4 1,200m (3/4 mile). We ran a good 4:03, then I clocked 3:57 and 3:52 for the following intervals. For the last one, I told Bob I was going to shoot for a fast mile. My laps were 1:15, 1:18, 1:19 and 1:15 for a total of 5:07, my second fastest mile ever (I never actually raced a mile officially, only clocked myself at 5:06 during a repeat-mile session five or six years ago when Leo was still in the Bay Area). Surely I should be able to run a mile under 5, but I should not wait for too long and turning 50... Anyway, from a few slow and relaxed miles with my colleagues at work to these speedy and fast ones, a healthy mix of workouts. And, to throw a few more words with an s in thes sentences, since my last post I ran on the Stevens Creek Trail, nice single tracks at Rancho and the steep slopes of Black Mountain.

Surprise! In August we had two of Agnès' friends visiting from France with their family. One of them we had not seen since our wedding, 20 years ago! The other one was a colleague of Agnès at Christian Dior, 11 years ago. I went for a run at Rancho San Antonio with her husband, Jean-Luc, last Saturday. We did a 6-mile loop which reminded me my first run in that park on 12/24/1998 (same distance). I actually ran at Rancho again this morning, driving with Max for his cross-country training. At 6:35, we took one of the last parking spots despite the early hour, as people were rushing to hike or run before the heat picked up. I ran seventeeen mile (sixteeen point nine exactly) and it was 87F by the time I came back to the car at 9 am. It was so hot and dry that I was dreaming of finding an aid station on the trail, with cool soft and sport drinks! We had a great swimming pool party at friends' later today which made the heat wave more bearable. The sky was very clear this morning and I enjoyed superb views of the sea from the top of Black Mountain. The sun was already hot at 8 am and it was great to run through some shade on the trail.
School. The boys all resumed school now: Greg last week at Lawson Middle School and Alex and Max last Monday at Cupertino High. Agnès too as she serves as a substitute French teacher at Lynbrook High School. She has 3 classes with a total of 124 students to supervise. Greg is in seventh grade, Alex is a Junior, not a Sophomore anymore, and Max a Senior. With good SAT scores he is looking at selecting the best colleges and studying the application, selection and scolarship awarding processes. Alex and Max are still very engaged in multiple clubs and active community service and, for the sake of using another word starting with s, I will just mention that Max is the President of their NHS (National Honor Society) club.

Speech. I never told you on this blog that I joined the Toastmasters organization last March. This is a great and convivial way to work on public speaking and leadership skills. I am the VP Public Relations of our Orbiters Club in Mountain View which is another way to do some marketing in addition of my job responsibilities (feel free to stop by for a visit or refer friends or colleagues to me, I promise it's worth it). A fun activity but, nevertheless, this adds some additional workload and healthy stress and another excuse getting in the way of blogging. With additional social events such as our summer picnic last weekend.
Surfing. No, fortunately, I did not take on surfing on top of all the above stuff! Just a paragraph to indicate that I did some web surfing (or browsing) to look at the results of a few important ultra events which happened this month: Headlands 50 and 100 miles, Where is Waldo 100K, Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, Cascade Crest 100 miles. CC is still going on as I write this post and UTMB just got the first runners back into Chamonix. The three overall winners for these events are Nathan Yanko, 27 years old, Erik Skaggs, 27 and Kilian Jornet, 21 (for his second UTMB win!). Sounds and seems like the youngsters are taking over the ultra competition, worldwide!

The conclusion of this post is that, to make a long story short, I'd rather maintain the weekly pace to have less to keep up with! Hope to meet you online next week then...

And now for the quiz: how many words starting with 's' in this blog? Hint: quite a few! Answer: in the next post! ;-)

PS: I found the image at the top of this page in Multitasked: Victim of Freak Circumstance.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Way to go (and run) Cupertino!

A quick post to tell you that I am very impressed with my fellow Cupertinians, at least some of them exercising. This Saturday morning, I went to Rancho San Antonio with Max and Alex. Max and Alex were joining their Cupertino High School cross-country teammates as part of the pre-season summer conditioning led by their coach, Paul Armstrong (Happy Birthday, Coach!). The team should be strong this year with the arrival of quite a few Freshmen, especially on the girls side (yes, Fresh(wo)men...). First competitions in September, last year in high school for Max, stay tuned!

While I was running on the PG&E loop, starting at 7 am, I was amazed by the number of people on the trail and not just near the parking lots and the farm, but all the way up to the top of the PG&E trail, this despite the early hour. The parking lots are full as early as 6:45 am on Saturdays! Most of the people I saw initially was walkers with more runners showing up around 8 am. I passed and crossed probably more than 100 persons on the trail, more than what I see on bank holidays. I did not do a formal census but I would say that 70 to 80% had Indian origins (not the Native Indian, I did not see any Tarahumara this weekend, or I missed them!), 10% from the rest of Asia, less than 10% Caucasian and 2% African-American. Of course, this reflects the fact that the majority of Cupertino originates from Asia, yet there are still more than 40% Caucasian in the Cupertino population according to the latest census. Maybe they exercise at home or at fitness clubs, not leveraging the amazing outdoors opportunities available around!
Here is for the good news, more people exercising. Now, and this is not specially related to Cupertino, here is one bad news, on the cover of Time magazine this week: Why Exercise Won't Make You Thin. The common belief is that we spend a lot of energy by exercising, which we need to compensate for by eating more (The Compensation Problem). Eating more, or eating food richer in sugar. It is interesting to note for instance that eating slow carb like pasta may make you hungry faster because of the short term drop in your blood sugar. Look at this photo story to see how our appetite is so sensitive to external factors such as time of day, sight, smell, type of carbs, food variety, ...

With that, all from Cupertino and elsewhere, exercise and... eat wisely!
PS: first picture is at the start of Cupertino's annual Big Bunny Fun Run 5K (April 2006)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Skyline 50K: version 3 of 28

I had very high expectations for this race. In 2007, I finished third behind Steve Stowers and Rich Boulet, with the 7th fastest time since 1991, times which included super fast performances and course records from the ultra legend Tom Johnson (Jon Olsen has run a 3:44 since then, in 2008). So it was my fastest 50K back then and I enjoyed reading again my enthusiastic race report (the benefit of blogging, to keep memories).

Last year was a completely different story. Still high expectations (I love the course and it is a very runnable one) despite some issues with my quads, more precisely the vastus medialis, after running in the Alps with Scott Jurek. To prevent further damage, I had striped my leg with a non-elastic bandage and managed to strangle the muscle, creating an injury which would take three weeks to heal. On 1.5 legs (could barely walk downhill) I still managed to finish in 4:17. And promised myself to come back, learning from my lesson.
This year I was pretty confident I could improve my Personal Best on this course. When Chikara Omine and Victor Ballesteros, I knew I was not going for a win, but thought some competition would even help us getting faster. I led the first two miles and thought Chikara was being quite conservative by staying behind me as we were crusing around 6:40 minute/mile on the South ridge of Lake Chabot. At the end of the Lake, we had lost the rest of the pack and were down to three runners: Chikara, myself and a runner whom I had never seen before, Joe Binder. (As I found out at the finish, Joe, 25, had just moved to Berkeley 2 weeks ago from Wisconsin.)
I was carrying two bottles (water and GU2O) so I did not stop at aid stations which helped me keeping up with Chikara and Joe. Joe actually took the lead on our way up the Bort Meadow aid station. I reclaimed it at Big Bear, then Chikara passed me in the steep uphill to the ridge; yet I was still keeping him in sight until the Skyline Gate aid station. There, I had planned on just grabbing a new GU2O bottle but Agnès forgot to prepare it. She told me later she was not expecting me so fast and so close behind Chikara (1:39 for 13.7 miles). I left the station with a very diluted mixture, taking more salt down on the French trail to compensate. With some cramps in my calves I had to slow down, but I still thought I could beat my PR and kept pushing the pace whenever I could.
Back at Big Bear, a volunteer told me Chikara was just 5 minutes ahead which I found optimistic. Then, a few miles later, just before Bort Meadow, I was surprised to see Joe coming back on me when I was expecting Victor. We left the aid station together and Joe proposed to join forces to catch Chikara. I passed on the offer, responding that I was unable to anyway and I lost sight of Joe within the next mile. I passed through the last aid station, Honker Bay, right on 3:30. With 3 miles to go that was leaving me with running 3 miles under 6 minutes/mile which I was incapable of at the end of this run and with stomach cramps. I looked behind several times to see if Victor was catching up and passed the finish line in 3rd position, in 3:54:20. Chikara had won in 3:40, setting a new course record for Men 20-29. Joe placed 2nd in 3:47, which was good for an age group course record if Chikara did not break it a few minutes earlier... Amazing performance from both of them, they have a few years in front of them to work on Tom Johnson's course record... Victor came in three minutes behind me, fresh as if he was ready to go for a training run.
Overall, this is a faster course than Way Too Cool despite a higher cumulative elevation (4,740 feet instead of 3,600 feet for WTC), but more fire roads, fewer single track trails. When you look at the map, it is hard to imagine a more optimized coverage of the two Regional Parks on the Oakland Hills: Anthony Chabot and Redwood (the course is the blue line in the green area, click on the image to enlarge):
There are quite a few ups and downs, forcing you to always change gear:
And, for the ones owning a GPS but did not record the course this weekend, here is the GPX trace in Google Earth.
Perfect organization by the Rays, Jennifer and Adam, and all the volunteers they have recruited again this year. I big THANK YOU to all! And I must apologize for the aid station volunteers as I barely took advantage of their supplies... With one Vespa before the start, three GUs which I carried with me, and one piece of banana at Skyline Gate while Agnès was working on the refill of my bottle, I experienced more frugality than usual this Sunday. Probably on the edge but my body keeps learning to be more efficient, and get more energy from body fat, as discussed in Born To Run (see my recent book review).

The marking was original with abundant bi-color bouquets of ribbons (red/white on the way out and blue/white on the way back). The only glitch though was that the markings were abundant after the turns, not before, so it was possible to miss them. A misadventure which happened to my teammate Adam (Blum) who got lost and dropped after wandering for a few miles in Redwood Park.
About 40 people signed-up in the morning, joining 100 pre-registered participants for quite a size able field. The weather was similar to previous years: chilly at the start, overcast for most of the morning, misty cloud at Skyline Gate and some sun at the finish for the post-race BBQ.

Agnès followed us diligently, from the start to Bort Meadow, Big Bear, Skyline Gate, back to Big Bear, Bort Meadow and the finish line. Seven stops to crew on a fast 50K, she was as tired as me after the race. Almost... With such a hectic logistic, she could not take that many pictures so the photo album is small this time.

Hope to be back next year, really a great race in the Bay Area!

PS: the results and splits are not published yet but will be available on the race website very soon (Jennifer was crunching the numbers this Monday).

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Tour du Mont Blanc: unfinished business

Two years ago, I had a blast on the course of the UTMB, the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, a 100-mile race held at the end of August since 2003. I did not actually run the race but joined the Lafuma team led by Karine Herry as they were training on the course a month prio to their race. The manager of the team, Bruno Tomozyk, had planned for us 4 stages but we were forced to shorten the first one as we got caught into a bad storm near St Gervais. We ended up covering the entire course in 5 stages over 4 days.
Last year, I could spend only two days in the Alps and was already glad to join them again for one day, and with Scott Jurek this time, in their first training stage, from Chamonix to the Col du Bonhomme. With Scott getting familiar with his new use of poles:
This year, we planned our family Tour de France with one week in Chamonix so I was looking forward to getting back on the UTMB course again (for those who missed the previous episodes on the blog, our tour led us through Normandie, Vendée, Massif Central, plus London and Salamanca for the rest of the family). My goal was to cover the whole course in two stages this time. Chamonix-Courmayeur via the Col (pass) du Bonhomme, and Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix.

With the well-known adage that a picture is worth a thousand words, and the fact that I ran solo and it was just training, my report will be short and I invite you to look at the two photo albums I posted on Picasa:
  1. Chamonix-Courmayeur (128 pictures)
  2. Courmayeur-Champex-Col de la Forclaz (237 pics)
Stage 1

On Wednesday July 22, I left the appartment at 7am and enjoyed the quiet road going through Les Gaillands and Les Houches. At the Col de Voza, I actually took the GR5 (Chemin de Grande Randonnée #5), going down to Les Contamines-Montjoie through Le Champel and by-passing St Gervais. I reached La Croix du Bonhomme in 5:02 (mile 23), under a light rain. Close to Les Chapieux, I heard an helicopter, saw spectators along the road and thought the Tour de France was ready to pass by. But I had to wait for 30 minutes before seeing the competitors so, when it was time to resume my run, I was too cold and too late to stop at L'Auberge de la Nova, the restaurant in Les Chapieux. I refilled my only bottle left (I discovered on my way up to La Balme that I had lost my other bottle out of my waist belt holder). By La Ville des Glaciers I was out of water and could not find a source. Fortunately I had bought a bottle of Coke at Les Contamines, but was really short of fluids once I got to the Refuge Elisabetta, on the other side of the Col de la Seigne. Despite that, I was pushing the pace, worried that I would not make it to Courmayeur in time to catch the last bus for Chamonix. The hike up to Col Chécroui was hard, as well as the sprint down into the Courmayeur Valley but I arrived at the bus station with 20 minutes to spare, phew! I was actually the only passenger on the bus and the driver was amazed by what I had run today (46 miles). Here is a view of the cloudy soup over Courmayeur (from Col Chécroui):Stage 2

The next day (Thursday), the meteo was supposed to be bad, such as all the lifts were closed in Chamonix. Actually, the thunderstorms only hit the valley at the end of the afternoon, bringing a lot of rain and some snow on the peaks. Therefore, I waited for Friday for attempting the second stage. We left the appartment around 6:15 am and Agnès dropped me in Courmayeur where I hit the trail at 6:50. It took me just one hour to reach Le Refuge Bertone, where I stopped for a few pictures of the amazing views of the Italian side of Mont Blanc. Actually, the weather was so nice that I kept stopping for pictures all along the beautiful Val Ferret. Make sure to check the photo album out. I was moving reasonably fast and feeling well, reaching the pass, Le Grand Col Ferret, in 4 hours and 5 minutes. On the way down on the Swiss side, I thought I'd recharge my batteries at the farm of La Peule (or La Peula), ordering a cheese omelette, their specialty. It was really good, and very very cheesy, but quite a bad idea just 26 kilometers in a run. The next 10 kilometers were down and I was unable to run, my stomach getting quite upset as it was working hard on processing the melted cheese... Knowing that drinking cold water over melted cheese is actually pretty bad from a digestive standpoint, I drank less and started getting dehydrated too. I was also unable to take on any additional sugar and it was not long before my legs felt heavy and stopped cooperating for the remianing hard climbs such as the hike up to Champex then Bovine. I called Agnès from Champex to arrange for a pick-up at Trient or Vallorcine. I was so slow going up to Bovine that I got caught into a rain storm and called it a day at Le Col de la Forclaz, after 39 miles, missing the last 30 km (19 miles) of the course.

Lesson learnt: no fondue, no cheese omelette, no raclette, no croûte au fromage, while running...! Should not be too hard to remember, ok? Here I am with the killer omelette, before realizing it was a bad idea...
Anyway, that's still two ultras and quite some ground covered in two days. For the ones not familiar with the Tour du Mont Blanc, the trail is usually covered in 7 to 9 days by hikers. Granted, which much larger and heavier backpacks. Actually, you can even hire mules for the week, but this is not getting you much faster.
Unfinished business then, and one more reason to come back to Chamonix!

If you ever have the chance to visit this amazing region of the Alps, near the highest point in Europe, the trail is very well marked but make sure to get a map as there are several variations. And remember, this is mountaineering so be prepared for a quick changing weather. With that, all the best to the 2,300 participants of the 7th edition of UTMB on August 28th!