Sunday, September 27, 2009

Trailblazer 10K: a disclaimer

I love this race. So much that I tried something really new this weekend: two races back to back, and not small stuff. Yesterday, I ran the SNER double trail marathon (follow the link to my race report) and incidentally placed 2nd overall and first Masters. 52 miles, 5,300 feet of cumulative vertical climb (and downhills), temperatures up to 104F, 5,000 calories spent according to SportTracks and my Garmin GPS, enough for everybody to say that I was really crazy to toe the line of the 10K this morning.

But, again, I love this race and I had promised Aaron back in June (my Stevens Creek ultra marathon for the dedication of the two bridges) and July (the grand opening of Blackberry Farm), that I would run this year's edition, before knowing that the double marathon would make the calendar of the ultra Grand Prix which I'm competing in (Pacific Association USA Track & Field).

Thankfully, I got an extreme massage from the Monsters of Massage after yesterday's race, which got rid of most of the toxines I accumulated during the 8-hour run. Certainly I could not have done today's race without it, in addition to hard and consistent training.
I ran Trailblazer in 2002, 2003 (overall win, with an Xbox which the boys still enjoy, another reason for me to like the race and the Microsoft sponsorhip!), 2006 and 2007. I missed the other years either because of race conflicts or business travels.

Back to the race, it turned out to the usual and annual great Stevens Creek Trail party. Perfect weather (on the hot side), great turn around (good for the fund raising purpose), great volunteers all over the place, great course marking, and great course of course since we use the... Stevens Creek Trail!

I'm not going for a long race report as I only ran 6 miles today... There were familiar faces at the start, although it has been a while since I saw them as I mostly focus on ultra trail now (see some of my race results on Ultrasignup). Just before the start I mentioned to Aaron that I saw a local Kenyan whom I met at the 2007 Human Race and was surprised not to see him as we were getting ready to go. Aaron replied that he was on the 5K which surprised me. Sure enough he passed me in the first half mile after missing the start while switching distances and getting a new bib. I settled in 4th position running the first 2 miles at 5:53 minute/mile pace, not too bad given the circumstances. By mile three however, I felt a shortness of breath as my lungs had not recovered yet from all the dryness and the dust ingested during yesterday's run. I slew down at 6:04 min/mile pace and got passed by the eventual Masters winner who finished 50 yards before me. I crossed the finish line in 37:44, far from the 33:57 PR I set on that same course two years ago, chasing Jose Pina Sr (who finished 2nd overall today).
With such a short distance, the longest was the award ceremony which, eventually did not even occurred for the 10K as the computer got confused with some people changing distances at the last minute. In the meantime, there were numerous prizes and books to win from the drawing to celebrate the Stevens Creek Trail with this joyful running party.

See you next year, calendar permitting! And here are a few pictures in the meantime...

A busy registration desk this morning, with runners entering until the last minute. Great turn around!

My friend and speed work running buddy, Bob, before the start but after a 5-mile warm-up. Bob's goal today was to use the race as a tempo run before the upcoming San Jose Rock and Roll half marathon of next weekend.
And after the additional 6.2 miles:
Today's 10K winner with his son who ran in the kids fun run:

Some shots of the furious kids' mile "fun run." There are already many promising runners in the next generation!Behind the stage (for the "marathon" prze drawing and award ceremony ;-):

SNER Double-Marathon: a slow year?

SNER stands for the Sierra Nevada Endurance Runs and marks a special weekend of September on the ridge of the American River. The tradition was set by Norm Klein, the former race director of Western States and husband of ultra legend Helen Klein. Time passing, Norm transfered the baton to Julie Fingar and Greg Soderlund, who already co-direct Way Too Cool 50K and American River 50M.

For various reasons, SNER was not hosting the Rio Del Lago 100-mile which I ran last year. But there were still four trail distances to chose from: 12K, marathon, double marathon and 100K, with the double marathon being one of the races of the Pacific Association USA Track & Field ultra grand prix which I am competing in.

Unlike the rest of my Rhomobile-Quicksilver teammates who came to Granite Bay on Friday afternoon or evening, I car pooled with Scott Dunlap on Saturday morning, a great way to catch up with him since we met at Western Sates. I woke up at 2 am and met him at 3 which was really early. It turned out that we did not plan very well because we arrived in Granite Bay at 5 am for a race starting at 6:30. With my hectic workload these past weeks and sleep deprivation, I would surely have enjoyed an extra hour in bed. Instead, we enjoyed a second breakfast at Mel's...
Open 24 by 7, a concept I still have hard time to understand from an economical standpoint, even after 11 years in the US, but which comes handy from time to time.
With 4 races for this event, I thought the turnaround was relatively low. Julie gave a briefing to the crowd gathered in the gymnasium and I admit I missed some instructions as I was concentrating on my last minute preparation (water and Gu2 bottles, gels, S!Caps, timing chip, ...). Julie warned us about the expected high temperatures.

Here is Jimmy Freeman (center) who placed 3rd at Rio Del Lago last year. Today he was crewing for his sister (12K) and the first ultra of one of his friends.
I did not run with a camera and you will have to visit Scott's or other blogs to see pictures of the race. Chikara (Omine) quickly took the lead and left us in the dust. I tried to stay in sight of Mark Lantz whom I past very shortly as he made a quick stop to refill a bottle at the first aid station, Twin Rocks. We stayed together for a while: he led until Rattle Snake (mile 11.4) and I took the lead afterwards. We were then averaging 7:55 minutes/mile. I ran several sections up the terrible Cardiac hill (800 vertical feet over 1 rocky mile) and put a few hundreds yards between the two of us.

Reaching the Maidu aid station (mile 20.7), I asked the volunteer how far Chikara was ahead and she replied: "You are the first to come through!" That was strange Chikara had evaporated like that. Leaving Maidu I turned to see Mark coming in and thought it would not be long before he catches me as our average pace had fallen to 8:28 after Cardiac.

There are only 1.5 miles between Maidu and Auburn Dam Overlook so I did not stop at this aid station before the 4 miles down to the rive. I should have though because the heat at started to hit and I reached the turn around with an empty water bottle. I was the first one at the station, having completed the first marathon in 3:33. Stopped for a minute or so before Tim Twietmeyer urged me to leave, not before making a comment of all the salt I had lost and visible on my short. It felt god to see the Western States legend and be back on this section of the course where I had a great finish last June.

After running over No Hands Bridge for the second time I starting crossing all the other runners. And the first was actually... Chikara, who had gotten lost (8 minutes of course) and was pushing hard to make up the time. Saw Pierre-Yves (about 20' behind me), Scott (who stopped to take a picture...), Sean, Andy, but no sign of Mark. Chikara passed me on the way up to the overlook and, as I started walking the uphills, I was surprised to learn that I was only 3 minutes behind him at the top. Along the nice canal, my favorite section of the trail, before and after Maidu, I was amused at the lead times given by most of the runners I crossed, varying from 3 to 12 minutes between Chikara and I. Quite an elastic lead... I should note that I also received numerous and very nice words of encouragement which I tried to return when I could catch my breath. The last runner I crossed was at the bottom of Cardiac (mile 18 for him, 32 for me) and he gave me a nice "congratulations!" Not quite over yet with 18 miles to go.

From that point, I could not run the up hills anymore, with some cramps in the quads and dehydration. Last year, I actually had prepared better and ran this section with larger bottle. My water bottle was empty when I reached Power Plant, then again at each subsequent aid stations, which was not a good sign. At each station, I was given an update on Chikara's lead, around 10 minutes consistently, so I knew he was struggling like me. But no indication on who was behind so that kept me moving, while looking behind from time to time.

At mile 35, a scary thing happened to me. I heard a loud whistle just behind me and, sure enough, it was a rattle snake on the side on the trail. I had just passed him as he was 3 feet from the trail, the head off the ground ready to jump. Phew, first time this happens to me in a race...

The 6-mile stretch between Rattle Snake (how appropriate...) Bar and Horseshoe Bar was long and painful. I reach both aid stations with my lips hurting from the dehydration, and was glad to hear there were 3.7 miles to the finish. 3.5, 3.2, 3! 2.6 (1/20th of today's run), 2.3, 2! You could think that 2 miles is nothing when you do an ultra but these last ones are tough when they keep going up and down like a roller-coaster, not to mention your tank is empty. At each aid station there were signs with motivational quotes, some stations with 3 or 4 of them which was overwhelming when you are too tired to fix things. But, at this point of the race, the one which kept coming back in my head was the one I had read on the way back to the Dam Overlook, reading: "It's not over until it's over. And it's not over!" How true especially in ultras...

I passed the line in second position, in 8:17:40 which I felt was a miserable time compared to last year's winning time of Mark Lantz. Now, here is the scoop and the rationale of the title of this post (A slow year?). All day I was thinking that Mark had run the course last year in 7:05. Which is twice the time it had taken me to run the first marathon this morning. I was really impressed, as I am of all Mark's performances, because this year's heat was even not an excuse: I know for having run Rio Del Lago that it was hot too last year (although we might have started 30 minutes earlier last year). I ran the second half feeling ashamed for being so far behind this pace. Now, writing these lines, I double-checked the 2008 results to find out that it was actually 7:59:08. Still a remarkable time, under 8 hours, but not quite the same side of the hour.
When I entered the gymnasium, I found a Chikara whom I never saw like that, as tired as I was. Little did I know that he finished less than 2 minutes ahead of me, bunking badly after the last aid station and losing 8 minutes of his 10-minute lead in 3 miles. It was particularly embarrassing to see Lia Farley crossing the finish line less than 4 minutes after me, looking fresh as she had not run yet today! Ultra elite Bev Anderson-Abbs had won the woman division last year in 8:40 (taking second overall), making Lia's time of 8:21 really impressive this year. Note that Lia had placed 2nd at the same event last year, only 7 minutes behind Bev. So, overall, that was not such a slow year...

It took 30 minutes for Chikara's usual smile to come back:
Scott welcomed me at the school with a funny: "the only way I could beat you was for me to drop at the turnaround!" He got a ride back with other marathoners and had already showered. As the heat was increasing and peaking at 104F early afternoon, the list of drops kept growing. I had spent 20 miles power walking the hills, limiting the time at the aid stations to a minimum, battling against the slowing average pace, thinking Pierre-Yves and Scott were just around the corner ready to catch me, to find out that Scott dropped after falling (he is ok but he preferred securing his next marathon goal, in 6 weeks), and Pierre-Yves finished in 10:32, taking 2nd in Masters and 7th overall. With Sean placing 4th overall, that makes a good performance for our team and should consolidate our pole position. See the 2009 SNER Double-marathon results for more details on the 29 finishers (versus 24 last year). Here is Sean, who lost 30' getting off course after Auburn, and Scott:
It is not the most popular event in the area but I thank Norm for setting this September tradition and Julie and Greg for taking it forward. I am thankful to all the volunteers: with the heat, we could not have done it without their care, encouragements, the food, all the fluids they carried to remote places on the course, the sponges and water buckets, and the ice! And what a difference with Western States were there are three times as many volunteers as participants. Must have been the opposite this Saturday.

Thank you also to the race sponsors: Moeben, Bank Card USA, Montrail, Ultrasignup, Barbara's Bakery, Fleet Feet, Facchino Photography, and Monsters of Massage. And Brooks for the nice tshirts. I already highlighted the Monsters of Massage in previous posts (Way Too Cool race reports in particular), but I have an even bigger story to illustrate how amazing Ve Loyce's team is. Before learning that this double-marathon was selected in August for the ultra Grand Prix calendar, I had promised Aaron to run his Trailblazer 10K race to support a dear cause of the development of the Stevens Creek Trail. And when I say something... Since the 10K was on a Sunday, I figured out I would do both. See my upcoming post for the rest of the story then and see for yourself what Ve Loyce's massage achieved...

A first: double massage for a double marathon!
The friendly and super efficient Monsters of Massage: Ve Loyce, Debbie, Jeffrey (missing: Ve Loyce's wife who doesn't appreciate heat waves):
See you next year!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Quicksilver Half-Marathon: short, fast, but...

If you follow my blog and read last week's post, you know what I was after today: getting close to 1hr30. I ran the course twice last Sunday in 1:41 each time, thinking the course record was around 1:30. However, when I was working on my blog later that day, I found on the website a 1:26:00 in the 2002 results which I found amazing for that course. This morning, on the starting line, teammate Sean Lang told me that the course had actually changed two years ago, so the course record was indeed around 1:30-1:31.

It was interesting to see so many new faces this morning: few ultra runners and more a population you see at road races (Agnès caught almost all of us in the first up hill, see my Picasa album). I'm glad our Quicksilver club organizes this event to get people acquainted with trail running and provide this opportunity to visit such a park, so close to San Jose, yet so unknown (as I could again confirm at a dinner last night with people who have been for 20 years in the Bay Area but did not know about this historical place from the mid-1800s). By the way, if you want to preview this park, you will find several photo albums connected to a few articles I posted about various of my runs at Quicksilver. From the comfort of your web browser!Race Director, Adam Blum, gave us some instructions before shouting the start promptly at 8 am. Adam is also a teammate in our RhoQuick ultra-running team (team from our Quicksilver running club and sponsored by Rhomobile, where Adam is the CEO and Founder), along with Jim, Andy and Pierre-Yves who were volunteering this morning, and Sean and John who were running the race today. Sean lined up on the 10K because he had to get to work at 9:30. He immediately took the lead in the first steep hill (the first mile is all up hill), followed by Trevor Hunter. I settled in fourth, already amazed of the sub-8 (min/mile) initial pace. (Last week I was running that section around 9:45 min/mile... but there is nothing better than some competition to push, right? Not to mention I was running a marathon last week.) I actually moved into 3rd before the first aid station then caught up with Sean just as we reached the 10K/half course split at the end of Great Eastern Trail.
I wished Sean good luck on the 10K then got on April Trail. I had already lost sight of Trevor.
I was averaging around 8 min/mile pace when passing Bull Run and got the pace around 7, flying down Mine Hill and Providencia Trails (I love the sign which asks cyclists to slow down, but not runners!). I pushed as much as possible in the next 4 rolling miles of Randoll Trail, passed the 10-mile mark right on 7 minutes/mile pace, and was astonished when someone posted at the Mine Hill Trail turn told me I was lagging 3 minutes and 10 seconds behind Trevor. Yet, I was on a pace of breaking the course record and even getting under 1:30! I finished in 1:29:18 but taking second to Trevor who had just set a 1:26 CR! Like Karl Meltzer breaking the Wasatch 100-mile CR yesterday but only finishing 2nd to Geoff Roes who had just improved the CR by 1 hour and 5 minutes at 18:30 that same day! (It was Karl's 4th 100-miler this year and he won the first three!).I am definitely happy with my time on this course, and even more impressed by Trevor's performance. After the finish I learned that Trevor turned 40 this year (I don't even have the Masters excuse for coming second...), just flew in yesterday from London where he lives, is visiting for one week (work) and happy to win the pair of shoes that Christine offered to the overall winners (she is the owner of Athletic Performance, thank you Christine!). Trevor is with the Handy Cross Runners club, and a 1:12 half-marathoner (versus a 1:15:04 for me at 42) and 2:36 marathoner (versus my 2:37:46 in Chicago at 39). Great competition and "rabbit", he definitely helped me pushing hard today!Adam awarded me a nice "(quick)silver" medal and arm warmers for the M40-49 age group (Trevor already having his prize), sleeves also given by Atheltic Performance (see their website or this post). It was my shortest race this year, after the Napa Marathon and 9 50K to 100-mile ultras. And I like speed... So much that I registered for the Trailblazer 10K at the end of the month, despite running the Sierra Nevada Run (double trail marathon, 52-miles) the day before. I invite you to join us on Sunday September 27th to support the Stevens Creek Trail. Pre-registration closes this Monday.

A lot of running in two weeks then. Take care and Run Happy in the meantime!

PS: again, more pictures, mostly from Agnès, in my Picasa album (I believe she caught most of this morning runners in the first hill!).

Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor(ious) Day weekend: 4 stories, 1 post

As the kids get older, as Agnès teaches in high school this year, as I settle into IBM, long weekends are welcome to... work and catch up with our to do lists, barely taking a break. Not the typical American Labor Day weekend which usually means camping or barbecue parties! Oh well, another time...

There are four running-related storied I want to share with you tonight but I don't have time to do four posts. And you don't have time to read four posts anyway, right? Here they are:
  1. Last week's Stevens Creek Striders' Clambake
  2. More speed at Rancho
  3. Erik Skaggs' kidney failure after Where's Waldo 100K
  4. My Quicksilver double half marathon
And they make for a long post...

1. Last week's Stevens Creek Striders' Clambake

This is a summer tradition for our Stevens Creek Striders club. The event consists in a run from Saratoga Gap to the Ocean, followed by a picnic, a potluck format with the club providing clam chowder. I had too much work last weekend to go to the beach (and get Agnès to pick me up there), so I joined the group at 7 am for the start from Saratoga Gap, ran the first 7 miles of the beautiful Skyline To The Sea trail and 7 miles back to Skyline. We were 13 at the start, plus a few volunteers manning the mobile aid station. Some runners actually stop at Big Basin, when others joined to run the second and final Big Basin to the Beach section. Nice sunrise on the way to Saratoga Gap (Highway 9):
I posted a few pictures in Picasa, although, for once, I thought my camera was not very cooperative. It was a beautiful day, after a very hot day in the Bay on Saturday, and the light (not enough or too much) tricked my camera (and me too!). Anyway, here they are, at least they will help remembering who was at the start of the Clambake 2009 in a few years.
Also remember that Peter certainly did lead the group for a mile this year!
Michael has also posted a few pictures in his Facebook album. If you want more details on the format of the run, you can read my report from 2007.

2. More speed at Rancho

No, I did not get a speed ticket at Rancho this Saturday. If you read my previous post, you know that I was able to turn some stress at work into positive energy in speed work sessions, with my second fastest mile ever. This Saturday, I was back at Rancho again, driving with Max who met with his Cupertino High School cross-country team. They are training hard, preparing for their first meet this coming Thursday at Lynbrook.

I did my Rogue/PG&E loop (counter clockwise tour of the park) and started hard. On the way up, I stopped to talk to Patrick who was on his way back. I met Patrick two years ago at Wiskeytown 50K and Patrick told me he just moved in Sunnyvale so we should see him more often. At the top of Rogue, I stopped again, this time to chat with Mr. Stevens (the husband of Mrs. Stevens who had Greg for one year at Garden Gate Elementary School).

I was still feeling good and pushed all the way up, then flew down on (or over?!) the PG&E trail. At some point in the steepest downhills my GPS indicated 4:15 min/mile; I think I scared some of the hikers going that fast, and even myself! Bottom line I completed the loop in 1:03:38, which is my PR on this course (I'll take it as a PR although I stopped the watch when socializing with Patrick and Mr. Stevens for a minute or so). From time to time during this run I was wondering how I would do if there was a race organized at Rancho but, fortunately, I don't need a run to be an official race to push the pace! Yet, I'd like to see someone going under 1 hour, this is certainly doable (well, not me, but someone younger and faster!).

3. Erik Skaggs' kidney failure

I got the news last weekend in an email from a local runner, a very bad news and one big lesson to learn. 2 weeks ago, Erik won the USA Track&Field 100K trail championship in Oregon (Where is Waldo). He was not feeling well for the next two days and his boss figured out Erik had an issue with his kidneys. That was confirmed by the hospital which kept him for 5 days. If you don't know Erik, you may remember my post on his win at the Quad Dipsea last November. Here is a great shot from Agnès, right in the action!
Here am I with him after the finish:
The good news is that, after 2 weeks, Erik is getting better and his kidneys showing good signs of recovery. Phew! You can read health updates on the Rogue Valley Runners blog.

The not so good news is that Erik will incur huge hospital bills (I've heard around $30K), and has no insurance coverage except for $9K though his USA T&F membership.

And the lesson to learn? Not relying on Ibuprofen in ultras. Cobining anti-inflammatory and dehydratation is the best recipe to shut the kidneys down... My doctor had told be that a few years ago and I never used anti-inflammatory medicine during or close to a race. Besides, I find border line to use such medication in competition (like I feel guilty when I need to use my inhaler when I get asthma). Anyway, seeing what happened to Erik, you have been warned!

To help addressing Erik's critical situation, an Erik Skaggs Medical Fund has been set up by his friends at Umpqua Bank, 250 Pioneer St., Ashland OR 97520 (make sure to write "Erik Skaggs Medical Fund" on the envelope). A check is on its way from Cupertino; thank you if you can consider helping Erik too!

4. My Quicklsilver double half marathon

This is a weird concept, isn't it? Yes, I ran a marathon this Monday morning, on Labor Day. I actually ran two half marathons, twice the course of next weekend's race, the Quicksilver Challenge Half Marathon. After a few training runs there, and my great experience of the Quicksilver 50 miles in May, I am more familiar with the trail system of this large park in South San Jose, but I wanted to check the course to be sure of what to expect next Sunday.

Adam Blum is the race director and we made a deal back in May: he came to run part of my training run at Quicksilver during my Western States Memorial Day training weekend but made me promise to run his race in return. Deal, I'm in!

I studied the online map carefully last night and, stopping at each intersection today, was able to complete the convoluted loop (8 shape) without any mistake. I was back to the Hacienda entrance/parking lot after 1:41 of running. I had pushed reasonably hard although I was still feeling some soreness from my Rancho PR and my goal was to complete two loops this morning, and was therefore keeping some energy for the second round.

In the parking lot I met Troy again (I had seen him and one of his friends earlier on the trail), who advertised his Californian trail race series.
I couldn't find any water at the parking lot, nor on the course, so I left the parking lot with both my bottles half filled, which turned out to be a bit short with the rising temperature. I completed the second lap in exactly the same time, although I found the second climb up to English Camp to be much tougher than the first time, as I was getting dehydrated (and tired maybe?). Overall, I clocked 3:22:46 for the full marathon, not too bad given the hilly terrain (4,300 ft of cumulative elevation). Yet, it is going to be another story to match the best times ran on this course since 2000... I thought the course record was just over 1:30 but I now see that Martin Mumenthaler clocked an amazing 1:26:00 in 2002. This goal is going to be a stretch...

This is really a nice event if you want to give a try to trail running. First, you can pick a shorter distance (10K or 6.1 miles). Second, the views over the Bay are gorgeous. Third, if you are used to the crowded road events, you will be surprised about the friendliness and camaraderie of a much smaller group. With that, I hope you can join us; please check the Quicksilver Running Club website out! (If some links don't work in Firefox, they should work with Internet Explorer.) You can even register on race day.

Talk to you in a week then, about the official Quicksilver "single" half-marathon.

PS: oh, by the way, did you guess the number of words starting with an s in my previous post? I did a quick check tonight and, back to the title, that was laborious... I found 206! Granted, with some repeats, including a few "so", but... still... ;-)