Saturday, February 27, 2010

Pescadero Creek: great wet training

5:26 am: beep beep beep... Waking up so early on a Saturday after a week were all my nights have been below 6 hours and one under 5? Better be a good training opportunity as this is not race weekend! A good opportunity as Mike Topper knows to set them up in the Peninsula. The big question was going to be about the weather and the trail conditions. Actually, today, I was not supposed to run but to join REI Fremont and the East Bay Trail Dogs for a day of trail maintenance at Las Trampas Park. Greg was going to join me for this volunteering event but the operation was canceled on Thursday night due to bad weather forecast. And, sure enough, we got a lot of rain on Friday and gusty winds too.

Pierre-Yves picked me at De Anza and 280 so we could car pool to the trail head on the other side of Skyline Boulevard. We arrived at the trail head in Pescadoro Creek County Park with Chris and were soon after joined by Charles, Gary, Holly, Mike, Paul and Janet. It was drizzling and we left the parking lot by 7:20. Here we are, from right to left: Paul, Mike, Gary, Charles, Pierre-Yves, Chris, Janet, Holly and I.
Many branches on the trail were slowing our progression but the real obstacle was the deep and raging Pescadero Creek itself which we had to cross. We had a slow start, covering 3 miles in the first hour... After many hesitations, we decided to cross the current with Gary and Pierre-Yves going first. Pierre-Yves actually felt in a hole and got a full plunge in the cold water. Fortunately, he was not carrying a camera as Gary and I were! Except for the chilly temperature of the water, that reminded me my Coastal Challenge adventure in Costa Rica...

We got quite lucky with the weather as the rain resumed around noon. Pierre-Yves had to get back to Cupertino by 1pm and I was not feeling well (gastric issue), so we left Gary, Mike, Paul and Charles, and took a short cut to the parking lot to make our run 20.6 miles (the total run was supposed to be 29 miles this morning). On our way back we passed Chris who was walking back to the trail head, in pain after a bad fall last weekend. Gary reported later that they got caught into a rain storm for the last 6 miles of their run.

Overall, an amazing Park with great views, wonderful redwood groves, creeks, luxurious vegetation. We did not see the 2 mountain lions who annoyed two hikers recently in the area, but I spotted a coyote on our way back on Alpine Road. At some point, the trail was so swamped that we were expecting to see aligators! As far of trail names I thought Pomponio Trail was cute and original. And, as the Brooks Official as Mike called me, I of course like the Brook and Brook Loop Trail. Here we are with our Cascadias 3 and 4s (from right to left: Mike, Paul, Charles and I):

Thank you Mike for this opportunity to discover new trails; yet another reason for feeling so blessed to live in the area!

See a few (~100!) pictures in my Picasa album.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Quicksilver RhoQuick team: scoring and recruiting!

As I mentioned at the end of my Jed Smith race report, still catching up with past events. This post is about two of them: the PA USATF Long Distance Running award ceremony and a "recruitment run" with Bree Lambert three weeks ago. This is a long report, in three acts/sections.

1. RhoQuick team takes first place in 2009 Ultra Grand Prix!

The Silicon Valley is a dynamic and quite competitive place where people like to win and, like in the US in general but as opposed to France for instance, where success is popular and well regarded. So what do you expect when a CEO and entrepreneur like Adam Blum sponsors and forms a team in the South Bay: we win! This brings an interesting paradox actually. Although we, ultra runners, require a lot of support from our family, friends and volunteers to race, this is an individual sport by essence. We run for our pleasure, even if it sometimes comes though pain, to achieve our own goals. However, the individualistic aspect of the sport is balanced by an amazing camaraderie, simplicity and moderate competition thanks to the limited publicity and prize money.

This is where the USA Track & Field Pacific Association comes to play. By managing a yearly Grand Prix, PA USATF brings some excitement throughout the year, proposing to score points in 18 races (see the 2010 calendar), first on an individual basis (men/women x 7 age groups) but also as a team (men/women/mixed). Although running is our second job, I was amazed how seriously the team took this competition. It is actually a tough competition because the number of points is low and the score are very closed (e.g. for a 50K, the winning team gets 10 points, 2nd 9, 3rd 8 and so on, where as individual Masters for instance get 40 points for 1st place, 31 for 2nd, then 24, 19, 16, 14, ...).

At the end, we came in first with 118 points, preceding the notorious Talmalpa team by 3 points and the Buffalo Chips by 27 points. Tamalpa has won 7 titles over the past 10 years so they were definitely a very serious contender (the Buffalo Chips won the title in 2007 and 2006, and have also dominated the Women and Mixed team competitions for the past 5 years).

A big thank you to Hollis Lenderking and Gary Wang for all the energy they put in managing this Grand Prix, from the calendar planning to the meticulous task of counting the points, and the nice touch of recognizing the awardees. Thank you also to my teammates, Pierre-Yves, Sean, Jim, Andy, John, and of course Adam who organized the plot and got his start-up company, Rhomobile, to cover some of the race registration costs. And to the sane competition out there from the other clubs! Here is Adam (center) with our team trophy:
Incidentally, I won my age group again (3rd year in a row, yeah! - See the final 2009 standings) and I want to highlight a few of the other age group 2009 winners:
  1. Jim Magill (M60-69), RhoQuick teammate,
  2. Bill Dodson (M70-79), from my other running club, the Stevens Creek Striders in Cupertino,
  3. Christina Brownson (W50-59), also from the Striders.

In my age group the competition was fierce with my own teammate and compatriot, Pierre-Yves, for whom it was only the second season in ultra (and running actually!). I am also glad that Mark Lantz only ran 4 of the 16 races. He had an amazing season and would have won the Grand Prix would he have focused on it (like I did, running 12 races, including American River where I DNF'ed with asthma).

Last but not least, Victor Ballesteros and Chikara Ohmine were both presents at the banquet and nominee for the coveted title of PAUSATF Ultra Runner of the Year. It was a close call as both had an outstanding season and Chikara won. Just to illustrate how amazing his season has been, Chikara set 5 new age group course records out of the 8 events he ran in the Grand Prix. All that while competing at the same elite level in hot dog eating contests!! ;-)
By the way, the banquet was on the evening of the same day some of us ran Jed Smith so it was a very long day after waking up at 4:30 to drive up to Sacramento in the morning. Yet another of these "ultra" days... ;-)

2. PattiSue Plumer: from international elite running to coaching

While I am at the PA USATF LDR Awards Banquet, let me tell you about our keynote speaker of the evening (by the way, the event was organized this year by the West Valley Joggers & Striders and hosted at the Blue Pheasant in Cupertino, a very convenient place for me and my teammates).

PattiSue is an icon of US distance running who competed at the Olympics in Korea (1988) and Barcelona (1992). She placed 5th in the 3,000m in Barcelona but, in 1990 was ranked #1 in the world on 5,000 and 3,000 meters. After a 20-year career at the elite and international level, PattiSue now coaches cross-country and track & field at Los Altos High School. She even has her own Wikiedia page!

She told us about her switch from athlete to coach, from the self-centered and egocentric  approach of the athlete to the giving back on the other side of the fence, returning a part of all she received from her own coaches.

One of her stances was probably not too controversial with this audience (quite competitive) but would have been in another setting. For PattiSue, you run to race and... win! Running is a mean to an end. Otherwise it's not running. Surely, this view would not be shared by 90% or more of the runnng population, at least the winning part of the mantra (since tens of thousands of runners do race indeed).

The largest part of the great and motivational speech was about some tips to competitive runners. Here are some notes:
  1. Set precise, challenging but attainable goals
  2. Train to your goals
  3. Train for what you focus on (e.g. "train fast if you want to be fast", I believe she means train for sprint if sprint is your focus)
  4. Train your weaknesses, raise your strength. Usually people to the other way. This is somehow controversial however but a personal conviction. In other words, focus your training on where you are less comfortable.
  5. Quality beats quantity. But you need at least one. Quality is better but not everyone is meant for or good at it (it requires a lot of discipline). So some people do well by focusing on quantity if they can't on quality.
  6. Strengthen your feet and lower legs. It's no surprise that best female athletes in High School have strong foundation acquired in sports such as gymnastic or dance. Walk barefoot (unless you have a foot problem!).
  7. There are no secrets! Be open-minded and flexible. It's OK if not everything is perfect on race day (e.g. rest, stress, nutrition, form), you just need most of the things right to be successful.
  8. Willing to risk losing. Getting better is easy or eaiser, being the best and winning is harder and requires taking more risk.

3. RhoQuick is recruiting!

With this great 2009, our team RhoQuick is ready and excited to defend its title in the Men division but we are now also looking at the other divisions. Because we don't have much of a female contingent, we will be aiming at the Mixed division.

First, we "signed" or enrolled Mark (Tanaka) who is a top ultra runner in the Bay Area. A few other Quicksilver club members may also join the team.

On the women side, Bree Lambert has accepted to join the club although she is also running in the Fleet Feet/UltraSignup racing team. Bree finished 3rd in her age group last year just behind elite Bev Anderson-Abbs.

Pierre-Yves and I had the pleasure of running 15 miles in the Almaden Quicksilver Park, one week before Jed Smith, in a sunny Sunday morning. Bree actually came with her friend Joe Sanders, who was raised in the area and saw the Park opening in the 70s and is an ex running and duathlon star (4:08 mile PR). Joe ran the first 5 miles with us before returning to the park entrance, as he is nurturing an injury and is not into ultra (yet?) anyway.
It was great for me to be pack on the Quicksilver 50-mile course which I enjoyed last May, so much that I did set a new PR for our age group. For Pierre-Yves and Bree, this park is in their backyard so they know all the details and by-passes of the numerous trails.
Between the hills and the talking, it took us 2 hours and a half to complete the 15-mile loop and I told myself I'll have to run faster at Jed Smith. Which I did obviously on the flat course.

With that, if you live in the Bay Area and want to join the fun we have with our team, please check the Quicksilver of San Jose club website.

And see you all on the trails!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ethiopia: Give to receive

This is a running blog but I cannot resist to post one article not related to running. This post is a short report about our amazing experience in Ethiopia for almost 3 weeks over the Holidays. (Although running was not part of our humanitarian mission, I did manage to run about 60 miles in this special place for distance running as you could read in my late December and early January posts.) This is a very belated post. Initially, I thought I would just have to reference the group journal that the students had decided to do while there. But, like me with work, everybody got caught up with the workload and the report is still being worked out (at the time I publish the post, all the students have sent their own page --each had one day to recount-- to Derek who has proposed to work on the compilation). In the meantime here is what I had written on my way back to Ethiopia, 4 weeks ago...

11 days in a remote and desert place of Ethiopia, without Internet, where to start from...?
  1. The logistic?
  2. The weather?
  3. What the group has accomplished in Gara Dima?
  4. What I learned from our African journey?
  5. Our experience of the Ethiopian health care system?
  6. The photographic experience?
  7. The running?

There are so many things, too many for one post. Besides, the students have agreed to each take turn to tell us in details about one of the days of our journey so you will have plenty to read from all these perspectives soon. I will update this post when the journal is uploaded. And, as you may guess in this digital photography era, there will be hundreds of pictures available. Tens of thousands actually so a lot of selection to be made in the upcoming few days. While we all catchup with work and school. [Since I wrote this, who did work on the photo albums although not to the extent I was hoping for, and here are two links to a shorter version (155 pictures) with Agnes' comments, in French, and a longer version (642 pix!) with some of the pictures I took with my Nikon D50).

In the meantime, here is a breviary, a series of vignettes which came back to mind randomly during my flight back to Paris. I have seen...

  1. Hundreds of bright smiles welcoming us every day in Gara Dima.
  2. Dozen of barefoot kids running faster than our bus on rocky and dusty trails.
  3. Dentitions perfectly white and others brownish and very damaged by the fluorite.
  4. Animals you expect in a safari (crocodiles, monkeys, birds, antelopes, Oryxes, insects).
  5. Bumpy roads on which I ran faster than our bus.
  6. Many hard working Ethiopians using ancestral agricultural techniques and traditions.
  7. Villages made of dirt huts like the one I could see in my geography books in primary school.
  8. A health care system really cheap and rudimentary, with a questionable hygiene.
  9. Desert areas transformed into fields thanks to basic irrigation with dirt-made canals.
  10. Exceptional kids from all horizons and background, joining forces and ideas to build a "World Family" (the name of Emebet and Joseph's association).
  11. An amazing Ethiopian Minister (His Excellency Dr. Tewodros Adhanom, Minister, Federal Ministry of Health) who gave all his attention, support and consideration to the Gara Dima community by presiding the inauguration of the Community Center on the last Sunday of our stay.
  12. An air pollution characteristic of the developing countries which cannot afford the extra cost of green and sustainable development.
  13. Hundreds of goats, sheeps, ox, cows, donkeys, sharing the roads and streets with smokey cars and trucks in the capital.
  14. Models of French cars (Peugeot 403, 204, 504, Citroen DS, Renault R16, ...) which I had not seen for 30 years.
  15. Californian kids capable of leaving their comfort zone very far behind to help a country in much need.
  16. Waiters trying so hard to cope with our high level of expectations in terms of quality and promptness of service.
  17. A Christmas celebration on January 7 (Orthodox/Julian calendar).
  18. Landscapes, trees, sunsets, animals corresponding to the most popular and common African post cards.
  19. People living so simply like we read in the Bible, embracing the toughness and rigor of the desert; with the same people discovering our modernization with wonder, amazement, curiosity and natural at the same time (digital cameras, computers, electrical drills, medical equipment)
  20. 6-year old girls carrying on their back their younger brother or sister the whole day.
  21. The largest market in Africa (Mercado), as busy as a anthill.
  22. A coffee darker than the skin of Ethiopians, amazingly sweet, and prepared in a peaceful and ancestral ceremony.
  23. A very devotional country where Muslim and Christian communities coexist admirably, providing a great lesson of ecumenism and civism.
  24. A place where time does not mean anything, where you live in the present moment because each day is a miracle and you cannot make plan for the future in such precarious conditions.

Overall, I've seen the crib of the World with millions of people perpetuating traditions, ways of life and agricultural techniques from several thousand years ago. And, as much as I believe we accomplished a lot to help and support the village of Gara Dima, there remains a bit of doubt about the pertinence and appropriateness of knocking over this traditional boat and potentially generating frustrations from needs which we may create artificially through accelerated change and development. Time will tell how sustainable and good this is, for us to propose our own view of progress and material and financial wealth...

As I reflect about our experience, I am most thankful to:
  1. Alex who got us all of us there as the vice-president of the United Nations club that he co-founded with Derek at Cupertino High School three years ago;
  2. Greg who noticed the prospectus of the World Family at the Ethiopian restaurant we were eating with the family two years ago; and also for getting very well integrated to the group while being the youngest;
  3. Max for belonging to the club Alex leads and for having given us this opportunity for this family project, before he leaves for College;
  4. Agn├Ęs for the hundreds of hours put in the organization before, during and after the trip; I still don't know how her hip supported the travel and all the time standing to negotiate all the detailed logistics;
  5. Emebet and Joseph, the co-founders and co-presidents of the World Family; what an amazing work they do for their country, with a direct impact on thousands of lives!
  6. The students who responded so positively to Alex and Derek's call to action; what an experience for them (and all of us) and a true example of the "20 teachable virtues" that Barbara Unell and Jerry Whychoff list in their book: Empathy, Helpfulness, Fairness, Tolerance, Caring, Courage, Humor, Respect, Loyalty, Courtesy, Patience, Resourcefulness, Pacemaking, Self-reliance, Self-motivation, Responsibility, Honesty, Trustworthiness, Self-discipline, Cooperation. It would be easy to illustrate each of these qualities with an anecdote, but the list is long so I will leave it here, with my profound reconnaissance to the 15 of you!
  7. The parents of these kids for having trusted us and let their kid go in such an uncertain but rewarding adventure;
  8. The other chaperones: 3 parents (Luisa, Seema, Charles), 1 teacher and club advisor (Bobby) and 1 phenomenal ex-teacher and globe-trotter (Kory), who rerouted her around-the-globe trip to join us in Ethiopia, between Tanzania and South Africa (see her blog).
  9. The staff of the World Family in Ethiopia and especially Teddy who spent countless hours away from his family to take care of us and show us all the facets of his wonderful country, always with a smile;
  10. The staff of the two hotels we stayed at in Addis Ababa and Gara Dima and our bus driver, Mohammed, and his son.

As I wrote in my initial draft during my connection at the Cairo Airport: "Back to the crazy Internet, digital and industrial civilizations. Back to work...!" Still, after 4 weeks passed, it has been a shock to switch civilization indeed and we still feel the effect of it. However we have to move on with our lives so we can continue helping our new friends overseas. Certainly this is a life changing experience in our journey toward a "flatter world" (in reference to Thomas Friedman's book: The World is Flat).

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Jed Smith 50K 2010: the birth of a new season

The first race of the season, how exciting! Now, look at this list: sleep deprivation, stress, limited training after the December break, no speed work, work pressure, hectic family schedules and the residual fatigue of our trip to Ethiopia. Doesn't it look like a recipe for failure? Oh, and I did not mention the age too... Well, with all that, Jed Smith brought some good surprises to me as you will read below.

Jed Smith 50K is the first race of our local Pacific Association ultra running Grand Prix series (USA Track & Field association). I ran it for the first time last year and was not quite ready, suffering to finish in 3:51 with cramps and a bit of asthma. This year, the course was moved to a new location because the previous and original location, Gibson Ranch, is closed as part of the California budget cuts. The Gibson Ranch loop was flat and half asphalt, half dirt trail. The trail could potentially get quite muddy in this winter and rainy season, but the 8-shape of the course allowed to see all the runners, either lapping some or crossing others.

We finalized our team car pool plans late on Friday evening as Mark just landed from a week in Mexico. I picked Andy at 280 and Meridian at 5:30 and Mark at 680 and Stoneridge at 6 am. We got quite some rain on our way to Sacramento/Carmichael and mentally prepared for a chilly and wet run this Saturday morning.

Despite a perfect organization, a reasonable pricing, a variety of distance and the proximity of Sacramento, the attendance to this first ultra of the PA USA T&F season is low and parking was easy. The 50-milers started at 8:12 am and we (50K runners) started 30 minutes later. Because it was a new course, we had a bike lead to show us the trail on the first loop. I took off with Jason and, despite a fast start at 6:10 min/mile pace, there was an even faster runner in front of us, someone we had never seen before on the circuit. We were wondering what was going on and, despite my initial plans to run at a 6:55-7:00 pace, I decided to keep this lead runner in sight while Jason took the wise decision to slow down the pace once he heard the number given by my Garmin Forerunner 205 GPS.

At the 3-mile aid station and turnaround I asked who was ahead and they didn't know. After a loop I learned that it was his first 50K and that he was aiming at running sub 3.5 hours. I thought it was suicide but kept going and settled for a 6:24 pace which I maintained for the first 3 laps. I was 75" behind the front runner after the first and second loop and 40" at the beginning of the 4th and 5th 10-kilometer lap. We were still at 6:26 pace when we got on the last loop but we both slowed down and finished with an average of 6:36, in a close 19" finish, after having passed the marathon mark in 2:51.

I was really happy to have PR'ed on this distance thanks to this crazy pace which I was not aware I could sustain for that long. So, on one hand grateful to this rabbit. However, it was not pure joy because I got upset with the fact that the "rabbit" had himself a pacer for the last three laps (given the pace, that was quite a good runner to keep the pace). So, like last summer at the French 100K Road Nationals where I got mad after seeing the lead runners cheating with pacers on bikes, I could not refrain from getting upset and losing my temper. Retrospectively I think I was more mad at myself for reacting this way, since there wasn't really any particular challenge in this race. The fact is that, feeling disadvantaged by the situation, I did not get the confidence and energy to push or maintain the pace in the last lap. But maybe it was just the fatigue and lack of proper training. Now, my last PR on this distance was at Ruth Anderson 2008 when I switched from my original 100K goal to the 50K distance and clocked 3:44:58. I knew I could do better, hence last year's disappointment at Jed Smith 2009, but was unsure about sub 3:30. One more limit discovered and pushed, in the game of my personal ultra running experiences...

And what is the name of this mysterious and new fast runner? Ted Archer. He shows on Peter Zinsli's web site with 3 races including a 2:48 at CIM 2008, and a 6:38 at Rocky Racoon 50-mile that same year. So not many results but not an ultra rookie either. Good to have new competition, keep us on our toes!

In terms of nutrition (more for my records/recollection, but some may find the information useful), I got one pouch of Vespa CV-25 45' before the start, and only 2 GUs for the run, with two S!Caps and 1.5 x 16-oz bottles of GU2O. Plus 2 small cups of water and 2 small cups of Coke (or I think it was Pepsi...). Of course, with the temperature and humidity, hydration was less an issue than for the summer races...

Weather wise, conveniently (or should I say miraculously) the rain stopped just before we started and resumed when we were in the car, driving home. In these conditions, I took off my jacket after the first lap and was happy with my choice of shoes: with the trail and the rain, I hesitated between the Casdadias and Racer ST, and finally settled for the latter, which was perfect for some speed. Ideal weather then for the 50K and 30K runners, but some of the 50-mile participants might have gotten soaked in the rest of the afternoon unfortunately. Speaking of the 50-mile, Michael Kanning won the race in an amazing time of 6:15, and a light field (12 finishers).

In the 50K, unlike last year, I resisted to Michael Fink's charge who finished 3rd in 3:37:15. In our Quicksilver/RhoQuick team, Mark finished 4th overall in 3:51, Andy 7th in 3:58 (PR) and Jim 9th in 4:47. A good start of the season after winning the team competition (Men) last year. See all the results: 30K, 50K, 50M.
A special thank you to John Blue, the race director, for a perfect organization and all the freebies in each age group. For the perfect weather on the 30 and 50K at least. And for keeping the event up despite the late cancellation from Gibson Ranch Park. Great new course, I hope we can keep Jed Smith there for some time.

Thank you also to all the volunteers, many from the Buffalo Chips club, who gave their Saturday in this chilly and humid weather. Weather was good for us, as we were running and moving, but tough for the ones standing still for hours.

Sincerely, this event organized by the Buffalo Chips deserves many more participants!

Several of the runners (Jim, Andy, Jason, Bill, myself) finished the day at the Pacific Association award banquet organized by the West Valley Joggers and Striders, in Cupertino, a dinner gathering the whole team (I will post more on that later, it's Sunday but I need to get back to work...). Four weeks before the next race (Way Too Cool 50K on March 6), this should give more some time to catchup on some belated stories (Ethiopia, a running interview with Bree Lambert, a run with Greg and Max, my recent "Brooks Christmas" including 3 pairs of new shoes, my first runs at Alviso, ...) over the coming weeks. And maybe more time to train too, who knows... Stay tuned and Run Happy in the meantime!

PS: see a few Jed Smith pictures in my Picasa album as usual. (Note to the reader regarding the times on the finish line - (1) Bibs are orange for the 50-miler, yellow for the 50K and blue for the 30K. (2) The clock started when the 50-milers started. They were followed by the 50K runners 30' later, and the 30K runner another half-hour later.)