Monday, April 26, 2010

Ruth Anderson 2010: yes, faster!

I had several goals this past Saturday (well, it has been already a week since I started this post, so I'm talking about a week ago...), quite a few actually:
  1. First, don't kill my self with a 100K, one week after American River 50-mile and 2 weeks before Miwok 100K. For the non insiders, Ruth Anderson is one of these rare events where you not only have several distances (50K, 50 miles or 100K) but you can actually pick your distance "on the go." When our team strategized on Friday to see who was running which distance, I was glad to see that we had 4 lined up on the 100K (Pierre-Yves, Sean, Mark and Jim) so we would not need another backup on this distance to score 3 men.
  2. Do more than 50K, in other words run the 50M, for the Grand Prix points. This one was less obvious because, as of Friday night, we had only 5 runners on the 50K, just short of one to score a men and a mixed team. Fortunately, Dan showed on Saturday morning and was assigned the 6th spot on the 50K then.
  3. Get a good training run as I didn't run much during the week (AR rest + lot of work) and put some miles in the bank before my flight to Tokyo this Sunday.
  4. Improve the age group course record set by Scott St John in 2004 (6:20:43).
  5. Run the 50 miles under 6 hours if possible.
  6. Test drive the Brooks Green Silence on this distance.
  7. Avoid asthma, by keeping stress under control and start "slowly."
  8. Last but not least, have fun, don't get hurt, run happy! To honor Ruth Anderson, as well as Race Director, Rajeev Patel.
For those who don't have time to read on, here is the quick scorecard: 1: Checked, 2: Checked, 3: Checked, 4: Checked!, 5: Not far but not checked, 6. Checked, 7: Checked, 8: Checked (if you count the pain in the way to honor Ruth... ;-).

And a few paragraphs for more details on this wonderful day.

As usual, it started very early, waking up at 3:30 am. This time, it wasn't just for getting an early breakfast and allowing for a 3-hour digestion, but it was also to work a bit before riding up to San Francisco. I had spent a lot of time on Thursday and Friday nights confirming my trip to Tokyo and we had to decide on Saturday morning to pull the plug eventually as the trip was involving one of my team members based in Spain. Not only the trip got canceled eventually by the team over there, but my colleague from Spain would not have been able to fly anyway due to the eruption in Iceland. After spending an hour with my Japanese contact and writing a few emails, it was time to wake Agnes up so she could drop me at the Stevens Creek Blvd exit on 85.

For the ride to the start I joined teammates Sean (driving while the rest of the family was trying to finish their night) and Pierre-Yves. We made it just in time to pick our bibs and, fortunately, we did not have to go to the restrooms. We were so "just on time" that even Mark had checked us before us (unusual ;-), yet he was still in the line for the single toilet when I left to jog to the start.

We were less than 80 starters and RD Rajeev's briefing was short as the course is really simple (a 4.47-mile loop with two aid stations at equald distance). The main rule on this race is about the possibility to pick your distance on-the-go, that is to say stop at either the 50K, 50-mile or 100K mark, but not in between distances which would disqualify you.

Like at American River, and hoping this helps alleviate some of the stress which I believe may be one of the triggers of my exercise-induced asthma, I start in the middle of the pack but, given the shallowness of the field, it took only a few seconds to cross the start line. I quickly caught up with Adam, Pierre-Yves and Sean but could only saw in the distance three runners who took off at a pace close to 6 min/mile! I knew one of them, Toshi, a new addition to our Rhoquick team. Having seen Joe Binder in the list of registrants, I figured out he might have been one of the three and go for a fast 50K. But the third one?

At the end of the first mile, I caught up with Jon who was running a "conservative" 7 min/mile pace for his 100K. Sean joined us for the first lap which we completed at an average 6:56 pace. At the 3rd aid station (meaning the second passage at the station on the other side of the loop/start) Sean stopped to the restroom and I kept going as I was carrying a bottle of GU2O with me. My average pace was 6:55 at the end of the second loop. Of course I was feeling good and naturally pushed the pace a little to settle to 6:46 by the fourth lap. I felt great for the next 3 laps, almost maintaining that pace and got to the 50K mark in 3:33. Not my PR which I recently set at Jed Smith last February (3:25), but dangerously close considering that I was going for the 50 miles today. I stopped to ask who was ahead and the time keeping volunteer, later joined by Bill Dodson, told me only one runner was ahead. As I had passed Toshi in the last lap, and Toshi indeed finished his 50K just behind me in 3:34, that meant there was a another runner ahead, from the three I had seen taking off at the start. But who was he and would he hold this fast pace until the end? I quickly stopped asking these questions to focus on my form as I had still 4 laps to complete or 19 miles... I did a mental checkup and thought I was doing fine although started having some doubts about the sustainability of my pace. I slowed down a bit and completed lap 8 in 33 minutes instead of the 30-31 minutes of each of the first seven laps. In lap 9 the fatigue got to me and I lost another 2 minutes (35 minutes) and so on for the last 2 laps, in respectively 38 and 39 minutes. My pace increased so much in the last laps that I ended up completing the 50 miles at an average 7:21, in 6:07:34. My PR on this distance was 6 hours and 22 minutes (Helen Klein, November 2007), so quite a good improvement. Besides, the previous age group course record was 6:21, so also a good improvement on this end although there is no doubt that can be improve if Victor Ballesteros or Gary Gellin decide to run this race in the coming years.

Jon Olsen passed be as I was starting my last lap. He won the 100K in 7 hours and 32 minutes, with Pierre-Yves coming second in amazing finish to get 12 seconds under 8 hours (7:59:48)! Our team did really great on that race. On the 100K, all our entrants finished and took 2, 3 (Sean), 4 (Mark) and 10 (Jim) out of 11 finishers. On the 50K, 2nd (Toshi), 7th (Dan) and 17th (Keith L). And the most amazing happened with our mix team: first with the female win of Miki (5th overall, 4:07:43). Then Suzie's participation and finish, just one week after American River. But the hero of the day was Adam who started walking in in 3rd lap on a potential stress fracture but got all the way, walking 5 laps out of the 7, to ensure we had 3 finishers in the mixed team. Way to tough it out, Adam!

You will not that I did not talk about my crew yet. Agnes and Greg actually stopped on their way to see a car to replace our minivan wrecked on the way to American River, and they missed my finish by a few minutes. After the race, we went car shopping for the rest of the day, I actually prefer running than negotiating with car dealers... With that, no picture in this post, sorry.

Overall a great experience, the best of my four Ruth Anderson runs (2007-2010), with a special thank to Rajeev and his faithful crew of volunteers. There is only 2 aid stations to man, plus 3 finish lines to record times, but the shifts are very long spanning from 5 AM to 8 or 9 PM. At least the weather was great, with a great mix of breeze and sun in the morning. Next year will conflict again with the Boston Marathon weekend but Ruth Anderson's appeal may have surpassed Boston for me now. Who would have thought about that a few years ago... Must be the nice trophies that Rajeev spoils us with! And the ease of access, the course set for great performances (although not completely fat), the family and friendly atmosphere, or the cheapest-ultra-by-the-mile of the whole US (or at least in the West)!

My trip to Japan got postponed to mid-May so it does not explain why I'm late in posting this report. I'm now on the East Coast this week and will be back on time for Miwok this Saturday. In the meantime, I stopped by DC to see our Congressional Page, Alex, and managed to run 24 miles Sunday morning on the great W&OD (Washington & Old Dominion Trail), from Dulles/Herndon to Vienna and back. Flat miles though, leaving the hills for the end of the week!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

American River 2010: Faster, at last

Most of you have heard about the difficulties I had in the past with asthma on this course and especially at this race. I was too new to ultra running in 2006 to enter this renowned race. I skipped 2007 because I was running Boston. Finally, I was excited to toe the line in 2008 although it turned to a disaster. My lungs started burning at mile 15 and I could barely breath. However, as I had never DNF'ed at the time, I thought it was not enough of a good excuse to drop and walked the remaining 35 miles, for a long day (8 hours and 53 minutes on the course, which is still a fast time for many...). Last year, same excitement and same punishment with the asthma kicking in at the same place. That time, I had experienced a DNF at the French National of 100K so I took the good excuse to see Agnès at Beals Point (mile 26.5) to drop, call it a day and turn to a different role as a photographer taking hundreds of pictures of the runners.

A bumpy and slow start

One of the reasons I run is for the stress relief running in the outdoors and on trails provides. However, sometimes it adds some stress when I take the competition too seriously. Which may actually be one of the triggers of my exercise-induced asthma as I still cannot find a consistent correlation with the weather, temperature, seasons, pollen, food, elevation, vegetation, air quality. Certainly, I have enough other reasons to be stressed and tired living a busy life, for not adding the pressure with the running, which I call my second job (training and racing). Well, Friday added an unexpected source of stress though.

After one of my sisters and her husband visited from France two weeks ago, we have more family this week with another of my sisters, her son and one of my aunts. The plan was to leave early Friday afternoon to avoid the traffic and do a short visit of Sacramento before going to the hotel. Unfortunately, work kept me until 3:30 and we did encountered the Friday afternoon traffic on 680. At Walnut Creek we were stopped in the traffic when a big pickup smashed us from behind. Glass all over inside the car but nobody hurt fortunately, except for the usual neck pain of the shock and hitting the headrests. Freeing up the 3rd lane to go to the emergency lane, there was a big noise which made me think that we were good to let the car here and miss the race. Fortunately, that was just the bumper and the car seemed drivable. Police and CHP were on site within minutes and, after getting all the insurance information from the other driver, we decided to continue our journey, in even more traffic as other accidents perturbed I-80.
With that, we reached the hotel around 8 pm. I went to bed around 9:30 but could not sleep before 11, for about 5 hours of sleep. My morning preparation was also slowed down by all the removing of tiny pieces of glass which ended up in my bag and in my bottles in particular, yikes!

Although I don't like making plans in ultra to keep a flexible state of mind to handle all the unexpected things which can happen during a long race, I had told myself that I will start slow, that is not faster than 7 minutes/mile. I was quite relaxed at the start, chatting with fellow Striders for instance, that I was still in the middle of the pack when the horn blew.

The race

It has been a long time since I passed a starting line actually walking. That reminded me of my first half marathons in Paris when I was still a mid packer and it was taking more than 5 minutes to pass the line after the official gun time start... Not as much here of course as we were only 500 or so runners. Moving toward the front gave me the opportunity to see a few familiar faces, despite the darkness. I caught up with Steve Bremner from Colorado, whom I first met at the Coastal Challenge in January 2008 and at this race. Steve was after the course record of M55-59 (7:15) and, like me, was trying not run faster than 7 min/mile in the first 15 miles (bike path). We were a group of 4, with Patrick Dellapace of Sunnyvale and Kevin Weill. Kevin had run AR last year in 7:01 and wanted to break 7 hours as well. Steve ran all the 20 marathons of Colorado last year and was complaining that he was loosing to much speed with years, certainly not anything close to my 1-minute-per-year-on-the-marathon "law." (Steve ran in marathon PR of 2:32 as a Master and his fighting to break three hours now.)

I had an average 7:03 min/mile and my GPS and caught-up with another Brooks runner in front. A couple of miles before the fatidical and feared 15-mile mark (for my asthma), I put my Buff over my face to avoid breathing the flying pollen I could see in the sun rays. From time to time I was taking full breaths to test my lungs and was pleased to not feel anything abnormal. With that, I ran most of the hill up Sunrise (mile 18) where I was welcomed by Hollis Lenderking (who manages our PAUSATF Grand Prix with Gary Wang), and Greg Soderlund (WS100 Race Director) who helped me fill my GU2O bottle. I left the station with an average pace of 7:04 to hit the trail to Auburn after this first asphalt and fast section.

From previous American River editions and struggles, but also Rio Del Lago 100 and Sierra Nevada double-marathon, I don't have great memories of this trail section. It is definitely a beautiful trail along the huge reservoir but, although there is not much elevation gain for the next 25 miles, it keeps going up an down. With some high rocks and steps hard to climb with my short legs, and a lot of poison oak to avoid. I kept pushing the pace despite seeing the average climbing. I passed the marathon mark around 3:05 and reached Beals Point after 3 hours and 9 minutes of running, or a 7:15 average pace, right on what I had told Agnès at the start. But no crew for me so a very short stop after having checked my place with Stan Jensen: 20th.

Still no presence of my crew at Granite Bay (31.7 miles), Buzzard's Cove (which isn't accessible anyway), Horseshoe Bar (38.14). At that time I was getting short of GU2O (I only drink lemon so I avoid the raspberry flavor usually available at aid stations), and had missed my 3-hour Vespa refill at Beals Point. I was also expecting Agnes to give me my sun glasses at Beals Point although that wasn't much of an issue with the overcast weather.

Entering Rattlesnake Bar, I didn't see Agnès either but she showed up a few seconds after I reached the drink table. Omnipresent Stan Jensen was also here (4th spot on the course I was seeing him), and helped Agnès with my GU2O bottle. Having just past another Brooks runner as I was going through the station, another one passed me too (Curt Casazza), with his pacer. Earlier, I was passed for the first time by Eric Johnson and his pacer.

Kevin Weill was the third and last runner to pass me this Saturday, in his quest to breaking 7 hours. With 20 to spare and 2 more miles, I thought the goal was out of reach but seeing him alternating running and walking kept me doing so. I saw the family in the last mile and that also gave me some encouragements in order to keep pushing and finish in 20th position overall and 6:58:50, phew! Kevin had finished in 6:57:32. He is just 20 years younger than me, he has many other occasions to improve even further!

To my surprise, that performance was good enough for 3rd Master. For what it is worth comparing years (different weather conditions, different competitive field), that would not have been enough for an age group placing in 2009 and 2008, but in 2007. This time Geoff Roes didn't get lost (as opposed to at Way Too Cool this year) and finished first. Second was a surprise to me, Andrew Henshaw, 24 years old and 4th overall at Leadville 100 last year. Former Olympian Max King must have been disappointed for taking 3rd, just above 6 hours (improving his last year winning time by 3 minutes). Unfortunately he missed the 2 qualifying Montrail spots for Western States. As he is not in Miwok, not sure which option is left for him this year. The woman race was won by Tracy Garneau. Not only Tracy signed the 7th fastest time over the 30 years of American River's history, she was also the first Master. I checked with her, she is definitely taking the Western States spot for June! After Horseshoe Bar (or was it after Granite Bay), Greg Soderlund teased me saying that there was still a gal in front of me. Having started in the middle of the pack, I was not sure if it was a joke to kick my butt but I was too tired anyway to chase someone after mile 35...

Got my ritual and salutary massage from VeLoyce (the "monster" of the Monsters of Massage).
Congratulated Victor Ballesteros for his amazing 6th place and time (6:15). Victor is turning 40 next month, he is going to dominate our Master category and I now cannot wait to turn 50... ;-). Also congratulated Rob Evans, 1st Master in 6:37.

Tim Twietmeyer and I teased each other about our performances and the fact that Tim only beats me when I have asthma (actually Tim has much faster times and PRs from his earlier years!).
Great volunteers, great field, great organization, great t-shirt from Moeben, great wind-blocking finisher jacket (although I'm still feeling bad to have missed the Brooks finisher jacket last year), it was a great ultra celebration and successful addition to this long last American River 50-mile tradition. Thank to Julie for perpetrating it and to all the volunteers for make it happen so we can run... happy!

Overall, I am indeed happy to have run with my full lung capacity (just a slight irritation after the race and the following day), and finally broke 7 hours on this course in my 3rd attempt. I should be capable of a faster time but it's not too bad given the circumstances, and I feel blessed I can still juggle with so many things these days. I am flying to Japan the day after Ruth Anderson (50K, 50M or 100K, that is the question...). Back from Japan for one day at home before flying to DC then New York for another week back just in time to run Miwok 100K then jump on a plane again for a week in Vegas beginning of May. Not the best way to rest and train but it's good to have a good "first" job these days...

Have a good week before I see some of you at Ruth Anderson in 6 days!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Big Bunny Fun Run 5K: still under 17

No, not 17 years old, 17 minutes! That was my 7th Big Bunny Fun Run since 2002 (missed 2003 because of a conflict with the Boston Marathon, and 2009 because I was running American River 50-mile, a race which is conveniently happening next week end, this year, so I can do both).

2002: 16'54", 2004: 16'50", 2005: 16'06", 2006: 16'33", 2007: 16'09", 2008: 15'54", 2010... 16'36". That's consistency. I believe that either 2007 or 2008 was the year where we missed the detour by Eaton Elementary, significantly shortening the course  which is already on the short side for a 5K (between 3 and 3.05 miles instead 3.1 miles).

For the ones who don't have time to read the full report, you can skip to my photo album on Picasa.

The weather was great although on the chilly side. Living 1 block from the start, this is the easiest race to go to. I made a habit to go and pick all the bib number and t-shirts for the whole family so everybody can sleep in. Despite a reasonable start time (9 am), it's hard for our teens to wake up that early on a Saturday morning, and for such an opportunity. Yet, this year again, we were able to make it a whole family event with the five of us toeing the start line. Surely, this is going to become more difficult as Max got accepted to his dream school, Yale! Even this year we were lucky with no other race conflict and Alex back for 10 days from his Congressional Page program in DC.

Adam, my teammate of our Rhoquick/Quicksilver ultra running team joined us this Saturday morning. Adam, CEO of Rhomobile, a start-up company headquartered at the end of Blaney in Cupertino, sponsors our team which won the Pacific Association USA Track and Field ultra Grand Prix series last year. Anyone is welcome to join, if you are up to run a few trail ultra marathons this year!
Unlike an ultra, there isn't much to recount from a fast 3-mile race. As usual, despite a fast start (around 5:05 min/mile pace) kids were ahead for the first hundred yards. Although it is fun to watch year after year, it's also a bit dangerous and an occasion to trip down. A tall and young guy kept the lead for the next couple of hundreds yards, and eventually won his 13-15 age group, quite a promising start! I quickly took 4th behind 3 guys whom I didn't know and, despite a 5:20-5:25 min/mile pace, could not catch them up. A guy in blue led all the way and was passed in the final stretch by the winner who completed the loop right on 16 minutes. I finished in 4th, in 16'36", about 10 seconds behind someone who, I was going to find out in the finish chute, had the same age as I which didn't give me a good excuse for losing the age group for the first time in my history with this race... Anyway, I will try again next year, race calendar permitting.
Just after the finish, I got my camera back from Claire's father (thank you to him for taking pictures of the start and finish while watching after Claire and Patrick's boys), and went back on the course to take a few pictures of the runners I knew, and jogging the course back toward Agnès who was Nordic walking (she cannot run due to hip arthritis). I first saw Alex and Max who were running together. Max was still in bed 15' before the start, so I was pleased to see that he joined us this morning.
Greg was enjoying the run, albeit not pushing the pace.
Then Agnès who was passing some runners with her active and fast pace walking. Plus some running in the last 200 yards of the race like she did for her first triathlon (see A mermaid for Father's Day).
There was not as much food as previous years, just some oranges and cereal bars offered by Whole Foods. Met with a few known Cupertino residents and also visitors like Jason, whom I usually meet at ultra races. Jason is a "race aholic" who aimed at running 100 races last year, including 50 milers! Jason was to race another 5K this Sunday and I will see him at American River 50-mile next Saturday.
After some time we were invited to go to the podium for the award ceremony. Then a long drawing with probably 30 great prizes. With 5 bibs in hands, I increased the odds and, indeed, won a nice magnum of wine from Ridge, a winery which I often pass on my climb (run) to Black Mountain near the top of Montebello Road, like again this Sunday morning.
 Thank you to all the Cupertino Parks & Rec staff for organizing such a yearly event, and in particular for the joyful and funny Big Bunny! Happy Easter to all and see you next year!

The head in the clouds

No, not the movie, not figuratively, but literally!

A 3-mile race, even with speed, is not the best preparation for a 50-mile. So, this Sunday, I had to do another long run before some tapering this week. Agnès was not so pleased with the idea, preferring a quiet and family reunion and Easter celebration. The only option was to squeeze the run before mass and lunch and skip the opportunity to sleep in, once again... Alarm set at 5:45 am, I left home at 6:40 when it was still dark. I knew I would not see the sun for another hour and decided to put on long sleeves and gloves. Well, that was a good idea because, the higher I was going on Montebello Road, the chilliest it became. At the top of Black Mountain, after running the Waterwheel loop, it was really cold as I entered into the clouds with gusty winds between 10 and 20 mph and temperatures in low 40Fs. I was freezing up there yet remained determined to run an ultra today, and decided to go down the other way on Bella Vista trail. However, being cold, I had to walk more than usual and my pace dropped down to 9'30"/mile average by the second time I reached the summit before returning on Montebello Road. I completed the 28-mile loop in 4:06 then rushed to the shower to make the 11 am mass in San Jose with the rest of the family.
Despite the cold, I took a few pictures of something which intrigued me on my last run. I don't know who she is, nor who the groom is, but here is how Tamara Lieveling was proposed at the top of Montebello Road, with inscriptions on the road in the last turns of this steep and long climb, quite an original and sportive way to propose!
I was looking for information on this and found this recent post. The intrigue is on!

Overall, another reasonable running week with 55 miles despite a lot of early and late meetings at work. Hope asthma will not kick in next Saturday, I need to put more miles for the big races in May and June...