Sunday, October 31, 2010

My dear blog readers: who are you?

I wanted to mark the special milestone of the 200th post on my blog with a special "issue", a post about you! Technically, it is my 201th post since I had to publish a race report last week but that's close enough... I still remember passing the 26-post milestone like I was finishing a marathon, I had no idea then that I would more or less keep up with the pace of one post a week for 4 years... (See my post Ultra blogging: passing the cap of the 26.2th blog.)

So, who are you who visit my blog either regularly or occasionally? To answer this "Web 2.0" question, I have a few tools but you will see they are somehow limited. Analytic tools include:
  1. StatCounter,
  2. Google Analytics,
  3. ClustrMaps,
  4. Flag Counter,
  5. Post comments, either anonymous or not (as Scott Dunlap used to say: "we, bloggers, starve for comments!")
  6. FaceBook messages,
  7. Email messages,
  8. Verbal messages before, during or after the races.
With that, here is the simple taxonomy representing how I see the audience of my blog:
  1. Family members, mostly non-runners,
  2. Friends, either runners or not, who enjoy the posts because they cannot travel or they cannot run, or others who find inspiration in the posts to run farther and faster
  3. Work colleagues,
  4. Club mates,
  5. Other runners looking at race information, race reports, tips or event pictures, from the Bay Area, California, the US or many other countries,
  6. Race directors, organizers
  7. Spectators, volunteers, relatives of event participants.
Surprisingly, apart from my Mom, my family doesn't represent the most active audience, mostly because of the language barrier. One of my sisters and my Dad have recently discovered the online and automatic translation offered by Google and they are using it more consistently now, albeit having some fun with some weird translations...

I started blogging in March 2007 but I only tracked traffic from late 2007 on, with StatCounter which has logged 106,000 hits to date. Although I'm quite impressed with this number, I realize that it must be very far from what super blogger Scott Dunlap got on his web site. For one thing though, Scott has initiated the blogging wave in our Trail Running sport in particular and writes on many very popular and diverse topics which draw a lot of traffic. On my side, I'm keeping the theme of the blog around my personal running experiences only, my personal journey toward sustainable running and my personal crazy quest to run either faster or farther... My most popular article has been by far Born to Run: the Tarahumara secret which I wrote after meeting Chris McDougall at Zombie Runner in Palo Alto, before his book became a best-seller.

Other things I know about you? You have visited from 134 countries with the US leading most of the traffic (72%) followed by France (8%) despite the language barrier, then UK, Canada, Japan, Germany, Australia, Austria and Italy. The presence of non-English speaking countries in the top 10 attests for the strong development of ultra and trail running in these countries.

You spend an average of 1 minute and 26 seconds per page and look at 1.58 pages per visit which I feel show a genuine interest although I do spend much more time actually writing these posts! ;-) 75% of you use Windows as Operating System with either Internet Explorer or Firefox as web browser (that's a pretty much worthless statistics, isn't it?). See below for more detailed statistics and charts.

Bottom line, you see, I don't know much about you but I would love to know more through the feedback you can leave at the bottom of the posts. Looking forward to hearing from you then!

With that, at least for the majority of you who live in the US, Happy Halloween and enjoy the Trick-or-Treat tradition either by opening your door or going door to door in your neighborhood. Either on the receiving or giving side, this is a very nice tradition of making our neighborhoods more friendly. Before we get to Trick-or-Treat on the web...

-------------- More detailed analysis of blog traffic (click on the images to enlarge)

Geographical coverage by ClustrMaps:
Geographical statistics from Flag Counter:
 List of countries from Flag Counter:
Worldwide map with flags, from Flag Counter:
Geographical coverage from Google Analytics:
Visits from California:
Visits from Australia:
Total number of hits and visits from StatCounter:
Most popular pages (Google Analytics):
In-Page Analytics showing that you do use the blog archives by year and month, as well as the list of tags and topics in the right margin:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

San Francisco One Day 12-hour 2010: a great first, for me

This is my 200th post on this blog, but I will have to come back on this anniversary next week as this is not the topic of the day.

This race, the San Francisco One Day, has been very special to me. I have 175 races in my log including 54 ultras but I had never run a time-based event, even less an event on such short laps. The closest is Ruth Anderson but the loop is 4.5 miles, where as the San Francisco One Day consists in a 1-mile (1.061 exactly) loop around Crissy Field. People not living in the area who pay a lot to run with such spectacular views of the San Franciso Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, Marine Headlands, Angel Island, Alcatraz, The Presidio, the Exploratorium and the City's skyscrappers including the famous Transamerica Pyramid. I'm so glad Sarah is perpetuating this PCTR tradition since 2006. I have been dreaming of running this event but my focus on the PA USATF Mountain & Ultra Trail Grand Prix prevented me so far as the event was too close to races such as Rio del Lago 100-mile or Helen Klein 50-mile. Based on the current standings (special thanks to Gary Wang for the recent update!), I am in a comfortable position to win my age group again, for the 4th year in a row, so, with 11 events in the bag, I decided to enter this 12-hour event and skip the three remaining events of the season: the wet Whiskey Town of this weekend (Victor did set a course record there!), the Helen Klein 50-mile in two weeks, and the torturous Quad Dipsea at the end of November.
Now, it was not an easy choice because we still have our team strategy in the Grand Prix. Per my maths, we won the Men Team division again this year, but we can still improve our Mixed Team ranking if we line up a team at Helen Klein. We have enough men going there, so I'm off the hook. Then the second parameter of the decision was from the health standpoint: I spent 11 days on the East Coast last week and this week and got a bad cold on day 3, on the 12th, which was exactly 10 days before the race... I was still feeling bad this past Wednesday, barely being able to speak in client meetings, but got better on Thursday, which was also our 21st Anniversary. I told Agnès how excited I was with this race and, with her consent, went on to register in the evening. Little did I know about the forecast, which I checked just after registering...
On Friday afternoon Agnès and I drove to Zombie Runner for a delicious coffee and chocolate at Don's coffee shop and to buy some Vespa and GU2O. On Saturday, the start was late, at 9AM, so that left plenty of time for a good and much needed sleep before driving up to Crissy Field. I was so glad it was not rainy on the highway, nor at the start which I reached around 8 AM. Yet, I was already chilly with the wind and overcast sky. I saw a few familiar faces but less than usual as PCTR draws a different community than the usual PAUSATF one.
Among others, there were teammate Mark who finished third in the 24hr last year, David Pirogowicz, John Koester who volunteers with the Striders at Last Chance, Gary Sparer from the San Jose Fit, Lisa Huerta and her son Jonathan (14), and here is Mike Nuttall, co-founder of Ideo, who ran 107 miles last year and 110 miles in 2008:
I wrapped my bag and stuff into a large and sturdy plastic bag in prevision for potential rain during the day. We started right on time at 9AM and, not having run much for the past 2 weeks, I could not refrain myself of starting fast although it felt really easy on this flat course. I did many of the first miles under 7 min/mile pace, starting lapping runners or walkers by the end of my second lap. The weather was great and we even got some sun around noon. I ran 8 laps/hour for the first 3 hours which was way too fast, but I wanted to put some miles in the bank before the weather might change. Oddly enough on such a flat and open terrain, my GPS appeared to be about 5% off after a few laps so it was hard to keep track of the exact distance and number of laps. Thankfully, we were wearing a transponder (timing chip) and the computer was doing the count for us. With that, I believe I ran my first marathon in 3:10 and first 50K around 3:49. Here is a picture from Stan Jensen, just before noon:
Unfortunately, the rain started at 1 PM, 4 hours into the race, and would not stop for the next 8 hours. I did a long stop (5-6 minutes I believe) to dry, change and put a light rain jacket over a new and dry long sleeve top. At this time, I switched to running about 6 laps an hour depending on the stops at the aid station. It was not actually much about the time spent at the aid station, it was more about the time to get back into the pace as I was getting so cold and my leg muscles were tetanizing every time I would stop moving. Thanks to taking a Vespa every 3 hours and one S!Cap and GU every hour, I did not have to eat too much. Yet, I took two cups of the delicious chicken noodle soup, enjoying something warm.

I stopped at mid race (6 hours) to put on another warm layer and an heavier rain jacket, two of my warmest layers which I usually use in the middle of the winter when running in the snow... After that, I was more comfortable, yet was getting cold again every time I would stop for a minute or so at the aid station. My feet were getting soaked at each lap, going through the puddles. One highlight of the day was the visit of teammate Toshi and his wife who took picture of Mark and I, while Toshi ran a couple of laps on Mark's side. I also ran one lap with Ron Duncan and Willem Van Dam, from Tamalpa, who came to watch the competition.

I looked at the leader board several times and saw that I was not increasing my 4-lap lead over Shiran Kochavi. With such a blazing start on my end, I had thought the lead would have been more important and I was therefore forced to go to the end of the 12 hours to make sure I was at least taking first since the course record was now out of reach. Of course, it was quite audacious to even think about a course record for my first attempt at this event format, and especially given who set the record in 2007: Akos Konya has finished 2nd three times in the grueling 135-mile Bad Water, won Lean Horse 100-mile a couple of times and already logged 85 miles in 12 hours or 146 miles in 24 hours. Anyway, my new goal was now to win, log as many miles as possible, hoping to run 3 marathons within the time limit. As the rain was going on, the puddles were increasing both in number and size. The aid station was muddier at each passage and I was glad that Agnès did not drive to the race (I learned later that she tried to convince Alex, but he had too much school work in addition to the College apps and essays).
I put my headlamp on around 7 PM. It was more to avoid the puddles as the course had no difficulty at all. There were actually quite a few runners just running at the lights of the city, and the full moon above the thick clouds. I completed my 74th lap after 11 hours and 57 minutes of running (78.5 miles, so just over 3 marathons indeed). I put another 10 minute/lap in the last hour but, otherwise, I was going slower and slower, so it was time to stop...
Between the start at 7 min/mile pace, the pit stops and the second half closer to 10 min/mile, my overall average pace was 9:07 and I finished 5 miles behind the course record Akos set 3 years ago in a much nicer weather and at the age of 32, so very satisfied with my first attempt at this format. I was glad I had not signed for the 24 hour this time though and that gave me a lot of appreciation for the runners going on for the rest of the night. Among them, my team mate Mark Tanaka who deliberately started slow but was running like a metronome and managed to win the 24-hour event!
I was really cold at the finish and was anxious to drive back after the award ceremony to get a hot shower and soak in our hot tub. This Sunday, my entire body is sore of all the shivering... I know this is kind of ridiculous to say as the temperature was really not low yesterday (60F on the parking lot when I left at 10 PM), but that's how my body responds to the effort and the humidity.

Overall, I enjoyed the format of the race, especially the length of the loop, very close to 1 mile. Running for 12 hours on a standard track and passing the finish line 4 times more often would be overwhelming, while the 4.5-mile loop at Ruth Anderson would be too long. As noted above, the views are wonderful and changing with the weather, there are many runners and joggers going on the course in the morning, and going through the aid station at every mile provides a lot of variety and distraction. Unlike some people may think about such a format, I never got bored. The organization was perfect although I learned this Sunday morning that the webcast updates were a bit frustrating for the ones "watching" the race online (lack of regularity). I'm particularly appreciative of the volunteers who continuously manned the aid station for hours, in the rain and the wind. With this format, there is always runners going through the aid station, for 24 hours non stop... Thanks Sarah and the extended Pacific Coast Trail Runs (PCTR) team for all your hard work to provide us with so much "serious fun!" ;-)
Bottom line, it was tough as I pushed myself through new limits, and I am eager to give it another try. In a more clement weather if possible... ;-)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

My most precious drink: water!

A short post to join the blog fest, the 2010 Action Blog Day on Water of this Friday (October 15, 2010):
A bit late after a busy week and weekend in New England. 5,652 bloggers, from 143 countries with 40,102,903 readers, according to the organizers, quite some impressive numbers for such a noble cause: raising awareness for our most precious resource on the so called blue planet.

One of the many findings that I made in my running experiences is that water is one of the most important constituent and key to success. The first times I ran farther, let's say for more than 10 miles, I was surprised to discover how much water was allowing me to go beyond what I thought I was capable of. Just plain water. I had the preconceived idea that only sugar and solid food could give you the energy to run longer. That you only needed to drink when thirsty. Thankfully, I train enough to have figured it out before the big and long races but, the fact is, I like simplicity and I do like plain water and prefer it over many other drinks.
In several of my posts about the Tour du Mont Blanc, I highlighted how wonderful it is to drink from natural springs and fountains when going through the many villages around the European summit. When Gordy Ainslegh first ran the Western States course, he could drink from the creeks but that's not a luxury anymore in North California where most of the streams are now infected with bacterias.
Now, thinking of us runners when discussing water is quite diminishing the importance of the water crisis for the planet. Running is a hobby for us and we are lucky to have enough to enjoy, even volunteers manning aid stations during races so we are not without water for more than 10 miles or so at once. How convenient this is when billions of humans lack access to water for their basic needs, access to water to just survive.
The site has a lot of information and statistics about the crisis, please have a look beyond this initial statements: "Nearly one billion people lack access to safe water and 2.5 billion do not have improved sanitation. The health and economic impacts are staggering." And let's all make what we can to preserve water and the Earth's resources. Here is a small example I spotted yesterday in the Men's of Yale's the Payne Whitney Gymnasium:
Or this one:
You see, as usual, a journey of thousand miles starts with one (simple) step!

By the way, a few months after our return from our trip to Ethiopia, we were delighted to learn that Emebet and Joseph (from The world Family) managed to get drinkable water to the village and the community of Gara Dima where we stayed! The project required many more than one step definitely, and quite some money (about $200,000) so, if you can do more than the simple actions above, I encourage you to consider making a donation to this organization, I know for having met them and being there that the funds will help people in much need.
Back to running, not much this week. I managed to go out on Monday evening albeit the danger to run against the fast traffic in the winding and narrow road of New England. Then I got killed by a bad cold although I was able to still attend the training during the day and several conference calls with Asia at night. I was still feeling feverish on Saturday when meting Max at Yale but, thankfully, much better this Sunday, which allowed the both of us to go for a 10-kilometer run from his dorm to the "summit" of East Rock Park in New Haven.
Here is another picture, in action, and you can see more of the campus in my Picasa photo album:
As you can expect, this is a fantastic campus and it is amazing to see all these students from around the World alternating hard work (everybody is reading or writing) or playing "hard." What I mean by the latter is that even the hobbies turn to a lot of hard work too with world-class art performance in music or drama for instance, and sports of course (in addition to the tour of the campus and some out-of-town shopping, Max and I went to listen to the Yale Symphonic Orchestra, to see a volley-ball game and an organ concert). As you can read above the indoor rowing training tanks: "Work Hard, Go Fast, Have Fun." Sounds actually and strangely quite familiar after one week of Big Blue training... ;-)

Let's go back to work, speed and fun then...! And keep saving our precious water so everyone can benefit from it for many more centuries.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

FireTrails 50 2010: ultra digithon!

I'm writing this post from the plane to White Plains, NY, with stop in  Denver and Chicago, actually starting these lines as we are passing a few thousands feet at the vertical of the FireTrails 50-mile course; which brings back the good memories of another great edition of this favorite ultra event in the Bay Area, created and directed to this year by ultra legends and "speedsters" Ann Trason and Carl Andersen.

During the week I told Pierre-Yves that, despite being our team match with Tamalpa in the ultra Grand Prix, I was not going to push too hard this time for several reasons:

  1. First, with a lot of racing these past 4 weeks, great performances and pushing for speed (3rd at Rio del Lago 100-mile, first overall at Trailblazer 10K and 3rd Masters at the Rock'n'Roll San Jose half-marathon);
  2. Second, another series of short nights because of hectic work and other family activities. By the way, Agnès is recovering amazingly well according to her doctor, although she wished it would go even faster;
  3. Last but not least, as I wrote last week, I had checked the competition and felt it was really out of reach to place or get much points this time.

With that I decided that I would carry a camera during my run, something I had never done in a competition before but that bloggers Scott Dunlap or Chihping Fu for instance are famous for. I thought that would be the best way --or excuse!-- not to get caught up in a fast start, have an even more enjoyable run and share views of everybody. If you cannot read the full race report, you can jump right to my Picasa photo album. I you did run Firetrails this year and cannot find your picture, it may be because you were in the bushes at the time our paths crossed... ;-)
The check-in process was very fast thanks to Ann mailing all the bibs 2 weeks before the race. Many local runners and known faces for friendly connections and exchanges in the busy picnic area. 5 minutes before the start, Carl gave us the Race Director briefing with quite some humor and encouragements to enjoy the beautiful day. Indeed, the dark sky was clear of clouds and temperatures were announced around 75F in the afternoon. At the start however, I felt chilly as usual and even started with two layers and Moeben sleeves (photo credit: Karl Hoagland).

Our RhoQuick (Rhomobile / Quicksilver) team was very well represented this Saturday: Gary, Sean, Toshi, Mark, Bree, Pierre-Yves, Amy, Keith (Adam injured his foot again earlier in the week and was a no-show). Gary started off with the top runners, Dave Mackey, Leigh Schmit, Victor Ballesteros and a few others. One minute in the run, Chikara Omine passed us. He wasn't on the entrants list and, to follow his own tradition, registered a few minutes before the start! I ran the first miles with teammates Sean, Mark and Toshi, whose race was the first 50-miler (FireTrails has a nice rookie award for first timers which I got back in 2006).
I missed a picture of the first aid station crew at Marciel Road (sorry guys), but was ready for the second one at Bort Meadow, where Stan Jensen could not believe I was carrying that camera. I replied "It's picture day!" and passed through the aid station without stopping as I was carrying two bottles and had plenty of fluids left.

A few miles later we started passing some of the early starters (5:30 start) and I stopped and turned to take a shot of each of them, the FireTrails "project" was on! For one, I stepped backward and almost felt off the trail, scaring of the runner I was taking a shot of, and me too... I did not stop at Big Bear Gate either (mile 10.5) except to take a picture (of course) and give an accolade to the other "Mr. Pommier" (on the right in the picture below) who I first met at the same aid station 4 years ago (his family came to the US from Belgium a few generations ago).
AI passed a few other early starters after Bear Gate and it was time to put the camera back in its pouch to push in the hill up Skyline Gate and enjoy the magnificient redwoods. After a picture of the aid station crew, I made my first stop (mile 15) to drink a cup of Coke, take a GU and a piece of banana. Stevens Creek Strider Dennis wisely said that, if I didn't need to take on his offer to fill up my bottles, it was because I was not drinking enough. Indeed, my water bottle was still pretty full and I had some GU2O left too, and read on what happened later...

I did not stop at Sibley Park either except to take a picture, then passed Sean on our way up to Steam Trains (mile 21.7). Second stop, this time to refill my GU2O bottle.
While I was running up the road after Steam Trains, I saw a runner flying on the way back and could not believe it was Dave Mackey already. Indeed, it was not, but Leor Pantilat on his way to winning the marathon (other race starting at our turnaround). I did not have time to get the camera ready and decided that I was not going to take a picture of all the marathoners (sorry guys and gals), except for Caren Spore who was leading the woman race:
A few miles down the fire trail to Tilden Park, we stay on the ridge with breathtaking views on both sides (Oakland, San Francisco, the Golden Gate, Mount Diablo, etc.).
I passed Thomas Reiss who was having a bad day. Actually, I was not feeling good either as my intestine was really hurting but at least we were going down and I was getting excited at the prospect of getting the camera ready again to resume my picture project as we were approaching the turnaround and going to cross the lead runners. One of the marathon runners told us that I thought we were in 8th and 9th positions. I crossed Dave about 2 miles from the turn around and he was moving fast despite the uphill grade.

He was followed quite closely by Chikara who was having a great day. Leigh was third and Gary fourth. Gary proudly said "look, 4 guys under the course record pace!"
Yes, that was definitely a fast year. Victor was a few minutes behind. I reached the turn around (Lone Oak picnic area) in 9th after having stopped to take a picture of all the other runners. I was welcomed by the joyful and colorful Rajeev and Anil, who filled my bottle water, and John Medinger who was recording our splits ("Tropical" John is the Publisher of Ultrarunning Magazine and Race Director of the grueling Quad Dipsea). I left to John my sleeves and my second layer which I had removed on my way up to Sibley Park as the heat was picking up. The temperature was actually very nice with some breeze, just getting hot when running up hill.
Sean and Toshi were still close behind and I thought they will catch me in the long up hill back to Steam as I was stopping for every 50-miler runner I was now crossing. It became an interesting stop-fix-snap-check-go exercise for the next 6 miles. A good way to catch my breath on the way up, but definitely breaking the pace on the few down hills of the ridge. Nevertheless, so enjoyable to catch so many smiles and expressions of surprise of runners who were not expecting a photo shoot from a lead runner! ;-) When going through Steam Trains again, I went around the station to make sure I didn't miss any runner and quickly continued on the trail just after picking one more S!Cap and a GU.

Sean caught up with me after the station and I let him pass as I was still stopping to take shots of the back of the pack. Once I thought I was done and stored my camera, I picked up the pace again and passed Sean just to find out that there were still a few runners going up to Steam Trains, for whom I got the camera back to work. After that, I passed Lee and Winnie (Jebian) before Sibley Preserve, stopped at the aid station to get y water bottle filled with ice water (cool!) and went on, running most of the hill up to Skyline Gate and passing a few marathon runners. At this point, the intestine pain was bearable but I was evidently suffering from dehydration. As a matter of fact, focused on the picture game and running with the camera in one hand, I was not paying as much attention to fluid intake as usual, for a pace which was still quite fast. Thankfully, apart from the hill after Bear Gate, there isn't too many difficulties after Skyline Gate, although all the runners will tell you that the finish is definitely not flat, especially after having run 40 miles!

I experienced a big low in the hill up to Bort Meadows for which I alternately walked and jogged. Thank to drinking much more after Sibley Preserve, I was able to pick up the pace on the rolling section to Bort Meadows and after, with a pace oscillating between 8 and 9 minutes/mile. In the flat section after Bort Meadows, I passed this tall black guy who was yelling and smashing the bushes. Thankfully, he stayed on the side of the trail and I did not stop to take a picture, way too risky! I was told at the finish that he was hallucinating and a runner managed to get him to leave the trail and collected by the local Police. John and Carl were joking about which other unexpected event may occur in the next race... It is so hard to plan for everything with that many runners out in the wilderness for a day...

Still working on fixing my hydration, I got more ice water in my bottle. Stan teased me and asked for another picture but the game was over, I was now focusing on finishing in a good time in case we still had a chance against Tamalpa as I did not know how the lead runners did. I stopped for a few seconds at Bass Cove just to take a picture, thanking the volunteers and yelling my bin number as I was exiting the station. 4 years ago, this is the point where Rob Evans caught up with me then passed me with 2 miles to go. I was determined to run and push to the finish now, which I did, even getting the pace below 7 minute/mile on the bike path.
I crossed the finish line taking a picture of the finish area, in 7:25:59 for 9th and 4th Masters. Dave Mackey won in a blazing 6:16, improving the course record that Carl was owning since 1994 of 6:26! And Dave is now 40, so good luck to all the future Masters to beat that. And don't count on me... ;-) Chikara took second with a no less amazing time of 6:23. Then Gary who had passed Leigh, and Victor who was the 5th runner finishing under 7 hours (another record I believe).

After such an effort, we had the pleasure to enjoy the famous Firetrails Café, with its grill, salads, soup and abundant table of delicious desserts (I must have missed them the previous years).
Great time to catchup with the ultra running community and my teammates as Sean, Toshi and Mark arrived within the next 20 minutes. Bree won the woman race in 8:03 and Pierre-Yves finished soon after. Despite an great time of 7:37 for his first 50-miler, Toshi missed the Dick Collins Rookie award by a mere two spots.
A special tribute to all the volunteers with a collage of their pictures, from the check-in, to the aid stations, the Firetrails café and finish tables (time keeping, awards and goody bags), not to forget the famous race directors.[Click on the picture to enlarge.]
7:45 in 2006, 7:15 in 2008, 7:25 and 350 pictures in 2010, I will be back for another Firetrails party! I cannot believe that it has been only 4 years since I ran my first 50-milers, it seems much longer. My big lesson of this Saturday is that taking more than 350 pictures during a race does slow you down (if you count 2 seconds per picture, that makes almost 12 minutes, but that's probably even optimistic). But the real trick is to keep listening to your body and fueling accordingly. This I need to work on if I wish to persevere in the ultra digithon area... ;-)

By the way, it is not the first year but I heard the rumor that Ann and Carl may turn the page of this long 18-year string of race directing this race. In any case, long life to Firetrails and this Bay Area ultra running tradition, and a special occasion to thank you, Ann and Carl, for having set it up and made it live for 18 years already, in honor and memory of Dick Collins!

PS: Again, check my Picasa photo album (330 pictures) to see you favorite runner or volunteer, and many many happy faces! ;-) And I apologize to the folks from Printroom as I had decided to run this digital photo project before I knew they would also cover the event. Needless to say, their pictures will be of much higher quality so, per Ann and Carl's letter, please visit their website ( and buy a souvenir from them.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Rock 'n' Roll San Jose 1/2 marathon: shorter but not easier

I ran the super well attended Rock 'n' Roll half-marathon this past Sunday in San Jose. Flat course, cool and overcast weather, very professional organization, one entertaining band every mile, exciting cheer leaders at the aid stations, amazing competition from all over the country, a few friends along the course or among the runners and even Agnès, Alex and Greg showing up on the course at mile 10: the perfect running party and recipe for success. And I needed the perfect race to meet my aggressive goal of going under 1:15 and setting a new PR. Surely very aggressive given that I ran a great 100-miler 3 weeks ago and an overall won at the Trailblazer 10K last week, not to mention the upcoming FireTrails 50-mile next Saturday...

I set my PR on the distance at the Paris Half-Marathon, 4.5 years ago, at 1:15:04. I was not blogging at the time but I will always remember being so close to the finish line, seeing the seconds passing and getting close to 1:15. I was giving everything out but could not sprint faster to break the symbolic 1:15 barrier. With a great season this year including several new PRs while I'm fighting the aging process, and a flatter course than Paris (apart for two underpasses, it is hard to beat San Jose for that), I was hoping to replace this memory with a time of 1:14 and change. Read on to the end...

The expo

It felt strange to join such a large crowd and busy expo after all the much lower key road and trail races I ran this year. I went to the expo 15 minutes before the doors even opened on Saturday morning but there was already a line. The check-in process was very smooth though, I was just impressed to see corrals and bib numbers going as high as 16 thousands. Looking at the results, I estimate that there were about 10,500 finishers with, yet again as this is now becoming the norm for road races in the US, slightly more women than men (about 5,800 women finishers).

Three particular booths that I want to highlight among the many vendors:
  1. First, my sponsor, Brooks, which had a major representation and almost half the expo floor. Nice technical t-shirt for the race with a color which will suit perfectly for the next St Patrick's Day ;-).
  2. Tim Borland who was selling a DVD counting his amazing series of 63 marathons in 63 days to support the fight against Ataxia-Telangiectasia, a lethal genetic disease that attacks children. If you have not already bought his DVD, please visit!
  3. Then, I stopped by a booth which I had never seen before: Athletes for a Fit Planet ( The mission statement of this dynamic organization says it all "greening the planet one race at a time." It partners with the large road running, bike or triathlon races to protect the environment. Offering a sort of equivalent of what LEED certification is to green buildings. Something which I am very sensitive to given my interest for sustainable development. And my dear sustainable running theme...! Please visit the website yourself and take the athlete EcoPledge.
Anyway, I left the expo before the crowd came in and spent the rest of the morning shopping at Fry's, something which has been on my to do list for more than two months.

Race day

I carpooled with my running buddy, Bob, and found a very convenient parking spot just in front of the HP Pavilion, that is about half a mile from the start. We went for a 3-mile warm-up along the Guadalupe river and still had 20 minutes to kill before getting to the first corral. We had bib numbers in the low 1,000s, but there were probably less than 40 elite runners in front of us so the start was appearing as easy. However, a minute before the start, the 1:30 pacer lead moved forward, rushing with him many more people close to the line. Bottom line, it only took me 3 seconds after the gun to cross the start line, but had to cautiously navigate through slower runners to finally reach the lead women after 4 to 500 yards.

I passed the first mile just below 5:29 which felt a bit aggressive but a doable pace on such a flat course. I was still at the same pace at mile 2 (11 minutes), but starting to lose a few seconds per mile after that. Jose Pina was about 10 seconds ahead and I had no plan to track him as he is faster than me on 5 and 10Ks (and younger as he just turned 40 this year). The thing which really impressed me is when Linda Somers Smith passed me, I think around mile 3 or 4. At 48, she is an amazing local and national runner. She wins everything in her age group, from short and super fast cross-country races to winning her age group in a blazing 2:36 at the Los Angeles Marathon last March. A 5:59 min/mile pace...!

After that, I was only passed by two runners, one at mile 6 and one just before mile 10. We finished within 15 seconds so our pace was pretty even and stable. My GPS indicated 5:42 min/mile at the 10-mile mark which I passed in 57:35, better than most of my 10-mile long tempo runs at the track, although it has been a year since I did not do one. Not only did I feel good about that, but Agnès and the boys were just around the corner to cheer us. They had planned to be at mile 7 and 9 (same spot), but could not reach the neighborhood. I kept pushing to maintain that pace, although I knew that was probably not even for my PR as the distance was a bit off at mile 10 already (10.06 instead). At this level, every second and inch count...
Crossing the flow of the rest of the pack on the last two miles, on The Alameda, was really exciting with all the encouragements from the runners going through their 5th and 6th miles. I was under 1:12 at the 20K mark and still hoping to reach my goal until I realized that the finish line was not the same as the starting line (the arch of black balloons), nor after the Almaden Road corner, but farther on Park Avenue. Result: 1:15:53 and 19th overall, so long for a PR, yet a good performance for the quantity of running and racing I'm now putting in (most coaches would tell you that you can't have both quantity and quality at the same time...). The runner ahead of me by 6 seconds turned to me after crossing the line and asked for my age. He was happy, we had the same and he was ahead (Kevin McGinnis from Ravensdale, WA, bib elite #15). Apart from Linda Somers Smith who had taken 2nd overall in the women, Jose Pina was the only other Master ahead of us (1:15:14). Regarding Linda's performance, I actually looked at the USA Track & Field website for road racing records and found the W45-49 age group surprisingly missing for half-marathon, so I'm not sure if her 1:13:31 is eligible or not.
I waited on the finish line to see Bob crossing the tape in 1:23:27 and we headed back to the parking lot after receiving our nice, colorful and heavy finisher medals and picking some fruits, bars and pretzels from Whole Foods. We called Stephanie to see when the award ceremony was scheduled for but she saw on the web that awards will only be mailed in 4-6 weeks. The virtual ceremony... Stephanie came to see us at mile 5 and 12 and she said we were too focus in the last mile, so both of us missed her then.
On their end, Agnès, Alex and Greg waited slightly longer to see Monique passing by mile 10 on her way to completing her first half-marathon in 2:52.
It was my 173rd race and 25th half-marathon. Interestingly enough, and probably unlike some people think, shorter distances do not make race easier when you give everything you have in your guts. Like last week after the Trailblazer 10K, my stomach and intestine were upset and only recovered for dinner, not something I feel after an ultra marathon. Well, maybe I'm not pushing hard enough on trail races...

See a few other pictures of the front runners in my Picasa photo album (credit to Agnès), although some of them are blurry this time. By the way, the Brooks Hanson team placed 2nd and 3rd in the men race (1:07 and 1:08) and 6th and 9th in the women. And a few other Brooks Inspire Daily teammates also did well (13th and 14th in 1:11).

Additionally, and I'm not sure for how long they will keep these videos on the race website, you can find see you running at the finish. Here is my videos: before the finish and at the finish (click on the links).

Next week's match: FireTrails 50-mile

No time to rest, just a few days to tapper, next Saturday is another big event in our MUT (Mountain Ultra Trail) Grand Prix with a special match between the Tamalpa (T) and my team, RhoQuick (Rhomobile/Quicksilver, RQ). Just the M40-49 age group has an amazing list of fast runners in the registered entrants list: Dave Mackey (T), Gary Gellin (RQ), Victor Ballesteros (T), Karl Hoagland (T), Mark Tanaka (RQ), Geoff Vaughan (T), Thomas Reiss, Ray Sanchez, ... The pace will not match the 4:43 min/mile of half-marathon defending champion and winner, Meb Keflizighi, nor my 5:43, but this upcoming FireTrails edition promise to be very fast. Talk to you about it next week then, and Run Happy in the meantime!