Sunday, April 24, 2011

Ruth Anderson 2011: DSL

No, I am not going to teach you how the Digital Subscriber Line technology works, nor what Domain-Specific Languages are about. In the ultra verbiage, we have the infamous DNF (Did Not Finish), the less embarrassing DNS (Did Not Start) or even the DFL (Did Finish Last). For me, this edition of Ruth Anderson can be summarized in one new acronym: DSL for Did Start Late. Or even DSVL (Did Start Very Late)... Another and much longer title could have been "When things don't work out but you manage to make them work..." Read on...

The story actually started a couple of months ago when Agnès found a great packaged deal for a family trip to Orlando. The only glitch was that we were scheduled to fly back on Friday night, or actually landing at San Francisco Airport at 12:45 AM this Saturday morning, the same morning as the Ruth Anderson race starting at 6:30 AM... Al that on the last flight leaving Orlando and with a 35-minute connection in Phoenix, AZ. I have traveled enough (more than 1.4 million miles) to know that had little chance to work out but was still hoping to make it on time, even if it meant with a very short night. At least I had caught up with a lot of sleep deficiency with several 8 to 10-hour nights in Orlando (it helps to have teen who enjoy sleeping in during their Spring break ;-). Ironically, Agnès picked the last flight to maximize our time in Orlando but, after a week there, I must admit we were tired of the so-called amusement parks (what a crowd at this period) and had gotten too much sun burns to spend the day in the sun. So, after releasing our room, we spent the whole day in the hotel lobby, Agnes and Alex reading and me working... Something we could have well done at the airport while trying to get standby on an earlier flight. As a matter of fact, when we arrived to the airport, the agent told us right away that we had already missed our connection. The plan was quite empty because they had reassigned most of the passengers on other flights but there was no more options for us. After some negotiation though, based on my constraint to be at the starting line of a 100K race in San Francisco by 6:30 AM, the agent agreed to put us on the first flight leaving Phoenix, on another airline: 6 AM, with a scheduled arrival in SFO at 8:20 AM. The time to catch the shuttle to the ling-term parking, to get the car and drive to the start, this meant a 3-hour late start at best. We landed in Phoenix at 10:45 PM on Friday night and got to our room around midnight. With all the stress, I had trouble sleeping and got about 3 hours before waking up at 4 to be at the airport by 5 AM. The flight was 100% full this time but, luckily, the pilot got the airplane off the tarmac right on 6AM and we landed in SFO at 7:50. We ran through the airport and got at the curbside just at the shuttle was dropping a passenger. We were the only ones in the shuttle and our car was close to the entrance of the parking lot so we were quickly off to the starting line, Agnès driving, Alex as a co-pilot and me changing and preparing in the back (fortunately and wisely, just after returning from Vegas last week, I had prepared my race bag and put it in the car in case we had not enough time to drive back home before the race).

It was 8:32 AM when we got on the parking lot: I jumped out of the car, got my bib from Stan Jensen, used only two safety pins to attach it to my shorts and Rajeev's timing assistant jogged with me to the start, half a mile away, to get my "chip time". 2:07:50 after the official start. Quite a record when you realize that I was in the wrong state, on the tarmac in Phoenix, when all the runners were walking to the start... Here on my first loop, photo courtesy of Chihping (see his photo album on Facebook for more):
Ok, so, after this long introduction, I promise the rest of the race report is going to be shorter. For the first reason that there isn't much to tell about this race on a rolling course and 4.5-mile loop. The race is pretty much to cover either 7, 11 or 14 loops, depending if you go for 50K, 50 miles or 100K. And the main difficulty is mostly psychological as you can decide on the way which distance you want to stop, making it difficult for instance to go for 100K when you pass the 50-mile mark. Something I have been unable to do so far at this even for various reasons (one year I had trouble completing the 50K because of asthma, last year I decided to stop at 50-mile with a PR). At least, this year, and despite the bumpy start, I was resolute to do 100K at least for the team per Greg's assignment.

The first thing which differed from previous years is that, right off my start, I was passing runners. Usually, it takes about 2 laps to start lapping other runners but, with my 2-hour late start, all the runners were now scattered along the course. Just before getting on the parking lot, I saw a few familiar faces including Jon Olsen. It took me three laps to first catch-up with teammates Sean, Toshi, Adam. Sean was on the 100K too, Adam on the 50-mile and Toshi would end up winning the 50-mile. On the plane, I had set my goal around 8 hours, that is 7:43 min/mile pace, and promised myself not to start faster than 7:15. However, given the conditions, I had to contain myself not to run faster than 7 min/mile pace. I hold on a very steady 7:10 average for about 7 laps (about 3:07 marathon and a 3:42 50K if I recall). At the end of my next lap, a small group was looking at the turn, half-mile behind, for Joe Biden who was coming to complete the 100K distance in an astonishing 7:02 (6:48 average pace!). He was followed 10 minutes later by Jon Olsen. I caught up with Sean 2 more times. I was finishing my 11th lap and I thought he was on his last one but he had actually one more to go. Toshi joined Sean and paced him for his last lap; later on Toshi would end up pacing Jim in his last two laps, thus covering 100K total including his win of the 50-mile race! I ran most of the laps around 32-33 minutes but slowed down to 40-minute laps for the final ones. I crossed the finish line in a scratch (chip...) time of 8:05:23 which is by very far my PR at this distance given that I only ran Miwok otherwise.
Unfortunately, the official time will remain 10:13:13 in the records as this is a USATF-sanctioned event for which only the gun time counts. Anyway, I decided to run this Saturday for the points, both in the individual and team competitions. Both Chipping and Jim were injured but had committed themselves on running the 100K if the team needed it. As well as Greg who was open to keep going after the 50K if required. Fortunately, I was on time to tell them that I will cover that distance, yet we needed Jim to "shuffle" to the end as he is such an expert at it, always with a smile on his face (despite enduring knee pain in his final laps). At least I Did Start (never DNS'ed so far after 180 races including 58 ultra races), and while if DSL'ed (Did Start Last) I DFL'ed not (did not finish last), actually 4th overall on the 100K (3rd scratch time), out of about 10 finishers.

On the individual side, there was only Charles Blakeney in my age group, whom I passed 5 times during my "catching-up hunt" (a much more tiring one than this Sunday's Easter egg hunt...). I also passed Jason Reed several time who was enjoying a slower 100K after a blazing 2:49 Boston Marathon 6 days earlier and a fast Zippy 5K this Sunday. Here he is, enjoying the lentil soup on Rajeev's aid station vegetarian menu (well, he promised me it was soup... ;-):
The weather was perfect and propitious for great performances like it has been the case at Boston last Monday. About 55F throughout the day, overcast, no rain, just a breeze, it was ideal for us, runners, slightly chilly for spectators, volunteers and when we were done running. By the way, for those fearing the asphalt, I ran most of my laps on the sandy shoulder and it really alleviates most of the pounding as well as provides some variety in your foot stepping. Here is part of the team gathering around Jim just after his finish (photo credit to Jason, on Greg's camera). Notice Jim holding both his age group award plaque as well as a Guinness on the other hand. Yes, it's time to carbo load again!
The team did very well overall under our new colors (blue for the guys, magenta for the gals) and in our new Brooks shirts sponsored by The Running Revolution: one course record on the 50-mile (Clare), one overall win on the 50-mile (Toshi), a women team win on the 50K, mixed win on the 50-mile and men win on the 100K. By the way, here is a nice article on the team published in our local Almaden Times Weekly this week.

A very special thank you to Race Director, Rajeev (also a member of our QuickSilver Running Club), for keeping the low-key tradition of this event up in honor of local ultra legend Ruth Anderson. There are only two aid stations to man along the course but they remain open for more than 14 hours so a very special thank to these volunteers who gave their day up for us, in particular the ones of the South End aid station at which I stopped only once but who comforted me with the famous "Looking good!" at each of my 14 laps, even when I was not feeling as good in the last ones. Of course a unique thank you to the time keepers, Dave Combs and Stan Jensen, who cannot take any rest while collecting the 500 or more splits from 6:30 AM to 8 PM... Thanks also to the volunteers manning the food and fluid tables and Jeanette who refilled my 4th GU2O bottle.

Again, a low-key event compared to some other hard-to-get-in races such as American River, Way Too Cool or Miwok, not to mention Western States. Yet an ideal event to get exposed to ultra running in a very friendly and accessible environment. See some of you again next year then! In the meantime, yet another week of tapering before QuickSilver 50K next Saturday and Miwok 100K the following weekend. What a crazy race calendar, or let's say, great training runs every weekend... ;-). And, next times, I'll try to drive in to the start line instead of flying from out of State at the time the race starts...

PS: see also Alan Geraldi's albums on Facebook (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part III bis) for more pictures of participants (including the start which I missed...)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Walks in the Parks in Florida

12 hours walking in the park, I told the family it's harder than running 50 miles! For me anyway. I feel the same about visiting museums. A few steps, stop, waiting in line, a few more steps, paying attention to the crowd not to bump in any kid running around, 20 stairs up here or down there, waiting in another line moving at 5 steps a minute... On Saturday, we spent 12 hours at Universal's Island of Adventure after getting to the hotel around 2 AM and a short night. Sounds like ultra amusement... Sunday was "rest day" so, after Palm Sunday's celebration at the nearby Shrine, I left the family at the swimming pool to run 26.4 miles.

Running in the heat felt difficult as I'm not acclimated to it yet. I had looked for a bike path to run on but couldn't find any nearby on I decided to stay in the neighborhood of our hotel, something which ended up being a perfect 5.5-mile loop for a few repeats. For those staying in Lake Buena Vista, here  is what the course look like (running against traffic to avoid road crossings): 1.4 miles on SR535 from the intersection with Vineland Avenue, left on World Center (run on grass after passing Caribe Royale), left on International Drive (keep running on grass until Patterson Club Drive), then left on Vineland Avenue (concrete).
This loop will work for anyone staying at the Marriott Village (Fairfield Inn, Spring Hill Suites, Courtyard), Holiday Inn Sun Spree Resort, Sheraton Vistana Resort, Blue Heron Beach Resort, Grand Beach, Buena Vista Suites, Caribe Royale, Palazzo Del Lago and Hilton Grand Vacations (listing them all for Google's indexing).

On the second loop I ventured into the woods to get away from the traffic. Certainly got into a much quieter place although not the ideal running trails, my feet sinking into deep and fine white sand at each step. At least I was lucky not to encounter any ATV as it seemed to be their domain given the tracks in the sand. After this detour, I completed two other loops plus a 3-mile out and back to make it slightly longer than the marathon distance (1) as my last long run before this coming Saturday 100K (Ruth Anderson) and (2) thinking of all the participants to Monday's Boston Marathon.

Speaking of Boston, it must have been quite a perfect weather with such amazing times. I ran 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2007 and only got bad weather once, so odd years must be better (any Boston analytics guru out there to confirm or infirm?). I can't believe the best ever time on this distance happening on this course: 2:03:02, unbelievable! Records are supposed to happen on flat courses such as Chicago, Berlin, Rotterdam. I still remember Haile Gebrselassie claiming that it will be a long time before anyone else improves his record when he had just broken 2:04 by one second in Berlin. It was less than 3 year ago, September 2008... The duel between the Ethiopians and Kenyans at this distance is just amazing. Nevertheless, Ryan Hall taking fourth overall and first American while breaking 2:05 is no less amazing.

10 more hours at Universal Studios Florida on Tuesday, and Wednesday spent at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Canaveral National Seashore, for more walking in the Parks but a steady and much more comfortable pace this time. And it was wonderful to swim in the Atlantic Ocean too! Great rest, long nights and some tapering before flying back on Friday night, just a few hours before the start of Ruth Anderson 100K. If I don't miss my 35-minute connection in Denver...

PS: we missed the ultimate launch of the Space Shuttle which was scheduled for this week but got postponed to the end of the month. However, it was a delight to see half a dozen of manatees as well as one huge alligator! Worth a long walk in the park! ;-)
Alligators crossing...

Saturday, April 9, 2011

American River 2011: older but faster!

American River (AR) is very central to the ultra ecosystem in North California: Western States 100-mile, American River 50-mile, Jed Smith 50K and 50-mile, Rio del Lago 100-mile, Sierra Nevada Run 52-mile, Way Too Cool 50K, Helen Klein Classic 50K or 50-mile, ... Unfortunately, it doesn't always bring good memory as I had many exercise-induced asthma attacks when running in that area, and not just in the Spring, but anytime in the year. Furthermore, and because of this exercise-induced asthma, I had my first and only DNF (Did Not Finish) in the US at American River (2009) after an epic asthma incident at my first run there in 2008, forcing me to walk from mile 16 to 50, a very long day, almost 9 hours...

For this reason, and as I mentioned in my post on Way Too Cool a month ago, today was a big test to confirm that SingulAir was working for me. I didn't have any attack since I'm taking it consistently (daily) since beginning of 2010. I still feel some irritation at the bottom of my lungs after tough races, but no bothering during the races anymore. And it certainly helps to run on two working lungs (that makes me think often of Tom Kaisersatt who suffered so much from the deterioration of his lungs, and I wear the LIVESTRONG bracelet in his memory).

After a hectic week and quite some sleep deprivation (4 hours on Tuesday night, 3 hours on Wednesday night, less than 6 hours last night but fortunately 8.5 hours on Thursday), and quite some stress juggling with so many activities, I didn't have much of a race plan, even barely a plan to get to the start on Wednesday. Thankfully, Agnès had no commitments this Saturday so she offered to give-up her day to drive and crew for me, that made a huge difference. And, incidentally, get you some pictures of the front runners as she covered 7 spots on the course, including start and finish (her own ultra... especially at the pace we were moving...). We left Cupertino at 3 AM.

It was 40F at the start at 6AM and quite dark. The start was further from the bridge than usual to accommodate the 800+ runners, a record for this race (because of the cancellation of Lake Sonoma last week, Race Director, Julie Fingar, accepted to take about 75 of the Lake Sonoma registrants). Despite the size of the crowd, it was quite easy to get to the front (a few familiar faces there but a few unknown ones too, apparently from Colorado, so it promised to be fast again this year, especially with the presence of Tamalpa's elite Dave MacKey).

I settled on a 7 min/mile pace. Teammate Toshi passed me and stayed ahead by a few hundred yards. Based on their advice at my first Miwok ("don't pass us!") I made sure to stay behind Erik Skaden and his running buddy, Mark Lantz (they are much faster than me anyway, so it's indeed a great advice to force to pace myself. Erik has 5 top-5 finishes at Western States out of 6 runs, including finishing second twice so I've always been very impressed by his athletic ability in ultra). However, after the fist mile, Erik left this group and got closer to Toshi, while I was feeling good and imperceptibly pushing the pace, stabilizing it around 6:50 with Toshi, Erik and Michael Fink in sight. The temperature was cool but the sky clear except for a few spectacular and gorgeous foggy areas over the American River, beautifully captured by Agnès:

6:50 seemed a comfortable pace and, unfortunately, that was Erik's pace today, slower than usual for him. I was running 6:40 when I got the asthma attack in 2008 so I didn't want to take the risk to push into the red zone. I say unfortunately because, at mile 15, as we were passed by another runner, Erik shared his frustration of feeling me on his heels and asked me to accelerate to follow the other runner. With so much insistence that, as I was reminding him of his advice above, he stopped to force me to run ahead of him, then followed me so closely that his hand hit my elbow 5 times. Quite an explicit and unorthodox way to pass the message....
Anyway, at the next aid station, Erik didn't stop and passed both of us. After that I made sure to keep even more distance for the next 15 miles before Erik disappeared. At this point (mile 31), IAU World 2010 100K champion, Kami Semick, passed me like she was sprinting to the finish (7:10 min/mile pace average at that time). It took only a few seconds for me to get passed by Ellie Greenwood, from Canada. I followed them for about a quarter of a mile, enough to see Ellie passing Kami. Very impressive head of the women competition, Ellie would finish first in a blazing 6:25 (not quite yet the 6:03 Course Record Ann Transon set in 1993), and almost 9 minutes ahead of Kami. Here is Norm Klein (a legendary ultra race director), interviewing Ellie at the finish:
From this point (50K mark), I had slowed down significantly to a 7:18 average pace and this would grow to 8:00 at the bottom of the last hill. I started walking some of the rocky sections, hoping the cramp which was nagging since mile 15 or so in my right calf would not trigger. As I was leaving Rattle Snake Bar (mile 41), I heard a lot of noise so it meant at least a runner was closing on me. A couple of miles later, in a switch back, I saw Mark Murray and another runner whom I took for Craig Thornley (but Mark told me at the finish that it was his pacer), two Masters. Mark ran Way Too Cool 5 minutes faster than me, so I thought I was doomed again, especially as he trains on this course (with Erik and Mark in particular), so he knows it much better than I do (I only race on this trail). However, I decided to push the pace to delay his passing. My pace was 7:53 after the hill I walked right after Rattle Snake Bar and I just lost a few seconds in the next 6 miles, skipping the Manhattan Bar aid station. No sign of Mark behind at the bottom of the 3.5 mile hill (or wall should I say when you look at the course profile, although this is a bit dispropotionate as the final elevation is only 1,200 feet), and kept pushing, alternating jogging and walking, while also skipping Last Gasp.
I was wearing bib #14 and ended up finishing 12th overall in 6:47:53, good enough for 3rd Masters, the first time I place in my age group at this race, and a PR by more than 10 minutes after last year's 6:58. Of course it helped that Victor Ballesteros wasn't here as he focused on the US 100K road championship, Mark Lantz had an issue with his ankle, Rob Evans wasn't running (6:42 last year), Gary Gellin focused is resting between two superb performance in March and the upcoming QuickSilver 50-mile, or even that Erik is only turning 40 next year (he will dominate our age group then). But I had to dig deep after this tiring week and lay down for 15 minutes at the finish to recover.
As he is so used to it, Dave MacKey took first overall in 5:51, at age 41 (on Zinsli, you can see all of Dave's races in California with 17 first place and 4 second, that's it, a model of consistency and domination...)! Another Canadian, Jason Loutitt of Vancouver, finished right under 6 hours with 4 seconds to spare, for a ticket to Western States thanks to the Montrail sponsorship. All results are already posted on the Capital Road Race Management website, and will soon be also on UltraSignup. After 13 hours, there were 600 finishers posted in this report. Here are Dave MacKey (#3) and Ian Sherman of San Jose who took fourth overall.

For our QuickSilver Ultra Running Team (QSURT), Toshi finished in 7:01, Eric Toschi 7:11, Sean 7:48, Adam and Clare in 8:20, Keith 8:27, Adona 8:34, Miki 8:49, Jim 10:09, Susan/Susie 10:36. Here with Toshi and Sean:
A big thank you to Julie for a very professional organization and pushing the envelope to take as many runners as possible on such a course. And to all the volunteers, with my apologies especially for the last aid stations where I didn't stop, or the ones in the 30-40 mile section where I was not feeling good enough to smile and say thank you (sorry...). A big thank you to Agnès for crewing like in the good old times and taking the pictures you'll find in the Picasa album.

I'm leaving the house at 5 AM this Sunday morning for another hectic week, this time in Vegas (Impact conference), then a family trip on the East Coast for a week. If we are lucky with our connections, we'll land at SFO at 12:30 AM the Saturday of Ruth Anderson (50-mile or 100K), so that's going to be another short night... Again, if we don't miss our 30-minute connection on the way back... Was great to see many of you at American River, hope to see some of you (albeit probably less) at Ruth Anderson in 2 weeks then!

Monday, April 4, 2011

QSURT: off to a great 2011!

A quick post as I ran 50 miles this weekend, blogged about yet another busy week at my first job and caught up with work the rest of the weekend... Yet, a good running week with quite a few miles added to my log, either 92 miles (Sunday-Saturday) or 78 miles (Monday-Sunday) depending on when the week is starting for you. ;-)

On Tuesday night, we finally had our team top try-out meeting at our new sponsor, The Running Revolution, a very professional running store in Campbell, very close to the Los Gatos Creek trail. The Running Revolution and its owners, Tim, Heidi and Chris, join our 2010 sponsors, Rhomobile and its CEO and team member, Adam Blum, and the Quick Silver Running Club of San Jose.
With this additional support and publicity, with our successful first two years in the PA USATF Grand Prix and both wins in 2009 and 2010, with the renewed energy under Greg Lanctot's leadership, new members keep joining and growing the ranks of our 2011 Quick Silver Ultra Running Team (QSURT) and you will see many of us on the trails this year! I think the last count is 22, from a mere 9 in 2009. (Photo courtesy of Toshi and Tim.)
Among the QSURT members, Pierre-Yves Couteau has a very special role and responsibility: directing the QuickSilver ultras (50-mile, 50K and 25K), a major event for the club, held on April 30 this year. In addition to the Race Director duties, Pierre-Yves even organized an informal training run this Saturday. I actually joined Sean, Toshi and Larry for an early start from the McAbee Road entrance at 6:30 and we had already ran 7.5 miles when we joined the rest of the group at the Mockingbird Hill parking lot.
There were about 30 of us for the group run, some going for 7 miles, the others for the 25K loop. After my early birds companions returned to their car or bike at the end of new Almaden Trail, I led the 25K group and shared some of my experience of these races.
Matthew and Sean wanted to put more miles in, and Dan needed a ride back, so we went on, taking the 50-mile route up to English Camp before running up to Bull Run on Mine Hill. On the ridge, Matt and Sean returned to Mockingbird via Castillero Trail while Dan and I ran down Mine Hill Trail, back to McAbee Road. That made almost 32 miles for me and some good hill training, right on 5 hours of running time.
See my Picasa album for pictures of the participants of this informal run. It was cloudy most of the morning with a nice temperature when running (on the cool side when stopping to gather the group).

On Sunday, I would have run up to Black Mountain but didn't have enough time so ran 18.6 flat miles in the neighborhood in 2:20. Good enough for 50 miles this weekend before tapering this week in preparation of American River 50-mile next Saturday.

See many of you up there and have a great week in the meantime. The tip of the week: Taper In Peace... ;-)