Sunday, October 30, 2011

Moving to a traveling blog? Not quite yet!

This year, I've logged 63 miles/week so far, more than any previous year. However, this Fall, I've been averaging more than 5,000 air miles a week, so maybe I should turn my Farther Faster blog into a traveler log... DC and Florida this week and most likely Toronto next week, the ball keeps rolling...

With that, it felt strange to be home for a whole week. With Agn├Ęs in France and Greg busy with high school home work, his last week of the water polo season and a few hours of volunteering, I worked hard at trying to clear my backlog of emails and requests from all over the map, as well as logging a few training miles.

This Saturday for instance, I ran another 50K training run, mixing a few "social" miles with the Striders (my Cupertino running club) then pushing the pace up the back of Black Mountain (via the Stevens Creek Canyon Road). 4 hours and 15 minutes for 31 miles, 35% on road, the rest on trail and a cumulative elevation of 5,000 feet. To enjoy another week of perfect weather, albeit cooler than last week, thinking of all the population in the North East experiencing their first major snow storm of the season.
When I think of the time I was running one or two marathons a year, 5 years ago, and now I run 50Ks as training runs and have 157 ultra runs in my log, including 65 ultra races... It's amazing what the human body is capable of with some training and will...!

I also went to the track twice this week (Mountain View High School, 5:45 am) and enjoyed being pulled by Bob's speed. No question that increasing your mileage isn't helping getting you faster so it's important to keep track of the... track and the speed work. I even ran 4 miles at 5 am this Sunday morning before driving to the airport to catch my early flight.

The weather was very nice tonight upon landing in DC, the snow is gone. Hope everybody is safe by now. Have a good week all, and Happy Halloween for those celebrating and treat-or-tricking! :-)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Back to running paradise: anti Rhus Ridge

18 hours on a plane (2 from Riyadh to Dubai and 16 from Dubai to San Francisco), 23 hours door to door, 30 hours bed to bed (including/minus 3 hours of sleep on the plane), what a trip... As much as I enjoyed this first experience in Arabia, and I feel I'm going to go back soon with all the banks and business over there, I'm glad to be back home, in this running paradise! I went for a 9-mile run before going to bed on Thursday evening, nothing better than that to reset your body and mind clock. The temperature was 78F which some people would find high for late October but that felt almost chilly after running in 100F in Riyadh!

On Saturday, I slept in and missed our monthly Rhus Ridge run. I decided to still go but run the loop anti-clockwise to give me an opportunity to see a few familiar faces. Indeed, in Palo Alto's Foothills Park, I met David, Craig and Ed then, later, Chris G. then, 10 miles later, Chuck, at the top of Black Mountain, and Lee and Winnie as I was approaching Windmill Pasture in Rancho San Antonio Park. I ran solo but it turned out to be quite a social run after all. On Bella Vista trail up to Black Mountain, I actually met Gayla whom I've not seen for maybe 4 or 5 years. As I was getting acquainted with ultra running 6 years ago, Gayla was always running with Charles (Stevens) and she was a diligent participant in our Saturday morning long runs. Unfortunately, it was at that time that her knees started bothering her to the extent that the frequent cortisone shots were not even a solution to the pain. It was great to see her trotting down the trail and learning that she follows me on my blog with assiduity.

The weather was amazingly wonderful. I know this is kind of a strange juxtaposition, but it was actually hard to believe as we approach the end of October: pure blue skies, temperature around 80F (28C), some breeze, trails in perfect conditions, no sand/dust pollution. Speaking of pollution, my lungs were actually complaining and somehow irritated as I started the run, still recovering from the dust I must have inhaled in Riyadh in particular. Fortunately, after Thursday and Saturday runs, they were not bothering me on my Sunday run, phew!

Going anti-clockwise on our standard Rhus Ridge loop, I ran 29.5 miles at an average pace of 8:50 min/mile.
On Sunday, the weather was still perfect and I ran up to the top of Montebello Road, adding the Waterwheel Trail loop as a bonus for a total of 21.7 miles at 8:35 min/mile with stops at every creek crossing to cool off. Yes, a warm October and still creeks running, I told you, this is running paradise! With that, I ran 170 miles since Firetrails 50-mile and I'm averaging 63.6 miles/week since January 1, slightly ahead of my 62.1 mile/week (100 km/week). And, with such a weather, there is no excuse not to keep up with this goal!

No picture on this post (I covered this Rhus Ridge run several times already, for instance in this post with a link to a photo album), but I'm adding maps of my runs in Dubai, Riyadh and Manama to my previous post.

Have a good week and take care especially if you don't have the same luck as we have in the Bay Area with the weather...

Monday, October 17, 2011

Running in Arabia

It promised to be hot, and hot it has been. I'm not even back to California yet but, for what it is worth as we are in the Fall, I managed to log quite a few miles of good heat training. 13 miles upon my arrival in Dubai, 16 miles just before leaving to Riyad, 23 miles in Riyadh on Friday (which is their only "week-end" day but I still managed to work 10 hours with Europe and the US for another long and busy day until 3 AM...), an 8-mile tour of the city at midnight upon my arrival in Bahrain, and 16 miles again in Riyadh. Between the 11 and 10-hour jet lags over the past 2 weeks, the work on Saturday and Sunday, the multiple visas to hop back and forth between these three countries in Arabia, the three different currencies, the 8 immigration control points, the traveling in coach with the pilgrims to Saudi Arabia or travelers to India in particular, I must admit that I'm on one hand completely disoriented and exhausted and, and the other hand, glad and excited about this business opportunity to discover new countries and cultures.
Speaking of cultures, what a difference between so close countries! Dubai reminded me of Singapore while you can feel Riyadh is closer to Africa... Oh well, we have our own interesting diversity for instance in Europe between Germany and Italy to pick only two, or San Francisco and New York in the US. The main similarities between these three places are the language and some sky-scraper competition although Dubai easily wins in this area. Here is my preferred one: the twisted Infinity Tower (still growing... ;-):
So, I'm tired but not from running, which provides such a stress relief. I was excited to blog on tips about running in these three countries but I'll be frank, these aren't the best places on the planet to run. Beyond the heat and humidity, the locals even discourage you to go out given the associated dangers of running either close to the traffic or to make bad encounters. I did check the web for some local runner tips or experiences and couldn't find much up to date. Yet, few cities "resist" to my eager to discover them with my Brooks running shoes and, for the lucky readers who have the opportunity to visit one of all these three places, here are a few tips. To your own risk...
  1. Follow the main arteries. The maps you can find on the Internet or at hotels are rarely in English and rather simplified anyway, focusing on highlighting the largest roads for cars. Indeed, here, given the hot weather and cheap gas, everything is designed around and for cars, so you need to get along, especially in the new Jumeira suburb of Dubai. Of course, as always, or like the salmons coming back to their breeding place which I saw in Issaquah 2 weeks ago, run against the traffic so you see cars coming.
  2. Don't be ashamed to appear like a zombie. As I could see, and that was confirmed to me by a few locals, nobody runs here so you'll appear like an alien. Many drivers will use their horn, and I'm not sure if it's in a nice or bad way (I hate it anyway...). You'll also get a weird look from people in the street. Keep going...
  3. Keep a low profile. Both in Riyadh and Bahrain, I ran into areas patrolled by the army (like the Ministry of Interior in Riyadh, but in Bahrain too next to the Pearl Monument). I asked where they wanted me to go, I can tell you they were quite surprised to see a runner so close. In retrospective, colleagues told me it was really dangerous to play around such places in the Saudi Kingdom in particular. Watch your steps... And, oh ladies, I can't imagine how locals would take seeing you in running shorts or skirt, or a sport bra...
  4. Carry your own water. Don't count on finding drinking fountains! Actually, you will see quite a few at the entrance of the many mosques, but I'm not sure the water is meant to be drunk, rather used for ablutions (like men use the lavatory sinks at the airports to wash their feet... which isn't so elegant...). For my long run in Riyadh, I carried 2 bottles which wasn't even enough for 3 hours in 100F/38C temperatures. On my way back to Olaya, I stopped by a very large and modern supermarket and, with assurance, got in before a security guy pulled me out because I was wearing shorts in a muslim place. I know it wasn't appropriate for a mosque but a supermarket... Several others guards arrived and I made the case that I was going to pass out (not really although I was definitely very thirsty and I had lost a lot of salt again on my shirt), that was enough to get an exception (and weird looks again from shoppers, both women and men, oops).
  5. Day or night. On this one, I don't have a clear cut. Late night is better in terms of traffic (less of it) and lower temperatures. But you aren't visible from drivers in certain dark places and this is less picturesque too. By the day, you will see more but suffer from the heat. For instance, in Riyadh, it was 29C at night, 38C at mid day. And October is the nice season, temperature goes up to 55C in summer... But, pick either late night or the day, avoid the end of the day where drivers are tired and not accustomed with the dimming light.
In Dubai, I was staying at the Marina in Jumeira and ran on Al Sufouh Road, a wide avenue parallel to the sea. A few sandy sections, a few with nice grass along luxurious hotels, but mostly sidewalks otherwise. See a few pictures in my Picasa album.
In Riyadh, I was staying in the Olaya district and decided to run South, the most difficult being to cross the huge highway interchange next to the hotel (Holiday Inn Olaya which I don't recommend between the super noisy rooms and some mean personnel at the front desk). It took me 8 miles of not so pleasant run along the busy King Fahd Road to reach Wadu Hanifah, but that was really worth the pain. There, I found a river and ran 3 miles along it on a nice trail, plus 3 miles back, far away from the car traffic. I could have gone further, beyond Fath Makkah Road but I had to come back to the hotel to deliver a web presentation to our European team. From 5 pm on my day off, I went on with emails and calls until 3 am... Here is a link to my photo album.
In Manama (Bahrain's capital), I went around the city, starting South on Lulu Avenue, left on Salmaniya Avenue, right on Shaik Daij Avenue toward the Gulf, left on Al Fateh Highway (there is a boardwalk on the other side but you have to cross eight lanes before the interchanges of the highways going to the airport and the Muharraq island). Another alternative is to take Exhibition Avenue then Government Avenue. This circuit was fine at midnight as the traffic was light and I barely stopped to cross the main intersections, but that must be another story during the day. Since I ran at midnight, I didn't carry my camera, just took a few pictures from my hotel room and from the cab the next day.
Hope that gave you a flavor of these Arabian places and some insights in case you have the opportunity to visit and plan on running. Talk to you next time from sunny and ideally-temperated Bay Area!
PS: tonight, I was invited by the local team to a traditional Saudi restaurant in Riyadh and, to stay on the running tips topic, two colleagues indicated to me a 6-km loop around and across the Prince Sultan National College (close to crossing of King Abdullahbin Abdul Aziz and Abi Bakr As Siddiq Roads). If you know or discover other places to run in Riyadh or Dubai, please leave a comment!

PS: for some reasons (connectivity bandwidth?) Sporttracks didn't download the maps when I uploaded my GPS information while I was in the Gulf. Here are three of them to give you more insights about the places I ran.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates:

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia:

Manama, Bahrain:

Monday, October 10, 2011

Firetrails 50: all stars aligned

No two ultras are alike, that's why many of us, ultra runners. are so addicted to this sport. The course, the terrain, the cumulative elevation, the distance, the weather, the competition, the organization, the size of the field, the aid stations, running with a pacer or not, having a crew or running self-supported, these are a few of the variables. So many stars to align, it's like playing the lottery, you have to keep trying!

With all my travels (Anchorage, Alaska a week ago, Seattle this week and now in the Middle East for two weeks), the only positive thing I did going into this race was tapering. Seattle, and Issaquah in particular, are actually great trail running places, if you don't mind the rain, but I refrain from running any mile this past week. Yet, I was stressed out by the lack of sleep and felt compelled to add to Tim Long's pre-race comments that I had the same excuses as Mark not to perform well (overworked and sleep deprivation in particular). Furthermore, I was stunned when I saw that Dave Mackey had decided to run the race and enter at the last minute. Certainly, having won the past two editions and set a course record last year in 6:19.
We started promptly at 6:30 after listening to Julie (Fingar)'s Race Director briefing. It was still quite dark and a few runners were using headlamps but the first two miles are on a bike path, so it was manageable to run without. Jonathan Gunderson and I were at the front and we were quickly joined by Dave. Dave engaged the conversation in French, which he learned a while ago when he was studying in Maine. We chatted for a while and, as we were approaching the first mile mark, I told Dave I didn't want to slow him down, that he had a course record to work on! Jonathan followed Dave while we engaged into the first hill. One tall and bold runner passed me and followed them. While we were still on the bike path, Chris (Calzetta) caught up with me. If you follow my blog, you will remember my run with Chris at Skyline 50K this August, from start to finish. Chris lives in Monterey and will join our Quick Silver Ultra Running Team for the 2012 season. Speaking of QSURT, we had an amazing participation this weekend with 15 entrants, almost the whole team!

After the first aid station at which we didn't stop, we were joined for a few miles by Sean Curry whom I had met at a Quick Silver training run in San Jose this Spring. It was Sean's first 50-miler and he was therefore running for the Dick Collins Rookie award, although not so hopeful as he had seen in the registrants list many fast runners being rookies at this distance too. Sean was running in Five Fingers and without any bottle which was quite aggressive on a trail 50-mile. Sean ended up running in 8 hours and 8 minutes for 22nd.

We passed Jonathan shortly after Bort Meadow, the 2nd aid station. Going up and down to Big Bear with Chris brought up the good memories of Skyline 50K as this section is common to both races. We passed a few of the early started, some of them calling my name as we were flying in the steep downhill. We then caught up with the tall and bold runner after the Big Bear aid station and chatted before he stopped at the restrooms we pass by when going through the redwoods, one of my favorite sections. Michael Garrison was coming from Honolulu, just for the race, having flown on Friday evening and leaving on Sunday. Arriving into Big Bear Gate aid station, photo credit to Gary Saxton:

Jonathan and Michael passed us again as we were refilling our bottles at Skyline Gate. Jonathan had a very efficient crew (father?) who was allowing him not to stop at aid stations. We passed Michael very close to the aid station as, dazzled by the sun, he had missed the turn and was going to continue on Skyline back to the start... And Chris and I caught up with Jonathan again before the next aid station where he passed us again, before we passed him on the way up to Steam Train. As we were approaching the road crossing, I believe I saw Dave a mile away at a point where we passed 8 minutes later. I thought it was too short of a lead and our pace was way too fast if we were so close to Dave, although it seemed right. We refueled at Steam Train and continued on Skyline to enjoy the wonderful 360-degree view from Mount Diablo on the right to foggy San Francisco on the left. That's where we started crossing the Golden Hills marathoners who had started from our turn around at 9 am. As usual, the race was led by Leor, although I was surprised to see another runner quite close to him in second place in this challenging uphill section. Uphill for the marathoners, downhill for us until the turn around. It was great to get the cheering of the runners we were crossing. As we were approaching the turn around, it was our turn to cross path with Dave. We did as we were 3 hours and 18 minutes in our run and I made a mental note of the spot to check how much lead he had on us.

We did a good stop at the turn around to refuel before the long climb up to Steam Train. Before leaving I told Graham (Cooper, who was supposed to run but had to attend his kids' soccer game later that morning) that I believed Dave was not going to make the record but he thought otherwise. I also saw Garry (Gellin) who is recovering from his great 100-mile debut at the Bear 100 two weeks ago. We then crossed all the other 50-mile runners, jogging most of the uphill with me walking from time to time to catch my breath, to make up for the 18-year gap between Chris and I... Another short stop at Steam Train and down we were, keeping crossing runners. Shortly after the aid station, Chris was ahead and asked me if I wanted to pass; a fraction of a second of inattention on my end in this technical section and, yikes, I felt flat on the ground, sliding on my left arm and leg. It went so fast but I could see my head approaching a rock and I was fortunate to stop just before hitting it, phew! My knee was bleeding and I had other bruises on the shoulder and thigh, but no big shock. The most damage was scratches on the glass of my GPS. This is my second real fall in 27,000 miles I ran over the past 13 years, the first one being at Quad Dipsea a couple of years ago, with no other damage than scratches on another GPS... (Quad Dipsea 2009: chasing too many turkeys...)

We crossed Chuck Wilson who was sweeping on the 50-miler, less than a mile from the Sibley Park aid station. Another short stop and I took the lead on the way down into the canyon with Chris leading on the way up to Skyline Gate. We reached the aid station in 5:08 with about 14 miles to go. We stayed for a minute or so (I took some chicken noodle soup which was great at this point of the race) and we rushed down, picking up the pace, getting our average pace down from bout 8:50 to 8:35 in the next 5 miles, back through the redwoods.

With 2.2 miles to Big Bear, we didn't stop at the small aid station. At this point we were passing quite a few of the marathoners. After a short stop at Big Bear, we went on the last big and serious uphill of the day, the hill which we ran all the way at Skyline 50K. Today though, I had to stop several times to catch my breath but Chris shuffled to wait for me. We crossed Baldwyn who took this picture of me during one of these power walking moments.
After the top, we picked the pace again and didn't stop at Bort Meadows as our goal was to make it under 7:15, my PR of three years ago. Stan Jensen was recording all the bib numbers and thought Chris was my pacer! We passed local runner Christine (Chapon) in the next flat section and she joked that it was insane we were running faster than marathoners. ;-) By the way, Christine is in charge of recruiting volunteers for the North Face challenge at Marin Headlands in December, so please consider helping out (more details online). The last section was changed this year because of the recent weather which washed the trail out so we had to climb up to Pirate Cove which was ok although I, again, had to walk a few times. At the aid station the volunteer (in their cool Pirates outfits) told us there were 4.5 miles to the finish and we had about 30 minutes. Fortunately, the next mile was mainly downhill and we ran it pretty fast, keeping a good pace too in the final miles along Chabot Lake. As we were approaching the finish area, I told Chris it was his turn to cross the line first, which he refused. We crossed in the same second, me staying just behind, happy to take third today in 7:02:55, slashing my PR on this course by almost 13 minutes! Not bad for 50 miles with about 9,200 feet of cumulative elevation. A big thank to Chris for the mutual pacing and emulation. With this first Firetrails under his belt, Chris can now aim at a sub 7 and chasing Dave more aggressively next time, he definitely has the potential!
Dave took first of course but, experiencing some stomach issues and lacking serious competition to push the envelope, ran slower than last year with a 6:34. Yet, that makes three wins in a row. Galen Burrell won the marathon. He passed Leor at mile 11 and, not feeling well, Leor dropped at mile 20. Leor won the past 4 editions in 3:19, 3:16, 3:15 and 3:06:39 last year. Galen improved Leor's course record by mere 3 seconds! Here are Dave and Galen:
Thanks to co-Race Director and UltraSignup founder and owner, Mark Gilligan, results were promptly posted online:
Great BBQ at the finish, amazing finisher schwag and custom age group awards, with the perfect weather and NorCal Ultras' super professional organization, it was the perfect ultra party for all.
Toshi took 5th in 7:28 Pierre-Yves placed 8th with a 7:39 PR. Fearing not to make the top 10 for the first time in many years, Mark placed 12th indeed. Bree lost some time after going of course and took 3rd overall.
Vespa worked very well again. I took 5 GUs, a few pieces of banana and brownies, and some chips, but not much overall, plus one small cup of soup. I stayed right on target on the GU2) with one bottle every 15 miles. I could (read: should) have drunk more water to avoid a few cramps. Took a bit more S!Caps to be on the safe side after my crash at Rio Del Lago, although the temperature was just perfect this Saturday.

As for the shoes, I had not heard about the rain which washed the trails out last week while I was in Seattle and took a big risk running in the brand new light and flat PureConnect but it worked perfectly too (see my review of this model). Jonathan was wearing the PureGrit which are ideally designed for the trails with more grip.
A big thank you to the volunteers who included many familiar faces, many experience ultra runners which is a great plus. I had my first 50 mile here, taking the Rookie award in 2006, what 5 years that has been. I felt I knew 1 runner out of 3 or 4, it is becoming so familiar to run these local races. It was my 4th Fire Trails, 16th 50-miler and 65th ultra. And one of my most enjoyable experience, the perfect alignment of stars that you keeping running after... The ultra bug...

Although I didn't run with my camera like I did last year (the ultra digithon), you can find a few pictures from the finish in my Picasa album.

I wrote this post on a 15-hour flight, talk to you next time from somewhere in the Middle East, hoping to get some runs in, and some heat training at least which I'll save for next year (just kidding...)!

PS: ran 9 miles on Sunday morning before my flight, and a half marathon at midnight upon getting into Dubai (86F/30C and 66% humidity...): the ultra season goes on!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Running in Alaska: Enjoying an Indian summer in Anchorage

I'm not sure if there is such an expression as an Intuit summer, so I'll go with the standard Indian one. What a gorgeous weather we had in Anchorage, Alaska, this week! It was chilly in the morning but 3 days with blue skies and about 12 hours of day light made the stay really enjoyable, not to mention the productive work with our prospect up there.
My return flight was at 2 AM on Thursday morning, leaving the end of Wednesday afternoon to enjoy a good run before going to the airport. One colleague, David, was staying for another day of business meetings and he joined me for the start of the run. I found out that David was also from the Bay Area (Marin County) and an avid endurance athlete, having just completed an Ironman in Germany in 14 hours and 50 minutes!
Staying at the Hilton, we were ideally located a few hundreds yards from the start of the Coastal Trail on 2nd Avenue. If you visit Anchorage, this trail is a must as it provides a nice getaway from downtown with amazing views of the Ocean. I found the trail through the perfect website, Trails of Anchorage.
I ran the whole trail, from 2nd Avenue to Kincaid Park and back, that is 21.5 miles (starting at the Hilton). See my Picasa album for more pictures of this great and easily accessible trail along the Ocean and going around the Ted Stevens International Airport.

I was delighted to encounter a few specimens of the famous local moose (one bull, two cows and one calf), enjoy the colorful autumnal tree colors which we are missing in the Bay Area and see many other users of the trail, hikers, runners, cyclists, skate boarders or roller-bladers. Unfortunately, the trail stops at Kincaid Park or I would have been tempted to continue on along the Turnagain Arm where many wales or orcas can be seen at this time of the year. I'll have to come back for that and rent a car to cover the 20 miles from downtown.
Including this run, that has been a good 70-mile week leading into some tapering before Firetrails 50-mile next Saturday. This Sunday, we even celebrated Agnes' hip surgery anniversary with her first 3.5 miles since she stopped running, 8 years ago, yeah!
While I'm still waiting for my visa for Saudi Arabia and, without my passport, cannot plan my other trip to Asia and Middle East, I'm heading up to Seattle to visit another prospect there this week. Getting back to work and talk to you next week after the race.