Thursday, November 24, 2011

Silicon Valley Turkey Trot: back to (speed) work

After my blazing Last Chance 50-mile (I still have hard time fully realizing what happened... ;-), I went straight back to work with a 10-hour work day on Sunday to finalize a proposal for Saudi Arabia. I was able to blog about the race, late in the night and, after a 3.5-hour sleep, got swamped into another busy week at work, hence missing last weekend's blog (I'm trying to skip to a weekly rhythm). No blogging but some running still and building up of some speed. I actually ran every day after the race with an interesting progression of the average pace:
  1. Sunday (post-race recovery run): 6 miles @ 8:44 (including 3 miles with Agnès!)
  2. Monday (legs still quite sore): 6 miles @ 8:06
  3. Tuesday: 9 miles @ 7:03
  4. Wednesday: 12 miles @ 6:45
  5. Thursday: 6 miles including 3 of speed work with Bob (400s in 82 to 75")
  6. Friday: 9 miles @ 6:28
  7. Saturday: 29 hilly miles (Rancho, Black Mountain, Foothills Park in Palo Alto, Rhus Ridge) @ 10:17 (social run... see pictures of Charles, Mike and Chris ;-)
  8. Sunday: 27 flat miles (Cupertino to Shoreline and back) @ 7:34
  9. Monday: 9 miles @ 6:59
  10. Tuesday: 6 miles at Mountain View High School track @ 6:55
  11. Wednesday: rest day, a one-day "tapering" before the Turkey Trot.
That was probably too many miles to really prepare for a 10K but I'm also working on my 100K/week average for 2011, and I'm on track with 64.03 so far, with about 5 weeks to go! At the top of Black Mountain last Saturday:
Back to the Turkey Trot on this Thanksgiving morning. First, it has been a huge success from a participation and fund raising standpoints. Last year we were 11,000 to run or walk, this year the organizers had set the cap to 17,000 before extending it to 21,000 and the event filled up! 90% increase, this is a huge achievement and momentum, especially in the midst of an economic downturn, which is very timely as the raised funds will be used to provide hundreds of thousands of meals for people and families who struggle in this environment. Congratulations and thanks to the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and in particular to Carl Guardino, their CEO. Not to mention that Carl spent all morning on the podium, cheering on the mic for all of us, all that after being seriously injured in a car accident a few days ago (broken leg and hip). What an example of commitment and service! Here he is, interviewing the Elite 5K winner:
For me, it was my 38th 10K race since I arrived in the Bay Area 13 years ago, out of 194 races. And 17th race this year with 13 ultra marathons. As much as I like the speed and format of these shorter events, road racing isn't my specialty or focus anymore, but I like the variety that it brings in my year-long running season.
The start was delayed and we had about 10 minutes of wait as it started drizzling. Thankfully, the rain stopped before we even reached the first mile mark. After a few hundreds yards I was probably in 20th despite a 5:20 pace. My breathing was fine but I couldn't get my stride longer or faster, yet was able to maintain a 5:27 pace for the first two miles and passed a few runners in the 3rd and 4th mile. There were still about 6 very fast runners ahead. Right after the mile 4 mark, the course had an out and back on the right on Park Avenue. As I was approaching the turn, I saw one runner going right first, then quickly back on the course as we had to take left. He was with rising star Jose Pina Jr, in the lead of this fast race at only 14!
At this point, the other leaders were not to be seen in the out and back and I figured out that they had taken the wrong turn and would therefore be disqualified for not running the whole distance. Indeed, from my Garmin GPS track on SportsTrack, the out and back was exactly 0.5 mile (4:23-4:73) and it took me 2:52 to complete it. I could close some gap with the runner ahead of me, Jeremy Judge, but not much with Jose. I passed Jeremy before the 6-mile mark (Jeremy gave me a nice "good job" which I thought was very ) and he stayed close behind but I out sprinted him eventually in the last hundreds yards, crossing the finish line in 35:20. Not quite the 34 minutes I was looking for but not bad given the circumstances. With the snafu of the leaders, I expected Jose to have taken 2nd and me, 3rd. That was at 8:35, keep reading...

At this point, I jogged back to my car to grab my Brooks Jacket and my camera, then "swam against the current" of the 5K runners, looking for Agnès and Greg. They were wearing the superb and fancy red tech race tshirt, as several thousands of other runner were, so it required a lot of attention not to miss them. I finally found them, a quarter mile from the finish, they were having great fun!
We then gathered in the finish area and, in the middle of such a crowd, were able to see a few other friends (Luc and his family, Greg, Adona, Pierre-Yves and Adrienne, ...).
Most of the crowd then dissolved with participants joining their own Thanksgiving celebrations. Last year, I drove back home and came back with Agnes for the award ceremony (3 hours after the finish of the 10K...), this year I decided to stay to watch the elite races. I participated in that race and PA USATF 5K championship 2 years ago (16:34), but it's quite humbling to run with guys so fast (13 minutes...) and 20-25 years younger...

The elite women 5K started at 10am and I was amazed how a pack of about 10 gals was still together after 2 laps (out of 4). It did split in the 3rd lap but 14 runners finished in the same minute, from the winning time of 16:02 to 16:52! The top 3 were: Jackie Areson from Oregon (of course! ;-), Aziza Aliyu from Ethiopia and Kellyn Johnson from Arizona.
Moving to the men, also a very impressive pack of runners leading for a couple of laps and a record of 9 runners under 14 minutes. I had seen Alan Webb setting a course record last year and saw his course record broken this morning by an Australian runner with an amazing 13:33!
Top 3 were: David McNeill of Australia (13:33), Stephen Sambu of Kenya (13:37) and Diego Estrada of Arizona. That's respectively 4:22, 4:23 and 4:24 min/mile pace, this is speed! And, back to the title of this post, certainly a lot of work to get there...
Finally, around 11:45 and in the rain this time, it was time for a chaotic and expedited award ceremony. Quite some confusion on the 10K results with 2 of the top runners claiming that they were send the wrong way by race volunteers so were entitled the wins despite having run a much shorter distance. I went from 3rd down to 4th overall and 6th in the results published tonight on Race Central. Oh well, this is a fund raising event, not an official competition (the big guns were on the Elite races); it is a time for grace and thanksgiving, and I'm definitely thankful for such an amazing year, especially with my running, and for my supportive family and friends. Not to forget the organizers, sponsors and all the volunteers who made this fun run possible and such a huge success to support our local communities!
Hope to be in town to run this race again next year, and join such a joyful and healthy crowd!

PS: you can find a few pictures of the event in my Picasa album.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Last Chance 2011: not missed!

This is quite a name for a race, for an event held in November, just in time to get a 50-mile qualifier for the Western States lottery. With the great times I had this year at American River and Dick Collin's Firetrails, getting such a qualifier was the least of my worry this weekend but, according to the organizers, 120 of the 140 starters on the 50-mile distance this Saturday were chasing this dream, so it was serious stuff for many. And for me too for another reason since I had missed the big opportunity to bank points in the Grand Prix at Rio del Lago, chasing too many goals. That was a 132-point opportunity which I missed and, after Dave Mackey took the lead in the Grand Prix with his Firetrails win, this weekend was my "last chance" to catch-up. Last chance as Dave isn't running Quad Dipsea, and I had only one option: win my age group. Which became quite challenging after Victor Ballesteros and Michael Fink registered a few weeks ago...

That was my 5th time on this course, although the event was then named the Helen Klein Classic in the name of Race Director Norm Klein's wife, a world class senior runner. Since Helen stopped competing ultras well in her 80s and Norm had given enough nights directing ultra, including the legendary Western States in the 80s, the race transferred to Desert Sky Adventures first, then Julie Fingar's NorCal Ultras (she now has a "collection" with Way Too Cool, American River, Firetrails, Sierra Nevada and Last Chance!). With that, and various big construction projects along Folsom Lake and the American River (levee and bridge), the course has evolved but always includes climbing back to the Folsom Lake Dam and Cavitt School, actually twice now.

On the previous single out and back, I had quite a few different experiences. In 2006, it was my second 50-miler and I finished in 4th in 6:52. In 2007, 2nd overall in 6:22, which remained my PR at this distance until Ruth Anderson 2010 (6:07). In 2008, the run turned to a nightmare with one of my worst asthma crisis but, quite determined and with 1/4th of my lungs working, I still manged to finish in 8:51, in 16th overall. Some asthma again in 2009 and I clocked a disappointing 7:12, surprisingly good enough though for 3rd overall that year.

Victor was very relaxed at the starting line. After participating to the road 100K World Chapionship and spending a year focusing on this event (September 2011 in the Netherlands) but going through injuries during Spring, he was in great shape and was looking not only for a Western States qualifier (although his 100K race should have been way enough for that), but also to clock another Team USA qualifier on the 50-mile distance, that is under 5:50 (5 hours 50 minutes). I knew my goal was in big trouble and that even my A game would not match that (Victor is 41, therefore in our very competitive M40-49 age group).

With the recent Daylight Savings Time change, it was great to have daylight for the 6:30 am start, after the bright night with the full moon. I was feeling ok although quite tired after having been on the road to visit clients and prospects for 7 out of the past 8 weeks. 35,974 air miles, 18 flights, 4 different countries including 3 in the Gulf and 4 different states in the US. Not to mention the associated stress and the sleep deprivation working double shifts across so many time zones and catching up with emails at night after client meetings or speaking engagements at conferences during the day. Of course, I'm happy to have a solid first job and busy and full life, making running only my second job... ;-) Anyway, with that, I was excited to get some stress relieved through such intense exercise that is running an ultra or competing with great champions such as Victor.
On the flat levee, we started right on my target average pace which was 7:00 min/mile pace which corresponds to a 5:50 50-mile time. Not that I was thinking of breaking 6 hours today, but that's a comfortable pace to start with. However, while Victor and I were following another runner, whom I supposed was on the 30 or 50K (three events held together), Victor picked the pace up after the third levee segment as the bike path goes down. As the miles passed, and the bike path steadily goes down along the American River, I was looking at the average pace on my Garmin 205 going down too into what I felt was a dangerous zone. 6:50, 6:40, finally reaching a plateau at 6:36 min/mile! I asked Victor if that was his 100K competition pace and he replied with a smile: "just slightly faster." We weren't even at mile 10, I thought I was really going to get into trouble soon...
Yet, with the perfect weather and conditions, it felt good and exciting to keep up with Victor and see how long I could extend that, eventually. Around the 10-mile mark, I slowed down a bit and was about 100 yards behind, while Victor remained with the lead bike. I did a quick pit stop and lost eye contact with both of them around mile 12 but was able to pick up the pace and catch-up before the 15-mile turnaround (at the Folsom Inn Parking Lot). As Victor commented on this picture from Greg on Facebook, Victor seems to say: "Damn, this guy just doesn't give up!?"
Our team captain, Greg Lanctot ( was crewing for me today and handed me two new bottles (one Gu2O and one plain water). By the way, all pictures in this post are courtesy to him as he was juggling between his camera, my bottles and Bree's ones! I grabbed a piece of banana and quickly left as Victor didn't even stop. We stayed close behind for the next 5 miles and we were still on a 6:36 min/mile average pace by mile 20. Still feeling good, I passed Victor after Main Bar (mile 21) to at least share the burden of leading. Doing so, I even got our pace down to 6:35 in the next flat section and thought how stupid that was, or at least unreasonable, and how smart Victor was to just stay behind. We passed the marathon mark around 2:52, just 5 minutes over my recent 2:47 marathon at the World Masters in Sacramento in July. With 24 more miles to go, this too seemed really aggressive... At this point, I even experienced some vision trouble and was glad the lead biker was wearing a bright yellow jacket! I took a Gu in case that meant I was low on sugars, and also paid a bit more attention on my breathing as I certainly needed all the oxygen I could process to maintain the effort. Fortunately that passed after 10-15 minutes and I was able to maintain a good effort as we were climbing back to the Dam and the high school. Victor remained behind and I thought it was a safe and smart strategy on his end as we had still more than 20 miles to go. In this uphill section, our pace went down to 6:43 when we reached and left the school for another out and back.

We had completed the first 50K in 3:26, just one minute off my PR at that distance (Jed Smith 2010), oops, that was really crazy. Yet, feeling good and properly hydrated thanks to another efficient change of bottles from Greg at mile 28, I just took an S!Cap and a cup of Coke from the aid station and left a few seconds before Victor. At this point, I placed a big bet and decided to maintain the pace to see if I could preserve or even extend the lead. A BIG bet as we had 19 miles left to cover... No more lead bike to focus on, it was just me and, a huge asset, the encouragements of the other runners we were now starting crossing, either finishing their 30 or 50K, or coming to the school for the 50-mile turnaround. I want to say a big thank you to all of them in this post as I was saving my breath and just acknowledging and responding with a hand sign. To all of you, be sure your cheering meant a lot to me!
Giving it all, I was able to get the average pace down again by a mere 1 second in the next 9.5 miles to 6:42 by the Main Bar aid station ultimate turnaround (yes, this convoluted course has 3 turnarounds, check the race website if you are getting lost in my recount, and want to visualize on a map!). In this section, I decided not to check if Victor was behind and that I will find out about the lead once I negotiated the turnaround. It was great to see for the third time fellow Brooks fan, Eric Schranz, who was manning the Main Bar aid station. He was very pro-active in proposing help but I was set with my bottles and just took another small cup of Coke and one more S!Caps. Gordy Ainsleigh (the inventor of the 100-mile Western States Endurance Run) was refueling on his way back to the school. When we crossed paths earlier in the morning, I called for a high five, which amused him, but I'm sure his fluid helped me going beyond my limits! (Check the picture on his Wikipedia page, that's one of mine! ;-)
Although I was definitely tired after such a fast 41-mile run, I was not going to sit there and wait for Victor, so I promptly went on. With 9 miles to go came the first cramp signals but it was too late to slow down as I had now about a 0.8-mile lead on Victor. Only at this point did I start thinking winning might be possible, although that would require to keep pushing all the way up to the dam to avoid a potential final sprint with Victor on the levee. Again, the encouragements and smiles from the other 50-mile competitors I was crossing or passing helped a lot and I managed to lose only 8 more seconds off my average pace. In the final 4 miles I turned back to check if Victor was coming back on me and the fact of changing my stride for that triggered some cramps so I figured out it was safer to just look ahead and keep moving. No signs of Victor on the levee, I was now pushing to compete against the clock. After dreaming in the morning of breaking 6 hours and entering the sub-6-hour "club" for 50-mile, I was now thinking of the amazing 5:42 that I remembered Todd Braje clocking here a few years ago (to only find out later that it was actually 5:49, the year the course had a trail detour at the end. It's at Jed Smith that Todd ran a 5:30 50-miler in 2009. He was 32 and I think that got him on the National team).

As I was approaching the school and passing signs such as "Smelling the Finish Line?", I was excited enough to sprint down the levee and so thrilled to cross the finish line and "break the tape" (literally, how cool) in a blazing 5:43:35. My third overall win this year, woo! Granted, it took me 10 minutes to recover and catch my breath from the effort as my body was really wondering what just happened, and 10 minutes is what ended up separating Victor and I (yes, that's me in his arms, and Jim all smile! ;-).
 At 56, former winner of Way Too Cool (1998), Helen Klein (1996) and Skyline (1994), Mark Richtman, took 3rd in an amazing 6:04.
Our Quicksilver Ultra Running Team did quite well again with Erick Toschi taking first overall in the 30K, Bree Lambert taking 2nd overall/woman in the 50K and Clare Abram 2nd woman in the 50-mile, second to Bev Anderson who is back racing after her knee surgery last year.

With that amazing performance (per others' qualifier), I should take the lead back in the Grand Prix by mere 3.9 points (1.0% of our 384 total...), phew! I know there isn't much glory in that, with Dave having only competed in 4 of the 7 eligible events for the count, but at least that pushed me to dig really deep, far beyond what I ever thought I could go. I'm also thankful to Victor for the friendly and tough competition he offered on Saturday as he was chasing different goals and got us on such an aggressive but needed pace for such a performance.
Like Agnès said on Saturday night when I came back home: "this would be a good time to retire..." But, sincerely, I'm too much hooked now not to try other challenges, if not Faster, at least Farther...

With regard to the course record, this is a complicated situation between the changes of race directors, race names and even courses. Compiling information from various web sites (Gary Wang's Real Endurance, Mark Gilligan's UltraSignup for Helen Klein Classic or this year's Last Chance, Desert Sky Adventure's Helen Klein records web page website ), it sounds like I clocked the 7th fastest time since 1996 and 2nd in the Masters division:
  1. '97     Carl Andersen (37)     5:26:12
  2. '97     Brian Teason (36)     5:28:56
  3. '98     Brian Teason (37)     5:29:48
  4. '99     Mark Godale (29)     5:35:12
  5. '97     Kevin Setnes (43)     5:36:03
  6. '98     Mark Godale (28)     5:42:03
But, again, apart from the detour that I know from having run it in 2009 and 2008 and which did cost a few minutes to Todd Braje and Chikara Omine in particular, I don't know enough about that race in the 1990s to see what has changed. What I would say though is that climbing back twice over the dam didn't make it easier than when we were running the simple out and back along the American River. On the other hand, it was motivating (for the leaders at least...) to see other runners in the final stretches. If you ran this course back in the late 1990s or early 2000s, please consider leaving a comment with your perspective and some historical information!

Now, I've been asked how all this happened and I see five plausible explanations:
  1. First, the more stress and workload I experience at work, the more I seem to race well. Like this maximizes the stress relief I'm looking for when running, or as it gives me an excuse for not running at my best and just do what I can. The latter one is probably freeing my mental from some pressure as I usually not race well when I want to do "too" well.
  2. I almost titled my post "extra-vespa-ordinary" in reference to the Vespa "potion" I've been using for the past two years with quite some success. For instance, in this race, I only took 6 Gu gels, 2 pieces of banana and 2 small cups of Coca Cola. There is no doubt that this would not have been enough energy, at least for me, to run 50 miles at this effort level without digging extra  calories from my body fat. This stuff works!
  3. Back to the mental, I've been improving and stopped just listening to my body when getting fatigue signals. Several times during the race, I had doubts I could keep up with that pace, less because of physical limits but more because it was something I didn't have as a reference in my 2,400-entry log. By lowering this negative thought and increasing the "you have to do it, you can do it!" thought or internal voice, I was able to get far beyond what I had ever experienced. Sure it hurts (I ran 6 miles this Sunday with painful soreness and at a slow 8:30 pace), but it feels good afterward!
  4. Fourth, I'm going to give some credit to Greg who crewed for me this Saturday. As a personal trainer and coach he has this talent of both pushing you and getting rid of the associated stress. Mixing strong encouragements, focus and positive thoughts with enthusiasm and fun. It definitely worked for me this weekend, made the heavy traffic on Friday less stressful and the race on Saturday so smooth. And it also worked for our team this year as we took all the team titles in the Grand Prix (Men, Women, Mixed, Overall) and most of the individual Age Group ones too!
  5. Last but not least, there is hard work. Since I started running consistently when I moved to the US in 1998, I never averaged as many miles per week as this year. Although I know other log many more, I'm at 63.5 mile/week year to date, and that includes short but intense speed work sessions, weeks off to taper before races and days off because of business travel or meetings. To counter balance, I've put more long runs on weekends, many of them as training ultras actually. And I like when hard work pays off (not the case everywhere... ;-).
So, no miracle or silver bullet, I could actually add proper hydration as I drank about 5 16-oz bottles during the race, while I was stunned how little Victor drank in comparison. In any case, I swear, and both my GPS and Victor are here to testify, I ran the whole course and it was indeed 50 miles! ;-) At least what this shows is that, if you are yourself aiming at improving, there is hope in what our body can do...

Anyway, that's enough about my personal recount of this perfect race for me, there were 97 finishers out of the 140 or so starters, and I heard about other PRs in these perfect conditions. A big thank you to Race Director Julie Fingar for another very professional and perfect event organization and the great volunteers at all aid stations although I apologize for having skipped most of them. I'm sure you understand I was on a mission... ;-) And thank you to Lily for her deep tissue massage which allowed me to run this Sunday.
Now looking forward to another similar break through, keeping defying aging and realizing patience is of essence. Next race will be the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot (10K for me, 5K for Agnes and Greg), there are already 12,000 entrants with a 17,000 cap. And the Western States lottery in parallel, fighting the challenging statistical odds. In the meantime, you all Run Happy!