Saturday, January 28, 2012

2012: on the trails again!

January 28, it is time to talk about my 2012 running and racing plans... Overall, it will be a lot about ultra trail running again, more of the same and even more on top of that!

And, since we are going to talk about trail, here is good opportunity to highlight the work of volunteers who make the trails we run on so nice. At our Quicksilver running club, the trail maintenance guru is Paul Fink and he leads a 4-month trail maintenance program from January to our 50K and 50-mile race in April. As Darcey, former Race Director of our ultra races, reminded us, this is the 10th year the club has adopted these trails and offloaded a lot of the trail maintenance from the County Parks. We had a great group of 6 of our QuickSilver Ultra Running teammates and worked on removing many rocks from a trail near Manzanitaville. It actually didn't feel so good making the trail so nice as most of us, runners, did like this moderate technical section very much. But the County wants groomed trails which people cannot trip on... Here is the boss:
And here is a look at the upgraded trail!
You can see a few more pictures in my Picasa album. On this one, Dorsey is showing us the optimal cross slope of the trail to let the water flow:
After 3 hours of such a maintenance work, I took off and ran the second part of our Quicksilver 50-mile course, actually the 10 miles out and coming back on the finish of the 50K course from English Camp, including the "roller coaster" which I ran entirely (phew, the insiders will appreciate... ;-). It wasn't as hot as it will be in April, yet it was close to 70F, what a gorgeous "winter" run... It took me 2:47 to cover the 20.3 miles (8:17 min/mile average), I pushed in a few hills and scared a few hikers whom I crossed in the final down hills, flying under 5 min/mile, sorry!

So, what's in the bag for 2012? So much in the beginning of the year that I will only cover the first 6 months and schedule the last 6 months based on what will have happened by the end of May. As I told you after Last Chance in November, I won my age group in the Pacific Association USAT&F Mountain Ultra Trail for the 5th year in a row and I feel both happy, excited and obliged to actively participate in the Grand Prix again this year as the defending champion despite getting quite close to the next age group (2 more years...). On top of that though, our team Captain, Greg, launched a new challenge, a Pacific league in which we'll compete with other teams from the states of Washington, Oregon and California, in races ranging from the Canadian border to South California. Like I needed more races in my schedule. The result is that I'm now planning on competing in 9 ultras in 4 months, another first! Here they are:

Date Event Distance Edition # Past runs Personal Best
4-Feb Jed Smith 50K 24 3 3:25:13 (2010)
10-Mar Way Too Cool 50K 23 6 3:56:52 (2008)
17-Mar Chuckanut 50K 20! 0 NA
7-Apr American River 50M 33 4 6:47:53 (2011)
21-Apr Ruth Anderson 50K/50M/100K 20! 5 (*)
28-Apr Leona Divide 50M 20! 0 NA
5-May Miwok 100K 17 5 9:41:01 (2008)
12-May Quicksilver 50K/50M 28 3 (**)
20-May Ohlone 50K 25! 5 4:37:50 (2010)

(*) 3:44:58 (2008, 50K) - 6:07:34 (2010, 50M) - 8:05:36 (2011, 100K)
(**) 3:56:19 (2011, 50K) - 6:49:02 (2009, 50M)

With 85 miles/week average since I resumed my training, not counting the 80 miles at the New Year's Eve 12-hour, I got the machine back in full swing. One trip to Austin, TX, this coming week, two trips to Washington, DC, in February and most likely a few trips to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates in the coming 3 months will force me to juggle and optimize my calendar again. And you see why I leave some options open for the second half of the year. In July, I may run the Montagn'Hard, then there will be a scoop for August up in Tahoe, and I would love to enter the JFK 50-mile for this very special 50-year anniversary. Speaking of anniversary, that will be number 20 at Chuckanut and a quarter century at Ohlone, not to be missed! And, according to the results published on Ultrasignup, I believe it will also be #20 for Ruth Anderson and Leona Divide. What a year, what an alignment of stars!

The 2012-part2 schedule should clear up by June after I ran these 9 races. With that, I don't have a single road event on the map yet, probably a few 10Ks in the Fall to round it up!

Back to the title, see you a lot on the trails in 2012 then!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Fremont Fat Ass

Three weeks have passed since I resumed my training and this is already my fourth ultra run! After another busy week at work with a pair of 5 AM conf calls, I decided on Friday evening to participate in a second Fat Ass, albeit a much flatter one than the Saratoga Fat Ass, actually pretty much a flat one. Since the rain finally arrived in the Bay Area on Thursday and it poured all night this Friday, I was expecting a good rainy training run but it turned out to be mostly a sunny one, except for 10 minutes of rain. However, we had to run against a strong wind going toward the Bay and I must have enjoyed that so much that I missed the last bridge over the Alameda Channel and went 1.3 miles too far on the wrong side of the creek. I knew the Coyote Hills Regional Park was on the other side, but I had missed the fact that we had to cross the river a few miles before the entrance. At least, these 18 extra minutes gave me the opportunity to see Sean, Toshi and Larry who had started at 7 AM. Would I have not done the detour, I would have missed them before they exit the 8-shape loop in Coyote Hills Park (rather than 8-shape, it actually looks closer to the contour of North and Central Americas on the map ;-).

From the initial 8 min/mile average pace while I was running the first 4 miles with Dan and Mike, I managed to get the pace down to 7:25 by mile 15, running slightly under 7 min/mile. However, the strong wind slowed me down and my GPS gave a 7:41 pace after I stopped for a couple minutes at the super aid station that Chihping had setup and for us, giving away his whole morning for us during such a special New Lunar Year weekend.

Thanks to Mark Tanaka (and Toshi who posted the link earlier this week), I discovered (I know, it was time...) the cool replay feature of Garmin Connect and you can replay my run, from your chair ;-), and see this embarrassing mistake (click on the previous link, then the arrow button).
Between the extra 2.6 miles and the fact that we missed the small detour through the Niles Community Park at mile 3, my GPS gave 32.76 miles for the run, not too far from the 50K distance (31.1 miles). I was hoping to break 4 hours, I will have to come back next year and pay more attention at the bridge crossing...
It was fun to see a group of 25 or so, representing a good mix of our East Bay, South Bay and Mid Peninsula ultra running communities! A big thank you to Mike Palmer for setting such event up and giving us the opportunity to run in these local Parks. It was a first for me and I particularly enjoyed the amazing views from the West side of Bayview Trail in Coyote Hills.
Big thanks too to Chihping Fu for such a stocked aid station that he had to move back and forth to avoid the rain shower. And for attending to his legendary photo coverage of the events he is involved in (with a brand new camera!):
After bragging about my great 2111 season, I had planned to share about my 2012 program, this will have to wait one more week. As a hint, this run was a great preparation for a flat 50K in two weeks, many will know which one I'm talking about.

To finish this post, and for those who are not subscribed to Ultra Running Magazine (you should! ;-), I received my copy this week which includes a new column from our team Captain, Greg Lanctot, about running clubs, starting with a feature of our QuickSilver Ultra Running Team. And, on the 3rd cover page, the Vespa ad I mentioned in previous posts. Here again, I ran a good sustained pace for 4 hours after taking one Vespa CV-25 at the start then very few calories compared to the 3,000 or so calories I spent: 1 Gu (100 cal.), 1 banana (thanks Chihping!, 110 cal.), 2 cups of Coke (80 cal), less than one bottle of Gu2O (100), 2 S!Caps. Burning fat and learning how to leverage your fat as your main source of energy/fuel, isn't it what these Fat Ass events are all about? ;-) Anyway, another opportunity to wish you a great 2012 year!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

2011: an exceptional millesime!

With my last 2011 race on December 31, I had to delay a bit this special time to reflect on the past year, before I even tell you about what's up for the new year ahead, next week... The 2011 "grand cru" is bottled and the magnums carefully placed in the cellar. Just kidding... But, since I started running seriously after my move to California in 1998, this has certainly been the best year both in quantity and quality, at least in my own local league. And, like a vigneron or winemaker, I still hope to have another of such an exceptional year in the future. And I will keep working hard for that!

Quantitative look

One chart summarizes the year quite well from a quantitative standpoint: not only did I run many miles, the most of my running career in one single year, but I also ran them at a faster average pace. A total of 3,271 miles (5,264 kilometers), that is slightly above a 100 km/week average even with a few weeks off here and there to recover and taper and a healthy 3-week break in December. 438 hours of running overall at an average pace of 8:03 min/mile or 5:00 min/km. Cool stats, so much in line with the Farther Faster theme of my blog, all that despite getting a bit older, I cannot deny that! ;-) Not to mention a healthy busy schedule and workload on my primary job...
It is going to be challenging to do better than that. Even if there are other runners who average more miles per week, I would have to rearrange my priorities significantly to find more time to run. Maybe when I get closer to retirement...

A few other statistics for 2011:
  1. Number of entries in my running log: 233 (4.5 run / week)
  2. Number of races: 18
  3. Number of ultra races: 13 (not counting the Fat Asses)
  4. Number of ultra runs: 35 (yes, I also do ultras as training runs now... ;-)
  5. Vertical/elevation: 270,000 feet or 82,300 meters (quite approximate as this isn't Garmin's specialty to track cumulative elevation)
  6. Number of blog entries: 52
  7. Number of overall wins: 4 (Skyline 50K, Stevens Creek 50K, Last Chance 50-mile, New Year's Eve One Day 12-hour)
  8. Number of DNF (Did Not Finish): 1 (Rio Del Lago, mile 71)
  9. Number of Brooks pairs of shoes I ran in: 14 (including 866 miles in Launch and 814 miles in Racer ST)
Qualitative look

Consistency - Apart from the DNF at Rio Del Lago, I did very well in most of the races. Except maybe Miwok where I took it easy, taking more than 300 pictures wile running. Thanks to Singulair, I have not been bothered by exercise-induced asthma during races, just getting my lungs slightly irritated after Way Too Cool and American River.

Improvement - I did PR on a few distances and also managed to set some Personal Bests at 2 races. Setting the bar higher but looking forward to matching that again in 2012!
  1. 50-mile PR: 5:43:39, Last Chance, November, certainly my top performance of the season;
  2. 100K PR: 8:05:36, Ruth Anderson, April (unofficial because I missed the start by more than 2 hours because of a missed flight connection);
  3. 12-hr PR: 79.6 miles, New Year's Eve One Day, December;
  4. American River 50-mile PB: 6:47, Sacramento-Auburn, April;
  5. Quicksilver 50K PB: 3:56, San Jose, April (new age-group course record).

Originality - Not so much in my racing as the only new place I raced this year was the Los Gatos High School track for an all-comer meet. I finally ran Steve Patt's estival Stevens Creek 50K for the first time, but that's on the trails I'm used to train on. The other new race was the one-time World Masters held in Sacramento this year so all my 18 races happened in California. Not much of an original program overall but at least good from a sustainability standpoint! Now, with all my business travel, I did run/train in many new places this year: Stockholm, Madrid, Anchorage, Riyad, Dubai, Manama (Bahrain), Fort Lauderdale, Des Moines, Toronto and several places in Croatia.

Intensity and fun - This has been a very full year with racing ranging from 5K to 80 miles, a focus on the PA USATF Mountain and Ultra Trail Grand Prix in which I won my age group for the 5th year in a row but a tiny 1% margin over superstar Dave Mackey this year (Dave has just been voted the ultra runner of the year by a panel of race directors assembled by Ultra Running Magazine) and our team won all the 4 team awards (men, women, mixed, overall)! It was fun and rewarding to participate in the World Master of Athletics this summer and get a gold and bronze medal, run as a team with the Quicksilver Ultra Running Team led my our energizing captain, Greg Lanctot, fun to train solo or as a group on weekends with the Stevens Creek Striders or our Saturday morning group. I also enjoyed a few runs with colleagues at the office or while traveling (Alaska, Spain) and, last but not least, with Agnès for her come back to running and Max when he visits.

It is the perfect occasion to thank again the race directors who put up all these races in 2011. We are in particular so blessed in our North California area, this is too good to pass on and not run one or two (or more...) ultra race every month! And I'm also grateful to the hundreds of volunteers, first of course the ones that we see at the aid stations, even if it is for a short time, but also all the ones helping out behind the scene to make these events not only successful and fun, but safe too.

Great run this Saturday, more than 29 miles, starting from Rancho, up to Black Mountain then through Palo Alto's Foothills Park and back to Rancho with Rhus Ridge's steep climb without walking. My 3rd ultra run in 3 weeks, I'm quickly getting into this new season rhythm!

In next week's post I plan on sharing with you what the first half of 2012 will look like from a running standpoint, although quite of that is already public courtesy of UltraSignup's near-monopoly on race registrations nowadays. Some rain is finally announced for this Wednesday in the Bay Area, looking forward to it to alleviate the drought. Have a great week in the meantime!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Saratoga Fat Ass 2012: is it winter yet?

What perfect conditions for a run, but hard to believe that we are in the middle of the winter, even in California. Dry trails and creeks, sunny skies, wonderful clear views over the Ocean. The only trace of bad weather was the numerous trees barring the trail. Since I started trail running back in 2005, I never saw so many trees and branches on our nearby trails. Someone needs to get out there with a chainsaw, actually a great volunteering opportunity to pursue since the trend is more getting toward abandoning the trail maintenance and closing our wonderful parks because of budget cuts.
Back to the Fat Ass, I didn't have much fat to burn this year, having already run 80 miles on New Year's Eve and 53 miles since, during the week. But I like the tradition and was excited to join Sean and Toshi for an early start of this 4th edition for me (2005, 2007, 2009 and 2012) but the event has been on for a few decades, becoming quite a local ultra running tradition. A special thank to David Kamp for keep this tradition alive.
For various family or work-related reasons, Toshi, Sean and I took an early start at 7:20 am. Charles (Stevens) was waiting for Chris (Garcia) and planning on starting between 7:30 and 8. The sun had just risen and the light over the hills and Ridge Trail was amazing, as were the views in all directions but especially over the Ocean.
When not stopping for pictures, videos or read and re-read the trail instructions at each intersection, we maintained a good pace until the beginning of Slate Creek Trail where we started loosing our momentum when going around fallen trees and a huge one in particular.
Per Toshi's suggestion, I took the lead all the way up on Portola Trail, we got quite a good work out! We met Winnie and Lee Jebian who were so kind to be out there to man the only aid station at China Grade. As we were talking and taking pictures, all of sudden came Leor (Pantilat) who flew by all of us.
He had taken a late start (8:20) and had already made the 1-hour gap on us in the first 15 miles, wow!
We stopped at the aid station to fill up our bottles and enjoy a banana that Lee and Winnie had left for us, a sweet idea. A few hundreds yards after the aid station we also met Dave, the Race Director, who was adding to Winnie's trail markers as a new trail has been recently added in this area and that brought some additional confusion to the course.

The next section along the border of Big Basin Redwoods State Park is my favorite and I really enjoyed it in such perfect conditions. I was bothered with our slow pace (11:50 min/mile at this point), but it wasn't a competition after all and it was great to run in the company of Quicksilver teammates.
After stopping at the Waterman Gap campground for more water, about mile 21, Toshi picked up the pace and I lost sight of him. I hesitated to push in this long uphill section in which I had so many bad experiences in the past, bonking and getting cold. But, to leverage these unique good conditions, I eventually picked up the pace myself and closed the gap on Toshi, pushing all the way up to Saratoga Gap to close the loop in 5:22:21. Leor was kindly waiting for us although he had been done for a long while as he completed the loop in a blazing 3 hours and 50 minutes! Given the 7,000 or so feet of cumulative elevation, this is yet another very impressive course record which is sure to hold for many years given the low key format of this event. Here he is with Race Director David Kamp:
Jeremy Johnson arrived shortly after us although he had taken a later 8 am start. He clocked something like 5:05 which is very promising soon after getting the Rookie Award for his first 50-mile and 7th place at the Dick Collins' Firetrails race last October. He had won a free entry into American River as a prize so we will see him again on the trails soon.
A posted a few more pictures in my Picasa album.

Great way to celebrate the end of the Holidays and the beginning of a busy ultra running season. And, that the skiers and snowboarders forgive us, we really enjoy the current weather on the trails. At least I do! See you on the trails, hope you have a great 2012 year!

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year's Eve 12-hour: running celebration

A few years ago, I was intrigued when I heard about the race called "Across the years." I initially thought it meant running for several years but you don't have to run for that long to go across two years, you just have to start your run the night of New Year's Eve and keep going after midnight. That's what a few dedicated race directors propose at the end of December, offering their time and recruiting valorous volunteers so a few runners can take on this challenge of running across the years. In Arizona, Across the Years has actually a few events (72, 48, 24 hours), in Florida Peanut Island has a 24, 12 and 6-hour, which correspond to what Wendell has been offering for the 2nd year in magic San Francisco. Even for locals and even more for out of town visitors, it is amazing to have the privilege to run in the City with majestic views of the Golden Gate, Marin Headlands, the Presidio, the Financial District and the Transamerica skyscraper in particular, the Palace of Fine Arts, Angel Island, Alcatraz, ... With such a touristic set, no risk of getting bored running tens of laps! ;-)

If you are not single, the hardest thing with such events and ideas is to get the family on board. A few couples and families were actually running together through the night (the 24-hour started at 9 am on Saturday, the 12-hour at noon and the 6-hour at 6 pm), which solved their challenge. On my end, Max had already left a few days for another tour on the East Coast with the SOBs, his Yale a cappella group, and Alex had a 6 am flight for DC on the first to join the Georgetown rowing team for a winter training camp, so he wasn't up to spend the night partying anyway. Agnès, Alex and Greg invited friends and had dinner at a Thai restaurant, downtown.

I drove on my own in the morning, getting to Crissy Field around 11 am. Noon was an unusual late start for an ultra, most races starting between 6 or 8 am when not at 5 am. And it felt strange to get to the start while quite a few participants were already running since 9 am, kind of the feeling I had when I got to Ruth Anderson 100K more than 2 hours after the start because of a missed connection the night before... Local elite Chikara Omine was flying through the start/finish area every 7 minutes or so, that got me excited to join the fun he seemed to have! Quite a few familiar faces were gathering for the start of the 12-hour, yet I was amazed at the number of new faces too, this definitely shows our ultra running sport keeps growing.
Here are (Tropical) John Medinger (right) and Lisa Henson, respectively Publisher and General Manager of UltraRunning Magazine, with Race Director and Coastal Trail Runs' founder and owner, Wendell Doman. Wendell has run at least 100 ultras himself and more than gave back to our sport, organizing more than 200 ultras himself!
He sent us on the course right at noon or more exactly at the 3:00:00-hour mark on the clock. With a simple 1.061-mile loop, with course marking (thank you Mike!), the pre-race briefing was... brief.
As you can see, the afternoon was gorgeous! Here is Mike, focused on pouring water in the mini cups, who has volunteered from 7:30 in the morning to 4 pm I believe, most of New Year's Eve daylight!
We then started running in circle... With Jason and David at the front we ran the first lap just above 8 minutes. For those who missed my previous posts, I took my usual running break in December and, except for the nice fun run organized by Mike for Boxing Day, that was my first run after three weeks of resting. I did listen to Scott Jurek's advice and follow the three topics of his recent article publish in Competitor's November issue: "Don't run, gain weight, hang out!" Speaking of the second advice, I did gain about 6 pounds over my optimal racing weight, and mostly fat which I was looking forward to burn thanks to Vespa!

With such eagerness and joy to get back to running, I was feeling excited and so good that I did pick the pace, clocking 16 laps in the first two hours (7.5 minutes/lap). That was more than the 8 minutes I had initially planned for, and certainly not the smartest strategy for such a long long run as I was going to quickly find out. I started getting quite tired in the 3rd hour and, realizing that there were many hours ahead, I scaled down to a 10-minute/lap pace after maintaining sub 9-minute laps until lap 28. I was still passing a lot of participants who were running or walking, but, after passing Chikara twice, it was his turn to lap me twice which was particularly humbling as he was competing in the 24-hour event!

I kept moving and became concerned not to see Agnès and the boys whom I was expecting around 3 pm, the time I needed to refill the two GU2O bottles I had drunk in my first marathon (slightly over 3 hours). Around 3:30 I decided to make my first stop at the aid station and Stevens Creek Strider, John McKiernan, kindly assisted me while I picked a few potato chips and a small piece of banana. A good move as the family arrived around 5:30 pm and stayed for 30 minutes.
It was already dark when they left and I put one more layer and my headlamp on. After a sunny and windy afternoon, the sky was clear and the half moon kept us company for most of the night making the surroundings even more magical between the lights of all the cities around the Bay, the ones on the Golden Gate and the contrast with the dark water and Alcatraz (that reminded me the story of the prisoners hearing the New Year's Eve celebrations in the audio tape of the visit of Alcatraz...).
With such a lap format, you are never running alone, always having the opportunity to exchange a few words of encouragement or, for others, do a few laps together. I passed the 50-mile mark after about 7 hours of running. At that time, my splits stayed in the 9:45-10:45 range with only 7 laps above 11 minutes when I did stop to get some hot soup (3 times)

Another Strider, Dennis, ran half a lap with me when I was experiencing quite a low (sorry, Dennis, for not having more voluble...). And Toshi, from our Quiksilver Ultra Racing team, ran one lap late in the night, before spending quite some time assisting Chikara who, very unfortunately, got injured in his quest for a great 24-hour distance (he dropped at midnight, not able to even walk anymore after 91 laps in 15 hours). Another teammate, Amy, was on the 24-hour and ran 95 laps, that is just over 100 miles!
After the 16 first laps and realizing that wasn't sustainable, I was now planning on settling for 6 laps/hour and still hoping to run 78 laps or 82.75 miles, still short of the 83.4 miles Akos Konya ran on this course in September 2007 (all in daylight though). Speaking of daylight, this was the longest I actually ran in the dark, even including my 100-miles: not only that made me relate more with what most of the participants in such events experience, but also realize that I have to get better at running through the night if I want to keep getting longer and farther...

Keeping doing the maths with laps slightly above 10 minutes and a few stops at the aid station, I had to revise my goal down to 77 then 76 laps. My first and only attempt at this race format was last year when I logged 74 laps (78 miles) with the last 8 hours in the rain so I was really looking forward to not only do better than that but also pass the 80-mile mark. Unfortunately, that meant that I had to run a handful of laps around 9 minutes each and I couldn't find the energy and motivation to do so and was glad enough to improve my PR by one lap and one mile and take first as a bonus! I ended my 75th lap in 11 hours 56 minutes and 45 seconds, just in time to grab a cup of Champagne before watching quite colorful fireworks above the Financial District at midnight.
A performance good enough for a nice mug (running 3 marathons in a row for a mug is something which actually surprises a few of Agnès' students... ;-).
Shan Riggs won the 24-hour event with 126 miles, followed by Daniel Gallo (116 miles) and Matthew McKinney (110 miles). Amy took first in the Female division and, at 76, Bill Dodson logged 90 miles!

In the 12 hour, Brandon Chalk got 73 miles and Andrew Foster 69 followed by Nancy Morehead with 66 miles. Battling a foot injury, Jason still managed to log See more results at that temporary URL or on the Coastal Trail Runs NYOD page in case the URL changes.

One more word about Vespa: according to both SportTracks and Garmin, I burned slightly more than 8,000 calories during the run. I ate a few potato chips, a small piece of banana, half a brownie, 7 GUs, 11 S-Caps and drank 3 cups of soup, one cup of Coca Cola and 5 bottles of GU2O, less than 3,000 calories total, Vespa helping me to efficiently switch to fat burning to keep the balance. And, for the ones who have seen or will see the Vespa ad in the January issue of UltraMagazine, I still buy the products (available at ZombieRunner)! ;-)

A big and sincere thank you to all the volunteers who gave up their New Year's Eve so we could run happily and safely this weekend, across the 2011-2012 years! Not to forget those who spent all night up to assist the valorous 24-hour runners who kept going after we left and went to bed... And a special thank you to Agnès for having accepted to plan around this "yet another" and last race in 2011...
I was definitely tired after such a long run and intense way to resume my racing and training season. Like Scott Jurek says, take a good break for a month then resume training slowly... Well, we'll see how bad my decision was to do 80 miles as a first run. Although I didn't cramp during the run I was actually quite sore on New Year's Day, from shoulders to calves. It still hurt today (January 2nd) as I ran to the top of Black Mountain (2,800 ft) and back, for a 23-mile "recovery" run before next weekend's Saratoga Fat Ass. Yes, we all ran across the years and it's time for another season! Once again, all the best to all of you for 2012!