Sunday, September 30, 2012

Trailblazer 2012: back to speed, almost

(For the 10K finishers only interested in their picture, here is my Picasa album.)

Some will say it was hot (it reached 99F in Cupertino this afternoon!), but the conditions this morning were perfect for celebrating the Stevens Creek Trail at this yearly event organized by the Friends of the Stevens Creek Trail whom I mentioned in my previous post last weekend. Blue sky, no wind and a start at 8:30 am before the heat built up. Not to forgot the perfect organization of Race Director Aaron and his crew of dozen of volunteers. A big thank to all of you for giving your time on a Sunday morning for such a good cause: raising money for the maintenance and extension of this great trail, and allowing us to have fun running or walking 10 or 5K!
I'm not going to be as prolific as for my ultra race reports. Sprinting for 6 miles on a flat course isn't the source of much inspiration or suspense... ;-) Defending champion, Jose Pina Sr. took the lead right off the starting line and would not let anyone challenge him this year. I was in 5th by the end of the first mile despite a 5:20 min/mile pace, phew! I'm still recovering from my shoulder fracture of mid-June and returned to the track only 3 weeks ago for some speed work with Bob and Jeremy. My fastest mile was 5:27 in our repeats last week, so I was really not sure what to expect today. I passed the 2-mile mark in 11:04, I was indeed not able to maintain a 5:20 or even a 5:30 pace. But I kept pushing, so much that, by mile 4, I was just 18 seconds behind the 2nd runner who had a stride almost twice as long as mine. I lost 4 seconds at a trail intersection around the golf maintenance area, not seeing where we should go and wasn't able to close the gap in the last mile. It wasn't the breathing or the legs which prevented me to go faster, more a lack of motivation to really push harder, like in 2007 when both Jose and I broke 34 minutes. I finished in 35:21, my slowest time on this course if we exclude 2009 when I ran 37:42 after I had placed 2nd at Sierra Nevada double marathon (52 hilly miles) the day before... Not such an excuse today!
With almost 1 minute of margin, and an amazing regularity, Jose won the 10K, a few minutes after his son, Jose Pina Jr won the 5K in a remarkable 16:01! (And his second boy won the under 12 age group in the 5K!) They certainly deserved taking home the two Microsoft Kinects, they will make some friends happy! Jose Sr. has won this race 4 times now (2007, 2008, 2011, 2012) and placed 2nd twice (2005, 2009), he dominates this event! I won 3 editions (2004, 2006, 2011) and getting too old for hoping for more... ;-)

So, that was participation number 8 in 11 years for me, and I look forward to coming back to this nice speed test as I now focus on ultra trail. After a long (!) award ceremony and drawing with many prizes thanks to the generous and numerous sponsors, I thanked Aaron for putting up such a great event and then went on a 17-mile run through the Palo Alto Baylands, at a much slower 7:15 pace this time.

Right after my 10K finish, I grabbed my camera and took more than 200 pictures of the 10K finishers (sorry, 5K finishers, that was already a lot of pictures...). See my Picasa album, I hope I didn't miss you (I think I missed less than 10...). By the way, Mark, I did catch you, see IMG_4820.JPG!

Here are a few picks (sorry for the Brooks bias, that's my sponsor... ;-).

We have another winner!

Not in the race, but would not miss this opportunity for some advertising! ;-)

French touch (t-shirt)... with Brooks shoes ;-)

Brooks PureConnect and great POSE posture (note the landing on the ball of the foot); minimalist running 101:

Carpooling... "Dad, we eat and you push harder, please, ok?"

Pure joy (Running Happy in Brooks PureCadence):

Another Pure... purple and pink!

The Brooks sisters:

Pure Laugh in Brooks PureGrit

Another "Brooks Run Happy" camper and lucky bib 1 number!

"Hey, Mom and Dad, I can run 10K too!"

What was that??!! ;-)

"Oops, honey, did you lose one of the kids??!!"

Yes, Run Happy in Brooks, you rock! ;-)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Take to the Trail: on the front page!

No, I didn't make the front page of any magazine, but trail walking and running made it to the front page of our local Cupertino Courrier! I remember a conference I gave 6 years ago at a networking event about the treasures of our local park system and one attendee asking me "oh so, really, we can venture in these parks and hills?" Yes, everybody can, and mostly for free, a benefit that many overlooked so far. So much that it's great to see a newspaper covering the topic.
Now, it's not the best kept secret either, at least for our local Rancho San Antonio County Park in Cupertino. It has been months since I drove there and was astonished to see the parking lots full by 6:40 am this Saturday morning! And even more surprised to pass runners on Chamise on my way up to Black Mountain. We have this rotating Saturday morning trail runs which, every 4 weeks starts at Rhus Ridge, on the other side of the Park. This morning, the group was quite small and I met Penny, Lina and Chris near the top of the steep climb from the Rhus Ridge entrance and minuscule parking lot, while I started from the main lot.
Nice opportunity to catch up with them before I took off after the Black Mountain camp ground (yes, very few people know about the existence of this camping opportunity at 2,800 feet above the Valley). I went on for the long version of this monthly circuit, even adding the 0.9-mile Panorama Trail loop, thinking of Charles Stevens who was always keen to go a little further...
From the top of Black Mountain where my average pace topped 11:30 min/mile after the long climb, I got the pace down to 9:37 at the bottom of the Rhus Ridge "wall", at the 24-mile mark. Albeit slowly, in what Hal Koerner would call the diesel mode, I was able to run the entire climb and only lost 4 seconds of that average pace which I quickly regained in the last 6 miles, to finish a 31.1-mile and 5,100-feet cumulative elevation loop in 4:49:25 (9:22 pace).

See a few more pictures in my Picasa album.

Back to the Cupertino Courier article (and likely an article shared by sisters publications through the Mid-Peninsula), it highlights a few great running and hiking places indeed:
  1. Rancho San Antonio: amazing variety of trails. Nice authentic farm, 1 mile from the parking lots. The outside loop is 9.5 miles and includes Rogue and PG&E. You can reach the top of Black Mountain (2,800-feet) via either Chamise Trail (7.5 miles to the top) or a connector at the top of PG&E. As noted above, the parking lots tend to fill-up as soon as the park opens around 6:30 am on weekends!
  2. Fremont Older: limited parking but nice view point over Cupertino and the Bay. Connects to the Stevens Creek County Park.
  3. Stevens Creek County Park: this is the "headquarters" of our Stevens Creek Striders running club in Cupertino. You can join the group on Saturday mornings at 8:30, check the club website.
  4. Stevens Creek Trail. Starts in Sunnyvale and gets you all the way to the Palo Alto Baylands through Shoreline in Mountain View. Asphalt bike path from Sunnyvale to Palo Alto. Several drinking fountains on the course. The dream is to connect the Bay to the hills and the Stevens Creek reservoir in particular but it's going to take many more years to get through Cupertino and Los Altos where many properties extend to the creek itself (you can track the progress of the trail development on the Friends of the Stevens Creek Trail website, and also consider joining us for the Trailblazer 5 and 10K races next week!)
  5. Saratoga Creek Trail. As the article says, this is a short 1-mile section of trails along the very busy Lawrence Express Way. I would have rather mentioned the newly opened trail sections along Highway 85 and the rail track from Stevens Creek in Cupertino to Winchester Boulevard in Los Gatos, through Saratoga and Campbell.
  6. John Christian Greenbelt. For those living in Sunnyvale, it connects to the Baylands Park and Bay Trail along Clabazas Creek Trail.
  7. Baylands Park. In the context of this article, it's the Sunnyvale Baylands Park, but Palo Alto has its own Baylands Park near the municipal golf and airport.
Overall, this is a great article to promote the outdoors opportunities in the area, although there are 10 times more throughout the Mid Peninsula, then even more all around the Bay. Included in the article is a mention of the 500-mile which the San Francisco Bay Trail will cover, along the Bay. And more than 500 other miles for the Bay Area Ridge Trail, at the top of the hills surrounding the Bay! And likely at least 1,000 more miles in other parks, that's a lot to explore!

I often said it in this blog, we are so blessed with so many accessible and perfectly maintained parks. See you on the trails then!
PS: on Friday evening, I had the privilege to represent IBM at the 2012 Legends & Leaders gala dinner of the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce and hear an amazing speech from Football legend, Terry Bradshaw (4 super bowls as the Steelers' quarterback, and still a very active figure of this sport). I'm not into football but what an interesting and vocal character, with so many life lessons to share!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Around the Earth, in Brooks!

This is a very special milestone: I had already covered the whole length of the Equator in my running log (see my January 2011 post, Around the world: once!) but this time, I passed the 24,902-mile mark today (40,077 km) which is the horizontal circumference of our planet (the vertical one, passing by the poles is 42 miles shorter by the way). All these miles in Brooks shoes!
What a journey it has been so far with this brand since I was recommended my first pair of Trance in a running store in Cupertino, MetroSport, which has closed since. This was in April 1999 when I was preparing for my first marathon, the San Francisco Marathon in July. After 21 marathons, 38 10Ks, 25 half marathons, 76 ultra marathons and 204 races overall, I'm grateful to Brooks for its focused mission on running shoes, mixing innovation and tradition. Indeed, speaking of tradition, it's a little known fact that Brooks started in 1914, quite a milestone approaching for the company (almost as old as... IBM, which celebrated its centennial in 2011 ;-). Yet, Brooks is at the leading edge when it comes to new and recyclable fabrics, sustainable manufacturing techniques, balancing the currently diverging trends of minimalism versus increasing cushioning, and an appealing spectrum of colors too!

I got three new pairs of Brooks in the mail this week, 2 PureConnect and 1 PureGrit. I took one of the pairs of PureConnect out for my long run on Saturday, these brilliant blue ones.
28 flat miles up to the Palo Alto Baylands from Cupertino, running the whole Stevens Creek Trail from the new bridge which opened this year (85 over pass from Heatherstone Way in Sunnyvale). I was able to sustain a reasonable 7:10 min/mile pace which got me a 3:08 marathon time. I was reading about the new Boston and New York marathon qualifying rules this morning and realized that I still don't have a qualifier (my 2:47 World Masters in July 2011 is too "old" for Boston). I know I'm taking a risk with the stricter qualifying times but I'll wait for next year to get a reference time and see what I'm up for when I turn 50.

I went for another run this morning and ran a half marathon at 7:08 pace. The shoulder is still improving and getting better (June fracture) but I need to get back to the track to regain more leg speed in particular.

Back to my "journey" around the Earth in Brooks, here are some stats:
  1. 2,076 entries out of 2,580 in my log
  2. An average of 12 (11.99...) miles per run
  3. 40 different pairs used
  4. 623 miles average / pair, with a max of 1,574 miles in my 2nd pair of Trance and 1,320 miles in my first pair of Burn
And here is a spread across the 9 model families:
Of course this is a static view and doesn't show the trend. I'm not running in Trance anymore. I used 10 pairs overall, from the original ones to the Trance 8. This is still an amazing shoe but I don't need as much cushioning now. I loved the Burn but they don't exist anymore. I replaced them by a blend of Launch and Racer ST. I was used to do most of my trail runs in Cascadia but I keep them for technical trails only now, while using running flats in ultra races. I love the cushioning of the Green Silence for my recovery runs. And I'm a new addict of the minimalist Pure "movement" or PureProject.
This has certainly been great and very productive 13 years of running so I'm not sure how long it will take me to circle the Earth a second time (19,461 miles to go ;-), that is, at my current 62 miles/week average, assuming I can maintain this pace, "just" 6 more years...). The biggest lesson out of this long injury-free experiment is that I rotate through 3 or 4 different models every week. Along with a variety of running courses and terrains, I'm sure this is a key element of sustainable running and the ability to Run many miles, ... Happy! So, you all, Run Happy too... around the world!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Stevens Creek 50K 2012: a slow vintage

This was my second participation to this race, the first being last year for the 10th anniversary of the event, with an overall win and the 2nd fastest time (4:15:40). While the course remains unchanged, it is difficult to compare the editions as the date has moved from March, close to the Race Director's birthday, to August or September this year. Between the Spring conditions when the creeks are in full force, to the heat of the Summer, the finish times have evolved significantly, one way or another. Not to mention the difference of timing within our ultra running season.
Last year, I didn't know what to expect as I had never raced the previous year top contenders, Jay Thomson (2010 winner) and runner-up Juan De Oliva Martinez. We started quite fast on a course which was new to me and I took the lead at mile 9 but we were still less than 10 minutes apart by mile 25 before Juan missed a turn and got lost. I won, one week after winning Skyline 50K, a nice back to back double  and recovery. Race Director, Steve Patt, called us the "three J's", not the 3 jays (Steve's passion is birding --he is a guru-- and he organizes this event to raise money for the local chapter of the Audubon Society, with his wife.
This year, none of the other 2 J's signed up and I was expecting another one, teammate John Burton to push me on the first section, if not the whole course, but he didn't show up. Last night, Kent Dozier had checked my blog and 2011 race report and left a nice note: "Are you going for a repeat win this year? My 50k PR is 5h10m so I'm going to shoot for keeping you within 1 hour ahead of me. =)" He actually ran the first mile close behind me before I pushed the pace on Canyon Trail. I had been on the Table Mountain Trail twice last weekend (see my 90-mile Labor Day weekend), to get more familiar with it. My pace was 7:30 at the bottom of it but slowed down significantly on the long 4-mile climb. I was paying a lot of attention to the rocks and roots to avoid a fall (I can't afford to fall with my shoulder still very weak after the June fracture), yet was thinking of last run climb on Juan's heels (before he actually felt himself) and with Jay just behind me. We were really moving, and I didn't have much reference for this year, except that I don't feel as much in shape as last year (especially after Skyline's counter-performance and slower training runs). The shoulder is still painful, wakes me up during the night and prevents me from carrying a water bottle, but it doesn't explain everything, I'm surprised at how much I lost during the 6-week break.

Anyway, I started catching some of the 16 early starters before reaching the Saratoga Gap Trail, or crossing some of the fastest of them like Anil Rao before the turn around and 11-mile aid station at Saratoga Gap. I reached the station 7 minutes slower than last year (1:34), I was definitely missing the competition and emulation... Michael Jimenez was about 15 minutes behind then, being slower than last year, I saw many more runners on the way back on Saratoga Gap Trail (Lina, Charles, Chris, ...). It was really nice to run in the shade, before the exposed and sunny Long Ridge Road. My favorite section of the course is when we get back into the woods on Long Ridge Trail, around the half-way mark.

I was back to the main aid station, the start/finish area and mile 19.8 AS, in 2:42, 11 minutes slower than last year. Despite the great assistance of Penny Beeston (refilling my bottles and putting more sun screen on my arms) and Steve, I didn't feel much pressure and urge to leave the station at which I stayed for 4 long minutes. Yet, as opposed to last year, I ran most of the uphills in the second loop. Penny was also at the next aid station, Rappley Ranch Road, along with fellow Stevens Creek Striders. I passed the station to go at the end of the road and touch the gate, the official turn-around, and stopped for a couple minutes to the station on the way back to drink a few cups, get my bottles refilled and grab a GU (I used 3 packets of Vespa, 3 GUs and a few potato chips and pieces of watermelon).

The first runner I crossed on the way back was actually an early starter, who definitely had miscalculated his time (8am early start is meant for those running more than 7.5 hours). Then I crossed another runner about 15 minutes from the turn around (that is a 30-minute lead). I kept running most of the uphills, trying to at least break 4:30 but the course was longer than I remembered and I finished in 4:32:47. Far behind the age group course record I had set last year, yet, still the 5th time of the 11 race editions. Well, the event isn't very competitive, except when Leor Pantilat was the first and still the only one to break 4 hours, setting a solid 3:58:35 course record 3 years ago (with ideal temperatures in the 60s)!
Overall, I felt it was not as hot as last year, thanks to the date pushed a month and also the Ocean breeze. The course was extremely well marked, thanks to the efforts of Penny (first loop) and Steve (second loop), last night. Last year, folks had removed some ribbons on Howk and Ancient Oak Trail, leading to runners getting lost. Thankfully not this year, at least at the time I passed by these trails. In case, counting on me to be in the lead, Steve had given me 4 ribbons at the start. I used 3 of them at points where I got minor hesitation, just to make the marking perfect.
I stayed for more than an hour after I finished, but only saw one runner finish (Siming Li, above). The results will be promptly posted by Steve on his very informative event website.

A big thank you to sponsor Zombie Runner who offered GUs and GU2) for all the aid stations and the ritual ginger chews and gin-gins boosts which Agnès appreciate so much! To the aid station volunteers who were very helpful and friendly. And of course to Steve and his wife who combine their passion for ultra running and bird conservation to put up such a top class event for our local running community: a challenging course but a very friendly and relaxed atmosphere with no cut-offs! By the way, great tote bag displaying a few local birds: way to shop with class! ;-)

That was my fourth overall win this year (Ruth Anderson 50-mile, Quicksilver 50K, Ohlone 50K and this Stevens Creek 50K), I didn't even expect to repeat last year's feat in this area especially with three of these wins as part of a 5 back to back events over 5 weeks in April-May. For sure I'm not getting younger, but I keep racing... including some lower key events ;-). 35th 50K race since I started running ultras in 2006, ultra #76 and counting... I missed the registration window for the Dick Collins Firetrails 50-mile in October and I'm still 42nd on the waiting list (I started at 160 or so, so there is progress...). I'm in Whiskeytown at the end of October and the 50th anniversary of the JFK 50-mile in West Virginia in November, followed by the Turkey Trot 10K on Thankgiving morning, to which I have the permission this year to invite my fellow IBMers to participate (long story...). All that between more business trips (Arkansas, Brazil in the short term and likely other countries to follow), so it's going to be a busy Fall. No, I didn't write... fall!

See you on the trails, Run Happy out there!

A few bonus pictures...

Ultra veteran Roger Jensen and his famous yo-yo:
Craig Heinselman already wearing the colors of Sweden where he will relocate to in a few months:
Briefing #1
Briefing #2

Monday, September 3, 2012

Labor Day: back to (running) work!

With the apparently incidental fall in June and the subsequent shoulder fracture and 6-week running break, I have really been... falling behind: a missed opportunity to run Tahoe Rim Trail (no 100-mile this year...), passing on Gary's Tahoe Rim Trail Fastest Known Time attempt mid August, getting behind on my weekly blog post pace, and behind in my running log. Not to mention my first job and two international business trips these past 2 weeks (Mexico City and Hong Kong).

I just posted 2 blogs on these trips, this will make three this weekend with this one! And what a running weekend this has been to celebrate Labor Day! A quiet weekend on the family side, with Gregoire already having a lot of home work just after one week in High School. Beyond some family time, my main goals were first to catch-up on a serious sleep deficit and log quite a few miles on the trails.

It hasn't been easy with the heat and the lack of training and speed, but I managed to run 3 times 30 miles and about 10,000ft cumulative elevation overall. I went twice on the Table Mountain Trail which we'll run next week for Steve Patt's Stevens Creek 50K. That was Saturday and Monday.

On Sunday, I went for what was supposed to be a easier run, on Stevens Creek Trail but toward the Bay, through Shoreline in Mountain View. I managed to go arond the Palo Alto's airport and golf course and come back to Cupertino but I had only taken with me 280 calories which were way insufficient to make up for the 2,900 or so calories I did burn... I didn't have any cash with me so I had to call Agnès for a pick-up, not being able to run the last 2.5 miles of this 32-mile course... How embarrassing... I was starving and gobbled up a Big Mac menu at McDonald's, that helped...

With that, I'm not back to my 100K/62.2-mile weekly average, and have still quite some work to rebuild speed. I can't believe how running has become so much harder in a matter of weeks... The shoulder is ok during the runs now, I'm just thinking about it in the rocky sections, paying attention no to fall, and of course not carrying a water bottle with that arm, but a backpack instead. The pain still comes back every night though as the shoulder stops moving and that wakes me up. Hope my PT is going to do magic tomorrow; 5 more sessions to go on my current referral and I have yet to recover many degrees of range of motion... Although I enjoyed being out there on the trails in such a great weather, I'm looking forward to getting more pleasure in my runs again! In the meantime, now that Labor Day is over, let's keep... working hard! :-)

Have a great week all!

PS: a refreshing halt at the bottom of Table Mountain Trail to cool off in the Stevens Creek

Running in Hong Kong: Kowloon waterfronts

Right after coming back from Mexico City, I jumped on another long flight and stayed for 4 days and half in Hong Kong last week and was only able to run twice, so I don't pretend to have explored all what this special Chinese city offers to runners. See in particular these articles or websites for more ideas:'s Where To Run, the Hong Kong Park & Recreation website, CNN's Best 5 Hong Kong Running Routes.

From what I could read and experience, I'd say you'd better stay on the Hong Kong Island if you are a trail and long distance runner, in order to reach the Southern part of the island and its hills. Unfortunately, the client site I was working at was on the Kowloon peninsula, so I picked a nearby hotel, right in the middle of the busy district of Mong Kok. From there, I decided to run South, toward the sea, along Nathan Road. You will pass the Kowloon Park which is a great oasis in the city but has little interest for serious runners (many convoluted trails and stairs and busy alleys). At the end of Nathan Road, you will find an underpass to reach the waterfront and the famous Avenue of the Stars in particular, a 440-meter promenade, about one track lap. The Avenue of the Stars will get you on the East side and you can keep running on a much longer section for up to 2 miles, the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade. On the west side, you can pass the piers and, after about 1.5 miles, reach the nice West Kowloon Waterfront promenade and park with great views on the channel and the Hong Kong Island. The promenade is 1-mile long which isn't very long yet a peaceful and green area aside from the busy streets and vertiginous skyscrapers. Here is a trace of my run, kind of an anchor shape:
Running in temperatures above 90F and a 60% humidity, I was literally drenched after just 15 minutes. My shoes were soaked and, based on the hotel room scale, I lost more than 6 pounds of water despite carrying a water bottle for this 13-mile tour of Kowloon. Needless to say, I was glad to be back in the Bay Area on Friday for much better running conditions. I know, this is an opportunity to think of all of you who run in such conditions throughout the Summer, on the East Coast in particular...
In my run I passed by the Granville Road, which will please my Mom's family which originates from Greanville in Normandy, France (thanks to Wikipedia, we can learn that this Road was named in 1896 after a British Secretary of the State, for the Colonies).
If you have more time, here are 60 or so pictures which will give you an idea of the city's architecture (sorry, you'll miss the smell of the Chinese market as well as the high heat and humidity, it's not virtual reality yet... ;-). Plus two videos: one with some sort of T'ai Chi on Christian music, and a panorama of the Hong Kong Island from Kowloon. (click on the links to be redirected to YouTube).

Overall, a fascinating city with a blend of international and Chinese cultures. I hope China will evolve toward more freedom so Hong Kong doesn't have to give the one the British left as a legacy here once the 50-year

Running in Mexico City: Bosque de Chapultepec I

Two weeks ago I spent 4.5 days in Mexico's capital to meet with 17 clients, prospects, business partners and a few journalists. A busy and tiring week but a fruitful one, business wise. Technically, it wasn't my first trip to this country since I had stayed in Cancun for a few days, in Tijuana to build a house for a needy family and Encinada on a cruise with my parents. However, all the people I met in Mexico City took great pride to let me know that wasn't really Mexico. I found all of them very attached to their city, for the night life in particular and despite the inconvenience of the long hours in the traffic, either in cars or public transportation. 22 million people living above 7,000 feet elevation, Mexico City is definitely a unique place!

Beyond the highly publicized Tarahumara runners in Born To Run, Mexico has a long lasting tradition of running and many places to run in the country side if it wasn't for the danger of the drug cartels reigning across the country. Sadly, Mexico has become the most unsafe country in Latin America, displacing Columbia or Nicaragua.

So, if you spend a few days in Mexico City, better stay near one of the parks (bosque for forest). This article for instance advertizes the Bosque de Tlalpan, in the South part of the city. I was staying at the Hyatt (ex Nikko) which was conveniently close to the Bosque de Chapultepec. The Park opens at 5 am all year round and closes at sundown. There are many large roads in the park, plus side trails, and one 3,000-meter loop (~1.86 miles) with 100-meter markers:
I did a few of these loops but not quite as many as the 68 track laps of Saturday morning before flying down to Mexico (17 miles)!
If you like more variety, here is a trace of the run Kramer and I had the day before:
Note that I did venture in the North West part but this is a military training camp, so you are not welcome inside unfortunately. Next time, I'll try to find the way to cross over to Chapultepec II and III, it doesn't seem trivial on the map.

Hope you find this post useful in case you have the opportunity to visit this amazing megalopolis...