Sunday, November 25, 2012

Running in Ukiah: Lake Mendocino

Right after the Turkey Trot on Thursday morning, and a shower (!), we drove up to Ukiah in the heart of the Russian River Valley and Mendocino County. Entering the County boundaries, we were welcome by 3 Ws albeit a different meaning than the World Wide Web: Wine, Waves and Wilderness! While we did not actually drive to the Coast to see the breakers nor did we do any touristic wine tasting, you can count on us to experience the wilderness of this North Californian region!
We drove up to Lake Mendocino after checking in to experience a spectacular sunset over the quiet and silent lake.
With the two large camping sites at the North of the lake and the multiple boat ramps, it must me a different story in summer, a busy and crowded site. Yet, a great place to camp, just a couple of hours North of San Francisco.
Between the perfect weather and amazing Fall colors of the trees and vineyards, the views were outstanding!
On Friday morning, I had my own version of Black Friday, leaving the hotel at 6:30 am, before sunrise, and running in the dissipating fog.
Needless to say, I had the road for myself for the 3 miles up to the dam, and I didn't see one single living soul on the trail except for a few birds, deers and what I believe to be a fox (too much fur and to large of a tail for a coyote, right?).
I was supposed to get back to the hotel by 9 am but I couldn't resist the appeal of running the whole trail on the east side of the lake and ended up at the North East entrance, the huge Bu-shay Campground, around 8:30. Alas, there is no bridge over the Russian River there, so you have to run all the way up to Highway 20 then, West, on this busy highway to the next entrance/campground, Marina Road. Although I wanted to complete the tour of the lake on the trails, with that 2-mile detour and the clock ticking, I decided to take the road instead. Instead of the original 10 miles or so I was aiming at I ended up with 20.5 miles on my GPS! A great run and, thankfully, Greg had enjoyed sleeping in so I wasn't jeopardizing our family plans for the rest of the day, phew!
You can find more directions and details on local Ukiah trails on the Ukiah Valley Trail Group's website.

We had a very zen rest of the day actually, visiting the City of the 10,000 Thousands Buddhas, participating for 90 minutes to the Great Compassion and Repentance celebration, a vegan lunch at the monastery restaurant, 2 hours soaking in bubbles at the Vichy Springs Resort and a traditional Thai cuisine dinner at THE Thai restaurant of Ukiah, Ruen Tong.
Great getaway in Northern California, with new trail running opportunities! And we haven't even explored the nearby and huge Mendocino National Forest, North of Clear Lake. So much left to discover in California...!

PS: see about 90 more pictures in my Picasa album. Including this very welcoming and reassuring sign when you get to the lake... We did survive Lake Mendocino, phew! ;-)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Silicon Valley Turkey Trot: many more turkeys!

Many more turkeys in the street this Thursday! Many more than the few dozens of our Tino Turkey Trot on Tuesday. And more than last year's record number at this event on Thanksgiving morning in the street of San Jose, the fittest city in America! Tens of thousands, probably something between 23 and 25,000 participants. And almost 1 million dollars raised for three local charities.
Greg was nice enough to first accept an early wake-up call (6:30am) and join Agnès in the 5K. As IBM was a sponsor this year, I got the privilege to say a few words on the main stage at the 10K start. I share that, although IBM is definitely an East Coast-based company, it had open its first office in California in 1914, 98 years ago, and its first site in San Jose in 1943. And we had more than 4,000 employees in the Bay Area. After thanking Carl for organizing such a major event, I wished everybody to have fun on the course!

At 48F, the temperature was just crisp but the weather perfect overall, with an amazing clear sky. I saw a few familiar faces at the front of the pack and, after the only wheelchair athlete started, it was the turn of the 10K crowd.
I passed the 1-mile mark in 5:27 then mile 2 in 11:02. Yet, despite such a fast pace, I had about a dozen of runners ahead of me. 16:44 by mile 3, almost my best time on 5K! I kept pushing, feeling I could break 35 minutes maybe but, as I was approaching the finish line, I could see the clock showing 34:48 and I still had a few yards to go. My official finish time was 15:06, not too bad after a challenging 50-mile last Saturday in Virginia (JFK) and a fast sub-15-hr 100-mile 12 days ago! And good enough for 8th overall and 2nd Masters (24 seconds behind Mark Yuen). The overall winner this year was Kyle Shackleton in a blazing 31:50. All the results were promptly posted on the RaceCentral website.

I then spent one hour and an half next to the Festival Area main stage to greet other IBMers who participated today (click on the picture to enlarge, or go to my Picasa album for the original).
I managed to see Paul on the start line then, near the IBM Main Stage: Christina, Shawn, Mark, Monique, Bob, Fred, Chia-Lyn, Jovi, Susan, Sheila, a few with friends or family members. For our first official participation, we enlisted about 120 participants, a good number but not enough to compete with the overwhelming Applied Materials flock, the funding and event title sponsor for the past 8 years, which owns the... meadow!

Agnes ended up running the whole 5K, with Greg running ahead.
That was my 4th Silicon Valley Turkey Trot in 4 years (see race reports for 2009, 2010 and 2011) and also my 16th race this year: quite another good season if it wasn't for my fall on the TRT in June and the subsequent 6 weeks off running because of the broken shoulder. I set a few Personal Bests again and won my Age Group in our Ultra Trail Running North California Grand Prix for the 6th year in a row! I'm now looking forward to some rest and easy miles, and already to next year's edition as this is so much fun to give back to the community and "Give Thanks" for the health, friends and blessings we have!

See a few more pictures in my Picasa album.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tino Turkey Trot: first fast trot of the week

Thanksgiving already, unusually early because we have five Thursdays this month and the 4th one falls on the 22nd (can't get earlier than that). At 11:30 this morning, Agnès called from school to alert me about this fun event taking place in the afternoon, after school. I had run it 3 years ago when Max was a Senior, 2 days before running the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot one and 4 days before Quad Dipsea...

I had actually planned on tapering today to get my legs a short 2-day break before the upcoming Silicon Valley Turkey Trot on Thursday morning and to continue recovering from last Saturday's JFK 50-mile and my fast 100-mile the week before, not to mention last week's cold... Yet, and since I'm trying to take the week off, I couldn't resist the challenge of some speed work along with a a few fast and young XC runners! I jogged the mile between my house and the Cupertino High School track and barely made it before the start, therefore missing the "race" briefing and course instructions.
Not knowing where we were heading to, I followed the top 2 runners (students) and we started in the red zone, around 5:20 min/mile pace. I passed them in the second/smaller loop, which I thought was the last loop, but we went for another one of these small loops. As you can see on the map the course was quite convoluted, in the good Turkey Trot tradition (turkeys don't run straight... ;-). At the finish, my Garmin GPS indicated 1.88 miles (3.0 km) in 10:28 (5:35 min/mile). Here with Dusty:
And with Justin (red top, 2nd overall) and Willy (blue, 3rd), two fast runners of Tino's XC and T&F teams:
Thank you to Mr Morse and the ASB leaders for organizing this fun event and gathering numerous volunteers to show us the way throughout the school campus! To Coach Armstrong for lending us such rabbits ;-). And to Mr Lawson for helping perpetuating this nice tradition!
See some of you among a much larger flock (more than 20,000 participants!) in 2 days in San Jose for the 8th Silicon Valley Turkey Trot! IBM is one of the sponsors and I should be giving a few words on main stage before jumping to the starting line! ;-)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

JFK 50th: new king and queen for a gold anniversary

I have had en eye on this major ultra North American race, the mother of all modern ultra running events, for a couple of years and, when I saw last year that 2012 would be the 50th edition, I got really excited about participating, even anxious about not being able to make it through the selection process (several thousands applications for about one thousand spots). I FedEx'ed my application on the first day of the A-standard qualifying time window, early May, and was relieved and super happy to receive a positive confirmation in the mail a few weeks later: It was such a unique celebration and, after 76 ultra races, that was going to be my first on the East Coast, a long due opportunity to cross the Mississippi and meet this other ultra community.

And what a celebration! A "grand cru" with the coronation of both the new king and queen of this oldest American ultra event. Of course, I was way behind and too busy with my own run to follow the head of the race but I got a glimpse of the winner's performance as I was entering the Taylor's Landing aid station at mile 38.4 and a volunteer announced to others: "Max King has already finished, setting a new course record!" Geez, my GPS clock was indicating 5:42 and I had still 12 miles to cover...
Last year, after a duel with Michael Wardian, David Riddle set a new course record at 5:40:45 improving Eric Clifton's 17-year old CR by more than 5 minutes! This year, Max shaved another 5:47 minutes off David's performance!

At the award ceremony, Race Director Mike Spinnler told us it had been fascinating seeing the fierce competition for both the men and women overall lead (thanks especially to his skills for inviting the best North American distance runners to his race), seeing David taking the lead upfront before having to compromise for 3rd place, still in 4:45:26, a time faster than Eric's long lasting 1994 CR! Here is David, still leading the race at mile 15:
Trent Briney from Boulder, CO took 2nd in a blazing 5:38:09, trailing Max by less than 3 minutes.
I met Max earlier this year at Chuckanut and stopped by after my finish: he admitted the last 5 miles were very tough for him. With an average pace of 6:43 min/mile (!), and 10 miles of technical trail, he must have run a few miles at 5 min/mile!
Mike said that the women race was as exciting with the top 2 finishing 6 minutes apart, after 50 miles and 6 hours of neck to neck competition. Or, should we say emulation like on the men side, which also led to an incredible improvement of Devon Crosby-Helms 2009 CR by... 17 minutes and 22 seconds! New women CR: 6:11:59!!! Ellie Greenwood, who lives in Canada but runs for Scotland and wins everything on the ultra circuit these days, if the new JFK Queen and she looked at the finish fresh and ready to run the course in reverse direction! Here is Ellie, hoping over the last rocks of the switchbacks:
Running her first ultra marathon, Emily Harrisson, 26, from Virginia, challenged Ellie and did beat the previous CR too, finishing in 6:17:29 and 13th overall (Ellie took 10th). All the results are available on the JFK 50 mile challenge's website.
Here is Ellie, all smile as she is most of the time when racing hard on the trails:

On my end, it has been a much slower story, yet a reasonably good outcome given the circumstances; some would say actually quite a performance too. Let's talk about the circumstances, the "excuses..." First, there is the back to back with my Personal Best at 100-miles 7 days before JFK (14:55:15), not quite following the standard tapering idea... Thanks to Vespa in particular, I was actually feeling ok after last week's race if it wasn't for a cold which I contracted in Brazil the day before and which turned really bad during the week leading to JFK. On Wednesday, I still manage to work but had to go back to bed 3 times during the day between conf calls, shivering, coughing, sneezing... Thursday was slightly better but I'm still fighting the cold after the race, so it was a new experience for me to run an ultra with a cold, definitely not optimal nor recommended... And then there was the shoulder: Saturday actually corresponded exactly to the 5th anniversary month of my shoulder fracture on the TRT (Tahoe Rim Trail) and I still haven't fully recovered the mobility and strength of this complex joint. But this Saturday was the first time since June that I carried a bottle with my right arm so there is progress!

With that, my 2 biggest fears were 1. not fall on the rocky section and 2. asthma, with my lungs already irritated by the cold before the start, not to mention the freeing air at the start. Add a 3rd one with Agnès reminding me of my friend Pierre-Yves spending 2 weeks in the hospital after collapsing a 1/4 mile from the finish line of Ohlone 50K, having started the race with a... cold... Yet, I still thought I had a shot at breaking 7 hours and, as crazy as it might look given the circumstances again, I started the race with that goal in mind. Speaking about starting, we were still walking to the starting line from the gymnasium with my son Alex and my friend Steve who crewed for me, when I realized it was time to trot to the start line which I barely reached by the time the gun detonated. On the way, I hugged California-resident Beverly Anderson-Abbs who was competing today for Team Canada.
I passed quite a few people in the first mile, before settling for a 7:30 min/mile pace for these 2.5 uphill miles on the road and one volunteer indicated I was in 50th place when we hit the first trail section. I then passed a dozen or so other runners in the following steep uphill section on another asphalt section before we came back on the famous Appalachian Trail. That's where fear #1 came to play and forced me to slow down. I got passed by a handful of runners, or should I say monkeys or chamois as they appeared so much agile as I was, and eventually connected to 2 other prudent/careful runners and we ended up running the next 10 miles together. I was in 3rd in this slower yet steady "train" and following a runner who I found out later was Dennis Wallach, 55. Dennis tripped several times and felt twice, just before me, which just scared me more and I focused even more on every rock which almost gave me a headache... There were the easy flat rocks except for the fact that their angle with the ground always varied, the super sharp rocks, the roots, the wood logs as random stairs, the rocks hidden under the leaves, the lose rocks, and the early starters we had to pass on the side of the trail. Then, to just make the torture perfect, this section ended with a series of super sharp switchbacks plunging into the crowd near the Weverton aid station at mile 15.5, the point we were reaching the C&O canal for 26 flat miles. I was glad to see Alex and Steve there, Steve refilling my Gu2O bottle. I was still wearing 3 long-sleeve layers and decided to keep them despite many others running in singlets! Between the chilly temperature and humidity of the early morning along the river, and my cold, I was... cold enough.
I saw Alex and Steve again 2 miles later near Harpers Ferry where Steve lives and work as COO of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Then at the Antietam aid station by mile 27 and Taylor's Landing at mile 38 for another and last Gu2O refill. Along the canal I was initially able to maintain a pace around 7:35-7:40 min/mile. Bev had passed me in the switchbacks and I had her in sight for 4 miles, before she had to do a pit stop. I kept going at this steady pace but had to stop myself at the Antietam aid station where she passed me again and I wasn't going to see her again. She eventually finished in 7:14, taking home the Masters title and 5th woman overall! Dennis Wallach also passed me and would easily win the M50 division in 7:14 too! Here he is (we are...), carefully negotiating the end of the switchbacks:
Being on a business trip in DC before the race, I had packed light and taken only two pouches of Vespa which I used respectively 45 minutes before the start and after 4 hours of running when I met my crew at mile 27. Ordinarily I would have taken another one at the start and 2.5-3 hours in the run. I was off my marks then and, with an energy tank already lowered by last week's 100-mile and bad cold, I had to slow down to an 8:30-8:40 pace. I even thought that I'd walk most of the last 12 miles but, once I realized I wasn't going to make 7 hours, I focused on just keeping moving to at least get under 7:30. I was surprised by how much uphills there seemed to be in the last 8 miles but managed to stay under 9 min/mile by not walking nor stopping at the last and frequent aid stations, even sprinting in the last hundreds yards when I heard Igor Stevic closing on me (we had traded places back and forth for the past 20 miles...). I crossed the finish line just under 7:24 (7:23:58), an 8:53 min/mile average pace. I had been "chick'ed" 8 times, and finished 51st overall and 11th M40-49. I was really pleased with my breathing (no trace of asthma, phew!) and ability to keep moving despite the fatigue, something I improved a lot on this year. The other thing which kept motivated in the last miles is the so-called "gold finisher medal" instead of the silver one the previous year. Owner of several Western States (real) silver buckle, I was counting on some pure gold, but not quite as I found out at the finish (even my World Masters medal of last year looks more golden). Oh well, we just run for the mental and physical challenge anyway, and it was an honor to be able to participate to this half-centennial milestone. Here is Race Director, Mike Spinnler,
with one of JFK's great-nephews who presented the awards:
A special thank to Alex and Steve for giving up their day from dawn to dusk, to Alex for the photo coverage, and to the volunteers who stayed in the cold, yet provided much and warm encouragements. It was cool to see a few familiar faces (Max, Ellie, Bev, Ian Sharman who took 4th, Ian Torrence who slashed 32 minutes from his 2011 time) but, overall, it was more than 1,000 new faces I met this weekend. Like what I started with Chuckanut and Leona Divide, getting outside of my comfort zone and exploring new territories... ;-)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Run d'Amore: not farther but much faster!

The inscription on the event t-shirt sums it up: "Run for Love - Love to Run"! Indeed, the race that Race Directors, Rajeev Patel and Alan Geraldi, put up was a celebration of the love for (ultra) running they have and that they want to share with the broadest community. Initially planned to be a low-key, fat-ass-style, self-supported event for the August Run-de-Vous ultras participants, the main goal was to honor the memory of late "Titanium Man" Pete Mingoa, who passed away shortly after completing his first 100-mile at Run-de-Vous this summer (photo below from Facebook, see Pete's facebook page).
The other characteristic of the event is that it included a 201K distance (125 miles) which, if completed under 36 hours, represents a qualifier for the infamous Spartathlon in Greece, one of Rajeev's favorite ultra. While I already have such a qualifier (100K under 10.5 hours) and that I'm not decided yet to go back to Greece for this race, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to try a new distance and race format in my "farther and faster" mantra quest. Furthermore, inspired by the performance of our Team USA at the World 100K, I wanted to take the opportunity to go beyond 125 miles, running as many miles as possible in the 24-hour time window.
The event included 5 ultra distances: 50K, 50 miles, 100K, 100 miles, 125 miles. We were 92 registered participants of all running backgrounds and multiple goals. I would say this is what makes Rajeev's events so unique, gathering participants motivated by speed or simply the challenge of covering the distance in the allotted time, even if that means walking. Beyond the walking, the limping, the shuffling, there is a personal story and struggle which a picture can't all convey (walking the course clockwise in the afternoon, Agnès captured most of the participants in this photo album).

From this initial project of self-supported and informal run, under Alan's professional leadership, the event turned to one of the best organized race, yet at a fraction of the standard fees for such ultras. Quite a feat knowing that we had to pay for on-duty Park Rangers for the use of the course overnight, and that, except at Western States, I never saw so many Emergency Medical presence at a race (5-6 technicians in multiple shifts).
For once, and because of the initial self-supported idea, I opted for relying on my own aid station and food. That being said, the official aid station seemed fully stocked. As I mentioned in my recon blog post last month, we were running on a 2.01-mile certified loop, so frequently back to that main and unique aid station.

Although some participants started as early as Thursday for various reasons, the official started was 6 am this Saturday morning. It was pitch dark, cold or let's say chilly (38F) and quite humid which resulted in a nice fog over the field at the center of our loop, in which it was hard to distinguish the imposing bulls. But at least the sky was clear, we were going to avoid the cold rain which the early-start participants suffered from on Thursday. The day turned out to be very sunny overall although the temperature barely reached 60F at mid day, which felt lower anyway as a North-East wind picked it up significantly in the afternoon.

I ran the first 2 loops with my QuickSilver UltraRunning Team mate, Pierre-Yves Couteau, trying to slow down as much as possible, something I'm not used to... I had asked Suzanna Bon and Jon Olsen for some of their 24-hour expertise tips and the plan was not to start faster than 8 min/mile for a 24-hour. Yet, and despite a quick stop every 2 mile plus a a few pit stops along the way, I settled for 7:50 min/mile for quite a few laps. I felt great passing the first marathon mark at 3:23 but, especially in the gentle uphill, my quads were whispering that they won't go 6 times that far without consequences... I eased the pace and started loosing a few seconds per lap, laps which I I was now covering in 16-17 minutes instead of the more aggressive 15-16 minutes (I was still on a 16 minutes/lap average at the end of my 24th lap, by mile 48!).

Among the front runners, I first lapped Kermit in my 7th lap,
then Pierre-Yves shortly after,
but it took me a couple of additional laps to lap ultra legend Kathy D'onofrio. Kathy was an ultra star when I was still at school, she won in particular Western States twice (1986 and 1988) and placing 2nd three other times!
With such a loop format, we keep passing each others and it's as many opportunities to exchange quick words of encouragement and support. I was particularly impressed with some participants who kept moving even if it meant just walking. You would be impressed to know that we can actually cover a lot of ground when we do that for hours or days! I'm very grateful to the words I received myself from others.

By mile 50, I was still ok and had slowed down to a more reasonable pace, around 8:20 min/mile, but I started contemplating the idea of "just" doing the 100-mile. I was even on a pace to improve my 12-hour PR (just short of 80 at San Francisco One Day, last December), and that was tempting to at least secure that, plus set a new Personal Best at the 100-mile distance. Furthermore, I had just landed back from Rio de Janeiro on Friday afternoon after a night on the plane and a tiring business trip including a 4-hour night between Monday and Tuesday and not much more sleep afterwards. Agnès, who came from 1 to 6 pm on Saturday couldn't be more happy with my decision as she was reluctant to have to come back during the night. To top it all, I'm running JFK 50-mile next Saturday, so I need to save some power in the batteries for that. So, 100 miles was my new goal, and that leaves me with other goals for the years to come (further distances and 24 hours or more events!).

Here are a few "milestones" of my run:
  1. First marathon: 3:23
  2. 50 miles: 6:40
  3. Second marathon: 3:34
  4. 100K: 8:26
  5. Third marathon: 4:04
  6. Twelve hour: 84 miles (new PR, 4 miles more than my New Year's Eve 12-hour last year!)
  7. 100 miles: 14:55:15 (new Personal Best, albeit nothing comparable in terms of course to Western States or Rio del Lago)
While I'm very happy with my performance especially given the circumstances which include the change of goal during the race, and especially proud of having run 100 miles under the 9 min/mile "barrier", that makes me even more appreciative of other performances such as: Tim Olson's 14:46 at Western States 2012 (8:51 average pace!), Hal Koerner's 13:47 at Javelina Jundred 2011 (8:16 min/mile), Ian Sherman's 12:44 at Rocky Racoon 100M 2011 (7:39 min/mile!!). Not to forget Mike Morton's amazing regularity at the top of the game with 13:11 at Umstead 100M, 22:52 at the grueling Badwater 135-mile or his recent win at the World 24-hour with 173 miles (8:20 min/mile for 24 straight hours...)! Ok, they are all younger, but still...

A word on nutrition and hydration. Hydration first. There is a trick with the loop format, is that you may think it's enough to drink at each stop and not carry a bottle. While I enjoyed running a few laps without having to carry anything, I actually made sure to run most of the laps with one of my Gu2O or water bottle. First, it's much more efficient to keep sipping rather than having to take in a few ounces at once at the station and, second, you'd better save the time at the stop to focus on eating. Overall, I drank quite a lot especially given the chilly weather. 5 times 16-oz Gu2O bottles and about the same of water! With that, and 1 S-Cap/hour, I never cramped or felt thirsty. Now, on the nutrition side, this is yet another Vespa success story. First, let me clarify something: while I'm a fan of Vespa, I'm not sponsored and buy my own products. Anyway, I took a pouch at the start then every 3 hours and, despite a limited food and calorie intake, I never bonked. I ate 1.5 bananas, a few potato chips, 2 biscotti, 2 cups of chicken soup, 1 cup of mash potatoes, 4 GUs, 3 coke. Total, including 500 calories from the Gu2O: 1,600 calories, versus the 10,000 or so I expanded. As I say, you do the maths! ;-) (For those who don't know how Vespa works, it's a drink supplement which helps your metabolism drawing energy from your body fat, knowing we all carry a boat lot in this form, much more than glycogen.)

By the way, that was my 200th race in my log, 76th ultra (38% of these races) and 7th 100-miler (3 Western States, 3 Rio del Lago including one drop at mile 71 last year), I feel blessed to have done that much since I settled in the Bay Area in 1998. I'm most indebted for that to the many race directors and numerous volunteers who put up these events and countless hours so we could safely enjoy our passion. In particular this weekend the kudos go to Rajeev and Alan for such a friendly yet professional organization. And their team of friends and volunteers who hung up in the cold nights in particular to assist us. With a special mention for our lap counter: talk about a tough job requiring so much attention to all participants going through a busy aid station, priceless to count on you!
What another ultra celebration with this fun community, without forgetting the reason who brought us all together, Pete Mingoa's memory! Thank you Rajeev, thank you Alan, thank you... Pete!

PS: again, more pictures by Agnès in this photo album, including a few shots of our most outstanding jester, Ed Ettinghausen, who completed the 125-mile race on Friday, then went on for his 35th 100-miler this year (!) on Saturday morning. This is the amazing part with ultra running, there is a start (anything beyond the marathon distance) bu no upward limit...!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Running in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Tijuca National Park

After yesterday's great urban 20-mile long run around the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, I was very much looking forward to finding my way to the jungle and tropical/rain forest of this National Park, right in the middle of this huge city.
From my hotel area at the junction of Ipanema and Copacabana, I ran back to the Lagoon which I circled on the west side this time. I actually missed the road you need to take, R. General Garzon. If you are visiting Rio and up for this run, you can find this short but large avenue in front of the Piraque island which hosts the Naval Club.
The avenue goes both sides of a canal getting the water of the tropical forest into the lagoon:
After R. General Garzon, you keep straight on R. Pacheco Leao, along the Botanic Garden (Jardim Botanico). If you see mountain bikers riding along this road, you are on the right way as the park is a favorite destination for cyclists!

Make sure to turn right at this sign:
And then get prepared for 3 miles of a good/steep uphill!
While I found several sites talking about trails in the Park (English, Portugese, Jungle Me guided tours) but couldn't spot them, I stayed on the road which, fortunately, had very few cars on, this Sunday morning.

After you enter the park (restrooms on the right),
you first pass a water fall
then reach the Vista Chinesa belvedere
from which you get an amazing view of the city (especially when it's not as cloudy as it was this weekend...), from Corcovado on the left:
to Barra de Tijuca on the right:
The road keeps going up for another kilometer or so, then goes down for 3 miles to the entrance at the other end of the Park.
A few more pictures in my Picasa album, including a few shots from my visit of the famous Sugar Loaf, unfortunately mostly in the cloud this Sunday...
One more reason I was happy to have woken up early and captured other views of the city from Tijuca, definitely a park to visit and run into if you happen to be in town!