Saturday, January 26, 2013

USATF: need to play to win

In PAUSATF, USATF stands for the USA Track and Field Association and PA for its Pacific Association chapter (North California down to San Luis Obispo and just beyond Reno, Nevada on the East side).

I joined PAUSATF in 2006 when I switched to ultra-running and I havebeen a passionate and avid participant in the Mountain Ultra Trail running Grand Prix since (65 ultra competitions of the GP these past 7 years), winning my age group for the last 6 years. I had been a member of the Fédération Francaise d'Athlétisme (FFA) since I started running seriously in 1998 and that allowed me to run races and championships in France. I left the FFA after taking the US citizenship in 2008 and running almost exclusively in the US anyway. As I looked at both associations again, I actually found an interesting fact: despite the supremacy of the US in Track and Field at the international level, and a population 5 times larger than France, USATF would have only 100,000 members according to wikipedia while the FFA is 220,000-member strong. Interesting... Note that a major difference is being member of the FFA exempts you from having to provide a medical certificate for every race you enter, a mandatory requirement otherwise. That may be part of the explanation.

Anyway, back to the title: having studied enough maths to know the odds, I don't play the lottery except for a few ultra races (e.g. Way Too Cool or Miwok and of course Western States if I can be in town in June) but, while browsing the association's web site in December, I decided to put my name in a particular hat, the members-only monthly drawing. And... ta-da... I won a bronze medal (i.e. a $50 voucher for USATF merchandise which I converted into a couple of gifts for Agnès as I can't wear gear from a competitive brand which I wouldn't name in my blog... ;-).
So, my dear fellow USATF members, if you were skeptical, here is a proof that it is a real draw, take your chance! And you don't even have to sweat to win such a medal... ;-)

As for running, none this week again for me, I'll resume training by running the Jed Smith 50K next week in Sacramento. See some of your there and hope the calf will hold this time; needless to say, I plan on taking it much easier than last year and not aiming at a PR this time (3:19:09 in 2012, great memories...).

Sunday, January 20, 2013

New Almaden: less trail running, more trail work

The good thing (gasp!) with running injuries is that it gives you more time to do something else, rather than just running for hours on weekends in particular... Still, the weather is so great these days though, with blue and crisp skies, I wish I was ramping my mileage up. Patience, patience...

This Saturday, Paul was organizing another of his monthly trail work sessions on the New Almaden trail that Dorsey (Moore) got our Quicksilver Running Club to adopt more than 10 years ago. We double the size of the crew we had in December, this weekend, a total of 9, from left to right on the picture: Marco, Amy, Morgan, Jeremy, Paul, Dorsey (back), Jim (front) and Pierre-Yves.

No, we are not praying the trail gods on the picture, just paying attention to Dorsey's instructions. Note the pretty damaged section with Jim standing a good feet down a ditch dug by water. This section is always problematic and will need more work (e.g. wood logs to consolidate and avoid water erosion) but we left it in much better conditions after a couple of hours of hard work, moving earth from the side of the trail and creating transversal gullies to capture and divert water streams from the trail. I did so much packing of the ground with my McLeod that my arms and shoulders were sore this Sunday, definitely some good cross training! :-) This tool is really the perfect and polyvalent/multipurpose companion of the trail worker: from digging, smoothing, leveling or packing the soil to cutting roots or raking dead leaves, stones and branches. Here are a couple of pictures from the trail after we worked on it and before we moved to other sections to complete our 5 hours of trail work.

Hopefully the water will get the memo next time and gently slide on the side of the trail rather than digging its way in the middle! We'll see in a few weeks hopefully as we need more rain this season.

Here is a small snake that Marco found while digging. The poor guy was still hibernating and so sleepy, quite harmless.
Our next session is scheduled for February 16 but check our club website for any weather-related changes. If you live in the Bay Area, hope you can join this fun and essential trail activity. And run this great trail, New Almaden, in the Almaden Quicksilver County Park. We start the Quicksilver 50K and 50-mile on this single track trail and it's in May so it will be much drier by then!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Umstead: just a half marathon this time

I had heard about the Umstead 100-mile before but I had no idea where it was held. It was my first time visiting the huge IBM campus at RTP (the Research Triangle Park) between Raleigh and Durham, NC, and, before flying there, I asked one of the local ultra runners, Joe Lea, for some good places near or around the site. He indicated this park, just a few miles away from the park (one entrance is at the 287 exit off I-40 and the main entrance, Crabtree Creek is off US-70.
I printed the course map from the race website but maps are available at the trail head for instance the Reedy Creek parking lot which I started my run from. Here is the park, between Raleigh (lower right corner) and Durham (upper left). Note the numerous trails in the area, highlighted as green lines.
If you read my previous post, I wasn't sure I'd be able to run this week anyway. I left home limping and was still after my 6-jour flight, thankfully without a connection this time. With meetings all days plus dinners and very short nights afterwards to catch-up on emails, it's only on Thursday afternoon that I could find 2 hours to escape in the woods. The weather was great actually, partly cloudy and nice temperature in the high 50s.

From the parking lot I took the very nice single track called Loblolly Trail. This isn't the shortest way to get on the 100-mile loop course, it took me about 2.25 miles to get on the course indeed. The other way from this entrance is to go on Reedy Creek Lake which gets you to the North of that lake.

The course is a wide forest road which reminded me of the Fontainebleau forest South of Paris and the 50K I had run on my own there in July 2008. Especially the variety of trees, between leafy ones and conifers. As a consequence, the single track trails are covered with dead leaves or pine needles in addition to rocks and roots at places. But the 100-mile course consists of this forest road only and is therefore very runnable which partly explains the amazing course record set by Mike Morton in a blazing 13 hours and 11 minutes before he went on with his overall win at the World 24-hour last year.

While the footing is easy, the 12.5-mile loop isn't flat and the website gives a cumulative elevation of 1,000 feet per loop or 8,000' total.

Overall, this sounds like a great 100-mile event. Entirely in the woods yet in an urban area, a loop format yet a long half-marathon one, not the boring track laps, which makes the logistic easy. And for those who are concerned about remote courses for health considerations, the Raleigh Rex hospital is only 5 miles away from the park. Note that this is a popular event though and that it fills up in a few minutes these days (registrations for 2013 are closed). Also , I can't tell for the weather but it sounds like April is perfect before the summer heat hits the area. With this recon run, I'll certainly consider including Umstead on my calendar one of these years, and certainly visit again next time I'm coming to RTP.
Back to my run, I could feel some pain in my calf and ran the loop at a conservative 8 min/mile to make sure I wasn't pulling on the tear muscle. That was Thursday evening. I flew back on Saturday(yesterday) and went for another run in the neighborhood upon getting back home but had to stop after a mile, feeling the sharp pain coming back again... Bottom line I'm going to take the next 3 weeks off running and see how it feels at Jed Smith. And hit the gym in the meantime, for some cross-training, strength/weight training and stretching... So long for a smooth return to running after the December break, something I seem to always struggle with as Agnès reminds me, year after year. Sounds like I figured out a lot about running, but not the "not running" part of it... Hope you have a smoother start of 2013 yourself! ;-)

Saratoga Fat Ass: solitary and slow

This Saturday (January 12) was the first Saratoga Fat Ass, the one who is usually held the first weekend of the new year and the one which I first ran in 2005, my first unofficial ultra. I wasn't blogging and, for this reason, I don't remember much from it except for the information I have in my running log: it was rainy and it took me almost 6 hours. As a sub-3-hr marathoner at the time, this was quite an eye opener for me, the difference that only 5 miles can make in addition to the single trail format and cumulative elevation.

This year, I was on a plan back from Raleigh, NC, this Saturday so I decided to go with the original data and ran the whole course last weekend, all on my own. I've run 199 ultras so far, including 77 ultra races, many of these ultras just on my own while training, so that wasn't a first for me. And I ran this course in 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2012, yet I had to run with the map in hand to make sure I stayed on course as I easily get confused with trails which we use for other races or runs in these parks.

The start was chilly and in the cloud. It wasn't raining per se but, right in the cloud, it was dripping.
I kept my rain jacket and second layer for the first miles on Skyline Ridge and Ward Road and dropped them in my backpack at the start of Slate Creek Trail. Ocean view from Ward Road this year? Not really...
But perfect running condition, not as muddy as it can get in winter:
Slate Creek trail wasn't blocked like last year by falling trees, and I smiled thinking of the little adventure we had there a year ago with Toshi and Sean. It felt great running downhill in this jungle, and jumping over branches. In addition to slow and solo, I could have summarized this run with 2 words: branches and mushrooms. We have had some bad weather in the hills just before Christmas and that translates in either many branches on the trails or super clean trails with fallen leaves and branches washed out by streams of water. And, after all this humidity and a some good weather afterwards, many mushrooms. I had never seen so many in one run. What surprised me is that most of them were upside down and someone later told me it's probably someone who broke them to make sure nobody was going to pick them. Anyway, if I'd known I'd see more than 2 dozens different types over the next 20 miles, I would have taken pictures. Here is the last one I saw as I was climbing back to Saratoga Gap on the Skyline to the Sea trail.
After Slate Creek, we get on Summit Trail.Here, I thought of Brian (Robinson) who taught me the benefits of eating Snickers on long runs and, a quick stop and half a Snickers I took then.
Running through the redwoods is still an amazing experience and worth stopping to not trip while looking way above our heads.
The temperature was now great and the cloud not dripping. It was great to see the water came back in all the creeks after they dried up last summer.
My plan was to run conservatively the first half as I have been repeatedly bonking on this course in the second half. Furthermore, since I resumed training the last week of December, a pain in my calf has been bothering me. What I didn't plan though is that, despite holding the map and course description in my hand the whole 31 miles, I would miss two turns and got lost twice. The first time, I was running toward the Portola State Park headquarters instead of their maintenance yard. The second time, I kept going down on Water Tank Gulch for half a mile, having to come back up... If you see these signs, you went too far (especially if you see another pair further down as I did... ;-):
I managed to come back on the trail and find the place of the traditional China Road aid station, which was of course desert that morning, no sign of Lee or Winnie Jebian...
These extra miles kind of killed my mental momentum and had me walk some of the uphills. I was still enjoying the run and I was glad my calf was not bothering me, but I was also enjoying the stops and walks. Bottom line, I was back to the Saratoga Gap parking lot after 6 hours and 22 minutes. Since this course has been slightly above 29 miles previous years when I didn't get lost, this time my GPS indicated close to 31 miles at the end. The good news is that I never got good times (clock wise) at this event anyway, even the years I've done great afterwards and it is not a race anyway. The other good news is that I didn't feel any pain in my calf during and after the run, and no soreness in my legs overall thanks to the easy pace. The bad news is that, I was flying to the East Coast the next day and, before driving to the airport, went for a short recovery run which I had to shorten abruptly on a sharp pain in my rain calf. I suspect a torn muscle, stay tuned...