Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Desert Solstice 24-hour Invitational - Part 2: my race

As I mentioned in my previous post, that was my first time racing for so long on a track. Last time was for the World Masters 10K in 2011, only 25 laps!

After a busy November month, including adding Quad Dipsea at the last minute, I was very unclear on my goals for this event, even on race morning which wasn't so good from an mental preparation standpoint, oops!

A couple of weeks before the race, I wasn't even aware that there were three series of records: road, indoor and outdoor track. Thankfully, Nick Coury prepped me, please make sure to read the preamble of this post for more details about this very special race format.

Looking at the outdoor track records, the 50K and 50-mile records seemed at reach except that they meant a "too fast" starting pace to hold on for 24 hours. That was a serious dilemma as I was tempted by these records, yet wanted to also improve my 24-hour personal best (127 miles in June and 133 miles in September). I went to bed on Friday evening thinking that I would not chase the 50K record, but would go after the 50-mile and 100K ones, then see what happens, hoping to at least reach 100 miles and call it a day. In other words, not really racing for my best 24-hour as this meant starting faster than what was sustainable for 24 hours. I even created an Excel spreadsheet to map the records with average speed.
A few weeks before the race Nick connected me with a local ultra runner, Rich, who hosted me for the weekend, an amazing perk of this invitational. Moreover, I was sleeping in Rich's son's bed in which elite and former record setters Jon Olsen and Zach Bitter stayed in, the pressure was on!

After picking me at the airport, Rich drove me to the local ultra running store, iRun, where I met James Bonnett whom I got to know when we both ran Western States in 2007:
Here we are at the pre-race dinner, Jamil Coury and Sabrina Redden, and Erin and Rich:
Rich picked another participant on Saturday morning and dropped us at the track at 7:30. I was rushing to get ready when Eric Clifton told me I seemed a little too stressed... The wisdom of the experience... (For the non insiders, Eric is a living legend in our sport, he even has a Hoka shoe named after him. I met him for the first time at this year's Ruth Anderson in April). Anyway, I was barely ready and missed the pre-race briefing, thinking that at least, there was little chance I was going to get lost on this ultra simple course! ;-)

Right off the bat, we could tell that there were several races going on. At the pre-race dinner I heard that Kevin Grabowski's goal was to crush the 100K hoping to qualify for and make the 100K Team USA. At a sub 7 min/mile pace, Kevin kept lapping us. Mike Bialick had another goal, breaking 13 hours for 100 miles, and he was therefore running in second position. I settled for 3rd and here we went for many and more laps, the whole group at different paces.

Kevin was of course the first to reach the 50K mark (125 laps) in 3:36. Unfortunately, at that point, he had already started to slow down from his initial pace and, unable to reach his 100K goal, dropped 10 laps later. With great sportsmanship tough, he came back to the track after changing to take great pictures of all of us which he posted on Facebook. For instance, he captured great shots from the highlight of the afternoon when we were running under two magnificent rainbows after a light rain shower.
Mike was still running 1:48 laps like a metronome and lapping me every 12 laps or so. I was myself running laps at 1:53 +/- 3 seconds with the exception of my fastest lap in 1:47 (lap 65) and a 2:15 one (lap 67) for my first pit stop. I was even glad to pass the 50K mark in 3 hours and 56 minutes, 9 minutes slower than our age group American record, as this corresponded to my plan. Just before 2 pm, I saw Nick coming on the other side of the track with a flag marker and I was wondering which record someone else might be about to get. To my greatest surprise, it was for me, the most kilometers ran in 6 hours on an outdoor track in our M50-54 age group, and a World record! 75,203 meters. Oh well, I already ran 80 km in 5:43 on a rolling road course a few years ago, again, World bests or records on track are not always such a big deal.

I remained focused on my initial goals, starting with the American record for 50 miles, which I indeed improved by 7 minutes (6:26). For this other milestone, no time to stop to celebrate, I just kept running toward the next goal, that is the 100K one at 8:16:51 for our age group (also one of the 4 that Jay Aldous set on that track in 2011).
Here I am, still going strong after 6 hours and 40 minutes (lap 207), photo credit Andy Noise:
Unfortunately, after the 50-mile mark, I started having trouble clocking sub 2-minute laps. By the 232nd lap, I "only" had to run 18 laps in 40 minutes, that is 2:13 per lap, but I wasn't even capable of that anymore so I decided to stop and rest. The volunteers and my improvised crew were super helpful, providing me with a cot and sleeping bag as well as getting me to eat and drink.
After a 50-minute break, it was hard to run again but I was super glad to manage to run 70 more laps under 3 minutes which got me to the 75-mile mark. By lap 312 though, I decided to stop again and, this time, laying down for 24 minutes was not enough to get me re-energized. As much as I wanted to reach 100 miles in order to save my UltraSignup score, it wasn't worth enough to spend the night walking on the track. I called it a day, or rather a night, at 9:10 pm after completing my 327th lap (130.8 km or 81.2 miles).

It was a strange mixed feeling between the disappointment of having run so few miles in a 24-hour event and the joy and satisfaction of having set two new age group records, including a World best. But I left the track in high mood, thanking the Courys for the amazing experience and opportunity, my host, Rich, the volunteers who kept cheering us through their 6 or 8-hour shifts, and the super spontaneous crew which assisted me for 14 hours!

Rich, Nick Coury, I and Jamil Coury:
My "adopted" crew, Donna Riopel and Eric Clifton's wife:
Donna, and Emily:
Before leaving, I also saluted a few of the runners who were still going so strong and had 10 more hours in their 24-hour quest. It was an honor to run with so many of the big names in our sport. It had been a few years since I had seen Dave James whom I first met in Costa Rica at the Coastal Challenge in 2008. Unfortunately, he had a bad day and leg issues before the 50K mark. Jay Aldous had slipped on a patch of ice a few days before the race on his knee which was still bothering him. He still managed to run 444 laps (110 miles) in 18 hours but missed our age group 24-hour record.

Eric Clifton improved the M55-59 world record for 6 hours, missed the American 50-mile one but improved the American 100K record.
For his 38th 100-miler in 2014, Ed Ettinghausen, aka The Jester, was running smart and logged 115 miles (Ed is going to complete 40 100-milers this year, improving the previous Guinness Record which was 36). Here he is, chatting with Traci Falbo, with Kevin on their right.
On the women side, Katalin Nagy had a phenomenal race, logging 151.44 miles in one day! World record holder for 48 hours, Traci Falbo finished 5th overall with 147.68 miles, another very impressive performance.

I went for a 10K run on Sunday morning before flying back to the Bay Area on Sunday evening but took the entire week off (running) before flying to Europe for the Holidays. Again, this has been a very special opportunity to try something new in ultra running. I hope to be back as I certainly learned a lot, some knowledge I look forward to reusing in future races. My only regret is that, with a rank of 52.60%, this appears as a major counter-performance in UltraSignup (the insiders will relate... ;-). But even Zach Bitter got a 68% at Desert Solstice last year although he had set a new American record for 100-mile in a blazing 11 hours and 47 minutes, so who am I to complain... ;-)

That was a great way to wrap-up a long and rich 2014 season, looking forward to a great 2015 and wishing you all the same!

PS: Courtesy of Nick Coury, Aravaipa's CTO:
100-mile results: http://aravaiparunning.com/results/2014DSResults100m.htm
24-hour results: http://aravaiparunning.com/results/2014DSResults24h.htm
Splits: http://aravaiparunning.com/results/2014DSSplits.htm
And more pictures: http://photos.aravaiparunning.com/2014desertsolstice

Desert Solstice 24-hour Invitational - Part 1: the technical context

This has been an amazing experience, there is so much to tell about that I'm going to split my "race report" into 2 parts for once. Indeed, there are a few important facts to establish so you can better understand and appreciate the performances set that weekend, 2 weeks ago.

First, the Desert Solstice Invitational has been set up 4 years ago with the sole goal of creating an environment propitious to setting national and world records. For that, the founders of Aravaipa and race directors, the Coury Brothers, Nick and Jamil, first set an official 24-hour event on a track, a format which isn't commonly found especially in North America. Then they reach out to potential record setters and hand picked them to create a field limited to 30, a good balance between emulation and not getting the track too crowded which would mean a lot of passing in lane 2. With that, 26 US records and 6 World records have been set at this event in only 4 years, these numbers say a lot on the impact that the Courys have on our sport! Now, as we'll see later, there are many potential records which can be set so, beyond calling upon the usual suspects which for instance make the US Team for 100K or 24-hour (2 handfuls at max), the Courys can't know or call every candidate in each age group. To address this, they set up a process where you apply to the consideration of being invited based on having met certain minimums and your genuine will to go after an existing record. And that's how, after running my 2nd 24-hour event this year at the US Nationals in September, I applied and got... invited.

Now let's talk about the records. When you think about records in the running area, the first coming to mind is usually Usain Bolt's one on 100 meters dash. With the Olympics especially, this is one of the most watched event in Track and Field, short enough to not be interrupted with ads even in the US! If you pay attention, you will notice that the screen may actually display Olympic Records, in case the World Record has not been set during one of the Olympiads. You already have two records for the same distance, and same setup! From 100 meters, there is a bunch of other distances, like 200m, 400m, 800m, 1,500m, mile, 5,000m, 10,000m and you go on and on. So much that, at some point, you'll have to leave the stadium and introduce another family of records, the road ones. Starting introducing some variability in the terrain and even the cumulated elevation if the event isn't in super flat Netherlands. It is particularly true for the marathon were there isn't enough consistency between the different courses (e.g. New York, Boston, London, Paris, Berlin) to agree on the concept of a record, In this case, we talk about best performance. To recognize that another factor can also play a role and that not all the tracks are alike, there are Indoor and Outdoor Track records. And the Road ones as we mentioned above. Since 10,000 meters are part of the Olympics, it's very unlikely that someone would come to such a 24-hour event to try to improve it. But anything beyond that makes sense (e.g. 10 miles, 20K, 20 miles, 50K, 50 miles, 100K, 100 miles, 200K).

We talked about the distance, but there is another dimension used to categorize records, time. We have the records for the most kilometers (or miles...) ran in 1 hour, 2 hours, 6 hours, 12 hours and, yes, so on... There are commonly 48-hour, 3-day and 6-day events every year, both on tracks or not (mix of road and trail). Of course, you then have the gender x2 multiplier but, more importantly, the number of age groups: Junior, Open (19-34) then 5-year age groups starting with 35-39 and typically up to 80-85 if not more!

Overall, for a 24-hour event, we are talking about at least 12 age group records times 5 time-based and 8-distance-based records, times 2 genders = 312! And that's just for outdoor track, otherwise you are talking 936! And then you multiply by every nation (~200), and that is 187,200!! Any taker? ;-) Bottom line, there is a lot of potential and actually way too much for the super elite in our sport to chase them all, leaving room and opportunities for those who are interested and willing to fit that into their calendar. And until all these records are set by the best of the best...

To give you an illustration, in my age group, which is still quite competitive in the long distance running field, here are the current national records for 50K and 50 miles (from USATF road records and track records):
- 50K road: 3:19:33 John L Sullivan (53) Washington, DC 1982-Mar-13
- 50K outdoor track: 3:47:09 Walter Connolly (54) Rochester, NY 1984-Nov-04
- 50 miles road: 5:35:03 Ted Corbitt (50) New York, NY 1970-Oct-18
- 50 miles outdoor track: 6:33:58 Jay Aldous (50) Phoenix, AZ 2018-Dec-11

As you can see, there is quite some discrepancy between these performances, it all comes down to who seriously chased the record at a particular distance or terrain. For instance, in the case of Jay, he "just" set this 50-mile as well as the 100K record and 12-hour on his way to set a world record for our age group for 100 miles on an outdoor track!

There are so many records to track (pun intended!), even at the world level, that the IAAF delegates the task to another association, the IAU (International Association of Ultrarunning).

At the US level, the task is owned by the USAT&F who not only distinguishes ultra and non ultra, but also publish listings for Master age groups versus Open and Junior. More people to contact, with different convoluted processes and processing speeds. Bottom line, it may take 1, 2 or even 3 years for records to be ratified! And one more opportunity to thank Nick Coury for his passion and support of our community in this record setting area! With all this paperwork, you may well be chasing a record which has always been improved by someone else...

Enough on the record topic or "theory", let me switch to another subject before I lose you with this long introduction to my race report...

This event is put by Aravaipa, and more precisely by their founders, owners and race directors (and brothers!), Nick and Jamil Coury. Aravaipa is a Phoenix-based business which puts 21 major running races up each year, including the famous Javelina Jundred (or should I say infamous as many get tricked by the apparent easiness of this 100-miler and its loop format). Another race which they organize is Across The Years, or ATY, which consists in a multi-day event. They started with up to 72 hours but are extending to 6 days this year. The Desert Solstice invitational was created as a by product of ATY to focus on "shorter" times and distances record settings as well as provide a late season opportunity for some to make Team USA. From the fastest runners, the Courys do also an amazing job to get new comers into trail and ultra running, creating a very close and friendly community in Arizona which felt family to me as soon as landed in Phoenix and throughout the weekend!

Let's now talk about a few other specifics of this track event/format:
  1. Track length. Most of the tracks have 8 lanes and a standard length of 400 meters in lane 1. One mile is 1.6093 kilometer so slightly more than 4 laps. (See a discussion about the differences of lengths of each lane which I included in one of my September posts.)
  2. Track surface. As I mentioned before, the rubberized surface of such tracks makes sprinting super efficient by preventing any slipping between the running shoes and the track. While this is good for a few minutes of hard racing, this is particularly unforgiving when running for hours: if you don't have a perfect stride and footing, every defect will be amplified as your shoe can't self-adjust when on the ground. See for instance the blister I got after a 70-lap training run on the track in August.
  3. Track facilities. When I first heard about Jon Olsen running more than 150 miles on a track, I was imagining that he was going in and out the track to go to the stadium's restrooms . But that would lead to losing many precious minutes and I read the advice that other Team USA members gave him to get his "own facility" to discreetly pee without having to leave the track. At least, at Desert Solstice, we had two porta-potties on the track, in lane 4 in order to minimize the distance and time for our pit stops, very convenient and efficient!
  4. Lap direction. Mind you, although we don't go that fast in a 24-hour event that centripetal or centrifugal forces are much of an issue in the curve of the track, getting into a turn every 100 meters creates quite an unbalance effort on the body and particularly the legs and its numerous joints. For this reason, the race directors got us to change direction every 4 hours, providing a good relief as well as some variety in the otherwise and overall boring scenery.
  5. Crews. For the non insiders, crews are the people who assist you in ultras, an essential help and component of success for many (when you don't get such support we talk about being "uncrewed" or even screwed!). In remote and mountainous races, some aid stations are not accessible to crews so you may not meet your team for 20 miles or a few hours. On a track, you see your crew every 2 to 3 minutes which means that they have to be constantly alert and available. I was amazed for instance to see our Bay Area ultra volunteer Dave Combs helping three runners (I learned later that he had come to just spectate the event but offered to help these three runners who, like me, didn't have a crew). Refilling a bottle, handing out a Gu or a S!Cap, some food, grabbing an extra layer, this can be an extremely busy job with the hundreds of laps!
  6. Stadium. Running on a stadium track, you may think that there is a crowd watching. There wasn't actually anyone at the track except for the crews, volunteers and organizers at Desert Solstice. Our ultra running sport isn't that popular and, to be honest, it would be quite boring to watch 2 dozen of runners do laps for 24 hours! ;-)
  7. Pacing. As I found out in my first 2 24-hour races this year (June and September), it is key to start really slow if you want to run for so many hours. The track format helps monitoring your cadence as it provides you with a split every 1/4 mile, not to mention the perfectly smooth and flat surface.
With this preamble and technical background, it is time to switch to my race report... And, since that was my first time racing on a track for so long, I also welcome comments from track veterans on points which I might have missed in this post.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Recovery or training? Hard to tell...

Yikes, it has been a while since I felt so sore after a race. You could think that the Dick Collins FireTrails 50-mile was much harder than the 28 miles of Quad Dipsea but my legs definitely thought otherwise. Granted, I didn't stretch after the race (my bad!) and we stopped by two places in the afternoon to meet with friends before driving back home at 9 pm when I could finally take a well deserved shower and rest... Bottom line, it took me 2 days to stop limping while walking or going down the stairs. And a week for the elbow and hand wounds to heal, that's how you create memories I assume...

My first post-race run was on Tuesday, a painful 15K at 7:50 min/mile but it felt good to get the blood flowing in my legs. I took Wednesday off to rest more (well, sort of resting as I squeezed in a 1-day round trip to Minneapolis, MN, for a client meeting there); and I ran my 15K course again on Thursday and Friday, both at 7:07 min/mile.

While a super competitive field was fighting over muddy trails at The North Face 50 in Marin County and others were gathered in Auburn to watch the Western States lottery leaving thousands of applicants in the disappointment of not being picked, I went for 19 miles at 7 min/mile on Saturday and 80 more laps on the track this Sunday, even slightly faster (6:45 min/mile). I initially wanted to go for 120 laps but that will have to do for the Invitational Desert Solstice next Saturday; yes, it's time to taper again or finish this post-Quad Dipsea recovery...

By the way, on Friday, I got a very impressive award in the mail, for my "Senior" win at the Marine Corps Marathon, look at that!
Did I say Senior? Ouch, time flies...

And Agnès said that I could put this trophy with the others at my office... ;-)

If you can and want to chip in for the project I ran for there, there is still room and the fund raising page is still up!

Thank you in advance for that, and more news from the track next week then!

Have a good week all, even with some rain as we feel lucky to to finally have some rain here in the California. Still a long way to go to make up for 3 years of drought, but we'll take it!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Quad Dipsea 2014: no fall, almost...

I didn't really want to run the grueling Quad Dispsea this year, I was good with the 13 ultra races I ran so far this year (with one more to go in December), including 12 out of the 17 events which make our California Grand Prix. And what seems to be an all-time record of 554 points in our Grand Prix history! But, after taking the team wins for Women, Mixed and Overall, our Quicksilver running club still had a slim chance to also get the Men win, so I answered the team call. To win though, we had to beat both Tamalpa in their backyard and the current leader, Excelsior; really not a small feat especially when the Tamalpa crew included Dave Mackey, the current Quad Dipsea course record holder, Victor Ballesteros (3 times 2nd place out of 5 participations) and Mark Richtman to just name three of their very talented runners.

I'm running the Desert Solstice invitational mid December (24 hours on a track!) so the last thing I needed was hill training, especially on a strenuous and muddy course! My training have been more like 80-lap tempo runs at the local track lately... My main goal today, beyond battling for the team, was really to avoid a bad fall and break something. And the rain of the night made that an interesting challenge between slippery rocks and wooden stairs and other muddy patches.

Our Club President, Greg Lanctot, picked me at 5:30 to carpool to the start in Mill Valley. We arrived early and he got a good parking spot. I must say that it was a bit difficult to wake up at 4:30 am and get going while we were under pouring rain in San Jose. Thankfully though, it seemed that, for once, we were getting more rain than Marin County, phew! Indeed, when we arrived in San Francisco, the rain had stopped and it would not rain the whole race which made the day much easier.

There was a lot of "ultra power" behind the registration table with omnipresent volunteer, Stan Jensen, an ultra running legend, Ann Trason, John Medinger who has directed this race for 30 years among many other ultra accomplishments, and his wife Lisa Henson who has been a long time ultra runner and supporter of our sport and the General Manager of UltraRunning Magazine for many years and still writes a column in this monthly magazine (now led by Karl Hogland who was running today).

Race Director, John Catts, sent us off at 8 am, after reminding and warning us not to go too fast in the fist fly of stairs (the race starts with 700 stairs up!).

Dave Mackey was still in Colorado yesterday but had flown in just in time to be at the start. To my surprise, Excelsior, which was surprised if not mad to see me toeing the line, got Chikara Omine in. Victor didn't show up (business obligation) but Mark Ritchman, as well as a other younger fast dudes and quite a few others that I didn't know. On the Quicksilver side, John Burton was just back from Hawaii and was feeling finally recovered from this September's exhausting Tahoe 200-mile. But we also had a big contingent signed up (bib # in parenthesis): Clare Abram (43) -- 6 Quad Dipsea Top-10 finishes, Andy Benkert (97), Donnie Blameuser (102), Guy Herr (182), Bill Holmes (188), Nickolas Kunder (207), Scott Laberge (57), Greg Lanctot (46), Loren Lewis (214), Jim Magill (220), Betsy Nye (50), Kat Powell (270), Corina Rahmig (277) , Troy Rahmig (278), David Roberts (284), Rickey Russell (4), Martin Sengo (296), Stephen Strauss (314), Stuart Taylor (320).

Despite John Catt's advice, we did rush up the stairs and I actually enjoyed the opportunity to start walking as my calves were still stiff from my Thursday's 35:41 10K Turkey Trot and I didn't want to trash my quads right off the bat. I settled behind John and Mark in the first series of stairs, then passed both of them in the third one, thinking that I'll likely regret my move later... ;-) There were about a dozen or so runners ahead, led by Dave and Chikara.

To my surprise, we did not go on Muir Wood road as for the three editions I previously ran (20092008 and, before my blogging times, 2006), but on the trail across longing the road underneath. I knew that was the old course and that this trail had been washed out about 10 years ago, but I didn't know it had been restored and the race had been back to the original course these past 2-3 years. Needless to say, it added a few minutes each way (that is 4 times), especially in this humid weather.

At this point (mile 1.5) I was trying to keep Karl (Schnaitter, Excelsior) in sight which his bright yellow shirt made easier in the cloudy fog. I even managed to close some of the gap in the next technical section (and, no, we didn't take the Suicide Dipsea shortcut! ;-). I followed him and 2 other runners in the slippery Dynamite climb before we got in a thick cloud as we approached the Cardiac aid station. At the exit of the station, the visibility was so low that I missed the pink ribbons and inadvertently took left, and I'm glad a couple of volunteers noticed, yelled at me to steer me back on the trail, phew!

Although it wasn't raining per se, we were drenched with the droplets from the cloud and those falling from the trees and I felt chilly as I passed the ridge and hit the sea breeze. It was way too early to get cold in this race (mile 4) so I decided to keep pushing the pace and stick with Karl. We were really flying down the switchbacks and stairs of Steep Ravine and eventually passed a runner who was a better climber than descender. And I kept thinking "Be careful, don't trip, don't fall..." but it felt too good to run fast in this section and make up for the slow pace from the 700 stairs out of Mill Valley.

As we went under the cloud we got an amazing view over Stinson Beach, one that only a picture would make enough justice. I could see a couple of runners half a mile ahead but couldn't clearly spot Dave or Chikara. I crossed them, Dave first and Chikara on his heels, as they were already up the stairs on their way back, 3-4 minutes ahead. I reached the turn around at mile 7 in 1:04, oops that was a heck of a start. Actually, pretty close to what I was doing back then when I was running 4:19 and 4:20 except that it was a few years ago and I had no specific preparation this time. Carrying 2 bottles and taking Vespa, I didn't stop at the aid station. Mark was about 3 minutes behind so, despite what I thought was a crazy fast start, there was not time to waste or take it easier. Besides, he was followed by another member of our competitive M50-59 age group, David Smith. There is never an opportunity to rest in this sport...! ;-)

The return to Mill Valley is special in the sense that we cross so many runners. While I didn't have enough breath to return all the encouragement that they gave me, many using my name to make it personal which is really cool, I think I did explicitly thank all those who did stop on the side of the single trail. The toughest section is definitely going up the uneven stairs of Steep Ravine, with high stairs being so hard on the quads (especially for my short legs!). I was still following Karl whom I passed at mile 10 as he made a very quick stop at the Cardiac aid station. We literally flew down the next 2 miles, including over the trick roots in Cardiac and I was going so fast that I even created some gap in Dynamite which I was able to maintain down to Mill Valley. I'm sure there will more pictures popping up on Facebook but here is the only one I got of me, "in the misty cloud", credit to Kyria Wilson:
I climbed the 700 stairs down with caution and was quite pleased by my time of 2:10 at the second turnaround. It took me a few seconds to open the zip-lock bag I was carrying with my Gu2O powder and Ann Trason teased me with a "keep cool!" As I was rushing out of the aid station, John Catts teased me too: "You easily have your age group!" To which I reply: "Actually, Mark is not far behind...!" Indeed, I saw him as I was climbing the seconds flight of stairs, I had increased the lead to about 5-6 minutes which isn't a lot with on more Double Dipsea to go...

Similarly to the first turn around, we keep crossing runners albeit at a lower frequency as the pack keeps getting longer or thinner throughout the day. Again, big thanks to all of you who stopped on the side of the single trail to give us the right of way, it is so much appreciated! I tried to keep a good pace but certainly walked more than our first leg, especially on Dynamite and Cardiac. On my 2nd way down to Steep Ravine I was flying again and felt so happy to have avoided any fall so far. I reached the 3rd turnaround at Stinson Beach in 1:10 for the third leg, that is 3:30 total. On my way down to the beach I had pointed Chikara in the lead, 20 seconds ahead of Dave and 1.6 miles ahead of me. They were not going to break 4 hours this year but it was interesting to see the two of them battling in these conditions.

At this point, I knew I wasn't going to pull a 1:10 for the last leg, that I didn't have it in me to break the age group record which I thought was 4:30 from what I had seen on Gary Wang's RealEndurance website (and, my bad, it's just me who did read correctly, Gary is right of course!). I'm glad I didn't even killed myself trying because the records is actually 4:28 according to the Quad Dipsea website (Alfred Bogenhuber, 1991, and he also owns the M60-69 and M70-79 ones, what a Quad Dipsea guru! The M50-59 seems solid, especially with the race back on the original course, but I think Mark has a good shot at the M60-69 next year!).

With that, the only think keeping me moving especially up the Steep Ravine stairs was to delay the time that Mark would caught me... I know he is so strong on these trails, so competitive and such a great finisher (cf our 3-4 Miwok finish in May), but yet my legs and the quads especially were really tired and tight from these steep hills and the lack of hill training these past months. By the time I reached the Cardiac aid station at the top of the ridge I actually felt really dizzy and was hesitant about what to do, between stopping to regroup and giving a chance to recover in the next 2-mile downhill. After drinking a cup of Coke I opted for the latter and was pleased with my choice as I could still run downhill quite fast while being super careful not to trip over roots or rocks. But the runners I crossed in this section must have wondered what was going on because I was still hurting and had some difficulty focusing and breathing. I think Greg took a movie of me as I was trying to control the sliding down Dynamite, which was now slippery like a ski slope, and he even told me that Chikara was way ahead which I could care less as I was struggling myself (sorry Greg! ;-). I even thought that this will turn to another UltraSignup ranking humiliation and maybe that contributed to keeping me moving for the final 2 miles.

I turned back several times, fearing to see Karl or Mark closing on my before the final mile but no one was to be seen. I still pushed the pace going down Bayview Drive and Walsh Drive, so happy that I had avoided the fall I was fearing so much about before and during the race. 1 mile to go, I was off the hook!

I ran down the first flight of cement stairs 2 by 2 and was again very pleased the quads were holding on (that's quite a load on them to handle gravity and provide some bouncing after 27 grueling miles!). At the top of the second flight, made of wooden stairs, I saw a lady coming up and, before I could realize, lost control and slipped on the super slippery stairs. Damned, here was the fall. Not too bad, nothing broken but the butt hurt and I had fallen on my elbows. While the tops of the stairs were slick, the edges are tough. The poor lady was confused and helped me find my glasses and off I was albeit even more careful in this slippery section. I resumed the 2x2 in the third flight, excited to hear the folks at the finish area.

I crossed the finish line in 4:38:31, the 8th fastest time in our age group over 31 years, I'll take that (4 of these times were set by the famous Alfred Bogenhuber, 2 by the other speedster Roy Rivers and one by another Bogenhuber, Max). Good this year for 5th overall and 2nd Master behind "Master Dave" (who actually holds the overall course record which he set last year in a amazing 3:48:45 at the age of 44! Making today's run like a walk in the park... ;-). 1:04, 1:06, 1:10 and 1:18 splits: not a great model of pacing but it could have been worse given the circumstances.
And here is a bloody elbow as a trophy:
Mark finished 7 minutes behind which is still amazing at 59, yet another proof point that he is going to crush the M60-69 age group next year! Here I am between two super strong Tamalpa ultra runners, Dave and Mark:
With Chikara's overall win (4:12), 3rd place finisher John Finn (4:31) and Karl's 8th place (4:46), Excelsior managed to pull the team Men win again and well deserved their 2014 Grand Prix win! On our side (Quicksilver Club), our new recruit Rickey Russell took 4th (4:35) but, unfortunately, we got some collateral damage behind with a few drops (including John). More than ever, we needed our top guns, Ian Sharman and Gary Gellin...

Debriefing with 2014 Quad Dipsea champion, Chikara Omine:

Chikara and Dave:

John Finn:
Rickey Russell's finish:
While I was joking that I had come to run just for the team and that it didn't work out from a result standpoint, it was certainly a great privilege to run this mythical Bay Area ultra for the 4th time. Besides, I got the honor to get my elbow washed and taken care of by Ann and Lisa, priceless! ;-)

234 finishers out of 335 or so entrants, that was definitely not an easy year. Big thank to John Catts for having taken on John Medinger's legacy at this race and bringing up a very challenging race to close our Gran Prix, along with his team of volunteers starting with the Tamalpa club of course but other clubs as well.

And now, back to flat miles if you don't mind...! ;-)

Friday, November 28, 2014

10th Silicon Valley Turkey Trot: fast birds ahead!

It was my 6th consecutive Silicon Valley Turkey Trot while this year marked the 10th anniversary of this tradition established by Carl Guardino, the CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group in 2005. IBM has been one of the corporate sponsors these past three years which gave me the privilege to volunteer on the Steering Committee of the event and get an insider view on what it takes to organize such a large event gathering 25,000 or so participants and raising close to $1 million this year! (Including 1,100 kids running the Kids Run, the San Jose Mercury News reported today that we set a new record with more than 26,000 entrants!)

At 7:30 am, just between the start of the Elite women and men 5K races (4 Olympians lined up!), I went on stage to say a few words. I highlighted that IBM has been in the Silicon Valley for 71 years and invited all participants to join us in the Festival area after their race for some stretching and quiz.
At 7:50, it was our time to go on the 10K course.
As opposed to Tuesday's Tino (Cupertino High School) 1.4-mile Turkey Trot which we started at 5:05 min/mile pace (!), I made sure to get caught in the super fast start and settled for a 5:35 min/mile pace. Knowing that I will run the grueling Quad Dipsea this Saturday (yes, tomorrow!), I didn't want to give it all anyway and was ok with being passed by a couple of younger guys by mile 3.

Such a fast and flat race doesn't bring much material for a long race report, I don't even know the runners I was running with... Like last year however, I managed to pass the lead woman, Heather Tanner, albeit earlier this year, before the 5-mile mark. I kept pushing and finished in 35:41, better than last year (35:05 in 201035:20 in 201135:06 in 2012 and 36:09 last year). As of this Friday evening, I believe the results still need a few fixes, like dropping a few runners who had registered on the 10K but ran the 5K instead. Short of making the top 10 this year most likely though, I still hope to have made the top 20, and 3rd Masters... Like me, Casey Strange from Campbell turned 50 this year and he clocked a 35:01 so I even missed the win in my age group, yikes! He is probably not going to run Quad Dipsea tomorrow morning though... ;-)

After collecting the very nice finisher medal (see my previous post), I went to the main stage of the Festival area to setup our IBM stretching routine and quiz game. Before we could get on stage, Mark Winitz who had successfully signed 75 world class runners up on the elite 5K invited the top 3 to get on stage for a well-deserved recognition:

On a new course this year,he women race was won by Buze Diriba in 15:33 and the men one by Garett Heath in 13:52, a 4:28 min/mile pace!

Following this award ceremony, Sheila led our stretching exercises and here she is between Agnès and I:

Also from IBM, Scott had prepared great questions about the Bay Area, the event, Thanksgiving and running in general and close to 40 candidates came on stage to play and win prizes, bringing additional fun to this family event!

We had about 130 participants signed up as IBM but, between the crowd and these activities, it was challenging to all gather for a group picture. Here are three of us, representing three of our San Jose sites: David from Almaden Research Center, Shawn from Silicon Valley Lab on Bailey Avenue and I, from our North San Jose site in Alviso (Sheila being from our bay Area Lab in Foster City, for those wondering where the several thousands of IBMers hide throughout the Bay Area... ;-) ):
After meeting a few other colleagues from the IBM "flock" supporting this event, it was time to return to our families and friends to keep "thanksgiving" on this very special and beautiful day.

See you all next year then for the 11th edition!