Sunday, August 30, 2015

Tamalpa 50K Nationals: did you say rainy California?

For many people around the world, there is only one California, and that's a sunny one! And maybe too sunny these days which led us into this serious droughts and blazing wild fires. We are so much looking forward to the announced El Niño this winter, and even if it comes, it's going to take many (many) years to rebuild the underground water reserves as we are already tapping in some dated as back as 18,000 years!

With that, let me switch to the topic of this post, the Tamalpa 50K race which also served as the US National Trail 50K Championships this year. The Tamalpa Club had aleady hosted this championship for their even and I still remember how intimidated I was to particiapte to my first Nationals back in 2007, when the event was directed by Greg Nacco. If you follow this blog, you know these Nationals get more or less competitive depending on who shows up. So they are not like the Olympics where all the very best elites meet from around the globe. Some championships attract more rising stars though and it was the case this weekend according to UltraSignup's statistics and time predictions: for once at a local race, I was in 25th position, uh! So, while we were looking forward to seeing who was going to grab the title, the first big surprise of the day was that it was raining! In August, and in California, while, in contrast, the Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc had perfect conditions in the Alps, at last!

Agnès had asked me on Friday evening if I had checked the weather forecast and I replied I never do as I don't believe they can really predict much with all the micro climates around the Bay. But, now, I wished I had because I would have probably picked my Brooks PureGrit instead of my super comfy Launch. Anyway, too late to drive back home, comfort of road shoes will have to do over grip of trail shoes.

Race Director, Tim Fitzpatrick, gave his pre-race briefing to our 250-large group.

With all these youngsters and speedsters sponsored by Nike, Adidas and even Brooks, the start didn't disappoint: I joked with Scott Dunlap and Mark Richtman that this looked more like the start of a cross-country race, if not 5K, 10K at most!

I couldn't count the number of men in front of me after we took off, and estimated 5 or 6 women were already ahead, what a start! Even Errol 'Rocket' Jones added some fun to the situation, sprinting to get ahead of us. For one hundred yards... ;-)

The back of the pack had barely passed the start line when the front runners had almost reached the end of the meadow as you can see on the second picture below:

We went on Muir Woods Road for 1/4 of a mile before reaching a tricky switchback to get onto Miwok Trail. With so many fast runners ahead, it was actually very smooth, the pace remained blazing fast. As usual, that's the trail section I pass Jason Reed and I then made two other moves up the line while Mark Richtman remained very close behind. For the non locals, let me say a few words about Mark: he is an ex member of Team USA for 100K and, decades later, he is still at the top of the game, at least in our Masters division, and you would never imagine he just turned 60! Last year at this race I was looking at another duel with him in our M50-59 age group, but he wasn't in prime shape so he didn't toe the start line, and volunteered as course monitor instead. We had our last age group friendly fight at Quad Dipsea last November and I barely made it by 7 minutes despite the 9 years separating us, which says a lot about Mark's fitness level. So, here I am, not haunted by other M50-59 competitors but a M60-69 one, way to keep me on my toes and yet another good excuse to refuse to take aging as an excuse to slow down...!

On the first steep climb out of Muir Beach on Coastal Trail, I decided to not push too hard with all the other climbs ahead, get into my rhythm (Hal Koerner's diesel mode) and not look behind to avoid the pressure. Even with these precautions I caught up with a few runners ahead before the top, including 2 gals. I pushed the pace down to Pirate Coves, hoping to distance Mark. Running in the cloud, the visibility was very limited, maybe 2 or 300 hundred yards, so you couldn't see who was ahead or behind anyway. You could hear the Pacific roaring at the bottom of the cliff, but barely see it. Several times during the race I felt sorry about the folks coming from out of town as they missed the amazing views we usually experience on this course (Pacific Coast, Golden Gate, San Francisco, Rodeo, Stinson and Muir Beaches, Tennessee Valley, ...). Coastal Trail without the Ocean views in particular isn't as spectacular as it usually is.

On our way up to Wolf Ridge, I got passed by Ed Randolph, M45-49, and I was glad that I had moved to the upper age bracket because he looked very strong (he is 45). We ran close together for the next few miles, me being faster in the technical downhills, him faster in the uphills. I didn't stop at the Rodeo Beach aid station (mile 8) and was blown away to see Mark just behind me as we were now climbing up Miwok trail. I thought "wow, with all the coming climbing, that's going to be a tough battle, it's going to come down to, first, who doesn't walk on Cardiac, then who doesn't walk on the last killer climb, Steep Ravine!" Yet, I thought it was way too early to push more in the uphills. I did hammer down on the way down to the Tennessee Valley aid station though, where I had the surprise to see Agnès. I didn't stop there either, and was pleased to not see Mark behind anymore, at least not close behind...

From the time stamp of Agnès' pictures at Tennessee Valley, Mark was still just a minute behind me, still working on his prey... ;-)
Meanwhile, as I discovered from Agnès' pictures, the battle was raging in front. I was in 31st position at this point, 22 minutes behind the leaders (after just 11.5 miles!!), and the top 10 runners were within 10 minutes. Here are Andy Wacker (26, Adidas Team, from Boulder, CO), elbow to elbow with Patrick Smyth (29, Nike Team, from Salt Lake City, UT), fighting for the lead (yes, sprinting, with 20 miles to go!).
On the way up to Coyote Ridge, I could see in the fog a runner walking and holding his sides with his hands and I was blown away when, getting closer, I could read M50-54 on his back bib. Wow, I had no idea that I was even 2nd in my age group up to that point!
Alan Reynolds, another local and fast member of the Tamalpa running club, had gone out very fast and was struggling --we were only at mile 12-- but he had the guts to finish. With that I was wondering if I had missed other M50-54 in the 40 or so runners ahead at the start... One more reason to keep pushing...

After this climb I really enjoyed getting back to some speed on the way down to Hwy 1, on this smooth fire road section of the Miwok Trail. I looked back and couldn't see anyone behind but, again, the visibility was still barely a few hundreds yards. I enjoyed even more the last section of Miwok, a narrow and winding single track going down to Muir Woods Road. Before every race Agnès reminds me that the main goal of running is to enjoy it, so I thought of her (otherwise, most of the time, I'm more focused on pushing hard... ;-). We were at mile 17 and I was really feeling good but knew there was much ahead, starting with Cardiac, right at that stage, a 2.5-mile climb up to the Cardiac aid station. At least my mental was high and I was therefore resolute to not walk a step up that hill.

Apart for a few hikers, there was nobody to be seen in the fog all along, no distraction, just the focus on keeping moving forward on this runnable grade. Yet, in the last few yards before the aid station, there are high steps formed by roots, and I had to walk but managed to passed another runner who had stopped to take care of some bad cramping, then I caught up with Lon Freeman. When I first got into ultra racing, Lon was at the top of the game, having won for instance Miwok 100K in 2007, Skyline 50K in 2004, or, more recently, our Club QuickSilver 50-mile in 2012 as well as last year's Ohlone. So, it was intimidating to catch-up with him, especially as, very kindly, he told me that there were now only two Masters ahead of us. I didn't feel we were that fast compared to last year, and I was definitely not trying to win the Masters division in this competitive field, so it was great boost to know. Here we are, going through the Pantoll parking lot.

Going down Matt Davis Trail reminded me of the finish of Miwok 100K a few months ago except that the weather was so different. Despite paying extra attention in this section made even more treacherous and slippery with the wet conditions, I was moving quite fast, so much that I caught up with Emily Harisson. Emily is so fast on runnable terrain but she looked scared in these switchbacks and that was going to cost her the National title, I felt sorry for her.
I passed 2 other runners (Open Division) and surprised the volunteers of the Stinson Beach aid station when I rushed through it without stopping (thank you guys for being there anyway!). 7 miles to go and I was still feeling great, that's the way to enjoy running...!

In the first stairs up the famous Dipsea Trail I could feel a cramp nagging in my inner left hamstring so rushed to take 2 S!Caps and my 3rd Gu. As much as I wanted to slow down and walk in this climb, seeing one of the runners I had passed on Matt Davis following me kept me moving. I saw 2013 record holder Alex Varner again running with friends, just before the bridge where we leave the Dipsea Trail to continue on Steep Ravine.

Ah, Steep Ravine... What else do you expect from such a name other than a killer last climb at mile 26...? I have always struggled on this one and can't even imagine or comprehend how the top guys must go through this section still maintaining sub 7 min/mile pace! As a matter of fact, I was in this section while the first runners must have finished already, yikes! I admit I walked part of it then. I was particularly impressed this year with the crowd on the trail, I had never seen so many hikers especially on such a technical segment. The passage of the ladder was quite an attraction when I got there with a group of 20 or so kids trying to go down! Fortunately it's large enough that I could still manage to pass on the side without losing much time. I kept jogging everything else my legs and lungs would allow me to and, with that tough mental, passed a few more runners before seeing Agnès at the top, at Pantoll, enjoying a brief rift in the fog before plunging back into it 1/2 mile later.
On that only common section of the course, I crossed a few runners on their way out (Greg Nacco, George Rehmet, Errol Jones, ...) and didn't stop at the Cardiac Aid Station that time (my only aid station stop was on my way out, to refill my GU2O bottle). At this point I was still thinking that I had a slim chance of improving the age group course record which I had set last year in 4:27:30. But with my GPS showing 4:06 already with slightly more than 3 miles to go, I had to give it all. So I pushed as much as I could and, after a mile, even managed to pass Ed (M45-49) and Caitlin Smith. I kept pushing hard in the ultimate and endless switchbacks of Heather Cutoff Trail. We could hear the noise coming from the finish line but we could still not see a thing with the thick fog, what a suspense... I was bummed when I saw 4:27:30 while I was still dealing with the last switchbacks. I sprinted to the finish line for a finish time of 4:29:24 (8:31 pace) which was good enough this year for first M50-54 (or M50+ for that matter) and 2nd Masters! With all that, I still barely made the top 20 this time, 19th overall.  And, mind me (!), that's a poor 76% UltraSignup performance because it was a super fast year, with Adidas team's Andy Wacker, 26, from Boulder, CO, smashing Alex's record by almost 4 minutes! 3:37:20 on a trail course with technical sections and 7,400 ft of cumulative elevation, this is blazing or insanely fast! Compared to other sports, taking home $1,000 for that feat looks really cheap, but that's why our ultra running sport remains such a family and friendly business, which most of us love anyway!

As a matter of fact, Andy got an extra $500 for also breaking the overall course record.

Here are 8 of the top 9 runners, from right to left: Paddy O'Leary (9th), Chris Vizcaino (8th), Benjamin Stern (7th), Daniel Metzger (6th), Jared Bessett (5th), Mario Mendoza (4th), David Roche (3rd) and Andy.
Apart from Ivan Medina who dropped, UltraSignup had 9 of the top 10 runners right in its statistical prognostic, quite good Mark Gilligan! The top 10 UltraSignup list names finished respectively in that order: 3, 2, 1, 5, x, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10. Almost ready to bet real money!

Caitlin won the Women race and title, finishing 45 seconds behind me, so I ended up not being chicked again, phew!
Well, let's say I worked very hard to unchicked myself 5 times throughout this race! ;-) As I joked with Tropical John Medinger at the finish that it wasn't getting easier, he replied that he could easily predict the future for me on that one; thanks John... :-/

Co-race director and great XC and ultra runner herself, Diana Fitzpatrick was prompt to hand me my age group award, a superb Mountain HardWear jacket, a SFRC gift certificate and a few healthy food goodies. As for the USATF awards, it took more time while we were waiting for the various age categories to fill in (3 deep)...

Another local Tamalpa runner, Mark McManus, 41, won the Masters Division and got the $300 check. He ran a 4:27:54 and I was second, only 90 seconds behind, I had no idea we were that close!
The fog started dissipating finally over the finish area around 1 pm, and it was ideal conditions to catch-up with other runners, volunteers and family members.

Mark Richtman finished in 4:47:34, slashing the previous M60-69 course record by 20 minutes! He had trained hard, aiming at 4:30, but he got some cramping issues as well as some dehydration due to his water bottle breaking just after Stinson Beach. Without knowing how far behind he was all day, I owe him big time for keeping running hard in Steep Ravine in particular!

Jed Tukman's Firetrail on-site made pizzas were an absolute post-race delight and drinks were in abundance (yes, including beer, for those who run for that! ;-).
One note on nutrition: I would admit that I needed a couple of cokes to replenish my energy level after such a workout yet, this is still a testament to the value of Vespa: I was able to run a strong race just on 3 Gu gels, 2 cups of Coke and mini pieces of banana at mile 19, and 2 bottles of GU2O, or about 500 of calorie intake while Garmin estimates the overall effort at 3,500 calories, or 4,000 calories on Strava (I even doubt this fully takes into account the cumulative elevation but in any case, the Vespa Math still work and shows the energy had to come from some fat, eh eh).

We had 7 entrants from our team today and all finished, albeit in different times ranging from Rickey Russell's 4:27 to Kat Powell's 8:11. This allows to score a few points in the Men and Mixed divisions of our Grand Prix (although Excelsior and Tamalpa will likely be ahead of us for this race). Here we are, Keith, Marc, Jim and I, still fresh and dry, before the start:
What a professional event again produced by the Tamalpa running club under the direction of Tim and Diana Fitzpatrick. Short of spending much time at the aid stations, I was mostly impressed by the number of course monitors at key intersections. I was surprised to hear that a couple of the lead runners went off course as I thought the marking with the pink ribbons was very good. It must be due to speeding... Amazing crew of 80 volunteers, plus one USATF representative who came from Virginia to hand us the awards!

On the way back we stopped by the San Francisco Running Company to materialize the two gift cards I receive from them, one from winning my age group at Tamalpa, the other at Miwok if I recall. I had seen a few of their employees training on the course in the morning, it was cool to see elite Jorge Marvilla again, in what must be his working attire! ;-) Thank you SFRC for your generosity and support of our local ultra races and community!
Before closing, I want to advertise an upcoming local race which would welcome more participants: the Stevens Creek 50K, a great course in the hills above Palo Alto, Cupertino and Saratoga. Saturday September 26! I will not be running it this year, volunteering with Quicksilver to man the Saratoga Gap aid station and running the Trailblazer 10K that Sunday, but I very much recommend this event which actually includes three distances on groomed trails: half-marathon, 30K and 50K. You can register on UltraSignup or visit the Stevens Creek Striders' Club website. And thanks in advance for spreading the word out!

Run Happy on the road or in the woods!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Burning hot and dry California: global warming a hoax, really?

Often these days I'm dreaming Albert Einstein would still be with us and help us formulate a proof that global warming is real and man made! He had such a genius to make things way more complicated and way less tangible accessible to all, I'm wondering who is going to step up to the challenge, I mean be successful at solving this embarrassing sustainability question. Not that I have much doubt myself in what science has already proven, analytically and experimentally, but because I'm speechless when I see denial statements coming from people that are supposed to be smart enough to... think!

Will Bill Nye succeed where so many have failed:
("The Bill Nye" documentary project has already raised $850K on KickStarter, that's a great start!)

In the meantime... here we are, a weekend during which we experienced pretty much all the symptoms of this global warming in Silicon Valley, in this beautiful California which is set ablaze and is fighting a 5-year drought:

  1. Smoke from wild fires raging hundreds of miles away,
  2. Record temperatures above 100F, including in Santa Cruz right on the Pacific Ocean,
  3. Lack of water in reservoirs,
  4. Lack of groundwater,
  5. High levels of pollen,
  6. Dried vegetation,
and we could go on... On Saturday morning, I was looking forward to the gorgeous views from the top of Black Mountain and took my camera with me. It felt harder than usual to climb along the Stevens Creek Canyon road and trail, and, with such a smell of smoke, I was wondering if I would get in a fire in one of our nearby parks. No, the smoke was coming from a distant fire in North California and there was so much of it that I couldn't see the bottom of the Valley from Black Mountain (2,800 feet), and barely Mt Umunhum.

I still managed to run 28.5 miles on Saturday, taking the back route to the top of Black Mountain. It had been a while since I ran the REI trail in the Stevens Creek Park, the home of our local Stevens Creek Striders Club. It was in August 2003 which I ran it for the first time with the Club, and when I'd hear about the existence of insane races of 100 miles... I learned so much from folks like Charles Stevens, the the Club President, or Mark Williams, who was the first to complete the grueling Barkley Marathon (which is actually 100 super hilly miles of bushwacking).

For sure, back then, there was more water in the reservoir. Agnès went kayaking last week, and Alex and I in June, but the low level doesn't allow for much exploration into the Stevens Creek Canyon.

On Sunday, there was slightly less smoke and I didn't go that far, only 16.6 flat miles, but I had to stop 4 times due to the heat (101F), and I believe poor air quality as well. It's hard to breath and even sweat when the air is as hot as the inside of your body...

Hopefully we won't need this heat training for the Tamalpa US Nationals 50K trail race in 2 weeks but, who knows, maybe for Ohlone 50K in September!

To finish on a more positive note than the start of this post, it was uplifting to read the compliments about how well California is coping with and addressing the drought. This means a lot coming from such an expert on sustainable development and water supply-related matters, Charles Fishman (author of “The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water.”). I strongly encourage you to read his columm in the New York Times. Yes, with the right behaviors and an unconditional belief that we need to radically change to avoid an ecological catastrophe, we can do this and get smarter!

Did you feel that global warming too this Summer?

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Skyline 50K 2015: cloud nine for #9?

I like sharing pictures in my posts, especially race reports, as they are worth a thousand words, great time saving for me... and you! When I don't have any, I'd use my GPS track to illustrate the course and draw a few objective analytics about my run. Well, this time, I didn't take any picture and my GPS died at mile 24, darn! So much for running against an invisible clock, it became a whole mental game instead... As for the pictures, short of a crew, glad that a few volunteers posted some already on FaceBook, special thanks to Chihping Fu in particular!

I had a great training run 2 weeks ago on some of these trails at the Redwood Anvil 20-mile and was excited to come back on this fast course for my 9th consecutive run and this 34th edition of Skyline 50K. 3:48 in 2007, 4:17 in 2008 with a major quad injury, 3:54, 3:43, 3:46, 4:07 in 2012 while still recovering from my shoulder fracture, 3:57 and 3:52:30 last year, setting a new and hard to beat M50-59 course record. But, of course, improving it again was my goal this year.
We started right at 7am after the briefing of new Race Director, Brian Wyatt (photo credit, Chihping). Brian has taken over Adam Ray, making this race the first of a trail running series for his new organization Scena Performance. And Brian loves hilly trails, so this series is going to need good mental and quads!

Like every year, there were new faces with a few folks looking like really fast dudes. But, in ultra trail running, you never know, some may have hard time pacing themselves or they may get lost, as this is so different from flat road racing. Speaking of the latter, it was cool to see and chat with Devon Yanko. Devon only finished 2nd at the San Francisco marathon, but already won 3 other marathons this year (Oakland, Napa and Seattle, the Queen of the West marathons!). When chatting in the first 1/4 mile, there were already 10 other runners in front of us, that was definitely a fast start again this year! Devon told me she won't see much of me which I didn't really believe as I know she is so fast and that this fast course is a tough one not to be chicked... Yet, passing Jason Reed, by mile 5, I pushed a bit in the rolling section to see what was happening upfront and settled in 5th place, before loosing sight of the lead group of 4 runners by mile 2. I pushed a bit more in the first hills before the Grass Valley aid station. I didn't stop at this water-only aid station but got scared by two big dogs running toward me. No direct contact fortunately, but it took me a few strides to catch my breath after such an emotion, flying down Jackson Grade.

Carrying 2 bottles, I didn't stop at the Bort Meadow aid station either and kept pushing up the hill, finally breaking from 2 distant followers. With nobody in sight ahead and behind, I could finally release some pressure and run my own race, which I much prefer. With the cool and misty over cast weather, I hadn't drunk much so far and I also passed through Big Bear without stopping. I was looking forward to get on the steep 1/2 mile climb to the ridge, a section we had been descending twice for the Redwood Anvil 20-mile. Thinking of Hal Koerner's tip, switching to the Diesel mode and low gear, I'd say I climbed it in 2nd gear this year. I was also thinking of the first year I ran this race when Steve Stowers passed me in that hill. It's that time, 2007 and 2008, that Steve made the 100K USA Team, before experiencing a few injuries. This race has also seen great performances from Joe Binder (3:37 in 2010) who also made the team that year. Then, Chikara Omine of course who was watching us today as he is preparing for the World 100K Championships in Netherlands next month!

After this climb, it was time for keep going up Skyline Gate on the very runnable East Ridge. The temperature was perfect for running, with a sustain breeze we could feel running against it in the uphills. Chihping was at the Skyline Gate aid station too and took three pictures of my quick stop there to grab a piece of banana and cup of Coke while joking with the super entertaining Errol Rocket Jones! (Next 3 pictures, credit Chihping Fu.)

I asked how far ahead the lead runners were and he replied that I won't catch the youngsters, I have to forget about them. But that's exactly what I don't want to do, these guys keep me on my toes and help me fight the aging process... Now, we were at mile 14.4, I had run for 1:45 which I felt reasonably fast, but it's good nobody mentioned that the lead runner had already 15 minutes on me, wow! At least, not knowing, I kept believing and rushed down toward the torturous French Trail, while still feeling on cloud nine...
While paying extra attention to roots not to fall, I was thinking of what I will do in the next few miles in the redwoods, that is taking care of me (!), taking a third Vespa and an S!Caps. Hoping over roots on this dusty trail was certainly not the right time to get things out of my pockets.

As I was approaching the French and Madrone trails intersection, something exciting and interesting happened: I saw a dozen fast and tall guys from the Cal Berkeley XC team coming down the hill. I wasn't sure which way they'll go but I was first at the intersection and went on French trail, to only find them following me. I was faster than the group on the way down but I got into a frantic pace to stay in front on this winding section and, as I'd realize later, not only that wasn't so smart and sustainable, but I completely forgot about my fueling plan and strategy, yikes! We were now at mile 17 and I was just thinking this would give me a boost in my chase of the front runners, how presumptuous with a half marathon still remaining...

At some point, 4 of these runners passed me but they realized that they were getting in my way in the tricky downhills so they very kindly backed off. They turned right on West Ridge, where we take the left turn and I was glad to get into a more reasonable pace then, enjoying Toyon trail on my way back to Big Bear. I also took the opportunity to drink and finish my GU2O bottle, having barely drank from my water bottle in the first 20 miles... In retrospective, I should have taken that 3rd Vespa and S!Caps...

This time, I stopped at the aid station to refill mu GU2O bottle and take a 2nd GU gel. And asked for some ice in my water bottle, although there wasn't much room for that in it. I refrained myself to ask Karl Schnaitter about the front runners, and went on, realizing that I wasn't as fresh as the beginning. I didn't walk at all on the steep MacDonald Grade, yet I'd admit I had to switch down into 1st gear. Unconsciously for this whole race, I wasn't even checking on my average pace, I was only running by the feel of the effort and checking on the time and mileage from time to time, without even trying to compare to previous years, not having a plan at all except for the 3:52:30 age group record, and breaking 4 hours of course.

I didn't stop at the Bort Meadow aid station again, but thanked the volunteers while flying through, as I could sense I had to make up for some time to meet my goal. I kept moving at what I thought was a reasonable pace but it seemed the clock and time were flying faster, quite a strange feeling which I never experienced before. Then this odd and uneasy relativity experience became even more painful as my GPS died around mile 24, leaving me completely time-blinded... ouch! I was left with asking hikers "what time is it?" or "do you have the time?", that was a first for me. Long story short, when I reached the last aid station, Honker Bay, and asked that same question to ultra volunteer Stan Jensen, and when he replied 10:36, I knew that, even at 6 min/mile for the last 3 miles, 3:52 was out of question. As a matter of fact, I had now to push at 8 min/mile to break 4 hours... There is some mile markers on the last 1.75-mile section of asphalt, but I wasn't sure if they were from the same start/finish as the race. I asked one more time a hiker and got 10:49 with more than a mile to go... I was really relieved when I saw the clock at the finish line still showing 3:59...

Without a GPS track, nor my splits, it's hard to explain what happened, when I really lost time. I was excited to see on Strava what would have been my pace in the section after Skyline Gate, but I'll never know! Overall, I should be very happy to have broken 4 hours again, won my age group AND the Masters division again but here is the deal: the winning time this year was a record 202 minutes, yes, that's 3:22. That makes my performance worth 81% on UltraSignup; darn, so much for such an effort or for getting back so close to 90% this year again (89.86% before Skyline)... As a matter of fact, the top 3 runners ran under the previous course record, and the 3rd runner is only 19 year-old!! That was definitely not the year to run slow; I know, it's all relative, my overall average pace was 7:43 this year, not that bad but so pale in comparison to the winner's 6:30, on a hilly course...!! Not quite the cloud nine experience I was expecting, but let's say 8 on a 1-9 scale.

At least I didn't get chicked again this year! Poor Devon finished 2nd, getting to the finish line with a bloody elbow and knee. Unfortunately, that happened early in the race, around mile 3, and she got passed by a Strava/Brooks-sponsored athlete, Kimberly O'Donnel, who won in 4:05. As I was teasing Kimberly, she swore that she will got me next time. At 25 for her, and 51 for me, I'd say this would makes sense, you have to love this competitive spirit... ;-) Especially given her 100% UltraSignup ranking after 13 results (yes, that means 13 wins out of 13 races!).

Anyway, amazing 34th edition of this East Bay Area ultra classic, great job from Brian and his team of volunteers to keep such a tradition not only alive but with all the friendly and low key touch and atmosphere, quite something in the midst of all the changes our ultra trail running sport and community are going through these days. I had to leave around noon to hit some traffic on 880 and finish the day at the San Jose Jazz Summer Fest, staying up 21 hours for a very rich and full day (I'm sure many would have been worn out after doing only either one of these events... ;-).

Fortunately, I have 3 more weeks to keep training and/or taper before the next hilly 50K, Tamalpa, which is also the 50K Trail National Championship. There will surely be even more fast dudes, and not just twenty-something ones. I expect local elite Mark Richtman, 60, to kick my butt again, as well as a few Masters along the way!

With that, I already look forward to running my 10th Skyline 50K and seeing many familiar faces again and a few new fast dudes next year!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Happy 30th birthday, Ultimate Direction!

[Disclaimer: I'm not a UD Ambassador, and much less a UD Athlete, but I do receive a discount on Ultimate Direction products nowadays. That being said for 10 years, I didn't, I was, and still am, just a genuine user and fan...]

I was not born --to trail and ultra running that is...-- when Ultimate Direction was founded back in 1985, but I've been a fan and big user since I adopted their products as soon as I discovered their handheld bottles back in 2003. I even remember, and admit, that I wasn't using the handles the right way before seeing how Jasper Halekas was holding his Ultimate Direction bottles on the cover page of an issue of UltraRunning Magazine back then. Who knew that these bottles needed a manual...? ;-)
Rare are the runs during which I don't carry at least one bottle, and Ultimate Direction is also part of my business trips for proper hydration on flights and even during business meetings!

Over the years, here is pretty much the collection I built of Ultimate Direction products, quite a good sampling of their catalog!
While the handheld bottles are my key pieces of UD equipment, I mean the ones I used the most, I have many other items, my favorites being:
  1. The very minimalist Jurek Essential belt in the Scott Jurek collection. It was designed before the reign of the iPhone6, yet a standard/smaller iPhone6 can be squeezed in the mesh pocket. And both pockets are large enough to carry a camera and/or of course, a few gels or candy/cereal bars. The smallest pocket is great to carry a small bag of S!Caps for instance, but be super careful about keeping the velcro closed, I happened to lose some money I had kept in this pocket on my Chamonix run last month, not paying enough attention. The other pockets have zipper which is better to keep valuables.
  2. The vest in the same Scott Jurek collection (and 2nd version, that is the Royal Blue one which fits with our QuickSilver color scheme as a bonus!). An amazing piece of engineering but the vest concept makes it harder to fit well every torso shape and form. I ended up picking a Medium size, which is slightly too large, although the straps hidden in the size pockets do help (thanks Buzz for showing them to me after I missed that essential tuning feature initially). Personally, I still prefer to carry bottles rather than having my chest beaten by the bottles as I run. Yet, you need this approach if you want to use poles, so I'm trying to get more used to it in case I need to free up my hands.
  3. To continue on the minimalist approach of the Scott Jurek collection, you can't get smaller or lighter than the new Jurek Grip bottle strap which is ideal for short runs or if you have something else to carry gels and keys, like a belt or a vest.

I recently purchased the Desert Hat although I don't have any plan yet to get into Badwater... I also bought a Handy 10 which I forgot to include in the picture above, but maybe on purpose as I haven't used it yet.

By the way, as soon as the commemorative anniversary handle was announced, I rushed to order one and was slightly surprised, if not disappointed, to receive the #289/300. I was hoping for a smaller number, but who cares, really, I have one of the limited edition, and I'm not going to keep it in a cabinet as a collector, this one is going to live in and endure the outdoors like its sisters! ;-) And there are more of these memorabilias available on line if you want to pick yours (while supplies last...).
All these products really helped me staying healthy and hydrated while moving in the Ultimate Direction for the close to 40,000 miles I have in my running log. So I wish long life to this iconic ultra running American company and great supporter of our sport! And I wish too that you keep running and moving in the... Ultimate Direction!!