Saturday, December 31, 2016

10th PAUSATF MUT Grand Prix in the bag!

Way Too Cool 2016 was my first ultra race but it was only later that year that I heard about the Pacific Association USA Track & Field Mountain Ultra Trail Grand Prix, only participating for the last 2 races that year. In 2007, I was excited to participate for the full year and ran 9 of the races, winning my first Grand Prix in the competitive M40-49 age group. As I was moving the M40-49 scale, I was expecting more competition but several fast runners didn't focus as much as I did on the Grand Prix and I ended up winning... 10 consecutive ones!

After a record breaking score last year, this year didn't have the same brio from a Grand Prix perspective with 3 DNFs (Miwok, Tahoe Rim Trail, Quad Dipsea) but it could have been much worse would I have had to stop competing after my TIA incident in March...

Here is a synopsis of the past 11 years:

Year Points Scored events(*) 50-mile+ events Rank Age group
2006 95.0 2 1 10/40 M40-49
2007 413.0 9 4 1/55 -
2008 427.6 10 5 1/31 -
2009 390.8 11 5 1/52 -
2010 442.0 11 6 1/55 -
2011 383.2 10 5 1/67 -
2012 330.4 8 3 1/70 -
2013 470.0 10 4 1/66 -
2014 554.0 11 6 1/41 M50-59
2015 570.0 10 3 1/47 -
2016 408.0 7 3 1/45 -
(*) Exclude DNFs - And only the best 7 count

All results and other age group champions are available here. Congratulations to Stephen Wassather (M20-29, San Francisco Running Company), Karl Schnaitter (M30-39, Excelsior), Brian Purcell (M40-49, Excelsior), Joe Swenson (M60-69, Quicksilver), Hans Schmid (M70-79, Tamalpa), our very own Bill Dodson (M80-89!, Stevens Creek Striders), Kristyn Kadal (W20-29, Unattached), Megan Chen (W30-39, Pamakids), Kelly Haston (W40-49, Pamakids), Angie Pozzi (W50-59, RC Rebels), Caroline Nelson (W60-69, Lake Merritt Joggers and Striders)!

Nowadays, there are so many events that the key strategy to place well in this Grand Prix is to run most of the 17 or so events (for more details, see my post Anatomy of a Grand Prix). Recently, our MUT committee has been discussing a potential change of the schedule to bring the number of races down in order to be more selective and competitive like the other Grand Prix are (cross-country, long distance road). In the meantime, the 2017 calendar looks similar to previous years, with a few exceptions and questions marks:
  1. Western States 100 and Tahoe Rim Trail 100 aren't GP competitions anymore (a good thing given the challenge to get through the lotteries, especially WSER's one)
  2. Dick Collins Firetrails 50-mile isn't confirmed yet
  3. The 2nd Riverbank One Day adds a 24-hour format in February
  4. All other events are still on the calendar for a total of 14, or 15 with Firetrails
The whole schedule is available on line; special kudos to our MUT committee co-chair, Bill Dodson, who has handled quite a few epic situations due to both expected and unexpected changes, building on the legacy of Hollis Lenderking, the other co-chair for more than 2 decades.

By the way, our Quicksilver Ultra Running team, led by our Captain, Loren Lewis, got a few honor places: we took 3rd in Men behind the dominating Excelsior, and Pamakids; 2nd in Women behind Pamakids; 3rd in Mixed behind Excelsior and Pamakids again; and 3rd overall to Pamakids and Excelsior, out of 10 teams (all score on the PAUSATF site).

With this milestone checked, I still plan on being engaged in this great competition but probably not with the same focus as previous years in order to leave room to explore other races and events, within or outside the US, in 2017. Our North California ultra scene is one of the most vibrant in the US, if not in the World, so it would be a shame not to leverage it when you have the privilege to live around!

See many of you again on the trails in 2017 then!

Friday, December 30, 2016

A bit of winter cross-training

I certainly admit that cross-training is excellent for fitness conditioning but I'm not a big adept, preferring to focus on running and get significant training and racing volume. As a matter of fact, the only time I switch to another exercise activity is when I'm injured. That consists mostly in stationary biking, elliptical, stairmaster, easy walking and some weight lifting.

Anyway, I'm just back from a 3-day break in Tahoe and three opportunities for winter cross-training: cross-country skiing at Royal Gorge, snowshoeing above Incline Village and alpine skiing at Mt Rose. Not surprisingly, cross-country skiing is the activity which has been the most demanding and left my legs the most sore. Since I'm racing 6 hours this Saturday, I'm glad I got that out of the way on Tuesday to get rid of the soreness.

Snowshoeing is a great aerobic exercise but is closer to hiking so it more or less activates the same muscles as in hill running.
As for downhill skiing, it all depends on the intensity. While the weather was warm and sunny, there wasn't enough snow to work hard. Besides, I passed my times of speeding up and risking breaking a leg, something which never happened so far and I'd rather avoid with my passion for running. But we had a great time on Mt Rose's slopes, especially as there wasn't any crowd at all, something surprising in the middle of the Holidays.

Unfortunately, with her recent hip replacement, Agnès couldn't be with us. Otherwise, amazing opportunity to spend these three days with the three boys, a blessing to have them all at home for 10 days. Not sure when the next time will be, let's enjoy this previous family time and present moment, and I hope you too had such great time over the Holidays.

PS: 2 paradisiac views of Lake Tahoe from our bedroom

100 km/week obsession

I have quite a few metrics on my running dashboard but this one in the top 3. And it has become quite an obsession the past years. On a daily basis, I track the distance to this average and feel bad when I'm too far behind. As a matter of fact, I should feel equally bad when I'm getting too far ahead because it's usually when my body is calling for a break or slow down. For instance I was 400 kilometers ahead after the 24-hour Nationals in September but lost all of the buffer as I had to take 6 weeks off running to let the sesamoidis heal. It's actually a tricky exercise to manage this average as I've also been trying to follow Scott Jurek's tip of resting for 3 to 4 weeks between the seasons. To meet the two goals, I need this 300-400-kilometer buffer before the break.

Here we are, getting to the end of the year, and I'm pretty close but slightly behind. To make the matter worse, it is a leap year so I need an extra 14.3 kilometers for a total of 81.84 kilometers to be run by the end of New Year's Eve. I was going to enter the 12-hour event at Coastal Trail Runs' New Year One Day but the family wasn't found at all about a repeat of the 2012 New Year's Eve, so we settled for the 6-hour format, from noon to 6 pm this Saturday (you may follow my progress, live, at At lest, if I don't manage to cover 51 miles in 6 hours, which is rather aggressive, I can always do a few more laps to cool down... In other words, I need to run 49 laps tomorrow at Crissy Field to satisfy my obsession. One more time, as I'm seriously thinking of dropping this weekly average goal next year as I have the feeling it has become too aggressive as a volume for my body now.

It's always hard to let go of a goal, and especially a symbolic threshold like this one, but I already feel blessed to have been reaching this 3,200 mile/year milestone for the past 6 years. I know many can't log as many miles, for various reasons like the lack of time, other priorities or constraints, health condition or fitness level.

That leaves me with 80 miles to reach the New Year, see you there in a few miles!

PS: by the way, not only did we have one additional day this leap year but did you know we were also getting one additional second to make up for some approximation in the calculation of our orbit around the sun. Read more about this rare phenomenon from National Geographic or NPR. The fact that the last minute of 2016 will be 61-second long is rather interesting from a computing standpoint...

Monday, December 26, 2016

Ramping up. And coming back.

I wish I could tell that I'm back to normal for good but I think that I learned I'll never be able to tell for sure. As we say "enjoy while it lasts..." And, certainly, I don't take health for granted anymore and I'm more grateful after each run, even the tough ones.

In the meantime, it feels good to ramp up training, albeit at the end of the year, at a time I used to enjoy a good and deserved break. I had a few unplanned breaks from running this year so they will have to be my rest breaks...

After the DNF at Quad Dipsea, I've been running every single day but one, with 4 solid weeks, logging 75, 93, 89 and 86 miles respectively.

Last week I even ran 2 50K training runs, a flat one (through Shoreline) and a hilly and wet one to the top of Black Mountain.

And a third ultra training run this month, albeit a short ultra this Monday, before a few days in Tahoe for some skiing.

(If you wonder what the last diagonal represents at the end of the run, I had to ask Max for a pick-up to make for a Facetime call with the family at noon and was short of time for the last 2 miles... oops! ;-).

No pelicans at Shoreline this time, but many, many birds, way more than the few people I saw on the trail on that first morning after Christmas.

With that, I'm even on track to reach my symbolic 100 km/week goal again this year; I'm just missing 80 kilometers (darn leap year, it's adding 14K...), which I plan on running on the very last day of the year at the New Year One Day event put up by Coastal Trail Runs at Crissy Field in San Francisco. Within 6 hours so I don't ruin the family plans for New Year's Eve, quite an important requirement these days... No better opportunity for a food performance than not having too much time to spend on the course, but I hope the weather will collaborate. See some of you for quite a few loops on the trail in a few days then!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

50K redemption run: juggling with the pains

2 weeks before Quad Dipsea I was quite pumped up to ramp-up my training regimen after the 6-week break due to the sesamoiditis I contracted after the 24-hour Nationals in September. I had run 87 miles over the previous 7 days and was on my way to run an easy flat marathon that Sunday. 3 miles in the run though, a pain along my left tibia was unbearable and I called Agnès for an emergency shuttle pick-up. I feared the infamous shin splints syndrome and took it very easy the following 2 weeks, taking another week off and resuming running with a 10K at the Turkey Trot, then dropping at mile 21 at Quad Dipsea 2 days later.

Since then, the pain has been on and off. As a matter of fact, I used the plural in the title because over the past month, I have experienced all sort of painful spots, all along my lower legs, from the toes to below the knee. Half a dozen of spots, in and out, which really puzzle me and make me wonder what to do. If I was following the "Listen to your body" advice, I would stop for good! But, they don't seem like serious injuries either, at least not passing with breaks and rest. Well, I defied aging all these years, I really feel it has been catching up quickly lately...

This Sunday, however I decided to try again and see if I could go through the painful signs my body is sending to my mind. I was thinking of the pain which Gary Gellin must have experienced trying to break the M40-45 American Record for 50-mile road (5:40) in Florida yesterday, or those of all the Invitational Desert Solstice participants running in circles in Phoenix las night, a race I ran 2 years ago.

By mile 3, the point I stopped a month ago, several spots were hurting but I decided to keep going. Fortunately, the rest of the run was punctuated with great views of birds but also an unusual number of social encounters which brought quite a few distractions away from the wrong signals sent my by body.

Km 10: Winnie & Lee

I forgot I was carrying my phone and missed taking a picture of Winnie's training session as she was experimenting a new folding shopping cart. It had been a long time I've seen the Jebians, I probably missed them at Miwok since I dropped before the aid station they used to handle the runner checking in at.

Km 20: Jean-Francois

By mile 11, before reaching the main parking lot at Shoreline, I caught up with a runner who asked how many miles I was going for, then telling me he was a big fan! ;-) I apologized for not recognizing him, but we had never met actually, nor did he leave a message on my blog so I couldn't know he was checking on my results. Anyway, we ran the next mile together, it was an 18-mile long run for him as he is ramping up his training before the Huntington Beach Marathon (Surf City).

Km 30: Chuck

I turned around at the Bixby Bridge entrance and, on my way back, was surprised to run into Chuck Wilson, who is usually running in the hills. He admitted he was just going for a short 5-mile run before packing and flying to Patagonia tomorrow. Chuck has visited many places around the world, and returns to Patagonia because it will be one of the last trips put up by this organization.

Km 35: Ron

Chuck mentioned that he had just crossed a local ultra legend, Ron Perkins, and I stopped again for a quick chat. Ron is now 78 and he ran 100 miles again last year at the Race of the Ages, where invited participants are given as many hours as their age! Ron asked if I had news of other local runners we used to run with 5 years or so ago (Mike Topper, Charles Stevens, David, Eric Klein, Pierre Tardif, ...).

Km 40: the unnamed ultra runner

As I was approaching Cupertino on my way back, I crossed a runner who looked familiar but I couldn't recognize. For one thing, he was wearing the 2007 Western States shirt, and there aren't that many out there!

Not counting the chat and pit stops, I ran the first 26.2 miles in about 3:12, and the 50K in 3:50. But, for a full disclosure, I stopped by the MadDonald's on Homestead for a full lunch and checking emails. With the digestion, the last two miles weren't the most pleasant ones, but I was happy to complete this solid training run; with the normal good pain and muscle fatigue covering the bad signals of the first half. Juggling with the pains...  And while the word juggling seems like it's fun, I'd rather think of something else while running and training. Yet, I have to admit that things could be worse, I know many people who would dream of running a 50K as a training run. Besides, this concludes a 93-mile training week, so I shouldn't complain. Just hope to get through these weird sensations before next year's season starts over.

Stay safe, and see more of you on the trails, like today!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Compression socks: help debunk the myth

This is a call to all runners in the San Francisco area, to join a study aiming at clarifying the efficiency of compression socks. I was referred to this study by a friend but the logistic requires several visits in San Francisco and I couldn't fit all of them in my schedule. However, I am interested in the result: personally, I'm a big believer in compression socks which I wear on every flight, especially after hearing about several blood clot incidents among my ultra running friends. I'm on blood thinner now, because of last March's TIA, but still, it can't hurt, and my heart rate frequently goes below 40 at rest, so better keep the blood flowing. However, for running, I'm not convinced that the benefits on limiting leg fatigue and formation of lactic acid overweigh the lack of aesthetic. But I can see it works super well for Michael Wardian and his ultra loaded racing regimen.

Anyway, if you live or work in San Francisco, please consider contacting Brittany Steers ( -- I let you reconstruct the right email address if you aren't a robot or bot. You can also connect with her on Faceook, she is a personal trainer in San Mateo). Brittany works on her Masters of Science in Kinesiology and need more participants to make her study and sample meaningful.

And if you can't make it yourself, please consider referring your running friends to this article and call for participation.

A few details on the study:

  • Requires to have been running for the past 18 months
  • The time commitment for most participants so far has been ~3 hours, and includes 4 visits to the San Francisco State University Exercise Physiology Lab. 
    • Visits 1 and 2 are 48 hours apart.
    • Two weeks later you will come in for Visit 3.
    • Visit 4 is 48 hours after Visit 3.
    • Brittany provides all the compression and placebo socks for the study. She is looking for any runners or multisport athletes that have been running for at least 18 months. They will be filling out an exercise history questionnaire during their first visit so that she knows what type of athletes she is getting in this study.
  • Additionally, pre-test instructions before visits 1 and 3:
    • Not to complete any race effort workouts or time trials the week before each experimental procedure
    • Not to exercise, consume alcohol, or take any NSAIDs for at least 24 hours before experimental procedure (Bushra & Aslam, 2010)
    • Not to consume caffeine for 3 hours before the experiment
    • To have a normal diet the day of test
    • To drink at least 500mL of water the day of test
  • The lab is on the San Francisco State University campus, near Lake Merced, at 1600 Holloway Avenue in San Francisco.

If you live or work in San Francisco or close by, hope you will consider contributing to science, and help establishing the truth to this fundamental question: "Are compression socks worth it?"

PS: both pictures provided by Brittany. And NFI in this study, just the genuine interest and curiosity of an ultra runner.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

I've Been Moved part 1: bye bye Alviso!

If you stay at IBM for a while, you are certain to experience another meaning of the International Business Machine acronym: I've Been Moved, as we say when changing either location or organization... ;-)

In this case, my office is moving from the North San Jose site we had in Alviso, to our Silicon Valley Lab on Bailey Avenue, South of Santa Teresa. And, with that, I'm saying good bye to the Alviso County Park where I ran 806 training miles these past 7 years!

Since I came to the US, this is my 5th work location in the Bay Area: three with ILOG (two in Mountain View and one in Sunnyvale), two with IBM, respectively at the North and South outskirt of San Jose. Twice as many miles of commute but now against the traffic.
Of course the Alviso Marina Park remains open but it won't be as convenient so I ran the full 9-mile loop once more last week.
Here are few pictures for you to see what I will be missing: the views, the birds, running along the water, ... As a matter of fact, I only had my iPhone with me which isn't the best way to capture the abundant wildlife enjoying this very quiet place in the middle of the Bay Area. It actually feel amazing to be so close to such a busy and crazy place, yet experiencing the outdoor and quietness of this preserve.

By the way, on your way to the Marina, please make sure to drive around the few blocks of the Alviso neighborhood. The City of Alviso was incorporated in 1852 and is name after Corporal Alviso, a member of the de Anza expedition which reached San Francisco in 1777. Alviso remained independent until it joined San Jose as a neighborhood in 1968. It even has a Yacht Club which can host a handful of boats and has access to the Bay via the Guadalupe River (read more about Alviso on Wikipedia).

Next to Alviso Marina County Park is the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge which I highlighted in a post in 2014. Yes, we are so blessed to live in such an area full of amazing outdoors opportunities!

More pictures...
 First time I see paddle boards on the Guadalupe River!
And it was a busy morning on that usually quiet and desert river, with this boat hauling construction material.
 Super soft ground on the levee (the dirt gets very sticky after heavy rain).
A sort of jackdaw (Steve Patt will surely correct me in the comment section below) and a vulture.

 Grey heron?
 Yes, this is the home of WWW (the Wide Wild West), you have to fight for your food to survive! ;-)

 Toward Fremont/Mission Peak
 On the Bay Trail

 A trail of Hope and Change... Quite a symbol and good reminder: life is all about keeping moving...! ;-)

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Quad Dipsea 2016: not worth it...

How dare I?! The venerable ultra Quad Dipsea not worth it? Oh no, I mean that I wasn't worth the Quad Dipsea today, just me, sorry...

I knew I was taking a big risk by showing up this morning. I was notoriously under train having just resumed running after yet another break, right with a race on Thursday, a solid 36:10 10K at the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot. The soreness in my legs afterwards was attenuated with a 9-mile training run this Friday, yet my legs still felt tired when I woke up at 4:30 this morning. However, I didn't feel it was a good reason not to honor my registration. Nor was the fact that I already won my age group PAUSATF MUT Grand Prix for the 10th consecutive year. Indeed my main goal today was to avoid getting a DNS (Did Not Start) this year. After last March stroke and a combination of minor injuries and bad stress at work, I had to pass on a few races and championships I had in mind at the beginning of the year but at least I have been lucky enough to be able to start all the races I was in, even if that triggered a few DNFs (Miwok, TRT). The other risk which I knew about getting to the start was that it was going to be rainy and that's definitely the weather I like to race in. That was my 5th Quad Dipsea and I have been quite lucky so far with the weather: I wasn't blogging in 2006 but Agnès' pictures show a perfectly clear blue sky (my finish time was 4:20:52). In 2008 (We all did it!), the conditions were also perfect when Erik Skaggs improved the course record and I PRed with 4:19:19. In 2009 (Chasing too many turkeys), the course was still in great conditions but I had run 2 Turkey Trots prior to the race and had a bad fall which slowed me down a bit (4:25:32). However, in 2014 (No fall, almost...), the trail got very slippery and everybody ran slower, even Chikara Omine (4:12) and Dave Mackey. I clocked my worse time at Quad Dipsea, 4:38:31.

I carpooled with Jeremy Johnson and Kent (Bull) Dozier to the start and we got a great parking spot thanks to the early arrival (~6:40). The bib desk crew was composed of 3 eminent ultra personalities: the founder and Race Director of the first 30 years, John (Tropical) Medinger, his wife Lisa Henson, and the omnipresent ultra volunteer, Stan Jensen.
It was drizzling at 8 am so I started with a light rain jacket and arm warmers on as well, which looked weird next to so many runners in singlets. The rain wasn't that bad on the first leg yet I was barely getting warm with the jacket so I kept it until our first passage at Stinson Beach, mile 7. With my tired legs I didn't want to slow people down in the first flight of stairs and let many runners rush in the bottleneck. I passed a few in these stairs but was surprised how hard it was for me to push, not a great feeling right off the bat. The climb to Cardiac, between mile 2 and 4 was challenging and, as opposed to my previous runs here, I did walk many sections which I felt quite bad about. Jeremy caught up with me before Cardiac and we ran the next 10 miles together, him faster on the descents, me catching up on the steep climbs. From the published splits we were between 25 and 30 at the Stinson Beach turn around. We barely gained a few spots on the way back to Mill Valley but caught up with a couple of runners. Just before the Cardiac aid station, I was just behind Jeremy when I saw him slip and fall in the mud, fortunately without injuring himself. A few minutes later, I caught up with another Quicksilver teammate,  John Burton, who was trying hard to stay up in the super slippery mud in Dynamite and, here again, he fell hard on his side just before my eyes. I was running in road shoes (Brooks Trance) to get some adherence in the stairs this time but I must admit it wasn't working very well in that mud either. That being said, everybody seemed to have issues in that section, even with trail shoes and I was quite pleased I didn't fall myself on that second leg, clocking the 19th time overall (1:13:52).

At the Mill Valley turnaround, I lost a few seconds trying to untie the jacket I had put around my waist. I was convinced that we had seen all the rain for the morning, don't ask me to predict the weather in Marin County...

I had a strong start of the third leg and was in good spirit at Windy Gap, passing by Willem van Dam who got this shot (Willem spent many hours at this road crossing, and Christine Chapon at the next one. An opportunity to remind all of us/you that Christine is still looking for volunteers for next week's North Face weekend in Marin Headlands).

However, I fell apart in the super muddy and slippery climb to Cardiac, both literally and mentally. I lost so much time and energy there that I started forming the thought of dropping at Stinson, not good... You cannot be ever proud of dropping but I must say I felt good to be in a car when the rain started pouring for the next 30 minutes or so. Without my jacket, I would have been miserable, like at Miwok in May. Moreover, I did not want to get back down Dynamite and risk another fall, it wasn't worth it. But the main reason I dropped is that today's experience and performance were way too far from the previous ones I had here and great memories of clocking legs around 60-65 minutes. Today my splits were 1:11:01, 1:13:52 and 1:23:07, I felt way to slow to be worth a Dipsea finish... But at least, with a Tri Dipsea, I got a good hilly training run and saw and met many familiar faces which definitely made the trip up to Marin County worth it! Special thanks to Eric and David from Sebastopol who drove me back to the start after their aid station shift at Stinson. And to Errol (Rocket) Jones for making me smile just before I decided to drop, you can't resist Rocket's jovial enthusiasm! ;-)

Favorite David Roche remained in control of the race throughout the morning and won this year's edition in 4:11:32 (Buzzword Productions did a great job of posting preliminary results and splits promptly on Saturday evening. And I didn't contact them already to let them know that I didn't run the 4th leg as opposed to what's in these initial results). Quite a performance in these conditions, I'm sure he'll be back to get closer to Alex's record on a dry course. The thing to note about David is how many "You are amazing" encouragements he must have mentioned to runners today, probably a few hundreds!

By the way, speaking of amazing, it appears that the M50-59 age group record has been busted by 2nd place finisher, Darrin Banks. The previous record, 4:28:23, was set by Alfred Bogenhuber and did stand for 25 years! Darrin's time in today's poor conditions was a blazing 4:21:16. WOW!!

Before leaving, it was fun to watch Jamil Coury and Schuyler Hall live recording their next clip which I look forward to watching.

If you haven't seem some of their videos, check this one for instance (no rating, but some graphic content... ;-):
Speaking of drop bag, here was mine today, that was the only plastic bag I had in the trunk of my car to keep a couple of items dry in this storm, at the turnaround. So long for thinking that this age group record was in the bag as I joked with our Quicksilver Club President, Greg Lanctot (photo credit)! ;-)
On our way back, we stopped by the San Francisco Running Company (SFRC), after contemplating a sharp and full double rainbow captured by Kent from the car. Big thanks to SFRC for all the support they provide to our local races and community, and, Jorge, good luck for North Face 50 next week!

Again, back to the audacious or provocative title, of course Quad Dipsea is super worth it! Amazing experience to run and race on the legendary Dipsea trail, great athletic challenge despite the short ultra distance (28 miles), outstanding organization, super experienced volunteers, many if not most being ultra runners themselves. Great show from the local Tamalpa Running Club, both among these volunteers and on the course too. This race is so well organized that its Race Director, John Catts, was even able to run it! It was also cool to see Craig Thornley, Western States Race Director running with the bib #1. As well as Steve Jaber celebrating his birthday by running Quad Dipsea in such great spirit.

Finally, after 4 years of serious drought, we certainly can't complain about a bit of rain which is much needed! So running Quad Dispea this year was definitely worth it again, quite a few actually PR'ed today (yes, Nakia and Loren!)! As for me, I just need to keep sorting things out in my mind and body...