Sunday, March 27, 2016

Cupertino Big Bunny 5K: letting the bunnies go

A quick Easter update 3 weeks after my stroke incident: a big thank to all your supportive and comforting messages, I'm still doing fine, just suffering from a big urge to get back to running. I was going to say training but, no, at this point, I just want to run. But I'm going to wait for the results of the follow-up MRI which is finally scheduled for this Wednesday, phew! To hopefully learn more about what type of blockage this is about and what is the extent of it. In the meantime, Greg who is Pre Med at Berkeley introduced me to an amazing online software to explore our body's anatomy:
Check it out, there are so many things to learn about the body, and this interactive and 3D way is really cool, very much worth the trip... inside!

In other news, yesterday was Holly Saturday, the day we also have our local Big Bunny 5K race in Cupertino. It often coincided with an ultra race these past years, but not this year with Easter being so early, so it was tempting to just run 3 miles but definitely not reasonable. As a therapy attempt, I just went on the course at the end of my street as well as at the finish to take a few pictures, but that didn't really calm my running dependence... To make it worse, I took my Nikon but it was set on the wrong auto focus option so I missed most of the pictures. Ouch, not capable of running, nor even photographing, I feel quite worthless these days... :-/

I would certainly have loved to chase two Sheriffs on their bikes, quite cool of an escort! ;-)
Since I missed the pictures of winner Jonathan Kimura (16:37), from Excelsior, here is one of his teammate Sherry Lee (center), to see that I have nothing against Excelsior, to the contrary! (That's an insider note, Excelsior has been dominating our Ultra running championship these past years... ;-)
Last but not least, and to excuse some blurriness, I can always claim that Elliot Daniels runs way too fast for his age: he finished 5th overall, clocking 18:13, and he is 11 years old! Elliot is known for setting a new World Record last year for half marathon and the M10 age group, see the NBC coverage.

Anyway, I don't feel ready to just be spectating other runners, it feels too hard and abrupt to be side lined this way. I don't know yet to which extent I will be allowed to, or not, but I certainly hope I can get back into some running game.

Meanwhile, while missing the cardio work, I manage to do some strength and core training and spend more time with the family: as an example, I must admit it had been a long time since I visited so many museums in one week! Last weekend the 5 of us gathered in DC for a special event at Alex's office, and, with a museum at every corner in the capital, we enjoyed a few. Then this Sunday, on our way to drop Greg at Cal, we stopped by the Legion of Honor to see Painting Arcadia, quite a great retrospective of Pierre Bonnard's paintings.

Next will be some news about that MRI, I'm so glad this technology exists to investigate what's happening inside my neck and brain.

Stay safe out there and Run Happy, if you can (run, that is)!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

A striking performance: that close...

I'm not a telepath by any standard, yet I am already reading the mind of some, that this is quite a corky and pretentious title, but read on... Or move on! ;-) Certainly, those who read between the lines of my latest race report and previous post (Caumsett 50K Road Nationals: so close...) must be eager to know more...

So, first, the good news. It was quite a performance indeed and, although I was disappointed to miss Rich Hanna's performance by 21 mere seconds (1.7 thousandths of my overall time, that close...), I still broke the current official M50-54 50K Road American Record which did stand for 34 years (!), and the application is going to be submitted by the race director. Worth doing it in case Rich's record doesn't go through.

Second good news is that the chip timing company was able to recover the results and times after several hours which must have been very stressful. I know that for a fact because I'm dealing with High Availability and Disaster Recovery considerations with our clients and, as a matter of fact, was up most of the Friday night leading to the race to support a bumpy production go-live process with one of our largest customers. Very stressful I can tell you... Anyway, at this year's Nationals, we were... that close... to a loss of the timing results which would have been rather disappointing for many...

Third good news is that I found the awards in my mailbox upon flying back from New York last week. Including the Phidippides Award which recognizes Masters who have completed a certain number of race miles in the year. It felt strange to leave Caumsett Park without much award ceremony than for the top 3, but the organizers did everything they could to make up for that, kudos for their reactivity!

So, what could a bad news be about such a striking performance then? Well, as you might guess again from the end of my race report, I got... struck by... the striking performance... I mean, literally, I had a stroke as we say. I'm not going to post all the details publicly (thanks HIPAA!) but, overall, I'm good and fine except for some residual numbness in my left hand, which should pass eventually, and a few episodes of troubled sight/vision this past week. And feeling good except for the trouble I'm giving to my entourage with this alarming news and prospect...

I decided to get checked at the hospital on Monday evening, after a normal working day, but didn't really expect to stay there for three days. While 12 hours spent in the ER of New Yorker hospital is quite an experience, I can't give enough praises to the teams of experts which handled my case and ordered thorough exams of my brain, heart and blood at the University Hospital of Newark, NJ.

Yet, it felt good to be discharged on Wednesday last week so I could fly back home and to Agnes. While it must not have been a big stroke, but one or several Transient Ischemic Attacks which show on an MRI, it was... that close...

Of course, the big question in the context of this running blog is: will I be able to run again? First, I've been running this week, 65K total in 5 runs, so rather short runs (10-20K) and at a slow pace (7:30-8:00 min/mile), but it feels so great to still be able to get moving given the circumstances!

As for racing, I don't blame the doctors for not knowing what to say. Certainly, it is not the time to think or dream of another... striking performance, we don't want anything... that close... again!

If you have any experience, insight, direct or indirect knowledge of stroke conditions related to ultra running and racing, I dearly appreciate if you can contact me to share (comment below, Facebook or LinkedIn). By the way, I already got ton of "you should stop" type of advice, so I don't need more of these. What I need is informed and helpful tips to help understand what happened and how to best bounce back. Thank you! :-)

Again, I'm sound, and so blessed to have avoided any physical, mental or cognitive loss, but following the unanimous advice to... slow down. At least temporarily, so, for now, I'm not changing the title of this blog! Not that close... ;-)

I knew I had pushed the limits two weeks ago beyond what I had ever done or even dreamt of. 2:45 at the marathon mark was already breaking 'my law' of running 2 hours plus my age in minutes. But then I was able to keep this aggressive pace for 5 more miles to PR at the 50K distance! I could feel it was slightly harder than usual but not... that close... to getting on the other and wrong side of the limit. In other words, I kind of gotten the exponential cross the asymptotic... not so good in maths!

A lot of hard work and scaring to find one more point of my Pareto limit curve. Oh well, ultra marathon racing remains that big experiment glad to still have the opportunity to keep learning...

PS: I wrote the above on a flight to DC and, upon landing, found a voicemail from the neurologist who has spotted a blockage of an artery in the neck on the MRI, something not identified in New Jersey (that's why we teach Watson to read radiology images at IBM, to back up human readings!). With that, no more running, at least it's a mechanical rationale and something precise to work on. Hopefully fixable...

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Caumsett 50K Road Nationals: so close...

I posted a status on Facebook a few minutes after finishing the race so, for once, I can't entertain much suspense in my blog post. Anyway, times have changed and race results are often posted right after the race nowadays, if not live via a webcast. Although not this time as you'll read below (results are still not up as of Sunday night, hope to see them soon there).

Well, this race is a bit special from a technology standpoint. I couldn't find a list of entrants but I was welcomed this Sunday morning by the ultra legend Roy Pirrung who was surprised to see me as he hadn't seen me on 'the' entrant list. But he was working the race so that may be the reason he had special access. With that though, I had no idea who entered and who will be the competition but, in town for a few customer meetings on the East Coast, I registered on Friday evening.

The first time I participated in this race and championship was 2 years ago, the day I became a Senior (USATF speaking). It was cold and grey but I enjoyed getting my first age group National title in addition of placing in the top 10. I had a minor injury during the winter so I wasn't well prepared and not even looking at the age group record back then. Last year was even colder, with some patches of snow and ice on the course and, that time, I was already obsessed by our age group record which had stand for 33 years but missed it by 1 minute and 42 seconds, which was understandable given the conditions and that I do much better in the heat than the cold. I knew I had a very small window of opportunity before Rich Hanna gave it a try and, surely enough, Rich lowered the record from 3:19:33 to 3:17:48 at Jed Smith, and I was 2 minutes behind... Rich is so much faster anyway, that made complete sense, he deserved the record.

I was here this weekend to support a major production go-live at one of our clients and, although it ended up being successful by the end of the weekend, we were off a bad start during Friday night. I had been asleep for less than 2 hours when the team woke me to get some help, I was on the phone and chat from midnight to 5 am, went to bed again for 1.5 hours then on the phone again from 6:45 am onwards. I like getting a good sleep 2 nights before a big race, that sucked. But running is only my second job, work takes precedence. Needless to say, I crashed at 9 pm on Saturday night and, this time, got 8 uninterrupted hours, phew!

While it snowed on Friday morning in New York City, the weather turned sunny in the afternoon and Saturday wasn't too bad either. The forecast for Sunday was good, still freezing temperatures in the early morning but some sun and light clouds expected afterwards. Finally, we were going to have decent conditions to race hard. I didn't have much expectations for today with all the travels, and I didn't feel I could give another shot to the record, now under 1:18 (my PR at the distance is 3:19:09 but it was 4 years ago and it's hard to get faster with age, isn't it?). Besides, I didn't know who was going to be upfront so I had to have flexible plans and improvise...
At the pre-race briefing, the announcer mentioned that Zach Ornelas was back with the key goal of setting a new course record (there is a special prize money for that), a record he had set already last year in 2:52. As a matter of fact I think I heard he was also after another record and I assume it would be the Open Record (2:43:45, Josh Cox, 2011). And here is the classical thought which came to mind: "darn, this isn't going ot be good for my UltraSignup ranking..." ;-) Oh, and I can resist: between Zach Ornelas, Zach Bitter and Zach Miller, future parents, if you want to have a world class runner boy, you know which first name to pick...!

Surely enough, Zach quickly disappeared after the first mile although I managed to see him at the out and back before the mile 3 mark (but not in the subsequent laps). On the start line, one M40-45 runner introduced him, saying that he was shooting for my time of last year, when I won the Masters division. But then I got confused when he added he was planning for laps at 6:22 pace, which is actually the average pace of Rich's M50-54 record (3:17:48), quite different! His first name was Boyd as I figured out on the course as so many people running or spectating knew him. That triggered some nostalgia of my local races in California! :-) Getting the engines roaring (photo credit We Are Athletes Racing Team, WAART):
Despite this, I decided to stay with him and another local M45-49 runner, Patrick. Here am I, behind Boyd (#2862):
And Patrick, at the exit of the out and back:

The GPS was going down to a 6:11 average pace after 3 laps which felt really crazy but, of course, it was only 9 miles and I was still feeling great. Yet, I decided to keep some distance with them in order to run my race and my pace, but never got very far behind. I was then in 12th overall position I believe (after a lap, there is a lot of confusion on the course as we lap not only 50K runners but also more than a hundred 25K competitors who start just 5 minutes after us). Passing in the fast lane (photo credit: Donna Sajulga-Tabios):

The course has been designed and certified to be exactly a 5K loop so it's easy to know where you stand: 10 times 20 minutes and that's 3:20:00 for 50K. At best I was hoping to shave 1 or 2 minutes out of this, so I just needed to run each lap 10 seconds faster. Well, our first lap was 19:28 then it became worse: 19:10, 19:06 so I felt better when I got back to 19:28 for the 4th lap and 19:33 in the 5th. Still, by 25K, I was 3 minutes too fast, I started worrying. I actually caught up with Boyd and Patrick in the 6th lap and passed them although Boyd looked really strong and Patrick managed to stay not far behind for the next few laps. At the end of lap 2 (photo credit WAART):

I started feeling some cramps coming in my calves in the 7th lap, but kept pushing as much as I could, still clocking a 19:48 lap. I missed 20 minutes in the 8th lap by 7 seconds, so I was slowing down but things were still under control. In the 9th lap I passed the marathon mark in 2:45:15 which gives me a great Boston qualifier if I wanted to get back there (3:30 was the M50-54 qualifying standard for 2016). If I recall, it's where Boyd put an acceleration which I wasn't able to respond to. I completed that loop in a respectable 20:40 and the clock was right on 2:57:00 so that meant I still had a shot at the record if I could do the same time (I thought Rich's record was 3:17:48 but it's actually 3:17:44). Of course, I was tired so it was far from being a done deal but I threw my bottle on the side to run lighter. I still had a great 28th mile but started seeing stars all over, oops... But I had no other choice than keeping pushing to the max. As I was approaching the end of the 29th mile, things worsen and I could barely see the other runners on the course, then stating losing balance. That scared me and I stopped, putting my feet far apart to increase stability and holding my head which was hurting so much. I thought I had stopped for 30 seconds but my Garmin and Strava indicate it was more like 10 seconds. I thought how pitiful it would be to end that way, just a mile from such an amazing performance, looked behind to see if Patrick was closing on me but, again, couldn't see a thing, and decided to resume running. It was super hard to go straight, or around the other runners and I'm amazed to see on Strava that I ran 6:39 for that last mile. Half a mile after the incident, I could see better and even start reading my watch again to find out that the clock was 3:17:10 with 0.1 mile to go. And that got me to the finish line with a time of... 3:18:06.

I was feeling so weak, I fell in the arms of Paul Kentor who was here after guiding an autistic runner in the 25K (photo credit: WAART).

Paul found me a chair the brought cups of Coke, water, soup and hot chocolate, what a crew! Roy also stopped by to check on me and I asked for his advice on my conditions: he diagnosed some dehydration. Surely enough, I had drunk only one bottle of GU2O instead of my usual 2 for such a distance, and half a water of bottle instead of 2. I must admit that I find it hard to drink while running at that pace...

Then, in my classic fashion, I got cold and started shivering so Paul helped me change in the race tent. With Paul:
With Roy Pirrung (who is long due to the Ultra running Hall of Fame, like Dicaprio for the Oscars...! ;-):
And nice chat with Brian Teason, another ultra legend (sub 3-hour 50Ks and sub 5.5-hour 50-miles in his 30s and 40s):
After that, we waited for hours (literally) for the results and were sent home with the promise that medals and checks would be mailed, because of a major computer glitch. I'm in IT so what can I say... I can't imagine the stress on the timing company and hope they haven't lost everything. In the meantime, here is the link to the Strava flyover for those who uploaded their tracks (it's such a cool feature, click on the orange arrow to see everyone moving. Now, it's such a short course that it's becoming quite confusing after a few laps, between the faster and slower runners. But still, worth it! And then you can imagine how spectating would be if (when...!) there would be a live GPS tracking of all the runners).

I'm glad Boyd won the Masters division, he really looked strong and clocked 3:17:12, also a PR for him! He certainly contributed a lot to my own performance with a great and friendly emulation, as well as Patrick.
I'm really glad to have PR'ed today, and even broke the past record I had ben chasing for the past 2 years. I think I even placed in the top 10 again, and took 2nd in the Masters in addition to getting my 6th National title since I moved to the M50-54 age group.

On the front, Zach had a tough finish: while he passed the marathon mark in a blazing 2:24, he faltered in the 10th lap and only finished 3rd overall. The winner's time was 2:58, so at least it won't be too bad for my UltraSignup ranking after all... Here is the podium, photographed by Roy:
Feeling replenished, I left the Park just before 2 and arrived at Newark Airport around 3:30. And that's where a scary thing happened. I stopped at the gas station next to the Hertz terminal and started feeling some numbness in my left hand which quickly propagated to my whole left arm, then my left leg, hear and left side of the head. I immediately thought of a stroke or heart attack although I had read the issue was not numbness but paralysis of one side. I had some difficulty standing and filling up my gas tank but wanted to first return the car before calling for support. I told the agents that I was not feeling well at all but none of them got alarmed, they just asked me to take my time... After the fourth request, one agent proposed to drop me at the airport, where I could find some medical staff to be checked. Seeing how difficult it was for me to even walk around the car though, someone must have called 911. First, a Police car, then an ambulance a minute later. The medics took my blood pressure, which they find slightly high but ok, my pulse, and an electro-cardiogram. They were asking so many questions, I had to remember to tell them about my ultra-runner heart which has a much stronger left side and makes the chart alarming for those who don't know. After 20 minutes, the numbness disappeared but I still have a very bad headache and neck pain. At this point they asked me if I wanted to be transfer to an hospital but I said I had to check with my medical insurance first and call them on my cell phone, but they refused, arguing that they didn't have time. I was shocked, that looked suddenly like a sales pitch and I didn't like that at all, so I passed on the offer. As I write this on Sunday evening, numbness didn't come back but headache is still there. Hope it will go away after a good night of sleep, time to shower and go to bed...

Thank you to the Greater Long Island Running Club (GLIRC) for hosting this event, getting us a great weather this year and also, the super smooth paving of the out-and-back which was so bad last year. That made a huge difference!