Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day training weekend 2016: time flies

I still have amazing memories of the high and hilly mileage I was able to put on Memorial Day weekend: my first and only official Western States Memorial Day training weekend in 2007126 miles in 2008, 122 and 28,000 ft of cumulative elevation in 2009! In 2010, work interfered and I was only able to train for 2 days. In 2011, it was a few graduation parties getting in the way and the lack of a big 100-mile goal to prepare for. In 2012, I was in Dubai for work, so no training weekend. 2014 saw me running 87 laborious miles over that weekend to mark a modest return to the tradition. And I couldn't keep the tradition going last year (2015) because of Agnes' Mom's passing.

With that, what was in store for this year? Well, certainly not as much excitement as for many of my friends meeting at the Western States training run again. I'm in Tahoe Rim Trail 100-mile again and, after dropping twice (@62 miles in 2014 and 50 miles in 2015), I'd better finish this year! Yet, it's 7 weeks so, after 3 big races just completed this May, it seems a bit distant. Besides, between the post-stroke doubts bouncing in my mind and some heavy stress at work, I knew I hadn't in me to put as much as my 2008 or 2009 weekends. I was just hoping to run 3 good ultras over the weekend...

On Saturday, since I had only taken one day off training after Ohlone, I thought of starting easy with 33.2 flat miles, going from my house to Winchester Avenue along the track and back, twice. Well, I might have started a bit fast, I had to stop twice on the second out and back to cool off in the shade, although it was only 88F. I used to get better heat acclimated at the end of May, maybe it was a blessing after all that the weather was cool at Ohlone last weekend...
After this bonking experience, I even hesitated to go for an ultra on Sunday. I went along the track again (Joe's trail through Saratoga, then Campbell), and, on the way back, had the joy to run into Rajeev who was also going for some heat training. Rajeev asked me how far I was going and I replied "for about 17 to 20 miles." After stopping by the house after 17 miles and getting a few ice cubes in my hat and my bottles, I ended up finding the guts to do a few loops in my neighborhood for a total of 27.6 miles. Barely an ultra for Andy Jones-Wilkins, but still technically one. Including a 3:12 marathon on the way!
This Monday, after starting my two previous runs after 10 am and running in the peak of the heat, I decided to go for some elevation but start much earlier. I left the house at 7 am and the temperature was not even 60F, what a difference! Of course, the temperature kept rising but there was more shade on Montebello Road thanks to the early hour. I ran to the summit of Black Mountain via waterwheel (tiny dripping, but enough to cool my head down). While I was about a minute per mile slower than my usual pace on that climb, I was glad I didn't walk any section. I did stop at the back pack camping area to refill my bottles and saw 2 groups of campers packing (there are 5-6 camping sites up there, so close to the city, yet they are rarely used).

I went down Bella Vista trail, and even had the guts to climb back up to the camp for another loop in the heat. Again, at a slow pace, but without any walking. And I was also happy for having had the guts to go back up again! Now, after this exposed 3-mile loop, I was glad to plunge in the shady Canyon Trail along a much active Stevens Creek. It has been a few years since I've seen so much water flowing through this canyon, especially at the very end of May. I stopped at every creek crossing to cool down, that reminded me of runs in the Alps where we crossed creeks flowing down from melting glaciers. Well, no glaciers of course here, but it's great to get all these creeks still running this year. I came back on the Stevens Creek Canyon Road, quite busy this Monday with cars and bikes, then the REI trail along the Stevens Creek Reservoir, whose level is going down quite fast but still provides great opportunities to kayak or paddle board. 32.4 miles and 4,700 cumulative elevation, a slightly worthier ultra run at last! And no bonking!
Just above 90 miles for the three days, some good heat training at last, but still so much hill work needed before TRT. I'm going to spend a few days in Chamonix second half of June, that should help. Hopefully...

I know from Facebook that many had a blast on the Western States course over the weekend. I hope others enjoyed this weekend too, either to work hard or relax, and remember who we owe this weekend to: our Veterans and active duty military.

PS: sorry, no pictures from the amazing wild flowers blooming this year. White, blue, purple, orange, yellow, an amazing year for the local flora!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Ohlone 50K 2016: stepping down

It was my 9th Ohlone in 10 years. I missed the 2014 edition in order to attend Max's graduation at Yale. And I had quite a ride all these years, with 8 podium including 5 wins. Of course, in the light of the recent TIA, I wasn't supposed to push as much as the past years. But the big news of the day was that it wasn't to be hot this Sunday, and that was a bummer for me because I tend to do much better in dry heat, at least better than the rest of the field. At least I wasn't going to get a heat stroke today!

We had 9 members of our Quicksilver Ultra Racing team toeing the line this year. We could have had a few more if the race was taking morning registration, as a few runners couldn't make it to Silver State in Reno on Friday night due to the... snow on highway 80, ending up in its closure! 3rd week of May...
The omnipresent ultra volunteer, Stan Jensen, was officiating at the registration table with a lively group of volunteers.
And the 3 buses arrived just after 7:30 am, which left enough time for the passengers to visit the porta potties this year (3 from the Park it looked, and 4 from the race organization)!
There were quite new faces this morning and, although the race didn't fill this year, with only 160 entrants, Ultrasignup had about 20 entrants without any ultra listed. With that I had no idea how the race would play.
John Burton had mentioned to me the presence of his local buddy Mike Helms, a 2:31 marathoner who was indeed ahead of me in the clim to Rose Peak last year but couldn't handle the heat, turned back and dropped. He was here for a remission and was definitely happy with the cool weather this year!
I also met another Mike (black singlet), from Santa Cruz, for whom Ohlone was his first 50K
And ex Team Mount Diablo member, Troy Howard, was visiting from Golden, CO, where he moved 6 years ago (white top on the left).
Overcast start this year, but we'll rarely see the sun throughout the day either.
Right off the start, I settled in 8th in the first steep climb.

The charge was even led by teammate John Burton in an aggressive move. In this first climb, I started doubting that I would even make the top 10 as I felt compelled to walk some of the steep uphills very early on. While the top 4 quickly disappeared from our sight, we were 5 in a pursuit group, trading places. I reached the Mission Peak summit in 6th place and, drum or roll please, crashed in a bad fall as I was trying to navigate through dozens of hikers. In 10 years, I've never seen so many folks at 8:50 am when we go over this technical section and, to make the situation even worse, it was 2 continuous lines, one going up, one going down. On these slippery rocks, that was surely a recipe for disaster. Anyway, I tried to avoid one person and my right foot slipped outside of the trail, resulting in a plunge and down face in these rocks. I must have been going so slow anyway, it's a miracle I didn't hit a rock with my head, the shock was absorbed by my Ultimate Direction hand bottles first, then I got a big scrap on the left leg and shoulder. Luckily I had forgotten to take my blood thinner before leaving this morning, that might have help containing the blood. While my face was down in the dust, my arms under my body and one leg below the trail, I couldn't move but I remember one hiker pulling my shoulder to get me back up allowing me to resume the descent, albeit even more slowly. After that episode, I was in 9th, sprinting down the next fire road just behind John. Ashamed of having stepped down or rather stepped out of the trail, but happy that the damage looked superficial.

I made up some ground in the descent to the Sunol aid station and reached it in 5th place. Photo from Josam Mulinyawe, just before Sunol:
I was feeling good but couldn't manage to run all the following uphills as I used to. Too many excuses spinning in my head... Mike H caught up with me in that section and we did a quick stop at the Backpack Area aid station (mile 12.5) before climbing the wall through the Hawk Nest which we didn't leave without using some water from the faucet to cool our heads (more a tradition for me than a necessity today because it was still rather cool).

Another omnipresent ultra volunteer, Vladimir Gusiatnikov, was on the trail taking pictures and indicated that the front runners were 12 and 13 minutes ahead. Our pace was close to 10 min/mile so that meant 9 min/mile for them! With that I told Mike that he was too conservative this year and he should get ahead, which he did. Following 2 pictures courtesy of Vladimir:

We had now Remi Delille in sight so that gave him some extra motivation! I was now in 6th and tried to keep running the uphill as much as I could to contain the increasing gap.

I did a full stop at Goat Rock to refill my GU2O bottle and that cost me some precious seconds. However, the surprise was to now see the other Mike between Chris and Remi. When I passed him, Mike admitted that he had no idea the climbs would be so brutal and he had to ease up.

While I quickly lost sight of Mike H, I was able to maintain some visual contact with Remi up to summit and in the following 4 miles but at the cost of not stopping at Maggie's Half Acre aid station, nor at Stewart's Camp because he was moving fast. I caught up with him just after Stewart's Camp and, to my surprise, we then caught up with Mike H shortly before the Schlieper Rock aid station where Race Director Larry England was.

Mike went through the aid station first but Remi's agility in the hazardous switchbacks down Williams Gulch was amazing and he passed Mike while I managed to caught up and pass Mike in the last uphill to Rocky Ridge, not after stopping at the creek to damp my hat and put some fresh water on my leg muscles. I did push the pace while on Rocky Ridge and got a glimpse of Remi just before the final downhill to Del Valle. I love the spring of the last aid station, Stromer Spring, but I couldn't afford to lose any second so I flew by the cheery volunteers. I saw Remi again at the end of the intermediary plateau/climb and then for the last half mile to the finish as I was closing on him. But he did cross the finish line 10 or so seconds before me for 3rd place, which left me with 4th overall.

Still a big piece of wood for first M50-59, but first time stepping down the overall podium at this race, finally... Slightly disappointed to have walked so much despite the cool weather, yet quite happy to have improved the Age Group Course Record again by another 9 minutes this year at 4:56. Plus, grateful to be running at all, just 2 months after that stroke! Here are 2 cool pictures of my finish by teammate Keith Blom:

Mike H arrived later, followed by Ben, then John in 5:25 if I recall (results aren't published yet). On the women side, the big surprise was the win of teammate Nina Giraudo who almost broke 6 hours not just for her first Ohlone, but for her first ultra and 50K, mind you! She therefore got two big pieces of wood, the prestigious overall woman and the Zombie Runner Rookie award! By the way, I say surprise because Nina had asked me a few rookie questions on Saturday night and, among other tips, I advised her to run as much of the uphills as possible, and I didn't think she was going to actually do it!

Zack placed 3rd for our Men team, just a few minutes before Nina and it seems like all the runners made the cut-offs this year, so that was quite a good one, thanks in particular to the cool weather. That being said, I hope the heat will be back next year for my 10th run as I feel it is really part of that race. At a minimum it is fair to say that, with such meteorologic conditions in May, we are getting extremely late in our heat training this year...

On the men side, the race was won by local Scott Trummer, 24, of Livermore in a blazing time of 4:24, I believe the second fastest time on the new course behind Leor Pantilat's 4:16:28 of 2010.

Troy Howard finished second and first Masters in 4:42.

Big thanks to the many volunteers who have a particularly hard task with such a remote course though the Ohlone wilderness. Some stations are hard to access. Yet, some sections are in urban areas (Fremont, Mission Peak) and the course marking suffer from vandalism. Special kudos to trail marking General Joe Swenson from our Quicksilver team who spend a couple of days on the trail with a special group of volunteers for such an impeccable course marking. To top it, Joe ran his 13th Ohlone today! And a big thank you to my IBM colleague Larry for directing such a key race and ultra tradition of the Bay Area. Oh, I was going to forget to mention Diane, the BBQ Chef today!

See you all in a year then and don't forget to get some heat training before your summer ultras because that wasn't any today! ;-)

PS: I didn't mention that I didn't feel any specific fatigue from yesterday's trail work at Almaden Quicksilver with V-O-Cal, so that's not a pre-race counter indication (as a matter of fact I had done it in the past actually).

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Welcome to Alamden Quicksilver, VOCal!

No, we didn't welcome a choir or a capella group at the park cherished by my Quicksilver running club. VOCal, also written V.O.Cal or V-O-Cal, stands for Volunteers for Outdoor California, as the name states, a group of volunteers working on trail maintenance and trail building around the Bay Area to promote outdoor and hiking activities in the area.

This is a very well organized group which puts half a dozen of these trail projects every year, weekend-long projects gathering around 100 volunteers every time who camp on site on Friday and Saturday evening. Impressive logistic with a kitchen and Chef, quite a few boxes of equipment and even 4 showers!

Beyond all this equipment, there is also well trained volunteers and well established roles and responsibilities. For instance we were welcomed by volunteers to ensure we had signed the proper liability releases (hey, we are in America! ;-). I also met Francesca who was officiating as Camp Manager this weekend (green fleece in first picture above). Then the Chef and his cooking crew offered us a light breakfast and a sandwich station buffet. Morris Older was the project lead today and had spent several days working with the local Rangers to plan the work. Morris also gave us the background of this project.

Then Craig led a most needed stretching and warming-up session to get the blood and muscles flowing!

 Pro VOCal volunteers, Chris and Inome enjoying the early morning sun:
Finally, the Trail work leader, Chris, split us into 5 crews/groups so we could received tools and more detailed instructions and guidance from our respective team leads.

It was VOCal's first time project at our park but the 4th time they were working for the Santa Clara County Park Rangers. With more than 50 volunteers this time, we got a lot accomplished on the New Almaden Trail which is actually also the trail that our Running Club has adopted and maintained for the past 20 years under our Chief Trail Officer's leadership, Paul Fick.
For instance, I was helping last September on a section which was the center of this weekend's work. Back in September, we removed a series of uneven wood stairs then lowered the trail plunging into a deep gulch covered by a wood plank bridge. This time, 2 groups worked at removing that unstable bridge and significantly changing the access to the creek by creating a new trail segment.

3 other groups where dispatched further on the trail to take care of 13 sections. My group was led by Chas and we started with section 12, then 10, broke out for lunch then moved to section 9 and I left the group at 1 pm when they were starting working on section 7. Our team lead, Chas, in the foreground:

The weather has been quite unstable this week. While we had a nice breeze for our 100K race last weekend, the heat wave hit on Tuesday and Wednesday with temperatures above 90F. Then, today, we got some rain which is really unusual that late in the Spring. Barely enough to really get more wet than the sweat generated by hard trail work, but enough to catch a few interesting flower shots on the way back to base camp (Mockingbird Lane entrance).

Remarkable manzanita trees too, especially after the rain shower (their bark looks like human skin in places and like the tree was suffering some torture).

Big thanks, kudos and shout out to the V-O-Cal organization and their very friendly and dedicated volunteers, as well as the volunteers who joined from the neighborhood for first-time trail maintenance experience and way to give back after enjoying our local trails. Not only we are blessed to have all these nearby hills and protected parks, but we also have these volunteer organizations to support our official Park Rangers and complement their limited means to maintain these hundreds of miles for us to enjoy! Way to go VOCal!!!

And way to go, Santa Clara County Parks, celebrating 60 years, 1956-2016!!!

PS: we'll see tomorrow at Ohlone 50K if all that upper body strength training is paying off. Or not... ;-)