Saturday, December 30, 2017

USATF Runners of the Year 2017: better be USATF!

Our National USA Track and Field officials, most of them volunteers, met in Columbus, OH, a month ago for the 2017 Annual Convention. If, like me, you are particularly interested in MUT things (i.e. Mountain, Ultra and Trail running), you can consult the meeting minutes of the National MUT Council.

One thing which isn't in the minutes, however, is the result of the vote for the coveted USATF Runners of the Year titles. I must admit that this process was a bit obscure to me and I was stunned to discover that, this year, I had gotten three automatic nominations thanks to my three Master wins at the three Nationals I competed in (Fourmidable 50K Trail in Auburn, the epic 100K Road one week before my Boston podium, and the 50M Road in October). On FaceBook though, I admitted that this was just the result of a poor participation in these Nationals (lack of elite showing up at the Championships nowadays), and I was sure there would be plenty of additional nominations in the meantime, more worthwhile.

Personally, in the Masters Ultra Trail category whose competitiveness I know too well, I was thinking for instance at:

  1. Jeff Browning who finished 20th overall at UTMB, won the Bear 100-mile, and finished 4th overall at Western States, all this at 45!
  2. Michael Wardian who raced more than 50 times this year and placed on the podium most of the time;
  3. Paul Terranova: overall win at Bandera 50K, 22nd overall at TDS (Chamonix)
  4. Jesse Haynes: 5th at HURT 100 mile, 8th at Western States, overall win at Chimera 100-mile, 4th at Miwok 100K;
  5. Dominick Layfield: overall win at Montane Spine (UK) and Quicksilver 100K, 5th overall at Leona Divide 50-mile, 14th overall at Western States and 3rd at Rio Del Lago 100-mile.
But I must confess it's hard to keep track of who is doing what, every year, given the large number of ultra races around the world today, so I'm certainly missing key names.

Looking at the results, I became intrigued about the process and spent some time on the phone with Joe Fejes who stepped up to give up his time to administer this vote. I learned that 40 or so representatives of MUT Councils around the country were consulted (something I was surprised to learn since I now represent the Pacific Association for MUT, the largest USATF constituent in the US, but I did get the message).

Now, per Richard Bolt's post and call for nominations, that part of the process, the nominations, is actually very open since everyone can propose a name. I'm making a note of getting in the loop earlier next year and advertise this capability. I also suggested to Joe to ensure that each association had enough notice to nominate their best local candidates as they should know best what their local USATF members have achieved during the year.

Last but not least, as for the selection criteria, the number one is that, as the USATF RoY titles says, candidates have to be serious about USATF. Number one, be a USATF member in good standing ($25 yearly fee, or $20 if you register for 5 years). Number two, participate to USATF events, ideally at the National at least, and possibly at the International level for the best who are making Team USA. Number three, perform well at these events, if not in absolute with a National-class performance, at least relatively to the rest of the field.

With that, congrats to the 2017 USATF Runners of the Year whom you can find in Richard's post.
  • Mountain Runners of the Year:
    • Lyndon Ellefson Memorial Mountain Runner of the Year: Joseph Gray, 33, Colorado Springs, CO
    • Master’s Man: Chris Grauch, 45, Boulder, CO
    • Women’s Open: Addie Bracy, 31, Longmont, CO
    • Master’s Woman: Sara Wagner, 45, Flagstaff AZ
  • Sub-Ultra Trail Runners of the Year:
    • Men’s Open: Mario Mendoza, 31, Bend, OR
    • Men’s Master: Chris Grauch, 45, Boulder, CO
    • Women’s Open: Renee Metivier, 35, Bend, OR
    • Master’s Woman: Corinne Walton, 47, Portland, OR
  • Ultra Trail Runners of the Year:
    • Men’s Open: Max King, 37, Bend, OR
    • Men’s Master: Chad Lasater, 45, Houston, TX
    • Women’s Open: Courtney Dauwalter, 32, Golden, CO
    • Master’s Woman: Caroline Boller, 42, Solvang, CA
  • Ultra Road Runners of the Year:
    • Ted Corbitt Memorial Ultra Runner of the Year: Patrick Reagan, 30, Savannah, GA
    • Men’s Master: Olivier LeBlond, 45, Arlington, VA
    • Ruth Anderson Memorial Ultra Runner of the Year: Camille Herron, 34, Warr Acres, OK
    • Master’s Woman: Pam Profitt Smith, 43, Salem, OR
  • Contributor of the Year:
    • Tracey Outlaw
Why did Chad Lasater made the Ultra Trail Masters over the other names I mentioned above? Because he competed in two USATF Nationals this year and won the Masters division at the 100K trail and 100-mile trail championships in his local Texas. And not the others.

Anyway, thank you especially to Joe and Richard for organizing this vote, it was really cool to get nominated next to legends such as Max King, Olivier LeBlond, Pam Smith, Camille Heron or Courtney Dauwalter. At 54 next year, I don't expect that to repeat so let me savor the moment and capture it in a blog so I remember when I get too old for this... ;-) But, at a minimum, the process shows that it is open to many who are dedicated to USATF and its races which abound in age group awards at every National Championship around the country. Check the list of the MUT 2018 Nationals and plan accordingly then!

If you live in North California, and are not a member already, consider joining our Pacific Association and competing with one of our local teams, either in Cross-Country, ultra or road races!
With this ultimate post for the year, all the best in 2018, go full speed with MUT and USATF!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

2017 in review: my racing in one picture!

I borrowed this idea from one my Quicksilver teammates, Stephen, on Facebook. The purpose is to spare you from one my long posts knowing that a single picture is worth a thousand words. However, while it was meant to save me a lot of time too by skipping the writing, it turned out to be one of these interesting holidays project...

First I had to gather all the artifacts together, from around the house and even the office, only to realize I had left a few behind, in France, this summer. Second, I thought I'd up the game by adding an hyperlink to each race report. I had never done such image web mapping, one opportunity to learn some additional markup language instructions and install GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program).

Here you are, you can hover over the artifacts and click to jump to that particular post, if you want to know the story behind a bib, a plaque or vase...

By the way, if you find it's already a busy picture and racing season with 18 races, can you imagine what Michael Wardian's post would be with his 50 races this year! In our ultra running sport, there is always someone to push the enveloper further. And farther!

I'll have my traditional year-in-review post with more statistics in January (update: here it is!), once I'm really done with the year. Meanwhile, that's it for that picture worth way more than a thousand words! And keep Running Happy!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

POST @ 40: what an amazing environmental impact!

We are so blessed in Silicon Valley, I'm not going to say this is paradise on Earth and the best place to live because, first, it's hard to prove, second, it's subjective and third, not everybody can afford living here and we couldn't welcome 7 billion people in the Bay Area anyway! But...

Anyway, one of the major wonders of Silicon Valley is that it created so much wealth from innovation and that several of the richest families living on the Peninsula invested millions toward preserving the hills around the Bay and the Pacific Coast, for future generations to enjoy, before these outdoors succumb to extensive development like it is the case around Los Angeles for instance.
POST stands for Peninsula Open Space Trust and it has been established 40 years ago, in 1977. Basically, it is a private and not-for-profit organization whose mission is to buy property whose preservation is endangered by development or misuse then turn such estate to outdoor preservation organizations such as County, Regional or State Parks. These Parks systems require public consultations, approvals and funding before taking over any new piece of land and that typically takes years. POST is here to fill the gap before developers make their move. Hence the critical role of this organization to preserve our ecosystem.

You can see the extent of the impact POST had had over these 4 decades on this map:
The impressive list of the 101 projects (click on the image to open, zoom and read):

Have a look at key milestones during these 40 years.

And if you think that we are done after so many projects, look at this year's acquisition of a endangered beach, Tunitas Creek Beach, just South of Half Moon Bay, great move!

POST also promotes many activities that everyone, not just ultra runners, can enjoy in these wonderful open space preserves: hiking, walking, running, backpacking, bird watching, you pick how you want to most enjoy life!

In addition to taking advantage of all this protected land for free, you can also support POST's mission by donating. And many companies will actually match your gift, make sure to check that out to double your own impact!

And if you give more than $1,000, you'll be welcomed into the Skyline Society. We actually kicked off the 40-year anniversary milestone celebrations last January with a fascinating talk from Alvaro Jaramillo, an expert birder who made us more aware of some local wonders as well as those he shares in his expeditions (

With Chuck Wilson and Christine Miller:

Again, if you believe in the protection of the environment and wildlife, if you enjoy the outdoors, please consider supporting POST's mission; the next generations will thank you for this exemplary way to contribute and build a sustainable future!

A few pictures from our nearby Black Mountain and Rhus Ridge areas.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

USATF Phidippides award: Rated M, as in Mature and... Masters!

A disclaimer: this post isn't for any audience, but mature runners only! And not any adult, but those serious runners 40-year old or older... ;-)

If you fall in this category, and are still collecting running trophies, another perk of being a USATF member is that you can apply to get a Phidippides award. And the cool thing is that, for that one, you don't have to run fast, but just finish a certain number of races. You'll then receive a plaque at your name and, every 5 awards, you even get a glass trophy called the Crystal Award!
What are the requirements? Submit a log of your results and submit them to USATF (email address included in the application form), that's it! No cost, no shipping fee, all this included in your $25 yearly Pacific Association USATF membership!

The criteria are two folds. First, you get points based on the race distance (they even added an ultra category this year, although you'll get the same number of points for a 50K or a 100-mile):

Race Distance Points per Race
1 mile to 4km 1 point
5km to 5mile 2 points
10km to 15km 3 points
10miles to Half Marathon 4 points
25km to Marathon 5points
Distances longer than Marathon 6 points

You then sum the points and get a level which depends on your age:

Age: 40-59 years 60-79 years 80+
#Points required #Points required #Points required
Gold 30 24 12
Silver 24 18 6
Bronze 12 9 3

So, for those of you competing in our Pacific Association Ultra Grand Prix especially, 5 ultra marathons will get you a Gold award under 60, or 2 if you are over 80 like Bill Dodson is. Or less ultras, but a few shorter races, you get the drill and maths.

While December 31st is the cut-off date for races to be considered, don't procrastinate if you already have enough points, you could miss the January 31st deadline for submitting your application form. And that date is non negotiable, I already tried for you and missed it one year, there is no appeal or excuse.

See the detailed rules on line, the application form and go for it, in honor and memory of Phidippides (aka Pheidippides or Philippides), be that hero!

PS: the name brings back mixed memories of my marathon slog between Marathon and Athens, with my right shoulder broken and arm in a sling... certainly much slower than it took the Greek soldier to carry the news of the victory over the Persians!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Adopt-A-Highway: utile or futile? And a tax bill proposal...

Yet another experiment, and eye opener! Not about diet this time (I'm still successfully holding on on that one, day 16 in the books!), but about road maintenance and the environment.
While my running club, Quicksilver RC of San Jose, has adopted the New Almaden trail in the Almaden Quicksilver County Park, and we do trail maintenance there under Paul Fick's leadership, Agnès invited me to join a group from her new employer, the Harker School, to maintain and clean-up the road side of our local and busy 280 interstate highway.
I was in Dallas all week for work and flew back Friday afternoon, looking forward to actually resuming running after a 2-week hiatus with an ultra at the traditional (33rd!) Hunter S Thompson Fear and Loathing, either the 50K or 50-mile. But the logistic wasn't easy (early drive to SF and limited parking at the top or bottom of Twin Peaks) and the goal was quite aggressive as I haven't been running at all yet under my new diet, so I decided to join Agnès and her colleagues for this volunteering activity instead.

It has actually been quite a few years that I wanted to experiment what it takes to clean-up a highway as part of this Caltrans program. We all see the signs on the road and, occasionally, a group of workers on the side of the road but I have to admit that my first thought was that the sponsor was mostly paying Caltrans and Caltrans workers were doing the job of cleaning. As a matter of fact, I even thought that they may actually enroll inmates to do community service this way!

Well, that was certainly not the case this morning, it was a group of dedicated teachers who don't have much time already on weekends but to put unpaid extra hours to grade their students' papers and prep classes. When you hear people whining "I don't have time..."

I must add that picking trash along a highway is quite humbling and, while it looks so important and utile from an environment standpoint, it feels quite futile given the number of miles of highway in the country and the lack of consideration of the drivers throwing stuff from their car. (In case you wonder, utile was borrowed from French a few centuries ago and was the original English word for useful, a few centuries ago. I had to pick it for the utile/futile word-play in the title...)

Anyway, we cleaned the busy 280/Meridian/Southwest Expressway interchange and our team of 3 filled 12 large bags of trash in just 3 hours. But we certainly left the area greener that it was when we started!

Beyond the classic plastic bottles, beer cans and fast food plastic cups and straws, the winner of the shame competition goes to Snickers! I'll spare you from a picture of the raw trash but here is one in the recycling category: and, yes, a pretty sharp knife, and an iPad cover.
As for that remain of the last ugly election, no, it didn't make to the recycling bin, sorry Donald, straight in the bag of trash!

Some volunteers reported that, occasionally albeit very rarely, they do find bills, as high as $100! Well, not much luck for me this morning, only a penny this time! But the satisfaction of giving back to our local community and Mother Nature, priceless!
Special kudos to our crew lead and local coordinator, Loui, who leads such clean-up sessions in the area, every month!

Now, as I still can not swallow what's happening in DC this month, here is a proposal for a tax bill, and not a $1.5 trillion cut, but something more useful and pragmatic for our country and to save our planet! What about...

  1. Setting a tax for everybody, either by headcount, or, even better, on everything which has a packaging;
  2. If you don't like paying it or can't afford, then you would have the option to get a refund or exemption through community service to collect the trash along our highways;
  3. This way, either by paying, or serving, everybody would be more aware of the trash around us, and its collection;
  4. Of course, this tax would hit harder those who are already environment-conscious and keeping our roads clean, but since they are also likely those volunteering anyway, they would get credit for their time.
I know, with what's going on in Congress with the right wing-led tragedy for our future in every department, all this is really futile, isn't it? At least I wasn't just dreaming this morning, I was also doing my small part of resistance and action. For what it is worth, as we say, one piece of trash at a time...

If you are interested in giving a hand to this program too, you can visit the Caltrans Adopt-A-Higway program website, and the Bay Area is in district 4. Or contact me on Facebook and I'll get you hooked. Thank you in advance, and for not littering, always!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

My biggest ultra running experiment to date?

No, I didn't run an ultra this weekend, I didn't push the physical limits like other did for instance at the 24-hour World Championships or the California International Marathon. Actually I didn't run at all since my fast, albeit 0.1-mile short, Turkey Trot 10K. While stopping running for a few weeks is an experiment in itself for me every year, that's not new, I've followed this precept from Scott Jurek for more than 10 years now.

So what is it then? It had been in my mind for several years, I wanted to add to this running break something else which has to see with nutrition: follow a detox program to attempt an even bigger reset of my body. First, Agnès had told me about a 1-week detox program from a local yogi, based on drinking a lot of hot water for instance. Then it became the Whole30 which several of her friends have enjoyed recently. As the name implies, this is a 30-day program.No sugars, no grains, no dairy, repeat for 30 days!

I was about to go for it but I also took the opportunity to check another of these ideas which tormented since I discovered Vespa Power more than 5 years ago and heard about the great success stories of elite runners adoption the whole OFM approach. While Vespa helped me tremendously in races by allowing me to slash calorie intake, I didn't want to change my diet for this, I was so comfortable with my habits of 50 years. I love bread, I love pastas, I love dairy, great start! Besides, I travel so much that I took it as an excuse to not get on a strict diet. Last but not least, I did adopt this easy excuse for running when people ask "but why are you running ultras?": as Scott Dunlap once said, "so I can eat everything and anything!"

Change, so hard to do for most of us... The New York Time actually has an article on this exact topic this weekend, a quick and worth read for all (although I don't find the article so well written --unless the 7 yet in the text have the purpose of really making a point-- but the author is a Harvard Professor, and I not, so what can I say... ;-): Why Trying New Things Is So Hard to Do, by Sendhil Mullainathan.

Since I was going to go for a radical change anyway, I reached out to Peter Defty and he immediately accepted to coach me if I wanted to go OFM. OFM? Optimized Fat Metabolism, a state in which your body gets its energy mostly from fat, which we all have plenty of in our body, much more calories than our muscles can store of glycogen.

To be more explicit, you are teaching your body what it used to be great at: live a full and active live on less than 15% of carb. While fattier dairy is ok (cream, hard cheese) to do a faster reset I even cut on all dairy. Not a single fruit either, except avocados and nuts. The rest is meat, fish, eggs, liver, paté, and lots of vegetables. And no chocolate, yikes!

So, here am I, this is the end of day 10 and I'm proud to report that I'm holding on, I can still function, phew! First, I have to thank Peter for his guidance and motivation tips but also Agnès who got on board, is following the same diet and does a lot of the extra cooking needed to eat healthier. Not that we were eating much junk food but cutting all processed food is another level. And the hardest of all is to no be able to get a dessert, forgive the expression, that sucks... In France, a meal isn't over without something sweet, not to mention some cheese. To make up for them, we indulge a half cup of assorted non-salted nuts, but even that isn't too much to Peter's liking. Tough discipline.

As I said, I'm not exercising so it's hard to tell the effects so far. Besides, it typically takes the body to fully get adapted to this new mode of energy source, patience is required. To be honest, I would have hoped that cutting on gluten and dairy would already have more positive impacts, but this is certainly not the time to turn back, this is at least a 6-month experiment to be conclusive.

Overall, I'm learning a lot about nutrition, it was about time! And this was a big eye open on how bad the society has become about eating habits and the overwhelming presence of processed food everywhere. Also, I didn't realize how much I enjoyed eating certain things, not necessarily for their nutritional value or quality, but for the taste and pleasure I was taking. A very different philosophy of eating, which requires to rewire your mind and senses. And that takes quite some drive and will power... And some organization as well: for instance I did travel with my lunch and dinner today in order to stay on track...

That's it, no running pictures, I'll share more on the experiment, the biggest and hardest change I've experienced so far, with so many doubts popping in my mind since I don't have super strong drivers and compelling action to change. But I had been intrigued about OFM for a while, and was ready to give it more than a try, apparently. We'll see if it also helps on the race performance side, but I'm more interested in the health benefits such as the management of cholesterol levels and the reduction of sugars in the body, which represent the main fuel for cancer cells.

Overall, like we say about ultra running, this is a huge experiment and leap of faith because, although the approach is backed up by science and success stories, or even proven by the Inuits for instance, each body is different and we still need to rely on mind and guts feelings to adjust, without a full lab instrumentation. Let then see where it leads...

In the meantime, enjoy the time of Advent and the spirit of the Holidays. But please don't send me pictures of your Christmas cookies, ok? Thank you! ;-)

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

PAUSATF MUT Grand Prix 2018 Schedule unveiled: to the next 25 years!

Disclaimer: this post is an open letter aimed at the current and potential participants of our Pacific Association MUT Grand Prix. But everyone is welcome to read to understand what this competition is about, although I then recommend reading my 2016 post about the Anatomy of an Ultra Grand Prix, before. Well, if you are dead serious about ultra running...! ;-)

1. Background

Yes, this local ultra tradition has been on for 25 years, it all started in 1992, with the awards being added in 1996 and the first banquet in 1997. Although our sport was much smaller and confidential back then, I'm told the passion was amazing and we owe a lot to the catalyst role which BAUR (Bay Area Ultra Runners) has played through this quarter of century. There is a book to be written about BAUR, and I'll likely do at least a post on it based on the information I already collected, for now one name is enough to capture the imagination, our local legend Dick Collins!
A huge thank you to BAUR for all they did and still do for our local ultra running community!

Fast forward 25 years then and it is time to unveil the 2018 schedule. Rather than just posting it, I wanted to share some of the background and process which led to it and a few key decisions.

2. People

Before we even talk about process, let's start with the people topic. First and foremost, the Grand Prix only exists thanks to YOU, because we have participants into it so, ultra runners are the number 1 force behind it. To participate you need to be a member of the Pacific Association of USATF (USA Track & Field), in good standing. You don't even have to join a club or a team, but a large part of the fun comes from the team competition so it is highly recommended. The yearly membership is $30, or $25 if you commit for 4 years, and comes with other benefits such as sport insurance and several discounts on apparel, rental cars, hotels and airlines. And the same membership gives you access to the other Grand Prix of cross-country (XC) and road (short and long), you set the limit! Other benefits include prize money and race entry discounts for top age group winners! Please consider joining then, if not already, or renew (online form).

Beyond the runners, we do have a MUT (Mountain Ultra Trail) subcommittee within the LDR (Long Distance Running) committee of our local association. This subcommittee has been chaired by Hollis Lenderking for these 25 years with Bill Dodson leading for the past 3 years. They have been assisted by Gary Wang who did the scoring for several decades before Bill took over. Now 82, it seemed fair to let Bill focus on not only his family life but his running: in the past years he broke every ultra running record, both on the road and the track, and won all the Grand Prix (XC, Road, Ultra) for his age group, phew!

The transition occurred in September and I'm glad other volunteers stepped up to form our new subcommittee in the following voting and active capacities:

  1. Scoring: Nakia Baird
  2. GP Administrator: Denise Williams
  3. Communication: Verity Breen
  4. Emeritus Chair: Hollis Lenderking
  5. Chair: Jean Pommier
Our first goal has been to ensure continuity of course and go through an extensive knowledge transfer. Although it was my 12th participation in the MUT Grand Prix this year, there were so many things I had no idea were happening behind the scene, fascinating! After some initial delay, Nakia has been able to publish the results of the last 3 races, and will now work on the last race of the season, Quad Dipsea. In the meantime, with the big race registrations coming up in December, we had to also work on finalizing the 2018 schedule so you could make the appropriate decisions.

3. Process

Before jumping to the outcome, here are a few elements which led to the selection.

First, we took the opportunity of the transition to conduct an extensive survey which 74 of you completed, almost half the 2017 Grand Prix participants! A big thank to those of you who took the time to go through the 17 questions, that provided a lot of insights on what you like in the GP as well as new expectations. To keep this post short (ahem, shorter...), I'll just summarize the findings with the following paragraphs:
Executive summary
More of the same (classics, multi distance events, races of same types, year-through), but with a few new races, less/no hard-to-get-in ones. Strong emphasis on team competition. Strong interest for additional sub-ultra-trail format. Some exclusive/special treatment for GP participants would be nice.
By the numbers
  1. GP 2018 intent: 95% yes to maybe
  2. If on the edge, why: 61% depends on new races, 20% depends on old races
  3. 19 events, 14 scoring possibilities: 47% about right, 38% a lot, 3% too many, 12% not enough (!)
  4. GP 2018 direction: 65% new races, 9% the same/classic, 26% either way
  5. Races of the same format (e.g. 7 x trail 50K): 77% ok, 23% no or less
  6. Inclusion of hard-to-get-in race: 24% ok, 45% against, 31% either way
  7. Spread over long period (current 10 months or even a year) : 90% favorable
  8. Top motivation: points for the team; camaraderie; motivation; goal setting
  9. Multi-distance events: 62% like them but 28% agree that it makes team scoring harder and 18% that it dilutes the competition
  10. Scoring availability expectation: from 1 to 2 weeks
  11. Sub-ultra GP interest: 83% yes/maybe, 17% no
A second element in the process was the commitment which Bill had already made to or gotten from the Race Directors that the 2018 schedule will pretty much be the same as the previous years. For this reason, don't expect too many changes although we have attempted to bring in as much novelty as the no-change constraint could permit. While we were are it, we started looking at more drastic innovations for 2019 and 2020, a key one being a rotation of key races over odd and even years since we are so rich and blessed with quantity of extreme quality races in our Pacific Association region.

Another rationale for more change is to better live by the MUT meaning: when I first joined this Grand Prix, I had the impression that all ultras where on trails and mountainous but that's not what MUT means. MUT is actually a group of three very different sports:
  1. First, and the easiest one to define, is U for Ultra running, which includes any race longer than a marathon, either on road (which used to be the main terrain for ultras in Europe for many decades), trail or even track (another traditional ground for ultra running purists). And the profile can be flat or hilly.
  2. M is for Mountain and has a more fuzzy definition (and I'm still learning myself as the international bodies still argue over the criteria): no distance limit but either a super steep uphill, or extreme foot elevation gain and loss if not straight up hill.
  3. T is for Trail and, like Mountain, doesn't have strict criteria either except that the course has to be a trail, and the distance is typically shorter than a marathon, yet longer than the typical cross country distances. Let's say in the 15-35K range.
As you can see our MUT Grand Prix has been U for 25 years and, given the popularity of trail running, we are going to look at creating a separate Trail Grand Prix, partnering with the dozens of events organized in our area as well. As for M, this is more challenging as you need Alpine terrain and that pretty much limits it to Squaw Valley within our perimeter (think Broken Arrow). What is clear is that, if or when we bring a Trail Grand Prix, we cannot continue having 18 or 20 events in our Ultra Grand Prix, hence the need for additional change for the years to come.

Beyond these considerations, here are additional criteria we have been considering in our selection, and will take into account for the following seasons:
  1. Classic status (tenure in the Grand Prix);
  2. Reputation and experience (versus brand new event);
  3. Balance between the Bay Area and Sacramento/Tahoe areas (to share the travel burden);
  4. Ease of entry (versus super competitive lotteries or events filling up in minutes);
  5. Registration fee;
  6. Support of the local ultra running community;
  7. Balance between race organizations (clubs or commercial race organizations);
  8. Qualification credentials for other notable races (e.g. Western States, Hard Rock, UTMB), including the offering of ITRA points which are becoming increasingly important to race abroad;
  9. Prize money.
Yes, that's a way over-constrained optimization problem and the sophisticated spreadsheet I created doesn't do justice of the subjective decisions we had to make. Also, we looked at a total of 37 events in the process.

4. Finally, the Schedule!

With that, drum roll please, here is what we came up with:
  1. Jed Smith 50K (the classic season opener to get you legs moving on a safe flat course);
  2. Fourmidable 50K (a bid for the 50K Trail Nationals, like last year);
  3. Way Too Cool 50K (the largest 50K trail race in North America and the largest Pacific Association contingent of runners in a single trace race);
  4. American River 50M (another classic mixing road and trail and finishing in the mythical Auburn);
  5. Ruth Anderson 50M and 100K (but not the 50K as it was too many events for teams to score, yet these are our only Road 50M and 100K);
  6. Quicksilver 50K and 100K (two classic races to kick off heat training for the summer ultras);
  7. SilverState 50M (but not the 50K since we already have so many 50K trail races, including a few in the North East);
  8. Ohlone 50K (30+ years and another great heat training opportunity, guaranteed!);
  9. Summer Solstice (our 24-hour event replacing RiverBank One Day which has been cancelled in 2018), with both a 100-mile and 100K scoring option;
  10. Skyline 50K (one of the oldest trail 50K races in North America, if not the oldest, and a safe course for rookies);
  11. Tamalpa Headlands 50K (ex National Championships course and 1/3 of the field was from the Pacific Association un 2017);
  12. Headland Hundred 100M (making great use of the amazing views and hills of Marin Headlands);
  13. Lake Folsom 100K (addition of a 100K trail in the North East, with this 4th edition);
  14. Rio Del Lago 100M (the ultimate Western States qualifier which also goes through several times through the capital of endurance sports)
14 events total, including 17 opportunities to score in the individual categories, and, for the large club, (3 categories [Men, Women, Mixed] x 17) = 51 potential scores!!

All this is subject to proper PAUSATF sanctioning of the respective events of course but all Race Directors do have prior experience with the process so that shouldn't be an issue.

If you are curious, here are a few other associated KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), as we say at work.

The pros will immediately spot that, to make room for newer races per the wish of many, we had to make tough decisions to drop a few events, like our predecessors had to do with Western States and Tahoe Rim Trail 100 because of the difficulty to get in, a few years ago. That being said, we still strongly encourage you to enter and run them if you can or prefer these distances, these events are of very high quality and we hope to find ways to get them back, alternatively from year to year at a minimum.
  1. Most notably, Miwok 100K, which is increasingly hard to get in (lottery), but a Western States qualifier which we hope to re-include in the rotation based on lottery odds;
  2. Ruth Anderson 50K as noted above;
  3. Same for SilverState 50K;
  4. And the legendary Quad Dipsea.
Again, strongly encourage you to still enter Miwok and Quad in addition to competing in the Grand Prix events. If you manage to get in which isn't always the easiest part of running an ultra, nowadays! ;-)

Another clarification, as noted above, is that this doesn't mean the schedule will remain the same in 2019. There are several key drivers to bring more drastic change after a quarter of a century and so much evolution in our sport; some races may come back, some may go. But we'll work at giving more advanced notice than this year, which means we have to have a 2019 schedule by October 2018, phew!

Most of the rules will remain the same although we are considering slight amendments to the scoring system to make the season more exciting, for instance flattening the coefficients between shorter and longer ultras (to avoid the overwhelming impact on 100-milers). Stay tuned!

By the way, our easiest and most efficient way to communicate around this Grand Prix is through our PA Ultra GP Facebook page, please make sure to request to join if you are on Facebook. Otherwise, I'm sure you can find a buddy within your team to keep you posted; which is one more reason to join the fun of running for a team/club!

Also, please make sure to thank the Race Directors of all these events for the time and energy they are putting into their races (registration, permits, recruiting an army of volunteers, the logistic, ...), as well as the extra administrative burden they have to go through to sanction their races so they can be part of our Grand Prix.

Last minute! We had almost finalized the schedule and were told that the 2 bids for the 50K Trail Nationals will be considered at the Annual USATF Convention on December 2 and 3, for a vote there, but we just learned that these Championships were awarded to New Hampshire instead for 2018, and to Fourmidable in 2019. One more reason to run Fourmidable and Skyline this year to support our local Race Directors! More details about all the Mountain, Ultra and Trail Nationals for 2018 can be found in this TrailRunner article.

And now, you can finalize your ultra 2018 planning! We certainly hope to see all of you on our amazing Pacific Association trails, between the Coast and Reno, around the Bay Area, the Sacramento Valley or over the Tahoe mountains, bring on the friendly individual and team emulation and competition!

Cheering to your success in the 26th Ultra Grand Prix!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Silicon Valley Turkey Trot 2017: so many blessings!

What a way to end a long season! While I started right away with a fast ultra at the beginning of February (Jed Smith 50K in 3:19:59) and ran 18 races this year, including 1 marathon (podium at Boston!) and 12 ultra marathons, I like to get back to some speed before my yearly break.

Today was my 51st 10K race in my log but only my 8th one at this event, although I'm proud these were consecutive (2010-2017). I say only because nobody can beat Carl Guardino at his own game, Carl being the founder of this wonderful event for our community. As the head of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, he can be really proud of the tenure and impact of this race which is gathering close to 25,000 participants year after year, and raising close to 1 million dollars each year for local charities. A double dip of getting us healthier and sharing our wealth with others in need! Leading by example, Carl has run each of the 13 editions, competing in the CEO Challenge (5K).

I don't recall why I missed the first edition, I was just back from a business trip to Europe that Thanksgiving weekend but the race wasn't on my radar yet. As a matter of fact I had run the Home Run 10K in Palo Alto 2 weeks earlier, then CIM (California Internal Marathon) beginning of December, that was already a lot back then.

In 2006 I started running ultra marathons and got hooked with the Pacific Association Ultra Grand Prix which includes the famous Quad Dipsea race, 2 days after Thanksgiving. I was still learning a lot about ultra running and wasn't going to push it on a 10K two days earlier!

In 2007 I was in France for the popular Saintélyon, a 69K race by night, between Saint-Etienne and Lyon. Back to Quad Dispea in 2008 but, in 2009 I went for the double, running both the Elite 5K race at the Turkey Trot and Quad Dispsea 2 days later, phew! So that makes 9 consecutive Turkey Trot participations actually, may well go for 10 next year!

Back to 2017, the main new news is that I had missed getting IBM to sponsor the race, after a successful 4-year round at it. To my surprise though, while warming up and jogging toward the main field to see the elite races, I discovered that the main stage banners still had the IBM logo on them so I think this is a strong message from SVLG that we have to come back... I'll pass the non-subliminal message to the people now in charge!

As the tradition goes, Mark Winitz was overseeing the proper execution of the women and men elite races while the 23,000-strong crowd was gathering in their respective corrals. I must say that it's too bad people don't realize there are world-class athletes to watch in town that morning (few spectators), but how inspiring to see these athletes flying and zipping by, before we get to push the envelope ourselves.

Even more impressive and inspirational was to see Jose Pina Jr now part of this elite field (2nd yellow top). I did compete with him when he was younger, along with his father, Jose Pina Sr, I'm super impressed to see him now running for San Jose State and clocking a 14:49 (4:47 pace) today!

I just had a glimpse of the women race, but was able to see the men twice, before it was time for me to warm-up and get to the remote start line. See this short video clip from the second lap:
At 8:25 the only wheelchair competitor was sent off by himself, then it was our turn at 8:30, after Carl was asked to leave the mic and stage to get lined up with us. This year again the 5K and 10K were both ran simultaneously, making pacing super tricky at the start since you don't know who is going for 3.1 miles only versus the whole 6.2 miles of the 10K. I admit I got caught into the excitement this time and was astonished when I realized my Garmin GPS watch was indicating 5:10 min/mile after the first turn, yikes! No wonder why I was gasping for air already! Sometimes we say "and from then, it was all down hill!" Well, for me today, from there it was all up hill. Not the course profile which is super flat except for 2 dips under a bridge at mile 3.2 and 5.5, but the perceived effort.

Resetting a pace is really tough when you start too fast, not to mention when you don't know who you are racing against (between the mix of 5K and 10K runners on one hand, and all the unknown faces at these popular races). To make the matter worse, the mile markers looked to me, or rather my watch, quite off this time, on the short/early side, like by 0.08 to 0.06 depending on the mile. If 8 or 6% don't seem a lot to you that may be because you are not trying hard enough! ;-) When you are running hard against the clock, 80 or 100 yards make quite a difference. As it turned out, though, I think the course ended up 0.1 mile too short so that was a great opportunity to get a PR!

After a few turns, I had lost sight of what was happening at the front. Once we passed the corner of the SAP Center at mile 3, a large chunk of the pack turned toward the finish of the 5K, phew! Way less people ahead but I was clocking 5:40 to 5:45 miles so I wasn't surprised when a volunteer said, if I heard correctly, that I was in 25th position. It was around mile 3.5 and a young runner, on my side, suggested we close the gap with the three runners ahead. I wish I could accelerate but we were already running 5:40-5:45 and I didn't have the stamina to get back under 5:30 this year. I'm super happy to report that, in the next 2 miles, he was able to not only close the gap but passed these older guys and finish 6th overall at 17, congratulations, Jeffrey Xu!

Ah, so if Jeffrey was 6th, there weren't 24 runners ahead of us after all. Indeed, looking at the results published this afternoon (kudos to Race Central for their speed in posting!), I finished 9th overall, 2nd Master, and 1st in the M50-54 age group with an age-graded performance of 88.22%. Very pleased with my time of 34:57 although slightly disappointed by the fact that I (and others) believe the course was slightly too short. Which would explain why this is my fastest time on this course (my times since 2010: 35:05, 35:20, 35:12, 36:09, 35:41, 35:49, 36:10, all within 35:35 +/- 40" for some consistency!).

Here are key stats to summarize my run (Strava activity):

And the 3D-flyover which will make you relive our quick journey through downtown San Jose:

After this great work out, and good sweat given the warm temperature for the season (65F!), it was time to socialize with friends!

I first ran into my IBM colleague, Jérôme, who had just finished his 5K and was waiting for the rest of the family.
Then we gathered near the main stage, to meet with the Run For Valentine group participating in memory of Valentine, Tanguy and Virginie's daughter who died in a tragic car accident 5 days before Thanksgiving, 4 years ago. (Photo: Anouchka Gaillard.)
I also had a long chat with Ethan Veneklassen who, among many endeavors around our sport, directs the super competitive and challenging Broken Arrow races in Squaw Valley, one week before Western States.
Then a few Stevens Creek Striders, Bill here with Agnès, but also Mike and Hugo at the 10K finish.

We drove back home and I went for another 10K in 42' flat. I'm 53 miles from my yearly goal of 3,240 miles which correspond to a 100 km/week average, but I'm going to take a break now as, big decision and scoop, I decided to go OFM (Optimized Fat Metabolism) with Peter Defty's help and guidance. A strict diet in the family of LCHF (Low Carb High Fat) and Keto, with adjustments to take into account the specifics of ultra running at high intensity.

I'll certainly share more about this significant endeavor over the coming weeks and months, the ultra experiment continues...

Overall, so many blessings to be grateful for on this special day: family, friendships, health, success, local opportunities. It's sad to say, we just need to take some distance with the politics happening in DC which get our country so many years backward, and look up at our Californian blue sky to keep hope in the future. Starting with wishing for more rain in December, or even starting this Sunday as forecasted. The people in Silicon Valley rock, keep leading and inspiring!