Sunday, February 19, 2017

Fourmidable 50K Trail Nationals: formidable mud fest!

Wow, what a winter we got this time. Although so much water represents a blessing for California after 5 years of drought, I'm still wondering how much of it finds it way back underground where we pumped out so much these past 100 years; we seem better at drilling the Earth and getting precious resources out of it, not so good at replenishing our natural resources. Food for thoughts for some Silicon Valley entrepreneurs...
In the meantime, the local trails around the World Capital of endurance sports, Auburn, CA, offered us quite a mud fest this weekend for the USA Track & Field 50K trial national championships. For the past years, these championships were hosted by the Tamalpa running club, at the end of August: what a change it has been this time between super dry and super wet trails!

The change was also less than ideal from a calendar standpoint. I don't know for others but February is typically a month I am still building up on training toward the big 100K races in May and 100-milers from June onwards. And, personally, that made for a crazy February with this hilly race just 2 weeks after Jed Smith 50K (where I broke 3:20 again) and one week before the Riverbank One Day (24 hours on a track). At least I've nothing scheduled for March to compensate and recover... The thing is that I couldn't pass on a local championship, when we are blessed to have our dedicated North California race directors stepping up and bidding on these opportunities to gain more visibility.

With that, my main goal was to win my age group and, with the lack of appropriate training for such a course and trail conditions, I didn't feel it was a done deal at all when I saw for instance that Dan Barger was in the entrants list, then Ray Sanchez had registered at the last minute. I had never met Dan but he has an impressive ultra running resume and these trails are his training turf. Dan has 9 Western States finishes, spanning 30 years! He was 8th among the men in 1998 and had a very impressive top 10 finish in 2010 at age 44. I'm also very impressed with the sustainability of his ultra running career, UltraSignup listing his first ultra when he was 17! Here he is at our first passage on No Hands Bridge this Saturday morning:
Overall, that has been a very wet run for our feet, many puddles and running creek to cross, and many very muddy sections. I was super pleased with the grip of my Brooks Cascadias, I felt quite in control even in the deep mud on the way down to No Hands Bridge. As for the race, despite a blazing start below 7 min/mile pace, I only saw the leaders for a couple minutes.
I tried to keep up with the leading gals but I even lost them by mile 2 (photo credit: Nestor Medeiros)

After that fast start, I didn't see any other 50K runner from mile 3 to 30! Thankfully, we had the 35K runners on the course for some distraction and mutual encouragement. Speaking of encouragement, we got many from the aid station volunteers --THANK YOU!-- and I also had Agn├Ęs crewing for me today: she did her own ultra crew, showing up at all the allowed spots: the start, Gate 142, No Hands Bridge #1, Cool, No Hands Bridge #2 and the finish, wow! Here are few shots she got from these different spots.

Gate 142

No Hands Bridge #1:


No Hands Bridge #2:

At mile 30, I caught up with Michael Basuini; he looked so bad that I stopped to ask if he needed salt for instance. He actually begged for water and I offered him to take all what I had left in my bottle but he only took a few sips. Here is Michael at Gate 142, mile 5.
At this point we were on a section I knew from the inaugural Folsom Lake 100K ultra trail race I ran in 2015, so I was expecting the brutal finish, and it didn't disappoint indeed. To make the matter worse, 500 yards from the finish, in the last wall, I turn back and see a 50K runner closing on my, yikes! That gave me quite an adrenaline boost; not enough to break 4 hours and 30 minutes, but sufficient to take top 9, 7th in the men and first Masters, goal met and achieve!

With four races finishing on the same line (13K, half marathon, 35K and 50K) there was a bit of confusion and the USATF official gave my 7th overall medal to someone else, I will get mine in the mail. Dan took second in our age group and we finally had an opportunity to chat after all these years.

I was really happy with my performance, having pushed significantly but never in the red zone since I didn't see anyone behind for 30 miles. I did cramp on the massage table, but not during the race. And did quite some walking in the steep climbs (Cardiac, K2 and the last one) but that will be good training for this Summer's UTMB. I also needed to not kill myself before next week's 24-hour race anyway, not to mention I was just back from 10 days overseas, with 3 nights spent on planes and 3 stays in 3 different time zones (6, 11 then 9 hours...). We shall see how all this plays out, I'm certainly not following any text book here! Anyway, back to my result, it looked all good until I learned that Max King had won the race in a blazing 3:32. That's really an amazing performance as the course was much harder than Way Too Cool in my opinion, not only a lot of mud, but more cumulative elevation.

Cole Watson from Ashland, OR, took second, the our local elite David Roche, from Sunnyvale. 4th was Ryan Ghelfi from Ashland as well (with Max based in Bend, that makes 3 Oregonians in the top 4! And, to make this national championship more legit, 5th place, and last one to get in the money, was Ryan Woods, from Boone, NC, then Ian O'Brien from Granby, CO.

On the women side, Yiou Wang took the overall win, followed by Addie Bracy who was visiting from Colorado (she finished 30 seconds ahead of me).
Scott Dunlap was 2nd Master in the championship, winning his M45-49 age group. Here is Scott on No Hands bridge, then at the finish, with Western States Race Director, Craig Thornley:

Club mates John Burton and Gary Saxton took the M40-45 and M55-59 titles repectively. Also from our club, Jim Magill was racing and, at 70, I would be surprised if he didn't pocket the top spot as well (I can't find more than the top 17 results posted as of this Sunday night).

Great chatting with... the King about his running camps and upcoming events with Salomon; what a nice pro he is.
Special thanks to Race Director, Paulo Medina, for designing such a challenging course and hosting this championship with his SingleTrack Running event team. The marking was almost perfect, I just had a couple of hesitations when going down to No Hands bridge the first time. I'm very appreciative also for the few course monitors strategically positioned to make sure we were not missing key turns, especially at the confusing first passage through the Knickerbroker aid station. I'm not a big fan of the cup-less format, but that worked out. As usual, and although we only had a brief shower around 11 for less than 5 minutes, I got cold quickly after my finish and the hot soup helped, as well as the super nice hoody, part of the generous race goodies.
I also liked the chip timing strap, very easy to wear at the wrist. Just noting that my chip was half stuck-out at the finish, maybe it was the water, but I would have been bummed would I have lost it on the course. Worth checking the glue...

Thank you to all the volunteers who served us at the various aid stations, these ultra races could not happen without you!

As much as appreciated the cup of soup and two cans of Pepsi at the finish, I'm not sure if I missed a ticket for the food truck but I had to stop at an In-n-Out on the way back home as I was starving. That was another big difference with Tamalpa 50K's Firetrail pizza truck!

What a great event overall: I was anxious to see how I would fare on a muddy and wet trail after so many training weeks running flat miles, glad it worked out. My legs are certainly sore this Sunday, but I still managed to go for a 15K recovery run at 7:22 min/mile, fast enough to get rid of the extra lactic acid. An opportunity to thank the Monsters of Massage for the deep tissue massage at the finish.

And now looking forward to a good tapering week finally, before a few hundreds laps on the track next weekend!

PS: More pictures...

One minute before the gun
A start looking like the Way Too Cool one, including a downward first mile:

 David Roche and Cole Watson (Team Hoka) ahead of Max King at Gate 142
Ian O'Brien
Ryan Ghelfi
 No Hands Bridge aid station
 Cole Watson leading at mile 10
 With Max on his heels
 Then David Roche
 Ryan Woods (La Sportiva)
 Ian O'Brien (blue hat) and Ryan Ghelfi
 Michael Basuini
 Yiou and Addie battling through the No Hands Bridge 'lake'
 Ultra legend Tim Twietmeyer (blue top), never getting tired of cross this mythical bridge!
 Max going strong, through the Cool aid station

 Happy to be done and finally taking the time to look at the view (Auburn Dam Overlook)
 Legs weren't too muddy thanks to the many river crossings. As for the shorts...

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Running in Saudi Arabia: working and... running at KAUST

I've written more than 100 posts in my "Running in..." series (see labels in the right margin) and I love when I hear a runner letting me know he or she used the local tips. Well this one may be the most useless post in that series, at least for runners (readers may still enjoy the virtual visit and learning about a place they probably didn't know about); indeed, Thuwal is a most unlikely destination. First, for many reasons, Saudi isn't a great place for tourism. Now, if you come to Saudi anyway, for work for instance, you are most likely going to stay in Riyadh (the capital with 5.3M people) . Or one of the few other large cities, like Jeddah (3.5M), Mecca (1.7M) or Medina (1.2M). But the small fishermen village of Thuwal? Certainly not. Except if you are on your way to KAUST, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (see the Wikipedia article for more details).

A few miles from Tuyal, itself 70 miles North of Jeddah, KAUST is actually an amazing campus to visit. It is both a top university and research center as well as a city by itself which didn't exist on the map 10 years ago! The late King Abdullah had a vision to create a beacon of knowledge on this desert area along the Red Sea and he committed several billions to make it happen (on the model of a few famous US universities, he set a $20Bn endowment up front to ensure its long-term development).

I left Raleigh on Tuesday evening and after 4 flights through Dulles, Frankfurt and Riyadh, I got to my room at 3:30 am on Thursday morning, leaving less than 4 hours of sleep before my first meeting. Maybe sleep deprivation is the recipe to handle jet lag because I had not a single low point during the day. On Thursday night, after a group dinner, I went for a few laps on the track, logging 9.5 miles total.

The lights went off at 10 pm and I finished under the full moon light. The track has suffered quite a lot from the sun, and maybe a hasty construction, it's pretty beaten up after less than 10 years. That being said, I was really glad to find the track open all night.

Friday afternoon, right after the last meetings of this IT Conference, and a quick lunch, I went for a tour of the campus in day light, and much higher temperature although the 86F looked like winter to the locals (by the way, we got 3 minutes of flash rain on Thursday morning, a phenomenon worth noticing as it rains about once a year (!) in this desert area).

I ended my run with a short swim in the Red Sea before getting on the cab back to Jeddah for 3 flights this time toward Paris. And a 3rd night spent on a plane this week, in coach. Feeling not just homeless but also bedless lately... ;-) But happy to have met amazing people from this very special and international academic institution.

Here is a virtual tour of KAUST's campus.

First, the iconic beacon of knowledge, from various angles and by day and night (I first thought it was the marina's lighthouse but was told it was just a symbol).

A few shots of the impressive university buildings (while looking at them, guess how many floors are inside).

Did you guess how many floors are in huge the black blocks, whose height I assume to be 40 meters)? Only 5 but very spacious and high ones, yet LEED-certified building.

BTW, the white building in the center of the panorama is the University Library.

Here in the foreground are the Sea Steps, linking the raised esplanade to the Red Sea:
Another huge building, just outside the Unity Boulevard loop, the Innovation Cluster:

You enter the campus on this long road bordered with hundreds of palm trees
The largest of 4 mosques on campus, the King Abdullah Mosque:
Art work near that mosque (they have camel races in Saudi):

Proudly show casing KAUST's logo

More art work near the Yacht Club

Views from my tour around the Safa'a Island Neighborhood:

A standard villa on the beach (there hare hundreds of these!)
These bins looked like those we have at home, albeit more colorful

That neighborhood is organized around two main arteries, the Transformation and Discovery Boulevards. That sends a message, doesn't it?

It's easier to do good urbanism design when you start from scratch and a lot of money, isn't it? Here is a nice park, Thuwal Park, including a few soccer fields.

They even created an artificial canal (water from the Red Sea):
The campus hotel, the KAUST Inn I:
And, to conclude, a taste of a local attraction and tradition, the falconry: