Saturday, March 25, 2017

PAUSATF LDR 2016 Awards Banquet: 10th MUT GP in a row!

Here is a belated post to cover this event which occurred 2 weeks ago already, but it was on a Sunday evening and I couldn't get this done before getting back to my first job, and especially an intense 8-day trip to Vegas for InterConnect, IBM's largest conference.

First, let's clear the acronyms in the title:

  • USATF stands for the USA Track & Field, the name of the association overseeing our ultra running sport;
  • PA is for Pacific Association, the regional chapter covering North California and a part of Nevada;
  • LDR stands for Long Distance Running, which spans races from 1 mile and 5K to 100 miles or 24-hour events;
  • MUT is the LDR committee governing the Mountain and Ultra Trail events. Other committees are XC (Cross-Country) and Road, with Short and Long categories, the Long one being limited to the marathon distance.
  • Finally, GP stands for Grand Prix, a set of selected races in which each PAUSATF participants get points based on their finish place within their respective 10-year age group (see my very detailed Anatomy of a Grand Prix I posted last year).

2016 was my 10th full year participating in out MUT Grand Prix. My first ultra was Way Too Cool 50K in March 2016 but I wasn't affiliated with USATF then, still with the French FFA. I registered later this year, got a few points for the last two race of the year and started running most of the Grand Prix events in 2007. There has been quite some hefty competition over the past 10 years such as Victor Ballesteros, Mark Lantz, Ron Gutierez, Karl Hoagland, Kevin Sawchuk, Rob Evans, Mark Tanaka, Cliff Lentz, Pierre-Yves Couteau, and even the strongest Masters of all, Dave Mackey, who was visiting from Colorado to run one or two of our GP races every year. But my dedication to running most of the 17 yearly races, year after year, paid off and allowed me to win my age group for 10 years in a row, not something I had envisioned at all when starting running ultras in 2006!

To be honest, there are so many events in our MUT Grand Prix that few of the best local runners score in more than 2 or 3 of these races; showing up consistently, and getting to the finish line, will then lead to a good score. That being said, I still had to push hard to pull this out, and this competition has been a great source of motivation to run more than 130 ultras in 10 years.

In addition, in these 10 years, I've been nominated for the PA Ultra Runner of the Year a record 7 times! I had no idea I was short listed again this year, but I'm glad Chikara got picked again after his amazing performance at the 100K Road World Championship last year which allowed Team USA to get another gold medal. Proud of being listed along famous names on the international ultra scene.

  1. 2007: Mark Lantz, Mark Tanaka, Jean Pommier
  2. 2008: Eric Skaden, Jean Pommier
  3. 2009: Victor Ballesteros, Chikara Omine
  4. 2010: Victor Ballesteros, Chikara Omine
  5. 2011: Dave Mackey, Jean Pommier
  6. 2012: Jon Olsen, Jean Pommier
  7. 2013: Ian Sharman, Jon Olsen
  8. 2014: Alex Varner, Jean Pommier
  9. 2015: Chikara Omine, Mark Richtman, Jean Pommier
  10. 2016: Chikara Omine, Jean Pommier

As Hollis mentioned, only one of us was going to have the honor of getting a 3rd PA URoY, and that was... Chikara (PwC wasn't here to swap the envelopes!). Being 19 years younger, I see a bright future for Chikara in this competition! ;-)

Enough about me (I know...), there were 46 individual age group awards distributed that night, and 26 team recognitions. Plus 4 service awards and the listing of national awards, records and best performances. Like the Oscars, without the videos, music, and the red carpet. A good selection of the MUT awardees, with a majority from Excelsior this year:
You can see Bill Dodson in the middle, without his pile of plaques as he won his 80+ Men age group in all (!) the LDR Grand Prix: cross-country, road short, road long and MUT!! Plus the 70+ one for road long as well, wow!

As a team, we did 3rd in Men, 2nd Women and 3rd Overall behind Excelsior and Pamakids who took the top spot in Men and Women respectively. Only two awardees from our Quicksilver Club this time, with Joe Swenson happy to have left my age group since he turned 60.
You see, size doesn't matter, ultra runners come in all shapes! ;-)

This year's guest speaker was coming from South California to share his amazing late coach and road runner career and insights.

It was intriguing to hear about the struggle he went through in his early adulthood, although that part might have been more appropriate to a younger audience. I was also surprised by the number of injuries he suffered from, some really serious. I actually take pride in avoiding injuries, one key trait of the sustainable running concept I'm promoting, so that part didn't resonate much with me as well. Or maybe one can argue that I'm not training and running hard enough, but I'm not convinced, I'd rather remain as consistent as these past 10 years. At least, Pete is definitely a model and inspiration for Masters athletes and 5-10K road runners in particular. You can check his website for more information about this books and coaching programs.

Big thanks to our PAUSATF officials who stepped up this year again to organize this banquet, short of a club doing it. And, in particular to our LDR MUT committee co-chairs, Bill Dodson and Hollis Lenderking, who have given so many hours of their time and expertise to make these Grand Prix so exciting and successful. Bill, for your prompt scoring with Cynci Calvin, and Hollis, for your very kind and thoughtful words, at the banquets as well as when you volunteer at races.
And now on for the 22nd year of PAUSATF LDR celebration, on the trails or the roads! And, if you are not part of our association already, please consider joining us, to share the fun!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

2nd Saratoga Fat Ass 2017: working around the weather

First, let's get the record straight: after 3 major races in February (a sub-3:20 50K at Jed Smith, a Masters win at the 50K Trail Nationals 2 weeks later and 111 miles at the Riverbank 24-hour the following weekend), I don't think I have a fat ass to get rid of. As a matter of fact, since I adopted Vespa in competition a few years ago, I'm living on fat in all these races!

Still, the fat ass, that is the unofficial, social, early season runs are great training routines and provide opportunities to get a break from the racing rhythm while meeting friends in a more casual setting. I was travelling in January and missed the first Saratoga Gap fat ass, which is a long standing tradition for our South Bay ultra running community. A few years ago, Quicksilver team/clubmate, Keith Blom, launched the 2nd Saratoga Gap Fat Ass in the month of February. As everybody knows by now, even in Europe, California got the water that we missed for the past 5 years. While this is all good, because it came all at once within 2 months, it created quite some perturbation on the ground. For instance, Skyline Boulevard (Highway 35) lost at least one entire section (both lanes gone). With that, Keith had to postpone the February event to this first weekend in March. Since the original date conflicted with the FOURmidable 50K, and I wasn't running Way Too Cool 50K this Saturday or the 50K Road Nationals in Caumsett, NY, on Sunday, I had really no good excuse to miss this year's edition! One could argue that it seemed close to last week's long run on the track but I had already ran 44 recovery miles throughout the week, so I was back on my feet, although I wasn't considering pushing too hard.

Despite the new March date, there was still some incertitude on the event. First, the main road to get up the hill to the start, Saratoga Gap, was closed all week because of multiple landslides. Fortunately, it reopened just in time on Friday, saving the detour by Page Mill. There were also questions about which trails will be closed. Thankfully, Steve Patt scouted out the entire course on Friday and reported that it was all runnable but for a few fallen trees requiring some climbing over or going a few steps aside the trail. To add to the good news, our local meteorologist and outdoor guru, Leor Pantilat, announced rain only in the afternoon (at least in Auburn for Way Too Cool, which is rather far from a weather forecast). But, indeed, the weather didn't look too bad in the early morning. All that convinced me to drive up to Saratoga Gap one more time (I ran the original/classic/1st Fat Ass in 2007, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2015, and the 2nd one in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016. In retrospective, I find it so cool to have all these runs documented in my blog, can't certainly keep as many details live in my head with the time passing...).

After waiting for 5 minutes at the one-lane light at the top of Highway 9, I reach the parking lot just in time with 10 minutes to get ready. Keith was already there with Jeremy, Stuart and Dennis, Andy arrived at the same time, and Rida a few minutes later. It wasn't really raining but we were in the midst of the cloud and I was already chilly so I put two layers on (I had forgotten my rain jacket and was hoping it wouldn't get wetter than that, oops!). Everybody left at 8:01 am, without even taking the traditional group picture. I started a minute behind and passed Dennis, Rida, Andy and Keith in the first hill, catching up with Pierre-Yves a mile later and we ran together down to the Castle Rock campground, updating each others on our respective families, recent races and plans and projects for the year. In the first hill after the campground, Pierre-Yves said he'll walk a bit and I went on to see if I'd reconnect with Jeremy and Stuart, ahead. I was super careful going down Goat Rock and was thinking of the first time I had met Jeremy, on that same section, and was blown away by his footballer agility and speed. I finally caught up with both of them as they were enjoying a break at the campground, the only water point on the course (which we pass at mile 3, 7 and 17). I was happy to have company again for the way up to the start.

Here is a picture taken by Andy Benkert who captures very well the type of weather we had this Saturday morning and the smokey views:

We completed the first loop (~10.5 miles) in about 1:45. I refilled my GU2O bottle and took a few brownies before we went on the Skyline to the Sea trail this time. Jeremy had so much speed and pleasure on the downhills, it was inspiring to see. Myself, I was happy to just stay behind Stuart as I was still feeling cold and rather tired. My favorite section of this whole course, Travertine Trail, was quite wet again this year, which is the way it is supposed to be in winter. Yet, barely enough to get wet shoes and socks. I took the lead on the fire road up to the campground again, then Skyline, and the three of us regrouped at Saratoga Gap for more calories in. We probably stopped for 5 minutes and I was really getting chilly again with the humidity and relatively slow pace so it was time to hammer the next loop with Jeremy. I felt bad that we weren't waiting for Stuart but Jeremy told me Stuart had issues with his IT Band and was probably not going to go down the painful Charcoal fire road with us. Jeremy was flying down Charcoal and it was hard to keep up, even on the Table Top loop. At that time, I was thinking that he was going to hammer down the last uphill but, as a matter of fact, I finished slightly stronger, thinking that this wasn't such a tough uphill compared to what I will experience at UTMB in a few months...

I got back to the car right before 1:00 pm, for 4:58 of elapsed time and 4:41 of running time. Jeremy arrived 5 minutes later.

I wore my old pair of Cascadias again, like at FOURmidable, it's time that I give a try to the Brooks Mazamas or Pure Grit 5 for UTMB!

Strava is giving a cumulative elevation of 5,325 feet, from the Garmin activity, not sure how accurate this is.

On our way back, we had both seen Keith and Rida running together as they were starting their last loop. Andy and Stuart's cars were gone, but Pierre-Yves' one was still there so he was on his third loop too. Sounds like Dennis also completed the three loops.

I'm super grateful to Keith for organizing this event again, and postponing it to a date all good conditions were met (for me anyway, not for those running Way Too Cool of course). And to Jeremy for the great motivation and company through these 5 hours. What a great way to log 

Overall, what a recovery week after Riverbank! I ran between 6 and 10 miles every day of the week, this demanding fat ass 48K on Saturday, and 15 more kilometers before getting on a flight to Raleigh, NC, at 2 pm this Sunday. 83 miles for the week, you don't want the engine to stop running...! ;-)

No racing in March for a big change, just looking forward to the training, on a variety of terrain to stay healthy and to account for the diversity of what's coming up: road racing in April and heavy trail racing in May. Hope to see many of you on the trails or the road in the meantime!

Riverbank One Day: from screwed underdog to crewed sick dog

One week has passed and I'm still not sure how the switch happened. Let me start with the non alternative facts...

Agn├Ęs was supposed to come but, after crewing for me at the FOURmidable 50K trail nationals a week earlier, she had too much on her place before a 4-week subbing engagement at our local high school and let me go on my own instead. Hence the screwed in the title, an ultra running terminology I first learnt from teammate Mark Tanaka, who is a guru of running crew-less in most of his numerous 100-milers.

Now, an hour before the start, as I had setup my table in a convenient spot along the track, Tania Pacev asked if she could set a table for her runner, next to mine. Tania has been on Team USA several times as an athlete (100K World Championships) and is still involved for USATF to support the team at these 100K and 24-hour championships. I had met her at the 24-hour Nationals in Cleveland the two times I participated. Long story short, she decided that she would provide any support I would need, putting me in an unscrewed state. Here is my table at the end of the night, I didn't travel light this time (not my canopy as well as rain was initially expected but spare us):
Let's now talk about the underdog part of the title: This was my 7th 24-hour event and I've had a mixed bag of experience with this format. More precisely, it was my second one on a track (400-meter laps), with the others on 1-mile loops (San Francisco, Cleveland and New Jersey). My best distance so far has been 133 miles which isn't so impressive compared to the rest of my running resume. But, as Bob Hearn like to remind us, there is a big difference between running 50K fast and running for 24 hours and I can't deny that 50K is my sweet spot by far. With that, I was hoping to get something between 145 and 150 miles and, Joe Fejes bet on a potential 145-mile mark for me in his race preview. As a matter of fact, there was so much competition that I stayed away from Facebook for a few days before the race and, conscientiously, did not read Joe's article before the race, hoping to keep some of the pressure I was already putting on myself, off.

As for the sick dog, read on...


It was the second edition of this event, the Riverbank One Day Classic. It includes a 24-hour, a 12-hour and a 6-hour and, as its name indicates, we run on the track of Riverbank High School, about 15 miles of Modesto, CA. It was created by Jon Olsen, a 24-hour guru. After logging 158.5 miles at the 2012 Nationals, he went on to win the World Championships with 162 miles in 2013. He had a few bad seasons since then but he is resolute to make the team this time again, running Run4Water 24-hour in Lebanon, TN, on April Fool's Day, the day before the closing of the Team USA qualification cycle for this year's championships in Belfast, Ireland. With an expert such as John as co-director, his wife's support as co-director as well, and another ultra runner, Jeffrey Rowe, as 3rd co-director, you can expect not only a very professional organization, but also an amazingly supportive rally of local acquaintances, from Scouts to High School students. Here is Jon on Sunday morning, doing a few training laps on the track between his RD's duties.
There is so much contrast with my previous race, the FOURmidable 50K, where I didn't see another 50K competitor from mile 2 to 30; spending 24 hours running in circles on a track get you to see everybody else, either passing them, or being lapped, or seeing them stopped at their table or the aid station. Hundreds of encounters which I'm not going to list in a race report! With this format, it's therefore key to not lose focus on your own race, and it's not easy as you pass by your table or the aid station every 2 to 3 minutes.

On my end, here are the main points or phases of my race.

  1. The first 2 hours basically followed the plan. I was looking for 26 laps per hour and I did 28 in the 1st hour and 28 in the second. As a matter of fact, I was getting lapped often by the lead runners (e.g. Chikara Omine, Courtner Dauwalter, Gina and Steve Slaby), but was perfectly fine with that. Besides, although I was moving at 8:45 min/mile, Tania kept asking me to slow down at every lap, I got so tired of it... (Photo credit: event Facebook page.)
  2. After 2 hours, I started experiencing some diarrhea and had to stop every 15 laps or so with sharp pain in my guts, more specifically the lower intestine. The stomach was still working ok and I kept eating for a while and drinking as the temperature was rising, and in fear of getting dehydrated by the diarrhea. I was hoping the issue to stop after a few hours so I kept going without seeking treatment, for several hours. Unfortunately, that didn't pass or rather it worsen and, after about 10 hours in the race, I finally asked Jon for some Imodium. A few laps later, the nurse gave me two pills (I forgot what it was) and that produced the expected results after 20 minutes. Although, a new discomfort or pain was created by being the intestine blocked now...
  3. After these many hours of pain not really related to running, my stamina had decreased so much: for almost 10 hours, I had been able to maintain a decent pace given the circumstances but clearly missed my goal for the day. In a normal ultra race, I would likely have DNF'ed/dropped but, in a 24-hour, there isn't such a thing. If you stop, you get the mileage you are stopping at and still listed in the results as is.
  4. In the first 10 hours, I had completed 260 laps as planned so you think I just had to keep moving, right? With the diarrhea though, I had lost track of my nutrition and hydration, on top of my mental focus. I started walking to keep going and hoping for a rebound. But I hate walking, and I'm pretty bad/slow at it. I only completed 13 laps in hour 11, and 12 in hour 12. I ran a handful laps in hour 13 but logged only 15, then 17 in hour 14. By that time, it was 11 pm and the temperature had dropped significantly, getting down to 36 after midnight.
  5. Around 12:30 am I was moving so slowly that I decide I'd better stop for good and sleep for a while in the car, warming up my body on my heating seat. It took me about 30 minutes to settle in the car after changing layers and getting some hot broth, then I slept for 45 minutes.
  6. After this 90-minute break I came back on the track at 2 am, stopped by the restrooms for #2, still to no avail, but was stunned to be able to run smoothly again! I completed 43 laps at about 2'10"-2'30" a lap and was already seeing myself catching up a lot of lost ground. Unfortunately, by 3:45 am, I got cold again and had to go back to a slow walk which I did on 2 laps before getting back to the car for another break, hoping for another rebound...
  7. I slept for another 45 minutes (that's my natural cycle, I don't even have to set a watch!), and came back on the track around 5 am. Unfortunately, this time, the legs didn't cooperate, and slow walking was the only thing I could do. That was lap 384 and I was logging 11 to 13 laps an hour now. That's when I spent the most time chatting with others, taking pictures as the sun rose and just trying to kill the time... (Photo credit: event Facebook page.)
  8. Before the last hour, I did a few laps with the Slabys who were devising if they should jsut finish walking or do some jogging. That made me think that maybe I could try running again. With 50 minutes to go at 8:10 am, and convinced that my painful legs wouldn't stand the running, I still dare to try and, surprise, running was actually so much more comfortable than walking that I started logging laps at 1'50"! That allowed me to do 26 laps in the last 50 seconds, that is faster than I had ever run in this 24-hour. Although I looked like stupid as I was so far behind the leaders.  (Photo credit: event Facebook page.)
  9. With that final surge, my final lap count was 448.3 for a distance of 179.3 kilometers or 111.4 miles. So far from my goal but still some distance, and at least 100 miles, for someone sick as a dog... 11th overall and 8th men.

Here is a visual summary of my race with the cadence varying from the ideal 180 steps/min when running, down to 120-140 steps/min when walking. Way too much time on the red this time...


Meanwhile, other and more important personal stories were made throughout the day, and the night, and the morning... And can't tell all of them but here are a few to illustrate how diverse they are.

First and foremost, and worth the Mark Dorion Determination Award, was the World-class performance of Courtney. After beating all the men at Desert Solstice last December (and that wasn't even the first race she did that!), Courtney was first overall again with 625 laps or 250 km, improving the American Record for 24 hours on a track! I had seen her at Desert Solstice when I ran there in December 2015 but had forgotten about her so, when she kept lapping me in the first 10 hours, I thought she was a 12-hour competitor... No, she kept going consistently for 24 hours, a perfect race, and a big signal sent to the other countries competing in the upcoming World championships!

Behind her, the first in the men division was Rich Riopel. I had met Rich at Desert Solstice as well and knew he was super determined to make the team again (he ran 157 miles a few years ago), aiming at a minimum of 150 miles at Riverbank. He ended up with 612 laps, taking a solid spot on the team.

2nd in the men was Bob Hearn, proud owner of our M50-54 age group American record for 24 hours (as well as 200K on the track on the way) which he set at a whopping 149 miles last year. Bob was also super consistent although he bonked in the last 2 hours, ending up with 144.5 miles. He was super disappointed because he feels that 149 miles may not hold him a spot on the team with 6 more weeks before the qualification cycle closes (you can follow the latest news on that USATF page). On my end, I was super impressed in particular by how Bob ran in singlet throughout the freezing night, he was so focused and consistent.

Extremely impressive by his consistency and composure was Paul Broyer who took 3rd with a huge personal record: 135 miles. Paul had an amazing race at TRT last year and is striving at the very long ultras in particular: the new guy to watch, who was the real underdog, not on anyone's radar.

His Excelsior teammate, Chikara Omine, is well known on the circuit, having for instance finished 7th at the 100K World Championships last year. Chikara smashed the first 100 miles, covering that distance in less than 14 hours I think. Unfortunately, that was too fast and big of an effort to be sustainable and Chikara spent some time 'under cover' in the freezing night afterwards, bouncing back the in late and final hours.

Yes, Chikara spent several hours in this green bag and chair on the field... This is pure endurance...

Another local ultra runner, Bill Dodson, set a handful of M80-84 age group records last weekend. In addition to 50-miles and 100km, Bill improved the 24-hour record by close to 20 kilometers, enough to enjoy a few breaks during the night. That being said, you have to imagine the 36F temperature and damping humidity of the night to realize that this isn't how you want to spend a night at 82!

In a younger age group (M70-79! ;-), teammate Jim Magill (not McGill in the results), logged as many laps as there are days in a year, finishing 15th overall!

Like me, Peter Fish was also rushing a few laps in the final hours in his quest for a 100-mile mark which he got with a few minutes --and 3 bonus laps-- to spare, phew!

I walked a few laps with Don Winkley, 78, of Corpus Christy, TX, and learned quite a lot of ultra running history. Don was actually walking faster than I did around 5-6 am, so he kept me moving faster!
Ed (The Jester) Ettinghausen is also a remarkable power walker who taught me that you can actually do laps below 4 minutes while walking. But Ed didn't just walk a lot, he also ran a lot, so much that he completed 513 laps! Still far from his best but he had ran a 48-hour the week before and was running another 24-hour this weekend, one week after Riverbank! Ed already has the Guinness record for running the most 100-milers in a year, he is now after the most 100-milers in a lifetime record, and an accelerated track to get it!

Receiving a massage from his chief crew extraordinaire, Mrs. Ettinghausen herself (who has also amazing ability to keep Ed's table in order as you can see, weekend after weekend).
Here are the Slabys, Gina and Steve, whom I mentioned above, enjoying a walk in the final hours after putting so many miles in the first 12 hours.

2 years after getting into ultra running after immigrating to the State of Washington, from Ireland, Yvonne Naughton accomplished the amazing fate to qualify for her National team by exceeding their qualification criteria, 200K, by 12 additional kilometers!


On the non running side now, I want to highlight a few individuals who were so essential to the fun we could have on this track for 24 hours!

First, chip timer extraordinaire, John Brooks. Last year, John was co-directing, bringing his PCTR (Pacific Crest Trail Runs) experience. This year, after selling PCTR to our Quicksilver President, Greg Lanctot, John was just in charge of the timing with his MyLaps system. Of course, I use just ironically, this is such an essential function in a time event when every lap counts and you have about 50 runners logging tens of thousands of passage over the mat. John was early on Saturday morning and left a couple of hours after the event and, in the meantime, slept for about an hour in his sleeping bag, on the ground, next to his computer. This is pure dedication and proof of his endurance (he also spends days and nights running long distance events when not volunteering).

There have been many volunteers who made this event possible of course but I want to highlight Luis who, to my knowledge, is the only aid station volunteer who covered the entire 24 hours (minus a 2-hour sleeping break in the middle of the night). You see him below in his sleeping bag in the freezing morning, still waking up every time we had a request, amazing deeds of service for 22 hours, kudos and huge thanks, Luis!

There was also this gentleman who walked tens of laps on the inside in order to replace cones which Mark Dorion was knocking down while dragging his feet on the fragile tartan of the track. (Paul Kentor did let me know on Facebook after I published this post, this is Bill Schultz, veteran ultra runner and pioneer of the 6-day format in the US in particular, and now Race Director of Dawn to Dusk to Dawn.)
And a few photographers who posted their pictures on the event website.
Last but not least, the Scouts who setup the manual board which I was excited about before the start (there were only 3 or 4 updates throughout the day, so it wasn't so useful after a while. Besides, I couldn't care less about the rankings for the last 12 hours anyway...).

There are more volunteers to thank, for instance, those cooking the soups, Italian food, pizzas, pan cakes and bacon. Jon knows who they are!

Great swag as well, with special mention for the original laser cut aluminum plaques and medals, well done, Riverbank One Day Classic! (Oh, and for the Vespa pouch as well, taking Vespa every 3 hours is what allowed me to survive through this long day!)

Overall, let's say that has been another learning experience for me but I'm disappointed I'm not learning faster because, unless you are Ed, there are only a few opportunities to run a 24-hour in a year, from a logistical and body resistance standpoint. Still hoping to have a great one one day...

PS: it was a delight to see the San Luis Reservoir so full and the hills so green along 152 this year, what a winter we are having after 5 years of drought!