Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Weekend: recovery and training tips, maybe

"You are crazy!" that's what a cyclist said while passing me on the way up to Saratoga Gap on Highway 9. I don't think he was referring to the fact I was running on such a busy road because I believe the danger of car is so much greater to road bikes. These past days, there have been a few very high profile accidents reported again on Facebook, involving several champions in Europe especially, while they were training or cross-training. It is so terrible to see lives of such people enjoying the outdoors, taken away by cars or trucks. That makes me appreciate trail running even more.

So, what was I doing on this road this Saturday?! I was going to use my standard route up to Black Mountain but Agnès had reminded me to enjoy my run before I left the house and I decided to improvise this time, deciding where to go next at every turn. Instead of taking Montebello, I took left through the Stevens Creek Park, on Tony Look Trail. At the end of it, I went right on Stevens Creek Canyon Road, then veered left at the next intersection on the steep Redwood Gulch Road which connects to Highway 9. Although I was already 9 miles in my run, I got excited to play with the bikes and keep up the pace, hence the comment or compliment I received above, and a few others as we were passing each others.

Now that you know how I got on Highway 9, what was I doing pushing the pace just 7 days after Ohlone and 3 demanding ultra races in May. Well, I'm not sure, but that's my way to recover by keeping training for the next gig. Which happens to be a hilly and tough one in the Alps, early July. The day after Ohlone, last Monday, I was really sore but decided to go for a few miles along the Colorado River in Austin. While I felt terrible in the first 2 miles, running at 8:30 min/mile along with the casual joggers, the leg muscles soften eventually and I was able to finish the run closer to 7 min/mile. Too much work the other days and too short nights, so I had to taper by necessity and ran 9 miles on Friday after flying back home.

Memorial weekend used to be my biggest training weekend of the year, starting in 2007 when I was preparing very seriously for my first Western States and participated in the super engaging and exciting Western States Memorial Weekend Training Camp. 88 hilly miles on the Western States trail in 2017 became 126 hilly miles in the Bay Area in my own training camp in 2008 and 122 miles in 2009. But international travel, especially to the Middle East, prevented me to keep up with this training tradition.

Speaking of recovery and training: people ask sometimes what I've been doing to allow me to keep racing so hard all these years. I must say that, except from rarely slowing down, either to take care of a nagging injury or to take a 3-week break at the end of the year, my approach is to keep looking forward, toward the next objective. Sincerely, I couldn't be a coach because this is all based on guts, not even guts feelings, and I don't see how I could demand as much from someone else as the pressure I put on myself. Besides, with the stroke I had last year, I couldn't imagine a coach pushing me beyond the bar I already set for myself.

Yet, let me list a few principles, most of them so basic you'll find them in most articles on recovery or sustainable training.

1. Listen to your body. Just enough. Ah, yes, that principle number 1. Super important to listen to signals coming from your body, in particular the mechanical ones (joints, bones --yes, they do speak, or at least whisper!--, muscles). But, with the years, you'll learn how to distinguish the serious signals from the noise coming from soreness. At first, I would stop training every time I felt something unusual. But it is the main role of training to relearn the body how to go farther and faster so don't fall in the trap of the signals coming from the body trying to resist and fighting the change. In other words, listen to your body, but not too much.

2. Don't listen too much to the mind. I know, this looks like contradicting number 1 as, after all, the mind, or brain, is part of our body.

3. Get ample sleep. I don't think there is any debate about this one and, as much as I believe in it, I admit I'm not so good at it. Between my first job (which isn't running, mind you! ;-), the associated stress and pressure, the heavy travel, including long international flights in coach, I suck at getting all the sleep I would need to properly recover from so much racing and training. I used to function on 5-hour nights but admit that this is too short nowadays. I'm not a sleep specialist but I think I'm gifted with a sleep cycle of 45 minutes (+/- 1 minute, and I don't exaggerate), which means I'd get 8 cycles in 6 hours. Anyway, up to you to determine what your cycle is (i.e. take a nap without setting a clock and see how long you sleep), and how many cycles of good sleep you can fit in your nightly routine.

4. Drink a lot. When I ran my first ultras, I was obsessed by a story I had heard of a runner who passed away during his sleep, because of kidney failure after a 100-mile. And it made a lot of sense to believe in the benefit of fluids draining your whole body and organs. Nowadays, however, after running 355 ultras (including 144 ultra races), I pay more attention on nailing down my hydration and electrolyte balance during the races itself so I don't have to fix things later. (And, mind you, that include checking on the color of your pee, as well as your post-race weight.) Still, always a sane habit to drink a lot during the day, especially after long runs.

5. Eat well. That one is a tough one as I have limited dietary expertise and rely on Agnès who is my guru in this area. Besides, traveling right after races doesn't help to be picky. But I know enough that recharging on proteins is paramount, and fat as well especially for me who uses Vespa and depend less on carb during races.

6. Enjoy the accomplishment, but quickly set your sight on the next goal. Because I've always had a busy racing schedule through our Quicksilver team involvement in the year round ultra Grand Prix, this has been a no brainer for me with more than 12 ultras a year. While we joke about people finishing an ultra in pain and saying 'never again' to only sign up for the next one on the next day, I'm surprised that many don't have any precise goal for months. Not having such a goal makes training consistency much harder. And, unlike Trumps thinks, if you don't use and work on your fitness, you lose it!

7. Leverage natural supplements. This sport is so demanding on our body, it's hard to keep all the variables or components in check and balanced and I found reassuring, if not critical, to rely on natural supplements in case, rather than wait too long to discover any deficiency or unbalance. I'm not a specialist in this field either but I feel it's probably better to ingest too many vitamins, the body must be able to fix what it needs. Speaking of vitamins, I can't take as much sun on my skin than Western States 100 pioneer Gordy Ainsleigh can, but I believe in the benefits he claims of running outdoor to get your quota of vitamin D. I do take supplements for vitamin C, Calcium, Magnesium and also glucosamine for the joints (as far as I know, the medical doctors aren't convinced about the real benefits on the joints, but they believe it can't hurt either). Taking Vespa (which I buy from Zombie Runners) also helps my recovery by avoiding bonking and keeping my nutrition in check during races.
Still on the nutrition topic, I also use GU Energy's Recovery Drink Mix (disclaimer: I also receive a discount from them through their Pro Customer program), after big races and long runs (here the chocolate flavor mixed with water, milk, vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate topping, yummy!).

8. Rotate shoes. That's a super critical element to me for proper recovery and sustainable training and running; and I'm not talking rotating across 3 pairs of the same model, but at least 3 different models. Each model has different traits and, switching from a type of shoe to another throughout the week will decrease the pressure of high mileage on the feet, legs and joints. Right now, I rotate across 7 different pairs of Brooks shoes (disclaimer: that's my sponsor!): new Caldera, 2 pairs of Launch, 1 Pure Connect, 1 Pure Flow and 1 Green Silence (new pair of an old/discontinued model), plus Racer ST for road racing.

9. Vary terrain, intensity and routes. This tip isn't just for recovery, but for keeping injuries at bay and remaining motivated over many months and years. And it's such an important topic, it could or should be split into individual considerations. Switch from even road surface to ease on the ankles to trails to ease on the joints, switch between intense track workouts to tempo or relaxed runs, rotate between your standard route and new neighborhoods or switching direction.

Finally, I could add a '10. Don't overtrain!' but that's too serious of a topic to be mentioned lightly, or at least without much definitive insights to offer. So, short of experience in this area after 18 years (phew!), and practical tips, I'll abstain but you can Google the terms and see how serious of a condition this is for some elites in particular. For me, I set the bar at an average of 100 km per week and even promised myself to lower the bar this year, yet I'm 490 km ahead of schedule after 5 months (123 km/week), but I'll take a few weeks off before the big races in the Alps to taper.

Again, to me, this is very empirical and I can't imagine being pushed further by a coach. Can you imagine the moral responsibility if an athlete pushes so hard or far that he gets hurt, disable or dies...? Ok, maybe I'm taking it up a few notches further than most...

Anyway, back to my weekend, I was hoping to run 3 ultras in 3 days but it didn't quite turn that way.

On Saturday, after making it to Saratoga Gap on Skyline Boulevard, I continued on the Saratoga Gap Trail, this time racing a few fast mountain bikers, then down Table Mountain Trail with all its rocks, roots, switchbacks and poison oak obstacles. I started getting some diarrhea which worsen with the pounding. There isn't any restroom in that area and I was 15 miles in my run, I few stops in the bushes will have to do... Since I didn't plan my route that day, I was out of fluid when I reached the Stevens Creek and hesitated refilling from the flowing water but refrain from it, still fearing the giardiasis I contacted 9 years ago. It wasn't even hot in this late May, but it was refreshing to see so much water flowing from the creeks so late in the season.

Without anything to drink for a few miles, I crawled to the top of Black Mountain on the steep and exposed Indian Creek trail, trying to power walk as much as possible as a training for my next two races in the Alps this summer, only stopping to check on the tail end of this big snake, just in case it was a Rattlesnake impersonating a Gopher one!

I refilled my water and GU2O bottle at the Black Mountain campground. While the diarrhea wasn't hurting on the way up, it started back as soon as I passed the summit, with 11 downhill miles to go, ouch! Despite the loss of elevation, I couldn't get under 8 min/mile and had to make a 3rd stop in the bushes, at which point I called Agnès to the rescue. She picked me as I just passed the Pichetti Winery at the bottom of Montebello Road, with my Garmin showing 29.2 miles. So long for the 34-mile recovery ultra I was aiming for, yet, a good effort.

On Sunday, I went for a flat, albeit moderately faster, 50K training run, from Cupertino to the Palo Alto Baylands, and back.
You'll have to click on the image to see more details but I was fascinated to see so many park names across our nearby hills at this zoom level. So blessed to have this running paradise just a few blocks from home and our famous Silicon Valley!

On Monday, Memorial Day, I was hoping to get up early and go back up to Black Mountain for a 3rd ultra. But I had forgotten a milestone at work which kept me up until midnight and that took away most of my energy and motivation in the morning. I still managed to run 20 flat miles, rounding up the weekend to 80.0 miles, not too bad for 3 days worth of recovery and training runs.

Is this all crazy? I can certainly not tell this ultra recovery and training regimen will work for all indeed, but I do believe everyone can safely push the needle while applying the above tips which, again, are really basic stuff, nothing breakthrough. Because, after all, this is about retraining what our body used to know and was meant to be.

Play safe out there on the trails and Run Happy all!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Ohlone 50K 2017: back at it, to it and on it for the 30th!

Back at it: it had been 8 days since I raced an ultra, it was time to race again, albeit half the distance of my last two races in May, just 50K!

And one year has passed, time to get back to this Ohlone 50K event and local ultra tradition. Nothing will ever match my love for Agnès but, from an ultra perspective, I must confess I've had a love story with the Ohlone 50K race from day one, that is on May 20, 2007. I'm even feeling a special connection with the native Ohlone people and culture! I had run 3 ultras for my debut in 2006 (Way Too Cool 50K, Dick Collins Firetrails 50-mile, and Helen Klein 50-mile) and was lucky to get in Western States in 2007 in my first lottery. With that, I signed up for most of the Grand Prix races that year, which included this one in May, a perfect heat training opportunity.

I had no idea about the course and, after the Hawks Nest steep climb, I ended up in second place, just behind Graham Cooper. I had seen Graham winning Western States after I captured the collapse of Brian Morrison on tape, a sequence which made it into Ethan Newberry's A decade On movie (see on YouTube).

Being on Graham's heels by mile 13 on my first Ohlone was really intimidating. Or foolish. Especially when Graham suggested that I 'go ahead' and I complied. Back then, I thought that Rose Peak culminated at 5,000 feet, and that it was then downhill from the highest point of the course. While it was a great surprise when I saw my Garmin indicating only 3,700 ft and being given a bracelet at the top, proving we had reach the highest point, the last 12 miles were certainly not all downhill, yikes. I was cramping so bad but hold on my leading spot, that was my first one, and incidentally the 20th edition.

I ran all the editions except 2014, so I could attend Alex's graduation at Georgetown that Sunday (but I ran Silver State 50-mile, and won it, so I have a special connection with that weekend of May...). And last year was the first time I had missed the podium, finishing 4th overall, mere 15 seconds behind Remi Delille. Overall, I was 1, 1, 2, 3, 3, 1, 1, 1, 4. 5 wins, and 6th this year from an UltraSignup ranking.

In addition to being my 10th Ohlone, 2017 was really special at it was the 30th anniversary!

After 5 am for Miwok 2 weeks ago and 4:30 an last week at Quicksilver, I love the 8 am start. Especially as we had a dinner party last night! At least, that gives us plenty of day light to see others at the start instead of blinding each others with out headlamps. The legendary Errol 'Rocket' Jones was coming back on this course after 22 years (1995) to celebrate this special anniversary. Here he is with two super venerable ultra volunteer, Stan Jensen, omni present at our local races, and Hollis Lenderking, who has presided over our Pacific Association Mountain and Ultra Trail Grand Prix for several decades.
 Ultra love in this community!

 Proud bibs 1 and 2! ;-)
While we were busy chatting, I missed the early 7 am start and had to rush up the hill to catch these pictures, a first sweat of the day!

It was already quite warm as the sun rised over Mission Peak.
Two buses this year brought the runners who had parked at the finish, which is a good idea as the city of Fremont has recently restricted parking on nearby residential street on weekends.
We got a cool Quicksilver group picture, thank you, Agnès!
Missing were John Burton (calf injury) and our team captain Loren Lewis, who made it back home by 3:30 am after running Silver State 50-mile on Saturday in Reno then hitting some heavy traffic on highway 80 on the way back. So long for a crazy double.

Co-Race Director, Chihping Fu, sent us on the first climb after providing some instructions, in particular some course change which I didn't understand, and after an abrupt count down of 3 seconds, phew! ;-)

This year, Agnès went on to climb to the top of Mission Peak. She made it by the straight route in 1:03, Nordic walking and fast enough to pass the back of the pack on the way, then take pictures of a few runners coming down from the top on the back side.
On my end, I ran the first mile in 2nd place then decided to power walk the steepest sections, so steep that walking barely made a difference from running. I got passed by 2 other runners who I passed again before the switchbacks in the 3rd mile. Thanks to a excellent course marking, we couldn't miss the course change which got us climbing hard on the left side of the original course.

Here are two pictures from I-Tao Tsai, just before the top of Mission Peak.

I was about 60 seconds behind the lead runner at the summit when I got passed by 4 runners on the short but super tricky rocky and steep downhill section afterwards, where I took a bad fall last year so I was extra cautious. You can see how careful and slow I was in Jeremy Johnson's video, below. And notice how they are throwing hikers at us, against the current! ;-)
I caught up with these runners in the next single track section, on the other side of Mission Peak and charged ahead at the next fire road, flying through the first aid station. thanking the volunteers but without even looking at them to avoid tripping and this washed out section. I clocked a pair of 6:30 miles on the long down hill. I was surprised at how much poison oak there was, and stunned when I even saw course marking ribbons on two branches of poison oak, I had never seen this before, that's hard core course marking!

I could still point the lead runner, shirtless, 60 seconds ahead at the road crossing, mile 7, and was fine with that. I stopped at the Sunol aid station, mile 9, to get ice in my water bottle, pick of piece of banana (a good yellow today, thank you Larry and Chihping!) and cup of coke. And one S!Caps and salted caramel GU gel since they were available on the buffet (thank you for sponsoring, GU Energy and Succeed!).

I passed a few early start runners in the next climb, alternating again some walking and running. Even with this regimen the gap with the lead runner wasn't changing. I was impressed how he kept running everything in the uphill, that reminded me of my early years on this course! I was checking who was coming behind but it was hard to tell with the winding trail. I got closer to the lead as we approached the Backpack Area aid station at mile 12.5. So cool to be helped again by Chuck Wilson who was already volunteering at Miwok (Randall Trail aid station Captain) and Quicksilver last week on Bull Run. Here am I, photo credit to Chuck, wisely spending a few seconds making my mind on what to pick from this rich and diverse buffet.
After another good refreshing stop, I walked most of the climb to Hawk Nest (a toughie) and watered my head at the faucet, quickly to save the precious water. By mile 14, I caught up with the top runner who asked how i was feeling and I asked the same. He let me pass and I kept pushing the pace a little on that section that I used to run entirely 10 years ago. But I was feeling some nagging cramps coming so I did some walking too. By mile 16 I had created a half-mile gap and kept pushing, fearing that, with all this walking, the pursuit group would quickly catch-up. I made it to the top, surprising the two volunteers tasked with the distribution of bracelets to prove we passed by the summit. One of them asked "Are you a runner?" and and I joked back "Do I look like one?" to which he replied "Oh yes, you are!" A nice distraction from the leg pain, thank you for being out there, guys!

I rushed down the rocky trail to finish the 1-mile loop just in time to see the pursuit group charging up. I estimated my lead to be close to 10 minutes, with 12 miles to go. One one hand, being in the lead was giving me some mental wings, on the other, I was fearing the last miles given the nascent cramping. I got a lot of ice in my bottles, refilling my GU2O bottle in particular, which was kind of late in the race (I should have done it at mile 15), and that, less electrolyte, was probably the explanation for the cramps, although I was doubling up on the S!Caps. Fortunately, by drinking more, GU2O and water, the cramps passed and I was able to run sub 7 min miles on the downhills at least.

On one of these downhills, as I approached a creek (it has been a long time since I've since so many running creeks at this race!), I ran into a cloud of large bugs which I couldn't identified. I was really hoping they wouldn't bite because there was really nothing I could do to avoid them. On the next climb, I looked at my top, it was covered with lady bugs, that was a first for me!

I kept alternating running and power walking on the climbs and, after not stopping by the self-service water stop at Stewart's Camp, looked behind on the next climb but couldn't see any other runner within 8 minutes. I got to Schlieper Rock and was welcome there by Race Director, Larry England. After 4 hours of running, I told Larry "We are so slow this year" and he replied "It doesn't matter since you in first place!" With my pessimistic nature, and with all the walking, I indeed felt I was way behind my times of the last years. Besides, we still had 5 tough miles to go and I was convinced this would take more than an hour.

The next section consists in a steep downhill to a creek which I used to enjoy when I was more agile and fearless. The slippery switchbacks, the rocks, the poison oak, that was a lot to handle at once and I have to admit I put way too much on the brakes. I was so glad to finally reach the creek and soaked my cap in the running water which was dearly missing last year. I felt pathetic in the next and last climb to the ridge, but resolute to keep pushing to preserve the lead. I was doing great on the ridge when, checking behind, I saw a runner in the distance. That gave me a surge of adrenaline as I was approaching the long downhill to the finish. I had wished so much that I had some time to stop Stromer Spring this year, to get my head in the bath tub there, but I just flew through the station, pushing as hard as I could.

I got to the finish sprinting like I was trying to escape from a mountain lion. Yet, with the eyes on the clock which was marking... 4:59:30 when I crossed the finish line. Wow, that was close! I was exhausted by this last surge though and asked to sit in a chair. Agnès was worried and not happy to see me like that.

4 pictures from teammate Keith Blom who had run the Silver State 50-mile on Saturday and was now covering the finish line with his photographic skills.

Catra stopped by, she had just completed 200 miles on this course over 67 hours, just as a personal challenge, ultra has really no limit!
The second runner came in 10 minutes later and it was Rémi Delille who beat me by 15 seconds last year and whom I had not recognized, oops. We had a short chat about his UTMB race last year as I'm going there myself this year. Born in France, Rémi grew up on the East Coast and now lives in California.

In third was John Schmid, from Oakland. Here is the Men Ohlone 2017 podium:
And with Chihping and former Race Director, Rob Byrne.

From our Quicksilver team, Stuart Taylor took 8th.
And he ran with his team jersey, here he is after the top of Mission Peak.
Nina Giraudo (#89) finished 6th and Tiffany Trevers (pink top below, followed by her husband David) took 8th while Kat Powell dropped again unfortunately, making us score only in the Men and Mixed this time.
It took me a while to be ready to get a juicy hamburger from Chef Eric England, Larry's son, who has cooked for us for the past 6 years! And, it was hot today on the trails, it was even hotter next to the grill!
6th win out of 10 editions, including the 20th run in 2007 and this 30th one, the love story continued again this year. Now, I know that I can thank quite a few faster runners who decided not to run this year, that helped! I actually felt embarrassed that this would be the slowest winning time in 30 years but Gary Wang's website actually lists 4 slower winner times (Kevin Rumon in 2000 in 5:07, Mike Topper in 2001 with 5:13, Graham Cooper's 5:19 in 2005 and my 5:05 in 2015). Fortunately not so shameful in this heat.

Given the low key nature of the event, the point to point course, and the remoteness of several aid stations requiring hauling by the Park Rangers, this is a race which always blows my mind from an organization standpoint, and the commitment of the teams of volunteer in particular. We, runners, are so fortunate to have all these volunteers giving us their day, weekend and more, so we cn enjoy this very special Ohlone trail between Fremont in the Bay, to the remote Del Valle park in Livermore. See this overall map situating the Ohlone trail in the Bay Area.
And a look at the course profile from my Strava dashboard.
A very special thank to all these volunteers then, and kudos to Larry and Chiphing for organizing this 30th edition with much professionalism, care and success! Thank you also for the nice schwag.
In the hurry of leaving to the airport, I couldn't find last year's top, here are 9 of my Ohlone rainbow collection.

And thank you to the race sponsors which include a few of my favorite products too (e.g. GU Energy, Succeed, Zombie Runners).

Back to the title, super stoked to be back on it, meaning the podium, this was beyond my wildest dreams. I'm now taking a few weeks off competition, phew! My next race is in July, my second attempt at the grueling Montagn'Hard 107K which will be a good training and test for UTMB on 9/1.

Like in 2012, albeit for a much shorter flight, I had just enough time for a quick shower before heading up to SFO on Sunday evening (in 2012 is when I flew to Dubai right after the race and we had already boarded when I received a call from the Park Rangers who were trying to contact Pierre-Yves' wife after his heat stroke and helicopter rescue). This time it was just Austin, TX, but the flight got delayed because of the fog over SFO and I made it to my hotel room by 2 am this Monday morning. It's an ultra busy life out there... Got a few nice views of the City by the Bay and the delta.

I haven't seen the overall results as I post this race report, but hope everybody made it home safely this year. Take care all, and see you on the trails!