Sunday, September 24, 2017

Trailblazer 10K 2017: levitate, and push!

Levitate? What a strange title for a running race... Well, on Wednesday, I received a pair of Brooks' latest shoes, the Levitate, and they are something!
So pleasing to the eyes and the touch that I was compelled to test them out right away with a fast 15K on Wednesday and another 15K on Thursday. The Relive flyover even showed my pace peaking at 4:47 min/mile, this is surreal, only levitation could get me to run that on a tempo run, on a flat course! Or some approximation from Garmin, most rationally...
While the model was announced earlier this month, and the web site taking pre orders, the shoes will get on the market in a couple of weeks and Brooks hopes the response will have the same enthusiastic feedback received through 18 months of hard work and field testing.
The main reason this is an innovative and outstanding shoe is that Brooks worked for 2.5 years with the chemist company, BASF (oops, not Bayer as I told some people this morning), to come up with a revolutionary new compound for the midsole, the DNA AMP, a key component for a shoe now returning up to 72% of the pounding energy! (Read the press release for more details.)
Anyway, I'll say more about these shoes in another post, so let's get back to the title and the main cause of this event, the Stevens Creek Trail. As I mentioned in my post yesterday, this is a very 'Stevens Creek-oriented weekend, with the 50K race organized by ex running club, the Stevens Creek Striders of Cupertino, with a course going through the Stevens Creek park, on the Stevens Creek Canyon trail, and, of course, along the Stevens Creek, albeit not quite down to the Stevens Creek reservoir (in 2009, I wrote about 12 of these Stevens Creek fixtures in our area). Further down, the trail resumes in Mountain View then ends in Shoreline Park where the Stevens Creek reaches the water of South Bay.

This fun, yet very professional event is organized by the Friends of the Stevens Creek Trail, and is all about building awareness for that trail, including the headache of connecting the lower section on the Bay side, to the upper section in the hills so, on day, we can do Bay to Skyline then Skyline to the Sea, all on a trail! Yes, we, ultra runners, would love that...!

In the meantime, this is a fund raising event, thanks to all the runners and walkers participating, and also the generous sponsors supporting the organization.
Here is Aaron Grossman, the mastermind of this event, playing so many roles from Race Director, MC and, not the least responsibility, Executive Director of the Friends of the Stevens Creek. And leader who gathers so many volunteers to help out setting up and managing these races, as well as all year around to maintain and develop this wonderful trail.
Aaron sent us right at 8:30, for the 10K race, the 5K race starting 15 minutes later. It's good to have these different start times so we don't get confused by who is running which race, or the different paces. I didn't recognize any of the fast runners from previous years but, right off the bat, I had to settle for second as we were already in the 5:20-5:30 min/mile range. Right in the heels of the leader, I covered the first mile in 5:37 and really wondered how long this would last. Our second mile was around 5:45 and it was even hard to keep up. By mile 3, I had fallen 10 seconds behind and was impressed how that runner kept going steadily at 5:45 min/mile with apparent ease and little breathing. And he looked like he could be a Masters as well...

To make the things worse, I was thinking that he all the adrenaline of following the lead bike (for knowing how it feels), while I started seriously doubting after mile 3 that I will ever catch-up. I lost a bit of stamina in mile 4 (5:56) with a wake-up call in mile 5 when I realized that I had slowed down to 6 min/mile. I was able to get back to digging a big deeper and run the 6th mile in 5:52, sprinting to the finish to take 2nd overall in 36:07. (Next 2 pictures in the final mile on the levee, courtesy of Satpal Dalal.)

The overall winner was Alan Alarcon, 38, in 35:02 and third place was Adam Cutbill, 27, in 38:47. Here is Adam, proud recipient of the Microsoft Fitbit Charge.
I got a nice glass plaque trophy for first Master, make me look younger, yeah! ;-)
Coming into the race, I didn't feel like I was going to break 35' but, not breaking 36' did disappoint me since I didn't have the reasons I had these past years. I didn't even finish at UTMB 3 weeks ago, only covering the first 100K...! The graph is definitely trending up... :-/

With that, I'm looking forward to the next editions then, to see if that's just the age, finally... There will also be the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot test in 2 months.

Speaking of next year, the race is in jeopardy, at least on that course, as the main sponsor and host, Microsoft, will vacate this campus by then. Aaron is definitely hoping that the other sponsor, Google, takes over and we can start from their campus at least. Like we were running the Human Race from the Silicon Graphics headquarters back then in 2004, or was it the Googleplex already? I can't remember, I wasn't blogging yet, only started 10 years and 550 posts ago... ;-)

By the way, here is the fly-over for our 10K race, by If you've never seen this feature before, check it out (click on this link, or the image below)!
And good stats on Garmin Connect, like the 190 steps per minute cadence, 1.46 m average stride, 5:49 min/mile average pace. Oh, and that peak at 4:46 min/mile again...! Must be when I was thinking of the Berlin Marathon studs...
The 5K Men race was won by Andy Crawford. I recently became a colleague of his as he was recently elected to the Chair position of our Pacific Association USATF LDR (Long Distance Running) committee, and I'm taking over the Chair role of the MUT (Mountain Ultra Trail) subcommittee, releasing Bill Dodson from this responsibility. Proud of bringing new blood and energy to this institution I owe so much of my ultra motivation to, over the past 12 years! All of you, runners, please consider joining our Pacific Association, contact me if interested!
While Andy, after switching back to his Brooks training shoes, went for a 2-mile cool down, I ran the 10K loop in reverse in 41 minutes, including a few stops to take pictures of the birds. 14 miles total including a 2-mile warm-up at 8 am.

I was back just in time to see the overall winners award ceremony. Here are the race winners, 5K and 10K men and women:
Below is the tireless Bill Dodson who, at 82, easily ran his M80+ age category, and bare foot this year again! Bill had a cross-country competition yesterday and he still runs ultras, still continuing after breaking all the American M80-84 age group records for long distances!

My camera battery died before I could take pictures of the entertaining and 1-mile long kids race.

With the long award ceremony and generous raffle, I had some time to get to know the 3rd place in our 10K who also ran the 26K loop of the super steep Broken Arrow race in Squaw Valley earlier this year, Adam Cutbill.

Overall, a great edition again, albeit maybe less people than we had 10 years ago.
Big thanks to all the volunteers, from the many cheerful high schoolers on the course or at the water and Hobee's coffee cake tables, to the members of the Friends of the Stevens Creek Trail.

Among the sponsors was a cool company, LimeBike, offering self-service bikes without racks: if you find such a bike on the sidewalk, you just unlock it with your phone and it's yours to use at $1 per 30 minutes. They have equipped South San Francisco already, as well as other cities like Dallas, Raleigh, Seattle, or South Lake Tahoe. Cool concept!

And the volunteers stationing at the end of the 10K loop could use their bikes!
Among the many runners wearing Brooks shoes, either for racing or training, there was this fan who happens to have Brooks as his first name, that's handy! ;-)
And a father-son all-in-Brooks 5K finish!
Yesterday I was cheering for Satpal at the Stevens Creek 50K, today it was the turn to cheer his daughter on the 5K, way to go (and his son was on the 10K already)!
We were blessed with a perfect weather, and wonderful views of the Bay especially with the numerous birds and the pelicans visiting again.

Fabulous opportunity to celebrate the wonders of the Bay Area and our Stevens Creek trail in particular, with special thanks to the Friends of the trail for their decades of support and lobbying to extend its toward the Cupertino hills. See you again next year! And remember, you now have access to a shoe which can make you levitate, so you can push even harder and faster! #RunHappy

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Stevens Creek 50K 2017: on the other side of the lens again!

I used to love to do the Stevens Creek double this last weekend of September but I had to let go over the past years, the main reason being that I love speed and, for some reasons, I can't run a 10K at my best after racing a 50K hard the previous day; isn't it hard to age...? ;-)

After running (and winning!) the event 3 consecutive times in 2011, 2012 and 2013, it's good to give back and volunteer. As a matter of fact, since I switched from the Stevens Creek Striders to the Quicksilver Club, helping here is a no brainer since our club man the Saratoga Gap aid station, barely returning the favor which the Striders do to our club by manning an aid station at our Quicksilver 50K and 100K races in May. Why do I say barely? Because our shift is half of the Striders' one on race day, 5 hours versus 10 or more hours.
I actually volunteered earlier in 2008 when the race was still directed by its founder, Steve Patt, who transitioned the management to the Striders a few years ago, allowing him to run his own creation now! Aid station at Rapley Ranch, then sweeping the last 7 miles. Here is Steve Patt, Emeritus RD:

While I joined my club mates in 2015, I skipped last year (volunteering and running Trailblazer) because I was trying to heal a sesamoiditis after running the 24-hour US Nationals earlier that month (and resting for 7 weeks ending up being the successful cure!).

Long story short, we had a great team of volunteers to help our sister club and the 60 or so participants in the 30 and 50K this Saturday.
And we did need these extra hands as the Striders asked us to man an additional water-only station, 1.7 miles from the Saratoga Gap main aid station, a mini station through which the runners will run twice at mile 9 and 12.4.
Knowing that they had also added two other water-only aid stations, the first one at mile 5, Grizzly Flat (it's great to remember that we had bears in these hills a few decades ago), and mile 16.5 (Portola), I wasn't expecting runners to even blink and stop by our table but, on the contrary, most of them did refill bottles, at least on their first passage.

That kept Malinda and I busy for 3 hours, although my main job ended up to take pictures of the runners and give them indications of the direction and mileage ahead, as the second purpose of this water stop was to orient participants through this convoluted and confusing 5-way trail intersection.

The way in (yellow flags):
The second way out (pink flags):
I'm sorry I just had an old point and touch camera with me as the result is pretty poor given the tricky lightning. But, for the sake of showing I did shoot like a cowboy (we had a Western theme), here is the raw result, got almost everybody (except maybe the top 2 runners who caught us by surprise, flying through the aid station really fast). See this Picassa album, and please refer your friends to this blog post! (Click on the collage below to go to the album.)
Was great to see many familiar faces enjoying this low key even but challenging course. By the way, the weather was ideal for amazing performances, very clear sky and views, cool temperature, even on the chilly side for us immobile on the side line. Looking forward to seeing the results tonight or tomorrow!

I'll leave it to the runners to thank the organizers of this event, let me thank our volunteers, starting with Stuart who organized our crew before running the race himself, David who hauled the aid station gear from and back to the race headquarters, Emilee, Amy and Jeremy, the three of them bringing extra young hands to handle the task, Yoshihiro, and Malinda again who stayed with me at our satellite station. Way to represent Quicksilver, team!

Tomorrow is only a 10K race (I hear you saying "phew, what's that?") but it comes with it's own type of apprehension for me, for instance how many sub 6-min miles I'll be able to run. I'd better keep in mind that this isn't even fast when the lead runners will clock all their miles under 5 minutes at the Berlin Marathon tomorrow morning! Yes, doesn't need to understand the whole E=mc^2 equation to appreciate that speed is all relative... ;-) (And, also, that mass, speed and energy are definitely related.)

More running news tomorrow then, still in the Stevens Creek theme since the Trailblazer 10K is organized by the Friends of the Stevens Creek Trail, at the other end of the Stevens Creek Trail, lower on the Bay side (in Mountain View).

Saturday, September 16, 2017

3 inspiring blind dates with Simon Wheatcroft in Silicon Valley

Wow, what a weekend with this unique opportunity to spend time with Simon Wheatcroft, and get another boost of inspiration from this exceptional blind ultra runner who is opening our eyes by his bold goals and achievements, and his passion to apply new technologies to improve the world in general but the life of blind people in particular!

The first time I got to hear about Simon's story, I was actually part of a crowd of more than 10 thousands people as Simon got on the main stage at our 2016 IBM InterConnect conference in Las Vegas. Then we went for the yearly casual run organized by the marketing team later in the week. Because I was so grateful to have this opportunity to meet Simon in person, I decided that I'd give the opportunity to others in the Bay Area when Simon informed a few weeks ago that he was going to do a short stop  in Silicon Valley. Simon was staying at home and I tried to get him to visit IBM again (our IBM Bluemix Garage developed an mobile app for Simon to help him navigate the Namibian desert in a multi-day race last May), but Simon had already a very busy agenda on Friday.
You can see this BBC clip relating the work on the mobile app for the Namibia multi-day race:

With that express visit, I went on to schedule a talk at Sports Basement on Friday evening and a group run at our Quicksilver Running Club's favorite park, Almaden Quicksilver. Then, on Thursday, came a request from the California School for the Blind which Simon was very nice to squeeze in on Friday morning. Like Simon frequently says "life works better when you adapt..." And adapt is the key to the name and mantra of his company, &adapt or

#1 - The California School for the Blind

This came as a total eye opener for me, the fact that we had in the Bay Area the only public school for the blind in California, right in Fremont, and that this school started back in 1860 (yes, not a type, 157 years ago!) in San Francisco.

After hearing about the Friday evening event, their Track Coach, and mobility teacher, Marie Trudelle, reached out on Thursday to check if there was any possibility to squeeze one more stop in for Simon and I'm very glad we were able to do it. Of course, it was a bit hectic to drive through all the Friday morning commute traffic between Cupertino and Fremont then back to Cupertino, at least we could use the car pool lane where available.

What a moving experience to see these kids carefully listening to Simon's story then bombarding him with questions about their respective experiences and also how mobile technology could help them better navigate the dangerous world that the outdoors are for them.

There was this 11 year-old kid who was so excited and on fire with his genuine and smart questions (Photo credit: Neil Bacon):
He recently arrived from Afghanistan with his family and suffers from a very painful genetic disease and his teachers were so happy to see him forgetting about his constant pain for the occasion. And he wasn't the only one moved by this fortuitous interaction, thank you again, Marie, for reaching out!

#2 - Q&A at Sports Basement Sunnyvale

After a busy day in the office in Cupertino and yet another round trip navigating the insane South Bay commute traffic to visit the Tesla factory in Fremont with his travel and running buddy, Dr. Neil Bacon (Founder and CEO of, a Yelp-like platform for patients to rate their healthcare providers), it was time to drive to Sunnyvale where Sports Basement very kindly opened their community room for an informal gathering and Q&A of our local running community with Simon.

With an invite posted on Facebook and relayed by Sports Basement to 32,000 members, I didn't know how many people to expect. And, when Michele, a club mate, offered to cover and bring pizzas and drinks, she said she'd at least aim at the first 30 participants. Well, we ended up being less that this, people have busy lives on a Friday evening... But at least the participants could ask all the questions they had and have one on one interactions with Simon, priceless!

Special thanks to Michele and Dennis for bring the food, and shout out to Sports Basement tor their continuous and generous of our local community by allowing us to organize these events! You can become a Basementeer yourself, benefit from additional discounts and Sports Basement will even retrocede 10% of the profit on any of your purchases to the local educational institution of your choice! A way to remain Panda-riffic if you were wondering, Simon... ;-)
We also had a very special attendee last night, Joel, who became blind earlier this year after a tragic car accident. Joel was so eager to get insider tips from Simon, and Simon was himself amazed at how quickly Joel learned the ropes of coping with the loss of eyesight, challenges ranging from simple tasks such as putting toothpaste on a toothbrush (or rather straight in the mouth), using silverware to eat or moving around and avoiding obstacles with a cane.

Speaking of cane, the California School for the Blind its White Cane Day 2017 on October 18th where everyone is invites to a free rap concert on the eve, and a walk-a-thon at Lake Elisabeth on Wednesday afternoon (questions or RSVP: James Rudder at (510) 936-5506).

#3 - Group run at Almaden Quicksilver

The last encounter with Simon before he was flying back to Los Angeles this Saturday afternoon happened at the Almaden Quicksilver County Park. Again, very few people too this opportunity to meet Simon but the fewer the merrier for quality time with him!
We were 8 at the start, then Bill who, at 82, had kept up with us for the first 3 hilly miles, decided to return to the parking lot after our detour on April Trail. At the top of Mine Hill, we ran into David and Tiffany who had started at the Hacienda entrance. So that made 10 overall, enough to call it a group run finally! And small enough not to get on the Rangers' radar fortunately... ;-)
Simon very much appreciated the new smoothness of the fire roads which have recently been scrapped to remove the toxic minerals from the ground (it's good to know we've run all these years on these trails without much of a warning!).

We continued our historical visit of the park with the April Tunnel, the Powder House and the San Cristobal Tunnel Entrance, sites and artifacts dating 150 years, as old of the School for the Blind!

I planned the tour so that we started with most of the climb, then went on with the gradual down along the reservoir with great views of Mount Umunhum (Grand Opening tomorrow, upon pre-booking, or Monday to the general public, so exciting after this long wait!), a nice ride on Randoll and finished with the last section of New Almaden, a much trickier single track to navigate for Simon, but a great test to fuel his dream of running Western States in a couple of years! We'll certainly need Neil's trail description expertise to succeed in this endeavor. What a task to keep highlighting every rock emerging from the ground, gulches of all sizes traversing the trails, the size of every root, the tree trunks or branches too close to the trail, a constant flow of words, phew!

We had a bit of an interesting episode to go around and over a large tree which was blocking the trail but everybody helped Simon get through without a single scratch, and no poison oak in particular, phew!

Great memories and bonding are formed when overcoming obstacles and supporting each other!

And, typical and illustrative of the diversity in Silicon Valley, what a surprise to find out that David was living in the UK at a place close to Simon's. Small and connect world! And, yes, they figured from their accents! ;-)
All that running with Simon surely made all of us realize how much we were taking for granted. I've ran this trail many time but never paid so much attention to all the details of it, except maybe when doing trail maintenance and actually removing roots or rock from the trail. Speaking of trail maintenance, and down trees, our Trail Maintenance Chief, Paul Fick, is hosting a trail work session next Sunday, September 24 (you can also join our Facebook group, Quicksilver Trail Runners, to hear about more opportunities to help out!).

Here is a 3D fly over of our tour of the park:

And the Strava profile:

With such a Western States dream, expect Simon to visit again! When this is case, I hope more will take the opportunity to get to know him and get further inspired to overcome any obstacle you may encounter in your lives. And adapt...!