Sunday, November 25, 2018

Ultra Running as a team sport? Yes it can!

This is rather counter-intuitive: by essence, except for some crewing and pacing at some ultra races, ultra running is very much an individual sport where each participant battles physical and mental challenges on their own, right? Same could be said about cross-country (XC), but it couldn't be further from the reality: cross-country races surely keep track of individual rankings but most of them put much more emphasis on awarding teams, or clubs. See for instance these pictures, how start lines are organized by team:

By the way, because of the smog last week, our Pacific Association XC Championships were rescheduled to this Sunday but I didn't attend, I didn't run any of the races this season and I have to admit XC is too fast for me nowadays, these guys are real... runners! ;-)

So, what about teams in ultra? In France, for instance at UTMB, sponsored elites would proudly register under their brand and the information will be displayed in the results. Other runners would use their club. To register for most races over there, you have to either prove that you are member of the national Track & Field association, or you have to provide a medical certificate attesting that you are in shape to race competitively. I wish the same would apply here in the US, that would certainly boost USATF membership!
For $30/year (or $25/year for 4 years), you can join our USA Track & Field association and pick a club, or team, when you do so. Then, when you participate to one of our Grand Prix, be it cross-country, road, or MUT (Mountain, Ultra, Trail), your finish can contribute to points to your team, bringing additional meaning to your participation, and a cool emulation within your team and other competing teams. And making your sport get this additional team dimension.

You can see how our Pacific Association (North California & Nevada) teams are faring in 2018 by consulting the current rankings:

On the MUT side, things have evolved a lot the past 10 years (while the Grand Prix has been going on for 26 years now). When I joined the MUT Grand Prix in 2006, it was all about Tamalpa's domination. In the South Bay, Adam Blum, then founder and CEO of Rhomobile, started sponsoring an ultra racing team hosted by Quicksilver, and we took over the top honors for a few years, culminating with winning the 4 team competitions in 2011 and still 3 in 2013 and 2014, before many teammates pursued other ultra interests outside of the Pacific Association circuit afterwards.
Fueled with super fast and talented runners, Excelsior became the new gorilla of the MUT Grand Prix: 3 team wins in 2015, 2 in 2016, 2 in 2017.
The other two, last year? They went to quite an old kid (club) on the block, Pamakids!
While Pamakids may not have the fastest runners, they have the largest number of participants throughout the season, in both men and women divisions, and that had finally paid off in 2018, they finally managed to win both the Men and Women divisions, and come first in the Overall competition (only leaving the Mixed to Excelsior). Quicksilver in 2018? We took 2nd overall in Men and Mixed, 3rd Overall, and not a single score in the Women division (scores can't double count, so the few ladies who scored for our club were counted under the mixed competition).

This is an illustration of the evolution and life cycle of club membership, leadership, as well as how clubs operate. For instance, it is my understanding that Pamakids allocate some profit from the races they organize to provide runners stipends for participating to races (registration and/or travel). Conversely, our club redistribute all the profits from our club races to local charities, so members are on their own, in addition to having to pay the club fees on top of the USATF membership. Different tactics, different results but the same team spirit when we line up at the start.

After chatting with John Trent, I'm hoping that the Silver State Striders will come back into our competition for 2019. Auburn also has a great running community with all the momentum created for instance by Martin Sengo, Paulo Medina and Brian Valle.

Could you imagine if the Impalas were participating in more of our MUT races? In addition to XC and Road, they would shatter the Women competition! Or the Aggies in the Men? Or the Wolfpack taking the Mixed maybe?

I'm also hoping for the revival of MUT participation from foundational clubs such as Buffalo Chips, Golden Valley Harriers, and Tamalpa of course!

To that effect, that's why we are betting on the addition of sub-ultra trail races in our 2019 calendar, to get additional appeal to new and younger runners.

Look at the potential we can tap in, all these clubs have listed Ultra in their Club specialities and focus areas!
You can find the list of all Pacific Association clubs on our PAUSATF website.

To summarize, here are a few benefits from racing as a team:

  1. The fulfillment of contributing to something greater than yourself;
  2. The excitement to plan a season along with teammates, strategize where to put your bets on, add new races, trips and outings to your race schedule;
  3. The pride of building something together;
  4. The personal growth from stronger social connections (than just Facebook!); and maybe more (I've see a few couples forming over team bonding! ;-) );
  5. The sane emulation and inspiration you'll get from pushing your own limits when competing for your team;
  6. An opportunity to mentor, inspire, coach new members and teammates, give them exposure to a new sport and new category of running, guide them though their personal journey.

So, what are you waiting for, will you join us in this fun and team competition if not already?

Friday, November 23, 2018

Silicon Valley Turkey Trot 2018: 10 consecutive ones = 100K!

Et voilà, 2009-2018, my 10th consecutive Turkey Trot is in the books, we can certainly talk about a Thanksgiving tradition, and a great series out of the 14 years this event has existed! But what a special edition to remember... Why? Because, 2 days ago, with the catastrophic fires, it was unsafe to walk outside, much so running. While we need to keep the thousands of families who lost everything in this fires in our thoughts, prayers and giving efforts we, runners, have been extremely lucky with the weather after all. Short of being able to train, at least we had an excuse to taper, or cross train maybe then, yesterday, the first real rain of the season came to extinguish the fires and wash out the persisting smog. I actually went for a 10K run yesterday and was blown away by the white/grayish powder which was washed out of De Anza Boulevard and dripped in the city sewage system. I had never seen something like that before!

Now, from a fund-raising perspective, which is the main goal of this event, the last 2 weeks of inclement health conditions have had a very negative impact on the registration level. With IBM stopping its sponsoring, I'm not part of the organization committee anymore and therefore doesn't have access to the numbers, but you could tell we missed a few thousands people both at the start and the finish. This is too bad, not only for the title of the largest turkey trot in the country, but more importantly for the missed revenue for the local charities which this event supports. Hope it wasn't as bad as it looked. For one thing, I personally know a few people who had registered (therefore paid) but didn't attend. (The preliminary results posted this afternoon have 15,863 finishers, versus 18,678 for 2017, a 15% decrease).

Like many, I had to interrupt my training to avoid damaging my lungs with the smog. At least I was lucky to have a business trip down to Costa Mesa last week where the air allowed me to run three times at night. These are screen shots from last Thursday afternoon, respectively for Costa Mesa and Cupertino, note the difference!

So, yesterday (Wednesday), I rush outdoor as soon as it rained and the air cleared up; I was originally aiming at running 15K but felt so many strange things in my legs and calves in particular that I didn't want to risk anything and stopped after two loops (10K). As a matter of fact, as I was warming up before the race this morning, and after watching the elite races at 7:30, I had really bad feelings about these signals in my muscle and was wondering what the race would bring. The course is fast and the rain had stopped around 3 am this morning so it was still wet but drying in the spots bathed by the sun. We would have to be very careful in the turns and running over road markings and pedestrian crossings!

This year, it was just Greg and I representing the family, with Max in Denmark, Agnès in Paris on her way to visit Max this weekend, and Alex in DC. As a matter of fact, looking at my previous posts on this race, it has been mostly Agnès, Greg and I all these years, as our family gathering occurs traditionally more Christmas than Thanksgiving. With 50 million Americans traveling for Thanksgiving this weekend, better not add to this mind blowing number...

I watched the Eilte Men start their 5K at 8, and complete their first lap of 4, which didn't take much time given the blazing pace (4:46 min/mile!), then rushed back to the car (San Pedro Market) to get ready and warmup before our 8:30a start. I got the start line a minute before the start of the 2 wheelchair competitors and Chris, the Race Director, sent us off 5 minutes later.

Especially with the combined 5K/10K start, and the presence of several College speedsters, it's easy to get caught into an unsustainable pace, right off the bat. Given my low self-confidence this morning, I let a few runners pass me but still managed to settle into a 5:40-5:45 min/mile rhythm, faster than the 6 min/mile at the Trailblazer 10K 2 months ago. And the legs were behaving, which was great news.

By mile 2 I started passing a few runners who had started too fast, but it was too early to know if they were on the 5 or 10K, as the two courses fork around the mile 3 mark. After the split, we weren't too many left in the 10K race. I passed one guy who looked to be in my age group, then chased the next runner up. Between mile 3 and 4 I got passed by a guy running at about 5:45 min/mile and decided to follow-up. While I couldn't catch-up, that got me to pass 2 other runners in the turn-around loop at mile 4.5. From there, I was pretty much on my own for the last 1.5 mile. The only incident happened right at the mile 5 mark: so far, I ad avoid stepping on any road marking for the fear of slipping. As I was approaching a large pedestrian crossing, I noticed that the asphalt was wet but the white stripes looked dry so decided to take my chance. Well, my shoes being wet, I did slip but quickly adjusted the next stride to avoid falling, phew!

In the last mile I was gradually closing on Wolfpack team member Mark Hostetter but didn't catch him (finished 13 seconds behind). Just before crossing the finish line, I waived at the event founder and CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, Carl Guardino, who was already back on stage after running the 5K himself (he typically wins the CEO Challenge). Carl was nice enough to give a couple of shout outs to IBM and even congratulated me for finishing in the top 15. The results posted this afternoon have me in 20th, but I can already spot two suspicious finishers ahead who were probably in the 5K instead (3 gun times above 56 minutes, and one above 41 minutes). I'm also in 5th place in the age-graded results but may gain 1 spot. (Edit: on Friday, after reporting and correction, Carl was spot on, I'm now in 15th and 3rd Masters, 1st in my age group.)

My time was 35:48 for an average pace of 5:46 (in all fairness, my GPS gave 6.16 miles for the course, and it's usually more on the optimistic side, so maybe 0.1 mile short? Anyway, I'm gladly taking a sub 36-minute finish given the circumstances. I wasn't exhausted as a matter of fact, just the calves feeling really tight. Which doesn't surprise me when I looked at the running mechanics stats afterwards: a 1.46-meter average stride and 189 average cadence (number of steps per minute), that's a lot!

Enjoy this 3D-simulation over San Jose, thanks to; it's like having you own helicopter following you, albeit virtually! (Click on this link, or the picture below.)
Back to the elite races of the early morning, let me first give credit to Mark Winnitz who is in charge of inviting the fastest runners from all over the country. This year, the women race was even more loaded than the men.

Special mention and appreciation for the USATF officials who made sure all the proper rules and regulations were applied, particularly important for these elite participants, both from a performance and financial perspective. I've been certified myself back in February, but I still prefer being on the running side of the action...

These races are actually open to USATF members. My first Turkey Trot was actually that race so I actually ran only 5K that year, 2009, and therefore slightly cheating by claiming 100K in the title. Back then, there wasn't even a ranking for Masters so it was quite embarrassing to be compared to the Open Division Elites (M18-40). Yet, despite a time of 16:34, I was proud for not finishing last at least, phew!

This year's winner was Sam Parsons (right on the podium) in 13:46 (4:26/mile) followed by Edwin Kibichiy (13:49) and Connor Winter (13:51), close finish for a road race!

Top women were also within seconds, respectively Emily Lipari in16:00, Eleanor Fulton (16:02) Rochelle Lynn Kanuho (16:03). The top 19 women finished all within the same minute, below 17:00.

Here is Clare Saxton fighting in the Pacific Association Masters part of that race.
The sunny weather was most welcomed at the finish. Again, so lucky with the weather, with pre-race rain to clean the air, a sunny day for the race, then rain resuming at 9 pm tonight, wow, what a perfect timing!

I met other USATF runners, ex colleagues from ILOG, current colleagues from IBM, and friends who were commemorating Valentine's life, 5 years after her tragic accident (the orange bandana Greg and I wear on that picture).

Back home the calves were still very tight but I felt I needed to log more miles. While the first mile was slow, around 8 min/mile, I managed to get the legs to loosen up and ramped-up the pace, finishing another 10K in 42:25.

Not only was the weather gorgeous, but the trees were on (a good) fire! I love this natural beauty of trees becoming tricolor when switching from green to red and yellow! Here is a special one for Mom who, at 84, is still a fervent reader of my blog, and loves gingkoes!

Hopefully, Herr Trumpeter will forgive the mess of the few dead leaves on the side walk. Trust us, it's Cupertino, this will be raked by Monday (well, probably not raked but pushed away with a leaf blower since that's the high tech we use here...).
Back to the first picture, a few notes on this great shirts, in case there is a trivia on them ;-) :

  • The first two were still short sleeves;
  • 2011 marked the switch to long sleeves, a great upgrade!
  • In 2012, the shirt became bi-color;
  • Then in 2015, the addition of hand warmers (longer sleeves to cover the palm of the hand, with hole for thumb);
  • While we are at the trivia topic, let's also mention the medal all finishers received at the 10-year anniversary in 2014

And to continue on the race history thread, I have to say that this year's post-race wasn't a match to the party we, IBM as a sponsor, had put up back in 2014, with post-race stretching routines, music and even a quiz game with prizes!

By the way, I'm glad to have chronicled 10 years of this event so far, capturing lasting memories to easily go back to. Here they are: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and this post to round things up.

With all that, after such a wonderful day, I'm feeling blessed with yet another and one more perfect race; I'm grateful to those organizing such an event and all the joyful volunteers easily recognizable today with their bright orange hoodies!

And, yet, I'm thinking of the thousands of families stricken by the disastrous fire and displaced during this holiday, so special to all Americans. Again, quite a special edition given the circumstances. Hopefully nothing like that next year, see you at the 15th anniversary then!

PS: bonus pictures, at the bib pick-up at Sports Basement last Friday.

Race Director, Chris:
And like the big marathons, an innovation this year, a picture boot at bib pick-up:
And a shot at this year's leaders in the Fittest Competition IBM used to participate to:

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

2019 Pacific Association MUT Grand Prix: good old + some very new stuff = more fun!

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 and trail running...! ;-)

For the background and context of the MUT Grand Prix in general, and the yearly calendar in particular, I'll refer you to my post of last year: PAUSATF MUT Grand Prix 2018 Schedule unveiled: to the next 25 years!

However, I'll add this important preamble to the 2019 calendar: MUT stands for Mountain, Ultra and Trail running, three different sports, so it wasn't meant to be only about ultra running, be it on trails, roads or the track, although this has been the exclusivity of our MUT Grand Prix through its first quarter century. The scoop of this year is that we are introducing a few sub-ultra trail races in our series, counting on this to attract a new audience, which would in turn get exposure to ultra distances, for a win-win!

Now, and the reverse of what I did last year, let's cut to the chase, give you this 2019 schedule, then provide some editorial notes about it afterwards.

Ready, set, go 2019!
  1. One Day in Auburn 6-hour (first scoop, a new 6-hour event, on the track, and PA-exclusive registration; limited field due to the track format but RD open to work something out if capacity is quickly reached out; 6am-12pm on Sunday 1/13);
  2. Jed Smith 50K (the classic season opener to get you legs moving on a safe flat course);
  3. FOURmidable 50K (the 2019 50K Trail Nationals!);
  4. Way Too Cool 50K (the largest 50K trail race in North America and the largest Pacific Association contingent of trail runners in a single ultra race);
  5. American River 50M (another classic mixing road and trail and finishing in the mythical world capital of endurance, Auburn);
  6. Anguish to Angwin Half-marathon (the first sub-ultra trail race, in Napa Valley for a change!);
  7. Miwok 100K (a classic, popular and challenging one, 4 ITRA points, Western States qualifier, and 500-large field);
  8. Quicksilver 100K (another hot classic to tune up your training for the summer ultras, also with ITRA points and Western States qualification status);
  9. SilverState 50M (but not the 50K since we already have so many 50K trail races, including a few in the North East);
  10. Ohlone 50K (30+ years and another great heat training opportunity, guaranteed!);
  11. One more sub-ultra trail in the June-July time frame, date and location to be confirmed by end of November;
  12. Skyline 50K (one of the oldest trail 50K races in North America, if not the oldest, and a safe and fast course for rookies);
  13. Star City Half-marathon (another trail half, this one organized by Excelsior);
  14. Tamalpa Headlands 50K (ex National Championships course and 1/3 of the field was from the Pacific Association in 2017);
  15. Headlands Hundred 100M (making great use of the amazing views and hills of Marin Headlands);
  16. Dick Collins Firetrails 50M (the return of a super classic to honor another local ultra legend and initial role model in our ultra running community);
  17. Ruth Anderson 50M and 100K (but not the 50K as it was too many events for teams to score; our only 50M and 100K Road events; and a season conclusion to see teams competing for the last points of the year!).

Phew, right?! ;-)

Regarding the races which are hard to get in, specifically Quicksilver 100K which is likely to require cyber speed if online registration fills again in minutes, and Miwok 100K which has a competitive lottery (~1 pick for 2 applicants for 2018), here is a new arrangement we've negotiated with the RDs to allow for fairer team competition:
a. Every team who competed in the Pacific Association USATF MUT Grand Prix team competition in 2018 (team points) will be guaranteed enough entry spots for a total of 6 runners, enough to score two teams (Men, Women or Mixed).
b. Team runners should attempt to register for the race when registration opens on 11/8/2018 and, in any case, before the end of the fourth registration day (midnight Pacific time, on November 11, 2018).
c. If team runners are wait listed, then spots in the race will be reserved up to a total of 6 per team, including those who made the first cut off.
d. Since the intent is to allow each team to field a minimum of two scoring teams, as least one of the 6 guaranteed spots needs to be of a different sex than the others.
e. There is no opting out from a team for registered runners (we'll take the club they are affiliated to upon registration).
f. Eligible team runners must have active 2018 AND 2019 USATF membership (any membership started or renewed on or after November 1 counts against 2018 and runs through the end of 2019)
g. In case of team runner added from the waitlist (if less than 6 managed to get in initially), at least one has to be a woman if no woman was already registers before the online cut-off (respectively man if all other team entrants are women).
h. If 6 or more team members made it through the initial registration cut-off and are all of the same sex, the race director will add one more team member from the wait list, of the other sex (if any has registered by the deadline).
i. Picking from the wait list will be by order of online registration (entry submission time).
Let me draw your attention on the rule f: you'll need to be current with USATF by the time the potential extra slots will be drawn from the wait list. The good news is that any renewal after November 1, runs through the whole following year. So get your membership for 2019 now!
Visit: ($30 for 1 year, or $100 for 4 years)

Comments on this calendar:
  1. Yes, it's a lot in one year but...
    1. It's not as much as we used to have a few years ago when we were over 20 races;
    2. You can look at this as two series into one (Ultra running, and sub-ultra Trail running),
    3. 47% of the 75 participants to the survey last year were supportive of more races, versus 38% wanting less,
    4. The Road Grand Prix has 15 events (short and long), we have 17, but we cover much more running variety (distances from half marathon to 100 miles, terrain ranging from trail to road to track, flat or hilly profiles).
  2. More races mean more opportunities to score, both individually and teams;
  3. We are hoping the addition of sub-ultra trails appeals not only to a new audience but also to those who cannot run all the longest distances;
  4. We are also offering a broad geography coverage between South Bay, East Bay, Marin County, Napa Valley, Sacramento, Auburn, and up to Reno;
  5. More options for having fun overall, while pushing the envelope and having a sane emulation among Pacific Association members!
With regard to the rules, we will amend then slightly mainly to:
  1. Include 6 and 12-hour events (only 24-hours were eligible so far)
  2. Simplify the scoring with three categories:
    1. Factor 1.0 for all distances < 75 km (and 6-hour timed events);
    2. Factor 1.5 for distances between 75 km and 125 km (and 12-hour timed events);
    3. Factor 2.0 for all distances > 125 km (and 24-hour timed events).
Updates will be made available before the end of the year (2018).

If you have questions, best forum is the Facebook group "PA Mountain Ultra Trail GP (Pacific Association Grand Prix)". If you are not on Facebook, you can leave a comment on this post.

With that, hoping you have a great 2019 season with our Pacific Association and that you will consider including many of these races in your running plans for next year. Let's also thank all these Race Directors who devote their time and energy to bring us such an amazing series of races in our North California backyard! And a toast to your successful competition in this 27th MUT Grand Prix then!