Thursday, November 28, 2019

Silicon Valley Turkey Trot 2019: still in pain for v15.0

It was at that race that I injured the attach of my left quad, a year ago. One year passed and the pain is still there. Granted, it's getting better, meaning less pain, but what a long process. Of course, I might have not helped that I tried to race like nothing had happened, until May: 11 races with only one shorter than the marathon distance... 2 new Age Group American Records... and, with the 50-mile at Ruth Anderson, a 13th consecutive Age Group win in our North California MUT (Mountain, Ultra, Trail) Grand Prix; insane... Yet, I'm blown away that 6 months of rest have still not been enough. Wow, that's by far the biggest running injury I've experienced in my 21-year career. And, still, I have to appreciate that there are many more serious, some irreversible, injuries out there. After all, it's Thanksgiving, so better be super grateful for even being able to run, once in a while, short of training.

I registered a few weeks ago, for the 10K, hoping that I'd be completely healed. Without any training, my goal was to run with Greg. Agn├Ęs signed-up for the 5K. I flew back on Tuesday, after the most insane trip ever, 29,636 miles (50,801 km) in 2 weeks! Connecticut, Virginia, Florida, back in California for 10 hours, then France, Turkey, South Africa, Turkey, France, California, phew! As a reference, the Earth circumference is only 24,901 miles... Needless to say #FlightShame on me... ;-/ At some point, I was even not sure if I'd be back on time, so I'm really glad I was able to at least toe the line of this 15th edition, 11th consecutive one for me.
After a major rain and snow storm (yes, some snow on nearby Mt Hamilton!), the weather was gorgeous, albeit on the chilly side, with 38F at the start (2 degrees Celsius). At least, the asphalt had dried up this year, as opposed to last year (I injured my quad by slipping on a cross walk by less than one inch...).

I love the abundance of porta-potties at this event. 10 minutes before the start, no line/wait!
Greg and I started at the back of Corral A.
Greg said he could shoot for a 7:30 min/mile pace, maybe 7:00. Well, we were on for some slalom right off the bat, as there were young kids ahead, strollers, walkers, and many, many runners obviously in the wrong corral. Fortunately, Santa Clara Street is really wide and we got into some good rhythm, on the right of the street, before the first left turn. As a matter of fact, we were now cruising at 6:30 min/mile, and Greg seemed at ease, while I was really enjoying that pace and speed I love so much. We hold on to that pace for the first 3 miles, where the 5K runners turn left to the finish and we turn right. To my surprise, very few runners were on the 5K. Around mile 2, we passer Karl Schnaitter and Simone Winkler from Excelsior, MUT buddies.

My hamstring started hurting in the second mile and, in the fourth mile, I fell a few seconds behind Greg. We saw the front runners on their way back, something I usually manage to avoid, but not this year. I kept pushing, without giving it all, the stride being the limit today. After running with Greg, my second goal was not to pull too much on the injury. I crossed the finish in 41:34. This is my 54th 10K race in 20 years, out of 323 races, and my slowest 10K ever, by 3 minutes, OUCH! I know, I still need to be so grateful to even running that fast...

Here is Relive's 3D fly-over for an aerial view over downtown San Jose:
With 17,000 finishers, RunRaceResults does quite a phenomenal to publish results 6 hours or so after the race, see on their website. There will likely be quite a few updates and corrections but, at the time I write this, I'm quite surprised to see that this slow time still put me in 2nd in my age group. Although really far behind first M55-59, Raymond Rodriguez from Los Banos, in 36:36.

Speaking of first place, Adam Bodnar won the 10K in a blazing 31:42.
We had a chat in which I invited him and his fellow Googler, Zachary Medeiros (38:15), to compete in our 2020 MUT Grand Prix. Poor Zachary: I told him that our Quicksilver 100K wasn't full yet so he got excited and said he'll sign-up right away. I now see there were already 44 people on the waitlist... He is 45th, hope he makes it!
Despite the bright sun, it felt chilly in the Festival area, between the sweat of a good effort and low temperature, so we didn't stay for too long, but still managed to see a few friends.

Before our race, I was able to see the Elite Women and Men 5K races (women at 7:30, men at 8), impressive splits. Three women broke 16 minutes: Shannon Rowbury (15:41), Kim Conley (15:44), Emily Infeld (15:47). Three men broke 14 minutes: Aaron Templeton (13:54), David Bett (13:57), Brian Barraza (13:57), while 13 more men ran under 15 minutes! Our local MUT elite, Chikara Omine, ran 15:36, a 5:02 min/mile pace!

With that, see you all in one year, rain or shine! And hopefully on roads and trails in the meantime, in better shape for me, and good shape for you! Happy 2019 Thanksgiving!

PS: a few more pics of the Elite 5K race

Monday, November 25, 2019

2020 PA MUT Grand Prix schedule: the cat out of the bag, finally!

Phew, Nakia and I have worked on this 2020 schedule since August, yet we never seem to start soon enough as ultra runners need to schedule their year months in advance!

First, I want to give a shout out to the 114 women, 180 men, 20 teams and 10 clubs who participated in our 2019 Grand Prix and made it so engaging and entertaining until our very last races at Ruth Anderson Memorial Runs; what a great season between January and October! Among these runners, special kudos to the team captains for bringing their clubs together in this fun contest.

Second, all this won't be possible without all the Race Directors putting up first-class events. I often say that our Pacific Association (North California and North Nevada) is not only blessed, but also spoiled, with such an abundance of both very high quality events but an amazing dedication of these RDs to fuel such a sense of ultra and trail running community by linking runners' achievements to volunteers. Thank you for your hard work and support of our Grand Prix, RDs! Think, by event order in 2019: Paulo Medina, John Blue and Dennis Scott, Julie Fingar, Adam Ray, Tia Bodington, Pierre-Yves Couteau and Stuart Taylor, John Trent, Andres Vega, Greg Lanctot, Cliff Lentz, Wim Van Dam, Steve Jaber and Anil Rao. Wow, what a powerful list!

Before going straight to the schedule, let me share the main criteria which we are considering. As you can see, given the hundreds of potential events to chose from, this is quite a combinatorial exercise, a balancing act with many trade-offs. If some of you were wondering why it took us so long. For many years, at least the first 10 years I participated in the MUT Grand Prix since 2006, the schedule remained the same from year to year, that made it easier for everyone. But the world is changing around us and I'm grateful to Nakia for being such an agent of change and representing the modernization aspect in the "tradition versus innovation" trade-off in particular.

Again, you can skip to the schedule directly if you aren't interested in the details. For the hard core MUT folks, and potentially the next MUT subcommittee Chair, here are a few selection criteria...

Key pillars of the MUT Grand Prix selection:

  1. Tradition: keep the original spirit of this quarter century tradition
    1. Club support: prioritize PA club-organized events → Jed Smith (Buffalo Chips); Quicksilver (Quicksilver); Silver State (Silver State Striders); Star City (Excelsior); Tamalpa Headlands (Tamalpa)
    2. Traditional events
    3. Early season building-up toward the big summer 100s
    4. Spread across the Pacific Association region (region spanning from Monterrey, CA to Reno, NV)
    5. Leverage local Nationals when available
  2. Novelty
    1. Continuing on extending to/including sub-marathon Trail races (not just Ultras)
    2. Addition of Mountain races
    3. Addition of new events
    4. But, yet, less events overall (the GP used to have more than 20 events a year!)
    5. Potential inclusion of a relay (club teams)
    6. Finish earlier in the year to allow for early planning of following year
  3. Fairness, inclusion, diversity
    1. Events should allow enough PA runners to register for club to score teams
    2. Events distributed across RDs partnering and supporting our PA Grand Prix
  4. MUT/USATF Association excellence: remain a National model
    1. Engagement/level of participation (number of participants, number of age groups, number of clubs and teams)
    2. Competitiveness: provide high quality and sought-after events; minimize conflicts with National and International Championships, and/or other big/popular events
    3. Quality of events
    4. Attractiveness
    5. Embodiment of the MUT discipline: 3 running disciplines (M, U, T), plus the variety of ultra running formats: distances (50K, 50M, 100K, 100M), distance/timed (6hr, 12hr, 24hr, 48hr, 6 days, …), terrain (road, track, trail).
    6. Avoid conflicts with relevant events (other PA GP races from Road if not XC, MUT Nationals, other major and popular MUT races if not on our calendar).

With that... drum roll... here is your 2020 schedule, hope you see where this comes from, and that you get exited to compete, both individually and as a club team! The big scoop is the return of TRT (albeit without the Champs' discount) as our 100-miler in 2020.

Feb 1: Jed Smith 50K


Feb 22: Mt Umunhum 12K**


Mar 7: Way Too Cool 50K


Mar 14: Pioneer Spirit 50M (Nationals)


Apr 11: Mt Diablo 50K**



May 9: Quicksilver 100K



May 16: Silver State 50M


May 17*: Ohlone 50K



May 30: The Ridge 23K**



Jun 21*: Broken Arrow 26K or 11K** (TBC)


Jul 18: Tahoe Rim Trail 100M**


Aug 2*: Skyline 50K



Aug 15: Star City Half



Aug 29: Tamalpa Headlands 50K



Sep 26: Dick Collins Firetrails 50M



Oct 10: Ruth Anderson 50K & 50M



*: Sunday
**: new events = 5

Nakia will publish the official pdf format on the PA website soon. Hope that now gives you enough notice and visibility to continue planning for your 2020 season, after our early announcement of the inclusion of Quicksilver 100K, where all of those who wanted to get in were able to do so in the first 48 hours.

See you, healthy, on the roads and trails in 2020!

PS: updated with:

  1. Correction of Mt Diablo date (Saturday April 11, not 13, which still allows for Easter celebration that weekend);
  2. Addition of the traditional only distance at Jed Smith (50K);
  3. TBC added for Broken Arrow as we are still waiting to hear back from the RDs if we can have the 26K (fallback option will be the 11K)

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Ruth Anderson Memorial Run 2019: insane ultra stubbornness

Finally, one real personal running opportunity to blog about, after these 4.5 months since our epic Ohlone 50K. Albeit one I wasn't really looking forward to as these super long break still didn't allow for a complete healing of my injury (for those who missed the update my blog posted on its own in August, fissured tendon of the hamstring and bone edema on the pelvis attach).

In spite of the pain since last November (Turkey Trot 10K), I managed to pull quite a strong first half of the season and was counting on a summer break to heal for good since I was lucky not having entered any major event, like UTMB or other hard-to-get-in 100-milers. 11 races between January and May, including 10 marathons or longer distances, and 5 races of our North California Mountain Trail Ultra Grand Prix which gave me a lead in my age group all year around. So far. After Ohlone, there were still 7 other races so I was seeing the point gap shrinking and several contenders had a great shot at it if they were going to run all the remaining events: Jerry Flanagan (Pamakids), Excelsior's Cliff Lentz and Mark Tanaka, and my teammates Shiran Kochavi and Charles Blakeney. At it turned out, before this ultimate race of our season, only Charles could pass me with a win, and I know he would definitely aim at it in the 100K which he has completed many times before.

Before I delve into my own drama, I invite you to read Davy Crockett's superb account of who Ruth Anderson was. Several times during the race, I caught myself thinking of Ruth telling me to just think of her accomplishment and her endurance over many decades of outstanding running.
Sincerely, after reading this amazingly and meticulously ultra history piece last Sunday as I was trying to complete a timely report before having to go back to work before yet another business trip, I thought to myself: "who has time or is going to care about what I have to share after reading this..." But, for the sake of keeping my running journal up, at least for myself before memory fails me, let me try to post another race report after 5 months of silence...

Getting to Lake Merced by 5:30 am, with the full moon still illuminating the sky:

 Dave Combs, Loren Lewis and Stan Jensen working hard already:

In addition to work priorities throughout this week, I was also amazed at a few of others' accounts on Facebook:
  1. Pamakids' so exciting team collaboration and strategy to maximize their team points with this unique format to close the season (all runners start at the same time but elect to finish at the 50K, 50-mile or 100K marks, and both the 50-mile and 100K were providing Grand Prix points);
  2. Shiran sharing how fun he had after being forced to run slow because of pain in his calf, one week after racing the Dick Collins Firetrails 50-mile;
  3. Simone's feat of flying to Chicago right after her 50-mile race, to run the Chicago Marathon on the next day!
  4. Rajeev's joy of finally completing an ultra after several years off the circuit;
  5. And to top any of our accounts in my opinion, Tony's posts. Well, Tony is very prolific on Facebook so let me be more specific:
    1. First, Tony shared a picture of himself from his pre-running days, and I was blown away to discover where he was coming from, what another great and successful transformation journey! We love ultra running for its community spirit but there are so many things which we don't know about each others, still.
    2. Second, he shared on Friday that he had run 50 miles with stones in one of his kidney (insane), that he couldn't get them taken care of afterwards because if medical insurance issues (insane x2) and suffered through passing 7 stones while waiting for the proper medical authorization this week (insane x4). Oh my, what ultra running can do to us...
At least, with all that, and many other stories which I either missed or were kept in their owner's chest, head or heart, my own ultra stubbornness appear way less insane after all. Almost insignificant as a matter of fact... so let me get over it quickly for a change! :-)

Again, despite all the respect and attraction I have for this event, except the regret of never having met Ruth myself, that wasn't a race I wanted to run, for injury rehabilitation reasons. That being said, there are so many people who would just give everything to run a few miles, I have to at least appreciate the ability to still put a foot in front of the other, a classic ultra running mantra, and one which was going to be the main theme for me this time. Actually, given that I managed to log 90,000 steps last Saturday, just counting steps would have been overwhelming. That was my 13th consecutive year running this race so I can certainly interiorize the loop format and I do know every up and down section of it, even the cracks and roots which can trip you if you lose focus. My goal was then not to pay attention to the miles themselves, always an intimidating number in ultra, but to just count laps. How hard could running just 11 laps be after all?

Well, at 4.47 miles of a rolling course, not that easy of course, but still so much easier than climbing and, worse, descending technical trails in the Alps for instance. You could argue that this course is also unforgiving because of the asphalt but there are actually many opportunities to run on the dirt shoulder to make the pounding less brutal.

The standings prior to Ruth Anderson, published on Friday evening, thanks to the diligent work of our Grand Prix scorer this year again, Nakia Baird:

Here is what I had in mind getting into the race:
  1. Finish at any cost (yes, that's the door wide open to insane stubbornness...);
  2. Not just complete the 50-mile, but potentially the 100K in case I didn't get 4th place in our age group by the end of the 50-mile;
  3. Hopefully have 1 or 2 loops pain free, yet not start too fast;
  4. As a matter of fact, start at 8 min/mile so, if I had to run 100K, I could give a shot to our American Age Group record (8:43);
  5. Again, at least get a 4th or better age group finish which meant that, given we were only 5 PA runners registered, I just had to finish one of the two distances.
For once, I can't tell you the pace the front runners went off at! I did start really slow, around 8:30 min/mile, yet was dismayed that every step was painful already in the first slope along the golf course. Yikes, that was going to be a tough day if that slow of a pace wasn't even helping containing the injury pain. I went into this slow-moving groove and, while staying focused on my footing as it was still dark, was enjoying the clear sky where the full moon had now disappeared, letting some room for us to see stars before dawn, wonderful and ideal weather for a run!

In the haste of jogging to the remote start, and directing Verity to the start as she got to the parking lot with 10 minutes to spare (this has to beat any of Mark Tanaka or Chikara Omine's records! ;-), I had forgotten to take my 2nd Vespa pouch at the start, so I did stop to take one at the end of the first lap. I also removed the pants I had put on knowing that I will have issue warming up at a slower than usual pace.

What I recall from the second lap is that, with a complete lack of training, my leg muscles started tightening up. The good thing was that it started eclipsing the pain injury, so much I couldn't feel the injury by lap 3. On the not so positive side though, this was way too early for my legs to feel so fatigued, yikes! I had pushed the pace from 8:20 to 8 or so in the second lap when Jerry caught up with me and I tried to keep up. He looked so relaxed that, when he said he had to go 100K for his team, I thought he had a shot at the American record! Anyway, I couldn't keep up today so I had to retreat and my average pace kept falling from there. There is an expression in running, "It's all downhill from here," which is meant to provide some moral boost, but seeing my pace going downhill was clearly not such of a boost of course. The only thing I could do is going back to just counting the completed laps, really the main thought which got me through the day this time. Actually, to keep the report short (ahem, should I say shorter), let me jump to the finish of lap 6 when I was glad to switch my mental count to the number of remaining laps, assuming that I had completed half the goal, hoping that I wouldn't have to actually run 100K today as every step was already so painful.

What I felt the strangest this year is that, for the first 8 or so laps, I wasn't getting much lapped neither I was lapping so many other runners. Kind of if we were all slowing down the same way. Well, of course, Chikara was on a mission and did lap me twice, before winning the 50-mile in a blazing time of 5:51!
And a few other runners, like Simone who lapped me at the end of my 9th lap, also on a mission to win the 50-mile race! Speaking of insane stubbornness, Simone rebooked her flight to the Chicago Marathon to allow her to register for Ruth Anderson on race morning, defend and hold on her Age Group Grand Prix title, then rush to the airport, catch that flight and run Chicago on the next day! Could I have set some bad examples and standards in the past... ;-) There was a race in our race, and it was for the Women 30-39, wow!

At the end of lap 9, I stopped by the scoring table to ask Stan how close Charles was behind me. He estimated the gap to be 40 minutes or so, which gave some buffer but I didn't feel compelled to walk yet as I had already slowed down to a 13 to 13:30 min/mile painful jog and I'm such a slow walker. Besides, power walking actually put more strain on my injury by extending the stride and pulling my hamstring harder on the bone edema. I had just lapped Jerry who seemed like having such a great time with a dozen or so of his Pamakids teammates, but didn't know where Shiran was. With that, I was hoping to run more relaxed but the legs didn't feel up to letting go of the pain.

Shiran later described my smile as a grimace, well it was clearly a grimace all the way. It actually took me at least 30 minutes after finishing to really smile again in return to Stan, Dave, Steve or Anil teasing me. Shiran:
 With Anil:
Overall, it took me 8:37:14 to complete the 50 miles, such a counter-performance for me, yet good enough to win my age group in a shallow field. And retain my Age Group Grand Prix for the 13th year in a row, with Charles finishing the year in 2nd place after getting 60 points too with his 100K finish. Phew, what a suspense for the end of the season.
 Hurting... (I was so sore, I had difficulty walking for the next 2 days, ouch!)
 I didn't need medical attention, but sitting felt so good (thank you for the pics, Nakia!):
 Receiving Anil's honors! ;-)
You can find all the results and splits on Stan's resourceful run100s website.

Now that it took me a week to complete this report, Nakia managed to finalize all the scoring and, yes, this race was really exciting in many aspects: 5 Age Group individual titles were decided on the last race, as well as 2 Team wins. See all the scores on our Pacific Association website and special kudos to:
  1. Pamakids for winning the overall Team competition as well as the Mixed one!
  2. Excelsior for winning both Men and Women Grand Prix, again!

Special thanks to Steve Jaber and Anil Rao for their hard work organizing and directing this event, perpetuating this local Bay Area tradition paying tribute to this ultra legend. To Rajeev Patel for all the years I've known him as RD of this event. To volunteer extraordinaire Stan Jensen for keep track of 80 runners' times, lap after lap, assisted by Dave Combs. And all the volunteers who responded to Anil and Steve's call to assist us in our personal journey, for a very long day!

And another shout out to my fellow M50-59 competitors who made sure I had to fight until the end for the Grand Prix again this year. I was an easy target this year, several could have won the Grand Prix would have they focused more on it...

Time to get back to work, including the big task of designing next year's series of MUT (Mountain, Ultra, Trail) races. Hoping we get an even more exciting season next year with you all if you leave in our Pacific Association territory (North California and Nevada)!

Oh, and please stay healthy, it really sucks to get sick or injured...

PS: a chill on the way back (I got back to riding a big motorcycle last year), with a huge Harley on its side on the right of the road and 2 damaged cars on the left. I happened to be at the front of a second wave of cars which the highway patrol released after clearing up 280 hence this unusual picture of a deserted highway...