Sunday, March 17, 2019

My 50K therapy: is that even healthy?

As we often say about ultra running: this is a big experiment of... one! There are so many parameters involved when running distances beyond the marathon, it's impossible to set rules working for everyone or every occasion. Even if you've raced more than 100 ultra marathons, you still learn every time as the stars never align the same way.

With that, I wouldn't want to be a coach. At least not a coach to me. If I was reasonable, if I was listening to my body, or mind, I would never push that much. Not just in races, but in training as well. Can you imagine being a coach after my mini stroke in 2016 when I decided to run American River 4 weeks later? While I must do a few things right given some results, I'm never sure about what I'm doing especially with my training. For the past 8 years I've averaged 100K (62 miles) per week and I believe that's now too much for my age, given the intensity I still put in races and training runs. Last year, I got caught up into reaching this threshold at all cost, and didn't find that healthy. While it looks unconventional from a self-development standpoint, my main goal this year is to run less, then. Yet, I need to ramp-up volume for the upcoming 100K races of this Spring, need to work not only on my endurance with long runs, but also hill training before Miwok and Quicksilver.

After a slow start due to a recalcitrant gluteus, I've decided to run though the injury if I may say. Racing in January and now running at least one 50K per week for the past 6 weeks, and 100K+ weeks. This week wasn't easy as I was working in Saudi Arabia, in Riyadh, one of the worst place to run outside. Thankfully, I managed to stop by Paris on the way back and could run my classic Paris-Orsay-Paris 50K course on Saturday. It's not Spring yet but the trees are already blooming, credit to global warming, mind the climate change deniers (and what a weekend to mention this as the youth is alerting us around the world, such an amazing wake-up call).

Back to the title, my gluteus is yelling so much this Sunday, I could only run 16 miles, barely breaking 8 min/mile. Does that mean I need to take some rest this week? Maybe, it sounds so intuitive. Although rest hasn't helped getting rid of the pain back in January. We are back to the experimental nature of ultra running, and training...

Short of an affirmative answer to this enigmatic title, see a few pictures in this fly-over (click on the image or this link):

And more static pictures below... Stay healthy, so we all run farther and faster at some point! :-)

The ongoing development of the new business park of Saclay
 On the Saclay plateau
 Eglise St Germain of the tiny Saclay Bourg:

 8th century, that's some serious history...

 Serge's collection:

Dang, I'm not sure I support these Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests), this has been a disastrous weekend in Paris...

 A great water fountain (7.5 and 23.5 miles in)

 Parc de Sceaux

Friday, March 8, 2019

Caumsett 50K Road Nationals 2019: youngster's dreams

I have to confess, I do have a problem, I seem to have found the elixir against aging! No kidding, these 5-year deep age groups within USATF competitions keep me on my toes! Every 5 years, you have the opportunity to be the youngest again, and dream like a youngster. Again!

When I turned 50, I was still giving priority to our local Pacific Association Ultra Grand Prix. But now, after 12 consecutive Age Group season wins, I'm more open to other race opportunities. Also, I felt I missed a few Age Group record attempts when I switched age group last time. Not that it prevented me from improving the M50-54 100-mile Road Record less than 2 weeks before moving up, but, as Bian Teason reminded me on Saturday evening, it certainly doesn't become easier with years passing.

I flew back from Singapore on Friday, a 40-hour birthday, and, after learning that Agn├Ęs will be at a professional conference all weekend, decided at 5 pm to take a flight for Newark the next morning at 7 am with a return on Sunday night, reserve long-term parking, book a hotel room, a rental car and went packing... again, for some racing in the cold this time. The weather forecast had freezing temperatures, quite a difference from the last two weeks I had spent in 94-100F in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur!

I was supposed to wake up at 4 but, with the jet lag, was up at 3 instead. After many short nights with the past 8 weeks on the road, so long for storing some sleep before the race. It was pouring rain on the way to SFO and I was thinking of the 800 courageous participants of the Way Too Cool 50K that morning. As I landed in Newark, I had quite a few Facebook messages to read about how Way Too Wet that it turned out, a mud fest in the rain! Very impressed with all the stories, including Rich Hana who placed 10th at 54 just shy of breaking 4 hours again.

Stopped by Trader Joe's on my way to the hotel then drove to Melville to meet two ultra legends and friends, Brian Teason and Roy Pirrung as they were finishing their pre-race dinner at a local pizzeria. I told you about Brian in my Jackpot 100-mile post 2 weeks ago (where I was going after his previous M50-54 American Record). As for Roy, let's say he already made the Ultra running Hall of Fame and he was going this weekend for his 90th National title!

Once more, I woke up 1 hour earlier than what I wanted, just short of 6 hours of sleep but was very encouraged to see the clear skies and, 2 hours later, the sun! The forecast was giving cloudy skies and 20 km/h wind gusts but even the wind didn't seem to be an issue anymore, phew!

After registering at the last minute I was returning to the car when Brian and Roy arrived.

After much hesitation, I decided to run in shorts, not tights, and with three top layers, no jacket. I felt it was a bit bold given my sensitivity to low temperatures, but was betting on the sun and the sustained effort to keep me warm. Needless to say, a few elites were running in singlets...

Before we go into more details, let's talk about my race goals. There were quite a few, starting with not getting into trouble, health wise. 3 years ago, I broke the then M50-54 American Record with my lifetime PR of 3:18:12, but I ended up spending 2 days at the hospital in New Jersey after experiencing a mini stroke (Transient Ischemic Accident) and losing sensitivity in all my left side for 20 minutes, 3 hours after the race (plus vision for 20 seconds during the race, with 1.3 miles to go). That memory brought some emotion has I was returning after this 3-year hiatus. I was of course shooting for my age group title, although I didn't know who was going ot show up in our age group, beyond Brian. And, per the title, I was also dreaming of improving the American Record of course. This one still sets at 3:39:48 (Pete Kaplan in 2011) although Mark Murray ran a 3:32:16 at Jed Smith last year when I ran 3:26. I'm not sure why his record time hasn't been ratified at the yearly USATF Convention last November, it still shows pending in the record log. Bottom line, I had to run faster than 3:32 to be on the safe side, a time which I felt quite reasonable and attainable a few months ago. But, between the minimal training due to my gluteus injury and the 100-mile record and PR 2 weeks ago, nothing was certain. By the way, Mark's time corresponds to a 6:50 min/mile pace.

Now, what do I remember from the race? Mostly that it went quite fast... And, in that particular order of the laps, here we are...

  1. Lap 1 [20:02] - A group of 8-10 runners started off at a 5:30 (if not below!) pace. I rushed myself into a 6:20-6:25 min/mile pace to keep contact with the top 3 women. M45-49 Boyd Carrigton, whom I ran a few miles with 3 years ago before my stroke, passed our group, running a few seconds/mile faster, along a buddy from the Open division who was mostly focusing on his Marathon time (Caumsett gives an official Boston qualifying time with a mat specially setup at mile 26.2, very nice perk).
  2. Lap 2 [20:11] - Mid way on lap 2, the lead runner in the M50-54, passed me at mile 4 then run a few laps with the lead gals which I could still keep in sight. He wasn't on pace to break the new 3:16 record, but at least go under 3:20 and, at this point, I realized how good it was to have moved age group! (Photo credit: Lin Gentling, USATF)
  3. Lap 3 [20:03] - At the end of the lap I was getting two warm with my 3 layers and lost 20 seconds struggling removing one, ending up removing 2 at once, oops! I felt a bit cold after that but that wasn't too bad. I pushed the pace to close on the lead women to no availability, just managing to keep sight.  Overall I was glad to keep a pace below 6:30 through that first hour.
  4. Lap 4 [20:28] - This lap didn't start very well as, with my gloves, and even after removing one, I was struggling opening my small bag of S!Caps, so much that I had to stop and, Elizabeth, now in 3rd in the women race, flew by. I sprinted and caught up with her at the mile 1 mark, but she pulled away on the next uphill. She was on a great mission! (Photo credit: Lin Gentling, USATF)
  5. Lap 5 [20:45] - I got lapped for the first time by Austin Bogina, wow! As I learned from Zach Ornelas race report on Facebook after the race, he was after the 2:48 course record and on pace/track. Passing the marathon mat, I recalled thinking to myself "at least 3 more laps now" as it started to feel tougher and I was losing 5 to 10 seconds every mile compared to previous laps. It didn't help to get lapped by 6 or 7 other runners in that lap, but at least they were much younger and not Masters! ;-) Speaking of Masters, I finally lost sight of Boyd in the out and back so he had at least a 5-minute lead. Also, one mile in that 5th lap, it broke my heart to see Janet Cherobon-Bawcom slow down and stopped on the side with respiratory issues. She had such a fast race for a Master, super impressive high and long stride of an elite marathoner.
  6. Lap 6 [21:12] - After lapping Brian, I stopped at the aid station to get a S!Caps from my bag. Beyond that I don't remember much details except the reminding of keeping pushing when I wanted to just slow down. I also remembered liking the motivational signs which the organizing club, GLIRC, put on the side. I wish I had the courage to go back on the course after the race to take pictures of them, there were quite a few good quotes. Like, related to my post title, one from Walt Disney: "If you dream it, you can do it!"
  7. Lap 7 [21:50] - A quarter or so into this 7th lap something strange happen: the lead M50-54 runner whom I had mentioned earlier, Stefan Judex, was now jogging and toward me, apparently dropping from the race. That made me the second Masters, not even on my goal or wish list today!
  8. Lap 8 [22:22] - The main goal at this point was to hold the pace until the marathon mark. I dropped my bottles at the main aid station and felt so much free. I recall passing the marathon mat right before 2:57 (2:56:59), we'll see what the official time is. Still quite far from the 2:45 I got 3 years ago, but better than my 3:02 at the Redding Marathon in January. Progress! :-) As I was finishing this lap, I saw a runner that I had noticed before, without a back/age bracket bib, and who could have been 50 or 55, and, although I had a a 4-5 minute lead, I found that quite annoying (visibility of that back bib is a key rule in championships). In the out and back section at the end of that lap, I also witnessed one of the most exciting events of the race, Zach Ornelas closing on Austin in the last mile to take the win by 53 seconds. Austin ran sub 16:30 laps (5K each!) for 6 laps, just losing 4 minutes in his last lap, it was so close. Zach won in 2:50:01, he almost lapped me a second time, dang for my UltraSignup ranking (I would end up with a 75% performance because of him...;-) ).
  9. Lap 9 [22:36] - That lap was marked with quite some nascent cramping and I decided it was safer to slow down more than risking having to walk the last 2 laps. My pace was now down between 7 to 7:20 min/mile and I also lost a few seconds having a volunteer pulled a couple of S!Caps out of that small bag at the aid station. At the end of this lap, I asked the runner without a back bib how old he was... 55 he replied, dang! I was mad and that probably helped moving forward despite the coming cramps in the ultimate lap. I thought I was only running against the clock, I was now also running to save my age group lead...
  10. Lap 10 [22:24] - I was still running without bottles, feeling it was too late to catch-up on hydration at this stage. I had drunk only one bottle of GU Brew, and barely half a bottle of water. I took a 3rd GU gel to tough it out. Peter Defty had told me to work more on calorie intake than hydration given the cold, I didn't even follow that advice, I should have taken a couple more gels. Still amazed at how I can do without much calorie intake in racing and training. Not that I have so much fat either, but enough to keep me moving strong. I kept moving as fast as possible but that was closer to 7:10-7:20 min/mile now. Just enough to keep cramps at bay (calves and feet). I entered the out and back at 3:26 if I recall, it was getting really tight for 3:32. Unfortunately, I couldn't accelerate or sprint so I stopped looking at my clock to decrease the pressure. After the ultimate turn, I saw the clock still on 3:31. I crossed the finish line in 3:31:57, that was close, phew! I recall yelling a big YES at the finish, to the dismay of the few spectators who didn't realize what the was the big deal about, more than 40 minutes after Zach won. I know, back to the title, I look pretty old for a youngster with big dreams! ;-)

And here is a visual 3D flyover of these 10 laps, credit to (click on image, or this link):

I had given it almost all I didn't have: I mean, the lack of conditioning, the lack of rest, the lack of mental preparation for this, the apprehension or lack of confidence after the stroke 3 years ago, even all the diet infractions with 8 weeks of travels and business functions, 5 pounds over my targeted race weight... Given the circumstances I actually found myself quite lucky with the outcome: an impressive finisher medal, a USATF medal for top 9 male (I got chicked twice), a USATF medal and patch for taking 1st in my age group (3 minutes and 35 seconds, that was close), and even a check for placing 2nd Masters behind Boyd (who clocked an impressive 3:19:51). And a time worth another Age Group American Record assuming it's confirmed and ratified in November. Oh, and yet another comfortable Boston Qualifier if needed (2:57 versus the 3:40 minima).

With the Race Director:
 With Lin Gentling, the USATF Official today:

 A bunch of fun and very fast guys who all broke 3 hours today!

Regarding the record, I still believe I can do better than this but, more importantly, this leaves a lot of improvement to others. I'm sure Rich Hana can run at least 10 minutes faster than this, or Gary Gellin. And other youngsters in a few years. Let's see how long, or short, this will last.

On the women side, there was some surprise at the end, like on the men side: Tara had led for more than 7 laps but Elizabeth passed her to get the win in 3:24:06, Tara finishing less than a minute ahead of me in 3:31:05.

Brian teamed up with a runner less than half his age to break 4 again.

The rest of the day wasn't anything close to 3 years ago (no ER this time!), but quite painful. I had to rush back to the hotel to take a quick shower and drive back to Newark. The traffic was starting to load up as a major snow storm was on the radar for the evening. I made it to the rental car facility where I had the stroke last time, by 4 pm, right on time for my 6 pm flight. Except that the flight got pushed to 7:15 because of low visibility at SFO, then 8:15 as the plane now needed de-icing. We were in 2nd position for de-icing at 10:30 when the captain indicated that we had to get back to the gate. We deplaned at 11:30 pm, I got booked on the 9 am flight the next day, slept 3 hours on a chair in the terminal from 1 to 4 and wrote part of this blog as a zombie... Some good endurance training I suppose... That being said, the best recovery from an ultra comes from resting, sleeping well and eating well, better catch-up on this this week, that Sunday night was certainly suboptimal. And my gluteus is complaining a lot, post-race, but I'm amazed at how cooperating he is on race days!

Midnight, a whole 787 plane trying to get rebooked the next day...
6 am on Monday at EWR, post snow storm

Special thanks to the GLIRC club for hosting the Nationals again, providing us with such a perfect weather between two snow storms! It has been quite a few years now, it's becoming a classic. It's always on the cold side, that early in March, but the course is really conducive to some fast time with the 100% and very smooth asphalt (I thought of Bill Dodson who missed the M80-85 American Record by a few seconds 3 years ago, when the course still included an unpaved section in the out-and-back, with ice and puddles which made him fall twice). We can debated on the impact of the rolling profile, at least it helps working a different set of muscles.

After these epic last 8 weeks on the road, I'm looking forward to not traveling this week(*). And ramping up training and volume hopefully for all the races I've this Spring. See you on the roads or the trails, and stay safe in the bad weather this Winter!

(*) PS: that's what I thought when I wrote this on Monday but... on Tuesday night I was asked to fly to Saudi so, once again, here I am boarding another trans-Atlantic flight this Friday, back 10 days later...

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Running in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: 40 miles off the beaten tourist trails

A new country, a new capital, a new post in my "Running in..." series, new trails, new experiences, all this on my feet, that's a lot to be grateful for!
Now, over the weekend I could spend in Kuala Lumpur after a client visit last Friday, did I do all the top 10 or 20 of the tourist attractions or recommendations? Maybe not, but I've had a more authentic encounter with the local culture for sure!

I didn't get hawker food on Jalan Alor Road, but ate in local eateries. I didn't get in line to go up the 7th tallest building in the world, the KL Tower, nor either to the top of the iconic Petronas Twin Towers and their Sky Bridge, but I got views from them from the 15th floor of my hotel room and the nearby hills. I didn't visit museums but ran by several of the main ones. And I saw key landmarks representing the diversity of religions of the country.

And I crossed many neighborhoods where I didn't see any tourist at all.

When I started including "Running in..." posts to my blog, there wasn't as many reviews of local runs out there. 12 years later, there are many more available, and that's one of the first things I check upon visiting a new country or city. Given the heat and humidity, I was curious what I'd find about running. To my surprise, quite a few hits came up, for instance:

  1. 7 great parks for runners and joggers in Greater Kuala Lumpur 
  2. 8 best places to run in Kuala Lumpur 
  3. 9 best places to run in Kuala Lumpur
  4. Great runs in Kuala Lumpur 

You will notice though that they pretty much have the same spots. Indeed, I wouldn't qualify Kuala Lumpur downtown as a great place to run: busy streets, dense construction and, of course, the heat (90-94F) and humidity (60%) which makes the weather app qualify the temperature as "feels 100 or 104F...!" To set a goal of running long this past weekend however, I set myself a goal to visit as many of these running places as possible. I did map 5 of them for a 50K+ loop around the West side of the city.

With that, please do me a favor to get a more immersive experience from this post: turn on the temperature to 100F (no cheating!), turn the rice cooker on, boil a few gallons of water, then read on from your couch! ;-)

Relive is probably the fastest way to retrace my tour around Kuala Lumpur (click on the image or that link). Note that, for a change, I did embed some pictures in the movie!

Weather wise, I got really lucky. While it was really hot and humid, at least the sun was shining all day. 30 minutes after I made it back to the hotel, a major storm hit the city with pouring rain and impressive lightening and thunderstorm, phew!

On Sunday, I was aiming to run at the FRIM (Forest Research Institute of Malaysia) but the description of the trails didn't seem so appealing and when I spotted a very nice running path around a lake, I asked the cab driver to drop me right there: it was the Taman Metropolitan Kepong Park, one of the top spots recommended in all the above posts. I even ran into a few Brooks fans, look at the tee on that one, a Brooks-sponsored running event in KL!

I certainly didn't regret my decision, with a 2-mile loop in perfect conditions and even some shade from trees, this is exactly what I needed to add a few miles before my flight to Singapore in the afternoon. I was planning on running about 20 miles to make for a 50-mile weekend but had to bail out after 5 laps (10 miles), losing my stamina in such a heat.

Here is the corresponding Relive fly over (with embedded pictures too!):

Great way to discover this city, hope you have the opportunity to visit Malaysia too!


And now on for more pictures and details of these runs, if you are still with me, sweating...

(I'll add more details later when I can make more time...)

 I left around 8 and headed South toward the Botanical Garden.

 There, to my surprise, I ran into hundreds of runners, all wearing the same t-shirt! Dang, I had missed the opportunity to run a local race, they had started at 7 am, actually a smart way to beat some of the heat.

I made sure to see the collection of chickens and roosters, then a few deer they keep in an enclosure.

The National Mosque

The original main railroad station (now replaced by KL Sentral)

Catholic Church of the Holy Rosary

The Vivekananda Ashrama

A rugby tournament
The International Gallery

Some safe open space to practice archery!

The city keeps expanding with luxury condominiums

While, a few miles later, you find modest housing in a jungle setup
The exit of the gated community I couldn't cross (Google maps had it quite wrong on this one):
Another interesting Google map direction (although, they were right on this one: while the road was closed, there was a trail to cross under this impressive bridge and get to Desa Parkcity).
Desa Parkcity
Desa Parkcity's Central Park

Really? I though this level of interdiction was only in Singapore...

Another Catholic Church (Gereja Katolik Jesus Caritas)
Some overdue renovation...
Another near-miss on Google maps (road closed to car traffic, but ok for motorcycles, and runners...)
More renovation needed!

Ramayana Cave

Batu Caves (Hindu Temple in natural caves)

Just before the storm...

After the storm (next morning)
Kepong Metropolitan Park
A Brooks fan!

An urban 2.2-mile loop around a lake, and partly in the shade

With rubberized sections!

View of the nearby FRIM (Forest Research Institute of Malaysia)

Colorful kites: