Sunday, February 23, 2020

Mt Umunhum 14K: our first ever MUT Grand Prix Mountain race!

What an opportunity not to miss, our very first Mountain race in our MUT (Mountain, Ultra, Trail) Grand Prix series! For more than 25 years, our MUT Grand Prix was exclusively about Ultra, either on trails, roads or tracks, but that's only one of our three MUT disciplines. Last year, Nakia and I added a few races in the sub-ultra marathon Trail area: Napa Half, Pacifica 21K, Start City Half.

Ultra running has a very clear definition, albeit no upper limit (!): any distance beyond the marathon mark. In contrast, Trail running is more elusive as, first, we have many ultra races run on... trails and, second, it isn't meant to include Cross-country (XC), which is also run on trails. XC is typically in the 2 to 6-mile range. That leaves a 6 to 26.2-mile range for Trail running. But no mention of the course profile, trail races can be either flat or hilly...

And then comes Mountain races which, as you'd expect, should be at least very hilly or steep. If you live in the Alps, you'd even expect a Mountain race to be rocky and awfully technical. Yet, in New England, they have Mountain races on roads, how confusing...

At the most recent USATF convention I attended in Reno last December, some wording proposal has been proposed, amended then approved but re-reading it again today, I bet this will have to be modified again. If interested you can look at item 53 in this document.

Anyway, a few years ago, the consensus was "250 meters of vertical change per 5 kilometers", or 164 ft/km or 264 ft/mile. Mt Umunhum was advertised at 1,963 ft of cumulative elevation for 12K originally, or 163.58 ft/km, close enough. The distance was revised to 14K though. But, again, there is leeway in the definitions and we have great hills in our backyard, albeit not the Alps! As it turned out, my Garmin got 8.66 miles and 1,881 of elevation gain but theses watches haven't a great reputation for elevation gain accuracy.

There was much more excitement than our little race on Saturday: Race Director, Greg Lanctot, couldn't refrain from sharing his own excitement to be the first race ever to be authorized to go to the top of Mt Umunhum, also called the Cube (a huge concrete building which served as the base of a large military radar to monitor the Pacific during the Cold War). That part of the course was reserved to the 52K runners.

Quite some excitement as well with the dog race. Still jet lagged from my recent trip to Israel, I decided to drive down very early to secure one of the coveted parking spots at the start. That allowed me to cover the briefings and starts of all the races except the 24K at 8:30 as I was warming up to check on my hamstring injury. 7 am was the 52K, then 7:20 for the Canicross 2.6-mile, then 8 am for the 34K while our 14K race started at 9.

Check this video out and listen to not only the barking but Greg's pure joy and excitement to see such a diverse field enjoying our Almaden Quicksilver park:

The weather was amazing for a winter race: 52F with a few clouds at 6 am, then sunny and blue skies for the rest of the day. At the finish I met a family which was visiting from Canada where they had -40C when they left a few days ago. We really don't have any winter here...

The 14K race had filled with 100 entrants and I was super pleased with the Pacific Association response, an amazing show by the few local large teams like Excelsior and Pamakids as you'd expect, but a blue wave of Impalas too! Then a handful of runners each from West Valley Track Club, Quicksilver, Lake Merritt Joggers & Striders... I think Tamalpa had only 2 runners this time, still short of scoring a team. With that, this made for a super competitive event and fast start, especially with the course starting downhill! It reminded me of the humbling experience of running cross-country races...

(Photo credit for the Excelsior group picture: Simone's Facebook page.)

Having not run a single hill since Ohlone in May last year, and still not training much, I was not only excited per the above, but also quite anxious to see how my return to racing would play out on quit a hilly course. I placed myself behind the Impala gals at the start and I even decided not to chase JR Mintz when he surged in the first down hill, although he is in my age group. In the first steep hills though, I felt good enough to catch up with him, then decided to pass him as I was eyeing Jason Reed a few hundreds yards ahead.

The hamstring wasn't complaining but the legs and lungs could feel the lack of training so I had to keep it conservative and forget about the race leads. I was so happy to even be racing that I didn't mind being chicked by so many speedsters today! In every downhill, Jason would fly so fast it took me almost 4 miles to finally close on him. As I was passing, he mentioned that one of lead runners looked like in my age group. Well, if not 40, there were still 31points to grab if I, and my hamstring, could hold on. Indeed, although much shorter, our Trail and Mountain races are all worth the same coefficient than a 50K. This is meant to attract new participants in our series and that's working!

It's working so well that I was barely at mile 4 when I crossed the first runner coming back from the turn around at Hicks Road. He was going so fast, he won with a blistering 6:20 min/mile pace! Of course, it helped that it was all fire road, but still, 1,900 feet of elevation... Steven Kool, 25, from the Wolfpack team.

The potential M50-59 other runner, based on some white hair in his beard, was actually in 2nd place, 1 or 2 minutes behind. I counted about a dozen runners before I could get to the aid station where I didn't stop, carrying my own bottle of Gu Brew. 14K is certainly something you can run without fueling or drinking, but I like the habit of taking a few sips regularly anyway.

It was cool to see the rest of the field with this out and back format. I was pushing while avoiding the red zone given the lack of training and self-confidence. Caught into the competitive spirit, I lengthen my stride and, eventually, the hamstring started complaining around mile 6, but it was this mild pain which allowed me to run half a season in 2019. Actually slightly less as there has been some improvement lately, at last.

Flying down the trail, I almost missed the left turn at English Camp. I could still see two runners ahead in the last hill, including Ron Little. Nobody behind but I still kept pushing thinking Jason could still catch me in the last steep and tortuous downhill before the finish.

1:08:57 finish time, 7:55 min/mile pace, I was happy with it although this is really not going to look good on Ultrasignup: a 80% performance with Steven's blazing 55:12, ouch! That put me in 13th place overall, 9th in Men. My only regret was to have missed that finish when I saw what happened after Steve: 3 runners finishing within 4 seconds and the same 7:00 min/mile pace! I really wish there would have been a drone video of the final half a mile!

Charles MacNulty was able to save his 2nd place in 1:00:56. David Tran took 3rd in 1:00:57 and Samuel Clinton 4th in 1:01:00, what a close finish! Karl Schnaitter finished 3'27" later and I was the last one under 8 min/mile. Greg told me Charles was in the older guys division so I assumed he meant 50+. I was therefore happily surprised when Greg called Charles for the Masters podium. Indeed, Charles is only 46, 9 years difference help... ;-) Still, hats off to an amazing performance from Charles for taking 2nd overall in this field!

Top 3 overall:
M50-59 podium (2nd: Doug Fontaine, 3rd: J.R. Mintz):

On the women side, Becca Loman (Impalas) won in 1:04:48, followed by Angela Tieri (Impalas) just 16" behind while Lucy Andrews (Excelsior) finished in 1:07:14. Impalas fly, and not just on roads!

You'll find below a series of podiums orchestrated by both RD and MC, Greg, in his very own backyard.

From the comfort of your chair you can fly over our short but hilly out and back!

It was also time to celebrate the Queen of the PCTR volunteers, Shrina, who has been giving countless hours at PCTR events these past 4 years, along with her family. Many big shoes to fill for Greg and Jen, what great and found memories from the 24-hour events in particular, which requires so much from volunteers, all day and night long... Wishing Shrina the best, as well as to the PCTR owners and crew.

Another flawless execution from PCTR for our 2nd PA MUT 2020 Grand Prix race, thank you Greg and Jennifer, and all the volunteers! And, not to forget, the Park Rangers who allowed us to enjoy this public land on this occasion, despite the burden created on the neighborhood with so many cars to park...
Oh, kudos for the creative and original swag too, another very special and sustainable touch from PCTR (in addition to cupless aid stations, no-shirt option at sign-up and small-size bibs for instance):

Next GP races: Way Too Cool 50K in 2 weeks and Pioneer 50-mile Trail Nationals a week later!


M60 (Chuck keeps killing the competition...! ;-):
M70-79 (Jim pretending he can't climb a step after just 9 miles! ;-):

And a few more pictures (pre-race briefings, runners with or without dogs... ;-) ):

Jim and I with our team captain who decided to go to the Cube (aka the 52K distance)...

The winner of the Canicross, Ian Driver and co:

Bree, thrilled to run the 34K:

A thirsty one (and, no, it's not Catra's dashchund!):
Lucy, Victory Design's mascot (and her boss, Victor Ballesteros):
Teammate Keith Lubliner at the 14K finish:
With Angie Longworth, Women's LDR committee Chair:
And George Rehmet, RRCA National President nominee for next year:
Teammate Kat Powel, dancing at the 14K finish:
Clubmate Tiffany Trevers who scared us as she felt in the last downhill on severe cramping, in the 24K:

Friday, February 7, 2020

PAUSATF 2019 Season Awards Banquet: a different show

2008 was my first PA (Pacific Association) USATF (USA Track & Field) LDR (Long Distance Running) Award Banquet. Which I joined to celebrate the first full season I had competed in MUT (Mountain, Ultra, Trail), actually only Ultra for our Grand Prix back then. I always made a point to attend this yearly event, not just for the glimpse of local fame but this additional opportunity to connect with our running community.

I can't hide I'm a collector... and here are a few reports from the banquets: 20092010 (our Quicksilver's rhomobile heritage), 2011, 20132014, 201520172019,      ?
 LDR is such a big sport: it covers cross country (from a couple of miles to 10K, on trails), road with short and long races ranging from 1 mile to the marathon, and then we have the even larger MUT discipline which includes 3 surfaces (track, road and trail), flat of super hilly course, and distances from a dozen of kilometers to more than hundred miles!

Then we have Track & Field which has not only many running formats as well (shorter than 100 meters indoor and for youths, to several kilometers as well, on track), but also race walking, the jumps, shot put, javelin, pole vault, discus, ...

With that variety, comes the practical challenge to celebrate everybody in not only one night, but a meaningful event to such a broad audience. To illustrate that breadth, an anecdote: shortly after I arrived, I see a young athlete wearing a sweater with a Brooks insignia and I mention my connection to the brand, asking which sports he competes in. 100m hurdles, fast and short! Here you are to describe the challenge of the night, covering from 100 meters to 100,000 meters (and more), that's 3 orders of magnitude to reconcile!

Anyway, I was then looking forward to this 13th banquet, marking my 13th consecutive Age Group win. As a matter of fact, I had better to show up since I also have another role during this function, that of representing our MUT sport and officiating as our MUT sub-committee Chair (I did create and recruit a couple of new positions in that sub-committee when I took over 3 years ago but it's basically Nakia, our diligent MUT scorer, and myself right now, a rather lean committee). At least I was in town that weekend, after flying back from 2 weeks in Europe on Friday afternoon and leaving to Boston on Monday...

The tradition of the LDR banquet goes back to the mid 90s as a matter of fact. Although this year was advertised as inaugural, last year was the 22nd edition per the program, you do the math. This year was quite different as the event was touted as the inaugural PA Award Banquet. I wasn't part of that decision but I think the idea was to piggy back on this LDR banquet and add the other disciplines, the Youth divisions in particular, the Officials, and the PA Foundation. After a quarter of century, a big reset for our LDR tradition then.

The venue was perfect for our Bay Area-based membership, at the Basque Cultural Center in South San Francisco (which, in case Trump reads and wants to learn a bit of geography after mixing up Kansas City and Kansas, is not only South of San Francisco, but a city by itself! ;-). Ample parking, large room to fit the 190 or so attendees who signed up, a real bar in the room, a stage (which we didn't use), a projector and efficient sound system. All the ingredients for success, again, at least for the Bay Area residents. In the past, it had been a challenge to find a club to take on the organization of such event, although we have more than a dozen of active clubs in our LDR Grand Prix so the burden only comes back every 15 years or so.

While I'm on the logistics, the food and service did the job, not super fancy but still much more formal than last year when we had a lively event at a brewery, catered by the parents of one of our LDR runners.

And here, Karl serving us some soup!
And now to the content, the program. As I alluded above, the scope was so broad that it was out of question to get the plaque recipients on stage as we used to do a few years ago. Of course, that removes a lot from the award ceremony. As a mater of fact, the Youth division got the honors, with a word on every recipient, and that took its own while. Then a first series of Officials (I went through all the burden of the training and certification 2 years ago, and served at a few events, so it was great to see this essential function recognized for the first time). Then, and I may not have the order right but that's not important, a few Hall of Famers.

Then, and I may not have the order right but that's not important, three new Hall of Fame inductees. Our current Pacific Association VP, Irene Herman; LDR official extraordinaire, Mark Winitz; and, below, elite distance runner (e.g. 2nd at the Boston Marathon in 1968), founder of the West Valley Track Club and much more, Bill Clark (see this cool article from 2008):

The ceremony was scheduled from 6 to 8:30 but the presentation didn't start before 7:30 if I recall. And we had not talked about LDR at all yet. The only one from my Quicksilver club this year (dang!), I had organized a MUT table with Excelsior (Jason, Erika, Simone, Karl and Xian), West Valley Track Club (Chris and Cathy), while 6 Pamakids representatives (e.g. William, Chuck) sat at the next table.

Simone Winkler, our W30-39 champ, from Excelsior:
 Chris Concannon, M30-39, from WSTC:
Special mention to Kristine Barrios, our W50-59 2019 Champion, from Lake Merritt Joggers & Striders, who had a table for herself as she came with 5 family members and her Club President!
Jason, Simone, Karl, William and Chuck had raced Jed Smith 50K in Sacramento in the morning, having to wake up at 5 am, they were impatient we got to MUT... (I had registered at the last minute before hopping on my flight from Paris, Friday morning, but bailed out on Friday afternoon as my injury is still nagging).

The presentation/keynote is always the highlight of the evening of course, someone exceptional in our sport. I've fond memories of listening to Tim Twietmeyer for instance (25 Western States finishes, all under 24 hours and including 5 wins!) and Jon Olsen's experience when he won the 24-hour World Championship a few years ago. Other years, the speaker wasn't as relevant to our MUT community, but close enough. This time, we had a multi-Olympian and World medalist at the 1,500m: Shannon Rowbury.

Here is the short bio from our event invitation:
Shannon Rowbury is an American middle-distance runner from San Francisco, California. In her illustrious running career, she represented the United States at the 2008, 2012, and 2016 Summer Olympics. She also represented the United States at the World Championships in 2009, 2011, and 2013 winning the bronze medal in the 1500 meters in 2009.
Shannon shared how attached she is to San Francisco (5th generation here!).

I was blown away to hear that she raced for the Irish (Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep Running) and was coached by Andy Chan, what a great local fame story! (And shame on me for not remembering that I had already mentioned this fact in a 2011 post, including Andy's picture... That's when I appreciate the blog being such a robust memory! ;-) ).

The anecdote of her hip stress fracture of 2007 certainly resonated with me as I finally got my first major injury 14 months ago. She elaborated on how that made her a better runner, with the pride of having 11 straight years without an injury while competing at the top level, professionally, and until she got her first baby in 2018. Now, I've heard about other inspiring recovery stories but learned that they tend to be faster with younger athletes. After 50, the body doesn't heal as fast as before...

Anyway, Shannon also shared about her passion and involvement in promoting women in sports, illustrating this with two stories:
- through wearing makeup at competitions (including the night she broke 4 minutes for 1,500m at an international meet in Europe, to honor her grandmother),
- her Imagining More non-profit.

It was maybe 8 when we switched back to awards and quickly got derailed by the phone interview of a coach who was so passionate that he went on for what I believe was at least 10 minutes. Then we got a long pitch on the Foundation, including a walk through of the entire website, with comments on each picture. The Foundation is an amazing part of our local impact, helping a dozen athletes with grants, but that was really a the long side for such an event. With that, it was past bed time for some of the Youth representatives who left and most of our MUT reps who also left before we finally got to the LDR section, way passed 8:30...

I was so embarrassed for the audience who had to stay overtime that I rushed through my notes, not stating 10% of what I had planned to say to recognize all the accomplishments of our MUT Grand Prix participants. See below what I would have said on the three recipients of the main awards, known at the oY (Volunteer of the Year, Runners of the Year). I even had planned to say something special about Mark Richtman but didn't feel making the event any longer. Thankfully, Carl, XC Chair, was the last one to present for LDR and managed to get 30 seconds of silence in Mark's memory.

Overall, a nice celebration of the entirety of our Pacific Association, but not quite the award party we used to have for LDR and MUT. We (the PA leadership) will have to reassess the best format or formats to serve so many objectives. Special kudos to our Communication Chair, Cynci, for creating the program booklet in a rush, 2 days before the event (thank you for the insert with the LDR Road/Track records, although it missed a few MUT ones from Bob Hearn, Mark Richtman and I), to Angie for making super professional posters and to my PA LDR colleagues who still supported the plaque concept. Nice tradition for the collectors! :-)

Special thanks to all who worked behind the scene so we could have such an event again this year, and those who chipped in to attend, as we need both sides to have a successful celebration!

To a great 2020 season now!


VoY (MUT Volunteer of the Year)

At many local ultras, we are welcomed by his smile, both at the early start and the late finish. Volunteering at ultra races is no small feat, it can last for more than a day, not to mention days before and after to prepare.
More recently he helped save and perpetuate the Ruth Anderson Memorial Run tradition by co-directing the race.
Our 2019 Volunteer of the Year, who was still on the Jed Smith 50K course at 3 this afternoon and couldn't make it the banquet in time... from Tamalpa Runners... Steve Jaber!

WRoY (MUT Woman Runner of the Year)

7 considerations: Beverly Anderson-Abbs, Meghan Laws, YiOu Wang, Magdalena Boulet, Devon Yanko, Diana Fitzpatrick, Simone Winkler

This year's Woman Runner of the Year has finished:

5th Tarawera 100k 1st master 11:02 [678 ITRA points]
2nd Ruck a chuck 50k 1st master 5:01 [657]
5th Canyons 100k 1st master 11:53 [688]
1st Folsom Lake 110k 1st overall 13:46 [627]
7th Javelina Jundred 100M 3rd master 19:07 [620]
15th The North Face ECS 50M  3rd master 9:28 [616]
2 New National Records at Desert Solstice (pending approval in December 2020)

From Tamalpa Runners, and at the age of 58 (mind you!)... Meghan Laws!

MRoY (MUT Male Runner of the Year)

16 contenders: Bob Hearn, Chris DeNucci, Drew Holmen, Jon Olsen, Tim Tollefson, Chikara Omine, Cliff Lentz, Jean Pommier (oops, sorry, yet again... ;-) ), Lance Doherty, Chris Concannon, Scott Trummer, Karl Schnaitter, Rich Hanna, Gaspar Mora Porta, Thomas Reiss, Cole Watson + Gordon Ainsleigh, and In Memoriam (6 LDR records last January), Mark Richtman

Our pick this year has finished...

1st FOURmidable 50K Trail Nationals [880]
1st Lavaredo Ultra Trail 129K [922 ITRA points, which I believe to be a record for our Pacific Association]
1st Ruck a Chuck 50K [887]
3rd Madeira Island Ultra Trail 118K [865]

From SRA Elite... Tim Tollefson!