Monday, September 6, 2021

Back to square 2 or 4 maybe?

I always associated this expression to an algebraic form but, according to some web search, it comes from the time people were listening to the radio to follow football (yes, that American sport where you hold the ball in your... hands!) and commentators were using the square 1 term as an image for a team getting back to their goalmouth.

In IT, at least before quantum computing came to disrupt a century of binary physics, we like to think in powers of 2, which is also practical to establish the basic form of an exponential progression. Without having to understand what's in the black box, everybody is familiar with these popular memory sizes such as 32, 64, 128 or 256 GB.

To some extent, there must be a similar application to the effort it takes in running to get to a certain level. I mean, it takes a great deal of effort for some people to qualify for Boston for instance, to shave these last 5 or 10 minutes off a PR. Or for the fastest runners to qualify for the Olympics. Or to run a marathon under 2 hours! Not exponential when you get close to your limit, but asymptotic.

I admit I didn't put much more thought into establishing a reliable formula or general law. But, on my long run on Saturday, I was thinking that I was basically back to square... 1. Especially as I ran into a small group of Stevens Creek Striders, the club I learned so much about trail and ultra running from, back when I joined them in 2003. Back to the source of inspiration!

Yet, it's not quite fair to call that square 1. Indeed, albeit slowly this time, I still managed to run 28.5 miles to the top of Black Mountain again, not something I was able to do 18 years ago! (I ran my first 50K 3 years later, Way Too Cool 2006.) And, even at that slow pace, I may still be running faster than many, so what am I complaining about, I should just be grateful!

Here is the deal: it's not just the hamstring tendon injury which is annoying. Well, every other step is painful so that's annoying for sure! But pain is often part of ultra running. Just that it isn't meant to occur right off the start. For one thing, the injury prevents me from training as hard as I used to. I'm especially staying away from the track for the risk of pulling too strongly on the tendon. In addition, for 5 to 6 months after February 2020 when I could hardly speak and breath, maybe a COVID episode before it was better known, I also had difficulty breathing especially in the first 2 miles, on every training run. Lungs are better but I'm pressure I lost a large part of the 79.8 VO2 max I had when I switched to Masters. But the biggest issue I'm now facing may be mind preparation and strength, including self-confidence, or lack thereof. My ugly daemons...

For that Saturday loop, I ran REI with these Striders, then continued on Stevens Creek Canyon Road all the way up to Black Mountain on Bella Vista trail, then down to Cupertino on Montebello Road, McClellan and Pacifica. The air quality wasn't great, we couldn't even see the cube at the top of Mt Umunhum from Black Mountain!

Beyond that encounter with the Striders, I also ran into Laurent, an ex ILOG and IBM colleague, hiking along the dried out Stevens Creek. Then, going down on Montebello Road, I had a chat with Quicksilver teammate John Burton who was hammering up on his bike. Quite a social experience after all for a solo long run! Here, at the top of Black Mountain, and you can imagine the Ocean behind, under the smog layer...

28.5 hilly miles is something so not quite square 1 maybe, but square 2 or 4. Still hoping my painful persistence to move forward will pay off, eventually. Without being sure that this will be the case, that it is a slam dunk medically speaking, quite the contrary!

On Sunday, I spent a few hours under the kitchen sink to replace an old and broken InSinkErator and an outdated faucet. If you've ever done this type of plumbing job, you know about the stretching and exercise opportunity! ;-) Besides, the temperature got to 90F by the end of the afternoon, outside, so I didn't feel the vibe to go for a run (and I finished the plumbing project by 9 pm anyway).

On Labor Day, I went up to Black Mountain again (who's counting?). The temperature was super nice when I left home at 8am but quickly raised. As I was racing with a couple of bikes on the way up, and passed them, I felt way too hot. There was some nice breeze in the shade, but the air was hot in the sunny areas. Thankfully, there is still water at the faucet at the summit campground! After some hesitation, I went down on the other side of the mountain, on Bella Vista, but did walk all the way back to the top on Indian Creek trail. 1.5 exposed and steep mile at 19 min/mile, ouch! The air quality was a bit better, and the visibility quite great actually, we could see summits around the Bay emerge from layers of either fog or smog. For instance, here is Mt Diablo in the distance, with Stanford in the foreground on the left:

Another slow loop, not counting several stops to cool down in the shade, definitely back to square 2 or 4 on that one. I wasn't quite happy with the 9:11 pace of Saturday, it got worse this Monday with 9:24. Although the second run had more elevation with two climbs to the top of Black Mountain (Garmin gave respectively 5,058 and 5,123 feet, while Strava 3,077 and 3,999; such a wide difference which shows these measures are rather meaningless from a GPS working out of triangulation). Given the elevation of Black Mountain at 2,812', Strava's stats seem more realistic (there are a few up and downs on each course).

In other better news, I got a reasonably fast 11-mile on Friday, and a couple of runs in Houston's heat during the week, with my first business trip in 18 months! There is that...

One step at a time, one long run at a time, one hill at a time... The beast is still wounded, but not ready to quit the ultra fight yet! So many people are dropping at races around the world, like at Lake Sonoma 100K this weekend, recovering from the pandemic is definitely a global societal issue. And huge health-related one too, both physiologically and psychologically too!

At least, drawing energy from getting out there in nature, helps! When weather and air quality allows at least... Speaking of nature, see these pictures from the top on Montebello Road. Grapes getting ready to be harvested.

A few more years for the new vineyards coming from a land swap with the open space preserve:

As for the ugly hole of Lehigh Quarry, it looks really bad from above!

Take care out there, all!

PS: From Mandie and Robert to Bill, a few Striders on the move!

I was also surprised to see garbage trucks on the road on a Labor Day... A few people got the memo though, bins were ready and all lined-up! ;-)