Tuesday, December 28, 2021

PAUSATF 2022 MUT Grand Prix schedule: finally!

I wasn't born to ultra running back in 1991 when this Grand Prix started, and even less so living in the Bay Area, but I am a collector so have a few records to retrace some history. Yet, I can't tell for sure, Hollis, Stan or Dave will have to weigh in, I'm afraid this has been the latest the schedule has been published for the next season. With 3 days left in the year, you could think this isn't such an embarrassment but, with some races opening registration as early as October the year before, we are under pressure to release the schedule as early as... early September!

To get the record straight, and this won't come as a surprise, this hasn't been a normal year. It's safe to say that, in its 30 years, the Grand Prix hadn't encountered such a pandemic. If 2020 was disruptive and we were hoping to turn the page just a year ago, 2021 has had its load of surprises. On the weather side, specialists didn't have enough alphabet letters to name all the tornadoes. On the COVID side, Delta was a big hit and we are only experiencing a pernicious Omicron which is reactivating the early stage health protection measures for races and events. Talking about turning a page...

To make the best use of the second half of the year, we took Quad Dipsea back on the scheduled for 2021, making our Grand Prix close at the every end of November, which has not helped getting an early focus on 2022. The the rest of the standard excuses, work, family, life...

No more time for excuses, there you are! Before screaming or throwing rotten tomatoes, let's start with some commentaries and observations to give some perspective about that schedule and, hopefully, address some concerns or anticipate some questions:

  1. 6 events are PA Club-organized, no brainers to include; a few other long-time classics as well; and three new events, not counting Stevens Creek Striders' half we had last year for the first time (ahem, with only 2 PA runners in, let's do much much better in 2022)
  2. Maximizing the coverage of the PA area (from Monterey to Reno, see the map)
  3. 4 events in the North East area (Sacramento to Reno), 1 mid way (Mt Diablo), 8 in the Bay Area, 1 South West
  4. Mix of Mountain (1), (sub ultra) Trail (4) and Ultra formats (3 Road, 6 Trail); indeed MUT stands for 3 distinct sports (not just Ultra which has been the primary focus for 25 years)
  5. Range of distances from 10K to 100 miles, to appeal to a broad spectrum of runners, hopefully.
  6. 14 scoring opportunities for individuals, 14 for teams, lot to compose a season from!
  7. Leaving room for people to run other 100-mile races (e.g. Western States, TRT) in June-July
  8. Leaves room for participating in Road Grand Prix (but always quite some overlap with XC) in March, April, mid October to December
  9. Closing early October to allow for early 2023 planning; we’ll take Quad Dipsea as 2023 season opener (that scoop was pre-announced in our Meta/Facebook group)
  10. Special note for Quicksilver: a few years ago we were scoring both the 50K and 50-mile (before the 50-mile switched to 100K to remain a Western States qualifier). To increase the competitiveness, we went to one score only, with the 100K. Because of the late calendar, as well as roll-overs from the COVID years, the 100K has filled over a few days. Apart from Pamakids which secured 14 spots right away, the other clubs weren't as disciplined to take advantage of the few days left to register. A few years ago we had negotiated a PA-specific quota but not this year. To give more PA members an opportunity to score, the Quicksilver club was gracious enough to allow us to include the 50K and the 100K on the Grand Prix this year. As of today, 83 spots are still available, providing ample room to sign up for a great heat training opportunity, with points! But because of the limited space on the 100K, we are dropping team scoring for both distances at that event.
  11. Two of the 6 PA Club events, Tamalpa 50K and Excelsior's Star City Half, definitely intend to run, but dates to be defined by RDs.

With that long preamble and without further ado, you can continue planning your 2022 year by including these events:

  1. January 29 - Mt Diablo 10K Mountain

  2. February 5 - Jed Smith 50K Road

  3. March 26 - No’to’mom 100K Road

  4. April 30 - ITR Folsom Lake Half Trail

  5. May 14 - Quicksilver 50K & 100K Trail (individuals only)

  6. May 21 - Silver State 50M Trail

  7. June 4 - Trail Marathon (Santa Cruz-Monterey area, event TBC early January)

  8. August 7 - Skyline 50K

  9. ? Star City Half marathon Trail (date TBD by RD)

  10. August 20-21 - Headlands Hundred 100M Trail

  11. ? August 27? - Tamalpa 50K Trail (date TBD by RD)

  12. September 10 - Stevens Creek Striders Reservoir Half marathon Trail

  13. September 24 - Dick Collins Firetrails 50M Trail

  14. October 8 - Ruth Anderson 50K & 50M Road - 35th edition and Grand Prix finals

For more information about our Grand Prix:
  1. Pacific Association MUT page
  2. MUT rules (e.g. how the distance factor works, the balance between longer and shorted distance, the minimum of 3 scores to be eligible to the age group benefits and champion title)
  3. How to join or renew (don't wait for the last minute, you need to be registered prior to an event to be eligible for points)
  4. The list of available clubs
  5. And you can ask questions on our Facebook page for instance.
We hope to see many of you at several of these events in 2022. COVID permitting... And all these RDs who support our Grand Prix by welcoming our association and sanctioning their respective event(s).

PS: the official schedule page will be updated in the coming days. At least, that posts gets the cat out of the bag, plus some commentaries. Final 2021 scores have also been published on the official standings page, at last!

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Quad Dipsea 2021: back to the ultra fun. And pain.

Oh my, how good it is to get back to running an ultra, to meet the ultra community, and push the envelope again! After screwing up my 2021 season with a weird calf injury after a casual 50K training run in Rouen mid September, and losing the Grand Prix after 13 consecutive wins, I had even envisioned one more DNS or even rather running the Stevens Creek Reservoir half, then flying to France to visit my parents over Thanksgiving like I did last year. Then my dad got sick on All Saints Day and I missed his last breath by mere 100 minutes despite rushing on the first plane and through the Munich and Charles de Gaulle airports in record times, literally (like the 17 minutes it took me between the touch down at CDG and getting on a rental car after clearing immigration!). Long story short, I spent 3 exhausting weeks over there before flying back the day before Thanksgiving. No expectation at all for this race then, except maybe to survive the experience, yes, not kill myself as we say.

If you checked my previous post, I even took more risks the day before Quad, by giving it almost all in the virtual Silicon Valley Turkey Trot 10K at the track, on Friday. Breaking 39 minutes isn't such a fate, except that this is a first for me since getting injured at that same race 3 years ago. And the effort and lack of training resulted in some soreness, even before toeing the line of a race with thousands of stairs, oops! To make the mater more interesting, to me anyway, I got a big blister under my right foot, not such a great idea before an ultra. At least I had time to tape it seriously!

With that convoluted lead to the event, it felt great to get back in the uniform, the routine of my pre-race checklists and protocol, and more importantly, see so many familiar faces at the start.

Stan Jensen was at the check-in like he had stayed under this tent for several years (look at the pic from 5 years ago! ;-) ). Except that he was taking the sanitary measures very seriously and it wasn't a good time to chat, we had to move on and away promptly! He then spent the rest of his day taking splits, like he does masterfully at the loopy Ruth Anderson. But, even at that other post, he wasn't letting us chit chat, he had a big and serious job to do. The model of ultra volunteering! While I'm on the topic, too many volunteers to name but let me highlight William Dai who, short of being able to run this year, omnipresent at races around the Bay, week after week! Way to still participate and contribute to our community, thank you William!

With that, let's get to the race. First, to one of the 4 porta-potties... 300+ registered runners, you do the math! ;-) By the way, the picture quality is suboptimal but it was still peach dark. And I was the only one with a headlamp. Doing your business in the dark,, guys and gals, really...?

Ok, let's switch topic and move on... to the start line.
Quite some vibe with a few out of town participants but mostly locals. Check this video Agnès took of the start, she got everybody (well, on one side, I started on the other):

And then, after a nice sprint down hill on the pavement, it was time for the conga line in the first flight of stairs. That reminded me the start of races in Chamonix, with loud runners making fun about the incongru situation of not able to be running. Because, yes, I did run these first steps back in the days, that is 10 or so years ago. In the light series of stairs I managed to pass a few runners by power walking the stairs two by two. I believe there were still 50 or more runners ahead, good that wasn't aiming or in shape for a top 10!

I few runners passed me in the downhill after Windy Gap but I passed more in the next uphill, Dynamite and Cardiac. By the first turn around at mile 7.1, I counted 43 runners ahead of me. On the way, we crossed the front runners, they had already a 2-mile lead when I was only at mile 6, wow, that made me regret the speedy days!

I traded a few places on lap 2, our first return to base. At the 2nd turnaround in Mill Valley, it must have been hilarious to see me rushing to finish my GU2O bottle and spilling it all over. (Photo credit: William Dai.)

I was aiming for a touch and go but, with the increasing temperature, I made the right decision to get to my drop bag to remove my hat and arm sleeves. Not a hard decision when so many where wearing singlets in this wonderful weather! Guess what, I felt a bit chilly in the stairs after that, that gave me a good excuse to push the pace at bit, at least!

I must have passed a few runners at this turnaround and the Cardiac aid station because I saw less people coming back on their fourth lap. Even better, I did pass a few runners on lap 4, after seeing Agnès at the Stinson Beach turnaround. Not that I was going for a negative split, at all, but I seemed to slow down less than others. When I think I ran the first double of a 4:19 Quad in 2:01 in 2008, versus 2:35 this time, ouch, hard to come back from that injury...


... verso!
At least the weather was perfect and the trail conditions pristine, like in 2008 when Erik Skaggs set a new course record. Speaking of it, after finishing, I went to Alex Varner to ask about his record: quite safe at 3:41 versus a finish time of 3:48 for Rod Farvard today. Nick Handel was the only other runner to break 4 hours, by a few seconds, then 2 more ran under 4:30 and 10 more under 5, so it wasn't a particularly fast year after all.

This table summarizes well my run (results and splits available on RaceRoster):

And this picture catches my embarrassment and frustration for not even breaking 5:30...

Still way behind but at least a nice progression among the men in the second half. What about my age group? First, some pre-race stats; go figure, it happened to be the deepest one among the entrants: out of 353 men and women, 110 were in the 50-59 bracket, almost a 3rd. And out of 250 men, 74 in my age group! With that, I was actually pleased that, despite the slow time, that placed me 2nd behind Spencer Punter, 51, of Burlingame. 63 finishers in our age group and 270 total (I don't know how many actually started our of the original 353 entrants). Bottom line I definitely want to get under 5 hours next time! well, if the trail don't turn to mud... yikes!

The injuries a week later? Not so good. Still a bad sensation in the calf but, more importantly, sharp pain on the tendon, even for a half marathon a week later. Was it the 10K at the track, or Quad, or both, I don't know. But, either way, that's why I also included the pain in the title of this post...

Very grateful to Race Director John Catts for offering Quad Dipsea back into our Pacific Association USATF Mountain Ultra Trail Grand Prix. I had dropped it in previous year because it pushes the season way too late in the year when many ultras open registration in September or October. I finally found the trick: what opening using next year's edition as the opening race of our 2023 Grand Prix? A bit fetch, but this famous ultra definitely deserves to be on our schedule!

With Yassine Diboun who was visiting from Portland, OR; time flies...

And with long time friend Victor who doesn't even have to run to remain a local legend and steal the show with Max! ;-) Their Victory Design bags make great ultra gifts for the Holidays, there will be many races in 2022!
The Dipsea Trail was so clean that some people thought I had changed shoes after the race. No, I did ran in this pair of Brooks Racer ST indeed.
Always such a thrill to cross the Golden Gate Bridge to visit up North!
As I said, feeling good to get back in the racing uniform, although our Club team participation in the Grand Prix has been abysmal this year... (There were a few ex teammates but I was the only PA-registered from our Club today. :-/ )