Sunday, February 13, 2022

Pacific Association 2021 Awards Ceremony: just 10 minutes in outstanding ultra lives

After a 2-year COVID hiatus cancelling the 2021 edition, we were back to celebrate achievements of our USATF Pacific Association members, phew! From runners to race walkers and Track & Field athletes, from Olympians to the back of the pack, from competitors to volunteers, coaches and officials the 2.5-hour program seemed both too long to be digested online and too short to give enough credit to all the award and kudos recipients!

While the invitation included the word banquet, I prefer calling this a ceremony since there was nothing to eat or drink. Sorry, that must be my French half, there is no real gastronomy you can enjoy online...! ;-) 

The invite also talked about the 2nd edition. While this is the case at the overall Pacific Association level, as long as I've been participating into the MUT Grand Prix since 2007, we have had these banquets on the LDR side and my copy of the 2007 season celebration says it was the 12th edition in April 2008, making it a 1996 tradition (indeed, our first Grand Prix season was 1994-1995)!

MUT? For the outsiders, this stands for Mountain, Trail and Ultra Running, three different sports we group under the same umbrella for critical mass purpose. Three sports which span from 10K to no distance limit, from races lasting less than one hour to 6 days and beyond, on roads, trails or tracks, on flat or super steep courses. So much fun!

As I mentioned, we had these LDR banquets all for ourselves, Road, Cross-Country (XC) and MUT and 2 hours were barely enough to listen to special guests and properly address all the award recipients. This time we only had 19 minutes. While it was a bummer the Road Grand Prix had been cancelled last year, at least that was leaving 9 minutes each for XC and MUT. Carl covered XC in captivating details about the accomplishments of Age Group Champions as well as Club awards for each the age groups.

For MUT, I started by stating that we had started 2020 with 3 races before the shut down and, in 2021, managed to run an entire Grand Prix with 10 events over a period of 4 months, instead of our typical 10-month span, talk about catching up after COVID! Unfortunately, many PA members and clubs weren't ready to get back so fast into action but we still managed to have 117 participants through the season.

From them, we celebrated our 2021 Age Group Champions:

  • Women 20-29 – Kimmy Luzette Reyes, Pamakids
  • Women 30-39 – Simone Angela Winkler, Excelsior
  • Women 40-49 – Luisa Cheung, Pamakids
  • Men 30-39 – William Nguyen, Pamakids
  • Men 40-49 – Jonah Backstrom, West Valley Track Club
  • Men 50-59 – Shiran Kochavi, Pamakids
  • Men 60-69 – Chuck Amital, Pamakids

A few returning and defending champs, a few new names, welcome to that small club! All receive 50% discounts on their 2022 race registration fees as a super valuable bonus!

In addition to these Age Group Champions who met the 3-score minima, here are the other winners of their respective age group:
  • Women 50-59: with a 71-point tie, Verity Breen, Tamalpa, and Kristine Barrios, Lake Merritt Joggers & Striders
  • Women 60-69: Annette Lee, Lake Merritt Joggers & Striders
  • Men 20-29: in a tie at 40 points, Steven Kool, Wolfpack Running Club, and Jose Cruz, SFRC Running Team
  • Men 40-49: Matt Ward for a tie with Jonah Backstrom above
  • Men 70-79: Steven Patt, Quicksilver
Making a note to clarifying the 3-score minima for a Champion title in line and the spirit of how the MUT rules have been applied in past years.

On the team side, we had an amazing grand slam or chelem by the Pamakids taking four out the four available honors! I had been 10 years since Quicksilver achieved this in 2011. Since 1995, this is the 3rd club to do so after Buffalo Chips' strikes of 2005 and 2006.

  • Team Women – 1st Pamakids, 2nd Tamalpa, 3rd Lake Merritt Joggers & Striders
  • Team Men – 1st Pamakids, 2nd Tamalpa, 3rd Excelsior
  • Team Mixed – 1st Pamakids, 2nd Excelsior, 3rd Lake Merritt Joggers & Striders
  • Team Overall – 1st Pamakids, 2nd Excelsior, 3rd Tamalpa

After these no-surprise awards since the results had been published in December, after Quad Dipsea, it was time to move to the even more exciting set of coveted Runners and Volunteer of the Year distinctions.

Given the range of events I mentioned above, not to mention the spectrum of age groups, recognizing only one individual is really challenging. First, there is the subjectivity in comparing athletic performances across such a variety of events, distances, terrains. Second, we also look at the involvement in our association. Third, the challenge of collecting the information across multiple disparate sources. Special thanks to our Richard Bolt who spends the year covering MUT, Nationally and internationally in his prolific almost daily-updated Trail News page on the ATRA (American Trail Running Association) website.

To help alleviate the subjectivity, as the Chair of our MUT sub-committee, I reached out to a panel of MUT enthusiasts from runners to Race Directors, volunteers, club captains. I have to say that this year was quite a close call, especially on the men side. Just try for yourself, picking the most deserving individual from this liste of notable performances.

Notable MUT 2021 Female performances

  • Beverley Anderson-Abbs
    • Jed Smith 50-mile, 1st, 7:07
    • Vol State 500K, 1st, 96:49
  • Meghan Canfield
    • Jed Smith 50K, 1st, 3:59
    • Waldo 100K, 14th, 15:01
  • Magdalena Boulet
    • Western States 100M, 15th, 22:12
  • Stephanie Garcia
    • 2nd place 2021 USATF Half Marathon Trail Championship

Notable MUT 2021 Male performances

  • Tim Tollefson
    • Bishop High Sierra 55K, 1st, 3:52
    • Western States 100M, 5th, 16:55
  • Bob Hearn
    • Vol State 500K, 1st, 76:09 (CR)
    • Spartathlon 247K, 20th, 28:40 (1st American)
  • Rich Hanna
    • Jed Smith 50-mile, 1st, 5:51 (American M55-59 record)
  • Rajpaul Pannu
    • HOKA ONE ONE Project Carbon X2 - 100K, 2nd, 6:28
    • No’to’mom 100K Road USATF Nationals, 1st, 6:57
  • Malcolm Richards
    • Jed Smith 50K, 1st, 2:51
  • Edward Owens
    • 4th place at the highly competitive 2021 USATF Mountain Running Championships
    • 2nd place at the 2021 USATF Half Marathon Trail Championship.
  • Meikael Beaudoin-Rousseau
    • 7th at the 2021 USATF Mountain Running Championships
  • James Flanigan
    • 70-74 age group national champion at the 2021 USATF Mountain Running Championships
  • Jonah Backstrom
    • USATF 50k Road Championships 1st master 3:30:40 (11th overall male)
    • USATF 100 Mile Road Championships 3rd master 19:08:25 (8th overall male)
    • Quad Dipsea, 7th male, 4:49

To make quite a long story shorter, and without much suspense for those who attended the event live yesterday, Ladies and Gentlemen, your 2021 MUT Ultra Runner of the Years... Beverley Anderson-Abbs and Rajpaul Pannu!

Beverley is certainly not new to these honors, her perseverance and longevity are exemplary and inspirational. She has been the Pacific Association MUT RoY 4 years in a row from 2005 to 2008 and nominated in 2016. In the meantime, she set many Long Distance Running Age Group records for Canada. She has 204 trophies on UltraSignup and that doesn't count podiums in bike races!

In contrast, this is Rajpaul's first nomination and RoY win. We saluted his active racing with the Aggies and, of course, the outstanding 3rd ever fastest time on 100K road, on Jim Walmsley's heels as Jim was chasing the World Record in Sacramento. A few months later, Rajpaul returned on the same American River levee to win the 100K Road National Championships organized by Meghan Canfield, an event on our MUT Grand Prix last year (we'll be back there next month albeit not for a National this time).

And now on to an even more subjective exercise, selecting the Volunteer of the Year for the Dick Collins Award. And even harder task as there isn't even any measure or reporting in this area, no shared log of hours or efforts, most of them happening even behind the scene. Second, the rules says that only PA members are eligible, although many volunteers are not even runners themselves. This year, we selected a person who invested his ultra hours into helping as a knee injury prevented him to compete himself in the 2021 Grand Prix. When injury comes, unfortunately, you have the choice to either retreat from the sport, or engage even more to give back to our local community. Example abound of ex runners among the most dedicated volunteers, officials and race directors. At every race last year, we could see our VoY at road crossing, bib picking or manning aid stations and filling-up bottles. Ladies and Gentlemen, your 2021 MUT Volunteer of the Year, from the Go Green Pamakids Club... William Dai!

I closed our MUT section by sharing a visual representation of our 2022 Grand Prix, illustrating the diversity of distances and terrains. With shorter, sub-ultra events, we hope this will appeal to a larger audience, including younger runners. Yes, we have half marathons and we even had a 10K last month!

Thank you to the leaders of our Pacific Association for this opportunity to get together and take the time to recognize our members. Special thanks to all those who handled the logistics from First VP Irene Herman's initial idea and drive to make that edition happen, to those orchestrating the registration and collection of data, Cynci Calvin (Communications Chair), Angie Longworth (Secretary) and Dave Shrock (Past President). Full program available online (26 pages!). See you all next year, all the best to all for a successful 2022 and most fun in our MUT Grand Prix in particular. 2 events done, 12 to go!

Video recording available there, MUT section at 1:13:50.

PS: sorry for the lack of proper credits for the pictures, lost track as I was rushing to assemble my deck after work on Friday night. No money involved here at least...

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Jed Smith 2022: back to the tradition.

For as long as I can recall over the past 15 years, Buffalo Chips' Jed Smith 50K has been our season open in the MUT Pacific Association Grand Prix. And so it was in 2020 before we pulled the Grand Prix plug right after SingleTrack's Pioneer Express 50-mile Trail Nationals mid March. Interestingly enough, Jed Smith even occurred in 2021 but at a time the national USATF consensus wasn't favorable to a return to organized racing yet. We ended up running our Grand Prix from August to November last year. Hoping 2022 is the good year for the return to more normalcy!

This year, we actually opened the season last week with a new Mountain-style event: PCTR's Mount Diablo 10K. Next year, we'll open the season even earlier with Quad Dipsea at the end of November... 2021. It may look odd but this is to address the need to close the season early in the year to allow for all the crazy early-notice ultra planning and registration. Our final event this year is going to be Ruth Anderson's 50K and 50-mile, co-directed by Steve Jaber, whom many have seen on the Jed Smith course this Saturday, Anil Rao and Rajeev Patel.

Back to the title, the tradition means the re-inclusion of this fast 50K race in our Grand Prix then. And the very nice winter gathering of our ultra community, also welcoming new members as well as other runners, thanks to the Buffalo Chips strong presence in Sacramento. Indeed, Jed Smith isn't only about ultra: this year it had 6 distances: 50-mile, 50K, marathon, 30K and half marathon. Some for everybody's taste and will to test their limits! (Poto credit: Stuart Taylor.)

With the continuation of our terrible California drought --we didn't get a single drop of rain through January, such a bad record-- at least the weather was excellent for running: about 45 and overcast at the start, then sunny and getting on the warm side actually in the afternoon. And not the winds we experienced last year.

While there were 170 registrants overall, only 50 in the 50K and sparse field, competitively speaking, so much as I was seeded #2 by UltraSignup. I assured Jonah Backstrom he could have it this year. He said that he was going to start with a 6:20 min/mile pace, more conservatively than his last attempt. Our Club President, Stuart, had entered Fort Ord 50K but forfeit his entry to join us and support our team instead. He recently ran the first 100K at HURT and, in a very different register, almost broke 3 at the marathon last year. With that, we let Jonah go and ran the first 2 5-mile laps together.

Initially at a 7:15 average pace but, as the pace increased, I settled in 3rd.

(Last two pictures from Boris Dumitrescu who volunteered for several hours at the only road crossing and leverage his time to take pictures and retouch/post them in real time on Facebook!)

At the end of the 3rd lap, I caught Stuart up as he had stopped to pick his headset. Although this is more than half way with the initial 2-mile out and back, we were just above a 2-hour split and my sub-4 goal was seriously at risk. Stuart passed me again around mile 19 as I was struggling and slowing down. Mile 21 was my first above 7:30, at 7:33 and, from there, splits oscillated between 8 and 9 minutes. Although I was disappointed by the loss of form, I avoided cramping and, even more importantly, walking. I took a 3rd Vespa pouch at the end of lap 4. Never stopped at the aid stations used 4 S!Caps and 3 GU gels. Otherwise, mostly the lack of training showing, the injury pain being endurable. What kept me running though was the competition behind...

Little known secret that this race actually offers a live webcast by publishing results live, including splits, on Athlinks. At the end of lap 4 I did stop to grab my phone. At the next bridge passage I checked on the website and saw I still had an 8-minute lead on Michael Fink, in my age group. On the 6th lap, I check again and it was now down to 6 minutes. With a quarter mile to go, in the last chicane of the Watt Avenue bridge, I see a runner closing on my, with bib 45. That one I didn't see coming! That was Andrew Furillo who finished 6 seconds behind me, with Michael Fink 35 seconds after him, phew!

While Jonah Backstrom won in 3:18:56 I would still label this year's race as a record slow one with me claiming a podium spot with a time of 4:05:28! We are far from last year's win of Malcom Richards in 2:51, followed by Chikara Omine in 2:59. So slow that Jonah didn't even wait for us to finish to get a podium picture, oh well! There must have been something different in the air last year. For me, this is so far from the sub 3:20s I used to run just a few years ago, it's still the struggle of this hamstring tendon injury which is so painful still after more than 3 years. When every stride is painful, ultra running looks like punishment... I can't train seriously, I can't extend my stride, a bummer. Have to live on the amazing past memories, maybe that's why Rich Hanna called me a legend when I crossed the finish line, living in the past... ;-) 

Rich owns the Capital Road Race Management company and is the local legend. And not just from the past! On that course and over the past 2 years, he set our age group's new record for both 50K (3:26) and 50-mile (5:51). That performance got him the UltraRunning Magazine 4th age-group performance of 2021, although he doesn't even care about the fame, only running for the joy of... running fast and against his clock.

Similarly, we had another local legend on the 50-mile, and same autograph treatment for her, on the same page of the magazine. Bev won the 50-mile again this year in a time of 6:37!!

We are still far from pre-pandemic levels in terms of participation, and from Pacific Association members in particular. 22 this time, half last week's turnout. Doesn't help when the club leader goes from 25 to 7, yet still dominated the field! Anyway, great job to all for coming! Speaking of Pacific Association, see this invitation to attend this year's virtual award banquet.

I stayed for another 2.5 hours to chat and mingle with people, and wait to see Keith and Jim finish. Both Keith and I raced back to back, and Keith also got an age group podium too this time, yeah!

So many amazing stories when you take the time to ask... For instance, and with a tip from Rich, what about James Flanigan who not only ran the 30K today but finished 38 Boston Marathons! He says it's harder to finish under 6 hours nowadays, to remain eligible to run year after year, he regrets the 20 years he was qualified to run in his youth but couldn't enter for lack of financial means to make the cross-country trip to New England, saving everything for Med School. And James is polyvalent, he won his age group at the Mountain Running Nationals lat year!

With consistent and Jed Smith-regular Michael Fink (we are both over 10 finishes):

Huge thanks to John Feenley for perpetuating this long Jed Smith tradition, to his crew of volunteers all over and around the loop, and his Buffalo Chips club who had many members within that crew or running one of the races. Another perfect edition, well done and already looking forward to next year then!