Saturday, April 30, 2022

Lake Folsom Trail Half Marathon: great to get back to some speed

I still have the last of four posts on our last trip to French Polynesia to complete and I have scribbled on a memory card an account of last week's 100K Nationals in Madison on my flight back from Chicago on Wednesday night but, for the sake of seeing of I'm still capable of doing same-day race reports, let me go out of order for some change. A half marathon, how hard can that be to wrap it up in a day, right? Especially when you woke up at 4:30 am. But the thing is that there was 5 hours of driving to Folsom Point State Park, some time to prepare before the 8:30 am start, then one hour and a half to catch up with the trail running community and wait for my car pool buddy. And we have some family visiting from Europe for dinner tonight, full day!

This was the first time in the MUT Grand Prix history that we included an Inside Trail Running (ITR) event in our calendar and I was looking forward to finally meet Tim and his crew. I also picked that particular event to give a chance to Pacific Association clubs from our NorthEastern part of our area (Reno, Tahoe, Auburn, Sacramento) to participate and get points. Similarly to Jed Smith, that didn't prove very efficient again, forcing the larger contingent of the MUT Grand Prix participants to drive from the Bay Area. Like the 6 men from our Quicksilver Club in San Jose did (from left to right: Chak, our Treasurer Keith, Sean, our President and Quicksilver Race Director, Stuart, Jean and Steve):

Steve, who had the honors of being the doyen of the field, if there is such a thing, carpooled with me. We left home by 5:30 am and got to Folsom Lake at 7:40, leaving a good margin to get ready for the 8:30 am start. Although, spending some time to watch the start of the 50 and 35K, and my return to the remote parking lot, I actually missed the briefing. Thankfully, Stuart was there to tell me that the blue ribbons were marking trails we should NOT go on, the orange flags were the ones we had to focus on!

To our good surprise, we were delighted to see the lake at a healthy level. With the most severe drought we are experiencing again this year, that seemed surreal. And there is still some snow pack around Lake Tahoe to come/melt down eventually.

The first mile included a large portion of the levee, I was just happy to still see the leaders who had taken off at a sub 7 min/mile pace. I was just behind Stuart and we clocked 6:51 for that first mile. There were 5 runners ahead of us including Jonah Backstrom (West Valley Track Club) and David Tran (Excelsior) leading the hypersonic charge. After that flat levee, everything else was single track, with smooth dirt but numerous rocks and occasional roots and stream crossing but, more importantly, with numerous short uphills and downhills. At least, starting 30 minutes behind the 50/35K runners, we didn't have too many to pass on the out section (6.5 miles).

I stayed on Stuart heels for about 2 miles then took the relay when he slowed down a bit. Carrying two bottles (water and GU brew/GU2O), I didn't stop at the first aid station (mile 3.5) and passed a younger runner as we were exiting the station. I kept pushing although the miles were now down to 7:20-7:30 minutes. I was convinced that our other teammate Sean was still ahead and happy that I didn't have to lead the team anymore at my age! ;-) Right after mile 6, I was stunned to see Jonah already on his way back, phew, already one mile ahead! Then Andy, then 2 other runners but not Sean, so that made me the team lead and in 5th place. I didn't stop at the turn around aid station and started swimming against the current like a salmon. Indeed, at this point we had to cross path with the remaining half marathon field (122 on the entrants list although I think quite a few didn't show up*). These runners were so nice, most were getting so much out of their way to allow the lead runners to save a few seconds here and there. I want to hereby officially and very sincerely apologize to all of them whom I didn't properly thank, short of breath.

I was much slower on the way back, trying hard to keep all the miles under 8 minutes still (see below, all but one!). With such technical trails, I didn't even take the risk of watching behind if someone was closing on me. What was more important was to give it all but also be super focused on the footing to avoid any fall or twisting of an ankle, 2 weeks before Quicksilver 100K. Not that easy when you are trying to get as fast as possible and you lost some agility with age...

Under such self-imposed pressure, and having plenty of fluids which I wasn't taking the time to sip much anyway, I didn't stop at the last aid station either. Knowing from the Mount Diablo finish of last January how strong Benham is in flat and downhill sections, I kept pushing on the levee, albeit against the wind. My Garmin reports I ran the last mile in 7:02, so close to the initial 6:51, that actually got me impressed... Anyway, I crossed the finish line in 1:39:29, good enough for 5th overall, 2nd Master and first in my M50-59 age group. Time wise though, Jonah had killed it again, clocking 1:26:13, just a few seconds off the course record unfortunately. To make the performance even more impressive, let's say that Jonah is 48 and getting faster and faster (which reminds me of the fire I had in me at that age... ;-) ). I'm glad that 10 years separate us though, so I'll switch age group when he turns 50!

Stuart finished strong, just mere 2.5 minutes behind me, taking 2nd in his age group (tough to be in the same age bracket as Jonah). Then came David Gerner, from the Golden Valley Harriers in Davis, who just entered my age group, phew (1:44:35)! David and Jonah:

With Jonah:

Sean finished 12th overall in 1:51:33; Chak who joined our club yesterday took 4th in the M50-59; Keith 31st overall, 2nd 60-69; finally, Steve was quite happy to not only win his M70 age group but also get close to his 2:45 goal with 2:50.

As usual, most of the rest of the Pacific Association field was from Pamakids, with a sizable contingent and healthy mix of men and women to score 3 teams again.

I used only one Vespa pouch today, 20 minutes prior to the start, one GU Energy waffle 15 minutes before the start to complement my 5am light breakfast, and one GU gel at mile 10 to ensure a strong finish. Only drank half my GU2O bottle, and didn't even think of taking one S!Cap at the top of the first hour. Half marathons are too short and intense! ;-)

Worth more than a thousand words, here is the Relive's flyover of today's course (click on the image below or this link):

And more stats including heart rate for a big change, since I just upgraded my Garmin Forerunner 230 to a 235 replacement after the 230 died while snorkeling in French Polynesia...

A very solid and healthy 180 step by minute cadence. A very intriguing ramp up of the heart rate over the first 4 miles, then the rest of the run in the red zone (please leave a comment below this post if you have some insights). One mile above 8 min/mile...

Running in the red zone for 100 minutes...
And more statistics... Including a much shorter than usual average stride length.

Overall, great impression about ITR, especially the professionalism of the timing and the neatness of the aid station at the finish (I didn't even have a look at the two other aid stations we went through). I'm particularly grateful to Tim for having endured the training USATF requires from Race Directors in order to sanctioning the event. Although I regret this is a requirement given the limited relevance when you don't really spend time one on one with event participants, as opposed to what coaches do. I went through all the process myself when becoming an official 3 years ago, this is a lot of work. Different ambiance than the PCTR family feel, we are so spoiled by having so many trail racing devoted organizations in our area. We'll surely have more from ITR in the future!

And there you are, 18 hours after waking up, a same-day report, finally! It feels so good to apparently having the November 2018 hamstring tendon injury under control at last, and finally getting back to some speed. Although there is so much to rebuild still to get to pre-injury and pre-pandemic level, even taking into account 3 more years of aging. But I'd rather not get too excited at Quicksilver because I didn't do my hill training yet, and I know for a fact that my glutes didn't get any stronger these past 3 years... Meanwhile, I'm so happy to see new and past faces; let's keep fighting to get out of this resilient pandemic by still applying caution and control the revived spread of yet another variant in many areas of the globe. See many of you at Quicksilver in 2 weeks then!

* About the 122 registrants: 97 finishers are listed in the results so not that many no-shows/DNS (Did Not Start) actually.


And a few bonus pictures and video.

The 50K start (video)

The 50/35K start conga line

Half marathon finishers

Very nice collection of 3-deep age group awards:

Monday, April 25, 2022

MadCity 100K Road Nationals 2022: I'm back and... hungry!

Oh my, getting on 3.5 years since I fissured a hamstring tendon and damaged the attach on the pelvis, just because I slipped about one inch on a wet crosswalk during a 10K, it has been so long... While my sport doctor in France had mentioned it would be long, I'd definitely go with a PRP injection if I had known it was going to be that long... He was just worried about the risk of infection that deep behind the glutes.

At least, after a few months of improvement--sitting at my desk still brings some discomfort if any pressure on that particular spot-- I believe I'm seeing the end of that tunnel, phew! I'm still not ready to get back to the track for hard speed work but I can hold miles under 7 min/mile again occasionally. Of course, it doesn't help I aged by 3 years in the meantime not to mention the loss of muscle strength plus the breathing issues with what might have been a COVID-19 episode in February 2020 before it was even a thing (I experienced breathing issues for 5 months after that).

All this time I didn't even know if I would be back to some good form and running eventually. Between this negative uncertainty and stress at work, it feels really good to get back to some reasonable running, enough to take part of our local MUT (Mountain, Ultra, Trail) Grand Prix on one hand, and USATF National Championships on the other. Like in the good old days...

Looking at my running log and blog, I was surprised this was only my 4th participation at MadCity: barely breaking 8 hours in 2015, one week after American River 50-mile and one week before Ruth Anderson 50-mile, yet taking home the super nice crystal vase for winning the Masters division; 2015 is also the edition where we started hearing about Camille in the ultra world, with her setting a course record outright (the first of her results in UltraSignup); 2017 was weird because I walked so much, I finished in an embarrassing time of 11 hrs 28 minutes yet got a second vase; and that was one week before clocking 2:44 at Boston and also getting my 2nd podium and vase there, I was back on fire! As for 2019, injured, I actually dropped after 8 laps (80K). Again, it felt so good to be back then.

In the heart of Wisconsin and April, the weather can vary a lot at this event. This year the forecast had high temperatures through the day and a wind advisory in the afternoon. But no rain at least! The early morning was quite foggy above the lake. Just coming from a week in French Polynesia (like in 2019), I didn't think of these conditions being humid at all, but it might have impacted performances that day as others complained about the moisture.

The field was really small for a Championship, I think a total of 33 USATF registrants (and maybe another dozen non USATF runners, plus the 50K individual and relay runners later in the day). It was such a thin field that I was the only one in my age group for a change. At least that took some pressure off and, with that, in addition to finishing, this time, to get that 17th title and patch, I had an eye on our age group record set by Ultra Running Hall of Famer and friend, Roy Pirrung, in 2007 in the Netherlands at 8:39:35. That time corresponding to an 8:20 min/mile pace, a goal which felt very attainable a few years ago.

Timo (Tim Yanacheck), the Race Director, has been hosting these 100K Nationals for 15 years so felt really relaxed while setting up and through the day. For one thing, there are only two aid stations to setup and manage (start/finish and at mile 4), that helps. As well as having a distinct Race Director for the 50K relay (Emily McCluhan) and a team of efficient and knowledgeable volunteers.

As I wrote in on of my posts about this trip to French Polynesia, my Garmin 230 died while snorkeling so I was back to using my proven 310XT. Only issue is that I had taken then wrong charging cable, that created some additional stress while trying to get to sleep, Friday evening. I had planned on changing the units and screens but didn't want to use up any battery left for that. I ended doing some basic maths all day, juggling with kilometers and miles, not too rocket science! ;-)

With the goal I described above I basically had to run each lap not faster than 50 minutes and not slower than 52. Let's see how the race unfolded.

  1. Lap 1. Well, despite all the efforts to let the leaders go at their blazing fast pace, I still ran the first lap in 47:30, almost 30 seconds per mile too fast. Between not having the actual pace on my watch, and the rolling course, plus running on my own given the small field, it was hard to gauge the exact pace.
  2. Lap 2. Carrying two Ultimate Direction bottles (one with water, one with GU Energy Brew), I wasn't stopping at the aid station. Passing through the one at mile 10 I thought to myself: "cool, I don't feel my hamstring tendon." Oh well, a mile later, I could feel it actually, that did remind me I had to slow down. 49:01 for the lap as a result (7:53 pace), that was more reasonable.
  3. Lap 3. We started seeing 50K runners on the course, either being passed by the fastest relay teams or passing the slower ultra runners. That did help break the monotony of running in circles. Clocked a 49:07, good consistency!
  4. Lap 4. I remember having a lot of pleasure and great feelings about that lap, including the excitement of covering the first marathon. By the end of that lap I was actually feeling proud of my stride and form when... I got lapped by the four lead runners! Wow, 3:13-3:17 for 50K, some young guys were taking it seriously and had big and speedy goals today! As for me, I covered that lap in 49:45, right on 8 min/mile.
  5. Lap 5. For what it is worth, and that means nothing in a 100K race plus there was not official time taken, I passed the marathon mark around 3:26, well below the Boston Qualifying time of 3:35 for my age group. All that felt rather easy except for some headwind along the golf course already (wind was expected around 3 pm and it was only 10 am). But nothing serious. I still completed that lap under 50 minutes (49:52 or 8:02 min/mile). That added up to 4:05 for the first 50K, clearly on the aggressive side as that's what I ran in February at Jed Smith.
  6. Lap 6. At the end of the 5th lap, I made a stop of a few minutes to ask Shea Aquilano's crew if they could help refill my GU Brew bottles. That stop plus some growing fatigue got me to lose 4 minutes overall (54:01). Nothing dramatic but that 8:42 min/mile for that lap started to erode my confidence and morale.
  7. Lap 7. That's when the wheels started to fall off and I started walking. While the average pace was decreasing, technically I was still under the 8:20 min/mile goal by the end of that lap, at 70 kilometers, by mere 53 seconds... But the mind wasn't in the game anymore. As a matter of facts, I wanted to slow down to get off the pace and goal pressure anymore and, gee, how good I am at slowing down when I lost stamina! 
  8. Lap 8. Once I dropped the record from my goals, I felt slightly better to alternate jogging and walking. I started to looking behind me, expecting Meghan to catch up at any time. I think that's the lap I got passed by a M40-45 bib and I said: "finally!" Indeed, I thought that must have been Sam Skeels who was given as the favorite for the coveted crystal vase this year in Lin's race preview. At the beginning of that 8th lap, I took my last GU2O bottle (Shea had just dropped and her crew was naturally focusing on her). I walked so much on that lap that I clocked an embarrassing 1:18:40 (12:40 pace), ouch!
  9. Lap 9. That's a special lap as we quickly get to the 50-mile mark where records can be set (e.g. Gary Gellin's goal in 2017). Timo and Lin where there, ready to manually capture Meghan's time. I passed that mark in 7:23, clearly not my best 50-miler... Now, Lin told me that I was the first Masters, that reignited some fire in me, making me run more in that lap. Result: a 1:07 lap.
  10. Lap 10. By the end of lap 9, I stopped to ask Lin if she confirmed my leading of the Masters division and she replied she was mistaken, I was 2nd. Darn, now that she had made me run more in lap 9, and it was the ultimate lap, I ran some of it as well for a 1:08 lap.

By the end of lap 10, the wind had picked up significantly. In front, it was a slaughter with many dropping as early as 60K. While I clocked 9:37:17, given who was still on the course, that was good enough for 7th overall, 5th in the men, 2nd Masters and 1st M50 or M55-59 for that matter.

With Timo and, our USATF Official, Lin Gentling (2-time 100K Team USA member at the Worlds, and team coach for the past 30 years!):

Behind, Meghan had managed to set a new Age Group World Record for 50 mile but, after that, and the wind bursts, she walked most of lap 10 (she had to officially finish the 100K race for the 50-mile split to count as a record).

If this lap enumeration didn't bore you yet, you may check that flyover. At the fast visualization pace, that looks a bit like some Nascar or Formula 1 racing! ;-) (Click on the image below or that link.)

14 finishers overall in the 100K, 17 DNFs, the results aren't pretty this year. Even our very own Pacific Association favorite, Raj (Rajpaul Pannu) had a disappointing race, walking in his 8th lap already and finishing in 8:11 and 4th Men.

Shortly after finishing I started shivering and cramping, from legs to... my obliques, quite a brand new experience for me. Leg cramps I know how to manage but, the upper body ones, ouch! The volunteers got me to drink 2 cups of chicken broth, and, yikes, 2 cups of pickle juice. My care takers at the finish:

My top was covered with salt again although I had drank 4 bottles of GU2O plus taken 11 S!Caps, 4 Vespa Power pouches so I'm not sure what else I should or could have done. Good news is that 30 minutes of rest in the car did the recovery job and I was able to jog after that, before my 1-hour drive to my next hotel stop in Elkhorn, WI, on my way to business meetings in Chicago, Monday through Wednesday. 

I'm very grateful to Timo for still hosting these 100K Nationals despite such a small field. Between the prize money, the sanctioning, the course certification, the hosting of USATF officials, there is so much money involved, it's really a heavy burden for Race Directors, it takes a lot of personal commitment to make these USATF events happen. Thank you Timo and your great crew of volunteers (I ended up stopping and enjoying the ice at the mile 4 aid station in the 3 last laps). Besides, when the weather cooperate, this is an excellent setup for a 100K:

  • 10K loops making keeping track of distance and time easy;
  • 2 convenient aid stations ideal for crewed and screwed runners (runners without a crew) alike;
  • Rolling course engaging different sets of muscles;
  • Variety of views: lake shore, marina, forest, golf and some urban traffic;
  • Additional distraction when the 50K runners are on the course;
  • Low car and bike traffic through the forest;
  • Fully stocked aid stations with cheering and knowledgable volunteers;
  • USATF-certified course and sanctioned event;
  • Finisher medal, t-shirt, overall and age group awards (vases, plaques).
Oh, and these boxes of chocolates...

In conclusion, I had 6 good laps at least and still managed to finish after that so definitely on the recovery road. By the time I managed to finally write this report, 3 weeks later, I actually race at Lake Folsom and even did some hill training in preparation to next week's Quicksilver 100K. Another beast I'm excited to be back to play with although I still feel way under trained. Let me not get too hungry too fast... Anyway, see many of our Bay Area ultra running community at this Club event on Saturday then!

PS: on my way back, and having lived for a couple of years on the Lac Léman in Geneva, I stopped by Lake Geneva. With the wind, it looked like being at the ocean!

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Running in Oceania: 2 runs on Fakarava to catch and wrap up!

To conclude this mini series with the final of 4 stops during this new round in French Polynesia to discover the Tuamutus (Tahiti, Tikehau, Rangiroa), I'll admit these posts don't provide so many useful running tips: indeed, Fakarava is another atoll with only one road to run on and no way to get lost between the Pacific Ocean on one side and a huge lagoon on the other. Fakarava is the second largest atoll in the archipelago, only second to the second largest in the world, Rangiroa. And with a spectacular perfectly rectangular shape which means it is the top of once a rectangular mountain, how odd! 37 miles long by 13.

Like other atolls, it is a string of islands and islets, or motus. We stayed on the main island which hosts the airport. From the airport, it's 4 kilometers to the city hall which marks kilometer 0, and we were staying at a lodge at the end of the paved road, 15 kilometers down South (at the upper end of the strip of land you see on the above picture). To the North, passing the airport, the paved road goes for 10K, a good size road worth 50K, round trip. But, with another 2-night stay, I only ran 20 miles on that road on Saturday. (Click on the image below or this link.)

On the map below, it feels like running on water in the middle of the ocean! Such an incredible natural phenomenon to have these miles and miles of thin strips of land, just a few feet feet above the water, so uniformly! Even pictures barely give justice to these wonders and scale.

On Sunday morning before our flight to Tahiti/Papeete then SFO, I ran 10 miles on the dirt road continuing the paved one through the South of the island. I only went 5 miles South while that dirt road seems to be 10 miles or so. While there are much less mosquitos than on the previous 2 atolls we visited this time, I encountered a few while crossing denser vegetation a few miles in my run. Beware, they aren't big but hungry!

As opposed to my 48K run in Tahiti the previous Sunday, there are no shops except in the village near the town hall. You'll have to carry enough water and, in this tropical heat, we need quite some to make for some heavy sweat...

We also biked on the paved road but we didn't visit the South Pass which is a jewel for divers with the atoll being part of the UNESCO biosphere heritage. Only 2 days... Great snorkeling in the lagoon right off the beach though.

I highly recommend the place we stayed at, the Fafapiti Lodge. Brand new and fancy bungalows, super sustainable management (rain water, solar energy), family atmosphere while sharing meals with hosts Valérie and René, plus captivating and educational tips listening from their former long experience as diving instructors.

Again, for those living in California, this amazing place, Tahiti and French Polynesia, is only one direct flight away from either LA or San Francisco, and only 3-hour time difference, so not much jet lag to manage. And for my running buddies, I hope I made the point with these 4 posts that it was possible to get some good running on these atolls. For my French compatriotes, that's much further but you owe to visit and get to know this (your!) French overseas collectivity. As for us, after a few Society Islands in 2019 and Tuamotus this time, we plan on going back to visit a few Austral Islands at least, which are said to be a completely different experience (geology, climate). With 111 islands and atolls, this archipelago is so vast, a size comparable to Western Europe, and so diverse, a whole year wouldn't be enough to explore!