Sunday, November 27, 2022

Quad Dipsea 2022: perfect conditions for a come back!

As I mentioned in my Turkey Trot race report on Friday night, the good side of our persisting drought calamity is we get perfect conditions to play in our backyards. I've run wet editions, it's not equally fun on such tricky trails. But with this ultra Bay Area tradition which got started by Tropical John Medinger in 1983 and set on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, it should be right in the rainy season. Hard to complain though.

I left home by 5:15 am and got a great parking spot, one block from the start (parking quickly becomes an issue with so many residential restrictions around). While John and Lisa where absent this year as they crew for Gary at UltraMan in Hawaii, usual ultra volunteers and BAUR representatives were there to help out with bib pick-up, setup then timing, for instance Stan Jensen and Steve Jaber. Errol Rocket Jones was there too, and at the turn around aid station later.

No line at the 6 porta-potties at 6:30 but quite a long line when I came back from the car at 7:10: I'm glad I woke up early, in part thanks to some remaining jet lag after spending 10 days in Europe, with a mission for a client in Barcelona. 7:10 am was Pen's call for the Pamakids club picture, a gathering where I was going to hand out 7 plaques for the 2021 Grand Prix. What she hadn't planned was a surprise her team put together to mark the end of her successful 4-year MUT (Mountain, Ultra, Trail) Team Captain stint.

Luisa Cheung, 2021 W40 Champion:
Handing over the coveted M50 Age Group champ to Shiran, for his 2021 performance (like Shiran is teasing me, I'm letting him borrow the plaque after a 13-year stint... while we alternated injury experiences... :-/).

With all this fun, I didn't have much time to get ready and, like at Lake Chabot 50K at the beginning of the month, I started the race without my GPS set with all the satellite tracking. For one thing, the start is so steep, the coverage isn't optimal at the Old Mill Park.

Still suffering from my hamstring tendon injury last year, I started quite conservatively in the middle of the pack and got stuck in the long conga line for the first 700 stairs. This year I started close to the front, getting to the stairs in 20th position or so (photo credit: William Dai)

Not confident I could hold a fast pace yet, I decided to settle behind David Smith who was walking the stairs. David approached me before the start to say how happy he was to have just moved up to the M60 age group and avoid a confrontation. Well, he killed his age group with a super strong run today, it was going to take me 9 miles to finally pass him!

As we were power walking these first 700 stairs, we got passed by dozens of runners, quite impressive start! More walking on Dynamite right after crossing Redwood Creek and the subsequent hills up to Cardiac. I couldn't refrain from thinking of the time I was mostly running these hills when clocking 4:20, 4:19 and 4:25 in 2006, 2008 and 2009. Granted, a few years have passed, not to mention a major injury lately, but I can't stop dreaming, that keeps me younger... ;-)

Carrying 2 bottles (GU Energy Brew and water) plus 6 GU gels and a Vespa concentrate, I had planned on saving minutes not stopping at aid stations. I ran through Cardiac then, the aid station that is, not the uphill, and could keep David and a group of 3 runners in black with white sailor's sun hats, in sight. My GPS had 6 miles when I crossed the lead runner, Nick Handel. That meant I was already 2.2 miles behind, wow! Overall I counted about 50 runners ahead by the first Stinson Beach turnaround, including 4 gals as I recall. Big number I thought, although I was happy with the 1:12 split. Indeed, beyond getting age group points, I was dreaming of breaking 5 hours again after a disappointing 5:28 last year.

There was no time to lose for that goal and, teaming up with Darin Nee up Steep Ravine, we caught up with David and his crew of white hats, a group I passed less than a mile before the Cardiac aid station, where I didn't stop either. I-Tao (Tsai) took this shot on this own way down Steep Ravine:

Then Shiran took a nice slo-mo as I was pushing down Cardiac.

After a year off, albeit spent on the active volunteering at our races, it was so great to see Shiran back at running. I was also carrying my phone but only stopped twice on the last leg, he definitely beat me at the picture game this Saturday!

I passed a few more runners in the steep downhills. I crossed Nick again shortly after the Redwood Creek crossing, where Victor Ballesteros was officiating as course monitor. I was now 4 miles behind... This time though I counted about 30-32 runners ahead as I did a touch and go at the Mill Valley turnaround, which our Pacific Association MUT Ultra Volunteer of 2021, William Dai, captured with a few pictures.

Gaining about 20 spots wasn't small feat but David was finishing his last flight of stairs when we crossed, there was no time to waste! I mostly power walked the stairs again while taking an S!Caps and Vespa concentrate, short of making any stop at aid stations yet. The field had stretched significantly now so, between the rest of the pack as well as the lead runners in their final stretch, it was a good flow of crossings, some quite epic on such narrow and tricky single track trails. I tried to return most of the uplifting "Allez Jean" encouragements, there were so many, I might have missed a few, thank you all!

I didn't recognize most of the lead runners so I wasn't sure how I was doing in my age group, apart from seeing a more mature runner among them. I was more than 10 minutes behind him and not in shape to go faster anyway. This time, I stopped at the Cardiac aid station to grab two pieces of banana and half a cup of Coke. And I wasn't even in the Steep Ravine stairs when I saw Nick on his way back. Behind though, the pursuit got sparser, he had killed it. I counted 23 runners ahead by my second passage at Stinson Beach. Yassin Diboun was in 9th and teammate Gaspar Mora Porta in 12th place. But our brand new recruit, Andrew Catanese, was missing (he had dropped at Mill Valley). And so was our not so new recruit, Jim Magill, unfortunately. With Jim, before the start:

After the first solid 1:12:36 and 1:12:54 Dispea splits, I had now lost 5 minutes: 1:17:42; sub-5 (hours) was going to be tough. Especially with both inner thighs freezing as I got on the first stairs after crossing Route 1. Dang, that was early for such cramping with 7 grueling miles to go. The rapid alternance of steep up and down hills are so tough on the legs! I walked a bit on the way to the Dipsea Trailhead aid station, taking one more S!Caps, drinking some water and, more importantly, focusing on taking huge breaths in. In addition to keeping electrolyte, sodium and magnesium in checks, I found that getting more oxygen in is quite an amazing trick and solution to cramping. With the variety of trail tricks, Dipsea tends to get your breathing off.

At the trailhead aid station, I picked a ziplock with 4 pieces of banana before realizing later on the trail how tiny the pieces were, more like thin slices. And I drank so much that was out of GU2O by Cardiac this time.

Back from the beach, focused (photo credit: Shiran Kochavi):

I caught and passed a couple of runners on the last stretch, including Gaspar who was struggling down Dynamite, but I also lost some time handling additional thighs cramping especially on the way down from Cardiac. Overall, I ran the last Dipsea in 1:26 for a total of 5:09:41, 22nd overall, 18th in the Men. 

At least I didn't fall, especially in the final flight of stairs where I remained highly focused despite the cool encouragements of a large cheering group at the bottom: super cool but distracting! ;-) Nice pictures from David Tran, just missing the audio as I was telling these youngsters I was too old to rush in the stairs! ;-)

A shot from Emi Yasaka, in the final chute down to the finish line:

Finally, William again, at the finish:

Yassine took 10th overall and first Masters in 4:47.

David finished in 34th, winning his M60 age group with a super strong 5:22.

In the M50, Daniel Kono, 53, of Berkeley, took the win in 4:55. All results and splits on RaceRoster.

As for the Quad Man gang, I still don't know what this was about, but these guys running all the way together were really cool.

From the super strong local trail running bringing the broadest spectrum of runners, our engaged Pacific Association MUT teams, those attracted by the challenging and renowned Dipsea trail, the many dedicated volunteers, the families, there was quite a nice party vibe again under the redwoods. Among them was Alex Varner who had fun watching us having a good sweat while seeing his amazing 3:41 course record still holding on: 7 years and counting!

Another very special guest was Bill Dodson, visiting us again with his daughter Estelle, to bring back great running memories. After Skyline and Ruth Anderson earlier this year, it has been wonderful to see Bill having so much fun meeting our knit community, thank you Estelle!

Special thanks and kudos to Race Director, John Catts, for running such an ultra tradition with calm, kindness and professionalism. After Tropical John's initial 30 editions, John is going for Quad Dipsea's 40th anniversary next year, exciting! Huge thanks to the many helpful volunteers who spent hours to allow us to test our limits again. This race surely needs many attentive course monitors with the 6 road crossings multiplied by 4.

Janeth and William having so much fun holding the Quad Dispsea Bank at the finish line:

A nice tradition of Quad Dipsea is to honor the 10-time finishers with a very nice vest. This year, Edmundo Vindel, Nakia Baird, Andrew Grant,  Joseph Stefani, Claudia Graetsch-Vasquez and Mary Press all made it to 10. Steve McCluhan will have to come back... After a long hiatus due to a foot injury, it was great to see our ex MUT scorer, Nakia, back on the trails with a solid sub-6 performance to celebrate this 10-year milestone.

Greg Nacco and Geoff Vaughan were tied with 26 finishes, Geoff now has the overall lead with 27! Ted Knudsen closing behind, now at 24, with Catra Corbett still at 23. Impressive numbers!

With a DNF in 2016, I'm now at 6 finishes, still a lot of work before getting to the 10-year goal. But, after the past 3+ years impacted by an injury, feeling grateful for building my legs back and dreaming of speed and long races again, phew!

To conclude, I can't resist sharing what Agnès' vision was of the course: "you go up from Mill Valley, then there is a trail, then you go down to Stinson Beach, and repeat." Well, the reality is much more complicated between the two ends of the Dispea trail. I like in particular this super concise course description from the Quad Dipsea registration page:

Stairs, hills, and more hills. About 9,000 feet of vertical packed into 28 miles.  It begins at 7:30AM at Old Mill Park (Throckmorton Avenue, Cascade Way, & Old Mill Street intersection), in Mill Valley, California. Within a few hundred yards the course heads up three flights of stairs as tall as a fifty-story building, and up some more through an old horse ranch to Windy Gap. Then it plunges down into Muir Woods, across Redwood Creek, and begins a tough grind up through both trees and grasslands over trail sections named "Dynamite", "The Hogsback", "The Rainforest", and "Cardiac." At the top of Cardiac, the course levels out with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean before it plunges down over the rocks, roots, and stairs of "Steep Ravine" and the discouragingly steep but short climb up "Insult Hill." Finally, as the course follows the relatively gentle slope of The Moors toward the ocean, Stinson Beach is in sight a mile ahead. 
Once to Stinson, you turn around an head back to Old Mill Park following the same course. 
And then do it all over again for the QUAD!!

This Relive fly-over isn't even making justice to the technical sections, but it shows how convoluted the whole Dipsea trail is (click on this link or the image below). And yet, you won't get how challenging some sections are until you hike it yourself! So many opportunities to twist an ankle when you want to go fast, luckily, I only experienced one moderate twist this time.

Our MUT 2023 season has started: if not already, please consider joining our Grand Prix which still has 14 more events, including 4 half or shorter trail races for those still intimidated by ultra distances!

PS: thank you John for taking time to select special meaningful bibs for several of us! Between age to number of participations, I saw too many of them to think it was serendipity! :-)

San Francisco in the background (the views were so amazing, I had to stop for a few seconds...).

Friday, November 25, 2022

Turkey Trot 2022: so good to get back in the flock

For many, this appeared to be a come back after a 3-year hiatus. But, technically, our Silicon Valley Turkey Trot survived the pandemic and ran virtual events in the meantime, that is in 2020 and 2021. Still, it felt really good to get this incredible vibe of joining tens of thousands of participants on Thanksgiving morning this week!

A sliding puzzle magic rectangle?

This year marked the 18th edition, and my 14th consecutive participation. Definitely part of our family traditions although, this year, I had registered the three boys but none of them were in town to run with Agnès and I this time. We still managed to meet about 20 people we knew, in that Bay Area crowd.

Starting with The Man, Carl Guardino, who has initiated this outstanding initiative which managed to raise more than $10M for local charities since inception, and gather more than 275,000 runners to promote healthier life style on the way. Carl before and after his 18th participation in the CEO 5K Challenge (afterwards promoting the follow-on/companion Santa Run Silicon Valley on Sunday December 11).

Once more, the weather was perfect. While the persisting drought is a calamity for nature and our agriculture, the sunny sky makes this huge gathering way easier and the party more festive. Incidentally, having suffered from an injury which took more than 3.5 years to heal, after slipping on a road crossing stripe while running the 2018 edition, I don't miss the wet conditions (it wasn't raining that morning, but had rained during the night, making the course wet and slippery in several places). It was chilly before the sun rose, but, with extra layers, I got sweaty while warming up around 8 am. Again, perfect conditions for a fast race.

Chris, the Race Director, had the courage to stand in front of the few thousand runners in the first wave, containing it all by himself and a few volunteers while waiting for the clearance of the city officials (we cross the light rail right off the bat, it's critical that one of the 5 waves doesn't hit a car...). There was so much excitement at the front of the wave with the joint 5 and 10K starts, I settled for the 3rd or 4th line, behind some kids. Waiving to Agnès:

Ready, set, go!

With my focus on slower ultras again this year, I have to admit it had been a long time I didn't run that fast. Half a mile in, my GPS was still indicating a 5:47 min/mile average, phew! Pretty cool to realize that there are hundreds who can run a mile under 5:45! It took some effort to keep that pace but I didn't have anything to lose, I wanted to see how long I could. I have to say that it's better to train for that, this certainly didn't feel as easy as it used to before the injury, 5 years ago.

Half way, we get to a section where the 5K turns to the left toward the finish line, and 10K runners go on the right. Some runners miss that split because we have the bright and low sun right in our eyes. The field had cleared a lot after that split, and I had no idea about who was in the lead, it was just me against the clock. I crossed the lead runners on their way back on Alameda, before our turn on Emory. 2 runners in front, so fast and smooth. Almost a mile ahead already!

A traded a few places but was mostly able to hold the pace around 6:10-6:14 in the last 3 miles, glad with that speed given the lack of speed work the past 4 years. Just before the end of mile 6 though, one mature-looking runner passed me and I couldn't respond. Right after crossing the finish line, I asked him: "50 or 60?" He replied with a 60, that was Raymond Rodriguez, of Los Baños. Really impressive time of 37:39 at 61. I got credited with a time of 37:45, 6:06 min/mile pace and that got me a 2nd place in M55-59 (or M50-59 as a matter of fact), 58th overall, 6th in the Masters. And I got chicked twice this year, the first women finishing a mere second apart, Elise Chu, 24, in 37:16 and Emily Haggerty, 27, in 37:17!

I've known this race with 10-year-deep age groups and, being on the end of the M50 spectrum, was pleased to learn that they were going with 5 years this time. Well, our age group division was won by Tom Tayeri of Palo Alto in a blazing 35:12. In 20th overall, he was also the second Master (40+) behind Andrew Liao, 48, in 35:05. So much competition! Live results.

Granted, maybe I won't see them at the grueling Quad Dipsea this Saturday morning, I had to keep some and, more importantly, avoid getting injured again. To that point, I'm glad to report that I didn't feel any pain at all: finally, 4 years are what it took to get this fissured hamstring tendon to heal!

My friends from Santa Cruz, Luc and Tanguy, ran together and took 5th and 6th in our age group. In this same group was an IBM colleague, Shawn, in 8th place, and Derrick, a former training buddy, in 9th: small world! With Shawn, at the Cityview Plaza parking lot before the start:

At 8 I stopped by the CEO Challenge private tent to hand Simone Winkler her Age Group Mountain, Ultra, Trail 2021 Grand Prix plaque. Simone would end up winning that CEO Challenge, taking 1st overall (Men/Women) in 19:16, blazing fast!

I also met Jose Piña at the start and the finish. I've raced with him and his father for 15 years and could beat him when he was 10, but not anymore... Jose finished 6th overall this Thursday in 32:56, wow!

Post race, I ran into Andrew, our USATF Pacific Association LDR Chair who ran 5K today. Then we had a little friend reunion next to the main stage, remembering the times when IBM was leading stretching routines on stage as we were sponsoring the event.

With Ron:

And the French connection!

That was my 58th 10K race in my running log, among a total of 346 races: time flies and keeps going! My calves were the most sore on Thursday evening so I went for a 10K run on Friday morning to untie the knots before Quad Dipsea tomorrow. That will be my 7th Quad and 5th Trot/Quad double, that should be a good fitness test to see how far I'm back.

35:05, 35:20, 35:06, 36:09, 35:41, 35:49, 36:10, 34:57, 35:51 (injury day!), 41:34, 40:17, 38:51, 37:45, it's good to get the injury bump behind and keeping dreaming that age is just a number and that I could run sub 37 again! ;-)

To conclude on the Turkey Trot, I heard that it was a successful one with more than $1M raised and close to 20K registrants, almost back to our pre-pandemic levels! Looking forward to perpetuating this great tradition then, with the big Silicon Valley flock! So glad to see the crowd forming again for such a great cause: way to do good, Silicon Valley!

Saturday, November 5, 2022

CTR's Lake Chabot 50K: come back, continued

Our local Mountain, Ultra, Trail Grand Prix is over for 2022 but it doesn't mean we can't still have fun outside this circuit. As a matter of fact, quite a few local runners enjoyed a long run at Rio Del Lago 100, or even their inaugural 50K, this week-end. Even with an extra hour as we change time on Sunday morning.

With my win at Coastal Trail Runs' SF One Day 12-hour early July, I got a generous race credit which I had to use this Fall. I was initially hoping to get back on Mt. Diablo but ended up on this closer familiar ground, Lake Chabot (start of Scena Performance's Skyline 50K and Dick Collins Firetrails 50-mile). Albeit in such a different weather than August as it was in turn foggy, then drizzling, then overcast.

This was quite an interesting event in many aspects. Despite a crowd of almost 500 entrants, it seemed like a completely different community than the one I meet at Grand Prix events. First, there was only one ultra distance. The others were 5K, 8K, half-marathon, marathon and 30K. Co-RD, Wendel, admitted that Running for a Better Oakland (RBO) had brought about 100 new runners, what an amazing positive impact on local youths. Thanks to learning about this organization from Christine Chapon, I've supported it for several years, please consider as well (1-click donation)! Christine paced RBO's Executive Director, Diane Leon, for her first 50K, breaking 7 hours. Also on the pictures, Byron McGovern, RBO Program Director.

Photo credit: Christine Chapon.

I saw long-time CTR volunteer/runner, Marissa Walker but I think that was it for the runners I knew today. Yet, one more strange connection. Last night I was at a jazz concert at the Harker School, where Agnès teaches French. At the intermission, I met one of Robin Mill's friends, Michelle, and her husband, Roberto. When I mentioned I was running a 50K the next day, they asked which one, and we chuckled when realizing that they would be manning the first aid station this Saturday morning. What a gift to have volunteers so knowledgeable: Michelle has just placed 4th at the Moab 240-mile race last month, she knows a few things on running long!

With these social encounters, and a few last-minute pictures, I almost missed the start!

At least I forgot to switch my GPS on, I missed almost a mile in the recording. And I also missed how fast we started. With so many different distances starting at once, and all these runners I didn't know, it was really hard to figure out a good pace and who was running what. I settled around 10th-12th position. In the steep climb on Live Oak Trail, miles 3 to 4, I got passed by a 50K runner. He was so strong in the uphill, I thought I'd never see him again. At the finish I learned that was Adelaido Solis and that he even ran Quicksilver 100K, finishing just a few spots behind me. However, after zipping through the Marciel Road aid station, waving to Michelle and Roberto, I ended up catching up with him a mile or so in the following downhill. I slowed down to stay behind Adelaido until the out and back checkpoint, after mile 7. After grabbing my first rubber band, I did pass Adelaido on that flat section, knowing we'll have another hill to climb up to the Clyde Woolridge aid station at mile 8.6. Sure enough, Adelaido passed me on that hill but, this time, and thanks to the energy boost after taking my first GU gel, I stayed closed behind. Then, going faster in the downhills, I built some gap on the way back to the Marina.

I didn't stop there, and Christine caught this action shot on the way. I was actually able to push the pace, hoping to preserve the gap as long as possible before our second climb to Marciel Road. Which I managed to reach first, even before any other marathon runner. With that mental boost, I even clocked faster miles on the second loop, with a 6:45 instead of 7:05 on Brandon, then another sub 7 on the West Shore. I didn't see any other 50K runner on the out and back so, this time, I did stop for one minute at the aid station at the Marina. That made for 3:26 at the marathon mark.

Time to get on the final 5-mile loop. Still some climb on the Cameron Loop Trail but nothing like the one on Live Oak. And 4 miles of rolling asphalt. On my way back, with 1.5 miles to go, I crossed Adelaido. That made for a 2-mile gap now. But still no sign of the lead woman whom we crossed on the first out and back at mile 7.5, meaning that she was just a few hundreds yards behind us. That was Kathrine Song and, sure enough, she was less than 5 minutes behind me on the Cameron Loop, for a close finish!

I finished in 4:06:52 and she took 2nd overall with a time of 4:11:30, improving Beverley Anderson-Abbs' previous record of 2019 (4:17:24). On the men side, I'm not sure if the course has changed. Our own Quicksilver Marc Laveson had run 3:32:43 in 2013, but Bob Shebest is credited for his 2017 win in 3:47:35, with Brandon Piechowski running 4:01 last year. In any event, my finish time was a good one for a baby boomer. And another good sign of progress on my journey back after this 3.5-year injury. With the glutes still needing more work/strengthening.

With Kathrine (who was, per her coaching plan from Devon Yanko, not supposed to race today, but only run 28 miles; close enough achievement! ;-) ).

And our local Aussie elite, Verity Breen who won the marathon (we share the same age bracket, and we both agree that winning races at our age is really cool, when the elite youngsters don't show up or are too busy at the Trail and Mountain World championships this weekend in Thailand! ;-) ).

With Adelaido (2nd with 4:33) and Cavin Miller (3rd in 4:45).

Long chat with Wendell as well. In particular around his upcoming Paris-Brest-Paris, a 750-mile bike race in France, next August. Way to push the endurance limits when running isn't recommended. Under 84 hours, that's a long endeavor!

I'm really pleased with my fueling strategy. Still using Vespa and OFM as the base, I used 4 GU gels, strategic carbs especially to keep a good pace in the climbs. Plus three S!Caps and 1 bottle and a half of GU Brew. And only one banana otherwise (versus the three Verity was carrying at the start!).

Again, I was amazed to discover such a community of new faces. And a wide range of speed. All that showing even more strength of our running ecosystem, post pandemic. I was also amazed by how efficient Coast Trail Runs is to run such a large size event with so few volunteers, when you compare with the thousand of volunteers at Wester States for fewer participants. First time I see lanes marked this way for bib pick-up!

And look at this 6-way or 6-line safety pin station! If only our supply chains were run so efficiently...

I also liked how the bibs had color for each distance as well as a clear separation of numbers (e.g. blue and 5xxx for 50K, orange and 4xxx for the 42K, 3xxx for the 30K, 2xxx for the 21K). Smart and convenient.

And, with that demonstration of efficiency, even bigger kudos to these volunteers who allowed all of us, a few hundred runners, to test and push our limits, while they had to endure the humidity for so many hours today! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

While I had to assist the oldest runner getting on the out and back, on my second loop, and found one 30K runner running the Cameron Loop in the wrong direction, this wasn't for the lack of perfect course markings and directions. Overall, a low key and friendly event perfectly managed. I look forward to the two CTR events we have on our Grand Prix schedule in 2023: Crystal Spring Half Marathon mid January, and SF One Day 24-hour, mid June. I invite the runners of this CTR community to join USATF to get points in our series too! A series which gives as many points for half marathons than 50Ks!

Bonus... a few rubber bands to complement the Strava proof! ;-)

PS: 74th 50K race, and ultra race finish #166; one race at a time, one step at a time, it feels good to be moving forward again, and see so many others racing as well!