Sunday, January 15, 2023

When did you start running?

Don't you get this question from time to time: "and so, when did you start running?" Every time, I have a bit of an hesitation. Unless you were born with a special condition, every kid has run at some point, without even thinking about it. Because, like Christopher McDougall remind us in Born to Run, humans are meant to run, and actually run quite well and for a long time. At least before the couch was invented and more digital progress after that, dang!

(Picture from: Brookes Publishing Co.)

I typically respond to the question with: "running seriously? Since I moved to California, at the end of 1998" and explain that, back then, we were supposed to stay in the Bay Area only for 2 years, on a international work assignment and, thinking that everybody was running in California (right? ;-) ), made a resolution to run one marathon before returning to Europe. 501 marathons and ultra marathons later, the passion isn't fading at all, on the contrary!

Running is really universal. Actually, when you look at race walking, not running, that is having always at least one foot on the ground, is really hard, running is way easier and more natural! Like horses would naturally gallop rather than trotting. Running can also be useful if you need to rush to a tight connection in an airport for instance. In other words, you don't have to be a runner to run.

For me, 1998 was really a tipping point because I switched from running occasionally and no more than once a week, to running almost every day. The difference was huge: when you run occasionally, your body and muscles quickly forget what it takes, you get sore and have to relearn on the next run, start from scratch again and again.

I started logging miles on a piece of paper on our fridge back in 1996, then in a spreadsheet when turning "serious" at the end of 1998 (4,630 entries and counting! And still doing it manually in addition to Garmin Connect and Strava tracking; albeit not manuscript like I think Camille Herron still do). It's January 15 and I already logged 209 miles in 2023, more miles than the entire year of 1996 (157) and as many as the whole 1997 (208). Time flies and I did make some progress, certainly running more seriously, for sure!

15 years and 715 blog posts later, I chuckle re-reading my very first post (Running: my genesis) which was about that question, the switch to serious running. And seeing Chihping's comment about his dream of running in the Alps, back in 2007: a dream he has more than fulfilled since, spending whole summers over there!

A companion question, which is more introspective, is: "how long can and will you keep running?" With my 2018 hamstring injury, which took almost 4 years to heal, I was so afraid to be done. It's not rare to meet running buddies who had to stop because of joint issues in particular (knees, hips, ankles), or concerns with their heart. To me, the question also came up when I got this mini stroke (Transient Ischemic Accident) when breaking that 31 year-old M50-54 American 50K road record back in 2016. Thankfully, I was only out for a month, toeing the line at the American River 50-mile shortly after. Some have not been that lucky. It's so easy to take running for granted when not injured. I'm certainly more appreciative after these few hiccups, trying to be more reasonable and less ambitious to avoid another injury. And yet, I love speed and pushing hard...

Persistence, motivation, resistance, are key factors for a sustained running career or passion. Some have kept competing through their younger years and lost the eagerness or appetite to keep pushing the enveloppe. Some started later. Helen Klein for instance, who just celebrated her 100th birthday, started running seriously at 55 then became an ultra running legend, setting many records, 5-year age group after age group, for decades! Bill Dodson set a few of the M80+ records after starting in his 60s. In our area, Mark Murray impresses me for his consistency on the marathon in particular, having stayed at the top of his age groups for 45 years! And Rich Hanna as well. A few years ahead of me, Mark Richtman was an inspiration, he left us way too early, and so mysteriously.

And, so, when did YOU start running?

Sunday, January 1, 2023

CTR's SF New Year's One Day 12-hour: cry me an atmospheric river...


"Now you say you're lonely
You cry the whole night thorough
Well, you can cry me a river, cry me a river
I cried a river over you"

wrote Arthur Hamilton in 1953, such a famous song now (and I really like Diana Krall's version of it, below).

Nope, I didn't actually cry yesterday but I certainly got my eyes very wet, still. And I was not the only one, it was quite a wet fest! For one thing, San Francisco experienced one of its wettest day on record; the jury is still out if that did beat the last records dating 1849 (yes, at the time of these crazy 49ers) or the 5.54" of 1994. At least it got third place! Here are a few pieces of news gleaned about yesterday's event:
  1. "By the time the storm ended, San Francisco would receive 5.46 inches of rain over a 24-hour period."
  2. "This makes it the second wettest day in the 170+ years of records at that site, just 0.08" less than 1st place (11/5/1994) with 5.54," the National Weather Service said. "This rainfall also made up 46.8% of San Francisco's December rainfall."
  3. Or from @JohnSchrable on Twitter: "This is what 5.46 inches of rainfall in a day looks like in San Francisco. Just barely missing the all time record for wettest day, 5.54 set back in November of 1994. Have a safe New Years Eve everyone as there’s still plenty of standing water! #AtmosphericRiver" (with a picture of a flooded neighborhood).
I have to admit that, while I certainly welcome rain to fight our persisting drought, running in the rain isn't my cup of tea. Running in the mud is what got me to stop competing in middle school, and switch to soccer. I admire those having to brave the elements no the East Coast or the Mid West in particular, it certainly form the character more than our many sunny months in California! Once in a while is fine, I even wrote a few posts on the pleasure of running in the rain, including that ode, back in 2010... ;-)


Running in the rain

Fall, it is this time again
For running in the rain!
Nature has its bag of tricks
To fill up our nearby creeks…

With this effort, is it the sweat
Or the rain which gets me wet?
Miles pass but the rain won’t stop
And there is more than one drop
On and under my rain jacket
Oh, the fun is not over yet!

My eyes are well protected
Under the visor of my cap
And my mind not too affected
So let's go for another lap!

But for 6, 12 or 24 hours, that's a whole different game...

You got the idea, the main theme of the event this time, was water! Not just from the falling rain but from flooding of the nearby roads, and the course. I actually hesitated calling this post: "Brand new: An ultra steeplechase!" Indeed, we at least had to go though one river at every lap, right from the start but then, when Mason Street and the Sports Basement got flooded by noon, we had three more of these ankle deep water pools to go through, how fun!

The third lap, before the flooding of Mason Street and the Sports Basement parking lot in the background (photo credit: William Dai):

If you followed my 20+ running journey so far, you know I like and perform much better in dry heat. Well, it's not that it was cold this Saturday, in the mid to high 50s during the day, but the Ocean breeze and wet cold feet got the best out of me. 

First was the epic ride to the start. I tried to remain as relaxed as possible because that was important from a driving standpoint in slippery conditions but losing control of the steering wheel on highway 280 more than 20 times took its toll. I saw 2 accidents on the way up, and we saw 2 on the way down. At times, it was like car from the other side of the highway were throwing us buckets of water. I had left Cupertino past 7 am and was concerned that holding 50 miles an hour was already crazy dangerous. Besides, given these circumstances, I really messed up with my choice of car, picking our Elantra instead of Outback. The fact is that the rain was so light all Friday, I got convinced it would be the same on Saturday. Despite some explicit warning that an atmospheric river was upon North California in particular.

If only it would make the drought disappear. But it's likely way too much water at once, not given enough time to the soil to absorb it, and not replenishing the underground reservoirs. I'll wait to hear what our local meteorologist guru, Leor, have to say on this. Yet, better get some water in winter, short of getting much in the Fall these past years.

Back to our little New Year's Eve running party. For those who read about my adventure in Guatemala last week, you'll remember I fell on my back going down one of the volcanos, El Fuego, and I was still in pain when writing my blog post a week later, that is this Thursday. I went on a 5K test run on Friday and every step was painful. Between the stress of the ride up to Crissy Field, plus that pain, plus the rain and chill factor, my body was far from relaxed. As well as my mind. Not so good.

While it wasn't one of our Pacific Association Grand Prix races, I still had key goals:
  1. First and foremost, after running only 70 miles in June, battling wind gusts for hours, I wanted to give another try to the 78.7-mile M55-59 American 12-hour Road record. I still hold the M50-54 one at 85 miles (2015) and I've been injured for almost 4 years since I turned 55, time is running out. That meant running at least 77 laps.
  2. Given the weather forecast though, I knew it was going to be a challenge. At a very minimum, I wanted to run at least 110 km to round up my 2022 stats right on an average of 90 km/week. For the years leading to the injury I had average 100 km/week, which isn't insane compared to others, but at quite some intensity though. Since ultra running is known for being an experiment of one, that is yourself, I figured out that it might no be wised to get back to that benchmark while rebuilding, post injury. In 2019, I got down to 39 km/week, then 66 in 2020 and 56 in 2021, in pain for more than 3 years. This year, I was still at 82 km/week by the end of June and ramped up through the Summer and Fall to above 90 before the trip to Guatemala and a week of tapering before this 12-hour race.
  3. Of course, my third goal was to perform well to not loose too much on my Ultrasignup rating which keeps going down as they don't take the age as a factor, at least in the raw/absolute rate (same with ITRA).
  4. With all that, having fun as Agnès keeps remind me, wasn't granted...
While I have had quite a few runs on this course, I've always had hard time with the pacing at this event. The lap is about a mile, just above at 1.0275. Although 3% doesn't appear like much of a difference, let's do the maths. For 80 miles, it's rather simple, you need to run at 9 min/mile flat, that is every 10 miles in 1.5 hours. You may then think about running every lap in 9 minutes, which was my strategy for yesterday, but that's a 8:46 min/mile pace then. While that seems to give some slack for stopping from time to time, that's still a notable difference when you run for hours. Besides, there are some sharp turns on the course, and curves, so you are never on the most optimal trajectory, not to mention when passing or crossing others --some change direction once in a while, I don't on that course-- or stopping at the aid station or for a bio break. And, this time, there was the slalom through the puddles, at least those we could avoid. With that, my GPS got slightly off and, although I closed on lap 10 right after 90 minutes of running and lap 20 right at noon, it was showing a pace of 8:34 min/mile with a distance of 21 miles instead of 20.5.

Another shot from William, while I was avoiding one of the large puddles near the start/finish area:

It had poured so much in these first three hour that the 10-meter poodle we had to cross at the other end of the loop on the first lap at extended to 20 meters, not to mention the now submerged cycle path along Mason Street in 3 places (some cars looked to enjoy the natural car wash going through at least a foot high of water across the street). At least, as opposed to last July, we weren't bother by bike traffic on that section, or pedestrian traffic along the Ocean for that matter; one benefit of that storm, phew!

That river to cross when getting at the Eastern Mason Street corner, getting longer and longer through the day:

Running these first 20 miles at 8:30-8:40 should have felt easy, but my body was still way too tense to enjoy. I assessed that, while being super well protected from the rain with my Ultimate Direction jacket and pants, I got too wet underneath with the sweat, and decided to make a break to change at 1pm. I had considered setting up a canopy but I don't have a folding one and didn't feel like I would have time to mount the convoluted ones I have at home. Instead, I went with the easy solution, the beach umbrella. Getting to the parking lot at 8:15 after the stressful and slippery ride, I started working on consolidating my setup against the gusty winds forecasted for the late afternoon, after the rain, and it was 8:40 when I started really preparing for the start. Way too rushed while being screwed --that is without a crew-- although this is a lame excuse: one of the runners on the 24-hour was logging laps like a machine; she only had a large plastic bag which, as I was changing right after noon, she asked to place under my table. I happened later it was Akaro Murai, from Japan, and she ended up winning the 24-hour race outright with 116 miles. In these terrible conditions... She was even wearing glasses, covered with water. Some people surely didn't get derailed by the elements!

My frail rainy beach installation which didn't protect my bag against the water... but hold at least, while a few canopies got topped off in the afternoon:

Between the folks changing directions, the multiple events at once --6, 12, 24 hours and 100 miles-- and the bibs covered by our rain protection layers for most, including me, I had no idea about what was going on in terms of rankings but I couldn't care less with my own distance goals and my own struggles maintaining the pace. After holding the pace for 20 miles, I remember being happy to even clock 11 minutes per lap for the following 5. After losing 5 to 10 minutes changing in the rain, that didn't help much. I had left my bag under the umbrella but the rain hadn't fallen vertically! It was soaking in water and the layers I put on were already wet, ouch! The master and most supportive entertainer, Janeth Siva, stopped by to see what was going on and your make sure I was tucking these extra layers back under my pants... , right Janet? ;-)

After that failed attempt to get dryer, I got really cold, to the point that my adductors --a word many people don't seem to know, unless it was my pronunciation, as a few folks were checking on me and couldn't get what I was saying-- froze. Cramping might be a more appropriate medical or physiological term but the feeling was more that they turned to a tight state which made even walking excruciating. Every 10 painful and short steps, I had to stop to attempt stretching them, making my progression really slow. So much that I decided to stop at the car. All my other layers were in the soaked bag so I just laid down for 30 minutes on the driver seat with the seat heating feature on max, as well as the car heating. I felt slightly better, except for my average pace now above 11 minute/mile as I had just passed the marathon mark before stopping.

With that, it was past 2:30 pm and Max was supposed to stopped by so I had better get back on the course. Sure enough he was waiting at my table, and already getting wet himself. I asked him to prepare some mashed potato as I attempted to walk another lap. While the first steps were ok, with the body heat gained in the car, I lost almost of it going against the breeze along the Ocean, to the point that I had trouble finishing that loop. But the warm mashed potato was such a treat, I went on another loop, after saying by to Max who had to keep going.

I hobbled a few more laps, shivering and keeping stopping to stretch these blocked/tighten adductors, each was now taking 20 minutes. One of the highlights was to catch Tony Nguyen and share a few hundreds yards, Tony's enthusiasm is so uplifting!

After visiting the Ramses expo at the De Young, Agnès arrived at the finish at 3:50 pm. Worried of not seeing me passing by the station, she went on the course, clockwise, that is the same direction I was running. When she hit the river, she backtracked and took the shortcut on the bridge. Long story short, she missed me and was even more worried. Meanwhile, I was painfully finishing a 42-minute 31st lap in order to hit the 50K mark at least, and was going to call it a day. Actually, as I told Wendell I was quitting, my adductors were so painful I couldn't move at all. It took me more than 10 minutes to reach the car on the nearby parking lot, so embarrassing and pitiful.

The rain finally eased up as we were leaving, with the views of the Golden Gate and the City clearing up. Still, the drive back to South Bay was epic and stressful again, and we saw two major accidents on the way.

Bonus: Agnès got a helper to untie the ropes of my installation; but who was he, does anyone know?

Anyway, I was so disappointed and upset with the outcome of my race. Even more so after running 15 miles at 8 min/mile this Sunday, without any pain, like nothing happened yesterday! Darn inability to control and hold my body temperature in this humidity, so frustrating. And even more frustrated as this memory showed up first thing this morning on my Facebook stream, a photo taken by Carlos Lopez on New Year's Eve, 6 years ago, when I ran 46.9 miles in 6 hours: for anyone who doesn't believe we could have had perfect running conditions in December...

Either with PCTR (Pacific Coast Trail Runs) or CTR (Coastal Trail Runs), it hasn't been a smooth ride on this course, but a few hits and misses:
  1. 2010: 78.6 miles in 12 hours (October)
  2. 2015: 129.4 miles in 24 hours (June)
  3. 2016: 46.9 miles in 6 hours (December)
  4. 2017: 21.4 miles in 3 hours
  5. 2018: 100 miles in 24 hours, albeit calling it off at 19:52 (June)
  6. 2022: 69.6 miles in 12 hours (July, gusty winds)
  7. 2022: 31.8 miles in 12 hours...
With that, Wendell and his wisdom of a number cruncher, said that I had to come back...

To make my Ultrasignup situation worse, James Scanlan had a great run with 72 miles and 70 laps. That's going to get me a 44% score, far eclipsing 3 100% scores this year, which are so hard to get at 58... I know, I shouldn't even pay attention, but I can't help...

It wasn't my day, it was tough for everybody, many didn't even show up and some did great; I was particularly impressed with Todd Glieden who got his 100K buckle in the 24-hour, consistently shuffling despite not wearing much rain gear: way to tough it out, Todd! For the time events, everybody completing at least a lap got a finisher medal, kudos to all then! Oh, and these volunteers giving us so many hours of their time on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, in this terrible conditions: huge THANKS for assisting us. While I typically don't stop at aid stations, through my low points yesterday, I really appreciated the two cups of hot soup, and the few slices of quesadillas and pizzas, they felt so good!

As for Wendell operating his timing data center up through this deluge, that's hyper professional! While the rest of the state was shutting down with highway closures, countless car accidents and millions of dollars of damage due to the sudden flooding, Wendell made it look like a normal day in the office. Ultra resilience!

While I'm really upset by closing 2022 with such counter-performance, I'm also very grateful for having finally gotten rid of this hamstring tendon injury after 4 years. And feeling so grateful for safely reaching the start in this horrid driving conditions in the morning, when so many other people got into trouble with this weekend's flood. Nothing to complain about when we could still enjoy doing what we love, that is running or walking laps around the Criss Field Marsh!

Have a great 2023, all! I ran the first 3 miles of the year with Agnès and she broke her PR on that 5K loop, good omen! In the eye of the cyclone, more rain expected again the coming 10 days!