Saturday, February 25, 2023

50 miles for lunch: working hard on my training volume!

Last week I missed the 3rd event of our Mountain, Ultra Trail running Grand Prix season, the FOURmidable 50K. I used to run almost every races, using some as strong training opportunities. But it takes a lot of time to do so and, for once, I decided to go for a solo training run, literally across the Bay, without involving any driving: from home in Cupertino, to Fremont, on the other side of the Dumbarton Bridge. Not the first time, and including the familiar Shoreline Trail which I ran so many times on when ILOG had offices in Mountain View.

On this run, I was particularly proud, or at least satisfied, for not stopping my watch for the first 20 miles (that includes getting lucky with the traffic lights to cross the three main arteries in Cupertino, Stevens Creek Boulevard, De Anza Boulevard and Fremont Avenue). As I had reached Hwy 84 in East Palo Alto, I felt a sharp pain on my right pinky toe, 20 miles away from home, dang! I stopped to reposition my sock and tie my shoe tighter and thought that I'd check on an Uber drive on the other side of the bridge, that I was too close not to get the cool experience of running across the Bay.

In my 25-year running history, there must have been less than a handful of me calling home to get a ride back. Agn├Ęs was in Europe and Max has moved to the East Coast, so that wasn't an option anyway this time. As I kept thinking of quitting, the run became harder and harder. While the foot/toe was holding up and the pain had passed, I had lost the motivation to keep the 8 min/mile average pace after turning around at the pump station at the end of the bridge.

I set my mind on at least crossing back and that led me to the 50K mark, at the entrance of the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge.

After that, I kept checking on the cost of Uber every mile or so, now stopping my watch every time. And I was on for a big confirmation: the non-linear pricing of Uber! $28.98, $24.90, $24.94, $18.98, $18.92, $12.95 getting back to Sunnyvale, $10.93 once on Homestead in Cupertino (3 miles to go), and finally $8 with less than 2 miles to cover. I don't like spending money on my runs so that got me to... keep going and finish on foot, duh!

While Garmin and Strava gave this run an honorable mark of 7 hours and 13 minutes, the total elapsed time was a more embarrassing 8:53, so long for a confidence builder. In all disclosure, I've never logged so many miles in the first 6 weeks of the year, I may overdoing it as I'm working so hard at rebuilding muscles after the 4-year hamstring tendon injury. Hard to tell if that's the right approach in this experiment of n=1, we shall see in the coming weeks and months...

Still, I felt good about being able to complete this run again: assuredly, not everybody is able to so such long and self-supported training runs. Good test and challenge, both physically and mentally. And another experience or proof point to show that endurance requires a lot of work and training. If you ever wondered if it was just natural and easy... ;-) Lot of guessing too, lots of trials and, hopefully, not too many errors!

Speaking of trial, I pushed on protein-loading right after my run with an hyper loaded omelet: 6 eggs, 2 packs of uncured pancetta, 2 cups of shredded cheese, probably totaling 80 grams of protein, phew!

And, now, from the comfort of your couch, here is a Relive flyover of that run, from South to East Bay. A great opportunity to log a good number of flat miles and superb views of the Bay.

59,438 miles in, the ultra experiment goes on!

White Black Mountain: historical snow fall!

I like when there is something very special about my running, that provides an opportunity to get back to my blog for the sake of documenting memories for the future. After more than 15 years of sharing about my ultra marathon and trail running journeys, many training runs aren't worth a post!

Shortly after we moved to the Bay Area at the end of 1998, we drove up to Skyline with the boys to enjoy some snow up there. Coming from France and having lived in Switzerland too, playing in the snow was rather customary for us. What we didn't know id that, with the series of droughts, this would become very rare occurrences in the next quarter of century. Which makes this week's episode quite remarkable!

Despite good rain precipitations so far this winter, we are certainly not out of the rut, drought wise. Assuming the acceleration of extreme measures, and optimizations on the use of water in our strategic local agriculture industry in particular, it will take decades to replenish the aquifers, and also assuming rain doesn't stop for good with our climate change patterns. But at least it's a much better year on the surface: reservoirs fill up again and high mountains ranges received an outstanding level of snow pack (which hopefully won't melt too fast at once, or all this will wash out straight to the ocean).

And there are our our little hills which have joined the party this week, thanks to very weird weather pattern across the US: record high temperatures on the East Coast, and record lows on the West Coast, go figure! I should be tapering before the 100-mile Road Nationals next week but I couldn't resist the temptation of experiencing that snow, a rare phenomenon in an area blessed with sun and blue skies most of the time otherwise.

It had been more than 5 months since I ran with the Stevens Creek Striders along the reservoir: what a change all this rain makes, it's almost full and the water district is even letting a good flow through, toward the Bay.

In addition to 3 wineries, there are probably 50 houses or so on Montebello Road. The traffic is usually very light, the biggest danger being the cyclists zipping down the winding road, some yelling at me when we cross path as I'm running up against the traffic on the left (the way it should be anyway). Despite quite a few trees and cables down, the Rangers had decided to let some traffic through, which makes sense for the people living and working on that road.

Except that, as some might have expected, it was onlookers who created a bit of a mess along the road; despite the "road closed ahead" signs, I've never see so many people on Montebello, even on weekends! For one thing, there is no allowed parking neither at the top, nor along the 5 miles, so you are supposed to have a good reason to drive up (either because you live there, or you visit a winery).

Thankfully, the higher up I was going, the more snow there was, and less cars too. What a wonderful beauty to see this fresh snow at the top! With temperatures in the 40s, the snow was quite wet.

I wasn't equipped to run the trails in the snow, nor did I wanted to go the full ultra distance, so I turned back shortly after the top of the paved section of Montebello Road, still regretting not seeing the white top of Black Mountain this time. Only 21 miles for the out and back, that time.

Overall, a super cool experience, so close to the heart of Silicon Valley. As you can see on pictures and the Relive fly-over (click on the above image or this link), there was even more snow on the higher peaks of the East Bay. One fresh memory to lay on paper to make it crisper when our future is likely to become too hot for such white blanketing of our nearby Black Mountain. A white coat which even resisted more than 24 hours, and counting! And one which France 24 highlighted on prime time this Saturday on its standard global coverage. As I said at the beginning of this post, something really special!

Monday, February 6, 2023

Jed Smith 50K 2023: the long but steady road back to speed

When I first ran Jed Smith in 2009, it was a low key trail race at a ranch. In the spirit of Jedediah Smith who spent his life exploring the Rockies in the 19th century. What an evolution the event went through to become a sanctioned and course-certified event and place of several National Road records!

In addition to perfect course conditions after a lot of cleaning and clearing work by the Park rangers since our big winter storm of early January, the weather was also ideal: chilly at the start but not cold, no wind, some sun initially but mostly overcast otherwise, and 5 dry hours before it started drizzling in the afternoon. Add to these conditions the super pro timing of Rich Hanna's company, Capital Road Racing Management, you understand why some new or out of State speedsters now show up, every year.

We had a good men lineup from Quicksilver:

In addition to Keith, Stuart, Yoshi and Marc on this picture, Martin and Stephen were there too. Too bad we don't have more gals joining our fun!

The traditional American River hydrology report on the first Saturday of February: we got some water in January this year!

5 distances were proposed, from 50 miles to a half marathon, but only the 50K was part of our Pacific Association USATF MUT Grand Prix. I like to drive early to see the 50-mile start, I left home at 5 am. 140 miles of highway, without traffic at that early time, but a heavy fog on 5 (driving at 65 mph without visibility isn't so safe...). I wanted to be on time as I had two 2021 award plaques to hand over to amazing runners on the 50-mile: Jonah Backstrom and Bev Anderson-Abbs. I was able to catch Jonah as he was warming up but Bev only made it to the start line with 45 seconds to spare, I left the plaque at her car.

A flying presentation to amazing Bev (with Allan still able to keep up in the second mile):

Both the 50K and marathon started at 8:30, 1 hour after the 50-mile and 1 hour before the 30K and Half. Rich had told me that Jacob Nur was aiming at improving the M65-69 American record, after setting 3 American records in that age group last year: 5K in 17 minutes flat, 10K (35:42) and half marathon (1:18:00)! And that's improving records from famous Brian Pilcher and Tom Bernhard, two other Pacific Association fellows.

But that's not all: Billy Mertens was visiting again, from Colorado, to set a new mark in the M55-59 age group --yes, mine-- after leaving an indelible mark in the M50-54 category when he broke Rich's (3:17:52) and my (3:18:05) 2016 records, on another Jed Smith course, in 2017, with a blazing 3:16:29. I had seen last year that Billy won our M55 age group at Boston, in 2:39:36, I knew he'd give a try a this record. But there was some suspense as he entered just a few days before the race. He also complained at the start of suffering from a bit of a cold and his hamstring bothering him, we had to see. I assured him that I wasn't going to pace or chase him this time, still having to rebuild after a 4-year injury hiatus.

Here is the record-chaser dashboard for men at Jed Smith 50K:

Stuart asked what was my goal. I had run a very encouraging 3:41 50K in training mid January so I confidently replied I was aiming at a 3:37-3:45 range, corresponding to a pace between 7:00 and 7:15 min/mile. I was able to run a few sub-6 miles at the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot for a good change but I've rarely broke 7 min/mile in training these past months. My focus for January was to rebuild volume and I was please to log 610 kilometers over 28 days in January. Last time I put so many miles in a month was September 2018, in the remote pre-pandemic era...

Jacob's record to break was 3:41:41, a 7:08 min/mile pace, right in the middle of my goal range. I decided to stay behind him as long as I could. We ran most of last year's race at that pace with Stuart, who got so close to break 3 hours on the marathon distance last year, Stuart was also aiming at similar times. We had a great plan!

Well, except that Jabob started a bit faster than what I was hoping, closer to 6:50-6:52 for most of the first miles. After 3 miles, I decided to slow down a bit and let Stuart run and chat with Jacob, a few yards ahead. That allowed me to relive some of the pressure, as I had so many negative thoughts firing in my mind, that this was going way too fast. For me anyway as Jacob's stride seemed so efficient and relaxed.

By mile 5, as we got to the first aid station, Jacob grabbed a cup of water and, carrying two bottles (GU Brew and water), I passed through and we ended up running the next 2 miles, together. I chuckled when Jacob called me "the legend" while he is himself a National M65 sensation! After this nice chat, I had to catch my breath and let Stuart and Jacob lead the way again. Still staying a few yards behind, and closing on them when Jacob was slowing down a bit to grab on of the gels he was carrying.

With that, we were still below 7 min/mile by the end of lap 3 (mile 16.5) except that I lost about 20 seconds in an inefficient stop by my car to leave my GU2O bottle and grab a pouch of Vespa. This time I was about 100 yards behind Jacob and it took me a couple of miles to close on him and Stuart.

At the end of lap 4, it was Stuart's turn to get his little adventure while stopping to his car to grab a new bottle; I could hear a car alarm getting off and, sure enough, it was his, as he inadvertently pressed the alarm button on his key fob, dang! It might have been only a few seconds lost to get back to his car but it does matter when we are moving at 7 min/mile for so long, hard to catch up.

With another stop of Jacob to grab a cup of water at mile 20, I caught up with him again and we ran a couple of miles together. He asked me if we had 2 or 3 more laps after that one, I replied only 2. To confuse him a bit more, someone jogging crossed us and said: "3 more laps!" What did she know, with all these distances and all these laps, it's so confusing to keep track of who's where at, better not trying to help! ;-)

I had another bad stop to grab a gel at the end of lap 4 and lost some ground on Jacob again. 4 miles later, I even felt some cramping coming in my calves, that was a bit early. But I still managed to close on the marathon mark with a respectable 3:05:42 (I'll be 60 for Boston 2024, and will need a 3:50 to qualify, that should do). At that point, I was ahead of both Stuart and Jacob, now on a 7:05 min/mile average pace. But it was harder to even keep a 7:15 pace especially with a few episodes of cramping which forced be to walk a few steps. I took a 4th S!Caps to mitigate, as well as my latest technique, huge breath in, to accelerate the intake of oxygen. That seemed to do the job as I was able to avoid stopping again, except for that cup of water at the remote aid station, to help swallowing the S!Cap.

Without much excitement, I missed Jacob's goal by a few seconds, finishing in 3:42:03. Stuart clocked a PR of 3:46:39.

Jacob, cramping badly on the last lap, a PR too, at 3:49:33. Still so impressive at 67, yet he was disappointed with the miss on the last lap.

We talked about electrolytes, as well as maybe starting not as fast. I'm sure it's a matter of months before he breaks that record! I did share my recipe: water on one hand, GU Brew on the other (about one bottle every 15 miles), 4 S!Caps, 3 pouches of Vespa (-45 minutes, start and mid way), 3 GU gels (including one Roctane).

Now, while I was pleased to shave 23 minutes off my 2022 time, confirming the road to recovery and rebuild, this is still so far from my pre-injury level. And while I was 5th overall, I was so far behind the lead runners this year: Peter Bromka, 41, from Portland, had won in 2:58:14, missing the Masters American Record by 38 seconds! Then Daniel Button, 36, from Eagle, ID, in 3:06:37, also a fast time! Then... the 56-year old Billy Mertens himself in... 3:20:36, wow! Breaking Jeff Mescal's 3:21:54 by a good margin. Now that makes me feel so slow, you get the picture and the data points...

4th overall was the female winner, Jennifer Schmidt, 31, from Davis, in 3:25:02.

Yoshi rounded our Quicksilver Men team scoring with a 4:23 finish.

Less than 4 minutes later, Martin got a new PR with 4:27. Later this Saturday, he learned that he was selected to run Bad Water: so much joy for one day, as evidenced by this picture!

Stuart in the comfortable chair for some RD to RD talk:

Post-race debrief with Jacob and Stuart:

Meeting Jacob again at our Pacific Association recognition awards banquet in the evening, in South San Francisco (lot of driving today, 350 miles for me as I drove back home for a quick 1-hour shower and rest stop in between, South Bay).

Much grateful to John Feeney for directing this top class event, year after year, and his club, the Buffalo Chips for manning these two aid stations and all the course monitors along the loop. 35th edition since 1987, what an amazing tenure and ultra tradition!

For me, that was the13th Jed Smith participation, 12th finish (I deliberately entered the 50-mile in 2021, as a test and training run, when I was still injured), 75th 50K race, 169th ultra finish, I don't have any particular milestone in mind, just happy to get back to some speed so I can keep running at least, if not farther and/or faster.

Great to see our MUT community getting a few laps and miles in, 2023 is rolling!


Buffalo Chips volunteers at the checkin station
With Michael Fink (13th Jed Smith 50K finish)
Gary Gellin who had big age group record goals on the 50-mile but DNS'ed on a strained calf, bummer!
Yoshi and Keith:
50-mile start, 7:30 am
Post race, with Billy Mertens, new M55-59 50K Road record holder (pending ratification):
James Scanlan who, at 53, is getting faster on the 50-mile distance. Overall win in 6:03!
One of many Pamakids, Joselito:
JR Mintz, the serial killer (typically more than 100 races a year)!
Allan Abbs, 3rd overall on the 50-mile in 7:12
Phenomenal Bev, 1st woman, 2nd overall on the 50-mile in 6:32, at 58!!!

Sunday, February 5, 2023

2022 Pacific Association recognition awards banquet: and the winners are...

We had our yearly USATF Pacific Association recognition banquet last night, time to reveal who won the coveted MUT (Mountain, Ultra, Trail) recognitions of the year, after I shared the nominees on Wednesday.

But, before I get to the MUT chapter, and for the sake of adding on my historical work, a summary of the whole event (previous editions/seasons: 2008, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 20182019, 2021 on Zoom):
  1. Was great to be back in person after last year's virtual edition! Hopefully that didn't turn to a super spreader event, we were quite packed on the mezzanine of this Chinese restaurant in South San Francisco. More than 130 attendees I believe.
  2. For several decades we had an LDR-specific celebration. In 2020, just before the pandemic, we switched to a Pacific Association-wide celebration, making for a packed agenda and less time to recognize every participant and discipline. Still, I'm in awe how our President, Charlotte, managed to give time to everybody and still close the event by 8:30 pm; much better time management than in the inaugural 2020 edition! We covered all our disciplines: the Youth, both Cross Country and Track & Field, Open and Masters Track & Field, Race Walking and Long Distance Running with both Road Grand Prix (Short and Long), Cross-Country, and MUT. Plus a presentation on Nancy Ditz, the 2023 Hall of Fame inductee, a recognition of our essential Officials, the Tom Moore award, and more Service Awards.
  3. And we had a keynote speaker as well, who brought some refreshing change to the line up of speakers: Talia Green (see her World Athletics page). First, Talia is 16 years old but already competing at the top of the U20 (under 20) competitions. Second, she is killing it at the National level in a discipline we don't hear often about, race walking. Third, she started her keynote with some of her poetry work, another passion of hers.

  4. The Tom Moore award went to Dave Shrock, who has been a super involved contributor to our Pacific Association for 48 years (yes, forty eight)! Like for us, MUT members who were racing at Jed Smith 50K in the morning, it was also a long day for Dave who led his traditional Super Clinic for coaches that same day.

Among the coaches learning from Tom this Saturday was a very special one, both for our association and for our MUT community: Christine Chapon. When she is not running ultras herself, when she is not volunteering at our ultra or trail races, when she isn't coordinating the volunteers at other major events, you'll see Christine giving more of her time by coaching youths, either at the schools she works at or the wonderful Running for a Better Oakland (RBO) initiative. RBO had a whole table at the banquet for the occasion. She received the Legacy Coach Award. One of her remarks stated one thing which she learned from Dave: you may not coach any Olympian, but you never know so every Youth is as important to invest in and care about!

Christine and her RBO crew and fan club (photo credit: Shiran Kochavi)

With that, let's get to the revealing of the MUT Volunteer and Runners of the Year for 2022.

This is such both an interesting and tricky exercise to select these top awards. First, there is the challenge to make sure we are exhaustive in our consideration. Then, the difficulty to compare across age groups and races around the world, not just the races of our local Grand Prix. Then there is the depth of quality we have on our association. Shortly after taking over the Chair responsibilities from Hollis and Bill, I tried to increase objectivity by creating a scoring and evaluation framework in this post. I also consult with Richard Bolt from ATRA, who has a great knowledge and appreciation of the National and International scenes, race directors and a few other volunteers. And UltraSignup, the amazing German database DUV, Internet searches (I wish Ultra Running Magazine would publish their yearly awards issue sooner, that would save us time!). As well as cross-checking with our Pacific Association roster as nominees have to be in good standing with their membership. A requirement which is a high bar for our MUT races volunteers, many if not most of them having little incentive to register with USATF.

On the women side, we considered these amazing athletes: Bev Anderson-Abbs who, at 59, doesn't seem to know what age is about (she was our 2021 RoY), Meghan Canfield, also an age-defying ultra runner, Devon Yanko and Anna Kacius (Katie Asmuth, from Mammoth Lakes, wasn't a member in 2022 and Meghan actually changed associations after moving to Oregon). The choice wasn't easy, we picked... Devon Yanko, like Bev, also a returning RoY for our association (she was in the run for the 2010 and 2016 seasons already). Devon has actually moved to Colorado at the beginning of 2022, but she remained a member through the year. Congratulations for an outstanding 2022 season and all the best in your new association, Devon!

A few highlights of Devon's 2022 MUT season:
  1. 1st at Brazos Bend 50 Miler in 6:25  (2nd fastest women time ever)
  2. 1st at Javelina Jundred 14:36:10 (Second fastest w time ever, behind Camille Heron’s course record)
  3. 1st at Continental Divide Trail Run 50K
  4. 1st at Ram Party 50-mile 
  5. 1st at Umstead 100-mile (improved CR by 44 minutes)
  6. 1st at Arches Ultra 50K (second best time; only 6 minutes behind CR)

On the men side, an even longer list of nominees: Chikara Omine, Jonah Backstrom, Tim Tollefson (2019 RoY), Rajpaul Pannu (our 2021 RoY) and Ian Sharman (who moved too, to Oregon, but is still listed on my club's roster, Quicksilver). Although he set a new World Record on 50K at one of our PA races, Ruth Anderson, CJ Alertson had only one race on UltraSignup last year. Drum roll... the Male 2022 Runner of the Year is... Chikara Omine, who got this highest distinction in 2009 and 2016.

After an injury in 2021, amazing rebound for Chikara in 2022 as he transitioned from Open to Masters, mid year, yet managed to win the Road Short Open Grand Prix, the XC 40+ Grand Prix and 30-39 MUT Grand Prix at once. On the MUT side alone:
  1. 1st at Ruth Anderson Memorial Endurance Run - 50M, setting a new American Masters Record at 5:05:41
  2. 1st at Dick Collins Firetrails 50 - 50 Miler (new course record by 30 minutes)
  3. 1st at Skyline 50k Endurance Run - 50K

The Volunteer of the Year recognition relies on a completely different dimension, not athleticism but altruism. A person who has given time and energy to enhance our local MUT community and our Grand Prix in particular, contributing to its operations and/or supporting its races. This year, the award goes to one of our Pacific Association members who spent more time assisting racers and RDs from his own side line of injury, as well as helping me on various tasks throughout the year: Shiran Kochavi, from Pamakids.

My teammate Keith Lubliner couldn't both race Jed Smith and attend the banquet, he got his M60-69 plaque delivered in Sacramento in the morning, and will hand over Jim Magill's M70-79 trophy. Our Quicksilver club isn't getting any younger!

As our 2023 season started with Quad Dipsea last November, this event was a late wrap-up of our 2022 season but well deserved opportunity to recognize a year worth of achievements. This Saturday morning, Jed Smith was the 2nd of our 14 events for the season. Next is FOURmidable 50K in Auburn, an event which also serves as a qualifier for Team USA for the World Championships of Mountain Running (the top 2 finishers will make the team). And there are still more than 100 available slots for this great trail party, check it out!

Whatever your favorite Track & Field discipline is, have a great 2023 season all!

PS: a few bonus pictures to continue on the LDR account

Danielle Dominechelli, our Road Women Chair, presenting the Road awards, including the Road Male RoY to Jacob Nur, SRA Elite (who was also selected as the Male XC Co-RoY!):
Our LDR XC Chair, Carl Rose, presenting the Female XC RoY award to Joannie Siegler (Golden Valley Harriers):
And the VoY award to our VP, Irene Herman (Impala RT), for her outstanding work on organizing the XC Team Nationals in Golden Gate Park last November:
Omnipresent runner and volunteer, and 4-year RRCA President, George Rehmet:
With the M65 legend, Jacob Nur: