Friday, December 26, 2008

I am it, again, tagged!

I have yet to respond to a tagging of last June but this one is about the 2009 running plans so it cannot wait. Thank you Rajeev and, by transitivity, Alan for the opportunity. In turn, I will try to reach out to some out of state runners, and aiming pretty high at ultra elites, and bloggers, hoping to learn more about their own 2009 plans: Anton Krupicka (we discussed the possibility of him running a few European races this year), Scott Jurek (I recently learnt that he will go to the Coastal Challenge, will he come back to Western States, like Lance Armstrong to the Tour de France?), Karl Meltzer (he is coming to WTC! But what's next before his return on the Appalachian Trail in 2010?). I'm also taking the opportunity to extend the tagging game and tradition to two runners in France, to see if the virus will take over there: Stéphane Couleaud and Vincent Toumazou.

Here are the questions:
1. What was your 2008 running highlight and running low?
2. What race are you secretly planning on doing (or contemplating) for 2009 but haven't made it known to the public....until now.
3. Where would you like create and direct an ultra that (to your knowledge) none exists?
4. What is your "primary" race for 2009?
5. What is the most exciting thing about your upcoming race schedule?
6. List your planned races for 2009
1. What was your 2008 running highlight and running low?

My best 2008 experience was to win Ohlone again, with my parents present on the finish line this year. It was hot and I was excited to get some heat training before Western States as well as being a defending champion. Of course, I know I was lucky with Jon (Olsen) and Graham (Cooper) not showing up that day despite being registered. I'm sure competition will be fiercer in 2009, despite the new date coinciding with the Western States Memorial Day weekend training camp.
The Coastal Challenge was such a new and unique experience, it was of course another big highlight. The second place at Rio Del Lago 100-mile felt good too. Also, I particularly enjoyed a few self-supported ultras in several regions of France last July. Overall, my 58 blog posts this year contain many positive running stories, I feel blessed!

The lows have been mostly associated with asthma (or pulmonary edema?) crisis, especially at American River and Helen Klein, where I had to walk many of 50 miles. There has also been my stupid injury of August (Skyline 50K) and the following disturbed race schedule of August, culminating with my first DNF, at the French Nationals of road 100K. I'm glad this part of the year was quickly erased by the successful Rio Del Lago run.

2. What race are you secretly planning on doing (or contemplating) for 2009 but haven't made it known to the public....until now.

Well, this is the issue with 2009: moving to IBM in February, I really don't know what my travel plans are going to be anymore. Like I say, running is only my second job, so the first one will dictate. With that, I decided to focus on our local Pacific Association USA T&F Ultra Grand Prix, assuming there will be little business travel involved or authorized (IBM is a big advocate of online and virtual meetings).

With that said, I registered for the Napa Valley marathon, which will be held on my birthday! Interestingly enough, I have run Boston in 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2007 but I don't have a marathon qualifier in 2008 to run 2009 (despite running a marathon almost every weekend, now!). Furthermore, Boston will be on the Monday following Ruth Anderson, the race organized and directed by Rajeev again this year, which I plan to run for the third time.

So, overall, nothing fancy until July at least. If the season goes well, I hope to compete in a 24-hour event in the second half of the year. Oh, and maybe JFK too for a first East Coast ultra trail race?

3. Where would you like to create and direct an ultra that (to your knowledge) none exists?

I will play the sustainability card on this question and go for an ultra no farther than... in Cupertino. Rancho San Antonio, Black Mountain, I would love to see some competition on my training "play ground."

4. What is your "primary" race for 2009?

That has to be Western States. Although I realize that, just saying this increases the pressure. What I liked with my first Western States (2007) is that my main goal was just to finish under 24 hours, alleviating quite some pressure and allowing me to have a stressless race. Actually, with the level of competition to be expected this year, with 2 batches of Montrail Cup events winners, better not try hanging with the front runners this year. Given the low odds that I will enter Western States again in the coming years, I feel my main goal should be to make the experience as enjoyable as possible. I'm especially excited about having Max pacing me from Foresthill down to the river, as originally planned last June, with Adam (Blum) taking over on the far side of Rucky Chucky for the last 22 miles through the night. Besides going back on the Western States trail, additional excitement comes from all the ultra starts who will line up this year. More keep being added to the list, starting with Marco Olmo the winner of UTMB (Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc) for the past two years, at age 58 and 59!

5. What is the most exciting thing about your upcoming race schedule?

Hum, would the lack of surprise fit the most exciting criteria? ;-) Actually, nothing really fancy in my plan so far, we'll have to see what can be added during the second semester.

6. List your planned races for 2009

Ok, by now, you know about the Grand Prix. The list of events is not official yet but, based on last year's schedule, here is what my plan should look like.

  1. Jed Smith 50M
  2. Nappa Valley Marathon
  3. Way Too Cool 50K
  4. American River 50M
  5. Big Bunny Fun Run 5K
  6. Ruth Anderson 100K
  7. Miwok 100K (if I am lucky with the lottery)
  8. Quicksilver 50M
  9. Ohlone 50K
  10. Western States 100M
  11. Skyline 50K
  12. Headlands 50K
  13. Trailblazer 10K
  14. Firetrails 50M
  15. Helen Klein 50M
  16. Quad Dipsea 28M
You see, no big scoop, yet a busy ultra schedule. Let's see how the Big Blue story unfolds and allows for some additional variety in this program!

All the best to you for 2009, work, family and running-wise!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Birthday Baldwyn!

Happy birthday, Baldwyn! What a way to celebrate your 40th birthday, setting up an ultra like an official race and inviting us to join you for this special and unique celebration! The website design and accuracy, online registration, course description (with pictures!), course marking, course measure with a wheel, well-stocked aid station, finisher award, home-made beer with custom label, perfect weather, stunning views over the Bay, camaraderie, everything was perfect, over the top actually! But... something was missing: more participants to this birthday party.It's The Years was set as an invitation to run your age in miles, with this year's inaugural event celebrating Baldwyn's 40 years. Just back from France and officially in an inter-season break, I was tempted to run 44 miles but had a good excuse this Saturday: at 1 pm, Alex and his UN Club were organizing an event to present the progress of their project toward sending school supplies to schools in Ethiopia. That meant that I had to drive back from Castro Valley by noon. I deceided to drive up earlier in order to fit one 5.8-mile loop before the official start of 8 am. I left home at 6:10 and was on the course by 7:20 with just enough light to read the detailed instructions and find my way through the first convulated turns of the suburban start.
At 1.5 mile from the start, I had an hesitation on a turn at a Y-shaped intersection. Miraculously, Mark (Tanaka) appeared from nowhere, in the dark dawn, to show me the way! From his email of 3:30 am, I knew he was up, marking the course. It was already the end of his third loop. Thanks to Mark's ribbons and Baldwyn's detailed explanations, I had no other guessing for the remainder of the course although I did stop several times to enjoy the sunrise and take pictures (see my Picasa photo album), including panoramas of these stunning views over the Bay, San Francisco and the East Bay hills.
I met Baldwyn at the end of my first loop, which I had run in 48 minutes not counting the stops at the vista points. I changed direction for the second loop (clockwise, 48 minutes) and again for the third loop (anti-clockwise, 49 minutes, also not counting the stop at the main aid station). At the end of this third loop, Baldwyn and Mark were at the aid station and the three of us ran a loop together (that was Baldwyn's second and Mark's 6th). I ran my 5th and last loop in 53 minutes, finishing just after noon. I quickly took off and arrived to Alex' high school at 1:25, just in time to attend the event: presentation, silent auction and raffle. Here too, the Holidays had their toll on the audience (low participation), but not on the high spirit to celebrate the successful fund raising which will allow the shipping of much needed supplies to provide education to young Ethiopians, such a demonstration of sustainable development initiated by high schoolers.
29 miles, not quite my age, in miles, but more than my age in kilometers, not too bad... And yet another ultra of course. By the way, perfect soil, soft and not too slippery after last week's bad weather (rain and snow). Quite some hill training too which reminded me the nearby Ohlone course, in miniature. Overall, my Garmin Forerunner 205 recorded almost 1,000 feet of cumulative elevation per lap, with a total of 4,800 ft. Not the best instrument to track elevation but that gives you an indication of the great training opportunities we have all around the Bay Area, and all year around. And the great weather, and the stunning views...! ;-)
PS - Last minute update: birthday boy completed 6 laps, with his brother and a couple of work colleagues joining him during the day. 1-lap short of his original goal but still a very nice way for an ultraholic to celebrate this milestone. As for his dog, Cub, he ran the first three laps (17+ miles!) and wanted to keep going but Baldwyn and his wife thought that was enough for a dog, barefoot... Here is Cub, with Baldwyn and Mark, after Baldwyn's first lap:

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Running winter break: more free time!

No race report and very little running this week. Just some speed work with Bob at the track on Tuesday before getting on the plane for Frankfurt and Paris, then 8 miles this Sunday evening. A 14-mile week, that is all! I'm glad to be off training pressure as the weather was cold this week and humid this weekend.
My other running-related experience of the week was the registration for Way Too Cool (WTC). I registered to American River 50-mile on Thursday night: it was easy and stress less as the event is not filling up too fast which still surprises me. This Sunday at 8 am Pacific or 5 pm in Paris, and race director Julie Fingar were opening the registration for WTC. If you don't know or missed my Ultra and Cyber sprinting story, last year, WTC's online registration has been filling up in a matter of minutes for the past years. I managed to got in 2007 despite a big mistake: to make sure I had the fastest connection, I had decided to go to the office on Sunday morning, just to discover on my way that I had forgotten my badge. I came back home right at 8 am and was able to secure a spot despite the registration having opened a few minutes ahead of schedule, as I will find out later.

This year, I was not sure I would have access to the Internet at the right time, being on a business trip in Paris. I had carefully crafted instructions for Agnès and the boys to do the registration from California on my behalf (and, yes, I do accept all the waivers). I called 15 minutes before the deadline to make sure they were up and ready and Agnès confirmed Alex had already started checking the website in. Right on 8 am PST, Agnès called me back to inform me the registration was indeed open but they were unable to go through, yikes! I rushed to my computer and, sure enough, I could not go through either from Paris, keeping getting this scary screen:
Here is the text of the over flow notification if you cannot read it from the screen shot:

We are experiencing higher than normal volume and are therefore unable to process your request at this time.

Please wait several minutes and then try again.

We apologize for this inconvenience.

Of course I know the race is popular, a big deal for the Ultra Montrail Cup contestants and the elites looking at getting a Western States entry through placing in the top 3. I know that the 450 entries disappear within minutes. However it is hard to believe that there are actually more than a thousand ultra runners accessing the site at once and that the platform cannot handle a sub 1,000-transaction load. Or maybe I'm underestimating the appeal of this event...

Anyway, I tried to access the site several times, just worsening the server situation, and was relieved when Agnès called me to confirm my entry! If everything goes well with training, that will then be my 4th WTC next March.

Overall, I cannot wait for my friend Mark Gilligan to release the registration feature of his UltraSignup website (you can already check out a few promising features).
That is it for the running part of my week. Not much, which means that, after a hectic work week, I had more free time this weekend that I used on two alumni reunions. The first one on Saturday to celebrate the 25th anniversary of my Arts & Métiers class (Angers, 1983-86) and the second one on Sunday for the 22nd anniversary of my Cerics class (Sophia-Antipolis, 1986-87). It was good to see people I spent so much good time a quarter of a century ago and, as we all agreed, we have not changed much over this time! ;-) At worst, I'm skinnier now that I have switched from running track (800m) to ultra trail running...

Have a great week, en route for the Holidays!

PS: two really non running-related pix...

With my conscripts (from left two right, Joe, 29An207, 2Malte, 29An206 and Lotage, 29An208):
And a handful of my 30 Master's Cerics classmates:

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Pacing in the ultra Mecca

For once, it is not a report about one of my races. As I told you last week after my great Quad Dipsea experience, I am enjoying a break away from competition for two months. However, when David (James) contacted me 10 days ago in order to pace him at the North Face 50-mile Challenge, I happily told him that I was free indeed. Little I knew about the level of competition at this event.

Before we get into the details of this Saturday, here is a link to my Picasa photo album (176 pictures and one video of the start). Enjoy! You can also look at Diane's wonderful shots in her photo album (especially as she covered the part I could not, while pacing on the way back from Pan Toll).

I met David at the Coastal Challenge, last January, in Costa Rica. It was his second Coastal Challenge and my first. I took second of the 6-day race, he took third. He won one of the toughest and longest stage and, despite a bit of competition, he helped me and saved me twice from drowning, in our aquatic adventures (in a torrent first, and in the Ocean the last day). Here he is, below, with Chuck Wilson, another friend who ran the Coastal Challenge three times and introduced it to me. This Saturday was Chuck's 60th birthday and I managed to get a special announcement from the speaker right before the final race instructions!
Kyle Skaggs, Matt Carpenter, Uli Steidel, Geoff Roes, Leigh Schmitt, Michael Wardian, Hal Koerner, Guillermo Medina, Karl Metzler, Kami Semick, Susannah Beck, Nikki Kimball, and more illustrious names which I may miss, newbie that I still am after 3 years in ultra. That looked like a dream starting line for any race director! Something which I have seen so far only at Western States or the races sponsored by Montrail (e.g. Miwok).

The start was given, on time, at 5 am (check a short video in my Picasa album). It was very early for a 50-miler, but I believe the reason is that the organizers wanted to preserve some time between the various races (50-mile, 50K, half marathon, 10K). Headlamps were mandatory for all runners for the first 2 hours and definitely needed as it was pitch dark despite a wonderful clear sky, full of stars.

After the started I stayed for a while at the nearby Youth Hostel, chatting with Peter Defty about his product, Vespa Power, a supplement which has been working very well for me since I started taking it in August. This is a product which comes from Japan and there was a Japanese delegation here this weekend, with an elite runner getting on the podium! Here they are, at the post race picnic:
I took the shuttle back to Rodeo Beach where I parked (thanks Marissa!) and left the parking lot around 6am, up on the Coastal Trail and Hill 88. I was going to pace David from Pan Toll (30 miles) to the finish and was excited to run up to Pan Toll rather than drive there: Peter offered me a ride and I could have asked Tony (Krupicka), who was crewing for Kyle, and Jenn (Shelton), pacing Susannah (Beck).

I passed a few runners between Tennessee Valley, Muir Beach and Pan Toll and took a few pictures on the way (see more in my photo album).I reached Pan Toll (11 miles) around 8 and the top runners had already gone through the aid station (18 miles for them). There, I found Topher Gaylord who had dropped (food poisoning during the week) and was starting getting cold after this early morning effort. Soon after I was shivering too, so much that I had issue signing the pacer waiver... I also met with Catherine Poletti who was waiting for Michel, her husband. Michel and Catherine organize the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, the famous 101-mile ultra event run through France, Italy and Switzerland, the last weekend of August, on a course similar to the difficult one of Hardrock.
After discussing with Topher and Catherine, Peter (Defty) told me "my runner", David, had dropped and just left. I had missed him by a minute or so. His knee was hurting, and David told me he had torn his knee indeed a week ago. I was not surprised then, but really disappointed for him, who came all the way from New York and was so excited. So excited that he reached the first aid station, Tennessee Valley, in the lead! He promised to come back though!

Rob (Evans) informed me that Michael Wardian was going to get paced by our friend, Mark Gilligan (UltraSignup) for the last 6 miles, and that he would certainly welcome a pacer from Pan Toll. I had never met Michael (we were both going to run Western States last June but it got canceled because of the California wild fires) but I knew from my reading of Runner's World that he was very very fast (see article): 2:21 marathon PR, US 2008 50K and 100K champion, etc. I told Rob I was going to give it a try, since I had come to this race to pace someone and it was actually my first pacing experience. Waiting for the front runners to come back to Pan Toll (their mile 30), I had some time to chat with Tony about potential races for him in Europe and his other plans before our Western States rally, or the Auburn "track meet" as it is also called.

In the shade of the redwoods, I was still shivering and decided to cross the road to get in the sun and see the top runners coming in (I posted good shots of the top 10). 1, 2, 3, ... 13 runnners and still no sign of Michael. This was certainly unusual and I decided to come back to the station to ask Rob if he had heard about anything about Michael. Just the time when Michael finally showed up, more than 25 minutes after the front runner... Michael was devastated but Rob did not leave him the option of dropping, annoucing him that I will be pacing to Tennessee Valley, for the next 14 miles. We quickly left the station and rushed in the woods on a trail which I was not familiar with (not a trail we use at Miwok and Headlands 50K). I took the lead and we were really cruising, flying over the roots and passing 50K runners. Michael was telling me about his mistake at the turnaround, getting lost and much farther down a steep hill (the same than Miwok?) up to a point where he could tell from the face of the hikers that he was the only runner they had seen today... He estimated to 45 minutes the time he had lost with this detour and, of course, that was not counting the damage done to his mental. I gave many words of encouragement, some he could not hear with my soft voice or not understand with my French accent... We walked some of the uphills but, geez, what a stride in the downhills and few flat sections!

Michael ran out of water 2 miles before the next aid station, Old Inn. I could not pass him any of mine since this is against the rule. As a matter of fact, Michael was sweating a lot and was pouring some water on his head at each aid station, when I was still quite chilly especially in this section, almost all in the shade of the redwoods. Before Old Inn, we got on the Dipsea trail for about 2 miles, including the start of the climb to Cardiac. On the road section, we were flying and I told Michael my GPS got down to 5:15 min/mile! He replied that he felt much better going fast than struggling in the uphills...

We passed two 50-mile runners in Frank Valley: Philippe Rolly and Zacariah Miller. But it is only 1 mile before Tennessee Valley that we caught up with Hal Koerner, and that was the last competitor Mark and I could help Michael catch up with. Of course, for someone of Michael's caliber, finishing 9th was much disappointing, yet he thanked us for helping him finish instead of dropping at Pan Toll. What a ride for my first pacing experience! "Only"' 31 miles (50K) of running on Saturday, but I was happy to see the finish line (I ran some of the last section with Hal Koerner and the last 2 miles chatting with Zacariah). Michael (in blue, and running in Books!) and Mark (green) at the finish:
I stayed for a while in the North Face "village", seeing many familiar faces, but had to leave by 2pm as we had 9 guests for dinner. On the way back though, and to take advantage of this incredible good and clear weather, I stopped to capture some of the wonderful views of Rodeo Beach, the Golden Gate and the City (see the album for more).Overall, the event was masterfully managed and you could actually tell that North Face had poured quite some money in it. It was an incredible "ultra celebration" and surely the prize money contributed to this national and international gathering. My only whining? I've never seen an ultra with so much junk (mostly gel packets), in the US (trail cleanliness is one thing which surprises our visitors from France and I hope we can keep this American tradition on). I just hope that this is not the result of too much competition driven by the appeal of monetary prizes...

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Quad Dipsea: we all did it!

For the ones in a hurry or who prefer pictures over narration, you can jump to my online Picasa photo album with comments, photo credit to Agnès (and special thanks for her patience this Saturday!). For the others, here is my race report...
I was thinking of "He did it!" for the title of this post, to capture Erik's feat but, in retrospective, it is more important to say that we all made this special Thanksgiving ultra celebration. From cheering, crewing, volunteering, running, walking, crawling, flying or hopping over the stairs and roots, we were several hundreds to come on the famous Dipsea trail for this 26th edition of Quad Dipsea. And, even if we did not make to the front page, we all either did it (to the finish) or witness a big thing in the Dipsea history...


The days of November leading to the race have been quite buzzy. First my pitiful run at Helen Klein 50-mile with something which resembled more to a pulmonary edema than another asthma crisis. Then a minor surgery on the 5th which ruled out a tumor as the cause of the hematuria of last August after Headlands 50K. 2 weeks of rest afterward where I focused on core and static leg musculation work. Like before Western States, I did many series of sitting with my back against the wall, totalling 85 minutes. A good preparation for the ups and downs of Quad Dipsea. As I told you last week I resumed training 10 days ago and did a good and tough 29-mile QD test last weekend. Some speed work at the track on Tuesday with Bob, a reasonably fast run on Wednesday, under the rain in case we had rain during the race.

On Thursday, I joined my club mates, the Striders, for our annual and fun Thanksgiving Turkey Trot Relays at De Anza College. Max was volunteering at the much more official, crowded and faster Turkey Trot runs in San Jose so I was the only representant from the family this year. (Photo credit of Turkey Trot pictures: Peter Hargreaves.)
Our relays consisted in teams of 3, each of us running 4 300-meter legs on the track. To increase the training, I didn't follow the rule of crossing the field to go to the next relay start but jogged the 200 meters around the track making it 10 laps (Mike, here are the maths: 300 meters for each 3/4 lap relay leg + 200 meters to get to the next start = 500 meters x 4 times for each relay x 2 relays = 4,000 meters or 10 laps! ;-).
Needless to say, I enjoyed the speed on such short distances and first teaming up with Andrew and Angus Beeston, then Angus and his sister, we won the two rounds/relays. Here am I, adopted by the Beeston family! Will my third citizenship be Aussie?? ;-)
Between this late training sessions, two nights under 5 hours, one because of work and one to get up for the insane Black Friday tradition (we showed up at 5:30 am at Office Depot, missed the sale to end up purchasing a new computer at Fry's in the afternoon, at the regular price; so I believe Black Friday works for retailers indeed...). Anyway, quite relaxed without the pressure of having to score to win our USA T&F ultra Grand Prix this year, I was quite relaxed and enjoyed 7 hours of sleep the night before the race. Pierre-Yves stopped by our house and Agnès drove us to the start which was also a great way to alleviate the stress of getting to the start line in Mill Valley. On our way we made the classic pit-stop at the view point right after the Golden Gate, and saw Dave Combs (ultra list and omni present ultra volunteer) and Steve Patt (from Stevens Creek Software and a Quad Dipsea veteran).

What a difference for me compared to 2006! Two years ago, I was a 50-miler rookie at Fire Trails and got a free entry in Quad Dipsea as part of the Dick Collins Rookie award package. I barely knew a handful of runners and was quite intimidated. This year's Quad Dipsea was my 30th ultra race and I really feel part of the local community, with many faces being familiar, from the runners to their crew and the volunteers. Yet, I remain excited like a kid when I have the opportunity to meet ultra elites like the Ashland, Oregon gang (Kyle, Erik, Jenn this weekend, or Hal Koerner at this year's Fire Trails) and Tony Krupicka again. This young and cool guys, with long leds and ultra endurance, how inspiring!

The race
I was in 2nd row on the starting line, just behind Erik, and I reached the beginning of the stairs in 10th or 12th position. With the other front runners, we ran most of the first series of stairs. Jenn (Shelton) passed me half way up the hundreds stairs, hopping from step to step like a gazelle. In the last section of the stairs, each step has a plaque commemorating people and families associated to the history of this famous trail. I recognized a few names from the running community and I found this touching and motivating. As a matter of fact, I don't remember noticing these plaques during my first Quad Dipsea two years ago, nor my three previous Double Dipsea so maybe this section has been "remodeled" recently.

I passed Jenn before the top and she passed me at the end of the road section as she was flying before we got back on the trail.

At the Cardiac aid station, I got a boost with the encouragements from my fellow club mates, the Striders. Chuck (Wilson) took care of my only request: a cup of water (I was carrying enough GUs for the whole race, and a pouch to refill my GU2O bottle at the first return to Mill Valley).

The section from Cardiac to Stinson Beach is my favorite, with a variety of trails, blazing views over the Ocean and the coast, and a nice downhill to the beach, where the Double Dipsea starts from. My GPS was showing 6.4 miles when I crossed Erik on his first way back to Mill Valley and encouraged him on his quest for the course record (sorry, Carl...). Based on the fact that the course is given for more than 7.1 miles, I thought "Geez, he already put me 1.4 miles!" However, my GPS had the turnaround at 6.8 miles so that made only a 0.8 mile lead. Still... I was in 5th position at the turnaround and just under the hour (59 minutes). Feeling good although a bit concerned not to see Victor (Ballesteros) and Roy (Rivers) in front of me to name a few. Two years ago my splits where 59-63-67-71 so I thought the pace was OK.

I felt good on the way back. I passed Tim (Knudsen, from Denmark) and almost caught up with Fritz who was in third place in the technical section after the Cardiac AS (quite a few roots and slippery switch backs). Tim negotiated the stairs better than me (not my strength indeed), so I reached the Mill Valley turnaround still in 5th and in 2:01 (I ran Double Dipsea in 2001, 2002 and 2003 with a PR of 1:59 in my third. Unfortunately, between volunteering as the Captain of Last Chance aid station since 2004 or running Western States in 2007, I have missed the race since, because of the conflicting date).

Among Agnès' picture series, one which I particularly like is this one from Erik where you can see him leaving Stinson Beach for the second time, under three hours, and rushing out before his cup of water even touched the ground. When every second counts in an ultra...

On the third leg, I walked more steps than in the first one. Not too far from the start I saw Roy Rivers and I thought my lead on him will not resist for long. I kept pushing the pace, trying to stay close to Tim alternating the lead on our way up to the Cardiac AS for the third time. At Cardiac I found Leor (Pantilat) who had run in 2nd for the first two legs but was not feeling good at all (dizzy and cold), with the volunteers now advising him not to drop and keep on for the last 1.5 legs. I first met Leor at the finish of Fire Trails in October after he won the Golden Hills Trail Marathon and set a new course record. Leor followed me for a mile or so but it is another runner who reached the Stinson Beach turnaround with me. I was pleased to see Graham (Cooper) volunteering and Stan (Jensen) told me I was doing great (3:06, as opposed to the 3:01 reported in the splits published as of this Sunday night in the results sheet; with special thanks to John and Stan for the prompt publish!). Agnès was there of course but, unless the first time at the turnaround, Kyle and Anton had already left the station to rush to Mill Valley to see Erik's finish.

Except for some walking in steep stairs and uphill sections, the last leg was eventless as I maintained my third position until the end. Seeing Chris Hauth closing the gap on me before the last descent into Mill Valley, I thought he may catch up in the stairs like this hectic finish two years ago when Jasper (Halekas) passed me in the very last stairs and we finished 4th and 5th, 1 second apart! I crossed the finish line in 4:19:19, one minute and 32 seconds faster than in 2006. Farther Faster, yeah! Still, an impressive 27 minutes and 3 seconds slower than Erik who, finally, did beat Carl's record by merely 13 seconds! 16 years later... Like Erik told me "close but feeling much better being on this side of the record!" (Erik was referring to his first attempt, last year, when he missed the record by 48 seconds).

Although Erik is today's hero, Carl remains the King of Quad Dipsea for me, for so much consistency in the nineties. And, if anything else, his Masters' Course Record of 3:57 seems very safe to me (when I think that I am 20 years older than Erik, I feel old... But Roy Rivers did beat me in 2006 at age 49 and today's oldest runner was 82, so age is not the main factor. Still, long legs do help, and I have short ones, oops! ;-).

The other hero of the day should have been Fritz. For his first Quad Dipsea, Fritz took second overall, in 4:15:28, a time similar to Michael Buchanan's win in 2006 (4:15:25). But Fritz is still unknown in our local ultrarunning community. He won the San Jose marathon in October in 2:37 while fighting cancer. Two weeks ago, I informed John about this amazingly inspiring story which you can read here: He is beating cancer and winning marathons. When I reached the finish line, Fritz was resting under the tent, with a friend, but apart from the excitement reigning among the crowd around the finish line. I could not find the words to approach him so I hope to see him again in races to touch base and catch up. Like for Tom Kaisersatt who is also battling cancer, ran Quad Dipsea 10 times and came to the start to encourage his son who was running this Saturday: keep it up, guys!

Runners kept coming in, Suzanna Bon finishing first in the female division, after Jenn dropped at the Mill Valley turnaround. Suzanna was wearing Brooks' Cascadias and hope to join me into the Brooks Inspire Daily group. With 3 overall win in 100-milers over the past 18 months, she well deserves this recognition and support. As for me, I ran in Trance this time, which I thought was a better choice on the stairs and dirt sections, despite the lack of the Cascadia's grip on the few slippery sections.

GPS-wise, my Garmin 205 Forerunner indicated 27.11 miles at the end, versus the "advertized" 4x7.1=28.4 miles. Although I did not verify it, I'm sure the count of steps is correct (4x671=2684); but the mileage is almost impossible to check with a measuring wheel, on such a convoluated course. As for the cumulative elevation, SportTracks reported +7,278/-7,323 feet versus the disclosed +/-9,300 feet, but I concede the Forerunner is not the best instrument to measure this data given the resulting simplified elevation chart below:
Also the elevation/time graph shows that I did slow down in the second part but not too much:

Before closing this race report, special thanks to the volunteers, especially my club mates, the Striders, who saw and helped close to 1,000 runners at the Cardiac aid station (237 starters, 4 times). The management of the race was as great as usual and the perfect weather brought the final touch to a wonderful "ultra" Thanksgiving celebration.

So, it is now certain, with this new age group win, I am extending my lead in the Pacific Association USA T&F Mountain Ultra Trail Grand Prix, M40-49 age group, winning for the second year in a row. It has been a big fight with Mark (Tanaka) and a long race season which I am happy to see ending (10 full months since last January's Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica, 14 ultra races and 7 sub-ultra ones!). And I look forward to as much competition next year... Farther, faster...
PS: again, don't miss my Picasa album with Agnès' pictures augmented with my comments (and let me know if there are inaccuracies or missing info/names)!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

QD Test and Birthday Trail Party

Back on my feet after a two-week break! Initially the surgeon had talked about 3-week off exercising but, when I saw him this week, he claimed he never said that and I could resume training as quickly as I wanted. Enough said, I went for a run on Thursday and it felt good (7 miles at 6:18 min/mile pace). Too much work on Friday, so the weekend was welcome. With, as a result, two running-related stories in one post: a QD test and a birthday "trail" party.

QD Test

No, it is not yet another test to get through before College (SAT, PSAT, SAT2, ACT, CBEST, GMAT, TOEFL, NMSQT, CLEP, GMAT, ...). No, QD test it is not a medical one either. QD stands for Quad Dipsea, the shortest but one of the toughest and most grueling ultra in the PA USATF series (Pacific Association USA Track & Field). 28 miles of technical trails, 9,200 feet of cumulative elevation, 2,680 stairs! The race is held each year on the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, and this will be the 26th edition this year. "Tropical" John Medinger is the current race director (John is also the Publisher of UltraRunning magazine, "the voice of ultra running since 1981").

The Dipsea trail is well known of runners and hikers in the San Francisco area. Between Mill Valley and Stinson Beach, and around the summit of Mount Tamalpais, it is the course of 3 popular races which all fill in very quickly:
  1. Dipsea (the single),
  2. Double Dipsea (one out and back, the same weekend as Western States so, between being the captain at Last Chance and running WS, it has been a while since I didn't run it),
  3. and Quad Dipsea (2 out and backs, starting from Mill Valley).
Quad Dipsea is also the last race of the PA MUR (Mountain Ultra Running) Grand Prix. As it turns out, despite my counter-performance at Helen Klein 50-mile 3 weeks ago, the other contenders in my age group did not show up so, thanks for my hanging up to the finish, I was able to take the lead over Mark (Tanaka), with enough points to win this year's Grand Prix again, unless Mark beats Carl Andersen's age group record of 3:57:08. I know Mark must be very frustrated with his decision of not participating in HK. As a matter of fact, his hectic work schedule could have permitted him to join us, but he ran a local non official race in San Francisco instead, so he could stay closer to his family that first weekend of November. Anyway, that means I won't have to kill myself at Quad Dipsea, it releases some pressure. Which is good because of three key reasons. First, I want to enjoy the show with a few top guys coming to beat long-standing course record set by Carl Andersen. Second, this is a tricky course and I'd rather not injure my ankles in the stairs. Third, it has been a long season, with little breaks since last January's Coastal Challenge, and I look forward to the winter break in December and January. At least to stay off competition for a couple of months because, as you can guess, I am not going to remain inactive for 2 months!

Anyway, Saturday had perfect conditions for testing my fitness before Quad Dipsea, hence the name of QD Test: agenda open until 5 pm, bright blue sky, temperature on the cool side but a warm sun and light breeze, trail in perfect conditions with just enough moisture to eliminate the dust. I used one of my long and reasonably hard routes, climbing up to Black Mountain along the Stevens Creek Reservoir and Monte Bello Road, then down on Old Ranch, Bella Vista and Canyon trails, followed by the long and steep 1.5-mile climb up to the campground and summit, on Indian Creek trail. A nice tour through the Monte Bello Open Space Preserve (see map).

From Black Mountain, I switched to the nearby Preserve and got on the Rancho San Antonio side (map), going down on Black Mountain trail to the Duveneck Windmill Pasture, then to the farm on Chamise and back home via McClelan Ranch Road. That's about 50% road, 30% dirt fire road and 20% non technical single trail, so very far from the Dipsea conditions (meaning, much easier). Furthermore, for 29.6 miles, the cumulative elevation is 3,450 feet versus more than 9,200 for QD, as indicated on Stan's run100s website, for "only" 28+ miles.I was so happy to get on for a long run, my first since the pathetic Helen Klein, that I got quite excited on the way up to Black Mountain (2,800 ft). Not overly but enough to PR by 2 minutes at 1:34 for the first 11.5 miles. However I hit the wall at mile 17.5, 1 mile into the 1.5-mile climb back to the summit. I was doing great, imagining and visualizing Erik Skaggs going light in steep uphills (I never saw him or met in person, but I can only guess from his performances). Erik is the main favorite for Quad Dipsea this year (Erik won last year with the 2nd fastest time ever, 1 minute behing the record Carl set in 1992). Well, I might have pushed the engine too far because the last 12 miles were less pleasant than the first ones, albeit the negative elevation going through Rancho San Antonio and the flat section in Cupertino. I had lost 5 pounds, taking only 3 gels (actually doing an experiment with a mix of Cliff Shot, Hammer Gel and GU (I need to write a comparative review on them, there certainly are differences between these brands). It took me three hours and a good dinner to recover.
Nonetheless, it was a good QD test. I had set a new PR on this loop, by 4 minutes, just getting under 4 hours. And I know that my legs are back but I'm still not super fit after this 2-week break in my training and the end of a long season. Now, looking forward to the weather we will get next Saturday...

Birthday trail party
After the hard work on Saturday, a very different format for my run this Sunday. Chris had organized a "trail party" to celebrate Chuck Wilson's 60th birthday. Like yesterday, the weather was perfect and 20 of us were off on the trails to celebrate Chuck's milestone.

More friends joined us for the following pot-luck, hosted by Joe in his house with wonderful views over South Bay. We all shared stories about Chuck, how we met, funny anecdotes, crazy runs, personal connections. With more than 25 years of ultra experience, and races all over the World, Chuck has a lot of stories to share himself and is also an "ultra encyclopedia." Like one runner told me a few weeks ago about Chuck, "insert a coin, and he will not stop talking about ultra for hours!" You could not miss the birthday boy today in his bright Ohlone shirt (a nice way to think of Rob Byrne, Ohlone RD, who could not make it from his exile in the Netherlands):Congratulations, Chuck, and long life on the trails. See you at Quad Dipsea next weekend, and good luck at the North Face Endurance Challenge 50-mile in Marin County on December 6th. Your real birth date, what better way to celebrate your 60 years than that!
PS: I posted 90 pictures of our nice run in my Picasa album: check them out!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Speed through other's dreams

As I am prevented from running for a couple of weeks after a surgery, and unable to properly train for the coming Quad Dipsea (November 29), that leaves me with more time to nurture my running passion through others' stories, and dreams. Three in particular this weekend: the CCS XC finals for Max, a realized dream for Tom, and the NCAA West Regional XC Championships at Stanford.

CCS cross-country finals

This Saturday we drove back to Toro County Park in Salinas for the 2008 Central Coast Section cross-country finals. The play-off event represents the last milestone of the cross-country season before State (i.e. the California championships). Led by Coach Armstrong, Tino (aka Cupertino High School) had qualified one varsity team (7 boys) and one girl, Shona. Several parents drove down (the usual suspects...!) as well as a few other teammates: Kristin, Daniele, Steven, Steven C, Michael, Dennis. The boys were: Max, Peter A, Ahmad, Nick, Daniel, Eric and Peter C.
Althoug temperatures are generally 10 degrees higher than the Bay Area, which is good for crops, it was unsually hot, in the mid-80Fs. After a blazing start by Peter, Max led the boys and finished in 17:25, albeit disappointed for not matching his 17:22 of the beginning of the season. Overall, everybody had a tough time fighting the heat and the team placed 12th among 18. The most impressive team was Mountain View High School, both the boys and the girls.

Also new this year, the team had moved from Division 3 to Division 2, just passing the school size threshold because of the addition of a few Freshmen this year. With only two Seniors in the team this year, these two facts may explain why this is the first year in many that no Pionners will participate to States. Below is a picture of the impressive start of the Division 2 boys race (click on the picture to enlarge):
The results are not published yet, but will be at the following page. In the meantime, more pictures of this warm day, on my Picasa album.

Tom's dream

If you read this blog regularly, you may be familiar with our friend Pierre-Yves and his fight against cancer at age 14. After 2 years and one bone marrow transplant, the battle has been successful so far and every day is a blessing for him, his family and friends. In the midst of such an uncertain outcome, we got the opportunity to become familiar with the Make-A-Wish asociation whose goal is to fulfill the dream of young people facing cancer. Pierre-Yves was given the opportunity to spend one day with his idol, French basketter Tony Parker (see a short paragraph on this memorable day).

In a manner similar to Make-A-Wish, Bill reached out to Tom's friends among the Stevens Creek Striders and San Jose Fitters to offer Tom something really unique and meaningful to him: a flight over the Bay Area and Pacific on board of a 1945 fighter jet. The aircraft is named Runner Ridge III which is rather appropriate given Tom's passion for running. This is a P-51 Mustang. For those who don't know, Tom is a pilot and has flown hours over the Bay Area. As a matter of fact he clocked 350 hours on a plane similar to the vintage ones displayed in the airport museum.

We stopped by the Hollister municipal airport on our way back from Salinas and gathered with other representatives of the Striders, to share Tom's joy, before and after his aerial experience: Peter, Bill, Penny, Lena, Andrew and Mike.
Here is a video of one of Dan's take-off on YouTube, as well as other pictures and short videos of Tom's realized wish on my Picasa album. As for our wish? That Tom heals quickly, please!!

Flying Oregon

With our trip down to the Monterey County, we could not attend the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) West Region championships held in Stanford this year. Like all the observers, I'm really impressed with the winning time of Galen Rupp: 27:41 for a 10K ran on a golf course, and a 50-second gap on the second runner. Granted, Galen is top class, a 2008 Olympian! Oregon is really a great source of distance elite runners, no wonder why they also excel in ultra (Hal Koerner, Todd Braje, Erik Skaggs, Dan Olmstead, Lewis Taylor, Jeff Browning, Ian Torrence, Sean Meissner, Susannah Beck, Kami Semick, Prudence L'Heureux, ...).

You can read more about the preformance of the locals on the Stanford Cardinal's web site. Good luck to all at the Nationals on November 24! Sweet speed dreams in the meantime...

Is that all?

Oh no! This weekend was also Javelina Jundred in Arizona and Ultracentric in Texas (Tony Mangan won the 48h race with 202 miles, or 202 laps...). And of course thousands of other running stories around the Planet... When hobbies and sport contribute to building a peaceful and more united World.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Two hearts: a new birth!

What an intriguing title for a runner, isn't it? Indeed, although it may get handy to push the pace, I am not going to announce the transplant of a second heart, at least not literally. But, figuratively speaking, Agnès, the boys and I got a second heart on Friday, when taking the oath and becoming US citizens!
Technically speaking, we do have dual citizenship as both countries recognize the concept. While taking the oath, I was not sure about this aspect of the process as it is clear that, as US citizen, the text makes no concession to allegiance to any other country, state, sovereignty or kingdom. However, and thanks to the infinite content available on the web, I found this interesting document clarifying our position: Citizenship Laws of the World (233 pages as it lists most of the countries in the world with their position on dual citizenship in particular). What a surprise for me to discover so many countries which do not recognize dual citizenship, at least 100 of them! Thomas Friedman wrote The World Is Flat, but the world is still very fragmented and has many intricacies for real global citizens. I knew about the case of China (not recognizing), and Germany which somehow relaxed the rule a few years ago. But I was surprised to find India, Spain, Japan, Singapore, and Belgium for instance in the list of the countries excluding this concept form the constitution. It actually makes a lot of sense to avoid the ambiguity of accepting two (or more...) sovereigns, and the potential associated legal incompatibilities. However, at the age of information age and global trade, reasonable treaties could handle such situations. Furthermore, having to deal with the authority of two people or entities simultaneously is not so infrequent; for instance, children and their parents or, in the corporate world, employees reporting into a matrix organization (e.g. IBM...).

Anyway, I am very glad that my two countries, France and the Unites States of America, are friends enough to recognize this dual citizenship concept, bilaterally. That likely made the oath ceremony of this week less poignant for me since I was not losing my French citizenship, as opposed to what must have happened to many of my new compatriots given the diversity of the audience. Yet, it was quite emotional to go through this new birth, in the words of the master of our ceremony. At least for us, it was a birth on one side, and not a death on the French citizenship side.

And how does all this relate to running, the theme of my blog? Well, it does to some extent since I now have the opportunity to represent both nations, two nations which are very strong in the area of running and ultra running in particular. Ok, granted, I am not in the league of elites which would make a difference by bringing a medal at worldwide events. More modestly for me, it means though that I can now participate to national championships in the US. I may even be able to enter both French-citizen and non-European-citizen lotteries at UTMB, at least until they figure out this loophole...! As you see, not a big deal, citizenship is not much a criteria in our sport of ultra running where the most important is camaraderie, pleasure and exploring our own personal limits and capabilities.

As illustrated by this old flag of 1781 representing the French Alliance, I pledge to be an active part of the multicultural richness of America, while perpetuating the long lasting friendship between France and the USA.
Starting with commemorating a common milestone in our countries' history: November 11 1918, the Armistice marking the end of World War I. The date is a bank holiday in both countries, called Veterans Day in the US (in France we have another day commemorating our veterans and the end of WWII in particular, May 8th). One generation only later, the American soldiers were back to Europe to free Normandy, including the small town of Trévières, which my grandfather was the mayor of (pictured here with American soldiers in August 1944 - See more details in one of my previous posts).
See also the France Will Never Forget website including the following June 2007 video:

So many gave their life to preserve Freedom, I wish the world finds more peaceful ways to do the same and expand this right to all nations. One of the many challenges Barack Obama will have to address in his coming appointment.
[Photo from AP Photo by Rémy de la Mauvinière - Colleville-sur-Mer, 6-Jun-2007]