Sunday, March 28, 2010

More trail maintenance, with the Striders

If you read last week's post, this is a continuation of my story about maintaining our huge backyard and the amazing network of hundreds of miles of trails which we are spoiled with. Another day with a perfect Californian Spring weather, sunny, with cool temperatures in the early morning quickly raising in the sixties. And a great company with my other running club, the Stevens Creek Striders, and Greg who joined the group to clock some volunteer hours for his newly appointment to the National Honor Society, following the foot steps of Max and Alex.
The group gathered as usual at the lower parking of Stevens Creek Park at 8:30. I ran from home up there with Greg on his bike. Peter gave the President's briefing while Peggy ran to the end of the REI trail to meet with the Ranger at the Sycamore Group Area. I ran to the parking lot on the road with Greg as I didn't want to leave him by himself on this busy and dangerous Stevens Creek Canyon Road. A road which would be the cycling paradise if it was not for the cars and trucks going up and down and cutting the turns or double yellow lines. See below for more on this topic...
After meeting Ranger Bob and each of us picking one of the many tools he brought in his big truck, we went on the Lookout Trail and started working shortly after 9. It was great to see Tom (Kaisersatt) joining us and walking with us to the bottom of Lookout Trail. With a group of about 18 adults, a few hours were enough to take good care of this trail and leave it really clean by noon. I came this morning thinking that I would avoid any job close to poison oak but I could not refrain from getting in the bushes to cut the long poisonous branches along the nearby trees. Why was I so afraid of poison oak this morning? Because, after last week's episode at Almaden, my body has been covered with itchy eruptions, on the ankles, legs, waist and arms. So annoying that it perturbed my few hours of sleep as I woke up several times over the week scratching these itchy plaques. That was so different from my first encounter with poison oak at Miwok three years ago that I initially thought it was some food poisoning. Until Pierre-Yves contacted me last night and told me the same exact story happened to him... So, I was looking forward to this symptom to disappear after a week but, after all the work in the poison oak again this morning, I may had "signed" for another week...
Please make sure to check my Picasa album with 60 pictures and some comments, to see the whole group at work and in particular how Peter mastered the art of leveling the trail with a McLeod (which Ranger Bob taught us about, as being a tool mainly used by firefighters). Certainly, this is a great tool for trail maintenance as I could experience for 7 hours last week at Almaden. From the top of Lookout, we also had great views over the hills and the Garrod Farms.
Ranger Bob was really happy with the work accomplished this morning and thought the group was really cool. Peter reassured him that we can do it again.

A big thank you to Peggy for organizing this Club activity. It is so great to have the opportunity to help out right in our backyard, instead of driving for more than an hour as I did one day to Mount Diablo (a great trail maintenance memory with Tom actually).
Greg and I left the empty parking shortly after noon. I stopped several times along the way to take pictures of the wonderful views of the full reservoir.
I also stopped at the place of the tragic accident in which a patrolling Sheriff killed 2 cyclists from San Francisco. The two cyclists had just turned 30 and it is sad to think their life ended so soon, because a car missing a turn and driving on the other side of the road. Between Montebello, Mount Eden and Stevens Creek Canyon roads, and the connection with Foothill Expressway, this is a amazing place to bike as you can tell by the many cyclists coming on weekends. They just have to be very careful with the cars because many drivers don't really pay attention and there is a lot of traffic. Ride safely out there. Or enjoy the well maintained trails!
12 miles this Saturday morning, 57 miles during the week after the 29 miles of last Sunday, 23 miles this Sunday morning, a good mileage although some slow miles as the amount of sleep hasn't increased much yet with very long working days (and mornings, and evenings...). Speaking of speed, I attended the last days of Syrous' 12-week boot camp at De Anza College, invited by my friends Bob and Monique. Super intensive session starting at 5:30 am, tough after running 29 hilly miles the previous day. But always good to push out and hard!

Next week the whole family will run the Big Bunny Fun Run in Cupertino, "just" 5K. Alex will be with us indeed, thanks to a 10-day break from his very exciting Congressional Page program in DC, in particular being in the eye of the current health care reform storm.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A huge backyard to enjoy, and maintain!

I am rich. Well, with a backyard of several hundreds of acres, I feel rich. I even feel blessed to be able to run tens of miles right in my backyard! Granted, these acres and trails are not mine but we are not that many to use and enjoy them so they feel like. And, although I don't own them per se, I owe to get involved in their preservation and maintenance.

I already posted on the wonderful work of POST (POST: developing Silicon Valley's green wealth) which we contribute to, financially. This Saturday, I joined several of my Quicksilver club mates to do trail maintenance at Almaden Quicksilver Park. Next week, Gregoire will join me and that will be the turn of my other club for some trail maintenance at Stevens Creek County Park. And, this Sunday, I did a long run to enjoy my... backyard. Here are short reports.

Trail maintenance at Almaden Quicksilver 

This Saturday morning was yet another morning where my watch got me out of a good and deep sleep before 7 am. It was time for a quick breakfast before driving down to San Jose, to the Almaden Quicksilver County Park (see map). We went to bed late again, not because of work this time but to enjoy the premiere of Charlie Brown at Cupertino High School. Max is Snoopy, Charlie Brown's philosophical and smart pet dog, a role which suits him very well. Two more representations next weekend if you live in the area and have missed it (Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm).

We were supposed to meet at the Webb Canyon entrance but I was 3 minutes late so I had to rush up the steep trail to find the rest of the group. A small group composed of 2 of my RhoQuick running team, Adam and Pierre-Yves, and the organizer/coordinator, Michael, and another volunteer and member of the Quicksilver running club, Andy. Mike gave us some tools and here off we were on the New Almaden Trail. Pierre-Yves and I teamed up to work on the upper section, starting at the Prospect #3 trail, while Adam, Mike and Andy were working on a section damaged by all the streaming water of the past weeks.
We worked really hard for 6.5 hours non stop, cutting and tearing off hundreds of poison oak branches, widening the single track trail to make it at least 3 feet wide, removing grass and rocks from the trail. We saw a few hikers and runners, most of them thanking us for the work we were doing and the improvement to the trail, while a few others were probably thinking we were from a nearby prison and doing some community service as they didn't even thank us (I couldn't believe it). Unless they were upset that we were actually working on the trail of they prefer hiking through the poison oak...
Anyway, it felt really good to give back to these trails which give us so much pleasure either for training or racing (we go by this trail on the Quicksilver 50K/50M in May). The ground was still a bit wet and soft, in perfect condition for doing such maintenance, not too muddy, not too hard. Overall I was really tired, more tired than running 50K last weekend, especially my upper body, back and arms, and my hands were cramping. But I was amazed by the work we did, just the 5 of us in this long morning, yet realizing that there is so much more to do in the area. It is really a huge backyard to maintain and I was happy to contribute locally. Last time I did trail maintenance was on Mount Diablo, teaming with Tom Kaisersatt. I certainly prefer local opportunities rather than having to drive for an hour to trails which I don't run on, and I look forward to the other opportunity organized by Peggy with the Striders next week (if you can join us, we will meet on Saturday 3/27 at the main parking lot of Stevens Creek Park at 8:30, see website).

Black Mountain Loop

As you can see from the scale, my backyard is large, isn't it? I even have a mountain in my backyard as the elevation chart of this morning's run shows.
And that's only part of it, I can run down to the Pacific from these mountains on the Skyline to the Sea trail for instance. I ran 29.5 miles this morning, from my house. Went through Stevens Creek Park to see the reservoir which has been full for several weeks now (yippee!). Like the Annual Diocesan Appeal (ADA) at Church where every dollar above the goal comes back to the parish, all the water collected by the reservoir goes into our city creeks now!
I passed a few cyclists going up Montebello Road yet was passed by one super fast mountain biker, that's unusual! ;-) The Bay was still under the fog and it was great to see Mt. Hamilton, Mission Peak and Mt. Diablo emerging in the distance. I reached the top of Black Mountain in quite a good time (1:37, 11 miles, 2,800 feet) and stopped there to make a 360-degree panorama (click on the picture to enlarge).
I ran or actually flew down the other side and up to the summit of Black Mountain again before going down another route through Rancho San Antonio Park, then Cupertino. 3:55 for 29.5 miles and a cumulative elevation of 4,148 feet, much better than my counter performance at Way Too Cool last week.

From a botanical standpoint, I saw several deers and rabbits, but the most unusual creature was a snake crossing the fire road near the pond in Rancho San Antonio Park. I will let you identify it from this resource page. I'm leaning toward the Racer or Whipsnake, although I'm not sure it had 2 yellow stripes or only one.
So, not sure if it was a Racer, but it was moving quick at least, as you can see in this short YouTube video (Agnès, you can skip it...!).

Form a running perspective, the week has been quite good. It actually started not so well when I tried to run on Sunday, the day after the race. Thank to VeLoyce's massage, the legs felt good but, 300 yards in the run, I had to stop to catch my breath. I felt so old (yikes), I did walk around the block and walked and trotted 1.10 miles at 9:30 min/pace. My shortest run ever I believe. Fortunately, the asthma and inflammation were gone on Monday and I ran a total of 38 miles during the week, even managing to go to the track with Bob on Thursday morning. Almost 68 miles this week, that had not happened for a while!

See more pictures if you are interested about these two activities on my Picasa album.

Have a good week, with some running and exercise hopefully! And if you live or visit the area, feel free to use my backyard, it's yours too! ;-)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Way Too Cool 2010: not completely cool

Too cool: sunny weather, crisp blue sky, outstanding competition, location (Cool), parking, car pooling with the rest of the team, Gary Gellin joining our team, Holly taking pictures during the race with my camera, perfect organization, cool volunteers standing in cool temperatures, meeting with Karl Meltzer, no traffic on the way to Cool (yeah, at 4am... ;-), running this increasingly popular race for the 5th time (and managing to get in!), the Way Too Cool special edition cup cakes, the massage by VeLoyce and his Monsters of Massage crew, the results posted in record time.

Not so cool: waking up at 3 am to drive up to the start, the food at the finish line which doesn't match any of the cheaper races, and, compared with other bad ones in the past, a moderate asthma crisis which slowed down my progression from mile 14 and led to my PW (Personal Worst) at this race...
There is actually something strange with my times at this race with a 15' pattern. In 2008 I PR'ed on the old course with 3:56, close to 4 hours. Last year, 4:14, close to 4:15, on the new and longer course. My first time there, in 2006, I clocked 4:29:50 for my first ultra, quite close to 4:30. The following year I had some asthma and finished in 4:45. So, 4:00, 4:15, 4:30, 4:45, what was left for this year? Certainly not 3:45 on the longer course, with my current little form and training, high fatigue and stress level, more than 17,000 air miles over the past 10 days, and the muddy conditions. Read on to see what happened today.

I picked Adam and Pierre-Yves up on Meridian in San Jose at 4:10 and Mark (Tanaka) on Stoneridge in Pleasanton at 4:40. At that time, there was not much traffic and we got to Cool around 6:30, early enough to get one of the last spots of the first parking (something which never happened to me as I usually drive with Agnès from the Best Western in Auburn later in the morning). It was chilly (36F) but the sun was already dissipating the fog, providing some wonderful views of the country side. We spent some time chatting with other runners and preparing ourselves, trying to get as much heat as possible by staying in the car until the last minute.

As usual with the paved and downhill first two miles, the start was fast. Leor took the lead, followed by ultra elites Max King and Geoff Roes. Both of them had outstanding performances in 2009 and Geoff got the coveted title of Ultra Runner of the Year in 2009. They were followed by Gary Gellin, an ex cross-country champion and cyclist, who switched to ultra recently and joined our team this week (he was running cross-country and road racing with the Aggies, but the Aggies don't have a team competing in ultra). Several other fast runners behind, then I settled for a 6:10 min/mile pace with Victor Ballesteros. We were soon joined by Michael Buchanan and that's how we arrived and cross the first aid station at mile 7 (Hwy 40 crossing). Just before the aid station, in the steep and slippery downhill, Eric Skaden felt and was on the side when we passed him but he said he was ok. I saw him several times afterward as he stopped to fix a shoe issue then lost him around mile 10 (he finished 8th, just above 4 hours).

I was in 15th place before the steep ascent of Brown's Bar and got passed by a handful of runners as I was walking. Near mile 14 my breath started getting shorter and I had to slow down, settling to an average 7:42 pace. I stopped for a couple minutes to the Auburn Lake Trail aid station to catch my breath and refuel then tried to maintain the pace on the loop but had to start walking on some uphills. I was only at mile 17 with 14 to go, not so cool... I kept getting passed by runners and that would not stop until the finish.

Among all the runners who passed me were Pierre-Yves, Mark, Graham Cooper and many that I didn't know. As I was making my way up Goat Hill, I got passed by Kate Evans, doing really great (she will take 3rd of the competitive F30-39 age group) then Tim Twietmeyer, proudly wearing his age on his #51 bib. He was surprised to see and pass me and thought that was the first time that happened but he passed my on this course and American River too when I got asthma in the past. When I reached the Goat Hill aid station, the birthday boy Norm Klein yelled at me: "What are you doing here, you should be 30' ahead..." We were at mile 27, 3:48 in the run and I could barely run even the downhills, much less the uphills. He added nicely: "Are you OK?" and I just had to show my chest for him to understand what was happening as I had a pitiful asthma experience at one of his Helen Klein Classic 50-mile races in November 2008.

The rest of the race was quite boring with a lot of mud, some sliding and mostly walking. I didn't stop on the way back through Hwy 49 crossing and jogged through the station but had to walk again in the uphill to the plateau of Cool. Rick Gaston passed me in the last stretch. It was 4:54 when I passed the "1 mile left" sign and thought that there was no way I now make it under 5 hours. Fortunately, the marking was way off and, thanks to some last resort, I crossed the finish line in 4:58:32, phew! Really a counter performance (73rd overall and 24th in my age group) but at least I finished. And, here we are, the missing 15' in my collection (4:00, 4:15, 4:30, 4:45, 5:00). With that, I'm not sure I want to come back next year and be left with the choice of 5:15 or 3:45... ;-)

Three other runners made in under 5 hours, including fellow runners John Burton and Mike Topper, then the first runner to come after 5 hours got a nice Montrail jacket. I already got one at Miwok last year because I was suffering hypothermia, so I'm actually glad I was on the other side of the 5 hour mark. See the complete results on the Capitol Road Race website. I think there were 550 registrants and the page shows 472 finishers. And, to my surprise, this is not a record according to Stan Jensen's statistics which show higher numbers for 1999, 2001, 2002 and 2003! The race was won by Leor to his surprise because he though he was behind Geoff. But Geoff went off course and, the time for him to come back on the course, took only third behind Max. Gary clocked an amazing 3:54 and took 4th overall, first M40-49! Victor took 6th and was the last one under 4 hours this year (they were 11 last year, for the new course inauguration).

I got my traditional massage from VeLoyce, who is going so deep in the muscles that it's painful but really efficient to get all the toxins out of the fibers. I slowed down and walk so much today that I was able to keep the asthma and lung irritation under control and only cough upon taking full breaths tonight. (Photo credit: Mark Tanaka)
Thank you to all the volunteers for helping us on the course and at the start and finish lines in the cold. Thank you to all the runners from the back of the pack who let us pass on our way back from ALT2, this is so nice of you as you have your own challenge to beat the cut-offs. Hope you were all able to make it back to Cool in the allotted time! Thank you to the spectators and their encouragements, this means a lot. And thank you to Julie Fingar for directing such a competitive and large field with professionalism and so much attention to the details.
Before leaving Cool and to the surprise of my teammates and co-carpoolers, I stopped at the picturesque Cool Feel & Ranch Supply store to buy two bottles of Absorbine (I need to write about this product). There was much more traffic in the afternoon compared to this morning but we had lively discussions in the car about today's race as well as our upcoming ones.
Time to go to bed to catchup a deficit of tens of hours of sleep. Especially as we are losing one hour tomorrow morning for the end of Daylight Saving Time...
PS: a few more pictures on my Picasa album. Thank you Holly for taking pictures at the start, finish and on the course!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Other ultra miles for other non-ultra priorities

What a week, I ran 6.5 miles last week, so no fancy running story or event to recount this time... And, no, I'm not tapering on purpose for Way Too Cool, I'd rather be training hard instead. But more important priorities, both professional and family-related, derailed my plans and led me to fly to France for 2 days there for the funeral of Agnes' dad. Flying 11,200 miles and driving 780 miles over 4 days, with a series of 4-hour nights, that's another sort of ultra but certainly not the "way to coolness..."

Here is the family with Papy last July:

Anyway, thank you for your messages of sympathy and, despite the circumstances, I'm glad that Agnès was able to spend the past two weeks with her family and that we have such supportive families and friends. All my brothers and sisters came which made one rare occasion to all gather around my parents.

I also met Sylvie who, like Mom, is an avid reader of my blog, which she likes for 3 reasons: it makes her practice her English, she likes the parallel between her passion for basketball (she is still playing competitively after almost 40 years), and my pictures make her travel the world (although she and her husband are great travelers too). It's cool to have live feedback from you. And here we are with the four Sézannaises!
I went on for 5,200 more air miles for a business trip to Connecticut this Tuesday, leaving 36 hours after our return from Europe, but still looking very much forward to the Cool party next week. Albeit planning on taking it easy and... cool. If I can... ;-) For a few miles of running at last!