Sunday, September 26, 2010

Trailblazer: again, for a good cause

I ran my first Trailblazer 10K in September 2002 and ran it every year when I was in town, that is a total of 6 times. I missed 2004 because of the French Nationals of Marathon, then 2005 for the competitive Paris-Versailles and 2008 because of Rio del Lago 100-mile. Last year I even managed to run the 10K on Sunday, following a 2nd-overall finish at the Sierra Nevada Run double-marathon North of Sacramento the day before. So, while I missed ten of the sixteen editions of this race, I'm quite committed to it. For one good reason and good cause: as a Cupertino resident, Stevens Creek is dear to my heart and so is the trail named after it. Since I settled in the Bay Area in 1998, I have trained for thousands of miles at Shoreline while I was working for ILOG, first in Mountain View then in Sunnyvale, before we got acquired by IBM in 2008. That's for the North part of the trail. Then, more than 5 years ago, I joined the Stevens Creek Striders, giving me a strong appreciation of another part of the trail, South of Cupertino, with the dirt side of trail running. I like speed so I still like shorter and flat races although I'm mostly doing ultras nowadays.

Such races are also the opportunity to meet with my original running community, friends and be joined by family members too. Indeed, Agnès and the boys ran a few of these races with me. With Max at Yale, Alex focusing on rowing this season (and College applications) and Agnès who underwent total hip replacement last Wednesday (to hopefully get back to some running in one year!), it was Greg's turn to enroll in the 5K.

2 weeks after my great performance at Rio del Lago 100-mile, and one week before trying to improve my PR on the half-marathon in San Jose, I did not have precise expectations for this year's 10K. When Race Director Aaron called the fastest runners to get at the front of the pack to get prepared, he called for 6 min/mile runners and my neighbor, Magnus Wiklund asked "what about the 5 min/mile runners?" Not knowing him I thought that was going to be quite a fast and competitive edition, especially as he told me he was 43 and that Jose Pina just turned 40 this year. However, I was surprised to see Jose not only wearing a warm cotton t-shirt but standing on the other side of the starting corral then indicating to me he was not running. Not seeing a Kenyan or Ethiopian runner among ourselves, I thought I had a chance to place again.

My running buddy Bob was here as I suggested that would be a good tune-up for our upcoming San Jose Rock'n'Roll half-marathon next weekend. He was already sweating after  what appeared to be an active warm-up, as the temperature was still below 70F. Anyway, Aaron send us off and we did start quite fast as my Garmin 205 indicated 4:56 at the first turn, phew! The usual suspects were just behind with a surprise, a tall and slim woman who, as I discovered at the finish line, is one of the top American elite on marathon this year, Brooke Wells.
I got through the second turn at 5:12 min/mile which is a faster pace than my best repeat miles this year. I did not check who was following me and just decided to keep pushing. I covered the first mile in 5:21 then passed the 2-mile mark still at 5:25 min/mile average pace, and down to 5:27 min/mile by mile 3. At this point I turned back and could only see Brooke behind, nobody else. I thought that I was not going to let a gal pass me (Greg shared after wards that he thought that was very sexist and conservative...!) and kept pushing to keep the same pace for the next three miles. While I passed the finish line with my GPS indicating that 5:27 min/mile pace, the GPS had a distance of 6.31 miles instead of the standard 6.2 miles, so I got credited with a 5:32 min/mile pace in the results (time of 34:25). Not my fastest time on 10K (my 6th best out of 33 10K races), but good enough for first overall, my second overall win here and my second... Xbox! Greg did not push nearly as much this morning as I did but was thrilled to get such an upgraded game station, not as much as Agnès upon our return home (although she had a good laugh about the story).

Anyway, Brooke took second overall in 35:31, followed by Bob in 37:31. Brooke has already run a 2:40 marathon this year, qualifying herself for the next US Olympic Marathon Trials. She is going to run Chicago in two weeks shooting for an A-standard (2:39:00 or below). I wished her best of luck. In the meantime, I'll be running the San Jose Half next week, then FireTrails 50-mile the following week. No, the season is not quite over yet, we are having too much fun.
Between the kids race which highlighted promising future talents (really), the age span of this even is quite remarkable. Before the start I put the timing chip on the shoes of Glenn Sievert who, at 84, had never seen such chips before. He shared with me a laconic "I feel I'm going to be the oldest guy here again..." As he is almost twice my age, I can relate how age can count in performance when Brook is 21 years younger than me. Yet, I'm still working hard at defying the aging process with a few PRs this year again... ;-) Then, I met my ex team mate Bill Dodson, 73, who, after trying to do the same double-race than I did last year (he was going for the double marathon at Sierra Nevada yesterday but stopped at No Hands Bridge), decided to run the 5K barefoot. Which is successfully did in 26:56 without any blister.
See other pictures of the 10K finishers in my Picasa album. Anita Yee has also covered the event with very nice pictures. And the organizers will publish pictures too on the race photo album (soon).

I continued the day with our South Bay running communities to celebrate Tom Kaisersatt's life with a very special picnic, as Tom left us a couple of weeks ago. Check this other story out, it was a busy weekend, ending up in two blog posts for the same weekend.

Was good to see all of you out there to have fun while supporting the Stevens Creek Trails. A special thank you to the generous sponsors and the many volunteers and Friends of the Stevens Creek Trail which made this event possible and work so hard to build trail extensions so we can one day run from the top of Black Mountain (2,800 feet) to Shoreline and Palo Alto Baylands (sea level) without crossing any car traffic. Or the other way for the most courageous and other crazy ultra runners...

Tom: thank you again, thank you always!

Tom, since I got to know you through our Stevens Creek Striders running club, five years ago, your kindness, support to others and passion for all the forms of running has never stopped to amaze me. And, certainly as the weekend showed, many others as well. You are not physically with us anymore but the way you left us is no less amazing. Since I heard about your sickness in 2008, every time I saw you was a highlight in my life or my run and I felt lucky to see you one more time, still always afraid it was going to be the last one. I was so thrilled to see you again at the start of Ohlone in May, volunteering with Stan Jensen. And even more to see you at Last Chance in June on my way to Auburn. It was so special and comforting to receive from you a piece of your grilled cheese sandwiches before plunging again the in the inferno of the canyons.
Saturday morning memorial was both moving and inspiring, between the eulogies of some of your dearest friends and colleagues and the powerful homily of your sister. No doubt you were among us with your usual care for all of us. And not just us present, but the broad community you touched and inspire through your rich life. I learned a lot about you and in particular your special relationship with Eric. I know you will be crewing for and pacing him for all his upcoming races, from above. He has the same fire than yours in his eyes and will soon follow your steps on the Western States trail! Eric is right, he is lucky to have had you as his father even if the relationship took some time to blossom.
The other highlight of your life memorial was Lew (Cramer)'s performance. Only a close friend and so engaged San Jose Fitter could mix so many memories and so much intimacy, emotion, drama and fun into a single eulogy! Lew came to the podium wearing a suit and tie and we were all wondering how his speech will turn out as he started pulling off both his tie and shirt... He was wearing underneath the finisher t-shirt of his first marathon which you helped him complete when Lew thought he was done by mile 23. Then he peeled off one more layer to uncover a Western States volunteer t-shirt to recount your ten finishes at Western States, for the coveted 1,000-mile buckle! Then another layer to uncover the bright yellow Team Tom t-shirt which we were wearing when we helped you finish your 2008 staged San Jose marathon.
Finally, and it was already a lot of layers for an afternoon during which the temperature went over 95F, another custom-made "Heaven Fit 09.09.10" t-shirt, a very special memorial edition. Tom, thank you for working with Lew on preparing this celebration of both your lives, the one on Earth and the one in Heaven!
Following the memorial, I asked Peggy what I could bring to the picnic this Sunday and she replied: "oh no, Tom has taken care of everything!" Tom, you again? So you really had planned everything, like you were for each of your ultras! Your friends did an amazing job to keep the spirit up with this "Tom's Fun Run" at a wonderful place in Campbell (Edith Morley Park, you know ;-) which looked like a piece of Heaven on Earth, all filled with joy and camaraderie, with you in our minds. The walk loop was short, yet included one aid station. Each participant got a special and official bib number and even a yellow water bottle. Then, like 100-yard markers, or the stations of the cross, we were reminded of you with some of your most famous thoughtful, humorous and wise quotes, the Tom-isms. (Tom, if you have Internet access, click on the picture below to enlarge it, and have fun with these pieces of wisdom you left us with!)
Tom, thank you again for your contagious love for running and pushing the limits, your passion for technology, cars, speed, flying, your smile, your fight against cancer, your life. They are all inspiration to us and we are lucky to have you watching over all of us. To Keep the Rubber Side Down...

PS: not that you need more pictures now, but for other readers who could not join us for this special weekend, check my Picasa photo album (memorial and picnic).

PPS: I heard that the ultra party is not over with more events to come such as your ashes being dispersed at your memorial bench on the Los Gatos Creek Trail, then at Last Chance next June. With that we should have plenty of volunteers to man our aid station in 2011!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Quicksilver Half Marathon: on the other side

No, I did not succumb to the temptation of running another race this weekend! I did better, I drove to a race, volunteered at the start (parking lot and goody bags) and took pictures of all the runners going out on the first hill. See my Piacasa photo album. To be honest, I actually drove twice to the start, first on Saturday morning, with Greg who was going to volunteer too, to find the door closed. It is not the first time that happens to me, being so used to races on Saturdays. I even called Adam who replied with a "Dude, it's tomorrow!" At least I did not wake him up as he was on his way to place 2nd at the PCTR Woodside 10K, one week after dropping from Wasatch 100 with a swollen ankle...
Race Director, the very same Adam Blum and Rhomobile CEO, did a great job of organizing this event on behalf of our Quicksilver of San Jose Running Club. It is his third year, although there has been some adjustments with the format, now down to two distances: a 10K and a Half Marathon, both hilly and on trails. About 150 runners registered which is great for such a local trail event, at the periphery of San Jose. I left after the first 15 runners finished the 10K and didn't see if teammate Gary (Gelin) broke last year's course record. I'm sure high-tech Adam will post the results quickly tonight or tomorrow morning on the Club website.
This park is wonderful and offers just the right amount of parking at the Hacienda entrance, making the logistics very easy. I already wrote a few stories about the Quicksilver Park, check them out! Here is "referee Pierre-Yves Couteau", proudly wearing his Rio Del Lago t-shirt from last week's 100-miler.
It was great to see you all running this morning. After last week's 100-miler, I just ran 6 flat miles on Friday and 14 miles on Saturday with my fellow Striders (my other running club, the Stevens Creek Striders of Cupertino). I'll work on speed this week before my upcoming race.

If you enjoy speed or just being out there and supporting the trails, please consider running or walking the Trailblazer 5K or 10K in Mountain View (Microsoft site) next Sunday morning!

Also, while I'm on local announcements, we will celebrate Tom Kaisersatt's life at the Queen of the Apostles Church of San Jose, next Saturday morning (September 25) at 9 AM. Please consider joining us if you live in the South Bay Area.

Run Happy!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Rio del Lago 2010: several steps further into the ultra world

In Japanese, "Sen ri no ko, mo so ka ni, ajimaru" means "A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step." With the project of settling in Japan back in 1989 (instead of California!), Agnès and I studied Japanese for one year and we used this Asian philosophical quote and piece of wisdom on the menu of our wedding banquet to tell our friends and family we were in together for the long... run! Although we were both running occasionally at the time, our running paths diverged with her hip issues (she is going for total replacement in 10 days) and I, now running for two as she teases me. But Agnès has always been on my side for major races and she actually planned her surgery to make sure she could crew for me at Rio del Lago this month. Planning has its limits however with all the imponderables and hiccups that life and destiny have for all of us. After losing her dad last March, Agnès had to fly to France again in an emergency, this time for her mom who was hospitalized last Tuesday. Max is now settled in New Haven (or heaven, it's hard to tell the difference!) on the East Coast, Alex had rowing practice on Saturday and Greg, volley-ball, and not driving anyway, so that meant I was on my own for the first time on a 100-miler, "the way it should be anyway" Norm (Klein) told me before the start on Saturday morning. But this new experience was not my only step further in the ultra world: no crew, no pacer, very limited pre-race planning and focus, uneven pace, challenging sodium level management, meeting with the Kleins and Gordy Ainslegh, my first IV, these are some challenges or events which got me closer to the original ultra world this past weekend. Or the true and real ultra world for some. Sometimes I feel that I'm getting more proficient at this sport but, as we say, "The more you are expert, the less you know..." (meaning, the more you  know about something, the more you realize how much more there is to learn).

By the way, the major issue with the authentic no-crew approach is that it deprives us from the crew taking pictures of other runners as I still do not carry a camera when racing seriously. Another step to make for me, like Scott Dunlap or Chihping Fu have done numerous time. Thus I just have a few pre and post-race pictures in Picasa. Some of which I may add to this post later with more time.

The path to the race

I just mentioned little planning before the race but I actually took the decision to run Rio del Lago right after running Western States 10 weeks ago. When I started running seriously and thinking about running a marathon back in 1998, my sister and most trusted medical doctor advised me not to run more than one or two marathons a year. With an average of 12 ultra races a year for the past 4 years, and many more ultra runs for training, I am way off the chart, yet I thought that one 100-miler a year was enough for me. However, while many would give a lot to run Western States under 22 hours, I was disappointed by only placing 52nd this year, despite the increased competition and therefore decided to give it another try this month. I registered by mail, got an email confirmation, sent the medical form and forgot about it. So much that Agnès had to rush to get a hotel room, two weeks ago, while we usually plan for Western States months ahead. Thankfully, this race is not as popular as the legendary Western States and there are quite some options in the Sacramento area for lodging. A couple of days before the race, I also contacted my running team, Rhomobile/Quicksilver, for carpooling arrangements and posted a few messages to check potential pacing options without any luck for the latter.

Coach Greg (Lanctot), from our ultra running team, picked me up on Friday and we arrived mid-afternoon at the Cavitt High School gymnasium for the pre-race medical check and briefing. Because I had not registered online, I was not on the entrants list and got assigned the last bib of the 100-mile "batch", that is 98. There were about 30 other participants on the 50K. A few familiar faces as usual, but also many people I did not know, which illustrates the increasing popularity of our sport. Popularity which is also illustrated by the number of new races popping up across the country and around the world. When I started running ultra races in 2006, I kind of remember that the number of 100-milers in North America as tracked by Stan Jensen's on his website crossed the 40 threshold. Last week, I saw that Stan has now 85 100-mile races listed! That is a lot and comes with pros and cons. On one side it gives everybody an opportunity to run one, with some events filling up so quickly or with very competitive lottery systems. On the other, such events demand a lot of preparation and volunteer support, and this represents a stretch for a community which is not that large yet. Not to mention some real "hard core" ultra runners who do not like the increased popularity as they see it as a threat of the original roots of individual challenge and self-sufficiency...

Anyway, with such a small to medium size field, the pre-race check-in process was fast and we were all ready to hear the briefing from the new race directors, Molly Sheridan and Jimmy Gabany. Indeed, after a hiatus in 2009, Norm Klein passed the management hat to Desert Sky Adventures (DSA). Actually, as you will see below, the management of such an event is so demanding especially on D-day that Helen (bio) explicitly asked Norm, her husband, to stop being the race director, only allowing him to keep managing the race in her honor, the Helen Klein Running Classic (30K, 50K and 50-mile). While not directing, Norm and Helen still play an enormous role in this event that they designed in and out, including the design of the course as finishers are reminded with an inscription on the newly designed belt buckle.
After Molly and Jimmy covered the necessary details about the weekend agenda, the aid station spread and the course marking for instance, Molly presented to Norm and Helen a commemorative plate for the management hand-over. Then Norm took the mic (figuratively) to pass some key messages. First that, based on real life and picturesque examples, he will never let anyone quit. Second, reminding us that he had the second edition of this race run 4 days after the tragic 9/11/2001 and, as we were going to run on the anniversary run, that 9/11/2010, he asked us to reflect on the luck we all have in our lives compared to others. He then picked half a dozen participants to share more anecdotes with this "ultra" audience, and sent us for a good sleep before the race.

Five out of six representatives from our Rhomobile/Quicksilver running team had dinner together at Past Pomodoro, at Johnson Ranch on Douglas Boulevard, half way between the Cavitt school and the race "headquarters" hotel (Orchids Suites on North Sunrise). Apart from the joyful atmosphere and mood of our group, the pasta portions were not big enough for my pre-race carbo-loading and I had to ask for some refill. There may be more generous places around, let me know for next time!
We were to reconvene at 5AM on Saturday morning in the gymansium for a last briefing (hydrate, hydrate, hydrate, and eat!) and final check-in, but the latter was replaced with the use of computer-based timing chips and all of us passing on the mat at the start. The race started promptly at 6AM, before sun rise.

From the start to Cardiac

I was leading the charge as we left the school and, in the dark, missed the passage through the fence, leading the front runners a few yards into a dead-end. Pierre-Yves teased me and said it was not a good start... One of the runners had a headlamp and I let him pass on the trail up to the levee. After a few turns, two of us followed him, with the other runner actually telling us the way to get at some intersections. We were not a mile in the race, in an easy section and would have gone off course if it was not for this runner familiar with the course. I should also be familiar with this section which is shared between Sierra Nevada Run and American River, but I get confused between these races and, besides, paying more attention to my foot step, especially in the dark, I am really not good with directions (2 years ago I was following course record holder Jon Olsen and we all went off course at the beginning, not to mention Chikara Omine around mile 15 or Michael Kanning in Auburn, so it is definitely a hard course to sufficiently mark).

The three of us went through Twin Rocks (4.15 miles) without stopping, just saying Hi to Dave Combs as we were cruising at an aggressive 7:57 min/mile pace. I had just found out that the two others were actually on the 50K, and let one pass ahead to make sure I was not pushing myself too hard at the beginning. Of course, I like this pace so I got caught up with the fun of speed and our pace actually gradually went down (or up, effort-wise!) to 7:47 before hitting the rocky steps leading to Horseshoe Bar (mile 10). After checking it was not the last aid station before Cardiac, I didn't stop at this aid station either, but at the nearby one, less than 2 miles away, Rattlesnake Bar. While doing quick refill of my water and GU2O bottles assisted by David whose wife, Cynthia, was attempting her first 100, the second 50K runner passed through without stopping and I caught him up a few miles later as he was working on his shoes at the Power Plan water drop before Cardiac. He followed me again and I asked if he would consider pacing me during the evening but he replied "sorry, I would love to, but I'm not available." I made the same request to the lead 50K runner after he had just turned around at mile 15.5, as he indicated he was going to run 100 miles over the weekend, but got the exact same response. I tried... Based on the results, the front runner was no less than ultra elite Leigh Schmitt who has for instance won several of the Vermont events (50-mile, 100K and even Vermont 100 in 2004). He ran the return even faster to take first place in 3:52 or 7:29 min/mile pace. Our improvised and local guide was Gerell Eliott, from Folsom, and took second in 4:27.

After they both turned around, I continued alone and reached the new and temporary aid station at the bottom of Cardiac at an average pace of 8:17. The volunteers were still setting up the table and were surprised to see me coming, more so to see me gig through without stopping and running the steep hill... I only walked the last switch backs to go over some roots. It was not even 9 AM and, between the strenuous effort and the rising temperature, I got a good sweat before reaching the top and the wonderful section along the canal before and after Maidu. My average pace at the top of Cardiac had come down to 8:34 and only shave a couple of seconds before getting to the Auburn Dam Overlook station, barely stopping at Maidu.

Cardiac to K2 and Cool

I was really happy to see Jerry Hill welcoming me at the Dam Overlook. Jerry is a Friend of the Western Trail based on many ties with the event. Not only has he run it, but he spent countless hours volunteering, many of them as the Captain of the Last Chance aid station manned for 30 years or so and still helping before, during and after the race each year. Now, Jerry looked concerned and, indeed, informed me about Tom Kaisersatt who passed away last Wednesday. Although I knew well enough how serious Tom's conditions were, I was devastated and had hard time focusing on what to do at this aid station, mile 23, where I had my first drop bag. Jerry was officiating the medical checkpoint and noticed that my weight was down from 132 to 125 or so but, in the mist of the news, said it was ok. I left the aid station not really in the run and actually cried for the next mile to the point that I had trouble seeing. Tom has done so much for our community, for the Stevens Creek Striders, for the San Jose Fitters, inspiring hundreds of runners achieving a marathon goal or actually going beyond, experiencing the joy of ultra running world. He was always smiling even when suffering so much from his lung cancer, always upbeat and encouraging others, and still showing up to volunteer at races such as Ohlone in May (see the first picture of my race report, with Stan Jensen) or Western States in June. I was so happy to see him at Last Chance, cooking his famous grilled-cheese sandwiches, that I stopped to hug him, and take one piece for the run down to the canyons of course! It was so unexpected to see him in such a remote place, with his limited breathing ability he made his own ultras to just walk to these volunteering opportunities who kept him close to the running community which was his passion. He taught me many tips about trail maintenance when we worked together on Mount Diablo.
As I wrote the day before Western States, I ran for Tom this year. Walking slowly, Tom joined the Striders for more trail maintenance last March. Every encounter with Tom over the past years were so emotional because he was still so positive, yet we knew it could be the last time. In 2008, his friends and club mates organized a very special event for Tom whose second passion was flying and we offered him a flight on a vintage plane (see Speed though others' dream). Then, in October 2008, a yellow wave carried Tom to the finish of the San Jose marathon which he completed in stages after a major chemo. I am so thankful to have known Tom and experienced his generosity which touched so many of us runners in the Bay Area especially. People were so touched by his fight against cancer that they had already offered a bench in his honor on the Los Gatos Creek Trail, which Tom himself inaugurated. My tears were filled with both sadness of seeing Tom  leaving our running "fraternity" and joy of knowing he was now liberated from such a pain in an ultra which did not seem to have a possible positive ending. For the past three years I'm thinking of Tom every time I put on my Livestrong wrist band when racing and ask for his guidance through my lows. He must have been so happy to see four Striders becoming ultra men (or rather ultra women for Penny, Peggy and his dearest Christina) while raising money through Team in Training (TnT). There is still so much to do to find cures for all the cancers undermining our lives...
As you can see, many memories came back as I was flying down the Western States section down to the famous No Hands Bridge (after the challenge of galloping on a horse on the bridge without holding the reins). And, to the risk of Agnès complaining my posts are too long, this event was an important emotional one of my run. And it is the minimum I can write at this time about this "saint." With that, I was certainly paying less attention to hydration. As a matter of fact, I got my water bottle refilled at Overlook with ice water, but did not like the taste at all, so took as little as possible and drinking more from the GU2O bottle. I changed water at No Hands and, thankfully, that water had no taste this time. Took a GU and some potato dipped in salt plus a piece of banana and rushed onto the second of three steep hill of the day, the local training hill called K2. Only 1.25 miles long but gaining about 1,000 feet in seven steep sections. I did walk the steepest "walls" but ran what I could, still having in mind the positive image of chasing Jon Olsen two years ago and even passing Chikara. Needless to say, being at the front, I had no idea about how others were doing behind and just wanted to get as much of the tough miles done before the hottest part of the day. From 8:30 at the bridge, my pace went down to 8:54 min/mile as I reached the Olmstead loop. Without any traffic yet at the station, the few volunteers were helpful and presented me my second drop bag from from which I just picked a pouch of GU2O powder. I also got my bandana refilled with ice before getting on the exposed and rolling loop from and back to Cool (the start of the famous Way Too Cool 50K, every March).

The loop has no major difficulty, yet is not flat either but a constant roll up and down, most of it with no shade at all. My cumulative average pace was oscillating between 8:56 and 9:00, just going up to 9:02 after I stopped to refill my bottles, take a Vespa and eat a bit. I also checked who was behind and, despite the volunteer saying that I should not even think about looking, I was able to see that I had about 15 minutes on bibs number 57 and 27. I knew Sean was 27 but had forgotten to check what Greg's one was (Greg Bomhoff, 2008 winner). That was before the loop during which I basically maintained the pace under 9, so I figured out they were probably closing the gap and kept going, thinking that Greg was really going much faster than what he ran two years ago.

Back to school

From Cool, we go back to No Hands Bridge but using another section than K2. Although it is going down to the river, I was barely able to get the pace down and reached the aid station right on 9:00 min/mile (average since the start, that is over 40 miles). Just as I was leaving Cool after my loop up there, I had seen Pierre-Yves cruising in after K2. And, from the bridge, I was now crossing the tail of the pack, receiving nice encouragements from most of the runners and trying to return the compliment when not out of breath while pushing up the hill (4 miles). On one high step over a root, I was trying to hurry to let two runners come down and got a cramp so bad that I almost felt backward if it was not for catching branches on the side of the trail. At this point, I did walk most of the uphills and my pace came down to 9:17 when I reached Dam Overlook for the second time. Rob Evans was all fired up as he was going to pace Bree who is both on his UltraSignup/Fleet Feet running team and our Quicksilver one for the Pacific Association's Mountain and Ultrarunning Grand Prix. As usual (Rob paced me for my first and best Western Sates in 2007) he said that I was looking strong and that only Sean was behind me and Bree about one hour behind. When I asked about Greg he said "oh yes, there is Greg too." Of course! Little did Rob know about me cramping for the past 10 miles, since mile 30. My goal was now to hold until the school like two years ago. I left the station without taking the water which I thought was not tasting good, and reached Maidu where I did a longer stop to remix more GU2O and get fresh iced water, plus more ice in my bandana. I had been for about 2 minutes at the station when Greg arrived behind, took two large bottles from his crew (I believe his father) and zip, disappeared along the canal. I had not even yet thought about what to eat at the station so I decided to take my time to recharge. I also stopped twice along the canal to splash and refresh my legs, my head and try to remove the salty stains on my top and shorts. Then I calmly went down in the tortuous Cardiac, trying to manage my quads which were badly cramping when going over roots and high steps. With that, I was very surprised to actually still see Greg after I had finished Cardiac indicating that him too must have had some "fun" in the killer switchbacks. Yet, its was going to be a long time before I see Greg again...

The next section to Rattlesnake Bar was long, painful and slow. I was monitoring my average pace (some people, and not just Norm, would say obsessively, and I cannot disagree!) and saw it going up and up finally reaching the 10-minute threshold half way back to Cavitt. I had finished my water bottle when I reached Power Plant (self-aid) and stopped to refill. Surely, would I have had a crew, I would have gone for large bottles at Maidu like Greg (like I did for the Canyons at States). So, when volunteers asked how I was feeling at Rattlesnake, I replied "tired!" But I was also thirsty and somehow not managing well my fluid, electrolyte and sodium intake at this time of the day and the race (mid course).

I kept alternating some walking going uphill and over rocks and jogging in the downhills, hoping over the rocks which was tough for the cramps and kept focusing on the fact that I was still ahead of m overall goal, if only I could maintain a faster pace throughout the night and the easiest section, South of Cavitt. That got me through the next miles, albeit more slowly than I was hoping. At Twin Rocks, while he was refilling my bottles, I asked Dave Combs if he had any advice for the salt, saying that I had already taken more than 16 S!Caps (every 30 minutes after Cardiac because of the heat and excessive sweating). He proposed peanuts. I was thinking about Greg who, as a local fully accustomed to the heat, was hoping the temperature would get higher than the 88F forecast. With the breeze we had through the day, I could not tell if we were above that but learned later from Norm that it went up to 91F. Not as bad as the 100F we had two years ago though.

While keeping moving forward (thankfully not in circle as some like Greg did at night on their way back in this maze of trails!), I passed the last two 50K finishers and I kept looking behind to see if and when Sean will close on me as I kept hearing that he was 15 minutes behind when I was seeing his wife or one of his two pacers at the aid stations. I finally reached the school just before 5 PM (mile 66) and stopped for 10 minutes to get prepared for the night, both taking 2 lights with me (headlamp and belt) and drinking two cups of soup to make up for the lost sodium. Still no sign of Sean though when I was going South on the levee.

Night shift and... sprint

Two years ago, I did not take my lights with me and got caught in the dark in the 5 miles between Negro Bar and Hazel Bluff, slowing down considerably my progression on the trail sections. This year, without a crew, I wanted to be extra cautious and left the school with two lights and despite the bright sun at 5 in the afternoon. After the levee I ran into a guy who was wondering what I was doing with a headlamp and sun glasses. He asked "How much have you been running?" I replied "68 miles" without mentioning that I still had 32 to go... through at least the evening...

The first aid station after the school was manned by friends Lee and Winnie Jebian, from the Bay Area. I asked Winnie for the gap with Greg and she said about 25 minutes. It was only 3 miles since the school but, with the loss of weight, I knew I had to work hard on my hydration and I was drinking as much as possible, therefore having to refill at every station and losing some time every time.

I was looking forward to Negro Bar for some soup but it was still daylight, so the soup was not ready yet. Running the trails in daylight changes completely the game, it was much easier than two years ago for me. The short hill up to Hazel Bluff was tough on the legs but it felt good to get back to the civilization after almost 5 miles at this time of the day. And the station had pizza, what I was dreaming of, although I should have taken cheese only as the peperoni was really hard to swallow and digest. But definitely a great idea to change from my version of solid food for the day, aka potato-dipped-in-salt.

At this point of the race, it is mostly flat going up and down the turn-around of Mountain Lion Knoll. Worth mentioning is the quality and variety of the food at the small Willow Creek aid station. I particularly liked the fresh kiwis and strawberries, but decided to pass on the avocado. I don't know if each station is working on their own menu but I'd give these volunteers a special kudo and 5 stars, with 4.8 stars to Mountain Lion Knoll for the warm welcome at the top of the... knoll. I had crossed Greg before the turn around when my GPS was showing 78.6 miles, that is about 2 miles before the turnaround. At my new consistent pace of 11 minute/mile as I was walking less and less with the nicer temperature and flat terrain, it was about a 45-minute lead already. way out of reach given how strong Greg looked. I had run 14.5 hours and my Garmin 205 indicated 81.4 miles when it ran out of battery, not bad for a single charge, although I wish the battery life doubles soon for such a device. Or maybe it was better this way so I stopped looking at the average pace which had stabilized around 10:25 then. I crossed Sean and Toshi (his second pacer, from the school, his first one, Tom, having covered the Overlook-Cavitt section), and Sean was looking good. Actually, I was also moving reasonably fast. I had left the turnaround 7 minutes ago, so that was still about the same 15-minute gap which seemed to hold since for the past 40 miles. With now 16 miles to go, suspense...

Sean's crew, now Heidi and Tom, were at Hazel Bluff and I asked them to take my drop bag back to the finish as I was not going to use what was inside. I had actually carried my belt lamp all the way without actually needing it as very few sections of the trail were technical, mostly short sections with lose rocks. After Negro Bar, I heard voices and got convinced it was Sean and Toshi, finally..., but couldn't see any light. There were houses not far (the section where we run along a fence, over the cliff going down to the river), so I thought it might have been people on their deck. Still nothing behind when I reached Folsom Dam Park, 3 miles from the finish, this time not taking my chance of stopping to discuss with Lee and Winnie. I was moving quite consistently now, almost not walking and could not believe it when I finally saw two lights closing on me as we were reaching the end of the trail before the last mile on the levee. I had expected that for more than 30 miles now but, getting caught in the last mile, that was tough to swallow. All this time I had thought that between his frustration for not having able to run UTMB this year, his hard work and training, the support he got today with crew and pacers, he deserved to be in front of me. However, based on the popular say that "The race is not over until it is over" I pushed the pace to stay closely behind them, just trying not to "eat" too much dust on the levee and avoiding more cramps. I was less than 10 seconds behind when the passed the final gate at the end of the levee and could not find the trail down to the school. Toshi was convinced that it was on the right where there was glow sticks and Sean could feel it wasn't right and, together we finally rushed in the final downhill and dusty stretch followed by the sharp turns around the fence. We crossed two runners with their pacers, leaving the school for their own night shift, and one told me later that they were wondering what was going on with such a speedy finish. Toshi was still going through the pacer chute when I was in sight of the finish line, a few seconds behind. Since the race was using chip timing, I did not even stop my watch on the line but only after being weighted and my blood pressure taken, at 17:23:54. In 2008 I finished second in 18:45:59, so an impressive improvement and PR. Greg had taken first with an amazing PR too and blazing time of 16:39 versus 17:39 in 2008! Right below 10 minute/mile pace (9:59).
Now, the bad news is that Norm did not like my blood pressure at all, at 80 over 60. I attributed that to this final sprint but that was not sufficient as a justification for him. He and Helen asked me to lay down and the pressure came up to 90 but then down to 84 after 30 minutes or so. After an hour, Norm asked Dan, the physician for the night, to give me an IV, the 5th or 6th of the day! It was a bit frustrating to have put so much effort in finishing before midnight, under 18 hours, yet not being able to get release and get back to the hotel. Not to mention that I did not have a car so I was holding Sean and his crew to go to the same hotel as well. The IV worked as expected and the pressure came up at 110 versus 116 on Friday afternoon, so we were good to go. As we were leaving, I saw the father and pioneer of the Western State Endurance Run, Gordy Ainslegh (see his Wikipedia page, the picture is from me! ;-), who had dropped from the 100-mile race. I started asking more questions and in particular about the fact that he dropped at Robbie Point, at mile 99 at States this year, 1 mile from getting another finish (he has 12 since he started this race in 1974, with 9 sub-24hr). But Norm cut the interview short and urged me to go to bed. Something he could not enjoy himself. Norm, Helen and many other volunteers were up from 4 AM on Saturday and did not leave the gym before 2 PM, ending up in 36 hours without sleeping, not to mention the extreme stress of preparing and running such a demanding event in these conditions. All for our fun of pushing the envelope... And a very nice buckle!
Overall our team did very well given the circumstances (52 finishers out of 98 starters). After Sean and I, Bree battled GI issues through the night, yet won the women race in 19:57 and took 6th overall! She also got an IV... Pierre-Yves cruised and finished in 24:24, deciding not to push as he is now back to working hard on his/a first job. Greg followed with an impressive 25:17 for his first 100-miler after suffering from hypothermia in his first attempt at the distance at the weather-challenging Cascade Crest a couple of weeks ago. Way to go for a runner who jumped from 10K to 50K and for a Football aficionado who taught me some key elements of this other sport on our way back home this weekend! Last but not least, Jim and his legendary and efficient shuffling allowed him to take first in his age group in 26:24, 40 seconds ahead of another of these "French men", René, who got lost on his second 100-miler (30:33 at Headlands Hundred). I actually spoke to René before the race and learned that he only trains with 6 to 7 miles/week. There is potential for improvement, here... Anyway, 6 finishers out of 6, we could not dream of a better outcome for the team, allowing us to score in both the Men and Mixed divisions in the Grand Prix. Way to go, Quicksilver and teammates!


Post-mortem? No, nobody died during the race, phew! But there was certain pain, disillusion, and a lot of suffering from the runners and hard work for the medical crew, Norm (again...) and Dan.
As I mentioned above, not only there are so many 100-mile events now which makes the organization challenging to concentrate the time of the volunteers, but at the same time the expectations increase in terms of quality, especially on the trail marking side. On our way back, I was telling Greg how certain races in Europe have no marking at all so you have to study the directions carefully before and while running and make the right judgment calls. Trail marking is particularly challenging on this course which goes through or close to urban neighborhoods, where non runners can make fun of playing with the markings and ribbons. Speaking of ribbons, Jimmy mentioned that he picked something really cool, reflecting in the night, but that feature did not work at all. Fortunately, there were quite a flew glow sticks out there this Saturday night!

A big thank you to DSA for having taken the challenge of carrying the RDL flag. And to the sponsors for following Molly and Jimmy in this new adventure: ZombieRunner (ordered two insulated Ultimate Direction bottles last week, and 2 DVDs), ModernEyewear (high end sun glasses), Ink n Burn (I won a "Burn or Die" t-shirt at the Sunday raffle, the boys found it cool), DiscoverStretch (I'm in much need as I write this post... ;-).

Last but not least, to all the volunteers who have worked hours before, during and after the race, covering such a distance along the American River. As Jimmy said to us about the organizers "Thanks for coming, there would not be a race without you!" Well, the same very much applies to the volunteers of course!

Next race is in 2 weeks, the Trailblazer 10K to support the Friends of the Stevens Creek Trail, I promise the race report will be much shorter. Need to sleep and work in the meantime... And please consider participating to this fun event if you live in the Bay Area (there is a 5K run and 5K walk too).

Run Happy out there, keeping the souvenir of Tom's smile in your mind!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor Day: how hard are you working on your running?

It is Labor Day today and, while many are enjoying the outdoors and camping for this last long summer weekend, the family is enjoying a quiet time at home to catch-up with... work. No race, just two nice evenings with friends, a movie night with a French movie (Itinéraire d'un enfant gâté from Claude Lelouch with Jean-Paul Belmondo) and a bit of running before taking the week leading to Rio del Lago off.

I wrote my last post on the plane to Austin and did not run for the three days over there. My flight out of Austin was 2-hour late because of a mechanical problem and I ended up in SFO at 1 AM instead of SJC (San Jose) at 10 PM. My first conference call on Friday morning was at 6:30 AM, leaving me with just 4 hours of sleep so I got back to bed for 90 more minutes after my second call and before two others...

As I'm supposed to be tapering before the 100-mile race next week, I stayed in the neighborhood this weekend for some flat, albeit fast, miles. Friday: 12.5 miles @ 6:22 min/mile, Saturday: 9.3 miles @ 6:45, Sunday: 6.2 miles @ 6:57 and this Monday: 9.3 miles @ 6:17. I promise, I will be slower next week on the 100-mile... ;-)

While I was running and pushing harder today, I thought about the "work" aspect of my running, this hobby I call my second job. Like some people say: "No pain, no gain..." which I believe to be true if you want to progress in anything. Not necessarily physical pain, but at least diligent efforts to push the envelope and get you out of your comfort zone. Anyway, I hope that what ever you are up to, you too were able to use this quiet time to "work" on your passion or hobby on this Labor Day. If you did not have to actually work your first job today...

This weekend I also added a dashboard to my running log to track my progress against special milestones. Doing so, I discovered that, today, I ran my 30,000 th kilometer in Brooks shoes. I remember when I celebrated my 10,000 miles in Brooks back in 2007, it is going to be soon 2,000 miles. I am also 96.7% of having 24,902 miles which is the circumference of the Earth at the equator line, an imaginary trip around the World in 2,500 or so stages. Stay tuned for this other celebration! Next week will be my 50 th ultra race, so this other milestone will come first.

Now, guess what we talked about at my friends' on Saturday night? Yes, Black Mountain again (see last week's post)! The two families we had dinner with are familiar with the trails in Rancho San Antonio and, after hearing me praising the 306-degree views from the top of Black Mountain, they now want to extend their run or hike to this newly popular place!

Last but not least, I have a colleague who asked me some running-related questions on Friday night so I thought I'd share the reply with all of you. Here you are for a mini Q&A session, hope it helps. And talk to you after Rio del Lago then. Have a good short week in the meantime!

Q: I see in your pictures that you seem to wear compression shorts... do they help you? what do you like about them? Have you tried compression socks, and if so, what's your experience?

Indeed, I'm using long shorts such as this one from Brooks: Equilibrium CoRe short. But I actually take a couple of sizes up because it's not for the compression they offer, it's to avoid chaffing between the legs/thighs on long runs.

As for compression socks, I never used them except on long flights to avoid blood clots. I find them not looking nice and, given the number of miles I do, they would be expensive (wear inside the shoes), unless you use only leg compression sleeves. That being said, I heard good things about them and there are a few elites wearing them now.

Q: What is your nutrition intake regimen on your long runs... do you stick with gels, or do you expand into more solid foods?

It depends how long is the long run. Under 20 miles, I may use one gel (GU) especially if it's hilly. For longer runs (~30 miles), I may take with me a Snickers bar and a couple of GUs in case. For even longer runs, I would hope to find a place to buy some food such as banana, chips and/or pastries. And, of course, on races, I use what aid stations offer, which is usually a lot of variety in North California (fruits, cookies, brownies, soup, potato and salt, chips, ...).

Q: What's your strategy on electrolyte replacement/management (nothing/powders/tablets/salt stick)?

I go with Gu2O, and more specifically with the Lemon Lime flavor which means that I need to carry with me ziplocks with enough powder on long races where I don't have a crew, as different flavors or brands are usually offered at aid station. I'm also a big fan of S!Caps from Succeed! taking at least one per hour, if not one every 30 minutes in hot weather during races.

Depending on the temperature and elevation, I'm drinking a bottle of 16oz of GU2O every 15 to 10 miles. And about the same of water, although I don't track my consumption too precisely.

The other important finding in this area for me has been Vespa ( It actually addresses both the drink and food aspects as this drinks will accelerate your metabolism to transform your own body fat into energy. It comes from Japan where they have the top ultra runners on the planet (at least on road) and it works for many of us here. By the way, you don't even need a lot of body fat for Vespa to work! ;-)

Q: Do you have any good Core Strengthening resources you might recommend? I find lots of individual exercises, but I'm looking for a complete routine/flow/sequence for consistency.

I must admit that Core Strengthening is not my forte despite all the recognized benefits. I tend to only work on my Core when I get more time out of running from tapering or healing from injury, both being infrequent actually. Same for yoga, I feel I don't have time, but it's more a matter of priority of course. Agnès is the opposite, and Core Strengthening helped us alleviate the hip pain for many years. In particular she is an avid adept of Pilates which she practices at the Y on the Reformer.

Back to Core Strengthening, and to show you that I'm a big believer, I bought two books a few year ago which I recommend: Core Performance and Core Performance Endurance from Mark Verstegen and Pete Williams. Nice visuals and clear instructions, great presentation on glossy paper, and I particularly like the summary workouts at the end of the book (what you are looking for). If only one, take the second book.