Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day 2011: other goals, other dreams

 For the past 4 years, like many other lucky ones, my ultra goal and dream during the Memorial Day weekend was all about Western States. I'm not in this year and will actually be with the family in Croatia. Seems like I'm going to miss a serious snow year: it even snowed around Lake Tahoe this weekend and, while Squaw Valley's website talks about this weekend marking an end to a very long season, rumors have it that a few lifts may reopen for July 4th, one week after Western States! With all this snow, I heard that the Western States training camp was quite disrupted, at least the start from Robinson Flat on Saturday.

On my end, the weekend has been very different from previous years. After running 88 miles at the WS training camp in 2007, I had started a short tradition of my busiest training weekend in the Bay Area with 126 hilly miles in 2008 and 122 miles during the Memorial Day weekend of 2009. Last year, I only ran 49 miles over 2 days and that may explain why I was slower in my third Western States run. Well, this year, my goal is to "regain" speed, in preparation of the 10K and marathon at the World Masters in 8 weeks.

After a valorous Ohlone last Sunday, my legs were still sore on Monday and Tuesday but I managed to run a 10K each day, albeit slowly (8:40 and 7:40 min/mile respectively). I ran 9 miles on Wednesday and another 10K on Thursday, this time at 6:52 min/mile. It feels good to get faster, but I wasn't easy to get outside of the recovery comfort zone.

For this weekend my goal was to take advantage of the long weekend and run hard, twice a day, like the pros...! Well, that was before I realized that we had a few obligations (2 graduation celebrations) and a lot of work on my side to catchup after all these weekends in April and May, either racing or traveling.

On Saturday, I was running in the neighborhood (I have a perfect 5K loop which gets some neighbors crazy when they see me going and going) and did 25K. I had a nice 6:24 min/mile pace which I intended to keep for another loop before I had to stop with a blister burning under my feet. Damned, I barely has one blister a year and it has to happen on the first run of such a weekend! Certainly, I had forgotten that running fast and all on concrete is pretty bad and requires special foot care before going out. For this reason, I did not run in the afternoon (I tried but it was too painful after piercing the blister) and let the blister dry.
I went for my second run on Sunday morning and did 4 loops (20K) this time, just on 7:00 min/mile pace. A sort of recovery run to ensure the blister kept healing. I also took the opportunity to try on my new Brooks Ravenna. They are so narrow that this was what I needed to maintain my foot in place and prevent any friction.
Monday had to be the big day then, if not about mileage, at least about speed and, after working in the morning, I went to the track for a long tempo run. I stopped by the new track of Homestead High School but everything was locked down (same at Fremont High), which upsets me and will need to be brought up at the district level when I have more time.
Welcome? Sure...
Anyway, I drove to Mountain View High School which in addition to have a wonderful track, is always open and welcoming visitors. After 2 laps to warm-up, I went on for the tempo run, aiming at running as many laps as possible at 6 min/mile pace, that is 1 minute and a half or 90 seconds per lap.
I was clocking 1:27 to 1:29 laps, I believe my first 1:31 lap was around #30. Thankfully, my GPS is counting the laps for me, so I can just "zone" and look around, thinking of something else. There were a few runners coming and leaving, each running a few laps or a few miles. It was sunny but the temperature was perfect, 65F, mostly because of a relatively strong breeze from the North. I passed the 40-lap mark around 58:30 and felt so good that I was confident I will do at least 64 laps, if not more. Indeed, I completed the 64 laps in 1:35:22, that is 38 seconds faster than my goal. I had drunk one bottle of GU2O but taken no gel nor SCaps! so started slowing down with 1:32-1:35 laps afterwards. I still managed to complete 72 laps this time with 3 seconds to spare on the 1:30 min/lap pace, right on! My last attempt at this long temp run test was 64 laps back in January. That's quite a few laps seen from a satellite... ;-)
Although there is much more work to be able to maintain such a pace through the wall like I did in Chicago 8 years ago, I'm happy with this intermediate result. Now, if only it was going to be 65F in Sacramento mid July... Who knows, this is such a strange weather this year, maybe we don't have to go through the painful heat training this year!

With that, I tried on my three new Brooks shorts that I received on Friday, and two of the three pairs of shoes (Ravenna 2, Racer ST 5 and the super light T7 Racer). The new material of the shorts is amazingly lightweight and comfortable (stretch). And the Olympic Blue a perfect match with our Quicksilver Ultra Racing Team tops. Christmas in May, just in time for the speed work...! ;-)
Looking forward to hearing more stories from the participants to the Western States training run and, two things before I conclude this post:
1. It is National Running Day this coming Wednesday (June 1), so hope all of you get to run!
2. Peter Defty, from Vespa, is organizing a Vespa Night, that same Wednesday at ZombieRunner (6:30-8:30 PM). Dr. Stephen Phinney will share insights about how Vespa works and I'm excited to listen to him as Vespa indeed works so well for me! Please RSVP on the special event web page to let Peter, Don and Gillian know you are coming! Hope to see many of you there and, in the meantime, have a great National Running Day (even if you don't live in the US ;-)!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ohlone 2011: double pair!

This is my favorite race in the calendar. First, it's a 50K and that still the distance I'm the best at among the ultra races. Second, it's a tough and hilly one, and I'm a "no pain, no gain" type of runner... Third, this is the only race I won twice, in addition to placing 2nd and 3rd the following years. Last but not least, I love the connection to the Native American legacy, and really understand why the Ohlone tribe settled on these hills, with gorgeous views, a few creeks and grassy hills.
So, when I got called to do a roadshow in May, I was really glad that the timing worked out for me to fly back this Saturday, just in time for Ohlone, and just after Miwok. Yet, flying 15,000 miles, visiting 6 countries in 10 days (Spain, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Germany) wasn't the best way first to recover from Miwok and get rest before Ohlone... The only positive thing is that, with the jet lag, I was sleeping like a baby by 8 PM last night and managed to sleep until 4:15 AM, my longest night by far for the past 2 weeks (with several nights under 5 hours between late international flights and early client meetings). At least, the trip was fruitful from a business standpoint. And, since I couldn't fit in runs anyway except last weekend (Madrid and Stockholm), I did taper.

Agnès was kind enough to drive me to the start in Fremont this morning (7 AM), even managing to find a parking spot next to the registration table, couldn't get closer and better! That allowed me to catch-up with a few volunteers and runners and take pictures of the bus unloading. The buses left Del Valle late and arrived after 7:30 creating a huge line at the 2 port-a-potties. For this reason, the official start got delayed by 7-8 minutes. In the meantime, under Stan Jensen's supervision, 11 runners took the early 7 AM start to make the cut-offs.

I was hoping that we'd take the opportunity to have a minute of silence in memory of Tom Kaisersatt who left us last September. Here is Tom with Stan, at the check-in, last year. Tom was so supportive of all the runners and always keeping his joyful smile despite the pain in his lungs and difficulty to breath. Even last year, Tom hike the last hill at the finish to support her friend Christina and cheered me up when I was flying down to take 3rd. I thought of him many times again today, looking at LiveStrong bracelet I'm wearing in his memory, and saying in my mind Tom's most famous quote: "Keep the rubber down, my friend!" Between Tom and the Ohlone people, that's always a spirited run for me which helps pushing up in all the up and down-hills.
After setting an amazing course record of 4:16 last year, Leor had strong ambitions and was shooting for close to, if not under, 4 hours. For this reason, it was best to let him go right off the start line.
I saw him for the last time at mile 3, I had already a 4-minute gap on him. And I was actually in 5th place. I could see Ron Gutierrez and Mark Tanaka behind but, not killing myself in the steep climb to the top of Mission Peak, a sinigificant gap was created and I would not see anyone behind in the long climb to Rose Peak. Carrying two bottles, I didn't stop at the first aid station but just told Hollis Lenderking, the head of our Pacific Association Ultra Grand Prix: "Geez, it gets faster every year...!" He replies with "Yes, getting older but faster," but I was actually speaking of the 4 guys ahead of me. But, this is a long race, and we were only at mile 6 so, read on...

For the next 9 miles, I didn't see anyone neither ahead nor behind so I had no clue if I was pushing enough in the climb to Rose Peak. At mile 15, I saw two runners which I pointed about 4 minutes ahead of me. Although I was alternating walking and running in the last part of the summit, I finally caught up and passed one of them (Gas or Gaz?) just after picking up the bracelt at the summit (proving we reached the top) but Jesse seemed untouchable and I was not closing on him. I entered the summit loop right under 3 hours (2:59:35) and completed it in about 9 minutes. (Photo credit Chihping Fu)
A quick stop at the next aid station (Maggie's Half Acre, mile 19.7) and I was on the roller coaster, managing to run most of it this year. I got cheered up by Keith Blom who, like Chihiping Fu earlier, was checking the course marking. Both took pictures of the runners and shared them on Facebook this afternoon. As opposed to previous years, I was not really cramping but it was not far so I maintained a conservative effort. The main challenge on this course is pacing yourself and maintaining a sustainable effort as you are always either going up or down, for a short section or miles at a time. (Photo credit Keith Blom)
I saw the red cap of Scott McClennan around mile 21.5, Scott was about 2 minutes ahead. On the long way down to Johnny's Pond, I was barely closing on him but I also saw Jesse Haynes a few minutes ahead. They were in 2nd and 3rd and, at this point, I was thinking that was just fine with fourth overall and first Masters, and tired enough to push more and try to catch them. I did a short stop Schlieper Rock to get my GU2O bottle refilled for the second time, then rushed onto the tortuous trail down Burn canyon. This time, I was closing quickly on Scott who seemed to have trouble with his quads, going down. We saw Greg Lanctot after crossing the creek and Greg told me that Jesse had just reached the ridge, and that he was just 3 minutes ahead. Well, I knew it was going to take me more than 3 minutes to cover the very steep climb and, indeed, I believe it took me about 9 minutes. With his long legs, Scott was keeping a good pace on the uphill, alternating running and power walking. Once we got on the ridge, he actually increased the gap as I was starting cramping badly on every uphill section. We eventually reached the final 2 miles, which are mostly downhill to the Del Valle Regional Park. Like in Burn, I was really much better than Scott in the downhills and was just behind him when we reached the final aid station, Stromer Spring. To my surprise, Scott stopped at the aid station and I rushed in the downhill, now in 3rd. I was going really fast, yet was trying to see if I'd see Jesse ahead but there was no one to be seen. I crossed the finish line in 4:55:35, in 3rd overall again! And first Masters indeed (special thanks to Gary Gellin who ran Silver State 50-mile instead, yesterday). Jesse had finished about 9 minutes ahead of me, and Scott came in about 2 minutes after me. As for Leor, after taking on very aggresively as he was trying to get sub 4 hours, he cramped badly too and couldn't run in the down hills, yet finished in 4:31 for his third consecutive win of this event.
We chatted with Leor after the finish about some explanations of our slower times. The temperature was perfect, in the 65-70F range, the sky was partially overcast therefore not as sunny and exposed as some other years. There was some competition. And there was no change of course. As others were actually very much pleased with their performance (e.g. Mark Tanaka and Gary Wang), the only plausible explanation was that we were tired with previous races (my 3 ultras of the past 4 weeks, and Leor's amazing course record at Quicksilver 50-mile. Not to mention work (for both, now!) and travels, for me.

Back to the title, I owe you some explanations unless you were already thinking about poker hands. It was my fifth run of this race and that now makes 1, 1, 2, 3, 3 as overall finishes. Not quite a royal flush, but a nice hands with two aces.

Our Quicksilver team did very well, placing 3rd, 5th (Mark Tanaka), 10th (John Burton) and 21st (Harris Goodman), with Scott Laberge and Adam Blum also running. On the women side, first, the top 6 came in within 15 minutes and our team took 4th (Bree Lambert), 5th (Adona Ramos), 6th (Clare Abram), with Kat Powel also finishing.
My first thanks to the volunteers. The point to point format and use of very remote locations for the aid station in this wilderness, make their job very difficult. Yet, the aid stations were fully stocked and all the volunteers were very helpful and suportive. At least, on this course, I do stop at most of the aid stations to ensure I get my fluid and energy levels correct. This is a race with several race directors and one was missing this year, Rob Byrne, stuck in the Nehterlands for work. Anyway, the race organization was perfect and ran smoothly! And the BBQ and its buffet were very well stocked. I also want to thank the Park Service and Rangers who seemed very involved and suportive of this race, quite a few of them being present at aid stations, in particular the remote ones. And the sponsors (Zombie Runner, GU, Succeed!, Johnson Lumber Co for the nice trophies) with a special and new one: here is Chris introducing me to the Mara's Pastas, a product of his company, Cook Natural Foods.
With that, I'm taking a break with ultra racing until August, and will now concentrate on two shorter distances, yet not two short ones: 10K and Marathon, distances which I registered for at the upcoming World Masters in Sacramento mid July. I'll get back to the track more consistently then, between work and more travels at the end of June with our family trip to Croatia and France.

In the meantime, good luck to the already lucky ones in Western States, for your final preparation and training camp. And to anyone else running either another 100-mile or any other/shorter distances, and to all of you, blog readers! Since we thankfully made it through the stupid prediction of the end of the world yesterday... ;-)

PS: a few more pictures in my Picasa album, credit to Agnes, my nephew Aymar.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Running Stockholm: combining taper and tourism

I had never heard of this marathon but, of course, every large city and at least capital has to have a marathon. As I was looking for some course ideas to visit Stockholm this Sunday, I checked on their marathon which will actually be held in two weeks, May 28 2011.
I would have loved to run the full distance but, between the uncertain weather and other obligations and work duties, I only ran 16 miles of the official double loop around the city, also taking a few pictures on the way so I can share this visit with all of you and especially the ones who did not come to Stockholm yet. From what I've seen since I arrived last night, between the signs, the architecture, the orderly traffic and all the water, it reminds me of Geneva and its banks along the Rhone. A large number of museums (which I didn't visit) and many bridges to link the pieces of the archipelago puzzle.
Overall, despite the drizzly weather at the start of my run which do not give all the credit to the colorful buildings, this is an amazing place, with so much maritime legacy, and everything is very runnable thanks to large pathways, numerous bike paths, careful drivers and nearby parks. And, for me a nice recovery run after last week's 100K and 9 miles in Madrid on Friday evening.
If you want trails only, the best is to go directly to Skansberget, at the East of Ostermalm and North, and Djurgarden.
Ok, a short post for once, enjoy the visit by browsing through my Picasa photo album! And talk you next week after Ohlone 50K and my short stops in Helsinki, Turku, Copenhagen, Oslo, Kiel and Frankfurt, not to mention Madrid last week...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Miwok 2011: some rest, at last!

[For those only interested in the pictures, see my Picasa album.]

It was my 60th ultra race and, more importantly, my 3rd ultra competition in 15 days. An epic start at Ruth Anderson 100K 2 weeks ago (I was still in Phoenix, Arizona when runners were walking to the start line!), a good push at the hilly QuickSilver 50K last week and the program of the PAUSATF Grand Prix dictated a 3rd race weekend in a row (not to mention American River 50-mile a month ago).

Not flying in on race day this time but a late planning on Friday for carpooling with Pierre-Yves. We were set for him to pick me between 2:55 and 3 AM. I went to bed later than what I was hoping for and got about 4.5 hours of sleep in. Here is Greg's cat, Kiwi, who is usually waking up to welcome me when I do conference calls at 5 or 6 in the morning, but not moving when it's only 2 AM: "aren't you crazy, ultra runner dudes..." is she thinking ;-)

To save a few minutes off Pierre-Yves' drive, I decided to walk onto Stevens Creek. By 3:10, still no sign of Pierre-Yves and no response on his cell phone either. I jogged back to my house and it was 3:18 when I woke his wife up on the phone. Christine said that Pierre-Yves missed his alarm but Pierre later realized he set the clock on 4 instead of 2. We were close to having another Ruth Anderson-like incident and late start, phew! Fortunately, Pierre-Yves had all his stuff ready and we made it to the parking lot in record time, around 4:25! If you read the last section of my previous race report, you know about Charles' misfortune and his serious hand injury. Just one week later, Charles was volunteering, later joint by his wife and two daughters in the late afternoon. Another example of the tight community and small world which exists in the ultra world. Here is Charles with Race Director, Tia Bodington:
As Charles painfully learned, in his own words, "runners are meant to run on their feet, not their hands...". Ironically, Pierre-Yves was going to have a bad fall too on the course today, although no need to make a visit to and spend the day at the Emergency Room, fortunately!

Tia sent us to play in her backyard by 5:40, after reminding us of the most important directives beyond this year's course changes: "Respect others. Respect the volunteers. Respect the trail. Respect the course. Respect your goal." Very nice and powerful way to summarize what's important in ultra running.
It was still dark and a bit cloudy and foggy above the Golden Gate Bridge but the sun was bright and shining by the time we came back to the Rodeo Lagoon Beach after the initial loop.
I was running with the 4 top women then and passed quite a few runners on the stairs up to Wolfe Ridge. I was feeling great although I could hear a small voice coming from my quads complaining that we were still engaged in a hilly race... how come? And we were only in the 8th mile...
Anyway, I flew down Miwok Trail to Tennessee Valley, took a few pictures of the aid station volunteers, and went up Fox Trail still running most of the uphill to Coyote Ridge. However, while I was passing runners on the way up, I was losing ground in the down hills. This was really new to me and appeared to me my limitation of the day, likely the result of some tiredness from previous races, go figure...

At the beginning of Deer Park Fire Road, Ian Sharman arrived from behind in his flashy costume. He made running uphill so easy, I was very impressed, especially after his 3:10 50K at Ruth Anderson 2 weeks ago and his 2:42 Big Sur Marathon last week! You see, I'm not the only racing fanatic out there...! We climbed the 2 or 3 miles up to Pan Toll, trading places with another group of 5 runners including Ron Gutierrez who seemed to have a great day.
After Pan Toll, I left this group go on Coastal Trail, just keeping them in sight while enjoying the amazing views of the Ocean, Stinson Beach and Point Reyes.
I took more pictures of the volunteers at the Bolinas Ridge aid station (happy Mother's Day, Mom!) while getting some food in before the long and rolling stretch on Bolinas Ridge.
I kept my camera in my hand, ready to fire up as I was expecting the front runners to show up at any turn knowing that I was running slower than previous years, but it took several miles before they did. And, to my surprise, they were very close to each other, a first group of four led by favorite Dave Mackey. Dave was one reason I was running with my camera today, the other one being that I wanted an excuse to take it, if not easy, at least easier. Not only Dave is the fastest trail runner in the Bay Area, he is also 40 and therefore competes in my age group with PAUSATF. He focuses on very few races but hammers them down. Anyway, here they are on their way back to Bolinas (I was 31 mile done).
Just before the Randall trail gate and, as I had started stopping at every runner I was crossing to take a picture, the lead woman from Oregon passed me, then Meghan Arbogast. Between the picture stops and my issue going down hill today, the down hill seemed going for ever. Mark Lantz passed be near the bottom and I climbed back closely behind him, still taking pictures of every runner we were crossing. This photothon went on for more than 11 miles and I ended up taking 390 during the day (I had cramps in my right hand in the evening!). The challenge from a photography standpoint was the light conditions with the contrast between the redwoods shade and the bright light at mid day on the ridge. I had to use my flash which was not fast enough to recharge and fire up when runners were too close to each other. Overall, I got more than 320 pictures of the runners on Bolinas Ridge, quite a few great shots and a few misses which I left to show that I tried to get every body (blurry pictures or pictures of your back, sorry...). I actually missed the last 4 runners on the very narrow Coastal Trail as I was getting out of the way to let them pass (something they did seem to be accustom with...). Please make sure to check my Picasa photo album (375 pictures from me and 62 from Agnès).
After I was done with all these pictures, I figured out that I could push the pace again. My average pace was around 9:13 at the bottom of Randall Trail, 9:35 at the top and 10:00 when I left Bolinas Ridge aid station (at 5 seconds per picture times 320, that's 27 minutes of idle time, no wonder why quite a few runners passed me in this section, although I was still running the uphills strong). However, I found it hard to go any faster and only managed to decrease the average pace by 3 seconds by Pan Toll. Agnès was at the Pan Toll aid station, after she participated with Alexis to the Marin Human Race 5K in the morning, supporting The World Family (the association we went to Ethiopia for last year). She had seen all the lead runners coming through, quite a long wait for her today, the typical crew life... (I was 1 hour 36 minutes behind Dave Mackey already!)
I gained 3 more seconds (average pace) on the long way down to Muir Woods Road but, still lacking energy and speed in the downhills, I got passed by two runners whom I passed again on the steep Coastal Trail along Pirate's Cove after Muir Beach.
The views of the Ocean from Coastal Trail were gorgeous and the strong breeze was refreshing. The breeze turned to a stronger wind in the afternoon and, as the clouds came back in the sky, the temperature was decreasing quickly. It must have been pretty chilly for the back of the pack after a long day on this hilly trail. Agnès was also at the last aid station, Tennessee Valley:
After Tennessee, I lost my steam in the uphill, convinced that we would climb the whole Miwok trail again. However, instead of that, we had a long down hill to go around the last hill, that was the last course change and surprise for this year. Since I was not better in the down hills anyway, I was barely relieved. One last uphill before the last mile down hill to the finish at the YMCA, I was very glad to be done with what I once thought would be an easy run. But, "Respect the course", Miwok is an animal course, you can't expect anything easy on it. I crossed the finish line in 10:17:57. My GPS indicated 61.1 miles so, as opposed to previous years, I'm indeed pretty sure that was a real 100K if not 101 kilometers. And about 11,000 feet of cumulative elevation.
Dave, who already owned the previous course record with a blazing 7:53, won today in 8:03, with Mike Wolfe taking second in 8:06:00 and Hal Koerner third 55 seconds later. What a close and phenomenal finish, I wish I could see them in the last miles! It was the perfect weather and conditions for great performances, except after racing every weekend (well, Ian Sharman still managed to finish top 10 in 9:02!). I ate 5 gels, a few potato chips and pieces of watermelon, letting Vespa handling the rest, which worked for 57 miles. One of the challenges was to properly hydrate, eat and pace myself while taking so many pictures. Without training these days, Pierre-Yves was very happy with his 10:43:59 PR. Clare was third for our team taking 11 in the women race just under 11 hours. From a club standpoint, the race was obviously dominated by Tamalpa, starting with Dave Mackey and more than 20 club members competing on their training backyard.
Amazing job from dozens of volunteers under Tia's leadership, thank you to all! At least, this time and as opposed to last week, I took the time to stop at every aid station and enjoy your great support! ;-) Thanks also go to the race sponsors, in particular: Montrail, Brooks (great finisher t-shirt!), Gu (thanks for the additional samples in the goodie bag), Zombie Runner (thanks to the fast free shipping I experienced last week for my Vespa order!), Udo's Oil (thanks for the samples and cool black beanie), Ultra Running Magazine (congrats again for the 30th birthday issue!).
Now time to take a well deserved rest. Well... Ohlone 50K is in two weeks and in the meantime, I have a business trip to Europe: 14,750 miles, 8 flights, 6 countries (Spain, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Germany), 3 trains to cross Germany, 8 client meetings/presentations, 1 speaking engagement on a cruise from Norway to Germany, flying back the day before Ohlone... Not sure we can call that resting, except that I won't run much while on the... road. Maybe to visit Stockholm next Sunday...

See you on the trails again in two weeks then!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

QuickSilver 50 2011: a breeze of performances

What a peak for our local ultra season! 3 races in our Grand Prix in three weeks, this is new to many but serial racers like Jason Reed. After last week's epic Ruth Anderson and next week's Miwok, this Saturday was the event organized by my new club, the QuickSilver Running Club of San Jose (my other club being the Stevens Creek Striders which I joined in 2004). With three distances: 25K, 50K and 50 miles. I will cover mainly the 50K and the 50-miler but I need to start with another event which occurred Tuesday night, and conclude with another one, The Relay, this Sunday. Ultra busy times... (If you are just visiting this post for the pictures, I posted about 280 of them in my Picasa album.)

1. 16th Annual Volunteer Recognition Banquet

A little out of the blue, but likely because I helped out with the Striders and other members of QuickSilver to clean trails at the Stevens Creek and Almaden Quicksilver County Parks, I got an invitation to attend the volunteer recognition banquet. I was expecting a limited audience and was quite surprised when I entered a room with likely more than 300 people! Furthermore, I never saw so many Park Rangers in uniform at once. It was also intimidating to be invited to a crowd made of people who gave hundreds and thousands of volunteering hours to the County, compared to a few dozens for me. Topping the list is Kitty Monahan who created the overall volunteer program and has given more than 9,500 hours of her time so far!! And counting...

I didn't know anyone in this crowd and ended up sitting at a table with one of the very special award: Junior Volunteer of the Year, presented by Senior Ranger Aniko Millan (a.k.a. Big Mama!) to her protegee, Maria Panorea Hadres. Over the past 5 years, Maria spent more than 250 hours helping out at Vesona Lake in particular, with activities ranging from volunteering at events to counting hundreds of geese!
Ranger Millan ended up receiving the Park Liaison of the Year Award for her outstanding work and results getting local middle schools to volunteer, so it was quite an honoree table. Other noticeable awards were the Church of Christ Youth Group, and the South Bay Fishing in the City group.
Anyway, quite a nice way for the County to recognize all these volunteers. As the Director of the County Parks noted, this is the least they can do when you realize that all these free hours represent a saving of more than $3 million in labor cost! And touch so many lives, people of all ages.

2. Quicksilver 50K and 50-mile races

Back to running... As I mentioned earlier, this is the major race put up by our club, the other one being a combined trail 10K and Half-marathon in the Fall. Because it was squeeze this year between Ruth Anderson 100K and Miwok 100K, one week apart, I decided to enter the 50K (am I not reasonable sometimes...?! ;-). With the start scheduled for 6 AM (and no plan for flying from Phoenix, AZ on race day this time, see last week's report!), I woke up at 2:45 to get a good breakfast before 3 AM (my 3-hour no food pre-race window). The drive was quick at that time of the day and I was the first one to reach the parking lot, which was still closed at 4:10. A few cars followed me and Race Director, Pierre-Yves Couteau, opened the gate around 4:40. Pierre's minivan was full with aid station gear and stuff and another surprise: Adrienne, Pierre's daughter, full of energy and who will help on many projects throughout the day! With a few volunteers already here we set up the registration table which was ready to operate ahead of schedule at 4:55.
300 runners kept the three port-a-potties busy and I got late in the line, getting my turn with 5 minutes to spare before the race started. I got on the starting line a few seconds before the gun, just enough to learn that Leor (Pantillat) had finally decided to join Garry (Gellin) on the 50-mile. They rushed out of the starting blocks (not far from the reality) and I took third close behind. Until, after about half a mile, my laces untied on my left shoe and I had to stop to do 4 knots this time (instead of three I had initially done). Toshi caught up with me as I was rushing again and, bummer, 100 yards later, it was the right shoe! This time 5 runners passed me and it was going to take me the next 4 miles to pass them all. With these stops, the winding single track which was probably getting my GPS to lose some of the actual mileage, my average pace was around 8:25-8:30, which was very slow for my game plan. Yet, it felt as I was running fast so I wondered if it was just some fatigue from last week's 100K. I pushed the pace going up Mine Hill, getting the average down to 8:10 or so.
At my first passage through Dam Overlook (mile 9.7), the aid station manned by my fellow Striders with a special guest again this year, Agnès, Bill indicated that I was 1 minute behind Toshi. I kept pushing up Randoll and, indeed, caught up with teammate Toshi at the Capehorn aid station (mile 14.5). As I had seen 3 runners closing on us behind, I didn't stop and rushed on Mine Hill, pushing the pace even more while going up hill and getting my average pace under 8 min/mile. I even passed a mountain biker who asked me if I was in a race... Here are the Striders on the first shift, all smiles despite the chilly and blowing wind at 6:30 AM!
For my second passage through Dam Overlook (mile 19), I did my fastest ever and Nascar or Formula 1-type of pit stop as I dropped two bottles and caught the two that Dennis had prepared for me. This helped keeping the momentum on this long way down and closing on Gary (about 2 minutes ahead of me then). I managed to get my average pace down to 7:36. I got up Mine Hill again and stopped for just a few seconds to grab one S-Cap at Dam Overlook (mile 23.7). I did run the entire uphill and was quite surprised to get passed by Chris who seemed quite easy. Chris told me he was 29 and that was his first 50K, wow! I lost sight of him before the end of the Bull Run. Another S-Cap at English Camp and I rushed down the trail for the long and rocky descent.
I saw Gary again a few minutes ahead of me, when passing under the power line on Hacienda, but had to walk part of the uphills in the killer roller coaster that the last miles represent. I was disappointed because, based on the mileage on my GPS, there was no way I could get to the finish line within the age group record I had set last year, i.e. 3:58:57. Fortunately, between keeping pushing hard on the climbs, flying in the downhills and a GPS slightly off in the first 6 miles, I sprinted and crossed the finish line in 3:56:19, for another record. And another PR and instance of my "farther faster" motto! For what it is worth since Gary, 42, had passed the 50K mark today in 3:52 on his way to complete a 50-mile, so he can easily improve this record in the coming years. But, since he was after my other record on the 50-mile, at least I was able to keep one on the chart for another year... ;-) Here is Gary at the finish of his 50-mile:
Speaking of the 50-mile, I was blown away when I heard that Leor had passed through the 50K aid station in 3:31, just one minute off the course record he set himself on 50K last year! I thought that there was little chance he could maintain this pace in the next 19 miles but he actually did, for a phenomenal performance: 6:01, breaking Chikara Omine's record set 2 years ago. Gary came in second in a no less amazing time of 6:30 for a new M40-49 course record (smashing my previous one of 6:48...!). With such blazing times, it took a while to see the next 50-mile finishers coming in in the combined flow of 25K, 50K and 50-mile runners.
Back to the 50K, I finished just 2 minutes behind Chris and took second. Toshi injured his right toe yet was still amazingly smiling despite the pain. He took fourth, missing the 4-hour mark by a mere 3 seconds... Chris, Toshi and I:
3. Quicksilver ultras event

With my hyper (or ultra...) busy life, it is rare that I spend more time hanging out at a race than running, except when volunteering of course, and not counting the travel time, but I had no hard commitments today and stayed for a total of 14 hours (from 4 am to 6 pm), including the 4 hours of racing. Which, I know, isn't much compared to the time that the volunteers put into this event, starting with Pierre-Yves. What a great community with so many abilities and passion for pushing the envelope and enjoying the outdoors. And what a perfect weather and convenient location for such a social gathering.

I spent several hours taking pictures of the runners approaching the finish line or the 50K mark for the ones continuing on the 50-mile. See my Picasa album which also includes a few pictures from Agnès at Dam Overlook. About 280 total...

The food was amazing. If Dick Collins Firetrails is renowned for its Café, I vote that Quicksilver 50 gets elected for its outstanding and best Restaurant! The food tent even included a kitchen section with a fridge and a mega portable BBQ, courtesy of "The Couple Chefs", Paul and Darcy Fick! Paul on the left, and Keith:
But it wasn't a two-people show, an amazing teamwork involving dozens of volunteers, tirelessly (well, seemingly) replenishing the buffet, cooking hundreds of hot dogs, hamburgers or ribs, filling in a dozen of ice chest with drinks and even beer, offering ice creams and delicious desserts. Again, the unmatched Quicksilver Restaurant! Even the Rangers were invited to stop by. Darcy spoiling us with her desserts...
Let's not forget the timers who worked from 9 am to 8 pm: Dave and Stan again (or I should say, always...), Kristina, Keith.
Greg at the megaphone for announcing every runner and advertizing from time to time the generous sponsors.
At the risk of missing one of them, here are a few additional volunteer first names to convey my appreciation and the one of us, running and enjoying the post-race party:
  1. Course marking: Jim, Gene, Dan, Susan, Keith, Peter, Greg
  2. Aid stations: Mike (the aid station Czar!), the Striders (Peggy, Peter and Peter, Bill and Bill, Dennis, Charles, Mike, Randy, Gene, Gregg, Kristin, Patrick, Claire, Liam, Isaac, Rob), Dorsey, June, Fay, Gene, Bill, Mathew, Clare, Scott, Andy, Keith, and I know I'm missing many others, especially as I barely stopped in any on of the aid stations this time, shame on me running too fast! ;-)
  3. Course monitors: Everitt, Harris, ...
  4. Check-in: Adrienne, Jim, Harris
  5. QuickSilver Restaurant and Bar: Darcey, Paul, Maria, Gary, Keith, Ian, ...
  6. Parking: Bob, Leroy, Bob, ...
And Pierre-Yves of course who was on all fronts on race day and so many weeks prior to the bid day.

Last but not least, several volunteers from the club cleaned the poison oak off the New Almaden trail for the safety of all of us (and I know a few of them got stigmas on their hand and arms from this). By the way, beyond some bruises on arms, knees or legs, the medical staff got busy with a significant casualty: Charles, from San Francisco, felt flat around mile 5 on New Almanden trail, and his hand got so severely wounded that he spent from 8 AM to 4 PM at the ER in San Jose. Here he is, with Pierre-Yves, after coming back to the finish area to pick his car. It's written on his shirt, he is not only a fighter, he is "The Fighter!"
Overall, it is one thing for a club to take on one aid station at an ultra race, but what a work it is to put up a complete event, end to end. Something to always keep in mind when participating to such events.

Again, many more pictures in my Picasa album.

4. The tail of The Relay

This Sunday morning, as a recovery run, I ran on the Stevens Creek Canyon Road, starting at the end of McClelan Road. I ran about 1.5 legs (half of the 28th and the whole steep 29th), taking pictures of the 16 runners I crossed on my way back (12.5 miles total). The temperature along the wonderful Stevens Creek was great and it's is comforting to see the Stevens Creek reservoir 100% full on this first day of May!
Check The Relay's website to learn more about this 200-mile 12-people relay from Calistoga to Santa Cruz.

5. Closing remarks

What's next? Well, you read it above, I'm in for another 100K next week and not anyone of them: the toughest on our ultra circuit, Miwok 100K. At least, with Geoff Roes and Dave Mackay at the top of the list and 10 other potential winners (see the 2011 entrants list), I have no expectation to see anything from the front of the race except at the turnaround. Unfortunately, per his blog, Tony Krupicka will not be part of this mini championship. Between the very mixed experiences I have had on this tough course and my current hyper racing mode, my main goal is to contain my excitement in the first half, pace myself so I don't suffer too much on the trip back to the beach. Oh yes, there will be a lot of fun on this gorgeous trail run but suffering is part of and assured on this hilly course!

It was great to see so many of you this weekend and take the time to chat and catchup on everyone's experiences and joys coming from trail running (you can add your own stories as comments on this post, I love hearing from you! ;-). See many of you again next week then!