Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Running in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan: follow the river...s

I like discovering cities by foot, I mean running. To share my experience for others to do the same. Nowadays though, there are so many runs already documented, I don't feel much of an explorer. Yet, I may contribute my ultra bias as a complement to the many shorter runs posted on the web. And it's super cool to receive from time to time an acknowledgement that such a 'Running in..." post helped a runner out there.

After an overnight layover in Seoul, long enough to tour the city but not practical to run, our first stop in Hokkaido, Japan, was in Sapporo, most known for the 1972 Winter Olympics and the beer of the same name.  As a grid pattern of North-South and East-West streets, the layout of the city is quite easy to figure out and you can easily find free maps at the airport (information booth) or in the hotel lobbies. However, the trouble comes if you need to figure out an address in Japanese, unless you read kanjis and kanas of course... Having visited Tokyo several times, this confirms that English isn't as pervasive in the rest of the country, starting with signage.

Between this challenge of not being able to read street names and the numerous intersections where locals patiently wait for the green sign to cross (no jay walking here!), I aimed at running along the river where I spotted a superb bike road on both sides. Besides, we were going to roam the city by foot with Agnès later, so better put some good running before breakfast! Not only are we 16 hours ahead of California here but sunrise is much earlier, 4:20 am at the end of July (with sunset before 8 pm), so better get up early.
By river in the title, I mean the Toyohira River which flows by the south east side of the city.

On Tuesday I went 8 mile to the south from the place we were staying at (Art Hotels, near the Nakajima Koen subway station), the tall 25-floor building on the right:

It was sunny and perfect for a great 19-mile run. On the opposite, Wednesday was pouring rain but I still went out and 10.5 miles to the north, to the confluent between the Toyohira River and a much larger one, the Ishikan River which ends a few miles farther in the Pacific.

There isn't much to say and share about the course; like I said in title, as you just follow the river. Although, when you get to the South and run on the right bank (that is on the left side of the river, going against the current), you'll get to a fork at the Makomanai Park (open air stadium) with the small... Makomanai River, which, like the previous river, has a nice bike path on its right bank.

To be honest, I didn't know which river I was then following but I had checked on Google Maps before leaving and couldn't see a trail continuing south of the Park along the Toyohira River so I was glad this bike path went for a few more miles, and turned back in Tokiwa after the bike path ended anyway.
Quite an impressive public library for such a small suburb (Tokiwa).
I found a few toilets and water fountains about 6.5 miles south of my starting point on Tuesday. Here is the one at the end of the Sapporo Minami trail system.

On Wednesday though, I did see a few porta-potties outside the city, but no drinking fountains so I was glad to have 2 water bottles with me for this 21-mile run. Also, after about 4 miles on the northern side of the city, you are pretty much on your own, in the country side, and I only saw 2 cyclists in 2 hours. Better not need anything while you are up there (I was running with my phone but, in the rain, didn't get out to check if there was cell coverage or not).

Overall, amazing bike paths to put some serious mileage, albeit some flat one (my Tuesday run shows 500-feet of cumulative elevation but I barely noticed the elevation gain). the bike path along the city section is so smooth and flat that it turned into many large puddles on Wednesday and I came back to the hotel quite soaked.

Here are my runs on Strava, respectively to the South on Tuesday and the North on Wednesday. In case you pass by Sapporo...

Early long runs, hot spring bath in the evening to sleep like a baby, some beer tasting at the Sapporo museum, yummy and super fresh/tender sushi and sashimi, I could get used to this life... ;-)
PS: as an alternative run, to visit downtown Sapporo, I found this 12-km one interesting.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Post TRT DNF: amazing tales of the tail of the pack

Mind the valiant runners who finished this 100-mile beast in 30 hours or more, after a good night of sleep thanks to a painful early DNF/drop for me, my first wish when I woke up at 6 am this Sunday morning was to run up to Tunnel Creek and do that second Red House loop! And get a glimpse of the tail of the pack and the closure of an aid station which I'm not so accustomed to since my captain years at Last Chance in 2005-2006 (Western States aid station).

While the Hobart aid station remains opened even longer, it only sees the 100-mile runners 4 times, versus 6 for Tunnel Creek. And Tunnel Creek also gets the visit of crews which Hobart doesn't. That makes Tunnel Creek the busiest and hardest aid station to manage in my view, not to mention the hardest to track runners at with 3 ways to get in and 3 ways to get out. For instance, speaking about the time span of the station: on the 3.4-mile up to the station, I crossed one volunteer from the medical team who had been working for 30 straight hours! At the station, I got to know the doctor leading this team who was all smile after being up at the station since Friday 6 pm (42 hours total). Here is Andy with his wife, Joann Ellero, and mother in law, Mariza.
The other fixture of this station for the past years has been the amazing Noe Castañon, who volunteers everywhere if not running an ultra himself. Noe welcomed us, the front runners, before 7 am on Saturday morning and here he was helping the last runners still on the course at 11 am on Sunday. Seeing him yawning I teased him "Are you getting tired, Noe?" and he replied, with a big smile, that it had been a long day indeed, but so rewarding and exciting. But when I thanked Andy for all he did to keep the runners going, he turned to Noe and said that Noe was the man, and he was just doing what Noe said... ;-) Here is Noe listening to Chuck Amital.
I arrived at the station at around 8:25 am, just in time to see John Brooks taking a short break on a chair. John is part of our Quicksilver ultra running team and it was a delight to see him smiling with such great spirits before embarking on the final and still grueling 15 miles to Spooner Lake. John completed the two loops in 31:46.

John had run the whole race with Chuck Amital who, at 57, competes in our Grand Prix in my age group, like John.
Chuck is with Pamakids and was followed this morning by a couple of teammates whom I saw going through the station after I completed and swept the Red House loop.

Speaking of teams I want to point how friendly our team competition in the Grand Prix has become over the years. In the first years, starting in 2007, it was quite competitive between our club and Tamalpa, then Excelsior. But now, I find it completely flipped upside down: at the image of the ultra running community, it is much more about emulation and friendliness. We encourage each others though our struggles, our hearts our broken when anyone of us drop or get behind, and we enjoy seeing others striving. For instance, I was bummed to hear that Chikara Omine and Karl Schnaitter had dropped mid way. Our team had our fair share of misfortune with Stuart, Frederic, Marco, Joe and my DNF. With 138 finishers and about 80 DNFs, the outcomes of the race were very different across the board. Special congrats to teammate Mark Tanaka for completing his 6th TRT 100, screwed (without a crew!), and Jill Cole for taking 4th in the women division in 27:26. Big shout out to Paul Broyer (Excelsior) who finished 5th overall in 22:41, he is the one ramping up the fastest among our Bay Area ranks in my opinion. And, on the women side, I was blow away by the win of Roxanne Woodhouse who finished in 23:38 and 8th overall, at the age of 53!

Back to my recovery run, before going down the loop, I asked the night captain of the aid station if they needed me to take off the ribbons and marking and he replied that it had all been taken care of. Well, 1 hour and 20 minutes later, look at what I came back with! 4 ribbons, 2 flags and 7 direction signs, not a bad harvest! ;-)
Despite her hip pain, Agnès did hike up to the aid station with our friends Todd and Janet, to get my drop bag. With the time I spent sweeping and connecting with the volunteers and runners, they had already left when I finished the Red House loop. Before flying down, everybody at the aid station was treated with a cool visit of a guy hiking the whole TRT (Tahoe Rim Trail) with 3... lamas!
Elite ultra runner, Jennie Capel, was among those enjoying this zoo experience!
On the way back, I met my club mates Karen Bonet and Nattu Natraj. Nattu was pulled out by the medical staff at his second passage through Hobart yesterday. He was suffering from asthma, couldn't get his heart rate to slow down and had a low level of oxygen in his blood. At mile 40, a bummer. Karen is also an accomplished ultra runner, and right now preparing for 2 more iron(wo)mans.
With such a perfect weather, the views of the lake going down were breathtaking (a matter of fact when running at this altitude anyway)!
Big thanks to Agnès for carrying my drop bag, allowing me to run down to Incline Village and get such a great 18-mile recovery run before driving back to the Bay Area.

One day has passed and I still think TRT 100 isn't for me but we'll be back in the area for sure, and maybe run one of the 'shorter' ultras. It is such a scenery and event and, again, I'm so in awe with the back of the pack runners I saw this morning toughing it out to get to the finish line under 35 hours. And grateful to all these volunteers who gave us their entire weekend so we could enjoy these trails and ultra challenges in a safe way. More amazing and personal tales were formed throughout the weekend thanks to all of you!
PS: more pictures of this valiant runners fighting the 11 am cut-off at Tunnel Creek

Saturday, July 16, 2016

TRT 100 2016: still a beast for me

It was the third consecutive year I entered and toed the start line of this event. With two DNF (Did Not Finish) in 2014 and 2015, my main goal was to finally finish it and tame the beast as a redemption. There are two ways to look at a third attempt when the first ones failed. Of course, I like the optimistic American angle much better: "third time's a charm", meaning that luck will finally come on you if you keep trying three times. In France, we have a way more pessimistic view on that, the saying is "Jamais 2 sans 3" which means that if you failed twice already or there has been two catastrophes, then get ready for a 3rd one in the series. Amazing how our cultures think differently and, assuredly, this permeates trough all aspects of our society.

I wasn't sure about the luck, and there is nothing easy in ultra running, so I thought to myself that I was indeed hoping for some charm but it was going to be a tough charm... With that, I didn't have much of a flight plan but was hoping to break 24 hours, or 22 hours in the best case. My main goal was then to start slower than the previous years, and be conservative on the first loop. Not a very elaborate plan.

Speaking of planning, the check-in on Friday was closing at 3 pm and I made it by 3:02 pm (Mark Tanaka beating me with a 3:03 pm!). Google sent us on backroads (88 over the mountains) without considering quite a few road maintenance projects which slowed down our progression considerably. Thankfully, the volunteers were cool and quick, so it worked out, just in time to drop my Victory Sportdesign bag for Tunnel Creek too!

I also liked the fact that the briefing was held outside instead of the cramped amphitheater of the State Capitol. Here is Race Director, George Ruiz, and his wife, head of the volunteer organization:

It was exciting to meet with Simon Mtuy again.

Simon is from Tanzania and, every year, spends a couple of months, between May and July, on our ultra running scene in California, running races such as Miwok, Ohlone and Western States. He has run Western Sates 10 times (2002-2013) and that's where I got to know him. When in Tanzania, he guides expeditions around or to the top of Mt Kilimanjaro (see his company website, SENE - Summit Expeditions & Nomadic Experience).

I went to sleep just before 9 pm but unfortunately woke up before midnight and couldn't get back to sleep before my 2 am alarm. Yikes, after a few short nights during my business trip to the East Coast this week (I flew back on Thursday night from North Carolina), just 3 hours of sleep were going to make a day running in the mountains even more challenging...

Agnès drove me to the 5 am start. It was just on the chilly side, with a sky super clear and blazing with millions of stars!

Following the Race Director's suggestion, I didn't start with a headlamp. Since I had to start slowly anyway, I was perfectly fine letting 50 runners or so go ahead and staying behind a group with a couple of headlamps and a more reasonable pace as we climbed the Marlette Lake trail. The pace looked fine although we passed a few people on the way. I had no idea how many people was ahead but didn't really want to know anyway not to get caught into competition.

The bad news is that my GI system was still giving me quite a hard time. I've had some diarrhea from time to time these past weeks and I was bummed that kicked in again today, really bad timing, no charm, yikes... I had to stop in the bushes after 1 mile down in the Red House loop and saw a handful of runners passing by. I did caught up with them eventually and tied along them on the way up to make sure I wasn't going too fast. This group included Chris Zurbuch (#244) from Pomona, CA, and Ian Grettenberg from Davis, CA, who paced me last October at the inaugural Folsom Lake 68-mile.

Yet, despite all my efforts to not run as fast as the previous years, my splits were about the same. But at least this time, I wasn't in the lead...

Back to Tunnel Creek, mile 18.5, I went straight to the portapotty and spent about 10 minutes at the station. With this long stop, quite a few runners from Excelsior caught up and I even saw Simon in the station as I was returning my drop bag. I followed a few Excelsior runners and tried to stay behind Paul Broyer but lost him before the Bull Wheel aid station as I couldn't keep up the pace in the uphill sections. Paul was the 9th runner to complete the first 50-mile loop, he is on a roll!
We were less than 22 miles in the race and I had already lost most of my stamina... The next 8 miles to Diamond Peak became quite depressing. I got passed by a few runners, my guts were super painful with any pounding and that prevented me from even running the 5 miles down to the ski resort, and my mental will was fried. I had pretty much decided that this was still not worth continuing through 70 miles and 35 hours of hiking but, after crying of disappointment, decided to give some time to see if I would heal enough to rebound. Agnès and our host, Janet were very supportive and patient in the process. Ann Trason took care of me and really wanted me to continue, sharing one of her stories when she finished second to last, but finished.

The medical staff gave me a pill of Imodium but that wasn't enough to get rid of the GI pain. We waited for almost 2 hours for teammate, Frederic Garderes, in case I could help him getting back to Tunnel Creek. But Frederic also had a bad day and decided to drop too (he didn't train much these past months due to his recent move to San Diego).

With that, TRT remains an untamed beast for me and, as I write these lines in the afternoon of the race, I don't think this 2-loop format is for me. At least not until I have taken care of some bad stress I'm getting at work and which most likely contributed to the TIA in March. You need quite some balance to effectively compete in ultra running, and I didn't have it this weekend to say the least.

The race is still on as I write and UltraSignup put up quite a good live tracking to follow the progress of runners (when the input data is accurate...), and the updates give me mixed feelings. The list of drops is steadily growing and that breaks my heart. I see a few runners striving at the front, and others struggling in middle or the back of the pack and can imagine their pain hiking over the numerous slippery boulders on the trail. I'm in awe of the many runners who will finish and have finished this beast over the years.

A huge shout out for the overall organization of this race. Between remote aid stations, the extended hours, the workload at Tunnel Creek which is traversed by all the runners of the three races including 6 times by the 100-mile finishers, this race requires many super dedicated volunteers.

Monday, July 4, 2016

3 days, 3 (short) ultras: last tune up before TRT 100

A short post because I didn't take any picture while running, nor did I discovered new places this weekend. Additionally I contracted an eye infection, probably on my flight back from Europe this Friday, and the pharmacy was closed on this Independence Day celebration so I can't wait tomorrow morning to get the prescribed antibiotics drops and get my clear vision back...

After running 304 miles during my trip to Europe (110 in Scotland, 92 while in Paris and 102 in Chamonix), I wanted to leverage this long Independence Day weekend to log a few hilly miles as the last tune up before Tahoe Rim Trail 100-mile in 2 weeks.

On Saturday I went to the top of Black Mountain by the back side, that is on the REi/Tony Lookout Trail through Stevens Creek Park, then Canyon Road and Bella Vista trail, back via the Waterwheel Trail loop and Montebello Road. 29 miles and close to  4,000 feet of cumulative elevation.

On Sunday, I wanted to get back in time to watch France-Iceland, one of the quarter finals of the Euro Cup, and went for a flat and fast 50K, from Cupertino to Palo Alto through Shoreline and the Baylands. Unfortunately, less than 2 miles in the run, I had to stop at the Safeway to take case of some acute diarrhea business and, from there, it got worse but I persisted until it became so painful to run at mile 18. I made the mistake of running without my cell phone (something I'm now doing most of the time since the stroke) and asked someone to call the house but Greg didn't pick up. Short of a pick-up, I went on albeit slower than I had hope to. 29.2 miles, still at 8:03 min/mile pace (not counting the numerous stops to the bathrooms...).

Then on Monday, I went bold for a PG&E 4-peat at Rancho San Antonio. I had done this only once, at the top of my form when training for my first Western States (and first Miwok, and first win at Ohlone 50K). I didn't check how fast I had gone 9 years ago, my goal this time being only to having the mental stamina to finish it. I started at 7 am under a thick layer of cloud/fog which made the temperature perfect. Typical for Rancho there were a lot of people on the trail who had started even before 6:30 am. To my surprise I reached the fence at the top just under 40 minutes and thought I won't do as well for the next ascents. My first round ended up being 1:11:42 and I stopped the watch to make sure I wasn't rushing my aid station stop.

I clocked 39 minutes for the next climb and went down faster for a total of 1:09:59. Broke 40 minutes again on the 3rd climb and 1:07:37 for the third rotation. And was super pleased to be able to break 40 minutes again in the 4th climb, flying down with a 1:07:30 final lap. Super stoked that I didn't walk at all. Granted, at 9:00 min/mile my pace was one minute slower than in 2007 (not to forget I stopped the clock between the repeats this time) but given the circumstances and my lack of hill training this year, I'll take it as a final prep for TRT, keeping in mind that I won't be as prepared as 10 years ago so better run much more conservatively this year.

In lieu of pictures, here are the three Strava traces, below, and the activity links: Black Mountain, Palo Alto Baylands, Rancho San Antonio PG&E).

And, with that solid weekend and June, time to taper, yeah!