Sunday, August 31, 2008

French 100K Championships: a long wall, solo

A first DNF (Did Not Finish) after 135 races, including 26 ultras in 2 years, and a weekend in Sologne, this is worth some explanations...

If you have not read my previous posts, I should not have been here. Injured at the beginning of the month, little training, stress at work, doctors advice to take it easy and not run, my body which was sending negative signals. Last Sunday I even ended up at the Emergency Room for what doctors believe was a renal colic. I could not get follow-on exams before flying to France last Tuesday, but I’m schedule for a check-up upon my return to the California on Friday.

However, with passion involved, you know the reason get sometimes relegated behind. I was also excited to visit my cousins’ place in Sologne. Philippe and Jocelyn welcomed me in their vacation home, a water mill on the Sauldre, hectares of land with several lakes and another farm on the property. A smart balance of water sheds, woods and open areas, in which wild life thrive so much that hunting has hard time keeping roe and wild hog population under control.Anyway, despite all the counter-indications, Philippe drove me to the start, early Saturday morning. We left his house at 4:30 am and reached Theillay 50 minutes later. Miles away from cities and no moon at all, the sky was extraordinarily clear and full of stars. However, it was not the time to look up but to get prepared for the 6:15 am start.

It was still quite dark at the start but running on asphalt in the dark is no problem:

The course was made of a first 5K-loop in Theillay, another 10K-loop around Theillay and a 85K-loop going through 4 other villages of Sologne. I took an easy start and was surprised to be in 13th position by km 15 when we came back to Theillay for the second time. Philippe took this picture of the sun rising, showing how nice and clear the sky was on race day.

At my second passage through Theillay, I was stunned when the speaker announced my name and added: "this guy has a too long stride, it's going to hurt at the end!" I found that comment so French, this way to say negative things instead of positive encouragements... Although, the observation was probably true in the end... Ouch! But I need to make up for my short legs!

Pacing or muling...?

The end of the second loop was the point where runners were allowed to pick a pacer, on bike. I was intrigued by this practice when a read about it on the registration form, especially for a championship.

First, there is the overall rule about pacers in championships. The French Track and Field Association rule book for outdoor and road races includes the following text:

"Pour les courses à labels international, national ou régional, les accompagnateurs ou suiveurs sont interdits, Marathon inclus, ainsi que sur les courses de 100 km comportant plus de 4 boucles."

Which I'd translate into: "For events with international, national or regional label, pacers are forbidden, including marathons, and also 100K races with more than 4 loops."

This weekend race had only 3 loops, yet it had a National label. I had shared my surprise with the organizers who replied that pacers were actually authorized on ultras, yet they should not be used by runners as a protection against the wind for instance (among other restrictions).

Surely, pacers were authorized this weekend. But my understanding was that runners could not get anything from the biker (aka pacer) outside the aid stations, about every 5 kilometers (3 miles). In other words, no muling. Actually, each aid station had very visible signage marking the beginning and end of the aid station zone. Later on, I learned that the restriction of no exchange (muling) outside the aid stations was limited to the first 4 hours of the race. I actually could not hear most of the instructions the speaker gave on the starting line because of the noise, but my cousin was surprised a committee would indeed come up with such last minute rules just the night before a championship.

Between km 15 and the half-marathon, I had two runners enough at sight to see stuff was going back and forth between the runners and the bikers. At the 20-km mark I stopped to ask the official judge about the rule and he confirmed muling was not allowed. Later on, one of the two bikers in front of me had stopped on the road and I mentioned I was surprised about their practice. He replied that it was OK as long as the runner was keeping the stuff, a sort of one-way muling. As you can see, the rules were not clear, and everyone seemed to make their own.

On my side I was carrying two bottles (I was the only of course!) and losing some ground when stopping at aid stations for some food (since the other competitors did not have to stop). I was on an average 7:00 pace (7 minutes/mile or 4:21/km) by the half marathon and decided to slow down a bit as I felt some asthma was kicking in.

A good marathon

I passed the marathon mark in 3:08 and 17th place, not too bad when suffering from diarrhea, stomach cramps and frequent pit stops. Actually too fast of a start given the circumstances. I was drinking ok, taking one salt tablet (S!Cap) every hour but was surely not angry. I was able to keep some light food but hit the wall shortly after the first marathon. The lead gal, Brigitte Bec, caught up with me at the 44.5-km aid station. Her pacer carefully handed her over a bottle before the end of the zone. Brigitte did not stop and kept running while taking sips. Then, a few hundred meters after the station, she gave the bottle back to her pacer, just before my eyes. I was stunned and kind of disgusted and angry with this use of pacers. In reaction, I slightly picked up the pace, passed her for about a kilometer before I had to slow down again, with stomach cramps.

I made a long 4-minute stop at the 49.5-km aid station where I had a drop (zip-lock) bag with a few GUs, 2 pouches of GU2O and some sun screen for the remainder of the race. By then I was probably in 20th position and I could spot the same irregularities with the runners/pacers who had passed me. Interestingly, I cannot find anything regarding "accompagnateur" or "suiveur" in the 2008 rule book for National Championships. So maybe that was just me...


I passed the 50km mark in 3:52. My initial goal being evaporated, my digestive system still giving me hard time, the heat picking up, the shade of the trees disappearing, and demoralized by the pacer advantage, I started walking more and more. I was probably in 40th position at that time and I believe the first solo runner passed me around the 55th kilometer (unless there was a solo/non-assisted runner in the top 10 after the second loop).

While walking, I got passed by one ultrafondu (reader of ultrafondus magazine) who recognized me from my blog. Otherwise, and as opposed to the Californian ultra races, the race had all the anonymous aspect of a road marathon (without the crowd). With rare encouragements from runners and pacers passing me, a pinch of ultra spirit and camaraderie. At this time, I also got passed by the 3rd or 4th gal, with three bikes, yet another irregularity per the race rules this time. Oh well, who was caring anyway?

The idea of walking for 45 kilometers in the sun became a dark vision or nightmare. My cousins had planned to be at the finish by 1:30pm (in case I was running in 7:15) and I started thinking that I may not reach the finish before 6 or 7 pm. Although Philippe studied my blog enough to learn that CREW stands for Cranky Runner, Endless Waiting in ultra, I really did not want them to get a 6-hour wait for their first encounter with this sport. Besides, my lower back started to get painful and I figured it was enough to call it a day, with medical warnings and counter-indications. And enough to get to experience the concept of DNF for the first time in my running life.


It surely hurts, but I had read enough from other runners to get prepared for such a thing. Overall, what is important is not to make the headlines for having pushed the limits too far and getting under the spotlights for critical medical conditions. I was not near there, I believe, it was more a mix of fatigue, disappointment, anger, detachment and a bit of reason after all the medical advice I got these past weeks.

I was walking when I heard a car coming from behind, just in time to see it was the medical shuttle. I waived and the crew did not ask any question when I said that I wanted to drop; that was a quick and easy call. It was km 70 (mile 43.5) and 6 hours 27 minutes of running and walking. Only two thirds of the way...

The ambulance was almost full, with already 5 runners in the back and the 3-people medical crew in the front. We stopped to pick another runner, then others wanted to get on but we did not stop. While passing the other runners on our way back to Theillay, it gave a strange taste of fleeing, running away and letting others down, like you can see in some war movies. The 30-km ride to the finish was sometimes bumpy and very uncomfortable, yet we, in the truck, all felt sorry for the runners who will suffer from the heat through the afternoon. I later learned that 255 made it to the finish out of 330 starters (and 370 registered) which is not too bad. Congratulations to these valorous finishers! See the results on line.

I consulted with a doctor upon coming back to the finish. He was nice, just asked a couple of questions and was not worried at all for me, despite the renal colic story. I saw the first three runners coming in (7:04, 7:08 and 7:12), all with a biker/pacer (of course!) and went to get a massage while waiting for my cousins. We then tried to get some food but the ticket I had purchased was in the car parked on the other side of the village so we decided to leave and have some lunch on the way back. Enough for the French ultra party in Sologne! No, not done yet, look at the setting and great view to start my blog:

On the way back I consulted my BlackBerry to find out that my hero and favorite Scott Jurek had retrograded from 2nd position to... DNF at UTMB. And, on Sunday night, there are many other elites whom I cannot find in the results (select Scratch in the pull-down menu). I am glad Karine placed 2nd again this year, Pascal (Blanc) 19th (he was 18th last year), Jeffery (Sam Rogers, from the Bay Area) 752th and Alan (Geraldi, also from the Bay Area) 853th. What a tough and challenging course. So different from my flat 100K of this weekend...

Brooks and ufo (ultrafondus) sponsorship?

The race was advertized as one of four 100Ks in a series put together by Brooks and ufo. The Brooks association to the event is one of the elements which decided me to participate (I am a Brooks fan and receive a small sponsorship from them covering about two pairs of shoe a year). But I really wonder what the sponsorship consisted in: no banner at the finish or the start, no mention on the race t-shirt, Adidas (!) on the bib numbers of the participants to the Nationals. Hope Brooks’ money was worth something else, if money was involved.

An experience

After a DNF, it is hard to talk about the race as a good experience. Yes, there are things to learn from the experience. But more importantly, it was more than just a race. It was an opportunity to experience one facet of the French ultra, in which road races take a much bigger place than in the US. Road ultras in which France excels at the international level (both men and women at the world championships). Apart for the pacer snafu, the race was well organized with roads closed to most traffic, a lot of picturesque places along the course, frequent aid stations, nice volunteers from 5 different villages collaborating to make this race a success.

It was also an opportunity to visit this beautiful region of Sologne, so quiet and with so much wildlife, yet so close from Paris (less than 2-hour drive). It was an opportunity to get to know my cousins better and visit their secluded estate where they concretely act on sustainable development through the restoration of original fauna and natural habitats. With all that, including a strong connection with ultra running, it could not have been a bad experience!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Headlands 50K: a good training run

I know, by choosing this title for my race report, I take the risk of appearing presumptuous. But, please, bear with me, I hope you will see what I mean.

Actually, a couple of days before the race, I thought that, if I was able to finish this one, without too much pain in my injured right quads (see my Skyline race report and the following posts), I will title my post: "Headlands 50K: just in time!" Meaning that I had healed in 3 weeks, just in time for racing again.
Certainly, the training for this year's Headlands 50K has been far from optimal. After 11 days of rest following Skyline, I resumed a light training with a progressive series of daily runs: 2, 5, 9, 12, 7.5 (track) and 13.1 miles last Wednesday. Although the pain was fading away the first 5 days, swelling, tightness and pain came back on the 6th day. My sister Marie and her husband Bruno, both MDs, arrived on Wednesday night. Marie is my remote sport medicine expert and I rely often on her judgment, formed on consultations over the phone or email. Both Marie and Bruno were not optimistic about my quad and suggested I ask my local doctor to get an ultrasound done to see how much the muscle was damaged or torn up. I saw my family practice doctor on Thursday but did not get the referral as it did not appear serious enough for him. All Friday, I was kind of procrastinating, wondering if I should participate in this trail 50K US championships or preserve my quads for the coming French Nationals of 100K road the following week (8/30). The three doctors were rather leaning toward the latter option, yet on Saturday morning at 5am, Agnès, Marie and I were driving up to the beautiful Marin Headlands (North of the Golden Gate bridge).
The US Championships... Surely, when I looked at the list of participants last week, it was a bit suspicious US champions on the distance would be crown this weekend. 77 pre-registered runners is quite a small field. The second clue was that the championships were not advertised on the race website, when it was last year. Well, at the end of his pre-race briefing, Race Director Greg (Nacco), confirmed that there was no championship today. Given the circumstances, I was not too disappointed because I was not ready to push my quads too much. However, I thought it was interesting because the idea to compete in the championship again this year was surely a big part of my motivation for showing up this morning (as well as participating to a Grand Prix event and avoiding a DNS, a "Did Not Start" since I sent my entry on the day I found out Western States was canceled.
7am, with temperature in the 60s and a very low and grey sky, here off we were for a rolling-coasting 50K. The start is on Rodeo Beach, which makes it tough with the soft sand. Cliff (Lentz) and some other runners chose to run close to the water, on the firm sand. I did not see them first, so I chose the shortest but more difficult path through the soft sand. On this picture you see the group of runners on the beach lead by Cliff on the right, and I on the far left, paddling in the soft sand...:
Quickly on the Miwok Trail, Cliff, Michael (Buchanan) and a third runner in red took the lead and I was already 1 minute 20 seconds behind them at the top of the first hill. On the way down, I was trying hard not to speed up like last year, to preserve my quads. I saw them going through the first aid station (the horse stables of Tennessee Valley); I was then 1:35 behind which I felt was not too bad. I spotted them going through the top of the second hill, and lost 10 more seconds going up hill. That was the last time I was going to see them until the finish. I like this picture taken by Agnès because, yes, there was some serious "trail work ahead", certainly in a metaphorical way!
I was expecting seeing Agnès and Marie at the second aid station, but they were at the 1st and 3rd instead (Tennessee Valley and Pan Toll). Going up Pan Toll, I recalled that it is usually where Erik Skaden passes me (at this race or Miwok). But he was not here this year so I just used him as a virtual pacer to keep pushing. Half way to Pan Toll, we were getting into the cloud and it was very misty, with the trail being even muddy in some places. Adding to it the slippery roots and steps reminded me our first stages of the Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica (check this event out, they already got half the available slots taken for next January!).
On my way up to Pan Toll is when I realized I was running without thinking about the race. I forced myself to not push the pace in the previous two downhills, that is was just a run to train, and I caught myself into really running like in an intense training run rather than thinking about other racers. Only the aid stations, the valorous volunteers and a bib number on my shorts were here to remind me that it was not a supported training run, but a race, indeed!
Last year, Victor (Ballesteros) passed me on the technical trail heading down to Stinson Beach, the aid station slightly after the half-way point. In this section, you have to hop over roots and steps, stop and turn at many 180-degree switchbacks, bend to go under trees blocking the way. For all these reasons, I was fearing this part of the course and thought that, if I can get to Stinson Beach without pain in my quads, then I will have a great and successful run. And no pain did I feel indeed the whole way, what a relief!
Agnès, Marie and 3 volunteers welcomed me at the Stinson Beach aid station (next to the fire station). One of the volunteers said that the other runners were 5 or 10 minutes ahead (I thought that was quite a vague indication as 5 minutes make a big difference on a 50K). But both Cliff and Michael were faster than me last year (4:15 and 4:17 respectively, versus 4:23 for me), so I had no intention to push the pace more on the way up back to Pan Toll. We were still running in the cloud, missing the usual wonderful view of the Pacific Coast. We go back to Pan Toll on an another trail, along a very nice creek (steep ravine trail). After a turn, I ran into a male deer with majestic antlers (I hope this is the right term, I had to look into the dictionary). We both looked surprised but I must have appeared the most determined as he quickly left the trail to give me the way.
At Pan Toll, my crew was here again (5th time including the start) and introduced me to the volunteer indicating us the way through the Pan Toll Park Headquarters (a short detour from the usual course), an avid reader of my blog, cool! I picked a piece of chocolate (yummy!), hoping to fix the nausea which started around mile 14 (not sure if I was not drinking enough because of the fog and humidity, or what I missed in the food despite taking bites of everything). It helped a bit but my stomach stayed upset until after dinner, slightly better after the afternoon spent at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk where my company had its company picnic.
Agnès asked if I'd prefer we meet again at Muir Beach or a the finish. I chose the finish and was surprised to see them at the crossing of Shoreline Highway, then Muir Beach (they had to sprint to get to the aid station on time!) and the finish! 8 meeting points on such a course, what a crew! Too bad they could not even enjoy the view as we stayed in the fog the whole morning.
From Stinson Beach to the Finish, I slowed down, keeping looking back to see who was coming behind but did not see anyone. I thought that I could make it under 4:30 but my average pace got over 9 minute/mile in the last hills which I mostly walked. The finish always appear longer than you imagine, especially comparing with the Miwok finish.
I was not thrilled with my time (4:40:48) but was really happy to finish without having felt any pain in my right quads the whole way. I figured out that I got in 4th overall and 2nd Masters, behind Cliff. But Cliff told me I was third overall actually, behind Michael (4:21:10) and himself (4:27:11). The other lead guy dropped on an injury. Victor came in 1 minute and 6 seconds after me, I had no idea he was that close.
We debriefed on our respective performances and running season so far. Michael was 9th overall last year in 4:21, Cliff 6th last year in 4:15, Victor 7th in 4:41 and I, 11th in 4:23. So quite some shuffling from last year results but overall slower times this year. Either because of the weather, or the lack of competition, or our own personal circumstances, or a combination of all that. Jason Reed came in 5th, from 29th last year, in 5:08, 5 minutes faster than last year.
A special thank to the many volunteers who gave their Saturday up to assist us and stay all day in this cool and misty weather. From the registration, the website updates, the well stocked and manned aid stations, the lonely volunteers placed at each strategic turn, the perfect marking, the time tracking table and BBQ at the finish. And Greg as race director. THANK YOU! Every time I saw one of you, I felt joy, awakening from my training run state as you were reminding me there was actually some race going on... Thank also to the sponsors: Montrail, GU, Stevens Creek Software (thanks Steve Pat and see you in two weeks to volunteer at your Stevens Creek 50K), Sunsweet (missing the Abbs), SAS.

We enjoyed the BBQ but we would certainly have welcome some sun. Then, with the family, we spent the rest of the day at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. Based on how well my quads behave this Saturday, I am now decided and excited to participate in the French Nationals, even without much training. For what it is worth, I surely got some strength training with almost 2,000 meters of elevation. Yes, for what it is worth, because next week's 100K is completely flat, and 98% asphalt. No high expectations in terms of performance as this is my first attempt at this distance on road (7h30-7h45?), but I do hope the weather will be good (I don't like rain, especially while running on the road). My main goals are to participate to an ultra event in France, enjoy the company of the ultrafondus, see what this type of event is about and participate to an event sponsored by Brooks.

Au revoir et à la semaine prochaine; ou l'année prochaine...! (*)

(*) Bye and see you next week; or next year...!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

California fires: are we there yet?

I thought I'd give you a quick update on several fires in California:
  1. the wildfires which started with the thousands of lightnings of June 20,
  2. my quad (burning) injury after Skyline,
  3. the truck on fire which got us to cancel our trip to LA on Friday night.
First and foremost, the wildfires. Great news: they are all contained but 7 on the Northern part of the State. At some point at the end of June and early July, I had heard pessimistic firemen saying that some fires would have to wait for the first rains to be contained, in October! Glad to see the outlook is more positive. Yet, there are still tens of thousands of acres still at risk as we speak.
You can find this map as well as other up-to-date news on the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection's website.

My second topic is about my burning right quads. I thought I had almost healed on Thursday. It was the 11th day after Skyline and the first one I did not experience pain simply walking or going downstairs. On Friday morning, I gave it a shot with a jog around the block. By the first mile the pain was back, and the quad burning again at the end of the 2 miles. Went for 5.5 miles at Rancho with Max this Saturday evening and it was better (quads heating up after the second mile, and not too bad before going to bed). And another run on Sunday evening, 9 miles this time. Still missing some elasticity in the right quad, which makes me shorten the stride, but making good progress over three days. Despite longer distances each time, pace was respectively 8:18, 7:50, 7:35 min/mile. Will give a few other tries early this week before tapering again before next week's 50K championships (Headlands 50K).

Last, we were supposed to spend the weekend in Los Angeles, to visit one of my nephews who has been invited for a 6-month paid internship by one of the best imaging labs in the world. We left home by 5:30 on Friday afternoon, to get stuck one hour later on highway 152 (Gilroy - Los Banos) in a traffic jam similar to the ones we can experience on highway 80 when snow storms hit Lake Tahoe. 4 hours to drive 10 miles, that was too much and we decided to head back home after we just went through Pacheco pass at 11 pm and realized we had four more hours before reaching our hotel. The reason of the jam was a truck on... fire, earlier that Friday afternoon. Fire had stroked again... By the way, just learned from the web that Pacheco pass is a haunted place, beware of the ghosts!

Well, that's a hot summer, a blazing one! Hope you stay cool on your end. We surely did today, spending several hours at Raging Waters with the boys and a visiting cousin. In the meantime, some ultra party was going on at Leadville (a 100-miler also called "The Race Across the Sky") where snow and freezing temperatures were expected. And running buddy Peter Lubers is attempting to break the speed record on the entire Tahoe Rim Trail (165 miles under 45 hours). Going through a heat wave on Saturday. And with neighbor Michael Kanning updating a semi-live webcast on Peter's blog. Some sort of e-ultra (electronic-ultra)! Different places, different weathers, different temperatures...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

La vie pure et l'ultra-paradis

Yes, the title is French. Yes, this is about TCC again. My 8th post on this adventure. A never-ending race report...

A long-due post although it did take a couple of months after coming back from the Coastal Challenge for me to write this ultimate article on my journey through Costa Rica, in French this time. And a few more weeks for it to be published in the ultrafondus magazine (issue number 51, April 2008).
I did not want to just translate one of my post, or even the article which I wrote for UltraRunning magazine. It has another flavor, a content which aims at attracting the francophone and overseas audience to come for some ultra-tourism in Central America. And, among many other good reasons, to take advantage of the strong Euro! The format is a series of thematic snap shots illustrated with post cards.
The article is the result of great team work, leveraging pictures from Andres and Tim and the talents of Romuald, ultrafondus's graphist, for the layout. Andres was the event official photographer and Tim the event director and founder.
For the Francophone readers and the other ones who are not afraid of this foreign language, I have posted the entire article on line (thanks to the ultrafondus magazine team for sharing).
For more information (and praises!) on this magazine, you can read this earlier post.

Ironically, I share this story about pure and cool life, at a time I need to remind myself about being happy and focusing on the present moment. The injury from last week 50K race at Skyline last week worsen during the week. Friday was finally better, then the pain came back on Saturday, making me limping. The quads got quite damaged and I believe they have hard time eliminating dead blood cells and other waste from the edema. At least the swallowing is almost gone and I am close to have regained full flexibility and being able to bend the knee as much as before. But not quite there (15-20 degrees still missing) so it is too early to resume running. When I should be training full speed, two weeks before Headlands 50K (the US 50K trail nationals) and three weeks before the French 100K road championships. As for work, I am still wondering how the Big Blue elephant will scoop us at the end of the year. Some people on both sides claim there is no reason to worry, yet, I can't prevent my analytical skills to kick in and make me think. And worry... But, Pura Vida, right? Besides, the family flew back home from Spain this week and everything is wonderful on this end. So life is perfect after all, Pura Vida!

Hope you enjoy your summer, wherever you are. And a special hello to the ultrafondus and all the TCC 2008 participants!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Skyline 2008 50K: S as in...

I knew I was going to appear stupid if my knee did not hold today, running on an injury. What I didn't know is that I did something else really stupid today, which was not that. Same outcome, but different act, see for yourself.

First, some background for the ones who did not hear the story today, or did not read my previous post. Last Monday, I was in Chamonix, training on the UTMB course (Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc). Not a solo run for once, but with Team Lafuma led by Karine Herry (the queen of ultra running in France) and no less than Scott Jurek as their guest star. In a steep downhill before St Gervais, I slipped on the wet and grassy trail, trying to stick with Scott. It was a red-graded downhill run which would be rated as black diamond here in the US, so quite steep and we were just going straight (you know French do cut corners, don't you?!). And it was slippery because, first, it had rain the day before and, second, I was wearing used road shoes, with no traction at all (I did not bring my trail shoes with me for my improvised 5-stage Tour de France). Furthermore, I was the only one in the group not having poles; even Scott was trying them for the first time that day. Bottom line, I slept and, although I did not fall, I must have strained a muscle at the very bottom of my quads, almost under the patella. We were around mile 10 but the pain really kicked in by mile 22 and I had a hard time finishing my 50K run (I left the group early because I had a plane for California the following morning, in Paris).
After 5 days of rest and deep/strong self-massages with two great products (only available in France though: inongan, an anti-inflammatory cream, and Flexarome, a bio aromatherapy product to heal muscles and articulations, which my brother advised me to use for tendinitis too) the pain was gone so I decided to line up this morning. Not before strapping my right knee with a sports tape.

Race Director Jennifer was welcoming us before dawn with her volunteer staff.
We were also welcomed by a group of wild geese which chose to land right next to the starting line (Lake Chabot Marina):
Around 6:20 we saw Mark (Tanaka) sprinting to the registration desk. He was late to get ribbons and flour to mark the course... Only him could have drawn the few smileys with flour on the trail, that was cute!
The start was given on time, at 7am and off we were on a reasonably fast pace as the first two miles are rolling pavement along beautiful Lake Chabot. An opportunity to chat with Jon Olsen, who is preparing for a 100-miler in 2 weeks, after having missed Western States, and dropped at Tahoe Rim Trail 100 in July. Ron Guttierez was just behind us; we compete in the same age group of the Pacific Association Grand Prix. Graham Cooper was also here, preparing for an IronMan in Canada. He had biked 200 miles yesterday, this is (when he has tired legs) the only way I can beat him, like at Ohlone last year.

I took the lead when we hit the trail at mile 2. Jon stayed close behind me. We ran the entire uphill after The Big Bear aid station (mile 10.2) and I felt better than last year. In 2007, this is where Steve Stovers left me in the dust and I was walking. We passed the Big Bear aid station in 1:16 versus 1:13 last year, so the pace was good. On the ridge, my knee started bothering me (mile 11) and I told Jon he should go because that was the section he could best use his long legs. Around mile 12, the pain was already unbearable, when I ran into Mark Tanaka who had made great progress in his course marking (thank you, Mark, both for the marking and the photo credit!). I was limping pretty bad when I got to the Skyline aid station (mile 13.5). I was disappointed not to see Carl (Andersen) and Ann (Trason) who were there last year, but there was quite a cheering crowd which helped. As well as ultraholic, Chihping who encourage me. And Brian who gave me some Advil to kill the pain (at least alleviate it, let's say...).

The way down Redwood Park, ironically along French trail, was torturous and I even screamed in some occasions when I could not prevent from using my right leg, for instance when jumping over roots and rocks. I was so sorry because it is such a great section of the course, running through the redwoods. The interesting thing is that, while having much pain in the downhills, trying to slow down as much as possible (not a good idea when you race...), I had less problem climbing and ran most of the uphills (there are quite good ones in this area). Local legend (as I learned later), Jeff Teeters, passed me at the end of that section, just before going down to Big Bear, I was now in third position.

I hang with Jeff for the entire Big Bear climb but could not follow him on the ridge and going down to the Bort Meadow aid station. Jeff is an interesting character with a unbalanced posture (carrying one bottle with his arm extended) and wearing a large hat. Impressive performance and fitness at 49 though. Graham Cooper and his fellow triathlon buddy, Troy Howard, passed me a couple of miles later, in an impressive charge. One runner passed me before the Honker Bay aid station where Stan Jansen proposed to work on my knee with his knife. I am not sure he said "fix your knee", so I preferred to escape and manage the pain for 3 more miles. Starting with the painful descent to the lake, nothing serious usually but painful when you have only one leg left, not to mention that leg was getting tired to do all the work for 15 miles already...

One more runner passed me and the last rolling section and I was happy to finish in 8th, 3rd in my age group, just one minute before Ron. 4:17:20, not as good as the 3:48:13 of last year, but good enough considering the situation. Only one runner had made it under 4 hours this year, Jon, in an impressive 3:44 (Steve won last year in 3:41).

Hang out for a few hours, first to ice my knee (phew!) and to enjoy the great company and BBQ party. Although I did not stop much to the aid stations, carrying two bottles and not being too hungry as I was running slower than usual, the volunteers did really rock. There are so many on this course, probably more than the total number of runners. Race Directors Jennifer (Ray) and Mike (Palmer) did a perfect job, even getting the perfect weather (just enough fog in the morning, and a sunny afternoon)! Photo courtesy of Mark Tanaka:
OK so, now, what did really happen to my knee? I strangle it!! Yes, back to the title of this post, s as in strangle, stupid, silly strap... I thought that it would help holding the quads in place, right above the patella. I promise, I did not really tighten the tape and it felt ok for the first 5 miles. This was a first for me, and I am obviously not a specialist nor did I consult with one. Several years ago, I had bought some Coach Sports Tape from Johnson & Johnson and decided to give it a try. After all, the package read "Helps Prevent Strains - Helps Protect Injured Areas". Not to mention the tag line: "The Choice of Professionals"! ;-) To be fair, I did not read the directions for use, which, I just found out, were all about taping fingers, wrist, or ankle. But not the knee! Articulations, to prevent them from bending, but not muscles, to prevent them from working!

During the run, my knee got so painful that I had no doubt the injury from Monday reappeared. When I got to the finish line I was barely feeling the bottom of my leg and thought that, after a while, you manage the pain because it is not getting any worse and you get used to it (yikes!). After one hour or so of icing, I was basically anesthetized. Being an ER doctor, Mark could see something was wrong with my reddish and swollen knee. I mentioned that I shave before putting the tape and he thought that was the reason of the color (irritation). I kept the strap for several hours, including the whole way back home. When I finally took it off, my quad was almost as large as DK's (Dean Karnaze for the non insiders), no kidding! It was such a relief, especially to find out that the pain was actually not at the same spot as Monday. But the vastus medialis to be precise (thanks wikipedia!) which just reacted to being beaten by the strap for 30 miles (and that makes thousands of strides and as many subsequent traumas). After several hours of rest and release, it's already much better, phew! Bottom line, and lesson learnt, do not use such non-elastic tape around muscles, dude! (Sorry, Johnson & Johnson, I'm not blaming the product, just the use of it for this purpose.)
Bingo, here we are, having injured myself trying to fix an injury! I know some people must think that there must be some sadomasochism in ultra running (I mean the pain to ourselves, not the sex part, oops!), and my story is just making this worse... Time to study medicine if I want to treat myself...

So, Skyline, starting with an S as in stupid, strangle and silly strap. And as in superb and speedy course and event, nonetheless!

I will be back, learning from my lessons...

PS: even more swelling on Monday morning... But I'm pretty confident this is less serious than what a knee injury would have been. Just a few more days of rest as punishment...