Sunday, February 26, 2012

5th Annual Los Gatos Overgrown Fat Ass: yet another great training run!

A quick report as I'm pressed by time, having returned from the East Coast last night for a few days in town before flying again to Dubai on Friday... I actually thought that I was going to miss this 4th fat ass 50K in our area this year because of a trip to Riyadh, but this one got postponed a few weeks. It's the first year I actually manage to do these 4 "Fat Ass 50K" training runs: Saratoga, Fremont, 2nd Saratoga, and this one in Los Gatos, set up and directed by Adam and Sean. Knowing Adam, I imagined the course was getting through overgrown bushes in his Santa Cruz mountains, but was actually pleased to discover it wasn't the case at all. The course is actually very straightforward, mainly Limekiln Trail and Woods Trail up through the Sierra Azul Open Space Preserved, then down to English Camp in the Almaden Quicksilver County Park and back. But quite a hilly course as we reach 3,000 feet twice and a cumulative elevation of 6,200 feet. One aid station that we traverse twice at mile 13 and 17 when crossing Hicks Road, "manned" by the Race Directors' significant others in the early morning until Sean and Adam stopped after completing the first 17 miles themselves. Here is the group at the start, photo credit to Keith Blom:
Adam actually set a fast pace in the first mile up on Jones and Flume Trails through the St Joseph's Regional Open Space in Los Gatos. Sean and Mark were close behind with Mark staying right on my heels until the aid station. Mark then passed me during a short pit stop and I caught up with him at the English Camp turnaround where we had to find the phrase left by Adam (Pantat Lemak, or Fat Ass in Indonesian, not easy to remember... ;-). On our way back to Hicks Road we crossed Sean, then Adam, Toshi, and Peter who had started 25 minutes before us. At the aid station Mark and I took a small cup of piƱa colada to perpetuate this special and unique fat ass' tradition. Crossing the rest of the group, we stayed together until mile 21 (the turn around of the Quicksilver 50-mile), where I had to walk in the steep uphill to catch my breath and... lose Mark who kept running up the hill. At different places I pointed Mark 30, then 45, then 60 seconds ahead and definitely lost sight of him before reaching the top of Limekiln Trail. Here we are on Woods Trail (photo credit: Keith Blom):
My average pace was then down to 8:22 min/mile from the 8 minutes flat as we reached the aid station and 8:04 when we left. Adam was counting on us to break 4 hours and I pushed on the way down but didn't see how I could recover the minutes lost in the last uphill stretch of Woods Trail. Keeping pushing and flying down the steep Limekiln trail we climbed 3 hours earlier, I was able to get the pace down to 8:04 and eventually catch up and pass Mark by mile 27, with 4 to go. I walked part of the steep climb on Jones Trail then slalomed between hikers, joggers and dogs for a sprint down to the finish which I reached in 4:05:32. Not quite under 4 hours but a great work out thanks to Mark's emulation. Mark arrived 4 minutes later and I unfortunately had to leave before waiting for the next runners to come in.

The weather was idyllic, the trail in perfect conditions, the aid station well stocked and kindly and professionally manned, it was a perfect training run, credit and many thanks to Adam, Lisa, Sean and Heidi!

Here is my Garmin Connect entry and replay. Enjoy from the comfort of your couch! ;-)
Probably not much running during my short and busy stay in the Emirates, a good opportunity to taper before Way Too Cool in 2 weeks!

Running on the East Coast: DC, MD, NY, CT

These past 3 weeks have seen me visiting the East Coast twice: the first time for a business trip in DC, the second to visit Alex in DC (Georgetown) and Max in New Haven, CT (Yale). Both weeks had an unusual good weather for the winter season, just one rainy day during the first week and one snowy day in Connecticut the second week. Therefore perfect conditions to log a few miles while being on the go...

I didn't run with my camera though, so I'll let my Garmin recordings tell you about my runs. If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many words is a 3-hour GPS track worth...? ;-) In DC, I ran 5 times through Rock Creek Park for a total of 92 miles. Some people might have thought that I moved in the area... Rock Creek Park connects with the trails on the Mall and along the Potomac so, where every you are staying in DC, either in Georgetown or near West End, the bike path is easy to find and get on. It goes all the way to the North corner of the District of Columbia and the border with Maryland, and keeps going through Maryland outside the Capital Beltway.
After a few miles of bike path, you can get on very nice trails or stay on Beach Drive. Below is the SportTracks static view of my longest run in DC last week (25.3 miles), with more details in Garmin Connect.
A few days later, I was working from our Somers office and a colleague indicated a few trails behind the nearby Catholic High School. Again, great trails in the forest although these ones are better suited for cross-country and not recommended in the dark. For the benefit of other colleagues visiting this site, here is the Garmin trace of my run. Note that I ran at the end of the day and, unable to run more on the trails, I did a few laps around the campus, almost a 2-mile loop of nice road! Until the safety patrol injucted me to stop because they considered it wasn't safe to run in the dark on that busy road as employees leave work... Again, for IBM colleagues looking at an opportunity to run a few miles from our Somers campus: take the exit in front of the main building, toward Route 138; turn left on 138 (be careful of the traffic), down to the J F Kennedy High School. Between the track and the football field is the start of a cross country course with a few loops. Once in the woods, go right along the football field and the trail goes on for a few miles.
As I was staying with my friends in Ridgefield, I also ran 8 miles there yesterday, on the winding and rolling roads of New England. I was amazed at how good the road conditions were just a few hours after the 5-inch snow fall, yet I prefer my local Californian trails as these roads are quite busy and the cars not slowing down much for runners. I have a lot of respect for the local runners who have to train in this region and these conditions, either the cold winters or the hot summers... We are so blessed, or spoiled, in California...

Saturday, February 11, 2012

2nd Saratoga Fat Ass: rain and PureGrit, at last!

Finally some winter conditions appropriate for the season and a fat ass in the Saratoga Gap area. The first Saratoga Fat Ass we had this year had too nice of a weather, we needed a replay and the rain came just in time last night for that. Actually, we still need much more to alleviate the drought, it was mostly drizzling today.

Keith, the unofficial Race Director of this officially not organized run, will confirm the exact number of participants, my estimate is 30-35 between all the starting "waves" from 7 am to past 8 am.
While last year was cold and white (beautiful snow!), this year had just enough water dripping from the trees and mud forming on the trails to make it a good training run for Way Too Cool or Chuckanut. Especially with the presence of several fast Quicksilver teammates, Jeremy, Toshi and Sean. After passing the pack of the 8 am start, we had quite a fast run down Loghry Woods and Ridge Trails, each of us taking our turn to lead the pace. At the end of Saratoga Gap Trail, Jeremy took off as I was waiting for Sean and Toshi. After a few minutes and chatting with Peggy and Peter, I decided to continue on a slower pace and reached the parking lot after about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Sean and Toshi arrived soon after and we left the parking lot for loop 2 with my GPS showing 1:50 (elapsed time).

Toshi and I maintained a reasonable fast pace down Skyline-to-the-Sea and, after three miles of running, I asked Toshi if we should take the service road down on the left but he advised to stay on the trail. As my GPS was now indicating 15.85 miles, I finally decided it was enough and told Toshi and Sean with more assurance that we had missed the turned... We retraced our route back to eventually find a group of other runners also wondering if the turn I wanted to take initially was the right one, which it was indeed. My GPS was now at 18.0 miles, we had added 4.3 miles and about 30 minutes... With that, Sean told Toshi he would only complete the 2nd loop. As for me, I was not sure as I went through a wall around mile 21, before the end of the beautiful Travertine trail. I alternated running and walking on the way up to Skyline and went too far toward Summit Rock, definitely not focused today...

Back to the parking lot, I found Toshi who had inadvertently locked Sean's car key in the car and was now waiting for AAA... My GPS was now indicating 25.3 miles and, after spending some time talking to a few other runners, I decided to just do an out and back on the third loop to at least make it a 50K. My GPS was showing 27 miles at Charcoal Road, which wasn't enough, so I went on the loop but clockwise, starting with Table Mountain Trail instead of going down on the steep Charcoal Road. I figured out that I would run into Jeremy, then turn back to the parking lot. At this point, the sun made an appearance and it became so nice running on this more technical trail that I couldn't resist completing the loop. Running the loop in the opposite direction allowed me to meet a few runners (Peter, Keith, Penny, David, ...). I was back at the parking lot a 3rd time in 6:08 and 33.66 miles, which makes the 50K rather 29.3 miles. Did I mention it got muddy today?
It was the first time I was using the new Brooks PureGrit and I must say they behave extremely well. It was optimal conditions for them, with the mud and the rain. They hold very well in the muddy sections and they dried quickly after going through puddles. They provided enough traction on the rocks although I didn't really try to slide on the flat and large ones, nor on the slippery bridges. They also give a lot of stability with a larger sole than the PureConnect, and I didn't feel a single rock on this run thanks to the sturdy sole. They are so much lighter and more comfortable than the Cascadia, this is a great evolution toward minimalist trail running!
After a 5:42 last year in the cold and snow, it was disappointing not to break 6 hours this year but adding 4.3 miles certainly didn't help. Glad that wasn't a race... just a great and social workout! ;-) By the way, I ran 15.5 and 12 miles the following two days after Jed Smith, then 22 and 10 miles respectively on Tuesday and Wednesday in Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC, so back to training for the next races. The 22-mile in DC was quite epic because I left Dupont Circle at the end of the afternoon and reached the border with Maryland when it was almost dark, having to run 10 miles in the dark, fortunately a mix of well-maintain trails and asphalt bike paths, on the safe side of the city...

A lot of travels ahead in the coming weeks before Way Too Cool and Chuckanut, so I'm glad I've logged 81 miles/week since January 1, as I'm not sure how these travels will impact training. Have a good week and run happy, even in the rain! :-)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Jed Smith 50K: can I still improve?

This was my 4th time at Jed Smith and I was excited to get back on this fast new course which we also used in part at the World Masters of Athletics last July for the marathon (2 medals for the US, bringing good memories... ;-).

For those only interested in the pictures, here they are.

The conditions could not have been more perfect. First, the weather, blue sky, temperature of 44F at the start increasing into the low 60s in the afternoon, no wind. Second, Victor's presence and friendly competition, or rather emulation, for a rematch of Last Chance. A nice ride in the morning, carpooling with Sean (I was driving this time). I was concerned with the lack of parking so we left Meridian Avenue by 5:10 and got it actually quite early at 7 am, which allowed not only to find a good parking spot but also to watch the start of the very exciting 50-mile race, albeit with a very shallow field (less than 20 participants) as the bulk of the runners entered the 50K which was the only Grand Prix event this weekend. The other good condition was that I was able to get a good night of sleep (7+ hours) and catch-up with a few 5+-hour nights as I had travel to Austin, Texas for business last week. Then, as usual, some heavy workload and good stress at work, enough excuses which pushes me to do what I can in race and eliminate as much stress as possible... Between the tapering and the business trips, I was 5 pounds over my race weight, but that meant some good fat to draw fuel and energy from! ;-) With the dry winter so far, the course was perfect, not a single puddle. Last but not least, I entered the race with more training miles than I had ever have at this time of the year (78-mile weeks including tapering/not running last week). Including some speed work at the track. Quite a few aligned stars, there were still a few needed to align during the race...

The 50-mile was exciting for three reasons: the debut of Chad Worthen who won the 50K last year in 3:18 for his first attempt at the distance (Chad also ran the World Masters and placed 2nd overall but winning his M35-40 age group in 2:35). After his amazing 6:04 at Last Chance, at 56, Mark Richtman was back to set a new US Age Group record at the distance. Similarly, ultra elite Meghan Arbogast, 50, was also shooting for the same goal. The M55-59 50-mile road record was 5:53:08 and F50-55 7:44:48! (According to the USATF 50-mile records page) Meghan certainly didn't have to push much to improve that record which was set in 1995. Here is the start with Mark (left, #21), Meghan (middle, #1), Chad (right, #26):
After Chad dropped around mile 35, Mark won the race in 6:13, followed by Joe Palubeski (6:17) and Meghan in 6:19:08, which is just 3 seconds more than the F40-44 US AG record by the way. Congratulations to Meghan, who appeared so relax and all smile the whole way! Such an inspiration for us all and for me in particular as I'm approaching this age group... ;-)
Back to the 50K, we had a dozen of participants from our club (QuickSilver Ultra Running Team) and, in addition to the rematch between Victor and I, it was also a match between the two leader clubs of the Grand Prix in 2011, Tamalpa and our club. A lot of blue shirts on the course this Saturday!
Victor rushed off the starting blocks and took the control of the pace, slightly under 6:15 min/mile. He was followed by his teammate, Jonathan Gunderson, my teammates Toshi and Sean and myself. At the first mile turnaround, we saw that the field was already getting quite elongated by such a fast start. My objective for that run was mainly to improve my 50K PR (3:25:13 at Jed Smith 2010, a 6:36 min/mile pace). As Victor was maintaining his 6:15 pace, I scaled down a little, running around 6:19 min/mile for the first 5 miles. As usual, seeing Victor ahead running so economically made me feel that the pace was ok and sustainable so I started gaining a few seconds which left the two of us leading the race. I passed the 10-mile mark in 1:02:30 then caught up with Victor around the 20-mile mark which we passed in 2:05:45. We were then on a 6:16 pace which Victor was able to maintain while I had to slow down by a few seconds. Actually, my GPS was a bit off, indicating 31.29 miles at the finish for a certified course of 31.1 miles hence an actually slightly slower pace.

Victor crossed the finish line in 3:17:53, improving his PR at the distance by 8 minutes! I placed second 76 seconds later in 3:19:09, also a new PR for me by 6 minutes! I told you, the conditions were perfect... Victor is also improving the M40-49 course record which was standing since 1996, by 10 seconds, good enough to earn him 20 bonus points in the Grand Prix, a great way to break his long-standing curse of 2nd places...
Toshi came in 3rd, followed by Michael Fink, Jonathan and first timers Barry Smith who won his M50-59 age group in 3:37! Although a phenomenal performance for him, our teammate Dan Decker took second in this same age group, finishing 7th overall, right after Barry. Dan too set a new PR (3:42), improving by a whooping 35 minutes!
We stayed for a couple of hours to see other runners going through the start/finish area aid station or sprinting to the finish line. Great opportunity to catch-up with a few. See about 150 random pictures which I posted in my Picasa album. After reading Ian Torrence's blog post on the legendary Frank Bozanich, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to meet him in person. At 67, he is still pushing himself hard and ran an impressive 4:19. He still owns the M55-59 50K US record which he set 10 years ago in Sacramento at 3:40!
You can hear Frank in this podcast (

I passed the marathon mark in 2:46 which is faster than my marathon in July so that shows that I can still do better (when stars align). Also I only ate one 1/2 banana (60 cal) at mile 14, 1 GU (100 cal) at mile 27, 1 bottle of GU2O (120 cal), and 3 Vespas (1 45 minutes before the start, 1 at the start, 1 2 hours in the run) which did the rest to get me the 3,000 or so calories I used up during the run.

Overall it was a perfect day for many and my thanks go first to Race Directors John Blue and Dennis Scott. And to the volunteers at the three aid stations and also the several control points on the course. Definitely an organization meeting the standard of championships (just limited by the parking capacity...). And the perfect way to start the 2012 season!

This Sunday, I ran a good, albeit slow, 15-mile recovery run in my new Brooks PureFlow shoes (an interesting blend of minimalism with still a lot of stability). Next race: Way Too Cool. With 2 trips to the East Coast in the meantime and a pending one to the Middle East. Have great training miles all in the meantime!