Saturday, April 30, 2016

Running near London: a 14-mile loop around Heathrow airport (LHR)

When I stay in a new place, with some time for a run, I like exploring based on what Google Maps provide, then document what I found in my Running in... series (see tags on the right side of this blog). But nowadays, there are so many running-related blogs, websites or apps out there, it's worth doing a quick search. Spending a night at Heathrow between two flights, I was very pleased to discover Keith Hauser's Running Routes blog. Quite a great resource for globetrotter runners like me!

Now, Keith isn't an ultra runner so his routes are on the short side for me. More specifically for his Heathrow route, it is less than 3 miles so I decided to create my own route, all around LHR, and I'm pleased to report it's quite a great run! At least if you stay in one of the numerous hotels on the edge of the airport and on Bath Road in particular (there must be more than 20 hotels qualifying!).

Here is the trace of my Wednesday run:
And I ran the loop again on Thursday morning before my flight, adding another half mile by missing the turn on Great South West Road:
First, I strongly suggest running the loop clockwise. This way you are on the inside of the loop and running again the traffic since locals drive on the 'wrong' side (left! ;-), since they have their driving wheel on the... right side (yes, this is confusing, as it is when you cross a street and need to watch for traffic coming in the other direction you are used to).
This is a view of the sidewalk on the South side of the airport. Although it border a 2x2 expressway, it looks really nice.

Of course, you are close to car and airplane traffic so it's pretty noisy, but wait for what's next
 Yes, there are still fields and crops that close to the airport, looks like the country side, doesn't it?
 Another nice sidewalk as you approach the reservoirs.
The first reservoir, Staines reservoir. I was excited to run along some water per the map, but these reservoirs are well protected, as are those providing water to San Francisco in our Silicon Valley.

 This shoes the only section where you have to run on the left side, after exiting the underpass at the crossing between the two reservoirs, the Southern point of the loop on the above map (by the way, the underpass is call Subway here!). After about half a mile, you'll find this trail on the left side which allows you to cross the expressway underneath (next picture).

At his point you enter the real green area, which is a pasture for cows. I was lucky that the grass was dry. If you run this loop during a lay over, make sure to have a good place to change and shower as this section must be quite muddy after rainy days.
You can barely see the trail here, you just have to trust Google Maps (I don't know how these guys are mapping out trails which are barely visible when you are on them...).
Don't miss this tricky connection to climb on the old railway line, it's really the nicest part of the loop, the one which makes you forget you are just next to one of the busiest airport in the world. That's also the section I saw a fox, at the same place on both my runs, quite an experience!

After that, my phone died so no more picture, make sure to check out or download one of my two Strava runs: Wednesday evening (14 miles) and Thursday morning (14.5 miles).

The end of the loop is actually pretty straightforward once you get on Bath Road. You may see that I left Bath Road when getting closer to Terminal 3: I was supposed to meet blind runner Simon Wheatcroft before his flight to Namibia where he is running on his own the 7-day Sahara Race from May 1 to 7! You may recall I met Simon in Vegas in February. Anyway, I missed him because, with my dead phone, I couldn't figure out how to get under the North tarmac. Someone told me the tunnel was closed and I had to take a bus, but it was too late. Anyway, a good lesson that, if you want to run this loop during a lay over, from one of the terminals, you need to plan accordingly. If I had to do that again, while not staying at one of the Heathrow hotels, I'd try to escape the perimeter of the airport through Terminal 5 which is much closer to the outbound perimeter: you need to take the Heathrow Express train from Terminal 3 (e.g. OneWorld) or 2 (e.g. Star Alliance), to 5 (domestic).

Also, as you can see in the above maps, there is likely a way to shorten the run by taking the Southern Perimeter Road. But I say likely because I haven't assessed the feasibility of running along that road.

With the traffic at this airport, I hope this is helpful for a few runners stopping by Heathrow. As a matter of fact, it was super cool to receive this message from Chris, shortly after I posted my runs on Strava: "Thank you Jean for the inspiration. I ran a similar route around LHR this afternoon." At least it helped one! :-) As a matter of fact, Chris cut it shorter by hopping on that Southern Perimeter Road, and you can check his 10-mile version on Strava. But then he missed all the green countryside section at the Southwestern corner of the loop, that's the trade-off.

Again, great run if you have a few hours while going through or staying at Heathrow!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Ruth Anderson 2016: quite a special edition!

It was quite a special edition this year for at least four reasons. First and foremost, the event is named after a local ultra legend who passed away a month ago. She was 86 and living in Oregon these past years. You can read her USATF bio and her obituary in UltraRunning Magazine by John Medinger.While I never had the opportunity to meet her, and that makes me look still young in the ultra arena, I heard a lot of amazingly positive things about her. Second reason making this edition so special, it was the 30th anniversary of this low key ultra party which includes 3 distances nowadays: 50K, 50 miles and 100K in the wonderful setting of a 4.5-mile loop around Lake Merced right in the City by the Bay, the iconic San Francisco! Third, it was my 10th consecutive participation and, that, I don't know if it makes me look young or old... ;-) In the scheme of ultra running, 10 years aren't that much, many 'veterans' have been running for decades, showing an amazing resiliency, one of the facets of what I call 'sustainable ultra running.' Last but not least, it felt so special to toe the line again this year after all the incertitude created by the TIA I had 6 weeks earlier. It was the second ultra race since, what an interesting road March has been this year...

Speaking of this medical incident, and before I soon can consider this a blip and put it behind, let me share a quick update. As you know, the only remaining explanation or potential diagnosis was that a clot might have been caused by an arrhythmia of the heart, what is known as the infamous atrial fibrillation which even young and super athletic runners may experience. That's why I had to wear a heart monitor for 2 weeks, the one I had while running American River 50. I was really looking forward to the results, especially the measures corresponding to the 4 runs I had have during that period, including the 8 hours at American River 50-mile and an intense track work out 3 days later. While the device recorded every heart beat for 2 weeks, it missed the last 6 hours of American River, probably due to excessive sweat.
And here is the spike corresponding to a speed workout session at the Mountain View High School done with Jeremy and Bob (6 x 800s including one @ 2:42)

Now the great news is that the report came back as all positive (meaning negative in terms of any issue), the day before Ruth Anderson, just in time for my cardiologist to confirm that there wasn't really a good explanation of what happened at the 50K Nationals, but enough rationale for me to decide to toe the start line 10 days ago.

Indeed, although I like posting race reports by the end of the day of the event, more than a week passed already. In my typical hectic life, I had a flight for Zurich at 7 pm on race day, followed by a 45-minute connection to Madrid. And I didn't even had all my slides finalized for my Monday keynote at the conference I was flying to in Madrid... I only wish there was a device measuring stress level, that would provide more insights to my doctors which they may leverage in their investigation... Anyway, with that, I had decided to only go for 50 miles, or back down to the 50K in case I didn't feel good enough. But avoid the 100K distance for 2 reasons: first, relieve some stress for having to run fast and rush back home to take a shower, then to SF again for my flight. Second, as I wrote in my post last week, Steve Stowers had improved our M50-54 age group record of the 100K distance by mere 12 seconds, so that made the record still reachable in my opinion, just that I shouldn't be chasing records right now.

For the non insiders, this event is special in the sense that you can pick your distance 'on the go.' Once you reach 50K, you can either stop and get listed as a 50K finisher, or go on but then you have to run 50 miles at least. If you finish between 50K and 50 miles, you are a DNF (Did Not Finish). And the same when you reach the 50-mile mark: if you keep going then it has to be until 100K. That makes this event a very tough one from a mental standpoint because it's easy to feel 'tired enough' to stop at 'shorter' distance. On the other side, the 4.5-mile loop makes the logistic really easy as you keep passing though the same aid station, and the opportunity to see other runners throughout the day breaks the monotony of running for hours. Let's also mention the super good weather we had this year again, a sunny day on the hedge of a hot day by mid day.

On my end, the race went quite well. My main goal again was to run an 'easy' 50-miler, hopefully faster than 6:14 (the M50-59 Age Group Course Record -AGCR- I had set last year), which is still much slower than my 5:43 Personal Record/Best on that distance. That corresponded to an average 7:29 min/mile pace, on a slightly rolling but relatively flat and fast course (asphalt bike path). With that, I was quite happing to see speedster Chikara Omine quickly disappearing ahead after only 2 miles. He had told me at the start that he was going for 50 miles as well, but he wasn't trying to go fast, which surprised me as I would have assumed he was trying to show his 100K Team USA teammates he was still in great shape after his amazing 9th place and 6:58 at the World championships in 2010. Well, he certainly started fast at least! 2 other of his Excelsior teammates were also ahead, Karl Schnaitter and Nakia Baird. I passed Nakia after a mile or so and he shared that he was shooting for 100K. But I let Karl go as he was on a 7 min/mile pace and I was aiming to settle down to a more reasonable 7:10-7:15 one which I did eventually in the first three laps. Photo credit, Chihping Fu:

In the 4th lap I was feeling so good that I kept the pace a bit, enough to regain visual contact with Karl, another runner in a bright orange jersey, and the lead woman who passed me in the second loop, telling me that she wasn't sure if she'd go 50K or 50 miles (an hesitation which seemed to me not such a good strategy given the fast pace she was running at).

In the 6th lap I closed the gap with Karl. I was convinced that it was him who had slowed down, but my GPS was telling otherwise, that I was wrong and it was me who had run the last laps much faster as my average pace was now right on 7 min/mile. I told Karl he was like a metronome and was surprised when he told me he was going for 100K. At that pace... In this 6th lap I got close enough to the 50K lead runners to see that the leading gal had a buddy running along side, something which you'd describe as pacing, which is forbidden at this event. Not a big deal for the back of the pack'ers but that got me excited enough that I pushed the pace even more to let her know, then pass her, completing the first 50K in second position behind Chikara. 3:43 for me at the 50K, definitely an 'easy' run/pace today, but there was still 19 miles to go. At this point, I was still feeling extremely good and thought that, if it continued this way, I could go after the 100K record after all. But I SHOULD NOT so I consciously kept pushing the pace, thinking that this was barely sustainable for a 50-mile given the lack of training in March, but to make sure I would be tired enough by the 50-mile mark that I wouldn't be tempted to keep going for 3 more laps (50K are 7 laps, 50 miles 11 and 100K 14). Well that strategy worked very well, the last 2 laps were much harder, although I was glad I didn't have to walk at all this year. The harder for me was that I felt quite hot by noon as I didn't get much heat training this year. There was some breeze and it wasn't warm by any standard but the sun was bright. In the last three laps I saw my average pace decreasing from 6:58 min/mile down to... 7:22... In the 9th and 10th laps, I actually turned a few times to see when Chikara was going to close on me and lap me. What a surprise to finish the 11th lap and see him finish just before my eyes, as I still had to run the ultimate 1.5-mile out and back to the main aid station. He had slowed down and ran 5:57, with me taking 2nd in 6:08:20. Yes, a new AGCR, worth 20 bonus points in our Grand Prix. Photo finish credit: Janet Thomson

I had not given it all fortunately, but I needed to cool down and Steve Jaber was very helpful in getting me iced water for that. I had used Vespa and took only 5 GUs total, so I was now hungry and really appreciated a few cups of chicken noodle soup plus the variety of fresh fruits. And the yummy ice cream brought by the Pamakids club, thank you guys! Because of my afternoon flight, I couldn't stay the whole afternoon but here is a picture of the 50-mile podium which was taken just before I left.



Special thanks to Race Directors Rajeev Patel and Anil Rao, Emeritus Race Director Steve Jaber, and time keeper and volunteer extraordinaire Dave Combs and Stan Jensen. And Janet who volunteered for a few hours again this year.

As I teased Dave and Stan at 5:30 am upon taking my bib: "you must live here for being at this table year after year when we show up..." ;-) At least they have known Ruth Anderson well given their decades of involvement in our sport and it's so inspiring to see them giving back so much to our community. (2 following picture credits: Chihping Fu.)



30-year anniversary, a celebration of Ruth Anderson's ultra life, an ultra racing party, the 10th consecutive time for me and the simple and great joy of still being able to run: yes, Ruth Anderson Ultras were quite a special edition this year!