Thursday, March 27, 2008

Reaching Wall without hitting it

Happy birthday, blog!

March 27, 2007. One year ago, my first post. Happy birthday "Farther Faster blog!"

To celebrate and mark this milestone, here is a long due report on a run during which I decided about getting into blogging. A solitary run where I thought I could not just keep my joy of trail and ultra running for myself. That I needed to put some souvenirs in writing to keep them fresh for many more years.

Ironically, last week, I happened to discover the blog of a fellow passionate runner in Harlem, after he had made very controversial comments about ultra runners and one of my heroes in particular, Scott Jurek. A blog Lance started one day after mine, and decided to stop today after one year and 400 posts. More than one post per day, versus one a week for me, a much different pace which may explain some divergence of views between him and our ultra community! Wishing Lance to catch the ultra virus, sometime.

So, once upon a time, one year ago...

Badlands National Park, South Dakota - March 24, 2007

There is hitting the wall or running through the wall, as we say about marathon. But I prefer the running over the wall version which leads us to ultra marathon... Ultra is all about managing your physical and mental resources to go further, faster, and without hitting the wall. So here is the wall story... At a time many people and some of my friends put the final touch to their training for a spring marathon (Boston, Paris, London, Big Sur, Avenue of the Giants, Marine Corps, San Diego, etc.).

It started with a free companion ticket on United, my cherrish airline (975,000 miles since I moved to the US). And the convenience of having my parents at home for 2 weeks so Agnès and I can enjoy an intimate get away. Looked at the US map to find a place where the five of use would unlikely fly or drive to. I wanted New Orleans but it's not a great UAL destination. Albuquerque? Seattle? What about Rapid City, South Dakota, said Agnès? "The Badlands National Park is going to disappear from erosion in 5,000 years, we'd better go to see it now!" she added.

5,000 years? Ouch, that seems so far away and yet so close per earth's scale; indeed, an interesting place to rush to! Fortunately, as we found out from the Park Rangers, with an erosion of 1 inch per year, the experts give to the Badlands concretions another 100,000 to 500,000 years (uh, seems like a great software estimate range, no? ;-). Phew, what a relief, our children have some time. Well, that's if we protect the Earth enough in the meantime, from global warming and other pollution and degradations.

Here we are, landing in the small and clean regional airport of Rapid City, and getting to the hotel in... Wall. South Dakota. 808 souls. Wall, what a name for a marathoner! And finally a connection with our blog running theme!

Reaching Wall without hitting the wall
Saturday morning, 5:12am (4:12am Pacific, it's tough to live with an ultrarunner sometimes...), I wake Agnès up to make sure we get to the entrance of the Park before dawn. Wall being at the Eastern end of the Park, we drive all the way to the West, enter the Park as the sun rises, and Agnès drops me at the first parking... 26 miles away from... Wall. Almost the perfect distance, and enough to go for another preparation of passing the wall (between mile 17 and 19 for me) without hitting it.
Of course, no competition and race pressure, no fear of not making it as Agnès was driving through the Park, staying within a 2-mile range all the way, doing her own safari in this deserted place.

In the following picture you barely notice the road from the colorful ground layers. Now, once you have found it, look closer for the minuscule black spot in the middle of the picture, that's me! (You may want to enlarge the picture by clicking on it.)

We were not completely alone in the Park, there was some wildlife:
And what about this big one that Agnès caught running through the grass?A porcupine, playing hide and seek with a cactus!Passing the Homestead Overlook, an opportunity to remember the many Homesteaders who immigrate from Eastern Europe in particular with their dream to own a piece of land. A way too dry land, unfortunately...Fortunately, I had my water bottles with me because, even in winter, it is really dry, and I could feel how happy the cowboys could get when approaching Wall, known for its drugstore, its hot coffee and free fresh water!
And here am I, reaching Wall... without hitting it! 3h10, a good training, good long run and good sign for my 2007 edition of Boston.
Quite a Western atmosphere and setting, with good representation of both Native Americans and Cowboys:

More about the Park

"I love this Park. It's like running on Mars!" told me Scott Dunlap about Badlands, SD (hum, SD... ;-). Sincerely, I did not think of Mars back then, I must admit I don't know Mars that well. I hope to get some of Scott's fortune (and wealth! ;-) one day to get upthere (on Mars) and find out. But Scott is right, Badlands is the closest you can imagine Mars from NASA's pictures.

In terms of comparison, there are actually many others, because the Park actually features several very distinct and characteristic landscapes.

The best expression I could think of while running there is "the middle of nowhere." Especially as we only saw 2 cars in the Park for the three hours we spent there. (I bet it's a different story in summer although, it will never be crowded as it is so remote.) A very remote feeling then, with an infinite view in all directions. Nothing comparing to running in even remote mountains and forests.

When going through the Park there is some reminiscence of Bryce Canyon, my preferred National Park by far. And a resemblance with the Artists Palette in Death Valley. So many different geological features and colors within 20 miles, a concentrate a nature's beauty! See for yourself:

Definitely worth the trip. Either as a runner or a tourist, or both...

A wall for who?
The Park is surrounded by an endless plateau so the hills really appear like a wall from many miles away. A wall for the buffaloes which were chased, respectfully, by the Native Americans. A trap for the Native Americans, chased and exterminated by the US Army (see the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890). A trap for the buffalos which got decimated. A symbol for generations of Homesteaders hitting the wall in this infertile land and having to re emigrate to other places. All not good examples of sustainable development. With the erosion doing its work to eliminate ans slowly erase this dramatic and picturesque place. Naturally this time...

South Dakota

After Wall our tour of South Dakota turned to a real safari and ultraphotography (720 shots over two days).

Clear and sunny skies:
Pristine creeks such as the frozen French Creek (yes, French!):
Wild buffalos:
And bighorns:
And this is just a small selection of animals, shots, views, souvenirs...

A tribute to American leaders

Our trip ended with a visit to the famous, monumental and unavoidable Mount Rushmore. No way we would have missed such postcards!
400 workers, 14 years, 60-foot high portraits, tons of dynamite and rocks removed, this is really...ultra sculpture, isn't it?

To conclude this long and illustrated post, I would like to express all my gratitude to Agnès. I am always keeping in mind that, in a couple, no passion can be fully and sanely lived without the other's consent and active support. I'm grateful to Agnès for letting me put so many hours into running, training, racing and now blogging. For better or for worse as we promised each other, and never for granted!
Farther and Faster, to get this blog... further!


Anonymous said...

Un plaisir d'avoir pu "refaire" en images ce beau voyage.

Anonymous said...

Merci Jean pour ces magnifiques photos que j'ai tenu à partager avec Nathalie.
Occupé à téléphoner à ton voisin de Mountain View, je n'ai pas pris le temps de tout lire mais ce sera pour un autre soir.
Ces paysages donnent le frisson et des fourmis dans les jambes.


Dave - Atlanta Trails said...

those are incredible photos. Makes me want to go up there!

Kelly S. Nichols said...

I read Lance's post about Ultrarunning and I agree with him. I have been saying the same thing for years.

Kelly S. Nichols

Jean Pommier said...

No offense, Kelly (I believe you refer to "the" Harlem Runner blog).

I was thinking of this again as my friend Brian set a course record at Barkley yesterday. Sincerely, I don't think I will ever see the Kenyans (whom I respect so much as runners) accomplish such a feat. Oh, yes, of course, there is no money involved, just running and walking in hell for 55 hours.

Yes, ultra crazy, I know...

Take care,


PS: apart from that, do you like the pictures in this post? Don't that offer some change from your loops in Central Park (assuming you run with Lance)?

Kelly S. Nichols said...

Yes, I am refering to Harlem Runner blog. I enjoy his posts. I wish I had found him sooner.

Kelly S. Nichols

Unknown said...


I always enjoy your vacation/running pictures and write up, thanks for sharing!

Also thanks for linking to the Harlem Runner blog, and although I disagree with most of his views on ultrarunning, it is definitely humorous! Especially his fight with David Goggins!

Good luck at the AR50, and maybe I will see you in Boston!

Sean L.

Anonymous said...

That's a beautiful line:

I am always keeping in mind that, in a couple, no passion can be fully and sanely lived without the other's consent and active support.

Thanks for all your posts. I'm encouraged by them all the time!


P.S. I'm going to run my first 50K at Quicksilver on May 10 :)

Jean Pommier said...

Sean, sorry, no Boston this year, maybe next year ('01, 03, 05, 07, you see the pattern...).

Toshi, thanks for visiting regularly. Great news for Quicksilver, get prepared for some heat. My only regret is that I will probably not run this one but a 10K (Human Race) with my company running club (between Miwok and Ohlone). But I'm sure our paths will cross soon at one of these events or on the trails.