Saturday, January 12, 2008

Les balcons de Rouen: a French Fat Ass

January sees a nice ultra tradition across the US: the Fat Ass 50K. This is an unformal run or race of 50 Kilometers. No ranking, no course record, no registration, no aid station. A way to get the new season started with running buddies and friends. Getting your butt out!

In the Bay Area, "our" Fat Ass is organized by David Kamp. Usually on one of the very first days of January, but on the 19th this year. A year of particular importance as Schwarzeneger is planning to close about 50 of the State Parks thoughout California, including the one we go through for this run, Portola Sate Park. The news just got out this week, such a bad one for our running community. Which has hard time believing this will really resolve the economic crisis of the Californian administration.

Anyway, I will not be in town for that weekend, but skiing at Lake Tahoe for Martin Luther King birthday (memorial) weekend. Yet I wanted to run a 50K before the Coastal Challenge. After Vincent Toumazou's visit, my blog on our nice run together in December and his report on several ultra forums in Europe, I got in touch again with Phil, the chief editor of the superb UltraFondus magazine in France (the equivalent of our UltraRunning magazine, but all color and even more professional). Phil suggested we run together next time I was coming to France. Which was this January.
Jean, Laurent, Stéphane, Phil, Annick

Phil lives in Evreux, West of Paris, near Rouen, where two of my sisters live. When I mentioned this connection with Normandy to him, he asked Annick to organize a run in the Rouen area.

Annick suggested "Les Balcons de Rouen", a 47K-course she had designed and ran several times with some local buddies. Meeting point was Saturday, 8am, at her home. Balcon means balcony, to describe a flat trail longing a mountain or hill, not at the bottom, nor the top (crest). There is such a balcony trail over Chamonix for the ones familiar or going to UTMB or the Chamonix Marathon.

It had rained all week, which is kind of normal weather for this region, Rouen being the worldwide capital of umbrellas. But it was not going to rain this Saturday and the sky was wonderfully clear which allowed for wonderful views over the city and its famous cathedral.
Rouen still in the dark at 8am

And with the rain which poured all week, the trail was muddy, perfect preparation for The Coastal Challenge and Way Too Cool. Temperatures in the low 50s.
Sun rising over Rouen (view from La Grand Mare)

The time to gather the group, we took off around 9am. In addition to Annick and Phil, we were joined by Laurent, a local who had run the course/loop with Annick, and Stéphane, who had driven his motorcycle from Paris (90 miles), in the morning. It happened that Laurent, a dentist, knew one of my sisters, also a dentist. And I had chatted in a forum with Stéphane in December, to help him prepare a ski trip to Royal Gorge, where he will go next weekend, the same weekend we will go skiing in Tahoe, close by. We say "small world," I say "connected world...!"

With the collaboration of the perfect weather, the course was as advertized by Annick, offering wonderful views over Rouen. And quite some elevation too with about 3,000 feet as we were going from one to the next hill around the city, 7 or 8 of them.
Rouen, "The city of one hundred bell towers"

Overwall, we crossed these following cities and neighborhoods: Rouen, la Grand Mare, la Petite Bouverie, Darnetal, Saint-Léger-du-Bourg-Denis, Bonsecours, la Colline Sainte Catherine, the piers up to the newest "6th bridge," the harbor and the MIN, Croisset, Canteleu, Bapeaume, Deville-lès-Rouen, Mont Saint Aignan, Quartier Saint André, Bois Guillaume, Bihorel. Phew!
Panoramic view from La Colline Sainte Catherine (click to enlarge)

You can track our journey thanks to my Garmin Forerunner 205 GPS log either on:
  1. Google Earth
  2. Google Map
  3. Google Earth Community
On the way we alternated running, walking and sightseeing, and a lot of talking, sharing about our own experiences and backgrounds.
The majestuous "6th bridge", officially named Pont Gustave Flaubert (missing funds to get finished...)

Learnt that Annick had run 97 consecutive days, along all the littoral of France, from Belgium to Spain, then from Spain to Italy. 3,100 miles, 10,000 steps/strides, 184,000 of cmulated elevation; more than 6 times Mount Everest! Back to my sister's house on Saturday afternoon, my nephews remebered seeing her on television 2 years ago. And at my parent's house on Sunday evening, my mother reminded me she had given me a newspaper article about Annick's feat. Such a modest celebrity!
Yet another sightseeing break (Canteleu)

We talked about UltraFondus with Phil. Phil has majored in Computer Science but his real vocation was journalism, which he studied afterwards. He then became a successful journalist in IT before taking taking over the UltraFondus magazine and forum a few years ago. Combining all his passions into one job.
One of the several revolving doors, to prevent bikes and motorcycles to get on the trail

Stéphane ran UTMB last year (and so did Phil), and told us how ultra running compares with rugby, his other passion (he plays what he calls "folklo", that is in non organized leagues, just for the fun of the oval ball).
Repeat staircases, in Bois Guillaume: a good exercise for the quads!

After 6h45 of such good time, and many more stories, we were back to Bihorel where a surprise was awaiting us. Laurent had brought a bottle of Champagne and 6 flutes, to celebrate this new friendship. And indeed, we left like we were old (i.e. long time) friends, when we had just met for the first time in the morning. One of the many wonders of the ultra running community!
Herman (a local cake made by Annick) and Champagne!

I left suggesting this run and circuit become a new local "Fat Ass" tradition. The only drawback being that the name really does not translate well in French, literally. Just keeping "Fat Ass" then, and only the insiders (or the ones fluent in English) will understand...

On the following day, I could not resist to the temptation to get back on the trail for a shorter run as I didn't have much time before a family reunion (with the traditional Galette des Rois, commemorating the Epiphany). What was my surprise to meet Annick on my way back, who felt into the same... temptation. Connected world...

Nice gathering with my sisters and their families

This run, plus two others this week, provided a great field/lab testing for my new Brooks Cascadia 3 which just got released last week.
  1. Amazing cushioning, perfect for mixed terrain.
  2. Very roomy like most of the Brooks.
  3. Efficient lacing system (cannot imagine losing a shoe in the mud).
  4. Good grip all along the outsole which is useful in both up and down hills.
  5. Great look (in red at least).
  6. Very light shoe, almost good for road racing, and definitely good for trail racing.
  7. Very breathable mesh, drying quickly.
  8. Only drawback in my opinion: the upper mesh and shoe extremity are light and may not protect your foot so well on rocky terrain (lose rocks).

Merci, Annick, Phil, Stéphane et Laurent, et à bientôt!


Stephane Couleaud said...

Your minutes of our running trip is just amazing !
Jean that was a real pleasure to run with you, and really nice meeting you. I do hope that we'll have the opportunity to organize some other "running party" like this one soon.
Take care and enjoy your stay in Lake Tahoe.

Anonymous said...

Je précise que le long article, avec photo, qui m'a fait découvrir Annick, se trouvait dans un quotidien national "La Croix" pour être précis

Anonymous said...


Thanks for this meeting. It was really a very good day and the "Best Off" Balcons of Rouen.

Have a good race in Costa Rica.


Anonymous said...

greetings from England.
Loved the photos and your notes on your Fat Ass run...well done!
I know that area of France well -