Friday, January 25, 2008

TCC Day -1: vamos a Costa Rica, ¡pura vida!

Here we are, time to fly down to Costa Rica! The whole Saturday on the plane, San Francisco to Phoenix, AZ, then San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. Then one night in San Jose before getting on the bus at 5am, driving North to Fortuna in the Alajuela province (you can see my guess of the various starts and finishes of the stages in Google Earth, if you have it installed, or Google Map, in your browser).
It feels strange to leave the Bay Area which finally got a cold and rainy weather and fly to a warm area in their dry season, although dry there means more humid than here! For sure the locals will have an advantage over everyone else flying in. Not to mention I'm leaving with a cold and a knee which has been bothering me for a month now (not surprisingly though as I keep running reasonably hard on this inflammation...). And it also feels strange to leave for a week of vacation, leaving the family behind.

The turn out for this event has not been as good as previous years: 33 in the Expedition Run (the long version and the one I'm on, of course!), and 9 in the Adventure Run. With very few runners coming back from last year, but the favorite, local German Kurt Lindermuller. Looking forward to the first run to see if I can stick with him so I don't get lost (course is usually not fully marked and he knows it for having ran it last year) or I run a la Scott, with the camera in my hand.

In addition to reading some articles and Bev's post on Scott's blog, I got briefed by former participants, Chuck Wilson, Christine Miller and Bev Anderson-Abbs herself. So I feel as ready as I can on the logistics side and look forward to this new physical and mental challenge, since this is really a first for me (6-day of racing and camping for a week).
Testing the tent, at home...

At the same time, I'm ready to take it easy and enjoy this wonderful region of the world, in this thin connector between the two Americas. Chuck was thinking of coming back this year but got tempted by another raid in Vietnam at the end of February. And Chris is now preparing for her next challenge, the UTMB (Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc) for which she got her slot two weeks ago!
With Chuck and Chris at the start of Ruth Anderson 50-mile in March 2007

GSM connectivity will likely be very limited, if any, during our week in the rain forest. If possible, I will send updates to the family which they can relay on the blog, and you will get the pictures later if all goes well (meaning I don't lose my camera or get it stolen... the ones who know about our tribulations in Costa Rica in January 2006 will see what I mean...). Otherwise, the Coastal Challenge website should post updates in the meantime. Check the LeaderBoard page out! The run starts this Sunday, stay tuned...

¡Pura Vida!
A much larger drop bag than Western States: a 24-gallon ActionPacker!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Mt. Rose Marathon: strange acclimation

This is really a strange way to prepare for next week's Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica: running in freezing temperature at 9,000 ft elevation. Next Sunday I will be in the tropical rain forest, with temperatures in the 80s and humidity near the volcanoes, then dry air along the beaches of Guanacaste.

This long Martin Luther King Day weekend, we stayed with our good friends on the North shore of Lake Tahoe, in Incline Village. One of the paradisiacal places on Earth...
Two great days of alpine ski, at Northstar on Friday and Mt. Rose on Saturday.
Sunday was off, to prepare for a party to celebrate Janet's 50th birthday (our hostess).

Off for the boys and Agnès, but I took the opportunity to put a last long run before the Coastal Challenge. The weather was good, getting cloudy and some snow was expected in the afternoon. After Todd checked the distance to Mt. Rose resort (12 miles) and the weather one last time (including the warning for high winds at the summit), I was off by 11am.
The trails are still not cleared after the big storm of two weeks ago. I decided to run on the highway which connects Incline to Reno, through the "highest year-round pass in the Sierra" just below Mount Rose. It is called Mount Rose Highway, or SR 431, and has large shoulders, well cleared apart from some patches of black ice. I always run against traffic, but paid even more attention to the numerous and big cars, as Todd told me about this runner and local resident who got killed on this highway, a hit and run, such a shame.

The first 5 miles up to the lookout over the Lake were fine. I started getting cold and could barely feel my fingers by mile 9. Fortunately, I had taken with me some petty cash with a special idea in mind: a hot chocolate at the main lodge. Much welcomed to warm up, as well as the 10 minutes I spent next to the fire place in the hallway. After this short break it was time to get back uphill to the summit (3 miles) and it didn't take long before the warm was gone and my hands froze again as I was now running against the wind, reported with 50 to 60 mph gusts. I had to put my Buff on my face and it was freezing with the moisture. Even my Ultimate Direction bottle froze and made drinking a challenge. Despite such a blizzard, the snow showers were sparse and I was lucky to get some sun between the dark clouds. The sun rays were providence and much appreciated. The temperature then became bearable as I passed the 8,000 ft elevation mark on the way down. Back in Incline Village I ran across town and Todd and Janet's neighborhood to make the run right on 26.2 miles. For the right to name it the "Mt. Rose Marathon..." My very own and private marathon as, not surprisingly, I didn't see any other runner or biker braving the elements on the Mt. Rose Highway that Sunday.
This is very far from acclimating to Costa Rica, although the profile has some volcanic flavor, hasn't it?

In the evening, we got this surprise party for Janet and Janet didn't see it coming! We were joined by Kim (Janet's best friend, from college) and her husband Jim, who drove up from Santa Rosa for the night. Then John, Stacey and their three kids and Stephanie. John and Stephanie are runners (marathons for John and ultras for Stephanie) so running was part of some conversations.
This Monday morning we had planned to (cross-country) ski at Royal Gorge. It was an opportunity to meet with Stéphane again, whom I ran with in Rouen a week ago. Unfortunately the weather was not cooperative and the perspective of having to put the chains on on highway 80 canceled this project. For the joy of the boys who had one more day in Incline to play with their friends Kristen and Corine.

Time to drive down to the Bay, go back to work for a short week, before flying down to Costa Rica on Saturday. For a week of "Pura Vida!" And, in default of acclimation to the heat, with the benefit of altitude training.

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!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

2007 in review: by the tagging questions

Ouch, I've been blog tagged by Mark (Tanaka), when I thought I was done with 2007... I didn't even know what it meant until I read his blog. I initially thought Scott (Dunlap), our blog guru and father of all our ultra blogs, would have started this chain, but, no, it's Paul Charteris! For the non insiders, the game is to pass a predefined list of 6 questions to the next ultra blogger(s). And, Mark, after answering all the questions, not half way, ok?

So, the nominee questions are...
  1. Most memorable moment on the trails in 2007.
  2. Best new trail discovered in 2007.
  3. My best performance of 2007.
  4. I don't know how I previously survived without...
  5. The person I would most like to meet on the trails in 2008.
  6. The race I am most excited about for 2008.
And the winning answers are...

1. Most memorable moment on the trails in 2007.

Only one? Better be a good one... Yet, I have so many good memories on the trails in 2007. Getting paced by Rob (Evans) at Western States. Finishing Ruth Anderson's 50-mile just before Dean (Karnaze). Seeing Karl (Andersen) and Ann (Trason) at Ohlone and Skyline. Running on the UTMB course with Karine (Herry), Bruno (Tomozyk), Pascal (Blanc) and the rest of the group (counts for many memorable moments). Training with Simon Mtuy and James Bonnett at the Western States Memorial Day Weekend training run. Being welcomed by Agnès at Robbie Point in Auburn on June 24th. Then by Tim Twitmeyer on the finish line (well, wasn't on the trail actually, but the track). Getting introduced to Vincent Toumazou, from France, and introducing him to Rancho and Black Mountain. Running an ultra in Normandy along the beaches of D-Day. Crossing the Badlands in South Dakota. And above all that and many others, I'd place something which may be even more unique: when Graham (Cooper), then in first place at Ohlone, asked me to take the lead. I thought that was foolish, and surely, foolish it was. You have to believe in yourself sometimes... ;-)

2. Best new trail discovered in 2007.

Only one again? That's too unfair to so many trails... Let's go with UTMB then! A race I hope to run next year and a trail I wish you discover too, some day.
3. My best performance of 2007.

Hmm, what about a PR on a 10K, how does that sound for a 43-year old ultra runner, kind of too short or too fast? OK, from an ultra standpoint, I was very happy to run 20:24 for my first 100-miler and Western States (18th overall, 4th masters). Great PR on 50K on a fast yet hilly Skyline course (3:48). 22nd masters at Boston was not bad either. Nor was my 5th masters place at the International Paris 20K. But I believe the best was the overall win at Ohlone, less than 2 minutes slower than the course record, and just ahead of Graham Cooper (although Graham had set a course record at Skyline the previous weekend, and biked 200 miles the day before!). Quite a year overall, quite a few "best" to pick from!
4. I don't know how I previously survived without...

Hmm, can you repeat the question? In 2007 specifically? Ultra ultra running (11 ultras)? Succeed's S-Cap (sodium)? Bananas? Jelly-peanut butter sandwiches? Rob's pacing at Miwok? My Garmin Forerunner 205 GPS? Tom K's grilled cheese sandwiches at Last Chance (photo credit: Jay Hansell)? 5. The person I would most like to meet on the trails in 2008.

In less than two years of ultra running I've met quite a few icons of the sport but not Anton Kupricka and Karl Metzler yet. Only one? Karl Metzler (picture from Shannon Farar-Griefer's website). And all the others, and you, of course!
6. The race I am most excited about for 2008.

Wow, again, many "most" to pick from. What about The Coastal Challenge: a 6-day run and raid through Costa Rica's rain forest? But, although there will be very competitive local runners, I'm not sure this can be considered as a race (small field, expedition style). I'm very excited to go back to Way Too Cool and Miwok, hopefully without exercise-induced asthma this time. Even more excited to finally run American River in April (I was in Boston last year, and got the rain too). And even more excited to go back to Western States, so that must be it!
OK, so that's it for 2007, although this is still such a quick snapshot. And now, let me introduce the next tagged bloggers... Jeffery Rogers and Dave Schoenberg, alias the Atlantan.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Ultra and cyber sprinting

Like many, rushing for online registration is the part I like the least in ultra running. And I realize my sentiment, or resentment, must be nothing compared to what the original ultra runners must experience and go through. They were used to show up the morning of the event and get in. Later, races filled-up a couple of weeks before the event, then, for the most mythical, a couple of months before. That's when I started hearing about ultra. It became like the populous marathons; damnation, what happened to "our sport", they were saying during our training runs?!

In December, it was Way Too Cool. On a Sunday morning, 8am Pacific. Jumped on the car, direction the office, instead of getting out for a run. Arrive at the office at 7:50 to find out that I forgot my badge. Rushing back to home, hopefully not far. Switching the computer on, right at 7:59. Hey, the registration is already open, what's going on? I had tried my account login the night before, so I was quickly set and registered in five or six clicks. Phew...

Yesterday, I had a nice 15-mile run with our Midpeninsula Saturday morning group in Woodside (Wunderlich Park, Ed, John, David, Lina). Ed was sharing his frustration about not being able to get in Way Too Cool (despite the 400 entries!). He said that this time, no question, he will go to his office to get the fastest connection and all the account information ready. He also mentioned that he suspected Way Too Cool registration opened before 8 am that day.
This morning, it was Miwok. Same day, same time. This time I didn't forget my badge, so here I am at my desk, with the best connection, by 7:50am. Just checking on the event, what is my surprise to see the registration is already open. Quick, my login name and password! Trying one. Fail. A second one. Fail. Quick, click on forgot my password. Checking for the email response in my mailbox. Ok, got in. What, asking for another identification by email?Damned, the system says this account has already been confirmed, and would not let me in. Trying with another old account (I have 3 already created). Phew, in, but with old information so I have to retype everything. 8:02, registration confirmed, what a sweat... And $7.50 of processing fee, on top of the $100, quite a nice tip isn't it? Didn't even see the waitress... Not bad for a beta...
OK, I'm not denying that has brought a lot to the sport and helped increasing awareness for fitness, as well as streamlining the registration process for the race directors. But that leaves an aftertaste of monopoly, à la Google. Not you?

Oh, by the way, this isn't specific to the US, is also taking over the sport business in Europe!

Better have a good, fast and reliable connection to go farther and faster these days... And be current with big brother,