Monday, January 25, 2010

Running networking

This is typical of Silicon Valley... Saturday morning, you put your (Brooks) shoes on, go for a run, meet someone new, talk for several hours about running, life, work, kids, etc. "What's your name? - Brent. - Nice to meet you, I'm Jean." And here we are, Sunday evening, writing a short post to find out that Brent is a key executive at PayPal and was previously with eBay where he led the acquisition of PayPal a few years ago. Simply.

This Saturday, Agnès and Alex left early for the airport. The scoop: Alex has been selected in this year's Congressional Page program and will spend almost 5 months on Capitol Hill. His first experience there, and he just turned 16... How cool is that to start the program the week of the President's address to the whole Congress for the State of the Union? 60 kids for the whole country, a 200-year old program, a school dedicated to the group, 4.5 months with our representatives, what a unique experience it is going to be for Alex and his "page-mates", all that right after our trip to Ethiopia (yet another of Alex's projects...)!

Anyway, this Saturday I was up for a solo run up to Black Mountain, hoping to see some snow up there. It snowed on the hills of the East Bay two days ago and not just on Mount Hamilton. Even Mission Peak was snow capped and such views always thrilled me and make me wish we could go to ski every weekend.

I left home at 8:05, just in time to attend the Stevens Creek Striders weekly meeting at the lower parking lot of Stevens Creek Park. A dozen members welcomed 3 guests, one of whom admitted that he has lived in the reservoir area for a while without knowing the existence of our club. Brent is new to ultra running, but not ultra endurance, having completed several ironman events at the elite level. He ran 20 marathons (just like me!) and is going to run his first ultra with PCTR in two weeks. The Woodside 50K, the same day as Jed Smith 50K.

He had biked but never ran to the top of Black Mountain and was up for a 3:15 run so we left the rest of the group in the climb to the dam and got on Montebello Road, chatting all the way.

The weather alternated between cloudy, rainy, sunny and drizzly. But overall not cold enough for snow. To my disappointment, Black Mountain was still black this Saturday morning.

We came down to the reservoir following the flooding Stevens Creek Canyon and get our feet wet when crossing the creek actually. A good training in preparation of Way Too Cool, which we both got in by the way.

Brent did tell me he was working for PayPal but didn't say at which position. He did share that he was just back from being expatriate in Ireland and Luxembourg but not that he was then the General Manager and VP Europe of PayPal. As for being new to ultra, we ran 27 miles today, so he is definitely ready for his first 50K! You can expect to see him placing quickly! Brent, good luck in two weeks, and I hope you decide to join the Striders and also our RhoQuick ultra running team actually (please contact me to discuss)!

We did split at Mount Eden Road, close to Brent's house, and I ran back along the reservoir on the REI trail (officially closed because of several mud slides). Here is a picture of the reservoir showing that we need much more water this winter (the level is pretty low if you compare to the overflow wall on the right).

I stopped by the Park Rangers station to check for any train maintenance opportunity, then stopped by the office of the Audubon Society at McClellan Ranch (hoping to meet Debi Jamison, Steve Patt's wife, who volunteers there and left a note on my July post on the Blackberry Farm grand opening). Half a mile farther, I took two pictures of the e-waste drop-off event going on at Monta Vista High School (great sustainable and green initiative!).

Nice social and casual ultra marathon, some good training for the beginning of the season after the 18 miles of the week (much better than the past two weeks), followed by 7 miles this Sunday. It feels good to get back on the trails, getting excited again with all the upcoming races we have planned with the team for 2010!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Back to town for Santa Cruz Bad Ass

Still feeling behind with blogging, work, family, friends, pictures, social networking and running actually but slowly catching up. I've drafted a "post mortem" post on the Ethiopian trip but am still working on the selection of pictures to go with the text. Another busy week in perspective at work so here is a short post to recount the Santa Cruz Bad Ass run organized by Adam Blum yesterday. My second fat ass of the month. One ultra every Saturday but no running in between, not the best training regimen...
I almost missed the invitation on FaceBook after so many weeks away from the Internet civilization. Checked on my account on Friday night and also got an email from Pierre-Yves who wanted to borrow my copy of Born to Run. I was going to join our Saturday morning group at Rhus Ridge this Saturday but switched to Adam's run so we could catchup and discuss the upcoming season with our RhoQuick team.
5 of us started the run this morning: Adam, Pierre-Yves, Gary, Andy and I. The meteo was supposed to be bad for the whole weekend but this Saturday morning was actually looking good. A few clouds, cool temperatures but some sun. Everybody was in great shape after running the Saratoga Fat Ass of last week and we started on a fast pace going down the steep Hutchinson Road. Adam had told Holly that we should reach Santa Cruz in around 3 hours and 15 minutes. He added that the Bad Ass Café after which this run is named is actually closed so we were to meet at Lulu's, at the entrance of Pacifica.
Last year I was slightly injured and decided to drop at Felton, about half-way between Adam's and Santa Cruz. This year, I was excited to go for the whole course, that is the round-trip including the climb up Hutchinson Road to get back to Adam's.
Adam maintained a strong pace and was determined to PR today. He was astonished when we reached Lulu's 2 hours and 15 minutes after leaving Rudy Road, and 2:06 of effective running time. We took a 15-minute break, a latte for some, a bagel for others, a cookie for me, and swiftly hit the road again to avoid getting cold (my specialty or limitation...). Gary actually dropped at Lulu's, as originally planned, and ended up running a 2-mile at the Los Gatos All-Comers meet later that afternoon. Andy and Pierre-Yves led the way as I was feeling the lack of training and fatigue from my African adventure. Adam was behind and asked not to wait for him.
We kept a reasonable pace all the way except for some walking in the last steep uphills, mostly because I was tired, slowing down Pierre-Yves and Andy. We reached Adam's house after 4:53 of elapsed time (excluding our stop at Lulu's) and Adam actually arrived shortly, just a few minutes after us, in great shape and super excited to have almost caught up with us. And to have set a new PR, eventually!
For me this run showed that I have a lot of work to put back in training after this long winter break. As for the others, the team seem ready to kick ass again this year! Fat ass, bad ass, fast ass, you name it, we are ready for the fun! Should be a great 2010.

Run Happy all!

PS: a few (50!) additional pictures in my Picasa album. And in Gary Gellin's one too.

My favorite picture is this one, where Andy, in the background, seems to have jumped over the fence without even touched it. What a horse! ;-)
We saw a train (the driver was not happy to see us sharing "his" track...):

Fat Ass in Asterix' land: white and solo

108F (42C) in Gara Dima and Metehara over the "winter" Holidays. A few days later, back in France, 24F (-4C) and snow, what a contrast! Enough to get a cold which lasted 10 days, after the so-called Typhoid I got diagnosed with on January 1st.

As soon as I landed at Charles de Gaulle on Thursday (January 7th), I jumped on the RER to visit my parents, have dinner and drove to my sister's at Bihorel (near Rouen in Normandy, 90 miles West of Paris). I worked from there on Friday, catching-up with several hundreds of emails. On Saturday, I woke up early to start my own fat ass on a course which I love, Les Balcons de Rouen. The course was designed by Annick Le Moignic and I reached out to her and a few other "ultrafondus" but I ended up doing the run solo as I had to start early to be in Paris for another family reunion by 4 pm that Saturday afternoon. That was my fourth run of Les Balcons and I cannot still believe how unique it is to find all these trails and animals while being so close to the city. It is like a green belt and I hope the municipalities take great care of this unique environment!I ran Les Balcons the first time in January 2008, 2 years ago, just before flying to Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica. Then, twice in July 2008.
I left my sister's house by 7:20. It was dark but the combination of the bright snow and the city light reflecting in the clouds made the course very runnable. The snow was still fresh after three days, not too deep (2-3 inches), dry, crisp. Thanks to my Brooks Cascadia and their micro crampons, I only slipped and did fall once on a large patch of black ice at mile 16 while going through Croisset.
The highlight of the run has occurred when I was running in the Bois du Roule, over Saint-Léger-du-Bourg-Denis. I heard some noise coming from behind and thought that I might get some company from a runner. The daylight was still low and, to my surprise, the intruder was on 4 legs, dark fur and quite fast. Actually, not just one but two, three, probably 30 beasts total. You might have guessed from the title of the post, I was on the way of a herd of wild hogs. Males first (impressive), followed by the females, and a dozen or so little ones closing the march, all the herd in line on the single track trail. The light was too low to capture the moving herd but here are a couple of blurry ones to prove I didn't dream.
30 minutes later, I ran through another wooded area and met hunters who were quite frustrated when I told them about the herd they had missed on the other side of the creek and small valley. I saw two groups of noisy dogs and hunters yelling to raise the game, then saw a nice fox in Mont-Saint-Aignan.
The sun made a brief appearance around kilometer 45. Otherwise the sky remained gray and the pictures don't come out so well in such a cloudy and foggy winter morning. It took me 5hr33' to complete the loop (did a few detours making the distance right on 50K) and I was quite cold upon finishing, yet happy to have done it despite the fatigue and remaining cold. Here is a good way to start the season with my first non competitive ultra!

PS: a few other pictures in my Picasa album.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Gara Dima 30K: flat and dusty!

As I mentioned in my previous post (Running in Addis Ababa: Meskel Square), we did not go to Ethiopia for the running but for the humanitarian mission led by Alex. However, in addition to running in the capital, I was able to do two long runs while we were in the remote countryside in the East part of Ethiopia. Our hotel was in a truck stop, Metehara, on the road between Djibouti and Addis, a very busy and noisy place. The village we worked in is called Gara Dima, although not the one you would find in Google Maps. This one is too small and recent, corresponding more to a refugee camp and composed of people who fled war, drought and starvation in the North of the country a few years ago.

Gara Dima is 30 kilometers South of Metehara. The road between the two places is made of dirt and is very dusty and bumpy. Our commute on the bus varied from 1 hour 30 minutes to 1 hour 40 minutes which was tiring for all especially in temperatures around 100F. Twice last week I was able to run back to the hotel from Gara Dima after our work at the village. Although running is Ethiopia's specialty, soccer is more popular and the people along the road was surprised to see a runner, moreover Caucasian. A few of them accompanied me for a few miles on their bikes and encouraged me. It took me 2 hours 26 minutes the first time and 2:20 the second. The air was very dry and temperatures quite high (90-100F), not exactly the conditions you would expect in winter to resume training (I did not run between Quad Dipsea at the end of November and my second days in Ethiopia, that is for a 4-week break).
On this satellite view you can see how dry the area is except for Lake Basaka near Metehara, the governmental sugar factory (the main patch of green corresponding to fields of sugar cane) and a fruit farm at the bottom of the view, near Gara Dima. Irrigation comes from the Awash river and that's all the water Gara Dima gets to grow plants and crops, wash or drink. A muddy water full of all bacterias and germs you can find in Africa...

Here is a series of pictures taken by Agnès from the bus as I was passing the sugar plant (which is also currently building an ethanol plant aiming at producing 50,000 liters of ethanol per day).
Who knows, this may become an official 30K race some day and draw tourists to the area (which is not the case today, even with the nearby Awash National Park).

After these two runs to conclude 2009, I got sick pretty bad and diagnosed with Typhoid by a tropical clinic in Metehara. Thankfully, the antibiotics (injected through IV) did their work and I was back to Gara Dima last Sunday for the official inauguration with the Ethiopian Minister of Health. What another overall experience, with the joy of combining some running with it!

Running in Addis Ababa: Meskel Square

I already mentioned last month that I ran at Meskel Square but, now that I am back to the Internet civilization, I wanted to tell you more about this place. Besides, I had a second run there upon our return to Addis after our 10 days in Metehara and Gara Dima.

Our trip to Ethiopia was first and foremost a humanitarian mission and I did not want to derail its focus with my passion for running and strong desire to take the opportunity of visiting this land of amazing long distance runners to meet them. I did some search on Internet before leaving and, among several contacts, heard back from Owen Barder, an Englishman taking a sabbatical in Ethiopia. In addition to great traveling tips posted on his blog, Owen advised me to go to the central Meskel Square at 5:45 am where I would find some runners there. Luckily it was conveniently located 3 kilometers from the hotel. Yet, it was pitch dark at this early time of the day and, despite the road being covered with asphalt in this area, there were a few scary holes to keep away from, on the road or the sidewalk. Here is a map of Addis Ababa with the trace of my first route around the city to visit it. Meskel Square is right in the middle, next to the Addis Ababa Museum.
Indeed, you will find runners training in the morning at Meskel Square. However, I was expecting that was just a meeting place to gather, form groups and start runs through the city. No, the plaza is actually where we run. It is large (about 300 meter long) and the workout consists in running back and forth on the benches forming an amphitheater on the South side of the square. On side of the bench for the 5,000-meter runners, the other and longer side for the runners focusing on 10,000 meters.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, this is where I met Mengsitu Abebe, one of the top Ethiopian runners and representative of the new generation of half and marathon runners. Mengsitu's main achievement so far has been to finish 3rd of the London Half Marathon in 2008 in the amazing time of 1 hour 1 minute (the same time Meb Keflezighi ran the San Jose Half in October before winning the New York Marathon a few weeks later). Mengsitu introduced me to the Meskel Square workout and we ran on the 5,000-meter side (which my Garmin GPS indicated to be closer to 4 kilometers).Mengsitu is highlighted in a recent documentary recounting the amazing story of Alex Vero who moved from an average and overweight runner to a top class marathoner in a matter of a couple of years. Although Alex didn't qualify for the Olympics (his initial goal), that shows how the body is capable with a lot of will, motivation, work and proper training. Not being in the UK where the movie has been available on Channel 4 these past weeks, I look forward to the release of the DVD, mid January (you can also join the Running to the Limits group on FaceBook). And read more about Alex in Runners' World (Zero to Marathon Hero).
Before flying back to Paris this Thursday morning, I went to Meskel Square early Wednesday morning for another run and used the 10K side this time (9K on my Garmin).Besides the high elevation, the smog really made it difficult on the lungs and I'm glad to be out of this pollution to train most of the year... Of course, the Ethiopian being more efficient, they don't have to breathe as much as we do. Yet, I wish for them that this pollution is contained rapidly.

So, if you ever visit Ethiopia, here is a place you should visit to start your journey in the land of long distance running!

Run Happy in 2010 and the new decade!