Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Annecy: Tour du Lac marathon

Well, at the risk of getting boring, this is yet another marathon, the 4th one during my 3-week stay in France, not including the 92-km run around Mont Blanc from Courmayeur to Chamonix.

As I was writing at the end of my previous post, our final stage of our own Tour de France was Annecy. My other brother, the one missing from the family reunion in Paris, was spending this week in Menthon-Saint-Bernard, 10 kilometers South of Annecy-le-Vieux where we were staying. Quite short for a run for me unless I use a longer path... Google Maps and Mappy (the French version) quickly found the solution: run around the entire lake of Annecy!
From downtown Annecy, the full loop is about 38 kilometers, and 43 from Annecy-le-Vieux, which is exactly the distance I was looking for.

I found out that there is actually an official Annecy Marathon, and a mature one as the event has been on since 1980! And there is a reason why this marathon is not going around the lake: the East side is a narrow and busy road and, as I was going to find out, it is actually dangerous to run on it unless it is close to traffic. So the Annecy Marathon is an out and back on the very nice bike path on the West shore of the lake, from Annecy down to Bout-du-Lac and back to Annecy.
My first 24 kilometers down to Bout-du-Lac were really nice: flat course and wonderful views of the city first (see my photo album) and the lake shore before the path actually uses an old train track.
As I wrote above, the road on the East side is really not meant to run on, with the traffic. I am rarely scared by the traffic, especially in the US, but I have been this time and had to jump on the side of the road several times with drivers not paying attention (it's like riding a bike, then danger is not you, but the other vehicles and drivers). I used my technique of holding my bottle on the right side, at arms length and, as soon as you to that, it's amazing how many drivers get scared the bottle hit their car. I cannot understand how it can be safe for cyclists if car get as close, and fast, from behind. At least, running against the traffic, I can see the cars (and trucks) coming. Needless to say, quite some fun of running disappears with such conditions and you need to get so focused on the traffic, there is not much room for sight seeing... This is another opportunity to appreciate the benefits of trail running. And to treasure the trails, when you find them...

With that, I was happy to stop in Menthon-Saint-Bernard for a nice lunch with both our families, followed by a swim in the lake, before getting back on the busy road for the final 10 or so kilometers. (The map below is incomplete because I left my GPS in Agnes' car after my stop in Menthon.)
Again, I invite you to a final virtual visit of another place in France, for this Summer. This Thursday, I'm flying back to California, with a 50K race this coming Sunday: Skyline 50K. See you there!

Running in Ile de France

I spent 4 days in Paris, working from our Gentilly office last Thursday and meeting with the family over the weekend. Despite a busy schedule (what a tiring vacation overall!), I was able to squeeze three runs in the area.

1. Paris-Dourdan marathon

On Friday we were invited for lunch at my godfather's in the countryside in the South of Paris, at St-Cyr-sur-Dourdan. I did a quick check on Google on Thursday night to find out that it was just over 26 miles (42 kilometers), or a marathon and decided to make it another long run, with the possibility to take a shower upon getting there.

I'm happy to have done it, but it is not really nice to run on the hyper busy N20 (Nationale 20) in particular, a sort of highway with trucks and fast cars.

Overall, I visited quite a few cities and villages on the way. Here is the list: Paris (14th district), Gentilly, Arcueil, Cachan, Bourg-la-Reine, Sceaux, Antony, Massy, Longjumeau, Ballainvilliers, La Ville-du-Bois, Longpont-sur-Orge, Montlhéry, Linas, Arpajon, Ollainville, Bruyères-le-Chatel, L'Etoile, Saint-Maurice-Montcouronne, Le Marais, Le Val-Saint-Germain, Saint-Cyr-sous-Dourdan (Levimpont). Phew!

2. Tour de Paris for the finish of the Tour de France

My second run in Ile de France was entirely in Paris (intra muros as we say), last Sunday, that is the same day as the final stage of the Tour de France on the Champs Elysées. A cycling fan would have camped in the morning to get a good spot on the final loop that the athletes cover 8 times, but you know from this blog that this is not my passion. Instead, I joined 4 of my siblings, 4 of my nephews and my parents for a very nice family reunion and lunch at the brasserie La Terasse du 7e on Place de l'Ecole Militaire (I highly recommend eating there, and make sure to ask for a table upstairs for the view and quieter atmosphere).

You will hear more about it mid-August, Max is preparing for his first official marathon with me on August 15 in Tahoe. Max and I left the restaurant just after lunch which, unfortunately, was not ideal for the digestion... After 3 miles, Max had to stop and decided to come back to my parents by metro. I kept going around hoping to find a spot to see the Peleton, but was barely able catch a few unidentified cyclists holding my camera up in the air behind a pack of spectators.

I continued my run along the Seine passing the Orsay Museum, the Louvre, Notre-Dame, the Museum of Natural History and the many bridges over the Seine.
After showing the boys the school where I did my Masters in Sophia Antipolis, then Agnès' Business school in Reims, I stopped by my Engineering school on Boulevard de l'Hôpital (l'Ecole Nationale Supérieure d'Arts et Métiers, recently renamed Arts et Métiers ParisTech) before getting back to my parents near Parc Montsouris after about 11 miles.

From a "Running in Europe" recommendation (see the tag of this blog), it is worth noting that part of the river Seine banks are closed to traffic on Sunday, therefore a great place to run.
I did capture a few pictures of my run through the French capital, for yet another virtual visit for those following this blog (hello Mom, Ann and Sylvie!).

3. La Coulée Verte

In better conditions for Max, that is not right after lunch but before breakfast, we went for a run together again this Monday morning on the Coulée Verte, a 13-mile path in the South of Paris, a very nice itinerary which I covered in a blog post 3 years ago: Running in Paris (2): La Coulée Verte (South). This is actually my best and most recommended place to run if you stay in Paris and are up for a long run, and Max was really eager to see what it looked like. He was not disappointed and really enjoying this morning run, so much that we ended covering a... half-marathon in 1 hour and 45 minutes. He knows he can cover the distance, and faster!
Note that we did an incursion into Malakoff to see our former house there, the place in which we were living when we emigrated to the US. Max was thrilled to see the elementary school he attended then, and the familiar neighborhood.

That's it for this weekend in Ile de France. Now back for another stop in the Alps (Annecy) before flying back to the Bay Area!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Center Parcs Aisne #2: The Laon marathon

This post will be shorter because it shares the same context and introduction as my previous post: Center Parcs Aisne #1: The Chemin des Dames marathon. The #1 was a hint that there will be a follow-up and, indeed, the next day (Sunday July 18, a week ago), I ran another marathon from the same resort. The first one was on the West-East axis, this one on the South-North one.
Both started the same way actually, that is on the Voie Verte de l'Ailette, toward the Vauclair Abbey. Instead of turning right on the road climbing to the Chemin des Dames, I turned left in the direction of Chermizy-Ailles on the D19 road (Départementale 19), then D88 through Bièvres, D890 and D903 to Chérêt and Bruyère-et-Montbérault to finally get on the much busier and direct route to Laon, the D967 (the straight route between Chamouille and Laon).
My goal to reach Laon was three folds. First to put in some miles again with another marathon. Second, to visit this medieval city and original cathedral (for instance the shape of the bell towers and the 16 stone oxes looking at the surrounding plains/fields). Third, to see Max taking his train to Paris and Rouen.

Like the day before, I passed through many villages without any shops to buy food or drinks but Laon was large enough of a city to have several ones open even on a Sunday. I was 27 kilometers in my run at the train station so more than half-way for a marathon (42.2 kilometers) and decided to stay on the D967 to come back to Chamouille. There was much more traffic than the first route, the way out, but it was manageable and it got me back to the cottage in just above 43 kilometers.

Overall not as good of a circuit as the day before from a running and touristic perspective (Chemin des Dames), but a good cultural destination for a long run from Center Parcs, with great views over the fields and of Laon from miles away. Wishing I'd found more trails in the area to avoid the traffic.
Again, here is a link to another photo album for a virtual "run" from the Ailette Lake to Laon via the Vauclair Abbey. Enjoy the visit!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Center Parcs Aisne #1: The Chemin des Dames marathon

A few years ago, Agnès managed to get the family on a cruise. She knew that being confined on a boat will be challenging for an ulta runner. The first day I went on the upper deck and ran 50 or more laps on the tiny track. The next day, the ship did a stopover at Catalina Island and I "escaped" to do a long run across the entire island!
Anyway, last week, we met with another family to spend the weekend at Center Parcs Aisne, also known as Center Parcs Lac de l'Ailette (Ailette Lake). It was our first experience of this concept which is quite developed in Europe, originating from Northern Europe. A sort of Club Med resort, in land (as opposed to sea shore). Hundreds of cottages, thousands of tourists, mostly families, and many activities offered (albeit for a fee...). A resort without cars for the safety and tranquility of all. The main benefit is the ability for all generations to live independently and that's what we were looking to offer to our teens.

Our vacation this year consisted in another "Tour de France" with quite a few stages: Annecy, Chamonix, Genoa, Monaco, Nice, Sophia Antipolis, St Raphael, Sorgues (near Avignon), Aix-en-Provence, Chamouille (Center Parcs), Sézanne and Fère Champenoise, Paris, Annecy, Geneva... More than 1,000 miles, through the July canicule, phew!

With all these miles in the car, our teens appreciated the 3-day halt at Center Parcs and the independence. As you can imagine, on my end, I was eager to log some miles during that weekend. On Saturday, I left the cottage early afternoon with a high level map of the area describing a 10-mile (out and back) trail to the Vauclair Abbey (Abbaye de Vauclair). The map was showing the nearby Chemin de Dames and that is where I decided to go for a long run, without knowing the distance. Exploring trails and roads this way is really much easier when you have a GPS such as my Garmin 205. For the ones who don't have one, and especially runners staying at this Center Parcs location, this post aims at providing you with directions for a marathon. For the others, with a visit of this area deeply loaded with the history of World War I (the Great War).
Actually, the history of the Chemin des Dames (literally, the Ladies' Trail or Ladies' Path), dates a few century back, to the 18th century, with the daughters of Louis XV. Here is an excerpt of the Wikipedia page:
In France, the Chemin des Dames, literally, the "Ladies' path", is part of the D18 and runs east and west in the département of Aisne, between in the west, the Route Nationale 2, (Laon to Soissons) and in the east, the D1044 at Corbeny. It is some thirty kilometres long and runs along a ridge between the valleys of the rivers Aisne and Ailette. It acquired the name in the 18th century, as it was the route taken by the two daughters of Louis XV, Adélaïde and Victoire, who were known as Ladies of France. At the time it was scarcely a carriage road but it was the most direct route between Paris and the Château de Boves, near Vauclair, on the far side of the Ailette. The château belonged to Françoise de Châlus, former mistress of Louis XV, Countess of Narbonne-Lara and former lady of honour to Adélaïde, whom the two ladies visited frequently. To make the way easier, the count had the road surfaced and it gained its new name.
Shortly after, it played its first military role at the time of Napoléon:
The ridge's strategic importance first became evident in 1814 when Napoleon's young recruits beat an army of Prussians and Russians at the Battle of Craonne.
Before becoming a bloody battle fields for 5 years (1914-1918) where more than 400,000 soldiers lost their lives.
From a running perspective, the trail to the Vauclair Abbey from Chamouille is called La Voie Verte de l'Ailette (the green way/trail of Ailette) and is perfect, flat and wide enough to cross the numerous bikers and hikers. The rest of my run was on asphalt, with quite some traffic on the touristic Chemin des Dames. Which, despite its name, is not a trail anymore, so you need to pay quite some attention to the traffic and run on the left side of the road, against the traffic. Most of the drivers paid attention to me and left a safety distance when crossing but there are still a few nasty one considering roads only belong to cars and horn and don't move an inch, forcing me to jump on the shoulder of the road, in the grass...

The nice part of running in France in general and this area in particular is the variety brought by the crossing of the numerous villages (one every 2 to 5 kilometers) and, on the Chemin des Dames, the monument commemorating the Great War and its casualties.

However, most of these villages while keeping their individual church or city hall (so many monuments to maintain...), have lost their local businesses such as bakeries, coffee and grocery shops so you need to run with enough water and food, something I did not plan on for this run. Out of energy, I had to slow down and was happy to find a small shop at the campground of Pragny-Filain to buy a bottle of Coca-Cola and an ice cream.

I invite you to visit the area, either physically by running this unofficial marathon, or part of it (at least to the Vauclair Abbey), or virtually (without burning too many calories!) by looking through my Picasa photo album. And remember all these soldiers who fought for the freedom we enjoy today and to shape today's multicultural and diverse Occidental Europe. Before all the celebrations which should come around the anniversary of the Great War in a few years now.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Courmayeur Champex Chamonix: my very own CCC

Last year, I tried to complete the UTMB solo in two stages but failed because of a "too" delicious omelet at La Peule and had to drop in a rainy storm at the Col de la Forclaz (see my post: Tour du Mont Blanc: unfinished business). This year, we stayed in Chamonix for only three days so I aimed at running the second part of the UTMB (Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc) course, which I believed was also the course of the CCC (Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix). On Thursday night (July 8, 2010), I was preparing my run and discovered that the CCC was actually getting from Courmayeur to the Refuge Bertone a different way (8 kms through Planpincieux, instead of 4 straight steep ones) and 2 additional kilometers and additional cumulative elevation to go to the top of the Tête de la Tronche. Unsure about these sections, and not really willing to add 10 kilometers, I decided to stay on the UTMB course instead.
To minimize the impact and burden on the family, I wanted to take the bus between Chamonix and Courmayeur, across the French-Italian border, through the Tunnel du Mont Blanc, but the first bus was not leaving before 8:45 AM which would have led to a 10 AM start. Instead, Agnès dropped me at the Bus Station of Courmayeur so I could start my run at 7:15 AM. The weather was perfect: blue sky, temperature of 13C (low 60F) and some breeze. I climbed up to the Refuge Bertone in 48 minutes (consistent with previous years), alternating some running and walking in this very steep section which gets us 2,700 feet of elevation gain in less than 3 miles, similar to the Western States start in Squaw Valley but for a rocky single track and many switch backs (instead of a large fire road in Squaw).

The views of the Italian side of Mont Blanc from Bertone were magnificent, and pictures are better than words to describe them so I invite you to look at my Picasa photo album. The section between the Refuges Bertone and Bonatti is my favorite section, very runnable, rolling and with amazing views over the Val Ferret. I felt good going down to Arnuva and decided to make a 10-minute stop to buy and eat a small bag of chips and a piece of fruit tart before the ascent to the Grand Ferret pass and the border between Italy and Switzerland.

I passed quite a few hikers before and after the Refuge Elena and did a short halt at the summit before going down through quite a few névés on the Swiss side. As opposed to last year (the "killer" omelet), I did not stop at La Peule which was crowded with hikers from all nationalities (including a contingent of 20 or more Japanese!).

Feeling much better than last year, I did speed up on the steep down hill to La Fouly. However, I started feeling tired after a short stop at the fountain of La Fouly and slowed down a bit as I was not even half way (km 31 of 90...). At mid-day, the temperature was quite high, in the low 90s, and I took advantage of all the fountains to splash myself to cool down. Although not strenuous compared to other sections, the ascent to Champex seemed quite long and I was happy to get to this major town to refuel. Unfortunately, the grocery shop was closed during lunch time but I got a bottle of Coca-Cola and an ice cream at the bakery before leaving Champex. I left a second text message to Agnès, to learn that she was getting them with a 2-hour delay, not quite real-time...
After Champex we have several kilometers down the valley before the terrible ascent to Bovine. I was only 53 kilometers in my run and could not imagine how harder it would have been 130 kilometers instead, in the UTMB race, potentially during a second night for many runners. High steps over large rocks, lose rocks, crossing of icy torrents, endless switch backs, and, when you believe you are done after reaching the pastures of Bovine, still quite some elevation to finally reach the cattle door marking the beginning of a steep downhill to the Forclaz Pass (Col de la Forclaz). Another bottle of Coca-Cola and ice cream at the pass before going down to Trient and another steep and long ascent to Catogne, at 2,000 meters, 700 meters above Trient.
It was around 6 PM and nobody was to be seen on the course at that time, but a fox which quickly disappeared when he saw me coming on the trail. Albeit slower, I ran all the way down to Vallorcine. I reached Vallorcine as the train to Chamonix was getting at the station, but decided not to hop on it despite the day light fading away. I called Agnès to let her know that I was moving forward although I decided not to finish the run with the new route up to La Flégère but Argentières as I had no head lamp and that was giving me the option to finish on the road if it was getting too dark.

I stopped at the Montets Pass (Col des Montets) for a couple of pictures (nice panoramic view over the Chamonix Valley and the summits, from les Aiguilles to the Dôme du Goûter). I felt so lucky that the sky was still completely clear, which is unusual at the end of the day in this region (we got a storm in the afternoon, the following day...).
The descent to Argentières was easy. After, the last segment to Chamonix seemed endless: the trail signs were saying 2h00, then, 10 minutes later 2h00, then, 10 minutes later, 2h20 (yikes, quite discouraging, like I was running in circles!), and the trail was rolling at an elevation of about 1,300 meters. Finally, I reached the Bois du Bouchet, the last flat section along the Arve torrent, close to 10 PM, in the dark. I finished the run in 14 hours and 50 minutes (elapsed time), rushing to the MacDonald's as I was starving and eager to get some fries!

During all the run I thought of my Quicksilver/RhoQuick team mates, Jim Magill and Sean Lang who are in UTMB this year. Unfortunately, Sean is not coming for business reasons, but Jim is, after running the San Diego 100-mile last month. I tried to memorize each rock to let him know when I'm back in the Bay Area in August, although his "suffling" is much different from my stride, so he will have to improvise... ;-)

I was really happy to have completed the run I did not last year, this "unfinished business," although I still have to (1) do the actual CCC course and in particular the last section from the Col des Montets up to La Flégère and (2), of course, the actual UTMB race itself... When we don't have to be in town for the kids' back to school days that week...

Again, please make sure to visit my Picasa photo album (120 pictures) and enjoy the views of this UDTMB (Ultra Demi-Tour du Mont Blanc), or half tour of Mount Blanc.
Quite some cumulative elevation, actually almost as much as Western States, 17,646 feet over "only" 92 kilometers (57 miles):

Western States 2010: more detailed coverage every year

Because of some difficulties getting online while touring France with the family for vacation, here are some belated post-race thoughts...

I remember my first 100 miler (Western States 2007) as really a huge thing. An adventure which haunted me months and weeks before the race. And an event which nourished many conversations with family members, friends and colleagues after wards for the next 6 months or so. This year was my 4th 100-miler and 3rd Western States and, apart from the two days spent in Squaw with the family, one brief mention of the run during a working lunch the following Tuesday, and a couple of emails noting that I have been slower than usual (yikes!), the race seemed to be nothing more important than a half-marathon or one of the many 50Ks I'm now running every year.

I had so much to do at work right after the race that I rushed to update my blog and post my race report by Sunday night. After my first 100-miler, I was able to have a few long nights and did not run for an entire week to accelerate recovery. This year, not only did I have a few nights under 5 hours of sleep with late and early conference calls, but I went back to the track to meet with Bob on Thursday. 6 miles, then 13 on Friday, 20 hilly ones on Saturday and 11 on Sunday before getting on the plane for Paris, that made a 50-mile running week. A nice way to "ramp back."

Anyway, I would not say that Western States was a non-event for me as it is so exciting to be part of this legendary event, but the real action and buzz was evidently elsewhere: at the front of the race and the numerous individual feats and heroic acts such as the two amputees running Western States for the first time, one completing the run in 27 hours which is amazing given the snow, the rocks, the slippery creeks, the steep up and down hills. Or Gordy who reached Robbie Point (mile 99) after 30 hours of running to get pulled out of the race (cut-off). Sounds so unfair to me, but he is actually the one I believe set the 30-hour cut-off rule, or at least this goal of finishing under 24 hours, something he did numerous time himself.

Across the blogosphere, online newspapers and magazines, newsgroups, mailing lists or Facebook, the coverage of Western States is reaching new heights this year. Like long-time ultra runner Mike Palmer put it: "We didn't have this when I started doing ultras."

Here are a few links highlighting facets of this amazing event.
  1. Glenn Tachiyama's wonderful pictures (here at the exit of Duncan Canyon, see also the two pictures below)
  2. An amazing journalistic coverage of the event by Bryon Powell on his website, with interviews, podcasts, links to race reports of the top runners, feeds, etc.
  3. 25 Breath taking pictures from Carl Costas of the Sacramento Bee newspaper
  4. A tiny selection of 8 pictures from famous ultra photographer Luis Escobar, for Runner's World
  5. An article on Amy Palmiero-Winters who became the first amputee to finish the Western States race (in an incredible time of 27 hours and 43 minutes). Wow...! By the way, she did make it to the 2010 "Best Female with Disability" ESPN award!!!

As for me, I found out the week after the race that I made it to number 6 of the Montrail Cup. Not as good as when I made number 2 in 2008 (mostly because it wasn't as popular at the time), but not bad given the amazing competition this year (I was not even in the top 10 before entering Western States). Of course, the main challenge of this cup is not only to do well in ultra competitive ultra events, but, equally important and as challenging, you need to pass the various lotteries of these coveted events (e.g. Miwok, Way Too Cool and of course, Western States). The entire and final 2010 standings can be found on Gary Wang's website. Victor Ballesteros won the Cup last year but was 5th this year and Eric Skaden won in 2008 and was 4th this year. Congratulations to the 2010 champions, Glen Redpath and Meghan Arbogast, two Masters actually, respectively 44 and 49!