Sunday, December 19, 2010

Balcons de Rouen #5: the snow white version

My first run of this great 50K course around Rouen in Normandy was muddy (January 2008) and led by the queen of the Balcons, Annick Le Moignic. I then ran the course twice in the following summer, on July 8 and 9, 2008. Finally, I was back for a fat ass in January this year and, while there was some snow on the trail, the weather was actually very nice.
This December 2010 and 5th edition was quite different this weekend: it snowed for 5 hours and it seemed like we were in the mountains, making a trace in 6 inches of fresh powder. Actually the start was really nice as the snow started falling just as we took off at 8 AM. We meaning Thierry, Guillaume and I. Earlier in the week I posted a message announcing this off on the UltraFondus forum. I got two positive responses and a handful of negative ones from others that I suspected would be interested but here we were, with an opportunity to meet and get to know new ultra runners. (Photo in front of Eglise Saint Jacques in Mont Saint Aignan, courtesy of Thierry).
You can check my previous posts to get the details of the course and more pictures. With all the snow, it was not easy to take pictures. Besides, my camera did not appreciate falling in the deep, fresh and wet snow. Although it is getting better after a few hours on a radiator, it may be time for change after several thousands of good pictures take, and several thousands of miles on the trails (I ran 9,808 miles since my run in the Badlands of South Dakota during which I decided to venture into the blogosphere). Although I'm a big fan and owner of a Nikon DLSR, I cannot say enough good things about the Canon PowerShot (sorry, this is meant to be a non subliminal message to Santa Claus... ;-). I still posted about 40 pictures on Picasa, including 4 from Thierry.
Anyway, the views of the trees covered with snow were wonderful, making this fat ass (or white ass?) exceptional and memorable! We did not see wild boars although we got pretty close to one. We met one hunter who told us they had shot one male and the wounded animal was furious and charging all over the place. He had already got two of the dogs and we indeed saw one covered with blood. The revenge of the beast... Apart from this incident we saw one fox, soon after we left in the morning.
With all the snow, our progression was slow and we were half way after 3 hours of running, at the end of the quays. I told Guillaume and Thierry that I started worrying about the road conditions for my return to Paris in the afternoon and we decided to split. We actually met again 8 miles later as Thierry was using another route, and we would meet again two other times to actually finish together after 6 hours and 22 minutes of running. Between pushing or shuffling off the snow, higher strides when the snow was too deep or shorter strides not to slip on roads, that was more tiring than running in soft sand. A preventing fat ass (50K), before the Holidays...
Getting back to Paris was another adventure. It took me 30' to cover 2 kilometers in Bihorel, then about 70 minutes to cover the 15 kilometers to the highway exit! Fortunately, the highway was all clear from snow on 2 lanes out of three. It has been a big mess in airports in Europe this weekend and I hope the situation will get resolved before my flight home on Tuesday. I know everybody feels I'm very lucky to spend 3 weeks in Europe in December (Denmark and France), but I'm now very much looking forward to getting some time off with the whole family in California... And a much clement weather... ;-)
This is my 52th post this year (#207 overall), fulfilling my goal of one post a week in average. I may take a break for the Holidays and write the next article next... year. Happy Holidays to you all and your families, and all the best for 2011, for your running or anything you aspire to!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Back to Granville: more childhood memories...

A week ago it was my first visit to Copenhagen and a real discovery of Denmark's Capital by foot. This time I spent the weekend in Granville, the land of my mother's family. I probably came to Granville more than 50 times already, yet I never spent so much time photographing the city as during the two short 15-kilometer runs I did on Saturday and Sunday.
On Saturday afternoon, I ran from Le Bout du Monde (literally: the end of the world!) to Donville where one of my aunts live. On Sunday I ran from Donville to the harbors of Granville and back. From a place where you cannot see anything on the horizon to a city and harbor with centuries of history... Like The Little Mermaid was part of my childhood memories thanks to a post card (see last week post), check my Picasa album for many new post cards of this other maritime area. You will not get all the healthy iodine that I got the privilege to breath while running the beaches, but this slide show will hopefully either bring good memories if you know the place, or decide you to come and visit if not already!

Talk to you next week from another place and other trails...!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Copenhagen: a quick tour

This is my yearly December break from running and it is timely because it would not have been easy to train this week with the cold and snow in Copenhagen. Still, I had brought one of my pairs of Green Silence with me and was able to squeeze a short 6-mile tour of the city on Wednesday morning before client meetings. It was my first time in Denmark and the thing which surprised be the most upon arrival, beyond the somewhat unusual cold temperatures, is the country devotion to sustainable development. It starts with the number of people biking throughout the city, even in the cold and the slippery melted snow! Locals even told me that, although they were indeed many people still biking in such conditions, it was nothing compared to the whole city on bikes the rest of the year. I also learned that cars were taxed so hard that they were considered as luxury. And, also, that, while preparing for the trip and checking about the culture and business customs of the country, Danish are egalitarian and wealth is not supposed to be shown. Surely, this applies to bikes too, they all look the same, all black! When you see thousands of black bikes parked at the exit of the Copenhagen Central train station, you wonder how they find their respective owner every morning... Not to mention many were covered with snow this week!

Sustainability is integral part of Danish life and you can see it at the office, on the street, at home and of course, as a tourist, at the hotel. Recycling bins in each room, minimal heating, low emission lights, small size beds which saves on linen cleaning, and a true "towel recycling" policy. Not to point a particular city, although it is probably the most unsustainable place in the world, I'm always disappointed at the hypocrisy of the hotels in Las Vegas which claim to be exemplary with regard to environment protection but offer decadent size rooms, freezing air conditioning in huge hallways when the temperature is so high outside and, more annoyingly, would change the towels even if you carefully put them on the rack instead of the floor per the "let's save our planet" flyer. Well, with this cold winter start, who is caring about global warming anyway, certainly not the average American. But the people who live in flat countries like the Netherlands and Denmark, just above sea level, certainly know that there will be many hotter than usual summers once this week's blizzard has passed. Let's be more solidary than that, we only know of one amazingly welcoming planet like ours in the universe!

Anyway, back to my short running episode of the week, I am of course not an expert of the city but here is a suggested route which will allow you to see quite a few typical places of the Danish capital in just 10 kilometers. Including the so famous Little Mermaid, as tourist brochures say: "one of the most photographed woman in the world!" Although I had almost forgot about it, it was one my childhood's dream to see this statue after I had received a post car from my godmother nearly 40 years ago... In exchange, I sent 5 post cards of the Little Mermaid to perpetuate the tradition and maybe create similar dreams which will be fulfill in less than 40 years this time... You have to come and see for yourself if not already how small the statue is compared to its reputation. By the way I felt very lucky to be able to see her as she was just back from a long trip to Shanghai for the 2010 World Expo.
The City Hall, the Strøget which is according to a Danish website the longest pedestrian shopping street in the world, the Holy Ghost Church, the Royal Theater and Charlottenborg on Kongesn Nytorv, Nyhavn and the canal, the Royal winter residence on Amalienborg Slotsplads (Amaliehaven), the Little Mermaid then, Churchill Park and the Kastellet, the Rosenborg and Botanic Gardens (Rosenborg, Kongens & Botanisk Have), Rosenborg Slot (castle), the Round Tower (Rundetårn), Køpenhavn H (the Cophenhagen Central train station), and many other interesting buildings and churches on the way. This tour will give you a great introduction to the Danish Capital if you are up for a run or a walk, the sustainable way to visit a city! Visit my Picasa album for the corresponding views.
The run was quite slow with the slippery sidewalks still covered with snow, the slaloming across the crowd in the busy pedestrian streets and, more importantly, the freezing cold temperature (-5C) not counting the windchill factor. At some point, my fingers were totally numb. Not that it was that cold but I was wearing thin gloves, carrying my cold camera and never got warm as I was stopping every few hundreds yards to take pictures. I made a short halt in a church and luckily found super hot radiators in the vestibule (St Alban's Anglican Church). Just as I could start feeling my fingers again, the Pastor came to politely tell me that the church was actually closed. I was back in the cold for the rest of my tour, feeling like a homeless all of a sudden... Thankfully, I'm not, and actually on the plane back home as I write these lines. With new souvenirs posted on Picasa, and other dreams to run in new places. Safe travels to all, either physically for instance for the Holidays, or virtually over the web!