Friday, November 29, 2013

Silicon Valley Turkey Trot 2013: chasing the chicks!

There is an expression in ultra running, to be chicked, which means finishing behind a female runner. In ultra, where physical ability represent only half of the success formula, the remainder being mental toughness and experience, elite women often compete head to head, or shoulder to shoulder with elite men, sometimes surpassing them like Ann Trason or Elie Greenwood have shown us. While some folks may find this expression rather machist, given the camaraderie which exists among ultra runners, this is just a way to recognize the emulation that ladies bring to our sport. Here I am with the Brooks team reps after their 5K race:
Now, in a turkey trot, and a road 10K, the word chicked brings another perspective. First, there are the turkey/bird costumes or attires on the course, for the costume competition. But there are also very fast and competitive girls running hard against the clock. The good thing at the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot is that we have 2 separate real elite races where top National and International runners are invited to break the local flat and fast 5K course record. I did that race 4 years ago (2009) between another turkey trot 2 days before and Quad Dipsea 2 days later and, despite a good time (16:34, 5:20 pace), I was half a mile behind the winner when he passed the finish line, yikes! At least I didn't get lapped on the 1-mile loop course, phew. ;-)

Back to my race report of yesterday's race... IBM was sponsoring again this year and, on behalf of the 4,000 IBMers in the Bay Area, I was set to address the crowd at 7:42 am, for 60 seconds, before our 10K start at 7:50. I knew about the 7:45 start of the wheelchair competition but I hadn't realized how aggressive it was to also squeeze the National anthem between 7:43 and 7:45...
Bottom line,  I waited on stage for 10 minutes but decided to leave and rush to the start line instead of waiting for Carl's go ahead so I could get at least one minute of warm-up before the gun.

Way too short warm-up but better than missing the start... Agnès told me that Carl ended up calling my name at 8:01. I was already 2 miles away, no time to run back! ;-)
Despite a blazing start (my GPS displaying an average pace of 5:11 min/mile after a 1/4 mile), there were about a dozen runners ahead of me by the first turn.
And, as I realized I started too fast, and slowed down a bit, I got passed by the lead gal, Heather Tanner, and was barely able to keep up but managed to remain a couple of hundred yards behind. The power of chicks! I passed the 1-mile mark around 5:30 which I thought was reasonable but that meant I was now running 5:40 min/mile pace. Between the limited warm-up and a short night (movie with the boys on Wednesday night), I wasn't able to accelerate much and even maintain the 5:43 pace of my recent Rock'n Roll Half Marathon. By mile 2 I could here a few runners in my steps and the group included another female runner, Brooke Wells. I decided that one chick was enough and kept maintaining a 5:45 pace on the long stretch of The Alameda. Speaking of stretch, it seemed that the 4-mile mark was off by 0.1 mile, which may explain why many of our GPS watches indicated 6.31 to 6.33 miles at the finish. And slower times than usual for some of us.

At the 4.5-mile chip timing control station, I still had Heather in sight and I encouraged Brooke to stay with me, telling her that we were going to catch Heather. I wasn't fully convinced myself by the end of mile 5, but I finally passed Heather with less than 1/2 mile to go, as well as a couple of other runners. And Brook did pass Heather as well, to win the race! After 35:05 in 2010, 35:20 in 2011 and 35:06 in 2012, I was slightly disappointed with this year's finish time (36:09, 5:49 pace), but it's rather fair with the lack of speed work between all the great ultra races I had this year and the 4 weeks in Senegal where it was way too hot to get under 7 min/mile. I'm also glad that this time was good enough to win the Masters division this year, just before I turn 50. And the second Master was 1 second behind so that was worth the final sprint, phew!

After the race, I went to the IBM Festival Area main stage to wait for Monique, an IBM colleague who was going to lead a post-race stretching routine. Joined by another colleague, Sheila, we got a few participants who enjoyed the 10-minute stretching exercise in the meadow, before joining their family or friends for their Thanksgiving banquets!
I stayed for another hour to watch the impressive elite races, first the women one:
and the men:
I'm thankful to all the people who have made this even possible for the past 9 years. One man stands out for his leadership, that is Carl Guardino, the CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and SVLG Foundation. Carl's passion for both economic development and sports (not just running but triathlon), along with his dynamism and high level energy, converged in this event whose main goal is to raise money for local charities. With this year's $800K, that's more than $4 million to date, on the way to surpass a cumulative $5 million for next year's 10th anniversary of the event. Here (left) he is presented the symbolic bib #1 by Mark Winitz who recruits the 70 elite runners year after year:
It was fun to be part of this year's Steering Committee and see how much commitment a few local companies bring to ensure the success of en event gathering 25,000 participants and 1,100 volunteers.
The ideal way to represent the original values behind the Thanksgiving tradition, bridging communities and working together to be thankful and help others.

Hope to see you all again next year!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Catra Corbett's 100th 100-miler: for the love of running and more...

Run d'Amore... what an ideal event to celebrate Catra's love for ultra running in particular, and life in general!

I still have one last post I'm working on to conclude my series of stories about my recent trip and stay in Senegal but it will have to wait for a few more days. Indeed, this weekend was Run d'Amore, directed by friends Alan Geraldi and Rajeev Patel, and, although I didn't run it this year (that's where I broke 15 hours for 100 miles last year), I had to make the trip down to San Martin to witness an amazing ultra running milestone, Catra's, the Dirt Diva, 100th 100-mile run. Actually, to make it even more impressive or generous from Catra, these 100-mile runs include quite a few runs way over that distance, 125, 131 and even 144 miles recently for the Tahoe Lake Double Dare!

To celebrate this milestone and pay some respect to THE trail diva, I thought of doing a running interview. Not just an interview about running, but an interview while running. Catra was cool enough to accept on Friday afternoon and go though my 50 questions on her race day as we ran one of the 25 4-mile laps together (I went on exploring the rest of the Coyote Lake-Harvey Bear Ranch County Park trails for 16 more miles afterwards). For those who have run Run d'Amore or Run-de-Vous before, Alan and Rajeev extended the 2-mile asphalt loop with a 1-mile stint up the hill on Willow Springs Trail, certainly adding some variety to the course but also some difficulty with the extra elevation.

Without further ado, here is a glimpse of Catra's ultra life story... a transcript of our recorded running interview (without our respective breathing as we covered one 4-mile loop! ;-).

So, Catra, here is THE day of your 100th 100-miler, how do you feel about it?

Excited... I never dreamed I would be doing that many 100-milers back in 1999 when I ran my first one, Rocky Raccoon.

Was your first one a good experience?

Oh, yes, awesome, that's why I had to do more, I had to sign up right away for another one! Although I had very bad blisters it was a great experience. There wasn't much on the Internet back then so I didn't know anyone running ultra back then, I learned on my own.

Rocky Racoon is in Texas right, why did you pick that race?

Because I had started running ultras 3 months before and I wanted to ramp-up quick, Rocky Racoon was the first 100-miler on the calendar.

Wow, 3-month ramp-up, did you still start with a 50K?

Yes,  2 50K, Skyline and Tamalpa Headlands, 1 50-mile, Dick Collins Firetrails, and my first Quad Dipsea, all at the end of 1998.

Any coaching?

No, everything self-taught, on my own.

What did you learn from your first hundred?

It was quite humid and I didn't know much about hydration, electrolytes and all this stuff. My hands got swollen, people were offering advices but I pretty much had to figure out what to do. I was proud of being a newbie and certainly determined to finish. My feet were covered with blisters for the last 40 miles, I thought "oh my god, they feel like they are on fire!" I didn't know about the tip of using bigger shoes. I did change my socks but my feet were swollen, I had to pop the blisters, and I finished!

I picked on a long list of 100-milers you ran: HURT, Western States, Rio del Lago, San Diego, Wasatch Front, Javelina Jundred, Mother Road, Rocky Road, Rocky Racoon, PCTR Headlands, Run-de-Vous, Umstead, Razorback Endurance, Coyote Two Moon, Tahoe Rim Trail, Angeles Crest, Bighorn, Massanutten and of course Run d'Amore, 19 different events, you are a living guide book for 100-milers in the US! 

Yes, if anyone needs advice I can give it to them!

You ran these races in 11 states, what are your favorite states?

I like Utah, Wasatch, and Hawaii, HURT, they both have very challenging courses. I hope to do Hard Rock in Colorado next year.

So what's your take on the toughest courses?

By far, HURT and Wasatch, they are both very challenging... Wasatch is point to point, so easier to keep moving, and you have more time. HURT is tough with the 20-mile loop format. And the 36-hour cut-off, you are always pushing... Although I'm fine with the mental aspect of having to leave the finish area after each loop, it's still hard to get back on the big, huge, climb, that you just struggled going down on.

Speaking of HURT, you did both 100-mile and 100K distance?

Yes, I ran HURT every single year, I did complete the 100-mile 7 times and 100K 4 or 5 times, the other years. I like this race because it's challenging, it... hurts!

What is the most challenging about HURT?

The roots and the rocks. And through the years, the trail has washed away so it became a lot harder. The ground and mud has been pushed off, leaving roots hanging out at 2 feet above the ground, every year they keep getting higher, so it's getting harder. It's also very slippery.

Do you remember the best year you had there?

Yes, 33:59 in 2003!

33 hours... indeed many of your races go beyond 24 hours, how do you cope with running through a second day, do you train for that, for the lack of sleep?

Oh, I'm used to that. It's nice when I can finish under 24 hours but running challenging courses can take much longer. My second 100 might have been HURT or Wasatch, so I had to be on my feet for more than 30 hours! Fastpacking and doing long stuff on my own at night on the trails help, so it's not a problem. I do use caffeine in the middle of the night. Also, I try not to drink any caffeine for the week leading to the race so caffeine is more efficient once it has been out of my system for a few days. It's kicking in so well then, it feels like I'm wired!

Hey, so it's not carbo-loading, it's caffeine-loading?


After your most challenging hundreds, any easy one, or if any 100-miler can be easy, at least easier?

These ones, with a loop format, such as Run d'Amore or Run-de-Vous, or Umstead. Although, the asphalt tends to hurt my legs more than trails. Umstead has more dirt and loops are longer too.

The most scenic?

Bighorn! The beauty of the mountains in Wyoming, they are so gorgeous. Everywhere you looked, it was beautiful.

That's why you are attracted by Hard Rock... what about UTMB?

Oh yes, that one I would like to do too. We are talking about doing that one. I can get there, I have a friend who works for Air France, and I talked to Nico from Hokas, he thinks he can get me in. By the way that's one that you can do too hopefully...

The most friendly experience?

I think all the races are pretty friendly. Every race I did had the friendly spirit from ultra running. Maybe HURT is at the top of the list.

The worst weather conditions you got?

Oh my gosh... oh well, count down, it must be Coyote Two Moon. I ran it the year when it started raining, then it started hailing, then it snowed. It was so bad, even for the poor folks at the aid station at the top of the hill. Thankfully the volunteers held on and stayed at the aid station. I don't know how I finished this one, just keeping moving. It was definitely the worst weather ever, it was so freaking cold! The first year I ran it, in 2009, I told the race director that I needed 38 hours because I had been injured (some people get 48 hours). And I finished in 33 something, so he accused me of sand bagging and the next year he put me in the 34-hour group but the weather was so bad I finished with 2 minutes to spare in 34:58, fighting against the clock thinking I wasn't going to make it. And the weather when you were down from the mountain was fine, it was hot, but I didn't have time to take my extra layers off, I ran the whole thing with GoreTex pants on, I didn't have time to stop, I had to go and finish. I ran it twice but I don't think they have it anymore.

Your most pleasant experience?

I'd say my first HURT because there were 25 starters and only 6 of them, 6 of us, finished. So when I did this race, after 4 or 5 100s, people were saying "oh my gosh, you finished HURT that year, you are one of those!" It was such a tough one. I had done 80 miles and I was really thinking "I don't want to go."

Hmm, so your most pleasant memory is of a tough race which did hurt, we can see what you are looking for in ultra running...

Exactly! And the second year I ran it, it rained the entire time. So finishing the second time was even more challenging. Maybe 10 finished that year. I did fall, but nothing serious. The whole trail was like a river... a lot of walking and hiking.

Your fastest 100-mile?

The Razorback, 21:20. And I beat everyone, yeah, my first win overall!

Are you trying to get more competitive?

I'm in a tough age group, you know, like you... But when I run it's mostly to have fun as you can see in my pictures. I'm not that fast, I need to work at it, I prefer to focus on the fun. Now, on race day, sure, if there is a girl ahead, I will want to pass her but I know what I need to do. At night is when I feel the best and I'm experienced, so patience usually pays. But even if we say we are not competitive we still are. You need some of it to keep going and finish anyway.

Did you run marathons?

Well, I didn't run a marathon for the past couple of years. 10 years ago I did a 3:45. Then later I did 4:15 but then I ran back home, making it a 35 or 40-mile run! But I'd like to do more of that, you know, just for the challenge, and gain more speed.

You don't do track workout, do you?

No, only trails. But, from time to time, I'd set a goal to run faster to a certain point, some sort of speed work.

There is actually one of your 100-milers which I have not mentioned yet, do you see what I mean?

Oh, must be my solo Ohlone stuff?

Exactly! You have a very special connection with the "Ohlone 50K" race, can you tell us more?

Indeed, I have done that for at least 10 times now, I love this race and this course. I wanted to do a solo hundred, that was way before anybody came up with the idea. I thought "I'm going to run 100 miles for my birthday!" But a big storm came that year so I wasn't able to complete 100 miles but I still ran 100K. So I decided to try again, before the weekend of the Ohlone (50K) race, as the weather was better, and I had a few folks crewing or pacing me. So I ran the 100 miles and it was amazing, people were saying "you don't do that, you don't go out on your own and run 100 miles..." And I liked the fact that nobody else was doing that indeed. I got some advice about how fast I should run the fist 50K, like 7 hours, but that wasn't a good advice because the course is tough, so that wasn't going to happen, that was too fast. Later I did that run on race weekend, asked if it was ok for me to start earlier and finish with the normal race and they said, "sure, whatever!" Park Rangers had already been lending me a permit to do solo runs. And, of course, over the years, the 100-mile goal wasn't enough so it became 131 miles...!

131 miles, wow, especially with this terrain and heat!

I know...

Last year you also ran Run d'Amore 125 miles, was it to qualify for Spartathlon?

Yes, it's part of my dream races. Since then I also ran 144 miles around Lake Tahoe, 43 hours... That was super dangerous. They have the one, two and three-loop formats but you are basically running on your own. I was the only one to finish the Double this year, but Sophia (Shi) and another guy (David Wingard) did the Triple (Double and Triple Dare results)!

43 hours, did you sleep?

I stopped once for 20 minutes, then a second time for 30 minutes, that was it! So, yeah, that was really dangerous, the most dangerous run I've ever done. You are kind of on your own, on the road, with the traffic. I am the first person to do the double, the two laps, in a row. So they have you start on Thursday at 10 pm, then you do one loop, then you wait for another 14 or 16 hours until the other races start. I said, no way, I'm going on. The first loop, you are fine, it's kind of a warm-up so you don't want to stop. Plus, at 1 am the traffic is light, but then you have to pass though Tahoe City, and the road around Lake Tahoe can be pretty dangerous. And of course, as soon as I finished I first thought it was too dangerous, I'll never do it again but, then, you know, I may reconsider... The next day I was already thinking of the three loops... One day... It's like my quadruple Ohlone, it hurts the next day, but then I still want to do it again! It's like my birthday runs, you know, I run my age in hours. Next year will be 49... I started that when I turned 40. Would be much easier to just run the number of miles. After I turn 50 maybe...

People think that Quad Dipsea is hard, although it's "only" 4 times 7 miles. How long does it take you to cover the 131 miles?

I'm giving myself 48 hours but I've done it in 42 hours, my fastest, but otherwise around 47 hours.

We covered 2 miles and you kept talking, you need to drink... So, back to the Quad Ohlone, how do you find the strength to go back on the trail, and forth?

Yes, it's not easy to keep going after I complete the first 100 miles and reach my home. But I don't think too much about it. I get my stuff, change, and go! And, yes, I'm at my house, I could quit, I'm home! But, no, I go, I like to inspire people. Some people are out, doing the 50K for the first time, and they will be struggling, but they can think "hey, Catra has done 131 miles, I can do 31, I can do this!" To put one foot after another, to inspire others, you know...

Do you see most of the 50K runners at the top of Rose Peak?

Well, I see you guys, lead people. I start earlier so I get to the finish line around mid day, among the top 15-20 runners. 

Crew or screwed (no support crew), what's working best for you? How many of these 100-milers did you run without a crew?

Well, it doesn't matter so much to me because I've done this for so long without any crew. I've had a crew lately and I do like it! It's good to have someone keeping you motivated, and handing you stuff. But it works for me either way, like take it or leave it. Although it's certainly nice to have a crew when you are having a bad day, and it gets you slightly faster.

Speaking of speed, you are getting faster, aren't you? How do you explain that?

Hey, yes, this year I've done pretty well. I'm a fruitarian now. I started out in January, after being vegan for many years. Mike Arnstein, the Fruitarian, is pretty fast so I thought, why not? It's based on a book called The 80/10/10 Diet by Douglas Graham. 80% raw fruits, 10% raw vegetables, 10% raw nuts. Actually, Monday through Friday I eat 100% raw fruits. On weekends I add some carrots or spinach, and some nuts. Like today, I'm eating bananas and dates, and that other fruits I have up there.

Do you count and track the calories the same way?

No. Dates are very caloric, high end calories. Like 3 dates are 120 calories. So I thought I got more energy out of those, rather than eating anything else, and bananas too. That's what I learned when doing the Marathon des Sables in Morocco, that's what the top guys, the Moroccan, carry and eat, dates. They are packed with calories and super nutritious.

Any issue with digestion?

No, I never had any problem with fruits.

You have already registered for another 100-miler in January, Coldwater Rumble in Arizona, so the addiction continues?

Oh yeah ! I was going to do HURT again but I took my name out of the list so others have a chance to run it, somebody else needs that chance to do it. But I'm still going to be there to crew and pace someone. Coldwater Rumble is one week later, and I like Javelina, it's a fun race, so I'm excited about that one. Different course but same organization, I like their races.

One more year before the big 50 --you are so young! ;-) -- how does that make you feel?

Well, let me turn 49 first! But I'm in a better shape that I've ever been in my life, and I just aspire to be who I am, I feel good, I feel strong, I feel healthy, some people think I'm 10 years younger!

Speaking of other people, you work at Whole Foods in Cupertino. How is your employer supportive or considerate of your running regimen?

I don't work Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, so I don't need to take time off. I travel and go to race briefings on Fridays, and race over the weekend, back to work on Monday morning or afternoon! And I think I recover faster because I keep walking at work! I work standard 8-hour shifts.

Do customers know about your running achievements?

Oh, yes, because I've been working there for so long. 14 years total, first in Palo Alto, and in Cupertino since 2008.

Are your colleagues also supportive?

Oh yes. Our store manager's brother has run Western States this year, so he knows about ultra...

Ok, so you have one more year before turning 50, any idea of a special "project" for that milestone, a mid-life craziness, something crazier than running 100 100-miles before turning 50?!

Well, it will be running for 50 hours... No, I'm thinking of new races, in different countries, different things. Like this Tahoe 200 (mile) looks good, I would love to run it. You know, I already ran the whole TRT (Tahoe Rim Trail, 165 mile) in 72 hours, with some support. I may go after the unsupported record on TRT. For women. JB Benna just improved the record but I saw him at Javelina, his legs were still pretty beaten up and he struggled to finish and get his Western States qualifier...

If you are not tired about telling how you got into this running addiction, do you mind telling your story for those who don't know? How many magazines covered how you rebuilt your life with ultra running in particular?

A lot of magazines, because I always talk about where I come from. I was used to doing drugs, drinking, being a party girl.Got arrested, spent one night in jail, I got basically squared straight, never did it again since then. That was 19 years ago and it took me another two years to get into running. I first started working out at the gym, and walking a lot.

Did someone inspire you to change?

No, just me! I went from friends to no friends, then working out hard at the gym, then walking more, then eventually got to try running, ran my first 10K and a marathon 3 months later!

And on Facebook you shared that you wished your Mother was still alive to see you running your 100th... yet how crazy she thought you were running ultras...

Ah, yes! She actually didn't know much about my previous life because I wasn't living in Fremont at the time and I wasn't sharing about that. But when she found out, she was glad I changed, that I got healthy. But she thought that was too much running. At least, when I did my first 100-mile solo on the Ohlone trail, she thought it was god because at least I didn't have to pay for it! No, Mom, you don't understand...

You ramped up so quickly, any related injuries?

No, not a single one! Well, some foot pain here and there, but nothing to side line me. I strained my calf one day and couldn't run Miwok a couple of years ago, but nothing serious. I attribute that to the weight for one part, and also because I cross-train at the gym, do Cross-Fit, getting my body strong. People who only run tend to get injured much more. You need to cross-train, especially as you get older I think.

Are you trying to get folks in trouble inspired and changed by your story? Like visiting schools or shelters?

No, but I would love to. And that's my big project for next year, to write a book! I've thought about it for a while and people suggested, but I feel ready, and I have lot of stories, some time to think about it while running!

Any success story you can share of people changing for the better?

Oh yes, I have people mailing me every week. Quitting drugs, starting running because they saw my story and thought that they can do it too.

You have more than 5,000 friends on FaceBook, including more than 1,800 followers, wow! How do you manage this popularity?

I don't!   I post my status, I want people to see what I do so I can inspire them. And I blog too ( I blog less today, not as much as I would like or should, I'm all over Facebook now.

And you have a new and very special friend...

Yes! Not a runner, although he is going to pace me for 12 miles tonight. Super fit. In the Army, after spending a few years in the Marine Corps. He has traveled a lot, 3 times deployed in Afghanistan and once in Irak.

So he definitely knows what support his...

Oh yes! He found me during his 3rd rotation in Afghanistan and told me how much I helped him getting through that, at a time he didn't think he was going to come back. No tattoos, no piercing by the way...

Speaking of tattoos, are you still working on yours?

Yeah, I'd like a couple more. Including one special for this 100th 100-miler milestone, on the front of my leg.

You started running ultras in 1998, when did the project of running 100 100-miles form in your mind?

Certainly not when I started running. It wasn't really a goal, it came over the years, it's more of a challenge. And it's not the end game anyway, you know how it goes, you keep adding new goals as you achieve others. It's similar to when you run one 100-mile race, you have to decompose into more attainable goals. When you think this way, you are like "ok, 24 miles, I can do that again", you just have to break the distance or the goal down. By the way, for me, it really takes about 30 miles to get in the groove, to warm-up!

We talked about Mont Blanc, Hard Rock. What about Bad Water?

I'm going to do a solo there. I don't mean pushing a cart with my water, but not entering the official race, just have my own crew.


I'd like to do that one too, but that's a lot of money...


You know, I have too many tattoos for that I don't want to damage my legs. Seriously! I was thinking of it two years ago but I don't want to be chopped off!

I'm with you on that, the Rat Bites that Alan is still talking about and had for 12 months after his run there...

I would still like to run one loop to see what it is, but to finish the whole thing, that's amazing.

So, basically, you can't run Barkley because you can't wear a skirt, right?

Exactly! Not worth damaging my legs...

Speaking of skirt, let's talk about your trail running stylishness, or should I say coquetry (the French way... ;-)?

Yeah, is my sponsor and they do the cutest outfits!

When did you start wearing running skirts, did you start a trend?

Well, the funny thing is that, back in the days, I was used to wear a tennis skirt. I'm glad they made a business out of it, making cute stuff so we don't look like boys.

Any running advice for those working on their first ultra or 100-mile? 

Yeah, just having fun. Make sure to make your first ultra experience a fun one. Challenge yourself, but not beyond the point of losing fun. There are so many people just doing it for the challenge. Don't set expectations too high. Always have a backup of a backup, a plan C... By the way, there is no bad weather, just bad clothing choices! Right? Seriously! When it snows, then you need the right layers.

Any life advice?

Always think positive. You know, things will always be better, even if you hit a rough patch in life, just use what you learned from your running: go through it, keep going, always remain positive. Sunshine behind the dark clouds!

And definitely sunshine today, for your 100th, blessed California!

Yeah! By the way, why don't you run today?

I'll do a few laps or explore the Park...

Quad Dipsea?

No, I had a great ultra season again, I'm easing off. I'm running the Turkey Trot to close the season. IBM is a sponsor.  (And, readers, there is still time to register @!)

Oh cool! Hmm, I would trade places, and run a 10K instead! Oh well, it will be my 16th Quad Dipsea this year, I have to do it!

Wow, you are the Dipsea Dirt Diva, a new Dipsea demon?! Well, Catra, thank you so much for going through all these questions while running one of your 25 loops today. Sorry for taking some of your breaths away but you seem in such high spirits to complete this 100th, you are going to nail this goal down, good luck for the 76 remaining miles!

And, readers, if you have a personal story to share in particular related to one (or several!) of Catra's 100s, please leave a comment to expand on this amazing feat, thanks!

Catra ended up completing the 100 miles in 26:44, an outstanding example of sustainable running, determination, healthy living and demonstration of what the human body is capable of when driven by the right mind power! Congratulations, Catra, and to your next inspiring achievements!

[You can find a few more pictures of this year's Run d'Amore in my Picasa album]

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Running and serving in Senegal (part 5): getting more familiar

My last post mentioned that a small group of us was heading to Saint Louis, in the North of Senegal, just below the border with Mauritania. This colonial city was once the capital of the whole French Western Africa zone (Afrique Occidentale Francaise). Despite a speedy driver, it was a long and bumpy road up there and even more so on the 20-mile dirt road to the National Park and Bird Sanctuary of Djoudj. 4 hours from Dakar to Saint Louis and slightly more on the way back on Sunday evening, thankfully I was able to work on my Agile Method talk for our conference at UCAD on Tuesday afternoon.

While in Saint Louis, I did run through various neighborhoods, starting from Hydrobase where we were staying (the part of the lagoon Mermoz was used to make a stop with his hydroplane between Europe and South America). The road was going through the most populous part of the city, the Fishermen Quarters, and I never saw so many young kids at once. Actually, I was happy to run rather than walk through this crowd, I think running is the best way to visit Senegal, if you can accommodate the overwhelming heat, as locals won't bother running after you. I meticulously followed the suggested tour map of my guide book (from Lonely Planet), stopping at many picture opportunities yet passing a few calèches, the local horse cart for tourists. I must say that the city needs a lot of restoration to make it appealing, nothing like Dubrovnik which is a pearl despite the recent war.
Then I ventured further East, across the long Faidherbe Bridge, into other populous neighborhood "shining" by the garbage all over the place. I'm sorry to have to say that, but, with the amazing sense of hospitality of the Senegalese as well as hundreds of miles of sandy beaches on the Ocean, Senegal owes to take the environment more seriously to make the country more appealing to tourists.
We saw mostly pelicans at the Djoudj park, similar to those I see in the Bay Area when running at Alviso or Shoreline, but thousands times more! Most of the other birds will only migrate down to Djoudj later this winter.

While the rest of the group was touring the city on the Calèche, on the circuit I had done in the morning,
I spent some time with one of the coders who lives in Saint Louis, Ousmane.
Back to Dakar, we met the Coders again on Monday evening after spending the day finalizing our report, tools and recommendations. Tuesday was marked by our conference at UCAD the largest university in Dakar with 80,000 students (!) and 6,000 staff. Professor Alex Corenthin got us an amazing asset, allowing us to use the huge amphitheater of UCAD 2, with 1,200 seats. Unfortunately, and despite the efforts of Léger and I to visit schools on Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning to "recruit" participants to this free conference, less than 50 participants showed up. Very unfortunate as it turned out to be a great content put up by 10 of our group. That was yet another manifestation of the famous "Insha'Allah" (Inch'Allah in French) which I initially interpreted as a polite salutation when I arrived in Senegal, but is really a way to avoid commitment and let God decide for you. I saw more than 100 students at IAM (Institut Africain de Management), many of them telling me "We will come" before adding... "Insha'Allah" and God had indeed other plans for them apparently. I hope the next CSC team in Senegal is more successful with that critical part of our project.
To add to the Public Relations fiasco, IBM Africa decided not to conduct a press conference, as opposed to last year's team in Thies, we missed a major opportunity to get the IBM name out of the shadow it is today. Microsoft of course, but also Google, are quite famous here, too bad we couldn't get the word out beyond the mere press release.

On Wednesday, the US citizens of our group met with US Ambassador Lukens, thanks to my son's (Alex) connections at the Department of State. We enjoyed learning about the role and activity of the Ambassador, in particular the challenge of coordinating hundreds of employees working on many project to support Senegal. I invited Amadou Daffé, Co-Founder and CEO of Coders4Africa who had just landed on Wednesday morning, coming all the way from New Jersey to meet us and discuss the findings of our engagement on Thursday (Amadou on the left of the group, below, as we are all "tied up" for the final presentation at ITA).

On Friday, we had the final presentation to our 4 clients, at ITA where we had the kick-off 4 weeks ago. It was great to hear about the work of other teams and see opportunities for connecting our clients, such as H&C and Coders4Africa around the use of SME Toolkit, or Coders4Africa and DAPSA and ITA for some IT services. 4 weeks already, what an amazing experience and opportunity to learn about a different culture and focus on sustainable development for the present and future generations of Senegalese!

And more pictures of course... Here are the expanded list of direct links:
  1. Beach cleaning (Sunday October 13)
  2. Team building (Sunday October 13)
  3. Kick-off @ ITA (Monday October 14)
  4. Tabaski (Wednesday October 16)
  5. All-hands with Coders4Africa (Friday October 18)
  6. Ile de Gorée (Saturday October 19)
  7. Safari @ Bandia (Sunday October 20)
  8. Western Corniche run (Sunday October 20)
  9. Metings with Coders4Africa at iDEV (Monday-Friday October 21-25)
  10. Saly (Saturday October 26) (I actually need to upload pictures from my BlackBerry)
  11. Pink Lake (Sunday October 27)
  12. Sup'Imax SMEToolkit presentation (Wednesday October 30) See also the great pictures from Mr. Didier Diop, Director of Sup'Info Group, on Facebok.
  13. Djoudj bird national reserve (Saturday November 2)
  14. Saint Louis (Sunday November 3) 
  15. Back to Dakar
  16. Running tour of Dakar (Friday November 8)

I'll write one more post as a conclusion of our great Senegalese experience, after the dust of my unpacking in California settles...

#ibmcsc senegal

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Running and serving in Senegal (part 4): deeper African experience

It has been an interesting 3rd week here in Senegal. First, on the running side, here is a new place you can enjoy while visiting Senegal. It used to be a very popular place as the finish area of the Dakar Rally (Paris-Dakar) but, unfortunately, since 2008, that car and motorcycle race can't cross North and West Africa anymore because of terrorism threats. And, with the two French reporters killed in Mali yesterday, you can see that the situation is still extremely bad.
That place is called Pink Lake (Lac Rose). It gets its name from a spectacular phenomenon which turns the color of the water to a bright pink when conditions are good. We were told that the water will be so salty that we would easily float like in the Dead Sea or Mono Lake in California but we were just after the rainy season so the lake had twice the usual amount of water and that must have diluted the salt significantly as I didn't feel much of a difference with normal sea water.
After a swim in the lake, we walked to the Ocean and its amazingly strong waves. Back to the resort, and while the rest of the group had lunch, I ran around the lake, 8 miles of trail including one mile of deep/soft sand which gave me a glimpse of the challenge that runners face in the Marathon des Sables.
The week in Dakar has been marked by the shortage of water all week. The water plant providing running water to millions of people in Dakar had a major pipe failure 4 weeks ago, just before we arrived in the capital. They had now to replace the short-term fix after getting a new part from France. All week, we had to take showers with some water we had saved on Monday. On my runs, I had seen many women walking with heavy buckets of water back to their basic "homes", and families washing from these buckets, it was our turn to live this experience which makes you appreciate the comfort we have with running water. Not to mention that, in our "developed" countries, we even flush the toilet, wash cars or water backyards with potable water!
This weekend we are going to Saint Louis at the border with Mauritania and the estuary of the Senagal River which is the source of water for most of the country, so we should find water!

Fortunately, while showers were more challenging to take,  the temperature decreased a bit and the sky was cloudy most of the time. Now, the irony is that, despite the temperatures being still on the high/hot side, I caught a cold on Tuesday. Air conditioning of the restaurant on Monday or Tuesday? One of the taxi drivers we got on Tuesday? One of the annoying vendors who were catching/grabbing my arm at the open market we went at on Tuesday? Too many possibilities to figure out and it doesn't make a difference... I was able to keep working but had to skip the run on Thursday as I got quite tired, even shivering on Thursday night. And, yes, the cold showers didn't help either.

On the work side, we had a few fruitful meetings in addition to the focus on finalizing our report, findings and recommendations.

On Wednesday, we invited another partner of our CSC program, Hermann from H&C, to present on SMEToolkit, not only to the Coders4Africa group but students from the hosting organization, Sup'Info and Sup'Imax. We had a packed room of 70 energetic Senegalese who bombarded Hermann and I with questions related to entrepreneurship. As a great speaker, Hermann used quite a few quotes in his presentation and here is the one I liked the most: "Entreprendre c'est vendre!" (Literally, albeit missing the French rhyme: entrepreneurship is selling). Indeed, all along the presentation, you could see uncomfortable smiles in the audience every time we were talking about making money or profit. Before closing the presentation, I reminded the audience how important it was to get more comfortable with the business aspects involved in creating and managing a profitable business, certainly a big cultural shift. One which is actually central to our CSC engagement as a matter of fact.
We also met with the management of Sup'Info to understand further their needs in terms of creating pragmatic IT skills through partnerships with the key IT players.
The highlight of next week will be our conference at UCAD (Dakar University) on Tuesday afternoon. Thanks to my son's connections (Alex), the US Ambassador confirmed his attendance to kick start the event! We will talk about the present and future of IT, the impact on IT professions, and I will also talk with Dean on Agile methods.

Unfortunately, we won't have a press conference on Friday, unlike the one that the CSC Senegal 1 team hold last year, so most of the buzz about our mission will only come from our team member blogs. Which contain more details about food and personal details than corporate-level content...

More pictures in my Picasa album; here are a few direct pointers to specific sections so you don't have to rewind from the beginning of the tape:
  1. Beach cleaning (Sunday October 13)
  2. Team building (Sunday October 13)
  3. Kick-off @ ITA (Monday October 14)
  4. Tabaski (Wednesday October 16)
  5. All-hands with Coders4Africa (Friday October 18)
  6. Ile de Gorée (Saturday October 19)
  7. Safari @ Bandia (Sunday October 20)
  8. Western Corniche run (Sunday October 20)
  9. Metings with Coders4Africa at iDEV (Monday-Friday October 21-25)
  10. Saly (Saturday October 26) (I actually need to upload pictures from my BlackBerry)
  11. Pink Lake (Sunday October 27)
  12. Sup'Imax SMEToolkit presentation (Wednesday October 30)
  13. Djidj bird national reserve (Saturday November 2)

Talk to you again in a few days then, as we approach to the conclusion of our great Senegalese experience

#ibmcsc senegal

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Running and serving in Senegal (part 3): common sense?

End of week 2 in Senegal already, half way through our engagement in Africa, and taking full advantage of the opportunity to make an impact in this emerging country while learning from the local culture and discovering the Senegalese as well as their country.

Running-wise, quite a few miles this week. No run on Monday to catch-up with some sleep deficit, but 95 kilometers total from Tuesday to Friday and a good long run (21 miles, 33 kilometers) in a new place, Saly! Saly is a very touristic place with many 5-star resorts and beaches along the Ocean. Half the group stayed overnight to enjoy the occidental comfort and party ambiance, the other half, included myself, returned to Dakar on Saturday night to go to the Pink Lake (Lac Rose) on Sunday.

I did run 6 miles South of the Lamentin Beach resort, down to the harbor which, unfortunately was disgusting with all the garbage on the sand. At one point, a young girl cut in front of me to throw the whole content of her trash bin in the Ocean. While the Ocean feeds these poor families, it's quite disconcerting to see such lack of consideration for the environment. With that, I turned back and, after stopping at the resort to say hi to the group which was enjoying the beach, I continued further North for another 5 miles. The beach stopped about a mile away from the resort on that end, replaced by rocks and private villas "les pieds dans l'eau", so I ran inland on nice sandy roads and very local and traditional neighborhood. I could tell from the weird look of the people that tourists don't venture in this area.
While going through Saly, I got quite a few "Allez le sportif!" from locals trying to get my attention and sell me something. As I stopped to buy (bargain...) a bottle of cold water, one guy approached me to introduce me to their local running champion. Remembering the pleasure I had to meet elite runners in Ethiopia, I decided to give it a try. I eventually met his friend who didn't even know the length of a marathon. Sure enough this was a scam and we ended up in a house where they asked me to buy some rice for the local community. Exactly as the guide warns tourist, and conforming to what my sister, Marie, told me, sharing about her experience of two humanitarian medical missions in Senegal. I left the scene without being ripped off, good ending, phew!

While I was running and fighting the oppressing mid-day heat, I was thinking of Alex who was running his first marathon this Sunday, the Marine Corps in DC. And, yes, despite limited training and no competitive goal, he not only made it but in a very respectable 3:46 (8:38 min/mile)! Very proud of him especially as he has never been found of running while in High School. On Saturday, thanks to his job at the Department of State, he got an invitation for Agnès and Max to visit the White House Garden, cool way to welcome the visiting family in town!

Work-wise, this has been a very productive week as we spent time interviewing and consulting with the three selected project teams of Coders4Africa.

We first met, first on Monday then again on Wednesday, Pape Samba and Yazid from the Kenefa team. Kenefa is a project to build a platform to gather public information related to healthcare providers in Senegal.
On Tuesday, it was the turn of the QuickCollect team to get grilled. The team was augmented with a few other coders whose project hasn't been selected for our engagement. QuickCollect is a platform for building online and mobile-accessible surveys. While the idea is extremely appropriate for the emerging countries in general and Senegal in particular, this is a space which has quite a few players already, Datadyne's Magpi being not the least important and visible competitor in the space.

You can see a demo of the QuickCollect project on YouTube.

One Wednesday, we met the third team to discuss the most intriguing Daral project, another platform aiming at addressing the issues of the farmers and their cattle.
You can actually watch a video about Daral on YouTube too. Even the BBC was in Senegal recently to interview the team in Dakar and the farmers in Foundiougne (coincidentally the small village my sister Marie provided medical support to a few years ago!).

Poor coders, we bombarded them with tough questions about their business ideas like potential investors would do. Of course, with all our consideration and to help them assessing the viability of their initial options or come up with new ones. And in a methodical manner which we will further document next week and teach them so they can apply it after we leave.
Overall, I remain intrigued or puzzled with what our work will produce. On one hand, the teams are so eager to learn from us any tip which can help them building successful (i.e. revenue-generating and profitable) businesses. On the other hand, none of us have created a company in Senegal, so I wonder how applicable our generic business concepts will prove to be. While things may be common sense to us, what does "common" means across our cultures, mindsets and backgrounds which are so far apart. At least, our client is actually aiming at infusing the Occidental entrepreneurship spirit in Africa, so we are certainly aligning with that objective.

To the point of changing mindsets and behaviors through education, we met the Managing Director, Mr. Didier Diop and Professor Léon Coly, of Sup'Info, one of the many private colleges/universities in Senegal (mostly Dakar).
We are going to meet the IBM Senegal management team next week to discuss partnership options with local institutions, while Microsoft, Google, Cisco, Oracle, HP are quite active already. To address a demand from these institutions to access to all the worldwide IT leaders.

As you recall, our group (14 IBMers) work on 4 projects across Dakar so, between the geographical spread and our own project constraints of meeting the coders after their day job, in the evening, we mostly meet for excursions on weekends or for our weekly group coordination meeting where we exchange experiences and opportunity to make connections between our clients.

I keep adding pictures to my Picasa album; here are a few direct pointers to specific sections so you don't have to rewind from the beginning of the tape:
  1. Beach cleaning (Sunday October 13)
  2. Team building (Sunday October 13)
  3. Kick-off @ ITA (Monday October 14)
  4. Tabaski (Wednesday October 16)
  5. All-hands with Coders4Africa (Friday October 18)
  6. Ile de Gorée (Saturday October 19)
  7. Safari @ Bandia (Sunday October 20)
  8. Western Corniche run (Sunday October 20)
  9. Metings with Coders4Africa at iDEV (Monday-Friday October 21-25)
  10. Saly (Saturday October 26) (I actually need to upload pictures from my BlackBerry)
  11. Pink Lake (Sunday October 27)

#ibmcsc senegal

Monday, October 21, 2013

Running and serving in Senegal (part 2): we are game!

9 days in Senegal, one third of the say has passed already, time flies. Along with the numerous... flies and feared mosquitoes in this oppressive heat and humidity. But the spirit of the team is high especially after a few have recovered from various fevers, headaches and/or diarrhea. As usual, our Indian contingent is resisting the best to any food poisoning but they are not the only ones. On Saturday night, I even risked a Salade Gourmande (green salad, medium-cooked liver and poached egg) and I'm glad to report I'm still fine two days later, phew! Not quite the rustic conditions we encountered in Ethiopia 4 years ago.

On the running side, nothing extravagant since my last post. I kept running most of the mornings on that 5K loop in our upper class neighborhood and logged 68 miles (109 kilometers) since I arrived in Dakar last Sunday. I've been gaining a bit of speed showing some heat acclimation but I still have hard time sustaining low 7 minutes/mile pace on my 10-mile runs. Even when I start at sunrise and the temperature is "only" 80F...

This Sunday, we had a group excursion in the morning and left the hotel by 7am so I was left with the afternoon as a slot to run and it was really really hot. I ventured outside our neighborhood and ran 10 miles on the West Corniche (La Corniche Ouest) down to the luxurious Radisson Blue hotel and attached mall, passing the embassy of Indonesia and United Arab Emirates, a military base and the beach we had cleaned up the previous weekend. Nice views of the Ocean on one side, and quite some smoking car traffic on the other, yet a good and wide sidewalk most of the way.
I wanted to climb to the top of the Dakar lighthouse hill but it seems the road is closed to traffic. I did climb the other hill of Dakar however, at the top of which is built the controversial monument commemorating the African Renaissance.
Let's come back to the Corporate Service Corps (CSC) experience because, even if the pictures don't really convey this, we do work quite hard on our projects. For one thing, our client is a very hard working and serial entrepreneur and it's an honor to assist him in his amazing challenge of helping Senegal grow through the development of young Senegalese. Our assignment requires that we meet and work with these "Coders4Africa", most of them being only available to us in the evening, after their day job. It reminds me of the Silicon Valley spirit, except that there is no money available here to transform ideas into gold... let's see what we can figure out in 3 weeks to make that happen...!
We learned a lot already about what success means in the local culture, about what "having enough" means in particular, something that our "developed" countries should get back to rather than creating such insane debts by always wanting more. I must say it is still quite challenging to not impose our own assumptions of financial success or finance-driven analytics.

After getting back to the hotel around 10 pm on Friday evening, we were able to take our weekend off and get two very special excursions to keep discovering Senegal and Africa.

The first, a must when in Dakar, a place that most of the Nations' heads have visited to pay their respect to the African continent was Ile de Gorée on Saturday. We took the ferry from the Dakar harbor to cross the 3.5 km separating the island from the Senegalese capital. What a unique place to relate to the immense cruelty which got 20 million slaves "shipped" to America over three centuries, 6 million of them dying during the cross-Atlantic journey. First, the number seems so surreal, larger than the population of many countries. But, to me, the fact that this practice lasted for 3 centuries (300 years!), at a time we knew about the great civilizations such as the Egyptians, Greeks or Romans, or others further East, at a time we even had our own Renaissance or industrialization era, it's good that the greatest leaders have been visiting this place to pay their and our tribute to the African continent and people. With a special intention to my Mom who has actively supported this movement, here is a plaque from the founder of Aide à Toute Détresse - ATD Quart-Monde:
After this humbling visit to the launch pad of slavery, we changed backgrounds and, in reference to the title of this post, went for a safari, almost a game although we did shoot animals only with our harmless cameras. At the Bandia Reserve (government-owned land but operated by a Lebanese family like many successful businesses in Senegal).
I was able to upload quite a few pictures onto my Picasa album and invite you for a tour of a few key representatives of the African wildlife: giraffes, zebras, crocodiles, ostriches, monkeys, giant turtles and various birds.

The album counts 500 pictures by now, so here are a few direct pointers to specific sections:
  1. Beach cleaning (Sunday October 13)
  2. Team building (Sunday October 13)
  3. Kick-off @ ITA (Monday October 14)
  4. Tabaski (Wednesday October 16)
  5. All-hands with Coders4Africa (Friday October 18)
  6. Ile de Gorée (Saturday October 19)
  7. Safari @ Bandia (Sunday October 20)
  8. Western Corniche run (Sunday October 20)
And I've also added a few comments and notes on some of the pictures to guide your tour, enjoy Senegal's legendary Teranga, the Wolof word for the art of hospitality!

This week, we are focusing on meeting the coders, learning about their expectations and challenges, teaching them some business sense and tips to create their business plan and think of ways and recommendations to make Coders4Africa even more successful.

#ibmcsc senegal