Monday, June 24, 2013

GR 223: 100K around Granville

Gouville, Blainville, Coutainville, Tourville, Heugeville-sur-Sienne, Urville, Incleville, Regnéville, Hauteville, Annoville, Lingreville, Coudeville, Bréville, Donville-les-Bains, Granville, Jullouville, you got the pattern, Normandy is very rich of villages with name containing... "ville" (literally: city, town). I ran through all of these this weekend, and a few more! Being in Europe for a month, we had the opportunity to drive to Granville for the weekend, the land of my Mother's family where we spent most of my vacations when I was a kid, usually July, August and Christmas and/or New Year's Eve. Like in Paris this whole week where it rained every day, the weather was also bad, a lot of wind and quite some rain too. After our super dry Winter in California, way to celebrate the Summer season in Europe... ;-)

On Saturday I could squeeze a run 22-mile (35-kilometer) run in the morning before a family reunion. I ran along the sea toward the South, with the goal of seeing the Mont Saint Michel from the coast. The nearest point to do so coming from Granville on the GR is la Cabane Vauban, just after crossing the picturesque Vallée du Lude, after Carolles. Here is a trace of my run on Garmin Connect (22 miles):

On Sunday, I wanted to run as much as possible of the same trail, the trail which goes around the entire Cotentin peninsula, but the Northern section that time. Agnès dropped me at Gouville-sur-Mer, North-West of Coutances. The wind was very strong but sideway fortunately, coming straight from the Ocean (West). GR stands for Grande Randonnée or more precisely for Chemin de Grande Randonnée. There are many more local trails throughout France but the GR as the longest ones, many continuous miles across or along a particular region. A national network similar to our highways. The GR 223 follows the long coast of Cotentin and is therefore called "Le Tour du Contentin." It is 430 kilometers long (267 miles). Here is a page providing more details. In two days I ran 75 kilometers of the trail; with the 53 kilometers back in 2008 (my Pilgrimage around St Michael's Mount), that is only 30% of the whole trail, there is opportunity for coming back, especially to run along the Nez de Jobourg, the North end of Contentin. You can download the route from Garmin Connect (37.7 miles).
Overall the trail is a mix of asphalt levees along the major beaches, various types of trails in the woods (grassy or packed ground), many miles through swampy and grassy lots with hundreds of sheep, a few deep sand sections crossing dunes and a few sections which are hardly maintained.
The signage, red and white stripes, is quite good but you have to watch closely and potentially retrace your steps back to verify that you haven't missed a turn sign.
See many more pictures (more than 150!) in my Picasa photo album.

Overall, a great way to run far from car traffic (most of the time), discover the Norman littoral in a way which is exclusive to pedestrians and alternate amazing views of the sea shore and country side. You just need to take into account that, with all the twists of the trail and varied running conditions, the route is much shorter for cars and on maps, and plan accordingly. Running, or walking for the matter, on a GR is not meant to be racing... ;-)

PS: this concludes another 100-mile week, or 355 miles so far in June. Some serious mileage before flying to Corsica for some hill training which should come handy in a few weeks in the Alps then Tahoe!

Running in Portugal #3: Porto's North-West shore

After the previous two posts (Porto-Gondomar and Porto-Espinho), here is a short account of my third and last run in Porto, the morning before our flight to Paris, France. This is the other run along the Atlantic Ocean shore, this time on the right bank of the Douro then toward the North of the city, the maritime terminal/harbor.

The run is mostly on a bike path although not in as good of conditions as the one to Espinho. I didn't have time to run more than 15 miles that morning so I turned around at the freight terminal, which isn't of course the nicest place in town, except if you are looking for the most fresh fish, directly from the fishermen.

Here is the route on Garmin Connect, pretty straightforward to follow.
If you want to mix some competitive running with tourism, check the Porto Half Marathon website (or on Wikipedia), it must be a great one given all the Kenyans and Ethiopians participating and taking the top 10 spots, year after year. It runs on both sides of the Douro and under the famous bridges of Porto for some great views of the city. And, at 10€ the early-bird registration fee, that's a bargain. Like the 3-course meals you can find throughout the city for 5 or 6€, or bottles of Porto wine at that price... Yes, Portugal is in dear need of tourists and you won't be disappointed, the Portuguese are extremely welcoming, warmhearted, and proud to share their culture and long history heritage with you. Add to that several low-cost companies flying to Porto, just get on a plane!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Running in Portugal #2: Porto-Espinho Marathon, or 50K...

Yesterday was our excursion day to Regua in the Douro Valley, the origin of the Port wine (Porto being the harbor, or port..., where the Port wine was sold and shipped around the world). No running, just some walking, a short cruise on the Douro river and 4 hours of train, out and back.
Today, I went for another long run, all the way to Espinho along the Ocean coast. I had not found this run documented on the web, I was thrilled to discover the most amazing, most pristine, most scenic, and longest bike path I ever ran on. To make the experience even better, the temperature wasn't too high thanks to a nice marine breeze.
This is a perfect place for a long run. Not only the path is in perfect condition, it's uninterrupted for 15 miles and seems to even keep going for many more miles as what they call the Rota Verde dos Parques de Gaia.
I reached the entrance of Espinho from downtown Porto after 13 miles, making it a perfect out and back marathon.
I decided to keep going for 2.5 more miles though to make it a 50K.
And I stopped in Espinho to refuel at a café. Speaking of which, look at the one I found, how appropriate!
This time I ran with my camera so here are 157 pictures taken along the way, mostly of Porto, under an overcast sky in the morning and bright blue one in the afternoon.
If you have the opportunity and the chance of visiting Porto and are up for a run, I strongly suggest this itinerary, even if you turn back before Espinho. Otherwise, enjoy some views of Port and its nearby beaches, from your seat!
PS: my GPS route is available on Garmin Connect.

Running in Portugal #1: Porto-Gondomar

I landed in Porto, Portugal, on Tuesday afternoon after a connection in Frankfurt and some delay because of the strike of the air traffic controllers in France which caused a jam of flights trying to cross Europe over France... Incidentally, and very unfortunately, this strike caused the cancellation of Max's flight from Paris, preventing him of spending a few days with us and discovering a new country, damned!

I had checked a few websites advertising several runs in and around Porto, in particular one trail run in a nearby forest but it seemed pretty far away on the East side of Porto. Without precise goal I decided to follow the famous Douro on the right/North bank. There is a very nice sidewalk through the city, up to the Porto harbor. When you see the Museu da Imprensa (Printing History Museum) on your right, run through the parking lot and take left at the harbor dock to follow the river.
You will find there the best part of the run, a very nice bike and walk path along the river for a couple of miles. I wish it would be much longer because, when it ends, you are left with only one option, run on the narrow express way N108. While most of the car drivers were considerate, a few were definitely not happy with the idea of sharing the road with a runner. Needless to say, run against the traffic to see it coming. I stayed on this express way for a mile before taking a road climbing on the left. The good news is that, as soon as you leave the highway, the traffic is minimal, yet stay alert as the roads are winding.

I kept going and exploring the country side, aiming East and, very luckily, found a service bridge over the IC29/A43 highway which got me into some woods with steep and rough fire roads going down to the Rio Ferreira. On the other side, you are in the woods and have a maze of hilly trails to get some good training!
I just climbed to the top of the first ridge, to the power line, but there is at least another higher ridge further East. I came back by the same route and logged 22.5 miles overall with about 2,500 feet of cumulative elevation (2,790 ft on Garmin Connect and 2,230 per SportTracks). If interested and up for a long run when visiting Porto, you can find and download the detailed route on Garmin Connect.
I didn't run with my camera this time but you'll have plenty of pictures from my next run along the Ocean, stay tuned!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

National Running Day: way to celebrate

There are so many things to celebrate in our world today, every day is an opportunity and has its National label! Fortunately we only stop working for the major ones (Veterans' Day, Memorial, Labor, Martin Luther King's, Thanksgiving) but think of those ones: Earth day, Sewing Machine Day (this Thursday!), Juggling Day, Fudge Day, Eat your Vegetable Day.. And many more available for instance at By the way, sorry Chikara, I'm not going to write about this past Saturday's National Doughnut Day which you enjoyed so much per your Facebook status... ;-) Last week, Wednesday was the annual National Running Day. With about 50 million runners in the US, this could almost be a National Holiday! Like most of the previous years (e.g. 2010), I did extend an invitation for a group run to my IBM colleagues. Last year, a handful registered but none showed up. Thankfully Agnès was able to join me and we ran a few miles together at Alviso. This year, 13 positive responses and 3 shows: not an overwhelming response, but still some progress!

Sandy and Sonoko picked the walk option, starting from the Alviso parking lot
while Sumanth and I started running from the office, 1.25 miles away.
Sumanth has already run a half-marathon and is dreaming of pushing to the marathon. We ran the first 3 miles together and I'm very confident he can do it with some specific training. I went on for 2 more miles (10 miles out and back), far enough to see a dozen of pelicans.
Since the ILOG acquisition and our move to the IBM office on North 1st Street, I've run hundreds of miles on the flat levee of this Santa Clara County Park that too few people know about.
The full loop is 9 miles but you can run any distance and see some birds along the salt ponds and the Alviso Slough which allows boats to access the Bay. There is even a Yacht Club with half a dozen docks:
Again, a nice way to celebrate the most practiced sport in North America, running!
I ran every day last week and logged 107 miles after the 106 miles of the previous week. On Saturday, I ran 31.5 miles from Cupertino to Palo Alto, hopping on the Stevens Creek Trail in Sunnyvale, running through Mountain View's Shoreline Park all the way to the Palo Alto Baylands and airport. It was hot and I was happy to clock a 3:11 marathon and 7:14 min/mile average pace overall for this 50K training run.

On Sunday, I went to the top of Black Mountain on Montebello, did the Bellavista loop for a second ascent of Black Mountain (no walking!) and enjoyed a cold shower at the waterwheel on the way back, seeing Hannes and Monique Vogel again, as we had already met the previous weekend!

Sorry for the delay in posting this account of last week's National Running Day. It was a busy weekend finishing up some work projects and packing for Europe. Next post from Portugal then!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Back to (ultra) business

Not much to share this week, with my round trip to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as I did spend more time on a plane than running. Or even sleeping for the matter! 23 hours door to door, each way, that's a lot of wasted time in checking-in, passing security, waiting to board then on the tarmac, disembarking, clearing immigration and custom, airport transfers. The irony is that, with their business week starting on Saturday, I forfeited my Memorial Day Weekend to be there on Saturday night but the customers meetings got all postponed to my last day there, Wednesday. At least I could catch-up with previous work commitments and even do some running while there. And I even managed to log 106 miles this week, the second week over 100 miles this year. At last...!

On Sunday morning, I ran 14 miles in Riyah, by 102F (39C)! And 10% "humidity" that is super dry heat. I was carrying two water bottles but I had to stop on my way back to buy more water. Not only the temperature was insane but the dust too, the pollution and the heat of the cars and trucks I had to slalom through. As I was writing after my first visit there (Running in Arabia) in October 2011, if you want to run outside, the best is to catch a cab to the Wadu Hanifa oasis at the Southern end of the city.

The rest of my stay I ran on the treadmill which was safer anyway, and logged 35 miles while watching the French Tennis Open (Rolland Garros).

I landed at SFO at noon on Thursday, did two conf calls until 3 pm then enjoyed so much a run in much nicer temperatures, even if a heat wave had just hit the Bay Area (75-85F these past days). I was looking forward to a calm weekend after such travel but my second conf call on Friday at 6:30 am pulled me in a client escalation which made me work all Saturday afternoon to prepare for a conference call on Sunday at 5 am. That's ultra business, that never stops, the sun never sets on the IBM planet... Maybe that will make me appreciate the upcoming family vacations this month even more (Portugal then Corsica), with some feeling that I deserve them... ;-)

I went for a long run on Saturday morning over Black Mountain (29.5 miles) and 16 flat miles this Sunday. The toe is better, the hematoma is gone but the nail is going to be a mess for a while and painful at times, I'm hoping it will cope with the high mileage I hope to put in this month in Europe in particular before my upcoming race in the Alps in July (the super challenging Montagn'Hard) and of course Tahoe Rim Trail 100-mile when I'm back.

I'm so glad that my fall and injury at Ohlone two weeks ago only kept me off the trails for 2 days!

Last, don't forget to celebrate National Running Day this Wednesday, June 5th! I'm organizing a group run at the office, hoping I won't be on my own like the past two years...