Sunday, July 29, 2018

Save The Bay: let's do this at work!

What a great mission to save the San Francisco Bay (wikipedia), such a unique place blessed by mother nature with a dozen of different ecosystems and also the birth place of the renowned Silicon Valley! In this age of industrial and urban development, it takes a lot of leadership, grit, money and time investment to protect natural landscape against real estate speculation and that's what organizations such as Save The Bay or POST (Peninsula Open Space Trust) exemplify in the Bay Area. (Note to IBMers: IBM matches gifts to such environment-protection agencies, that double your generosity!)

Our IBM Silicon Valley Lab (SVL) site leadership brought us an opportunity to literally give a hand to the former with an on-site operation to transplant recently germinated seeds of a native specie into individual pots.

I have to say that, when I was told we were going to plant trees, reading glasses weren't the first tool which came to mind! But I will definitely take them with me next time I do this. Indeed, isolating baby plants which were measuring less than 1/4" and removing ground from the fragile roots with a chop stick, was all about minutia and patience. When we see redwoods in our nearby hills, we certainly forget that they grew from a few original microscopic cells, what a journey life is! Well, the trees we were working on are a species which only exist in the marshes of our South Bay and will only grow up to 1 feet, nothing majestic about them! Except if you are a small mice and thrive under these big trees to their own scale, being protected from predators by the density of these bushes and eating their seeds.

Not any mice, mind you, but another breed which only exists in the Bay Area, nowhere else on the planet!! We are talking about the tiny Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse, so accustomed to our local marsh it evolved and learned how to swim as well as drink salt water!

Another of this local and endangered species is the Ridgway's Rail, which feels so good at home here that it doesn't even migrate!

Between two calls, I was able to transplant 50 plants in about an hour. We had about 5,000 to do overall, so the 100 or so volunteers came very handy!

I've run so many miles at Alviso when working from our North San Jose location at the end of North First Street, this restoration project really stroke a personal cord and I really look forward to follow-up events, especially on or around the Bay Day of Saturday October 6, 2018 (to save the Bay, save the... date! ;-).

In particular, I would like to see how our minuscule plantations have fared when it will be time for them to get to their targeted marsh, in the rainy season (November onwards).

Special thanks to all the people who organized this event, and in particular to the dozen of volunteers from Save The Bay who taught and guided us in this sustainable development effort. And to my IBM colleagues who stepped out of their desk and computers to volunteer their time to support such a great initiative!

Way to make a positive impact, IBM SVL!

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Staycation? Hmm, what about 16,733 miles instead...

Oh no, I didn't run 16,733 miles during my last vacation, that would have been really exhausting! ;-)

Sometimes I wish I'd stay home for vacation, to get some good and needed rest, and catch-up on so many things I can't keep up with on a daily or weekly basis.

But I don't think I married the right girl for this (just kidding!), this is certainly not our style or life!

As a matter of fact, I haven't checked these statistics these past years so maybe it wasn't a record year (as it is for global warming unfortunately and seemingly inexorably with the current leaders we have in the US :-/ ). But I thought this summer trip was particularly hectic so I did the maths. I'm still missing quite a few miles of walking in the places we visited but I already got a big enough number, below:
With airport codes, plus other city names where we spent at least a night, that would be: SFO-CDG-KRK-WAW-FRA-BCN-FRA-CDG-Paris-Chamonix-Chambery-Lyon-Annecy-Route des Grandes Alpes-Menton-Valreas-Lyon-Granville-Paris-CDG-SFO, phew what a litany! Oh, and as it wasn't enough, Agnès added Strasbourg and Reims before flying back.

On one hand, I feel a bit ashamed with the ecological impact of all these miles. On the other, we saw so many in our respective families, and friends, that was quite worthwhile. Not to mention discovering a new country, Poland. I'm at 56 of 257 countries in that list, and only 48 if I don't count the territories (shorter/more aggregated list of sovereign states, including quite a few ongoing disputes...). It's going to take a lot of time to visit the rest of the World, uh, crazy quest and life goal!

Farther, faster...

If you were able to take some time off, what did you discover during these vacations already, where did you go?

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Running in Barcelona, Spain: barely a recommended run through the port, by night

To continue on my European 'catch me if you can' series, after Krakow, Poland, then Chamonix in the Alps, and Saclay, South of Paris, a very short one about my quick run around Barcelona, Spain, by night, at the end of 2 client working days down there.

As a matter of fact, I had posted about a run there 11 years ago (An athletic tour of Olympic Barcelona) while visiting with the family, on a much nicer and touristic course. And early in the morning which, I confirm, is the best time of the day to avoid the traffic.

But I didn't have the time to run in the morning during this short professional visit so I went in the evening, after a few tapas...

Sunset on the Bogatell beach, at the end of the popular Rambla del Poblenou:

From there, you run along the beach (nice) until you get to the super busy Ronda Litoral highway, not good for foot traffic. Since it was dark, I got on a large avenue crossing the harbor, another option which would not be recommended during the day given the heavy truck traffic. Needless to say, I didn't see anyone else running there; a police car even slowed down while passing me, looking at me quite suspiciously...

I got so deep into the harbor that I had to go through a tourniquet which required a badge to get out, oops! Fortunately, there was an intercom and someone opened the gate without asking how in hell a runner got there... Well, getting out of the harbor was one thing but crossing the crazy nearby interchange was even more frightening and dangerous. Bottom line, not the best route, I should have crossed back into the city before the Monjuic Park! You've been warned in case you are looking for a long run while in Barcelona...
Here is a 3D fly-over from
And my Strava activity for the details, if you are still interested, or at least to see what to avoid:
I came back to the hotel just before midnight, slept for 4 hours before a 6am flight to Frankfurt, short night. But what can I say, it's typical not to sleep much in Spain anyway, right?

Oh, one last thing: it was cool to see this BUFF booth at the airport, as a reminder that this now popular brand, with many copies around the globe, is from Barcelona!
With the buff actually being originally designed for motorcycle riders, not runners! ;-) Who would have known...?

Back to my Paris-Saclay-Paris 50K: a few more pictures

I already posted about my favorite long run when I visit Paris, starting from Stade Charléty in the 13th arrondissement, getting on La Coulée Verte along the French bullet train, the TGV, down to Saclay Bourg, and back. Right on 50K with almost no car traffic once you left Paris, priceless in such an urban area otherwise.

  1. Paris-Saclay-Paris: a quick and convenient 50K! (2014)
  2. A 50K every other day: new prescription? (2016)
  3. Whirlwind passage in Paris (2018)
  4. The Paris 50K: Running therapy? (2015)
And on La Coulée Verte:
  1. Running in Ile de France (2010)
  2. Running in Paris (2): La Coulée Verte (South) (2007)
Let me add a few pictures from my latest run on that course on June 23, as a plog post (photo log...).

First, the great prize of getting to the church of Orsay Bourg, the return point:

Wearing the appropriate t-shirt on the day of Western States 100-mile in California! ;-)
The convenient convenience store in Orsay Bourg which you can use as an aid station to refuel (Coke, water, ice cream, and much more!).

The last mile before Orsay, some explanation (in French...) about the sophisticated water collection system to get fresh water down to Versailles in the 17th century.

The recent Abbaye de Saint-Louis du Temple (an active community of about 50 sisters):
Last but not least, such a curiosity when passing by this collector's front yard on Chemin de la Motte Samson, souvenirs, souvenirs, if you were raised in France a few decades ago...! ;-)

As a bonus, the 3D fly-over (click on link or picture below to get to the video):
And the Strava activity for the detailed map/course:
Et voilà, one more advertising for this very convenient route if you want to run long while staying in Paris! Strongly recommended.

Friday, July 6, 2018

90K of Chamonix: crowded alpine ultra running is another sport

90 kilometers per the race name, or even 91.5 km according to the organizers, just over 2 marathons, how hard that can be? Even with 6,200 meters of cumulated elevation, or 20,300 feet, these are just numbers. No, really, the only real indication of toughness and difficulty was that the course consisted of trails over Chamonix-Mont-Blanc! Then you know it's going to be technical. Moreover when you realize this is Killian's playground...
That poster was at the expo and the bib pick-up and back pack checking was almost desert at mid day, no line at this point!

Back to the course, I've ran these trails enough over the past 30 years to know better, these aren't trails for me to compete anymore. Since I fell on a trail over Lake Tahoe and broke my shoulder, the fear of falling in the technical downhills takes over my love for speed. The good news is that we had plenty of steep uphills in this event to make up for slow downhills. Starting with the hardest climb of the day, right off 4 am, to the top of Le Brévent.

4 am, what an early start! At least, after 10 days in Europe (France, Poland, Spain, Germany, France), I wasn't suffering from the jet lag anymore. Yet, I went to bed at 7 pm but, after an hour, I couldn't fall asleep so got out of bed to finish a blog post on my 4 days in Krakow. With that, I slept for less than 4 hours and woke up all sweaty, already racing in my mind on that first climb. Agnès came with me at the start which was at the same spot as UTMB. I tried to get in the corral near the start line but couldn't and, as a disciplined American, went to the back of the pack instead. 1,150 registered runners, that's a big pack.
While the previous picture shows the elite corral from Agnès' vantage, here was my view of the start line, from the church stairs, really on the wrong end...
It took me almost a minute to cross the start line, then another 100 meter before I could even run.

Agnès' video of the start:

At that point, I rushed and passed maybe 600 runners. I rushed because I knew there won't be a way to pass on the single track up to that first summit, Le Brévent. Oh my, I didn't get disappointed by the conga line which formed for these first 10 kilometers. Quite a few times, we actually got to a stop, for instance to allow folks with poles to pass over a fallen tree. Right off the bat the pace was oscillating between 20 to 25 minutes a mile, yikes! One of the runners in the line mentioned that I was lucky because we were still in the first third and it was even worse behind.

There was no way to pass anyway so better enjoy the company and the slow start. And the full moon!
I met and chatted with Sean Blanton, the Race Director of the Georgia Death Race and 10 other trail races in the Atlanta area. Here is the conga line, still quite dense after 9 kilometers!

I actually followed Sean as we were approaching the top of Le Brévent, trying to pass a few other runners struggling on a névé, and I tripped, falling on a sharp rock of granite with my left forearm, ouch! I was ok but, with my blood thinner, a big bruise got quite bloody. It wasn't time to lose more spots in the line so I didn't stop.

After the summit, we had to run or slide in the snow for maybe a kilometer of steep downhill. Many runners passed me as I was already extra cautious to avoid another fall that early in the race. After the snow I flew down the ski track down to Planpraz and starting passing other runners again. We were only at mile 8 but I did grab a cup of soup as I was already 2 hours and 40 minutes in the race and lost quite some sweat in this warm weather.

I kept pushing in the next section, to the point that my adductors got painful by mile 10, reminding me of the cramps I got at Miwok 100K in May. Oops, what about the remaining 50 miles and 15,000 feet of elevation to come?! I slowed down a bit but more importantly paid more attention to running more economically while passing over the rocks and roots. That worked and I had a good climb over La Tête au Vent and Le Col des Montets.

On the way to the Col des Montets, we had the joy to see an ibex, less than 5 meters off the trail, that made my early morning!

I was very happy to see Agnès waiting at the second major aid station of Le Buet (km 28, mile 18).

With all the uneven footing, a blister annoyed me under my right big toe so I stopped to put some cream on it, asking Agnès to bring me some tape at the next aid station, mid course (Emosson). I drank more chicken broth and a dozen slices of salami before getting back on the course for the the next two brutal climbs. It was only 9 am but quite hot already, which wasn't too much of a problem for me as I prefer heat to cold.

On the way up to La Loriaz, I chatted with a runner from the Haut-Doubs who had done this race 2 or 3 years ago. Last year he destroyed his ankle when his foot slipped between 2 rocks as he was running downhill and he lost a year. One more excuse for me to be over cautious on these technical downhills... He also warned me about pacing myself to keep enough energy for the second half...

Some of the trails were so soft and smooth that I couldn't prevent myself from picking the pace up a bit. I had waited for the hardest climb of the day, to the dam of Emosson, to use my poles and I was very pleased about the relief they provided to my legs, going up. As a matter of fact, while I now find myself ridiculous with my downhill hike in the technical sections, I think I could teach a few how to best use poles. Well, just relaying what I actually learned from Guillaume Millet's book "Ultra-Trail - Plaisir, Performance et Santé", and his video tutorials in particular.

Anyway, it was another relief to see Agnès at Emosson.

I taped my right feet, took more soup and salami, refilled my bottles (water and GU2O/GU Energy Brew) before getting in the treacherous downhill to Le Châtelard. I can't blame the French for that one since we were on the Swiss side but I have to confess that I really struggled on that descent. I got passed by probably a dozen runners, if not more, and felt particularly helpless.

But, again, on the other side of the valley, I passed quite a few other runners as I was much stronger in the uphills. I even took the time to take a video in the climb, showing the Emosson dam from the other side of the Chamonix Valley:
And, higher, a few pictures as we crossed another névé:

I checked the live cast a few times and could see I was now around 200th overall. On the M50-59 side, I appeared at 26th out of 150 or so entrants, at Le Buet in the morning but then the ranking got completely off (like giving me as 177th in my age group at Le Tour). With the missed start anyway, it wasn't even worth checking as I was completely off the race.

One of my best moments of the race was to fly down from the Col des Posettes (pass) to Le Tour, mostly following Marie Berna who was then on 16th place in the women race.

Chatting with Marie and recounting my epic and disappointing start, she looked at my bib and said: "Oh, 3061, you could have started in the elite corral, they went up to 3199!" At this point, I got both upset and discouraged at the same time. Not as much upset with the lack of communication from the race organization, but with myself for not having checked upon getting my bib. And, at this point, I was quite tired anyway. I kept moving down to Les Bois, the smoothest section of the course, albeit without much resolve.

After seeing Agnès, her brother and his son at Le Tour, I got another moral boost seeing Agnès at the limited aid station of Les Bois, before the ultimate big climb of the day, to the Montenvers train station, over La Mer de Glace.

Again, I passed a few runners on the way up, and was quite pleased to hear that I was in 163rd position at the Montenvers aid station. There were quite a few runners trying to recover there, I refilled my bottles again, took some soup and went on the last section. I had so so memories of that section between Montenvers and Le Plan de l'Aiguille, which I remembered as technical but hadn't realized it was that uphill.

Here is a video of Marie passing me on our way to Le Plan de l'Aiguille:
It was a long struggle, mostly walking and getting passed. I didn't feel in a hurry, confident that I will finish before dark, even if it meant 9 pm, instead of my initial plan between 5 and 7 pm. I spent some time chatting with my friend Michou who was volunteering at this last aid station, the one which remained the longest time of all, for more than 12 hours and as late as 3 am, and at the highest elevation of all aid stations! And, if that wasn't enough, Michou got up again to man that aid station again the following night for the Duo Etoilé (17km night run, 500 2-runner teams)!
A few years ago I had run that section on my own, but in the reverse direction, that is climbing up from Chamonix. Not only was I younger but I didn't fear these technical trails then. This time, I was struggling jogging down these ultimate 6.5 kilometers, especially as the light was dimming to the point that I had to switch the headlamp I had used in the morning, on again.
I have to admit that one of the benefits of being slow was to enjoy a sunset over Le Brévent, a nice symmetry with the sunrise over Mont Blanc earlier that day.

I crossed the finish line just before 10 pm, quite embarrassed and disappointed to finish that late, yet happy to be done and, at least, finish, furthermore without a major fall.

Agnès and Isabelle were there and accompanied me to the medical staff so they could clean my bruise before I showered and went to bed.

13th in my age group, 5.5 hours behind Bruno Lallemand (14th overall!), 3.5 hours behind 3rd place in our age group, really off the competition on this one! And it's not just the hour I lost in the first climb by getting stuck in the initial conga line; I lost at least another hour in the last downhill, and 30 minutes between Emosson and Le Chatelard. With that, I wonder what's going to happen in two months as I'm back for the TDS...

Overall, a very professional organization, especially with such a crowded field. Great marking, not quite the variety of food we have in Californian ultras but still a good mix of sugary food (fruits) and protein (meat, cheese) and fat, the last two I need for my new keto diet. Speaking of diet, it worked quite well again, I just used 7 GU gels as complement. It wasn't for all the slow hiking down the technical sections...

By the way that race was part of a super loaded "Marathon du Mont-Blanc" weekend: the 90K and Vertical Kilometer on Friday, 23K, mini-cross, 10K, Duo Etoilé on Saturday and the 'real' marathon (42K) on Sunday. For, if I'm no mistaken, 5,000 or so participants!

I'll be back again for more suffering then in 2 months, like I need some extra...! ;-)