Tuesday, August 28, 2018

TDS 2018: H-10, getting ready!

I should be sleeping so a short one before I disappear in the treacherous Alps in 10 hours. According to the picture from the title sponsor, Columbia, at the bib pick-up, I am... Ready for UTMB 2018!
Well, not sure the photograph was able to read everything going through my mind these days...

The cold is almost under control, it's going to be interesting to see if high elevation is going to finish clear my sinuses, or the opposite...

The weather? Not bad at H-12, but clouds are quietly building up so it's likely the weather men's forecast will materialize tomorrow. Thunderstorms and rain showers at least in the afternoon and evening. Better not spend all the night up there, although I'm afraid that's what I'm going to do (the lead runners are expected in Chamonix by 8:30 pm, but I'd be happy if I make it early Thursday...).
Good news: I had all the required items in my pack for the control at the bib pick-up. Last year if I recall, we were checked on 3 items. This year? 8! Serious stuff, and that doesn't include potential gear check during the race...
 Worst than TSA's security check at airports... especially when you get used to the TSA Pre-Approved status!
What a week in Chamonix! Amazing for instance that the main language here is English. I was shopping this afternoon, and I didn't know which language to use, first with an employee with an Italian accent but, more embarrassedly, with another employee with a strong French one! ;-) Definitely in tune with the title of "world summit of trail running!"

Super cool to see Celia from GU in Berkeley, manning the booth today:
I also spent some time at the Petzl airstream lab to understand how to best leverage the customizable modes of my Petzl Nao+. I wish I wasn't going to need it tomorrow night, but I certainly will!

And yesterday, between two conf calls, I managed to catch my grandson's MCC finish, at least someone I knew!

Matthieu with two of his friends, Kevin (28th overall) and David, having fun on the podium and finish line!

With that, time to go to bed, shuttle at 4:15 am in France and start at 6 on the Italian side! You can follow me live at https://utmbmontblanc.com/en/live/runner/6122. No big expectation except to finish this other beast! Back to you on Thursday then!

PS: for more details on the race, see my previous post of Sunday.

****** 4 am race day update ******
Bus shuttles delayed by 2 hours, start delayed by 2 hours as well at 8 am Central European Time, 11 pm Pacific Time. So long for a better and longer pre-race sleep...

Sunday, August 26, 2018

TDS 2018: so grossly under trained for this, but here anyway!

Oh my, another week to live by my globe trotter reputation... A week ago I was in London, then Paris last week, flew back home in Silicon Valley for just 2 days home and here I am again, in France, after a connection through Frankfurt and Geneva. Not anywhere in France but Chamonix for the pilgrimage to the Mecca of mountain and ultra trail running! While pious Muslims flocked to Saudi Arabia this past week, trailers as we call ultra and trail runners here in France, aspire to attend the UTMB week which starts this Monday. More than 8,000 runners across 7 major races ranging from 40 to 300 kilometers (25 to 186 miles).
But like I was mentioning in the report of my last race here (90 km of Chamonix), 2 months ago, distance is not only just a number, it hardly describes the epic ascents and descents, the mind-blowing cumulative elevation and the roughness of the technical trails. Or, as the more optimistic would start with, the amazing views of alpine summits and valleys!

Back in June, I had promised myself I would work on these quads to feel fully ready to take on the TDS challenge. Well, it didn't happen, most of the hill training I got was at Skyline 50K 3 weeks ago and a 3 runs to the top of Black Mountain in July, each with about 1,200 meters of cumulated elevation over 45 to 50K, that is about 1/3 of what the UTMB races offer. Oh, and my training was on smooth Californian fire roads, except for the 2 miles of barely technical French trail at Skyline.

To top that off, I got a cold just before my CDG-SFO flight last Wednesday so I'm still heavily sneezing, and some coughing too. I still say it's perfect timing because there are still 3 days to recover, I hope it has passed by Wednesday morning... Oh, and work doesn't stop, I have to work on Monday, Thursday and Friday while in Chamonix. Better enjoy this sunny Sunday, the weather is supposed to changed on... Wednesday (see below what it matters to me!).
This year, after my embarrassing DNF at the 100th kilometer of UTMB last year, my plan was to register for both TDS (Wednesday) and CCC (Friday). Why? So I could finally complete the loop, first the South part, clockwise, from Courmayeur to Chamonix, then the northern section, counter-clockwise, also from Courmayeur to Chamonix. Yes, crazy! The other reason is that, between my faltering ITRA ranking (they don't factor age in their performance computation) and the raising of the elite threshold, I was afraid this would be the last year I could get guaranteed entries. Well, so long for a crazy dream because, in all fairness for all the aspirant runners who can't get in year after year despite about 8,000 spots overall, the organizers don't allow double registration. Since I first proceeded with TDS, TDS it is this year. And, when I say this year, I actually mean that this may be the last one here because, not only I'm struggling on the technical trails, with a combination of age-based fear and the souvenir of breaking my shoulder on a trail in Tahoe, but the size of the field, a couple of thousands in the key races, doesn't thrill me admittedly.

Now, what is TDS? Well, to get the acronym, you need a bit of French understanding: Tour des Ducs de Savoie. Not too hard though, tour and Savoie translates 1 to 1, and Ducs means Dukes. An allusion of this troubled past of this region where Dukes owned different part of the Savoie region and fought hard against neighbors and other invaders from nearby countries, most especially Italy.

That's for the name of the race. As mentioned above, we'll start in Courmayeur, on the Italian side of Mont-Blanc and go further South than the Tour-du-Mont-Blanc trail to get more rugged terrain, make it longer, 120 kilometers (75 miles), and get more cumulated elevation, 7,300 meters (or 24,000 feet). You know, just for the fun of making it harder, why not? ;-)
Start time is 6 am (45 minutes before sunrise), which is going to require a sub 3 am wake-up call, plus hopping on a shuttle at 4 am to cross the Italian border through the tunnel. The crazy faster guys should get to Chamonix around 8:30 pm! The slowest have 34 hours to finish on Thursday by 4 pm. My expectation? I've really no clue. Again, after what happened at the Chamonix 90K this year and UTMB last year, I just hope to have a better start given my sub-elite bib number, we shall see. Without sandbagging, sincerely, my main goal is to finish, without falling (I still have scars from my fall in June, and my broken finger last year) and, per Agn├Ęs' usual recommendation or hope, I need to focus on the enjoyment part. Maybe I'll even dare to take more pictures this time, if the weather cooperates (guess what, it can certainly change as we are in the mountain but, as of Saturday, forecast goes for... thunderstorm, damned! Hopefully with without the freezing temperatures we got for UTMB last year...

The course map (you can click to zoom in):
The elevation chart:
The time chart (9 hours ahead of California so the start is at 9 pm on Tuesday night in San Francisco):
Contrary to the races in California where I see so many familiar faces, here I feel like a complete stranger and newbie. Well, at least I managed to meet one of my godsons, Matthieu, who is running the inaugural MCC (Martigny-Combe Chamonix) 40K race tomorrow; so glad we share the same passion for trail running!

I'll wear bib 6122 (122nd ITRA score out of 1,600 runners, and 3rd in my age group), and expect to see YiOu Wang (6013) in the elite corral at the start (not much after that!). YiOu competes mostly in California except that she has been exploring the world this past year, living quite an amazing life experience! Maybe Vincent Delabarre too (in my age group, 2004 UTMB winner, from Chamonix).

We are 28 runners coming from the US (or at least registered under USA) and about half of them are faster than me, that's crazy! I'm actually surprised about the low number of our contingent this year.

After TDS last year, Ron Guttierez is back from California for the CCC (albeit under another spelling, Gutierrez, beware!). If you read this, and your are in Chamonix, leave a comment below! Or if you know of someone who is running one of the UTMB races whom I may know too, I'd love to connect, let me know too!

'nough said, I need to take it easy and had better (re)build some mental to get into this race in great and positive spirit! 3 more days for that, the clock is already ticking!

PS: bonus pictures with more information about that very special week in Chamonix, the world summit of ultra trail running!

All the races on one map:
The planning of the 7 days:
And the history since the event started in 2003 (only 67 finishers on UTMB!):

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Running in London's Central Park: Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park

To the risk of offending Her Majesty and the Royal Family, there is certainly a valid comparison between these green urban areas: similar size (615 acres for these two adjacent parks of London versus 840 for the New Yorker one), a piece of water each, grass areas, majestic trees, immersed in busy megalopolis and, not the least, both offering great opportunities to run a few miles safely, away from car traffic.

Actually, getting in through the Kensington Gardens, I was pleasantly surprised to see signs even limiting bike traffic on certain trails!
There are entrances all around the park, and trails in every direction, literally, so I don't have special instructions or recommended loop to share. As a matter of fact, there are so many trails, there are quite a few ways to get lost, not to mention the many distractions, from fountains, to statues, monuments, carousels or flower gardens. And, the coolest attraction of all, you may be lucky to catch the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment practicing around Hyde Park (special thought to my Dad who built a collection of miniatures of military horsemen).

Now, beyond the lack of time for running more miles, my biggest frustration was to realize that, while searching the web to write this post, I had missed the Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain. I had seen the location on Google Maps and couldn't believe they had built this humongous pile of oil barrels in her honor?
Oops, this is a recent sculpture of environmentalist artist Christ, an arrangement of 7,506 barrels weighing 660 tonnes and floating on the Serpentine.

Princess Diana's Memorial Fountain is a few yards away but in an area only open during day time and I missed the entrance. Well, if it was actually open because there has been quite a few security and drainage controversies since 2004. In any even, the concept and images look really nice in Wikipedia.

Again, these 2 parks provide a great place to get away from the car traffic, and especially the danger of running through streets while looking on the wrong side, a typical mistake for all of us visiting from countries driving on the other side of the road. If you have the luxury to stay downtown, which most people can't afford (despite amazing public transportation, some colleagues had commutes of several hours, up to 4 hours each way for one of them!).

And, to wrap-up, here is a virtual tour with additional pictures and videos, from my two runs through these parks this week. Hope some of you manage to run a few miles there, rain or shine, both being frequent in England!


The Joy of Life Fountain on the West edge of Hyde Park:
Swans and Christo's Mastaba on the Serpentine:
The Italian Gardens in Kensington Gardens:
Wilson's Carousel in Kensington Gardens
Queen Victoria
Kensington Palace
 A marker pointing to Princess Diana's Memorial Fountain

 The Royal Albert Hall, place of the summer Proms
 The Albert Memorial
flanked on its 4 corners by allegorical representations of 4 continents:

 and Asia

 The Royal Gardens

 The French Embassy
 Note the "FRA1" plate!
 The central field of Hyde Park
 Joy of Life fountain
 The Serpentine

 Italian Gardens