Monday, November 28, 2016

Paris by Night + Romania

This past week I had the honour of speaking at a dinner event hosted by US Ambassador Crystal Nix-Hines in Paris. Since my flight had me arriving several hours before the event, I reached out to Marie-Amelie Serre who I had met earlier this year at UTMB to see if she was available for a quick early evening run along the Seine.  Marie's response was that she had a commitment, but asked if I would be interested in a "Paris by Night" run after my event. My initial reaction was "no" given my phobia of not getting enough sleep. But after a bit of reflection, I realised this was a unique opportunity to see Paris by night guided by a Parisian ultra-runner. A few pictures from from a 15 mile route that captured many of Paris' great monuments and sights.

And if that was not enough fun for an entire week, the weekend brought a quick excursion to Brasov, Romania and some great end-of-year trail running in the Carpathian Mountains. Good fun!!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Sights and Street Art - Running in Rome

Mile .15 - Piramade & the Old City Wall (where we live)

I’m often asked, “can you run in Rome?” Many runners think of Rome and imagine gridlocked streets, crazy drivers, and errant motos. While some of this is true, there is something magical about Sunday morning runs when Rome is slow to awake. Let me take you on tour of sights and street art during a spectacular 10 mile run this past Sunday. 

Mile .3 - 'Silvio's House' by MTO (right), Untitled by Lex (left)
Mile 1.3 - Palantine Hill
Mile 1.9 - The Forum
Mile 2.6 - The Colosseum
Mile 3.6 - Baths of Caracalla

Mile 5.1 - Caffarella Park
Mile 7.7 - 'The Weight of History' Jaz
Mile 7.7 - 'The Redeemer Child' by Seth
Mile 9.5 - Painted Building by Blu
Mile 9.7 - 'Planet Earth' by Baglioni

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Mt. Fuji Running

Mt Fuji-san

Sengen Shrine - Beginning of Yoshida Trail
For some time I have been intrigued with Mount Fuji given it’s historical, cultural and religious significance with the Japanese. I’ve wanted to run the traditional pilgrimage route from the Fujiyoshida’s Sengen Shinto shrine at the very base of Mount Fuji to the 12,388 foot summit. This has proved difficult given my past travels to Japan have not coincided with the short climbing season (July – mid September). However, this past week the stars finally aligned and I was able to run Mt. Fuji on the last day of the official climbing season.

Red Pine Forest on the Lower Slopes of Mt. Fuji
While tens of thousands of Japanese make the trek to the top every year, the logistics of getting on a plane in Italy and going straight to the mountain proved to be rather complex. My original detailed plan of trains, buses, taxis and finally running to the trailhead was thrown into flux when my flight into Narita was delayed by several hours. This resulted in getting on unplanned trains and buses with somewhat unknown destinations. In the end, I reached the town of Kawaguchiko at the base of the mountain. The earned reward for 30+ hours of sitting in a variety of seats not engineered for human comfort or health was a late evening Japanese bath overlooking Lake Kawaguchi.

The Trail Starts to Climb
I arose early the next morning knowing I needed to be on the trail starting at first light in order to be able to summit and get to Tokyo for a late afternoon meeting. My plan was to catch a taxi at 4:00 am from the hotel to the train station (where I would put my bag in a locker) and then have the taxi driver take me to the Shizuoka Sengen Jinja (Sengen Shrine) where the original trail begins. A great plan until I learned in the wee hours of the morning that taxis don't operate early on Sunday mornings. My run to the top of Mount Fuji began with a walk to the train station dragging my roller bag and then running to the outskirts of town in search of the Sengen Shrine.

3rd Station Ruins
2nd Station Ruins

Once the shrine was found I went in search of the trailhead. After several attempts of making a walking motion with my fingers and saying Fuji-san to a number of sleepy eyed monks, I was directed to the trailhead. I was excited about the first part of the run given that few people now climb the mountain from the bottom. More than ninety-nine percent of Japanese climbers start at the fifth-station, mid way up the mountain (there are ten stations from the base to the top of the mountain). In particular, I was looking forward to seeing the abandoned stations where in the past travelers drank tea and rested.   

My expectations were met. A trail to myself and interesting ruins to explore. The run from Sengen Shrine to the Kawaguchiko Fifth Station was exceptional.

As I reached the Fifth Station I moved into the clouds and into the billows of people descending from the summit. Most Japanese climb the mountain at night (resting/sleeping in the upper stations) with the goal to summit in time to watch the sunrise.

The Roped Trail
Those of us who run trails have different perceptions of what is difficult, challenging and possible. Yet, we often assume everyone else is like us.  As I power-hiked up the trail I was reminded we are different – the reminder being the faces and bodies of those coming down. The expressions of anguish. The jolting limps. The sighs, ughs and grunts as grim faced trekkers placed one foot in front of the other. And then there were those whose faces I did not see because they were walking down backwards due to quads that had failed them. It felt like the morning of the walking dead. I was also saddened in that the basic fitness of the general population is so poor – the distance from the 5th Station to the summit only being 7km!

The Last Kilometer to the Top
I continued to climb passing stations 6 - 10, most of which were closing for the season, with station staff busy bolting boards across the windows and doors. I finally broke through the clouds and was able to see my destination above me reached by a well established trail marked with ropes that switchbacked up the open and barren volcanic slope. 

On the Summit

I had originally planned to run around the rim of the crater before descending. However, the wind was screaming on top filling my eyes with volcanic dust making it hard and painful to see. Plus, I was cutting it close on time and felt anxious about catching my bus to Tokyo. I descended.

A few hundred feet below the summit the clouds rolled back making it hard to see and leaving me wet and a bit cold from all the moisture. I amused myself of as I modified the words to Twas a Night Before Christmas -  “visions of Japanese baths danced through his head.”  The thought of a long soak and getting the grit out of my eyes made the run down to the Fifth Station go fast.

Looking Down from the Summit

A Good Day at UTMB 2 Weeks Earlier
At the Fifth Station I decided to call it a day and take a bus down to the base. My descending legs were still a bit creaky from UTMB two weeks earlier and I was stressed about missing my bus.  It was a good call in that I had time for a nice curry lunch with a glass of sake in Kawaguchiko before jumping on a bus for Tokyo. All-in-all, an exceptionally good day!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

UTMB Preparation

Flying in Cham

I've heard the statement many times, "there is nothing like UTMB." Until this week I just discounted that as more of the incessant rhetorical hype that causes people to avoid runners like me at parties and social events. But my experience in Chamonix the last 5 days is starting to validate this statement for me. The town is simply abuzz with running - runners themselves, families and friends, volunteers, sponsors and exhibitors, and even commerce has caught the fever with restaurants offering carbohydrate dense "UTMB specials" and every store having a "UTMB sale." In fact, too much running-themed everything with hoards of people in compression clothing, Buffs, and running packs has been a bit much for my liking. In an effort to avoid the UTMB chaos consuming Chamonix, I decided to enjoy the week with two activities where the look doesn't matter and I don't feel competitive - flying and drinking French wine (undertaken as separate and distinct activities).

Salomon Gear not Required for this Activity
The Good Life
Once a storm system passed on Sunday, the weather has been stellar for paragliding. Cool nights followed by warm cloudless days has created good thermal action resulting in four days of exceptional flying weather. The perfect flying weather has been tough on the TDS and OCC runners with daytime highs in the mid 80's resulting in many wilted runners and considerable carnage. The hot weather will play a big factor in the UTMB with a high probability that many of us will be destroyed not only by the vertical - but by the heat!

Pack that Kite and Do it Again!
While I arrived in Chamonix with confidence that I would have a good race given that I have been able to train in the mountains most weekends for the past three months, have twice covered the entire UTMB track, and have been consistently averaging ~100 miles per week. However, I think the big miles and vert (at least for me) combined with old age (read slower recovery) have me overtrained and potentially starting the race tired and not at my best. I remain hopeful that the cause of this feeling is a sense of inferiority resulting from not owning any compression gear, my plan to run without sticks (which oddly people seem to correlate with low intelligence), and not having any Salomon running wear. I am thinking of buying a Buff in an effort to try and understand if my insecurities are truly justified or simply gear-related.

Getting Psyched Out Waiting in Line with all the 'Good' Runners
For those interested in following the race you can track runners at and/or follow the race at My bib is #158. Good luck to the other 2299 runners!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Three is the Magic Number

Good things come in three.  And this could not have been more evident than over the past few weekends.  I'll show you what I mean with a few words, and plenty of pictures.

Week 1: Spent the week with the family in Maine, with daily hikes and visits to the beach in Acadia National Park

Hiking The Precipice Trail
Acadia National Park

More Precipice Trail

Holding back the tide at Seal Harbor
Acadia National Park

Week 2: Traveled to Star Valley, WY for El Vaquero Loco 50 K trail race, a must do race for anyone serious about running in spectacular, high mountain locations. Ty Draney puts on one of the best, low key, high fun, family friendly events around.
Brian Rawlings heading into the beauty of the Salt River Range

Corral Creek Lake
Found a few of these beauties while icing my legs post-race.

Week 3: With the family still out of town, I spent a couple days exploring the Uintas.  Some was old territory, much was new, and it was all loads of fun.

I started the trip a little late, around 11:00 am, with plans of summiting 5 of Utah's 13000 ft peaks.  Due to the late start, running out of water, and not liking the idea of traversing/descending Lovenia and East Lovenia in the dark, I decided that topping out on Tokewanna, Wasatch and Wapiti(Wasatch Benchmark) would make for a good day.
The view of Wapiti, Lovenia and East Lovenia (R-L)
from Tokewanna.

Topping out on Wasatch Peak.
East Lovenia and Lovenia frame Wapiti in the middle.

At Red Knob Pass, I could see the turquoise blue of Crater Lake a few miles in the distance and after discussing it's fishing possibilities with a local sheepherder, decided I'd head over there to spend the night.  The fishing was indeed awesome as I couldn't keep the Brook trout off my wooly bugger, and Crater Lake proved to be a twin of Corral Creek Lake, from the Vaquero 50k the weekend before.


Crater Lake

Brook Trout were in abundance in Crater Lake

The next morning I headed back over Red Knob Pass and made my way to Dead Horse Lake.  While running the Highline trail a few years ago, we traversed Dead Horse Lake in the early dawn and I remember thinking to myself that the fishing had to be lights out in a lake as beautiful as this.  Indeed, the fishing for Tiger trout was nonstop both with wooly buggers sub-surface, and on top with stimulator patterns.

Tiger Trout
Dead Horse Lake

The Mountain Bouquets were in abundance at 11000 ft.

I finally pulled myself away for the 10 mile hike down canyon back to my truck.  I stopped to fish West Fork Blacks Fork a number of times, and the fishing was non-stop for cutthroat in the upper reaches, and brook trout lower down.

Cutthroat were small, but plentiful.
West Fork Blacks Fork

Buck Pasture
Looking upstream on West Fork Blacks Fork.
All in all, a fabulous few weeks.  

3- Mind clearing weekends
3-13000 foot peaks
3-species of fish in 3 separate bodies of water. 

Indeed, Three is the Magic Number.
(you can listen here if you'd like)