Sunday, June 28, 2015

Grand Sasso Playtime

This past weekend I was able to make my first trek of the summer season to Gran Sasso National Park for some superb trail running. For day one I decided to circumnavigate Corno Grande (2912 meters) & Corno Picolo (2655 meters) and for bonus fun summit Gran Corno. Distance 30 miles with 11k vert. Day two was a run out the ridge from Campo Imperatore then a descent down to Fonte Cerreto and back up to Campo Imperatore. Distance 16 miles with 6K vert. It felt good to be back in the mountains and on trails.

Some pictures so you can see just how excellent the running is in Gran Sasso.

Corno Grande (left) Corno Piccolo (right)
An Old Farmhouse on the Grasslands 

Cables to Help Old People Like Me on the Technical Stuff - Nice!

Corno Piccolo (Is that a nice looking peak or what??)

Pizzo Intermesoli (2635 meters)

Rifugio Campo Imperatore at the Main Trailhead. This Place Rocks - 3 course dinner, a carafe of wine, lodging and breakfast for just Euro 45 - and the Trailhead is Right Outside the Door! 

Following the Ridge out from Campo Imperatore

Rifugio Carlo Franchetti (I want to overnight here on a future run)

Valle dei Ginepri from the Campo Imperatore Ridgeline

Monday, June 15, 2015

Comrades + South Africa Running

It seems that once people learn you run races longer than 26.2 miles, one of the next questions invariably is, “Have you run Comrades?” While I’ve been asked the question many times, I’ve never really had an interest in the race. The idea of traveling halfway around the world to South Africa to run 54 miles on a road in the hot sun was not appealing.

That was until this year. When I learned I needed to travel to South Africa for work, I realized it was my chance to finally be able to answer the question with a, “yes!” While I knew this would be a race like I have never experienced before, I had no idea quite what to expect. Some of my experiences and impressions included;

Race Start with 23K Human Radiators
  • Feeling the heat of the crowd as I stood among the runners in the dark waiting for the 5:30 am start. While the morning air was cool, the heat transfer from 23k radiators was noticeable.
  • Part of the course is on a closed freeway. Yuck!
  • Sensory overload! 87 kilometers of people calling out your name, music blaring, inhaling smoke from braais as people barbequed along the course, and runners wanting to chat, particularly given it was my first Comrades and they wanted to provide their encouragement or welcome me to their country. There was never chance to mentally go to that mental other place, and just run.
  • The number of times you run the race matters. Each bib identifies a runners number of completions. Finish ten times and you get a green bib. I was one of the few runners with a big fat ZERO on my non green bib. Perhaps a quarter of the runners have completed 10 or more.  Remarkable how many people come back year after year to run Comrades.
  • Aid stations every couple of miles with volunteers eager to give you little plastic bags of water and sports drink from which you would bite off the corner to sip (so much better than cups). After a number of aid stations I learned it was easier just to take all the bags I could hold in my hands (then I no longer had to say “no thanks” to the enthusiastic volunteers) and carry the bags to end of the aid station where young kids would congregate and I would give the drinks to the kids.
  • People immensely proud of their country. My bib identified me as an international runner and people would call things out to me like “thanks for coming to South Africa” and “I hope you are enjoying our country.”
  • Most everyone belongs to club and has a club jersey. Running in an unofficial button down shirt turned heads, and had people confused and not sure what to think. Maybe the ZERO completions on my bib explained the break with common practice. I would not be exaggerating by saying that no less than 100 people along the course complemented me on my choice of race attire. 
Along the Course - Sensory Overload

Official MRC Race Jersey (note the ZERO completions on my bib)
Following the race I was able to enjoy several days of rest traveling with my family through Kruger national park. Rest is mandatory in the park where you are a) either required to be inside a fenced and gated camp (which makes one wonder who really are the animals) or b) in your car. The rest in the various cages did me good.

Following the park we traveled to Mpumalonga and the Blyde River Canyon. The canyon is one of the biggest canyons in the world and is considered the largest “green canyon” owing to its lush subtropical foliage.  Here we had several exceptional days of exploring and running along the canyon edges in the lowveld and into the canyon where myriad streams, waterfalls and grottos can be found.

Running the Lowveld

On the Rim of Blyde River Canyon

One of Myriad Waterfalls and Pools in the Bottoms

Will I go back to Comrades? For the week after the race is was a definitive “no.” But as time has passed, perhaps Comrades would be the perfect excuse for a return to South Africa. We’ll see what 2016 brings…