Monday, August 24, 2015

Dolomites Running

Looking down Val Travenanzes
This past weekend, in a frantic effort to get some miles and vertical in preparation for the Wasatch Front 100, I headed north to the Dolomites for the Ferragosto holiday. While Italy has many great mountains, most would agree that the Dolomites are the greatest.

Refreshment Along the Way

Austrian Trenches on Lagazuoi
Why? Just as great is usually defined by a unique set of characteristics, that in combination, create something unequivocally remarkable. The character set for the Dolomites would include a high density of narrow, deep and long canyons, sheer rock faces often manifest in pinnacles and spires, ample streams rivers and waterfalls, and a network of trails including the highest concentration of via ferrata routes in the world. Then of course one needs to add alpine villages surrounded by verdant pastures, strategically located refugios with caloric sustenance, historical military fortifications from when these mountains were the front line in a stalemate between the Italians and the Austro-Hungarians during WWI, and a bus network that allows one to move with ease through a 6000 square mile all-season playground. “Greatest” seems to be well justified!

Cinque Torri
In the words of Reinhold Messner, local boy and hero, “they [Dolomites] are not the tallest mountains in the world, yet they are definitely the greatest.”

Cinque Torri as seen from an Austrian Gun Position
My base for the weekend was Cortina, an alpine town with a Tyrolean feel. From here I was able to explore. Enjoy some pictures from four days of running.
Austrian Positions as seen by the Italians on Cinque Torri
Forcella Lagazuoi
Climbing to the top of Groda Negra

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Running, ALIVE!

Path between Wayuu Communities
We all have them. Maybe not often enough. But if we had them with greater frequency perhaps we would not appreciate them the way we do. You know what I’m talking about – those runs when you feel completely ALIVE!

I had one of those runs this morning in La Guajira, Columbia. The Department of La Guajira comprises the northern tip of Columbia – sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean and Venezuela. It is not a friendly or inviting land – rainfall is scarce owing to the powerful rain shadow created by the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, wind is a constant, the equatorial sun strong, and rebel groups and drug traffickers largely control it. Not the likely place for a great run.

Wanting to beat the heat I departed Riohacha, a sad little coastal town (interesting in that is mentioned several times in One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera) in the early morning darkness and headed out of town with the objective of completing 50K without wilting, getting lost, or kidnapped for ransom. The stakes were higher than in a typical run.  I knew that if anything went wrong the run could quickly turn into a suffer-fest, or worse.

Fishing Boat

First I traveled along the coast, watching fishermen taking their boats out to sea at first light. Then, I crossed some coastal plains where the local Wayuu were harvesting salt. From there I moved into the desert where I followed the tracks between Wayuu communities The Wayuu live as extended families on their communally owned ancestral lands which are generally several kilometers apart to prevent mixing of their goat herds. The Wayuu in general have not migrated to towns, preferring to live on their ancestral lands relying on subsistence agriculture and raising goats. They are well know for their woven handicrafts which provide some cash income. What is notable is that is has not rained for 17 months. Life at present is very hard for the Wayuu.

Wayuu Salt Works

The light, the sounds, the intensity of the sun, the stunning landscape and my curiosity about the Wayuu people intensified my senses, gave me courage to push outside my comfort zone, and kept me intently present. I was ALIVE! Enjoy a few pictures of an amazing run.

Desert Track

Salt Flats (not quite like ours)

Grazing?? Chivo

Goat Corral

Wayuu Rancheria

Effects of the Drought

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…

Monday, March 9, 2015

Nomads Run 56K – A Moroccan Race Experience

Start of the Nomads Run 56K
This past weekend Adrienne, work colleague Nancy Abruto and I traveled to Marrakech for some warm weather – and some warm weather trail racing.

Outside our Tent at La Pause
We flew from Rome to Casablanca Thursday night and drove the 2 hours to Marrakech wanting to wake up in the Medina, the old walled city. After a morning of wandering and eating (cashews, dates, avocados, tagline) our way through the Medina we drove out to La Pause, the start of the race.

La Pause is an eco village in the Agafay Desert about 40 kilometers outside of Marrakech. We lounged away the afternoon resting and reading under the Berber tents that comprise the bulk of the village. After a traditional Moroccan meal under a full moon, we retired to our tent accommodations.

The 7:30 start had me concerned about heat and sun. While the temperatures were forecast to be pleasant – in the low 80’s, I knew I was not acclimated for the heat.  I pushed meteorological anxiety aside and cherished the thought of waking up at normal time, enjoying my coffee out-of-doors, and not being cold.

View from the Race Start
In advance of the race I had been informed by RD Patrick de Guillebon that a number of Morocco’s best trailers would be running, including Lahcen Ahansal, 10-time winner of the Marathon des Sables. I was looking forward to being able to run a kilometer – or maybe a few - with these greats.

I was surprised that the lead runners did not go out particularly fast. I hung onto a group of three young runners, several of whom had the indications of being both fast and strong. While I knew I was going a bit faster than I should, I was unsure of the course markings and found comfort in being with this lead group who clearly were familiar with the course. I sensed they were not happy with my uninvited presence so I hung back a few meters and listened to them chat away in Arabic.

The lead group blew through the first aid station at 10km without stopping. I thought it would be wise to stop and top off my bottle. I was now on my own which gave me comfort as I could run my own pace and not feel like I had to follow someone else’s pace. As the kilometers passed I realized I was slowly catching the lead group. I pushed a bit harder and by ~km 17 I was back on the train. The pace picked up and we pushed hard down a sandy wash. After several kilometers of paying attention to each other and not the painted stones that marked the route we collectively realized we were off course. After running to the top of several hills the Moroccans ascertained where we should be and off we went running across the desert. It was a surreal experience running hard across the desert following no track, through a Berber village, and then scrambling up the steep wall of a wash where there was the 20km aid station - and several runners ahead of us including Lahcen. My GPS watch indicated 24 kilometers. We had added 2.5 bonus miles to the course.

Lahcen Ahansal - 10 Time Winner of MDS at Km 30
The young Moroccans flew out of the aid station before I had finished filling my bottle and deciding whether dates or raisins would be the better choice of nutrition.  I knew it was time to let them go and see if I had the stuff to stay with Lahcen. For the next 20 km Lahcen and I seesawed back and forth -  Lahcen climbing well, me moving more quickly on the flats and descents. “How fun is this?” I kept joyously asking myself, thinking how lucky am I to be healthy enough to be able to run hard and privileged enough to jet to Morocco for a foot race.

Along the Course
At 40km I felt like the victim of a WWF SmackDown.  I was paying the price along with deferred interest for going out too fast, and racing Lahcen. With little warning I had to shift into “just keep moving” mode. Even keeping moving was hard in that shortly after 40km there was a 1500-foot climb. While not a difficult climb, the combination of the sun and heat, plus my not pacing myself earlier had me walking several sections. I went through all the usual tried-and-true mental distractions including intently focusing on the beauty around me, using my rational brain to explain to me that slowing down one minute per mile if limited to no more than 5 miles would only result in a 5 minute increase in my finishing time, and fantasizing that one of the young kids ahead of me had melted-down and would be found walking around the next corner if I just kept moving!

I plodded onward. My pace never picked up, no young speedsters were seen walking, there was no Lahcen within my sight’s distance behind me. Yet the beauty around me was inspiring and despite my misery I couldn’t stop thinking, “how lucky am I!!” And then it was over, and perversely, I was still wanting for more.

Adrienne at the Finish
At the end of the race there was a fabulous spread of Moroccan food enjoyed under Berber tents while cheering fellow runners across the finish line. I feasted in the delight of runners from across Northern Africa and Europe sharing the multicultural and cross-lingual joy of running.

Bravo to youngster Hamed Boutaleb who finished 25 minutes ahead of me. And thanks to Patrick for hosting an exceptionally well-managed event, and for me, a most memorable experience!

Work Colleague Nancy Abruto - 1st Place Woman

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Jay's 2015 Race Calendar

With acceptance into the 2015 Wasatch Front 100 several weeks ago, my 2015 race calendar is more or less complete. This year brings a nice mix of races I have run before and several new races, as well as some adventure runs in places like the Dolomites, El Valle Panama, and Mt Fuji. Happy trails!

  • March 7 - Nomads 54K - Marrakech, Morocco
  • April 17 - 100 Miles of Istria - Umag, Croatia
  • May 31 - Comrades (54 miles) - Durban, South Africa
  • August 15 - Swiss Iron Trails T91 - Davos, Switzerland
  • September 11 - Wasatch Front 100 - Salt Lake City, USA
  • November 7 - Relentless 24 Hour - Chiang Mai, Thailand (Tentative)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Running the GR (Grand Randonnee) 51

This past weekend we played the "find the least expensive plane ticket to where there are some trails" game. A web search and Euro 77 later we were in Marseille running the GR51 through the spectacular Les Calanques, steep walled inlets along the coast between Marseille and Cassis. The first day was a bit of slog in moderate to heavy rain, and having to be careful on the slippery limestone rock. I logged 21 miles with 6,000 vertical. The second day was bluebird gorgeous. I covered 19 miles and 4,500 vertical in just a shade over three hours! The Calanques are just 25 minutes by bus from central Marseille. How easy is that! Enjoy some pictures….

Trailhead in Marseille

Some Good Vert!

Along the GR 51 to Cassis

GR 51 Looking Back Towards Marseille

A Calanque

GR51 - Marseille to Cassis

Running High

A Calanque

View from the Water

Marseille in the Distance

Endless Trails!