Friday, June 13, 2014

Early morning glory

I don't usually blog about training runs - at least I haven't so far, I don't think. Why, really? But this one... I just wanted to share the joy -

View of the Mont Blanc from the Signal des Voirons (1480m/4884ft)


I wasn't sure last night if I was going to make the 20-minute drive to the foot of the Voirons, a small pre-Alps mountain range in France on the outskirts of Geneva, or go for a flat run near home - the last time I headed up the Voirons, I got lost coming down in the rabbit warren of trails and couldn't find my car for an hour; was actually saved by a park ranger! It made the long run longer, but this time I was hoping to get something in before work since I won't be able to get a long run in this weekend, and I couldn't afford to get lost.


But I found myself rolling out of bed at 5am quite gung-ho. Got to bed early, the weather was perfect, and I was feeling pretty good after the XL Race in Annecy two weeks ago, and a five-hour mountainous running hike last weekend, with mostly rest in between each. I wanted to see how the legs would feel.


Well - the answer was a resounding "great". I jogged most of the way up - a five-mile climb with just under 3,000 feet of elevation, mostly single-path rocky trails and a few dirt tracks - and it wasn't too strenuous (I'm never good with strenuous, which is why i have never really done any valid speedwork), so I was really feeling bloody pleased with myself.


And then the view from the top, at 5,000 feet above sea level, just made me holler and yelp...

Close-up of the Mont Blanc, highest peak in Europe

View of Geneva and the Lac Léman from the Signal des Voirons

I noticed during the XL race Annecy that I had nicely improved my speed going down, and it felt good again today. I'd paid attention to which way I had taken going up (which wasn't the same as the first time I made the ascent - a rabbit warren I tell you!), and was careful coming down. Almost missed a turn - or rather was terrified that I had and would have to hike back up to find it - but no, there it was, just around the corner.


Got back to the car after 1h35mn, home at 7.45 in time to see my daughter off to school and have coffee with my wife, and into work at 9am.

What a way to start a Friday - the 13th on top of it.


Monday, May 19, 2014

Reasons for running


I run to revenge myself.

Marco Olmo, 2007 winner of the Mont Blanc Ultra Trail (UTMB) at age 59, in One Step Beyond (2009), a film by Paolo Casalis and Stegano Scarafia, produced by BODA’.



Certainly, anyone who competes in ultra marathons/trails has been asked the question "why?" Probably they've wondered about it themselves - I know I have. I don't generally dwell on it very much except to remember the feeling at the end of any run, not to mention race, which is reason enough of course (the fun, the thrill, the sense of achievement), otherwise I might question myself into quitting a race.

Beyond that? Well, I don't know if I run to revenge myself - I'm not sure I have much revenge to exact. I do feel that I have often run for redemption and a renewed self-esteem and sense of self...

I think the best is just to keep a running tally (no word pun intended):

  1. Because I can.
  2. Because one day I might not be able to.
  3. It’s a cheap sport if you don’t get carried away with ‘equipment fever’.
  4. It’s my only unique accomplishment: comfortably running 100km is not something most people can do (though the rapidly growing interest in trail running and my advancing age is making that less and less true).
  5. It stems the sensation that life is passing me by.
  6. Keeps me in shape. (Has saved my life.)
  7. Answers my need to feel things intensely, though I am quite incapable of managing intense emotions.
  8. Allows me to cope with the paradox in #7.

These last two laundry list items hide a question that I have been asked far less frequently than “why do you run?”, which is “what do you think of when you run?”.

This question is far more insightful than the former, and usually asked by people who have actually dedicated a certain amount of time to running and come away feeling that it is “boring”.

Why should it be boring? It certainly can’t be any less compelling than swimming or even biking. You’re outside and can enjoy the landscape—do people get bored hiking? I suppose so. But I think the fundamental reason for feeling bored is that we have a hard time being alone with ourselves and our thoughts.
Deep into an ultra, you enter a zone of “no-mind”. Of course, you are always peripherally aware of the stress you are placing on your body, you can feel the heat (or the cold), the weight of your backpack, the aches in your legs… You never let those thoughts gain too much traction, however, at the risk of entering a downward spiral of doubt and even despair that can lead to failure. I often find myself calculating how much distance I have covered, and how time it will take me to reach the next check point. I can’t do it for any great length of time, however. My thought processes freeze up after several hours, my brain is a mental marshmallow...


I thought before entering an ultra-trail that I would be having amazing flights of insight into life’s most complex problems. The truth is, my mind was empty, completely at rest—an extraordinary feeling.

And so... running for the silence


I did not compete in my first Marathon des Sables expecting to find silence, but that’s the greatest gift I received. And then I lost it.

So now I run and run to find it again and again. One day I hope that I won’t let it go.


Silence is a spiritual treat as rare as the flower bird parrot of Thailand. So often we do all we can to avoid it. I can understand that: silence scares me. It gives me vertigo, like empty space. So I run to exorcise this fear, embrace my phobia. That is why I run: for and towards silence.
Sometimes I wonder whether it isn’t a futile quest. Does silence truly exist? Isn't it a bit like the color black, the absence of something? And can we measure absence?
I really don’t know much about silence. So little. Almost nothing at all.
Not yet.
I’ve run for my father, for health, for my life, to impress my friends, my wife, my children.
I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process, all about what I would like to release and let go.
Now I’d like to run in a way that is devoid of any sense of ego, because I can.
To share the gift and the beauty of that silence.

To run because I can...

Running to share


And this means that I must run for a reason, for a cause, for those who can’t.

This is why, since the Marathon des Sables in 2006, I have tried to tie a particularly grueling trail run with raising money for a foundation. Like so many other runners. So that adds two other items to the list:

  • I like the spirit of trail running and the people competing in them.
  • When lived to the fullest, devoid of any notion of personal achievement, it leads to a sense of generosity, forgiveness and love of the world.




Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A slight change of heart


Ok, so I’ve been a bit negative the past few days – chalk it up to a lot of things, but whatever it is it’s not necessary and that, more than anything, is contrary to the generosity that should pervade the world of trail running.

Truth is, I believe in a lot of what I’ve written recently on the nature of trail running, obviously, but not to such extremes. Nothing's ever that simple or cut and dry (or black and white...) And in the end, what does it really matter? There are enough races out there to cater to every desire. If there’s some handholding in some races, well, fine. I live in Europe where we exported the use of walking poles, and I know that some people can’t stand them. Fair enough. I’ve been poked in the chest before by someone checking their Garmin and it isn’t fun.

I think I’m on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster with my first 100-mile monster in 14 years(UT4M) less than four months away (which means the next three months are crucial and I still haven’t definitively thrown away those damn cigarettes).

I’ll take some advice I read on blogging on training to firm up commitment, and stay motivated and positive… Rather than blab on useless existential and condescending concerns about the so-called spirit of trail running.

The more I immerse myself in running blogs the more I am amazed at the community that exists, and that’s what the (my) focus should be on. In the end we are all united by the desire to experience something unique and the knowledge that we have shared a similar inner transformation by doing so, no matter whether it is racing at the front of the pack or stumbling across the finish line after the cut-off time.

The huge growth in the number of people participating in trail runs just means that there’ll be more and more different types of personalities, and that’s a great thing. There’s room for everybody. If we were all cast from the same mold, it would be bloody boring. And I have to say a) I’ll never refuse a little more comfort on a trail and I do love the food; b) the issue with time and “speed” has spurred me on my recent training to do more than just content myself with finishing. I always have been something of a lazy runner. Or an athletic couch potato…
Need to get up early tomorrow to try some fartlek training.

Monday, May 12, 2014

On entry requirements for ultras


Following up on the need for entry requirements from my post below…
I got this comment that if a race allows “anyone” to enter, without qualifying criteria, what’s to prevent exactly that from happening: Mr Anyone, who has little race experience, signs up on a drunken bet and ends up being a burden on the organization because he is woefully unprepared? (That and comments on overcrowding.)
Seriously, how often is that going to happen? Certainly not often enough in my opinion to use that as an excuse to put up blanket qualifying rules. And who knows, perhaps that ‘lout’ will surprise you? I ran alongside a British pilot during the long stage of the marathon des sables who had done exactly that. One evening in a pub he was the documentary on Chris Moon (a guy who lost an arm and a leg as a landmine clearance expert and went on to run the Marathon des Sables in 1996 with artificial limbs—the main reason for the explosion of popularity of the event in the UK) and boasted to his buddies that he would “do that race” the following year. There he was. And yes, he finished (while a pompous 28-year-old triathlete working for one of the first online TV channels blew out at the end of the third day).
Actually, why am I using someone else as an example? My dad signed me up to the MDS as some way to have a bonding experience and in the hopes of prompting me to clean up my lifestyle in Los Angeles. I had one year to prepare and no idea what I was getting into (and my dad wasn’t much help, despite having participated five times) but figured that I should be able to finish if my 65-year-old dad had finished three times. Still, I hadn’t lifted anything heavier than a pint glass in over ten years and almost nothing athletic since my failed attempt to make the tennis team my first year in college. I did curtail my worst habits but didn’t actually completely quit smoking, drinking or any other bad habit you can indulge in on a Saturday night in LA. I figured I should run a marathon at least before going out to the desert, and at least LA provided great heat and hill training, but I hobbled to the end of that first marathon in November due to a pinched sciatic nerve, and was unable to do anything (except party) until I came home to Geneva in February and started walking for hours at a time, three or four times a week, with a 20-pound backpack. I think I was mentally prepared to do whatever it took, however, and was so desperate to rebuild my self-esteem that I did finish.
So I am dead against entry requirements. (The only race to my knowledge that has understandable requirements is Spartathlon because of the speed aspect to the race - and even then, only the part about running 100k in less than 10.5 hours makes sense.) Read Finding Ultra by Rich Roll: he steamrolled his way into the Ultraman, arguably the toughest triathlon in the world and up there with the toughest events period, with almost no former experience—and almost won!
Are “qualifying points” required to attend Burning Man or any other multi-day music festival/happening/whatever the name for this kind of thing is? And yet how many people out there end up at the emergency room because they dropped ecstasy and drank vodka + energy drink all day and forgot to hydrate? If qualifying requirements are put in place to make sure people know what they are getting themselves into then they are pointless, because no-one really knows how they are going to react on a particular 100-mile race, even those who have done it dozens of times. Competing in a few 50-mile events won’t get you any closer to understanding what will happen on a 100-miler, so what exactly should the requirements be? It helps you test your food and gear, but you can do that on a training run. But still, everything’s different on race day. And there are some things some people will never be able to simulate: desert or high-altitude training are two I can think of. Does that mean a Scotsman shouldn’t be allowed to compete in Badwater, or Floridians in Leadville?
[Talking about Leadville and on the issue of self-sufficiency and babysitting runners—I just read that not only are you allowed pacers but that your pacer can carry your bag for you!]
Ultra running—running in general—is all about given everyone the chance to challenge their limits, discover stuff about themselves, etc. It’s about giving everyone their chance… In 2006, Ozzy Osbourne’s son competed in the MDS. He dropped out at the end of the second day. Maybe he wasn’t as fit as he could be, but he wasn’t treating it as a joke. At least the race got him back in shape, he’ll go into his next event that much more prepared, and to be fair four times as many people dropped out in the first three days in 2006 than the usual average for the entire race.
As for being a burden on the organization… Again at the MDS, Cyril and I ended up spending a lot of time during the long stage with an MDS veteran (only because we were moving along at about the same speed)—one of the those Frenchman who’d been coming back almost every year in its (then) 20-year history. He wouldn’t stop complaining at every water station and was constantly asking medics for an IV. He wasn’t particularly dehydrated but he knew it would give him a burst of energy. I remembered him from 2000 and 2001—nothing had changed. Talk about a pain in the ass… At every ultra event there are runners who get dehydrated, hypo- or hyperthermia, massive cramps, eye infections, kidney problems,… Their experience has little to do with it—sometimes it is the more experienced runners who have the most problems because they think they “know better” or can get away with it. What are the percentage of experienced runners popping ibuprofen like M&Ms then wondering why they kidney issues?
Also, never having had issues in past ultras is no guarantee that something won’t happen on the very next one. That’s the whole point of an ultra: anything can happen. Success can make you complacent. I remember on the first climb of the TDS in 2012 someone asked me what my time estimation was. I said: “Oh, just to finish. Always just to finish.” And I believed myself. Truth is, I had a secret time in my head that I wanted to finish in—nothing extraordinary, and nothing wrong with that, but I realized later that it meant that I didn’t actually believe that I wouldn’t not finish. I was being falsely humble. After all it was my 13th ultra, i.e. more than 40 miles, and I’d never failed to finish. I’d hit bad spots before and I thought I had all the answers. But 2/3rds of the way through I got into a downward mental spiral due to the endless rain and quit.
Perhaps quitting was actually the right choice. I had all the mandatory equipment and more, but I had used up three changes of clothing; I had no crew and drop bags were not allowed in 2012 at Cornet de Roseland where I stopped; night had fallen and I was afraid of falling off the mountain from fatigue and the cold, or getting hypothermia at 8,000 feet in the middle of the night—which would have entailed a delicate rescue mission. So if I had sat out (or eaten my way out of) my blue funk and latched on to some other runners, chances are I would have made it to the end, but there’s also a fair chance I would have been a real burden on the organization. But that’s the risk they take.
I think what I’m saying is: let everyone take responsibility for themselves and trust them to do so. There won’t be many clueless people signing up for a 100-mile ultra, and if there are some, well the experience will certainly sober them up. It might give them a taste for the adventure, it might disgust them completely, or they might actually surprise everyone and tough it out to the end. If that’s what they want to do, let them.
The main reason why “qualifying requirements” piss me off is because I don’t even think for the most part it’s to make sure that participants know what they are getting into—which as I have said is pretty much impossible and just another way of saying “we need to make sure you’re good enough”, which is merely pretentious. I think it’s actually to heighten the perceived appeal/toughness of the race (“this is really tough because not everyone can compete in it”) and to find an optimal balance in the drop-out rate. It needs to be high enough to be able to boast about the difficulty of the race, but also not so high that people don’t sign up or don’t come back.
Neither is it really about limiting the demand for sold-out races—or at least it shouldn’t be, since the cost is too high as entry requirements (as I argue in post below) change the nature of ultras. The problem with overcrowding—and this just proves my point about a shift in mentalities—is that a lot of people are signing up for particular races because of the prestige, not because of the race itself. And that is no different from wanting to do the London or New York marathon rather than the one near where you live because you don’t think it gives you the same bragging rights. I go on about this in “UTMB vs UT4M”. There are so many races out there now that new rules should be instated for those that are overcrowded, i.e. you can't compete if you've already finished unless you're part of a team. This would allow people enter races that are particularly sought-after because of their beauty, difficulty, etc. and give everyone a chance to get in. (I'm joking for the most part--I don't even know if this would solve the problem; just trying to get my point across...)
I don’t disparage anyone their success in completing any ultra, no matter the distance or the support provided/allowed by the organization. I’m really just talking about mindset here.
I suppose what I would like to see is that instead of entry requirements, just make the races more self-sufficient. Make it less about speed and much more about endurance. Mental resilience and race planning. I’m looking forward to competing in the UT4M which allows two drop-bag points but at the same time I know it’s going to be mentally easier. It makes it easier to cut the race up in pieces, it can also compensate for poor planning.
No pacers, no drop bags, no crew. Provide water and let the runner deal with the rest. If that means lugging a 20-pound backpack up the hill, then so be it. You can run with a lighter pack and take some risks, or load up and feel covered for every emergency. Each participant makes the choice for him/herself.
When the start gun goes off, each runner is on his/her own until the finish line—but everyone’s in it together. That’s how it should be.


Friday, May 9, 2014

Burning Man, Marathon des Sables and the changing nature of trail racing



Having used part of my time at Burning Man in 1999 to train for my first Marathon des Sables (perfect simulations for running in the heat, all night exercise (dancing), mind alteration…), and having proposed to my wife there in 2002 (a definite exercise in overcoming typical male commitment issues) I see distinct similarities between aspects of what Burning Man represents and what it means to compete in ultra running: the desire for self-expression and a moment in time and space when and where you are allowed the freedom to express yourself however you wish and discover yourself in the process.


Seriously.


Don’t laugh. Ah, maybe it’s because I miss Burning Man. But… Kids, family, funds,… I haven’t been back since 2002, and recently I read that a lottery system has now been instated to handle the surge in interest. Doesn’t this remind you of something? UTMB, Western States… How many of these presumed bucket list races now impose a lottery system because of high demand, or require qualifying points or races?


I can accept in most cases the need for a lottery system to limit the number of places. If lottery systems are the price to pay for an exponentially growing interest in trail running, well… welcome to the fun everyone! It just forces me to be more proactive in finding less known and/or newer races.


And my main grief is not against crowded races. Though I prefer less crowded races, there is something to be said for the atmosphere in Chamonix and Courmayeur at the start and finishes of the UTMB races. I don’t think fundamentally that more people changes the nature of the event (apart from at the Marathon des Sables, but I’ll get into that later). And


In the end, when you’re in your tent, cycling around the Playa, chatting with random strangers (at Burning Man) or deep into your race, in the middle of the night on the top of a mountain or a dune, it doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t matter how many people are in the race (or camped around you) or what their take on ultra running is or anything else. You are experiencing the fundamental nature of the event as a means of self expression and discovery. Whether there are 200 or 2,000 people at the UTMB, at some point you are alone with your fears, hope, suffering, determination… That’s all that really matters.


I know that the essential nature of Burning Man didn’t change between 1999, when we were 25,000 and 2002 when we were over 40,000. Certainly those who attended in the early years, when participants numbered several hundred or a few thousand at most have experienced a change. But what they lost in intimacy they gained in extravagance. The number, variety and exuberance of the art work, theme camps and cars (and people) are amazing


However the lottery system has changed Burning Man in the sense that exclusivity is just foreign to the nature of the event. That’s not the case really for the UTMB – you miss out on the lottery one year? Well, you can do the TDS, or why not sign up for the UT4M (which will probably fill up soon also), or if you’re brave enough the Swiss Irontrail? There are a lot of races out there that don’t require lotteries, you don’t have to do just the best known. (Still, even those who have been on the circuit for a while somehow feel they have to the best known, sort of like people fee like they have to do the New York or London marathon when any marathon will test them in the same way – but no, I guess it doesn’t have the same bragging rights. But who are you doing this for?).


So anyway, lotteries can be a price to pay for the prestigious events… But what I feel saddest about, what I feel has changed the nature of trail races the most, is when people are shut out from a race they want to do just because someone arbitrarily decides they aren’t ready – and in that sense, qualifying criteria should not be required. Let everyone make his/her own decision…


Ultras are about so much more than just physical ability or even race experience. Or rather those aspects of race experience that are relevant to finishing an ultra are those that pertain to life experience. I’d argue that hitchhiking through the Andes, crewing on a merchant marine ship, working for the Red Cross in Rwanda prisons or even battling addiction, abuse, mental illness,… are valid life experiences. And the motivation for doing an ultra is as equally important to finishing as proper training.


If the Jordan Desert Cup in 2000 had required qualifying races, I would not have been able to enter – well actually that’s probably not true since I’d done the Marathon des Sables only six months before, but it was only my third race after the MDS and a single marathon. I’d only been running for 18 months, building from a 20-minute run that had me gasping for breath and my thighs burning. Before that I had ten years of smoking, drinking and recreational-turning-into-habitual drug use to account for. Yet I finished in under 42 hours, ranking 65 out of about 160 starters. No-one told me it wasn’t possible and I was probably willing to die out there in the desert rather than quit – and so I finished. When I did the MDS, I had the best motivation possible: rebuild my vanishing confidence and self-esteem. Quitting was not an option.


Ultra running floods with body with endorphins and is great outlet for that need and desire to live life to the extreme (which might explain why in my first ultras I met several recovering alcoholics and addicts – I could draw a parallel with Burning Man here again…) And I feel that anyone who has that desire should be allowed to express it through ultra running as I have been able to. Even if all they do is one marathon, or participate one time in the Marathon des Sables – fine. Chances are, however, they’ll get addicted, and soon there’ll be looking for other, greater challenges. Also, people should be trusted. Most people will graduate from smaller to longer trails before finally attempting a 100-miler. But maybe somebody won’t. Perhaps their unique background means they have every chance of finishing, even if they don’t – look at the story of 61-year-old Cliff Young who beat world class athletes in the Sydney to Melbourne ultra.


Marathons are about time, performance, PBs etc. But ultras, at least anything greater than 50-100 miles, should always first and foremost about finishing. It seems now like it’s all about the athletic performance – and the media has played a great part in that by focusing on front runners at the expense of the majority of brave men and women who out there on a journey of discovery.


Even though ultras are won (i.e. finished) in the heart and mind, there is more and more talk on the trails about time – finishing 100 miles is not enough, you have to do it in under 24 hours, otherwise you’re not really part of the club. Really? I fully admire Killian Jornet and his ilk for completing the UTMB in barely more than 20 hours, but I admire that person who slogged through two nights and two days to finish just as much – and of course everyone who finishes deserves the same degree of praise. Funnily enough, those at the top like Killian Jornet often repeat this. We admire them for their extraterrestrial fast finishes, they admire us for slogging it out for so long.


Everyone should have the chance to test themselves. This emphasis on athletic performance is translated at the organizational level on entry requirements as well as time barriers. And yet at the same time runners are being babysat and allowed (or even required) pacers, crewing… as much assistance as the runner can muster. This has long been the case in U.S. races, from what I understand, and now it is happening in Europe. And this also changes the nature of the race.


Now, I understand the need for a crew at something like Badwater where it is quite conceivably an issue of survival (though Marshall Ulrich did show that it’s not essential if you’re willing to drag a cart behind you). But allowing crew and pacers even on something like the Western States turns what is essentially a solitary adventure into something of a team effort – which has its merits, but it’s not the same inner experience as completing a really long, self-sufficient, truly solo run. Again, crewing doesn’t make it necessarily easier to finish (in my case, having my wife and kids around or even friends would make it much harder for me to finish), but it does change the nature of the event.


I have nothing against really strict time barriers that are built into the very philosophy of the event like Spartathlon. But when they are solely to allow the organizers to shut down the race in a timely manner – then it’s a shame, as much as I understand and respect and admire all the effort and energy that goes into organizing an ultra trail.


In fact, it’s a catch-22. On the one hand you don’t have these issues at the Marathon des Sables, but then it is a bit of a media circus and a definite commercial venture. On the other, you have passionate race directors struggling with a full-time job and assisted by other equally passionate volunteers to offer runner a great race. But they need to make sure that it remains within certain parameters.


So I suppose here I’m just noting these changes, not criticizing or saying that I have the solution. I do think that if low and no time barriers are impossible, then races should cut the distances but increase the responsibility and self-sufficiency of the runners.


If time barriers are instated, however, to ensure a certain level of “expertise” – well, that’s just plain elitism. Either you go all the way and have real tough time barriers – and it becomes an additional difficulty to the race – or you don’t have any at all, allowing everyone to challenge and discover their limits (or lack thereof).


That’s what I was allowed to do at the Marathon des Sables in 2000, and for that I am very grateful to Patrick Bauer. I’ve read some ranting about this event, and yes it is certainly not “the toughest footrace on Earth” (though it was arguably when it first started in 1986), but it is tough. Not particularly in terms of miles, but because of the self-sufficiency aspect with reduced calories, sleeping on the sand (maybe a bare mattress) for nine days, sharing a tent squeezed like sardines with eight other smelly competitors, having to cook your own food at the beginning and end of every day, being rationed water...


I remember this one guy at a check point during the long stage who was too exhausted to continue. Turns out he’d bought nothing but gels with him – quick sugar. Yes, the medical team had to treat him for a variety of related ailments, but that’s what they’d signed up for. And I think he quit – but he should have informed himself better. And if he continued, well good for him. In most trails today you barely have to think about the food, to the extent that when there are races with potentially long distances between two aid stations they are very careful to point it out.


As for the “media circus” aspect of the event – well, it’s always been there to some degree or another. At the 15th edition in 2000 we all had to form a heart shape for aerial picture at the start of the last day to celebrate the anniversary. And yes, it’s expensive. But anyone who complains about that shouldn’t sign up – they knew ahead of time. It’s all relative – if this has been your goal for several years and pretty much the only race you’re going to do, then cost is irrelevant; if you’re a veteran runner then why sign up? – just to be able to say you’ve done it?


The Marathon des Sables has been changed by the number of people, because when I found myself with just one other runner in the middle of the night in 2000, it was not the same as 2006 when I could always see a least one headlamp ahead or behind – when I wasn’t blinded by the large laser beam put in place so we didn’t get lost (ah, I’d forgotten about that – so even the MDS does some degree of babysitting…). But it does maintain an authentic trail spirit in the sense that it allows anyone to compete – and to finish if they can still put one foot in front of another. It


Each event is different and changed in different ways. The UTMB isn’t changed by the lottery system but by the qualifying points and the long list of required gear, not to mention a distinct propensity for shutting down the race when the conditions get a bit dicey. Burning Man hasn’t really changed because it now costs $380-650 instead of $85 when I first went in 1999, nor by the amount of people, but it has because of the lottery system which arbitrarily shuts out people for no real reason – seriously, Black Rock could welcome 100,000. The organization may not be at fault since it could be a governmental decision, but it still changes the nature of the event.


Yes, the link between Burning Man and ultra trails is tenuous at best, but I wanted to talk about both topics without doing separate blogs. If you made it to the end, you’ve demonstrated a remarkable degree of endurance that should qualify you for almost any ultra.

If you have any comments on this, please don't hesitate to write to me at l.proschwitz@gmail.com

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Getting motivated

Most times I get a thrilling sense of anticipation when I'm laying out my gear the night before my early weekend long run - which clothes to test, what food to try, which route to take...

Sometimes, it's not that easy though. I just fell across this webpage with 101 fun motivating tips I wanted to share.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Geneva Marathon 2014

Saturday 3 May 2014

Ha! A month after I claimed during the Paris Marathon that road runs really weren't for me and I didn't see the point in them - that maybe, maybe, I could consider a big city marathon like Rome or Berlin - but otherwise I will stop at ten. Well, the small town Geneva Marathon is tomorrow and it will be my tenth and I am foregoing a very promising 50k mountainous trail run overlooking the Bourget Lake to participate in it.

Friendship is more important than a race, and I know that tomorrow at 8am if I was on my trail run, the beauty of it would not compensate for the knowledge that my friend Cyril would be running the Geneva Marathon alone, when I signed up several months ago to do it with him. I claimed until I made the decision to switch last Wednesday that I needed a trail run with considerable elevation gain to train for the UT4M in August. To some degree that's true - but then I realized that my choice was selfish, that running is about enjoyment and sharing; to run alone when I could be running with a friend defeats the whole point. Now I know that when I am hurting at the UT4M, deep into the night, I won't have to hate myself for having left a friend run a marathon alone just for the sake a few extra miles on the trail.

I have almost four months to train specifically for the UT4M - and it's not like I haven't been running in the hills since last December, having accumulated over 14,000 meters of elevation. If running the Geneva Marathon instead of a 50k mountain run means the difference between failure and success at the UT4M then something is seriously wrong. And it won't be. Participating in the Geneva Marathon means that I will be in a better place mentally - and actually I think that, with several months of training still to go, it could actually be of great benefit mentally and psychologically to run on asphalt for 4 hours and get used to tired legs again so soon after Paris.

Because, of course, when I decided to forego my mountain run, I had a brief moment of panic where I started doing all these exercises to strengthen my quads, leaving me with sore muscles even yesterday.
And this morning I did hill work...
Oh, well. It's all training. Not like I'm aiming for a time tomorrow. I never really do, that's why I'm not a huge fan of marathons and all the "What's your PB?" that they entail.

Sunday 4 May

What better way to have fun in a marathon than to dress up? It's a bit difficult to stay in a slump when people are looking at you - especially when the costume puts a smile on the kids' faces:

I'm not flexing my muscles, just COLD


Well, only idiots never change their minds… Only after Paris and deciding that I won’t be doing any more marathons if I can help it, I had a lot of fun at this year’s Geneva Marathon celebrating my 10th that I think I’ll go back to an original plan to do at least one or two a year for as long as I can put one foot in front of the other. Instead of focusing on some form of ‘PB’ I’ll aim to keep running past 80, if I can live that long.

With its 20+ miles of loops through the villages and farmland on the outskirts of Geneva, before heading back into town along the lake, this marathon actually has an appeal similar to a trail run. The weather even played its part, offering high chilly winds that made me even happier to have worn a Spidey outfit. I felt a bit conspicuous at the start, but the sight of another runner dressed as a Jedi and then all the children surprised at seeing Spiderman run definitely made it worth it. (Although some parents need to brush up on their superheroes, considering the number of 'Go Superman!' - and one 'Oh, there's Batman' - that I heard.) Cyril and I have plans for next year… Batman and Robin?

I felt pretty good the whole way. Legs got a little sore earlier than usual – not surprising I suppose since I haven’t really let up on the training since Paris – but handled it much better than at Paris, and in fact the sense of hurt faded as the familiar sense of dilated time occurred around mile 17 (I love it when that happens, when you know you can keep going for as long as it takes) and I charged ahead of Cyril to spend a few minutes chatting at the food station at mile 19 with wife and kids, since we passed only a quarter of a mile from home.

After that it was the long strip along the lake where Cyril suffered a bit of a setback before quickly bouncing back. It was nice at this point to see the crowds, though ‘crowd’ is a bit of a misnomer to describe a few bunches of supporters dotting the streets – most people were just going about their business, either complaining about the closed roads or enjoying them as they skateboarded/biked/rollerbladed down the empty streets… Thanks Calvin!

We never quite picked up our speed again, but managed to keep up a steady tempo and finish in 3.55, which is more or less what I’d hoped for. But finishing in high spirits and with little impact on my legs was even better.

Now it’s seriously time for some specific mountain training – UT4M less than four months away!