Harvest Hustle 5K – race report

How I got there

I was at the conference on Portland, OR. I woke up at 08am and, after taking my morning coffee, went out for a run to discover the city. After a couple of minutes, I see many runners on my left and decided to follow them. After a mile, I found out that other runners had a bib and saw signs on the course. People start to cheer and there was also cheerleaders. It was pretty cool!

So, I just found out that I joined a race. I did not know the distance and decided to follow the runners and see what will eventually happen.

The race

I cannot say what the starting line looks like because I join the group after starting my regular morning run. I cannot also say much about the swag because I did not register or pay for the race. I assume people got a t-shirt and a chip for the time. The race is an out and back on closed road and follows the river. Pretty nice, especially because the weather was collaborative. As an out and back, you basically see the same things all over.

There are one or two water stops (I do not remember exactly), so, if you feel you need water for a 5K, you even do not need to carry your own bottle. Once you finish, you receive a bag with food and a water bottle.

Let’s do it again?

It was a fun to join a running crowd for my first run in Portland. Even if I am not addicted to 5K races, it was funny to crash into a race. However, considering the price ($30), it seems a lot for 5K. But if you live in the area, that might be a good fit. On another note, I am glad I can keep sleeping on my two ears after having raced a 5K without being registered. It seems that having accurate race results really matters for part of the community and I am surprised (and glad) for not having been reported. Feeling safe now!

Informations

Stepping down

Talking about the Steel City Road Runner club is not. After 18 months, being part of this group is one of the reason I loved this city so much. I will remember forever my first run with SCRR, my first discussion with Shannon about this club and the difficulty to understand each other because of my frenchy accent. This is also how I met Jon, the dude that inspires me to run ultra marathons (the guy ran several four 100 milers the same year). I was definitively hooked: running was part of a new lifestyle, not just a thing to stay healthy and in shape. It started to be my religion, my drug, my addiction and the Steel City Road Runners became the church when I got my regular fix. For that reason, I wanted to give back to the group, contribute and improve it. As the group was getting more popular, new leaders were required and volunteer positions were posted. I applied immediately: I wanted to give, be part of the magic of this group. I was nervous to be rejected: what if I do not qualify? What if I am too weak and not good enough to be part of this group? After a couple of weeks, the decision came on July, 31: I was selected as an Ambassador. I was then able to be part of the community and propose my own improvements! It was an opportunity: the club was growing and faced many challenges. I was then happy to be part of the team that will address these concerns.

However, after more than three months into the program, I am sad to say that it is probably better to step down. I will try to summarize why I stepped down, and what are the problems SCRR is facing now.

How it happens

Once I was selected, all Ambassadors had a meeting with the new group leader, a new employee from the marathon office that was now in charge of the club and coordinate all volunteers. The meeting was very confusing: we were not invited to introduce ourselves (our name was not even asked!) and we were required to provide idea but were not invited to present them.

The only objective that was discussed was to increase the number of members. Make SCRR bigger. Growing. Talking quantity. Not quality. I thought my objective was to represent the members and act for their best interest. So I tried to talk about their concerns and talk about what they reported:

  • no restroom: we were previously offered to use the marathon office bathrooms for our events. Unfortunately, as the club was growing, this created some issues related to having a big crowd in a small space. A member broke a window, others hang out after the run. We were no longer welcome and for a good reason. However, we still need to offer bathroom. I proposed several alternatives but they was always turned down.
  • pre- and post-run, no post-run nutrition: SCRR previously provided post-run nutrition and snacks. This was done by using $50 gift card from sponsors and buy chocolate milk and snacks at a grocery store. It was a good way to finish the run and refuel: people hang out a little longer, discuss and connect each other. Now, people are hungry and come back home right after the run (or get breakfast somewhere) soon rather than staying around. Was was a great way to connect with the rest of the group after a good workout. The club no longer provides that. The new club representative reported that is was “not a priority”.
  • membership perks: all the membership benefits were removed from the website. Looking at it, there was no longer a good reason to be part of SCRR. The webpage was not talking about the perks on the day of the marathon. Nothing about the runningwarehouse.com discount code (just 15% off with free shipping!). Nothing about having supported runs (of course, they no longer exist!).

After expressing these concerns, the meeting was over and it was promised that these concerns will be addressed in a timely manner. This was three months ago.

 

Feeling cold because you have to go to a portable toilet in the snow during our run? Not a problem, our sponsor offers a pair of socks! Lucky you!

Feeling cold because you have to go to a portable toilet in the snow during our run? Not a problem, our sponsor offers a pair of socks! Lucky you!

 

Follow-up

A second meeting took place on October, 13. The meeting started with a 5 minutes video totally meaningless about team building. The same type of video you watched to build self-confidence that you can manage a project or lead a team. None of the issues reported previously were addressed or even considered, the new club representative considered them as a “low priority” (words repeated several times). Regarding the concerns expressed previously by the members:

  • no restroom: it was ok to use the restroom again without evidence or document. As we need to prepare the marathon training program, it was critical to have a place we can rely on. After asking for more details, I was offered (in an e-mail signed by the new representative and the CEO of the marathon office) that as a volunteer, I was invited to repair the damages done by the club members. It showed all the consideration the office has for its volunteers and ambassadors and the plan to use them as a cheap labor.
  • pre- and post-run nutrition: it was reported by the new group leader that this was not a priority and that it did not matter. I was amazed that a new person in the group seem to know what the members wanted (in that case, why are we supposed to report members feedback and suggestions?). A coach told me that if people comes for that, it was better not to have them in the group. I was also surprised by such an aggressive behavior. So, I made my experiment to see how much it would cost to provide support. I organized a unsupported run with 18 people and provides post-run snacks and nutrition. It costs me roughly $15 and half of it left after the run. After working on number, it seems that offering post-run nutrition would cost between $2000 and $3000 per year. With an operating budget of $40k, it seems we could afford that. Instead, I was offered (still by the representative and CEO of the marathon office) to find local dairy provider and have a sponsor agreement to get post-run food. This showed the marathon office priority for the club.
  • membership perks: the only update was focused on non-running perks such as discount for food or cultural events. Even if a running group can grow as a social group, it must adhere to basic and core values. Providing support for runners must be and stay the first priority for such a club. By putting support as a low-priority and starting to highlight social perks clearly shows the new focus of the group.

At that point, it seems clear that the club was no longer focused on supporting its members but to forcethem to embrace a specific vision. Finally, the meeting agenda focused on other minor aspects. It then started to be clear that we were not used to provide feedback but just spread and good word and believe in the proposed propaganda.

 

Exclusive discount for SCRR members, forget the 15% at running warehouse we have since several years and that is better!

Exclusive discount for SCRR members: forget the 15% at running warehouse we have since several years and that is better! For information, the Fleet Feet discount is shown on the members perks while the Running Warehouse is hidden. Why?

 

Forget your Freedom of speech

One of the topic during the meeting was the social media policy. When joining the facebook group, SCRR members acknowledge to respect the group rules. The rules are basic: no defamatory message, personal attacks or arguments. But even sarcasm or humor is no longer appreciated. A fellow known runner once made fun of the marathon office on facebook and his post was deleted. Forget that the dude was one of the best (and probably biggest) advocate for the group (the dude is well known in the community and run probably more than 50+ across the country). Most of the folks I know found its words funny, especially because it was also a sarcastic way to report the issues the club was facing. However, it seems that the leadership team did not appreciate this type of humor and censored the post right away. This was a clear first warning: our words must be supportive for the club, do not discuss issues and be polished and clean.

On my side, I invited the members to a training run I organized on a Sunday and put a disclaimer to notify this was not a supported event (which, basically, is probably a good thing to avoid having any issue is somebody hurt himself on the run). I got an e-mail right away from the club representative inviting me to “Please consider “re-wording” your disclaimer, or not having one at all“. The representative also indicated that : “As an Ambassador for SCRR, you are part of our staff so I would ask you to remember that when you write something for the public to see.“. Problem is: I did not want to be part of her staff, just be supportive for my friends. There was a willingness to control my freedom of speech for just inviting somebody to an event. But also asked me to adhere to a polished language.  Something totally clean, tasteless, boring. Again, by joining a fun group, who the hell wants that? We want fun, we want to make fun of ourselves, we want to have great time! Screw the conventional language, the SCRR representative, I am not part of this group to speak as in a professional conference! I am here to have fun, to speak, to feel free.

In other word, fellow ambassador and Comrade, please comply with the party policy!

Solving problems SCRR style!

Solving problems, SCRR style!

 

Willing to help? No thank you

Another area I tried to help: the website. Let’s face it: the Steel City website is poorly designed, mostly because of its CMS, wildapricot. The system does a poor job for resizing pictures, layout text, etc. If you are not a webdesigner, it can produce a really bad content that is compliant with w3c standards and has a browser-dependent rendering. In addition, there were some features the members wanted: a database of our routes, a directory of the members that plan to attend to run, having a mobile-compliant website, etc. The user experience was just a disaster and loading pages was just terrible and took a lot of time (some pages require to download more than 3Mbytes, which can kill your data plan if you are using only a mobile access with a limit).

All these issues are normal for a club that does not have a focus on technology: the club leaders are probably not web-designers and have something else to do. Maintaining the club, coordinating volunteers and organizing events take already a lot of time! I offered to help. I designed a database system to record and search for maps to run around Pittsburgh. I also proposed several times to help to improve the website. As I did a lot of webdesign and work on many online software, I think I could help. As a previous developer of mobile applications, I was thinking to make an online app to synchronize runners agenda and automatically check-in at training runs. Of course, I offered that at no cost. The offer was always turned down and never had any follow-up.

 

You have some ideas? They are no longer yours

When going in the first meeting, the new club representative asked us to come with two new perks for the members. I came with two perks in mind:

  • trail running 101: introduce members to trail running. Schedule two trail runs per month during the months, provide support, pacing groups and have sweeper to make sure nobody is left behind or is injured without support. Each run will end with discussions between runners to exchange advice, tips and good area/trails to run in the area. In other words, build a trail running community within SCRR. I proposed this idea at no cost, I just needed an acknowledgment and the ability to put my training on the calendar. After the meeting, I asked how to implement the idea. I was told that it was not a priority and will be implemented with a coach from Greensburg (and was not aware of that). This is clearly not the way I wanted my idea to be implemented and after being notified, it appears that the idea was no longer mine but was taken over the leadership team.
  • a training race for the fall season: many of us come to the Run for Gold race. It is a cheap, friendly race on a scenic trail that is perfect when training for a race in the fall and see where you stand in your training schedule. Unfortunately, it is far from Pittsburgh (2 hours to drive which is not convenient in the morning), so, one idea was to make a race with a similar characteristics (under $30 for non-SCRR and $20 for SCRR members for something around 15 to 20 miles) around Pittsburgh. I wanted to make a french race, had sponsors, a plan for nice finisher medals (Eiffel tower medals anyone?), specific wine-stop (forget the water kiddo!) and a friendly and friendly post-race party (want to refuel on wine and cheese?). The idea was proposed and immediately turned down. Several folks in SCRR told me they will be willing to help me to implement the idea and I already had enough potential volunteers. Such a perk would come for free and would probably attract more than a pair of socks. But it seems this was not the opinion of the new leadership team.

thankyouambassador

Let me attract you with rewards

During the meeting, it was reported that ambassadors and coaches will be rewarded if they support the club during wellness events. The rewards? Gift cards, coupons, etc. That was a huge miscommunication mistake and a lack of appreciation of the reasons people join this program. Coaches and Ambassadors did not come to get a reward and do not care about having a $25 gift card to shop for groceries. They are here to be active, be supportive for their communities. Not to be a cheap labor at the service of a poorly managed organization. Why should we rewarded? We love working for this club!

Even if the general idea was to reward people, it was one of the biggest mistake because it shows the real consideration from the marathon office to the coaches and ambassadors. They assume to be a cheap labor and execute what we were instructed by the new club representative. We were not considered as ambassadors able to act, help the group and support the members by implementing new ideas. From that moment, it appears clear that our ideas will not be implemented and the club will not let us give us the freedom we wanted.

SCRR is working hard to attract new coaches and ambassadors

SCRR is working hard to attract new coaches and ambassadors

Let’s focus on our core values …

What is the current problem with SCRR? The club is just trying to focus on numbers and quantity. Adding members. Such a policy an usual trap and pitfall when an organization grows and loses its core values. So, what are SCRR core values: a club for runners by runners.

Nothing else.

But among the months, many benefits were lost:

  • members no longer have training programs (unfortunately, the club tried to use runcoach last year but this was mostly a disaster as the software has plenty of issues and was not accurate)
  • maps are not as attractive as other clubs (fleet feet propose maps with a specific theme each week, which gives a context for your run and introduces specific area of the city)
  • pre- and post-run support is no longer there (no post-run nutrition and bathroom as discussed before).

On the other hand, during the meetings, the focus has been to reach out to new potential members and present SCRR as an organization that promotes wellness, friendship. This can be great, but this should definitively not be the first priority and not be at the cost of our core values. Having 10% discount on a fitness class? Some might appreciate but the majority is here to have support for running.

Because at the end, all what our members want is to run.

Making a great club would not cost so much. With an operating budget of $40k, this is easy to make an organization that does not sacrifice the core benefits. Many tasks can be done almost at no cost: there are many volunteers that will be more than happy to help. Of course, it requires a good organization and this would be the role of the club coordinator and representative: trying to find synergies and synchronize collaborations, not to over-control every contribution and turn them down. A minimal budget would be $10k to cover the basics, the actual budget could then offer a lot of margin to provide additional perks (such as access to a private space with bathroom for the Pittsburgh marathon).

Starting to change things is not difficult and can be done quickly with a very simple plan such as the following:

    • reach out the members. now and find out what they want
    • publish the financial numbers, show how the memberships are used and stop any rumors about potential misuse
    • classify the recommendations of the members
    • implement the changes

Based on that, it is possible to decide what changes will make sense and implement something that is requested by the members, not the leadership team. Because after all, the leadership is here to serve the members. Not the opposite. Without the basic understanding of what the members want, this is going to fail because there will be no approval from the members.

 

training

 

… and define who we are

There has been discussion about what is the structure of SCRR: an independent non-profit? a company? something related to the marathon office? For now, this is clear that the club is tightly related to the marathon office. But the question of having a real, independent club has never been debated. Each situation has his pros and cons and the members would have to choose what structure is the most appropriate:

  1. if the club is related to the marathon office, we can have support from this bigger entity. This can be useful to connect with other organization related to running and overall, wellness activities in Pittsburgh. On the other hand, this also create some issues:
    1. be transparent about the budget. Rumors have circulated during the last weeks that the marathon office considers the club as its ATM. One solution would then to publish the accounts. This would also shows who is paid and how much they are paid. Some SCRR members are paid by the marathon office but knowing exactly the details would help the members to know how the organization works internally.
    2. identify duties for all members. It means that the club must have an organization chart with established duties. I requested such an organization chart for the current club. After one month, I have been given a PowerPoint chart with the name of the ambassadors/coaches without the name of anybody from the marathon office nor any assigned duty. In other words, they just tried to avoid to discuss that.
  2. if the club is independent, it needs to define its own structure (a non-profit for example). The leadership team could be selected by a yearly election or anything else that will bring more transparency than the actual organization. On the other hand, such a structure will bring other challenges:
    1. coordinate efforts. Need to have several people for each activity with potential backup. This will also need to coordinate all efforts. On the other hand, this can be done efficiently and cheaply with an appropriate management system (and there are software to manage that with mobile- and web-applications).
    2. secure funding across the years. Make sure we have enough to support the club activities. On the other hand, with a $40k operating budget, there would be already enough to cover the club needs.

No matter the structure, each option has pros and cons. So far, the choice has been to be associated with the marathon office. However, the relation with this organization and showing a proof of independence has not be demonstrated. On the other hand, this is important to show that the club is dedicated to support its members and nobody else. Having evidence (publishing organization charts and the yearly budget online to all members) would then address this aspect and then stop any rumors or criticism from the members or potential competitor.

 

scrrbenefits

And now what?

For sure, this article will initiate discussions, animated debate and potential minor changes. After stepping down, several persons asked me to reconsider my decision. I was also offered to have a discussion from the CEO of the Pittsburgh Marathon. Yes, with the same person that endorsed an e-mail that invited me to repair the broken glass of their building and never show any consideration for our efforts. I do not think that this is going to make a difference and this three months experiment was probably already enough.

There will probably be some quick actions/efforts to defuse the bomb and stop the debate. I would be not surprised to have a group e-mail or many facebook to explain that change is coming for the best and that what is reported in the current post wrong. Unfortunately, actual coaches and ambassadors have evidence to support each argument developed here, you can just ask for it: this is your club and there is nothing to hide. But beyond that, the best proof is just the facts: the new leadership team took over the SCRR leadership since three months. Since then, nothing happened. The changes that have been implemented are not related to running and the probation period is over. Is implementing quick changes take so much time, we should then be worried of what would happen when bigger changes are required.

On my side, I will still stay in SCRR as a member (assuming I am still on the members list). I want to keep running, support my family, the people that keep inspiring me along these years. I do what I love, love what I do. I do stuff because I believe this is the right thing to do, not because somebody told me this is the way to go. And this is not going to change.

scrrjesus

321 Ride – report

On October, 12, I ride 62 miles from Connesville, PA to Pittsburgh, PA on the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP). The reason? 321ride, a bike-friendly event made to support the Woiner Foundation which mission is to fight melanoma and pancreatic cancer by increasing awareness, supporting patients, survivors, families and fundraising for research. I completed the event in a team with three friends and my partner in crime. The team’s name “In Memory of Beth” was chosen by one of my friend that lost her cousin last year because of cancer. I was very glad and proud to be part of this journey and I know that this adventure really matters to them.

Riding early in the Morning: embrace the fog!

Riding early in the Morning: embrace the fog!

You do not have to ride that long to support the Woiner foundation and when joining the event, you can choose between a 7, 25 or 62 miles ride. I choose the latter (metric century ride) because it goes on a beautiful trail and this was a good reason to cross train. You start in downtown Pittsburgh at 600am, where breakfast is provided by Panera Bread. Then, buses bring you (and your bike) to Connelsville. Once you get there, you just follow the trail all the way to Pittsburgh.

Funny ducky before West Newton

Funny ducky before West Newton

The buses arrive in Connelsville around 7:45am and you are ready to go around 0800am (time to get the bike stocked in the buses). Depending on the weather, it can be really cold so it is highly recommended to have many layers with appropriate gear (gloves, socks, etc.). This can be a real safety issue, several people had issues. If you have difficulties to stay warm, consider taking hand warmers. After one or two hours, the temperature increases significantly and you can then remove one or two layers.

Aid station at Boston, PA

Aid station at Boston, PA

The trail go through different cities: West Newton, Mckeesport or even Boston. Most of the trail is in the nature, without any other traffic. The organizers set up aid station every 20 miles where you can put air in your tires and refuel the machine (usual race food is available: bagels, bananas, orange slices, etc.). During your journey to Pittsburgh, you will cross many beautiful areas (the waterfalls around Boston are wonderful!). Considering that the race takes place during the fall, seeing the leaves falling makes this ride colorful! Finally, once you get in Pittsburgh, you enter the post-race party. Food is provided (full lunch!) and there is an expo where you can hang out.

Should you do the next edition? Definitively! This is a great opportunity to do a long ride with support so that if you have any mechanical issue on the way, you will get help and will probably able to continue your ride to Pittsburgh (Trek of Pittsburgh, a sponsor of the event, provides support along the route)! Also, having aid station stocked with food avoid to carry too much stuff in your bagpack.

Top individual fundraider!

Top individual fundraider!

 

Finally, when signing up for the race, you can make your own fundraising campaign for the Woiner foundation. In case you do not want to do it, you will have to donate $50 to the organization to be able to ride! Being a runner and participating regularly to road races, I was interested to start a fundraising campaign since a long time. So, I set a goal of $500. This goal has been reached within a couple of weeks and, the total of the donations summed to an amount of $1025, which makes me the top individual fundraiser! This was a real challenge to do it but also a real pleasure. I will probably consider to do it again, for the same organization or another. Thanks again to the Woiner foundation!

Information

Book Review: “The Art of Readable Code”

Writing code is easy, every newbie can write a program after following a programming class. However, writing good, efficient and maintainable code is another story. And good programmers are as rare as tasty food in the Netherlands! And as a software developer, I probably spend more time understanding code (from others but also myself) than actually writing code.

For that reason and because in some domains, maintainability is a big deal, writing maintainable code really matters. When you write code in that industry, you have to keep in mind that it will be maintained by people that is not even on earth at that time. This is why I was interested by the book “The Art of Readable Code”.

 

art-readable-code

 

The book explains why we should write readable code and lists rules to help to write such code. The authors also provide examples of good and bad code blocks. Overall, the book is interesting and the topic is a good one but many parts are very long and go too much into the details. The authors really know what they are talking about and illustrate each paragraphs with sound examples but sometimes, it feels like reading the summary at the end of each chapter would be already enough to understand the principles.

After reading most of the book, the main focus is on the following aspects:

  • Try to understand how people will read and understand your code. Put yourself in somebody else shoes and try to understand how he/she could see your own code and adapt the way you write code so that others will understand it. There could be many barriers between two developers (language, units, reasoning, etc.), documenting helps to “bridge the gap” between different cultures and habits.
  • Identify and annotate code that need rework and explain why you write the code that way. In particular, if you do not finish to implement something, use a crappy hack, annotate your code using common tags such as FIXME, XXX, HACK, etc.

No matter what, you have to consider that you are no longer writing code for pleasure (“let’s write 1000 lines of C code tonight to implement a program that draws naked kitties on my screen”) but thinking about the impact of what you write on the long run (“how folks from a different country or in the next two generations will understand what I am writing”). Documenting your code, as writing efficient code is really important and have an impact on the long run, especially if it is supposed to be used for several years. The last days show a good example: some folks reported that Microsoft skips Windows 9 to ensure application portability because some applications use a dirty hack to detect the Windows version. Writing better code, documenting potential side effects would have helped.

Sure, since the last couple of years, development tools have improved and help programmers to write better code (follow coding rules, refactoring, detection of errors), but there are still some aspects of the code that cannot be fixed by the IDE (variable names for example) and that should be fixed directly by the development. This is why keeping in mind maintainability rules matter and will make you a better software developer.

 

Writing code without the side effects in mind might have impact ... years after!

Writing code without the side effects in mind might have impact … years after!

 

Misc Informations

SCRR Ambassador Update

I’m back in Pittsburgh! After a couple of weeks away from my favorite city and visiting France and Spain for work, I am back here and already hit the trails early in the morning! This city has definitively fantastic and challenging trails, I missed them a lot these last days!

Paris At Night

Paris At Night

But I was also away from the Steel City Road Runners, one of the biggest (and my favorite) Pittsburgh running club! I missed this group a lot and I am glad to be back to participate to the Thursday and Saturday runs, I hope to see you there (check out the calendar of events)!

Also, as an SCRR Ambassador, I am committed to report members feedback to the organization committee. During the last weeks, a couple of folks reached out to me to give me what they like in the group and what are their concerns. As I have a meeting soon with the organization committee, do not hesitate to reach out to me to discuss your concerns and explain what you expect from the group. Discussing during the events this week can be great but you can also e-mail me or contact me through facebook or twitter. All feedback is appreciated and if people often report things to improve, positive feedback is more than useful because it helps to know what you like (and keep doing it)!

Hope to see you this week!

How to use capitalone website with Debian/Iceweasel

Browser compatibility can be hard to manage sometimes. It seems that the website of capitalone, a credit card company in the US has some difficulties to make a website that runs on Iceweasel, the fork of Firefox from Debian. This post if not a discussion if Debian users should switch to Firefox but rather to explain how to use capitalone website with Iceweasel.

When you go on the capitalone website with Firefox or Internet Explorer, the homepage looks like the following with the login widget.

Capital One website with Firefox

Capital One website with Firefox

However, when trying to access using Iceweasel, the login widget does not appear and you cannot sign in. At first, this was really inconvenient because I was not able to use the website. I did not understand at first and this is just after browsing the website that I understood the root cause.

Capital One website with Iceweasel

Capital One website with Iceweasel

In fact, when going to some other page, it looks that the website is not sending data when the request is sent by special user agents. And it sounds like Iceweasel might be one of them. See below how the credit card login page looks like with Iceweasel.

The "Connection Reset" issue

The “Connection Reset” issue

Of course, you can choose to download and install Firefox on Debian but it might be more convenient to use the same browser and find a workaround. In fact, this can be solved by changing the user agent sent to the webserver. For the non technical people reading that blog, the user agent is a set of characters that identify your software. In the context of a web browser, the set of characters will indicate if the browser is Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome or Iceweasel. And depending on the user agent, the server can change and adapt the content. In the present case, it looks that the website is not sending anything when the user agent is Iceweasel.

The workaround is then to “trick” the server and send a fake user agent. To do so, install the User Agent Switcher in Iceweasel. Then, when going on the capitalone website, change the user agent to something popular (such as Firefox as shown below) and the login widget will magically appear.

Selecting the Appropriate User Agent

Selecting the Appropriate User Agent

For sure, this trick or hack is painful and the real solution will be to fix the website rather than to use dirty hacks. On the other hand, this issue is there since several months and has never been fixed by the company. This trick might also (unfortunately) help you when using other websites that provides browser-dependent content. If you are a web-designer, keep in mind that the content should just be compliant with the standards (such as the one from the W3C) and must not depend on a specific technology (such as a web browser).

Time is Stopping at “La Ferme des Isles”

Traveling for work, fun or just relaxing, I am not used to write about hotels, restaurants. But I recently has one of the best experience in my lovely Normandy. I wanted to share the story: as you might stay around, this place is definitively worth it and a real gem in this great part of France.

How it started

Away for more than two weeks , my recent trip brought me in France and my lovely Normandy. Visiting the family was in the agenda but I wanted to find a place to rest with my partner in crime. Traveling can be exhausting at some time and having a quiet place to stay, rest is more than appreciated. So, I looked for an affordable and nice place around Evreux. I ended up by looking at an article from Le Figaro about good places to stay around.

After several phone calls, e-mails and trying to book a place, I got a room at La Ferme des Isles. Not too far from Evreux or Louviers, the place is located near to Autheuil-Authouillet. The price was 95 euros per night, including breakfast. When booking, I was told I could also join the dinner. The owners make a dinner at night only if more than 6 persons sign up. As several folks already booked, we could join them.

After a couple of days, I was debating to keep my reservation. I did not know if I was ready to drive there, worried to be too tired to make it and wanted to have a quiet and calm evening rather than joining a big party for dinner. After looking at the list of hotels around, the price they charged and considering the recommendation from the journal, I decided to embrace the idea rather than fighting it. I maintain the reservation and also booked the diner.

After landing in France, staying in Paris for a day and visited friends, we were ready to visit this place. Once we got there, we discovered a lovely and quiet place. Exactly what we needed.

The Place

The place is located in Autheuil-Authouillet. You can get there by train from Paris easily, which can be convenient if you stay in Paris and are looking for a quiet place during the week end or if you want to relax for a long time and visit the city. This is a renovated farm in the country side. I have no idea how many rooms they have. I took one for $95 and the room was really big, nice with all the basic stuff. Wireless network is available at no charge as well.

You can walk over the farm, see the animals (goose, chicken, birds, etc.) hang out around the yards, etc. The area is just pretty and relaxing. The garden on the property has all the vegetables and fruits used to prepare the dinner. You cannot do more fresh.

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The Dinner

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Trying the Pumpkin Soup served from the … pumpkin

We joined the dinner. But before that, there is an aperitif, a drink you share with other guests. Drinks are either alcoholic (champagne, wine) or non-alcoholic. It comes with snacks, including some made on site. It gives an introduction to the efforts the owners put into the food they cooked: even the potato chips are made in site, with potato from the yard. Tasty, delicious, this is the perfect entry point to a great night.

This is a very friendly event and you share the table with other guests but also the owner of the farm. The menu is designed by Francois, the co-owner of the farm. Francois received an award for the food he prepared and I can testify that the food is fantastic. The menu was 40 euros per person and includes starter, entree, cheese and desert. The food also comes with Red wine and, as in every good french meal, you can refill your glass as you want.

When we had diner, our menu was:

  • Pumpkin soup with foie-gras
  • Bird with chard gratin and potatoe puree
  • Cheese platter
  • Baba au rhum (which as more Rhum au Baba)

 

The Cheese Platter

The Cheese Platter

 

All ingredients are either from the farm or local. For example, the bird from the entree comes from a local place. The ingredients are just perfectly cooked and the diner is perfect.As for the cheese platter, all the cheese were very tasty.

 

More important: in France, food quality is important but beyond that, a meal is rather a friendly experience and your meal just a good reason to get together and have a good time. From that perspective, the farm owners (Sophie and Francois) are great hosts and make this not a meal but a real experience.

 

 

Getting Around

In this area, there are a lot to do. If you are in the mood to visit places around, go to Giverny and visit Claude Monet gardens. If you want to walk in the forest and explore the area, there are a lot of places to go around. As a runner, I did my traditional workout and was able to run 7 miles on trails in the forest.

If you want to discover cities around, the place is not too far from nice cities in Normandy such as Evreux, Louviers, Vernon or even Rouen. This place is just a nice place to stay, refuel and recharge your batteries before taking off for new adventures.

 

Workout on the trails around the area

Workout on the trails around the area

Bye bye kitty ....

Bye bye kitty ….

 

Baby come back

Every good thing comes to an end. This is what makes them so special and interesting: you will do your best to come back. Before leaving, breakfast is proposed in the morning with fresh bread made on site, baguette from a local bread maker, home made jelly, cheese, butter and many other things. The breakfast is served next to the kitchen and, as for the dinner, you share the table with other guests. Again, this was simple, tasty, the environment calm and quiet.

Will I come back to this place? Definitively. If you are staying in France, trying to go there is definitively worth it. Try to go there, visit Sophie and Francois and join their table for dinner. This place is now on my best places to visit in France and I hope you will have the opportunity to discover this gem in Normandy.

 

Some links

Erie Marathon 2014 – Race Report

Forewords

Everyone has a different dream: some want to walk on the moon, some want to be rich, some want to date several young chicks and some have other expectations. In the road-running world, one common dream is to run the Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest annual marathon and ranks as one of the world’s best-known road racing events. This dream can become true if you meet certain requirements. The major one is to qualify and for that, you need to run a qualifying race under a certain amount of time. The Erie marathon is one qualifying race and, as the course is very easy and flat, it is very popular for the runners that want to qualify to run Boston.

As a consequence, every year, the Erie Marathon is like the power ball and many want to give a chance! This race is the Boston Qualifier (BQ) party, the fair where many hope they will do great and be able to access to the runner sanctuary. For the few that complete the race without issue, they can apply to run the race (but, considering the number of runners that qualify, there are no guarantee). For the others, this is “same player, try again” at a next qualifying race.

Having no interest to qualify for Boston, I made the half-marathon so that I can have time to cheer on people that want to do it and also take an easy day and let my body rest. In addition, having already done a race the day before, a half-marathon was enough. The main reason I came back is that I ran it last year (first marathon, yay!) and had an horrible experience: being injured, I raced it while I was wrapped as a mummy to prevent more damage (which was obviously a miserable failure because I was not able to run for several weeks). One reason to come back is to have a better experience and have this sensation of a wonderful morning race surrounded by people I appreciate.

In addition, besides being a popular Boston Qualifier, the Erie marathon is a fantastic course, especially the half! If you are interested to run it, you might be interested by the following information. Otherwise, close your browser and come back to work.

 

How we got there

I arrived after having finished Rock’n The Knob in the Saturday morning. We booked a room at the Comfort Inn Presque Isle, located about three miles from the start. That was definitively a great idea: they propose a late checkout on Sunday (2pm, more than enough time to take a shower, pack and potentially have a post-race nap) and an early breakfast (0500am) for runners. Needless to say, a great service, nothing to compare to the experience we got during the Grand Canyon Marathon. In addition, the staff was efficient and helpful. A great place to recommend if you plan to run this race!

Before getting a well deserved rest, we visited a nice barbecue place, Three B Saloon. As all runners used to eat pasta and reduce alcohol or fat, I opted for the pulled pork, corn bread and of course, a big pumpkin beer. At that stage, after such a dinner, you cannot move anymore, so, you take a mandatory night of sleep.

Three B Saloon - Fantastic Barbecue

Three B Saloon – Fantastic Barbecue

 

Packet Pickup and Race Expo

The packet pickup is located at the Presque Isle State Park. You can take your packet the day before or even on race day (in case you do not want to book a room). The expo is not very fancy: there are some vendors here and there with some interesting discount but nothing big. If you are looking for new gear, that might be a good opportunity. Other than that, there is nothing to do, except to go on the beach in case of nice weather. The beach is relaxing and beautiful. In case you are not a big fan of barbecue (well, nobody is perfect and has good taste!), there is a pasta party that is organized by volunteers. As I wanted to fuel on healthy pulled pork with beer, I careful avoid any recommended nutrition such as pasta. Load the fat, baby!

The bag contains a tee-shirt, your bib, your timing chip and some documentation about the race. Again, nothing really fancy and more than enough!

 

Steel City Road Runners doing Erie Half-Marathon 2014

Steel City Road Runners doing Erie Half-Marathon 2014

 

The Race

The race starts at 700am for the marathoners that are hoping to qualify for Boston (or not) and 730am for the happy fews that want to do the half. Parking is available next to the starting line and you just have to walk half a mile to get to the race. The course is the same for the half and the full marathon. The main difference? You have to do two loops if you are doing the full. So, save your legs: do only one loop!

The race is scenic, you go all around Presque Isle, see the sun shining, the nature waking up, the lake and the beach. If the weather is collaborative, you cannot have a better experience with a low temperature that increases over time. You can see the course below as well as the elevation: this is very flat and you will not have any hill at all. After running several trail events last weeks (Rock’n the Knob the day before and Groundhog Fall 50K one week ago), it seemed very unusual and easy on the legs.

The Erie Course

The Erie Course

 

There is a drop bag service so that you can pack a jacket to use when you are done. This can be useful in case you are running the half and stay to wait for a friend that is running the full (avoid to freeze while waiting). The course is packed with water station at every mile so that you can do the race without any hydration pack or bottle. Some gels are also provided during the race. Also, at the finish, bagels, chocolate milk, sandwiches and cookies are provided to the runners. Great way to refuel after your run!

 

The elevation profile: even my driveway is steeper

The elevation profile: even my driveway is steeper

 

The Take Away

As every year, many (most?) runners come with expectations in mind. Being very flat, everyone want to take something out of this race: either a record with a great time, a qualification for Boston or just completing their first big road race. And as everything in life, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Some learn it the hard way and finish the race very disappointed. Others meet their objective and are happy, until the next race that might wash this achievement. This focus on performance can be overwhelming and divert us from one of the main reasons so many people join the party: come and have fun together!

My goal was to have a great week-end with my partner in crime and rest after long weeks. Objective accomplished, I cannot be more happy and I had a great time running Rock’n the Knob on Saturday and this half-marathon at Erie on Sunday. Cheering all runners from SCRR was very fun and seeing everybody having fun running at Presque Isle was a great way to connect with my local running community.

If I had a great time at both events, this week-end shows how much I love the trails and I want to focus on this type of event. The trails offers a scenic views and invite you to discover what nature has to offer. There is a sense of freedom and a connection with nature I do not get in any other event. Also, the competitive nature of road races does not appeal me that much and my goal is rather to connect with a the trail community and discover the surroundings. That is why I will plan more long distance races (probably a few 50K and some 50 milers) in the coming months and keep only few short road races mainly to cheer my friends and share good times.

 

And also …

 

Rock’n the Knob

This was the beginning of a week-end, the first race that was a good shakeout before going to finish a half-marathon and cheer friends. I went to the Rock’n the Knob 5 mile race on Saturday, 13 and … it was a blast!

This race is organized by the Allegheny Trailrunners, the same folks that organize the Dirty Kiln. Needless to say, there are putting all the necessary attention and care for making a great event. For $20, you get a great race with scenic views, a tee-shirt, great company and a complete refuel at the finish with the beer brewed for the race! What else could you ask for?

If you plan to stay next to the race, you can get a studio located at a walking distance from the start for $50/night. Great deal to make sure you are on time but also get a place to get a shower after your race! The place itself is old but at this price, you do not really care. On the other hand, the food offered by the local bar is not so great and you might want to pack your own food. Typical bar food, nothing to write home about.

Welcome runners!

Welcome runners!

The race starts at 0930 for the 5miles whereas the 20 miles starts earlier at 0830. You start on the trails on technical and rocky paths. Something that will excite many trail runners but will sound not so appealing to many others. The weather being rainy, it was easy to potential trip and fall so that you have to be careful and watch out where you put you foot. The 5 miles course alternate moderate hills. Around the finish, you go over a ski slope, which is big challenging down hill section.

The course is well marked with flags and punk ribbons. I missed some signs but the likelihood you get lost is very low. On the 5 miles option, there was only one aid station (at mile 2), which was more than enough. The 20 miles option has several with snacks and other food.

Let's rest before the race!

Let’s rest before the race!

At the finish, you get an untypical medal (a bottle opener!) and some great company. Also, once you are done, you can replenish with beer (a local brewery – Railroad City – brews a beer for the race – a nice pale ale!), sandwich, pizza and pastries.

This was definitively a great experience. Unfortunately, as I was running the next day, I did not want to overexercise and thus, selected the 5 miles option. Considering all the aspects and the logistics, I will definitively be back next year and make the 20 miles option. The scenic view, the fantastic support from the trail runners community justify going for such a distance. Finishing so quickly was frustrating. I wanted more and continue this beautiful journey.

If you are looking to run on trails and never did a race from these folks, check out their next race, Sweat for Vet but also consider running Dirty Kiln or Rock’n the Knob. Fantastic experience guaranteed.

 

Steel City Road Runners finishing strong!

Steel City Road Runners finishing strong!

 

More infos

Don’t stop ’til you get enough – Groundhog Fall 50K, Race Report

That is a fact, you remember only the best and the worst. Average does not matter. Back in France, when I was a teacher, I remembered mostly students with the best and worst grades. Brilliant students did awesome things while others got all the problems you cannot imagine.

If you translate this principle into races, the Disney marathon is a good example of a bad race: this is amazing how people are hooked by old marketing tricks (because at the end, they are just running on roads without any special perks!). But today kids, the race I am talking about today is the opposite, and if you are running the Groundhog Fall 50K, you will remember this moment for a long time. In a nutshell: this race is a little gem in the trail running community in Pennsylvania, it will give you a fantastic experience, the organization and support is like a first class event and the race director is one of the most friendly dude I met.

The Story: how I got there

I wanted to try a 50K. Just for fun. This was a fantasy for a long time and I was looking for a low-key event. After searching online, I found the Groundhog 50K race. Very affordable ($50 for 50K or $25 for 25K), close to Pittsburgh, it seemed to be the perfect match! My partner in crime wanted to join the party but not run a 50K, so, she signed up for the 25K.

This is a trail run organized by trail runners for trail runners. Included with your registration, you do not get a big swag but an incredible number of perks, including pasta dinner, a wonderful supported race (including transportation to the starting line if you do the 25K) and post-race party (including pizza, beer and massage). Probably one of the best deal I ever had.

On top of that, the Race Director (Bob Lott) proposed to host runners in need of accommodations. After sending an e-mail, he generously offered to stay at his house. I was surprised by such an offer: I did not even know this person and he proposed to stay at his place. Not only for me but for the two of us. So accommodating and friendly that I felt embarrassed, I did not expect to have such an offer (I was rather expecting to just get a place to put my tent in a yard, which would already have been a very generous offer!). But even if he was busy with the race, Bob took the time to discuss with us and know who we were. When you have such an experience, you no longer feel like a bib number but just a part of a community.

The race is in Punxsutawney, PA. About 90 minutes (65 miles) from Pittsburgh so you can leave work early on Friday and make it to the pasta dinner. This is what I did and I was able to explore the area. The pasta dinner was basic but definitively friendly and organized by volunteers. Afterwards, some fellow runners offered to party and have a beer at Rumors in downtown Punxsutawney.Not too long because we had to head back and get ready for the big day.

In the meantime, my partner in crime changed her mind and decided to switch from the 25K to the 50K. This was not a problem at all and they just asked us to pay the difference ($25!). Nothing else. Again, the flexibility and the support of the organizers was just amazing: we were able to switch races during packet pick-up and there was even not a word about it or a discussion, we just need to ask! Simple and efficient!

Team RWB during the pre-race Dinner

Team RWB during the pre-race Dinner

The race has also a lot of people from Team RWB. Being organized an a veteran, this is not a surprise that a lot of people from this team joined the race. I did not really know what it was about and, knowing that this race is now supported by this team convinced me to know more and eventually sign up. Getting back to the Race Director house for the night. We shared runners history, discussed about the race and eventually go to sleep before the big day.

At the Pasta Dinner

At the Pasta Dinner

The race

The race starts at 7am for the 50k and 930am for the 25k. There is a 8 hours cut-off, so, you need to complete the course (at least the 50K) before 3pm. In case you need more time, you can start early at 5am. The starting (and finish) line is next to the Community Center in Punxsutawney, PA. At the starting line, you have bathroom and coffee. A veteran gives the starts and you start running on a road that continues on the trails.

Welcome to Yellow Bus!

Welcome to Yellow Bus!

The course goes through several hills, each one having a distinguished name. The name is shown by a sign (“Two beer hill”, “Yellow Bus”). You will have to take them in both ways as the course is mostly an out and back with two loops of some part of the race (you can see the mapmyrun workout for more details). Some hills are brutal and you should be very careful when running. The total elevation is 4000 feet, so, you have to be careful and, in case you never run steep hills, you will learn it the hard way. To give you an overview, the following video testifies that some ran into some issues when trying to run them.

The course is pretty well marked. You might get lost if you take the early start at 5AM and miss one turn. In that case, this is important to come back and just find your way. Obviously, most of the trails are marked with white paint and this is very difficult to be lost when the sun is here. Also, the organizers mowed the trails so that if you have the choice between two paths, you just take the one that is clean. It was a big surprised to see how they took care of the runners and how clean it was, mowing all the grass on the steep hills is probably a challenge by itself.

The aid stations are very well packed with soda (Mountain Dew, Pepsi), Gatorade, PB&J sandwich, M&M’s, Cookies, pretzel, etc. Way better than many other races. The volunteers is very friendly and supportive. When getting to an aid-station, somebody told me not to take a specific kind of cookie but take another one because they were “home made” and more tasty. This is probably not very useful for my race but just show how friendly and supportive they are!

Once you are done, the finish line welcomes you with a great finisher award (a medal for the 25K and a Groundhog in glass for the 50K). The finish line is also packed with beer, soda, pizza, chips and other food items. In case you make a great time, you get a stone. It seems that I was fast, so, I got my piece of stone and … most important: my picture with the Race Director, Bob!

 

This award will be hard to hang on the wall ...

This award will be hard to hang on the wall …

 

The Take Away

You like the trails, you are looking for a good race? First 50K or just a good training run, either long (50K) or short (25K)? This is the one you was looking for. Friendly, supportive, affordable, this race has everything you might expect and should be on your calendar. The next edition will have a new race director that is involved in team RWB (Bob, the one for the 2014 edition will be in the organization committee) and will be held in May. No matter what are your plans, you should definitively add this one on your list. This race showed me how the veterans community is friendly, active and can work together to make such a great event. Being in the USA with a European background, it also helped me to understand better what is behind veterans organizations and convinced me to learn more about Team RWB.

Steel City Road Runners Group Picture

Steel City Road Runners Group Picture

 To finish …

Thanks again to all the organizers, the volunteers that made this day fantastic. Thanks to all my Steel City Road Runners friends that were part of this adventure and to my partner in crime for supporting me during this week end. I am really glad to be part of such a great community.

And also …