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 …

 

From Obese to Ultra-Runner

For those who know me a little bit, there is no secret that I was obese a couple of years ago. I weighted about 300 pounds at max (290 to be precise) and of course, at that time, any physical activity (i.e. climbing the stairs) was fantastic quest that has to be rewarded with a treat (i.e. a big cookie). My relation to physical activity was like a monkey in a circus. At that time, I was married (kind of, we called that PACS in France), unhappy, not confident with myself and, well, still geek. My eating habits were totally disorganized and did not take into account any nutrition information into account. For example, I used to eat about 5 to 10 slices of brioche (low-fat of course, at least, this was what the package said) with butter and jelly while waiting for my wife to come back from work, just before … having dinner. And my physical activity consisted in taking the stairs once in a while or sometimes walk when the metro in Paris was on strike (so, very often).

French guy - fatty version (double chin included)

French guy – fatty version (double chin included)

Going alone on a week-end, I faced reality: my life sucked. I had beers with a good friend who was in the very same situation. We decided to take action: we were going to break up our relation and change. It was not only about diet but my whole living pattern. Let’s not give up our dreams and make them happen. After breaking up, I embrace a new life style. I decided to become more fit, changed my eating patterns, learn about food, nutrition information and lost some weight. I took the time to work, listen and understand others. This was the start.

Then, I met another person that supported me and, after having lost 60 pounds, introduced me into the running thing. I remembered my first run: we drove to the beach in Marseille (France) and smoked a last cigarette before starting. I do not know nor remember why we continue but it was hard. Very hard. So hard. After thinking I ran one hour, I looked at the watch and faced reality again: I started 10 minutes ago. That was epic.

Five years after this first run, I finished my first ultra today. In between, I completed several marathons, half marathons and other distances (5K, 10K, etc.) over several months and even years. I even completed the GR20 in Corsica, the type of experience you have once in your life. I also started to cross train, used to swim a lot and discover many new folks (in between, I switch jobs several times and related to other countries as well). During this whole experience, I lost more than 160 pounds (the minimum weight was 130 pounds – 59 Kg) and of course, quit smoking because it compromised my performance. But on the other hand, I also experienced troubles due to food or sleep deprivation. I went into the emergency room a couple of times and, of course, learn the hard way what depression and social isolation means. Some moments were happy, other are sad and let you remember why you should be thankful for the good ones. And learning from your mistakes help you to improve yourself and do not repeat previous failures.

same guy after 5 years (girl not included)

same guy after 5 years (girl not included)

Pretty often, my path cross other people that also want to change but does not know what to do. They are often asking what I ate to lose weight, how I trained. This is very hard to summarize everything because all of this happened in several years and is also connected to several episodes of my life and this is difficult to disconnect the personal experience and only relate facts that could apply to anybody.

However, I tried to do it and wrote a sort of book called “Eat, Move & Love”. Obviously, this is very poorly written but the efforts was to sum up the most important information about the way I lost the weight and started exercising. This is released under a Creative Commons license, so, there is no restriction for using or sharing it. The only thing I might ask is about having feedback: if you hate it or like it, it would be nice to know what and why so that I can try to improve it. Also, in case you want to contribute and/or have suggestions to update/improve it, do not hesitate to contact me!

Hope that might help!

Eat, Move and Love – A Journey to Healthy Living

Are Online Reviews Legits? (previous title: “Why Giulietta e Romeo Hotel in Verona sucks like no other hotel?”)

Wonderful outside view on the ... ahem ... air conditioning system

Wonderful outside view from your room on the … ahem … air conditioning system

My recent trip to Verona brought me to book a hotel in the city center to attend a conference. Before booking, I tried to have a look at online reviews in order to make my mind and decide where to stay. I am not usually very picky about where I am going, the main guidelines at quiet room, some space, good internet connection and if possible, having an early breakfast. So, I figured out that reading what previous guests thought would be a good idea.

At the same time, an article from the print issue of consumer report reported that online reviews were often not legit and owner of touristic places used to pay for good (to add some value and convince people to come to their property) or bad (to convince people not to go to their competitor) reviews. They even reported that consumer-driven site (such as Angieslist) are not so helpful. And it seems to be a big deal: business owners are actually suing google, arguing that bad reviews cause them to run of out business.

I decided to give a try and after reading different online reviews (using tripadvisor, google and booking.com), I choose to go to the hotel Giulietta e Romeo. Located in the city center, close to the shuttle for my conference, it seemed to be a good bet. So, I booked this hotel for four nights. It was expensive ($300/night) but the other hotels were pricey as well. So, I figured that the places around will be expensive no matter what.

Once I got there, the nightmare begun: the room was small, the staff rude and inappropriate, the machinery from the elevator woke me up at night. Clearly not something that could be considered as a 3 starts hotel but rather a 2 stars motel, the only good aspect would be the location.

The room is well ... small

The room is well … small

Of course, I did complain to the hotel, saying even sometime like “I was no longer expecting something good from them” but they did not even care. After all, they were just rude, inappropriate and did not provide a room or a service that can be considered 3 stars. There was nothing I can do about it. I figured it could be useful to report it to the same websites I read before booking to let people know other places might be a better bet.

Before writing my feedback, I tried to look at few reviews where people complained to see if other folks had similar problems. Surprisingly, they were treated aggressively by the staff, which deny that they might have done something wrong. Sounds I was not alone! But from a business perspective, such a behavior does not make sense: such an answer would just increase the customer frustration that would eventually impact the reputation of the hotel. I remembered having one issue (bad type of bed – two double beds instead of a king) with a hotel in Orlando, FL (the Orlando Radisson Resort) and I was astonished by how the staff answered to my complain: they acknowledged, apologized and offered a compensation for the inconvenience just after giving me the right type of room. That is what one call a good customer service!

But having posted an online review about my experience, the staff answered only after a couple of hours in (what I would consider) a rude and pretentious way. Basically, they denied what I reported, providing weird arguments and reasons (for example, the reply reported that the phone was not working because I do not know how to make an international call – something I hopefully know how to do after living abroad since 6 years). Again, I do not understand why the hotel replied to the review like this: it does not make any sense but to prove that they are even care about how people feel about their hotel and how to improve the customer experience. This is something that can do nothing but degrade their reputation.

The take-away from that experience? Online reviews might not be as legit or helpful as you might think. And it seems that fake reviews is real and potentially a big business. A place or a product with plenty of good feedback might not be the good bet you are looking for and just financially supported by their owners to get good comments! Comparing the two hotels I was talking about earlier? The worst got 93% of good reviews while the one that was the most comprehensive and customer-friendly got 59%. After checking to some other location I visited before, it seems that having good review is not so helpful.

So, before choosing a place to stay or a product, do not over think about it. Looking at online reviews might be helpful but trying to make your mind with pictures, potential advises from friends or just common sense (in my case, something that could have triggered my mind is that such a name could be a trap for tourists!) might even be better. So, just follow your own judgment and if you go to Verona, avoid this spot, at least, this review is a legit one!

 

Note: Wow, it seems that right after my review, the place got a new one that contradicts mine. Considering the small size of the hotel and the number of reviews per week, there is no room for any doubt about fake reviews. Just sad that such places can get such a good rating and would just degrade the overall touristic experience.

Running after and EP Study with Ablation

Several weeks ago , because I had many palpitations and issues related with my heart (heart rate increases as much as 200 bpm without any reason), my doctor recommended to make an Electro Physiology study (also known as EP Study) and potentially remove abnormal electric path in my heart that can trigger additional unexpected heartbeats. The diagnostic was not really a big surprise: I experienced such issues since many years (it happened the first time in Italy 10 years ago) and there is a history of heart-related issues in my family and some of my relatives went for surgery years ago. But recently, it started to occurs quite often especially when being at rest. There was a choice to take: try to do something about it or let it as it is.

Being a runner, the first thing that came in mind and could potential refrain you to go for it is the possibility that the procedure fails and/or that you cannot continue to live as you did before. For sure, the probability of an issue is very unlikely, but you can’t help to think about it. After a few days and calls with the doctor, I made my mind and decided to go for it.

Details about the procedure can be found online but if you are planning to do it, plan to take a full day off. You have to be prepared (no food 12 hours before the procedure, only limited water, somebody has to drive you, etc.) and the preliminary operations take a lot of time as well. Once this is done, you cannot walk after the procedure, so, you need somebody to take you home and help you. So, again, if you go for it, plan ahead.

After the procedure, you need to recover. Not only because the heart needs to heal after the ablation but because the area where the catheters were introduced can start to bleed again. So, you have to reduce activity and movement for a couple of hours to avoid potential bleeding. Be prepared to lay down for a while, which means no running for three days and even no walking for 24 hours. For sure, you will be mainly concerned about the recovery and wanted to go out and at least walk to take some fresh air. On my side, I waited a day before starting walking to see if having a light activity will not hurt or stress the veins where the catheters were inserted and not trigger any big issue. On the third day, I did a short run and resume my training on the fifth day.

If you go for such a procedure, you will probably experience some discomfort a few days after the procedure within your heart (although not as intense as what you was used to). The doctor and his staff reported it as normal and would disappear after a few days. This is exactly what happened and eventually, after a few days (probably 10), past issues will belong to the past.

If you are an active person that experience abnormal heart activity (palpitations, unusual heart rate, …), your doctor might recommend such a procedure. If you are wondering if this is worth it and are worried about the potential success, I would recommend it, especially because the failure rate is very unlikely that if successful, it avoids many painful episodes. But keep in mind that such a decision has to be assessed and evaluated with your background and your objectives.

Note: I would like to thank Robert, a fellow friend runner, that helps me through the process and recommend me to the doctor that treated me. It would not have been the same with his help and support.

Pedal Pittsburgh 2014 – ride report

On Sunday, August 24, I participated to Pedal Pittsburgh (a.k.a. PedalPGH) with my usual partner in crime. This is not a race but rather an invitation to join a happy crew of bikers and discover many areas of Pittsburgh! The guidelines are simple: you start whenever you want (but it is recommended to start early) and try to finish before the end of the party (around 3pm). Three distances were proposed: 7 miles (family friendly), 25 miles (go to around the city) or 62 miles (with a lot of hills). Another distance (45 miles) was proposed later and I ended up by doing this one. Nice way to do something else than running and explore the city on a wonderful Sunday morning.

On the way to Troy Hill

On the way to Troy Hill

 

The start is in the South Side, under the Birmingham Bridge. You can get technical support at the starting line to check your bike, chain, tire, etc. If you did not have enough time to get your breakfast, water and fruits are available. The ride go towards the North Side and explore Troy Hill and the Riverview Park. If you are looking for a good workout, this part of the ride is definitively a good one: lots of up and downhills, pretty challenging! While biking, we found an unofficial stops organized by happy bike-enthusiast packed with water, cookies, happiness and big smiles. Enough energy to help you keep going, especially because after a few miles, an official stop as provides technical support (small repairs and adjustments) and more food. The route continues towards Bloomfield (where you cross the Little Italy Days and see people getting ready for the festival), and go up the hills of Highland Park where another stop welcomes you. The ride finishes with a nice trip through Oakland (that goes along Circuit Rd – the one used by the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix) and finally the South Side. Once you finish the ride, you got a tee-shirt and are invited to visit the party at the finish line packed with food trucks and other vendors.

 

Birmingham Bridge, almost to the finish line!

Birmingham Bridge, almost to the finish line!

 

This non-competitive event makes a wonderful Sunday ride with more than 45 miles and 2700 feet of elevation. You can turn it into a friendly/family event and do a distance that fits your needs. In other words, it can replace your usual morning run in the week end while you discover parts of the city you are not use to see (this exploration convinced me to explore the North Side and more specifically the Riverview Park and its trails)! The support is really great: there are regular water-stops, well packed with appropriate food so that you do not have to carry too much stuff in your bagpack. The support is very appreciated: in case your bike has a defect, you can easily have an advice from an expert.

Obviously, for $25 (price to sign up), considering the support you get, this is definitively something to add on your to-do list. On top of that, by participating to the ride, you support the local and bike-friendly association. No reason for not signing up next year!

 

Useful Informations

Run Around the Square 2014 – race report

Steel City Road Runners Invasion at Run Around the Square

Steel City Road Runners Invasion at Run Around the Square

Run Around The Square (or RATS) is a 5K run that goes around Regent Square in Pittsburgh, PA. This race takes place in August and is a neighborhood, friendly event. The race starts in Regent Square, go through some streets in Swissvale, PA and finishes in Frick Park. This is only 5K (or 3.1 miles if you prefer).I did not want to sign up for this event, I consider that paying for something I can do every day without support is useless. Do not misunderstand me, I totally understand that many people are excited about these races and I will encourage – and cheer – anybody to sign up. But as I run more than 10 miles per day, this is something I used to so I do not really need a special event to do it. However, my partner in crime convince me, arguing that it was a friendly event, a good reason to hang out with friends in the area rather than a competitive race. In order to demonstrate it, she signed me up. I cannot refused.

 

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The start is at 9:00. In order to keep my sanity, I did 5 miles before in Frick Park and join the starting line. First of all, I was amazed by the number of runners around (the square). The event is very popular and for good reasons (see later). During the race, you pass several groups that play music, which is very cool, especially for such a short distance. Once you get into the Park, there is a champagne and beer stop sponsored by Dunnings! There are also two additional water stops along the course.

The finish is in Frick park where you can hang out with friends. The place is very nice and you can cheer people that completed the race and have hot dogs and beers provided by D’s. Other sponsors provide interesting perks (Park Pizza and Cream for a slice of pizza, the east-end food co-op for bananas, True Runner that promoted the Hoka Clifton).

Want a banana?

Want a banana?

 

So, is it worth it? Definitively. I am clearly not a short distance guy, averaging 10 miles a day. This is not a race but a reason to meet friends and have some time to have beers and hot dogs in the morning. It engages people that are not used to run to participate in an event that might help them to start (my former roommate that hates running completed it and seems to like it!) and can connect non-runners with more trained people.

The take away? Sometime, you just have to listen to the others, have some fun and forget your daily mileage and take the opportunity to have some good time. And this can also be an opportunity to have a personal record: this year, three fellows Steel City Road Runners placed in their age group! Congratulations to them, my own Personal Record (PR) at this rate has more to do with the max numbers of beers I was able to get before 10am. Way to go!

Pacing adventures @ Eastern States

Volunteers Excited at the start

Volunteers Excited at the start

Thanks to all my Steel City Road Runners for this fantastic week-end in Waterville, PA. Having the honor and the opportunity to pace for a couple of miles in the dark was a unique experience. This reminded me going up and down the 37000 feet of ascent/descent in Corsica while discovering the nature along the GR20. Congratulations to all the participants, this is a though and technical course with narrow and rocky trails. Definitively not designed for all runners.

Pacer up and Ready!

Pacer up and Ready!

Thanks to all for this experience: runners, crew, non-runners, volunteers: this has been a great experience!

Pacing @ Eastern States 100

This week-end, I am heading to Waterville, PA in order to participate with some friends in the inaugural year of the Eastern States 100. This is an ultra-marathon, a 100 miles race that goes along the trails around Grand Canyon, PA (and many others cities in the area). I am planning to rest during this week-end and have a nice jog/hike/run with a fellow Steel City Road Runner that will attempt to finish it. Assuming he survives to the first 60 miles, I will have the pleasure to pace him, meaning that I will do my best to keep him awake, make sure he stays on his feet, eats his veggies peanut-butter sandwiches and is on time to arrive before the end of the race. Any trick is accepted except to carry him to the finish line.

 

Around mile 80 of the race, when I will stop my pacing duties

Around mile 80 of the race, when I will stop my pacing duties

 

This is a big deal, especially considering the elevation profile (see below). The big up/down hills are similar to the 8 first miles of the Laurel Highlands Ultra. I am planning to pace for 18 miles, from mile 60 (around 1200am – midnight) to miles 78 (probably around 0600am). This means staying 6 hours on my feet going mostly up and downhills. Sounds easy; you just have to keep a pace of 20 min per mile. But running the same elevation once some weeks ago pushed me out of my comfort zone and it asked more than two weeks to fully recover.

Elevation Profile for the Eastern 100

Elevation Profile for the Eastern 100

But this run will be a come back to the roots, the trails, the adventure in Corsica on the GR20 I completed some years ago. Exploring the nature during the day or at night. Listening to the nature, seeing things that became unusual in our so-well organized daily life in the city. Pushing your limits, being out of your comfort zone, rediscover yourself and at the finish, sharing our experience and enjoy the company of existing or new friends. Just rediscover simple things, things we are not no longer used to.

It is going to be a fantastic experience.