Introducing EMFTA, a libre, Eclipse-Based Fault-Tree Analysis tool

A Fault-Tree Analysis (or FTA) is a popular safety analysis recommended by several well-known practices and standards, such as ARP4761. A FTA shows the relation between a fault and its potential contributors (error events) using a simple binary logic (and/or gates). This is nothing else than a convenient representation of the relation between error events. In case you are not familiar with the notation, you can have a look at the related wikipedia page, it explains it in more details. When working with collaborators in safety-critical industries during the last months (avionics, automotive, aerospace, medical), I faced the same issue: most of FTA tools are commercial and there is no good open-source/free alternative. This is not completely true, there is one: OpenFTA. If this is pretty cool to have a FTA open-source program but the graphical interface looks like Windows 3.1 and the code is clearly no longer maintained and outdated. OpenFTA also relies on old image processing libraries (jpeg), which makes it very difficult to compile with the last JDK. Last thing: this is a standalone tool and as most of our modeling tools (i.e. OSATE) are running under Eclipse, it would be cool to have an Eclipse-based tool.

So, in fact, there was a real need for a good integrated Fault Analysis Tool. I had a good project to work on then.

Fault Tree Analysis diagram

Fault Tree Analysis diagram

Introducing EMFTA

So, one night, I decided to put my brain at work and design a new FTA tool, EMFTA (which is a joke – EMF stands for Eclipse Modeling Framework). This is an Eclipse-based Fault-Tree Analysis tool that relies on Sirius, a framework to represent EMF models. The nice aspect of Sirius is it allows you to have several representations of an EMF model while maintaining their consistency: if you change one representation, it will then modify the model and the changes will be reflected in the other representations. For example, in EMFTA, there are two representations: the graphical tree (good to see the decomposition of error events – see above) and table (to edit events information – see below). When you change one representation (e.g. the table), it automatically update the graphical representation (e.g. the tree). Synchronizing the same model across different tools/framework can be challenging and Sirius do a good work for that.

Features

In a nutshell, EMFTA is nothing else than a EMF model to represent a Fault-Tree and its different components (gates, events) associated with a Sirius project to provide the graphical representation. Actually, the current version rely on the latest stable version of Sirius. In addition to providing a viewer and editor for Fault-Tree, EMFTA provides the following capabilities:

  • Generation of cutset from the FTA: it creates a CSV reports containing the different cutset of your Fault Tree
  • Generation of FTA model from AADL models annotated with the EMV2 annex: creating the Fault Tree from an architecture model associated with an EMV2 annex. There was already a bridge for OpenFTA, the plugin now supports the export to EMFTA
Fault-Tree Analysis - Table Representation

Fault-Tree Analysis – Table Representation

Installation and Bugreport

As the project is still starting, the documentation is still minimal. But you have general installation instruction on the general github project page here: https://github.com/juli1/emfta. Use also the github project to submit a bug. If you want to contribute to the source code, submit a pull request or even contact me (I promise I won’t bite).

Future

This tool is yet still a prototype but I plan to improve it during the following months. It could be a first step to a real open-source Fault-Tree Analysis tool. Looking forward, I plan to make it more user-friendly but also introduce a simulation tool that would then produce probability of error occurence (e.g. what is the probability of an error occurrence considering the different cutset and associated probabilities). Also, having this technology connected with AADL, we can leverage such a notation for a security perspective and generate an Attack Tree, which would re-use the Fault-Tree notation for to describe the different attack vector that would then contribute to an attack.

Links

The Internet of Things is spying on you

The Internet of Things (IoT), a fancy expression used since decades to talk about inter-connected devices through a network. It has been a fantasy for several years and is finally taking off. We will have connected electronics everywhere. Anywhere, anytime.

Examples are there: the NEST home automation company has been acquired by google, fitbit went public the last days and google has now a full a full product line for wearable: Android wear. For sure, the applications for the masses are limited now (e.g. fitness trackers, watches) but companies are investing a lot to put technology everywhere (your shirt, your pants, anywhere in your home).

When looking at the product description, this is very appealing: keep track of your sleep, discover abnormal heartbeats, monitor your home through connected camera. This sounds very appealing.

But there are some downside: by giving away our private data, we are opening the door to mass surveillance to many other people. Your manager can track you down and know when you left your home. Your insurance can increase your premium based on your activity. You give away your privacy, and gives for free the data that matters only to you. This is not new and car insurer already proposed to adapt your insurance policy according to how you drive.

Most of us already gave away our privacy, that is the basis of who we are. Many e-mails accounts are handled by online services (e.g. gmail, ymail, etc.) but we forget that we are paying it with our privacy and finally are the final product (if you are wondering how I manage my e-mail, short answer is custom hosting and encryption). Millions of people are using social medias to report where they go and what they like. If you are skeptical, look at the accounts of the big players (google, facebook) and try to guess how they can make so much money with a free product. The downside for us is that by putting everything online, we give away who we are. What is the benefit to meet people as we already know everything about them? Who has any interest in meeting somebody if he already know everything about him/her?

I am not a naysayer. Or even not saying that: “it was better before”. Progress is both exciting and dangerous. And as Uncle Ben used to say: “With great power comes great responsibility”. Technology should be a progress and help us to improve what we are, who we are. We have to use it carefully and efficiently. Social media is a great platform to organize meetings and keep in touch with folks we did not see for a while but it becomes intrusive and a waste of time when we report everything we do with it. Wearable technology follows the same rules: it can be a great way to improve our life but can also be very intrusive. As for every technology (even the most basic one – think about a knife), its impact will depend on how you use it. It can be a great benefit (e.g. cut your food for the knife or tracking potential diseases for wearables) or a total disaster (e.g. kill people for the knife or tracking your movements for wearables).

One thing for sure: the future is exciting and these technologies open new applications and new markets. I am very curious to see how people will use it and how these new technologies will grow and integrate with other devices (phone, car, etc.).

In the Search of the Running Mojo – Laurel Highlands 50K 2015 – Race Report

Laurel Highlands was one of the big race of the year. I wanted to do it since more than a year ago but was not fit enough so I waited and trained before taking the challenge. But in 2015, this was the race. This was my race: I was training on the trail every other month and each training taught me how different it is to run on trails than roads. This course is difficult, especially the first 8 miles, where you have several big hills to climb. The typical training (known as Gate to 8) consists in going to mile 8 and come back, offering a total of 16 hilly miles, destroying your quads and glutes. It also has the specificity to work on different aspects: during the winter, you learn how to run downhill on ice, during the summer, you learn how to manage hydration with a humid and hot climate. If you want to train to run on trails, this is definitively a good spot on Pennsylvania and I consider this is probably one of the major contributor to my lately improvements on trails (the first one is living less than half a mile in a hilly park and eat hills for breakfast).

Steam around mile 24

Steam around mile 24

 

I signed up as soon as the registration opened. The race costs around $100, which is reasonable considering it is limited to 100 runners and the cost to operate such a race. Once I signed up, I started to regularly go on the trail, train and be used to the elevation. Sometimes with friends. Sometimes alone. No matter what, I had to improve and know the course. I ran it so many times that I had it in my head and knew where I need to walk or run. I was prepare to be on these trails but I still had to improve my nutrition strategy. The last experiences (Forget the PR and the Pittsburgh marathon) were a total disaster and I adapt my nutrition during the last months. It was then time to see the improvements in a real race environment.

Laurel Highlands Medal

Laurel Highlands Medal

Getting There and Race Strategy

I did not want to stay around before the race – as Ohiopyle is only one hour from Pittsburgh, it was very convenient to drive there in the morning. My girlfriend, her relay buddy and I drove directly and got there just on time for the start (we parked 5 minutes before the start actually – which on one hand can be stressful but on the other hand force you not to worry about anything). Julie and Erica were running the relay (with “Faster than your girlfriend“) and myself, running the whole course. There is no fancy packet, just a bib and a tee-shirt. The start is simple: the race director reminds you some general guidelines and give the start by just say “GO”.

The race strategy was simple: it was supposed to rain and the weather was very hot and humid. I decided to go shirtless (no sweat that stick to your body) and only with a handled bottle (a bagpack would implies chafing on my back). As for nutrition, nothing – I was relying on the aid station (mile 11, 19 and 26). For a 50K, you do not need so much nutrition, hydration being more important, especially in hot and humid conditions. Many folks pack a lot of gels but you do not need them – you can just rely on sport drinks for hydration and electrolyte and if you prepared your race correctly, you should have enough energy in the bank!

The week of the race, I tried to get as much sleep as I could – trying to get at least 8 hours every night. Which was challenging to balance that with work duties but still doable. I did not drink alcohol except a single beer at a party. The night before the race, the meal was very simple: two banana pancakes: one with cheese, another with peanut butter and chocolate. Nothing else, keep the KISS principles: Keep It Simple a Stupid. Finally, I made sure I had at least 6 hours of sleep before the race.

 

Laurel Highlands 50K map

Laurel Highlands 50K map

The Race

When starting, you have to be careful: as the race is mostly on a single track, it is very difficult to pass people. If you plan to finish under 6 or 7 hours, this is better to start in the front of the pack so that you will not be stuck in a pack of slow runners. The race is well marked with yellow signs/marks. The first 6 miles have some hills but nothing really difficult. Mile 6 to 8 requires to climb 1300 feet of elevation, with most of the elevation being between mile 6 and 7. Definitively hard and better to take it as a power hike than a run. I managed to hit the 8 mile marker at 1:35, take a short walk before running to the aid station (mile 11).

When hitting the 11 mile aid station, I was out of water, dehydrated. The aid station, has plenty of appealing food but this is exactly at that point you need to be careful and take what you need and not what you want. I then refill my handled bottle with ice and water, ate watermelon, few M&M’s and get the fuck out of there. I probably stopped at most a minute and quickly get out of there. Next stop will be mile 19, just 8 miles to go.

The next 8 miles were easy. the trails are not technical until mile 16/17. You can actually have a pretty good pace. So I started to pass some runners for the 70 miles race (they started 2 hours before the 50K runners). But I did not realize how much dehydrated I was. After 20 minutes, I was so thirty that I was taking sips every other minutes and was almost out of water again with still 6 miles to go. I needed more water and had nothing left. I then decided to be conservative and include more walk. It was fine until the last mile that includes 400 feet of steep hills. I decided to include a walk break into this last mile and take 3 minutes at the aid station to (1) refill my bottle (2) drink several cups of sport drink with ice to get fluids and electrolytes (3) get some food, basically watermelon that will contribute to keep me hydrated. I just took some M&M’s in a ziploc bag.

I left the aid station in a pretty good shape, ready to hit the last 12 miles. I started with a good pace and included more walk breaks when needed. My target was to quickly hit the 26 miles aid station, the middle of this last leg. The first part of the last leg (mile 19 to 26) is pretty flat and mostly runnable. So I kept going until I saw the aid station. When hitting the aid station, the volunteers proposed bacon, whiskey and other delicious treats. Again, I sticked with the usual strategy (sport drinks + watermelon). And just kept going, pretty confident I will have no issue until the end. At that point, my brain started to be disconnected and the real magic of running kicked in: I had no idea where I was and what I was really doing. But it felt good, awesome. The sensation of flying in the wood, keep running without pain is a fantastic feeling. I just wanted to continue as long as I could.

During the last leg, I started to see the finish coming, and that I was able to run again a 50K without pain. I was flying through the Seven Springs section, which is mostly downhill. Nice sunny area that gives enough energy to push you to the finish. After passing the Seven Springs section, Julie (who was doing the relay) caught me around mile 27/28. I was tired with this running euphoria and she was there and yelled my name. I loved it. This gave me more energy to keep going. It then makes the last two to three miles way more easy. There are a couple of strong hills but after 30 miles, the challenge is more mental than physical. 6 hours and 12 minutes after I started this race, I finally crossed the finish line and finished 19th over 83.

Laurel Highlands Elevation Profile

Laurel Highlands Elevation Profile

 

After finishing, I grabbed pieces of pizza and watched the other finishers while waiting for a friend to finish. Hanging out at the finish line was really nice: many finishers are staying for a while and there is also a lot of familiar faces from the ultra community.

Everything must come to an end

Everything must come to an end

The Take Away

This race is definitively one of the best around the state. Simple, no fancy packet but a lot of fun. Very well organized, the race director and the volunteers make this event very special and fun. The course is challenging and will put you outside of your comfort zone. If you are planning to do it, I highly recommend that you train on the course before signing up to know exactly in what you are going into. Considering the price and the quality of the event, this is a must do on your list if you like the trails.

On a personal note, this race was a necessary step both from a mental and physical perspective. I was in need for a sign that showed me I was done with this course. This race belongs to a past that I wanted to be away from. This is now done and this is time to focus on something else. I was also looking for getting my confidence back, making sure I have enough fuel in the tank to go for more than 50K. The last 50K (Forget the PR 50K) was a disaster and I was looking to improve my racing strategy. It showed that the changes to my training and nutrition (stop alcohol, being vegetarian) are paying off and will continue until the end of the season (October with Tussey Mountain). The next race will be way more challenging and, after the last three months, having a good race experience was necessary and help to be positive about the next events.

Finally, beyond these consideration, this race brought me back to the basics. No matter who you are, where you are from, how you define your running style or what people say: success depends on you. How much efforts you put into it and where your heart is at. As for me, I loved this race: I loved the exhaustion when going up the hills at mile 7, I loved the sensation of being out of gas before hitting the aid station, I loved being challenged by the elevation, I loved seeing my girlfriend catching me up lately. I loved all of it. I lost my love of running months ago found it on these trails. And it is good to feel alive again.

Thanks again to all the organizers and volunteers, congratulations to all finishers and hope to see many of you on the trails sooner or later! Now, this is time to rest for a while and focus on the next big thing.

Information

 

The best open-source alternatives to commercial and proprietary software – desktop edition

What is open-source or libre software?

Software is like food: to build it, you need a recipe and tools. Behind the magic that is happening when using your computer, there is a piece of code written in a specific language that is eventually transformed into a machine language your computer executes. When cooking, a recipe gives you the list of ingredients so that you can see and analyze if the content is appropriate for you. In case you have an allergy, you can choose not to cook it and choose another recipe. If you want to replace an ingredient (for example, because of an allergy) or use a better alternative (using organic ingredient for example), this is completely up to you. But to do that, you need something simple: get the recipe. If you do not have it, there is no way you can know what is inside.

Software is like cooking and the source code is the recipe. If you have the source code, you can rebuild the software or even improve it. You can study it, look at its defects and issues and fix bugs or improve the software. For sure, you need to understand the language, but this is the same issue if you receive a recipe in German when you speak only English.

In the software industry, we distinguish mainly two business model for software: open-source (also called libre- or free – I will not go into the details) and commercial. Open-source software gives you access to the source code while commercial software keeps it secret. In other words, with open-source or libre- software, you can analye if the software is good for you. With commercial software, you do not know what is inside.

How different it is from commercial software?

As a user, from a functional perspective, there is not so much difference. Same when going in a restaurant: you just consumer – you eat what is on the menu, without knowing exactly how it is made or cooked – the magic happens in the kitchen! But sometimes, you will be surprised how dirty and bad is the kitchen and you might better investigate what is happening behind the scenes. Same thing with software: investigating what is really done by the software would be helpful to you and understand what others do with your data.

As stated previously, you need to have the source code with the ability to understand it. But when exposing the source code to a large community of developers is alrady a major step forward: you can (at least) rely on a small expert community that will review part of the code (which is not possible with commercial software). Even if you are not a programmer and does not know any programming language, using open-source/libre software is of primary importance. In fact, there is a massive community of developers that review source code, fix issues and improve such piece of software on a regular basis. The main advantages of using open-source software are:

  • security
  • privacy
  • flexibility
  • stability

On the other hand, it can have some issue:

  • lack of support
  • use by experts only

In fact, using open-source or free software is necessary but not sufficient. This is a best-effort approach: it provides some protection and is (for sure) and better solution than commercial software. But it cannot proves and guarantees that it provides all the necessary protections you might expect. Having a total bulletproof system is not feasible, the best strategy is to try protecting yourself as much as possible.

Libre Software Alternatives

Web Browsing

Firefox is the open-source web-browser you need. Many of its features are totally unknown, such as sync (to sync your preferences and bookmarks over several devices) or the anti-ad extensions. Firefox has done a fantastic job to reboot the web and make it more often. They are also pretty good at innovating and introducing new features (such as WebGL).

The browser is available on almost all platforms (Windows, Linux, Mac OS, Android, iOS, etc.) so you can think your profile between many devices and also support a good organization that do its best to protect your privacy.

But … why not chrome or IE?

Chrome is a product from a company making money by selling ads (google). Do you seriously think their business is to make a product that protect your privacy? Internet Explorer (as Chrome) source code is not available so that none of these products can guarantee they will protect your privacy. As firefox is mostly as good as other browsers in terms of performance, stick with the one that is cross-platforms and protect your privacy.

E-mail

Thunderbird is Mozilla’s (editor of Firefox) brother (ah ah ah) for e-mail. It supports many features and can get e-mails from POP or IMAP servers. It is also privacy-savvy and can be used with encryption support. If you are looking for a good e-mail client, go for it!

But … why not gmail?

gmail is free and easy to use, so, why not using it, right? Well, gmail does not protect your privacy, either to spy on you or to propose you new ads. No matter the reason, I do not want anybody to read my e-mails. Some argue that it does not matter because if you send an e-mail to somebody, this guy has probably a gmail account so that they can already process your data. To this argument, I would oppose the following reasons:

  1. This argument is as saying you are not becoming vegetarian because people will not kill animals and produce meat. If you stop using gmail and encourage people to do so, spying activities will then be more difficult
  2. You can use gmail as a POP3 account and still use encryption. Sure, the service can still process the metadata (headers) but not the content, which is already a big step forward.

No matter what, keep your own shit, protect your data, your privacy and avoid gmail at all cost. Period.

What e-mail provider?

Having a good e-mail client is not sufficient, you also need to protect your data to be processed and analyzed by your e-mail provider. This is known that traditional service providers analyze your messages, even if this is only to show you accurate ads. Regardless the reason, they open your messages to analyze it. Actually, there are few e-mail providers that are privacy-savyy. While you pay traditional services by sharing your privacy, these one must be paid with real money. For about $50 a year, you can then have a good e-mail services that will also protect your privacy. Some names? startmail, runbox, etc. You can find a list of good services online. Instead of paying by giving away your privacy, you just give real money. Yes, everything comes at a price.

Text Editing

Yes, people still edit text files. It might sound weird but in fact, text files are probably the most efficient way to takes notes easily. Using the markdown format, it can be more than enough in most cases. Anyway, if you are running on Windows, I would recommend Notepad++, a pretty efficient tool to edit text released under the GPL. If you are running Linux, use vim (gasp) but if you are looking for a user-friendly soft, just use kate or gedit. And finally, if you are running Mac OS, just change your OS.

Chat

Chat is a difficult choice because what matters is not only the software you are using but mostly the protocol you are using. For example, you can use an open-source software for chatting online with your friends on MSN/gtalk but it will still use the gmail infrastructure to transport your messages. Yes, you are not using a proprietary piece of software on your machine but you are still relying on a massive infrastructure that will analyze and process your data.

So, you can use whatever you want but I would recommend not to use any specific chat program but rather stick to e-mail. If you are really looking to discuss with your friends, I guess that the best efficient way to do it would be to use IRC. On the other hand, many folks do not want to use IRC and rather use any crappy webservice. As Churchill said:  “The best argument against democracy is a 5 minutes conversation with the average voter”.

Productivity

By “productivity” we means software to “produce” something. Using youtube or facebook is not being productive. One of the best software is just OpenOffice.org (or its brother LibreOffice.org). Yes, this is not beautiful but who cares? It works just well and offers almost the same interface from one version to another.

Sure, it does not have all the fancy extensions from Word. But who cares? For 99.999% of users, it does not matter at all. And each version of Microsoft Office tools has a different layout so that you end up by being totally lost from one version to another. In addition, formats between versions are not so compatible (the layout can be different) so you end up by exporting in PDF …

Sure, LibreOffice/OpenOffice might not be as fancy as Word. But it offers a simple interface that works. And that is all what we are asking when we want to be … productive!

Pictures

Basically, the number one software used to work on picture is Photoshop. But obviously, who knows how to seriously use all of its features? The soft is really complicated to use and, in addition, is really expensive! If you are looking for a cheap (free!) and open-source alternative, just use the gimp. Simple, efficient, you cannot be wrong with it. It runs on all platforms and is pretty stable.

Instead, just use The Gimp. This is sufficient for most of us – and may already have more features than you expect. The Gimp is available for free on several platforms under an open source license. No reason for not using it.

What about the other applications?

This list is just a start. But when looking for a software, try to find an open-source alternative. Not something that is free just as free of charge but free as in freedom. Check the license (GPL, BSD, etc) and make sure the software license is an open-source one. As of today, there are many open-source licenses and a lot of good open-source (or libre) software.

Also, for sure, you are probably using Windows or Mac OS, which are the two main proprietary/non open-source Operating Systems on the market (this can be discussed for Mac OS ). One big step would be to step away from Windows and use a libre alternative (such as Ubuntu for example). That would be more difficult and require more efforts – you will then need to learn again the basics of using your computer.

Five Rules to Reach your Goals

To reach your goal, just follow the road - simple but hard

To reach your goal, just follow the road – simple but hard

Last months have been the opportunity to take the time to step back and try to have an objective point of view on how things are going. Being critical with our inner self is hard: you are judge and party, torn between these two conflicting roles. But this helps you to move forward: we are all wondering if we are doing the right choices and what would have happened if we have done something different. What if we had listened to our parents, continue to study and got this diploma degree instead of getting a shitty job just after high school? What if I finally take this job oversea and left all what I built so far? And what would be my life if I had the gut to make the first move with this girl I always loved? One day or another, such questions come into our mind.

Less than 10 years ago, when I was 25, I realized my life will come to an end one day and then, defined what I really want to achieve. What and how I wanted to be. At that time, my life did not look like it is today – it was the total opposite of what I am today. This was time for change. Today, several of these goals have been met and some are still pending. Among them, one of them was moving and working in the USA. Another one was to develop the capability to explore, visit different countries, meet people and discover new cultures. This goal requires to be able to travel but also fulfill my own needs. Another one was to adopt a healthier and sustainable lifestyle.

For sure, I have not met all my goals but after a few years, I met most of them. Also, as years will pass by, new ideas and challenges will come. I do not know what the future is made of but so far, during this journey, few rules helped me to reach these goals. I wanted to share them, I thought it could be useful. This list is the one that worked for me and there is no proof it would work for you as well.

  1. Know your friends: A friend is somebody that will be there for you no matter what. Keep in mind that you do not know who are your friends until you have a really bad time. Everybody will be there during the party – very fews (and maybe nobody) will be there when you will be a mess. Think about who actually knows and cares about you? Probably not so much. Know your friends but do not blame others that claim to be your friends: if they lie to you, this is their business, not yours. They might be fun, good acquaintance to hang out for a night. But you cannot trust them.
  2. Believe in yourself, not others: We often try to take others responsible for our own failures. When doing this, we are just escaping reality and being irresponsible. Take back your life, your responsibility. Believe in and trust yourself. Take responsibility when you fail and pride when you succeed. Embrace the failure: success comes after a number of bad experiences that finally help you to become better and eventually reach your goal.
  3. Spread the love: do not waste your time and energy on blaming people and create negative energy. For any reason, if somebody was mean or unfair with you, this is their problem, not yours. They might have an issue, had a bad day or just think you are an idiot: the list of reasons to hate somebody is endless. Again, this is not your business,  do not focus on blaming others, invest your time with people you love, motivate and elevate you. Your time on this planet is limited, you cannot afford to waste your time with such people. Which will let me introduce to the last point
  4. Invest your resources strategically: whatever it is – money, time, energy – invest wisely. Avoid wasting resources and try to spend it efficiently. Read (a lot), study, learn from people that inspired you or have successfully reach similar goals as yours. Your resources are limited, so, avoid useless spending and invest wisely. For example, stop wasting your evening browsing on facebook when you can read a book and learn new skills or cultures. Avoid buying a ton of stuff you’ll end up to throw it in the garbage when you’ll move in a few months: you will waste (1) money on it (2) time to throw it in the garbage and (3) resources that were used to produce it. Think twice about your impact before investing anything.
  5. Embrace change: no matter who you are and where you are from, change (good or bad) will happen. There is nothing you can do about it. And this is pointless to even try to revert it. You might lose your job tomorrow, your wife might ask for divorce or you can learn that one beloved family member suddenly died. Change can be hard to accept and can destroy your life. You can deny it for years and waste your time blaming whoever or whatever you take responsible for your lack of luck. But instead of fighting change, embrace it. Take it as an opportunity to have another point of view and change your own life.

Achieving your goals is not about being smart. It is about the ability of keeping up, even when people try to divert from them. Some people might claim they are your friends but they will disappear as soon you experience a hard time. Investors can tell you to put all your money in some stocks but you have to invest them wisely and stick to the fundamentals of the stock market. Some people might hate and disturb you, trying to divert you from your objective, you have to ignore them and keep your objectives in mind. As a runner, I often think that achieving goals is like a race: it is simple (you just have to move forward) but hard (long distance, elevation, etc). But this is definitively not about having a special ability or skill, just the capability to keep your objective in mind. I wish everybody to be happy and get whatever they expect from their life. If this list can help at least one person, then, the time required to write this post was definitively well invested.

Pittsburgh Marathon 2015

The Pittsburgh Marathon is like a party in the local running community: everybody trained hard, is happy to be around their friends and have a good time. There is a lot of excitement and every year, new people start to train and complete their first marathon. For some, it will be also the last one but for others, this is the start of a longer journey. If you are a happy member of the Steel City Road Runners,you have access to facilities before (bathroom area, breakfast) and after (tent with post-race food) the race. I ran it last year, had a blast and, so, was planning to do it again.

I took the race as a nice training run around the city. A 20+ miles run every month to maintain the fitness level: even if you run every day, it is mostly short runs. This is why it is important to take the opportunity of long workouts. As I got a free bib for the race, I thought it was a good idea to take it easy and just enjoy the race.

Packet Pickup, expo and preparation

The packet pickup and expo is located in downtown in the convention center. The expo is huge with vendors all around and you can spend a lot of time around. The packet contains a marathon week-end guide, a calendar, some food and … your bib. I did not hang out so much at the expo – just wanted to get my packet and go on.

I was busy the week-end working on many projects. So, instead of resting on Saturday, I woke up at 0530am, work, go back and forth to Lowe’s. Instead going of sleeping early, I went to a party to hang out with friends, eating party food and drinking beers until 10pm. Then, it was time to get some rest for 4 hours before waking up and trying to be in corral B.

Race Day

A friend of mine gave me a ride in the morning, which is good since I was barely awake at that time. I did not remember where was the Steel City Road Runners starting area and tried to find it 15 minutes before the startt. This was quite challenging because all the downtown area was crowded. I finally found the area, dropped my bag and go to corral B. Staying in the corral is just painful and boring, that is why I stayed in the back of the corral, walking back and forth, not talking to anybody. This was totally fine: at that time, I just wanted to go, run and not chat to anybody. Just. Be. Alone.

The Race

The race starts at 0700am. The course go over many neighborhood: Strip District, North Side, West End, South Side, Oakland/Shadyside, Homewood, Highland Park and Bloomfield. The support from the local neighborhoods is great and the presence of music bands is more than appreciated. The worst neighborhood is  Oakland (nobody is there) and the most active is definitively Homewood with people singing and dancing on Michael Jackson and other funk/soul artists. Homewood literally shows you what community means. There is a general idea that this part of the city is a poor, unsafe area and it is common to see people scared to run there. For these people, you should go to Homewood, put your butt out of here and just see the support and the joy from the residents. You do not have such an experience in other neighborhood, especially not in what is “considered as the wealthy and secure ones”. Yes, Shadyside is boring (only Walnut Street is active), Point Breeze is just ok. Homewood is a blast. Without Homewood, the marathon would not be the same. Another active area is Bloomfield, there are beers stop and parties over the course. If you just want to have fun, this sounds like a great way to get some fun on the course.

When talking about Pittsburgh, many runners are concerned about the elevation profile with the common belief that Pittsburgh is a hilly city. In fact, this is not hilly at all: there is a single hill (about 150 ft) around mile 12 but is clearly not a big deal. Many other marathons have similar hills. If you are considering to run Pittsburgh, this is definitively not what should turn you off. The week after the marathon, I have talked with many other folks that told me the “big hill” was almost nothing compared to other races (look at Baltimore for example)

 

Marathon Map

Marathon Map

 

I was planning to run it under 3.5 hours and so, as I started in the back of the corral, had to pass a lot of runners. After a few miles, everything was ok and I was on a good pace (about 08 min/mile). I continued but, with a poor pre-race nutrition strategy, I did not feel thirsty until mile 18. Everything was ok then and did not take any gel, water, gatorade or other fluid. However, it was really warm and I then started to think it would be a good idea to start drinking. Unfortunately, my body did was not able to hold anything, which makes hard to maintain the pace. The pain was growing over the miles and even if people told me I looked strong, I was just going through a lot of pain, trying to make it under the 3.5 hours goal.

Unfortunately, it did not happened and completed the race under 3:32, about 2 minutes over the goal. Pretty happy with it, especially considering the conditions (really warm) and the poor preparation (4 to 5 hours of sleep every night since two weeks, bad nutrition strategy).

Post-Race

Once you finished, you get your finisher medal and there is food and water. The post-race party takes place in Point State Park where you can hang out with your friends and buy more food if you need to. For the Steel City Road Runners members, there is a tent with a full food buffet where you can also hang out with your fellow runners and congratulate each other. When arriving to the tent, I was dehydrated and not able to hold anything in my body. I tried to get some food but it made me more sick. When sitting, I got the feeling I was about to pass out. This was a good race, it was just time to rest. Fortunately, my partner in crime picked me up, took care of myself and was ready to celebrate this new personal best few hours later at Brew Gentlemen!

 

Elevation Profile

Elevation Profile

 

During the next days, the excitement around the race spread across the running clubs in Pittsburgh: race reports, photos, story about bad or great race, everybody starts to tell the story about the race they was hoping for, the one they would have run and the one that they actually run. There is also the usual marathonofoto rip off that offers to download your pictures for about $70 – who seriously pay such a price for race pictures? I still do not understand how they can make business. On the side, other (unofficial) photographers take pictures and share them on social media. The quality of their work is often better than what is offered by the official pictures – so, in case you want to get some pictures of you or your friends, you might want to just spend some time and research the person you want.

Let’s do it?

The Pittsburgh marathon is the best road race I have done so far: the support of the communities around is amazing and the course is challenging without being too difficult. The weather, even if it was slightly warm, is great for a marathon. The overall organization of the race is well done and whether you are a Pittsburgh or not, this is a great opportunity to discover the city. The Marathon office do a really great job and makes this event a premier running event. This is also why Pittsburgh was selected as one of the best nine marathon in the USA for 2014.

If you are not from Pittsburgh, I would advise to be careful about the weather. In May, the weather can be totally unpredictable: it can be very cold or give you a hard time with heat. During this 2015 edition, because of the weather, more people than usual were brought to the hospital and one 25 years old guy did a cardiac arrest and was still at the hospital few days after the race. Conditions is this event are unknown but as for all running events, consider adequate hydration and nutrition. Fortunately, the medical support over the course is very good and if you experience any problem, the staff will take care of you.

If you are also looking to do a PR, the pace team can help you to reach your goal. There are many pace team for the marathon and half-marathon for many different finishing times. While some folks like to run their own race, other like to have a reference and follow a pacer, especially when they worry about the elevation profile.

Highlights

  • Awesome course, reasonable elevation (if you are not convinced, look at the other marathon)
  • Pace team
  • Homewood, heck, YEAH!
  • The support (regular aid station, medical staff on duty)
  • The overall organization (everything goes smoothly and is well organized)
  • The medal!

Special Thanks

Thanks to all the Steel City Road Runners members and friends for their support and encouragement over the course. It has been very helpful and helped me to make it to the finish line. With an increased work load and other personal projects, I was less involved in the club during the last few weeks, but people was still there to help me, which is more than appreciated when you start to have a hard time. Last one, thank to my partner in crime for picking me up after the finish: I was sick, miserable, was barely able to walk – having somebody to take care of you makes a lot of difference.

Informations

Does cheating matter?

4735139910_fat_unicorn_xlargeThrough the last weeks/months, several stories about runners cheating to get into Boston have been reported. For people who are not runners, let me give you some background information. For many runners, running the Boston marathon is a dream, an achievement by itself. To get in, you have to qualify and run a marathon under a certain time according to your gender (male, female) and your age. If you do not qualify, you can still run the Boston marathon for a charity: in that case, you will have to raise money (about $5000). But if you do so, many will not consider yourself as a real Boston runner and I used to see that people that run for charity have less consideration. As running is getting more popular during the last years, more people want to get in and the qualification standards are now more challenging. For example, my qualifying time is around 3:05 while my fastest marathon is 3:31. Yes, I am clearly not fast and not a very good runner but it shows that it requires a real training and commitment to do it.

One way to get in without putting the efforts it to cheat about your finish time. Which is pretty easy: you can take a shortcut, drive to the finish line, give your bib to somebody else and ask to run for you: possibilities are almost endless. It seems also that there are no strict rule and regulation to control runners before (i.e. checking ID) and during the race (i.e. make sure they follow all the course). For sure, there are many ways to spot cheaters (check ID on race day, take pictures of or records runners over the course, put several timing mats at strategic spots) but many qualifying races do not use them, probably because they do not have the resources to do so.

Over the past few weeks, several stories have discussed the fact that runners cheat to qualify for Boston (see here, here or even  here). While there is suddenly a growing interest for the cheaters, it seems that this is something in the air since a long time (as reported by this story) and people started cheating since a long time. When these stories hit the news and are published in social media, many of us start to comments the stories as a hyena rush on a dead animal. There is no room for discussion and trying to understand why people did this.

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For sure, cheating is not ok: it impacts and hurts others (if you qualify for Boston by cheating, you might take a spot of somebody that is training hard since years) but also disrespect the sport itself. For that reason, cheating should be sanctioned (disqualification, banned from a race, etc.). This is not a question about it.

But let’s step back and try to understand the reason: why people are cheating? what are the motivation? do they really deserved to be blamed like this? Look at yourself: who never cheated or hurt somebody else? Everyone of us probably hurt or harmed somebody way more than somebody cheating for Boston (and if not, you might change your mind about what a Boston Qualification means). At any point of your life, there is a high probability that the idea of cheating crossed your mind. Who never think about trying to win a prize for free, do not pay something or get a better grade in class? Who never thought about taking a shortcut and get the benefits of something without having to work hard? Does that legitimate cheating? Definitively not. But can it help us to understand why people are doing it? Definitively. We are human and by nature, imperfect. We do stupid things that we will eventually regret. And this is also how we make progress and become better.

There is no need to insist on blaming or reporting people that cheated. It deserves the sport (we have probably better to talk about …) but also hurt somebody that already compromised himself (this person might do not feel good about it whatsoever). Other than focusing on such stories, why not focusing on inspirational stories and engaging more people to join? No need to blame: the running community will naturally remember that and will stop to trust them for a while. This will then be up to him to come back and learn his lessons. The harm he does to the community is small (e.g. qualifying for Boston) but the consequence for him are definitively bigger (loss of trust and integrity).

Inflatable-Unicorn-Horn-for-Cats

How to avoid such issues? Simply by adding more constraints. A Boston qualifier race would then require to have photographer on duty on the course for each runner (or just record the course at some strategic point), use several timing mat and accept only finishers that passed all mats, etc. This will then add more logistics, reduce the number of qualifying races and also increase the registration price. Not so sure such solutions would please everyone. This is then a trade-off: accepting that some people can take advantage of poor restrictions on qualifying races and keep the races cheap or adding more restriction and see the registration price goes up.

At the end does it really matter? We are not competitive, we are not getting money, we are not competing for the Olympics and running is (for most of us) not our job and something we enjoy. Going for a race, meeting our objectives is rewarding for ourselves: each of us has his own reason for running (either for losing weight, getting away from a stressful life or fighting an addiction). We like going outside of our comfort zone because it feels good, because we are not used to it and because we want it. But there is no benefit of cheating rather than deceiving ourselves: if you cheat intentionally (either by cutting through the race, getting any drugs, etc), your inner self knows you do not earn the associated reward, that all of this is fake and you do not deserve anything else than working harder and trying again. This is your business: if you can deal with it, and consider you still have a morale and your integrity is intact, good for you. But one day or another, reality will catch up.It will then be up to you to prove your performance or just to withdraw what you claimed. Real results and achievements comes with consistent hard work and efforts. Slow and steady.

 

 

Want to be fast? Just cut the fat off your ass

beniceThere are plenty of articles about how to get fast. Do intervals, fartlek workout, go on the track. These are all the solutions promoted by usual training programs. If you are a trail dude and just enjoy running in the nature, these activities might sound very boring and makes you feel like a hamster on a wheel. This is my case: I run to explore, to connect with the nature, the community and I cannot to stay isolated in the same space for hours. I also do that during my job and I need to get some air and see something nice, not a boring track where I do loops.

Some months ago, a fellow runner gave me an advice: if you want to get fast, just cut the fat off your butt. You can check if this is legit easily: first, run with a 10 pounds bagpack and pace yourself. Then, remove the bagpack, run the same route and pace yourself again. See the difference. Are you running faster without the bagpack? If yes, you might just consider to get some fat off your body.

I had the opportunity to test these principles during the last weeks. One month ago, I started to follow a better diet. In a nutshell: reduction of alcohol, strict vegetarian diet and no more diet coke (just water). Within a month, I lost 10 pounds and cut my usual pace from 0830 min/mile to 0800min/mile. No specific training: the same route, time, shoes and gears. During my last marathon, I ran a 0804 min/mile pace while being sick. The pace has been consistent as well all over the race.

On another note, these changes impact my life in many other ways: better sleep (less caffeine), less digestion issues when running and more energy overall. For sure, there are many ways to get faster but in case you also consider trails as boring, you might consider such an approach: convenient, no specific effort is required, it is pretty easy and there is obviously no reason why it would not work (please try to run with 10 pounds on your back before arguing). The downside is not to lose too much, which will then impact your performance or even your ability to run. But as usual, this is a matter of balance: adopt good diet, stay healthy to do what you love.

Honte

Depuis quelques jours voire semaines, j’ai honte d’etre francais. Non pas que je sois un amoureux et defenseur du pays du fromage et du bon pinard, mais il me semblait jusqu’a present que la nation d’ou je viens reposait sur des valeurs et des principes fondateurs. Pas besoin de longs discours philosophiques mais il semblait jusqu’a present que les libertes individuelles et la protection de la vie privee faisaient parti de ces concepts importants.

Les recentes lois liberticides qui sont passees font simplement honte a notre pays. Certes, ce n’est pas la premiere fois que de telles lois passent (rappelons-nous DADVSI et le cirque que cela avait genere a l’Assemblee – j’etais dans les locaux a l’epoque) et cette fois-ci, c’est au tour de l’opposition de porter atteinte a votre vie privee. Certes, dans le fond, ceci n’est guere surprenant. Mais en etre conscient et voir un tel projet se realiser est different et au final, ne laisse que peu d’espoir quant la protection de nos libertes. La tendance est a imposer, dicter a autrui ce qu’il doit faire. Fini l’originalite, les idees qui vont au dela des frontieres definies par la police de la pensee.

Cela devient meme pire: les personnes qui sont legitimement elues transforment les droits en devoirs et si vous aviez hier la liberte de voter pour les personnes qui vous dirigent, certains pensent a vous imposer un choix. Encore quelques annees et demain, nous serons proche des ideologies des dictatures que nous avons critique jusqu’a present.

J’ai beau ne pas vouloir revenir sur les terres gauloises, mais voir le pays ou j’ai grandi etre ainsi transforme dans une quasi indifference generale me fait honte. Depuis quelques jours, j’ai juste honte d’etre francais.

Pre-Race Nutrition Matters: Forget the PR – Mohican 50K Race Report

Why did I signed up for this race again? This was supposed to be a fun week-end: my birthday was the day after the race and at that time of the year, the weather is usually better than ever. So, why not going outside and explore the nature rather than going in a bar and drink for hours? Forget the PR 50K is known to be challenging, with a lot of hills and some root climbing. But it is also known to be a lot of fun and the event is sold out within a few days. So, it was the perfect activity for this special week end. After long hesitation (of about 3 seconds), I signed up. I was ready to hit the trails again.

On another note, this race was my first trail race after being injured. Sure, I was able to run a marathon a month ago but it was totally flat. Going for an ultra is a completely different story and mindset. On top of that, the last weeks have been very though, either physically or mentally. It will be interesting to see how it impacts the overall race experience.

 

Gasp, it's high!

Gasp, it’s high!

Pre Race

I booked a room at the Blackfork Inn Bed & Breakfast. This is a local and lovely business, it sounds like a nice place to stay before the race. I arrived on Friday afternoon, just the time to rest, go to the pre-race pasta party/dinner and be ready. Even if I do not believe in carb-loading, going to the pasta-party for the race is a nice way to meet other runners and honestly, some have fantastic stories (special thoughts for the girl that ran 60+ miles and ended up by using a Bobcat to find her car during the night, I am sure she will recognize herself!).

I did not plan or prepare the race in terms of nutrition. As life was unpredictable since a month, my nutrition plan was totally driven by food cravings. One day, I could eat almost nothing (one peanut butter sandwich) and eating a full 5-cheese pizza pie the next day. And yes, of course, I ran after eating the pizza because “Dude, you have to be used to that”. On top of that, because of many commitments, I was not able to get more than 5 hours of sleep the week before the race – which is probably the most important aspect. So, to overcome the lack of sleep, this was time to sleep early and go to bed at 8pm to make sure I can get some sleep before race day. Better than nothing.

It turned out that the folks at the Blackfork Inn are fabulous hosts, friendly and give a good service. While I initially planned to request a bagel with peanut butter, the owner told me he will wake up at 5am and make me pancakes with eggs because “you’ll need energy to run on the trails”. The full breakfast, the one that will make you miserable half-way and makes you puke. While I have many doubts about the specific pre-race nutrition knowledge of my host, it is hard to refuse such an invitation. So, I decided to be adventurous and try the full breakfast service before the race. A full stack (3) of pancakes, eggs and of course everything topped with syrup and peanut butter. Such a pre-race meal ensures that sugar will flow into your veins as chemical flows into the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh. Lovely. After this breakfast, I was ready to sleep go and head to the bathroom packet pick up.

When getting in the car, I just have one though in mind: this race is going to be interesting but probably not so fun.

 

Forget the PR 50K - 2015 edition map

Forget the PR 50K – 2015 edition map

 

Race

The race starts at 0730am. For this 2015 edition, the weather was terrific: slightly cold at the start and getting warmer during the day. You cannot expect better conditions. Before starting, the race director gave some indications about course changes. Basically, as it rained a lot the days before the race, the course has been changed for safety reasons. Instead of doing the usual course, we were expected to make more or less two loops of the course (except the dam loop – we did it once). As I am not half-stupid (and rather totally stupid), I missed all the information about the changes. I did not know exactly what flags to look for but I knew that I would eventually make it to the finish.

The race is about 31 miles with more than 5000 feet of elevation (5631 to be precise). The map and the elevation profile of this 2015 are shown below. If you are looking for complete information about this route, you can find the mapmyrun map and data here.

Elevation Profile

Elevation Profile

 

Video by Travis Lloyd – good overview of the race

The race starts with some hills and then continues on “big has hill”. At that time (about 3 miles), the pancakes (or the peanut butter, who knows) decided to remind me how delicious my breakfast was. An unexpected internal war between my brain, my stomach and the willingness to throw up starts in the middle of the hill. Going on this steep hill, my heart rate increased significantly. I felt I was about to faint, stop, walk on the side and eventually continue to the top. Great. I did not remember how I made it to the top. But I made it, and this is what matters.

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During the Dam loop – Picture from Nick Longworth

These hills are quite challenging but once you pass them, the elevation is reasonable. On the other hand, the route is technical: lot of roots and rocks.After a while, you hit the first aid-station. I was not very hungry but knew that I needed to take something. There was something I never tried called energy bites (recipe below) and it sounds delicious. So, as I did not put enough crap in my GI system, I tried it right away: we are here for an adventure, right? So, let’s make it interesting. At that time, we were 6 miles in the race. And I started to experience nausea and wanted to puke. I was having a good time.

There is no very steep climb (as in Eastern States 100 for example), but this is definitively more challenging than a road race. When you get to the Dam Loop, you start to explore an area with a lot of roots. At some point, you cannot even run or walk and just have to climb the roots. Very fun and cool, this part was definitively a lot of fun. In addition, there is a lot (a ton) of mud and you will have to run in water streams (which will then clean your shoes).

Once we completed the first loop, you come back to the start and, you start to see the light: there are bathroom available. At that time, I logged 20 miles, had just 10 more to go so. It was then appropriate to take some time to evaluate the damages. For sure, after 5 minutes, I had nausea, headaches and wanted to throw up. But there was no way I was about to give up with just 10 miles to go. No. Way.

Some root climbing  - Photo by Samantha Goresh

Some root climbing – Photo by Samantha Goresh

So, I started the second loop and climb the big ass hill again. This second time went very well, better than expected. But after, I wanted to throw up again. When I got to the aid-station, there was the energy bites again and so, had to honor this delicious treat and take another one. This of course triggers the nausea symptoms again, which finally helps me decide on a policy of “nothing into your mouth until the finish”. Everything I put in my mouth – water, food, whatever – gave nausea, headaches, was very painful and I just wanted to puke. This lead me to be very dehydrated quickly because I stop drinking water even before (at mile 20 or so).

I finally completed the last 6 miles at a steady pace and made it to the finish line in 6:43:19. At that point, thanks to all the crap I had before (breakfast topped with syrup and peanut butter) and during (energy bites) the race, I still had fuel in the tank to go ahead and continue for a lot of miles – doing 50 miles did not seem so challenging at the finish. Not sure my stomach will agree on that but I did not really felt tired at all. I tried to go for a run the next day to see how I feel and was able to run about 6 miles at 0830 min/mile pace without any pain. Looks like I will be ready for the coming Burning River 50 milers in July then.

Post Race Party

Once you cross the finish line, you got a medal and you have an area to rest. Food is also provided for runners and is vegetarian compliant (simple – but much appreciated after a race – chili). More important than anything else, especially for this race: there are showers available with hot water. Considering the course and the mud on the course, this is more than appreciated.

Also, there is a beer tasting The environment is very friendly and people are cheering when you cross the finish line.

Let’s do it?

If you like trails and are looking for a great race, heck yeah, do it! The race is only $70 which is really reasonable for such a race. Considering the markings, the support, having portable toilets on a trail race and that the aid station are well-stocked, this is definitively worth it. The race director puts a very nice event, which is challenging, fun and beautiful.

fprmedal

The Take Away

What did I learn during this race? That your experience during race day depends on your preparation. While I got the physical preparation (training, log enough miles, etc.), I did not plan ahead as I should have done. The rules to finish a race without issue are very simple and basic:

  1. Get your miles in – no matter what and get a long run few weeks before. This part was ok – I got an average of 70 miles per week and completed a marathon.
  2. Eat carefully before the race and do not overload your system – my diet was a roller coaster driven by pizza cravings and gallons of diet soda. Definitively a mistake.
  3. Get enough sleep all the week before the race – it was a miserable failure as well – I got an average of 5 hours of sleep during the last weeks before the race – probably the biggest mistake
  4. Stick to what works for you and do not be distracted – by taking food I am not used to (pasta, pancakes) in big quantities, I did something my body is not used to. Just stick to what works.

While these rules are simple and basic, being consistent on the long run can be challenging, especially if the pre-race preparation if not your main focus. But there is no snake-oil and success will mostly rely on your consistency at following these rules. As you work, relations or many other activities: the basics are simple – applying them for hours/weeks/years it what makes it particularly difficult. Also, be careful: these rules are necessary but will not guarantee anything. It just reduces the likelihood of having a bad day.

To the infinite and beyond

To the infinite and beyond

Information

Energy Bites Recipe (Fire Tower Aid Station)

  • 1 cup oatmeal
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup ground flaxseed
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup of chocolate chips. You can also use raisins, chia seeds, dried cranberries or m&ms
  • Mix together & roll into balls. They are easier to eat if you refrigerate!!