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!!

Disabling Win + hotkeys

If you are a Linux dude, using Windows only in a virtualbox environment (using Windows is like going to crowded events: even you do not like it but sometimes, you have to do it), and have all your window manager shortcut defined with the win key, you might be totally pissed by the windows shortcuts. Sure, shortcuts are convenient but when using two different operating systems, it can be confusing. One example is when you are using the WIN key to switch desktop in your window manager and then, virtualbox will grab the focus so that instead of switching desktop, it starts whatever application associated with the shortcut. Very frustrating. Because of that, instead of switching my environment to desktop 1 (which has basically my main terminal with several tabs), the windows instance running in virtualbox opens internet explorer on msn.com with a very shitty headline (the same kind of articles you can read on people.com).

So, today was the day, it was time to put this to an end. After some hours searching how to disable the WIN+ keys shortcuts, I found the magic solution that basically use voodoo spells windows registry edition.

In a nutshell:

  1. open your registry
  2. follow the key HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\Explorer
  3. create a new DWORD NoWinKeys and set its value to 1
  4. restart and voila!

Hopefully, if you are in the happy fews running windows in virtualbox and have most of your window manager shortcuts associated with the win+ key, this might save your time, your mental health and avoid reading junk articles on msn.com. You’re welcome.

Running Addiction

“Running is healthy”, “Going for a race? Good for you!”, “You are such an inspiration”

Bullshit: considering how lazy our society became over time, being inspiring is not too difficult. Of course, exercising and especially running will make you a healthier person: there is strong scientific evidence that regular exercise prevents diseases and improves your overall well-being. Being active a couple of hours per week improves your health, there is no doubt about it. But running can also be an addiction and an obsession: day after day, you are looking to get your shot every day. You want to get high.

Fitness-In-America1This is underestimated in our society, probably because of its rarity: not so many people are addicted by physical activity. This is the exception, not the norm. The mass is rather focused on passive (and often indoor) activities that requires minimal effort so that fitness addiction is very unlikely and less probable than other usual drugs (like alcohol or tobacco). And as its benefits are valued everywhere, people are less likely to think that it can be dangerous. Consider this: between a guy that smokes 2 packs a day and another that is running a marathon every morning, few people will consider the second guy as an addict and even less will say this is an issue. But the fact is: both have an addiction that impacts their life.

There is also some science behind it and not getting your daily workout can lead to arguments and disagreements with your friends, partner or colleague. Missing a run can then change your mood and makes your grumpy for the next hours. But other than you, nobody cares if you run or not today but people remember that you was an ass for a few days. Day after day, you become more isolated and running becomes the only activity you want to pursue to get away from your life. Instead of running to enjoy your life, you run to get away from it. Pretty sad.

There are multiple contributors to this addiction: as the brain delivers endorphins, you feel good after your workout, you are valued in your community as being the crazy-healthy-runner, you seem so “special” or “inspiring” and also, you look (from a physical perspective) better than the average Joe in his couch. For these reasons, you continue without really paying attention at the effects.

exerciseThere are not so much a difference between this addiction and others. The fear of missing out is real and can impact your social life without a doubt. You can’t stop thinking you will loose your fitness level or be the fatty guy again if you stop exercising (the take away: is total bullshit – and would rather help you to recover and be faster). For these reasons, you keep going at all cost: you need your fix, have a run and get high. Or just go for a simple workout, whatever you can get. If some folks are getting their fix at the corner of the street and give away all their money for a few grams of weed, others get their fix on the trails and give my money to race directors, runningwarehouse and other local running stores. Both are just unhealthy and counter-productive: by balancing your activities, your overall mental and physical well-being will improve and each aspect will benefits from taking rest.

I started to realize that until recently when I was injured and clearly not able to train for obvious physical reasons (e.g. I was even not able to stand and getting out of the bed required to be pushed – I was unable to even move). At that point, you realize how obsessed you are then and how destructive this addiction could be, from both a physical and mental perspectives. Having no solution than laying on the bed force you to realize that missing a few runs is no big deal. It will let my body and mind recover from weeks of uninterrupted training. And this is by managing food, exercise and balance your life that you can become faster and stronger. Realizing you are addicted can be hard, especially when you are so focused on a particular objective (race, losing weight, increase weekly mileage, etc.).

Keeping a balance between running, work, social life and other interests is challenging. But this is what will pay off on the long run. Our resources are limited: we have only one life with 24 hours per day to do what we love. Let’s just try to do our best, pursue our dreams and enjoy this time as much as we can.

Avoid the flat, Hit the hills and Run Pittsburgh!

hillsWhen looking for a race, people usually are looking for flat or downhill courses. Two years ago, when volunteering in Richmond to present the Pittsburgh marathon I was surprised to see how many runners were reluctant to sign up because of the elevation profile. The city is known for its hills and the race directors did a great job to avoid steep hills (look at the five steepest hills to get a general idea). But when presenting the course, you have to come with an elevation chart to convince them it was not too hilly.

The general idea is that a flat course (or a downhill one) will be easier on your legs and require less efforts. Of course, this is obvious you are going faster on a flat course but was the elevation never change, you are working the same muscle group. And if you choose a downhill race, this can also put a lot of stress on your joints. Even for a flat race, you are putting all the efforts on the same muscles group and exhaust them until the last mile. If you are going to try to qualify for a particular time (Boston qualifier anyone?), this can be (1) very exhausting and (2) hard to recover as your body is not used to such long and intense efforts on the same muscles.

That might seem odd but running a race with some elevation variation can be easier on your body. As your running form is changing according to the elevation, you are not using the same muscles and when a muscle group is used, the other can rest for a while. Of course, this will not be easy, but if you are trained and used to take some hills, it will be definitively easier.

One example on the east coast is Erie and Pittsburgh. Erie is a big Boston Qualifier race: very flat, the course takes place in what one might consider as ideal conditions (perfect temperature most of the time, completely flat race). This is a two 13.1 loops on Presque Isle. Needless to say, pretty boring: after the first loop, you have only one wish, finish as soon as possible. On the other hand, Pittsburgh (or even Richmond) have some slight hills and is considered more difficult. But as long as you are used to run some hills, your body will recover quicker. And the course is nicer: you experience most of the neighborhood and the volunteers are pretty awesome. No matter if you are a Pittsburgh native or a new visitor: you will experience the city from a different perspective. Better than doing two loops on the same course. If you never experience the Steel City, I just recommend to come and experience this race. This would show you why Pittsburgh is one of the best city to live in the USA.

keep-calm-and-love-pittsburgh-6

Dude, keep the outdoor speaker at home (Dirty Kiln 2015 Race Report)

On April, 4, just one week before Forget the PR 50K, I ran the Dirty Kiln half-marathon. This race is organized by the Allegheny Trail Runners and is either a 5-miles or a half marathon. As last year, I did the half-marathon. The race is a basic 5 miles loop plus an additional 8 miles. Each loop as two stream crossing and of course, a lot of mud. Some hills are very challenging as well so that it might be better to walk them.

The 2014 edition was epic in the sense that the weather was really windy and cold. The 2015 edition was way better: not so much wind, some sun but still a lot of mud (and so, fun)! This was then supposed to be a great run. The race is organized by the Allegheny Trail Runners group, a non-profit that supports local charities. So, instead of going for big events that are rather big money makers for a company or an individual, this race is organized by trail lovers to benefits people in need. Very sweet.

godPre-race

Last year, I booked a crappy motel in the Altoona area to stay before the night. The bed was terrible, did not sleep so well and I had pain in the back. I decided that this year, I will take a better place and chose the Hampton Inn that includes a breakfast. That was a good idea, especially because they provide basic runner food for breakfast (peanut butter and bagel anyone?), which was perfect: no need to pack anything, the breakfast is availability when you wake up so you do not have to worry about that aspect.

There is no race expo or packet pick up before race day. The race starts at 0900 so you have plenty of time to get there and get it. The packet contains a tech t-shirt, your bib and chip. No fancy stuff inside but for $35, this is already more than enough! If you do this race, be there at least 10 to 15 minutes before the race starts to make sure you get your packet and put your chip on.

The race

batmanThe race is a 5-ish loop plus an additional 8-ish loop. You run mostly on single-track trails with very muddy spots. There are also stream crossing. The first loop is not very challenging or difficult without any high elevation. So, this is a great warmup. The second loop is  more challenging with a good elevation and a lot of steep hills. So steep that you will have to walk them and not run them. If you run it and plan to finish in less than 2:30, it is wise to start in the beginning of the pack. Many people will not let you pass them when being on a single track trail because they just do not listen to you. I was stuck in the beginning by two persons that discuss and never heard me when trying to indicate that I wanted to pass them. So, just try to rush the start to avoid that.

The race is marked with flags so it is difficult to lose yourself. Also, as you do (more or less) the same loop twice, this is easy to remember where you passed before and you can easily recognize parts of the race. Be careful to keep track of the flags, otherwise, you can get lost on the trails.

The race offers also a great view when doing the second loop and being on top of the hills. Being there on a sunny Saturday morning offers a wonderful scenery. While the view is great, it seems that some folks enjoy the view but not the silence. A dude was stupid enough to bring a portable speaker in hit bagpack (or whatever he brought on the trails) put his music on while climbing on the trails. Earphones are forbidden for safety reasons, but heck, when you cannot bring headphone, what is better than annoying everybody with a bigger sound system? Let’s just bring the phone with a portable speaker (or just use the phone speaker, who knows). Seriously, what is the f*ck!ng reason you would like to take your radio on a race? Who takes a speaker when going on a trail race and experience the nature? And why putting your music on a speaker to bother everybody around you? (private message: dude, if you read this message, stay home with your speaker and enjoy your music alone and just enjoy the nature when going on the trails). If possible, I would just suggest to the race director to forbid any listening device: if you go on the trails, this is not to reproduce your gym environment with a lot of electronic equipments. Otherwise, just stay at the gym and watch Discovery channel when exercising: the benefits will be similar. This is just unfortunate to have a dude like this on such a great event.

In terms of support, there are volunteers on the course to guide you and help you to cross the streams. There is an aid station on the course with water/gatorade and gels. You can also take water after the first loop. So, in total, you get 3 potential stops to get water or gels. The volunteers are very (very) friendly and helpful and make sure you stay safe on the course (especially at the stream crossing). Again, all the race is very well organized and accommodates beginners or experienced runners.

Post-race

Once you are done, you get a wood medal and a bottle of water. There is also pizza and snacks provided to all runners. Unfortunately, no beer as in Rock’n The Knobb (the other race organized by the same non profit) that might be a better idea, especially if you are driving right after. The state parks typically offers showers if you want to be clean before going back home. The race pictures are taken by volunteers and available … for free. Yep, nobody that tries to take your monthly income for 3 pictures of you! Sweet, isn’t?

Let’s do it?

Yep, there is a lot of mud ...

Yep, there is a lot of mud …

Heck yeah, as long as you are able to avoid the obnoxious dude that carries his speaker when you explore the nature, this is definitively one of the best race in Pennsylvania and I do not see any red flag that will tell you not to do it! First of all, this is pretty cheap ($35), fun. There is a lot of mud, which can be challenging. Then, there is pretty steep hills that will also change from your usual workout. The support is very good and volunteers are very friendly as well. Also, the race pictures are available for free! And finally, all the profits goes for a charity. So, there are definitively no reason for not going there!

Thanks again to the Allegheny Trailrunners group for organizing this race. So, far, Dirty Kiln and Rock’n The Knobb are among the best races I have done. Pretty cheap, very friendly and supporting charities, this is a fantastic non-profit and I hope you’ll get a chance to experience one (or several) of their races!

See you at Rock’n the Knob 2015 then!

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