Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Girl Gone Wild

"Ann was a girl gone wild for competition. During one stretch, she averaged an ultra marathon every other month for four years... she won twenty races... she won on roads and trails... on smooth tracks and scrabbly mountains... in America, Europe and Africa."
- Christopher McDougall: Born to Run
Ann Trason in Pietermaritzburg finish in June 1996 after winning Comrades Marathon with a new CR 6:13:23 and waiting to be awarded her Gold Medal by Nelson Mandela.
I've met Ann Trason only once. It was in the international finishers' area for Comrades Marathon, the world's biggest and oldest ultrarunning race. Her winning time 6:13:23 was a new Course Record for the uphill run.

I remember thinking she looked amazingly fresh after such an grueling race. I don't remember what I said to her as I was completely exhausted, but I managed to take the snapshot above. Then I crawled outside and passed out on the lawn.

This happened in June 1996. Only 12 days later she would also win Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, the world's oldest and most prestigious 100-mile trail race. She is the only runner who has been able to achieve this. The next year she won both races again.

I guess Ann Trason really was a girl gone wild back then. She won Comrades twice and Western States 14 times. I feel lucky to have briefly met the greatest American ultra trail runner of all time.

Friday, December 11, 2015

December Morning Trailrunning Half-Marathon

Mt. Haltiavuori today.

It was unusually balmy +6°C today for a December morning. The skies were relatively clear and even the sun might show up. It was a no-brainer to go trailrunning. I did about a half-marathon. I also tested You Tube Capture on my iPhone. The video is below and Suunto Movescount here. Great half-day outdoors.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Montserrat Mountain Monastery

After Ultratrail Collserola my schedule allowed for a long-awaited daytrip to Montserrat. It's a popular 10 km long and 5 km wide mountain area, where Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey is located about 48km west from Barcelona. The history of Montserrat started in 880 when shepherd kids saw a bright light descending from the sky. Today there are about 100 Benedictine monks based at the monastery. According to their philosophy, there is an importance to what every person is. They have a famous boys choir called L'Escolania at Montserrat.

In case you are interested, here's how I travelled there. In the morning I took a metro from my hotel in Barcelona to the Espanya station and walked to the railway platform R5. There is a ticket machine and a person behind a desk to help you using it. I bought a return ticket to Montserrat Aeri, including the cable car ride to the Monastery, for about 20€. The train to Aeri takes an hour and then the cable car five minutes more.

I got a free map from the information office at the monastery and chose itinerary #3 from it. It involved taking Sant Joan Funicular up. From there I hiked the scenic about 10km trail back to the Monastery via the highest peak Sant Jeroni (1237m) and Pla dels Ocells. On a clear day like this you can see the whole Catalonya from up there. They say it's also possible to see the island of Mallorca, but I couldn't see it. Anyway "The spectacle is out of this world", the tourist itinerary boasts, and I have to agree. This is mainly due to some spectacularly unique rock formations. The hike took me four hours because the weather was gorgeous and I made some explorative detours while shooting a lot of of photos and video. I snacked in the monastery cafeteria and took the cable car, train and metro back to my hotel.

I saw some hikers, trailrunners and climbers, but didn't find the route too crowded. It was a Monday in Mid-November after all. In summer or during weekends there would surely be more people everywhere. The trails are wide and there are concrete stairs with handrails in the steepest places.

While admiring the views around the highest peak Miranda de Sant Jeroni, I saw two climbers coming up Via Ferrata Teresina. They had started their climb 660 meters below at Santa Cecilia de Montserrat, where Sean Scully Art Space opened in July 2015 (closed for winter now). I might be tempted to climb it myself in the future - with a proper guide and gear of course.

Without any further ado, below are some of my pictures and the Gopro video. My Suunto Ambit Movescount data is here. Hope you enjoy them and remember to visit Montserrat the next time you go to BCN!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Ultratrail Collserola 2015 Highlights

85km race course.

Having now finished Ultratrail Collserola 85km in Barcelona on November 21st 2015, here are some of the highlights of the race.

85km race profile.

The weather was good for running. It was often very cloudy and windy, but only a light drizzle of rain. It was nice and sunny in the afternoon. The temperature varied between 8-18C. I ran the whole in shorts and t-shirt, except for the last 10K I put on my jacket, hat and gloves.

Collserola Park from Montserrat mountains.

The race organization was absolutely superb. Everything worked very smoothly and efficiently like a well-oiled machine. Everyone was friendly and relaxed while 100% effective. On many occasions they asked how I felt, and I was always able to answer "good". I could tell these guys are pros!

Street art in BCN.

Race markings were clear and left no chance for me getting lost. That was fortunate, as there were many crossing trails and paths in the area. It was easy to find the right way, even in the dark.

Pre-race jogging in Park G├╝ell by Gaudi.

The aid stations were well-stocked with drinks, fresh fruit and GU gels in different flavors. This was all I needed on a warm day like this.

Local coffee for performance enhancing breakfast.

This was the third edition of Ultratrail Collserola. I haven't participated before, but the new longer 85K course seems well-designed as it provides a great variety of trails. According to ITRA the course was 86.6km with +3025 meters of elevation gain, instead of 84.7km and +2940m as published before the race. My Suunto Ambit measured +3268m of climbing. This was good news to me, as I had been worried that the race would be too easy. Fortunately it wasn't!

Buying groceries from the market hall.

The race HQ at CEM Mundet was a convenient location for the race start and finish. I could get there in 20 minutes by metro from my downtown hotel as it's only a 300m walk from Mundet station. This is the first and only ultra trail race starting and finishing in the City of Barcelona, a premier holiday destination in Europe.

Picking up my bib the day before in Mundet Sport Center.

The max number of runners was 500 in each of the four races (85/38/23/10 km) starting at 7am, 8am, 9am and 10am. This seemed just about right. It was never too crowded, but I didn't have to run alone for long distances either.

Ready to race!

There was the famous 'El Clasico' soccer match Real Madrid vs. Barcelona going on in Madrid on Saturday evening. It was fun to run for a while with a couple of loud local football fans with their phone radio turned on. I didn't understand a word, but I later learned in my hotel that Barca had won 0-4, which was a big deal in BCN city of course.

Race souvenirs: hoodie, medal, T-shirt.

Live timing data was made available online at utcollserola.livetrail.net. I seemed to have kept on improving my position gradually, passing 16km in 1:58, 31km in 4:04, 43km in 6:00, 57km in 8:15, 79km in 12:07, and finish 86,6km in 13:56. There were 339 finishers.

A fellow competitor.

Just when I smelled the barn and anticipated an easy km to the finish, a surprise appeared: Mortirolo, a steep monster uphill with a sign warning of the danger, an arrow pointing straight up, and a rope anchored to the top. Normally it would have been just a fun distraction, but with my tired body it required a more careful approach to avoid potential cramps. Eventually I conquered it. I had a good laugh at this bizarre but genius obstacle.

Photo break around 35km.

The race goods were excellent. Before the start we received a large foldable course map covering the whole Collserola park area in detail and a Helly Hansen running T-shirt. After the finish we received a race medal and a black hoodie as Finisher souvenirs.

La Sagrada Familia by Gaudi is a must visit.

In addition to the bag left in the race HQ, 85km runners were able to leave a drop bag for the 43km aid station. This would have been really helpful had the weather turned bad. As it was fine and sunny, I didn't need to take anything from it. We were required to carry a jacket, a headlamp with extra batteries, an emergency blanket, a whistle, a hat and a drink/food reserve in our backpack anyway. I also used Mountain King Trailblazer poles the whole way and found them helpful.

El Clasico football match in Madrid on race day was won by Barca.

To sum up, I would recommend Ultratrail Collserola for runners looking for a great November race in Mediterranean climate. Barcelona is a popular travel destination for millions of visitors, but very few tourists have been able to experience a sightseeing tour like Ultratrail Collserola.