Friday, August 21, 2015

Jungfrau Valley, Switzerland - A "Must Do" For Trail Runners

(The Jungfrau Mountains)
There are mountains we know, there are mountains we seek, and then there are the mountains that inspire us right to the core of our being. When you find the great ones, you know it instantly. No picture, no poem, no blog story can possibly capture the majesty and beauty absorbed in their presence. You don't just miss them when you leave, you yearn for them, deeply, and only another visit can suffice. When fellow runners ask, all you can say is "you just have to go", and give that closed-eye, long slow shaking of the head.
(Looking down the Jungfrau Valley)
That was how I heard about the Jungfrau Valley of Switzerland, home of the Eiger, Monsch, Jungfrau and a dozen other monstrous peaks that make up the Bernese Alps. Every time a fellow runner would come back from a race like the Jungfrau Marathon, the Eiger Trail Ultra E101 (100k), Sierre-Zinal 31k, or the insane Inferno Triathlon, I would get the same jaw-gaping silent nod. In addition, my world traveling in-laws received similar feedback from their fellow globetrotters...why go to Zermatt when you could go to Jungfrau? So it didn't take much convincing to make Jungfrau the second part of our family trip to Europe this summer. No race in mind this time, just here to check it out. But I can say this already - I will be back next year for sure, ready to race.

We came to Wengen, Switzerland from nearby Lake Como, Italy, via a half dozen impeccably timed and insanely clean trains. The town of Wengen is up the hill from the Valley, meaning we would be away from any cars or motorized vehicles and well into the cow-studded hillsides under the Jungfrau. We arrived on Swiss National Day (Aug 1), and were greeted with fireworks and alphorn melodies. So much fun! But the trails were beckoning...

(Nature is everywhere...this guy pattern-matched my watch band at lunch)
My first run was a make-it-up-as-you-go expedition following the well-marked signs of the Jungfrau Marathon. Paved paths led to dirt, which in turn became single track right under the gigantic glaciers of the Jungfrau that seemed to climb forever. This course is no joke! The weather was ideal, if not a little hot, so I wasn't surprised to see a group of hikers, bikers, or tourists every 5-10 minutes. It's so great to see so many happy faces enjoying nature!

(Ain't no camera setting big enough...)
(A couple takes a rest under the Jungfrau)
(Hard to beat that view!)
The next day, I headed down the Eiger Trail per the suggestion of a trail runner I had met the day before (my first of six "aren't you Scott Dunlap" moments that reminded me how close knit our global community is). Wow...just, wow. The trail cuts right under the mile high vertical of the Eiger, and you could watch the clouds descend right down on top of you. Um, wait...I better get rolling then! I didn't quite make it back before the heavy rain hit, but enjoyed dodging cows in the downpour.

(A stormy day under the Eiger)
(A mountain memorial for a Swiss great)
(The clouds give chase...)
(Ummm...maybe I'll wait to fill that water bottle)
There were a couple of hikes easy enough for family, and the kids enjoyed the hills full of flowers, cows, and chalets with sand boxes and swings. The Swiss drink more wine per capita than any other country, but nearly all of it is grown within Switzerland and not exported (greedy bastards!). Lots of delicious white wine varietals, sorted on the menus by their elevation. We even had some at the Jungfraujoch (Top of Europe), a cafe at 13,000'!

(Cow guard!)
(Big chunks of cheese under heat lamps...ohh, yes)
(Big sis leads the way through the wildflowers)
(Always carry an umbrella! Quinn doesn't mind a little rain)
We took a day trip out to Grindvald and First (a mountain), where I could see the first part of the Eiger Trail E101. Holy cow that is a tough course! You know you're in for a beast of a race when it climbs 4,000' in the first five miles, and that's only the fourth biggest climb. By day three, I was starting to settle into the rhythm of running around here. There's no need to pack food or lots of water, since there is a chalet with a full restaurant every couple of miles. In fact, if you are tired, there is likely a train or gondola within a mile of you. I began packing lighter and lighter, just a pocketful of euros for midday beers and the light jacket. The day could decide how far, how long, and what direction.

(Post long run beers with my girl, easily the best part of the day)
(Talk about bad ass - this trail runner was climbing the Eiger the next day!)
When the temps crossed 100 degrees, I headed down to the Valley to run along the ice cold river. Farmers were more than happy to help refill my water bottles, and I got plenty of cheers from the locals. This really is a welcoming community. One mountain biker was gearing up for the Inferno Triathlon, and was talking about it's four stage madness - a 3.1k swim through the frigid water, a 97km bike with 7k feet of climbing, then a 30km mountain bike stage right up the steep hill to Wengen we were on (another 5k feet of vert), then a half marathon straight up to the top of the Schilthorn. Yup, just added that race to the bucket list!

(More amazing single track along the falls)
(the ice cold river was nice air conditioning)
(My three favorite recovery accelerators...weissbier, a loaded PAX2, and the glory of the mountains)
The week went by way too quickly, and the whole family agreed it would have been easy to spend another week in these epic mountains. If you are coming, make it at least seven nights for sure, even if you have to cash in that 401(k). (note - a kids hot dog dinner runs around $12, and that's when the exchange rate is good)

As gorgeous as my photos are, they really don't capture how amazing it is. Take it from me - you just have to go! You'll thank me later. ;-)

2015 IAAF Track and Field World Championships in Beijing Starts Tonight!

Usain Bolt vs. Justin Gatlin. The unstoppable Shelly-Ann Frasier-Pryce. The incomparable Ashton Eaton, the worlds greatest decathlete. Will Dennis Kimetto go sub-2:03 in the marathon again this year?  Can WR holder Genzebe Dibaba double in the 1500m and 5000m? Will Mo Farah recreate his Olympic main again in 5000m/10000m? The 15th IAAF Track and Field World Championships begin tonight in Beijing at the Bird's Nest, and the talent roster is through the roof.

Here's the TV schedule...set your DVR's! (or check the YouTube channel)

IAAF World Championships 2015 TV Network Schedule (ET)

Friday, August 21
Daytime session 7:30P – 1A live Universal Sports

Saturday, August 22
Evening session 3P – 4:30P *taped NBC
Evening session (re-air NBC)7P – 8:30P *taped Universal Sports
Daytime session 8:30P – 1A live Universal Sports

Sunday, August 23
Evening session 1P – 2:30P *tapedNBC
Evening session (re-air NBC)7P – 8:30P *taped Universal Sports
Daytime session 9:30P – 12M live Universal Sports

Monday, August 24
Evening session 7A – 10A live Universal Sports

Tuesday, August 25
Evening session 7A – 9A live Universal Sports
Daytime session 9:30P – 12M live Universal Sports

Wednesday, August 26
Evening session 8A – 9:30A live Universal Sports
Daytime session 9:30P – 12M live Universal Sports

Thursday, August 27
Evening session 7:30A – 9A live Universal Sports
Daytime session 8:30P – 1A live Universal Sports

Friday, August 28
Evening session 7:30A – 10A live Universal Sports
Daytime session 7:30P – 12:30A live Universal Sports

Saturday, August 29
Evening session 2:30P – 4P *taped NBC
Evening session (re-air NBC) 5P – 6:30P *taped Universal Sports
Daytime session 7:30P – 10:30P live Universal Sports

Sunday, August 30
Evening session 2P – 3:30P *taped NBC
Evening session (re-air NBC) 5P – 6:30P *taped Universal Sports

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Here Come the Robot Trail Runners...

Boston Scientific, a divison of Google (Alphabet?) that focuses on robotics, included a snippet of their humanoid robot trail running in a recent presentation. It actually does a nice little Gordy shuffle, the energy-minimized forward motion many of us resort to in the final miles of a hundo. Be sure to wait until 0:42 seconds to see the robot cruise the trail...

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

When Hitler loses his CR's on Strava

Kudos to Sam Robinson for this hilarious reinterpretation of Hitler losing his CR's on Strava. Sooooo good!!!

Friday, August 07, 2015

Exploring (and Running in) Lake Como, Italy

For most of my life, I’ve had a clear mental picture of Lake Como, Italy. Calm, crystal clear waters surrounded by towering mountains…picturesque villas and pastel colored towns along the shore…me taking a stroll down narrow cobblestone paths that have stood since the days of Romans…sharing gelatos with George Clooney and Richard Branson on a hot summer afternoon when we happen to share the same beach…my smoking hot topless wife tanning effortlessly at the shoreline…okay, so I obviously haven’t actually been to Lake Como. But that was going to be remedied shortly now that me and the family were en route. I could only hope it lived up to my Fantasyland level preconceptions.
(Ossuccio on Lake Como, Italy)
This was a family trip (i.e., no races this time), and would be our first international foray as a clan. It had been on the books for years, calculated as the first window of time we might travel with our youngest, Quinn (4), without losing our minds trying to keep her in an airplane seat for 10+ hours. Sophie (9) is a more natural traveler now that her bookworm traits are in full force – with the latest Harry Potter and Diary of a Wimpy Kid in her backpack, she was easily going to master any train, plane, or auto ride required. If not, the iPads (easily the greatest invention of all time for parents) were charged and ready.

(Christi and her Mom, Margi - see any resemblance?)
Christi, my wife, has always had a secret kinship with the ways of Europe, and was eager to return after her 10+ year parenthood house arrest. She was so excited that she didn’t mind spending our 22nd wedding anniversary crammed into Economy Plus (fist bump…love you!), the long travel day now just a footnote into a 20-day trip she has been dreaming about every weekend. Christi’s parents, Roger and Margi, were the experienced world travellers in our group who took the reigns on planning this epic three-stage trip. One week in Lake Como, Italy, followed by a week in Wengen, Switzerland in the Jungfrau Region (hello, Eiger!), and a few days in Milan for the World Expo (aka Worlds Fair). Even as the adventure began, it seemed impossibly dreamy, too good to be true. But here it was!

My running gear was packed, of course. But for once, there would be no race to obsess about, no Expos to attend, and no fidgety taper making it feel like I am constantly on a triple espresso high. There was no agenda except what the day would bring. An explorer’s paradise, uncontained.

Stage One – Lake Como, Italy 

The charming lakeside villa that would be our home greeted us on sight with an Italian-sized hug. It only took an afternoon for the family to slow to the leisurely pace that comes so naturally on a hot Italian afternoon. The act of “meriggiare”, where one idles through the heat of the day in a shady patch or swimming area, forces an appreciation of the minute beauties of nature - the cicada chorus, steam rising from the hot cobblestones, the slow paddling of swans and ducks...the rhythm is contagious. We downshifted and eased into a dreamy state.

(View from the villa....sigh!)
(Quinn the breadstick fairy navigates through the narrow cobblestone paths)
Daddy is the only runner in the family, so part of my job is to play “scout” and tour around to find the closest food markets, ATM’s, restaurants, beaches, and my favorite - gelaterias. Italy never disappoints on any of these (except maybe ATM’s), so my first eight-mile tour of the area gave me a good feel for the neighborhood. Thirty restaurants, 15 gelaterias, six beaches, and one broken ATM. Viva Italia!

(A typical running detour...)
One particularly nice find was the “Greenway del Lago di Como”, a 12km cobblestone path set up for hiking tourists that led through some of the more historic sites, churches, and monumental villas in the area. It quickly became my go-to for morning runs, and within a few days, I found myself stopping to say hi to the locals who had waved the day before, borrowing the shade of their decks and windows to catch my breath. The Italian grandmas sitting in their windowsills on the uphill sections were very popular, handing out glasses of water and wine to all coming back from the steamy hot street market. If you get a group of them together, you could catch some historic gossip with a little encouragement. Apparently Mussolini was captured down the street when WWII ended, but taken to Milan to be tortured and killed for his war crimes. Wow, heavy stuff, grandmas!

(Greenway del Lago di Como)
(Following the Greenway path)
It was nice to have “negative structure” in my daily runs. Instead of following a plan full of “have to’s” or be stressing about some goal race, it was just “grab a map, some Euros for spontaneous gelatos or espressos, and go as long your body wants”. I had gleefully forgotten my headphones, so the sound of birds, clanging cowbells, children at the beach, the moo’s and neigh’s of the hilly farmlands, and the wind cutting through the trees would be my soundtrack. So peaceful!

(More food!)
(Sophie searches for lizards in the walls)
My somewhat random runs found a Roman signal station from 200 A.D., the church of San Martino cut 1,500 feet up a cliff (not a big Sunday mass, I would guess), historic gardens from a dozen impeccable villas, eggs handed out from local farmers, a breakfast sampling of the delicious white wines of nearby Lugana, and of course, gelato flavors worthy of spontaneous oralgasms. I didn’t see Clooney or Branson, but totally understand why this is their vibe. If you can relax and enjoy the splendors of Italy, you blend right in and become part of its magic.

(San Martino Church - that's quite a driveway!)
(Taking the fast way down from San Martino)
I delighted in hearing my girls ease into their “per favore” and “gratzie”s (at least they say please and thank you in this country!), and finding out what pasta with butter is supposed to taste like. The “find gelato in every town” game became more of a rule, and we soon understood why dinner never started until 8pm…you’re still too full before then! All the more time to fill the streets with their laughter, one sundress chasing another through the garden walls and cobble paths while I stride hand in hand with mi amore.

(Sophie gets her Goth on with some dark chocolate gelato)
(Italian dogs are just as cool)
(Quinn takes a run!)
My iPhone was often commandeered by Sophie, which kept the photo feed full of glorious randomness. A favorite was when we found a nice place to eat, and would have to send photo streams of directions so the rest of the troupe could catch up.

(Turn left here!)
(Then another left!)
A week turned out to be just right, although I could have easily spent the whole summer here. Just as the meriggiare formed a daily routine, it was time to pack and head into the mountains. La nostra avventura italiana, loaded with great food and wine, epic views, cobblestone jogs, and girly giggles, would become family stories to be told again and again.

[to be continued...]