Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Transgrancanaria - top European winter ultratrail

"Posiblemente la prueba de ultratrail más importante del invierno europeo." Probably the best winter ultratrail in Europe. Yes I know what you're thinking, just another ad slogan. But this time it really is true! And no need for the word 'probably'; read my lips: Transgrancanaria is without a doubt Europe's top ultra trail running event in winter (or early spring) season.

Playa de las Canteras in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria - one of my favorite urban beaches in Europe.
Actually this event, which has been steadily evolving since 2003, consists of the following four races:
  • Transgrancanaria: 119 km (74 miles) with +7,300m (23,950ft) cumulative ascension,
  • Advanced: 83 km (52 miles) and +4,700m (15,420ft),
  • Maratón: 42 km (26 miles) and +4,000m (13,123ft),
  • Starter: 24 km (15 miles) and +1,800m (5,905 ft).
The race HQ and finish of Transgrancanaria is beside Alfredo Kraus Auditorium.
The distance of the main event's new course is a little shorter than the old 123 km race I did in 2012, but I believe less is more here. You'll get so much more hills to climb that you are not likely to miss those 4 km by the time you reach the finish line in Las Palmas.

The weather can be excellent in the Canaries in March.
The max time limit in the main event is 31h. It will start at midnight on Friday (in other words 00:00 Saturday morning). The finish line will be closed 7am on Sunday. Bring some caffeinated gels to keep your eyes open and your best headlight with extra batteries so you can see where you are going. The course is well marked, but it is possible to get lost when you are tired - for me at least!

People in the Canaries are very smart, active and outgoing - just like you and me!
There will be some steep technical sections, but nothing to worry about as long as you are careful. Poles are allowed and I found them very helpful. Nobody's ever mistaken me for Sebastien Chaigneau though.

Surfers' training area.
Gran Canaria, one of the volcanic Canary Islands, belongs to Spain, but is closer to Africa. The climate there in March may not be what you associate with winter. You won't have to run in snow, and it might get quite warm during the day - the average high is 22C (71F). It might rain a little, as they get 14mm (0.55 inch) precipitation in March.

See the mountains in the background? That's where you'll be running.
The average low is 15C (60F), so a lightweight rain jacket should be enough. As always, the weather might throw a surprise and your mileage might vary.

A surfer heading home after a long day at the office.
Playa de Las Canteras is one of my favorite urban beaches in Europe. It's 3 km long and a very active area with tons of joggers, walkers, swimmers, surfers and sunbathers. There are plenty of hotels to choose from in this area, within walking distance from the race HQ. It's not necessary to rent a car, because you can take a very cheap and comfortable bus from the airport to Las Palmas, and the race organizers will provide buses to the starting place.

By the way, Playa Chica is an excellent spot to go snorkeling if you want to see tropical fish. It's a bit like swimming in an aquarium. The water will be quite cold in March, but they say it speeds up the recovery of your legs.

Playa Chica is perhaps the best part of Las Canteras beach to see some tropical fish. 
To summarize, Transgrancanaria is recommended for those looking for new challenges in exciting natural settings. Animo! Vamos!

In many places around the islands you can see black volcanic rocks.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Flying to the top of Mont Blanc anyone?

You've got to check out this spectacular helmet cam video to understand why running around Mont Blanc is not such a big deal anymore!

As you'll see, paraglider Stephané Boulanger took off from Chamonix's Planpratz lift station (2,000m/6,562ft) and glided to the top of Mont Blanc (4,810m/15,782ft) to meet some of his equally crazy friends there on this amazing August day.

English version-Mont Blanc Tuto Cross Video from Stéphane Boulenger on Vimeo.

I used to hold a pilot licence for hang gliders (little known fact), but I haven't renewed it for two decades. Anyway now I'm tempted to try those tandem flights by Fly Chamonix next summer!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Halloween Vertical-K 10K with Genesis Revisited II

Today, while I loading Genesis Revisited II by legendary guitarist (who recorded the first tapping solo back in 1971, long before heavy-rockers discovered it) Steve Hackett on my iPod, I had the idea of self-organizing Halloween Vertical-K 10K for myself, while listening to the brand new album. I was looking forward to hearing it, as I had liked its predecessor Genesis Revisited when it came out in 1996.

Without further ado, as a gentle warm-up, I cycled 3K to the biggest hill in the 'hood, while the first song The Chamber of 32 Doors was blasting in my headphones. The weather was cloudy but dry +6C (43F), which felt surprisingly warm after a truly freezing weekend.

By the time I arrived at the tiny 32-meter hill, the epic 23-minute Supper's Ready was well on its way: "Today's a day to celebrate..." Phil Collins' son Simon sang, delivering it powerfully like his dad used to do in his heyday. Although running to a 9/8-beat doesn't feel natural, it was fun to try. "One-Two-THREE, Four-FIVE, Six, Seven, Eight, NINE", I counted myself up the hill.

I couldn't help reflecting how about four decades earlier I was already absolutely amazed by these progressive rock masterpieces. Genesis released their best LP's in the seventies, and all the ones with Mr. Hackett were the best in IMHO: Nursery Cryme (1971) Foxtrot (1972), Selling England by the Pound (1973), The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974), A Trick of the Tail (1976) and Wind & Wuthering (1976). I'm most likely blogging a dead horse here, but this was a huge influence to me.

I was often listening to music while at home, although I'd also rush out to play and run; after all I was only 10-something. The music would play in my head, although I couldn't understand most of the lyrics. In fact I still don't: Can-Utility and the Coastliners, the story of King Canute, huh? I never even suspected him a true king, which he was.

The freeflow of memories was abruptly stopped when I noticed to my horror Dancing with a Moonlit Knight had a new intro added by Mr. Hackett. He had pre-emptied any criticism by stating: "Every time I change a solo I feel I'm in danger of messing with people's childhoods, but sometimes the muse just has to have her way with me." Fine, but we older fans might be in grave danger of a heart attack.

I kept on going up and down the same old hill. "The wind is blowing harder now, Blowing dust into my eyes. The dust settles on my skin, making a crust I cannot move in. And I'm hovering like a fly, waiting for the windshield on the freeway." The wind picked up, but it wasn't a problem at all. I won't be that Fly on a Windshield. I took a couple Clif Shot Bloks and kept ascending and descending, and listening with growing interest.

A little after half-way the heavy The Return of the Giant Hogweed kicked in. "Turn and run! Nothing can stop them..." Mr. Hackett had suggested the title as if it was from a bad horrow movie. It worked pretty well for me on this Halloween, especially when I realized the North face of the hill I presently struggled with was covered with pig-like smelling Hogweeds. I chuckled nervously but kept my distance to these scary monsters.

"The sun had been up for a couple of hours, it covered the ground with a layer of gold." The first line of the song Eleventh Earl of Mar is originally the first line of the novel The Flight of The Heron by D.K. Broster. At the same instant, the sun which had been up for a couple of hours, came out from behind the clouds and covered everything - you won't believe this - with a layer of gold.

Steve Hackett.
"Now I stop, seems that I've been led astray. There are no new answers today. This road is blocked. Only the fool learns to get through." These lines (based on a dream Mr. Hackett had about working with Genesis - he left the band in 1977 to pursue a solo career) from Camino Royale were interrupted by a beep from my Suunto Ambit GPS, marking my tenth km-lap. I jogged down to my bike and stopped the watch in 1:55 running time, 10.3 km running distance and 1,040 m (3,412 ft) cumulative ascension. Mission accomplished. Movescount data shows I climbed that stupid hill 33 times - a PR.

I cycled my 3K cool-down back home, whistling to the catchy melody of the last tune on the album, Shadow of the Hierophant. I guess there is no shortage of things one could want in this world, but somehow the simplicity of music and running combined probably make me happier than anything else. A nice little Halloween hill workout for me, and a fantastic new album by Steve Hackett.