May 11, 2015

Finish With Us America : Raw Inspiration

Patrick Sweeney - Credit: Stan Evans
Jup Brown
Jup Brown put his feet in the water next to Patrick Sweeney’s on Huntington Beach, California, last January and took a little sample of the water in a tiny tube. Next time he’d open it, he would be all the way across the United States, some 3,425 miles east from California, in Boston.

And just like that, both runners took a first step in a running journey too great for most people to even fathom.

As ultra runners, we sometimes have to deal with the awe and amazement of others when they discover we run distances of 50, 60 or 100 miles. Last Saturday, the one in awe was my own self. I’d traveled overnight to get to Boston to run the very last 50K segment of their epic adventure, to cheer them on and to witness something truly unique; the last step the two friends would take, this time in the Atlantic Ocean.

I stood there all jittery in Hopkinton, at the Boston Marathon starting line, staring at Jup Brown with a million questions bouncing around in my head. He, on the other hand, just sat there and smiled, relaxed, sharing some anecdotes that happened on the road.

“One night, I wanted to sleep in a little park kiosk just like this one”, he said. “It was at some church, so I really thought it’d be OK. Well would you believe it’s the only time I was refused to spend the night somewhere, and it wasn’t even inside! And the guy had the audacity to tell me ‘May God help you in your journey’. I told the guy *he* was supposed to be the closest contact I had to God!” he said, laughing.

I was Sweeney's breakfast surprise
Saturday morning :)
I knew Sweeney from before, of course, but it was the first time I was meeting Jup in person. I’d heard about him from friends who hosted the Run with us America team on the road, but in this first moment in his company, I was really struck by his humble sincerity and his friendliness.

“I don’t do all this for the sport, you know”, he added. “I do this to meet people like you guys, fellow humans I wouldn’t meet otherwise, and share part of the journey.”

In my opinion, Patrick Sweeney and Jup Brown are heroes. Not because they accomplish incredible human feats, but because their attitude, their outlook and their values raise the bar on all of us. Two guys performing an act of endurance beyond any comprehension, but insisting that what really matters in the connections they made with people all along the voyage and the kids they run for.

Start of the Race Across USA
See, Sweeney and Jup started their journey with Race Across USA because they had decided that the true meaning of their endeavor would be to support a great program called The 100 Mile Club, which encourages kids from all over America to walk or run 100 miles during a school year. While doing so, they would go and personally talk with those kids, in their school, along the way and share some inspiring moments.

Two more friends, Shacky and Vanessa Runs, offered to join in as the official crew for the long road ahead, volunteering the famous Summit Seeker they live in as a mobile house and aid station.

Somewhere along the way, their run morphed into Run with us America, in a more intimate setting following a route of their choosing. The two friends would run the rest of their adventure on their own, at their pace, sharing some of the segments and parting during others. And, of course, always running for the kids.

The Run with us America crew : Jup, Vanessa, Shacky, Sweeney and Ginger

Kara Lubin, 100 Mile Club
When asked about Patrick and Jup, Kara Lubin, founder and CEO of the 100 Mile Club, gets emotional. “Patrick and Jup are two incredible friends to the 100 Mile Club program. There are no words to express the amount of gratitude I have for what they have done and for the funds that they have raised for our program”, she says. “Every dollar that they have raised will go to fund the participation of students in need. Teaching kids to love exercise at an early age is essential for creating a healthier world. The 100 Mile Club is doing just that with the help of incredible people like Jup Brown and Patrick Sweeney. We are grateful to have them in our family”.

Sweeney totally thought
I was a Wellesley Girl

Last Saturday morning, however, you had to look very hard to find the heroes in our little group of runners. Both guys are so humble and unassuming, that every time we’d cross someone and tell them what was going on, they’d ask “So, which two guys are doing this?”. Sweeney was his usual, joyful self, joking around and playing his invented little games, such as “Crap found on the side of the road that isn’t fecal” which garnered an old lady’s wig, a porn centerfold and a skull-shaped fence segment, among others.

As the miles passed, I couldn’t help but notice how both Jup and Sweeney, even after putting their bodies to such extremes, looked healthy and solid. Aside from the obvious wear-and-tear, neither runners seems to suffer any particular damage, nor fear long-term effects. They noticeably covered the distance with incredible ease and good spirits (it’s 50K after all, a distance for which most people would train over substantial time and still be nervous about), smiling along and stopping to chat up passersby.

I told them both how I’d feared for them at first, when they announced their crazy journey. My only point of reference was Marshall Ulrich, who suffered terrible physical consequences from his transcontinental run, including some freaky permanent damage. Now, all I could notice was that both of them seemed to have become rock solid, zen and happy… while I was hobbling along with a bum knee, feeling half-broken and sorry for myself.

Our happy little group - Complete with little K-taped
ugly duckling in the back
I dropped out at one point, jumping in our crew Robin’s car for a couple miles. I didn’t want to slow everybody down, so I reluctantly stopped running and figured I’d just be at the beach to see the guys finish. They wouldn’t have any of it. A couple stops later, they told me they wanted to finish all together, and that they’d walk if it allowed me to tag along and be with them. It touched me in a way impossible to put in words. Here you had two guys finishing a 3,500-mile run, totally willing to make the last stretch longer and slower just for some dude to be able to share the experience. So I jumped back in, running 400M stretches and then walking, yo-yoing at the back of the group but somehow, somewhat able to keep up.

We finished the Boston Marathon course under a blue sky and a shiny sun, and simply kept going a couple more miles until, as Sweeney put it, they would literally “run out of country”. We meandered through downtown from Boylston street to Boston’s Long Wharf, through a neighborhood that much reminded me of San Francisco. At the end of a long street, finally, a beautiful patch of deep blue appeared.

Two happy, happy kids
And, just like that, just like a bunch of kids from the same block would run down to the beach to play in the sand, our little group made it across one last street and into the soft sand.

Two of the kids took their shoes off and unceremoniously walked into the ocean, then dove in. Something about their smiles, however, hinted that this little dip might have had some special meaning, maybe. Jup Brown opened a second little tube, filled it with ocean water and then mixed a drop of each into the other tube.

Both kids walked back on the beach, we opened the long-awaited box containing tequila-soaked water melon lovingly prepared by Robin, joked around and rejoiced for a little bit, then Sweeney and Jup simply said “Let’s go for a beer.”

Celebratory Sunday-morning mimosas, the day after

Patrick Sweeney and Jup Brown ran across the United States to raise funds for the 100 Mile Club. If you liked this story and are inspired by their adventure, please consider making a cash donation by following this link.

April 21, 2015

Review : Inov-8 Roclite 295

    • Type : Neutral
    • Use : Trail running
    • Price : $120-$130

    This is the third Inov-8 shoe I get to run in, and the second I review after the Race Ultra. I've always been impressed with the Inov-8 feel and its extreme expression; when I wear these shoes, I feel like a pro! The combination of grip and responsiveness is only matched, in my opinion, by a few top-of-the-line trail shoes such as the now-defunct Kinvara Trail from Saucony or my beloved (and also now-defunct, dammit) Altra Lone Peak 1.5.

    Trail Test
    This time around, the shoe feels light and quick, much more like the 235's I'd tried the first time. Unlike the Ultra, which definitely feels like it was made for a more cushiony ride over rough terrain, the 295 brings the aggressivity back while maintaining a great level of comfort. The shoe feels slim and long, with a lot of room at the tip but not so much on the side. When you lace up, you can feel how plush the upper is and I immediately thought how great that feeling must be while changing shoes in the middle of a long race.

    While certainly not a minimal shoe, the 295 doesn't overdo it and remains swift and nimble. The extra material between your foot and the ground becomes a great advantage if you're going to run long on terrain that switches from trails to pavement, for example, or if you're looking for a good overall winter running shoe. The grip is as good as always, with the outsole material soft and sticky. If you're looking for a firm grip in a comfortable shoe, this is it.


    While this is pretty much the bulkiest shoe I'd wear out there, I have to say there's a lot of things the 295 does well. The feeling of sturdiness and protection you get can be a great plus for beginning trail runners or to get yourself back together after some hard distance on rough trails. The 9mm drop is the only thing I wish was different; why does it have to be so steep? I'd give it all A's if it had, say, 4.

    High points
    • Excellent grip as always
    • Nimble and swift despite added material
    • Super comfy

    Low points
    • 9mm drop is just too much
    • Tiny laces make it real easy to overtighten the shoe

    April 16, 2015

    Driving Directions to Urique

    I've been asked many times about driving directions for Urique, in the Copper Canyons, and never really took the time to compile the information into a useful, single post. Well I was asked one more time this morning and decided to finally do it :)

    Driving from the USA to Urique is a great way to truly experience the Copper Canyons in their remote ruggedness. It's a smooth transition from busy North-American cities to the still quietness and grandeur of the Barrancas. It's also an incredible opportunity for adventure, for meeting great people and for discovering one of the most beautiful countries of the world.

    I highly recommend it!

    Here's my favorite route to drive down, from Douglas, Arizona :

    1. Cross over at Douglas / Agua Prieta (basically drive straight out of the border check point, then take a left, then a right, then you will hit a larger boulevard. This is Route 2. Take a left and you're on your way)
    2. Take route 2 to Janos

    3. Take route 10 to Nuevo Casas Grandes

    4. Some minutes past Nuevo Casas Grandes, you will hit a Y-split. Make a slight right to keep following Route 10, direction Galeana

    5. Keep going until Buenaventura. When you come into town, make your way to Av Benito Juarez, which switches into Route 5 out of town. It'll be a right turn.

    6. This takes you into a nice ride to Ignacio Zaragoza and through Gomez Farias, then Babicora

    7. In Babicora, take a right to follow the road to Route 16. When you hit Route 16, take a left to Guerrero

    OPTION - 8A. When entering Guerrero, take a right on main street (Juarez) and keep going straight onto Route 31

    OPTION - 8B. In Guerrero, Take Route 110 to La Junta (less scenic, a little faster)

    9. Both these ways converge to Route 16 again. If you came from Route 31, take a left on 16 and a right at the turn for Creel. If you came from La Junta, take a right at 16 and a left at the turn for Creel.

    10. Stay on that road until Creel. You will cross many towns on the way, the bigger ones being San Juanito and Bocoyna.

    11. When in Creel, stay on the main road until the roundabout at the other end of town. There, take the right leg of the roundabout, heading to El Divisadero, San Rafael, and all the way to Bahuichivo.

    12. Cross the train tracks in Bahuichivo over to the other side of town. The street will end in a T, take a left. This will take you to Cerocahui

    13. In Cerocahui, the road will, again, end in a T. Take a left to Urique / Mesa de Arturo

    14. The road will not be paved from this point. You'll start going up. Don't miss the Y-split in the road between Mesa Arturo on the right, and Urique on the left. Of course, you make a left.

    15. You are on the road to Urique.

    16. Weeeeeeeee!

    Additional notes.

    There are gas stations in most main towns, but if you want to be on the safe side, you can hit Mexico with a full tank of gas, fuel on the way down when you cross gas stations (They are usually Pemex) or plan a stop in Guerrero or Gomez Farias. Then make sure to refuel in Creel before your way down.

    There is gasoline in Urique, bring cash in pesos to pay for it. I suggest you leave town with a full tank, too, just for good measure.

    If you want to draw money from Mexico to avoid the currency exchange hassle, you can do so in most main towns such as Agua Prieta, Nuevo Casas Grandes, Gomez Farias, Guerrero and Creel for sure. Always plan that the ATM you hit might be out of order or out of money. Also think about daily withdrawal limits. You won't get far with a credit card, outside of Pemex gas stations. Beyond Creel, plastic money cards are pretty much useless.

    People in Mexico will be extremely welcoming and helpful, but be advised they seem to not have a great care for giving precise directions. I've been mislead several times by obviously well-intentioned people, but who had no idea what information they were giving.

    You will hit road blocks from time to time, whether manned by army or police personnel. There's at least one outside Agua Prieta, one around Nuevo Casas Grandes and maybe one or two others further down. The guards are typically very curteous. Proper etiquette is to roll your windows down for them to see inside the vehicle. Address them in Spanish at first, even if it's just to say hello. Smile, be calm. The do carry guns, so don't be alarmed. They usually just want to make sure you are not carrying contraband. They are good people to ask directions if you're unsure which road to take.

    If you have to go to a police vehicle to ask directions, park your own vehicle at a respectable distance and walk out to the other vehicle. Wave and smile. This way the police will know for sure you're a tourist looking for directions.

    There is plenty of food on the way, usually delicious, home-made things you will remember a lifetime. If you want to shop for your own food, markets are usually a great option, as they tend to have many local specialty items. Sunday is THE best day to shop around, since it is the mercado, the day where people from all around gather in the towns to sell various goods. They usually do this in or around the zocalo, or main plaza. This is one great occasion to practice eco-tourism and directly benefit local people.

    With eco-tourism in mind, take time to consider when you bargain for goods with locals. My personal experience is they won't inflate the price much, and if they do, really, what's two dollars to you? To them, it might be a better meal, some sweets for the kids or a little gift they can now afford. Think about it!

    Enjoy the trip, enjoy the experience, enjoy the views :)

    If you have further questions, leave them in the comments section below; it'll help me make this post better!