Monday, February 11, 2008

Stuck in Paris...With a Bottle of Wine!

It doens't matter whether you're in Longlac or Paris...Hotel rooms are all the same - But I suppose there are worst things in life than being stuck in Paris...

It's been a bit of a nutty stretch since I started the season, but funny enough, the highlight so far hasn't been anything related to skiing, but more so, a week of product testing put on by Salomon HQ in France!

Last week, I had the opportunity to join some of the best trail runners in the world for a footwear-apparel testing week in Toulon, France (near Marseille). The elite group of runners are all part of Salomon`s 'Trail Running Team' and are the backbone of their SLAB concept (Salomon-Athlete Laboratory) which means that the development of all Salomon products has been tried and tested by countless hours of athlete feedback.

The venue was chosen for it`s access to the Southern French Alps which provided a great variety of terrain to test various prototype models in both the footwear and apparel department. The focus for the week was on the launch of the new XT Wing trail running shoe, which will be Salomon's showcase product for 2008.

Trail running has seen a dramatic growth in the past few years as more and more runners are getting 'off the road' and exploring their backyards! For this reason, Salomon's focus on R&D is full throttle ahead and will include more athlete feedback than ever before-

So back to my Mediterranean escapade (tough life I know!)...OK, I'm teasing again...Believe or not, despite the great settings, the Salomon crew had no intention of making this a 'vacation' by any means. Our 5 days were packed right from day 1 as I hoped off the plane at 8.30am...

Day 1: A dozen of the who's who of running gathered in the meeting room for brief introductions: Spain, Germany, France, New Zealand, England, USA and Canada were all represented - everyone one an accomplished runner within their respective disciplines. I have to admit that I actually felt a bit out of place as the 'celebrities' that surrounded me had resumes that were nothing short of spectacular! Regardless, I was determined to put in my 'two-bits' and 'represent' with as much input/impact as possible.
The afternoon saw our first testing opportunity as the group headed out to the hills to try-out the new XT Wings, and their SLAB version. After having limited opportunities to run over the past 3 months, it was a nice change to get the legs turning. Unfortunately, the feeling would short lived as pain quickly set in...

Day 2: Sore legs greeted me with the first light as I hobbled out of bed and headed for breakfast. The 2-hour run on day 1 proved a bit of a wake up call for this old ragged body of mine. I sucked back a few vitamin 'I' and jumped in the van as we headed out to the trails for another shoe VS shoe comparison. Coming from a skiing background, ski testing a very important part of the business. By skiing every day, you learn to identify slight subtleties in the ski's performance, which in turn helps you decide whether or not the ski will be the one you end up racing one. This skill came in very handy this week to help identify the differences between shoe models. There's an obvious difference between testing a ski VS testing a shoe, but that 'feeling sense' that you use to hone in on a detail, is what enables you to differentiate between designs and identify key points to give as feedback to the engineers. After testing various models, we headed back to the hotel for a debrief, product review and group discussion on how to improve the shoes tested.

Day 3: France VS Spain...
Needless to say that when top runners converge under the same roof, everyone is out to prove who is the best...and 'lucky' for me, I got to tag along! Today we tested backpacks, bottle carriers and packvests of various designs. For this, our local guide (4th place at 2007 Ultramarathon du Tour de Mont Blanc - 165km) decided on a 2-hr circuit that would see us climb up/over three 'bumps' along the coast West of Toulon. As I was in the french group (we were split in two groups: French VS English speaking), I had the honour of running with 3 of France top rated trail runners, as well as two mountain goats from Spain). The pace was fast right from the start (as it had been all week) and only got faster. As soon as the trail turned uphill, the race was on...We all crested the first hump with no problems, I managed to stay with the group, (even stopping to take a few pictures along way), and down we went into the valley. As most of you know, if you don`t run very often, the first runs of the season can result in some very sore muscles. Combine a few fast and steep downhills to the mix and you`re in for a painful few days...After the first down section, I knew I was in trouble. My legs started to cramp as we started the next climb and I struggle to keep the pace as my HR quickly exploded past my threshold. Lucky for me, one of the French runners wasn't on his 'game' and was slacking off behind me, so I dropped back to keep him 'company' - not to mention the fact that I was lost...The next descent finished me off completely and despite having caught back up to the group I was done! The pump was working but the pipes were shattered and quickly losing pressure. As we set about the third and final climb, one of the runners announced he had had enough, and I gladly joined him for the run back to the van...

Day 4: Today was apparel testing day...Not that it mattered much because I could barely walk! The slightest impact whether walking on flat ground, stairs, in/out of vehicles, it didn't matter. I was in a painful state - I got dressed and happily donned the hot new muscle compression line-up of apparel, but to be honest, my testing capabilities were pretty much useless today. It's too bad really because we went to an amazing coastal trail system that I would have been a treat to run along. I let the group go ahead and hobbled on my own pace, enjoying a quiet 'tour' of the trails. Surprisingly, the benefits of the compression socks I wore helped dull the pain - If you can stand the odd look of them, you'll be amazed at the benefits. There's tons of cool developments happening in this department, so stay tuned.

Day 5: Yesterday's 'rest' day helped and my legs felt better today - We once again dressed up in funky compression socks/tights and hit the trails. We headed off North of Toulon for a long mountain run along part of a local Salomon Trail Series race course. I think that the week was taking it's toll as the pace seemed a bit more manageable today. The trail was fantastic and it was nice to finally be able to enjoy the run without feeling like your lungs were about to explode. At the halfway mark (2.5hrs), myself and half the crew called it quites, it was enough for me as my achilles was getting irritated - not something I really wanted to flair up so early in the season. The rest of the group continued for a total of 4.5hrs...

Day 6: Today, a group of media joined us to do athlete interviews and discuss product - Sam Cohen of Canada made the trip promoting the new 'Canadian Running Magazine' that is about to be launched next month. I was pretty banged up from the week so we simply tagged along a leisurely trip to the 'Poquerelles' Island taking the opportunity to do a quick Q&A session. It was nice to finally chill for a bit at a quiet Cafe and take in the sunny weather!

And that was it...As everyone returned home, I headed up to Annecy to eventually join up with Ivan to help support him for the TransJurassienne WorldLoppet. It was great to jump back on snow after a hard week of running - my legs definitely needed the break! Ivan skied a great race and ended up 5th in a mass sprint finish to the line...This was a great way to finish off the week!

And here I am now, still trying to get back home, stuck in Paris...luckily, with a bottle of wine.


PS. Oh yeah...forgot to mention that the new XT Wings rock!

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