Sunday, 17 April 2016

Here we go Loop de Loop

No Races in February, just training runs.
Started out with a welcome back for my friend Chris as he returned to running on the heath with tales of The Spine Race, which he ran in January but sadly had to pull out of after 80 ish miles and a couple of days (correct me if it was more Chris!) due to injury. For those that don't know The Spine is a 268 mile non-stop challenge along the whole of the Pennine Way. In January.  To get 80 miles in the conditions the runners usually find themselves in is an achievement in itself. Never mind finishing it!
It had taken Chris a few weeks to recover sufficiently to run again, so luckily he was running slow and I was able to keep up with him! He had sure been in the wars though as no sooner than his leg injury was looking like recovering, his dog charlie headbutted him and took out several teeth!

just for you Chris!
Mileage was increasing and I had 2 x 20 milers to plan. The first one was to be the Larmer Tree 20 in March, the second I wasn't sure yet but was looking around, I find it better to do the really long training runs as events if possible as they seem so much easier than trying to find a route and then running it on your own.
Jenny was also booked into the Larmer Tree half race and was feeling a tad apprehensive as she had only done one half before and so as I had a 13 miler to do the first weekend in February we decided to take a Recce of the half route, taking it easy and walking the hills and just generally trying to kind of enjoy it!
Jenny had her own grand plans in operation and had booked into a half ironman in September so wanted to get some 13 mile practice! 
We dawdled, we opened and shut gates, avoided sheep with the dogs, stopped to take pictures, read the map, got the route a tiny bit wrong etc etc. and had quite a good run, although poor Jenny found the wheels fell off a bit with 2 miles to go and so was just following my feet towards the end as we found that due to the route going a tiny bit wrong, we had to do the 'run round the car park to make the distance up' run at the end. It did however help confidence in managing the hills.
Daisy was also pretty tired and couldn't wait to get in the car but Max the seasoned long distance runner just stood in the car park as if to say "is that it? only 13 miles, i thought we were going for a long run?"
We found a stray WSR sign on the way too.

we didnt go wrong on this bit!
The following week had 15 miles in the schedule and would be Daisy's first run at that distance so I decided to miss out the big hills and get in a little bit of tarmac practice interspersed with trails and do 'The Loop' a flexible circuit which is a good standby route, that goes from my house to, well, my house! The route takes in part of Canford Heath, Broadstone and Castleman trailway, Creekmoor heath, Upton park, and then Holes Bay and home.
By cutting out or adding in little offshoots on the off road sections I can make it 12 miles or I can make it 17 miles so its quite handy, and of course I don't have to drive anywhere to start with.
Jenny was going to join me partway as I went close to her house, and complete the last 9 miles with me all the way home.
We did have a good run but it seemed like a lot harder work than it should have done given that the previous year I did a slightly longer version in a quicker time!
Thankfully I had made Lemon Drizzle cake previously which made a great pick me up.
I found my second 20 mile event just after that, The Exe to Axe in Devon at the beginning of April running along the coastpath from Exmouth to Seaton. Sounds idyllic and lovely doesn't it? at least that's what we thought, surely it cant be as bad as our Dorset coast path, oh no siree.....
How wrong could we be. But more of that later. I mention 'we' as Neil had foolishly decided it sounded like a fun event too...Shortly after that there was the sound of a gauntlet hitting the floor as Neil said to Jenny 'why don't you join us'. Even though she had never done more than 13 miles before. And so with Kev roped in as support crew, we were to be '4 go mad in Devon'. What could possibly go wrong?
A full report on the effects of Murphy's Law on the unsuspecting will be featured in the full race report in April's post!

Meanwhile, back in February, we received the news that the grandbaby was in fact to be a grandson!
Hazel and Alex had decided they wanted to know what make they were expecting and found out at the latest scan. Here you can see the top of his head and his arms and hands.

The next long run was a 17 mile. So rather than try and work out another route I did a version of The Loop again, but this time, since I didn't want to take Daisy over 15 miles and it would have been unfair to take Max and not her, I did it without the dogs, but added a Chris instead.
Yes Chris had worked his way back up to some good mileage again so he met me shortly after the start and then we also picked Jenny up on the way too the same as last time although she was to turn for home at some point and not finish the whole thing.
Its surprising how much quicker you can be without having to stop every 5 or 10 minutes to chivvy dogs along, put on leads, take leads off, pick up doggy doo, etc etc, and so we managed a reasonable turn of speed along most of it, although it was my turn for the wheels to fall off a bit in the last couple of km, although in my defence they were mostly uphill!

Unfortunately though i may have overdone things somewhere along the line as in the final week of February I picked up a sinus infection of some kind and instead of a long run managed only a somewhat congested 5 miles. Cue a couple days off for recovery.

One thing I forgot to mention in January was that I felt very honoured with a request from a friend Anthony Clark (who is an incredible long distance runner) to write up a profile of myself about my nutrition and training tips for the Mont Blanc race, for the website of his new venture XMILES. In February my write up went online, see it here, have a laugh at me being next to some REAL athletes, and please take a look round the rest of Ant's website :-)

Next stop March, which includes a race report on the Larmer 20, a bit of cycling, I start grandma shopping, win something (not a race!), run somewhere different, and most importantly The Clocks Go Forward!

Thursday, 14 April 2016

River Deep, Mountain High..

So, January.
The official start of London Marathon training.
I had already decided that given the issues I had with road marathons before, that I would concentrate on:
A. getting to the start line in good shape and in one piece, and
B. getting to the finish line in good shape and in one piece!

A decent finish time was to take a back seat, and in my case as I am not a quick runner, a decent finish time would mean under 5 hours. If this happened it would be a bonus but I would not obsess over it.

In addition I also decided that I would take better notice of what my own body was telling me, and although I was following a training plan (I find it easier to do that than to think what I should be doing), I would make allowances for feeling tired, having an off day, having an especially good day etc and so hopefully avoid injury such as I got in the build up to Paris partially caused I think by sticking to a training plan too rigidly.

Of course also in January 2 new things in my life were announced.
One was of course the enormousness of the official announcement of Grandparentness, which is extremely exciting, I do hope I can be a good one. More about that later!

And the other was the start of Poole junior parkrun.
Jenny had been working on starting a junior parkrun for some time and the first event happened on January 3rd.  A 2km course for 4-14 year olds in Poole park on Sundays, and just like the main parkrun, at 9am.

I don't remember If this was the first one but there were 62 juniors running their little hearts out on the first day. I can really recommend volunteering at a junior parkrun, it is so much more rewarding even than the normal 5km version.

Oh and nearly forgot, I also started a 365 day (which turned into a 366 day when i realised it was leap year this year) photo a day blog. Its proving more difficult than I thought but if you would like a look its here

Anyway back to training, the plan I was following was one by Martin Yelling, available online, a lot of his training plans involve time rather than distance, except for the really long runs and I do like those as they make allowances for the times that you are feeling a bit off, you can do a bit less miles in the time. Or if you are feeling really good you can end up doing slightly more!

January's plan consisted of mainly 1 interval run a week, 3 or 4 shortish runs of up to an hour, and a longer run. Starting with a 6 mile, then an 8 mile, then an 11 mile which should have been 10 but 4 of us decided to do a run across Black Hill in Bere Regis which i had done before, and there seemed to be more of it than I remembered. Also poor Max had flashbacks to a time in the past when he disappeared under water as thanks to the rain one of the fields we had to go across looked like this

Yes although Daisy thought it was amazing and bounced like a gazelle through the water, Max decided he was having none of it "for goodness sake mum you cant see the bottom!" and stood his ground, so Neil had to carry him across!

Talking of the weather we seemed to have been through the mill with it in January, my training log records mud, torrential rain, cold, ice, wind, water, and more mud again. Testing to be sure.
The last longish run of the month was back down to an 8 mile but as the heath tracks had been chewed up by the Caterpillar tracks of 'heath maintenance' vehicles, we decided to run 8 miles of the Larmer Tree half route, firstly because Jenny would be running it in March and also because Kevin wanted us to check out some of the course as it had to be changed from last year. So from 4 go mad in Dorset, we were 4 go mad in Wiltshire!

No races in January which was a nice rest, although I did add another interesting one to the Calendar. The Snowdonia Trail marathon.
They have a road one which goes around Snowdon but this one goes over the top! Here is the route and profile.
looks a tad hilly!

Looks a bit tricky doesn't it? Why am I tackling this as well as the Coniston one this year? well I have it in my head that I would like to make at least one attempt on the Mont Blanc Marathon in the next couple of years and so i figured I needed the mountain practice!

See you in February's post.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

And the rest of the year went like this....

Yes, i know, incredibly lazy of me but conscious of the fact that it is now April (how did that happen?), I'm lumping the rest of the year into one post or I will never catch up!
September was a bit of a race fest as it happens. Full on Purbeck Trail Series (well most of it) with a mini triathlon thrown in for good measure.
week by week it looked like this:
Week 1 - few shorter runs followed by, on Sunday, the Beast race. Well named for sure. I first did this race last year and it was just as tough this year, although I did manage a small course PB.
Here's a reminder of one of the delights this course has to offer, although thankfully this year I managed not to trip over a blade of grass at the top and so completed it relatively unscathed. Not sure about the baby pink tshirts at the finish though.....

those lovely steps!
Week 2 - Well I say unscathed but I ended up with sore legs for a few days, and tackled a couple of 'ow, ow that hurt' runs at the beginning of the week. Conscious of the fact that I was due to do my first ever attempt at a triathlon (albeit a mini one) at the end of the week, I thought i ought to put in a bit of cycling too, even if it was only to work and back.
And thanks to me being stupid enough to let Max choose the route for Saturdays heath run (something he does like to do) I found myself in a section I had not run in before and soon found out why. Let's just say it's a good job nettle stings aren't serious, or I might have died out there!
Sunday dawns and im off to Dibden to the Rose Road min tri, with my run/swim gear and bike in the car. I am joining my work colleagues on this charity event. Even putting my bike on the stand it it clear I have no idea what i am doing, unlike the rest of my work mates! The only swimming I have done this year is on holiday in June, so after we are separated into fast med and extreme slow swimming groups (guess which one i am in...) I am surprised to find out that I am still not the last out of the pool among my little group! So glad to get that over with, I'm not good in the water and it was only 200m but I was happy to get on the bike! Next was 8 miles on a 2 loop course, then just a 2.5 mile run, but I didnt know about the jelly legs when you get off the bike so that was a nice surprise!
Some of my friends are regular triathletes so the greatest respect will be awarded to them from now on! I think i would rather run up a mountain its easier :-

I'm smiling but I dont know why!
Week 3 - certainly not feeling the love on the bike rides, I was sure it was getting more difficult, but next up in the running was the Purbeck marathon. We picked Nicola up in the morning and it's clear from our faces neither of us were 100% ready!

hope we cheer up!

It was my 3rd time of running it and in the end managed a few minutes PB on my course best. Glorious scenery as usual, can't be helped on the Jurassic coast though!

I'm here somewhere!
Week 4 - Mostly not a lot of running apart from Black Hill 10k. Plus, seeing as how I was helping organise again, we did a bit of mileage putting out and taking in signs. We had introduced a junior 3km trail run into Black Hill and I had a bit of running about to do while organising that, so when it came to starting the clock on the 5k and 10k and actually running it, I just relaxed and jogged the route! I think the part that stuck in a lot of runners minds was when the canicross runners were started 5 mins after the main pack and all you could hear while running to the top of the hill was baying hounds following!
I managed to put together a little video but due to lack of organisation I forgot to pick up the video camera from Kevin before the start so it only runs from about halfway after I passed his marshall position!

The following week it becomes obvious that the evenings are getting shorter and headtorches will be required soon. :-( Not that i mind headtorch runs but daylight is so much better!

October brings some post - Well, you know i don't really like road marathons? I seem to have got a place in rather a large one, whoops....
Yes, you're right I do have a lot of explaining to do, well its like this see....
Last time (and the only other time) I completed the London Marathon I didnt finish well. With Paris marathon I had an injury beforehand.... anyway lets just say me and road marathons dont seem to get on. So there was a bit of unfinished business going on and so I thought lets give it another try. Opting to let fate decide whether I got in or not, I entered the ballot and waited.
Imagine my surprise when the bumble bee magazine arrived! Game on :-)
Not fretting about it in October though as I wouldnt start training until January and had a couple of races to concentrate on first.
The first being Studland Stampede, and the second being the Stickler 2 weeks later.
I do like the Stampede, no idea why, its just a great race, even when you are going along the beach towards the end and every time you look up, the finish is no closer!
My Garmin says I had a small PB but the finish results say different, poor performance at 1:20:03, no idea what happened there. I hope to do a better time in 2016, as i will be back, cant keep me away from this one!
The Stickler however was a completely different affair, 10 miles of hills makes for a difficult race, I would recommend this for any Dorset local who wants some hill practice, but still I managed a course PB of 1:54:29.
Not only that, but just before the race I was completely surprised with a presentation ceremony of a Rebel Scum shirt and entry into this very exclusive running alliance (never a club!) :-)

I dub thee...the owner of a red tshirt :-)
Awesome! so a dual member of two unofficial running, erm, club type um things, alliances then, Nifty Nanas and Rebel Scum. I'm honoured to be in both :-)

Back on the heath and the nights are getting pretty dark now, back into headtorch territory, and Max is delirious to see his true love Abbie the border collie again as Chris joins us for a run.

A week later and just into November I am struck down by the cough and snot fairy and dont run for nearly a week, just about making it back into the land of the living to attend the first Moors Valley parkrun, in Verwood. Lovely route through the forest trails. Me and Jenny ran with the dogs and they loved it.
Took another couple of weeks before I was well again though, and in the middle of those weeks was the Wimborne 10. Heaven only knows why i decided to go ahead with this run, I certainly wasnt up to racing it, but I had promised Jenny I would run with her and so we did it together.
We had decided that to get through it we would add a swear word every mile and towards the end it was getting quite inventive. I cant remember what combination we had got to by the finish but I believe it got Jenny a 10 mile PB!

We had a bit of a restructure at home around this time as my Dad had decided that he wanted to venture out on his own and was looking at renting flats. He quickly found a great one not too far away in Sandbanks area in a lovely developement of retirement properties and moved in. I am very proud of him for doing this.

I'm puzzling over my training log next as to why I was doing intervals in November but it seems to have been part of the run up to the Round the Lakes 10k on Boxing Day. Looks like I might have actually been doing some training for it but for the life of me I cant think why as given the recent races I was not looking like I could get a PB.
For most of December I also signed up to the 'Marcothon', one of a few challenges where you run every day in December. The rules are you have to run 25 minutes minimum or 3 miles whichever comes first (in my case of course it was very clearly going to be the 25 mins!) On the days I normally didnt run I just did the barest minimum at a very easy pace.
So does running every day for a month have a detrimental effect? Well to general well being I would say no, at the end I felt slightly stronger than before, however for general speed I would say it does affect as I missed out on a fast time for the 10k.

However, all paled into insignificance with an important announcement just before the end of the year. My daughter Hazel invited us round to dinner and there gobsmacked us with the news that in 2016 we would be Grandparents :-) She didnt announce it in public until the New Year but we had the sneak preview!
What an amazing end to a packed year. I can only hope 2016 is as good
First Grandchild!!

Thursday, 31 December 2015

26.2 into 21 will go...

The Stur Half (AKA the Sturminster Newton Half Marathon) is not my favourite race, but it does hold my half marathon PB and the training program I was following in the lead up to the Purbeck Marathon in September had a 13 miler listed the same weekend, so it seemed reasonable to give it another bash. It’s a fairly hilly road half and I wasn’t expecting to do a better time, so wasn’t really disappointed when I didn’t!

The following week I was due to run a 20 miler so in a moment of madness had booked into the Salisbury ‘54321’ 33km race. The 54321 races which include a half, an 33k, a marathon and an ultra, start and finish at the Fire Station in Salisbury and the proceeds all go towards the Fire Station funds. They are also billed as a ‘multi terrain/trail race so seemed like a best of both worlds.

my ultra buddy Neil had decided to join me as well. We were just going to get round and finish it and no worry about time as it was pretty much a training run for me.  We were quite looking forward to it. Steve Way and Holly Rush were running the Ultra.

It turned out though the route and the terrain was not really what we expected. The start section which ran around Old Sarum was pretty nice, but in the remaining miles there seemed to be an awful lot of tarmac, and running alongside roads, and at one point through a housing estate. and in the end I found out that about half the race was on hard surface of some sort and so road shoes might have been better. We also found the signage a little confusing as where the routes split and joined again you would see distance markers in this sort of order “20km, 21km, 22km, 20km, 23km, 21km etc”  In addition, we wish we had known that all the aid stations bar 1 would only have water and squash. I guess we had been spoiled by white star running aid stations and were now being brought back down to earth!

I had only brought water with me, and a couple of gels and so ended up slightly under fuelled. (which was my own fault I guess as I should have enquired what the aid stations were supplying, or brought more gels or food!) I don’t know what make of squash it was as it just made us feel more thirsty and slightly sick so we didn’t have a lot of it! Consequently I had a serious fizzy coke craving at the end. The last couple of km to the finish were a little bizarre as we had to run through the crowds of tourists and shoppers in Salisbury's main shopping streets and then had to find our way back to the Fire Station with seemingly hardly any signage, so we tried to keep other runners in sight and hope they knew where they were going! .

When we got back Neils family had arrived again, and we also found out that Steve Way and Holly Rush had won the Ultra.
I think if you knew what to expect it would be quite a nice race and it definitely seemed to be extremely popular, indeed the whole event is a great favourite of many runners, and all seems very friendly and the pre event organisation was pretty good. So I would say give one of the events a go but take your choice of fuel and drink, a map, a garmin and your road shoes unless its really going to be muddy.

I was managing to cycle to work and back once or twice a week now I had the new bike so was hoping that this would be a good way to get some cross training in, even if I still couldn’t cycle faster than Steve Way runs! 

I was also looking through some old pics recently and was shocked by an old picture of me from about 4 years ago, looks like I might have lost a bit of weight since then, what do you reckon? See, there's hope for us all :-)

Now, poor Daisy was booked into the Vets to be spayed this month, but due to poor planning (by me) the operation was due to be done a few days before white star running's Bad Cow weekender so it was touch and go whether she would be well enough to be left with Kevin who was manning the ‘Lovestation’ or whether I would have to miss out on the marathon Day 2 which I was going to be running as a long training run with Nic and which I was possibly going to pull out of once I had reached approx. 21-22 miles (around 6.5-7 5km laps of this 8 lap marathon)

Daisy and I had a traumatic couple of days in which I couldn't pick her up, move her, or it seemed touch her without her yelping and apparently crying with pain. I did call the vets again and they said bring her down for a check up, I said I cant, as I cant pick her up to get her in the car without her crying!

In the end the following day was slightly better and by Sunday I was able to pick her up and put her in the car, so decided to risk taking her to Kev at the Bad Cow venue which was luckily not far down the road in the lovely Heathland reserve of Holton Lee, thinking that I could check on her every 5km lap and if she was distressed I could easily drop out and take her home.

I was not sure if I was looking forward to this race as I had not done a multi-lap marathon before and was convinced it was going to do my head in, but the route was quite varied and interesting and I had done 6 before I felt like I had had enough of the same scenery.

Despite it raining like a Monsoon in the first couple of laps, (who knew that technical fabric could hold so much water!) I ended up finishing the whole thing, getting the medal and in the process, Nic got a marathon PB, plus Daisy enjoyed her day in the sunshine (once the rain had stopped). Result all round! Seems 26.2 into 21 will go (hence also my strava record is entitled 'a 21 mile training run disguised as a marathon)

Mind you this lot probably helped - how can you fail to be encouraged with the likes of Clare, Ruth, Eve and Kevin every 5km! Bonkers the lot of em :-)

Big surprise next (I never win anything..) apparently sending a bit of a waffle about the Mont Blanc race and a nice pic gets you Star Letter in Trail Running magazine, and with it a free place in a Lakeland Trails race! 

After much deliberation and comparing of dates I decided on the Coniston Marathon (no point in travelling all that way for a half?, oh wait, Mont Blanc yeah.....) and the plan being to make a nice week of it with the doggies.

The only issue I can see is that it is 3 weeks before the Giants Head Marathon, oops! Going to have to factor in some serious rest afterwards to have any chance of recovery.

and to finish off the month, a bit of a mileage downgrade in the form of the first race of the Purbeck Trail Series, the Studland 5k. I do like this race, even though I appear to have reached my peak with it and never seem to get any faster! same time for the last 3 years, at least I am consistent i guess?

I also managed to complete one of my 55 before 55 tasks and make some apple wine from our own apple tree. I wasnt sure what it was going to turn out like but with 16 bottles I was sure some of them ought to be drinkable. At the time of publishing they have had a couple months rest and on trying a small glass, caused us both to make 'ooh that alcohol is strong' noises. (only slightly alcoholic it seems and a big hit!)

I am going to try and finish the year and do the next few months in quick succession so as to start the new year on a fresh page, but in case you would like a bit of a trailer, September brings The Beast, The Purbeck Marathon and the Black Hill 10k, I try a Tri, and we bemoan the coming of the dark. Best get writing!

Friday, 18 September 2015

Friends, Romans and Countryside....

Something told me (that would be my legs and my energy level...) that its probably not the best idea to have booked your first 50k 2 weeks after running around the alps, but that was what awaited me after returning from France, and suddenly it was all too close!

first though was another milestone, Dad's 80th birthday. Luckily at that age it seems a lot of fuss is not required and a special lunch out was all he wanted. Local pub, nice food, couple of beers and he was set for an afternoon nap!

So, cue 2 weeks of heavy legs that only eased off a few days before the race. I made sure to take 2 whole days off running and with only a bit of walking. A lot of people can run right up to a race but with a lot of trial and error I have found a 2 day rest is definitely required if i want to do my best.

We picked up Neil at the ungodly hour of around 4am or thereabouts as far as i remember, due to the fact that we had to be nearly at Wantage by 6am. Uuugghhhhh, it makes me tired just thinking about it, you may guess I am not good at mornings, and had to have several coffees, which was a decision I would regret later on. All i can say is, thank goodness for the portaloos at the aid stations!

I'm not really smiling its wind!
2 hours and one large wet cold field (full of tents) later we had our numbers and were posed on the start line ready to go. As Neil is a member of the running 'alliance' (not club, don't say club..) called the Rebel Scum, he insisted we did a 'scum start' for Kev's camera

Ready, Set, aaand... well just go when you feel like it.
Yes there are only 2 of us on the start, as it seemed day 2 of this event was a 'go when you feel like it' up to a certain time, so it was probably the most relaxed start line i had ever been on - "shall we start running then?" "well i guess we ought to jog for a bit...", 100 yards later followed by a short delay as i decided my race number would be more comfortable placed on my leg.

You can guess what Neil might be saying to Kev at this point...'women eh? or worse'
And then we were off. Kev left to take an extremely leisurely drive to the finish at Avebury with the dogs, and would have the unenviable task of hanging around for several hours waiting for us to come in (we were estimating 7 hours)
We had already agreed to pace pretty slowly, to stick together, and if an incline started to feel like a hill, we would walk it to save energy. This led to a quite a few 'hardly much more than flat' slopes being walked towards the very end! I can't remember a lot of the course (which followed the historical ridgeway path for most of the route), unfortunately because not a lot of it was truly memorable, apart for the wrong reasons like the section where we were running along the side of a road. There were some scenic bits don't get me wrong, but they were few and far between. By the time we had got to some of the better parts of it, just before Avebury we were at a level of hurt never before experienced, and didn't really notice, yes i know only 8k more than a marathon, but we didn't know it would make that much difference. On the way down the last hill to run through the Avebury Stone Circle (and then out again to head for the finish which was another couple of km away) we did agree that probably everything below around chest height was in pain. 
We pretty much decided to walk most of the last km and leave our remaining energy for running the last bit to the finish line. Unfortunately as we rounded the last corner to the finishing straight we realised that we would have to run all the way as everyone could see us! Longest finishing straight ever but first Ultra for both of us and only Neil's second marathon!

"Just a bit further, try and look like we are enjoying it..."
A nice surprise for Neil that became apparent as we got closer was that waiting for him at the finish line were his whole family and most of the rest of the Rebel Scum, and they were holding a banner....

a nice touch!
Why was it so much more difficult than a marathon? Was it psychological perhaps? An inability to pace such a long race due to inexperience? perhaps a seasoned ultra runner can enlighten me, or perhaps it will become clear if i ever do another.
I thought the event was expensive but pretty well organised, no problems with registration or start area (if you were doing the whole 100k you could be provided with a tent to sleep in). The aid stations were approx every 10km and were particularly well stocked (sandwiches, soup, tea, coffee, cake, hot chocolate, crisps, fruit, sweets, chocolate bars, flapjack etc etc), and they also had a few portaloos too, which was a welcome sight to someone who had consumed just a little too much coffee earlier...(too much information?)
You had to pay for a tshirt if you wanted one, but the medals were quite nice, although we both said, that since you could elect to enter just one of the days, it was a shame that they didn't have a separate medal to reflect that, as you felt a bit of a fraud with a 100k medal after doing 'only' 50k...
We were pleased to have got in under the 7 hours we predicted at 6:47 and I when I checked the results I had the added surprise of discovering I had come in first in my category (VF50) for the 50k even if you counted both days! No prize for that though, apart from plenty of pride :-)

I made sure i had a few days of total rest after that (well just dog walking anyway) as in a moment of stupidity I had already booked a place on the White Star Running 'Dorset Invader' half marathon just the following week, needless to say i was not planning on racing it (even if I had it wouldn't have been possible!) just getting round. I didn't want to miss this event as Kev was helping out there the whole weekend and to top it all the medals were EPIC, as most WSR medals are.
The truly enormous Dorset Invader half marathon medal! (not my photo)
Runners had been encouraged to embrace the wearing of themed costumes, and many people did indeed embrace this with open arms! The whole event was Roman themed as the farmland we were running on was once theirs and everyone got involved. There was well placed signage, no not the race direction signs, although they were good, but ones along the lines of 'What have the Romans ever done for us' and 'he's not the Messiah he's a very naughty boy'! Even the aid stations were themed and the famous 'lovestation' was renamed as 'Aphrodite's Temple' - This was Kev's get up for the weekend, understated as usual...

Infamy, infamy, they've all got it in for me...:-)
I was disappointed not to have had chance to get a costume ready, but it did turn out to be a pretty warm day so perhaps not such a bad thing after all! I certainly wouldn't have liked to have been poor Justin, who did the whole race in actual full metal jacket roman style

The Races were started by everyone being led in a charge down the hill by Rupert the farm owner in full roman costume on horseback!
The route was a nice mix of fields, gravel tracks, woodland etc and a lot of it went through Barley fields thus providing many an opportunity for people to channel their inner Gladiator by running fingers through it. I especially liked the sections of narrow paths which twisted and turned through woodland. Although one of the tree roots got me and I ended up on the floor, but nothing damaged except pride. Bonus points for me though as i managed to roll my shoulder and end up half on my back, which makes an improvement on the usual 'face first in the dirt' style.

In terms of venue it was great, there was a 'roman bath' for runners to cool off in, a Bar in a barn, camping, breakfast and a hog roast. To top off the weekend there was a bit of silliness in the guise of the charity 'Invader Chaos' race, a short race which started off with everyone having to throw their shoes in huge bags which were then taken up the hill and deposited on the ground, where runners would have to find and put on their shoes before the next section of the race. This led to the quote of the weekend, in a pause in the pre race brief we heard the radio announcement 'The shoes have been deployed, i repeat, the shoes have been deployed'....
Runners then had to run a short course before locating an item they would have to carry back to the finish with a partner who was only identified by the numbers pinned to the objects!
True to the race name, Chaos did ensue, I didn't run the race myself, but it was fun to watch. All proceeds went to Parkinsons Research charity

The 'Film my Run' guy Stephen was running the Invader Marathon and his film sums it up quite well.

Dorset Invader Marathon from Film My Run on Vimeo.

After 3 very different but difficult races in such quick succession and feeling really tired after the Invader I did have to admit that I had probably overdone it a bit and so elected to take a week off running.
After coming back from France I had luckily picked up my new bike as well (obtained via the bike to work scheme) and so just did a couple bike rides to and from work and a few dog walks.
The last week of July was just putting in a few steady runs, and looking forward to August which would bring, among other things, the Stur Half race, the Salisbury 54321 33km (which I was running once again with Neil) and hopefully most of the Bad Cow Day 2 Marathon as part of my training for the Purbeck Marathon in September.
Busy Busy time of year for Dorset trail running...

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

23km du Mont-Blanc...

We arrived in the Alps exactly a week early on the Saturday before the race, having rented a small apartment in Argentiere from some friends. It might be 'compact & bijou' but very comfortable and ideal as a base for outdoor stuff. This is the view from the balcony

I like Argentiere, its not as bustling as Chamonix and you can be on the trails in 5 minutes. With a ski lift, a woodland walk ideal for the dogs, and both Petit Balcons (the lowest level mountain walks) just a short walk away. Chamonix itself is just a 10 min train ride too. 

I had already decided that the day after we arrived I was going to run the first half of the 23km course at a fairly easy pace as a test run.
The cut off time had been nagging at me. I was almost sure it was generous but I needed to see what sort of performance I was looking at; could I take it easy? was I going to be close and have to push it? I needed to find a balance between gaining both time AND energy for the second half.
So with my full race day kit on (for practice), I headed out to catch the train to Chamonix in the early morning. Not many people about. (Apart from a couple of posh blokes in full Lycra bike kit bemoaning the commercialism of the local area and "of course it never used to be this crowded". . .)
I brisk walked to the para gliders landing field where the start was going to be, it was quite a cool morning. I took a few deep breaths and a sip of water, and started running. Very slowly I might add, I was under no illusions about how the altitude was going to affect me, and also didn't want to push it before the race.
I deliberately didn't look at my watch until I reached the road crossing past Tre Le Champ, but was pleased to see that I had reached it in 1:50 which was well under the checkpoint cut off time of 2.5 hours, and I hadn't pushed it as much as I might be tempted to on race day, which was very encouraging as it meant I would have time in the bag for the second half, which was undoubtedly going to be harder!
A group of hikers asked me what i was training for, was it the marathon? No the half, I said, quite far enough! I started a slow jog back in the direction of Montroc train station, thinking about the following Saturday.

The train whistle interrupting my thoughts made me realise I was going to miss my train back to Argentiere and the next one was in half an hours time. I didn't really want to go back the way I had come, but then remembered there was a shorter river route back. Couldn't be that far could it? And in fact it wasn't, just 15 mins and pretty much all downhill, who needs the train anyway? 

Nic was due out to Argentiere the following day, she was flying out to meet us and come and support and also spectate the other races, and spot some trail running celebs; there was always the chance Kilian was going to be there somewhere!

In the next few days after she arrived we did a bit of altitude hiking, including a via ferrata climb up some ladders, and a couple of small jogs just to keep the legs ticking over.  I stupidly overworked my calves on the first hike up Le Pecleray, and for a while it was touch and go that they might recover in time, so we kept the hiking fairly mild after that.

Come the Thursday it was time to register and collect my number from the race 'expo' which was like a temporary construction in the middle of town. You have to take your race pack (backpack or waist pack) with you so they can check you have the compulsory kit list, and tag it as well (presumably so you don't ditch it halfway or something?)
The only thing on the list i didn't have was a 'personal cup' but managed to pick up a cute little lime green collapsible one in a shop just outside the race expo before going to register :-)

They are quite strict in registration. Every item on this list has to be shown and ticked off. (spelling is not mine!)
  • Mobile phone.
  • Stock of water minimum 0,50 liter. (well they only needed to see the bottle!)
  • Waterproof jacquet windproof.
  • Whistle.
  • Survival blanket.
  • Personnal cup
To that I also added, gloves, a lightweight pull-on hat, a small first aid kit, and some gels and dried fruit & nuts. (although obviously they didn't need checking!)

The very efficient but nice lady ticked my list, issued my number (which had my name and country flag on), tagged my waist pack, and asked what size tshirt would fit me. Medium as it turned out. (I put it away to wear after the race, I know its just superstition but it feels like bad luck to wear pre-race issued shirts beforehand)

Friday was supposed to be a rest day, but we wanted to go down to Chamonix and see the start of the Vertical KM in the middle of the town and hopefully see some of the brave 80km runners arrive, so we took a slow walk via the petit balcon. On the way who should we meet but GB runner Robbie Britton and his partner Natalie White walking their dog Rosa. They were both going to be running the 23km too, but a lot faster than me! Of course I asked if I could have a photo :-)

Its pretty clear when you arrive in Chamonix just before the Mont Blanc Marathon Weekend, that this is serious trail running territory.

From the abundance of Salomon kit walking the streets, to the stringy whippet like bods lounging in the cafes, you know you are where the action is about to take place.

We arrived in time to see the leaders in the 80km arrive which was excellent timing. It was great to shake the hand of 'the mad frenchman' aka Sébastien Chaigneau, such a nice chap, and a privilege to see ultra trail running Nepalese sensation and newcomer Mira Rai finish as first lady (supported by her friend and mentor Lizzy Hawker)

Seb relaxing post race
Mira celebrating the finish straight
Then the vertical KM was about to start. There was a lot of build up involving loud music and an overenthusiastic compère on stage. An amusing moment was when a priest came out of the nearby church and stared intently at the stage until the volume was turned down!

Killian was not listed on the entrants list but that nice Mr Britton had informed us that he was running, and the general buzz of excitement soon proved him right. We nearly missed Emily Forsberg leaving the Start (runners leave at timed intervals), but they were leaving the main attraction until last. He stood in the start tent with folded arms and just waited. Then.....he was off!

So fast! (taken on my phone so poor quality)
The vertical KM is short but punishing: 3.8km of zigzagging trail rising 1000m from the streets of Chamonix to the Planpraz cable car station. I say trail but the trail eventually gives way to a mix of via ferrata and rocks. Killian must have been taking it easy as he finished in 6th place in 36:03 (!)

yes really up that path!
So, Saturday dawns.
The realisation hits me that its now my turn *gulp*
Early start, early porridge, early nerves.
My waist pack was ready the night before so only the water bottle to fill up.
Kev was driving me to the start to save time, we thought we were early but it was clear as we approach the woods before the start area, its clear the available parking is filling up so we park quickly by the road and walk through the woods instead.

The start area is already busy! I'm beginning to think that somewhere there must be an 'amateur start area' as everywhere you look there are the aforementioned whippets with their Salomon packs milling about. On closer inspection though I spot a few nervous runners like me, who are also wondering if they are in the right place, and yes, I realise we are, but a more serious feeling trail running event I have never been to. Nearly everyone has a full running pack, calf guards, buffs, arm warmers and other kit and I only have a waist pack; I start to worry, have I underestimated this race or has everyone else overcompensated?

Anyway practicalities need to be dealt with and I see there are a line of race loos (typical of an alpine area they are wooden not plastic!) but I sneak off to the posh proper flushing loo hut next to the woods instead :-)

Lining up (nearer the back than the front, I'm under no illusions) I spot a few more British flags on numbers and we exchange a few words of mutual encouragement. Kev and Nic wish me luck then go off to be near the front and get some pics.

The lady on the microphone asks everyone to listen to the race briefing, which is luckily in English as well as French. They ask us to make sure we keep our kit with us at all times as there may be spot kit inspections, tell us about the cut offs, and then start the countdown which we are all encouraged to participate with. "Dix, Neuf, Huit. . . . . . .Trois, Deux, Un,", and with the snow topped mountains as a backdrop, we're off, but then I laugh as the opening bars of 'Hells Bells' by AC/DC reach my ears! By the time we go through the start gantry I'm singing along '
I'm rolling thunder pouring rain, I'm coming on like a hurricane, my lightning's flashing across the sky, you're only young but you're gonna die. . . ' epic start to a race I must say :-)

We are eased into it via the first 2km which rise gently only 40m through the park trails and the woods, across the river and round the helistation, then the trail starts to rise, at first not too bad but then I have to walk (taking the opportunity to have a gel) as it gets steeper and zig zags up another 150m until we are at alt 1200m by 4km

At this point the trails are still wide which is good as they are pretty crowded! Although I have been overtaken by many people (not really a surprise though) I'm quite pleased that I have caught up with and overtaken a couple of people who are paying the price of trying to run up the hill.

As we reach 4.5km ish we emerge onto the road above the village of La Lavancher, and instead of taking the small path through the houses as I expected we are directed down the wide road route through the village, this offering a chance to just cycle the legs over downhill and overtake a few more people (some of them are serious looking and are taking it easy, so my confidence wobbles a bit as i worry they know something I don't, but then I remember I must always run my own race).

Mind you as we go past the little toilet hut coming out of the village I realise I have to take advantage of the facilities, so any overtaking I have done is soon cancelled out! I brisk walk/jog the rest of the slope up through the fields

By about 6km we are into the woods, possibly my favourite bit, as the petit balcon nord undulates through trees, and over a few rocks and lots of tree roots. Any long uphills I power walk, but most of it is great for running through and skipping over rocks, and although its getting narrower I manage to nip past a few more people (probably the same ones as earlier!) especially if they're nervous of uneven ground.

8km sees us onto the ski paths behind Argentiere, across the big wooden bridge and we are at the next lot of zig zags up, this one a bit more serious. There are quite a few spectators lining the last corner, ringing cow bells, and shouting 'Allez, Allez' then we leave them behind, and i soon drop to a walk (chance of another gel)
A few people are complaining about the climb! I'm wondering what they were expecting? At the top of the climb we almost hit alt 1400m but then start to descend through fields and along small roads into the village of Le Planet, then we drop steeply down a road section, once again a chance to let the legs cycle and get a bit of speed up! This was probably my fastest km over the whole race, I think I actually hit a pace of 4:32 a km for a few seconds!

Slight uphill now approaching a bridge crossing a ravine, and we are running next to the train bridge and then to Montroc station, there are more spectators, and a group of people dressed as smurfs of all things? a small boy smurf clapping us spotted my english flag and said in his best english accent 'go get your cup of tea!'

There are a few more spectators around the train station (which I notice is getting a facelift, bout time too!) and then we pick up the trail just above the train tunnel and I am back to walk/running as it feels steeper than it looks, and I'm feeling a bit tired now, but then we are above Tre le Champ and the first aid station!

I spot Kev and Nic and the dogs waiting beyond the aid station (they have driven up from the start) and perk up a bit and wave.

Kev has managed to capture the moment!
I take the opportunity to fill up my water bottle from the huge self service water barrels, even though i haven't drunk a lot, as by now the sun is coming out and its getting warmer; I might need a full bottle before i reach the next aid station.

The aid stations are well stocked, there are cut up bananas, oranges, cake, savoury crackers, squash, coke, sweets, and lots of it. I realise now why we have to carry our own cup as there are no plastic cups here! I guess they don't want to risk anyone dropping cups all over the mountain which is sensible really, and I wonder why we don't have this in the UK on some of the trail races? I make sure i have some banana and a bit of salty cracker and drink some coke (covering all the bases!) then run to get a hug from Kev

Nic walks with me to the road crossing bridge. Its a steep climb!

I check my watch as we reach the bridge (at nearly 12km) and it says 1:46 I am pleased to see, not far under my practice time but hopefully this means I will have a bit of energy left for the hilly bit.

"Good luck mate, see you at the finish" says Nic, and then I am up the steps and over the bridge and heading for what I know will be the steepest and most technical climbs yet, approx 300m climb over about 1.5km followed by the most technical descent of around the same. 

The trail up is very hard work, there is no chance of running, you have to walk, even if I physically could have run, at this point the trail is fairly narrow and we have to go up in single file for most of the way. I have taken another gel at this point and I find that I am not feeling too bad and in places I want the person in front to go faster (even though we are all walking) they are not walking fast enough and I wish I could go past, but I have a dilemma as I don't know what the etiquette is and whether it would be frowned upon to try to get past.
However a precident is made for me as at convenient zig zag points there are spaces to pass if you are quick and several people overtake me and slot in front. (I also learn the correct thing to say is "pardon, excusez-moi" as you pass) So I decide to go for it.
When i need to pass someone I pick my moment, then quickly hop up rocks to pass them and then walk again. I am finding to my amazement I can do this quite a few times.
Then we reach the top, and I know whats coming! My second favourite bit, the rocky descent back down 300m again.

I didnt have a camera with me, but I found this video on youtube someone else had taken (not during the race but you get the gist) on this section.
(please note it starts just after the top and the relevent bit finishes at 1:30, not worth watching much after that)

I actually have fun on this bit and descend as fast as I can, jumping, hopping, using my hands like a bit of mountain parkour.
There were a few people having trouble with their Hokas not liking this section, and I managed to get past a few here as well.

When we get to the bottom we are nearly at 15km, only 8 to go. But I know that it is not going to be an easy 8km as the finish is another 600m higher, and we have a total of around 700m of ascent to tackle.

The next km is not too bad, in and out of a few trees, but narrow, gradually up but some undulations so I manage to run some of it. We go over two wooden bridges, one over an amazing waterfall. Before the start Nic said to me, try and remember where you are and look up once in a while; so that's what i did; I stood by the waterfall for a moment and had a good look all around at the amazing view.

Now i found I was getting tired and there was not much overtaking being done, especially when we hit 16.5km and suddenly we are going up, and up, and don't stop for a km and a half until we reach Flegere. The first section is zig zagged but once the trees open out you have a great expanse of just bleak sloped hillside which is really relentless and soul destroying. It really seemed to be taking it out of everyone, even the Salomon clad whippet type peeps, so i didn't feel bad about walking and taking a few rests. I did attempt my 50:50 jog/walk technigue but it wasn't possible to keep it up, and so a just walked the rest of the way up. The sun was out by now and I had drunk most of my water so I thought it a good job I topped up earlier. I took the opportunity for another gel also.

It was with great relief I crested the never ending rise, and looked down at the artificial lake just below the cable car station, and I even managed a jog down the shallow slope. Then it was walk again and stagger up the short but steep final up to Flegere and the second and last aid station about 30 mins under the cut off time of 4 hours for this point.

Once again the same spread and all the marshalls manning the aid station are very helpful, and one offers to fill up my bottle for me. I have a little more banana, and coke, but couldn't face anything else, so I know from this that by now I am getting tired and having to push it a little.

I think there's nothing to be gained by hanging about, I may as well get on with it, as there is 'only' 5km to go, 'just a parkun', but what an epic hilly one!

I know from previous hikes that there is a slightly more runnable bit coming up, as the trail undulates and ends up going slightly down for the next km.

There is a technical bit of a rock face down with metal steps bolted in that has some people hesitating, but as I've been down it before it doesn't really bother me and I'm down quickly. This is the only bit of the course apart from aid stations where I have seen a marshall, he is making sure people get down this section safely. He applauds me as I land at the bottom, 'bravo' he says, which i smile at, of course he could just have been taking the piss but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt!

for some reason coming down here put some people off :-)
The next 4km are really just a slog along and slowly up mainly stony narrow trails. There are at least 2 scree slopes to go across then we drop down slightly, go through a small alpine field dotted with large boulders, then up again, through some more trees, then out and up, across a large ski run, and onto a rising narrow rocky track. We are at around alt 1900m and this section is quite exposed.
I pause and take in the amazing Mont Blanc vista; I've got less than 2km to go.

We can actually hear the finish, and the cheering so it spurs me on a bit, I tell a fellow runner to 'Ecouter' (listen), and he smiles.
There has been a couple behind me for a while, him clearly encouraging her as she is having a tough time of it, then he obviously spots the Cerne Abbas giant on the back of my tshirt, I don't understand all he says but get the gist, something like 'look at madame's tshirt there, that should cheer you up', she laughs, I stick my thumb up behind my back and they both laugh - glad to have been of service!

apparently I'm in there somewhere
And we can now just about see the finish, and there's a last short zig zag up, some poor chap is sat down with blood coming from his knee, I ask him if he is OK, but he says he has 'Le Cramp'!( Pronouced 'Cromp', worth knowing the terminology if I am ever if any future French races)

Now there are lots and lots of people lining the route, lots of people 'Allez'ing and 'Bravo'ing and also English voices saying 'Come on love, you can do it!'

I am feeling really hot now, and my hands feel sticky from the last gel, and just there is a random patch of snow i plunge my hands into, which is lovely.
I'm determined to be running when I cross the line, and miraculously there's suddenly a small downhill just before, which I can run down, and which gives me the momentum to go up the other side. I overtake one more person, hurrah!, and then I see Kev taking my picture, and the man with the mic on the finish is saying my name, and I'm over the line, and incredibly I remember to stop my watch!
still smiling!
beyond the finish area
We then get ushered through to collect medals, and a free beer which goes down very well I must say. The man says I can come back for a refill if I want, but one is enough! I meet up with Kev & Nic and the doggies (who i heard later only just made it in time, due to the enormous queue for the cable car up), and hugs all round.

My official finish time was 4:36:24 which I was very pleased with as I was well under the publicised cut off time of 5 hours (although looking at the results some people finished in over 6 hours so they were very lenient!) and there were an astounding 438 people behind me, which really did amaze me, considering my original goal was to finish and not be last :-)
Time to wear that tshirt!

There was a HUGE queue down the cable car as well and I was feeling just a tad tired (surprise, surprise) so rather than stand in it we decided to adjourn to sit down in the outdoors cafe to get a drink and breather. 
Small world though, as we had no longer sat down than someone was calling Kev's name. It turned out to be local Dorset based BAC runner Manol who knew us from some WSR events.
We knew he was running the marathon the next day, but didn't expect to see him among all the runners that were in chamonix that week.
Apparently he was doing a good job carb loading, this is such a great pic i had to include it!

And talking of great pics, I've ended up with the best official race photo ever! I hardly ever buy race photos, in fact I've only ever bought one other in 4 years, but I had to get this one :-)

If you asked me to sum up this event, it would difficult to do so without using such unoriginal words as 'Epic' and 'Awesome'. This was the hardest race I think I have done, but certainly the most amazing. I wouldnt say enjoyable, as it can hardly be called 'fun' but the whole event was an experience hard to repeat without doing it again, which is not quite as easy as it sounds. (travel, medical certificate, accomodation, suitable training etc etc)
But I'd hate to think that this was the last time I did something like this, so watch this space ;-)

Monday, 10 August 2015

She'll be running round the mountain when she runs...

After a couple of short runs in June (the longest was 8km); Ooh, guess what? Only a new 10k PB no less...

What felt like the hottest day of the year fell once again on Poole Festival of Running Day in Poole park (7th June this year).  I honestly don't know how they do it, someone must book it in advance, or have a special arrangement with the weather gods.

Although not ideal for running in, it was certainly ideal for making a day of it in the park with a picnic and the dogs. If the weather allows (which touch wood it has so far!) we like to turn up early to get a good parking spot, have a leisurely wander round the lake, watch all the morning races (if not competing in any), retire to the picnic area, have lunch, then walk back in time for the afternoon's 10k, after slathering on suncream as a 2pm race start usually means the hottest part of the day!

Nic's partner Mary was running in the 5k race (Mary's first race as a new runner, with a number and everything!) and so was Nic to support her so we sat on the bench by the fountain, which gave a good view of the start and finish to spectate.

After lunch I lined up on the 10k start line and managed to pull off a fairly consistent run with quite close splits ranging from 5:30 to 5:39 a km (hark at me, quoting splits!) with a slightly faster last one brought on by seeing the finish line! Very pleased to get a result of 55:44 and a 10k PB in the process.

I do quite like this race, even though its laps and on road, I suppose its because its so very local we could almost walk there, and the route is very familiar. This year though i was slightly disappointed with the t-shirt as it seemed to be of poorer quality that previous years. I think i would rather get no tshirt and a cheaper race for a 10k race like this, but of course I must remember that for a lot of people it is the furthest they have ever run, and quite a big deal, and so for them a tshirt is a nice memento of their running journey so far.

The next week couldn't go quick enough as we were counting down the pre-holiday hours, next stop south of France!
The week before we were due in Argentiere, we had planned a week in the Dordogne area of France along with my daughters, their other halves and some friends, for what we hoped was going to be a well deserved relaxing break before tackling the mountains.
There were 8 of us in total, and 4 dogs, in a really lovely gite not far from Brive.

Les Aubiers
having been to the area many times before we didn't feel the need to go and do much sightseeing, so spent most of the week relaxing, swimming, reading books, and playing tennis and Petanque in the gite grounds (after what felt like such a busy year it was so lovely for a change to wake up in the morning and and kick back, and know you don't actually have to do anything if you don't want to!)

I did manage 3 runs though, mind you as the week went on the heat went up, so the effort level went down. The longest one was the first day we were there. I didn't know of any suitable routes in the area but thanks to the free Wi-Fi I was able to study Google Maps and spotted what I hoped was a likely candidate starting only a few hundred yards from the front door. In unfamiliar territory its often best to take an out and back route, so as to retrace your steps after halfway and minimise getting lost. I was hoping the area would offer enough tracks to get me approx 45 mins of running before I had to turn around (I was aiming for an hour and a half in total)

The route started by the local riding stables (I was hoping this was a good sign as surely a riding stables will need a good few miles of unbusy track available?) and the first km was up a dusty white stony track past horses in fields and also a couple of very nosy mules, who startled Max & Daisy by deciding to run along the fence with us until the field ran out. What startled me were the flocks of Hoopoes in the fields too. You don't see many of these on our local heath!

I then took the next small path into the woods as it looked from the hoof prints and the horse dung that this was where all the rides started. It was clear it had rained the night before as there were many overhanging branches laden with water, and I managed to gather most of it on my hair and clothes, emerging the other end of the woods soaked to the skin! Still the weather was warm enough for this not to matter and the now more open track took us past piles of cut logs which provided a small diversion to the dogs as they looked for sunbathing lizards. I also spotted a couple of wooden posts with yellow tops spaced quite a way apart along the side of the track. This was reassuring as they appeared to be route makers of some kind so i was hopeful we had found an 'official' footpath.

Then we hit a road.

Due to the fact we had only gone 2.5km I was not keen to turn around just yet but neither was I that keen to take the dogs very far along the side of the road as I had visions of rogue local farmers driving their ancient 2CVs without due care and attention. However, having spotted another yellow topped post further down the road, I was hopeful we would be on trail again soon and that this was just a short tarmac interlude; so with leads on the dogs & wits gathered, I set off to the left, and we were soon trotting (just a few hundred metres as it turned out) through a typical sleepy french hamlet. 

from a walk through the same village the next day
Luckily only 400m later the yellow posts led us off the road again and down a tree lined stony path for another km. Emerging at a junction in the trail I discovered a signpost which informed me I had not discovered a walking trail as I had first thought, but in fact a MTB trail network (which is pretty much the next best thing!). Passing the time of day for a moment with 2 local bored but friendly dogs who appeared from nowhere, I turned left almost back on myself along another track leading upwards, this time with green topped posts. This just seemed to go up for another km. A further short section of road later (only 100m tops!) and up again, but this time through a lesser used section if the long rain laden grass was anything to go by, before a short rocky descent to another junction where I decided to turn round and return, having done a tad over 45 mins.

Cue the same run in reverse, but to save time lets speed it up shall we? OK, go; short rocky up, long soggy down, road (blink and you miss it), down to signposts, hello dogs, turn right, trees, french village (watch out for locals), past cut logs, lizards!, woodland (wet trees again), horse dung, nosy mules, horses, Hoopoes!, white stony track, and stagger back through the gates to the gite.

It was quite nice on the one hand to go on a run of discovery for a change, not knowing where I was going to end up, but there is also the risk of running into local unchained guard dogs, farmers with shotguns, locals with banjos, etc etc.
I did make sure I had a phone with me, plenty of water given the heat, and a first aid kit!

Of course after the brief excitement of discovering a new trail, there was also the safe comfort of being able to run it again in more familiarity (don't want too much excitement on a relaxing break!)
The other 2 runs were just a variation on a theme, the first taking a shorter route, the second completing a circle after I realised upon uploading my run, that if instead of turning round and retracing my steps, I had turned left and followed the trail I would get back to where I started :-)
This last one was without the dogs though, as after half a km accompanying me, they showed a distinct lack of being either mad or English, announced it was far too hot and then wouldn't go any further, so I had to take them back! (they were right, it was nearly too hot for me too)

Interspersed with this was quite a lot of swimming, which was lovely, I don't normally get chance to swim, so getting in the water every day in that heat was a real treat. I'm not a good swimmer but during the week i went from 96 metres in one go to 288 metres by the end of the week. Good cross training too.

We also found a great local lake/water park with man made beaches and surrounded by walking paths which passed an enjoyable couple of hours walking the dogs and letting them splash in the lake

Oh, and i might have drunk a bit of wine too. . . . . (when in France etc. . )

So, coming to the end of a lovely sunny peaceful week, it was time to look forward to higher ground, as next time I put my running shoes on I would be running round a mountain. . .

See you on the next post in Chamonix with a full Mont Blanc Cross report.