All posts by neil

How to run a marathon

Billed as France’s “first marathon” (of the year that is), the Tecno Globe marathon, run from Cernay-la-Ville (about 40km from Paris) was an opportunity to shake off the excesses of the holidays such as they were (not much in fact).

Also a test for the new system (as outlined in my last post) which consists of actually eating one’s energy bars during the race instead of carrying them around, back home and ready for the next run. The new technique worked well on the 75 km of the Hospitaliers and I figured that it would make running a marathon a cinch!

It did. I ran the best marathon of my life. No wall and a reasonable time of 4hrs 23 minutes – my fastest for five years or so. And around quite a hilly (for a marathon) course with 320 meters of vertical ascent. You can follow my progress on Strava.

All down to eating a 100 or 150 calorie gel every half an hour or so. Magic!

The Tecno Globe/Cernay marathon was well organized with good support from the benevoles and participants that proved sympa.

Trail des Hospitaliers 75km – finished at last!


I failed to finish the 75km Trail des Hospitaliers three times over the last five years. This time it was make or break. This grueling run starts from Nant in the Aveyron, France and goes around a loop that includes about 3700 meters of climb (measured at 10m spacing) including one long haul up the Mont Guiral of about 800 m vertical – and almost as much down the other side.

Last year I nearly made it round but was just outside the time limit at the last checkpoint (the spectacular village perché of Cantobre) and also was pretty well pooped and probably incapable of doing the last few kilometers as these include yet another trip up and over the Causse.

In the run up to this year’s race I convinced myself that last year’s failure was likely due to ‘bonking,’ i.e. running out of energy. In the past I have beev a great purchaser of energy bars and so on but I have not been so good at actually consuming them during a race or ride. I find the munching effort too much and end up returning home with the bars unconsumed. This year I tried to find out a bit more about nutrition during a race.

As in just about any subject, researching the web is tricky because it is full of commercial ‘advice’ on what products to use and there is also a lot of information from people who just seem to be making this stuff up. Like do you really need all those vitamins and trace elements, and what difference can it make for the duration of a race whether the stuff you eat is ‘bio’ or not?

Being of a somewhat scientific nature and liking to keep things simple I figure that what I really needed during a race was sugar and water. The question was then how much. More web trawling and chatting with friends gave came up with the following. First that it is pretty well impossible to replace all the calories you use up in a big race. You may well be burning around 500+ kcal/hour but it is hard to ingest anything like that amount. Someone told me that the max was about 100 kcal/hr which sounds like not very much but when you translate it into gels and bars it looks like quite a lot. For the 16 hours I was running this means 1600 kcal, i.e. 16 sachets of PowerBar’s Powergel or 32 of those little tubes of stuff. The other advice I randomly selected out of the huge amont of information was that it is a good idea to eat something every 30 minutes or so from the start of the race. I set out with all my uneaten bars and gels from previous races and decided to give the new regimen a go. The results were pretty convincing as a look at my times over the two years shows.

I set off this year eating regularly pretty much whatever I had. Bars, gels and Isostar glucose tabs. My wife replenished the supplies at the feeding stops. The first half of the race includes the big climb over the Mont Guiral I mentioned earlier. Previously I found this pretty hard going and had to stop for a break on the way up. Even on the way down on some occasions. This time I ate and ate and, although my time was similar to last year, I did the climb and the descent feeling infinitely better than in previous years. The eating thing went so well that I actually ate all my stuff with a couple of hours to go before the next food stop. I did the St.Jean to Dourbies leg in pretty much the same time as previous years but felt a zillion times better.

Running out of food for a couple of hours was not such a great idea but it gave another point of the graph because although I started eating again asap, I was undoubtedly in a calorie deficit as I did the next Dourbies to Treves leg about 10 minutes slower than in 2014. This actually put me 5 minutes behind my 2014 time at Trèves (something that thankfully I did not realize at the time). But again, I was again in much better shape and got another handful of bars and gels before setting off on the redoubtable leg from Trèves to Cantobre.

This leg is tough (the route goes along a rubbly riverbed, climbs a bit to a long traverse on an awkward sloping path before yet another big up and down the Causse Noire) and it is not made easier by the fact that the race notionally ‘finishes’ at Cantobre. In other words, if you make it to Cantobre by 6:30 pm – i.e. in under 13 ½ hours you are OK and you can take as long as you like to do the last Cantobre to Nant leg. So the pressure is on.

I am not saying that the new regimen made this critical penultimate leg easy but by golly, having reloaded on my calories and with constant topping up, I managed to knock off 20 minutes off my 2014 time for this 13 km leg. What’s more, I actually managed to run quite fast along the short flat stretch before the scramble up to Cantobre. There was energy to spare! Made it just under the time limit.

I took the ‘take as long as you like’ motif to heart for the final stretch and walked steadily over the rather tricky path to Nant. I came in last except for a couple of walking wounded to an incredible reception. It was great to see the clock showing 15 hours 59 minutes, like this was somehow significant. There must have been 50 yellow jacketed ‘benevoles’ who shouted, clapped and cheered – even managed a Mexican wave as I crossed the line and ran their gauntlet. An amazing reception that was reserved for us tail enders – the online video of the winner shows nothing like this as the benevoles were all still out in the field. Really this is an incredibly well organized and friendly event. Highly recommended.

Post script ..

French speakers might like to read my ‘compagnon de fortune‘ Thierry’s race account in the Festival de Hospitaliers guest book and a few other exciting accounts – notably from “deux points de suture” Sophie. My thanks to Jane my spouse for all the support, ferrying to and fro and supplies of gels and bars.  Thanks too to Lionel of Lou Castel at Cantobre and friends for the pancakes and his wise suggestion that I wear a jacket for the last leg (it suddenly got quite cold in the curious hinterland between the Cantobre rock and the climb up the rock Nantais).

Shihab, Thierry, Neil
Shihab, Thierry, Neil



Terasses du Lodevois 2015

LodevoisA great trail run (chose between 27 and 47km – I did the shorter distance) from the edge of the Larzac plateau down and across the Pas de l’Escalette and up over some more stuff before the finish in Lodève. Normally the views are splendid. On the day it was rather drizzly and misty. Early on in the race there was a little cliff with ladders (above). Later, some very wet slippery bits with even slipperier ropes to help.


I finished up covered in variegated mud… geology and sport rolled into one.. bliss!

La Ronde des Fedas 2015

La Ronde des Fedas (occitan for sheep) is a 13k run out and around the Causse du Larzac from L’Hospitalet du Larzac, Aveyron, France. The race takes place entirely on the plateau but this does not mean that it is flat. There is an 80m vertical climb over about 3km of the latter half of the race. You can see my tracks on Strava here.  If you are in the area, don’t miss the Museum of geology and natural history and especially the intriguing rock formations of the Failles de Canalettes, deep cracks reminiscent of the film 127 Hours!


Ikalana – Villefranche de Panat

L’Ikalana a changé. Non pas de parcours, ni de date, mais le trail de 34km qui partait de Villefranche de Panat le 15 aout 2015 n’était pas tout à fait la même course que celles auxquelles j’ai participé ces 5 dernières années. Je m’explique. En général, c’est à dire dans mes quatre participations sur depuis 2011, j’ai couru en que de peloton, mais tout de même en compagnie. Il m’est arrivé de doubler quelques retardataires ayant usé toutes leurs force ou qui avaient chutés. Je terminais avec un demi douzaine de coureurs derrières moi quand même.

Cette année, je part dans un peloton suspicieusement réduit (60 au lieu de jusqu’à une centaine auparavant) et à mon rythme habituel. Et puis, dans l’espace de quelques minutes je me retrouve tout seul. Les autres m’ayant laissé pour compte ! Je continue mon bonhomme de chemin, convaincu que je les verrais tôt ou tard, ceux partis trop vite. Que nenni. J’ai couru la course de bout à bout en solo. J’ai fini dans (pour moi) un chrono raisonnable mais j’étais bien le dernier de la journée à toucher le t-shirt du finisher – les deux autres courses de 24 et 10km déjà terminées. Mais j’était en très bonne forme à l’arrivé, ce qui n’a pas toujours était le cas pour mes précédents Ikalana (chute une année et épisode syncope une autre !).

J’ai aussi résolu un énigme qui m’a troublé précédemment, à savoir, comment cela se faisait que je ne voyait jamais de coureurs du 24km, parti que 5 minutes après nous, et qui le parcours s’est joint au notre assez tôt dans la course. Au fait le 24km prend un raccourci qui fait que ils doublent les coureurs du 34 km en que de peloton.

Pour finir, pourquoi la course a changée ? Ben, le fait que c’est le 24 km (et non pas le 34km) qui permet de marquer des points pour le challenge Groupama Nature n’est sans doute pas étranger au désistement de certains pour le parcours long. En tout cas c’est ce dernier auquel je compte bien rester fidèle pour l’année à venir. RDV Lundi 15 août 2016. Inscriptions au




Thanks to all

A belated thanks to all of you who sponsored my 2015 Paris Marathon. Thanks to you all we contributed around £2,800 to the UK Charity the Cardiomyopathy Association.

The race went OK. I got around in 4:29. Actually my best time for a few years. But I would have liked it to be a bit quicker – especially the last 10k where I was struggling. I am probably worth around 4:15 but that is tantalizingly close to 4:00 – hence the tendency for a too fast first semi.

“Ecotrail” de Paris 2015

My second go at the Ecotrail, an 80km run from Paris suburb Saint Quentin en Yvelines into town. Last year finished in around 12 1/2 hours at the very grand Trocadero. This year it was even more splendid with a finish on the first stage of the Eiffel tower. Like many, I probably ran the first 20k or so (which are on the flat) a bit too fast and felt pain in the upper front part of my thighs around km 30. Around 50km into the race us tail enders were doing a fair amount of walking and what with some stuffing down of (rather unappetizing) food at the ravitaillements I was in good shape for the final 10km along the Seine, into Paris and up the Eiffel tower where, to my disappointment, we were not hosted in the famed Jules Verne restaurant.

Why is it called the Ecotrail you may ask? A good question. The organizers would have you believe that you are running “to save the planet” or some such. To which end they supply reusable drinking cups (no plastic throwaways) and a train ticket to the start from Paris. They also will post your race bib etc. saving a trip to collect.


Le Trail du Gourg d’Enfer

As the Aveyron and Bozouls is on the TV tonight I thought that I had better blog this quick. Last August I ran the spectacular Trail du Gourg d’Enfer, a 20k up and down starting and finishing in Bozouls, Aveyron. This is a very attractive and geologically interesting village, built on a rocky spur above what could be described as a meander in the Dourdou river but is really more of an curvy incision. I think I read a long time ago an article in the Scientific American that spoke of ‘least work curve.’ I looked this up on Google but all I found was … a short note I wrote in 1999 on the same reminiscence. But I digress.

The run heads off steeply down into the bottom of the hole and then climbs quickly up steps and then proceeds up and down in a switchback. See my GPS track below. And here for the results. I came in 67th out of 90 at just a smidgin under 8kph. Not too bad for the quite tricky terrain and dénivellé. The saucisse aligot and fouasse et the finish was pretty good too.




Cycl’Aigoual 2014

Neil on Cycl'Aigoual

Comme avant-goût de notre séjour 2015 prévu à Meyrueis, Lozère, j’ai testé le terrain avec une participation au Cycl’Aigoual*. Je me suis inscrit au parcours dit Fenioux (145km) mais j’ai fini par basculer sur les 97km du parcours Quézac pour diverses raisons.

Le départ est lancé sous un système de handicap. Les vieux (plus de 50) et femmes d’abord. Ensuite les plus jeunes et une demi-heure après les premiers, on recommence avec les participants du plus petit parcours. Ceci a comme effet pour un coureur très moyen comme moi de se voir d’abord largué par ses collègues d’âge et ensuite, être doublé par les concurrents de plus en plus rapides. Ceci rend difficile le choix d’un gruppetto adapté à sa vitesse. J’ai donc roulé en solo pour pratiquement tout le parcours.

Et quel parcours. De Meyrueis on attaque le causse Méjean. Après une montée facile on traverse le causse puis on descend environs 600m dans la vallée du Tarn aux Vignes. Les 12 km qui suivent font la partie la plus impressionnant des gorges du Tarn – très encaissée. À La Malène on retraverse le Tarn et puis on remonte le causse Méjean par d’innombrables épingles à cheveux mais cette fois que sur 400m de dénivelé. Et puis on retraverse le causse en direction de la Jonte et les Cévennes avec pour le 145km la montée du Mont Aigoual et sinon, la descente vers Meyrueis. J’ai pris la seconde option et j’ai descendu les derniers km en compagnie de Jacques Michaud (directeur sportif BMC** et gagnant d’une étape du TDF en 1983) qui m’avait félicité de mon choix de vélo (euh, un BMC) avant le départ.

Moi et Jacques

C’est ma seconde participation à l’épreuve qui est organisée par le Vélo Club Mont Aigoual Pays Viganais Cévennes. L’an dernier j’avais terminé avant dernier sur le grand parcours. Cette année j’ai mérité d’un abandon pour cause de changement de parcours et je ne figure pas dans le classement. N’empêche, je recommencerai l’année prochaine, et on tâchera d’intégrer ces beaux parcours dans le programme du stage 2015.


Et puis un autre concurrent a mis une vidéo en ligne au