“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.

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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.

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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.

http://www.veloaigoualviganais.com/en-savoir-plus/15eme-midi-libre-cycl-aigoual-31-08-2014-40079

** http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_Michaud

Et puis un autre concurrent a mis une vidéo en ligne au https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pz33_nONARM

2014 Trailou de la Muse

So how are my knees now? Well I had a couple of days off after the marathon and have been back out with the dog for some pretty good runs. An Easter trip down to the Aveyron gave me a chance to put the knees to the test in a short trail run – the ‘Trailou de la Muse‘ a 21 km run in the massif central area with around 1000m climb (and consequently 1000m descent). I had a great run coming in 54th out of 58 in a time of 2:45 with which I was well pleased. And the knees? They are fine too. Oh and an interesting oldsportish statistic. I came 5th out of 5 in my age group. The winner of the age group above me (ie 70 years and up) came in 10 minutes ahead of me. He was alone in his group. One fast and agile 70 year old!

2014 Ecotrail de Paris and Paris marathon

So having established that not training is the order of the day I have to tell you about an amusing diary error that worked out rather well this year. Way back last November or thereabouts I got an invitation to enter the Paris marathon. I paid the entry fee and scribbled down something in my diary. Then in February I saw an ad for the Ecotrail de Paris (ETP, an 80k run with 1500m vertical), checked against the diary and saw that they were a month apart. Or so I thought. As the emails from the event organizers started coming in I noticed that I had the wrong date for the marathon. They weren’t a month apart but a week apart. The Ecotrail on the 31st March and the marathon on the 6th April. Oops. I decided to do the Ecotrail and see how I felt afterwards. To cut a long, an 80km long, story short, I did the ETP in 12hrs 08 minutes (well inside the 13hours limit). This is a really good run. About 20k on the flat. 50K of non stop up and down and then 10k on the flat – running along the Seine river in Paris to finish up at the Trocadero in front of the Eiffel tower. Very memorable. Energy wise I had a fantastic race with some oomph left at the end to keep up a 7kph-ish tempo for the last few k. Footwise things were not so good. One toenail has since gone and there was copious blistering. But the most uncomfortable part of me was my knees. These really take a beating going downhill and I was having considerable trouble here, reduced to some embarrassing hobbling on occasions. I was pleased therefore with my perf over the flat at the race end. But I was also concerned that I might have done some damage. After all us oldports are constantly up against the sedentary lobby ‘you’ll wear yourself out’ and so on. After my 80k I was beginning to think they might have a point. The next week I was covering a conference so there was a reasonable amount of walking around (not too much) and certainly no running. And little by little I thought that maybe I would be OK for the marathon after all. I was also greatly helped by a chance conversation at the conference (thanks Tracey) where I was asked if I wore shoes that were a size too big for me. Now you should know that I am a Yorkshireman and that there is a saying, ‘you can always tell a Yorkshireman but you cannot tell’im much.’ I indeed was dismissive of this idea at first. I mean I have always run with a larger size of shoes than my town shoes. But I have also had blister and toenail ‘issues’ especially racing. I was also feeling unfriendly to my ETP trail running shoes and decided to go for broke with a new pair for the marathon. I know that they say that you should never run a long race in new shoes, but while I think this is probably true for a less well-run runner, after 35 years of regular running I find that you can change shoes with minimal running-in requirements. So I bought my new pair, one EU size larger, and just to make sure that the knees were not totally shot, went out for a 5k trot (with the dog who was getting a bit pissed off with the lack of action by then) and found that the shoes were great and that the knees did not seem too bad either. So all systems were go for the second big event of the week (well nearly). Although I did not run my fastest marathon of recent years, I did run one of my best in the sense of a nice even pace. In fact I got around to about km 38 with a fairly linear decline in speed, from 11kpm to around 7.5 (check). Then I did have some recurrence of the knee problem and was reduced to a couple of km of semi hobbling and struggling to put in a trot or two. Managed to get across the finishing line and very well pleased with my time of 4:32.

The Paris marathon is a great course and is getting better supporting crowds and entertainment – in the way of drumming bands, boomer rock and rollers, hunting horners in full regalia and curiously dressed gentlemen miming to Barbara Streisand.

img0047aI did not see the guy with the Eiffel tower this year though – here he is last year.EiffelMan (close)

On training and introducing Max my coach

On training. I don’t. I just run. Usually with the dog. For the last three years this has been Max, a nutty spinning, neurotic tail catching (mostly) border collie. For Max, running is the normal state of affairs. All else is distraction (we were obliged from the organization who provided him for free to have him neutered). This is not such a bad philosophy and actually helps answer that most difficult of questions, ‘why does one run?’ But that will be the subject of a future investigation. OK I do do some event specific stuff. Like back in 2006 for my first Etape du Tour I lost 5kg and did a fair amount of hill climbs on the spinning bike (what a phenomenal workout that machine can provide in a short amount of time). But if the outside and the dog are calling, the spinning bike doesn’t get a look in. I usually run 12k or so. Maybe with a 20k every other weekend and just a few times a year do a 30k (still with the dog). Also I am a member of the local athletics and biking clubs but don’t really do them justice (again, I blame the dog) although I get away for a week a year with the bikers for a week of 100k/day rides usually in a fairly hilly area. On the athletics track I put in maybe half a dozen sessions of interval training. Again, I blame the dog, but also I blame a lack of any true knowledge of what I should be doing out there. By that I mean that at age 65 it is hard to fit into the expectations of most training programs. I am certainly never going to beat a personal best (3:22 for the marathon). The objective is maybe to complete and if you do better than you did a couple of years previous then that is indeed great. Apart from the dog excuse, I don’t ‘train’ because I don’t really know what to do. Just run… its fun… I have a book somewhere which purports to explain how to ‘bike till you are 100’. I will pull it out and blog about it sometime.

2013 Cycl’Aigoual/Fenioux

Another great bike race last year was the Cycl’Aigoual Fenioux. Another 150 k ish ride starting and finishing in Meyrueis (Lozère) and going through our very own home from home, La Roque Saint Marguerite (as does the Templiers). So another chance to show off. Again the last 50k were a bit too much and I was in survival mode just able to turn the pedals grinding my way back up from Treves. And I was well placed to savor the innumerable little rises that punctuate the ‘plateau’ of the Causse Noire before going back down the long climb we had made when leaving Meyrueis that morning which had strangely transformed into quite a short run downhill. Finished 111th out of 112 and got the T shirt but should really have been disqualified as too slow (20kph vs 23kph minimum requirement) Still I wasn’t complaining. The 2013 course included the steep and spectacular climb up a road with grass and grit in the middle from La Truel in the Jonte valley to the quaintly named Saint Jean des Tripiers village. Another fabulous day.

2013 Grand Course des Templiers (well 60k of it)

Had another bash at the Grande Course des Templiers last October as I have already related in my first GoPro effort effort. Not really very sure why this went wrong. I managed to get round the first 50k or so OK but then had some issues with my feet (more on this later) and was really pooped – nothing left in the fuel tank despite eating copiously at the feeding stations and munching away on bars etc. around the course. Just slowly realized that staggering along at under 5 kph on the flat just wasn’t going to do it. The race closers agreed. It was a lot hotter than last year, 20° in the afternoon as opposed to around zero in 2012, at least in the morning.

2013 Etape Sanfloraine and Marmotte d’Olt

A couple of other more more successful biking events in 2013. The Etape Sanfloraine (I did the 100k) and the Marmotte d’Olt (where I went for the 150k). I just finished the latter in the allotted time (came 203rd out of 216 finishers – another blow for coming in (nearly) last). Did rather better in the 100k – an event which I manage to actually ‘ride’ rather than ‘survive’ coming 285th out of a field of 342. Otherwise the two events have merged in my memory, similar countryside and similar weather conditions. In the Marmotte some great riding, wind in the back, across the Aubrac though fields of what I think was narcissus (used to make perfume) and past what I know were pilgrims on the Saint Jacques de Compostelle trail. In the Saint Floraine, there is a great ride alongside and under the viaduct de Garabit built by Gustav Eiffel. I took part in a super race within the race as I tucked in with a group of old sports who were fairly tanking along. Then they lost me at an intersection. Then I tucked in behind a young sport (who must have punctured or abandoned the longer race). We then sped past the oldies and were sailing along when the youngster made it clear that he wanted me to do my share of making the pace. I tried to intimate that this was a bad idea but he insisted so I took over and was flat out for a few hundred meters after which I didn’t have enough left to keep up with his next relay. Back to pootling on my own and eventually (on the last rather intimidating ride up the volcanic plug on which St. Flour in built) was overtaken by the oldies who pootled up a bit quicker than I could manage. Another nice thing about the Marmotte is that Bernard Hinault both rides (he beat me), exudes bonhomie, and gives out the prizes, kissing the prettier female winners with enthusiasm.

2013 – Etape du Tour and a broken spoke

Last July an even less successful event, the 2013 Etape du Tour which started in Annecy and was supposed to finish up on a nearby alp. For me it finished after only about 17km when I broke a spoke (or rather the spoke broke of its own accord) and spend a couple of hours waiting for the repair motorcycle to come along and fix it. Unfortunately as I later learned, repairs are only available some 20km into the race. So another abandon. Just after I had officially abandoned I got into conversation with one Sean O’Leary who organizes parties to the Etapes and “Trail Seekers” biking holidays in Ireland (www.trail-seekers.com). He explained how I could/should have re-positioned my wheel so that despite its lost spoke, it could have turned in a wobbly way and got me to the next repair station. As I was out of the race and my wife was already on the way this was information of a rather academic nature, but maybe it will come in handy sometime in the future. Once back down we hired a couple of tourist bikes and pootled along the bike path by the lake. Nor quite how I had planned to spend the day but very pleasant.