Category Archives: Running

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.

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.




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)

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 Paris Marathon and a singing engagement

Been a long time since I blogged. Less because of a lack of action. Rather a lack of pith – as in pithy comment – and insightful things to say. Backtracking some – last year (2013) I ran most of the Paris marathon. But as I had a singing engagement the afternoon of the race, I was either going to have to run very fast or bale out. I chose the latter. Around 3 hours for 30k but no way was I going to keep it up. Above a photo of a guy running the marathon dressed as the Eiffel tower – bravo!

Je cours donc je tombe …

Je cours (beaucoup) donc j’essuie (des plâtres). Autrement dit, courir c’est tomber. Puisque je cours environs 2.000 kilomètres par an, je tombe au moins deux ou trois fois dans l’année. Pas toujours des gros bobos. Des fois quand on ne fait que trébucher, c’est une peur qui réveille sur le coup et puis un soulagement et/ou embarras de se rendre compte que ce n’était rien.

L’embarras peut aussi frapper quand on chute bêtement devant autrui. Curieusement cela m’arrivait assez régulièrement en courant sur des chemins de randonnée toujours dans les mêmes circonstances. Je courais tranquillement seul, et puis au rencontre d’un groupe de randonneurs, paf ! Je me retrouvais sur les fesses. Vu du côté des autres cela a dû être assez marrant, voir un peu bizarre.

Ceci m’arrivait trop souvent pour être le hasard et je me suis rendu compte que c’était dû à un excès de politesse en quelque sort. Avant de dire « bonjour », j’ai tendance à vouloir établir « eye contact » c’est-à-dire de regarder les gens dans les yeux, plutôt de leur adresser la parole la tête baissée. Du coup, pendant un court laps de temps, je perdais vu d’où passaient mes pieds, et la chute se produisait. La morale de ceci est, ou bien de ne pas regarder vos interlocuteurs en montagne, ou bien de s’arrêter un moment pour mieux les saluer.

Ce type de chute se produisait toujours à la descente – souvent sur un sol un peu poussiéreux. En effet la géologie joue un rôle important dans les chutes. La roche peut être accrocheuse ou glissante selon sa composition et selon, bien évidemment, qu’elle est mouillée ou sèche. Mais si une roche lisse et mouillée incite à la prudence, la poussière est plus sournoise. En général, un chemin poussiéreux est plutôt sympa pour le coureur. Ca donne une surface qui n’est pas trop dur et en règle général, est assez accrocheur. Mais bien évidemment, il y a une limite (d’adhésion) à tout. La chute typique dans ces circonstances n’est pas trop grave mais cela surprend ! Soudainement on se retrouve sur les fesses, avec (encore) un brusque réveil. La gravité de cette chute est bien entendu accrue si les fesses rencontrent un objet peu commode – rocher anguleux, flaque d’eau ou bouse de vache.

Mais pour le vrai coureur de trail, les chutes ne se produisent pas en arrière mais par le devant. Ici il y a encore plusieurs configurations de chute avec ou sans gravité. Commençons par le « best case scenario ». On court sur le plat passablement vite quand soudain, on accroche sur une branche, pierre ou un objet métallique sortant de la terre. On plonge vers l’avant, les mains touchent par terre (mais pas trop), la tête baisse et on accomplit un tonneau – et on peut même, exceptionnellement, continuer dans son lancé pour se retrouver encore debout.

Bien entendu, le ‘best case’ ne se produit que rarement. Il y a maintes possibilités de tomber court … de l’idéal. Par exemple – on peut se faire très mal aux mains en devant s’appuyer trop. On peut rencontrer un obstacle, par exemple un rocher, sur une partie de l’anatomie, le coude, l’épaule, nécessitant une radio et immobilisation du bras pendant quelques jours. Les possibilités sont innombrables. Il m’est arrivé un bel accident il y a une semaine où j’ai eu l’occasion d’observer de très près un exemple de l’enchaînement d’événement lors d’une chute vers l’avant.

Je ne courais pas vite – je venais de mettre mon chien sur la laisse avant de traverser une ferme et je trottinais à moins de 8 km/h. Mais attention – 80 kg à 8 km/h et à plus d’un mètre du sol égal une certaine quantité d’énergie quand même. Donc j’ai trébuché. Initialement çà semblait sans gravité. Sur le coup je croyais pouvoir éviter la chute. Pendant quelques dixièmes de seconde donc, mes pieds accéléraient pour compenser la vitesse de mon haut du corps vers le devant. Dans ces circonstances, le haut du corps descendant, les jambes accélérant, une bataille d’inertie est engagée. Si le bas gagne, on est sauvé. Si le haut l’emporte on touche terre – malheureusement à une vitesse supérieure à l’initiale. De plus est, on tape par terre dans une très mauvaise posture. On va vite et on est trop allongé pour permettre un rouleau vers l’avant. On frappe le chaussé comme une crêpe – flan !


Voici ma photo d’un tel exploit – non pas la pire des chutes – rien de cassé si ce n’est pas les lunettes (explosés). Et sur le coup j’avais très mal à la tête. Mais en quelques minutes j’avais retrouvé mon esprit. J’étais curieux de savoir exactement ce qui m’a fait tomber et j’ai donc retracé mes pas jusqu’au point de départ de la chute. Rien de particulier si ce n’est que quelques gravillons. Le problème vraisemblablement était au niveau de mes chaussures « accrocheuses ». En effet, peut être un peu trop même, voila la bonne blague – avec sa chute !

La Grande Course des Templiers, 28th October 2012

I ran and finished la Grande Course des Templiers, a 70km trail run starting from Millau, Aveyron, France, with around 3000m of climb*. The last two years I tried a similar race, actually the old version of Les Templiers, run from neighboring Nant and now called Les Hospitaliers. But both times I abandoned after 45 km and around 7 hours. I decided that better preparation was required this year.

For the last couple of months I have been extending my regular 12km run around the Forêt de Meudon in the Paris suburbs to include more elevation. The regular run was an loop around the forest with a couple of 50m climbs from valley floor to the plateau. The modified version involved going up just about every possible track or trail and back down, turning it into a 500-600m+ total climb and something like 18km distance. I alternated this with my regular run, for 4-5 outings a week and threw in a couple of longer 30km-ish runs for good measure. What else? A minimal amount of track work (I am more or less obliged by the dog to run in the woods), a couple of bike outings with the club and a 10k race the week before Les Templiers. Oh and most important, I decided to make an effort and lose some weight. This worked well for the biking and also for the 10k (45m40s). So I was pretty keen to see how it all came together on the day.

Set off at 5:15 am in the dark with the field of around 2200. It was chilly, around freezing and there were some patches of very light snow on the ground and even a few flakes blowing in what turned out later to be a pretty strong breeze. From Millau we climbed up onto the Causse Noire and headed across country to the first refueling stop at Peyreleau, near the confluence of the Tarn and Jonte rivers. Some pretty country on the way down into Peyrleau but at this stage of the race, it was either too dark or maybe I wasn’t paying much attention to the scenery. The going was pretty easy too, with a good wide track up onto the Causse and rolling trails over to Peyrleau. This allowed the field to string out nicely without too much standing on each others toes before the ‘monotrace’ the single track that characterized most of the rest of the race. The field sorted itself out remarkably efficiently and in the later stages one really did not feel that overtaking or being overtook was either necessary too often nor particularly hard. Folks were polite and, at least at the rear end of the field where I soon ended up, did not seem to mind swapping places. You get a pretty good idea of what it was like from the VO2 video. From Peyreleau back up onto the Causse Noir and on to St André de Vezines, for another food break. Food was an interesting mixture of the usual sports drinks and energy bars and dried fruit, along with doorsteps of bread and cheese which I wolfed down. On from Saint André we passed through La Roque Sainte Marguerite where I was greatly encouraged by family and friends. There had been a question of me bailing out here, this was about as far as I had got the two previous years on the Hospitaliers. But I felt good, in fact I really felt that the race hadn’t started yet. I was right.

From La Roque things went quiet as we climbed at a steady, rather slow, walk in Indian file up a steep path that seemed to have been carved straight out of the mountain side the day before. The organizers like to find unusual new routes which sometime travel along paths which have not seen much recent use. They sure get used when the 2000 trailers have been through. Another face-stuffing exercise (with more bread, cheese and now soup) at Pierrefiche on the Plateau du Larzac, not far from the famous military camp whose extension in the 1970s sparked off a huge protest movement in France and which was one of the origins of the Green movement.

Like I said, things got a little more tricky on the Larzac. The notion of ‘plateau’ should not be conflated with ‘flat.’ The trail goes along the plateau edge of the Dourbie valley. It is almost all a monotrace and it goes up and down all the time. Having said that, this was also the start of the truly scenic part of the Templiers. It’s not that the Causse Noire, let alone the Tarn/Jonte valleys, aren’t spectacular, it’s just that the route that the Templiers takes is not a great way to see them. The path along the Larzac edge on the other hand, affords spectacular views across the Dourbie and onto the dolomitic ‘ruins’ of Montpellier le Vieux and the limestone climbing site at Le Boffi. Of course trotting along a monotrace does not really lend itself to taking in the scenery. I must go back and do this as a walk sometime.

When I say ‘trotting’ this is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration. Things were easy up to La Roque but the unremittingly tricky nature of the trail from then on meant that I slowed down considerably. I averaged 6kph up until La Roque (km 45) but only managed 5kph overall. Even the leaders passed the 34km half way point in around 2hrs 35 but finished spread over a 6hr10 to 6hr30 interval. Comprehensive statistics and more information are available on the Templiers home page.

I know the Dourbie valley rather well and was surprised at how long it was taking up to do what is quite a short distance. Things got even harder with the descent into the valley. Down more seemingly improvised tracks through mud fields, more twisty monotraces and just as you though it was all over, back up a sizable hummock before the final descent to Massabiau. This afforded a short respite in that, although the exit from the village is steep, it is on a paved road. But not for long.

The final section of the Templiers has to be experienced to be believed. Every time the path up to the Cade farm looked like it might be flattening out, blow me! the markers just went straight up the rocky hillside. Having fallen behind schedule somewhat, I quizzed a fellow traveler as to whether we were going top make it in time. ‘Pas de problème’ he offered before dropping back and sitting down on a rock in a rather final sort of a way. Further up to the Cade another runner intimated that we had better get a move on to avoid the cut off at Le Cade at 5:15pm (12 hours). This we made with 15 minutes to spare. More food. Soup and (finally) Roquefort cheese. After Cade I was concerned again as to finishing in time but learned to my relief that Cade was the last cut off and that you could take as long as you liked to do the final 8km. In fact it took me well over 2 hours. Some took over 3. The last 8 k involves going back down (almost) to the valley, then another 300m climb. The trail started through a pleasant, flattish forest trail which obliged one to gives one’s best shot at actually running. Some put up quite a good showing. Not sure how I looked myself, I was starting to feel my age.

Leaving the plateau for the penultimate time, evening fell and we witnessed a spectacular scene of a red sky backdrop to the fabulous Millau Viaduct. This was shortly replaced by a magnificent moon rising up to cast a ghostly pale on the white limestone of the Causse – well, kind of …

Going back up to the Puncho D’Agast paragliding launchpad, involved more scrambling. With nightfall, and my energy level a bit low, I found it quite hard to keep my balance. I recommend doing Les Templiers at the back of the peloton to experience the combined folly of rock climbing while running at night.

Finally we were off back down the last 400m vertical with more slippery stuff. I met up with a young lady who was doing all this with no headlight! So we shared the light from mine and the joint exercise took my mind off thoughts like ‘how much longer can this go on!’ A great treat on the way down is the trip through a substantial cave – the Grotte du Hibou which you can see at the end of this video, at 7min 30s although the earlier part gives you a good idea of the rugged terrain and how the leaders performed.

I was very pleased to finish and surprisingly, did not feel that there had been too much strain on the old body. Running the 70k trail is actually easier than a 42k marathon. Something to do with the variety of trail running and the difficulty of running ‘at speed’ for a marathon course. Anyhow what can I say? Thanks to the organizers, especially the many volunteers giving direction, encouragement, posting and picking up the signing after the event. Thumbs down to the (mercifully) few who jettisoned their stupid little tubes of go faster gunk on the parcours. And a big thumbs up and many thanks to family and friends for their support for what was a super weekend.

* The meters of climb, like the length of the British coastline as determined by Benoit Mandelbrot, depends on the length of your ruler. While the ‘official’ elevation is around 3000m, on the equally ‘official’ GPS trace of the run, if you use a 50m horizontal sample interval, you get a 3800m climb. You takes your pick. I wonder what the standard way of measuring elevation and distance of a trail run in rugged country is.

Ikalana, Trail du Lévézou. Villefranche du Panat, Aveyron

A trot around the massif central countryside – 34km and supposedly 800m of climbing but my watch (Suunto T6) said only 690. Weather good, field of around 75. Got off to a decent start – this my third year at the event. Soon met up with an oldsport of my age (63) who intimated that the race was between us two. But after a couple of chats and me going ahead while he had a pee and vice versa, he pulled away and I saw no more of him.

I ought to tell you that I have what is called here the ‘maladie de Bouveret’ – which I think is supra ventricular tachycardia. This means that my heart rate tends to jump to rather high levels on occasion, during a race or even once, when opening a letter from then bank! I can feel some of these episodes as they start as a tickling at the back of the throat – which then appears on then heart monitor. But sometimes I get false readings which confuse the picture. These happen at the start of a session – when the heart monitor strap is dry and the electrical contact is poor. Moistening the contacts sometimes helps but not always. I usually now ignore such readings in the first 10-20 minutes of a session. But I have also noticed that on a hot day, when one is good and sweaty, more high readings can be caused – perhaps by some electrical issue with a wet T shirt.

Anyhow this year’s Ikalana was something of a worst case scenario for high heart rate readings. I was running along feeling fine in the second half of the race as the temperature was getting up and noticed that the watch was showing in the 160-170 range (instead of 130-150). I felt fine and to check as I was running along, lifted up my t shirt to expose my heart monitor (and rather large gut!) to the air – hey presto, readings dropped instantly to ‘normal’.

While conducting such an experiment that I caught my foot on a rock and fell. I am quite used to this and managed a shoulder roll (avoids damaging hands) but the shoulder hit a rock, causing considerable pain. I thought that I might give up then. But I managed to wave my arm around a bit and discovered that the forward and back arm motion required to run was relatively pain-free so decided to carry on.

I finished with quite a lot of energy left and even managed to pass a couple of folks in the home stretch. Final time of 3hrs53 -and came in 66th in a field of 73. Congrats to the seven other category 3 veterans (60 plus) who came in ahead of me – vive les old sports.

An embarrassing corollary however. About an hour after the race I nearly fainted (pain/shock from fall – excess tachy?) and needed a few minutes lying down to recover. The Red Cross folks were very nice – called in for support from a doctor who determined that what I probably needed was some food. She was right. Later on to the local hospital for an X-Ray of shoulder revealing nothing serious.