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.

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!

The Race …

I have always seen myself as a racer although my age weighs against this as does, err, my weight. But recently my bike club organized a shortish race, the “Prix de la ville de Meudon,” on the flat. Even those not familiar with the mechanics of cycling will be aware that pedaling uphill is a lot harder if you are a somewhat overweight person as I have to confess I am. But the extent of the difference is hard to understate. The steeper the hill, the bigger the time difference between a lightweight climber and a heavyweight ‘rouleur.’ On the flat the balance actually tips a little the other way. Big riders are generally more powerful and can crank it up a bit more than the smaller climber. So much for the theory…

The course was 7 laps of an 8km loop around the local aerodrome on roads that were for the most part closed to traffic. Lots of mysterious administrative activity was involved, I needed a ‘carton course’ and a special stamp. Then followed directions to the start and waited for the off.

I think we were 50 or so in this the ‘GS’ category, the entry level of French road racing. In my mind’s eye I envisaged the race as a high speed chase, more or less flat out all the way. That is not how it turned out.

At the start the peloton accelerated leisurely to a cruising speed well below what I had expected. Even so, in the heat of the moment I forgot to hit the start button on my watch and as we got moving, I was so concerned about not colliding with anybody in the peloton that it seemed superfluous to fiddle around finding the rather trickily placed button. So the race went unrecorded – no speed, no heart rate. Anyhow I should think we were cruising at around 35kph for the first half lap or so. Right up until we came to the first proper corner in fact when all of a sudden, as if all had simultaneously taken fright, the peloton accelerated briskly. Well I am a rouleur, but not a great accelerator. So it took me a while to get up to the new speed (40kph-ish on a slight rise) by which time I had lost some ground. Fortunately, the sudden burst of speed burst did not last too long and over the next few hundred yards I pedaled my way back into the group. The same procedure for the subsequent sections – a lowish base sped along the straight parts and at every tight turn or slight rise a burst of sped.

The average speed of the peloton did increase slowly some and at one stage, we were careening past the pits – i.e. the place where the organizers had their tent and we were potentially being observed – when someone to my left turned around and made a rather expansive gesture to a colleague – and at the same time wobbled towards me. I of course wobbled slightly to my right and felt a sharp thwack as the pedal of another rider made contact with my leg – and an indeterminate part of my bike. There was by then quite a bit of serious wobbling going on and I had visions of a major pile up occurring behind me – but I just concentrated on staying upright and in preparing my defense. In the event nobody fell, there was no court case, although as I realized a week later, there was damage to my derailleur which explained why I subsequently was having trouble staying in gear.

Around lap five I was still hanging in with the peloton but each time the gap was opening a little more and it required more distance and effort to close it. I was royally bollocked by a rather impolite rider who railed against ‘the guy who couldn’t keep up’ as though this was an option. I later thought that I could intimate that I had been placed at the back by the lead riders to screw things up deliberately – but ideas are hard to formulate on a bike and harder to convey.

At the tail end of lap six with one to go the inevitable happened. After one acceleration, I lost contact completely. It is a curious feeling when you see the peloton moving away and you realize that you are just no longer going to catch it. The result was that I did the last lap on my own and came in at some distance from the leaders. I understand that there were a few who had lost contact before I did so I didn’t quite come in last. Better luck next time.



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.