Monday, March 14, 2016
So, as we ourselves decelerate into old age and infirmity, we are consoling ourselves with three excellent trips to France this year. We will spend time with old friends, hopefully finish what was previously left incomplete, and cover a large number of beautiful running kilometres before it's too late.
First up, Claire is running the Paris Marathon on April 3rd. Not since 1998 have we returned to this race where she ran her second full marathon. (Amazingly this Paris edition will now be the 82nd time she's run a marathon or longer distance race.) Our Austin friends Leah, Chris and Carol will be there too. It is a great event, right through the heart of a spectacular, historic city. We're staying close to the start and finish lines, so logistics for sherpas (in this case Leah's husband James and me) should be simple - watch the start, drink wine, spectate at halfway, eat and drink some more wine, watch the finish, and then repeat the previous step with tired but happy spouses.
The first week of July brings a return for me to a great 6-day race in the Savoy Alps close to the Swiss and Italian borders. Called L'Étoile Savoyarde (Savoy Star), each day starts and finishes in the beautiful mountain village of Myans. Each day involves different routes covering roughly 40 miles of serious hill-work, but the scenery is sublime (providing the weather cooperates), as is the food and hospitality provided by organisers Michel and Gilbert Codet. We will be renting a little house near the start/finish. This time, it is Claire's turn to sherpa for me. Luckily for her, we're staying right next to vineyards and wine tasting cellars, so more simple logistics!
Then last but by no means least will be the epic Transe Gaule. Most of our August will be spent running 19 stages across France, from Roscoff on the English Channel to Gruissan by the Mediterranean. This will likely be our last attempt at such a tough physical and mental challenge. I made it (just!) once before in 2005, in what proved to be the only edition where 100% of the runners finished. In 2014 Claire made it one third of the way before having to abandon with injuries, so this is her shot at redemption. We have booked a hotel room - facing the sea and the finish line on the beach - for 5 nights after the race is over. That will hopefully be the "carrot" needed to get us to the end.
Sunday, October 11, 2015
Our friend Carolyn first. She ran the Triple Marathon for her fifth time this year, and broke her previous bests by enormous margins. 4:51, 4:47 and 5:00. A total of 14:38, over 40 minutes quicker than her previous PR of 15:20. She ran splendidly throughout, up and over those long Tahoe hills. I'll put it down to a few things: great preparation, improved nutrition, experience of 3-day races, and most importantly a huge amount of determination to improve. I take great but undeserved pride in her success, having introduced her to this multi-day folly in the first place six years ago. Her improvement since her first attempt to conquer the 3-marathon-in-3-days challenge has been nothing short of remarkable.
Next, Claire. Having scanned back through the results of previous editions of the Triple, I cannot find a single faster performance by any woman over sixty. 5:01, 5:03 and 5:01. This is less than 2% slower than her previous completion in 2009, 6 long years ago. Always nervous pre-race, Claire always manages to perform brilliantly as soon as things get underway. Running three 5-hour marathons on a hilly course is commendable for any runner. She's super-strong and healthy at present, and I couldn't be prouder of her grit and determination over these three days.
Lastly, me. Things were looking pretty tenuous in the week before I was due to set out on my epic 72-mile overnight tour of the lake. I'd prepared well, and managed a couple of great weeks of final training in Austin. But then suddenly shin pain had started in my weaker right leg. Taping, icing and compression helped to ease the shin problem, but seemed to drive the varicose veins in my calf crazy. Two days before the start, the three of us went to Spooner Lake for our traditional pre-race shakeout jog. I could barely hobble the 2-mile trail around the lake. Flexing my foot was agony. Not good, and quite worrying. Then two days of crewing for Claire and Carolyn (just standing around and driving with my right foot) made the pain and swelling worse. I knew it was a lost cause for me.
At an aid station yesterday, I ran into a couple of friendly medics who were there to support the Triplers. As we waited for runners to pass by, I showed my bulging veins to the doctor, who advised me to go to get my leg scanned straight away at the local Emergency Room, in case of serious clot issues, especially before flying home again next week. He ran into me again at the finish line, and cornered me while I was with Claire and Carolyn, re-emphasising the need to get seen. It turns out that this was none other than Dr Orr, a well-respected orthopaedic surgeon who works with the US ski team.
When I reached the local hospital, I was warmly greeted by very friendly nurses and doctors; Dr Orr had kindly called ahead to advise them of my impending arrival. An ultrasound revealed thrombophlebitis - "the greater saphenous vein in the right mid to distal calf is thickwalled and only partially compressible in the area of pain, but no evidence of deep vein thrombosis (DVT)". So, in English, painful but not serious or life-threatening, and so after presenting me with an aspirin and an eye-wateringly large bill, I was discharged. Thank goodness for medical insurance.
Hopefully things will settle down in my leg now. I have an enforced period of rest for a few weeks as my next hernia repair is scheduled in 9 days' time. Getting old and falling apart isn't really fun, but - as they say - it does seriously beat the alternative. And there are many worse places in the world to idle away a few days than along the shores of Lake Tahoe, waiting for your tired but happy and successful athlete friends.
Friday, October 02, 2015
Friday, September 04, 2015
Sunday, July 19, 2015
This year for the second time, I'll be taking part in the Midnight Express Ultra 72, which starts at 9pm and finishes 72 miles later at the same point on the edge of the lake. It is surreal running through a cold, inky black, starry night all alone, and then finishing the last 26.2 hilly miles of the race with 2,000 other Lake Tahoe Marathon runners. I am chronically slow these days, but today's longest yet training run resulted in no aches or pains. Sixty years old now, and still shuffling forward.
Claire is taking on the Tahoe Triple Marathon again for the third time this year, and will be joined by our Austin Rogue Running friend Carolyn. I will crew for them for their first two marathons, before putting on my Hokas and heading off into the night.
For me, running mojo comes and goes. Sometimes I can take it or leave it. Right now, I'm really, really enjoying it. Nice weather is important for me; I'm not much interested in suffering these days. But I'm also inspired and driven by the prospect of running across France once more in 2016, just as I did in 2005. When the Tour de France is on TV (as it is now), I catch odd glimpses of some of the villages and towns we have - and will - run through. It's a wonderful motivator, and I really can't wait to do it again.
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
I spent 15 hours this Saturday in Houston, Texas, watching Claire swim, bike and run through the 140.6-mile Ironman distance. It was great supporting her tremendous efforts, but it really made me want to get back out and do something too. Being a spectator is way too stressful for my liking. So we have lined up a few events to get the mojo working again. Training started today with a slow, gentle 5-mile run in Austin. I loved it, and can't wait for tomorrow's run...always a good sign.
Monday, September 15, 2014
During Transe Gaule 2005, I spent most of the last two weeks of the race across France wracked by shin pain, known medically as ACS (Anterior Compartment Syndrome). The pain was most intense during the middle few days of the race, from the Loire to the Lot. Anti-inflammatories - now out of vogue big time due to the possibility of liver damage - was all I had to look forward to on some of those benighted days.
For this year's edition of Transe Gaule, it was Claire's turn to suffer from ACS, garnished with an uncomfortable sprinkling of blisters and toenail infections. After four days, her usually sprightly stride was reduced to an agonising, tear-filled hobble. Even her walking was reducing to a death march crawl. It was very hard to watch.
The problem with muscle injuries is that in order to protect itself from further injury the body stops responding to brain instructions to keep moving. Try as she might, continuing was not an option for her, as she was finding it increasingly difficult to finish each day's stage inside the cutoff time. Her brain said run, but her body could barely walk.
Of course, abandoning a huge, long-strived for goal like Transe Gaule is a sad and gut-wrenching moment. Race director J-B, his team of volunteers and her fellow runners were hugely kind and supportive. After we left and returned to England, watching their progress to the Mediterranean was a daily bittersweet reminder of what should have been. But hey, this is how it works out sometimes - I still couldn't be prouder of my cankly wife.
Wednesday, August 06, 2014
"The morning of August 12 is approaching. On this date, several minutes after high tide, Monsieur Joseph Séïté, mayor of Roscoff and starter of the race since its very first edition, will lower the Breton flag for the 11th time, and 51 runners will set off on this latest crossing of France, towards the Mediterranean sea and Gruissan-plage.
The race is 1192 kilometers ~ 740 miles long in 19 stages (the average daily distance except for the 19th stage is 64 kilometers ~ 40 miles). Each starter is attempting to win a finisher's star for completing the longest footrace in France. 29 runners are attempting their first Transe Gaule; 22 have already crossed France at least once. Thirteen women participants represent a record number of female entries (the first edition in 2001 was 100% men!).
The first five stages cross Brittany and stop at Plounévézel, Pontivy, Guer, Châteaubriant and St-Georges-sur-Loire, before crossing the Loire at Chalonnes-sur-Loire. The race then passes through Anjou, Limousin, the Auvergne and Languedoc-Roussillon before arriving at the finish line in Gruissan-plage.
This year, four continents will be represented: Europe (Germany, Netherlands, Italy and France), America (USA), Australasia and Asia (8 Taiwanese, 1 Malaysian and 1 Japanese runner, Hiroko Okiyama, who participated in 2005 and 2008).
The runners' average age will be 53. The oldest is 76 (Texan Don Winkley) and the youngest 21 (Angel Pallaruelo, for his second participation - last year he was the race's youngest ever finisher)."
I will be attempting to Facebook and blog on Claire's behalf as the race progresses from August 12 - 30. Good luck to her and all the other runners and volunteers. It will be an unforgettable experience.
Sunday, July 13, 2014
I cannot say enough good things - or even effectively describe - the wonderfully French ambience of this race. The Codet family - Michel, Martine and Gilbert - have through this 6-day race created a beautiful model of cooperative human existence. Everyone supports everyone else, everyone works hard, everyone smiles and greets one another frequently and genuinely, everyone applauds minor victories and consoles minor setbacks. Food is fresh, toil is honest, pain is at times raw, and praise is earned and deserved. This is how all of life should be. We have all been privileged to experience it this week. I thank the Codets again deeply and sincerely, as well as the many volunteers and competitors.
One final photo from last night...four finishers from Trans Europe 2009 - Roger Warenghem (France), Christian Marti (Switzerland), me, and Jan Nabuurs (Holland).
We travelled nearly 3,000 miles together over 64 long days, from Italy to Norway. I salute you.
Saturday, July 12, 2014
Despite being "only" 54km, it still took me more than 6 hours of running to complete today's final hilly route. But I find myself done - uninjured, healthy and happy - so nothing much else matters at this point.
This magnificent golden statue at the Myans Sanctuary is very close to the daily race start and finish line. Situated on top of a very prominent hill, it was always a great moment each afternoon when it first hoved into view, never more so than today:
Tonight's final dinner will be replete with lots of wine, awards and French kissing (no, not that kind). Last night's duck confit, praline brioche dessert and champagne set the bar pretty high, but I'm confident that tonight's repast will be equally wonderful, judging from the superb paella I just devoured post-race.
Friday, July 11, 2014
Protein shake and accompanying litre of milk. Delicious, nutritious.
Watermelon. Ditto...well, except not quite as nutritious.
Walking poles. Super useful today as we climbed three cols and gained 1800 metres of elevation. I caught several poleless competitors during these super long climbs of an hour or more...although they did often catch me up on the subsequent downhills.
Course profile. Showing said cols and altitude gain statistics. Pretty handy.
Beer. For carboloading and rehydration, of course.
Weather was markedly better today, with only a couple of brief showers and good running temperatures. There were even a few beautiful views to ogle. (It has apparently been snowing this week in nearby places like Tignes and Val d'Isère. Toboggan sales are soaring in July, but summer alpine pursuits like mountain biking and canyoning are taking a beating.) Given the climbs and descents, it was a tough 65km (40 miles), but it always felt good to know that tomorrow's final stage is almost upon us. 187 miles run so far this week, with nearly 4 miles of climbing and descending. That would explain why there's a whole lot of hobbling going on at race HQ. This morning's breakfast ended with copious physio taping for those stricken with shin splints, a common malady during hilly stages.
Thursday, July 10, 2014
Today, it didn't look at all like this. A cold, sometimes driving rain persisted all day, reducing visibility to a couple of hundred yards at best. The sublime views were transformed into a grey, misty haze. Unfortunately, more of the same (though marginally warmer) weather is projected for the final two stages. But so it goes with mountain running.
I tried to keep my hands warmer today by donning a pair of latex surgical gloves from the first aid kit and putting my own gloves over them, but no joy. They just seemed to fill up with icy water; not even a "wet suit effect"! The cycling jacket has done sterling service all week, and my compression socks over heavily vaselined feet have resulted in zero blisters - a great result considering the very soggy underfoot condtions.
I spent much of the day today being chased up and down the many long hills by my friend Viviane, only later to discover that she had arranged a rendez-vous with her family at the last aid station, and didn't want to be late. We managed to make it just in time. Her son Tim ran the last 8km with us, and did exceptionally well to keep up with his very in form mother.
Two days to go. A huge amount of climbing is on tomorrow's menu. More than 1800 metres of it. Gulp! But again...only two days to go!
Wednesday, July 09, 2014
Back to the running bit...
Today's course was a slightly shorter and less steep 59km (37 miles). Lots of legs appeared tired today after yesterday's big climbs combined with a cumulative 3-day mileage of 110. It rained heavily and almost continously, and temps never rose north of 60F (16C). I was glad to have gloves, long-sleeved shirt and waterproof top, and never took anything off. Conditions weren't so bad for the runners, but ghastly for our ever-cheary aid station volunteers - super folks.
My legs and energy levels have held up well. I'm clearly not setting any records, but I make steady progress each day and finish with something left in the tank. This is a first-rate event with great logistics and courses, thanks to the Codet family and its support team. Chapeau to them!
Tuesday, July 08, 2014
My legs feel very tired and beaten up after running 70 hilly miles in two days. All those runs along flat towpaths didn't really prepare me sufficiently. But the good news is that I still feel healthy, strong and uninjured.
Tomorrow is thankfully a slightly shorter, flatter stage. And at its end, we'll be halfway done. OK, it's now officially siesta time, before the next groaning spread appears in less than two hours.
Monday, July 07, 2014
Weather ~ perfect except for some humidity early on. No wind, no rain, only a little sun and fog at times.
Course ~ brilliantly marked. (I love the French word flêchage - literally, "arrowage" - to describe course markings.) Insanely steep uphill for one 11km stretch; less insanely hilly for the other 40km. Legs have a rather concretey feel now, but worth the mountain views and the wine-growing countryside.
Aid stations ~ great volunteers (called by another great French word, bénévole), lots of everything needed when we needed it.
Post-race ~ beer, 3-course French lunch, happy people. Couldn't fault it. No injuries; shoes, clothes and hydration system (OK, a water bottle and an overpriced plastic bag with a tube sticking out of it) all worked perfectly.
I ran parts of the course with very nice folks; some had run this race before and some were stage race novices. I was keen to stress that I was saving my legs for subsequent stages, but I did get slightly carried away from time to time. Jean-Philippe, Frédéric, Christophe, Maurice ~ they all were good French company and seemed to forgive my occasional grammatical howlers. Maurice and I finished together happily in 10th place, averaging 9.75km/hr ~ not bad for two old geezers on a beyond-hilly course.
Tomorrow's stage is 10km longer than today's and I suspect even hillier. But as they say: "Tomorrow can wait." Sleeping and eating is all I have to do now.
Sunday, July 06, 2014
The course was extremely well marked - note orange arrow on road sign. Looks like a runner down on the pavement/sidewalk too:
The low tech start/finish banner is in place, just in front of the municipal rubbish bins. Briefing done, race numbers issued, rosé consumed, and now rain and thunder is kicking off. Allons-y!
Saturday, July 05, 2014
After being dropped off at London Stansted airport - where they actually have the unmitigated gall to charge you £2 for the privilege of being let out of your car at the kerb - the journey to Lyon was enlivened only by a humorous chat with the security screener. Him: "Have you got anything sharp on you?" Me: "No...(pause)...except for my wit." Him: "Well, you're at the wrong airport then. These people here are all witless."
The flight passed without major incident, apart from being within coughing distance of a French 2-year old with the worst case of measles I've ever seen.
Driving from Lyon Airport was a dream. French autoroutes are a thing of beauty, despite the occasional toll booth hassle and expense. Smooth, wide carriage ways, pleasant rest stops, great signage - 21st century stuff. (Take note, UK and US!)
After a little detour to photograph the village church, I managed to find the race HQ, and discovered friends Vincent, Nadine and Xavier already encamped outside the salle de fêtes. The temperature is high today and the sun is shining, but rain is in the imminent forecast. Tomorrow I'll score 1 for shabby hotel, zero for small tent camping.
Tomorrow will be a rest day, with pre-race greetings, introductions, instructions and welcome dinner in the evening. Then off to work on Monday with a hilly 52km (32mile) prologue. All good, except for a rather irritating sore throat...c'mon, Strepsils!
Saturday, June 14, 2014
Location:The seafront aproaching Ostend
Friday, May 23, 2014
Thursday, May 22, 2014
We checked into a sparkling new Ibis hotel in De Panne just over the border (so astonishingly pristine - two women were actually sweeping the underground parking garage floor), and soon met up with our dear Dutch running companions, Jenni and Anneke.
De Panne is a tidy, well-heeled seaside resort with nice beer and restaurants. Tomorrow we will run about 60km (37 miles) to Bruges via Nieuwpoort and Ostend. On Saturday, our route is not yet determined, but we will aim to finish in Knokke-Heist where we will hope to board Belgium's superb Coast Tram back to De Panne.
Saturday, May 17, 2014
I sadly had had to dispose of my Pony Express race shoes in a Burger King waste paper bin two weeks ago, after yomping through many miles of New Forest mud. But it turned out that I had been the speediest in the pre-OAP age category. And so now their pristine, Vibram soled, clementine coloured replacements have arrived, as if by karmic magic.
Monday, May 05, 2014
A) when they're ony two days long;
B) when you don't have to run more than 30 miles a day;
C) when the weather is cool, the skies are blue and sunny, and there's no wind;
D) when your 80 or so fellow runners are a wonderful bunch of people;
E) when the race organisation (Neil Thubron / XNRG) does a superb job;
F) when dinner, breakfast and tea & cake are all delicious;
G) when you get to run through some amazing British scenery filled with wild ponies;
H) when you get to share the experience with your brilliant running wife, who only got lost once;
I) when you glow with pride when your wonderful friends Tina and Sandra complete their first 30-mile journey, and are still smiling at the finish;
J) when you don't get lost;
K) when you have the pleasure of beer and chilliburgers in a pub afterwards.
Only three things in the negative column would be the day 1 mud (had to throw away my shoes last night as they were finally beyond hope), gym snoring (well, that did used to be me, so I suppose I can't complain) and falling hard after 1/2 mile on day 1 resulting in bloody scrapes and a sore hip (eejit!).
Location:New Forest, UK
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Providing I don't overextend myself on Day 1, I hope to inspire a few of our fellow runners at my speaking gig on Saturday evening. The theme will be "the good, the bad and the ugly" of stage races. I have no shortage of examples of each to draw on.
Now, where are those saddles?
Friday, August 02, 2013
Claire was feeling much better today, and ran the whole stage comfortably with her new French best friends! We were able to cross the finish line and ring the bell together. Since then, it's been non-stop French food and hospitality.
Off for a week's family camping in Brittany tomorrow. We're ready for some much-deserved rest ... oh wait, three small grandkids...!
Thursday, August 01, 2013
Today's stage of 62km/38miles started at the painfully earlier time of 6:30am, in an attempt to avoid the hottest day predicted. But after we passed through Nantes, a front blew in and we are now enjoying clouds, wind and very pleasant temperatures. (This stage last year was brutally hot - I was dreading it.)
Again I started slowly...and contenders Christian Brière, Thierry Viaud and Yvonnick Simon were all long gone by the first aid station. But slowly I reeled them in, and met up with Christian (our race leader) at the final aid station. A true gentleman, he insisted on running the final 10km with me, and we finished together with a stage victory. It was a little speedier than I was really capable of, but it was worth the effort.
Tired now, but looking forward to trotting to the finish line in St Brévin tomorrow as a group. Wonderful people, wonderful country, wonderful race direction, and wonderful food & drink.
Location:Chemin des Carris,Frossay,France
Wednesday, July 31, 2013
There were no changes in the rankings after today's stage. I was lagging badly before the halfway mark, but managed to get my strength back and edged into second place by the finish. Each day now, I consistently run the first marathon in 4hr30mn, and then hope to hold on during the second half of the stage. It seems to be working OK - but I am super-tired!
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
My run was unspectacular but good enough to keep me in second place. I'm feeling tired tonight - not surprising after running 150 miles in four days though. Christian continues to look strong in first place; unless he develops an injury, I won't catch him. Thierry is still in third, and had a much better day; he would've finished ahead of me today if he hadn't taken a wrong turning at 35km. Yvonnick is in fourth, but probably can't make up the time he lost on stage 1. All super-nice gentlemen to be competing with.
Just 2.5 days to go, when we will see the Atlantic Ocean. Rest after that will be very much appreciated.
Monday, July 29, 2013
Today's stage was long - 73km (45 miles). Despite a couple of brief, heavy downpours, the weather cooperated. Headwinds helped to keep temperatures a little below 80F. My legs felt a bit heavy after running nearly 120 miles in 3 days, but hopefully an hour or two of "tent time" now will help them recover by morning.
Thierry (yesterday's race leader) struggled today, but Christian (who had been in third place) was flying. Yvonnick is not far off the podium, so we'll all need to keep pushing for the next 4 days to maintain our places in the CG.
Sunday, July 28, 2013
The low point: Claire was forced to abandon at the 30km mark today - urinary tract problems that started yesterday and became very painful for her today. Poor thing. Clara our cook checked that she has no fever, and has prescribed cranberry juice; Claire's hoping to rejoin the race in a couple of days, but we'll see.
Saturday, July 27, 2013
Today's high point for me was at about 45km, when my brain suddenly registered that today's stage was "only" 59km (36 miles), not 69km (43 miles). That was good news indeed. I had run the first marathon a bit too fast in a shade under 4 hours, and was not looking forward to another 17 miles on tired legs.
Claire did well, but found the high temperatures and humidity a challenge. She finished the stage with new friends Annick and Bernard, and was happy to be done. I ran alone comme d'habitude - I don't like my pace and effort level decided by others.
Apart from the heat, it was a very nice stage. The Loire is as lovely as I remembered it from last year, but the paths are busier with cyclists as the race is taking place a week later than the 2012 edition.
Resting now in my sauna-like tent before another sumptuous dinner provided by our wonderful, resourceful chef Clara. Tonight she's feeding 50 people a 3-course meal using only a small portable cooker, a single gas ring and a microwave. How is that possible?!