Tuesday, July 31, 2012

London Olympics 2012

My day spent at the Olympics today was fascinating and very impressive. The logistics were brilliantly organized - travel was a snap, and the signage, facilities, helpful people, etc. first class. The only small issue arose over my two boxes of Ribena (a blackcurrant drink familiar to all Brits) which the airport screener types wanted to confiscate from me. But after demonstrating the harmlessness of their contents, they allowed me and them to pass through Checkpoint Charlie unhindered.
The ExCel arena (home to boxing, judo, fencing, etc.) is vast and beautifully decked out. I skillfully avoided the $8 beer concession and $40 souvenir T-shirts, and took my seat in the near to capacity boxing arena. I had brought my own sandwiches to avoid more egregious pricing, and sipped my Ribenas in peace.
Boxing ran well to schedule, and a number of very fit young men punched each other hard and frequently. After about ten bouts, I'd had enough, so made my way back through the happy, well-behaved crowds homewards.
Oh, and by the way, they don't accept MasterCard...

Friday, July 27, 2012

Last stage - Orléans Océan

It is always wonderful to be able to stop after running such a long way. I am very tired but blissfully happy. Today's final "epilogue" stage was spent in the fine company of Hervé (winner of the longer Loire Intégrale race) and Renaud (who was good company on many stages). We reached the half-marathon point in a shade over two hours, thanks to slightly cooler weather:

The finish at the St Brevin bridge couldn't have been a more welcome sight:

Time for a few more toasts with the local dignitaries, before making my way back to England by way of Nantes airport.

Location:Allée de la Loire,Saint-Brevin-les-Pins,France

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Stage 6 - Orléans Océan

When the forecast says 34C (93F), you know there's a long, hot stage ahead. The first few miles were relatively pleasant in the cooler early morning, but the day quickly heated up and there were many long, straight, shadeless canal stretches. It was a tough day, but offset by thoughts of tomorrow's epilogue stage of only 15 miles to the finish in St Nazaire.

Navigating our way through Nantes should have been challenging today, but Dominque's course marking was once again impeccable. It was odd reentering modern city architecture after so many ancient bridges, churches and chateaux:

Despite tripping and landing heavily on a tree root which came out of nowhere, my running continues to - how to put this? - not get much slower. 4hr 57min to the marathon point, and another third place overall. We celebrated reaching 400km (250 miles) in six days with a little bubbly:

These folks do it in great style - full marks for gastronomy.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Stage 5 - Orléans - Océan

An even hotter, longer day today. There remains not a cloud in the sky, and for some very long shadeless stretches, the mercury was up in the 90Fs. Keeping hydrated was a major challenge given the distance between aid stations. The course was 71km (45 miles) and beautiful in many places.

As ever, it was wonderful to reach the finish line. A beer, a coke, an iced tea, a Haagen Dass ice cream, another tea, some tabouli, an Orangina - just rewards for the day of suffering!

The mojo returned a little today. No aches and pains, a slow first marathon (4hrs 55mins), but felt fresher than expected at the finish. Off for a glass of something with M le Maire shortly - the French do it in style! A tremendous spirit exists in the group, and I've been honored to be a warmly welcomed part of it.

Two days to go!

Location:Rue d'Anjou,Oudon,France

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Stage 4 - Orléans - Océan

As the cloudless skies remain, the temperatures continue to increase. Today's lunchtime miles - when it's really hot - were along a busy, shadeless départmentale road, and no-one had any fun there. But the rest of the 39 miles were beautiful and picturesque; for example:

Another scorcher is on the menu for tomorrow. Because of the heat, wonky hip and sheer laziness, I made it to the marathon point in 4hrs 45 min, and finished in about 7hrs 30. But this is no longer a race - finishing positions are already decided - it's about surviving two more long, hot stages and then jogging joyfully into St Nazaire on Friday morning.

Location:Lève de l'Authion,Sainte-Gemmes-sur-Loire,France

Monday, July 23, 2012

Stage 3 - Orléans Océan

The wonky hip decided to cooperate more today, provided I alternated running and walking. Because of very high temperatures - not a cloud in the sky and very light breezes - and the longest stage (46 miles) this was not a bad plan.

With this slow forward progress, I made it to the marathon point in 4hr 36min, and shuffled home in fourth place again in about 8hr 30. I nearly ran out of water a couple of times - extremely worrying - but an aid station showed up just in time as I'd drained the last drop of water from all my bidons. I'd even tried turning on a few taps in front gardens where the owners were not in evidence, but they were all turned off.

It was a long, hot day but as usual very easy on the eye:

Here's where we're staying tonight, in Candes St Martin:

Spectacular! But I of course am lying down in my tent, resting my legs in anticipation of another 37 miles tomorrow.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Stage 2 - Orléans Océan

My time on the "podium" was short lived, due to problems with a painful right hip which caused me to walk quite a bit today. My third place overall has quicly sunk to fourth, as Vincent, Patrick and Renaud are all running well. (Today's first marathon took me 4hr 22min, compared to 4hr flat yesterday.) But I used the slower pace to take in the scenery and snap a few photos. It was another beautiful day on a superb course.

The day was filled with chateaux, bateaux, sunflowers and vignobles, most especially the winery at Vouvray, whose output was a regular tipple while we lived in Tulsa.

This is a superb race with a great friendly atmosphere. Dominique and Annie should be very proud!

Location:Rue du Saule Michaud,Montlouis-sur-Loire,France

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Stage 1 - Orléans Océan

First stage of 37 miles happily disposed of, in just under 6 hours. The route is quite flat and mainly paved, so I reached the marathon point (26.2 miles) in just 4 hours. The scenery was beautiful; the weather was sunny and a little hot for running but generally pleasant; the volunteers and race organizers were wonderful; beer, food and showers were provided at the finish...this is as good as stage racing gets.

A longer 45 mile stage tomorrow, so I hope I kept enough in the tank to maintain my "bronze medal" place. Naptime in my tent looking out at the Loire now.

Location:Rue de la Place,Vineuil,France

Friday, July 20, 2012

Ah, the glamour

As I arrived at the first stage campsite on the outskirts of Orléans, race directors Dominique and Annie Chaillou gave me a very warm welcome and some delicious lunch, although I politely declined their offers of wine and beer. They have done a wonderful job of getting this brand-new race off the ground. The two tentes Barnum - one for food and one for sleeping - are unique, but I have opted for solitary splendor in my own tent, so that I may keep annoying snoring to myself.

A celebratory drink and welcome dinner is coming shortly, to be followed by a (hopefully) dry night and sunny morning. The view of the Loire from my tent is superb. I'm ready to go! But of course doucement, doucement...

Next to the finish banner each day is a bell that the runners ring to signify their finish. A nice touch. I'm sure I will enjoy ringing that bell on several occasions.

Here's Annie with my friend (and race leader for the longer Loire Intégrale race) Hervé Rozec, a strong and intelligent runner:

He's looking very fit after 10 days' running at 10km/hr + pace.

Location:Rue Gaston Deffie,Saint-Pryvé-Saint-Mesmin,France

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Orléans and its maid

The planes, trains, automobiles - and even buses - cooperated wonderfully today, and everything ran like clockwork. My hotel by the station was expecting me. Travel gets no better than that these days.

Before the sun set, I wandered off to explore this interesting town. There's lots of Joan of Arc stuff everywhere:

Then another half-mile on from the main square I finally glimpsed my watery companion for the next week, the Loire:

Allons-y!!! Let's go!!!


I love French trains and the scenery they pass through. I've already seen deer, hares and bunnies. I've crossed a sweeping reach of the Seine, and seen splendid fields of ripening wheat and barley. But one major thing you just can't miss in France is ubiquitous graffiti - or more specifically "tagging". It is visible on almost every surface beside the tracks. No exageration. Here's just one of millions of examples:

Call me old-fashioned...I love the Banksy/ trompe l'oeil stuff...but this graffiti isn't close to that. It's neither pretty, interesting, clever or rare. It's just wasteful, boring and pointless. Or am I becoming a grumpy old curmudgeon?


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

3 days until Orléans - Océan

Travel day tomorrow, hopefully ending with a night in an Orléans hotel. Literally a day of planes, trains and automobiles. Then a week under canvas begins with race check-in on Friday afternoon. Stage 1 starts early on Saturday morning with a westerly 37-mile jog along the Loire in (hopefully) the direction of the Atlantic. Reaching St Nazaire by next Friday is my only goal, a little over 250 miles away.

I'm looking forward to seeing old friends and familiar faces from Transe Gaule, Trans Europe and Ultra Trace St Jacques. Generally good weather is predicted, but of course you never can tell. The Loire is a river, so the course must be flat and slightly downhill, right?

Monday, July 09, 2012

Who's stealing whose Olympics?

Today's Independent newspaper has an article entitled: Can amateurs' 'Real Relay' steal the Olympic show? Armed with their own torch, runners hope to eclipse official 'celebrity tour' this week.

IMHO, the headline speaks volumes about how our lives have become taken over by corporate and commercial interests, using put-down words like "amateurs" and "stealing". Whatever happened to those long-lost Olympic ideals of amateurism? And whose Olympics is it to steal anyway? Grrr... What EnduranceLife are suceeding in pulling off is a brilliant, grassroots, green, non-commercialized, "by the people, for the people" event. Huge kudos to them.

Anyway, rant over. I am very proudly looking forward to participating in EnduranceLife's Real Relay tomorrow, running Stage 522 from Saffron Walden to Haverhill. If there are any more larcenous non-professionals out there who'd care to join me covering 12 great Essex running miles, the more the merrier. You won't even need to buy your own £200 torch! Meet me at the War Memorial in Saffron Walden at 3:20pm, Tuesday 10th July.


Monday, July 02, 2012

Round the Island race 2012

While 1,900 very expensive yachts were heading counter-clockwise around the Isle of Wight this weekend, 120 or so intrepid runners were gimping clockwise around the Coastal Path, a journey of 70 miles (plus a couple of extra miles of getting lost, in some cases).

Getting to the island was rather fraught, as the ferry company had one of their two ferries out of commission, so both the queues and the traffic in Southampton were wretched. But when we finally dumped the car and got onto the high speed foot passenger ferry, things started looking up. The sights in Cowes harbour when we arrived were pretty impressive:

We were warmly welcomed by Neil Thubron and the good folks from Extreme Energy, who were hosting the event. Friday night was spent on the gym floor in Cowes High School, a very typical stage race experience. Our co-residents made the usual amount of noise before and during bedtime, and a disturbed night was had by all, which was finished up with some heavy rain and wind.

But by the time we were ready to start, the weather miraculously improved, and remained nice all weekend - sunny and dry, but with some serious headwinds. We walked a mile or so to the East Cowes chain ferry, and as the drawbridge lowered all set off on our respective journeys of 38 miles.

The course was pleasantly varied on both days - a mix of narrow coastal paths, English seafront promenades, steep climbs, woods, cliffs and small roads. On the evening of Day 1, I spoke for a while at the runners' dinner and enjoyed getting to know quite a few of the runners. We were staying at a 1930s style campsite (which was apparently when the carpet was installed). It was primitive, comfortable, fun and very retro; it was like going back in time several decades.

On Day 2, we headed into some very stiff headwinds towards the Needles, and then enjoyed some easier tailwinds as we returned to Cowes. I spent most of the day running with four very nice guys - Hamish, Dave, Will and Ben. Our worst misadventure was getting lost in a Borneo-like jungle of brambles and thorns. Two highlights were meeting up with our friend Leah at Checkpoint #2, and then catching up with Claire shortly before the finish.

Once our medals were hung around our necks, we headed off to our hotel in Cowes, The Fountain. Award-winning fish & chips and two pints of IPA did not disappoint, nor did the "full English" breakfast this morning. It's great to run all day, but it's nice to stop too.

Location:Isle of Wight