Saturday, August 06, 2016

La Transe Gaule 2016 :(

Well, our news is sad, and not a little depressing. With less than a week to go until the race gets underway, both Claire and I must abandon our Transe Gaule 2016 running plans.

We have both been dealing with a number of medical issues - Claire with digestion (oesophagus) problems, plus hip and leg pains; me with various surgery issues, plus knee and leg vein problems. The 6-day Étoile Savoyarde race went OK for me last month, but running for 13 more days could prove difficult and dangerous. Now that we're both 61, we've decided with great regret not to take risks with our health.

We still plan to take the Plymouth ferry to Roscoff on Sunday to see everyone at the start on August 9th, and we will also fly to Gruissan to see the finish on August 27th, but we will return to England in between those dates for some more surgery.

We're both very disappointed that we will not be part of the TG peloton once again, but will be with the 50 runners in spirit as they wend their way from the north to the south of France. Getting old really isn't loads of fun, we're finding. We're consoling ourselves with a trip to Lake Tahoe in October where we plan to run significantly shorter distances around the lake with some Austin friends.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Chiltern Challenge Ultra 2016

As one final test of the ageing legs before heading off to 19 days across France, Claire and I ran a 50k trail race yesterday in the Chiltern Hills in Buckinghamshire. The weather was warm and sunny, the course was fairly dry but hilly, and our fellow sufferers were a friendly bunch. I managed to complete the course with only one clumsy pratfall while dismounting one of many stiles. That's about my average.

The good people at XNRG who put on this race do a wonderful job. 5-star.

Three weeks now remain until the start of Transe Gaule. I am beset with the usual strange mix of excitement and dread, I suppose. One last push, before a life of greater indolence.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Étoile Savoyarde 2016 - final thoughts

Two years ago, after finishing my first Étoile Savoyarde, I wrote the blog post below. All I can do now after completing my second Étoile is to repeat this sentiment, and re-thank Team Codet for another unforgettable experience in 2016:

"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."

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Etoile Savoyarde 2016 - part deux

Four Alpine days now done, and two more to go. The Savoy weather has - somewhat unfortunately - taken a turn for the better, so from about 10am to 2pm we broil gently in the mountains under a fierce sun. Tomorrow's forecast is for 33C (somewhere north of 90F, I think). My skin has already darkened a few shades. But this is on balance better than the cold, foggy, rainy edition of 2014.

Only problems to report so far are one massive blister and the imminent loss of a toenail. Nothing out of the ordinary then. The huge climbs and descents are the cause, but my legs have held up well all week. I am looking forward to a rest from all this crazy running on Sunday. The food, drink, race volunteers and companionship continues to excel.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Etoile Savoyarde 2016

Two very hilly days of Étoile Savoyarde done. The weather - and thus the scenery - has been spectacular. My legs have held up excellently, due in large part to my slothful yet sensible pacing. Stage 1's 55km took me 6hr45. Today's longer, hillier 65km Stage 2 required 8hr13. But that's all good, as I "only" have a modestly steep 55km tomorrow.

Having Claire here as my soigneuse has been a treat. She does a 25km run each morning, after waving us off. Then she gets the gîte in order and well provisioned, before returning to the race HQ, and meeting me at the finish. Very much appreciated, as she feeds me milk & protein powder, plus beer and a late lunch.

The atmosphere here in the village of Myans is delightful. All forty or so runners are courteous and friendly. The family who organise the race - the Codets - are charming and hospitable. It is a privilege to be here again.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

L'Étoile Savoyarde 2016

On Saturday, despite the chaos and confusion following last week's Brexit referendum vote here in Britain, we are flying off to another part of the current EU - France - while we still can. Our pounds and our pensions have suffered this week; I still feel European, only poorer. And increasingly concerned about the future.

Running a race will be a good way to escape the mess of UK politics for a week at least, and to help prepare for crossing France again on foot this August. The goal of the trip is to complete a 6-day, very hilly 352km (220 mile) stage race called L'Étoile Savoyarde for the second time. In 2014, I had no "sherpa" for this event, and stayed alone in a shabby, noisy hotel. This year, I've upgraded, and will be staying in a comfortable gîte with my coach, dietician, running partner, and masseuse...Claire, of course.

Each of the race's daily stages start and finish in the delightful Alpine village of Myans, and the event is hosted by the wonderful Codet family. My objective is to complete 6 days feeling healthy and without injury, while enjoying spectacular scenery and plenty of delicious Savoy food. Some rain is in the forecast for later in the week, but hopefully Stage 1 will give us clear views of the mountains this coming Monday.

So just one final 9-mile training run tomorrow before we head to the airport. Thankfully the waiting is almost over. It's nearly showtime!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Preparing for France - a new approach

I've spent the last three weeks at our house here in Texas getting ready to take part in the Transe Gaule, an epic stage race across France. The race starts in early August by the lighthouse in Roscoff on the English Channel, and finishes 19 days later on a sandy beach in Gruissan near Narbonne on the Mediterranean:

My first Transe Gaule was in 2005, 11 long years ago. Back then, I was younger, fitter, faster, and very well prepared, with a number of 100+ mile training weeks under my belt, and a 3hr 11min spring marathon to my credit. But in fact I only just made it to the finish, after developing terrible shin swelling and pain after the first five stages. That's what running more than 250 miles a week does to you, if you're not careful.

Now at 61, to have any chance of completing Transe Gaule, I need to approach the race in a different way. I'm experimenting with a new self-devised conditioning regime this year. Every morning, I run exactly 15km - not longer - over a route involving many decent climbs and descents. I'm striving to keep my heart rate, breathing and effort down in the comfortable range for the duration of each run. My theory is that if I run daily at the same level of intensity, my body will condition itself to that effort and happily comply, instead of complaining bitterly and breaking down. And it will avoid injury on the first set of hills I encounter on the race in surprisingly rolling Brittany. So ... no speed work for me, no long runs, no track workouts, no steep hills. My goal is to finish the race uninjured, nothing more nor less.

The results so far? Very enjoyable runs. Zero injuries. Each day feeling stronger and "easier". The weather has been very favourable for Austin in May - cool and not too humid. My coach/running partner/spouse is concerned that I'm not running long enough. She may be right. But I'm healthy, positive and uninjured, and that's very important.

To test out my new approach before Transe Gaule, I am running a 6-day race in the French Alps in early July, the Étoile Savoyarde. Daily hilly stages averaging 37 miles should test my preparation and conditioning. Each stage starts and finishes in the village of Myans. It's a beautiful place, with wonderful French ambiance, food, scenery and organization. "Slowly, slowly" will be my mantra. We'll see.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Three French races in 2016

Every time we turn on the news this year, it seems that someone famous has died. David Bowie, Keith Emerson, George Martin, our old and dear friend Jack O'Brien, and lots more. It's a worrying trend. There's a list on wikipedia if you want to check.

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.