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.