Early Morning Madrid

I’m just about to fly out of Madrid Barajas airport after spending slightly less than 20 hours in Spain. Arriving late last night, and staying in a hotel on the edge of town close to the office where I’ve been booked with meetings today, the only way I was going to get to see the sights of Spain’s capital was to set my alarm for 6am, put on my running shoes and run out for a loop.

I’ve never been here before but a quick look on Google Maps shows that I was situated quite a way from any of Madrid’s central attractions. A bit of research shows that there are plenty of decent places to run, but these were mostly spread out and I wanted to loop around the whole city.

Coming here in the middle of an Alpine winter, leaving the hotel at 6.15am in 9C temperature felt pretty nice.

Navigating Madrid in the early hours is easy – it’s mostly long, straight avenues that run N/S or E/W so I was able to link my run from the hotel, down to Parque del Retiro. It was still pitch black by this point though so there wasn’t much to see.

Parque del Retiro
This park is right in the centre of Madrid and is well worth a visit whether you’re running or otherwise. It belonged to the Spanish monarchy until the 19th century when it became a public park.

From here I followed Calle de Atocha northwest up to Plaza Mayor, a grand town square but at 7am it was pretty deserted and unlit. Carrying on through I finally reached the Palacio Real just as the sun was coming up, and I was finally able to snap a photo!

Palacio Real in central Madrid – about the only tourist attraction I was able to see in the daylight

I had originally hoped to head west to the Rio Manzanares where 10s of KMs of pedestrianised routes make for good running. Further northwest also is the Casa de Campo which is another very popular spot for runners, but I had meetings to get to and not enough time to extend my route, so had to head back.

Strava Run

Casa de Campo
This is the largest park in Madrid, on the west bank of the Manzanares and is a former royal hunting estate.

Casa de Campo – Madrid’s largest park

The park covers 700 hectares so you can imagine it’s quite a haven for runners, but is also quite busy with tourists and locals alike since there’s also a zoo, amusement park and aquarium.

Getting back takes longer than heading out – the huge empty avenues that I was able to cross easily in the early hours where clogged with morning rush hour commuter traffic, meaning frequent stops at the crossing lights. As I got back to the hotel the sun was just getting up and I was treated to this view from the hotel room window.

View of the northern skyline of Madrid from my hotel window

Frankfurt Airport Stopover

On my way back from Mexico City, my stopover in Frankfurt was going to be around 7 hours – from 2pm until my flight to Lyon around 9. Since I would have cleared customs and be in the Schengen zone for my next flight, and would have access to the Lufthansa business lounge (and showers) I toyed with the idea of quitting the airport and going for a run.

A bit of preparation – I made sure to pack my running gear in my hand baggage. Once in the Schengen terminal I found the lounge, and checked with the staff there that I would definitely be able to leave the airport and come back in. My boarding pass was on my phone, so I didn’t need to take anything else with me apart from the key to the locker in the business lounge. I took my driving licence just in case I ended up needing it for ID (I didn’t).

Lots of fast moving traffic while leaving the airport

Lots of fast moving traffic while leaving the airport

Frankfurt airport is surrounded by hundreds of hectares of forest – I’d seen it countless times when flying in and out of the airport and thought that it would be a good place to run if I got the chance. A lot of the Googling I’d done recommended leaving the airport on a hotel transfer bus and starting from their, but instead I simply ran out of the arrivals lounge in the vague direction of Frankfurt.

There are a few marked cycle paths which lead out of the airport, and along some of the main roads and I was able to follow these until they crossed a motorway and ended up in the main forest itself.

Soon you start to leave the noise of the traffic behind and get to the start of the forest - some helpful cycle routes aid navigation

Soon you start to leave the noise of the traffic behind and get to the start of the forest – some helpful cycle routes aid navigation

It was mid autumn and cold, but it was dry and crisp and the forest floor was a carpet of rustling brown leaves. I expected to see more runners but it was mainly just the odd cyclist. The forest paths all mainly run N-S/E-W in a grid pattern, so navigating towards Frankfurt wasn’t too difficult.

The forest floor was a carpet of leaves

The forest floor was a carpet of leaves

 

I didn't see or hear any signs of wild boar in the woods but it looked like perfect habitat for them.

I didn’t see or hear any signs of wild boar in the woods but it looked like perfect habitat for them.

Eventually I reached the river Main, west of Frankfurt and could see the high rise office blocks in the distance. There was quite a pleasant path running along it and assumed it would take me most of the way into Frankfurt, about 5-6km east. However I was starting to feel a niggle in my ankle that had flared up after my last marathon in Amsterdam, and the light was fading so I decided to turn back.

Finding my way back in the airport was much harder than finding my way out. They’re not really built for pedestrian access and I couldn’t find my exact same way back, so ended up entering the airport grounds quite a long way from where I wanted to be. All the signs to the terminal I needed where aimed at cars and didn’t necessarily show me the right way there. In the fading light it felt a little unsettling running round an enormous airport, mostly devoid of people, but eventually I found my way back. I’d definitely recommend the transfer bus to anyone trying it again.

I got a few strange looks going back through security covered in sweat in just running shorts and top, but was back in time for a shower, something to eat and some relaxation before my flight.

 

The view along the river Main

The view along the river Main

 

Strava Details

High Altitude – Mexico City

The legendary pollution in Mexico City makes for a great sunset

The legendary pollution in Mexico City makes for a great sunset

I’ve spent the last 3 years living at 1200m altitude in the French Alps, and anecdotally I’ve always felt that training at this level has always helped me when I’ve spent time running at lower elevations. On my regular trips to various European cities, running at near to sea level, on paved roads with little change in gradient has always felt very easy and I think that is thanks to the mountain training.

Last week I was in Mexico City on a business trip. It was the first time I had ever been there, but I knew that it was famously quite high, and also polluted. It is also infamous for congested, traffic snarled streets and lack of green space so I wasn’t exactly holding out great hope for fun training runs.

 

Visiting the pyramids outside Mexico City on my day off.

Visiting the pyramids outside Mexico City on my day off.

 

I arrived on Saturday night after an all-day flight from Europe, so had an early night and met my colleagues on Sunday morning to find out they had arranged a tour of the pyramids at Teotihuacan. This was a great way to acclimatise and get used to the jet lag – but meant I didn’t get to run.

The Lungs of Mexico City

My hotel overlooked the Bosque de Chapultepec – the largest park in Mexico City, and one of the largest city parks in the Western hemisphere. Each Sunday the roads that run through the park are closed to motorised traffic and the area, already a haven for runners, is completely taken over by cyclists, rollerbladers and runners.

 

Bosque de Chapultepec as seen from our office roof - a great oasis of tranquility in the bustling megalopolis of the DF

Bosque de Chapultepec as seen from our office roof – a great oasis of tranquility in the bustling megalopolis of the DF

I had to wait until the Monday evening after our first day’s meetings to go for a run – and since I only had 30 minutes I thought I would run a brisk pace rather than do the steady 10km I had planned – after just a few minutes I could really feel my lungs burning with the altitude and pollution – I was genuinely shocked at the effort it took to maintain a decent pace, since I’m used to being able to run more quickly on the flat pavement of the city. Unfortunately I’d left my HRM back at home so I couldn’t see how hard I was working but I felt like I was in the red most of the time and actually felt very dizzy at the end of the 8km.

The park is gated and closes around dusk, so unfortunately I couldn’t get into the main section and had to run around the small outskirts, which wasn’t the most inspiring, and hugged some of the main roads which were clogged with rush-hour traffic. I made a note to get up early and go for a morning run later in the week.

Chapultepec Circuit

The castle in the middle of Bosque de Chapultepec

The castle in the middle of Bosque de Chapultepec

Later in the week I ran a circuit of the park (at a more leisurely pace) and found it to be a fantastic place – full of runners, well signposted and lots of quiet trails. In the centre is the Castillo de Chapultepec, once an imperial residence but now a museum. During the cool mornings the park is full of runners, and there are plenty of places to explore with some well marked paths and trails.

The park is gated and so you can only access in a few places, and there was quite a visible police presence throughout, so even though Mexico City isn’t one of the safest place in the world, this felt like a part of town where you could run in relative safety.

 

 

Totem Canadiense

Totem Canadiense

Monument to los Ninos Heros - six boy cadets who died defending the castle from the US army in 1847

Monument to los Ninos Heros – six boy cadets who died defending the castle from the US army in 1847

Atlanta

I just spent the week in Atlanta on business, and with the an 86km ultra marathon just over a week away, I had to make sure that I found the opportunity to run. I’m tapering down so the distance wasn’t going to be large, and actually not having access to trails might actually have been beneficial to sharpen me up.

4 Wheels Good, 2 Legs Bad

The big problem with Atlanta, and indeed most big American cities between the coasts, is that it’s not really built with the idea that humans might want to travel around it on foot. With a grid system of 6 lane roads, and a number of major interstate highways travelling through the city, my initial run to get my bearings was a bit of a disaster. Stopping at crosswalks every 15 seconds, and running the jay-walking gauntlet.

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A common sight while running in downtown Atlanta

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Centennial Olympic Park in downtown ATL. About the only place to run in the city centre, but too small to be much use.

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More Atlanta downtown

After a quick search on Google Maps I found a large park to the northeast, that could be accessed by running up W Peachtree – it was, it worked, and I got to Piedmont Park, which was an oasis of tranquility. The only other problem was the heat and humidity.

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Piedmont Park

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Pic de l’Aigle 360°

Pic de l’Aigle (the Eagle’s Peak) is a mountain that I can see right from my living room window. It’s my go-to climb whenever I want to go for a tougher than usual run, as a door-to-door loop takes just under two hours, is 13km and climbs about 650m.

I ran it on Sunday, with a quick ‘warm up session’ down the valley – 8km running with the dog. I then dropped him off at home as it was pretty hot and there aren’t any streams running up there this time of year.

Despite it being Bastille Day, the weekend when hordes of tourists descend on us for the summer, I had the whole mountain to myself, and took this 360 panorama with the Photosynth app.

Sunny Southern Spain

This week I was lucky enough to be in the beautiful Spanish city of Seville for work. It was a busy programme and we spent most of our days in doors, but we got to see the sights at night and enjoy Spanish food and drink.

On the first morning I managed to sneak in a run along the Guadalquivir river which was a great way of getting my bearings, and seeing the city before it got too hot and croweded. I hoped to get out again but I was just unable to get up early enough in the mornings!

The palace in the Plaza Espana – amazing at dawn.

More of the amazing gardens in the Plaza Espana

View from the river

Pic de l’Aigle Morning Run

I was feeling like a more challenging outing so I ran Pic de l’Aigle this morning and got a few nice pictures since the weather was fine.

Down in the valley at the start of the climb, crossing the river Büech
Eric, the border collie, waiting for me as the gradient gets steeper
The view back down into the La Jarjatte valley, with the ski pistes in the background
The summit of Montagne de Claret – now its all downhill

London Run

I’m in London for the week and went out this morning for a run around Hampstead Heath and then down into our Soho office.

The weather has been terrible lately with no discernible summer in the UK. However I was treated to a great view of the city from the top of Parliament Hill, before heading back down into town.

Early morning London skyline from Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath

Combe Obscure Loop

I was spared dog-walking duties on Saturday morning so took the opportunity to go for a longer and more adventurous run than usual. Starting off down the valley through the forests as far as the Mougious waterfall (below). Rather than turning around though, I took the steep ascent (300m in about 15 minutes) up the left hand side.
Cascade de Mougious

It was a lung-busting climb to the top, as the path is pretty steep (a good 45º) but getting to the top is worth it. There is a sheep pasture up there, although being north facing there is still too little grass for it to be used. The shepherd’s old caravan and patio set was still up there though, but looks like it had had a tough winter.

The pasture at the top of the Mougious
Looking back down into the valley from the top of the waterfall.

From here, the trail followed one of the logging tracks into the trees, and traverses the forest-covered mountainside. The terrain is quite tough, boggy and rocky.

The logging road heading into the trees
After a few hundred metres, the trail turns off the road and gets onto proper forest single track. When I’d done this route in the past, I’d missed this turning and ended up descending into a gully and picking my way through rocks all the way down to the river.
The trail soon starts to get better
Perfect trail running conditions

This was where the running started to get really good – basically several KMs of forest single track traversing the mountainside, with occasional views into the valley. After I while I neared the top of the of the local ski pistes – and managed to get spooked by some pretty weird animal noises – I’m thinking it may have been the local wild boar.

Exiting the forest at the top of the ski piste – pretty much downhill from here.

Here’s the GPS data from Garmin.

Grand Ferrand Traverse

Location: France, Rhone-Alpes, La Jarjatte
Summary: Mountain trail, moderate effort

At the end of our valley is the largest mountain in the area – the Grand Ferrand. At 2,758m its not the biggest in the Alps, but at over a vertical mile above our valley floor, it presents quite a challenge to the aspring trail runner, and has quite an imposing presence over the end of the valley.

The Grand Ferrand on the approach – still early morning and not much sun.

All year I had been running along the trails at the end of the valley, and up into the foothills of the Grand Ferrand, only to be turned back by too much snow. My run on Friday morning was meant to be just another 10km jaunt, but to my surpise I found the snow had melted enough to allow me to get up above the treeline and onto the mountain proper.

Strictly no sheep or shepherd bothering
A waterfall up the Grand Ferrand

Rather than run up to Lac du Lauzon, I decided that I would traverse across the face of the mountain and head towards Col de la Croix, which passes the local sheep pastures, and then descend down into the forest and create a loop.

Since this was early spring, and very few hikers had made this route yet, after taking the branch I immediately lost the path and ended up scrambling up through rough undergrowth until I came out over a ridge and onto the steep, grassy pastures of the Ferrand.

Up above the treeline on the Grand Ferrand

I realised I was too high for the trail that cuts across, so decided to head across the slope and descend until I found it. The slope was a good 50º and quite slick with the morning due so going was tricky. I was busy watching down the mountain and at my feet, until I caught a glimpse of movement and looked up the slope to see a Chamois running towards me. It suddenly saw me, and startled, ran away for another 100m before looking back at me. I managed to snap a picture with my phone but it does no justice to these amazing animals – I was struggling on the terrain and it was running around as if it were on the flat.

One of the Chamois that live up high on the Grand Ferrand

After descending down another couple of hundred metres I found the trail, which was pure trail running Nirvana, high above the treeline, with a fantastic view back down the valley into La Jarjatte.

Finally found the trail that traverses the lower part of the mountain, with fantastic views back down the valley.

Into the sheep pastures, which in a month or so will be full of flocks, guarded from wolves by Patou dogs.

Wild flowers growing along the trail
The pastures that will be full of grazing sheep in a couple of months
The descent back into the valley