Video: Trail Run Across Grand Ferrand

I recently picked a Garmin Virb Elite action camera and took it for a trail run on my local mountain with Amy. The camera is good fun and the form factor makes it easy to carry around. It also has a ‘burst mode’ photo feature which allows you to take pictures even while you’re taking video, which was much easier than getting the phone out.

Photos

Here are some of the pictures I took while on ‘burst mode’. The wide angle distortion looks odd in places, but works well in others.

virb4

virb3

virb2

virb1

 

Race Report: Trail des Contreforts de Piolit, Haute-Alpes, France

After my first race a couple of weeks ago in snow and fog, I was looking forward to a drier and brighter run in the southern Alps, and last Sunday’s Trail des Contreforts de Piolit didn’t disappoint. The race was 17km of pretty much straight up then straight down racing along the foothills (the contreforts) of Le Piolit in the Haute-Alpes of southern France.

The race profile - pretty much straight up and down with a few bumps here and there. The route was extended to 17,3km

The race profile – pretty much straight up and down with a few bumps here and there. The route was extended to 17,3km

The race has been going for five years, and based in La Bâtie-Neuve between Gap and Chorges, this was always going to attract a large and strong field of mountain runners and this year didn’t disappoint. 300 runners signed up for the main event with another 200 running a smaller 6km version.

Finding my way to the event was slightly problematic – I just rocked up to the town assuming there would be event signposts, but it wasn’t really clear where the race was. I saw a guy in running gear walking into a building full of people filling in bits of paper so followed him – and almost ended up voting in the French local elections. After sheepishly getting some new directions I soon found my way to the local college that was hosting the event and picked up my race pack and got ready.

The weather was perfect for racing – blue skies and temperatures in the low teens with little wind – a perfect Spring day in the Provençal Alps.

As with all of these events there’s usually a big bottleneck as soon as the race hits the trails so I positioned myself reasonably close to the front of the start line hoping not to get stuck too far back. As soon as the gun went off everybody sprinted and jostled – I nearly went face-first into the tarmac after 500m as somebody clipped my heels at full speed but I just about managed to stay on my feet.

Edging to the front of the start line to avoid the trail bottlenecks in the first KM

Edging to the front of the start line to avoid the trail bottlenecks in the first KM

After about 800m we started to hit the trails and the going got steeper. Although the the trail was mostly dry, this time of year there is still a lot of snowmelt in places and some patches were boggy and due to the crowded trails it was difficult to avoid much of this meaning feet got wet and muddy quite early on.

An easy section, so I was able to take a photo. The trails were much more technical in places but that wasn't the time for whipping out my phone.

An easy section, so I was able to take a photo. The trails were much more technical in places but that wasn’t the time for whipping out my phone.

There were two ravito (food) stops serving water, Coke and other drinks, as well as bananas, chocolate and dried apricots. For such a short race this seemed more than necessary but it meant I could race carrying nothing but a couple of gels, that I could then wash down with water at the aid stations.

The aid stations were frequent and well stocked for a race of this size

The aid stations were frequent and well stocked for a race of this size. Photo courtesy of www.traildescontrefortsdepiolit.fr

The going underfoot was dry and gritty in places, and mixed with the boggy conditions earlier on I was getting blisters on my feet – I was wearing my new Brooks Cascadia 10s which I’d only put about 30km into previously, so this made the descent painful as it was quite technical and steep.

said-f27b1

Photo courtesy of www.traildescontrefortsdepiolit.fr

 

gael_-benjamin-2d49f

Gaël Reynaud (right) who was the eventual winner, beating the course record with a time of 1:14:30. Benjamin Rouillon (left) got 2nd place just under 2 minutes behind. Photo courtesy of www.traildescontrefortsdepiolit.fr

montee-7121a

Photo courtesy of www.traildescontrefortsdepiolit.fr

Piolit_finish

The last couple of KMs were fairly undulating and I was able to make up about 4-5 places by passing a few people who were starting to blow up. The final 800m into the village and the finish line had some good crowds and still plenty of cheering going on despite the winner having crossed the line 15 minutes earlier, which helped motivate me to the finish. I eventually crossed the line in 1:33:57 – quite some time behind the winners but I’m quite happy with the result considering the strength of the field.

Overall it was a well organised and exceptionally scenic race – with plenty of food stops, plus a meal for all finishers it was also good value.

Results

Pl. # Name Club Sx Cat Time Avg Par cat.
1. 282 REYNAUD Gaël Team Optisport-Uglow M SEH 01:14:30 13,85 1
2. 184 ROUILLON Benjamin club des chats M SEH 01:16:33 13,48 2
3. 194 MANSOURI Saïd M SEH 01:16:33 13,48 3
4. 185 BARBE Geoffrey club des chats M ESH 01:17:02 13,4 1
5. 271 HALLEUMIEUX Christophe GHAA M V1H 01:17:53 13,25 1
6. 258 BAILLY Quentin Team Endurance Shop Gap M SEH 01:19:10 13,04 4
7. 7 BRUNEL Thomas CA Pézenas M SEH 01:19:32 12,98 5
8. 190 RANCON Maxime CS SERRE CHEVALIER M SEH 01:20:18 12,85 6
9. 17 ARVIN-BEROD Alexis M SEH 01:20:28 12,83 7
10. 251 MESTRE Bruno AC Digne M V1H 01:20:39 12,8 2
48. 82 CHAFFEY James   M V1H 01:33:57 10,98 16

Full race results can be found on the GeniAlp website.

Challenge Trails 05

I was keen to enter this race since it’s part of the new Challenge Trails 05 ‘league’ system. 10 trail races in the Haute-Alpes (05) departement this year, between 16-32km are scheduled, with a points mechanism where the winner is awarded 600pts, and then each finisher afterwards is awarded a decreasing number of points. The best 5 finishes of the year are taking into account on the overall leaderboard. It seemed like a good way to add some motivation and to find some local races for me.

 Strava Data

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

Race Report: Trail de Céüse

I’m deep into my training for the Amsterdam marathon in 6 weeks time and so I try to get my weekly long runs on the road and as flat as possible, which isn’t easy living in the Alps. Anyhow, I really miss proper trail running, and this Sunday saw there was a 32km trail race around the Massif de Céüse so I figured I would give that a go instead.

The event was run by Sigoyer Sport Aventure, cost only €10 to enter, and was just an hour’s drive away. My intention was to not race but take steady, since this was meant to be a long training run, but any thoughts I had of taking it easy went out the window right after the start as the race got steep very fast.

IMG_0075

Overall there was only around 1600m of ascent, but most of it was very steep (with fixed ropes in some sections). These steep sections all came early on, meaning the legs went through a real softening up early on. We were soon rewarded with amazing views from the Céüse plateau from where you could see 70km in every direction.

The route was marked excellently, and with only a small field of around 40-odd runners doing the full 32km (there were another 100 or so doing a shorter 12km version) it was easy to find yourself on your own. However it was well marshalled and well signposted. The availability of food and water at the aid stations was not that generous (cups of water, but no refills of Camelbaks/bottles) but considering the difficult of getting supplies to many of the areas, and the low cost of the race this wasn’t a major fault.

I finished in 4:14:04 which brought me in with the middle of the pack. Definitely one to do again next year.

Some Photos…

IMG_0093 IMG_0100

IMG_0073

 

Race Report: 1er Trail des Cimes du Buech

The race start at La Faurie

The race start at La Faurie

The first edition of the Trail des Cimes du Buech took place on Sunday, and so I went along since at 17km and 950m +/- it was short and steep enough for me to feel like I could properly ‘race’ it, rather than just try to complete the distance. Since it took place in La Faurie, a village just 20 minutes drive from me, it made sense too.

The Route

The route comprised of a loop, climbing the mountains above La Faurie, running along the ridge with an ampitheatre to the east, and opening up to the rolling hills of Haute Provence to the southwest. The entire route was on eithe forest single track or 4×4 roads, with some steep climbs and technical descending. Around 60 runners made it to the start line, and I made a conscious effort to get to the front early since the first 800m or so were fairly flat, but with a bridge and some single track it would quickly become a bottleneck, so by the time we reached the first climb I was in around 12th place. 10 minutes into the climb I’d made up about 4-5 places and settled in at 5th place. It stayed like this until the final summit, until the runner behind me showed how the skill of technical descending can really make a difference. He overtook me and I lost 2 minutes on him in the final 6km to the finish, coming in in 6th place with a time of 1hr 46.

Not looking my best as I summited the top of the course in 5th place

Not looking my best as I summited the top of the course in 5th place

Strava Race Data

Descending through the forest down to the finish line

Descending through the forest down to the finish line

Product Review: YakTrax Pro

Product: Yak Trax Pro
Price: €29,90
Pros: Light, fit most shoes (including hiking boots), no spikes but good grip so work across patches of tarmac/rocks.
Cons: A little pricey for what they are, can be a bit awkward to fit

The end of November saw the first heavy snowfall of the winter, with around 70cm of snow falling in 24 hours. With temperatures of -15C it wasn’t going to disappear anytime soon so I decided to try out some YakTrax, one of the many traction devices for feet, available for runners.

 

20140221-154714.jpg

My wife has been running in these for a couple of winters and I’d always not bothered – generally when it snows it is deep enough to cause some give and give me traction, but the approach roads to the trails can be treacherous, especially just after the snow plough has pased over and we’ve had a bit of thaw/refreeze action.

I’ve been quite impressed so far though – they don’t seem to help much in deep snow, but the give me confidence on sheet ice, especially on the hills and they don’t interfere with my running action too much. Unlike what I’ve heard about spikes, there’s enough give with every stride to not hammer your quads too much, and they handle running across rocky patches or areas of road where there’s no ice.

The only time I had some problems was one session in quite deep, wet snow and they kept sliding off which was really annoying. However that was one run out of maybe 20 so far this winter so it may have just been down to me not fitting them properly.

All in all they’re a good purchase, much cheaper than dedicated shoes with spikes (eg. Salomon Snowcross) and have the added benefit that they will fit your existing trail shoes. They can also be used on hiking boots if you get a large enough size.