Strava 100 Mile Trail Challenge

I’ve been using Strava to log my runs for about a month now, after having previously used a combination of Fetch Everyone and Garmin Connect for a number of years. About 4 years ago when I first got into running, I bought a Garmin Forerunner 405, which despite its downfalls (dodgy bezel, poor batter life, quirks picking up satellites) has probably been the most motivational piece of running hardware I’ve ever used.

The Garmin allows me to just stick on a pair of shoes and run out the door, recording where I go and then when I get back I can download all the data and store online, building up a profile over time and allowing me to see how well I’m doing.

But all that data is no good unless you can analyse it in a meaningful way. Being a bit of a geek, I love to see how far and fast I’ve run, and how much effort it has taken. Garmin Connect always allowed me to do this, but the interface was clunky and it was often very slow.

Facebook for Atheletes?

Strava does most of what Garmin Connect and Fetch Everyone does, but has more of a focus on the social and competition side of things. Its quite easy to find friends and link it via Facebook to build a profile and follow like-minded athletes.

Where it really comes into its own though, is its ability to crunch your run (or bike) data into segments, and allow you to name these so that when you run the same portion of the run again (or somebody else does) you can compare times.

My run mapped out, including elevation profile, split into named segments.

The app is pretty good at determining segments from geographical data, but you’re also free to crop and change them yourself, which is quite handy as in some of the places I run there is not much on the Google map to really help Strava work out what is useful or not.

This is especially useful for me, since almost all of my running is on hilly trails, and I rarely run the exact same route twice. However I regularly do route segments, such as the hill sprint back into the village, or a particularly fast riverside forest run, and it adds a bit of extra motivation to know that I can go for a record or at least a good time on that section.

The athlete profile page on Strava gives you a running total of your activities, and flags any achievements you’ve earned by beating previous times on course segments.

Strava Challenges

I run alone (well, with my border collie) and there aren’t many other people in my area so I tend to have the trails to myself. Its easy to get into a routine and not push yourself too much, but this is where the Strava challenges come in.

For the first 16 days of September, Trail Runner magazine hosted the Strava 100 Mile Trail Challenge, where they invited as many people as possible to log 100 miles of trail running between September 1st-16th.

I entered this, and managed to log 102 miles before the challenge ended, and it turned out to be a great motivational tool. So far I’ve logged over 200km and we still have 9 days of the month left – by having the motivation to go out and run decent mileage every day I think I’ve managed to push myself that little bit further and discover that I’m actually OK with that level of effort – I’m definitely looking forward to the next challenge.


I love Strava, and have now stopped using my other sites as I think on balance this is the way to go. Although not perfect, Strava seems to have the right balance right now – what especially appeals is that unlike the hardware manufacturers (Garmin etc) who really are only interested in selling you a device, Strava is device-neutral, and they seem to be continuously driving development and rolling out new features.


  • Clean and quick user interface
  • Social element and challenges
  • Phone apps


  • Because it started as a bike-app, there are far few runners on there
  • Difficult to see monthly subtotals in tabular form

Eagle’s Peak Loop

My house is in a valley, and directly opposite, above the Via Ferrata route and rock climbing crag, is a steep mountain face, topped out by a little nubbin known as Pic de l’Aigle, or Peak of the Eagle. I can understand why it got this name, we regularly see golden eagles circling in the area, swooping down for hares or gaining height on the thermals, and the rock itself looks like a perfect place for an eyrie.

A photo of Pic de l’Aigle (top left) taken from behind the chapel in La Jarjatte

I’ve hiked it a couple of times before and it takes a good half day, but I decided to run it with Eric this morning.

The route starts off with a gentle 2.5km downhill run out of the village and along farmers fields to the neck of the La Jarjatte valley, where you join a logging track. After a couple of hundred metres though you branch off into the forest and get to run up some pretty decent single track.

Even though it doesn’t look hot from the photos, it was quite warm and Eric started to flag. After 45 minutes of finding no water sources I did consider turning back. Its been so dry for so long, and we were running up south-facing slopes there was nowhere to drink from.

Pretty soon though, I could see the top of the tree line, and the bulge of Pic de l’Aigle through the trees.

Almost at the top

The trees opened up with great views to the valley below, and the village of La Jarjatte. After just an hour of running I was at the Col de la pic de l’Aigle.

Pic de l’Aigle, with some pretty scummy weather blowing in from the valley to the north.

By this point I’d managed to get Eric to drink from his portable water bowl, and used up the last of my water with him.

The trail moves up behind Pic de l’Aigle, and carries on along the mountain ridge to Montagne de Clairet.

From here it was all downhill, but when you’re tied to a freshly-watered, re-energised Border Collie, this is easier said than done, and I spent the whole 700m descent pulling back on him and trying to not to fly flat on my face.

Mad Dogs and Englishman

Well, it wasn’t quite the midday sun but it was definitely hot enough at 11am to make me think twice. Summer is definitely well underway in French Alps, the flies are out and the farmers are making hay while the sun shines.

I was out with our Border Collie, which are a notoriously heat intolerant breed so he struggled a bit despite me stopping at few cold streams along the way.

I need to get training for the heat in preparation for my upcoming ultras, but it might be a good idea to leave the poor old dog at home.

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.

Running with a Dog

On Tuesday, we travelled over to Valence in the Rhône Valley and took ownership of a 12 month old Border Collie called Eric. His previous owner, an 84 year old man had recently died and he was being fostered. We’ve been on the lookout for a Border Collie for some time, checking on the puppies available on noticeboards at the vet, but Eric came through a friend of a friend and so we took the plunge.

Eric – ready for a run?

One of the attractions for me of a Border Collie was to have a dog that can come out into the mountains, and run for long periods over rough terrain, or hike all day. However, coming with a years worth of ‘baggage’, he’s got a lot to (un)learn so we’re keeping him on a leash for now.

I took him out yesterday for his first proper run. I did a short run up to the Mougious waterfall which he took in his stride. A couple of hundred metres shy of the waterfall, a deer shot out of the forest and across our path – Eric went crazy and tried to bolt after him, which pretty much vindicated my decision to keep him leashed.

Post-deer chasing Eric on his way home

The biggest problem I found was running with a short leash. I think the natural driving/herding instinct in a Border Collie means that he weaves from left to right a lot, and running with a short leash means I keep running into the back of him.

As usual, the internet is a helpful place and I’ve been given a lot of advice on running with dogs. I’m ordering a leash that will attach to a belt so I can run hand’s free and have a little more give when he stops or speeds up. I’ll review it on here when I’ve had chance to try it out.

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
1 2