Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Another day, yet another Col and lessons learnt

Well, after a load of fiddling about and thanks to the ever handy superglue, Andy was able to sufficiently repair his break lever to make the bike rideable again. The day dawned with a cloud inversion which quickly retreated to leave a mixture of blue sky and occasional clouds. A low front is approaching, so we were keen to get out while the weather held. This time, the Etang de Lers was our target. It is a ride we can do from the house by cycling down into Massat, up to Le Port and then straight up to Lers. The only downside is that we then have 4kms of ascent up the Col de Port road on our return! And with my legs still feeling a bit weary after the ride on Monday, I was keen not to overdo it.

The descent into Massat was fun (as always) and then we had a gentle meander through to Le Port from where the incline steepens up to a maximum 8.9%. It was hard work in places, with, in particular a sustained gradient of never below 6.8% over a distance of 8kms. The following image shows the extension (the final blue and yellow sections) along to the Port de Lers which we didn't do because of the road closure. But we got up to the Etang 1 hr 25 min after leaving Pissou, a distance of some 17kms. Then we had the descent to look forward to! Or so we thought. By this time, the cloud was rolling in and the sun was obscured which dropped the temperature quite dramatically. We started our descent but quickly realised that the windchill was going to be a major problem. Although we both wore long sleeved upper layers and long bottoms, our long fingered gloves did not afford the protection that we needed against the chill. Likewise, our basic cycling shoes were not going to prevent the cold from attacking our feet. It soon became apparent that we were totally unprepared for this change in weather. We found ourselves stopping every couple of kms on the steep descent to try to warm up our fingers so that we could use the brakes! Frostnip started to become a real concern as the cold bit and an icey wind started to make itself felt. I was concerned at how I was feeling, but somehow, we made it back to Massat. The climb back up the Col de Port road warmed us back up to a degree, but still, I had lost all sensation in my feet. On went the down booties. On went the pan of milk for the hot chocolate. Eventually sensation returned to my feet and the hot chocolate was the reviving elixir that I had craved.

So, lessons learnt? We wouldn't dream of heading into the mountains without being properly prepared for a change in conditions. We must apply the same mindset to our road biking out here. It is too easy to think, ah, we're on the roads, we're on a bike, we can make a quick descent if needs be. Wrong. The descent is where major problems can occur. In future, we will consider taking a small pack containing extra layers, neoprene booties and gloves, extra food etc. Extra weight, but extra surety.

So totals for the day, 860 m of ascent, 36.40 kms covered in 2hrs 33 mins , 1658 kCals consumed - I deserve CAKE!!

Monday, 28 January 2008

Another day, another Col

Well, in for a penny, in for a pound! Andy's break lever is knackered after the tumble yesterday, so he won't be out on the roadie for a few days, but Pat called yesterday to ask if I wanted to cycle back up the Col de Port with her from the Tarascon side. The plan was for Kev to cycle from this side, down to Tarascon where he would go swimming in the indoor pool for an hour. Pat and I would drive over, bikes in the car, leave the car for Kev and then cycle back up the Col de Port. I was a wee bit apprehensive about doing another climb after yesterday's outing up the Col de Latrape, but I felt really good this morning so thought 'why not'.

Up to the Col de Port from Tarascon is a 17km route over which you climb 777m. It is a steady climb, with no particularly steep sections on it. This was my first attempt at a route of this length but it seemed achievableSo we set off from Tarascon in still, sunny but slightly chilly conditions. Within a few kilometers, we had to stop to strip off as we were over heating, as the warmth of the sun penetrated through our layers. The first 8kms were easy with a gentle gradient. The next 5.5kms were tougher work, but head down and steady pedalling saw the worst of it over until eventually, the road levelled out and we started on the switchbacks which took us the final nearly 3kms to the top of the Col. Yee-haa! Not as bad as I had been expecting and I still felt strong. There really isn't anything to this Col climbing malarky ;-) Then it was a fast descent back down to Kev and Pat's and after a very welcome cup of tea, it was back to Pissou. All in all, another successful outing. Total distance covered 27km (inc. the descent) in 1 hr 42min, 1016 kCal consumed

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Back on the roadies again

Well, we had to take advantage of this amazing springlike weather (15 degrees, sunny, calm, clear blue skies) so Andy and I decided that an outing on the road bikes would be a fine plan. It was back in the autumn when they last saw the light of day so I was quite excited about giving my little thoroughbred another airing. Rather optimistically considering our lack of bike outings recently, we set our sights on the Col de Latrape. Now this Col is generally considered to be one of the easier Cols to tackle in the area, being just 5km in length and with a height gain of 368m (ave 7.4%) . Andy and I were planning a nice circuit, if we could get to the top of the Col, by then descending down the other side, down the Ustou Valley, along to Seix and then back to Ercé from where we had started, a distance of around 40km. The warm up from Ercé to Aulus went well and we were enjoying the warm sun - I certainly wasn't expecting to be wearing shorts and a short sleeved top at the end of January! Then we hit the bottom of the Col. Within a very short while granny gear was deployed and I was thinking, oh dear, this isn't going to be fun. But we put our heads down and just let the legs pedal away... steady steady, no hurry. Very soon, the body adjusted to this new feeling, I relaxed into the ascent and got a nice rhythm going. Before we knew it, the top came into sight. Easy peasey lemon squeezy!!! Much to my surprise, it really hadn't been that hard at all! The climb had done our confidence the world of good . And now we had the descent to look forward to. So we launched ourselves down the hill towards the Ustou Valley and along to Seix where we were hoping to grab a coffee. However, all the cafes were closed so we continued our ride back to Ercé. We had a slight incident on the way back when I was changing down a gear but my chain came off which brought me to an abrupt halt. Andy was following very close behind me, could not swerve out to avoid me because of cars behind us and so caught my back wheel and went over. No physical damage to himself or me, but the brake hood on his bike is going to have to be replaced due its impact with the tarmac.

So apart from that unfortunate interlude, it was a jolly fine outing with a distance of 39kms covered, including the 368m of height gain up the Col, in a time of 1 hr 40 mins.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Wood (yes, again)

Some while ago, you may recall, our elderly occasional neighbour M Benazet gave us permission to recover whatever wood we wanted from his wooded land just down the lane from the house. Over a period of a few months, I have been getting together a pile of useable loose wood on the land, but that is just a tiny part of what we have permission to recover. We currently have a good spell of clear dry weather so, with the contents of the woodshed dwindling, we thought it an opportune time to tackle the land and see just what it could yield. So yesterday, we ventured down and discovered two fallen trees (beech, we believe), that have probably been down for a couple of years judging by the dryness of the wood - ideal burning material for the woodburner. So the first step was to chainsaw the first, larger one into sections that could be easily sent down the hill for further sectioning and eventual loading into the car for transportation the short distance up the road. The terrain that we were working on was a moderately sloping woodland area with masses of dead leaves underfoot which made it a tricky process. The big tree was taken from an area in the top right of this photo. I am standing on the road to take the photo;

Then today, we returned to the woodland to recover what we could. We started by reducing the longer lengths to lengths that would fit in the car then chainsawed the bigger sections from the 1st fallen beech into more manageable sections and also sectioned the 2nd fallen tree into manageable lengths. The whole lot was then gently rolled down the slope towards the roadside ready for transporting back to Pissou. These logs are a sample from the 1st large beech tree;5 car loads (estate car) and 5 hours later we had collected more than enough to see us through the winter/early spring. It is all piled up outside the back of the house ready for splitting/further chainsawing tomorrow. As I have said on previous occasions, wood collecting and processing is one of my favourite jobs at Pissou at is both physically demanding and also immensely productive!

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

An outing with Pat and Kev

My first run for a week. It was with Pat and Kevin, from Bios which is situated just above Cominac, a very special place which has the most spectacular views of Mont Valier and other higher Ariege mountains which border Spain. Taff also came out to play :-) It was a gentle jaunt, 8.9km in total with 715m of ascent which took us 1 hr 24 (526 kCal). It was warm and both Pat and I were overdressed with long sleeved tops and full length bottoms (it was decidedly chilly when I left Pissou!). Maybe spring is on its way before winter has even arrived!

Tuesday, 22 January 2008


This can be explained by my trip back to the UK to catch up with friends and family that I have not seen for some months. It was also an opportunity for me to take advantage of being back in the Peak District again to stretch my legs on what can only be described as slightly flatter terrain than that which surrounds us at Pissou! The only slight downer was the appalling weather that accompanied my stay. Oh well, you can't have everything!

My first outing was with my mate Hilary with whom I was staying - we had a lovely 68 min run from Hathersage, up the footpaths and tracks to the top of Stanage (a gentle incline initially but steepening towards the top), following the route of the Stanage Struggle fell race. It was fantastic to be on the top of Stanage Edge again – I had forgotten what a special place it is. After taking in the view for 30 seconds, we were off again, picking our way back down into the village along the footpaths and back roads. All in all, a nice run out.

The following day, it was damp and windy, so I decided an outing onto the tops would not be a good idea, so instead, I did a 14.3km run out alongside the Derwent and Howden reservoirs, a route I have done many times on the mountain bike. The Derwent dam was showing the effects of the days of endless rainfall. It was the longest sustained run I have done for some while, but my body was working well and all felt good. It was wonderful to head out into the moors again and to experience the wildness of this part of the Peak District

However, the conditions deteriorated on the way back and I was faced with a driving headwind and rain. But I completed the route in 1 hr 30 mins, I time that was not bad considering the conditions.

I spent a couple of nights with my friends Ed and Ayshea who had only moved to Grindleford a few days previously. They now have a 7 month old baby which has resulted in not much time being available for important things like running! As soon as Ayshea heard that I was back, she was desperate to get out for a run. We decided on a gentle 8km route which followed the river bank. However, the tone for the run was set by the flooded field that we had to run through to get onto the riverside footpath. So, like true fellrunners, we went for it and were soaked within 5 minutes of leaving the house. The 'footpaths' that we intended to use turned out to be running streams and in other sections they could only be described as a quagmire with ankle deep mud. Still, we were out of the house and Ayshea had discovered a walk/run on her doorstep that would be great in dryer conditions.

After a last minute appointment with my hairdresser (was she surprised to see me after 7 months, or what?!), I headed down to stay with family in Dorset - lovely to spend some quality time with mum and to see my bro again. However, the appalling weather continued which made it impossible for me to get out for any more running action before I left the UK to return to Pissou. After 10 days in the UK, with all of the associated traffic/noise/people, I was quite looking forward to getting back to the peace and quiet again and hoped I would also be greeted by better weather. I was not disappointed. On landing at Carcassonne, the sun was shining and it was warm.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Pushing it

Today was the day. It was all Pat's fault. She made me do it. But I am rather chuffed that she did. Received an email from her last night when I was on my 3rd glass of wine to say 'we're on for it, be up for 09.00'! Oops, a couple of pints of water before bed required to get rehydrated! Then this morning, I loaded my mountain bike into the car and headed down to St Girons to meet Pat and Kev at our starting point. The route was programmed into my GPS. This was going to be a piece of cake.... Oh yeah? Think again, Penny! The region's mountain bike routes invariably deteriorate into narrow woodland paths, overgrown with brambles and bracken, with a fair amount of mud thrown in . This was to be no different and, despite the GPS indicating that we should follow the route through the woodland in a certain direction, the path petered out and we had no choice but to descend. The rest of the ride however went well and we covered 18km with a total ascent of apparently 570m, 1005 calories consumed.

On arriving back at the car park at St Girons, we hopped off our bikes, swapped our biking footwear for running shoes and set off back along the route we had covered on the bikes. This is the first time I had done such a 'duathlon-style' thing, so I didn't know how I would feel. My legs were tired after some of the bike sections, so I wasn't optimistic. But as I got going, I felt surprisingly good! We covered an 8.7 km loop of the route we had cycled in just a smidgeon under 1 hour - another 534 calories burnt. I was over the moon with how I was feeling. All I can think is that the bike leg had well and truely loosened up my muscles so they were working far more effectively on the running leg. Pat and Kevin also seemed to enjoy it, so we are all happy! It's looking good for our 20km trail race at the end of March :-)

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Getting fit - continuation!

Oh yes, we're on a roll now! Pat, Kev and I did a loop from their house in Espies (794m) up the lane and into the woods, reaching 1095m (same route that we did with the dogs on the 22 December) before dropping back down narrow footpaths (many centuries old) to the Boussenac road to complete the loop back to Espies. A total of 300m of ascent over 3.4kms, followed by 6.4kms of downhill/level running on the second half of the run. I felt amazingly strong and fit although my quads were aching after the descent. Taff enjoyed his outing too and was a pooped pooch when I got home :-)

Plan for early next week is for a 16km VTT mountain bike ride down St Girons way following which we will dump the bikes and run a 7km loop section of the same route. Hmm, that will be interesting.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Getting fit - the start!

I have lost a couple of kgs over the last week (yes, unknown at Christmas, but hey...), and am keen to get back on the exercise track and get really fit in 2008. Fortunately, I am able to team up with my mate Pat down the road who has similar aspirations, so we are able to chivvy each other along. Our medium term goal is a 20 km trail race at Lavelanet which falls on Easter Sunday 23 March. We both need positive goals to aim for and this is the first one. So for our first 'run' of the year, we did an 8km run from Espies, across country down into Massat, then along a couple of footpaths and back up to Espies. Not having run for a month or so, it felt harder than it should have been, but it is a start. Our next aim is a 16km mountain bike from St Girons, up the valley (relatively flat but still with 200m of climb) and back, before hopping off the bikes and running a 7km loop of the same route. Hmm, fun! Over a cup of tea, I have also somehow been persuaded to enter a run/bike/canoe event down on the south coast at the end of September (a day before my birthday, actually!). I am now looking for goals between March and October to keep things moving along :-)