Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Back on the running trail

We had rain overnight last night and it has been overcast and grey but quite humid today. I fancied a run. The loop I had in mind starts from Pissou, heads up the hill to Caougnous and Rieupregon and then picks up the old 'Chemin de Boussenac' which leads you up to the forest track at the Col de Port .....7.5kms and just over 300m of ascent to that point. From there, a lovely run down the forest track until, 7kms later, you hit the community of Liers and a short section of road, followed by a footpath along the hillside to Eycheboul, finishing with a meander along the woodland path back to Pissou, making a total of 19kms, 570m of ascent which took us 2 hrs 45 mins today (we ran at an average pace of 6.9 kmh which wasn't too bad). But I was tired from the start - I must have pushed myself on the bike harder than I thought yesterday and felt like I had no energy whatsoever today. But I enjoyed the outing all the same and managed to snap a couple of flower piccies along the way. The Primula Elatior are making an early appearance and we also saw masses of pretty little wild purple violas and a small white flower that I think is from the anemone family....?

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

House stuff

It became apparent soon after we moved in last year, that the bathroom was going to need a complete overhaul. Not only had the previous owners left us with a cracked shower tray, but had for some reason put pine cladding up on one side of the shower cubicle (untiled) which is now showing increasing signs off rot development .... bonkers! The white tiles that they had put on the other two walls had also not been properly grouted so we have a job on our hands. Fortunately, Mr Bricolage currently has bathroom equipment on offer at reduced prices, so we have acquired a nice new shower tray, a glass shower door (at last we can get rid of that shower curtain!) a new washbasin and some rather nice tiles. So the million dollar question is, when will we have time to get the work done .... hmmmm!

We have also had Taff down to the vets this week as he has developed a skin condition which is clearly irritating him - his chewing has resulted in hair loss at the top of his tail and down his back legs. Fortunately, a skin scraping ruled out a parasitic infection but the vet concluded that he has developed some form of allergy which has resulted in the dry, flaky skin. The advice is to reduce the protein content of his diet (sorry, no more raw meat, Taff!) and to feed him on only good quality kibble (do those two words really go together??!). In the meantime, the cortisone injection has calmed the irritation although he has been very subdued for the past 36 hrs and hasn't eaten since Sunday evening. Hopefully he will pick up again soon.

I was hankering after some exercise this afternoon after having a pretty sedentary couple of days, so I took myself up to the Col de Port on the bike, electing to ride in as hard a gear as I could muster, without completely knackering myself! I felt like I had worked my legs when I returned, which was good.

Rain this evening ... the first for some 5 weeks! It may not amount to much, but at least it is wetting the soil. There is a whisper of snow early next's only a whisper, mind, so we are not holding our breathe!

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Mont Ceint

Another beautiful, warm day, so we headed over to Aulus........this time for a walk! Mont Ceint/Pic de Girantes is at 2088m with spectacular views onto the mountains that border Spain. Thanks to the prolonged spell of warm weather, the majority of the snow has melted up there which made for easy walking. It was a steep ascent up from the Port de Saleix (the Col on the right hand side of the photo) but under an hour and a half after leaving the car, we were rewarded with fantastic views towards Mont Valier from the summit point, which was only marred by a group of a dozen or so people who had chosen that spot for their lunchbreak. The descent down the back of Mont Ceint was beautiful as we headed down to a high pasture plateau and then eventually through woodland and back to the road. We saw some amazing spring flowers on the walk including an early gentiana verna a white and a purple Hepatica Nobilis,
and an as yet unidentified bluey purple flower...

In under 3 hrs we were back at the car having covered 9.5kms and 735m of ascent - a nice little outing and what's more we have worn the dog out :-)

Friday, 22 February 2008

Rocks? No, we aren't building a rockery!

Spring is coming and hot on its heels I am sure we will see the summer. This year, I am wanting to plant up some veggies (we didn't have time last year) and need every inch of space that we can get our hands on. I have already cleared the 'border' in front of the barn which is a fantastically sunny spot and ideal for things like tomatoes and capsicum. But there is a redundant area of ground just to the left of our terrasse which would be ideal for some root veg, as it gets the shade of the pine tree in the afternoon. It looks like it has never been touched, so I decided to set about the clearing process but soon realised that it wasn't going to be as straightforward a job as I was hoping. I kept on stumbling across enormous rocks buried not very far below the surface, which would have to be removed if veggies growing was going to be a success. There was also a large quantity of smaller rocks which would also need to be removed. So I brought in the heavy artillery (Andy and his pickaxe and his big muscles!) to see what we could remove. But one particularly enormous rock proved to be a problem - it was only after Andy managed to remove chunks off it with a lump hammer that he was able to roll it out of the pit in which it had become entrenched. We now have a rather large hole that needs to be filled! It had been hot work as temperatures reached the 20s but a productive day all the same.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

A trot up to le Rocher de Batail

The weather looks like it is changing, with clouds building from the Spanish side of the Pyrenees. Rain is forecast for tonight/tomorrow so we were keen to get out for some exercise while the weather held. So we parked at the Col de Port and instead of heading up the meandering zig zags to the GR de Pays at the top, we decided to head straight up the hillside following the fence which equated to 280m of ascent for a distance of 860m. It was a steep ascent but I could feel that my leg strength and aerobic fitness are improving which was excellent. We then headed along the undulating ridge to beyond the Rocher de Batail where we paused to provide the dog with refreshments before turning round and retracing our steps. It was fantastic running terrain, with generally dry, soft ground. We could see the clouds building ahead of us and felt the first spits of rain as we arrived back at the car. It had been a very pleasant outing, just under 2 hrs for 11.5kms and 683m of ascent.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Nightime intruders!

It was 01.00 hrs. I was dead to the world. I was awoken by Andy suddenly sitting up in bed... "Did you hear that?!" Then the dog started a low level, warning 'woof'. Whatever it was, he had heard it too. I must have been sound asleep, as I hadn't heard a thing. "It was like a rumbling... could have been something coming down the chimney." Then the security light in front of the house came on. Like a shot, Andy was at the window ... "It's a pair of feckin' donkeys!" On went the jeans and jumper and out he shot. Sure enough, there were two donkeys meandering around outside the house, chomping the grass and generally having a good mooch! Goodness knows where they had escaped from, but they were good natured animals and not the least bit fazed by a giddy Taff, who had no idea what to make of them. The noise that had awoken Andy was them trotting down the 'chemin' in front of the house or maybe at the back of the house on the dry earth. Eventually, we decided to leave them to it and try to get back to sleep. They must have wondered off in due course, as we were not disturbed any further during the night, thank goodness!

So that was last night's excitement. We heard the dynamic duo on and off today, braying in the woodland opposite Pissou, but they have not returned to visit us again.

Today was supposed to be a run or bike day, but unfortunately I appear to have pulled a small muscle over my shoulder blade, probably while throwing the ball for the dog yesterday, which has proved quite uncomfortable in various positions. So instead of a bonkers run or a col ride, I have had a day of gentle housework and soaking up the warm (18 degrees ambient temperature) sun on the terrasse. Nice :-)

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Today, I am feeling the effects of the 3.6kms of hill intervals that I did yesterday. My 'climbing' muscles deep in my bum and also my quads are letting me know that I did actually work them quite hard yesterday. But the weather has been so good again today and Andy is feeling better and fancied an easy run out, so out we went - I reckoned a gentle stretch of the legs would be just what I needed. So we parked the car up at the Col de Peguère and headed up to the Cap de Carmil, from where we took a new route, which was a steep descent on the GR de Pays down, through woodland, before climbing again up to the Pic de Razels. The lack of snow up at the Cap de Carmil was very noticeable with only this small cornice remaining from the last snowfall that we had some weeks ago. There has been no significant rainfall for over a month now and the local talk is of a drought this summer, with no change in the weather forecast before the end of the month!

I took the ascent and descent very steadily, trying to stretch out my legs as I went, conscious of the fatigue that they were experiencing. It was a nice steady outing, 8.4kms in total, with 535m of ascent. The views from the Pic de Razels were just beautiful, although the smoke from the controlled fires in the area spoilt the clarity of the light on this occasion

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Interval training - oh yes!

It's Andy's birthday today. Unfortunately, he is feeling pretty under the weather and tired, so exercise was off the agenda for him, which was a pity. So, I walked/jogged from Pissou up to Caognous from where the road up to the Col de Peguère commences, with the intention of doing some interval training - can you tell that I am already panicking about the 20km Trail des Citadelles being just 5 weeks away?! The Peguère road is mean, with an average gradient over the first 1.2kms of 14.5%, before easing off to a steady average of 11.1% for the remaining 2.4kms. So an ideal hill training route! Uggh. I wore my heart rate monitor to get a better handle on how my body was doing. I walked briskly for the first 100m before setting off at a gentle jog. I decided on a 1 minute effort, 2 min recovery to see how things felt. After 2 intervals, I was feeling surprisingly good and my heart rate was peaking 10bpm below my theoretical max, and, with the gradient due to level out, I reckoned I needed to push it harder to get the best out of the session. So 1.30min effort, 2 mins recovery, pushing harder which resulted in reaching just a few bpm below my max heart rate. My recovery periods saw my heartbeat return to below 140 every time, so I decided to make for the top. After 38 mins, I had covered the 3.6kms and was feeling great, albeit a wee bit tired - I was obviously not trying hard enough! After a few minutes spent taking in the amazing clear view which stretched all the way to the Pic du Midi in the West, I started on the steady descent back down the hill, taking measured steps in an effort to improve my downhill running technique. I was tired when I got back to Pissou but delighted with how my body is performing at the moment - let's hope it continues that way!

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

An outing up the Vicdessos Valley

Lovely day again, cold but clear, so an outing on the bikes was called for. I reckoned I had done enough hill work for a while and needed an outing on relatively level terrain. Andy also fancied a training run, so out came the roadies and we set off from Tarascon, along the Vicdessos Valley up to Marc (the final few kms provided a nasty little sting in the tail, it has to be said). I was keen to see how far I could push myself on shallower gradients and wore a heart rate monitor for the first time. I went off at a fairly smart pace, feeling strong and keen to push my legs harder. However, it soon became apparent that Andy was struggling and was generally feeling under the weather, so the strategy changed. But at the end of the day, we did get a nice 46km ride under our belts, with what turned out to be 600m of ascent and just over 2 hrs of actual riding time. The scenery was also spectacular towards the head of the valley with Mont Calm looming over us, but a photo was impossible due to the angle of the sun which was immediately above it - shame!

Monday, 11 February 2008

Sometimes it's nice to slow down

It seems that everytime I have been out recently, I have been either running or cycling, on a mission of some description or other. Today was different. After yesterday's exertions, hard exercise would have been a bad idea. But I wanted to get out to stretch my legs a tad and the pooch needed a mooch, so this afternoon I took Taff up the zig zags to the Cabane des Roses which is at approx 1600m, and actually walked the route for a change. This meant I was able to take the time to really look around me and to appreciate the fantastic environment that we have here. My attention was rewarded with the sight of some spectacular little flowers peeping up through the dead bracken... surely they are poking their heads up way too early? Erythronium Dens-canis, so I am led to believe. The temperatures have been unseasonably warm and they have been tricked into thinking spring has sprung.

The lack of snow at 1600m also testifies to the abnormal conditions for early February. Quite worrying.The view from the top was as beautiful as ever

Sunday, 10 February 2008

It's all Pat's fault....

... she's broken me... well, nearly! I've measured out this running route, she says, managed to get it down to around 14km, she says .... yeah right! Oh, but it's got a section of really steep ascent in it, which will be good practise for the trail race in 6 weeks time, won't it, she says! Hmmmm. So it started off well enough, even though I was decidedly lacking in energy this morning. A nice trot from Pissou to Pat's at Espies (no more than a km) then down the hill to Massat, following paths and chemins that I had not previously discovered. All very pleasant. Then turn left and.... oh, we're going up there are we?! Ahhhh, right. It turned out to be 410m of ascent over a distance of just under 3kms up to 'Peyregude', which is a hill that we can see from Pissou. Nice! But I soon forgave her, as we then had a very pleasant trot along a path/track which contoured the hillside, with great views down to the Massatois Valley. The descent was enjoyable, but I knew more ascent was ahead, as the route was to take us back up the Col de Caougnous before the final trot back down the hill to Pissou. I was starting to get muscular discomfort in my right leg, running from my deep buttock climbing muscles, all the way down to my ankles. .... as usual, no such discomfort in my left leg. It's official, I am loppy! Anyway, some stretching en route alleviated the symptoms somewhat, but I knew the last few kilometers would be 'interesting'. We opted to walk a fair bit of the last leg as we were both struggling ... at this point Pat uttered those words 'I think this run may actually have been a little bit further than 14kms'. No shit sherlock! Good old Memory Map, in conjunction with my garmin Forerunner did indeed confirm later that we had covered just over 19km, with 600m of ascent in around 2 hrs 40 mins. No wonder I felt like my body was collapsing! But I had to forgive Pat, as she gave me a sports massage this evening. She quickly identified a number of interesting muscular imbalances and worked on knots and tight areas that had been the cause of much of my discomfort. I am now ready for more running/biking action - bring it on!

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Tedious but necessary

Another mild, clear day but, instead of being an exercise junkey, I had to spend most of the day down in St Girons, not only doing the weekly organic fruit and veg shop but also sorting out the car's 'controle technique' (the equivalent of the UK MOT), which is a necessary part of the procedure for getting the car registered over here. Fortunately, it passed. So that's another thing off the 'to do' ticklist. It was after 4pm when I eventually got home - the best of the day had gone. So now, I am looking forward to tomorrow - Pat and I have got a good run planned for the morning. So only a couple of glasses of wine for me this evening, despite it being Saturday night... not that that means anything out here .... every night is a Saturday night, which is kinda nice really :-)

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Past the 50km barrier - woo-hoo!

It has been another beautifully clear, warm day today with temperatures approaching 20 degrees. Andy woke up with a bad belly, probably as a result of too much red wine being consumed last night! That, plus extreme tiredness, meant he opted not to join me on a bike ride today. The route was straight out of our door, down the Col de Port road to Massat, up to the Col de Saraillé and Cominac, down into Oust, back along the road to Ercé and then back up to the Col de Saraillé followed by a descent back to Massat and then the 4km ride back up to Pissou.

The ride up to Cominac is worth it in itself - it has to be one of my favourite places in the world, a high pastures community set out on a plateau with panoramic views of the Pyrénées. A spectacular setting.

The ride was steady and uneventful. The conditions and the setting were just perfect. What more could you ask for! The ride back up to the Col de Saraillé from Ercé was probably the most tiring part - an 8km climb after already having covered 30kms. But head down and get on with it. Piece of cake!

On the descent from Saraillé to Massat, I passed another cyclist who was 70 if he was a day! He quickly tucked in behind me and followed me down the hill, chatting as we went. Although he had a pretty thick accent, I was able to ascertain that it was just his 2nd outing of the year and that he would have done a 55km loop by the time he had finished. Good effort!

I was tired by the time I made it back to Pissou. It was my longest ride yet, clocking in at 52kms and over 1000m of ascent in 3 hrs. I was pretty darned pleased with myself, to be honest! But I think the legs may need a rest tomorrow.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

On the running trail again

Another high front has settled across the region which means the return of clear skies and a warm sun (15 degrees ambient temperature but more like 25 in the sun). Andy was keen to have a bash at the run up Peguere and along the forest track that I did with Pat and Kev on Friday. I was keen to do some hill training on the Peguere road and the pooch was keen for a mooch, so off we went. We attempted to follow Kev and Pat's lead of run two, walk two of the road markings up the Peguere road in a hill interval type stylee and did indeed make a fine attempt at it before over-heating became a problem. The road has now been noted as our main hill training ground for the future, to improve stamina and endurance.... our target is to run the whole 3.5kms, ave 12% gradient, in one go (ahem!). Well, we can hope!

The rest of the run was wonderful, on superb terrain and fantastic views. 12kms in just under 2 hrs. It is set to become one of my favourite routes.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Quiet weekend

Had an uneventful, quiet weekend - I visited St Girons market to stock up on fruit and veg and did a supermarket shop and that was about the sum total of Saturday's excitement. Woo-hoo!

Sunday, all change on the weather front, as it clouded over and a sudden, vicious wind came up the valley out of nowhere, rattling the shutters and threatening to rip the tarpaulins from over the woodpiles. 5 minutes after the biggest gust had passed through, the siren went off down in Massat and my first thought was that a tree had come down on top of somebody's house :-( It is rare to experience wind of such intensity in these parts, thank goodness.

Friday, 1 February 2008

On our feet again

Had a day of rest yesterday, although the old pins are feeling surprisingly good considering what I thought I had put them through this week (maybe I should try a bit harder?!), so I agreed to join Pat and Kev on a stretch of the legs this afternoon. Well, it was going to be this morning, but Pat postponed it until this afternoon, I am guessing because she had had a glass of wine too many last night . But regardless, we are basically panicking about the lack of training we have done so far for the 20km Citadelles trail race on the 23 March, so reckoned we needed a decent distance run with a bit of ascent in it. The day did not start off too well, however, having had a shit night's sleep, followed by a decidedly dicky tummy and an ongoing splinter in my finger (no sniggering at the back, thank you very much!!), but I had to give it a bash.

We started off at a leisurely pace from Espies and headed from there through to Pissou on the hidden footpaths and up to Caugnous from where the route took us up the horribly steep road which leads to the Col de Peguere (18% in one spot!!). Pat and I watched in resigned silence as Kev, being 'ard, decided he was going to show us what it was all about by jogging in intervals up the road. It got to a point where I could not let him get away with creating such a break, so I followed suit. It was actually quite an exhilarating exercise in a masochistic kind of way and I felt quite surprisingly strong! But even so, I was relieved when we hit the turn off for the track/footpath that meant the end of the ascent. Here, the great running commenced, on an easy
trail that contoured the hillside. Reminiscent of the Peak in many ways. The views down towards Massat
were fab , despite the high level cloud which obstructed the sun

Eventually, we reached a point where descent was called for, so Kev manfully led the way and had us battling down a steep hillside, being tripped up by brambles and tree routes, sliding on dead leaves before we reached a 'chemin creux' that we were able to follow down to the road which eventually took us back to Espies where a cup of tea and some biccys were gratefully received!

Sum total for the day, 12kms in 2 hrs with 600m of ascent.... which was nice!

Oh, and the pooch is pooped to boot, which can only be a good thing :-)