Friday, 29 January 2010


The weather has taken a turn for the worse. Heavy grey skies, strong gusts of wind and rain (forecast to turn to snow tonight) are battering us this evening - most unpleasant. However, we managed to sneak over the Col de Port to Foix this afternoon before the Weather set in, to have a run along the newly created 'Voie Verte' which will eventually run from just outside of Foix all the way through to Saint-Girons following the old railway line which fell into disuse in the 1950s. An 18km long section of the 42km long line has so far been transformed into a walkable, runnable, cyclable track which is a perfect option for poor weather days. Further sections are due to be completed in 2010. We did an 'out and back' run of 11.5kms and I am already contemplating using the track for speed and distance training this year - it is ideal. The track is also the setting for a half-marathon event which takes place in the autumn which I may well be up for!

Thursday, 28 January 2010


With sunny skies forecast for this afternoon, we had intended to head up to the Plateau de Beille for a session of X-country skiing. However, the skies have stubbornly refused to clear and the sun has been noticeable by its absence today. We therefore reverted to the rather less-interesting plan B and have spent much of the day sorting out our starter wood supplies, clearing out the lower barn, plus splitting and stacking the haul of logs that we collected last weekend. The woodshed is now comfortingly full again ... which is nice.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010


There was a dusting of snow above 1000m yesterday, so, with good weather forecast for this afternoon, we headed down to Ax for some more ski action. Although full on 'soleil' had been forecast, I was somewhat disappointed to be greeted at Ax by not insignificant banks of cloud which extended beyond Bonascre. However, the tele cabin from there up to the top lifts miraculously pushed through the cloud and we were enveloped by wall to wall blue sky and sunshine for the whole afternoon. It was simply stunning.Little pockets of cloud stubbornly clung to some of the lower ridge lines, but they created an eery, wild beauty all of their own
Ski-wise, I am becoming frustrated with my lack of confidence and my tentative approach to just about every run that I do, regardless of its grade. Skiing needs a confident, even an aggressive approach for the best results. I just don't have it. I am not a natural. Rather than getting a buzz and that 'YES!' feeling when I have done a (for me) hard run, I feel more relief that I have made it down in one piece (IF I have made it down in one piece!). Is it simply down to technique? Will an outlay on lessons result in a corresponding jump in my confidence and therefore enjoyment of my skiing? Do I just need to spend more time on the slopes? I don't know the answer. But one thing I do know, and that is that skiing takes you up to some simply breathtaking locations. I will keep at it simply for that reason.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

The challenge

It's been a while since I have done anything that has given me a real physical challenge, I mean a REAL physical challenge. It's too easy just to tick along inside your comfort zone, not pushing the boundaries, avoiding that unpleasant feeling that accompanies hard physical exertion. Today was different. Today was 'le Trail Blanch' which took place up at the Plateau de Beille. It was my first race in snowy conditions and was billed as 13kms with 450m of ascent. However, temperatures have risen over the past couple of days and it was 7 degrees up at the plateau this morning. It didn't bode well for the snow conditions. I wasn't quite sure what I had let myself in for. I am sure the other 270 runners were thinking the same.

The race started off well enough and I was particularly pleased with the first steep hill section which saw me overtaking numerous people thanks to the superior grip of my Inov8 Mudclaws. The 1/3 of the route that was on the pisted tracks turned out to be thoroughly enjoyable. However, the other 2/3 was through energy sapping, deep, heavy, wet snow which made for frustratingly slow progress with the high possibility of a twisted knee. A single line walking procession of sorry 'runners' was generally the order of the day. The downs were as hard to negotiate as the ups but the atmosphere was good with everybody encouraging each other along.

I made it round in 2 hrs 22 mins which was only 7 minutes slower than the first lady back in the 'Vet 3' category. I was exhausted, not only physically, but also mentally from the intense concentration that had to be deployed in order to avoid injury in those conditions. I was pleased to have got round in one piece. My first snow trail race had certainly been a challenge. I would love to have taken some more photos, but I was too busy trying to stay on my feet!

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Somewhere new

It's always quite exciting when I discover new running circuits. It's easy to get stale with the same old same old. The snow has not yet given up its occupation of our immediate area here around Massat, but fortunately, on the other side of the Col de Port, it has been steadily giving up its hold on the land which is now pretty much clear up to 1200m. So Andy joined me on a new circuit that I created which took us along good paths (although somewhat muddy in places from melted snow), beneath the Calames crag, along behind Roche Rond and then on and up to the north side of Sommet du Mont (yes, that really is its name!), following the excellent woodland path in the direction of Carlong from where we had superb views back down the valley with Pic de Saint Barthelemy in the distancebefore picking up a steep descent back down to the valley, then along tracks and a short road section to Rabat les Trois Seigneurs from where the final stretch back up to Bedeilhac. It worked out at 11.6km with 650m of ascent. It was a slow outing but a good stretch of the legs all the same. Tomorrow, I will be stretching and resting in preparation for the Snow Race at Plateau de Beille on Saturday - I can't wait!

Monday, 18 January 2010

Winter playground

Today's outing up to the Plateau de Beille with Pat and Kev was simply stunning and more than made up for the abortive outing to the Etang de Lhers the other day. The snow was perfect. The situation was, well, breathtaking and the ski de fond tracks, perfectly cut, weaved and snaked their way for kilometer after kilometer across the Plateau. The skis ran smoothly and efficiently on the gradual inclines and Pat quickly taught me how to take one foot out of the 'track' and use it in a snowplough formation to slow myself down on the steady descent tracks, thus ensuring that I did not run out of control and end up broken! It was a cracking afternoon. I am now hooked. The photos say it all

Sunday, 17 January 2010


People's views on what constitute the fundamental requirements for a comfortable life vary dramatically and indeed they change in the course of your life as circumstances evolve. For us, in this environment at this time of year, a good supply of seasoned wood and a functioning wood burner are at the top of the list. It's a pretty basic requirement, really. Although our new woodburner's efficiency is far superior to that of the old one, we have still been getting through our stock of seasoned wood at quite a pace and the woodshed is looking decidedly bare. So, despite the snow that still lies on the ground, we popped out yesterday to fell a young, dead tree that stood next to our little road - it has been logged this afternoon and we now have enough wood to see us safely through at least to mid February, so the pressure is off! However, the next clear, dry spell will see more chainsaw and logging action as we collect more dead and seasoned wood to further bolster our supplies. Winter is not done with us yet.

Temperatures have risen over the past couple of days and that most unpleasant of things, slush, has taken the place of last week's light, powdery snow. I hate it. It is thoroughly unpleasant. There is too much of it underfoot to make a run around here possible let alone worthwhile, which is frustrating. But tomorrow, colder temperatures are expected and I am looking forward to meeting Pat and Kev up at the Plateau de Beille for some real ski de fond action on properly prepared tracks. Despite Pat's enthusiasm for the sport, I am trying not to set my expectations too high. I shall report back!

Friday, 15 January 2010

Ski de fond/nordic skiing

Following Wednesday's aborted foray up to the Etang de Lhers, we finally established that the ski de fond station is open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays during January and every day in the February school holidays. The area enjoyed more quite significant snowfall overnight and with clear blue skies forecast for this afternoon, I was quite excited at the prospect of trying out this new sport. We arrived at the station at 1pm. Imagine our disappointment, therefore, at discovering that only 3 'pistes' were in fact open, one black, one green and a raquettes circuit. I say 'open' but the tracks in which the nordic skis are supposed to run had not been made and would not be made that afternoon as the snow was 'not cold enough'! Oh, we could still hire the kit and have a pootle about but I very quickly discovered that nordic skiing on an untracked piste is, well, pretty much impossible. These skis are long and thin and have no edges, making them virtually impossible to turn and very tricky to even stop. They rely on the prepared track to guide them in much the same way as a tram runs on tracksI felt out of control. It was not a pleasant feeling. I ended up on my backside/face more than once. However, we were not going to throw in the towel that easily. We ended up making our own tracks on a short, gentle downhill section of piste and practised running the skis in those tracks and then practised the sliding technique to go back up again. After a few attempts, as the tracks got deeper and the ski movement became more controlled by those tracks, I could see how this could be fun and a good workout on a properly prepared piste. I have no doubt that the ski de fond circuits at the Plateau de Beille will be rather more professionally prepared. Hopefully we will have an outing up there next week if conditions allow.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Something different

Well, that was the plan. But it didn't quite happen. You would have thought that on a gloriously sunny winter's day like today, after a recent fantastic dump of snow, the Ski de Fond centre up at the Etang de Lhers would be open, wouldn't you. But no. All shut up. No sign to indicate open days/times nor any indication as to when we would be able to give them our hard-earned money to hire some x-country gear for a tootle around one of my favourite spots. Disappointed? You bet! So we contented ourselves with a mooch down to the Etang de Lhers which is quite simply one of the most stunning places at this time of year.There was not a sound. Complete tranquillity. The place had remained untainted by human footsteps since the weekend's snowfall. I felt somehow guilty at tainting the pristine powder with our clumsy footsteps but I was sure Mother Nature would forgive us if she knew just what pleasure and joy she was allowing us to experience. I took a video while we were down there which I will be attempting to upload to YouTube. Watch this space!

Tuesday, 12 January 2010


It's happens very rarely to me. In fact, I can probably count on one hand the number of books that I have not been able to put down. But then, quite by chance, somebody mentioned 'Tales of the Female Nomad' by Rita Golden Gelman to me. I looked it up on Amazon and read the first few pages on the 'Look Inside' feature and I was hooked. I finished it last night. I didn't want to finish it. I wanted it to carry on. I found it an immensely emotional, beautifully written and profoundly moving account of her life and quest for spirituality amongst various indigenous communities in the late 80s/90s. I am now wondering what I could possibly read to follow that! There is more about Rita and her nomadic life on her website.

On another topic, thanks to more amenable temperatures, we finally escaped from Pissou today, made it over the Col de Port and headed down to Ax-les-Thermes for our first skiing experience of the winter. I didn't have an overly-confident session, but was still able to get myself down a red without ending up on my backside! It was good to be out and back on the skis again.

Sunday, 10 January 2010


Grit is not something that tends to be forthcoming from the local 'Mairie'. It is however, in my mind, a primary and indeed fundamental requirement in the current conditions! It's all very well clearing the surface snow with the plough, but unfortunately the very low temperatures have now left us with a highly buffed layer of ice that has rendered any hope of driving over to Ax in the near future for a spot of piste skiing somewhat flattened! So today, we donned the snowshoes instead and went for a meander up the uncleared Peguère road for a bit of exercise. Clear blue skies made for a stunningly beautiful little outing but it was bitingly cold out of the sun. Fortunately, somebody had already made tracks up the road which relieved us of the otherwise exhausting task of trail-blazing in deep powder.More very low temperatures are forecast over the coming couple of days and the possibility of more snow on Wednesday/Thursday.

Saturday, 9 January 2010


I am intending to run in the 13km 'Trail Blanch des Vallées d'Ax' on the 23 January which will be the first race I have ever done in the snow. The current weather is providing a good opportunity to test out my Inov8 Mudclaw running shoes in snowy conditions so we had a little jaunt along the road to the shop at Espies this morning to see how they performed.
They proved to be extremely grippy on the snow but their grippiness failed (not surprisingly) when they came into contact with the layer of ice that coated the road beneath the powder. However, the race will be on pisted tracks and trails around the Plateau de Beille so I am confident that the shoes will keep me upright. I can't wait!

Still snowing

... and it's getting colder. I will shortly be donning my winter running gear for a quick sprint to Espies for some provisions as there is no chance of getting out in the car today.

Friday, 8 January 2010

It keeps falling

Over a foot of snow has fallen over the past 24 hours and it continues to fall - fresh, light powder that is threatening to engulf us in its icey shroud. The pooch loves it!The local ski resorts will no doubt be exceptionally busy this weekend as the masses flock to enjoy the first proper dump of the winter. We hope to head down to Ax-les-Thermes for our first day on the pistes on Monday once things have settled down a tad. It's about time the skis had an airing!

Thursday, 7 January 2010


Looks like the weather system that is affecting the UK has found its way to the Ariège! Snow arrived today and more is forecast to fall over the coming few days

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Thought for the day

Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift: that is why it is called the present.

I like that :-)

In search of snow

Although this morning dawned grey, cold and dreary, the clouds thankfully cleared by lunchtime and we have been treated to wonderfully clear but chill weather this afternoon with wall to wall blue skies but no snow at our level. Surely, higher up, it would be different?

It has been a while (November 2007, to be precise!) since we were last up at the old pastoral community of Goutets which lies at 1400m under the protective gaze of the Pic des Trois Seigneurs, just down the road and around the corner from here ... ish. It's a lovely, atmospheric spot and very accessible either via a woodland path from Carol or via the track that runs up from Trabiet - we chose the latter, which was a gentle meander up on a mixture of compacted snow, ice and mud. Things looked promising on the approach (Goutets is just behind the wooded area on the left)However, even up at the community we only found a very thin layer of snow which was coated with a crunchy ice crust. It was still spectacularly beautiful but unfortunately my camera battery died so I had to resort to taking photos on my not so amazing camera phone - still, it gives you an idea of the atmosphere of the place. For those that are interested, my post of November 2007 goes into some detail regarding the history and continued purpose of this high pasture community.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Going the distance

I have been generally confined to the indoors for the past 3 days. Not only has the weather been somewhat grey, wet and miserable, but we have also just hit my business' year end so 'work' has been at the top of the agenda. But this afternoon, as the low cloud lifted and the odd, rogue patch of blue sky appeared, I headed out. At best, I intended to have a run up to the Col de Port via the chemin des Canadelles, back down the forest track to Liers and then home along the route that I took on the 27 December. At worst and if my body and energy failed me, I could take a short cut which would have me home within the hour.

Fortunately, I made it up to Caougnous feeling good and committed myself to doing the full circuit. Much of the circuit was a joy to run but on the smaller paths, it was wet and slippery underfoot. Despite the hunters having been out yesterday, Taff and I surprised a couple of herds of big red deer on our way round - they really are a beautiful sight in their natural habitat!

Now, I may be moaning to friends and family back in the UK about the lack of snow here and demonstrating a certain degree of jealousy over all of the skiing, ice climbing and winter mountaineering that is getting done over there at the moment, but the plus side is that whilst the snows hold off I am able to keep on doing these longer distance runs without having to travel down onto the flatlands ... so I really shouldn't complain! This is the view up to 1500m from the forest track that comes down from the Col de Port - it's pretty bare.The running on the forest track was, as always, great fun
At Liers, the 15km mark, I allowed myself and the pooch a brief refuelling stop. I do like Liers and the Gite d'Etape adjoining the old church in particular. It's in a spectacular setting, a really evocative place full of history, with the old row of bells and views up to the Pic de la Journalade in the distanceI had started to experience some discomfort in my right leg on the run back down the forest track, from my calf up to the buttock, but after a brief stretch we set off down the paths that I had followed on my previous outing to Liers. By the time I reached the precarious woodland path that marked the final section of the run home, I was tired. As I arrived back at Pissou, my Garmin indicated 20kms in 2 hrs 33 mins which included around 550m of ascent. I was pleased I had made the effort for the bigger push. By the time the Trail des Citadeles comes around in early April, I would like a distance of 20kms with 1000m of ascent to feel like a walk in the park - I may be expecting a bit much!