Friday, 30 April 2010

Back home

Yesterday was indeed a scorcher, a beautiful warm Spring day, as forecast, but because of various physical impediments, neither Andy nor I got out on the bikes which was a shame. But we did enjoy a picnic out and an explore around the Puy de Sancy which was nice. Overnight, however, the weather changed and it rained, it rained a lot. So instead of hanging around today, kicking our heels, we decided to head home. Good job we did, because everything at home was bone dry - my dear neighbour had not watered anything in the potager, or in the pots, or the seeds that were just starting to come through. All my efforts so far this year were hanging on a knife edge. So my first job before even making a mug of tea was to water everything, but everything, including the poor clematis whose growth I had been so proud of before we went away but which was now in a dire state. I just hope it recovers. But on a more positive note, the climbing rose is bursting into flower and the few buds on the camellia have also burst out into beautiful red flowers. Photos to follow tomorrow. The meadow flowers have also come out in abundance, the lilac is in full bloom and the trees are now sporting the freshest, brightest, greenest foliage which is one of my favourite sights at this time of year.

It has been good to have a break away and to explore a new part of France about which I had read a great deal. But it is also good to be home again.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Le Plateau de Limon

Temperatures climbed up to the mid 20s today, so we headed up to one of the many plateaux in the area, the Plateau de Limon (1300-1500m) for a bit of a walk/run. This part of the Cantal has a bit of everything ... the Alpine scenery up the valley from Dienne towards Puy Mary...... the Lake District scenery of the climb up to the plateau from Dienne....... and then the Plateau de Limon itself which has the same desolate, wild feeling of the Kinder Plateau in the Peak District but without those god-awful peat groughs!....and with the odd isolated farmstead from which farmers manage their herds of cattle in the summer monthsThe other difference between Kinder and the Limon Plateau is that the latter is crossed by the Sentier des Quirous, Quirous being a word with Celtic origins which translates as 'cairns'These cairns date back to the middle ages and helped guide travellers and merchants across the plateau in poor weather. Where the path up from Dienne meets the path on the Plateau, you come across the remnants of an old cross (just the vertical post remains), La Croix du gendarmeAlthough the croix is in a poor state following centuries of exposure to the elements, you can still make out the carvingsNot surprisingly, the spring wildflowers were much in evidence up on the plateau - the tiny, seemingly delicate wild crocuses were thrusting forth with all of the life and vigour of flowers that had been quite suffocated for quite long enough by this long European winterWe reached our target, a high point of 1566m from where we had lovely views towards Puy Mary
From there, we re-traced our steps with a nice run back down to Dienne. The outing was only just under 14kms, but my legs felt tired and heavy, refusing to cooperate in the running motion which was frustrating. More stretching this evening and hopefully I will be up for a roadie ride tomorrow on what looks to be the last fine day before we have to return home.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Out and about

Today was an 'explore the area' day with no daft frantic activity included in the agenda . And very pleasant it was too. We headed down towards Murat and the ski centre of Super Lioran, the area in which the old volcanic activity first kicked off, not all that many years ago - 'not all that many' in the Grand Scheme of Things, of course, although we are still talking 9-11 million years.

We had a brief picnic stop en route at the Col d'Entremontfollowed by a mooch with the pooch. The rocky pastures were covered with these beautiful flowers which I have yet to identify - stunning, aren't they;We ended up at a little tarn where the wild daffodils once again provided a wonderful splash of yellowOn the way back, the views down to the village of Dienne with Puy Mary in the distance were, naturally, fantastic We passed several little picturesue villages on the way down to Murat, including Segur les Villas with its pretty church spire.Murat was all very nice with its oldey worldy 'vieille ville' and quaintsy little shops and the coffee (for him) and shandy (for me) hit the spot, before we headed up to Super Lioran which is not only the largest ski resort in the Massif Central but is also a summer playground with several marked mountain bike circuits and some fantastic walking circuits. But we are currently in between seasons so it very much resembled a ghost village, but was very picturesque all the sameFor those who may be interested (anybody?!), the resort will be the base for the Merrell Oxygen Challenge adventure race which takes place in mid May.

So yes, all in all, a very pleasant day out in wonderful weather, exploring new places. But tomorrow, a run is on the cards whilst the weather holds. I have heard a vicious rumour that snow may be making a reappearance back at home above 1600m this coming weekend! Great (not).

Monday, 26 April 2010

Biking in the Cantal

Quiet country roads. Rolling (not all gently!) countryside. Beautiful views. Ah yes, cycling in the Cantal. But it's bloody hard work!! Riding here isn't like riding the Cols back at home where it's one big, sustained push then it's over and you can contentedly collapse in a heap at the top knowing that it's mission accomplished and that you have thoroughly deserved the right to stuff your face with cake/ice cream/other scrummy stuff this evening, thank you very much. Oh no. Here, it's up and it's down, it's up and it's down (repeat ad nauseum) and, just for a laugh, right at the end just when a serious bit off let loose downhill wouldn't go amiss, it's up again! Hurrah! Such was today's ride But still, 67.7kms with 1153m of ascent in 3 hrs 17 mins. Not bad. But more fuel needed next time, methinks but in the meantime fruit cake is my recovery food. Tomorrow, rest and a bit of an explore and a walk down towards the southern part of the Cantal department. I shall report back.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Up in the Cantal

Somebody (British) recently described the Cantal dept in the Auvergne region of Central France as the Lake District and Scotland all rolled into one. But mention the Cantal to the French and you are greeted by an indifferent shrug. My curiousity was aroused. I had to find out for myelf! So we made the 4 1/2 hour trip up from the Ariege yesterday and are staying just outside Condat for the week. First impressions? Well, Condat feels like a ghost town. It's a decent-sized small town but even on a Saturday late afternoon it was empty - shops were shut, cars were few and far between, houses for sale ..... it felt almost uncomfortable in its emptiness. The friendliness and openness that I am used to from the locals in the Ariège is also noticeable in its absence. Strange.

Anyway, time to get out and explore. Today, while Andy headed out for a roadie ride, I took the pooch up to the village of Godivelle (1200m) to do a 14km circuit. I have to say, the views up there, towards the Puy de Sancy, were strikingBut everywhere was, again, deserted. The whole area had a feeling of wildness and abandonment about it. But then again, it's only in the past month that Winter has released its icey grip on this area of outstanding natural beauty and only now do things appear to be slowly, gently coming back to life. Click on the photo below and you will see some of the thousands and thousands of wild daffodils that carpet this area at this time of year ... stunning
Open spaces and more open spaces ....The Lac de St Alyre was reminiscent of any high mountain lake although it is only at 1200m It was a lovely, unhurried outing which definitely fell into the 'recreational' rather than 'training' category as I soaked up the stunning scenery and tranquillity of this new part of France. Much more to come during the week!

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Bikey bikey and a little something else on top

We were treated to torrential rain last night but the storm had passed through by the time I got up this morning. Darn it, no excuse for me not to hop on the roadie and bike over the Col de Port to Tarascon (and back) then! The ride up to the Col was a breeze and the descent fun, thanks to my new more aero-dynamic riding position (we removed some of the headset spacers yesterday). 32.1kms/581m of ascent in 1 hrs 30 mins for me to reach Anne's at Barry d'en Bas, just outside Tarascon. The stats from my Garmin are on this link. I was expecting another gentle, short run along the river with her, but she fancied heading up the hill towards the Col d'Ussat and the little chapel that is up there. Agh, my poor little legs! It involved a fair bit of cross-country because a) we couldn't find a good path on the Barry d'en Haut side of the hill up to the chapel and b) we decided to make a direct descent at one point during which the young gorse showed us what it's made of! I didn't take my Garmin because I wasn't expecting to go up the hill, but it looks like around 9kms and around 330m of ascent on the map. It was lovely to explore somewhere different and I wish I had taken my camera!

After half an hour recovering back at Anne's which involved a pint or two of water and an energy bar, I refilled my bottle with liquid fuel and jumped back on the bike to head home. I had a brief stop off at Donna's when I spotted her, Pat, Kev and Justin there, but then I had to get my focus back onto the mission in progress - just how was I going to make it all the way back up to the Col de Port when my legs were already tired!! I put my head down, swigged mouthfuls of my liquid fuel and got on with it. It was hard hard going. I was very tired. I stopped twice, three times, I don't recall, maybe more times, to stretch out my legs and my back which didn't appreciate bearing the cumbersome burden of the small pack which contained my running shoes and other bits and pieces. The inclines kept on coming. Enough already! But eventually the Col de Port was achieved and then it was all downhill - yee-haa! I was so relieved to make it home. Stats for the ride back home are here - 32.6kms/862m of ascent and 2 hrs 05 mins riding time, making a total of 65kms/1440m of ascent and 3 hrs 35 mins in the saddle today and over 3000 calories burnt - cake please!! Tonight = stretching. Tomorrow = rest

Monday, 19 April 2010

Recovery and recuperation

I've been pretty lazy for the past couple of days. My old body has demanded it and I have had to heed its requests. So while Andy went off on a roadie ride yesterday afternoon, I had no option (honestly!) other than to sunbathe and eat ice cream on the terrasse whilst occasionally pausing from that worthwhile 'activity' to sow some more veggie seeds and tend to my potager babies. But rest, along with some prolonged and concentrated bouts of stretching seem to be paying off and my lower back and legs feel much 'lighter' and less heavy and tense today and my general overall weariness seems to be fading, which is a relief as I truely hate that feeling (despite it being a great excuse for all round, general slovenliness!). So tomorrow, I will be celebrating by riding the roadie from here, over the Col de Port to Tarascon and a bit further on, to meet Anne for a short run. If my legs are still working after that, I will then attempt to ride back up the Col de Port and home which will make a total of around 70kms and 1000m of ascent. Hmm.

On that note, I will leave you with a piccy of one of the last of my spring green cabbages - a fine specimen, wouldn't you say?

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Potager progress

Spring seems to have finally beaten Winter into submission so the potager has been the focus of my attention today. We are now into the 'lean' period, having finished off the winter spinach and the broccoli and are now left with just a few leeks and a couple of spring green plants. But looking forward, I have had a section of moist earth covered by some black film for the past week or so and the soil has warmed nicely. So in went the beetroot seeds, coriander and chervil seeds and round carrot seeds. I also sowed a line of parsnips (hope I have the same success this year as I had last year!), some peas and planted some more Charlotte and Rocket potatoes. A couple more winter squash plants were also planted out. Andy rotavated a section of now clear soil to loosen it up and mix in the nicely rotted manure and that section will accommodate probably aubergines, chillis and capsicums later on. This evening, we have enjoyed the first sticks of rhubarb from the plant that I put in the soil over 2 years ago ..... mmm, yum! The mower also saw its first outing of the year so it is all looking very tidy around Pissou at the moment!

On other matters, next door's little cat is having her first (and last) season (she is being spayed on Tuesday) and Taff is behaving most peculiarly around her .... in fact, he is obsessed with her and shadows her every move. She, on the other hand spends her time rolling around in the dust, catching and torturing the little lizards that are everywhere now (not a pleasant thing to witness), miaowing loudly (probably in an attempt to attract a mate) and teasing and taunting both Taff and next door's dogs, knowing she can escape quickly and safely to the sanctuary of our pig poke should she push it too far, the little minx that she is

Friday, 16 April 2010

Well, that was jolly good fun!

I felt rubbish when I woke up this morning - tired, no energy, no motivation - yes, one of those days. I felt I really should get out for a run, but, well, it just wasn't going to happen. A beautiful, sunny day, milder than of late, and I was going to do sod all with it. Sheesh, what a waste girl ! But then Andy suggested an outing on the roadies down around Saint-Girons for a change. Aw, why not, I thought, I can take it easy if I run out of energy. I found a lovely rolling circuit which would take us up onto a ridgeline from where lovely views of the high mountains were guaranteed.

What a fantastic ride it turned out to be - perfect spring weather (not too hot, not too cold), taking in some gorgeous little communities on quite single lane country roads on which we hardly saw a soul. The first half of the route was a constant series of ups and downs, challenging in parts but nothing too extreme. The second half was a quiet riverside ride but with a gentle gradient back up the river to Saint Girons. Thought you may like this piccy of the lovely little church in the village of Cassagne back down in the valley - how French!
Ride stats -
Distance: 60kms
Ascent: 740m
Time taken: 2 hrs 37 mins
Gradient profile;Although I was tired when we arrived back at the car, it was just that, tiredness, with legs telling me that they had done some good work out there! So, tomorrow I'll be kind and give them a day off and will spend my time mainly pottering around home, chilling on the terrasse and at some point having a good stretching session!

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Re-discovering the hill legs

I was quite apprehensive about jumping back on the roadie after the last outing and even more apprehensive about doing a hill. But having done very little over the past few days (we had a trot around the Peguère forest track circuit on Monday, but that has been it) and awaking to dry weather, I was keen to stretch the legs again. So Andy and I hopped on the bikes this morning and headed down to Massat, up to the Etang de Lhers and back. The only problem with this is that, although the ride down to Massat is a breeze (well, it is downhill afterall), you then have to face the 5km uphill on the way back home when the legs are tired. Anyway, total of 36.4kms, 977m of ascent, 2 hrs and a little bit (not counting the obligatory coffee stop in Massat on the way back).The good news is that the legs felt good and even the admittedly caffeine-fuelled climb back up the hill from Massat felt like a breeze. Good stuff.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Un après-midi convivial et sociable

Pat and Kev are members of the cycle club over their way. Once a year, the club has a 'journée des femmes'. This is a day on which club members can invite along their wives or invite other female acquaintances for a short road bike or mountain bike outing or a short walk before enjoying a barbecue and, in the afternoon, a game of boules/petanques. Pat very kindly invited me along, although I passed on the physical exercise side of the day following yesterday's debacle. The weather has been beautiful again today so I headed over to the pretty little village of Lesparrou near Lavelanet for midday and met P & K and was introduced to Claude and Frédérique who moved down to the Ariege from the flatlands of the Moselle dept of NE France in June. The club is full of characters such as Michel who speaks the local dialect and is barely comprehensible to francophone people let alone incomers such as P, K and myself and who was the source of much hilarity and teasing at our end of the table!The 'repas' was put on at a fee of €6.00 per head which turned out to be exceptional value for money with an aperitif and nibbles, pâté and bread, some yummy slices of cold pizza, barbecued fresh sausage and more bread, camembert, homemade chocolate torte and also the local croustade which is a kind of apple pie - all washed down with red or rosé wine or soft drinks for those driving plus of course coffee to finish it all off, oh, and I mustn't forget the 36 yr old home made eau de vie (55 deg proof apparently!) which was offered as a 'digestif' and which I had to politely decline as I was driving. Kev, on the other hand, was not driving and thoroughly enjoyed himself as usual!The repas was followed by the matter of a mini boules tournement...which was taken very seriously by allAll in all, a wonderfully sociable francophone afternoon was had by all

Saturday, 10 April 2010

It doesn't get MUCH better

Perfect Spring weather (wall to wall blue, temperatures in the low 20s), a 62km outing on the roadie on gently rolling, quiet country lanes interrupted only by a brief lunch stop in the historic town of Mirepoix and lets not forget the fantastic views.... ..Ah yes, it felt almost like we were on holiday. The outing was tainted only by a stubborn, dull, heavy, tired ache in my left leg which ran from my bum all the way down to my knees. After just 7kms, I had to stop to try and stretch out the fatigue and coax my muscles back to some kind of elasticity which I knew I would need if I was going to get round the 70km circuit that we had planned. Fortunately, I released it enough to continue, but, after the lunch stop, the heavy, aching fatigue returned and my speed slowed to a relative crawl. We had no choice but to shorten the circuit, which, fortunately, was very possible on the little side roads. We had a pit stop in Saint Amadou which is a lovely little village with a beautiful church and picturesque fountain
and made it back to the car in one piece. Back home, I spent an hour stretching, lying on my mat outside on the new terrasse with the sun on my face (ah, bliss) and wishing away the fatigue that is plaguing my lower body. I guess I should learn some patience, as I did put my poor little pins through the mill last weekend and muscles simply don't recover as quickly at my age ...not that I am that old, but we have to be realistic here! So some gentle exercise and lots more gentle stretching is on the cards for the coming week, I reckon. In the meantime, the cyclist's tan is coming along nicely! Hurrah!

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Miscellaneous meanders

Yes, I've been a tad quiet this week - not much to report. My poor little legs' recovery from the race on Sunday has gone well, thanks to some regular stretching and rest. Today, I met up with Anne Arran, who, 18 months ago, moved down to the Ariege from Sheffield with husband John - they have been busily renovating a former farmstead near Sinsat to create some superb self-catering units which they are now renting out. Anyway, we went for a lovely 7km return run alongside the river which was just what I needed to get the legs moving again. Other than that, not a great deal to report on the exercise front, although a couple of outings on the roadie are planned for the weekend.

The weather has been wet and soggy and definitely cooler for the past 48 hours but I do not despair as sun and more spring-like stuff is forecast for the weekend - oh yes! Time to plant out the beetroot modules, the celery the courgettes and the squashes with a bit of luck.

Monday, 5 April 2010

The results are in....

....yes, the results for the 2010 Trail des Citadelles are in! In the 20km race, I came in 7th woman out of 54 in my age category (V1F), 22nd out of 119 female entrants and 202nd out of 433 starters. All I can say is .....

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Trail des Citadelles 2010 report

Phew, where to start! The Citadelles is THE big trail race in this area - well, there are actually three trail races, one of 73kms with 3300m of ascent (you have to be seriously bonkers or just stupidly fit to do that one), one of 40kms with 2000m of ascent (Slight bonkersness is definitely an advantage) and then the 20km with 1000m of ascent which is for the saner trail runner such as my goodself . The 20km circuit can also be entered by walkers.

Anyway, the weather has been wonderfully dry for the past week, but, guess what, it absolutely tipped it down during the night which ensured that the Citadelles would retain its reputation as a tough race thanks to the copious quantities of mud that would be encountered today. Oh whoopee (yes, that is a slight tone of sarcasm that you have detected there). I spent the night at Pat and Kevs (they only live 10 mins from Lavalenet from where the races start) and have to say I had an appalling night's sleep (I blame it on pre-race nerves) so was knackered when the alarm went off at 06.30 this morning. Still, the adrenalin started to kick in when we got to the race centre. Pat and Kev were taking a walking group of clients around the 20km circuit and set off 1hr 20min before me. The weather was changeable with occasional showers so I opted to leave the full waterproof cover in the car. Very quickly after the race start, the tone was set for the conditions for the rest of the race.4kms into the race, the real ascent commenced up through the woodland. The mud was deeper and thicker, but my shoes seemed to be giving me reasonable grip and I was pleased to be able to pass quite a number of people who were struggling. Then came some nice descent - the word 'nice' should be taken in context!And then, you turn a corner and ........ we're going up there??!!! The Chateau de Montsegur is a landmark in more ways than one. The final steep ascent of 238m over 1.5kms was stiff and made treachorous by the fact that the Chateau (well, its a ruin really, now, isn't it) remained open to the public this morning despite the fact that it was both an ascent and descent route for all of the race runners and the walkers, so you can imagine that the narrow path up to the top became something of a bottleneck!!! Oh yes, and we were treated to a blast of snow on the way up! But I was at the top 1 hr 30 mins and 9.30kms into the race and promptly legged it back down the steep path, looking forward to the second half of the race which would be mainly downhill or on the level. I particularly enjoyed the route down through the woodland was just hilarious and a real opportunity to 'let it go' through the copious quantities of mud that prevaled. Naturally a took a bit of a fall but didn't everybody! Great fun! I was feeling good and fuelling well. The final 6kms were back along the valley, pretty much on the level, but my right ITB and deep buttock muscle started complaining about the punishment I was giving them. My left leg on the other hand, held its counsel and just got on with it, thank goodness. But despite the deep discomfort and pain, I pushed through to the finish at a reasonable pace (still averaging 10 kph) and crossed the line after 2 hrs 45 mins on my feet. For me, that was a good result. I have no idea where I came in the overall results as they have not yet been published, but I don't think I disgraced myself - I just hope I can walk tomorrow! The profile of the course is impressivePat and Kev's group all made it around the course without injury which was fantastic as none of them had ever done anything like that before. Chapeau, as the French say.

The atmosphere at the post race 'repas' was fantastic, amongst like minded folk who had all 'enjoyed' the days conditions. Unfortunately for the 40 and 70km racers, the weather deteriorated at around 1pm and they spent much of the latter half of their race in torrential rain and freezing conditions. I repeat, only the truely mad (OK, the hardy/brave/whatever - you have my respect, I am envious of your resilience and determination, honestly!) need apply.

So back home now, very tired and in some discomfort but hopefully some liquid muscle relaxant will ease my pain.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Progress and analysis

I had a quick 'trot' up the zig-zags from the Col de Port this afternoon to remind my legs what it feels like to climb a stiff ascent. The zig-zags are always a tester - 290m of ascent over just 1.27km. I usually have to stop at least twice on the way up, gasping for breath like a fish out of water, and a good minute is generally demanded by the legs and lungs when I reach the top before they are prepared to carry me any further. But today was different. I romped up there without so much as a backwards glance. 20 minutes it took me. 4 minutes faster than my previous best. I even ran the last little 20 metre section which, well, just isn't Normal after that climb even though that final little section is admittedly pretty much on the level. This is looking back down to the tiny dot that is the car in the car parkI continued on, at a leisurely pace up to the Pech de Therme with its usual stunning views towards Pic de la Journalade and Trois Seigneurs
Here comes the boring self-analysis bit that I feel compelled to write, so feel free to switch off now that you have seen the nice piccies!

I have seen quite a jump in my fitness levels over the past month. I went back to the UK in mid February feeling a couple of kgs overweight and generally unfit and out of shape. I knew I had the Citadelles to aim for on the 4 April and knew I had to do something that would make me feel even OK about the prospect, instead of dreading the pain that I would inevitably feel in the race if I didn't get my sorry ass into gear. So I did some serious work in the Lake District and the Peak District, upping my running game, getting myself up some hills and putting in some good kilometers, whilst all the time listening to my body. It all felt good, but over the last couple of days in the Peak District, I did feel tired and I knew I had put my body through enough. So then, for nearly two weeks, I didn't run, I couldn't run, my running muscles needed time out, I felt weary, so weary and to be honest, that did worry me! But I did plenty of stretching and self-massage on my oh so tight calf muscles and instead of running, I got back on the roadie to exercise alternative muscles, crosstraining, which was wonderful. Then, when I felt ready, I ran up the track to the Cabane des Roses. My legs responded positively and so did my lungs. Since then, I have been on fire - running has been easier and more comfortable, I have run faster and harder with seemingly less effort. This is a major step up in my fitness and I hope, I just hope I can maintain it and build on it. I am actually excited about the race on Sunday, confident that I won't die on the ascents and am aiming to get a time of around 2 hrs 50 mins on the 20km/1000m ascent circuit. I hope my confidence and optimism doesn't turn out to be misplaced!