Sunday, 29 January 2012

Local explorations

The weather last week continued to be sunny but cooler through to Friday when it rained. But before the weather turned, Andy plotted out a roadie circuit for us midweek which took us on some wonderfully quiet little back roads inland, through citrus groves (OK, I admit it, we did 'acquire' a few stray satsumas along our way which were totally delicious!), almond groves and olive groves.
It was lovely riding, but my lack of biking fitness was very evident. Even the smaller hills and undulations felt like mountains and it was all much more of an effort than it really should have been. Still, 68kms/600m+ in the bag.

On Thursday we had a meander along the coastal path trying to photograph and identify some of the bird life that occupies the scrubland there. Unfortunately we didn't see anything amazing, although the cormorants that flew up and down the coastline were good to see.

Friday, rain, so an indoor day. We were due to leave on Saturday but, with the forecast at home looking far too wintery for my liking, we decided to stay on here an additional week. Our apartment is the ground floor of the owners detached property and is in a wonderfully peaceful part of the town. It is spacious and heated and excellent value. The bonus is that Bonita loves to offload her excess potager produce and eggs on us. So far she has given us nearly 2 dozen eggs (omelettes anybody?!) and some delicious lettuces and salad onions. Fantastic!
Saturday, we ran 20kms of the track that runs from Alcossebre to Peniscola along the coast. The skies were still heavy after the previous day's rain and the seas decidedly choppy. But the forecast was for the skies to clear as the weekend progressed
Today, sure enough, clear blue skies but a hellishly strong wind that resulted in Andy cancelling his planned long roadie ride - it would have been suicidal! Instead, we headed further down the coast before cutting inland to the Parc Natural del Desert de les Palmes. I had downloaded the GPS data for a walk which looked appealing. The route initially took us along some lovely tracks and trails with views towards the coast

We passed several almond plantations with fruit still left on the trees. It would have been rude not to sample the nuts.... 
... and OK, I admit it, our pockets were soon filled! As for the walk, let's just say we have spent far too much time running and are out of 'walking mode'. The walk seemed to take forever and I was seriously wondering how much longer we would be out. I so prefer running! We only covered 13.7kms but it took us over 3 hours. But still, it was good to be out, exploring more of the area. And we did come back with some good bunches of wild thyme as well as a fair quantity of almonds

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

A change of scenery

The week following my last blog post was one of lower overall running mileage as one of my running days involved a hill endurance training session which, although not long, was intensive. The little road that goes up to the Col de Peguere features for the first time on the Tour de France route this year and has been dubbed 'the wall'. It is short but steep! The steepest section is the lower 1km which is at about 18% - I strode up it as a warm up. The following 1.2kms has an average gradient of 11.5%.  This was to be my hill endurance interval training section. I ran up it, slowly admittedly, but non-stop all the same, keeping my heart rate at a steady level. At the turnaround point, reached after just under 11 minutes, I jogged gently back down to the corner and repeated the hill another 2 times. I never thought I would be able to do it once, let alone three times! Great training.

Last Saturday, we decided to get away for a week, maybe two, for a change of scenery. Instead of heading away in Sadie, we have treated ourselves to some self-catering accommodation on the Spanish coast. Now, I had heard of the Costa Daurada and the Costa Blanca, but the Costa del Azahar? Nope! But what a surprise it is. .... a wonderfully unspoilt section of coastline in Valencia Province, between Tarragona and Valencia, where mass tourism has somehow been avoided. It is an area of olive groves, citrus groves and almond trees. The latter are bursting into blossom at this very moment, producing a heady scent which is quite distinctive. This is an area of natural beauty. From our base at Alcossebre, the Parc Natural de Serra d'Irta is like a magnet. I shall let the photos do the talking!

In addition to exploring the coastal path, we also headed up on to the ridge which looks down onto the village and which is dominated by an old hermitage.

 The hermitage up on the hill
 View down onto Alcossebre from the hermitage
On the run from the hermitage, we had a close encounter with one of the locals, a horseshoe whip snake, fortunately one of the non-venomous snakes of the area. It was actually quite a treat to see it as its numbers are apparently on the decline due to threats to its habitat.
This wasn't the only snake that we encountered. On yesterday's walk up to yet another hermitage, this time above Peniscola at the other end of the Parc Natural.....
..... I nearly walked into another bigger snake. It turned out to be a mature ladder snake, over a metre long, fortunately also non-venomous
I am going to have to be very careful if I am going to do any more runs on the small paths that meander through the scrubby undergrowth as snakes are very prevalent in this area!

The hermitage of Saint Antoni has been recently restored and is no doubt loaded with history that I have not yet looked in to.

At the back, there are two conical-shaped structures, inside of which stone-built seating lines the walls. I wonder what the purpose of these structures was?
There is a way-marked path which heads off from near the hermitage and up onto the ridge of the Parc Natural - so many paths and tracks to explore!
More to come......soon

Friday, 13 January 2012

Keep on running

I love it when one of those wonderful winter high pressure systems decides to plonk itself bang on top of us ... and not move! We have had clear blue skies, crisp mornings but warm sunny afternoons for the past few days and the situation is not set to change until well into next week. Glorious. (My apologies if you are currently experiencing quite the opposite kind of weather and my opening few lines are making you seethe ... I'm sorry, truely I am )

With such wonderful weather, running has been very much on the agenda. It is just over 13 weeks until the Trail des Citadelles on Easter Sunday. The 40kms/2100m+ race is going to be hard - really hard. I need to up my mileage and the amount of ascent I am doing if I am going to be strong and fit enough to complete the event. My running mileage for the first week of January was 34kms with 1250m of ascent. Not a bad start to the year. The second week of the year has a day yet to go, but already I have covered 48kms and 1800m of ascent, spread over 3 runs. It's going in the right direction.

Today's run was a reccy of part of the 2nd half of the Citadelles circuit. The route took me (and the pooch) up onto the ridge on which the Chateau de Roquefixade is perched.... a breathtaking spot!
The climb up was hard. OK, if I had found it 'easy' there would be something wrong! But at least now I know what to expect. The fun descents also confirmed what I already knew which is that my super-grippy Salomon XAPro 3 shoes will be required for the event - by 'eck it was slippy in parts! My route covered 22.5kms in total which was plenty on top of the other two runs that I have done this week. This is the profile of today's circuit;
So now, stretching and more stretching. The old bod is holding up OK so far and I need to ensure that doesn't change.

On other news, house-hunting continues but the market is terribly quiet at the moment. It appears that people are holding off putting their properties on the market until 'la crise' eases off somewhat. ... which is a bit of a blighter. So the search continues.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

The New Year started off well with one of those beautiful blue-sky days that just screamed 'come out and play, come out and play'! Who could resist such insistence! After the previous day's rain, the natural choice was for a run along tracks and hard-packed trails. We hadn't 'done' the track from Cominac to the Col de Vièle-Morte  for a year or two and the last time was on the mountain bikes. It promised great views too, so it seemed the natural choice.

It didn't disappoint. The outward leg was just over 7kms at a steady gradient with a total of 425m of ascent. It was fantastic to feel able to run it all at what was for me, a decent speed of between 9 and 10 kph. The view did not disappoint. The Pic Rouge de Bassiès and other peaks above Aulus-les-Bains looked magnificent in their winter finery.
We reached the end of the track after 7.4 kms and were obliged to turn around and retrace our steps. We had a fun, fast run back to Cominac. The total outing was 14.7kms/425m+ which we covered in 1h28m of moving time. It had been a handy little outing - the old legs felt great. The 3 weeks of relatively little activity since my last race seems to have paid off - hurrah!

Yesterday was a truely awful weather day but today the weather Gods apologised and treated us to another blue sky day. I had to head down to Tarascon for a haircut so while I was over 'the other side', I knocked off a 10km/435m+/1h20m circuit from Surba which took me up to Bedeilh'ac, up to Calamès and then to la Roche Ronde before a steep and slippery descent back down, returning via the back lane. Great to be out in the sun and to get a few more kilometers (albeit slow ones) under my belt. The dog enjoyed it too!

Monday, 2 January 2012

A brief recap

Well, a Happy New Year to you! A new year, eh .... sneeky, very sneeky, creeping up on me like that. But I guess it as good a time as any to take stock of the year that has just gone and to contemplate the year ahead.

2011 was a good year in the grand scheme of things. There were several highlights for me....

We finally finished her conversion and enjoyed two good trips away in her, doing some fantastic running and biking as we went. We explored some wonderful areas both of France and the UK and I spent more time with family than I have done over the past 4 years which was just wonderful. This year should involve more of the same as we celebrate mum's 75th and my sister's 50th birthdays in August, not to mention Andy's 40th in February. I can see Sadie clocking up many more miles in 2012!

We spent three quarters of 2011 'over the other side' in the Pays d'Olmes area of the Ariege which is a fantastic area for trail running, mountain and road biking. As a result, my fitness improved enormously and I completed 5 trail races, 2 of which saw me on the podium, much to my amazement. I clocked up over 800kms of running over the year and managed to stay injury-free thanks to a concerted stretching regime which has prevented my old muscles from completely seizing up following exertion. This getting older malarkey is hard work! But I am carrying the momentum forward into 2012 with the aim of completing my first ultra by the end of the year. For the uninformed, an ultra is technically a distance over marathon distance (42kms) although 50kms is more generally accepted as being the marker. My first challenge this year will be the Trail des Citadelles 40km/2100m+ race on the 8 April - ouch! I have got a fewer shorter races on the calendar before then which should provide me with the training that I need.

After being on the market for 18 months, we finally accepted an offer on the house in the autumn which means we can start planning the next stage of our life. This obviously involves finding a new home! We have pretty strict criteria that we need to satisfy if we are to settle permanently in our new home and with the current depressed state of the market we have not yet found 'the one'. But we are visiting two potential properties further West along the chain this week, so who knows, one of those could be 'it'!

I don't 'do' resolutions as such. I do however have hopes and aspirations for the year ahead. I hope to carry on getting fitter and stronger and remain injury free. I am looking forward to gradually increasing the distance that I am able to run and to exploring the myriad tracks, paths and trails of the Pyrenees along the way, photographing the beauty as I go. I am looking forward to meeting my running targets and to seeing Andy meet his cycling targets too, although anybody who has the Etape du Tour in the Pyrenees with 197kms and 5000m of ascent on his agenda may be a tad bonkers!!! I am looking forward to creating a lovely new home and I am looking forward to seeing more of family and friends. 2012 will be a good year. I can feel it in me bones! Bonne Année!