Tag Archives: trail

Trail du Cassoulet 2014

Verfeil is a small commune at the North-East of Toulouse. It is difficult to date its origins though Celtics were living there some centuries B.C. It was built at the top of a small hill, with fortified entrances and a castle from the VIII century at the top. Today about 3,000 inhabitants live in Verfeil and they do their best to make the Trail du Cassoulet a great running event.

This year was the first time that I took part in this race, together with other 2,000 participants: 300 of us would run the 32km trail, about 1,400 the 15km trail and the rest walking routes, races for children, etc. The organization was superb.

Every runner got a can of cassoulet. If got to the finish line we received as well an apron (plus a bottle of wine if the runner arrived disguised with a costume). After the trail, we all gathered to enjoy a delicious and energizing bowl of warm cassoulet.

The trail departed at 9am. I took it as a training session for the New York marathon, which I would run 4 weeks later. My training plan indicated that the day of the race I should train 3 hours, 1 of them at marathon pace. Thus a 32km trail would be perfect.

Route of the race as recorded by my Garmin.

Route of the race as recorded by my Garmin.

The trail had just over 500m of elevation gains, spread along many ascensions, none of them very long. In the last ones I had to walk parts of them. The race ran along 2 lakes, crossed small rivers over tree trunks, went through lots of arable fields, some dense forests and the stables of a castle (not in use anymore). I include here some pictures I took during the race:

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In the it took 3 hours and 21 minutes to complete the trail (my Garmin measured 33.4km instead of the announced 32). I finished the 131st out of the 277 runners who completed the long trail (that is 47% percentile, not bad). As mentioned above, to recover from the trail, Luca and I enjoyed a very tasty cassoulet. And just before that I got to donate my running shoes to a NGO so they can have a “second life” in Morocco; a good destination for a pair of snickers with which I made some 3 personal records, 2 in 10km and 1 in marathon. 🙂

Donating my old running shoes.

Donating my old running shoes.

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Mid-year running recap

At the beginning of the year I had just a few objectives in relation to running:

  • Reach 2,000km run along the year.
  • Reach personal best times in 10k, half marathon and marathon.
  • Run 2 marathons.

Now, just one week after mid-year it’s a good moment to take a look at how these months have gone regarding the running part:

I have already run 2 marathons (Rome and San Diego) though in none of them I was under 3 hours 45 minutes. In Rome I was close to it (a minute slower) but didn’t reach it. I will even run a 3rd marathon this year in Athens next November (health permitting).

So far, even if I have run more races in 6 months than ever (10 races), I only attempted one half-marathon, in La Latina district (Madrid) which is not the best circuit to attempt a PB; I didn’t achieve it.  I clocked 1:44:49 vs. the 1:42:30 I did in Toulouse in 2011.

I have run 3 races of 10 kilometres. In the first one of the year I was short of only 6 seconds to beat my PB (46:14) clocking 46:20. One of the other two was a cross and the third one was the Corrida Pedestre de Toulouse, where the distance is not even 10k but 9.64km and despite of that I was not in the rhythm to do any PB.

In relation to the mileage: in the first 6 months I ran 920 km, a bit less than 1,000km, but not a difference that I can’t make up for in the second half of the year.

Some stats to close the post:

  • 920 km run from January 1st to June 30th.
  • 206 km run in races in this time (22.4% of the distance).
  • 86 hours and 58 minutes running in this 6 months.
  • 19 hours and 46 minutes running in races in this time (22.7% of the time –> long trails).
  • Over 80,000 Calories burnt.

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Chaudes-Aigues and Trail des Capucins

Some weeks ago Luca and I spent a weekend in the Central Massif in France, a plateau the size of Castile and Leon, with an average height of around 600m.

On Friday we went to Chaudes-Aigues where we wanted to spend the saturday in a spa. The village, in the region of Auvergne, has less than 1,000 inhabitants, a couple of hotels and restaurants and its famous for its hot springs. With over 30 different springs starting from 45ÂşC to 82ÂşC, the latter is supposed to be one of the hottest ones in Europe (if not the hottest as proudly announced in the signpost close to it).

spring

Luca by the 82ÂşC hot spring in Chaudes-Aigues (arguably the hottest in Europe… the spring as well).

Another curious thing of Chaudes-Aigues is a network of hot water going through private houses built back in the year 1,332, which is still working today though only in those original houses.

On Sunday morning, we woke quite early to cover the distance to Nasbinals, another little commune in the region of Aubrac where I wanted to run a ~18km trail.

Start line of the trail.

Start line of the trail.

I started the trail in the back of the pack so I took the first kilometres without stress trying to run with the crowd and only overtaking other runners where possible and moderately easy. In that way I could enjoy at some points the views offered by the circuit of the trail, which at points was through closed forests but at some others was through open countryside.

Fields of Aubrac.

Fields of Aubrac.

I was running with the water bag and carried some vanilla-flavoured energetic gels, so I did not have any problems with supplies, I didn’t need to use those provided by the organization. One good point of the trail is that the route was very well marked, however, the measuring of the distance wasn’t. The trail was supposed to be 18 kilometres long, and when my GPS-watch indicated 17.75km I saw a signpost saying “ArrivĂ©e 2 km”. In the end I measured 19.60 km, but I guess the organization knows this, as in their own web, when showing the altitude profile, the distance they have measured is clearly over 19km.

Profile of the race “Trail des Capucins” (over 19km instead of the announced 18km).

Profile of the race “Trail des Capucins” (over 19km instead of the announced 18km).

It is not such a big issue, though you may have been managing your strength resources to have a last good kilometre and instead you find out that there are still 2 more to go! It would be as easy as to announce the trail as a 19km or 19.6km instead of 18km.

In the end it took me over 2 hours and 12 minutes, and ended the 255th out of 810 runners. A good run for a Sunday morning.

Even if not of very good quality, you can find below a short video I recorded around the 8th kilometre to give a glimpse of how these trails are:

I uploaded the video

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Trail des Citadelles: epic run in the mud

The Château de Montségur used to be a Cathar castle dating from late XII / early XIII century. For some time it was the centre of the Cathar church, though today only some ruins remain. The castle is at the top of a 1,200m-high rocky mountain, some kilometres away from the small village of Lavelanet out of which the Trail des Citadelles started.

This was my first long run and first race just 2 weeks after completing Rome marathon. I had only run 2 days between then and today, thus I took it more as a run in the nature than as a race, no stress from the departure. I even took the photo camera as I suspected I could take some nice pics.

The race consisted of 20km from Lavelanet to the castle and back, going as much as possible through the forest and as little as possible through paved roads (basically the first and last kilometres and little else). The rain of the previous days, of that precise morning and the passing of hundreds of runners left many of the paths impracticable, completely muddy and enabling the funniest situations.

Trail des Citadelles (20km) profile.

Trail des Citadelles (20km) profile.

Before having completed the 2nd kilometre my running shoes and socks were already completely soaked. Before the 3rd kilometre we had been running through some stretches in which the feet were covered up to the ankles with mud (chop, chop, splash!).

I love trails for they put you in close contact with nature, the variety of their landscapes, the absence of time pressure; even if I acknowledge that I am not particularly good with difficult descents which require some technique and equipment that I lack of.

Today I missed some mountain sticks. At the starting line I saw many people with them. I wasn’t sure if it was because they would walk instead of run. Indeed. The thing is that I would also have to walk a lot, uphill, through rocks covered with very slippery mud. Only during the race I understood why they brought them. Between the 4th and 5th kilometre we started to walk uphill more than run, and it lasted like that for almost the next 7 kilometres.

Montségur castle from afar.

Montségur castle from afar at the top of the mountain (notice the footprints in the mud). Picture taken at about km. 5

The mostly walking uphill took a full hour to cover about 5 kilometres to the bottom of the castle stairs.

Montségur castle from below.

Montségur castle from below.

Inside the castle.

Inside the castle.

The views from the castle are stunning. The picture below does not make enough justice so I took a panoramic video.

Views from the castle.

Views from the castle.

From the castle to the end of the race most of the time we would be descending. In theory, this should have made it easier. But that was only the theory. That is when the fun began (to call it that way).

The way down started with the same stairs of the castle, which we descended with much care. Then some hundreds of metres of going up and down over more or less dry surface and finally the same kind of very steep descent, sometimes along and others crossed by water flows, fully covered with slippery mud.

I lost count of how many times I slid without any control on the verge of falling down. I do keep count of the 5 times that these detours ended with me, my face, arms, whatever it was… in the mud. They were not especially painful, but left you with hands and face covered of mud, having to wash yourself in the next current of brownish water. Other times the sliding left you looking uphill to the wrong side of the race hands in the ground to prevent a full-blown fall. As I was not the only one going through this, you can get an idea of the image…

Eating at ~ km. 12.

Eating at ~ km. 12.

Around the kilometre 11-12 there was the only point of supply so I did a little stop to drink some Coke, eat some chocolate, etc.

After this stop, the mix of sliding / running continued for about another kilometre until we entered a forest of pine trees where the ground was a bit drier. There I was happy as I started running faster, less worried about falling and more focused on keeping the pace… until I bent my ankle… the same ankle I strained 3 times during winter. That one was painful. I had to stop and walk for some 2-3 minutes to recover from it.

It was then that I took the camera to film another short video as an update of the race so far at 13.4 km (in Spanish):

The making of the video, the self-deprecating humour of the situation lifted my morale. I tried the ankle, which responded positively, so I started running again.

During the last 5 kilometres, more or less flat, even if still going at times through water flows or mud, I tried to enjoy running a little. I think it was only at this point that I was overtaking others instead of being overtaken :-). I discovered then that instead of avoiding water flows and poodles, it was indeed better going through them as their bottom used to be firmer. The guys of the organization took it seriously and somehow made us literally run along the river for about 200m! That was another high moment of the trail, which I recorded here (excuse my French):

When arriving at the village, one final sprint and done. I mean, done. 

Finish line.

Finish line.

My performance: 2h49’16”, 201 out of 366 finishing within the time given of 3h30′ (see Garmin records).

PD: All this happened in the 20 km race; bear in mind that at the same time 2 other races were taking place one of 40 km and one of 73 km (the runners having departed at 6am to run… 9 hours? 12?). My admiration to all those heroes.

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Trailhounet (Gruissan)

Last weekend Luca and I went to Gruissan, a small village by the Mediterranean sea. I must say that in winter time it is not very lively (not by a night at least). One of the reasons for coming to Gruissan was to take part in the trail “Trailhounet” (18km), one of three races that would take during the weekend (the others covering distance of 25km and an ultra of 50km!).

 

Trailhounet circuit around Gruissan.

Trailhounet circuit around Gruissan.

I have often mentioned that running trails through the country side feels different from running on the asphalt of city streets. However, at some points the slopes in trails get too steep to run up, or too dangerous to go as fast as possible on the way down. This time, the circuit was covered to a great extent by small stones and rocks, this made it even more challenging and painful.

Profile of the race.

Profile of the race.

Let me share a couple of pictures from the start and the arrival:

Start line, using for the 1st time the new sweat band with the flag.

Start line, using for the 1st time the new sweat band with the flag.

Last sprint.

Last sprint.

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Pájara no, pajarĂłn (sudden collapse)

Yesterday I ran the “Trail du Confluent” (13km), a lovely countryside race in Pinsaguel which I had already run last year. I had one of the worst experiences ever while doing sport, if not the worst. I suffered what in Spanish we call pájara and in English would be collapse.

From the km 4-5, I started feeling weaker and at the end I was almost incapable of running. I had only had one such previous experience cycling about 13 years ago, when after biking for 60km we made a pause and my cousin Unai had to literally push me on my bike from his for over 10km back to home as I could not cycle anymore.

These collapses happen from time to time to runners or bikers, and to avoid them it is recommended to eat and drink well before and during the race. I ate and drunk but I guess it was not enough. Other possible causes could be:

Heart rate during the race.

In fact, during the race and feeling already weak and underperforming I noticed that I was not the only one in such low condition. Last year with 1h22′ I came in 103th in the end (among 237 finishers), this year the 103th needed 1h32′ (the winner also need 1h compared to 56′ last year). With my disastrous time, 1h36′, I came in 141th of 254 finishers.

Nevertheless, it is not worth it to worry much about it. This is sport: there are days for glory and days of wandering around like an underdog. Continue training, sleeping, drinking and eating well and the next race will be a different story.

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