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Please note: this blog has moved

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This gives me greater control over the blog and I hope you see it as an improvement. Since I can't find away to seamlessly redirect everyone from the Google platform, please follow the link and update your bookmarks.

All the old blog posts are on the new site.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Strava 100 Mile Trail Challenge

I've been using Strava to log my runs for about a month now, after having previously used a combination of Fetch Everyone and Garmin Connect for a number of years. About 4 years ago when I first got into running, I bought a Garmin Forerunner 405, which despite its downfalls (dodgy bezel, poor batter life, quirks picking up satellites) has probably been the most motivational piece of running hardware I've ever used.

The Garmin allows me to just stick on a pair of shoes and run out the door, recording where I go and then when I get back I can download all the data and store online, building up a profile over time and allowing me to see how well I'm doing.

But all that data is no good unless you can analyse it in a meaningful way. Being a bit of a geek, I love to see how far and fast I've run, and how much effort it has taken. Garmin Connect always allowed me to do this, but the interface was clunky and it was often very slow.

Facebook for Atheletes?

Strava does most of what Garmin Connect and Fetch Everyone does, but has more of a focus on the social and competition side of things. Its quite easy to find friends and link it via Facebook to build a profile and follow like-minded athletes.

Where it really comes into its own though, is its ability to crunch your run (or bike) data into segments, and allow you to name these so that when you run the same portion of the run again (or somebody else does) you can compare times.

My run mapped out, including elevation profile, split into named segments.

The app is pretty good at determining segments from geographical data, but you're also free to crop and change them yourself, which is quite handy as in some of the places I run there is not much on the Google map to really help Strava work out what is useful or not.

This is especially useful for me, since almost all of my running is on hilly trails, and I rarely run the exact same route twice. However I regularly do route segments, such as the hill sprint back into the village, or a particularly fast riverside forest run, and it adds a bit of extra motivation to know that I can go for a record or at least a good time on that section.

The athlete profile page on Strava gives you a running total of your activities, and flags any achievements you've earned by beating previous times on course segments.

Strava Challenges

I run alone (well, with my border collie) and there aren't many other people in my area so I tend to have the trails to myself. Its easy to get into a routine and not push yourself too much, but this is where the Strava challenges come in.

For the first 16 days of September, Trail Runner magazine hosted the Strava 100 Mile Trail Challenge, where they invited as many people as possible to log 100 miles of trail running between September 1st-16th.

I entered this, and managed to log 102 miles before the challenge ended, and it turned out to be a great motivational tool. So far I've logged over 200km and we still have 9 days of the month left - by having the motivation to go out and run decent mileage every day I think I've managed to push myself that little bit further and discover that I'm actually OK with that level of effort - I'm definitely looking forward to the next challenge.


I love Strava, and have now stopped using my other sites as I think on balance this is the way to go. Although not perfect, Strava seems to have the right balance right now - what especially appeals is that unlike the hardware manufacturers (Garmin etc) who really are only interested in selling you a device, Strava is device-neutral, and they seem to be continuously driving development and rolling out new features.

  • Clean and quick user interface
  • Social element and challenges
  • Phone apps
  • Because it started as a bike-app, there are far few runners on there
  • Difficult to see monthly subtotals in tabular form

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Home Made Energy Bars

Energy bars are expensive, and generally not full of anything special. I also live miles from anywhere so its useful to be able to rustle some up out of store cupboard ingredients. You need:

240grams of  peanut butter
240 grams of clear honey
175 grams of sugar-free mueseli
200 grams dried fruit (I use 50 grams each of pineapple, apricot, raisins & sultanas)
100 grams of seed mix, chopped nuts etc

Put the honey and peanut butter into a saucepan and slowly melt it together over a low heat. Simply chuck in the muesli and stir, and then stir in the other ingredients until fully mixed.

Grease a baking tin, and pour the mix into it, flattening it down. Put in the oven on 200ºC for about 12 minutes. They should go golden brown but still be fairly soft.

When you bring them about, score with a spatula and allow to cool, when it will harden. Then you can take it out the tin, and break it into pieces along the score lines.


Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Pic de l'Aigle Morning Run

I was feeling like a more challenging outing so I ran Pic de l'Aigle this morning and got a few nice pictures since the weather was fine.

Down in the valley at the start of the climb, crossing the river Büech

Eric, the border collie, waiting for me as the gradient gets steeper

The view back down into the La Jarjatte valley, with the ski pistes in the background

The summit of Montagne de Claret - now its all downhill

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

London Run

I'm in London for the week and went out this morning for a run around Hampstead Heath and then down into our Soho office.

The weather has been terrible lately with no discernible summer in the UK. However I was treated to a great view of the city from the top of Parliament Hill, before heading back down into town.

Early morning London skyline from Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Etape 2012 - Albertville to La Toussuire

I signed up for L'Etape du Tour last year before we moved to the French Alps, full of enthusiasm that having the mountains on my doorstep would mean that I would get out on my bike often and be properly fit and aclimatised by the time 8th July 2012 rolled around.

Well, it didn't quite pan out that way. With a combination of work commitments, getting a dog, and rennovating a house, and niggly injuries my cycle training prior to the Etape amounted to around 50km on the local roads, 30km of which were done in one ride last week! However, I'd entered with my ex-colleague Mike, who was making the trip out from England, and emboldened by a plucky British spirit and a stubborn reluctance to consider the facts I decided to do it anyway.

The profile of the route taking in some classic Alpine climbs
Well Acte 1 is a bit of a monster as you can see from the profile. One of the toughest stages of this year's tour, it includes 2 Hors-category, a 2nd and first category climbs. Quite simply, after the first 16km rolling out Albertville there is hardly any flat section left on the course.

Anyhow, I drove up on Saturday afternoon, taking the car to the top of La Toussuire where the stage would finish. I made the mistake of driving the last 5km of the actual course, rather than taking the short cut to the ski resort and it seemed pretty viscious. After dropping the car and taking the shuttle bus to the Etape village which was set up in the Olympic park from when Albertville hosted the 1986 winter olympics. I met up with Mike and we picked up our race numbers and goody bags.

The temperature down in Albertville was in the low 30s, and we sat sweltering in a huge hanger type building eating our generous portions of pre-race pasta. After that it was a half hour drive to our Formule 1 motel - not the best accommodation in the world, and hot night with no a/c meant I wasn't exactly rested when the alarm went off at 5.20 the next morning.

The heat of the previous day had disappeared and was replaced with the pouring rain. A quick breakfast of baguette, jam and bananas sat under the hotel awning with other riders and then a ride to the start of the race.

Rain clouds over Albertville

There were 9,000 entrants in this year's event but having the Olympic Park in Albertville to start from meant that it all went pretty smoothly. The rain eased off to a steady drizzle with a promise of better weather to come in the afternoon.

Either way, it was rain jackets on as we rolled out of Albertville. Despite the crap weather and early hour there were quite a few people on the streets of the town centre cheering us on, and the flat roads and cool conditions meant we got a good warm up.

Pretty soon though we arrived at the foot of the climb to the Col de la Madelaine, and things started getting difficult. I've done a few of the local roads round our way but this was the first time I've ever climed a sustained 6-10% gradient for 20-odd kilometres, and it was a tough couple of hours in the saddle. I stopped at the feed station half way up which was probably a mistake, because getting going again was tough. However I seemed to manage to be able to sustain around 10kph and eventually made it to the top of the Col de la Madelaine.

The Col  de la Madelaine - definitely time for a break.

 By now it was around 11am and the sun had come out and the roads had dried up, so the upcoming 25km was less unnerving than I was originally expecting. However at over 2,000m at the start, it was quite chilly and hitting 60-70kph on the downhills (plenty fast enough for me) for 25 minutes was quite an effort (again the first time I'd ever done that kind of descent). Keeping on the breaks into the corners was very tough on the hands and arms, and my fingers and thumbs went numb on the way down with a combination of windchill and effort.

Getting down to the valley floor meant it was time to warm up and rest up - we used the separate feed station provided by the guys at La Fuga, so it was great to be able to top up with electrolytes, leave my rain jacket (it was forecast to be hot, even on the descents, for the rest of the day) and slather on some more factor 50 before heading out for the next climb, the Col du Glandon, and Croix de Fer.

The climb up to the Glandon - tough in its own right but a killer after the Madelaine

The Glandon was another monster, but after being softened up by the Madelaine climb, it was even harder. The day was getting very hot, and the hardest part of the climb, towards the top was above the tree line and so provided no shade. The final 3km also blew in some fierce headwinds which added to the misery. Throughout the whole ride the camaradarie had been excellent, with a lot of chatting and banter in the peleton, but on the upper slopes of the Glandon it was eerily quite as people dug deep to make it to the top.

The Col du Gladon in the top left of the picture. The last few kilometres kick up more steeply, and a fierce headwind really didn't help.
I finally made it to the top - I teamed up with a French rider who was struggling too and we encouraged each other to the top. The Col de la Croix de Fer was next, but this was just another 2.5km and is not quite so steep, so felt a lot more straightforward. However things were complicated by several hundred sheep that were wandering across the road, and I had to do an emergency stop and unclip and a border collie wrangled a herd of goats straight towards me and engulfed me.

Almost run off the road by these guys

The view from the top of the Col de la Croix de Fer, with another fast descent beckoning.

Feed station at the top of the Col de la Croix de Fer

It was much warmer on this descent and I was much more into my stride. The route soon kicked up again with a climb to the Col du Molland, and this was were a lot of people I think were starting to crack. Another big descent, and after 20 minutes of brake-pumping and ear-popping I was down at the valley floor, where the heat and humidty were hugely noticeable after the fresher conditions up high.

Another quick food stop at La Fuga and it was time to start the final climb of the day - 17km up to the ski resort of La Toussuire-Les Sybelles. Mike went on ahead of me as he was feeling stronger, but I was having my doubts as I was pretty close to exhaustion. I started the climb but after about 3-4 km of struggling, the gendarme at the back of the race passed, saying the broom wagon was approaching, and did I want to get on, or finish? Well I'd been riding for 11 hours, and was overheating and exhausted, so I took the option to get off my bike, sit in the shade and wait for the arrival of the broom wagon. I was only 15km from the end but I was under no illusion about how hard they would be and I was pleased to have made it as far as I did.

Made it to the top of the Col du Glandon

My Garmin GPS ran out of battery after 6.5 hours (just before the top of the Glandon, but you can see the data below for the times before that.

Despite the agony and hard work, it was a memorable day with great organisation and a fantastic spirit between the riders. I was amazed by how many British riders were there, and how many union jacks were flying on the roadside - maybe its the Cav/Wiggins effect but it was great to so many of us participating with the rest of the world.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Eagle's Peak Loop

My house is in a valley, and directly opposite, above the Via Ferrata route and rock climbing crag, is a steep mountain face, topped out by a little nubbin known as Pic de l'Aigle, or Peak of the Eagle. I can understand why it got this name, we regularly see golden eagles circling in the area, swooping down for hares or gaining height on the thermals, and the rock itself looks like a perfect place for an eyrie.

A photo of Pic de l'Aigle (top left) taken from behind the chapel in La Jarjatte

I've hiked it a couple of times before and it takes a good half day, but I decided to run it with Eric this morning.
The route starts off with a gentle 2.5km downhill run out of the village and along farmers fields to the neck of the La Jarjatte valley, where you join a logging track. After a couple of hundred metres though you branch off into the forest and get to run up some pretty decent single track.

Even though it doesn't look hot from the photos, it was quite warm and Eric started to flag. After 45 minutes of finding no water sources I did consider turning back. Its been so dry for so long, and we were running up south-facing slopes there was nowhere to drink from.

Pretty soon though, I could see the top of the tree line, and the bulge of Pic de l'Aigle through the trees.

Almost at the top
The trees opened up with great views to the valley below, and the village of La Jarjatte. After just an hour of running I was at the Col de la pic de l'Aigle.

Pic de l'Aigle, with some pretty scummy weather blowing in from the valley to the north.
By this point I'd managed to get Eric to drink from his portable water bowl, and used up the last of my water with him.

The trail moves up behind Pic de l'Aigle, and carries on along the mountain ridge to Montagne de Clairet.

From here it was all downhill, but when you're tied to a freshly-watered, re-energised Border Collie, this is easier said than done, and I spent the whole 700m descent pulling back on him and trying to not to fly flat on my face.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Mad Dogs and Englishman

Well, it wasn't quite the midday sun but it was definitely hot enough at 11am to make me think twice. Summer is definitely well underway in French Alps, the flies are out and the farmers are making hay while the sun shines.

I was out with our Border Collie, which are a notoriously heat intolerant breed so he struggled a bit despite me stopping at few cold streams along the way.

I need to get training for the heat in preparation for my upcoming ultras, but it might be a good idea to leave the poor old dog at home.

Combe Obscure Loop

I was spared dog-walking duties on Saturday morning so took the opportunity to go for a longer and more adventurous run than usual. Starting off down the valley through the forests as far as the Mougious waterfall (below). Rather than turning around though, I took the steep ascent (300m in about 15 minutes) up the left hand side.
Cascade de Mougious
It was a lung-busting climb to the top, as the path is pretty steep (a good 45º) but getting to the top is worth it. There is a sheep pasture up there, although being north facing there is still too little grass for it to be used. The shepherd's old caravan and patio set was still up there though, but looks like it had had a tough winter.
The pasture at the top of the Mougious
Looking back down into the valley from the top of the waterfall.
From here, the trail followed one of the logging tracks into the trees, and traverses the forest-covered mountainside. The terrain is quite tough, boggy and rocky.
The logging road heading into the trees

After a few hundred metres, the trail turns off the road and gets onto proper forest single track. When I'd done this route in the past, I'd missed this turning and ended up descending into a gully and picking my way through rocks all the way down to the river.

The trail soon starts to get better

Perfect trail running conditions

This was where the running started to get really good - basically several KMs of forest single track traversing the mountainside, with occasional views into the valley. After I while I neared the top of the of the local ski pistes - and managed to get spooked by some pretty weird animal noises - I'm thinking it may have been the local wild boar.

Exiting the forest at the top of the ski piste - pretty much downhill from here.
Here's the GPS data from Garmin.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Local Ultra Marathon

I just found on Facebook a posting for an Ultra Marathon (51km) up the Pic de Bure, the large mountain on which our closest large ski resort (Super Dévoluy/La Joue du Loup) is situated.

As the crow flies, this is only about 10km from my house, so I've gone ahead and entered the race as I really need an intermediate ultra before I trry the Ultra Trail du Vercors (85km) again in September.

Since we got a dog I've been struggling to get the long runs in - I go out running most days with the dog but tend to have to limit them to under an hour, and with a dog, on this kind of terrain, means I don't get much more than about 8km under my belt at a time.

Anyhow, the Pic de Bure ultra should help focus the mind a bit, and better still I should be able to get a few recce runs in before the event.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Running with a Dog

On Tuesday, we travelled over to Valence in the Rhône Valley and took owner ship of a 12 month old Border Collie called Eric. His previous owner, an 84 year old man had recently died and he was been fostered. We've been on the lookout for a Border Collie for some time, checking on the puppies available on noticeboards in the vet, but Eric came through a friend of a friend and so we took the plunge.
Eric - ready for a run?
One of the attractions for me for a Border Collie was to have a dog that can come out into the mountains, and run for long periods over rough terrain, or hike all day. However, coming with a years worth of 'baggage', he's got a lot to (un)learn so we're keeping him on a leash for now.

I took him out yesterday for his first proper run. I did a short run up to the Mougious waterfall which he took in his stride. A couple of hundred metres shy of the waterfall, a deer shot out of the forest and across our path - Eric went crazy and tried to bolt after him, which pretty much vindicated my decision to keep him leashed.

Post-deer chasing Eric on his way home
The biggest problem I found was running with a short leash. I think the natural driving/herding instinct in a Border Collie means that he weaves from left to right a lot, and running with a short leash means I keep running into the back of him.
As usual, the internet is a helpful place and I've been given a lot of advice on running with dogs. I'm ordering a leash that will attach to a belt so I can run hand's free and have a little more give when he stops or speeds up. I'll review it on here when I've had chance to try it out.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Grand Ferrand Traverse

At the end of our valley is the largest mountain in the area - the Grand Ferrand. At 2,758m its not the biggest in the Alps, but at over a vertical mile above our valley floor, it presents quite a challenge to the aspring trail runner, and has quite an imposing presence over the end of the valley.

The Grand Ferrand on the approach - still early morning and not much sun.

All year I had been running along the trails at the end of the valley, and up into the foothills of the Grand Ferrand, only to be turned back by too much snow. My run on Friday morning was meant to be just another 10km jaunt, but to my surpise I found the snow had melted enough to allow me to get up above the treeline and onto the mountain proper.

Strictly no sheep or shepherd bothering

A waterfall up the Grand Ferrand

Rather than run up to Lac du Lauzon, I decided that I would traverse across the face of the mountain and head towards Col de la Croix, which passes the local sheep pastures, and then descend down into the forest and create a loop.

Since this was early spring, and very few hikers had made this route yet, after taking the branch I immediately lost the path and ended up scrambling up through rough undergrowth until I came out over a ridge and onto the steep, grassy pastures of the Ferrand.

Up above the treeline on the Grand Ferrand
I realised I was too high for the trail that cuts across, so decided to head across the slope and descend until I found it. The slope was a good 50º and quite slick with the morning due so going was tricky. I was busy watching down the mountain and at my feet, until I caught a glimpse of movement and looked up the slope to see a Chamois running towards me. It suddenly saw me, and startled, ran away for another 100m before looking back at me. I managed to snap a picture with my phone but it does no justice to these amazing animals - I was struggling on the terrain and it was running around as if it were on the flat.

One of the Chamois that live up high on the Grand Ferrand

After descending down another couple of hundred metres I found the trail, which was pure trail running Nirvana, high above the treeline, with a fantastic view back down the valley into La Jarjatte.

Finally found the trail that traverses the lower part of the mountain, with fantastic views back down the valley.

Into the sheep pastures, which in a month or so will be full of flocks, guarded from wolves by Patou dogs.

Wild flowers growing along the trail

The pastures that will be full of grazing sheep in a couple of months

The descent back into the valley