The usual winter lurgy has descended on the Rolfe household with a vengeance. Last Sunday, two kids were on antibiotics and Mrs R and I were feeling a bit under the weather, but battling on. I had entered the Nice to Monaco Course Du Soleil as it was organised by some of the guys that organise the Cro (Cap D'Ail Macadam), and have in the past given them some help with their website, translation and so on. It also fitted in perfectly with my training - the plan was to run it and then cycle back from Monaco to the start, chucking the bike in the truck and driving home, negating waiting for a bus at any stage. On the basis that to miss a workout would be more painful than actually doing it, I went to the race. It would also be my first race of the year, as I had missed a couple more I had entered due to other things cropping up, and would be missing a couple more subsequently due to plans changing.
The usual pre race brekkie of porridge and tea was accompanied with a headache, and as a result of that and rushing out the door, I managed to forget everything including hat, gloves, ipod, and extra layers. To be honest I was not exactly banking on the temperature being just above freezing, either.
Having sheltered from the cold with the engine running and heater turned up full blast in the truck, I made my way to the start just before the start of the race, and where the sun was peeking it's head above Mont Boron it was warming the air at a rate of knots. Above the din of the other runners chatting excitedly like a flock of starlings, I could just make out the stirring music that is played at the start of the UTMB. Moved and excited, I forgot the headache and tried to remember to start my Garmin when I crossed the start line.
Whilst I was dodging the other runners (who goes to the front and then walks the first km of a half marathon?), I kept an eye on my heart rate, which was a lot higher than I would have expected at that point in the race. Reigning everything in, I brought it back to a level I thought I could maintain for the rest of the race, and promised myself I would keep it there or thereabouts.
The first climb up Mont Boron was as expected - lots of runners overtaking me but puffing and panting as they did so. Then the long 2km flat straight into the sun before bearing left down into Villefranche. I had to remind myself to push down the hill, but was getting into my stride as we left the main road into the narrow streets of Villefranche itself. The only clear bit of street was the gutter as I thundered past loads of people on the steep downhill. The only person to overtake me was a skinny guy in a blue t shirt with an "ultra beard", in ginger. The road flattened out as we skirted the port and beach at sea level, and I grabbed a half cup of water at the first ravitellement.
The beach of Villefranche gave way to a narrow staircase up to Cap Ferrat, which was expected and a nice breather for a few seconds as we queued for our turns to climb the short flight of stairs. At the top I tried to use the undulations of Cap Ferrat to my advantage, slowing uphill and speeding downhill.
We left Cap Ferrat for Beaulieu, and as I joined the main road a car shot past us, clearly annoyed at the hold up, and drove right through the peloton of runners to try and park. Fortunately noone was hurt but he was surrounded by irate runners. As I caught this up someone undertook me and then stopped in my path, causing me to run into him at full speed and we both struggled to stay upright. It took a few seconds to register who it was amongst all his swearing and gesticulating, but I recognised Ginger Ultra Beard. For some imagined slight he had pace checked me and bitten off more than he could chew. I ignored him as best I could and continued running, trying to put as much distance between us as possible.
From then on I used the old Mad Dog trick - fishing. Casting an imaginary fly into the back of someone's shirt and then rolling the imaginary reel back until I overtook that particular runner, before repeating the process. This is a great mental game as it keeps me focussed on pace without actually focussing on pace.
I lost a lot of places heading up the hill to Cap D'Ail but was able to make them back and more as I headed down the hill into Monaco. I was a little surprised and annoyed to see Ginger Ultra Beard overtake me on the downhill. We were neck and neck on the flat before heading into the Fontvielle tunnel before he took the lead by a few metres. I let him have his head as we reached the Stade - traditionally the finish of the half marathon, but there was some football match on so the course had been extended by an extra half km or so.
We crossed the border from Monaco back into France, and although I couldn't see the finish I thought it would be where they put the finish for the Tour Pedestre, so I put the hammer down as much as I could, overtaking Ginger about 100m before the line and holding him off to the finish.
I had covered the almost 22km in 1hr 44, 386/1376. My best time for the proper half was 1hr 33, so a long way from that, but I don't feel I left anything out there, I just need to work on some speed work. I grabbed a Coke and jog/walked back to the apartment before changing into my cycling stuff, emptying the dishwasher and putting on a load of washing, before mounting the trusty Bianchi and cycling back to Nice.
It had been quite a windy run which was to be expected, but it was also windy on the bike. I couldn't believe I had gone both ways into a headwind. That didn't make any sense at all. As I headed back up the hill in Cap D'Ail, I overtook a few cyclists, but was overtaken by a club ride of 3, working together as a team, taking it in turns on the front. One guy was clearly much better than the other 2, with a bike in the same colours as his kit - a KTM believe it or not, in black and orange. The guys were from St Laurent du Var, and looking strong.
Just before the tunnel at the top of the hill, the team leader was waiting for their third member, the weakest link, who they had dropped off the back. I caught them as he rejoined and we headed down the hill as a four. I was struggling to keep up until the flat at Eze when I managed to overtake them all and headed on my own.
The two top guys overtook me again on the way up the hill to Villefranche, but when I got to the bottom of the hill KTM guy was waiting and asked me if I'd seen their third wheel. He was looking a little exasperated, but unfortunately I could not help as I had not seen him at all. I carried on to Nice, up the final hill, flat, downhill and hobbled off the bike for a 48 minute 21km bike ride. Not unhappy with that performance, I had a protein bar and headed home for a
Reading this article from the BBC on pension age ultra athletes I was reminded of something someone said to me in passing on Monday - the day after my second marathon in a week "It will shorten your life". Unfortunately I did not have the presence of mind to retort that I was doing pretty well at 42 for someone who was told he wouldn't see 40 (aged 31 in a routine medical) unless he changed his life; tied up as I was with the extremely high stress breakfast / dog walking / school run routine on a Monday morning. I remember being told after my first marathon that I should not do more than one in a year. This by someone that had never even attempted a marathon, and was not long after given an ultimatum by his GP that I had been given a couple of years previously.
A lot of publicity is always given to the negative aspects of running and endurance sports - the one person in 50000 that keels over during the Great North Run or London Marathon every 5 years or so; or the perceived damage to one's joints. This is despite the evidence that running, when properly trained for and distances appropriately built up to, actually strengthens joints and extends the life of the cartilage in the knees (compare the cartilage of an amateur runner to that of an obese computer games addict and I suspect you can see the difference) according to some reports I have read of late.
The BBC article is an interesting and (finally) a well balanced essay on the perceived dangers of endurance sports. It quotes a scientist at Liverpool John Moores University.
""Although you can’t account for exceptions, George thinks that people who train appropriately should be safe. “You can’t normally run yourself into a heart attack if you don’t have a pre-existing disease,” he says. Nor do the regulars seem to show a significant build-up of long-term damage – like scar tissue in the heart’s muscles or excessive wear and tear to their joints – that some had expected.""
I'll be pointing out this article to everyone and anyone in future to refute certain well held preconceptions about endurance sports, and I shall continue to endeavour to push back the perceived boundaries and society imposed limitations.
Rant over - onl
A popular t shirt slogan is "A bad day on the ... is better than a good day in the office" (insert preferred hobby accordingly - fishing, skiing, cycling, etc). And it is true. Sunday for me was pretty humbling to be honest, for a variety of different reasons.
The whole family were blown away when I registered for the run - I have registered for a lot of runs now, but the NYC Marathon was by far and away the most efficient and impressive expo I have ever seen. The t shirt was awesome, and then some retail therapy - mainly for me (unlike the rest of the trip when the girls gave the Amex a decent hammering) which saw me get some runners, gloves and socks with NYC Marathon branding, and a jacket for Mrs R. A new custom pair of Oakleys also found their way into my bag complete with engraved "Pussy Footing" on the lens! Awesome. The amount of volunteers was staggering - I am always amazed that so many people are prepared to give up their time so selflessly so that I can go out and pursue my hobby.
I was blessed with an extra hour's sleep due to the clocks going back, on race day, although the alarm was still painful at 4.30am. Having eaten and drunk my tea, I jog/walked the 12 blocks or so to the bus stop. I have never seen so many buses in one place. There must have been over 200 up every street for 10 blocks and lining both sides of 5th Avenue. It was quite a sight - this army of buses ready to take a steady stream of wrapped up runners out to the start. I started chatting to a guy as I walked - Kevin the Geordie; it was his first marathon and was running it solo for a kids hospice charity. The organisers had warned us it would be cold and windy, and I had prepared with 3 jumpers, a beanie, some gloves and a plastic bag to sit on. Due to security we really weren't allowed to take much in with us. The bus to Staten Island went smoothly and quickly. As we got off the bus the cold wind (I later found out up to 45 mph) went right through us, and I swiftly put on my 3rd and final top but within seconds was shivering uncontrollably. We queued for the airport like security checks, with "counter terrorism" Police everywhere. Dunkin Donuts, a race sponsor, gave me another beanie which I put on and actually kept on through the whole race!
I grabbed a Dunkin Donuts coffee and bagel, and then just chilled out - literally. The start was an example of logistics management. We had different colour bibs on - either green, blue or orange. There was a "village" allocated to each colour. Each colour village would have 4 waves of runners according to time, and corrals A through to F. I had been allocated to the Green village, Wave 1, Corral F, but Kevin was in the Blue Village so I went with him for the company and hung out for a bit chatting away to him and some other runners. NYC Marathon veterans were seated on cardboard or even better in sleeping bags or trash bags - something I wish I had brought to keep out the cold. I alternately walked, ate a bagel, took a coffee to warm up and did some star jumps. I was covered in goose bumps and shivering the whole time. After a bit I went to the green village, and tried to keep warm which was impossible as it was even more exposed to the wind, being right under the bridge. I ran about and did star jumps but was still shivering uncontrollably, so I queued up for some hot water to warm me up, and kept sitting in the portaloo to keep the wind out. It was horrendous.
I was with the 1st wave of runners but because of the wind we were a bit late setting off. I later found out the delay was to allow the wheel chair runners to start on the opposite side of the bridge as it was deemed too dangerous for them on the exposed bridge. It was nice to be in a group of other tightly herded runners though, as we were able to use body heat to keep warm! Time passed quickly as we prayed the multiple helicopters flying overhead would not crash into each other as they bobbed and weaved in the high blustery winds. After a bit we moved up to the start just before the Verrazzano bridge. A few seagulls flew backwards overhead and then we were off to multiple shotgun blasts. I was peeling off layers as I queued to cross the start line, but kept my beanie, gloves and a sweatshirt on as my feet were still numb! Some of the volunteers were shivering as I started my run, and it struck me that even though they had dressed appropriately they were the unsung heroes of the event.
We crossed the start line a few minutes after the delayed gun, and started to head up over the bridge. It was so windy my left foot (upwind) kept hitting my right, and I was actually a little scared, dizzy and disorientated by it all. I tried to focus on the race, not tripping over anyone else and my own feet, and not to get blown off the bridge. Not to mention the discarded clothing. After 10 minutes or so I discarded my sweatshirt and was down to race gear of t shirt, shorts, beanie and handwarmers still in my gloves (they did not go until about 30 mins into the race)!
I was so relieved to be over the bridge although I had enjoyed the view of Manhattan and the skyline from a great vantage point. From the minute we hit Brooklyn the atmosphere was amazing. People lined both sides of the street 5 deep. Bands were competing against each other every 50 or 100 metres. The noise was so loudyou couldn't have even heard an iPod if you had one on! I started high fiving people and didn't stop for the whole race. It took me a lot longer to settle in and slow down than normal - whether it was the weather, excitement, or whatever, but my breathing and heart rate were - I know - too high for quite a while. I was relieved to fall into a rhythm long after I would normally, and concentrated on enjoying the day. There were Gator-Aid stands every 2 or 3km, with water too, and people giving out tissues for my runny nose which was awesome. The hand warmers went, as did the km's. I was wearing a Diabetes UK top and I got a lot of cheers and support for that. A fellow runner came up to me and shook my hand to say thanks for the support - he was Type 1 and had been for 38 years. It was his 14th marathon. I found him a huge inspiration - here was he thanking me and I did not have the condition but he did. He was "fighting lows" all day and soon dropped back, but I remained humbled by his battle. I chatted with another UK ex pat runner for a bit, but he was too quick for me and I let him go.
Half way came and went - generally I was pleased with how things were going, with negative splits for the 1st and 2nd 10km. I sped up a tiny bit as we left Brooklyn for the 3rd 10km and was going ok, still engaging with the crowd, although the wind was starting to annoy me. One thing I had not bargained for were the relentless undulations of the run. I had for some reason assumed it was all pretty flat, but the bridges and just undulating straight roads were a bit of a surprise. However, I went slow up and quick down as per training, and habit ingrained from years on the Mad Dog team (5 years this year I believe!).
At around 31km we went up another bridge - maybe into Queens? and it was then that I started to struggle. I was trying to play the nibbling game, and would often find someone that I could eat into their lead for a little bit, but they would then stop and walk. I was also hoping to see Mrs R and the kids but they had evidently found it too hard to get to the part of the course they had planned to, and I was a little disappointed and let my head go down. I gave myself a stiff talking to, and concentrated on nibbling with limited success. The wind and relentless undulations took their toll as we hit the top end of Central Park, although this was familiar to me having run round it on business trips. I kept my chin up and tried to ignore the zombie apocalypse around me, and when I could I ditched the nibbling game to try and tuck into the wake of someone bigger than me to shelter from the wind! It was just a question of ticking off the km's to the finish!
Eventually of course, I did finish, although my last 12km had been a little slower than the previous which was annoying. My finish time was 4.08, easily my slowest in years. For some reason it had taken everything from me, and as I was taken to one side by a photographer to record my finish with my very nice and hefty medal for posterity, I could summon nothing more than a grimace. I won't be buying that photo!
Very quickly I was freezing, and I got a heat poncho which was given to me on the exit from the Park. I was also given a protein bar and shake which I quickly devoured. I had ticked the speedy exit box so had no drop bag, so there was nothing for it but to hobble the 27 blocks back to the apartment where I grabbed a very quick shower, change and literally headed straight to the airport. We pretty much got straight on the plane for the 8 hour flight back.
I am really pleased to have ticked off NYC from my bucket list, but a little disappointed in my time. The atmosphere was incredible, but I didn't race the best race - a veritable "tough day at the office!". I have been shooting 3hr40's for a few years now, and therefore expected at the very least a sub 4. I have been given an important lesson - humbled in fact, by the distance. Not to mention humbled also by the tens of thousands of inspirational participants, organisers, volunteers, public servants, and especially the crowds. What a day.
This sunday I will be in more familiar territory - the Nice to Cannes marathon. I have no idea how I will get on, given the fact I have a marathon in my legs already, jet lag and a clear lack of form. A finish is a finish, though, and that remains the goal.
I read a book whilst I was in hospital with #2. Hold the front page! I read a book. I don't have a great deal of time to read generally, other than work related stuff, unless on airplanes, so to read was a real luxury. The book was called "Why we run" by Robin Harvey, and was really more of a memoir about his journey to the 2009 Spartathlon (now incidentally on my bucket list). One area of training that Harvie had not subscribed to before his Spartathlon (I won't ruin it for you if you decide to read it) was that some people allow themselves only 6 hours of sleep per night for 6 months ahead of the race, in order to condition themselves to the sheer fatigue of the race itself. I looked at that passage wistfully - 6 hours of unbroken sleep per night....oh what I would give for that right now!
I say that in part because I have had a pretty tough block of training recently, as I approach the Cro Magnon both ways. However, since #2's diagnosis I have generally been up late treating hypos, and especially since the pump was fitted, I have been up at 3am every day in order to try and work out whether she is going to bed with too high or too low BGL, and how we should deal with that accordingly. Sunday morning was a little different to the norm, however, as I slept from 10.40pm until 4.40pm, and then went to check her BGL. It was very high - for some reason she tends to rally in the night unlike the text books, but borders on hypo before bed. I administered a bolus corrective dose, managing to wake her up in the process, and then went downstairs to find my Camelbak had dribbled sticky Isostar dilute all over the floor. I wiped that up under the watchful eyes of Jack, and bleary eyed made myself some tea, coffee and porridge - pre match breakfast.
As I left the house, it started to rain in earnest and the temperature dropped so I grabbed a few more layers as Jack laid on the guilt trip with his sad eyes as I left him behind. Mrs R called me 5 minutes later to say that he had barked, whined and finally gone on a frenzied lap of the house to look for me. Poor Jack and poor Mrs R. I was awakened from my thoughts by the speed camera flashing in my rear view mirror as I went past a couple of km's quicker than the prescribed 70kmh. I was actually quite pleased as I did not think my truck was capable of breaking any speed limits, although I now wait for the ticket to drop through the letter box.
I briefly braved the rain on the sea front at Mandelieu Napoule to pick up my dossard - true to most of the trail races locally there was no goodie bag, not even some complementary safety pins, although the - deserted - expo had grown exponentially since 2013. I spent the rest of the time before the race huddled in my truck with every layer of clothing on, willing for some nice weather.
If it was raining not only would the race be horrendously slippery, but it would also be impossible to enjoy the spectacular scenery, which was the case in 2013.
A friend and his wife had come from the UK to do the race, and I met them in the tent just by the start to give her a spare Survival Blanket which she did not have. We chatted for a bit whilst the briefing was going on (as we couldn't really hear it), had a last minute pee - the start was on the beach, and then at 7am we were off.
The first part of the race was from the beach to the road for about 6-700m, all quite steep uphill, before we peeled off into the woods and single track. The field was a lot bigger than the previous edition, with about 280 registered, and 265 or so starters, so once we hit the single track it was impossible to move at anything more than the pace of the chap in front. There was a short stair case early on and everyone was queuing so I dashed up the side of the stairs and made up the ground to my friend and his Missus. We then ran together for the next 10-12km, chatting about previous races and so on. Geoffroy is practising for the CCC, and his wife was trying out the trail as she races - and gets top 5 rankings - in shorter races, but wondered about the longer ones.
When the path widened, I slowed down and took off my rain jacket attaching it to the back of my Camelback. The rain had all but stopped and it was warming up a little. For the first 8km the race went pretty much uphill with the field spreading out quite substantially. We went from sea level to 360m, chatting all the way. At 8km there was a narrow downhill section which I opened up a little, on. I had strapped my knee beforehand but it had not been bothering me for a while, and as I tested it, everything felt fine. I was able to overtake quite a few on this quite technical section.
The path leveled out a little, and then we had an extended 3 or 4km of downhill / flat cinder trail - this was made for me - I relaxed and thundered down the hill pretty effortlessly, enjoying myself. I opened up a gap between myself and my friends - unintentionally, and even though I stopped to take a photo at 16km or so, as the views were spectacular, I seemed to be on my own.
We descended down to 100m above sea level before we started climbing again - this was the longest section of "up" from 16km to around 21km, and some of it was hands and knees, as well as crossing 2 avalanches - paths indented into the rocks which had "flowed" down the slopes. At the top was beyond what I'd call technical - with deep gullies carved into the rocks marking the top of the climb (465m above Sea Level). It was necessary to use both hands to haul oneself from rock to rock and negotiate the descent the other side too. A technical and steep descent followed, and at some point I started to get a twitch in my knee which resulted in me slowing down on the downhill, unfortunately. I grinned and bore it, though and enjoyed the run taking some more pictures as I went.
After the down, inevitably came the up, and we climbed sharply from 125m back up to 450m again in short order - within 2km or so. It was pretty steep, and I was glad that I had not filled up my Camelback at all during the 2 aid stations as it was less to carry. I slowed down on the climb to take off my underlayer, and just be left with the t shirt, as it was extremely warm work! Hands on thighs like pistons I went up the hill to the top, and then at the top a guy was taking photos with the sea and mountains in the back ground. I unclipped my Camelback to show off my Diabetes UK logo to full effect, and smiled for the camera. As I descended the initial 10-15 feet I could hear the next guy chatting to the photographer, behind me. There was noone in front. There was a couple of hundred metres of flat ahead through a wooded area, and I tried to buckle up the back pack - one of the buckles came loose as I was fiddling and fell off onto the floor. As I was looking for it, I rolled my right ankle and yelled out loud - it was one of those moments where the mind can hear cracking in the ankle and I desperately threw myself to one side to avoid putting my whole weight on it, as I went. The knee wasn't particularly amused with that, I can tell you. The guy behind had seen it and asked if I was ok - I just said I had an issue and was going to walk for a bit. He said to stay moving as to stop would probably be quite dangerous given that I was soaked with sweat and if I stopped I'd get cold. I walked for a bit, but surprisingly, the stabbing pain in the knee subsided, and the ankle did not give me massive amounts of grief. I started to jog and managed to stub my left foot horrendously - nearly losing my balance and cursing out loud again. However, I soon recovered and tucked into a short climb where I was pressing the guy that had overtaken me, and when we hit downhill I thundered past him at Mach 2 - he did a double take worthy of a Tom & Jerry cartoon.
All downhill to the next aide station - at 36km, and on the beach at Theole Sur Mer. This was FUN. I overtook a couple of people on the downhill, and then ran along the sand and path past a load of picnickers and people out riding bikes with their kids, and at the aid station grabbed a Coke and filled my Camelback with a litre or so of water, and then cracked on. We followed a storm drain underneath the road and train track, and then headed left into the woods and another climb - the steepest of the day. I managed to overtake a couple but was overtaken by a couple that I had passed at the aid station. Hands on knees again, and seemingly everyone I passed would ask how much more climbing we would have to do. I have to confess I did not know, but gave a passable opinion!
We had a short descent to a massive statue which was fascinating. This marked an intersection between several footpaths and there were a lot of mountain bikers to watch out for as they were descending at speed on narrow footpaths we were heading up, but I could hear them coming and ducked into the undergrowth a couple of times. The statue marked those that had died fighting in North Africa during the French colonial wars. You can see more about it here http://www.memorialnotredamedafrique.com/
It was truly amazing and the views over the red rocks of the Estoril and the sea were amazing. I really wanted to stop and read the inscriptions - amazing to see how recently France had lost military personnel - and civilians - in Africa in former colonies. Unsurprisingly, the rights and wrongs of France's incursions abroad have raised many a heckle (with allegations of mass tortures and "disappearings"), and there is now a movement to have the statue removed. For the interest of balance, read here http://www.henri-pouillot.fr/spip.php?rubrique84
I managed to resist the temptation to do nothing more than slow down, and then I went up the bike path dodging the aforementioned mountain bikers as I went. I joined with another fellow, and we were astounded as two very professional looking trailers blasted up the hill, past us, at high speed. They were I think 4th and 5th in the Ultra Trail (80km) race. They were clearly part of a professional team wearing identical uniforms, and quite inspiring, as we broke into a jog despite heading uphill. We crested the top of the hill, enjoyed the view for a second, and then I did my thing on the downhill through the woods and then opened onto the cinder trail. I managed to overtake several people on the cinder trail before we crossed a road and then technical single track all the way to sea level. Again, I overtook 3 or four people - some of which I recognised and not happy at being passed - despite there being a sheer drop off to one side with numerous "danger" signs where the path had disappeared down the hill. It was great fun and clearly those that I overtook had nothing left in the tank with which to defend. I reached the road on my own, and then meandered, running, through the suburbs, under the train tracks, and onto the beach path for the last km or so to the finish.
I crossed the line on my own, having been a little confused at the end with the markings - the crowd intervened and sent me the right way! As I crossed the line I saw my friend's wife sitting down. She had dropped at Theole - 35km or so, and jogged home. She had had a fall and hurt her wrist, and was not really enjoying the descents. I grabbed 3 pieces of stale ginger cake and some peanuts, and watched Geoffroy cross the line not long after me. I was 132nd and had taken 6hrs 39 minutes. I emptied my shoes of stones for the 3rd time that day, and my socks were ruined - I had gone through both with my toes - a testament to the technical nature of the descents.
I have to say that a key feature of this race was that I really enjoyed it. It felt adventurous to me, yet I had paced it well enough that I did not finish "crevee" as I have others. Could I have done better in the rankings? With more training, sleep, no job and family commitments, of course. On the day, probably not.
I finished smiling!
Life has recently been getting in the way of my postings. The family had a week's holiday - a road trip - to Luxembourg for a 40th birthday party, via Annecy, and Dijon on the way there, and via Geneva on the way home. All but 2 of the nights away were spent on various sofas, spare beds, air beds and so on, with the kids being troopers and camping in the garden on more than one occasion. However, this meant that we were either socialising or driving, although I did manage to stick to the pre UTMB Mad Dog training scheme, including doing a marathon distance run in Geneva and 18km in Dijon, with various smaller runs in other places. We literally came back for 4 or 5 nights, during which time Mrs R's sister and family arrived for a holiday (staying with us) and we left for the UK spending 3 nights with my folks in Kent, and 2 nights in an apartment in London whilst I did some marketing and the kids enjoyed the delights of Primark and Top Shop, neither of which are available in the South of France. During this time, I managed 52km in Kent, and 25km of hill sprints (sort of) to and fro across Westminster Bridge.
All the travelling means that I have had some very interesting and varied terrain to run across, and have seen some amazing sights including otters in the wild, and perhaps even more outlandish some of the people on the loose in London. It has however been pretty poor from a diet perspective - too much food, too much of the wrong food, way too much to drink and...well, you get the picture. As a result, I have probably made this year's UTMB even harder for myself. But I am still determined to grace the start line at the very least, with the plan to start slow and probably get slower, stamina and determination undiminished! In the meantime, the holiday snaps collection has grown exponentially, as you can see below! And in the last photo of Lake Geneva, you can just make out Mont Blanc in the background. Just over a week to go....
The last few weeks have been about recovering from the WS100, working hard and catching up with friends and family which seems to be the lot of the ex-pat, and part of the reason why I love the lifestyle. Fitting in the training does not always go so well, and the lifestyle (and work related entertaining too) can often be a little hard on the spare tyre - ever present, just varying in size. No matter, the recent training has been mostly about maintenance with a long run at the weekend. Mileage is set to increase dramatically over the next 2-3 weeks though, coinciding with a week's holiday and a business trip to the UK, neither of which can be conducive to training. I am resolved to fit it in somehow.
Today's midweek long run was the longest for a while, with 12km of hill sprints scheduled, and it was a gorgeous dawn, with a slight nip in the clear air. I crested the pharmacy hill (my normal hill sprint route in the country) and was rewarded with an amazing view of Corsica on the horizon. It is rare enough to see in MC which is right on the coast, for it to be remarkable and oft remarked upon, let alone having a stunning view of the mountains from the relatively inland Vence.
The hill sprints continued - about 750-800m each way, and as is my habit I try and say hello or a brief nod to all and sundry that I see. It always gives me a lift in my step to see an attractive member of the female sex, and this morning once again I was "rewarded" with a spectacular vision of beauty walking what looked like a cross between an Alsation and Husky. Her curly brown-blond hair was loose, and cascading over her shoulders; her loose top showed just a hint of tanned and toned midriff; her black bohemian skirt almost dragged along the floor. An absolute vision giving me an extra 2 kmh at least as I sprinted down the hill, giving her a breathless "salut" as I sprinted past.
As I arthritically shuffled my way back up the hill, I felt an incredible cramp in my stomach, not an altogether unfamiliar feeling, although as this was before breakfast and all I had ingested was a sip or two of water, I was slightly bemused. I then felt the overwhelming urge to break wind, and as I was about to crest the hill I gave rise to a satisfyingly loud cheek slapper of a fart. One can only imagine what was going through the mind of the very same attractive dog walker when I rounded the last corner and found her almost crying with laughter - having doubtlessly heard my contribution to that morning's dawn chorus.
Rather than find myself embarrassed, I actually found myself with even more of a spring in my step, enjoying the obvious amusement of my early morning company. Alas, she had reached the end of her dog walk, and I was nearing the end of my hill sprints, and on the next pass she was nowhere to be seen, but it was a memory that made me smile even as I penned these words.
It is going to be important over the next few weeks to keep a sense of humour and to enjoy the little things on my runs, as my weekly mileage increases dramatically to 70, 80, 90, 100km per week in the near future. But then, this is what makes my hobby fun, as well as the "events" themselves.
The Cote D'Azur is not always Azur, and this year the weather was pretty grim until the summer finally began at the end of June - a lot later than usual. Today was another interesting run - having had one of the hottest runs (not helped by the previous evening's festivities and oodles of vodka) on Saturday, today I got up at 6.30am, and was sweating putting my shoes on, it was so hot and humid. As I left the house, I heard thunder. Uh oh. I hoped to be able to finish my run before it hit....but I was not lucky. I got about 3km up to town, and then it started to rain. Not so hard, but raining. At 4km, I was in town, I hit Garmin at 26 mins, and then I headed home, utilising the hill to help pacing, and then the heavens properly opened with simultaneously thunder and lightening. The storm was right above me. I put my faith in my rubber soles, and sprinted the whole way home. I got about 500m from home, and then the wind blew, torrential rain, directly into my face. I was almost like a cartoon character fighting the elements. Like one of those fishing documentaries with the big winds, and people in yellow oil skins. Cars were pulling off the road because they couldn't see to drive. My feet were completely submerged in rivers of water running along the road. I got home in 20 mins for the in lap and immediately set about rescuing the parasol and other assorted garden furniture which was being blown about the place, shut all the windows and mopped the sodden floors, and then did my partials and chairless chair exercises.
Hopefully the storm will have got rid of the burgeoning wasps nest that #3 sat on yesterday - she was unfortunately stung about 20 times by four or 5 defensive wasps after sitting near this chair on the tennis court of a friend. How the person sitting on the chair did not get stung I don't know, although Dog was also attacked by a cloud of wasps, and was tearing round the garden being chased by the aforementioned cloud, before outrunning them! All in all, an eventful couple of days!
On Saturday, Mrs R and I picked up #2 from diving, and registered in the Stade for the Monaco Run - Mrs R for the 23km (Ventimiglia - Monaco), and me for the 10km. I did laugh to find out the race was sponsored by the French railway and they were providing transport from Monaco to Ventimiglia in Italy for the longer run - and they were on strike! They did manage to put on a train for the runners in the end though.
Sunday, Mrs R got up at 7.30am and had some brekkie, and went off for her run. She was very nervous and quiet all day Saturday - Sunday was to be her longest ever run, and pretty hilly taking in Hernia Hill too. She went off about 8am to get her train, and I hung with the kids, spoke to my parents on Skype and drank coffee - no food though.
After the baby sitter arrived, I jogged a bit of the way to the start, and met up with some of the troops sporting Dom's beauty salon's t shirts, and before too long we were off, heading straight into the tunnel that cuts through the Rocher and into Fontvielle, to circumnavigate the Stade.
I was due to pace Dom and Stu for a sub 50 minute 10km, and omens were good - it was chilly but not raining. The course wasn't as flat as I had hoped for, but it wasn't too bad. We had muscled our way to the front of the pack, and then I held back with Dom and Stu behind me slightly. We covered the first 2km at a very comfortable conversational pace - 5min 30 per KM or so - it was difficult to use Garmin too much as we went through a few tunnels, but I used the timer and the marker boards, and we were about 10 mins 50 after 2km. Then I speeded up a touch, and already we started to overtake people - they had obviously gone off way too quick, which made me laugh. We went up the hill behind the port to the Voie Rapide that dissects Monaco, through a few more tunnels, and we were running at a steady clip - about 5mins / km. I felt ok if a little chilly, but Dom and Stu were starting to feel the pace I think.
We hit 5km and I speeded up a little more - to about 4 mins 50 / km, and after 6km Dom was dropping back. He was having a crisis - I thought he might recover, and obviously still had to pace Stu, so I stayed on strategy, using the drop down back to sea level to my advantage, making up some time. Stu and I then continued to tick off the km's, with the field really thinning out and people walking by the side of the road having miscalculated their pacing. I was flying along happily and kept shouting back to Stu who was dropping back but still keeping pace.
We went through the Grand Prix tunnel and I shouted Oggy Oggy Oggy but noone responded! It echoed nicely though. Out the tunnel, and I could see the 9km marker board - I was well on schedule and Stu was still about 50m behind me so I thought I would just open up for the last km. I rounded the last bend round the Rascasse, and flew across the line in 48 mins 40 seconds. Stu was about a minute behind me - well on target to beat 50mins, and unfortunately Dom was another minute behind that.
We wended our way to the recovery area picking up our medals - the race was sponsored by the Brasserie, so beers were on offer, but I just grabbed some water, hopped the fence, and went in search of Mrs R - I had spent about 2 minutes walking or stopped, so not a major break. I cheered all our team mates as I passed them - Rozz, Tim, Mark and then Pietro from the Cro as well.
Exiting Monaco, I found the steep hill to the Baisse Corniche pretty tough, but once on the flat was able to keep a decent pace with no danger of blowing up. About 1km out of Monaco, I saw the first runner on the Riviera Classic powering along - he was about 3.5km from the finish and had covered 20 odd km's in 59 minutes, and was practically sprinting! I cheered him and the motorcycle and car entourage (with timing device on the roof), and carried on - the marshalls were loving telling me I was going the wrong way! After a minute or 2, I saw the 2nd placed runner sprinting, and then nobody for about 5 mins! The pace of those front two was amazing. Number 6 or 7 was someone I knew, a great runner from Monaco, and I cheered everyone that came past me - pro or amateur alike, and the further I got the more grateful and smiling the response! I descended Hernia Hill (A different route down it to normal though) and at the beginning of the tunnel I saw Mrs R and cheered! Turning round, I then accompanied her back - cheering her on, grabbing water and orange slices for her, and generally being annoying!
I was scheduled for 24km so as long as I went out for 7km then I could accompany Mrs R back and I would be on track. I met her after about 8.5km so well on schedule!
Once we'd crested the hill, it started to become very windy and rainy, so I ran ahead of Mrs R at her pace, and sheltered her from the storm, although my hands were flipping freezing as I was carrying the water and it was sploshing over my hands! I know the route very well as it is my daily running route, but it was nice to do it with no traffic, despite the rain! We carried on into Monaco, the weather obviously having put a lot of runners off, as there was virtually no pack, although I was playing the fishing game - getting Mrs R to fixate on another runner, and then gradually reeling them in. It was keeping her moving nicely, although a slightly slower pace than I am used to.
We descended the hill into MC, and then just had to run along the sea front - Mrs R was feeling it, but I was chivvying her along every step, and it was nice for me to run with someone for a change! Through the Grand Prix tunnel, and past the last marker board - 23km, round the port, and the boys and girl that had done the 10km came out the Brasserie to cheer Mrs R along - her stride lengthened and she speeded up. Round the Rascasse corner and a slight incline, and then the final 100m sprint. I was cheering her as I ducked off the track, and Mrs R was racing 2 other women like a 100m sprinter! She crossed the line in 2hrs 28. I had covered an extra 19km in 1hr 51, and was certainly feeling it!
I grabbed some apple juice and a banana, and then home on the bus - I did 4x chairless chair on the bus, with the kids! The baby sitter had delivered the kids to the finish and they had cheered Mrs R too. I had a cold bath, and then we went to the local to meet every one else and their families, and have a nice roast beef lunch and a couple of beers - Mrs R did not take off her medal all day, and I suspect is probably wearing it round the house today as well!
I have started carb depletion as it is now taper week for the Marseille Marathon on Sunday 24th March. I am looking forward to that - only my 3rd race of the year so far!
Post crash progress is moving along - I didn't realise how badly shaken up and stiff I was until I started to get better - there is still quite a bit of shoulder pain, but every day it gets a little better. For the first 5 days post crash I stayed on the static bike and did some spinning, but the Saturday after was time to do a run, and this went reasonably well. Slow, and painful for the last km, but generally ok. Since then, I have stuck to the Mad Dog training plan, and things are progressing again, slowly but surely.
Hence, when in the UK on business for a couple of days this week, I brought my trainers and went out at dawn in the Surrey countryside (I was staying at my sister's), and there had been quite a bit of rain in the previous few days, not to mention snow melt, so a lot of the ground was covered in a liberal coating of H2O, as you can see from the pic. When I had run out of pavement, I cut off into the woods on a footpath and inevitably got lost. However, I did manage to stumble across a bench, a neatly tended area of woodland, and a plaque with a few Poppy crosses under it. I paused Garmin to read the plaque, and it seems that a Hurricane had crashed there in August 1940 during the Battle of Britain, and the pilot had sadly been killed. The site had been excavated a few years prior, and the pilot's remains repatriated to Northern Ireland and his family. He was only 20.
Since the crash, and given the damage to the ligaments / tendons etc in my neck and shoulder, I have been having trouble gripping anything in my right hand. However, a chat to Psycho - professional race car driver that he is - and I was the recipient of some advice as to how the body and mind work. Apparently, whiplash injuries can go on for quite some time but it is in the mind - the body has recovered, but some actions have to be re-learnt. He therefore gave me quite a few little mobility and gripping exercises, and whilst the shoulder is still painful, the hand seems to have regained virtually all its mobility. Today, Dog was the beneficiary of this as I took her for her first post crash run - with me at least. Mrs R has of course been exercising her frequently. We covered a very steady 10.22km, but it was a few minutes quicker than Monday, so we are progressing. Records are not yet being broken, but baby steps.....
Mad Dog Mike always suggests running with a friend who is slightly faster than you for the midweek fast run. Out of the blue last night, Psycho suggested a run this morning in preparation for a 10k race in MC on 16th Dec, which I may or may not do. It was an early start - 5.30am, in order to break the back of my emails, stretch, warm up, and then to head up to Psycho's place for 6am. Dog was thrilled to see Psycho and Springbok, as we hadn't seen them for ages. It was nice to catch up and we set off to Cap Martin at a decent clip.
Pscyho loves hills - more going up than coming down, and he introduced a couple of evil little things into our route, which was nice, before turning round and winding up the pace for the journey home. I was so pleased to reach my house, that I almost got run over crossing the road, and Dog in fact had a little breather on our threshold as we got in. We had covered 11.12km in 58 mins - not such a quick time but was a nice hilly route and it felt quick given my "Christmas" lifestyle I am leading at the moment!
Ben Rolfe, married, father of 3 gorgeous girls, English, living in the South of France, working in Finance
Ramblings of a running nature
I will be posting on an ad hoc basis my thoughts, adventures and challenges on here. I welcome anybody's thoughts and constructive criticisms, but generally I am not interested in contacts requiring me to give over my passport and bank account details in order to transfer €10 million to my account.