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Sunday, January 13 2013

Registered for the Grand Raid des Pyrénées

I have just registered for the Grand Raid des Pyrénées, on the "Ultra" (160km +10,000m). I have mentioned this race earlier here, but did not register. It's some kind of UTMB of the Pyrénées, but potentially more brutal with all ascent concentrated in only 5 main climbs, and some paths that might not be runnable. On the plus side, it starts at 5am, allowing to run it with a single night out (touch wood), and an easier time limit (50 hours).

The registration for the "Grand" (80km) was completed in just a few hours, and for the 160km, it looks like it will be done and dusted very soon too. Not much international participation, though...

That also means that I will probably not attempt the Thames Source Quest this year. I will just give it a rest before another fresh attempt.

Ultra new horizons

Tuesday, July 17 2012

TSQ 2012: it is on (sort of)

OK, so I'll give the Thames Source Quest a third attempt starting on Saturday (exact time still TBC), with a hope to reach the source by Monday evening (which would make it 64 hours). I'm looking at a reasonable 56 hours schedule (PDF) this time, as opposed to 50 last year.

Conditions are not ideal this year, but I'll do with it. First, I thought I would just escape the Olympics. That will be tighter than I thought: the torch will be carried around Greenwich/Charlton/Woolwich the very same morning I plan to start!

Secondly I am currently on a residential training course for 3 days, which is not ideal for resting. But certainly ironic that it takes place not that far from the Thames source... On top of that, I have been drafted at the last minute to help with some work on Super High Vision recording during the Olympics.

And third, it will be tough because of the weather. Hopefully it won't get more flooded than last week-end, but it won't dry up either. And the Thames will still look brown. With a bit of luck though, the weather will finally get better. Who knows?

No major changes on the plan compared to last year, except that I will try to take it a bit easier this year, a bit more relaxed on timing, and we will see.

You should be able to follow me on twitter @ThamesSource. As usual, the map is available online for GoogleEarth or for GoogleMaps.

Ultra third attempt...

Monday, May 28 2012

TSQ: what changes for take 3?

Obviously I would like to maximise my chances this time once more.

Start date

Last year, I stopped partly because I thought I would finish too late on Sunday, and not be able to recover for work before Monday morning. I will arrange to have 4 consecutive non-working days this time. That is 3 days + 2 nights for running (60 hours), and 2 nights + 1 day of recovery after the run. Since I'm now pretty sure I will take more than 48 hours to complete (if I do complete!), there is no point in starting too early, aside from avoiding the crowds/traffic in Central London, so I might start at 5 or 6am, instead of 4am the previous years. I might miss the early, lonely start though.

It is not as easy as the previous years to find a suitable date given the events in London this summer.

I was hoping for June again to maximise the amount of daylight. The first week-end of June looks good on paper (and in the sky), with the additional Spring and Diamond Jubilee Bank Holidays on Monday and Tuesday, making it a 4-day week-end. But that's also a potential issue, since "one of the largest flotilla ever assembled on the river" will go down the Thames in London on Sunday. Whilst I hope to be far from London by then, it might cause disruption, as platforms and large screens will be installed on the river banks beforehand.

Furthermore, this is the Hardmoors 110 week-end.

Later in July, the Olympic Games will be organised in London. In particular, a cable car is being build not far from the Barrier, and the rowing lake next to Windsor will be used. These might lead to path diversions as well, if not already the case.

Therefore, I'm now looking at the end of June / begining of July like the previous years. This will be adjusted based on how my training is going, since I've been feeling rather unfit for a while now.

Moon and tide

A tricky one, since I want a full moon to help at night, but a low tide coefficient to avoid floods in the Chiswick and Richmond areas... These two are obviously incompatible, but with the right timing, I can go through the flooding areas during low tide. The potential full moons week-ends are on 2-3 June, and 1-2 July.


The recurrent tricky question... Unsupported again, or self-supported? As mentioned earlier, as self-supported I could allow myself to get water and food from nearby sources (but not from a dedicated crew). That would mean carrying a lighter bag, and crucially allow for better physical and mental recovery if I can indulge a warm fish&chips on the go :)

Fully supported is not an option so far, but that might still change.


The direction suggested in the walking guide book is from Source to Barrier (downstream). The only technical advantage (aside from the minor gradient) is the dominant winds, which are sweeping from West to East.

Mentally, it might also be easier to be finishing towards London. Last year, had I run the same distance the other way round, I would have stopped near Windsor. This might have felt "nearly" in London, and I knew all the way from there. When I ended up in Oxford, the thought of an extra 90km in the middle of endless meadows was tough. I chose nevertheless this direction (and this name for the challenge) because I saw it as an escape from London, and I didn't feel like finishing in dodgy East London in the middle of the night in a near-fainting state.


I might follow a forced run-walk pattern from the start as I did in 2010 (but not in 2011) to save my legs for later. Should I choose to do so, I will probably follow this strategy during some long training runs too.

Other changes

The nights are chilly due to the humidity, wind, tiredness, and lack of food, so a light jacket is necessary. Caffeine in the form of supplements should help for the night. I will also need to sort out some blister and chaffing issues.

Ultra small changes

Thursday, January 12 2012

Not registered for the Grand Raid des Pyrénées

I have been thinking for the last couple of months to attempt the Grand Raid des Pyrénées (GRP). The registration opened today, the 12th January 2012 at 12:12.

This race series is not without similarities with the UTMB, being run at the end of August in high mountain ranges and featuring 3 races. The original race: Ultra (160km +10000m), comparable to the UTMB (166km +9500m), a shorter one: Grand Trail (80km +5000m), against the UTMB's CCC (98km +5600m), and a longer team race with little support and tougher entry conditions: Raid (240km +15000m) vs UTMB's PTL (300km +25000m). The GRP isn't run around a major landmark as the UTMB's Mont Blanc, but goes up the Pic du Midi instead! The wild landscape is stunning.

Looking at the GRP elevation profile is scary, as it features only 5 majors ascents, against 9 for the UTMB. The ascents (and worse, the descents) are therefore very long on the GRP, with 1000m looking like a short ascent, and some featuring about 2000m in one push. The descent from the Pic du Midi is 2400m end-to-end, plus a few extra bumps to make it 2600m cumulated...

On the plus side, the GRP starts a 05:00 as opposed to 18:30 for the UTMB, which I think is a major advantage. Indeed, this means that you run through only one night if you finish in less than 40 hours, which is reasonable, whereas only the elite (sub 26:30) can enjoy this privilege on the UTMB. And given my dislike for running by night, this is a significant bonus point.

In 2012 the UTMB will be run on the first week-end of September rather than the last of August. As far as I know, this is then the first time the UTMB and GRP are not organised on the same week-end, which will obviously give ideas to some :)

I had been contemplating the idea of running the Ultra, as a "secondary" objective, taking my time. But a Little Bird reminded me that one long ultra per year is probably enough for my slow recovery. I keep it my mind for 2013, if we don't need qualifying points by then :) . UTMB will require 7 points next year!

Ultra reasonable

Sunday, December 18 2011

2011 review & 2012 plans

So, how was 2011 running-wise?

In a nutshell, I've carried on with the trend of not training much, or at least not as much as I would like to. Indeed, the Hardmoors 60 (85km in 6 training sessions during the previous month) and the Athens Marathon (44km in 5 sessions during the previous month) consolidate the idea that I can run significant distances following a truly minimal training. It's obviously not ideal, but it gets me (slowly and somehow painfully) to the end of the race.

It is relatively clear that I have trained much less in terms of number of sessions, reaching an all-time low of 55 sessions so far. This is barely once a week! However, I have put forward qualitative work, leading to a higher average distance of about 22km per session.

I have the feeling I might have gone a bit too far in this direction, and for next year, I will try to put back more easy runs in between the quality training sessions to increase a bit my mileage.

And now for the big challenge... I guess I have trained relatively well for the TSQ, but in the end both the mental and physical sides let me down at the same time. I knew it would be an extremely tough mental challenge, but did not manage to gather enough psychological energy beforehand. In particular, I didn't react well to the very slow pace I was reduced to after the night, and was afraid to finish too late on Sunday. And I was cold and very sleepy at night.

So, what's on for next year? The TSQ again! Third time lucky hopefully... Aside the minor fixes for the issues mention here above, I am still considering lowering a bit the challenge by dropping a few constraints. Maybe "self-supported" as opposed to "unsupported", ie. I would be allowed to get water and food from nearby sources (but not from a dedicated crew). That would alleviate the heavy bag issue (but was that an issue?), and more importantly allow for better physical and mental recovery if I can get hot food on the go. To be continued...

I'm also getting interested in the Grand Raid des Pyrénées (GRP). I know about the "one main event per year" rule, but that could be a secondary goal, a kind of super hike, given the generous time limit (50 hours). Something I would not be allowed to think of before the TSQ is completed, if that's possible. Registrations open on the 12th Jan 2012 at 12:12...

Ultra plans

Thursday, June 16 2011

TSQ take two: D-15

As you might have guessed, I have decided to give the Thames Source Quest (TSQ) a second attempt. I will try to run the whole length of the Thames Path (184 miles / 294 km) non-stop, solo, and unsupported. I will start from the Thames Barrier in East London on the 1st July and hope to reach the source in the Cotswolds on the 3rd July. Non-stop means that I am not planning to sleep on the way, although this might happen accidentally :) . Unsupported means that I will not pick up any food or drinks from human sources on the way. In practice, I will carry all the food required for the entire event from the start, and will drink purified water collected from the Thames river itself.

I hope to be better prepared than last year, both physically and mentally. As planned, a few changes have applied, including:
  • This is my only major event this year.
  • I will take it a bit easier on the target time. If I need 60 hours, so be it!
  • MSR Sweetwater purifier (pump-based microfilter + chlorine) and two Camelbak Tritan 750mL in a hope to increase my water consumption, but heavier in the bag.
  • Less food (3 kg for 11,000 KCal), as I don't think I can eat more than 5,000 KCal/day whilst running anyway.
I will however not start much earlier in the year than for the previous attempt, but this was necessary to ensure a decent training.

This year, I have decided to raise money for WaterAid. It seems a fairly obvious choice. Whilst I will be fortunate enough to carry a purification system that will (hopefully) provide me with safe water from the Thames, "one in eight of the world's population does not have access to [clean water]. This, and lack of safe sanitation, result in over two million people dying from water-related diseases every year." Please consider donating at this page. Donators might want to place a guess on the time I will take to complete, and the distance covered if I don't finish. Small prize for the closest guess. Thank you!

The planned scheduled is based on a 50 hours finish time, as opposed to 48 hours last year.

Ultra ready for take two.

Thursday, May 5 2011

Registered for the Athens Marathon

I have just registered for the Athens Classic Marathon, to be held in November. Starting from the city of Marathonas and finishing in Athens, it is thought to follow roughly the original route run by Pheidippides to announce victory over Persia.

Not the easiest marathon course, as it is gently uphill between kilometers 10 and 30 (ie. half the race), with a few short and steep climbs to season the race. But definitely the most highly symbolic and historical modern marathon.

Reading a bit about the history, I discovered that the name "Marathon" apparently means "fennel" in Ancient Greek. It wouldn't be too surprising if I hadn't learnt a few months back that the town of Selinute in Sicily, which was a Greek colony, takes its name from "selinion", meaning "fennel". Any Ancient Greek specialist reading this?

Any one else up for it?

Ultra original marathon plan

Tuesday, December 21 2010

2011 plans

As previously mentioned, 2010 has been a relatively sucessful year, with 7 completed races, including 4 marathons, a very well-managed PTL (thank you Leo for pulling me up) and a new marathon PB. Obviously, my miserably failed attempt on Thames Source Quest (TSQ) casts a bit of shadow...

My plans for 2011 include the Hardmoors 55 to start off the season and maybe Hardmoors 60 to finish it. One or two marathons and other random races will feature opportunistically. I might try the Marathon du Vignoble d'Alsace, incorporating a "Spätzle Party" and a decent 12-course gastronomic menu during the race, each of them accompanied by wine. My favourite being at the Munster cheese and Gewurztraminer at 31km. No marathon wall after that. Or maybe not the same wall...

The TSQ will hopefully be attempted again, but I will change a few things to increase my chances:
  • This will be the only one major (i.e. multi-day) challenge for the whole year. This should allow me to focus more before the event, and not have second thoughts during.
  • Better physical preparation, including a proper training schedule and a 2 weeks rest.
  • Better psychological preparation, with more visualisation of the route. I might even record a GoogleEarth-based fly-through video, with milestones and potentially day/night effects.
  • Better hydration method: I didn't drink enough, probably because I had to suck hard on the purifying bottle. I might consider a pump-based system to fill-in a regular bottle. This will waste a bit of time, but might be profitable on the long run.
  • Carry less food as already discussed, in order to shave off one kilo.
  • Attempt a bit earlier in the year, probably at end of May, to avoid potential heat. This will also mean less daylight.
I am also thinking about another open project, the Paddy Buckley Round. But it will come second to the TSQ, maybe in late August.

I wish you all a great festive season and hope to meet you again on the trails in 2011!

Ultra plans

Tuesday, April 27 2010

Plans update

Following the Vienna Marathon trip cancellation (still no news from their "concrete and friendly offer"), we've opted for the Copenhagen Marathon at the end of May. Furthermore, I'm going to attempt my third Three Forts Marathon this week-end with Leo.

(Not so) ultra short term plans

Monday, January 11 2010

2010 plans - update

I'm now registered to the following events: Plus these two offs:
  • Thames Source Quest (TSQ) (May) - 296km along the Thames from the Thames Barrier to its source. A long-thought personal project.
  • Paddy Buckley Round (PBR) (July) - 104km +8,700m on harsh terrain in North Wales.
Ultra start of the year!

Friday, December 4 2009

2010 plans

This is that time of the year again, for the 4th time on this blog!

The year was good academically speaking, with a best paper award and obviously my thesis completed!

However, 2009 hasn't been too great running-wise. I hadn't much time to train properly because of my thesis, and my left Achilles tendon has been achy when cold for most of the year. Then came the aborted Paddy Buckley Round attempt and a DNF on the PTL. Luckily, I managed to pull PB on the Nice-Cannes marathon thanks to a conservative race management, which ended up the year on a positive note.

My four main objectives for the year are then:
  • Hardmoors 55 (March) - 55 miles in the North Yorkshire Moors: the first half of the Hardmoors 110. First edition.
  • Thames Source Quest (TSQ) (May) - 296km along the Thames from the Thames Barrier to its source. A long-thought personal project.
  • Paddy Buckley Round (PBR) (July) - 104km +8,700m on harsh terrain in North Wales.
  • Petite Trotte à Léon (PTL) (August) - circa 240km +20,000m around the Mont-Blanc. It will be open to teams of two runners this time.
And obviously I'll enter other shorter events, such as a marathon in April to get under 3h20 :) . My training plan outline might look like that:
  • Nov, Dec: no running (circuit training, swimming, climbing), my Achilles tendon might hopefully recover...
  • Jan, Feb, March: progressive hill training for the Hardmoors 55.
  • April, May: building up to the distance for the TSQ.
  • June, July, August: hardcore mountain training for the PBR and PTL.
I've been briefly tempted by the Runfurther series, a sort of unofficial UK trail championship. The race list includes the Hardmoors 55 and the Lakeland 100. But that involves a lot of travelling unless you live in Yorkshire, in which case you've got half of the races at your doorstep :) .

Otherwise, I'm still working on a real-time runner tracking software, that I hope to test on the Hardmoors 55. More on that later.

Ultra loaded year.

Monday, May 11 2009

Registered for the Marathon des Alpes-Maritimes

It's all in the title, I'm registered for the Marathon des Alpes-Maritimes, running along the seaside from Nice to Cannes via Antibes. I've got a revenge to take on the Promenade des Anglais after the painful experience at the Nice Ironman last year. My sunburn marks are still visible... And I've also got to motivate Bastien!

Anyone keen?

Ultra ready for the revenge

Monday, November 24 2008

Ideas for 2009

The Dublin Marathon just closed my running season and I'm obviously already thinking about next year. No confidence ratings this time. Just a bunch of random ideas that might or might not happen.

I'm only going to run one major event next year. Probably one of those:
  • La Petite Trotte à Léon (PTL) - 220km +17,000m ascent in high-mountain terrain around the Month-Blanc in under 100h (teams of 3 runners) - this is my favourite choice if I manage to build up a team in a month
  • Lakeland 100 - 100 miles (161km) +6,300m ascent in Lake District
  • the full Thames Path - 295km from sea to source (most likely solo and without assistance, or mabye in 3 days of 100km each)
  • Grand Union Canal Race - 233km from Birmingham to London along the canals
I wish I could run the West Highland Way race but it's full already, the limit being only 175 runners.

Other potential and somehow shorter events: And because my thesis should be finished by next summer (touch wood), I'd like to do something a bit longer but not necessarily running. I'd like to see the Alps, loads of them, and the sun. I have the impression I haven't got any real summer for a while.
  • Cycling between Istanbul and Athens marathons: about 1400km via Sofia (70km/day) or 1100km following the coast (55km/day - runnable?)
  • Cycling around Iceland
  • Via Alpina (red) - hiking 3 months in the Alps from East to West across 8 countries
I've not run since the Dublin Marathon, and I'll try to stick to it till the new year (although I'm already tempted to do the ritual December run to Guildford). And why not a new year ultra: one marathon from 8pm to midnight, a quick flute of Champagne and toasts, and another marathon from midnight on. That would be the last marathon of the year, the first marathon of the year, and an ultramarathon over two years overall :)

More generally, I'd like to enter more short races for the fun. I know I said that last year already...

Beside that, I'll try to marshal at Hardmoors 110. Since I came down from the race's high I've been thinking about that: I'd like to give something back to the race. It would be cool to be posted at Bloworth Crossing or Roseberry Topping...

Ultra ideas.

Wednesday, January 16 2008

2008 plans (2)

That's it. My running plans are fairly set for the year 2008, as I've registered for the following events:
  • Tough Guy (27th January) intense and muddy winter assault course (see also this entry)
  • Nice Ironman (22nd June) 3.8km swimming, 180km cycling, 42.2km running around Nice (see also these entries)
  • Hardmoors 110 (26th to 28th September) 110 miles cross-country run in the North Yorkshire Moors (see also this entry)
  • Dublin Marathon (27th October) a nice way of finishing the year, with a hope to get closer to 3h.
It's not too far from what was planned about 4 months ago. I hope everything will go well, and I wish my PhD was as well planned ...

Ultra plans.

Tuesday, September 11 2007

2008 plans

I think it's now time to decide what will be the main sporting events of my year 2008. I've got some fairly well defined plans but I also feel undecisive about others. I'll give a confidence index to all these ideas, and we'll see by the end of 2008 whether I was correct or not...

As previously argued I won't run the UTMB again in 2008 - confidence: 99%.

The main ideas so far are the following:
  • the CCC (100km in 2008?) or the potentially new race starting from Champex - confidence: 5%.
  • a marathon on 1st January, starting at midnight. How cool would that be to start the year by a night marathon ? I see it quite friendly and not too fast. This idea has already been implemented, for example by the Neujahrmarathon. Champagne available at aid stations :) - confidence: 10%.
  • a long ultra in Spring:
    • the Grand Union Canal Race - 233km from Birmingham to London - confidence: 10%.
    • OR the Pennine 100 miles, a trail involving night navigation - confidence: 20%.
    • OR the full Thames Path OFF (most likely solo and without assistance) - 295km from Sea to Source - confidence: 30%.
  • the Dublin Marathon in October to close the season (I could nearly do it this Automn actually ...) - confidence: 40%.
  • the Nice Ironman (June) OR the UK Ironman (August) - 3.8km swim, 180km bike, 42.195km run - confidence: 70%.
  • I'm registered for Tough Guy (c) at the end of January (if they eventually send me my "passport" back) - confidence: 99%.
The long ultra and the Ironman being obviously the most important, I may decide not to do both. In this case I'd replace the unselected event by a (relatively short) 50 to 100km trail.

More generally, I'd like to enter more (small) races for the fun.

Ultra plans.

Thursday, February 15 2007

2007 training plan

We're in mid-February, the relative rest period is over and it's time to devise a more detailed training plan for the next 6 months.

Overlall, great care will be taken to follow my feelings in order to avoid over-training, injuries and to keep the pleasure going. I know that this UTMB will be much more a matter of staying injury-free than a brute force issue. A well-trained mind can always compensate a lack of strength, forget gentle pain, but can't fix a serious injury.

As mentioned earlier, there will be three main phases in this training plan: speed, endurance and hill training. However, these phases won't be disjoint and will overlap in a continuous manner. The aim is to combine a fair base speed with a good endurance factor.
  • Speed training - Feb, March, April
    Last year, as I couldn't train as much as I wished, I focused mostly on long runs, which decreased my base speed. This may also have affected the strength of my muscles and led to the tendinitis.
    I've now gently started speed training again and I'm already a bit faster than I used to be a year ago (10km in 43min lately). More work is necessary. Since the New Year, I've mostly ran distances between 10 and 13km. Sometimes gentle, sometimes fast, and sometimes with intervals. As for the latter, after 5km warming up, I push a 20 to 30 seconds sprint 5 times during the following 5km. When I feel good, I need to emphasize more on that sort of runs to increase my base speed.
    With this training, good feelings are back on short distance, so is the appetite (*), and unfortunately so is the kind of irritability while not running for 2 days in a row...
  • Endurance training - April, May, June, July
    My endurance factor has never been very good and I have to work on it. It's OK up to a half-marathon distance, but it decreases quickly beyond that distance. I can run the marathon (42km) at 12km/h, but London-Guildford (60km) at 10km/h and London-Brighton (90km) at 9km/h.
    One of the long distance will be run on the 3 Forts Marathon which is a 27 miles race (43.5km) in the hills with 1050m of ascent. This kind of race is sometimes referred to as a "marathon+". This race will also kick off my hill training.
  • Hill training - May, June, July
    As I mentionned earlier, I'll need at least 3 serious sessions in the hills, in Wales or in Lake District and maybe an overnight run (just for the fun). They could be between 40 and 60km. A long distance hike in serious mountains at the beginning of the summer would complete the training.
Ultra careful not to get injured.

(*) I'm eating lots of Nutella(c) sandwitches during the day, I didn't dare to take my first UK-bought Munster cheese ... too smelly.

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