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Thursday, September 5 2013

Thames 3 - Julien 0

It's been a while. If you are still reading the rare posts on this blog, it might not be the race report you expected now. The third attempt to run the Thames Path solo, non-stop, and unsupported on the 21st July 2012 is now over a year overdue! Not that I want to forget about it, but I just couldn't find the energy to put it in words. So this post is what I recall from the 40-hour attempt. Tweets as block quotes.

Charlton, Friday evening. A hotel room with wet carpet. I don't want to know what the previous occupiers have been up to. I don't want to touch the floor either. Antigallican means anti-French by the way.

D-3. It's only after booking the Antigallican hotel for the 3rd time that I realise I might not be welcome there...

An early start as usual, ahead of the Olympic torch relay in Greenwich the same day.

Ready to go at high tide!

Starting on Saturday morning means party goers still out there.

Tower Bridge, 6am. Clubber on his way back chasing me. In a nice way. Asking what I was doing. Running 300km! To what he replies he's just been climbing the crane ahead of us. I thought he was high. He probably thought the same of me. Offered Vodka. Refused. Have a good run anyway.

Westminster. feeling a bit quizzy from the start. hoping to get better soon.

A new landmark has emerged along the river.

Central London. Special forces patrolling on the Thames ahead of the Olympics

Richmond, one marathon down. feeling a bit better

First extraction of Thames water under walton. not looking too bad

Not much running since hampton court. feeling sleepy and no energy... can i complete it just walking?

Shepperton at last...

Staines. Been doing timer 2min run - 1min walk from shepperton. worked well

Windsor. not feeling too bad

Eaton rowing lake. Soldiers hidden in bushes. Again ahead of Olympics. Weird.

As usual on boats all barbecues firing at 6pm.

Bourne End, Saturday evening. Could go for a hot meal before dark. That would help, but would also not be unsupported. OK, let's carry on then... In retrospect, wrong decision.

Bourne end. sun getting low and legs tired

Very cold and wet night. The Thames dampens everything. Shoes soon soaked.

Chased by a 4-wheel drive in the middle of the night. Farmer asking me whether I was alone. Second time I am mistaken for a poacher while night-running in less than a year. Eventually let me go. A weirdo, oh yes. A poacher, certainly not.

Quiet approach to Henley with the Regatta done and dusted, so feeling very lonely this year :)

Henley, in a cold and humid night

Just past Henley in the middle of the night. Feeling too cold and tired, so sleeping in survival blanket for 3 hours. Not non-stop any more. Got offered beer by party-goers. Thanks, but I'm running... Not right now obviously, but I am. OK, whatever.

Just had a nap, but was too cold even with survival bag

Passed reading. had a hard time with sleepiness, but better now

Purley: half-way in 27:30...

Trying to...

Sun hitting strong and legs mashed. making very slow progress since goring...

Wallingford. feet and legs quite painful now, and rather late. not sure what to do

Wallingford, midday Sunday. Leo suggesting to drop a piece of his specialty sticky toffee pudding in a bush, so I can find it "naturally" without being supported. Just had it without fuss, knowing I would drop out anyway.

Culham lock, Sunday afternoon, 38:38 after starting, not able to run any more. No point. Finally dropping out... Arg!

Culham, 8:40 behind... Decision time

I won't be able to make it before tomorrow night, so i've decided to leave it here.

Thames 3 - Julien 0

So what's next? You might or might not know I now live in Grenoble, surrounded by the French Alps. I may come back to England just to run it. Not impossible at all, and would force me to focus. Probably fully supported, or at least self-supported.

Ultra long river

Friday, August 30 2013

Why running?

According to the oatmeal.

UItra comic

Tuesday, April 9 2013

Tube challenge

All 270 tube stations in a day. Now, how about without using the tube, ie. running them? I mean, when in London, find running challenges in London... or?

Ultra rail

Monday, April 8 2013

Hardmoors 55 2013 - a run in the snow

The 21st March might be Spring Day, it was definitely still winter on the 23rd! Given the extended winter we're having this year, conditions on the moors were rather tough. And I was exposed to them even before the race. The fourth edition of Hardmoors 55 was run in reverse, from Guisborough to Helmsley. The football/cricket club at Helmsley was kind enough to let us camp there, which meant being 100m from the coach to the starting line, and again 100m away from the finish line. As I had packed my best sleeping bag and bought a better sleeping mat the day before (*), this was actually not a big deal, despite the high winds dropping the temperature inside the tent down to about 0°C. Other runners were not so lucky with their sleeping equipment, and ended up sheltering in the club house in the early morning. On the plus side, camping next to the race finish meant pub diner with fellow runners before the race, including usual suspect Dave Kamis.

Out of 200 registered runners, 130 turned up for the race on Saturday morning. Some prevented by the snow on the roads, others by the call of their warm duvets... The start was given at Guisborough, and although it was a bit cold and windy around Roseberry Topping, the conditions were not too bad until Kidale. A nice 20km warm up, catching up with fellow runners such as Henry Morris. Things changed dramatically as we approached Bloworth Crossing. A strong and cold side wind (probably 40 to 50km/h), combined with ankle-deep snow at least, and up to knee-deep when crossing omnipresent snowdrifts meant it was very difficult to run. But there was no other option. The desolated moorland offers no protection, you have to keep moving.

Things were slightly better on the ridges to Osmotherley, still with a lot of wind, some (avoidable) ice, but less snow. After Osmotherley, again strong winds and snowdrifts made progress difficult. Jon was kind enough to cut off the White Horse loop, saving 5km and a bit of ascent. So as the night set at Sutton Bank, I had only a relatively easy section to Helmsley left to run.

Although the route was slighlty shorter this year, you can see that the weather conditions compensated for that in the following graph showing the number of finishers per time slot. The 2012 curve is a typical Gaussian-like runner distribution, with the finisher's peak between 11 and 12 hours. The 2013 curve follows the same pattern until 11 hours, where it peaks first, before strangely dropping and peaking again in between 13 and 14 hours. This is rather odd. It looks like the typical first third of the pack didn't get affected too much by the conditions (or a least, this was compensated by the slightly shorter course), but the rest of the pack got delayed significantly for some reason. Maybe inappropriate equipment (I met a runner with road running shoes and a very weak head torch integrated in his cap, luckily someone lent him a better option on the way), or just not used to harsh conditions. Any thoughts?

Hardmoors 55 runners distribution

I'm rather happy with my race. Despite (or maybe due to) the conditions, I found the race rather enjoyable, both physically and mentally, without any major issues. Simply the perfect day out I'm looking for, just start running easy, and enjoy it until the end. And I'm still in the ever-shrinking club of runners who have completed all editions of the Hardmoors 55 :)

Ultra snow

(*) That is, the Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XLite. Unbelievably small when packed, especially for someone who hasn't moved away from the old-school closed-cell foam mat!

Thursday, March 21 2013

Tough forecast

Weather forecast for the North Yorkshire Moors this Saturday is sub-zero temperatures, strong wind, and snow... Tough forecast for the first Hardmoors 55 reverse! I know someone who must be thinking hard about whether to let loose a 200 strong pack of runners.

And I'm camping before and after the race :)

Ultra decision time

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, November 13 2012

Hardmoors 26.2 Trail Series

Jon has just launched yet another series of 5 races in the North Yorkshire Moors, the Hardmoors 26.2 Trail Marathon Series. A trail marathon, half-marathon, and 10km will be organised at each of the events, so that is a total of 15 races. A bit of work ahead for your webmaster...

Ultra Softmoors

Friday, October 12 2012

Verona Marathon

As the 14km milestone comes into sight marking the first third of the marathon, I know I won't be able to follow this pace for the rest of the race. I therefore decide to slow down a little bit as I watch the pink 3:20 balloons leaving me behind. Clearly, with my usual lack of training I aimed too high, but I feel glad I slowed down sooner than later and avoided a bigger crash. I still hope to be able to follow the 3:30 pacers later and manage a decent time.

Alas, the 20km mark is approaching and the green 3:30 balloons are already just behind me. I will have to let them go too. I know I'm not going to make a good time, so I try to enjoy the famous Valpolicella vineyard scenery instead. It's mostly gently downhill, but a few short and steeper ascents break the rhythm.

The weather is becoming increasingly hot (25°C), and I start to realise that I might be dehydrated and leading to hypoglycaemia. Drinking at the 20km water station puts me back on track, but given the quantity served, I need to take 4 cups to quench my thirst. The rest of the race will be a succession of feel-good phases and tough times.

Soon enough, we're entering Verona and start meandering and double-backing for the last 16km, passing next to the finish line at 32km. The purple 3:45 balloons must have passed me at some point, but I have little recollection of that time. Some roads are totally deserted, and it seems to last forever. After passing by a thin and cold crowd, I finally enter the majestic Verona Arena where I finish in 3:52:47, 704th out of about 1800 finishers. And first French! Yeah!

Great scenery overall, but very poor support from the crowd. I don't understand why people would come and see but not cheer. I think I would prefer seeing no one.

Ultra Romeo

Tuesday, October 9 2012

Comments closed...

... temporarily.

After 10 days of holidays, I had to clear 52 undetected spam comments, and check another 116 detected spam. Comments are therefore closed until I find a decent solution.

Ultra annoyance

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...

Tuesday, July 10 2012

Thames Path recce 2012: Oxford - Rushey Lock

Leo had warned me it was a hard stretch, and I was not to be disappointed during this last Thames Path recce!

The original plan was to recce from Oxford to the source, but I decided to run to Rushey Lock and back to reduce a bit the distance and to leave me something to discover during the actual attempt.

All water companies have now lifted the hosepipe ban. And the reasons were obvious: the Thames at Oxford was fast, high, and dark. Too fast for most boats, which stayed moored all day, leaving the lock(wo)men idle. Too high for Thames Path, frequently flooded. And a bit too brown to my liking, but I drank from it anyway.

A number of meadows were partly flooded, sometimes with water up to mid-calf, which I tried to avoid a first before giving up. Looking at the current floods in the UK, it could have been much worse, though.

If the section up to Newbridge is still manageable, the path then becomes even wilder. First, a section with relatively dense shoulder-high abrasive vegetation to tenderise the meat from the ankles to the thighs. Then, fields of stinging nettles taking advantage of the soreness. Typically on the side of a narrow, muddy, crossfall path to make sure that gravity will make you slip into them. Just like with water, I tried to avoid them for the first 100 meters, then gave up. To ensure my skin was kept nicely abrased, thistles and brambles also featured in between nettles. I might consider wearing leggings for this final section. I can still feel them 48 hours later...

To celebrate my run in the middle of the British countryside, HM The Queen was kind enough to send me the Red Arrows, although they only passed by in V formation, and did not leave a trail of smoke on seeing me...

After turning back at Rushey Lock, I filtered 2L of turbid, brown water. A lot of particles in suspension could clog the filter. This is not a major problem, but it means I might have to clean it more often on the long run. It also means that the riparian meadows hosting grazing cattle and sheep have been washed straight into the Thames, increasing the concentration of parasites in the water... So it was by far the dirtiest water I drank with the MSR filter!

The path is not very obvious for some sections, cutting across meadows, and very few people were to be seen. Nevertheless, the afternoon was not as quiet as expected, as 5 large military airliners (including a Hercules and a Globemaster) circled at low altitude for more than an hour. Occasionally deploying and retracting landing gear for fun.

It is a very nice part of the countryside, though. Newbridge, actually the oldest one on the Thames (built 1250), is also the best looking Thames bridge I've seen to far. I also found Pinkhill Lock particularly cute (and visibly so did the grass snakes).

Calf next to the river Thames
I didn't pull this calf :)

Overall, it was a tough 67km run. I had planned a bit over 7 hours, but it took me 8:20. Much longer than anticipated, but I spent quite a bit of time and energy figure skating on mud rather than running. Whilst this time I still managed to mostly run, I am not sure how I would feel about that after 200km... At least I know what is waiting for me. Hopefully the path will be in better condition by then, but hopes are thin, as the coming week appears to be no different than the previous months. But at least my calves were fine, which is the most important.

Ultra last recce

Wednesday, July 4 2012

Mini cheese bites: a subjective comparative test

Hungry readers will have noted the obvious similarity with this previous article title: Energy gels: a subjective comparative test. And indeed, this article is a somehow loose, non-scientific, comparison of a few mini cheese bites available. Not quite as comprehensive as its gel counterpart, though.

I came to use these mini cheese bites as a compromise between gel-based nutrition and real-food. As mentioned here a few times now, an all-gel nutrition plan is out of question for events longer than 5 or 6 hours. Cheese and dry sausages have been proven to be a much more appropriate option a number of times. The problem with those in their conventional form is that although they might taste great, they are not ideal when it comes to carry them for more than a day in warm conditions...

Hence the "cheese bites" I started to use during the TSQ 2010. New varieties seem to appear on a regular basis these days, and, just like with the energy gels, I have also started to taste the ones I could find - aside from the so-called "light" varieties obviously :) .

Here is a quick summary:
babybel originalMini Babybel
The original stuff. Used regularly since TSQ 2010. 20g, 61KCal (305Kcal/100g).
babybel cheddarMini Babybel Cheddar
Tastes a bit more cheesy, and nearly 25% more calories. Used regularly since TSQ 2010. 20g, 75KCal (375Kcal/100g).
babybel goatMini Babybel Goat
Seems new, but with only 10% goat cheese, it's more of a subtle goat's cheese flavour unfortunately. 20g, 65KCal (325Kcal/100g).
babybel goudaMini Babybel Gouda
I haven't seen this one in shops yet. 20g, 68KCal (340Kcal/100g).
marmite miniMarmite Cheddar Bite
A "chunky" texture, with a Marmite aftertaste. 20g, 81KCal (405Kcal/100g).
Cathedral City Cheddar MiniCathedral City Cheddar Mini Mature
The only bite to be an actual unmodified piece of cheese. Harder dough and tastier than all others. Also the most calorific, but might not survive as long, since there is no added preservatives. 20g, 83KCal (415Kcal/100g).

I had written that my choice would go for the Cathedral City Cheddar Mini given its taste and calorific density, combined with the Mini Babybel goat for a bit of variety. But by the time I finished polishing this article, both of them appear to be unavailable at my usual supermarket...

Ultra cheesy

Thursday, June 21 2012

Strained calf

Two weeks ago during my double-20km run, I spent the entire second half with a sore right calf. I believed that was due to some kind of cramp and didn't make much of it. Unfortunately, last week-end the ache was back and did not leave me. I guess I've strained my calf to grade 1, and need at least 2 weeks rest.

My plan was to run a final Thames Path recce of the Oxford to Source section, and then attempt the TSQ on the week-end of the 1st July. This might then have to wait until the week-end of the 22nd, which is becoming dangerously close to the Olympics...

Ultra annoying

Thursday, June 7 2012

Thames Path recce 2012: Richmond - Maidenhead

I went for a 57km training/recce run on Saturday to check out the status of the route between Richmond and Maidenhead.

To put myself into the Queen's Diamond Jubilee mood from the start, quite a few boats between Richmond and Teddington were getting ready for the Pageant the next day, including an actual royal barge and steam engines whistling. It was quite clear that these celebrations were the primary concern of most people given the number of Union Jacks floating at countless street parties, boats, and even picnics. Amusingly enough, I happened to wear one myself on my back-pack, albeit coupled with a French one. Nothing to do with the Jubilee then, but a souvenir from the PTL team.

As for the Thames Path itself, a new diversion will probably be set downstream from Walton-on-Thames by the time I set off for my third attempt. I could not check it this time, though...

The long diversion upstream of Staines-upon-Thames (formerly Staines) which was in place last year has been lifted, which is great news.

However, as expected, a new major diversion has been laid around Dorney Lake, between Windsor and Maidenhead, in order to build a temporary bridge for the Olympic rowing and canoeing. Whilst the diverted path is generally pleasant and not too much distance has been added, the South section of the diversion is badly signed, so I'm glad I had a look beforehand.

A good run all in all, especially after a month of not so great feelings during training.

Ultra recce 2

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

Sunday, May 20 2012

Are ultrarunners slow?

A very good article on Constant Forward Motion shedding a different light on a subject I had previously written about (The tortoise and the Hare).

Ultra slow

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