Krakow – Stag weekend

I’ve just returned from a fabulous extended weekend in Krakow, Poland.  I was invited by my future son-in-law, Karl, to participate in his Stag weekend together with his dad, his 3 younger brothers and 3 of his best friends.  We arrived on Friday night and after a few beers, (of course), found a nice restaurant and a few more beers in a local bar.

The following morning, it was down to a nearby Park for the 5k (3 mile) Parkrun which started at 9am. I wasn’t going to run (due to my dodgy calf), but decided to give it a go.  It lasted about 4.5k before I had to nurse it along to the finish to be 125th out of the 201 runners and 3rd of the 6 of our group who ran.  🙂  I mention this ‘result’ because the next event was Go-Karting, where I was soundly beaten into last place!  It seems Karl and his brothers played the Super-Mario Karting game a lot when they were younger and Karl always chose to be Yoshi.  So Karl was suitably dressed up for the occasion – as he was for the trip to the Games pub in the Old Town for the après-Kart celebrations.

After a nice breakfast and a quiet walk around the Old Town on the Sunday morning, it was down to the Bull Pub to watch the Liverpool v Burnley Premier League match.  The guys had to leave by 6pm to catch their flight back to the UK, but I stayed on for two more days and I’ll post some more pics of that tomorrow…

 

Evolène

I received such positive feedback on the village photographs in my last post, (thank you Jet and M.Oniker), that I decided to take a few more pictures for you to enjoy.  But first, a little background…

Evolène is a village at around 1,380m (4,525ft) in the Val d’Hérens, which itself is in the southern part of the Valais canton of Switzerland.  The population of the whole commune (which includes the neighbouring villages of Les Haudères, Villa, La Sage, La Forclaz and Arolla) is only about 1,700.  Despite this relatively low number, we have 8 bar/restaurants in our village alone.  These survive due to the number of visitors that we get both during the winter, for skiing, and the summer for walking, cycling or mountaineering.  I read that 55% of the available light (i.e from when it appears from, or disappears, behind the mountains), is sunshine.  And with little wind and a fairly dry atmosphere, not to mention some beautiful scenery, you can see why it’s quite popular.

At the moment we have the annual Carnival, which this year runs from 6th January to 5th March, (this explains why some of the pictures still show what appear to be Christmas decorations) and in the summer from 10th to 15th August there will be the biannual, CIME mountain folklore festival.  More posts to come on these no doubt… 😄

Nordic skiing event, Evolène

I think it’s fair to say that there was a modest turnout for the 13th Edition of the Evolène Nordic Skiing event.  However, I’m sure every single one of them had a wonderful time.  After around 4″ to 5″ of overnight snow, the conditions were perfect underfoot, if not overhead, due to the grey skies.

There are junior events covering 1 to 2 kilometres, but the main, senior, events, for both the Classic and Skating styles, are 10k (6 miles) in length.  The course is 2 loops of 5k/3 miles and the Skating event started 5 minutes after the Classic, so the participants do get mixed up quite a bit.  I wasn’t even sure who had won, especially as the (apparent) winner of the Classic event didn’t seem to be out of breath when he crossed the finish line.

And, just in case you are wondering, yes, I have thought about entering, though purely to say that I did it.  However, it is a bit disconcerting when the winners have finished before some of the slower competitors (and that would be me) have even started the 2nd loop!

Eurasian Siskins

For the past week or so we have had a flock of Siskins (Eurasian variety) hoovering up around our bird feeder.  It started with maybe 8 of them, then there were maybe 15 and the other day, I couldn’t count how many there were.  It must have been between 30 and 40.    We have had these cute little visitors in the summer, but never in the winter, so it was a very pleasant surprise.

My RSPB bird book suggested that they were “nut basket feeders”, but all of ours were seen scurrying around the floor, picking up what the other birds (mainly Great Tits, but also Blue, Coal, Marsh/Willow, Crested and Long Tailed Tits) had dropped onto the ground.  That is until yesterday, when we saw several of them hanging off the nut basket.  And today I’ve noticed a distinct absence of Great Tits.  So I think the Siskins have ganged up on the 10 or so Great Tits and scared them off.

Anyway, while I was taking some photos with Jude’s SLR camera (my point and shoot is hopeless in the sunshine as you can’t see what you’re pointing at) who else should make a short appearance but our old friend the (Eurasian) Nuthatch.  Not only that but my photo shoot was interrupted when I noticed what I thought were 4 parascenders in the sky, but it turned out that they were hot air balloons.  I then remembered that the Chateau D’Oex Balloon Festival takes place around this time of year.  So they must have taken off from there (which is many miles from here) and they were heading south over the glaciers and mountains to Italy when I last saw them!

Even after deleting many, many photos, I still couldn’t decide which of these pictures were “the best”, so I thought I’d post them all.  Please stick with the gallery as the quality (at least of image) improves towards the end as I edged closer to the feeders.  Also check out the look of the 2 birds on the feeder in pictures 13 and then 14 as the bird above hops off its perch.  (I thought it was quite amusing anyway).  There was quite a bit of squabbling going on as you will also see.

Back running again…

I lack motivation and I need a push to get me doing almost anything these days… Happily my wife managed to nudge me bit by bit into renovating the kitchen and the cupboards are now all painted and a new floor laid.  I even managed to cut a new worktop to size, which was a first.

When it comes to running, especially at this time of year, the freezing temperatures and the lack of a decent training route is a real mental block that I need to get through.  Indeed, I’ve not been out running since my Hallwilersee Half in October.  So I needed an incentive…

Thankfully, Datasport* came to the rescue again.  (*They are the people who advised me last year, via their regular and very informative emails, of the free travel to the Half marathons).  This time, one of the “Events not to be missed” was the Winterthur Marathon on 26th May.  Now, I hadn’t really got it on my radar, even though I have a goal to run all the Swiss marathons.  I thought it might be too small to put it on my list.  However, by May, I’ll be in a new 65+ category and I read that “The first three podium ranks of the respective categories win attractive prizes in kind.”  Not only that, but I read on their website that only 2 in that category finished in 2018… and 4 h 2 mins was good enough for 2nd and 4h 18m secured 3rd in 2017.   Now call me mercenary if you like, but that was just the kick-start I needed.

So last Sunday I plodded up and down our road for about 30 minutes (or about 5k/3miles) in sub-zero temperatures.  (My lungs complained bitterly for 2 days afterwards).  And today I drove down to Sion to pootle along my favoured flat training route, beside the Rhone, for just over an hour (or around 11k/7 miles).  As weekly totals go they are not far, but it’s a start…

As you may know, I don’t like to post anything without a picture or two, so I stopped off a couple of times on my way down to Sion to capture a few distant snowy mountain tops.

Zurich

With a certain festive period approaching, Jude and I took ourselves off to Zurich for a few days to find some ‘different’ presents.   I’d been there before to run the marathon, but I hadn’t really had time to explore the city and I have to say that we were both very impressed with how organised and quiet it was.  It was more like a large village than a big city.  It was also nice to see the wooden Christmas market stalls and the streets decorated with more lights than you could ever count.

 

Arolla to Evolène Walk

Perhaps not surprisingly, it had rained while we were away and, given the lower temperatures, it was inevitable that some snow would fall on the mountain tops.  Although it happens every year, you are still taken aback by the huge contrast between the brilliant white and the blue skies.

I was keen to find out how low the snow had fallen and so I took the bus up to Arolla to find out and to walk back down the valley to our chalet.  Although some of the snow has now melted, it’s clear that it fell to just under the 2,000m or 6,500ft mark.

I should add that we have an incredibly talented wood carver in our valley, by the name of Hugo Beytrison.  He often works with just a chain saw, but he also carves the wonderful wooden masks for the annual Evolène Carnaval in January/February.  The last 2 photos show two examples of his work, which were on display outside his workshop yesterday.  Check out his website for more details.  It’s only in French, but, as they say, a picture saves a thousand words. 😊

 

Hallwilersee Half Marathon and Swiss Trains

One way to run an Autumn marathon is to run two Half marathons. 🤔  When I discovered that there were two in quick succession, I didn’t think I’d be able to run either, let alone both.  So I’m very pleased to post another report, this time on the Hallwilerseelauf.  (In case you missed it here is my Greifensee Half report from a few weeks ago).

You may recall that Sarah, Karl and I just failed, by only 13 seconds, to dip under the 2 hour mark.  So after a little bit more ‘speed’ training since, I had (perhaps too) high hopes of running 1 hour 55 mins, or in any event under 2 hours.  The course had a downhill start, which was nice, but inevitably you are drawn into going off too quickly.  With the sun shining brightly (again) and the temperature around 23 degrees, I once more suffered in the middle to late stages, but I “dug in” (as you have to in these races) to finish in 1h 57m 27s.   OK, it wasn’t 1h 55m, but one of the things driving me on towards the finish was the thought that the sum of the two races just had to be under 4 hours… 😀

As before, I didn’t carry my camera or a phone, so I have no photos of the race itself, but here is a link to my own personal video of the race courtesy of the organisers/sponsors.  I’m the guy in the red vest and black cycling type shorts and long socks by the way. 👨  Depending upon your internet speed, you may have to wait a few seconds for the video to come up and it’s best viewed, of course, by maximising the screen (via the top right hand corner of the video window). Enjoy!

Once again, I had free travel to and from the event, but it involved catching a bus and 5 different trains to get there and 6 different trains to get back to Sion (where Jude would pick me up).  With connection times between trains of as low as 3 minutes, perhaps only in Switzerland would you even dream of getting there and back in a day.  But that’s exactly what I did.  It didn’t matter that there were weekend engineering works along one section of the route, the schedule had been adjusted and all 11 trains were exactly on time.  (See my outward and return timetables below).  Words cannot describe my admiration for the Swiss train (and Postbus) network. ⏱👍👍

 

Greifensee Half Marathon

Some time ago now I noticed that there was a Half marathon which went around a lake, near Uster, in the northern part of Switzerland.  The route was also was quite flat but, perhaps most importantly, free transport was provided there and back, courtesy of the Swiss transport system.  The start was at 3pm and I worked out that I could catch the 9am bus, get there for 1.30pm, collect my number, run the race and be back home (well, in Sion) by 9:30pm.  The only ‘drawback’ was that my daughter Sarah and her fiancé Karl would be staying with us on that day.

Now, I knew Karl was pretty fit and had run several half marathons in the past, as well as the Oslo marathon last year, so I thought he might be interested.  But, other than a few Park runs, my daughter had never run a race in her life.  She had run up to 7 or 8 miles with Karl, but that was just for fun…  Anyway, you may have guessed it, they both agreed to run it with me.  Our goal was to run together and finish in under 1h 55mins (though like most runners, this was perhaps wishful thinking) but sub-2 hours was definitely possible.

For the first 7 to 8k (5 miles) we were ‘on’ for the 1h 55m, but it was clear we were slowing slightly.  The weather was warm and I, for one, was feeling the heat.  We plodded on, over a mixture of rough farm track and tarmac roads/cycle path until around the 14 to 16k (10 mile) mark when we slowed a bit more.  At 18k we had around 18 minutes to do the remaining 3.1k (2 miles).  However we’d seen that there would be a significant rise in the profile of the route at 19k.  We pressed on knowing that what went up, did come down slightly afterwards and we almost sprinted the last 500 metres knowing that the clock was ticking… and, unfortunately, we missed out on sub-2 hours by an agonising and unlucky 13 seconds! 😞

Sarah had said before the race that it would be both her debut and retirement race, but she couldn’t have tried harder and I’m immensely proud of her.  So well done Sarah!

Karl, by the way, could have run around 1h 35 minutes, but he came down with a cold the day before, so he too deserves a special mention for running along with us and providing encouragement (as well as some very corny jokes) all the way through.

As you will see below, I didn’t run with my camera, well mobile phone, to capture the race itself, so I only have a few pictures of our journey there and afterwards.  It goes without saying, of course, that the Swiss transport system worked like clockwork!

Grand Raid BCVS Mountain Bike Race, 2018

I mentioned in my previous post that I’d put my name forward to help out during the Grand Raid, which runs both from and through our village.  However, the organisers never got back to me on where they’d like me to be, so I presumed they had enough volunteers and I decided to do my own thing…

An ex-colleague and good friend of mine, Kevin, had successfully completed the ‘short course’ three years ago and he’d recently been in touch to say that this year he was doing the full distance, from Verbier.  I thought he and the event deserved my support, so at 7:15am yesterday morning, I duly set off along 2 different sections of the route, taking pictures as a I went.  Now, sporting events have never really been my forte when it comes to capturing the action, but I hope the pictures below convey both the beauty of the scenery as well as the agony and the ecstasy of some competitors.

While I was waiting for Kevin at La Vieille, I also bumped into another ex-colleague and friend, Jan, who was doing the 3/4 route from Nendaz.  He, I’m sure, will have revelled in the challenge and pain of the ascent over the Pas de Lona.   Kevin, however, missed the cut off time by just 2 minutes and wasn’t allowed to continue.   Unfortunately he broke his derailleur during the descent into Evolène and had to wait 15 minutes while it was being repaired.

If there are any mountain bikers out there reading this, then I can only say that you will not find many more demanding or rewarding events than the Grand Raid.  Apart from a variety of distances, (choose your own personal challenge), they now even allow for Electric bike competitors on the two shorter routes.  Though I certainly wouldn’t want to push, carry or simply lug one of those heavy things over the Pas de Lona!