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!

Walk to the Pas de Lona, Val d’Hérens

I am very fortunate to be able to do quite a number of walks, some quite challenging,  from my front door.  One of those is to the Pas de Lona at 2,787m or 9,144ft.  It starts easy enough, along a track and then takes a path up to Volovron, before turning up through the woods to the alpage across to La Vieille.  It’s still a good walk to get there (and back of course).  But the real challenge starts when you set off to climb up to the col, where the path just seems to get steeper and steeper and your legs start to burn.  Once there you can go even higher to the Cabane Becs de Bosson (which many do, to rest for the night, as part of the Tour of the Val d’Hérens) but, since I’d set off quite late and we had some visitors coming, I simply headed back home again.

Now, just imagine how the cyclists must feel having to do that climb pushing or carrying their bikes as part of the Grand Raid, which takes place on Saturday…  There are 4 distances to choose from, either starting in Verbier, Nendaz, Hérémence or my village of Evolène, but they all have to do that climb before descending (and climbing again briefly) to the finish in Grimentz.  I’ve put my name down to support the riders by handing out drinks and/or maybe giving directions, but I’m not sure where I’ll be stationed yet.  It could be in the village or on the mountain side somewhere, but wherever it is, I hope to bring you some pictures next week.  In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this walk…

Galicia, NW Spain

Some months ago now, Judith and I were invited by our good friend, Arthur Manton-Lowe, to an art exhibition which he was holding at his gallery on the Camino de Santiago, near Triacastela.  I shall post some pictures of that area tomorrow, but on the way there, we stopped off to explore some of the western coast of Spain.  It’s an area that we had never been before and it was noticeable that there were very few English speaking visitors.

We stayed in an area of Poio, called O Covelo, and drove out to find some wonderful beaches near San Vicente do Grove.  The following day we took a boat ride from Portonovo to the Illa de Ons, which is one of a number of National parks along that coast.

We learnt that the weather in that area had been very wet (possibly the worst since records began) but we were fortunate to have some fabulously sunny days.

Exhibition Walk to Lac d’Arbey and Les Haudères

For the third summer running the Commune have decided to exhibit some pictures along the footpath from Lac d’Arbey to Farquèses.  Two years ago it was a series of photos of the Himalaya and last year, some paintings of the Evolène region by Belgian artist, Paul Coppens.  This year it’s images by the comic creator, Derib.  Some of his stories cover our local region, including the race of Val d’Hérens cows and the Patrouille de Glacier ski touring race.

An old friend of mine, Matt, is camping with two of his friends in the village and yesterday we walked up to Lac d’Arbey and along the path, before dropping down to Les Haudères (for a well earned beer 🍺😊) and then back along the riverside to Evolène.

As always at this time of year, there were many butterflies, but I was particularly pleased to capture a Violet Carpenter Bee feeding on a Woolly Thistle, which, my Alpine Flora book says, is “rather rare” (see pic 18).  I have to say, given its stiff spikes, there was nothing woolly about it!

Transhumance

As you may know, I like to educate as well as entertain, so…

Transhumance – what is it?  It’s a word that I’d certainly never come across in all my long years until my very learned friend, Pete, told me about it.  Dictionary.com defines it as:

“the seasonal migration of livestock, and the people who tend them, between lowlands and adjacent mountains.”

Although a noun, it’s derived from the French verb transhumer – to shift ground, which itself is modelled on the Spanish, trashumar.

This activity takes place in our local villages twice a year, but I’ve never got involved until yesterday, when I accepted an open invitation from Marius of the Ferme de Clos Lombard to accompany his cows up to the meadows near Lac d’Arbey.

The cows spend most of the winter down in the valley inside their sheds, only coming out if and when the weather allows.  So you can imagine their joy at spending the summer on the open fields high on the alpage (that’s the verdant area of open land between the valley and the high, rocky mountain peaks).

After setting off through the village and briefly along the road to Lannaz, the procession of cows and people took to the path up to the far side of Lac d’Arbey.  About half way, there was a short pause for the cows, and some of the people I might add, to catch their breath. (I know how they feel after a winter of inactivity!)  Two or three (cows that is) made bids for early freedom, but they were soon brought back into line by the helpful followers.  And then finally, after a few more short breaks, we all arrived at the lake where not only the cows took to wading in…