French Bloke Runs

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Tag: Travels

Travelling and running

Since I’m away from London this week, I thought it would be a good idea to write about travelling and running. Some people travel specifically to run and visit famous running places – here I’m certainly not referring to Lanky Pole who’s been to Ethiopia, Kenya and the USA just for running, no, no, no, he’s not a mad person and he’s even writing about it. But he’s not the only one: Mad Cook is planning a trip to Lanzarote to run the Ocean Lava triathlon with her company, and I’m pretty sure there are plenty of other people doing it. I might even have done it myself (oops) although running isn’t generally the purpose of my travels, but I now try to run wherever I go.

Lyon, France

This is the obvious running destination for me, even though I’m not sure it counts as travelling because it’s my hometown. I’m currently there and it always brings back old memories, this week I’ve been running with Lanky Frog and with my sister and it made me happy to realise that for the first time in my life, I’m at least as fit as they are. I also came here for my first 10K race last September (note to myself: I have to write about that one) and I set my first PB ever. I love running in this city because the river banks are really adapted for running, they are car-free, plenty of trees and go from one park to another.

French Bloke at Run In Lyon 2015

French Bloke at Run In Lyon 2015

Auckland, New Zealand

Yes, I know I’m bragging, but this post is all about bragging isn’t it? This one was back when I still hated running, but at least I had my sister (who was living there at the time) to keep me company. It was a tough run: I had old shoes, weighted 15 kilos more than today and hadn’t ran for a long time. I couldn’t even push myself to finish the run because the end was up a steep hill. Now I would love to do it again (more because I’d love to go back to New Zealand than because I’d like to compare my new running self to my old fat self). Anyhow, this was a sporty holiday with lots of hiking, rafting and swimming.

At the top of the Ngauruhoe (aka Mount Doom)

At the top of the Ngauruhoe (aka Mount Doom)

A Guarda, Spain

Whilst visiting Wonder Woman and Superman in their home town, I had an impromptu barefoot run which became a defining one. I want to write a specific post about it so I won’t spoil it here.

Bucharest, Romania

I actually ran in several places in Romania, during a tour of Draculito‘s native Transylvania and although it was unplanned, I even raced there! Running in the cool forests near Bran Castle or in the picturesque Sighisoara was definitely nicer than running in the steaming hot streets of Bucharest – although it was a great way to discover the city.

Race in Cluj-Napoca

“Crosul Companiilor” race in Cluj-Napoca

Llan-Maes, Wales

This run in the quiet Welsh countryside was definitely the highlight of the week-end I spent near Cardiff and saw France being beaten hard by Ireland during the Rugby World Cup.

Annecy, France

While visiting Wonder Woman and Superman in Chamonix, Brainy Owl and I stayed for a while in this lovely alpine town, did some hiking but I didn’t forget to stick to my holy training plan and we did an lovely easy run together, in the freezing mountain cold.

Rome, Italy

OK, I’m mad too, I have to admit that sometimes I travel just to run. But I have a good excuse: I was also visiting the Quiet Roman to whom I had promised to run the Roma-Ostia half-marathon if he came to Lyon for our first 10K, which he did. And I wrote a report about it.

French Bloke and Quiet Roman

French Bloke and Quiet Roman in Rome

Cologne, Germany

This one was a bit unexpected. I was lucky enough to travel to Germany for work and I decided to stay in Cologne for the weekend. I ran a cool 23 km, just for fun and to visit the city’s amazing green belt, the Rhine’s banks, as well as the major sights – including the famous Kölner Dom.

Bordeaux, France

Not only Bordeaux has some of the best wines in the world, it’s also where Jack of all trades lives. These are 2 great reasons to travel there, but these are not reasons to stop following the holy training plan. So we had a beautiful run along the Gironde together and a good stretching session afterwards.

Missed opportunities

I also went to Poland for new year’s eve with Lanky Pole, but with a chilly -18°C, guess where the holy training plan could shove its intervals sessions. Even Lanky Pole didn’t run for 4 days (yeah, I know that sounds unbelievable).

And because it was a tough hike, I didn’t run in Morocco where I climbed the Djbel Toubkal, highest peak if the Atlas. But Lanky Pole ran anyway. I already wrote an account of this trip on this blog.

Future opportunities

The Pencil Witch is getting married with Grumpy Grampy, so we’re going to Scotland soon to wed this lovely couple, so that should be an opportunity for running while travelling although I doubt I’ll be in a condition to run the day after the wedding party. Maybe they’ll invite us to a second wedding in Brazil! That would be a great opportunity for new running horizons…

Down memory lane in Lyon

I’m on a holiday in Lyon and of course, I’m still following my training plan and I’m running exactly as I would if I were in London. But running in familiar places brings out old memories, back from the days I still hated running. I hated it but I still had a weekly jog with Jack of all trades, which made it bearable because at least I had a good friend to speak to and make the time pass. Yes, it was also a good excuse to see my mate and talk shit.

I’ve been running on the left bank of the Rhône, one of the 2 rivers in Lyon and this reminded me of the Sunday runs we did every week on the very same river bank, from one park to another. You must know that Lyon has 2 major parks: le Parc de la Tête d’Or and le Parc de Gerland. It is a very common run for locals to link the 2 parks running along this majestic river that is the Rhône (even though the banks of the Saône are prettier). It’s a mere 6km stroll and the bank has been refitted for pedestrians and cyclists, with wide paths, cycle lanes, playgrounds, fountains and trees.  It also boasts a great view on several major sights of the city:

  • The Parc de la Tête d’Or itself is a beautiful park with a rose garden, a free zoo, a lake with an island, many great trees and plenty of grass to play football or bask in the sun
  • The Croix-Rousse hill, with its colourful façades and XIXth century buildings
  • The Hôtel-Dieu, an old hospital originally built between the XIIIth and the XVth century
  • The Piscine du Rhône, an ugly but iconic swimming pool from the 1960s
  • The fine XIXth century buildings of the universities and of the university library
  • The Musée des Confluences, a building controversial for its gigantism, its weirdness (not to say ugliness) and the astronomical sums of money it cost the local taxpayers

This last one wasn’t here yet when we ran there with Jack of all trades, there was just empty space where the 2 rivers meet. We would go to the Parc de Gerland and come back to the city centre for a croissant and a coffee with a glass of fresh orange or lemon juice. I have to admit I miss that part and every time I go back to France I have a coffee and a proper croissant at the terrace of a typical café.

Quais du Rhône - Photo by Connie Ma

Quais du Rhône Photo by Connie Ma

Several years later, we took on running together again and we went closer to our new respective workplaces, in the Parc de Lacroix-Laval of Charbonnières-les-Bains, the posh suburbs of Lyon. This was a whole different setting and much more hilly, but also very pleasant because in some parts of this park the forest is almost wild. These are great memories too and I hope I’ll run there again one day…

The big hike: Djbel Toubkal

Now you’ll understand why I was so lazy with my writing last week. Instead of spending my weekend writing for you, I spent it trudging in the Moroccan Atlas. Let’s go back 2 weeks ago. Lanky Pole – him again – called me with a crazy proposal: climbing to the top of the highest peak in northern Africa – the Djbel Toubkal in Morocco. He’d bought flights for 3 and one of his mates had bailed out at the last minute. Fool that I am, I said yes. Seven days later, I was in a small hotel in Imlil.

Imlil hotel

View on Imlil, the roof terrace of the hotel, the scrumptious breakfast

Imlil is the closest village to the peak, it is a charming place 1,740m above sea level where people don’t hassle you as much as in Marrakesh and where the temperatures are bearable. It’s almost heaven: the first night we had there was the quietest I had in years, the food at the hotel was amazing, plentiful and cheap, the landscapes are breathtaking, the light is uniquely soft and beautiful, and you’re surrounded by cute baby goats, cats and mules. Not to mention the exquisite fresh orange juice that will make you forget that there is no alcohol here.

Animals in Imlil

Animals in Imlil: cats, baby goats, mule

We got up quite early to pack our things before taking the path to the refuge of the Toubkal, but also to give this crazy Lanky Pole some time to run. I wanted to join him but I thought it was more prudent to keep my energy for the hike. I think I was right: the hike was only 10K long, but after little more than 3 hours of walking with our backpacks, we had gained 1,500m of elevation!

I really loved this hike. First of all because the nature is beautiful there, but also because I realised that I love walking as much as I love running. That’s probably because I was much better at it than I expected – even though I’ve already hiked quite a lot in my life I was expecting to be a burden slowing down Lanky Pole and his mate, which wasn’t the case and we arrived at the refuge much earlier than we expected.

Imlil to refuge

We lost the path, the white mosque half-way to the refuge, a waterfall, the refuge

At the refuge (around 3,200m above sea level if you did your maths), we had all the time we needed to chill, read and eat a surprisingly good dinner. In our dorm we met an Irish guy with whom we shared most of the hike the following day and went to bed early. All 3 of us didn’t sleep much, probably because of the altitude and the lack of oxygen.

We got up before sunrise, had some breakfast, repacked, and when daylight came, we headed in the wrong direction. We quickly realised our mistake, headed back to the refuge and took the correct path. We were followed by a hiking dog all the way to the top! We called her Łajka, the Polish name for Laika, the first dog in space to which she was a real look-alike. She was also technically the closest dog to space in all northern Africa!

This part of the hike was the toughest. It was little more than 3K long, but the elevation gain was 1,000m. You can imagine how steep it was. Also at 4,167m above sea level, the lack of oxygen leaves you breathless after a few steps, so that was challenging. Luckily, I wasn’t as affected by altitude sickness as my 2 companions and I led the way to the top, where we found dozens of tourists, some of them in a pretty bad shape. But we were happy and took the photo of victory!

To the top of the Toubkal

To the top of the Toubkal: Sunrise, Łajka, the victors of the summit
Panorama at the summit of Djbel Toubkal

Unsurprisingly, the way down was much easier and faster than the way up. It took us only an hour to go back to the refuge and another 2h30 to go back to Imlil where we took a much needed and appreciated shower and spent another night in our favourite hotel. The next day, we had another delicious breakfast and Lanky Pole had another early morning run despite the exhausting hikes of the 2 previous days. Just before leaving for Marrakesh, we were surprised and pleased to see that Łajka was down here in Imlil! She’d followed us to the top of the Toubkal and now she was with us again, 2,500m lower and 15k further… We gave her plenty of affection before hopping into our taxi shared with our Irish friend and an Italian guy.

We finished the trip in Marrakesh, which I must admit isn’t my favourite city. It’s beautiful and colourful, but it’s too hot and the locals hassle you too much to sell you stuff that you don’t need or want. I guess we were too tired to enjoy it. The food was good though, and we ate a well deserved humongous couscous! I didn’t even feel guilty about it or about the ton of Moroccan pastries I ravaged, even though I hadn’t followed my training plan at all…

My first race: A nonsensical moment in Cluj Napoca

I have to bring you back to September of 2015. I had only been running for 2 or 3 months but I was really keen, probably because I was improving quickly, not unrelated to the fact that I had lost a lot of weight that summer. Rest assured, this did not prevent me in any way, shape or form, from drinking heavily. Quite the contrary.

I spent that week of September in Romania with my Brainy Owl, Lanky Pole and a bunch of friends, all invited by Draculito and Yoga Girl.  This is a very welcoming country where the price of a barrel of beer is cheaper than a pint of ale in London, and where the food is mainly based on pig fat, polenta and cream (didn’t I say it is VERY welcoming?). Our first night there was a Saturday. Obviously, we spent it pub-crawling in Cluj Napoca.

At some point, late in the night, our senses and our thinking were already deeply affected by the quantities of beer we had ingested, Draculito told us something along the lines of “Oh guys, I know you like running and there’s a race here tomorrow, I’m sure you can enrol in the morning, the website says it’s only about 6K”. Of course, we all answered “Hell yeah, let’s do it!” and went on with our nightly activities (mainly drinking and talking shit).

The next morning, Brainy Owl, Lanky Pole and myself were on the starting line. Hungover. I didn’t feel like warming up, but Lanky Pole pushed me to it and as soon as I began running, the hungover was disappearing. The atmosphere started to warm up too, mainly because of everyone mimicking the warm-up movements of the the guy and his bimbos on the stage, with some very loud Eastern European techno-dance. Then everyone moved towards the starting line and I started to be excited.

Go! I started running, aiming for a 6K pace and I handled it quite alright. It seemed obvious that most of the runners here had never ran a minute before that day and it felt good to overtake everyone, although some people were clearly training and impossible for me to overtake, or even keep in sight. End of first lap, my watch says I ran a bit more than 2K. OK, so there must be 2 more laps, let’s not kill myself just now, I’ll run faster for the 3rd lap. So I keep my energy for later (but I still sweat a lot). Arrives the finish line for the second time, but it is clear that there won’t be a 3rd lap, so I sprint as fast as I can, overtake a couple of couch potatoes and cross the finish line.

A young lady with very little clothes on puts a medal around my neck, I’m sure Brainy Owl will scold me for this, but I’m happy. I don’t give a toss about the young tart: I feel exhilarated by the race. I finished! Sure, I could have done a better time if I only had known there were only 2 laps but I feel fantastic! The atmosphere is electric, I ran, I did it!

Cluj-Napoca Crosul Companiilor 2015

Few minutes later, Lanky Pole crossed the finish line too. He ran so fast that when he finished the 2nd lap, the bimbos weren’t here to tell him it was all over, so he ran a third lap! Still, he almost stole the race and finished in the top 5 (out of a good thousand runners). Brainy Owl was quite happy too, and she ran a half-marathon the following week. Yeah, that’s who she is.

The next day, Yoga Girl organised a yoga session to relax us all. God, it was good to stretch! I’d recommend it to anyone after a race, especially after a silly race like this one.

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