Category Archives: skiing

Run, mow, the Von Trapp family and ‘to train or not to train’ is that the question?

I woke on Monday morning, not feeling any less healthy than when I’d gone to bed on Sunday night – so I went for a run with my wife in the weak March sunshine. The usual 3.9 miles (just over 6km).

I don’t remember the last time the lawns were actually dry but on Monday they were just about in a state to let me undertake one of the great annual events – the first mow of the season.

Of course, it’s not a quick or easy event but, after charging the battery, pumping two tyres and a trip to fill petrol cans, in the twinkling of three hours I was ready to go.

The start of the mowing season means the renewal of hostilities with the willow tree. On Monday it twice thought it had swept the ear defenders off my head but I caught them on both occasions so that doesn’t count. 1-0 to me, I think and a happy hour or two spent self-isolating on the mower.

With the Corona virus the garden might look very good this year – if gardening is the only thing I’m able to … alternatively it may look terrible if we are all confined within our own four walls for the next few months.

It’s disappointing (but not surprising) that the virus is already party-political. I hold no particular brief for our Prime Minister but I recognise that I don’t know what is the best thing to do – and nor do I expect him to know.

He is, at least, following the advice of the experts who have the key roles (and I’ve not heard it suggested that they are political appointees, or are under political pressure to come up with any particular advice) so I’m not sure I can expect much more of him at the moment. I hope the experts are as good as we need them to be.

No doubt, with hindsight, we will all be experts.

On that topic, I read that the Austrians have banned gatherings of more than 5 people. I assume that either doesn’t apply to domestic matters – or that the Von Trapps were the last Austrian family with more than 3 children.

The French have just closed all their ski resorts. I spoke to a friend out in Les Carroz, where we skied in January. He confirmed the inevitable – the snow and weather are now the best they have been all season.

At the moment there is no news on either the sportive due to be held in late April, or the ultra marathon in early July. Do I train as if both are going to go ahead or do I ease off to make sure I don’t weaken my immune defence system by training too hard?

Both events involve a decent number of contestants (about 600 for the sportive and 2000+ for the ultra?) but with both the people are spread across many miles of road/Ridgeway for most of the time. However, the starts and finishes and food stops will cause bigger groups – and will there be spare medics to make the events safe? Maybe that’s the key point – do we want stretched medical staff to be pulled away from the front line fight against the virus?

If the UK moves to cancel large gatherings in the fairly near future I guess the sportive will be off – but the ultra might be late enough to survive the cull? Hard to say but at my cycling club we are going to discuss whether we should cancel our own (smaller – about 200 riders) sportive scheduled for later in July.

One thing I think I can be sure of is that I’ll be in a worse state if I don’t train and the races are on, compared to training and then finding they are cancelled.

Looks like it’s carry on training for now, without going too mad with it. Of course, if we go the way of Spanish restrictions, it will not even be possible to go for a training run. I’m wondering whether it’s wise to give the gym a miss for a while.

So far in the UK we are just at the ‘stop non-essential contact with others and stop all unnecessary travel’ stage. Pubs, clubs, restaurants etc have not been shut but the advice is to avoid them. There’s a danger we are being treated as adults – will we live up to the challenge that poses?

‘Corona virus lockdown – lite’.

Virus locally

On Monday the news showed 24 cases of the virus in Oxfordshire (up two from Saturday) and 2 in the nearest large town, Swindon (unchanged).

All going downhill from here?

One of my favourite places – Les Carroz d’Araches, in the Haute Savoie, France

If there is a list of things not to do just after hurting a knee ligament, I expect skiing is towards the top of it. So, 4 weeks after spraining mine, I went skiing.

The drive to the Alps was trouble-free (but 13 elapsed hours which is a bit of a pain in general, and a bit ache-inducing for the knee). We could fly but we were being joined by our sons and one of their girlfriends so we drove and took a car load of our and their stuff while they were able to fly, a couple of days later, with just hand luggage.

I was reasonably sure that the knee was going to be OK to ski on – it’s just that I was equally sure that if I fell and twisted it, I was in for a very painful experience.

I considered loosening the binding on my left ski so it would come off more easily if I did fall – but it occurred to me that loosening the binding made it more likely that I might fall in the first place, so I didn’t.

Losing a ski because you fall is one thing, falling because your ski comes off feels much worse.

Of course, the falling over bit would not be a big issue for an expert skier – but nobody has ever accused me of being that. I am a reasonable skier for a 64 year-old Englishman who didn’t learn to ski until he was almost 30 – but that does not set the bar very high.

For me the conversation is more likely to go ‘why do you ski so fast?’ to which the correct answer is ‘because I’m not good enough to ski any slower’.

A good skier flows down a piste, embracing it, rather like water. Me, I rather wrestle it to death.

We took a day off on the Monday after Sunday’s dive out there and sorted out the apartment – but then had two glorious days skiing under clear blue skies. The snow was a bit thin on lower slopes but was in very good condition. We collected our sons (and a girlfriend) from Geneva on the Wednesday evening and had two more great days skiing on the Thursday and Friday. On Friday we were even the first on the slopes – although I’m not terribly keen on having to set an alarm when on holiday (or when not on holiday, come to think of it).

It snowed Friday afternoon and evening, which made Saturday’s skiing spectacular – although the weekend was rather chilly and a bit busier. After years of the misery of fitting snow chains I got winter tyres for the new car. Although they weren’t needed all the time, they worked fine when they were.

Older son and girlfriend also skied on Monday morning and then we took the three of them back to the airport for afternoon flights. For them, 4 and a half days skiing for just 3 days off work – an efficient use of their holiday entitlements.

We drove home on the following Saturday, after a few more excellent days on the slopes.

I skied reasonably sensibly and managed to have no falls – they say if you don’t fall, you’re not skiing hard enough, but I can live with that.

The knee worked OK and must have been helped by the knee brace but ached on and off throughout the holiday – especially if I tried to be more aggressive on the slopes – but without ever really hurting. One good thing about wearing a knee brace – it introduces a new highlight of the day ….. taking it off when you finish.

So, now back to training for this year’s cycling and running, injury permitting – but from what sort of fitness base will I be starting?

Another four books read during the holiday:

The Keeper of Lost Things – Ruth Hogan (a fairly simple but entirely charming book, well worth a read)

The Neighbour – Fiona Cummings (an enjoyable crime/murder/thriller)

The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion (a very enjoyable and different novel with some fascinating insights)

Dark Water – Robert Bryndza (a pretty decent thriller, in my opinion)

Injury – staying positive (or making the best of a bad job) and keeping it all in perspective

So many shoes, so little chance to use them

When you’re injured it’s easy to obsess about what you can’t do. Having tweaked a knee ligament running on Sunday, I decided to spend some of Monday finding out what I can still do.

I can still do quite a lot. Press ups and sit ups and crunches all seem OK, once in position. Calf raises and even the plank routine look possible, although I’ll give the ‘right leg raised’ plank a miss for the time being and take it easy on the side planks.

None of those involve any great movement in the knee and my right leg can take more than its fair share of any ‘posture’ work that is necessary.

Equally, upper body exercises are OK so I can still bench press, bicep and tricep curl (with my usual rather puny runner/cyclist weights, of course).

Putting it another way, although I think I could do them all, I am not going to try running, cycling, rowing, lunges, squats, leg curls and extensions. That’s a bit of a downer for someone who likes to run and cycle but it could be worse.

I might even try a bit of swimming front crawl, with minimal leg kick?

The knee improved even during Monday and I slept well Monday night. Tuesday, more improvement.

Looking on the bright side:

  • the injury could have been a lot worse, especially as I was stupid enough to finish the run with it;
  • I can do more than I’d expected, despite the injury. It’s very minor and no medical intervention is necessary;
  • the timing could have been much worse – it’s well before training starts for the White Horse Challenge sportive or the ultra marathon (and I’m happy that I’ve done nothing that prejudices the skiing early next year); and
  • the achilles tendons and calf muscles are playing nicely at the moment – the break should see them right for when I get back to the running and cycling in the new year.

Back to Wigan on Wednesday to visit my father in hospital again, grateful that the new car is an automatic (but setting a new personal worst of over 8 hours of driving).

Saddest possible post script. My father died peacefully on the Thursday morning, within a month of his 96th birthday. I’m so pleased both our sons saw him in good health and fine spirits in the last couple of months, and that my wife and I went up on Saturday when he was alert and so happy to see us. He was a fine man. It puts everything into perspective. RIP.

Marathon training week 11/20: Ski, ski, run. Snow and Snow Patrol – but not enough running.

As the cars in the car park behind the apartment slowly sink beneath the snow …

We were back out on the slopes Monday and Tuesday – then it was packing up on Wednesday to drive back to the UK on Thursday.

It snowed solidly and, clearly, it was snow chains for the trip down the mountain. That wasn’t too bad as I could put them on in the underground garage – taking them off in the snow in the valley was another matter entirely.

We had about 550 miles to drive through France – and nearly all of it with a good covering of snow either side of the road. Despite that, the roads were excellent and clear. It began to snow as we got west of London and driving along the M4 at about 9pm it started to settle.

We saw one gritting lorry near Ashford (Kent) and not another for the whole 166 mile journey, despite constant claims that gritting was in process. At one point it seemed that we might be using the snow chains again but the snow eased and only started more heavily again as we got home.

A great holiday – 16 days, 1780 miles, a lot of skiing and the advantage of having both sons join us.

Three falls: one while standing still and tripping over my own ski pole (very cool); one on a black mogul field (very expected); and one entirely by surprise (but my wife says someone skied over the back of my skis which might explain it). I went over onto my left shoulder – after 5 days I don’t yet have full movement back.

Three falls is probably OK – too many falls would be depressing: no falls would suggest I’m not pushing hard enough.

In normal life I tend to shy away from potatoes, bread and cheese but those are the main staples of the Haute Savoie diet. Indeed, the wonderful dish ‘Tartiflette’ was actually created to promote sales of the local reblochon cheese. We ate and drank well but I came back still under 70kg which I will treat as a victory.

Some very enjoyable reading too – I managed to finish

  • ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (good but a bit weird in places, almost cartoonish). The cover quoted Salman Rushdie calling it ‘The greatest novel in any language of the last 50 years’ (I certainly couldn’t agree with that)
  • ‘Red Azalea’ by Anchee Min (very interesting, set in the time of the cultural revolution and well worth a read)
  • ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ by Amor Towles (generally excellent but, to a pedantic Brit, having a Russian Count in the 1930s use the word ‘gotten’ sticks out like a sore thumb).

We were supposed to be up to London for a Snow Patrol concert at the Wembley Arena on Saturday and that looked a bit unlikely to be happening as the snow fell for much of Friday – something like 8 inches of the stuff.

If we’d had to head to London then, I doubt we’d have gone, as the UK was again proving incapable of dealing with fairly modest snowfalls. Luckily, by Saturday things had settled a bit and we were just on the edge of the worst of the snow, which was mainly south and west of us.

We decided to give London a go so took the front wheel drive car. The biggest issue was (as ever) getting out of the village but we made it – just – and the rest of the trip was OK, taken cautiously. The rear wheel drive car would not have got out of the village.

Snow Patrol were excellent, but they had set the bar supremely high at the more ‘intimate’ concert we went to last November.

Luckily, in snow terms, London was much clearer than Oxfordshire so I took my running kit but only just managed to force myself out on Sunday morning – my first run for three weeks because of the skiing.

It was hovering just above freezing but was bright and clear I ran from West Kensington around the Serpentine (the lake in Hyde Park) and back. Altogether 11.4 km in under 1 hour 3 minutes at 5.30 min/km (7.1 miles @ about 8:52 per mile), despite the road junctions and the sore left shoulder. To my surprise, inside 4 hour marathon pace and it felt pretty good. Clearly, I should be doing more skiing and less running in my training ….

It will be interesting to see how the Achilles tendons react – they had better behave as there is a lot of running to be done between now and the Rotterdam marathon on 7th April (once the snow clears).

So, the training week ended with some skiing but only one run – a fairly dismal effort over the last 4 weeks as life has got in the way of the training. If someone were paying me to do the running perhaps I’d adjust the priorities but I can’t help but think that life first and running second is the right way round for a – very – amateur runner like me.

Week Run Cycle X-train
1 16.1m  (25.9km) 9.8m  (15.8 km)  2:00
2 18.5m  (29.8km) 13.3m  (21.5km) 2:00
3 20.7m  (33.25km) 65.8m (105.9km) 1:00
4 22.2m  (35.8km) 13.7m (22.07km) 1:00
5 24m (38.6km) 13m  (21km) 1:00
6 (Christmas) 13.2m (21.3km)    
7 25.56m (41.14km) 62.68m (100.86km) 3:00
8 14.63m (23.55km) 13.2m (21.2km) 7.00
9 (Skiing) 15.51m (24.97km)   12.00
10 (Skiing)     12.00
11 (Skiing) 7.1m (11.4km)   6.00
‘Running’ totals 137.3m  (221.1km) 178.2m (286.3km)    47:00

Marathon training week 10/20: Ski, ski, long walk, ski, ski. Am I supposed to do some running?

Lots of snow but not as much in some parts of the world – stay safe people

I took our older son and his girlfriend back to Geneva airport on Monday 21st January (after skiing in the day) and collected our younger son, Alex, who arrived a couple of hours later. The three of us skied on Tuesday (still terrific conditions) but I had to drop out on Wednesday and Thursday feeling very rough with a cold/flu bug. On Thursday Alex and I went for a long walk around the village in the snow – he missed skiing last year so was pleased to catch up with developments in a place he’s known for most of his life.

Friday and Saturday were spent skiing again, before taking Alex back to the airport for a Saturday afternoon flight back to the UK.

Both our sons ski extremely well. We started them at 4 and they cannot remember not being able to ski. I started just before I was 30 and I think that the later you start caps how good you can get (or, at least that’s my excuse).

I get by reasonably well but tend to do ‘proper’ English skiing: stylish on blue runs, competent on red runs, significant collapse of technique on black runs. I put that to good effect skiing with Alex on the Friday.

There is a black run in the resort which used to be beneath a chairlift so it was possible to see how difficult it looked before deciding whether to tackle it. In recent years that chairlift has been replaced with another starting from a different place so now only the top part of the run is visible.

Foolishly I agreed to ski it with him – the top bit was tough, as expected, but the bulk of it that had been out of sight was just a large and steep mogul field – very much at the extreme edge of my abilities. I only fell once which I regard as a minor victory but it was tough and I was happy to escape intact.

Sadly, we could not fit in a run during the week because the pavements were not clear enough of snow to provide a safe footing. That was a particular shame as Alex is the son with whom I’ll be running the marathon in April.

After a great time with our sons (and a girlfriend), and having dispatched them back to the UK, we took Sunday off skiing – not a bad decision as it snowed heavily. That is one of the great things about going skiing for a couple of weeks – you don’t feel guilty at taking a day off like you would if you were just out there for a week.

So, half way through the training for Rotterdam and three compromised weeks because of the trips to the Lakes and the Alps. On the plus side, I’ve still been physically active and have got in the long runs in all except the one for this week.

People say that if you cannot train for three weeks because of illness or injury, you should consider postponing the marathon. As my weeks have not been complete failures, I don’t intend to take that route but I’d better get back to the programme soon.

But (Sunday 27 January) I’m still in the Alps as I write this …

Week Run Cycle X-train
1 16.1m  (25.9km) 9.8m  (15.8 km)  2:00
2 18.5m  (29.8km) 13.3m  (21.5km) 2:00
3 20.7m  (33.25km) 65.8m (105.9km) 1:00
4 22.2m  (35.8km) 13.7m (22.07km) 1:00
5 24m (38.6km) 13m  (21km) 1:00
6 (Christmas) 13.2m (21.3km)    
7 25.56m (41.14km) 62.68m (100.86km) 3:00
8 14.63m (23.55km) 13.2m (21.2km) 7.00
9 (Skiing) 15.51m (24.97km)   12.00
10 (skiing)     14.00
‘Running’ totals 130.2m  (209.7km) 178.2m (286.3km)  43:00

Marathon training week 9/20: run, ski, ski, ski, ski. Heading downhill

Snow and interesting cloud formations – Haute Savoie, France

Having got back from the Lakes on Sunday I went out for the long slow run on Monday 14th January – knowing that the rest of the week was going to be a major training failure.

It was the third long run in 10 days so perhaps not too surprising that it felt hard, but I kept going and did 15.51 miles (24.97km) against a training programme target of 14 miles.

It was slower than my usual long slow runs – not particularly because I planned it that way, I’m just not sure I had much more in me. Pace is still a worry but perhaps better rested runs will be faster – and there are still 11 weeks until the marathon. Either that or I’ll be re-setting my targets and aiming to beat 4h 30.

I wasn’t ever more than a few miles away from home and so had to do a number of loops to make up the distance (six times along one bit of road). That felt mentally tough so I think I’ll have to look for a longer ‘out and back’ route for the remaining long runs.

The rest of Monday was spent hobbling about, as usual, and the same continued Tuesday morning as we left very early to get the Shuttle and drive to the Alps. No real problem with the Achilles tendons while driving but when we stopped I was certainly back to doing my impression of an 80 year old. It’s a depressing thought that I can do that for real in less than 17 years.

Although the drive is a bit gruelling – just over 12 hours door to door – I enjoyed it as it brought back happy memories of cycling the 550 miles (880km) out there, solo and unsupported, last summer. Although the route I took by bike was very different, save for the last 100 miles or so, I was surprised how much it brought it back.

Perhaps it’s just that Les Carroz d’Araches is such a special place for me – we’ve skied here for 20 years and I’ve cycled here for perhaps 10 , including my ‘everest’ in 2017: here https://theomil.wordpress.com/2017/07/24/so-apart-from-the-pain-exhaustion-and-mental-anguish-how-was-the-everesting/

Last year’s ride out to the alps is covered back in July, starting here: https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/104665289/posts/4529

I like to think of the trip as altitude training – but suppose others would simply call it a skiing holiday. To be honest they would be right as our resort is at only 1150 metres and the highest skiing is at 2500 m.

We had a domestic day on Wednesday and then collected our older son and his girlfriend from Geneva airport. With Germany and Austria having had dangerous levels of snow, it seems that France had just the right amount. The skiing (and the holiday in general) was spectacularly good for the next 4 days to complete my training week, with just the one long run.

It had snowed on Thursday so it was on with the snow chains on Friday morning. I was surprised just how we struggled to get up to the lift station with them on – only to discover that one had fallen off. I ran back, retracing our drive, only to find the offending chain just metres from the apartment block’s garage. I don’t think I will ever get tired of telling people how much I dislike snow chains – truly the devil’s own work.

Apparently two wheel drive with winter tyres is more capable in the snow than four wheel drive with non-winter tyres. Of course, our rear wheel drive car with ordinary tyres is completely useless in the snow, so it looks like a change of car before next ski season.

Sadly, while I’m not sure if fell walking had any significant benefits for marathon training, I’m even more doubtful about alpine skiing. The only really beneficial bit would be the going uphill – and that is very much the province of the chairlift. However, it must have some effect as, despite having fairly fit legs from cycling and running, I was able to get a proper thigh burn when pushing hard to ski the resort from top to bottom.

I’ll clock it as a discounted 12 hours of cross-training, without much confidence in its value.

Perhaps I can console myself that the Achilles tendons are getting a bit of a rest.

Week Run Cycle X-train
1 16.1m  (25.9km) 9.8m  (15.8 km)  2:00
2 18.5m  (29.8km) 13.3m  (21.5km) 2:00
3 20.7m  (33.3km) 65.8m (105.9km) 1:00
4 22.2m  (35.8km) 13.7m (22.07km) 1:00
5 24m (38.6km) 13m  (21km) 1:00
6 (Christmas) 13.2m (21.3km)    
725.6m (41.1km)62.7m (100.9km) 3:00
8 (Lakes) 14.6m (23.6km) 13.2m (21.2km) 7.00
9 (Skiing)15.5m (25km)   12.00
‘Running’ totals 130.2m (209.7km) 178.2m (286.3km) 29:00