The opportunity to explore the Pyrenees mountains on foot, whereas previously we had cycled in the area, provided a great opportunity to get some time on feet training, but also to experience running at altitudes over 2000m for the first time. We based ourselves at the Pyrenees Haven B&B in Perles, just outside Ax Les Thermes (www.pyrenees-haven.com). Here’s a snippet of the training we covered through the week:
Day 1: Kilian Classik 25k Race
Actual distance 28k, 1059m ascent, 23rd overall, 4th female in 2hrs 46mins, 4mins behind 1st female.
We only found out about this race, starting from Font Romeu, 1hr from where we were staying, the week before. It seemed too good an opportunity to miss, and a chance to test myself at altitude as previously the highest I’d raced to is 1800m. This race starts at around 1750 then hit a max of 2400m. It’s where the likes of Mo Farrah do their altitude training so was going to be an interesting test. As it was far higher than I’d raced at, and day 1 of the holiday, I didn’t want to push too much and suffer with DOMS for the rest of the holiday!
With that in mind I started about 5 rows back, but it was evident there were a lot of potentially quick women around, including the Salomon juniors. Emilie Fosberg was also there, she was coming back from an ACL injury so I was surprised to see her racing.
The race started on the road, straight into a gentle climb out of Font Romeu. Despite running steadily, I was sitting around 5/6th female. We hit the trail, through the woods and one of the women who shot off at the start dropped right back. I was running comfortably and saw Emilie ahead, I took this opportunity to catch her and have a chat! We were out of the woods and gradually climbing through grassy fields. Emilie told me I was taking it too easy, she was only running the hills and out for a controlled training run as her knee wasn’t yet up to the steep descents. She said I was now 3rd and the first 2 were only a minute ahead. This was around 8k in and we were only at 2000m so I was happy to sit back and not push. Emilie stopped at this point to take photos, she wasn’t even out of breath on any of the climb!
Next came my favorite bit, climbing a black ski slope, for the first time in the race we were reduced to a hands on knees walk! I must have looked ok, my breathing rate wasn’t any higher than I would expect for a hill of the gradient so the altitude test was very encouraging. The photographer even gave me a high 5 at the top! We descended the red ski slope, then hit some fantastic single tracks along and through streams, and nicely technical climbing up to 2134m. At the top I missed a red flag marking the left turn . It was covered by a walker standing aside to let us runners pass, it added at least half a km onto my race, but I didn’t mind as I was far too distracted by the amazing scenery. The plateau revealed fantastic blue lakes surrounded by lush green vegetation. By the time I back tracked 2 women were just ahead, dropping me to 5th. One fell back but with the other runner a pattern developed, I moved ahead on the climbs, she moved ahead on the descents. We were together at the start of the final 3k into Font Romeu, but it was through dense woodland, and when she moved ahead it wasn’t long before she was out of sight. I lost the yellow tape among the many paths several times, having to stop and wait for the chap behind to catch on a couple of occasions to confirm the route. He’d run it before, but still wasn’t entirely sure of the correct route. I made it down into Font in 4th place having lost 1min to 3rd place and 4mins behind the winner. It seems I wasn’t the only one to lose the route in that final section though.
So, as my first proper altitude test, it was surprisingly comfortable running at 2400m and to finish 23/500 overall in an international race, that goes down as job well done.
Day 2: 11.75miles, 5:52, 2064m ascent
Proper altitude test: Marc at 1094m to Pica D’Estats at 3143m
Out and back.
This was unsurprisingly mainly done as a walk, starting on lovely woodland paths up to around 1500m then heather and stoney trails up to Refuge de l’Etang du Pinet at 2242m. This had already taken 1hr 43mins and on a hot and humid day we were glad of the opportunity to refill our bottles and get some Orangina. After that the fun started, first we hit small pockets of snow, then above ~2600m large sections of wet, slushy snow. Hard going due to the terrain but I managed a bit of a jog at 3000m on the approach, just to see I could! The last 200m ascent fortunately didn’t have snow, instead Lake District esq rocky scrambling. Amazing, but hard going in the snow, reaching the top in 3hrs 22mins, only 5.94miles! As much as I enjoyed the climb, the descent was horrible, I wish I’d taken my Khatula spikes to grip in the slush. Several bum slides later, we were back at the refuge. We had a well earned beer and some chicken stew, before the only runnable section, back down to Marc. That made for a very unimpressive 2mph avg pace!
Day 3: 16.34miles, 5:02, 1556m ascent
Orlu 836m to Refuge d’en Beys 1954
Straight into climbing today, but switchbacks through the woods made several parts runnable. It was however, a Vertical Kilometer, with the first 5k involving just over 1000m ascent to the dam wall. This would be an amazing place for a VK race! We hit Etang de Naguille, a vast lake surrounded by 2000m+ peaks and had a brief stop for our pizza pack up! Distracted by the amazing views, we lost the trail and extended around a couple of lakes, again only adding bonus miles in stunning scenery! We realised our error and back tracked, reaching Refuge d’en Beys at 1954m, having covered just under 9 miles to be greated by chickens wandering around the tables of the refuge. They made the most amazing omelettes which fueled us up nicely for the final 7.5 miles back to Orlu. The last 2 miles were on the road, I took the chance to stretch the legs on the steep descent, even clocking a 5:26mile!
Day 4: 13.89miles, 3:49, 1284m ascent
Soldeu, Andorra to Refuge du Ruhle, France
Out and back.
So, the original plan was to get dropped off in Andorra and do the 6hr run back to the B&B. However, the clag was down and we were feeling the effects of the last few days, so decided on an easier option. That said, the first 4 miles involved climbing from 1762m to the boarder at 2262m, Port de Fontargenta. The cloud cover and cooler temperatures were a welcome change to blazing sun and most of the run was done in my Minimus jacket. We reached the boarder to be met by wild horses, amazingly placid despite their remote location. The fast descent then final climb to the refuge was one of my favorite parts, mostly runnable despite the weeks mileage. Again, free range hens, along with friendly staff and a couple of collies welcomed us to the refuge where we had omelettes, plus a local draught beer (we were on holiday after all!) Due to the cloud cover and changeable weather, we decided to go back the same way. All in all, a great day of training at a slightly more acceptable pace of 3.6mph!
Day 5: 7.75miles, 2hrs 30mins, 1183m ascent,
Appy to Col de l’Etang d’Appy,
Out & back
Aiming for one last 3hr ish Pyrenean adventure we set out from Appy, the first 2.6 miles all up hill with the odd flatter section to break into a jog, before getting to the lake that we had already earmarked for a swim on the way back down. We climbed on past the lake into a final mile which involved steeper switchbacks, then a bit of rocky scrambling, past Col de l’Etang d’Appy to a viewing point. We could see the track dropping, then climbing again to the high point at around 2500m but had decided we’d done enough over the last few days to take it easy today, so stopped at the viewing point. The views to the south over the Pyrenees were again spectacular, we had expected to see to the flatlands towards Carcassonne to the north but they were covered in cloud. After a few jelly snakes we headed down the technical descent for a paddle in the lake. Over the next few descending miles we saw wild strawberries, raspberries and mint growing at the side of the trail, guarded by the many lizards popping out to meet us!
All in all, we covered 137km/ 85.3 miles, climbed 7536m/ 24725ft ascent over 21 and a half hours, not bad over 5 fantastic runs/ walks!
I would thoroughly recommended the location for an active holiday and especially the Pyrenees Haven B&B. The food, hot tub, routes, lifts back from the restaurant in pouring rain were superb, so much so, we’re already planning our next trip back!