The Pyrenees in Pictures

I’m back home in the UK after an almost perfect week in the Pyrenees. Perfect because all the wet weather gear I packed ‘just in case’ remained in the bag. I have a slightly silly cyclists tan which whilst not ideal does mean I saw plenty of sun. All in all a great trip with a lot achieved.

Before I dive into a post analysing the week and with lots of musings over data I thought it’d be more interesting to quickly run over some of the highlights. So today a reprieve from data and graphs and instead a few camera phone photos and routes and cols. We’ll worry about what good or bad it’s done me later.

Day 1 – Arrival
Swim – 2km! Bike – 0km! Run – 6.5km

Tentative plans to get some decent training in on my arrival day soon went out the window with the realities of travel. A couple of hours waiting for a train in Toulouse meant no chance of riding. Still I discovered it’s easy enough to eat Paleo in airports and train stations in France.

Note the swim, that’s the most I swam in my entire time out there. A short trip to a local lake in lovely sunny weather. A couple of decent laps in the wetsuit. All very pleasant. Fatigue from training the rest of the week would minimise my will to get in the Endless Pool to swim.

I finished the day with a short run through the local village. Lowlight being an insect managing to fly smack into the side of my face and sting me. Reacted a little and started to look like the Elephant Man until I got some antihistamines.

Day 2 – Testing the Bike/Legs
Swim – 0km! Bike – 91km. Run – 17km

Col de Mente

Decided to get straight into a routine with my morning run. Out the door before breakfast and off on the marked 10km loop. Pace seems slow, partly because it’s a lumpy route much of it on trails. Also I think my decision to do a gym session on Saturday is paying me back. My legs are sore!

After breakfast where I did indulge in a little bit of carbs I opted for a relatively simple ride. The plan was Col de Larrieu, Col de Buret and the Col des Ares before heading home. Short and simple. Always feel a little nervous on the first ride in the mountains, will my legs be up to it? Once I was past the Larrieu I started to debate the route. Too easy?

Before the Col de Buret there’s the option to turn off towards the Col de Portet d’Aspet and the Col de Mente. I’ve never climbed the Mente due to weather issues on my last trip. I couldn’t pass it up and headed over to it. The sun was shining and it was time for a real climb!

I got up the Mente no problems though have to admit to finding it a bit boring! Not sure why, but it was just one of those climbs I couldn’t get into. Lots of switchbacks, but never felt that exciting. Still first major Col done and a quick descent into St Beat that made me suspect my descending was coming back. The rest of the ride was a slog into a headwind on a busy road so not so fun.

The perfect way to finish off the day was to eat, rest and then get another run in. This time out along a local flat bike path in the heat. I’d been promised it’d be great preparation for Ali’i Drive. Hopefully in Kona things will go better as a lack of fluids in the day led to severe stomach cramps and perhaps some minor heat stroke when I got back!

Day 3 – A Trip Abroad
Swim – 0! Bike – 120km. Run – 17km

Once again I headed out on the 10km run first thing. Legs still felt sore which was frustrating, but I settled for a volume emphasis on running this week. My bike route today would be a climb up to Superbagneres, then back down and over the Col du Portillon into Spain before heading home.

Superbagneres was a much more enjoyable climb. My mood was good and the gradient about right for the day. I settled into it and made my way up the quiet roads. The only real interruption being the odd bit of resurfacing being done. At the top it was a remarkable dump! Everything run down and nothing open. A promising looking cafe being gutted for renovation. So as was standard it was straight round and down the hill to Luchon. Being on the paleo diet for athletes and needing some carbs in training I ate a Pain au Chocolat!

I headed up the Portillon low on motivation again. It’s a pleasant shaded climb with some fairly harsh gradients. Admittedly it was early days and by the end of the week I was fully acclimatised to long slogs up 8% hills. Far better than the climb itself was the descent the other side. Open, fast roads you could speed down all the way back to France and St Beat.

Rather than face the busy main road I detoured towards the Luchon side road to make my way back. Still had a strong headwind for the return! After yesterdays experience I immediately transitioned to my run to get it out the way before any stomach or heat issues could take hold. It seemed to work and I felt much better even with the heat.

Day 4 – Going Long
Swim – 10 minutes! Bike – 141km. Run – 17km

Third proper day in the saddle and I felt I’d done enough pottering about. So once agan it was out first thing for that 10K run. The soreness from weights was gone, though instead I had fatigue from more recent training! My planned ride was to head over the Portet d’Aspet and over to St Giron before turning round and heading home. It’s a bit of climbing to start the day, but then mostly rolling on the route back.

The legs felt pretty jaded from the start. On the Col des Ares, the first climb of the day, a wiry old guy went past me! I really felt I had nothing to answer and just let him go. At the least I should stress this guy was a cyclist, not one of these old guys with their knees sticking out on the bike. The Portet d’Aspet has some nasty sections in so I was a little concerned.

Once on the climb things picked up. Gravel laid down for road repair was slightly unwelcome as it irritatingly stuck to the tyres. I settled in to a reasonable rhythm until I caught a group of Dutch cyclists. With a bit of motivation I started powering up the climb picking off the group one by one. I think I got the lot by the time I’d made the top! I was also greatly relieved that a long descent to St Giron would let my legs recover!

Whilst the rest of the ride avoids any notable climbs I couldn’t resist popping back over the Ares and climbing it the other way. Once back home it was straight out on a transition run again. Back on the flat, hot road feeling reasonably good despite the mileage. Then I actually got in the Endless Pool! It’s hard to claim 10 minutes splashing about getting used to how it works as a swim, but that’s all I did. Shocking. If one thing lacked in my week it was structuring in swimming properly. Something to bear in mind in the future.

Day 5 – Easy day??
Swim – 30 minutes! Bike – 60km. Run – 32km

My plan for the week was two three day blocks with an easier day in between. I will note that an easy day can’t really include 32km of running! I went out into the heat on the cycle path for a 20km stretch, before finishing the run off with the 10K trail loop to work the legs over. It certainly did and I was pretty worn by the end.

Fortunately the rest of the day was pretty slack. I rolled down to Luchon. Stopping in a boulangerie for a mini-pizza (yes, a break from Paleo) before returning home. Then I finished the day off by actually spending a whole 30 minutes in the Endless Pool. I got the hang of it and found it quite useful for studying your own stroke.

Day 6 – Going Longer
Swim – 0! Bike – 161km. Run – 10km
Port de Bales

Right being rested it was time to up the game. I started out with the usual run and then headed out for a monster ride. I planned to string together a bunch of favourite climbs. First up was the Port de Bales. A fairly significant opener with a real mix of gradients on the way up with some stern stuff to get you working. Plenty of livestock too!

Topping that felt good and the descent was fantastic, once again I found myself handling things comfortably. I wasn’t willing to state it aloud, but I really felt I was descending properly again. A few kilometres from the bottom you turn off to climb the Peyresourde. Boy that hurts the legs to start! Not so steep, but after twenty minutes downhill they aren’t expecting it. Still I love the Peyresourde so soon got my legs back. I’m not sure why I like it so much, because it has one of the dullest peaks around. Not planning to stop for coffee or crepes it was straight over for a fast descent.

On a trip out to the Pyrenees the previous year I’d climbed the Hourquette d’Ancizan in pissing rain. I remember the climb fondly despite this, possibly because of the crepes and frites we warmed ourselves with after the descent. Climbing it this time I learnt I’d forgotten that it was quite long and tough to start. At the least it had some spectacular views midway through. The descent the other side is scenic, though finishes in a slightly cyclocross fashion.

I paused for a Mars bar at the bottom before heading up to climb the last section of the Col de l’Aspin. Another favourite, though usually when climbed from the other side. From the West it was a shorter climb and over quickly. However the descent was great fun. The East side is an enjoyable, challenging climb and a fast descent. Midway down I caught an exceptionally nervous car and had to over take. My descending really must be improving!

A lot of climbing done I took the easier route back over rolling terrain. As I got close to home I realised I was close to 160km and with a few diversions I boosted myself up for a century ride. I was knackered when I arrived back and decided 10km was plenty of running for the day.

Day 7 – No Really an Easy Day
Swim – 0! Bike – 75km. Run – 6.5km

I woke on Saturday and knew today wasn’t going to be the big day I planned. So out on the run it was an easy decision to cut it short and opt for the 6.5km loop over the 10K. I gorged at breakfast, including lots of carbs. My body was demanding it!

In the end I decided to ride up to Nistos Cap Nestes and back with no extra riding involved. One solid climb to give myself a workout. Getting to the climb is a drag and my mind wasn’t in the mood. Add to that my powertap had run out of batteries so I had no power info for the day. Motivation was low, but I stuck to it.

Nistos Cap Nestes

Gravel was everywhere on the climb, covering the road for the first couple of kilometres. I seriously questioned the wisdom of continuing. Sticking to my guns I worked up the climb and was rewarded with some spectacular views. The sun of the past week had vanished so I was a little chilly. The top was a disappointing car park and a closed cafe. So a quick turn around and back down the rough and slightly nerve wracking descent. I reigned things in not wanting to take any risks at this point.

A good climb left my legs feeling a lot better and I cruised home much happier for it. The rest of the day was spent lounging around with my feet up. My body needed some rest!

Day 8 – Really Going Long!
Swim – 0! Bike – 190km. Run – 10km

Something must have worked on the previous day because I knocked out the 10K a little bit quicker than previous days. A big breakfast and very short nap before heading out on my biggest ride of the day. The plan was to go up the Tourmalet, then back over the Col de l’Aspin and if I was feeling up to it the Peyresourde. A big day for sure especially when you add an extra 10K to the start with a wrong turn!

Tourmalet Cyclist

With 70km already on the clock by the base of the Tourmalet I started on the climb. I really wasn’t into it and the whole day seemed like a slog. Somewhere way up the side of that mountain though the mood turned and by the time I reached the top I was loving things. I’d gone up in bigger gears than I’d been climbing in previously and felt really comfortable. Great stuff. I paused at the top for the picture. Explained to a concerned Frenchman I had a gilet to keep me warm on the descent and headed down before I got cold.

Holding back at my corner where I crashed on my first trip out there. I soon caught a car and had to wait till I could over take. Descending was going well again apart from a sketchy moment on rough road where my rear wheel started to slide. At over 50kph that might not have been pretty, but I stayed upright. It wasn’t too long till I was at the bottom and relatively warm again.

Feeling much happier and keen to get my big ride in I headed for the Col de l’Aspin. Once again climbing from the less interesting Western side. That meant a long gradual run in until those final few steep kilometres. The kilometres ticked over quickly and it wasn’t long till I was at the top. I enjoyed the descent yet again. Catching cars and almost another cyclist! At the bottom I had a choice, the easy route back or over the Peyresourde.

I’ve never climbed the Peyresourde from that side and I was feeling keen. The choice was easy. It’s a long drag in and the 10km of actual climbing is pretty tedious. Throw in a little drizzle and I was questioning the wisdom of my choice. Too late now, I was committed. The thought of the fast descent back to Luchon spurred me on. Was I actually enjoying descending?!

There’s a moment near the top where you see a side road with cars on it and think ‘shit there’s more’. The relief when you turn the corner and see the actual peak just in front of you is huge. Then it really is fast downhill with some handy signs in the villages on route to let you know your speed. I was soon in Luchon, it was all over far too quick! All that was left was a slog home for 30K into a headwind. The knowledge I’d hit 190km for this helped pushed me on and I arrived back at base feeling pretty content. That was it my big week was done.

Day 9 – Kicking Back
Swim – 0! Bike – 48km. Run – 6.5km

Well almost done. With my flight being in the evening I had the morning to train. I opted to keep the run and bike short. It was probably the toughest bike ride I did all week. Tiny climbs, but my mind was done with this. I’d done my training this was no fun! I pushed through on a local loop taking in a couple of little hills. I got it done fairly slowly, though thanks to a headwind not so easily.

All the training done I packed up and chilled in front of the TV!

All in the main seven days totalled up around 850km cycling and 110km running, both solid volume. The lack of swimming was a shame, so clearly I need to hit the pool and lake lots now. I’ll do some proper training analysis for the week in the next day or two and also have a lot fo thoughts on future training coming from this. Certainly if I get my recovery and environment right there’s the potential to train harder in the future. I’ve some ideas for ways to structure my training too. Exciting times are ahead!