Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Sprints, Hikes and Swims in the Pyrenées

Location: Val d'Azun, The Pyrenées, France
Date: 20th - 23rd July, 2009
Day 1 - Sprints and a Hike
Having been in Paris for a few days at the start of our trip, I was due for some intense exercise. I was conscious that I would be doing a lot of hiking in the Pyrenées, but nevertheless wanted to do some hill sprints. So I chanced it and did some intervals on the first morning.

With each successive interval, I progressed my way up this shaded path (which looks flat but was actually a significant incline)...

...and did a last one on this grassy clearing.

The intervals were:

10 - 15 seconds (60 seconds rest)
10 - 15 seconds (60 seconds rest)
10 - 15 seconds (120 seconds rest)
10 - 15 seconds (90 seconds rest)
10 - 15 seconds (90 seconds rest)
30 seconds

Total time: 8 minutes, followed by a light jog downhill to return.

I finished off with the two stretches recommended by Mark Sisson in the Primal Blueprint (sitting on your haunches and hanging), which took about a minute.

This was the first sprinting I had done in my newly acquired Vibram Five Fingers Flow shoes - and it went fine.

Later, we went for a 5-hour hike, when I wore my Vibrams again - for the first time on a hike.

It was supposed to be 3 hours, but we went somewhat awry with our navigation. The paths failed to adhere to their supposed pattern on the map, so as map-reader-in-chief, I was not popular with Mrs M, who had psychologically budgeted for a lesser effort. It was also very hot.

We don't know the couple in this photo - I just thought it made a good shot. It was taken at 1600 metres, which was where we hiked to (from 1000).

Day 2 - Hike and a Swim
The hike was a two hour hike up to Lac de Gaube and back. The scenery was fantastic and the ground was a perfect further testing ground for hiking in the Vibrams, given the increased rockiness of the path. It proved to be an enlightening experience - it totally changes your approach to walking. There are certainly trade-offs - you can't just stomp down with your heel with every stride...but I loved it. More on the this in a separate post.

At the lake it behooved me to have a dip, in spite of the coldness of the water. I sprint swam to roughly where the darker blue water starts, then sprint swam back. By the time I got back, perhaps a minute later, the cold was already starting to bite. I was treating this as training for September when I want to swim across the lake at Buttermere, which is about 300 metres at the narrowest point.

Day 3 - Speed-Hike and 'Assault Course'
In the morning I couldn't resist speed-hiking part of the route we hiked to on the first day. We had found bilberries there and I was determined we would have more for breakfast.

The whole trip took 90 minutes, including 30 minutes of picking. There were points where my heart rate probably strayed above 75% of my max (135-ish), but for the most part I kept it in the 55%-75% recommended in the Primal Blueprint. I checked this by stopping and counting the beats for 10 seconds then multiplying by 6. Crude but adequate.

I ran back down, but of course this was easy from a cardiovascular perspective - although more of a challenge in terms of foot placement. As I mentioned earlier, with the Vibrams you can't just blunder forward with heel-first foot strikes.

After breakfast, we went to an 'adventure' centre. Here they have created a tree-top playground with zip slides, rope ladders, nets and other more sophisticated assault course challenges. There were difficulty levels from green up to black. Here are some of the 'red run' challenges:

Mrs M persevered until about halfway through the red run. We were, of course, attached to an overhead cable via a harness at all times, so there was no danger of death unless we failed to follow procedure. But much of the action took place at 30 or more feet above ground and this made her nervous. Also, there was an increasing need for upper body strength to complete the challenges. The challenge two pictures up was where she bowed out.

I then sought permission from the supervisors to try the 'black' run. There are some pictures of this below. Now that Mrs M has the camera, we have shots of me actually doing it.

This last one was a killer. By now I was starting to get muscular fatigue. Moving from rope to rope required me to support my weight with one arm because I had to remove and add both feet from/to the foot-discs at the same time or they would immediately tip.

I was on the course for 3 hours.
Day 4 - Light Hike
On the final day we hiked to another lake, where my desire to swim was thwarted by a sign warning about something we could not entirely decipher. There was clearly some kind of dam at one end so we supposed it was theoretically possible to get sucked down if you were stupid enough to swim at that end.

It did occur to me to have a sneaky dip at the far end without any danger whatsoever, but Mrs M's reaction to this proposition indicated it would be more trouble that it was worth. This was the river leading out of the lake (behind me when I was taking the photo.)

As I say - the Vibrams were a big hit. I hardly took them off all holiday. More on that in a future post.

One thing that struck me about this 4-day exercise stint: I never felt run down. I attribute this to two things: better sleep, less stress. This has brought home to me the value of these things.


Chris said...

Great Photos. Sounds like a nice holiday

Methuselah said...

Thanks Chris - pretty sure we'll be back there soon. Apparently great for winter mountaineering too, so I have my eye on Jan.