Great Trailrunning in the Spanish Pyrenees

Enjoying the trails in the National Parc Aigüestortes

DSC_0219Two weeks holiday and trailrunning in the Spanish Pyrenees came to an end with a great two day trail through the Parc Nacional d’Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici. Inspired by many day trailrunning trips and a family three day / two night Refugi experience I set out to run the Carros de Foc trail.

croquis_carrosdefocThe Carros de Foc Trail is a high-mountain route (most Refugi are above 2000m and the highest pass is around 2700m) with a circular itinerary of approximately 55km connecting nine mountain Refugi. There are many options and most people will take three to seven days starting at any of the Refugi.

Conclusion: Carros de Foc = Perfect for a two day / one night Refugi trailrun.

I choose to go counter clockwise based on my starting point, Camping Sol I Nue at Espot (great campsite by the way – relaxed, clean and very friendly staff) and advice that the 2700m mountain pass between Refugi Ventosa I Calvell and Estany Llong could best be approached from the West in order to climb (instead of descent) a very large big boulder field.

The reservation for the Refugi Ventosa I Calvell, more or less half-way meant that day one would be a little easier in distance and height than day two. This suited me fine because you need to be at 19.00 at a Refugi for evening dinner. With day two a little longer, ending at the campsite I was not in a hurry other than be ‘home for dark’.

Whilst evening dinner and breakfast was included for only 45 euros I could pack minimally …

DSC_0179… only taking summer running clothes, rain trousers, wind jacket, warm jacket, extra pair of socks, poles, rescue blanket, some plasters, head torch, phone, charger, extra battery pack, about twenty muesli bars, some electrolyte tablets and motivational Dutch candy, i.e. ‘dropjes’. It all fitted easily in my larger 24 litres Race Elite INOV-8 Trailpack. Good thing about running in the Pyrenees is that there are enough clear stream to take drinking water so I only needed a half litre soft flask.

DSC_0165Of I went at 0615, using the gravel road for the first slow ascend to Refugi Amitges DSC_0164(2310m) in time for a breakfast coffee, enjoying the ‘quietness’ of the sunrise only disturbed by multiple deer crossing the road. Although people use the trails, filling up the Refugis with about seventy persons every evening and many more day walkers I still enjoyed most of the two days in total tranquillity …

 

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… enjoying many times the ‘noise of nothing’ during a break or a single ‘Olla, Buenos’ when passing others.

DSC_0213Via the Colomers and two mountain passes of 2600m I ended the first day at the Refugi Ventosa at 1300. A bit early maybe, but it gave me the opportunity to relax / read in the sun, enjoying the beautiful views and just experience how nice ‘boredom’ can be when completely disconnected from the outside (social media) world.

DSC_0196All Refugi have a strict rhythm of evening dinner at 19.00, lights out at 22.00 and breakfast from 06.30. The quality and luxury differs quiet a lot with Ventosa being a ‘little harsh’ with no warm water, only one shower and two toilets for approximately seventy guests. As usual you sleep like ‘sardines in a box’ in a row of 35 people. Luckily I slept near a window because it becomes very warm with all those bodies in a small place. Dinner consisted of soup, followed by a salad, than chicken or a sausage and yogurt as dessert. All right but definitely not high cuisine and ‘just enough’ for hungry mountain walkers / runners. Breakfast was a good buffet with enough calories to get you going again for the day.

DSC_0212The next day started with a challenging climb through a very large boulder field and some snow patches to a 2740m mountain pass. I enjoyed my lightweight pack and flexible trailrun shoes (INOV-8 Roclite 305) scrambling my way upwards, feeling a bit sorry for any with more heavy backpacks and amazed by some younger children making their way.

This day I experienced both steep, rocky trails through large and small boulder or scree fields surrounded by rocky peaks and also nice forestry trails along lakes passing meadows with mountain cows grazing. Sometimes the trail followed ‘a path for giants’, i.e. rough tracks made to build the several hydroelectric dams and pipelines.

DSC_0207The extreme differences in terrain and views after every new mountain pass was what I enjoyed the most and inspired me to keep going!

These two days proofed again the adagio that trailrunning in the mountains resembles walking for inpatient people with an overall average speed of just 5 km/h (excluding long breaks, but including many photo stops!).

But who cares about time, no race, no finish, just yourself deciding when to run, walk, stop for a break.

DSC_0213Already having tasted the Spanish Pyrenees during the PirineosFIT 2017 Jaca Trailweek in June 2017 I would like to advise everybody to also enjoy these great mountain trails.

The Carres de Foc makes for an easy to organise yourself multistage trailrun, at a pace you like, with no ‘pressure of competition – just following your heart beat’ …

… according to my rough scale:

  • extreme = one day;
  • a bit strange = two days;
  • ‘normal’ people = three days.

Whichever category you fit in, I hope I inspired you with this story to also come and enjoy the Spanish Pyrenees, I am sure you will find and enjoy the trails.

Some final statistics (for if you are interested):

Day One:

  • Distance: 24km
  • Running / Total time: 4 / 6 hours
  • Height gained: 1500m
  • Height lost: 1100m
  • Highest point: 2600m

Day Two:

  • Distance: 38km
  • Running / Total time: 8 / 11 hours
  • Height gained: 2000m
  • Height lost: 3000m
  • Highest point: 2740m

 

Multi-stage trailrunning

The ‘Secret’ of recuperation

I was asked a few times how I recuperated during my participation in the six days mountain marathon multi-stage trailrun of the Pirineosfit Jaca Trailweek. Combined with talking that week with other runners and triggered by a article about multi-stage trailrunning on the MudSweatTrails website I thought it may be interesting to write about my own ideas and hear your experiences.

So what is my ‘Secret’? Not really earth shattering but summarised:

Anticipate – Recuperate – Prepare

FB_IMG_1499455171453ANTICIPATE. It all starts already during the trailrun itself. You need to keep yourself well hydrated and energised. This will save your body to overcome first the shortages of that day before building up for the next day and it will also help your result of the race itself!

For this reason I ate approximately seven energy bars and four gels (from different brands, pending the appetite I preferred one or the other) in order to during the long days in the mountains and drank 1.5 – 2 litres of energy drink / water (depending the mountain streams available). This may sound a lot but consider what you normally eat during an 6 – 8 hour period a day.

Good and motivational moments for me to eat and drink where climbing not to steep parts and also promising myself a treat when reaching the top of a mountain or when reaching a mountain pass.

I had time to unwrap bars (leave nothing behind) and allowing them to digest,  drink something and maybe switch water soft-flasks – even adding some electrolytes tablets when I felt that I drank too much only water without any needed salt / minerals. This is all much more difficult when going fast down hill or really pushing your body. When i felt I needed something in those stages I took an energy gel (also from different brands pending my taste at the time).

RECUPERATE YOUR ENERGY SYSTEM. After finishing, besides celebrating the completed challenge of the day with the other trailrunners, recuperation was on directly on my mind. Focus was on drinking to first of all get rid of the build up body wastes and secondly to reload ‘a mountain of proteins and carbons’ by whatever I liked at that moment – indulging & motivating myself a bit.

I drank approximately 1,5 litres of sports drinks directly after finishing and continued drinking through the rest of the day / evening with a mix of carbo and protein drinks. The proteins drinks are needed to support the recuperation of the muscles. That is probably one of the most important things to do when recuperating. On average you need at least to take in 1,5 times your body weight in proteins grams. Just check the packing and you will find out that this is difficult to get only out of food in the few hours left before going to bed and be ready for the next day, also because just after finishing I am not always very hungry, although I really enjoyed the cold pasta salad they served at the finish.

I personally use a in the first few hours fluids to reload. At first TriSportPharma RECUPRO (an specific, optimal mix of proteins / carbons / Leucine especially made for quick recuperation) and later a mix of Vitagro carbo with tasteless Bodylab 100% whey

mix – these brands are OK for my stomach but everybody has to find out themselves what serves best, as long as it contains a high level of proteins and carbohydrates (check the links for more specific information).

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Ice-cream = MJAM!!

Solid food I like is the Icelandic SKIR yogurt or cottage cheese, both with a lot of proteins, together with fruit muesli, fresh fruit etc. And for my ultimate motivation I spoil myself with a large 1 litres Ice-cream with fruit! Maybe not the healthiest part but inspiring for an Ice-cream addict like I am.

RECUPERATE YOUR MUSCLES.  Besides the motivational Ice-cream, I took a nice long shower cleaning my running clothes from the sweat at the same time – I do not have sixsets of running gear -, put on after-sun cream, massaged and creamed my feet and self-massaged and foam-rolled my legs. I always felt a bit ‘reborn’ after these actions!

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Feet in the air – relax

PREPARE FOR THE NEXT DAY. Rest, drink and eat. For me that meant … feet up on bed, sleeping (with my calves lifted via an additional cushion under the mattress), reading, looking at the great pictures that where made during the trails, drinking carbohydrate / proteins drinks, eating and an occasional stroll in and around the hotel using the stairs or stroll through the town to stretch and loosen the muscles.

I ate quit a lot in the evening – things I liked where: Ice-cream, yogurt with muesli, sandwiches with cheese and chorizo – allowing my body to recuperate and reload during the night. The additional advantage was that I only needed a small breakfast of two coffees and two slices of toast with jam. I had breakfast around 0600, much later than for a one day (road)race. Normally for an 0800 start I would have breakfast around 0400 and don’t drink anything anymore after 0500. It also gave me two hours more sleep every night, which was really welcome!

The slower and relaxed pace at the start of the multi-stage days, literally be ready two minutes before the start (!), I used to warm up the muscles and let the digestion to continue – maybe with a ‘wee’ break. This is impossible in a road race where you have to go ‘max’ from the start.

 

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Pedro Marques

OTHER OPTIONS. My Portuguese roommate Pedro Marques did more or less the same but also had some interesting ideas. He finished in third place overall at the end and is a experienced ultra-runner so at least it works for him.

  • He used baby milk combined with a protein drink after the finish. This went well with his digestion system.
  • He ate some handfuls of nuts and tablespoons of honey.
  • He also ate some baby food products like fruit mixes. Again very light on the stomach and relatively inexpensive when compared with specialised sport supplements.
  • He made some ‘energy cakes’ in the microwave.

During some multi-day trailruns in the Netherlands I also really enjoyed the cakes directly after the finish together with the alcohol free Erdinger Beer. Both I think are good for general carbohydrates reload and motivation (!) but more specialised drinks and food are needed to fully and quickly recuperate.

There is no magic solution but some options are better than others – experiment, investigate, discuss … enjoy!

Pirineosfit Jaca Trailweek – Final Day Six

Return Jaca: Final(ly) a fast mountain marathon!

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FIT 4 Fantasticos with Ana, James and Pedro – READY for Day Six!!

Suddenly it is already the last day of the six days multi-stage mountain marathon of the Pirineosfit Jaca Trailweek.

It turned out to be a great day for me as ‘low land – no hills’ Dutchtrailrunner!

During the start on the Plaza of Jaca it started to drizzle a little, meaning: less heat, and luckily it stayed quit clouded and sometimes a little wet and windy during most of the race. Just my type of weather.

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Rainy start from the Plaza in the old part of Jaca

The track for this final mountain marathon was fast. The first 20km passed in just two hours cruising on wide tracks with not than many stony obstacles (which I am not good at – feeling more like a mountain cow than a mountain goat as some other runners). I found companion with two Spanish runners all the way to the top of the mountain overlooking Jaca. We pushed each other forward uphill but I had to let them go down hill racing via zigzags back to Jaca. The last few kilometres were great, knowing that I finished the challenging (for me first time) six day trail run, feeling well in body and mind, without any injuries and speeding at 3.40 km/minute into the old town cheered on by people shopping and enjoying coffee, finishing in 4.33 hours for 42km and 1700m height gain.

After the long and hard third day I was not sure if I would be able to finish in one piece with my left knee and Achilles a little sore. But the last two to three days brought back my spirits!

I am really grateful that I was able to join this adventure …

… exploring new trails in the beautiful Spanish Pyrenees with a international group of dedicated and partly mad / crazy trailrunners (especially the by coincidence due to driving to the different starts FIT 4 Fantasticos Ana, James and Pedro).

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A special thanks to the whole PirineosFIT2017 team who made this possible …

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Final Day = Paella Day – MJAM!!

… setting out the tracks, providing water along the way, making great pictures, serving tasteful salads (and paella on the last day) at the finish and always welcoming you and cheering you on with a big smile … THANKS!!!!

Pirineosfit Jaca Trailweek – Day Five

Return Canfranc: Zigzagging like a ‘Drunken Submariner’!

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FIT 4 Fantasticos ready for Day Five

The Day five Mountain Trailrun of the Pirineosfit Jaca Trailweek felt for me like being a ‘Drunken Submariner’. Being Submariner is easy for me, that is my profession. And I confess right away that I also have experience to really zigzag like a ‘Drunken Submariner’ in some foreign port.

But luckily I am not always drunk, especially not when trailrunning!

However, today started where we finished yesterday, Canfranc. And just as yesterday, directly after the start we pushed ourselves up the steep slopes using a 100+ zigzags.

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Multiple 100+ zigzags

Ending, after some last steep ‘technical’ climbing a 1000 metres higher just to go down again (as you tend to do with these events!), first over, for me at least, a difficult bolder field, but than ending in a nice winding track all the way back to Canfranc. There I left the half-marathon behind and started the second climb up the steep slopes on the other side of the village.

And yes … again 100+ zigzags …

Ending in a beautiful wide valley with a dozen eagles flying high up int the air.

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Day Five: up / down the slopes on both sides of Canfranc

It was warm (!) so I was really happy to find at the end point of the trail a ice-cold mountain stream. Refreshed and hydrated I started the last part: a nice and easy old road track, ending again … 100+ zigzags down to Canfranc.

I passed the finish within 6.18 hours with 37km and 2300 metres height gained. Not bad for another day out of the office.

All in all I felt much better than yesterday, even with the heat today. The trail fitted my running strengths better: endurance combined with a relative high ‘basic’ speed and ability to keep pushing uphill or against the wind. Today’s’ trail brought, via all the 100+ zigzags, longer parts with good underground, either up or down which allowed me to go faster.

The last zigzags through the forest I sped downwards as in a road race, really enjoying the chance from pushing up with trailpoles or carefully stepping down through a bolder

field.

I will never become a mountain goat trailrunner but slowly

after five races I am getting a bit more used to it …

five down … one to go … READY!!

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The Dutch Submariners badge, aka ‘Flipper’

Pirineosfit Jaca Trailweek – Day Four

Candanchú y Canfranc: A ‘Feel Good’ Mountain run with a Brutal end!

DSC_0049Day four of the Pirineosfit Jaca Trailweek started for me as a ‘feel good’ trailrun for many reasons:

  • We started relaxed down hill through a nice forest.
  • It was clouded with even for a few minutes a little drizzle, for me perfect. However my Spanish and Portuguese trail friends dressed themselves quickly with arm-sleeves and even wind jackets, for them it was really ‘frío’!

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  • My legs felt good, which was a surprise after the long and hot run yesterday.
  • IMG_20170706_130446506The route provided again amazing views of the high mountains, but also through a meadow full of cows, steep climbs and hard descends.
  • After 34 kilometres I had eaten all my gels and bars, drank approximately two litres and could see the road to Canfranc, i.e. the finish, but than it happened ….

The track did not go to Canfranc but …

… started a almost vertical climb of 500 metres …

BRUTAL!!!!

That was a bit brutal (understatement), a real test of my moral.  Something similar to a running drill in the armed forces. Just when you see the barracks you are told … ”another round boys!”.

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‘Brutal’ climb and 100+ zigzag

That is how I felt, but than again, it is a mountain trailrun, the organisation already showed the past days they are really good in finding hidden paths through the mountains end most importantly …

Nobody forced me to join this six days trail endurance …so stop moaning … keep calm, carry on and enjoy!

I took out my ‘emergency bar’, got some water along the track and continued. The vertical climb ended in a narrow traverse before descending finally towards Canfranc with a 100+ zigzag descend (at least that is how it felt). The descend was positive both in that it winded down through forest and most importantly, I did not feel anything at my left knee when speeding downwards. Both yesterday and today I felt a slight soreness in the knee when navigating through bumpy meadows and rocky trails. But not after 40km speeding down hill, HAPPY!

I finished just in 8:29:33 hours, i.e. just within the official cut-off time of 8.30 hours (!) for 41km and 2700 metres height gained.

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We did it again!

All of the instant-team ‘FIT 4 FANTASTICOS’ finished again without any major injuries. Just tired after four long runs in the heat. We are now passed the half-way mark, two more to go.

Yesterday I was too tired to go the shop for an Ice-cream but today I feel much better, probably due to the less heat … so ultimate recuperation time for me will start now …

 

ICE-CREAM TIME!!!!!!!! 

Pirineosfit Jaca Trailweek – Day Three

Castun to Canfranc: For sure a real Mountain Trailrun!!

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Ready for Day Three!

Day three Pirineosfit Jaca Trailweek brought a point-to-point mountain marathon of 41km with two big climbs and 2400 metres height gained, beautiful views and for me at least very sore legs!

The start in Castun was a bit strange because this is a very small ski village completely closed in summer time. However, the speaker and the loud upbeat music prepared everybody for day three. The marathon and half-marathon split Screenshot_20170705-193634today directly after the start leaving in total eleven men and two women braving the marathon trail this day.

Today no shade from trees, the whole track was in the higher mountains of the Pyrenees, so the sun burned fully upon me with a maximum temperature of 34 Degrees Celsius. Luckily on the trail today there were many streams providing fresh water to drink and cool of my head.

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When the speed was still there!

The first part reminded me a bit of the first part of the climb towards the Cobbler in Scotland, gently winding uphill. I trailed along the ski slopes of Castun at a gentle pace, knowing that it would be a long day and I also felt my thighs from yesterday’s fast 25km trailrun (I really enjoyed the speed but knew I had to pay for it today, as I did!).

Together with James Poole of the instant-team  FIT 4 FANTASTICOS’  I trailed at the back of the group towards the first big climb after which a very scenic descent followed, zigzagging down through small sturdy mountain trees, meadows with beautiful flowers and birds of prey flying high.

FB_IMG_1499278530433Was the first climb already a challenge, the second even more, with a steep ascent ending on a small top with a clear top beacon and a magnificent view! In the descend I lost contact with the other runners. It was half-way and I started to feel my left knee a bit too much, combined with being tired and therefore less able to concentrate on the small rocky trails. I decided not to push luck too much and slowed down to a ‘fast’ walking pace (where possible!).

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Summit number two

The last 12 kilometres where slowly (for me) downhill through a wide valley where Spanish High mountain cows enjoyed themselves with their bells and ‘Moo….sss’.

FB_IMG_1499278423549I had eaten four energy gels and seven bars along the way (without any stomach issues!) when I finally finished in Canfranc.

After 7.21 hours I could enjoy the now already traditional ‘Finish Salad’ with today a Melon Gazpacho, MJAM!!!

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Day Three – DONE!! – Up to Day Four – READY!!

All of the instant-team ‘FIT 4 FANTASTICOS’ finished with my Portuguese roommate Pedro ending second. He ran a 100+ kilometres trail just a week ago! The set-up of six days – six mountain marathons attract a certain type of trailrunner, mostly ultra runners just like James Poole, or a crazy Dutchman.

Three days done, three days to go! It will be hard work but trailrunning in the Pyrenees is really great, so if you have not experienced these mountains (as I did before this event) than I can surely advice you to come and join the Spanish trails!

Pirineosfit Jaca Trailweek – Day Two

Biescas round-trip: A ‘Walk in the Park’ …

IMG_20170704_145419_685How can you call day two of the Pirineosfit Jaca Trailweek a ‘Walk in the Park’?

Well luckily for three good reasons!

First of all I woke up feeling refreshed after yesterday’s run. Resting in the afternoon sun, foam-roll self-massage and a mountain of proteins and Ice-cream worked out quite well.

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Day Two – Again enjoying myself!

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Just to be clear, with a ‘Walk in the Park’ I do not mean the English Parkruns every Saturday morning at 0900: ‘just show up and run ‘only’ 5km’. I really like that set-up and that brings me to the second reason: the organisation needed to shorten the route again, just like yesterday to ‘only’ 25 kilometres and 1300 metres height gain, i.e. a ‘Walk in the Park’ when your whole mind is focused on running 41km and 2700m+.

Luckily this time they announced it at the start so it was no surprise at the end! I quickly left half of my TriSportPharma Energy bars and water behind, no need to carry more than needed!

Whilst most runners started relatively fast I decided to start at an ‘easy’ pace, warm up the legs and get into the running rhythm. The MudSweatTrails Black Diamond Trailpoles were ‘locked and loaded’ from the start and of great help whilst winding uphill along a MTB-trail. The legs felt good so I could maintain a nice pace and caught up with some of the earlier fast starters.

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Great pictures from Day One: Alpine country!

 

The MTB-trail must be a real challenge for cycling downhill, running uphill I really enjoyed (so if you want to do some ‘extreme MTB’ this is a good place to go to). And that is the third and final reason for the ‘Walk in the Park’, the trail went through forest, meadows and followed an easy ridge. Completely different from the Alpine environment yesterday.

After reaching the top half-way also IMG-20170703-WA0007the down hill part was along MTB-trails, sometimes crazy steep, through forest and some remote rocky parts.

 

 

All in all I had the feeling of running in a Forest Nature Park, or as the call it in the UK: ‘An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’, and sure it was beautiful!

DSC_0029DSC_0030Just like yesterday the PirineosFIT2017 organisation offered a nice cold pasta at the finish.

During the run I already looked forward to it, mjam!! – with some salt, olive oil, cucumber and a ice-cold gazpacho, just great!

DSC_0032Tomorrow even more sun and a bit warmer again. However, at the moment I have no sunburn (yet), probably (or hopefully) because I follow the wise advice from my spouse Lonneke, ‘put sunscreen on in the morning before getting dressed’, combined with my comfortable Julbo sunglasses and Compressport Ultra-light Visor (disadvantage is that I need to put sunscreen on my head due to my short haircut 🙂 ).

All four of the ‘instant team’ FIT 4 FANTASTICOS ran well today, hopefully we will all finish again well tomorrow, which according to the organisation will not be ‘that easy’.

NOTE: The PirineosFIT2017 have live Facebook coverage every day, summary videos and amazing photos (do not expect anything else from the Extreme photo – it is really funny, they are great in hiding themselves and than suddenly – flash!), all worthwhile to take a look, who knows maybe we can make another instant team next year!)

But for now, sit back (on the bed), relax and recuperate …

CHEERS!