Week 11: A lighter load

  • Hours on the run: 3:51
  • Kilometres: 41.04
  • Calories burned: 18 Cadbury’s Creme Eggs
  • Soundtrack: This is me – The Greatest Showman Cast

The distance scaled back this week, which was a relief. It’s amazing how relative your perception of distance is: at the start of the year, a 20km run (or an almost-half-marathon) felt like a huge challenge. Now, in the most intense part of the training, it felt like a ‘lighter’ end to the week. Of course it wasn’t, but compared with what’s ahead in the next three weeks, it felt like it would be a breeze!

There were still one or two weeknight runs this week in the pouring rain and heavy winds (good for resilience training!), but the sun finally came out for Sunday’s organised run in Almere. Hallelujah!

This race was just a 20-minute bike ride away. It makes such a difference doing a race close to home, when you don’t have to factor in hours of travel time. It was also a small one – there were only about 100 people doing the 20km distance, out of about 500 runners in total. This meant there was lots of space to run your own race, which I really love. For some reason, in crowds, or even when there’s just one or two people running near me, I tire out much faster. When I have an open path ahead I find it a lot easier to get lost in the run and my own rhythm.

They’d posted a weather report a few days before the run, saying it would be relatively dry, with “the wind in your back”. It was a circular route (two loops for the 20km) so I’m not quite sure how they could claim that, but full points for optimism! (The wind was very much not in my back at some points!).

I did spend a large part of the run fretting about an old tendon injury that I started sensing again. It had me sidelined for about 3 months a few years ago, and I could feel an ache in exactly the same spot for the first half of this run. To get an injury now would just be a massive blow, after all the hours of training, so I really need to keep an eye on this one. I don’t want to miss a single training run but I know that taking a few days off could mean the difference between making it to the marathon or watching it on the tv, so I have to be strict and force myself to rest if it gets worse.

I saw my first barefoot runner of the year during this run, which was fascinating! I have so much admiration for those people who’ve built up the ability to run barefoot (or in Vibrams) for such distances. Incredible. Maybe once the marathon is over I’ll give it another go. It gives you the most amazing feeling of being connected with the Earth, and they say it releases all the positive (i.e. bad) ions you accumulate in your body, giving you a much greater sense of peace and wellbeing. (That’s when you’re not howling in pain from stepping on a nail or sharp stone!).

Once the run was over, it was just short ride home (into the wind the whole way, which coaxed a few swear words out of me as my legs were quite heavy by that point and not impressed with more wind!). Then it was some much needed sofa time with the cats and a big bowl of warming soup to refuel.

Next week (this week actually, since I’m already half way through the week as I post this) the distance ramps up, peaking at 32km on Sunday…. so I’m enjoying the rest while I can!

Soundtrack to the week: This is me – The Greatest Showman Cast. Power!

Week 10: Soul searching

  • Hours on the run: 5:24
  • Kilometres: 58.51
  • Calories burned: 3,292
  • Number of times the question ‘Why’ went through my head: Too many
  • Soundtrack: Hold on – NANO

Emotions seem to get deeper as the weeks go by. Anxiety plays a big part in the preparation for each new long distance. Can my legs carry me? Will an injury pop up when I’m miles from home? Can my mind stay focused and not cave in? Will I hit the dreaded wall? Taming those dragons of doubt ahead of each long run has become the norm for me now. I hope one day those doubts will fall silent, but perhaps it’s all part of the process. This isn’t supposed to be easy. Perhaps there has to be an element of fear driving this.

After not the best sleep, and a sad Saturday reading over legal documentation for probate, I set out with a heavy heart on Sunday morning for the 29 km run. Into the pouring rain once more. It’s difficult to describe the feeling of being drenched through to the skin after just 15 minutes, knowing you have to push on out into the elements and keep yourself going for another 2.5 hours. No rally car to pick you up if you start flagging. No hot tea stop halfway around. Just you, your mind, and the distance.

The first half-hour was spent with spirits incredibly low. After a while the soothing motion of putting one foot in front of the other calmed everything down and I settled into a better rhythm and felt determined to get through it. If other aspects of my life are causing heartache at the moment, at least I can still run. Sometimes it feels like that’s actually all I’ve got.

Once I’d got into my rhythm, a bunch of daffodils suddenly popped into view by the side of the path – just one single bunch, no others anywhere else around. I had to think they were a sign from Dad, being his Welsh flower. That was a warming moment.

The rest of the the run was simply wet. One earphone made it 1/2 way around, the other made it 3/4 before being (literally) drowned out. The last 5 km were spent just focusing on my breathing, telling myself with every breath and with every step, I was that bit closer to home. It was only when I was 2 km from the end that I could actually believe I would make it, and the fear of caving dissolved away.

All that rain did a good job of foaming up my running tights (and jacket) again!

And my hair took on a new life of it’s own…. (it was a neat ponytail before I stepped out of the door!)

Relieved to have made the distance, happy to not feel overly sore. Soundtrack this week: Hold on by NANO – “I know you’re tired of surviving but you’ve got to keep on trying, got to hold on.”

Please consider sponsoring me for the London Marathon. I’m running for Chance for Childhood, a charity that protects children from the devastating consequences of extreme poverty, conflict and disability.

St James’ Cycle Route

In late September 2014, I cycled part of the St James’ cycle route (St Jacob’s Fietsroute) (Camino  de Santiago) from Almere in the north of the Netherlands, to St Privat des Pres in southern France.

Here you can find a summary and pictures from the 10-day journey. I used the maps from Clemens Sweerman (in Dutch) as my guide.

My bike is a Koga Signature (hand-made in the Netherlands, specifically made for long distance touring  – very similar to this one. I bought it from a wonderful bike shop in Amsterdam, De Vakantiefietser – experts in long distance touring , with the owner Eric having cycled around the world numerous times!

In the top navigation you can access the posts I made for each day of the trip. If you have any questions or just want a bit of advice, feel free to reach out to me at only_sez@hotmail.com.

Below you can find an approximation of the route I took (I mapped it retrospectively, so don’t follow it street for street!)


Provisions for the journey

Here’s a list of the things I took for the 10 day trip:


  • 2 jars of peanut butter (both finished)
  • 1 pack of 500g porridge oats (almost finished)
  • 1 packet of dark chocolate (finished and at least one other bar consumed too)
  • Huge pack of peanuts and dried fruit
  • Tea bags (black tea and herbal for sleeping)
  • 1 pack of 500g pasta (not finished)
  • 3 instant adventure food meals (most of them double servings so actually 6) (I really recommend the cashew nasi… mmm so good!)
  • A few stock cubes (for adding to the pasta)
  • Tin of sweetcorn (replaced along the way) – great for adding to the plain pasta
  • Protein powder (I added this to tea at when I stopped cycling at the end of the day to give my muscles a boost)
  • A couple of emergency energy gels and bars
  • I always carried at least 2-3 litres of water on the bike, refilling wherever I could

I also stopped at a supermarket once a day (whenever I happened to by cycling past one) to stock up on fruit (bananas, apples, couscous, bread, and shredded carrots). And stopped at the odd bakery for a croissant! 🙂

Other items:

  • Tent (Nordisk Svalbard 1)
  • Sleeping bag (15+ years old!)
  • Sleeping mat (on this trip I used a standard  cheap foam one but have since bought an amazing self inflating one which provides so much more comfort and still folds down really small: Therm-a-rest rest trail pro
  • Cooking stove (just the smallest one from an outdoors store)
  • 2 small tins of butane gas (used just one of them for the trip)
  • Two saucepans  plus lids (used just one of them)
  • Sharp knife
  • Regular knife, fork and spoon (lost the spoon!)
  • Tongs (for the saucepans)
  • Waterproof matches
  • Tin opener
  • Re-chargable battery pack
  • iPhone
  • Head torch
  • Padlock (for tent zipper and bike)
  • 1 roll toilet paper (just enough!)
  • Sanitising hand gel
  • Small container of washing up liquid
  • Water purifying tablets/liquid
  • Mug (no plates, I ate out of the saucepan)
  • Yellow high vis jacket (a legal requirement in France)
  • Pepper spray (an illegal addition, but gave me a bit more peace at night!)

Nice to have (for next time)

  • Mini solar lamp to hang in the tent at night
  • Cloth or scrub to clean the saucepan
  • Plastic sacks for rubbish
  • Second pair of shoes (if it rains!)

Day 10: I made it! End of the adventure!

Date: 1 October 2014
Route: Naunteuil en Vallee – St Privat des Pres
In the saddle: 08:00 – 16:00
Distance:  100 km ish

Well the hills seemed to get even bigger today! The morning started off very misty:


So I got some nice eerie photos:



I also met some cuties on the way:


And I passed through this famous place (thankfully it didn’t smell like its namesake):


It must have been around 26 degrees today and the sun felt so strong, I kept having to stop and put sun cream on.

I didn’t stop for any lunch as I was so close now, I just wanted to push on, so I fuelled on my nuts and dried fruit all day instead.

It was at this point that I knew I was close (and then proceeded to get lost!):


And finally, the last hill of the entire trip (one I know very well!):


And I made it! 9.5 days of cycling, something like 1,100 km, 6 nights camping, 3 nights b&b, thousands and thousands of calories consumed and a very exhausted but happy cyclist! Dad had even made a sign to welcome me!


And now for some refuelling and a lot of relaxing before flying back to Amsterdam! What an unbelievable trip! And hopefully one day, I will have enough time to do the entire route from Haarlem down to Santiago de Compostella….. Watch this space! 🙂


Day 9: Penultimate day (and the hills are bigger!)

Date: 30 September 2014
Route: Pussigny – Naunteuil en Vallee
In the saddle: 08:30 – 19:00
Distance:  140 km 

I got up at 7 and had a not-so nutritious breakfast of bread, jam and croissants and headed off into heavy mist around 08:30. There were many hills today and I was feeling incredibly tired. The route took me through Chatellerault and on down through Poitiers.


I waited until I got to the other side of Poitiers to have my lunch, and eventually stopped in a lovely village called Nouaille Maupertuis. I should also say the French couscous has been a God-send on these long rides. I devour an entire (large) pack in one sitting!


The weather is definitely getting warmer as I’m heading south, and I’ve been so lucky to have such amazing sunny days!

It was at this point that I calculated I must have reached 1,000km so I made a little sign and asked a old French man (with another King Charles Spaniel!) to take a photo. He seemed a bit confused at first and thought I wanted to take a picture of him, until I showed him my sign and then he understood! Still, the dog managed to photo bomb it all the same! 🙂


I must been getting closer to my destination now as I’ve reached the sunflowers! Alas, they’ve all gone over at this time of year:


I also passed by one or two very odd monuments, this one being particular hilarious, just outside of Chateau Garnier:


And a more traditional sight at Le Peu:


I got to see some beautiful sunsets on my ride, like this one just outside of Naunteuil en Vallee:


This afternoon’s ride was certainly hilly! I made it to my intended campsite by 7pm but it had completely closed up for the year. Since it would be my last night before reaching St. Privat, I decided to pitch my tent anyway and forgo the shower. I had enough water with me to cook with, and there was a small stream nearby, so I could refill ready for the next day from there.

I didn’t get much sleep though, I felt quite vulnerable in my tent for some reason. I heard the village clock chime every hour throughout the night until 04:00. Then I drifted off to sleep and woke up at 06:30. I was eager to get going as today was (fingers crossed!) my final day!

Day 8: A long day along the river Loire!

Date: 29 September 2014
Route: Beaugency -Pussigny
In the saddle: 08:30 – 20:15
Distance:  150 km (at least)

I got up early as I just wanted to get out of the campsite! It was drizzling slightly as I packed everything up, and I had to put my bike lights and yellow safety jacket on as it was so misty.


It was a lovely easy route towards Blois (and later, Tours) following the river Loire. Being right next to the river also meant that the cycling was flat. Hurrah!


I also passed by my first vineyard of the trip! As I was going through the town, I was struggling to work out why the name sounded so familiar: Vouvray. Then I saw the vineyards, and wondered no more! 🙂


I stopped off in a lovely picnic area in Monteaux for my lunch (yes, that’s a LOT of bread, I know, but I would need it for today’s mammoth distance!):


I hit Tours in the early afternoon. My route took me right past the Cathedral so I managed to get a picture:


I reached my intended destination just as dusk was falling, but there was no campsite or youth hostel in the village contrary to what my book said. I cycled round and round hoping one would magically appear, and an old man walking his King Charles Spaniel stopped me and asked what I was looking for (in French).

I tried to explain I was looking for a place to stay (in diabolical French) but he said there was nothing in the village. Seeing my desperation, he suggested I could come and stay with him and his wife, which was incredibly kind. (All the while his dog would not stop licking my leg!) I politely declined (I didn’t want to be a burden), and he suggested I could also go and sleep in the church just down the road. I did seriously consider it (had a look around and it seemed pretty cosy) but I knew that all my battery packs and phone needed recharging otherwise I wouldn’t be able to use them tomorrow, so I went back to my book and looked up places in the next town. I called ahead, and luckily there was a room available in another chamber d’hôte so I pushed on (absolutely exhausted by this time) to Pussigny. Arrived there just after 8pm, meaning I’d been on the go almost 12 hours! After a hot shower and some stove-cooked dinner, I slept amazingly well, very thankful for my bed!


Day 7: Old Orleans!

Date: 28 September 2014
Route: Etampes to Beaugency
In the saddle: 09:30 – 18:30
Distance:  110 km

Today my route was taking me further south, through lots of small towns, a forest or two, and through the city of Orelans, and then following the Loire river out to a campsite at Beaugency.


I thought I had escaped all the crazy wind after I’d left the Netherlands/Belgium, but it turns out they have wind farms here too, and guess what, it was a headwind. With my loaded bike, I was going so slowly, probably no more than 10 km an hour in some parts! Tough work indeed!


Still, the beautiful scenery as I headed into Orleans made up for it. Here’s the Loire bridge in Orleans:


Again, I didn’t spend long (or stop at all) in the city, I pushed on through to the other side. After that, I had a lovely late afternoon route loosely following the river Loire towards Beaugency:


The campsite was actually closed at this time of year, but that didn’t stop the French it seemed! It was actually the biggest and busiest campsite I had ever been too, full of camper vans and French families. Not another tent in site! Since it was closed, all of the facilities were locked up (no showers, no toilets). So I had to make do with the woods! And had to pay some guy 5 euro for the privilege! (I’m sure I was conned!).

During the night it got really noisy, and my bike was attracting a lot of attention from the kids who kept turning the lights on and off and ringing the bell. I got out of my tent at one point to shoo them away, and after that, I didn’t get much sleep at all! Would have been better off in the woods!

Day 6: Paris, I blinked and I missed it!

Date: 27 September 2014
Route: Plailly to Etampes (via Paris)
In the saddle: 09:20 – 19:00
Distance: 120 km

So it seems I am heading in the right direction – my first sign for Paris! Hurrah!


Went over some really big hills today between Plailly and Paris! Phew! The route into the city was pretty easy, following the Canal de Ourcq all the way. (It did have these really annoying tiny speed bumps every 500 metres or so which really jolted the bike each time. My butt did not appreciate them!)

I stopped for a snack alongside the canal and realised afterwards my bike was perhaps just a little too close to the edge here!


I pushed on through Paris (arrived around 1pm) and wasn’t planning on doing any sightseeing as I just wanted to get through it  – when you’re on a long bike tour you start to love the empty, easy roads in the countryside and loathe the big cities because navigating is so tough with all the streets and traffic! Thankfully, this was Paris on a Saturday so perhaps a bit more relaxed. I did hope I would spot the Eiffel Tower on my way through (I didn’t). But of course, I stopped for a crepe!


I had another casualty on the way out of Paris. Somehow, one of my shirts got completely tangled around my bike chain. Thankfully no lasting damage to the bike, but to this day, the bike oil hasn’t come out of the shirt!


Oh, and apparently they still have these old style toilets in some places in France! I can’t remember where this was, but somewhere post Paris! N0t the most welcome after a long day of cycling! 😀


I reached the campsite in Etampes and it was a really decent one – hot showers and spotless! I couldn’t find the cold taps for drinking water though, so made do with hot!

Day 5: Towards Paris!

Date: 26 September 2014
Route: St. Quentin to Plailly
In the saddle: 09:15 – 19:00
Distance: 120 km ish

Another long day of cycling today, but don’t have too many notes from the day’s sights (I’m writing this in retrospect, two years on!). I passed through Compiegne and rode past the impressive town hall:


Had a quick snooze in the peaceful grounds of a church just after lunch (it was pure bliss to lie in the warm sun for ten minutes):


Before a long afternoon of cycling across open countryside and through forests as I headed south:



I arrived in the small village of Plailly at 7pm but there was no where to camp so I checked in to a very sweet chamber d’hôte. I felt too dirty to even sit on the bed when I got to my room, so ate a snack on the floor!


There was a pizza van in the village that night and I tried my first ever pizza avec potatoes! Definitely different and I probably needed the carbs! Not sure I’d try that combination again though… 🙂

I had a fantastic night sleep, and an OK breakfast – I started to realise though how much more nutritious my regular tent breakfast of porridge, peanut butter and dark chocolate is for my cycling compared to a few croissants and jam offered at these places (even if it doesn’t look at all appetising!)


The owner of the chamber d’hôte drove me to the nearest cash machine (in another town) as they only accepted cash payment. 80 euros lighter, I set off with Paris in my sights!