From Withins To Holtby Lane

– a tale of marathon recovery and preparedness…

I’d known for some time that the period from early September into October would be challenging.  My running mojo had thankfully returned during August and in time to adequately prepare for the Yorkshireman off-road marathon (YORM) and Yorkshire marathon.  The plan was to complete the former, recover and with the usual unorthodox approach then prepare for the latter.  Conveniently, nearly all recovery would take place in the South of France while on a three-week holiday with my girlfriend Rose; luckily, she too would be ‘doing the double’ so the challenge would be shared.

This should read as a template on how best to recover, rest and eat properly between challenging run events – what actually occurred was the easy adaptation into Occitan lifestyle: nothing functions until caffeine and croissants are consumed in sizeable volumes, salads are delicious (especially avec vin rouge), and cooling down in a lake is deemed worthy of a Strava workout.

Two becomes three.  An opportunity suddenly emerged just before the YORM to enter and compete in the semi-marathon du Toulouse.  A steady recover run in the sunshine immediately filled my thoughts and warmed my bones.  Impulsively, I drafted*a medical certificate and submitted along with an entry form and the lowly fee of EUR-17.  Ok, not quite three FULL marathons, but this race could act like a safety net between two acrobatic platforms – tapering is just a buzz word, right?

A steady negative split on an undulating lakeside trail was our first run post-YORM.  We’d just completed the 2-day drive from Leeds via a ferry crossing and south on French autoroutes.  The weather was slightly overcast and our bodies were somewhat carseat crumpled.  The run would be a leg-loosener and link to my half marathon a few days later.  The humidity sapped all energy, legs were unresponsive and although autumn colours had arrived early, I didn’t enjoy the plod.  Abbey brewed beer and pizza with salad later helped.

…we jointly completed a few core workouts on the village petanque court…

Up to the Airbus city of Toulouse.  The AirBnB was cheap.  The location was ideal.  The Blagnac airport was nearby.  So too was the start of the half marathon.  But the residential area was next to a major road.  And a tad rough.  Plus we’d not taken into account that the flat above would be hosting a sleepover – seemingly this was attended by at least a dozen kids and comprised Olympic furniture demolition followed by relay shuttles to/ from the single bathroom with click-pull light.  For me sleep was limited.  I dropped Rose at the airport just after 7am – she was returning to the UK for the day to attend a book festival.  I then returned to the asylum detention centre for a power nap.

After what seemed like a blink I was up for breakfast.  Fuelled by caffeine I floated to the race HQ.  The half marathon route was described as a scenic lap through countryside, along a canal and into a quiet residential setting.  A few thousand entrants were either attempting the single lap 10km or double lap semi-marathon.  The first few kilometres were a blur and haze: sleep deprivation and cultural challenges of language and run etiquette.  At the first feed station I munched on some dried fruit, threw water on my face and ignored my tiredness that felt like a lumbering hangover.  En route, I’d already counted at least three informal, traveller settlements, much flytipping and the promised countryside was actually an industrial area between the edge of Toulouse and the airport.  I decided to ignore sightseeing, pace on and annoyingly narrowly missed out on a PB.


Toulouse markedly improved over the next 24 hours.  Rose returned late from the UK.  We’d moved into a hotel.  I’d eaten almost everything unhealthy on offer.  And opened wine.  The following day an inspired choice was hiring velo-Toulouse (like Boris bikes…) and great fun in the sun, during which we drank coffee, criss-crossed the River Garonne and admired the impressive brick architecture.

But what about the running?  Away from the city and back to the countryside we then set about properly training, erm, recovering, preparing.  The gravel track up to Bouichous (boo-shoo) provided a secluded spot, near the ‘scrumpied’ fig trees, to do some hill reps with a stunning view during recovery.  We also discovered a new, hilly loop via Saint Colombe that included forest trails, gravel tracks and a return on a dismantled railway.  The dismantled railway, Voie Verte or green way, was again exploited for our last long run – we separately ran out for 9 miles then turned and headed for home.  Leafy, rustic villages came and went, and tantalising rivers flowed passed.  Stupidly, we’d set off a bit later than intended and the midday sun was soon piercing during the final 5 miles.  The reclaimed tunnel sections were welcome points of refuse, offering shade and a dramatic drop in air temperature.  Ahead of Rose, at approx 15 miles, I’d detoured via a supermarket at a nearby town to stock up and surprise her with cold, flat coke.  She almost wept with thanks.  Romance isn’t dead; must’ve been the French air…

Perhaps the piece de resistance was our epic run in the mountains: approximately 15 miles of trails, peak tops with stunning views in all directions, and silent, vacant forests (well, except for the bears and wolves…).  Still, I was mildly cautious as we approached the isolated summit of Clot de Mort!  Among all of these runs we also cycled (admittedly, mostly to the boulangerie for pain au chocolat), swam in the lake and, much to the amusement of the locals, we jointly completed a few core workouts on the village petanque court.


A brief stay in Paris allowed us to catch up with friends and break the car journey.  Nonetheless when we returned to Leeds we were stiff, tired and not really feeling recovered or prepared for a road marathon.  So, between the expected return to normalities of laundry and work, I somehow managed to squeeze in a few short and sharp runs – when I say a few, I mean 4, and sharp was actually varied in pace/ climb, but each was well below my aspired race pace.  I even stretched, foam rolled and ate well while drinking plenty of water.  Game on.

On race day, I felt brilliant.  Well for the first 15 miles anyway; it really was a pleasure during most of these miles to run with fellow clubmates Morven ‘the marathon machine’ Wallace and Peter Enever.  Then, even after I’d had a wobble for 5 miles or so, again it was great to run the last few miles with David Brooks, especially as we were both struggling but I wouldn’t let him stop.

I missed my target by 6 minutes.  This was still a PB mind.  But I’d already gained a massive course PB at the YORM.  And I’d enjoyed and explored new and varied runs while in France.  Was this ideal recovery and preparation?  Probably not.

One day I might actually do what is considered suitable training.  Until then, I’ll repeat this quote: “A man’s reach outlies his grasp”.

*this may have been produced, somewhat illegally, with aid of computer software and a forged signature

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