Loads of experiences richer and a few pounds heavier – my off season
Ironman Mallorca was followed by a week of rest, recovery, sickness, and laziness. I was excited to go back to Tri-topia and then head towards Lanzarote for the winter.
Day 1 – Ingrandes to Bordeaux to Arreau
We started our journey early in the morning, leaving Tri-topia behind before the sun came up. It was a strange feeling to shut the doors behind us, and hard to say goodbye to our good friend Tiger Cat.
Our first destination was Bordeaux, where we had some paperwork to do. After a bit of stress, we made it there in time for the appointment and we were able to check off that box. We continued driving until late in the afternoon until we arrived in a lovely town in the Pyrenees called Arreau. It was a bit wet and cold, but nothing to stop us from going out for a quick run after having sat still all day. Arreau is situated at the bottom of a well-known col, namely the Col d’Aspin, which we planned to ride the next day, followed by the Col du Tourmalet.
Day 2 – Arreau to forgot
After taking down the tent and packing the campervan, Lee and I set off for the day’s mission – to conquer the Col d’Aspin and the Tourmalet. Although I am in LOVE with my new flashy Dassi TT bike, I was glad to leave it on the van for the day and use Sam’s super light Dassi road bike. Climbing on a road bike is just so much nicer…! I haven’t really done many climbs before nor had I ever been in the Pyrenees, so I was in absolute cycle heaven riding up Col d’Aspin. Lee and I set off together, but after a couple of kilometers he said “See you at the top” and I was let free. The views were spectacular, the air crisp and fresh and the Dassi and I ascended upwards meter by meter. The 12km climb took us up to just over 1800m, where we were greeted by Sam, Meadow, Sol, and Sennen, who provided us with some snacks and warmer clothes for the decent. Wet roads and cold hands made for a slow and cautious decent, but before we knew it we started the second stage of the day which was the Tourmalet. The climb started steady, but was noticeably longer than the Col d’Aspin, with some steeper bits as well. The kilometers weren’t ticking off so quickly anymore, and it started to feel like a long day. I wondered how Lee was getting on, not having done much training the last few months and also not feeling 100%. As it got colder and wetter, I became more and more determined to get to the top. Cars passed with people clapping and cheering, and I appreciated the encouragement from complete strangers. It was such a nice feeling to reach the top at 2215m of altitude. I waited for a bit until I saw the van – with Lee behind the wheel! Whimp! 😉
I hopped in the van and started munching on some left over pasta. Before I knew it the bowl was empty and I had demolished it all without sharing. Whoops!
With a few hours left of day light, we drove onwards and stopped in a town of which the name I cannot recall. Maybe it’s better to block out that evening. The rain that poured down on us as we set up my little tent continued all through the night and into the next morning. Camping at its best!
Total distance – 44km
Total ascend – 2063m
Max altitude – 2115m
Bike used – Dassi road bike
Day 3 – forgot to Albaracin
The next day we continued to Albaracin, a supposedly amazing place which Sam and Lee had been telling me about. We arrived in a medieval looking place, and the campsite was beautifully situated on a hill with a view of the village. Although I felt lazy and tired from lack of sleep, Lee managed to convince me to go for a run before it got dark. “Just go for 30min or so, keep it short. Once you get going you probably won’t be able to resist anyway, you’ll love it.” So off I went to explore this new place. I found a trail to follow and immediately lost myself in the stunning views of Albaracin as I ascended up and up and up. The sun was setting which made for a beautiful golden filter of the mountains, trees, rocks, but also meant I needed to turn around at some point before it got dark. I came back in a much better mood and thanked Lee for making me go for a run.
Day 4 – Albaracin
The next morning I retraced my footsteps of the day before, this time as the sun was rising. I had brought my phone along to attempt to capture these views, but the battery ran out and once more I just soaked them up in my own head. When I came back the others had woken too and a lovely coffee awaited me. After some breakfast, we drove about 5km down the road where we were going to do some rock climbing. It was lovely to see Sennen, Sol, and Meadow enjoy this massive ‘playground’. All three attacked some climbs, and after watching them how it’s done I had a go as well.
We then walked around the reserve and followed the signs to the cave paintings, and Meadow and Sol taught me some things about Neolithic and Paleolithic times. After some lunch, Lee and I ran back through the woods and the valley, which was one of the nicest runs I’ve done. In the distance we could see the castle and the peak of one of the mountains. “We’ve got to get to the top.”
After a bit of a search for the tracks to get to where we wanted to, we finally made it to the top to enjoy some spectacular panoramic views. It was great to have such a nice run without any gadgets telling us how far, how long, and fast or slow we’d run. Perfect off-season fun!
Day 5 – Albaracin to Cuenca
The next day Lee and I set off on our bikes to ride from Albaracin to Cuenca, about 110km. It was the first time to try out my amazing new Dassi TT bike! I absolutely loved riding the new machine, even though my legs and fitness are not doing it justice at the moment. Although it was quite hilly, there were some nice stretches to drop down on the aerobars and get a feel of the bike. No doubt – this bike and I are going to be a good team.
The perfectly surfaced and quiet roads meandered through some amazing places, which was a good distraction to my tired legs. But Lee and I started to crave a good cup of coffee, and some food besides sickly sweet energy bars. This proved to be a challenge as we came through very few towns, none of which seemed to have much life in them. We became more and more desperate for our support van to catch up with us, and we were gutted when we learned that they had not been able to find any food for us either! Much to our relief, the next down had a café with some ‘bocadillos’ that filled our hungry tummies. Lee wasn’t feeling too well so hopped in the van after a pit stop, while I continued on towards Cuenca. After a lovely decent, I realized my Di2 had run out of battery (props to me for not charging it since it had arrived…) so the sweeper van had to pick me up after 98km. Slightly disappointing but I had already had an amazing day!
We drove the last bit towards Cuenca and found a nice campsite outside of the big city. We were craving pizza – the perfect guilty pleasure after a long day out on the bike. But the restaurant at the campsite didn’t want any more customers, and we didn’t really want to look around Cuenca for too long. We settled on a burger instead.
Day 6 – Cuenca to Segura de la Sierra
After a long day of driving we settled at another campsite where the Thomases had been before. A beautiful little place, at the bottom of the El Yelmo peak. Again I set up my little tent, we cooked some dinner and were off to bed.
Day 7 – El Yelmo, Segura de la Sierra to Jimena
Sam and I were going to conquer the El Yelmo climb today. Sam started at the camp sight and I rolled down to the very bottom (although I was a bit unsure how far that would be). I started the cycle to the top on my new machine and a not so climbing friendly disc wheel. I must’ve looked like the ultimate triathlon geek. Oh well, it’s got two wheels and is still lighter than most bikes. With a couple of kilometers to go I came past Sam who was still smiling as well. The last bit was surprisingly steep, but I could see the top and the view was breathtaking.
On my way down I suddenly saw Lee and Sol coming towards me. I was sure Lee had parked the van close to the top, but nope, they had started from the campsite and had already gotten this far! I knew how steep the last bit was and hoped that they would make it up. A little while later Sol cam back with the biggest grin, blood dripping from his arms and legs. “I fell off momma, haha!” After reaching the very peak of El Yelmo (over jjjj meters high), he got a bit distracted on the decent and found himself on the ground in one of the corners. He is now a few scars, experiences, lessons, and bragging-rights richer. Go Solly!
After our successful day of climbing we realized time had flown by. We quickly packed up our stuff and started driving as we each told our stories of our individual climbs of the day. We headed towards the Sierra Nevada Mountains where our next challenge awaited us – Pico de Veleta, the highest paved road in all of Europe. We drove knew we wouldn’t reach our intended destination that day as the sun started to disappear behind the mountains. It was getting dark and we had no campsite to stay. After getting slightly lost and driving where what seemed like the middle of nowhere, we ended up at a campsite in Jimena, in between endless fields of olive trees. After a team effort of cooking, we finished the day with a rewarding dinner.
Day 8 – Jimena to Monachil
We woke up to find ourselves at a lovely little campsite. I went for an early run while the others were still asleep. I ran through the olive fields and past trees filled with figs and almonds. It was a good excuse to stop a few times and have breakfast on the go. The figs were lovely, very different from the fresh ones off the tree at Tri-topia. They had the consistency of dried figs, sweet and sticky! When I came back Meadow joined me for another couple of kilometers, surprising me with her quick pace! After some breakfast and another success of fitting the tent back into its bag, we headed towards Monachil. We found a campsite at 1500m altitude which was on the way to the top of the next day’s climb.
Day 9 – Monachil to Guejar Sierra
Pico de Veleta
The next morning I decended to the bottom towards Huegar Vega to start the Veleta challenge. The cycle back up towards the campsite was great, although quite challenging at points! The gradient went up to 17-18%, which got me out of the saddle and pushing in the lightest gear. Once at the campsite I refilled my bottles and had a few snacks before continuing on. The first 10k had been a pretty good warm up, and everything else after that seemed ‘easy’. I was lucky with perfect cycling weather. My support van met me at 2500m altitude, after which they could no longer proceed. It was cold and we could see the snow on the peak of the mountain. Onwards I went, not sure what to expect of this next bit of road. It was another 800m of vertical ascent from there, and I started to realize that I might not be able to go all the way to the highest point. It would be too cold for the decent and I had my support crew at the bottom waiting and worrying. The road also became less and less cycle-able and I had to avoid more and more snow on the road the higher I went.
I decided I would ascend to at least 3000m, which made my total ascending for the day 2400m. That’ll do for some off-season play time! Descending with numb fingers wasn’t the most pleasant thing in the world, and I didn’t really regret not having gone higher. I’ll have to come back one day when it’s a bit warmer!
We drove to our next campsite in Guejar Sierra, where we finally found pizzas to order. Unfortunately they came out of the freezer…
Total distance – 45km
Total ascend – 2405m
Max altitude – 3108m
Bike used – Dassi road bike
Day 10 – Guejar Sierra to Torre del Mar
Another long day in the car, arriving at a busy campsite full of Brits and Dutch. We found ourselves right on the coast, which was a nice change of scenery. There was a nice hardened path on the beach lasting for about 3.5km. I overcame my laziness and went for a run as the sun sank into the calm Mediterranean Sea and the sky turned a golden orange color. When I came back the kids were playing and Sam and Lee had sat down for an evening drink. When I came back from my shower the kitchen of the bar had already closed and we had to go find another place to eat. We came across a place with pizzas, and finally managed to satisfy our cravings. Tired and full, we climbed into our beds for another night of camping quality sleep.
Day 11 – Torre del Mar
As usual I woke up before everyone else, so went for my morning run along the beach. Our Meadster joined me for another couple of kilometers and outsprinted me back into the campsite. Most of the day was spent at the beach. The kids found a nice park to play in while Sam, Lee, and I enjoyed some very tasty grilled sardines and tortillas. After jumping into the water and skipping stones, Lee and I went for another run. As I was chatting away I realized Lee was replying less and less. Eventually he gave out a loud sigh as he motioned me that we were stopping. Breathing heavy and sweating buckets, I’d killed coach for the day. Whoops! The family had come down with a bug which was a good excuse for Lee’s struggle to keep up with me 😉
Day 12 – Torre del Mar to Tarifa
Another morning run before packing up and heading further south. The fatigue as a result of not sleeping very well was catching up on me. I was Miss Grumpy for the day, although I must argue that we were all a bit quiet and boring by this time!
On the way to Tarifa we came past Gibraltar, which was quite fascinating to see. The Little England in Spain. We drove past it as we had other places to get to and see, but the rock stood bold and proud as we drove past. We arrived at our next place with grey skies that luckily held onto their rain until after I was done setting up the tent. I went for an easy run along the beach, coming back as no-longer-Miss-Grumpy, as most runs can do to you.
Day 13 – Tarifa
Hey! It’s my birthday! As usual I went for a run as the others were sleeping, and returned to a warm cup of coffee. I received three lovely birthday cards from my ‘brothers and sister from another mother and father’. Luckily the rainy skies from the early morning blew past and we were greeted by the sun as we had or picnic lunch on the beach. Followed by some obligatory coffee and cake of course. Evening came and we sat down for a drink by the bar, watching the waves roll onto the beach and the sun set for another nights sleep. Before we knew it, it was 21:30 and we still hadn’t cooked dinner. Cheffing team Lee and Leanne to the rescue for a tasty chicken satay birthday dinner. Topped off by a few too many chocolate truffles, because, you know, it was my birthday after all.
Day 14 – Tarifa to Cadiz
I went for another exploration run. I ended up on the beach again, this time on the other side of where we were staying. I felt eager to run this morning so went a bit longer than the past few times (also keeping in mind I would be stuck on a ferry for 30 hours later on). I ran on and on, until it was just me, the sand and the sea. No one around to make a sound, just waves rolling onto beach and my feet thumping on the soft surface. I thought about the amazing places I had seen within such a short period of time, and the numerous experiences richer I had become. It was the best way for me to spend a few weeks off structured training, while keeping me busy enough to prevent me from going mad. Thanks Lee, Sam, Meadow, Sol, Sennen for letting me join you. The hours of sleep deprivation were definitely worth it, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on this trip!
Now back in Lanzarote, I am excited to start training again. Many experiences richer and a few pounds heavier, I am ready to get fit again. We’re still a long way off the next A-race, but here’s to the 2016/2017 season!
Much love xx