Monday, September 25, 2006

Home Sweet Home

No matter how much you love to travel, and indulge yourself while doing so, there are few sensual pleasures in the world as gratifying as returning to sleep in ones own bed and luxuriate in the comfort of ones own home.

After a month of European showers that were the equivalent of spitting into the wind, it was almost sinful to stand under a showerhead that at full bore is nearly capable of peeling the paint of the fender of a '57 Buick. Add in a nearly bottomless hot water tank that delivers a constant stream of molten ecstasy and you have the stuff that dreams are made of...

Had a bout of food poisoning or a case of liver failure and spent a few days in Paris subsisting on chicken broth. I even went three days without an alcoholic beverage! That and a string of recalcitrant and obstinate computers explains my week long absense of Posts. That's of course if you noticed such a thing, or cared...

But the museums in Paris were fabulous, as was the weather in the fashion and style capital of the world and after a few days I had to accept the inevitable and return home. Sigh...

Did manage a number of easy 10K runs. Haven't decided if there are any more marathons between now and Boston next spring.

Now to get caught up on e-mails and correspondance and phone calls and work and bills - ahhhh, life!

Monday, September 18, 2006

R & R

The weather, after nearly two weeks of temperatures in the 30s (nineties) dropped over the past three days, accompanied by rain and mist and in the morning; a rolling fog that blankets the surrounding hillsides. For two days it was 12 degrees. Wonderful! The fields around Figeac, brown when I arrived, are all a verdant green.

And I have run a 10K or more nearly every morning, luxuriating in the cool mornings.

I went to Google! and discovered that our hottest day in the Medoc region, 37 degrees Celsius, was the equivalent of 99 degrees F! And the day of the Medoc Marathon, when the mercury hit 34 degrees C, was 94 F. Amazing weather in which to run a marathon...

Have enjoyed aimlessly wandering the countryside and the innumerable small villages around Le Lot, the region surrounding Figeac. Chateaux and cathedrals, grand houses with turrets, castle walls bristling with more turrets and ramparts and arrow slits everywhere. Houses and streets and courtyards and cul de sacs dating back to the middle ages. And before! Celts and Gauls and Romans and Saracens and Moors have all roamed these hills... And Neolithic peoples before them, following the ice as it retreated after the last two ice ages. Think of that, not once, but twice!

The people of the South West of France are very friendly and universally welcoming. Truly a feat of hospitality when you recognize that Figeac, with a population of some 9,600, welcomes over a quarter of a million tourists through its streets every year.

And, in honour of the French paradox, I am actually leaning out again. Credit the morning runs - today 10K in 50 minutes - a light breakfast of fruit, and a self-imposed rule of only one serving per course at mealtimes. And an eagle eye on the cheese and bread consumption.

Heading back to Paris in a few days. Will miss this part of France and its wonderful people.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Life in the Countryside

After nearly two weeks of radiant sunshine, temperatures in the 30s or 90s (take your temperature of choice...), and cloud free azure skies, the mercury has taken a decided tumble south. Yesterday the temperature dropped precipitously in the morning under grey skies and in the early afternoon it began to rain. The deluge has continued through the night. Actually; it is a bit of relief to get some respite from a sun that was beginning to feel a trifle relentless.

I ran for forty minutes yesterday at a moderate pace. No watch, no heart rate monitor, no gadgets of any kind... Just went for an easy run on a cool morning. Felt wonderful. Afterwards I walked for a couple of hours through several small villages, wandering along a meandering path that dates back many centuries and that was and is used by people on pilgrammage to Spain, which is hundreds of miles to the South. Some say the paths along the ridges which overlook the river have been in use for millenia. To a time before the Romans and before the Gauls. I even walked over an area where Julius Caesar was encamped during one of his campaigns to expand the Roman Empire.

My latest strategy to deal with all the incredible food has been to switch from croissants with my coffee in the morning to bananas, or fruit salad. At this point I am merely trying to hold my position, weight-wise! Fortunately, in addition to the fois gras and the cheese courses, and the wine, you also get served wonderful salads and locally-grown vegetables. Everyone here seems very conscious of eating food that is locally grown - and organic, or "Bio" as the French say, if at all possible.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The 2006 Medoc Marathon - The Big Sizzle

The 2006 Medoc Marathon - The Big Sizzle
After being told all week by the locals in the Medoc area that it was going to be "cool", "overcast" and "raining" on the day of the Mecoc Marathon, you have to wonder what crystal ball they were consulting... Because every weather forecast I could consult online in the week before the race got it better than the locals. Was it wishful thinking or an inability to read a thermometre? A heat wave is a heat wave is a heat wave!

I woke up at 5:30 AM on the morning of the race and it was already 75 degrees. By 9:30 AM the temperature was 80 degrees and climbing fast. At Noon, with the sun high over the vineyards it was 93 degrees (about 34 Celsius), but it felt even hotter as we zig-zagged through the fields and vineyards along the Route des Chateaux - the Road of Castles - without the benefit of any shade and with the asphalt heating up to the boiling point.

The Marathon start has to be seen to be believed. Four out of every five marathoners are in costume. It is not so much a race as an opportunity to party. The atmosphere is festive and everyone is determined to have a good time. Early on - actually when I broke into a sweat tying my shoelaces - I had abandoned a good part of my costume in an instinctive quest for survival. Other folks apparently had a do or die attitude that I am so obviously lacking.

There were Roman Centurions, Vikings and Barbarians, Knights and Crusaders, Cowboys and Indians, Cats and Dogs, Donkeys, Pigs and Cows and, it being in France after all, any number of highly suggestive and just plain erotic costumes! Many people were dressed head to toe in black. There was even one young lady who was masquerading as Cat Woman, replete with leather and PVC rubber. I had to admire her courage, her stupidity, or her inate desire to draw admiring glances. What skin showed glistened with sweat before the race had even begun. Other runners were encased in boxes and costumes that must have weighed at least twenty or thirty pounds! Ai Caramba!

You had to admire the French sense of theatre as at the start we were treated to music, dance and delectable mademoiselles in costumes that barely covered their delicous little derrieres as they cavorted on raised platforms all along the starting grid - in sailor outfits! Une spectacle! Roman candles flared bright red in the seconds before the start. Huge groups of runners, anywhere from twenty to forty, ran in identical costumes and pushed huge, unwieldy "chariots" along the course. It was madness, chaos and it was wonderful; at least in the very beginning...

Despite a week of temperatures in the mid-nineties, the race organizers completely underestimated the need for water on the course. And the first priority of any race organizer has to be the comfort and safety of runners on the course. Anything else is frankly unforgiveable. We had started at the back of the pack to enjoy the carnival atmosphere and we were shocked to find that the first two water stations were absolutely bereft of water. I mean no water at all. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. And we were definitely thirsty, having spent ninety minutes at the start of the race already standing in the sun with no water. And we hadn't brought water with us because of our costumes and because we had been repeatedly reassured that there was lots of water available on the course. We cursed our trusting natures and the duplicity of the French. At the empty water stations we were greeted by a surreal scene. Hundreds, if not thousands of empty plastic water bottles litred the site of the water stations like dead bodies. It was as if a massacre had taken place.

By the third water station, there was still almost no water, but someone at least had the presence of mind to put out a hose. Imagination, if you will, a thousand people, or more, trying to drink from a single hose. Desperate runners crowded around and fought to get water. It was like a scene out of a wildlife documentary as a herd of crazed wildebeest fought to slake their thirst after a hundred mile migration across the searing hot plains of the Serengti. As the biggest and tallest of the group I would push and elbow my way in to get enough water for everyone. If we had a mouthful or two, we were lucky. And not a single representative from the Medoc Marathon was anywhere to be seen...

And at each water station, we stopped for long periods of time to try and assess the situation. It took us an hour and fourty-seven minutes to run the first 10K. Of course the whole point of running the Medoc Marathon is to taste wine at the Chateaux. So initially we were treated to the bizarre scenario of all the wine you could ever want to drink, but no water? Where was Jesus when we needed him? A little wine into water, please...

By this time there were murmurings of another French Revolution, only it was race organisers that the running peasants wanted to decapitate. Le guillotine; s'il vous plait! But you have to give credit where credit is due. When the local people and the Chateaux saw the situation, they quickly took matters into their own hands. People everywhere dragged out their hoses and began spraying runners down, filling buckets and troughs where you could stop to splash water on your self and pour buckets of precious water over your head. After a few hours it didn't even matter how brown the water was... I even saw people wading in some of the moats and ponds around some of the larger Chateaux.

A few hours in I actually witnessed a woman runner in the shade, leaning heavily against a wall, her make-up running down her face, long streaks of mascara making her look like a raccoon, and her costume soaked in sweat, smoking a cigarette. I looked at her in astonishment and she shrugged her shoulders as if to say, "What else can we do?" I had to wonder, did she carry cigarettes with her, did she beg one? Only the French!

As usual I was wearing my heart rate monitor and despite a relatively slow pace my heart rate was as laboured as if I was trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I was shocked to look down as I crested a small hill and saw that my heart rate was 173. Seymour actually got his heart rate up over 180. And we weren't breathing heavily; but our hearts were racing even if we weren't! My heart rate over the six hours I ran averaged 150 beats per minute...

Despite drinking litres and litres of water, and having a belly that was sloshing with the stuff, I only had to stop and commune with nature twice. Over six hours. And it was like I was peeing French's Yellow Mustard. Bizarre.

And oh yeah, there were no portable toilets to speak of on the course. Not so bad for the men who watered the vineyards along the course, but a little more interesting for the women who had to dart in between the rows and rows of vines to find relief.

Within a few hours of the start of the race the heat, the costumes and the relentless glare of the sun beating down began to take its toll. White and blue ambulances and medical cars began racing along the course to rescue felled runners. Dozens of people were carried away on stretchers. Every spot of shade sported an exhausted runner. Runners who had water offered it to other runnners - complete strangers - on the course. By Noon we were all in survival mode and we were all in it together. And soon rental trucks carrying water could be seen rushing alongside roads to deliver their precious cargo.

By the halfway mark, some three hours after we had started, the situation was reversed. From no water, there was water everywhere, but there was still no system in place to dispense it efficiently and huge knots of people would crowd around a beseiged volunteer who was desperately pouring water into cups as fast as they could.

On the race course itself, more and more people were slowing to walk. It was an amazing sight to look ahead of you and see miles and miles of people snaking through the vineyards, and then look over your shoulder and see miles and miles of colourful silohettes behind you. You felt like part of some epic migration or crusade. It was a feeling enhanced by the huge, billowing clouds of dust that were kicked up by thousands of passing feet in the parched and dry vineyards. A haze hung over the marathon like a mood shot in a Kubrick film. And the costumes were slowly falling apart, the route scattered with glittering pieces of cloth and plastic and bits and pieces and strange odds and ends. Cut to the Fellini film. Some people had stripped off their costumes and you saw men and women determined to finish the race running in thong underwear, briefs, bikini bottoms and brassieres. Then imagine the same individuals after they had been hosed down in an effort to cool them off... Vive la France!

The "chariots" - the elaborately decorated carnival-type floats powered by bicycle gear - that had seemed so festive at the beginning of the race on pavement now became a huge pain in the ass. As did the innumerable number of cyclists weaving in and out of the runners - who were beginning to weave themselves at this point in the race. The vineyard paths were just too narrow to accomodate them AND all the marathon runners, and they suffered endless mechanical breakdowns, accompanied by shouts for "une mechanique!" This of course did not stop them from ceasely honking their horns to try and clear a path through the runners where there was no path to be had. In fact there were several spots on the marathon course where all 8,143 runners had to file through nearly single-file...

Of course many people were not wearing sunscreen and by Noon there were beet red noses and shoulders everywhere. Sunburn had been my one great fear and I was plastered head to toe in sunblock, Bodyglide and face paint. I was as greasy as a prize pig at a fall fair. And fortunately I didn't burn.

In the later stages of the race, the singing and cavorting had slowed, but despite the heat and evident exhaustion, people still kept their festive spirits. It was inspiring. And the local people were simply fabulous. Of course you resented the fact that they were cheering you from the protection of the shade with a glass of chilled rose in hand, but they buoyed our spirits and really did make us feel like champions.

With a few kilometres to go, and a finishing time of six hours in sight, most people were walking, but with the finish line in sight they roused themselves to cross the Finish Line running. And thousands and thousands and thousands of people cheered us on. I crossed the line at about 6:06. Happy to have survived, I might add!

An adorably sweet little girl draped me with a finisher's medal and offered her "Felicitations!"

And add the schwag! We got bottles of fine vintage wine, Medoc Marathon flip-flops, souvenirs and Adidas back-packs to carry it all home in.

Afterwards, we tried to get some food and refreshments - like beer - in the runner's tent, but yet again the organization had broken down, and after standing in a huge, inert, stinking crowd that wasn't going anywhere fast, we simply went to one of the many restaurants lining the waterfront in Pauilliac and got what we so desperately needed in seconds... Icy cold beers! Et pommes frites!

The organizers had done a great job setting up showers and by the time we went through there was no hot water left, but the icy cold water was like a little taste of Paradise. It was like being resurrected from the dead. My God!, it felt good. The floors of the showers looked like sandy beaches as the grit and dust of the vineyards was rinsed off the runners.

We lounged around afterwards, grateful to have survived. Happy just to be still in the shade and not having to move.

Then came an evening blurred by all the wine you could drink, dancing like a drunken hippo on badly blistered feet, and finishing with a spectacular display of fireworks set to rousing music in front of the Gironde inlet. It was a breathtaking display.


What a day...

I was in bed before Midnight and slept the sleep of the dead.

(Note) This Blog has disappeared once - and I have no idea how it did!!!!

And here is the follow-up to the original Sizzle post...

French Cuisine

Other than the nape of a woman's neck, I can't think of anything that smells better, or is more mouth watering, than garlic and onions being browned in butter in a sizzling skillet. Why food...

I am currently a guest in the house of Monsieur and Madame Boyer on the outskirts of the village of Figeac in South West France. Figeac was and is a marvel of medieval architecture. Much of the town was built many hundreds of years ago, and in the surrounding countryside are stone walls and ruins dating back to Roman times.

To say Mme. Boyer can cook is a bit like saying Picasso can paint a little. Food and French cuisine is a religion here. Lunch takes the better part of two hours, dinner, the better part of three.

Dining consists of an aperitif, followed by a salad or soup, or sometimes both, followed by an entre, followed by cheese, followed by desert... All accompanied by bottle after bottle of good, often times exquisite wine.

I am in paradise...

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

La Voiture Est Poubelle

La voiture est poubelle. La voiture est merde.

The car is garbage. The car is shit.

This is French that even I can understand with perfect clarity and comprehension.

In the midst of preparing for and running the Medoc Marathon this past week, I was also - courtesy of Europcar and what I hope was a well-meaning friend - saddled with one of the worst rental cars of all time. And at a cost that I still choke over every time I think about it...

One of our party made a unilateral decision that five people couldn't possibly fit in one vehicle - especially for four days - and hence rented two vehicles. So when I got off the TGV train in Bordeaux I was handed a set of car keys, a two week rental contract that I could neither cancel nor modify and a hefty bill...

Voila! I was in possesion of an antiquated Renault Laguna. This is the same vehicle that had not been serviced, where the dashlights flashed like the neon lights along the Las Vegas Strip and that made the most ominous of sounds even when you drove it at legal speeds. This is the same vehicle that shed a tire - and then promptly shredded it - so that I was forced to change a tire in Saharan conditions. The "Pneu" sensor of course did not work...

I was apoplectic and in danger of having a stroke.

Sophie - our lovely and multi-talented Host - intervened and introduced me to her friend who ran a tire shop on the day before the Medoc Marathon. When he and his mechanic looked at the car, and then looked at the dash, they both burst out laughing...

"La voiture est poubelle. La voiture est merde."

The car is garbage. The car is shit.

Cost of a new tire? Three hundred and fifty dollars.


Well, we'll just have to worry about it after the marathon. In the meantime I prayed that the car would not continue down its path of self-destruction...

Monday morning Sophie got on the phone and began a long series of phone calls while I paced the farmhouse like my best friend was in major surgery and not expected to survive. We thought it would be possible to change cars locally. So we went to the local Europcar agency location...

Ce n'est pas possible! It's not possible! Il fait fou? Are you crazy! The lady at Europcar did however burst into laughter in much the same way as the local mechanics had. "That car is nearly dead! Did they give you that!?"

Yes, yes, as a matter of fact they did. The keys in my hand kind of give credence to that theory. Sophie knew the local Eurocar lady and they engaged in a blur of language I could not even begin to follow. But if I was the Renault Laguna I am sure I would have been blushing and deeply ashamed as Sophie described my every shortcoming and failure as a rental car...

But there was no way I was getting a new car locally. Instead, I was directed to the Europcar location at the Bordeaux Airport - ninety minutes down the road. But the car could not be collected until the late afternon. So there was no choice but to take Sophie to lunch as a small token for the amazing way she looked after us all week. The lunch was fabulous.

In fairness to Europcar in the end I did get a new Renault Laguna that looked to be of a much more recent vintage. Although the same car in name, the two vehicles didn't bear the slightest resemblance to each other. And I didn't have to pay for the shredded tire.

And the man behind the Europcar counter when he saw the first car that Europcar had so kindly rented me at an exorbitant rate?

He burst out laughing...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

2006 Medoc Marathon Post Mortem

Myself and any number of people - including hundreds and hundreds of race participants - have been asking, "How could the Medoc Marathon organizers, with all their experience, screw up the water situation so badly on race day?"

The answer may lay in as simple an explanation as a strange change in water sponsors.

The Medoc Marathon switched from water supplied by a French company, Vittel - who supplied water in 500 ml bottles to Nestle - Aquarel - who supplied water in 1.5 liter bottles. This change, strangely enough, created a huge "bottle-neck" at the water stations on race day.

According to people I spoke with, in previous years, the Medoc Marathon organizers simply put out the smaller bottles of water - a near perfect size on a sizzling hot day - and let runners take them. Switching to the larger bottles meant runners or volunteers had to pour out water into glasses in order to drink. It was an organizational disaster. We never SAW any Medoc Marathon water station volunteers for the first two hours of the race. Maybe they were in hiding - maybe they had abandoned their posts. The first runners who arrived at the water stations simply took the larger bottles, leaving NO water available to the runners behind them. Incredibly, there are numerous accounts of the front runners pouring DRINKING water over their heads in order to cool off with NO thought given to the runners behind them.

I hope the Medoc organizers got paid a lot more money by Nestle than they did by Vittel. Hopefully that way they can subsidize my ticket to the Mecod next year to make up for the screw-ups this year! Nestle of course, is the same multi-national company which discourages new mothers in developing countries from breast-feeding so that Nestle can sell them over-priced baby formula that is significantly less healthy for newborn babies than breast milk. Gotta love capitalism and market economics at its finest... Funny how Medoc, which is designed to promote French wine, sold out a French water company... at least according to the locals I talked to...

What about the wine? Everyone has been asking me about the wine along the course...

Honestly, I don't even remember the wines I tasted on the course, and there were only a few. No more than six. Well, I remember Chateau Laffite Rothschilde and Chateau Mouton-Rothschilde. And a Haut something or other... But sadly enough, that's about it... No one is more disappointed than MOI! I had dreamed about this race for a couple of years, but race conditions prevailed and I tried to run the race as smartly as I know how. And with temperatures in the mid 90s, drinking wine was not part of my survival strategy!

We did try to compensate for our lack of wine consumption on the marathon course at the food fair "degustation" afterwards. The food and wine displays really were wonderful and I bought numerous bottles of wine, chocolate-covered hazelnuts and canned fois grais de canard - that's Donald Duck to you.

The organizers of the Medoc Marathon soon realized that the race conditions this past Saturday and the situation with the water on Race day had created an extraordinarly unusual set of circumstances. Usually, the cut-off time for presenting medals and the race package is six and a half hours, with a five minute grace period.

This year, when it came to the awarding of medals - the Medoc Marathion abandoned the 6:30 cut-off time. There was obviously profound embarassment over the water situation. We met runners from Denmark who had been given Finisher's medals and the finisher's package up to 45 minutes AFTER the "Official" cut-off time.

And yes, we are now officially on record as the hottest Medoc Marathon ever.

We made the history books. For better or worse!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Medoc Meltdown

The heat wave has continued unabated, the temperature yesterday returning to a sizzling 36 degrees. That's 95 freaking degrees in the Seventh Circle of Hell, my friends. Even on the edge of the Atlantic it was 34 degrees - and that's with a cool breeze.

The hottest race I have ever run in was the Stormy 67K Ultramarathon three years ago when it reached 87 degrees in the mid afternoon. But that race was run through the woods, so there was at least a semblance of shade. Here in Medoc along the marathon route there is none. And because the Medoc starts at nine o'clock in the morning; a five hour race will take place when the sun reaches its zenith between eleven in the morning and two in the afternoon. Under those kind of conditions, a six hour finishing time wouldn't really surprise me...

One of the features of the Medoc is that participants run in costume. The costumes that we brought with us are perfect for a crisp winter morning, definitely not recommended for a sojourn in the Sahara! And my costume has no hat, an oversight I am definitely going to have to address. In fact a smart strategy may be to start in the costume and then abandon it along the way... Like a sinking hot air balloon tossing baggage overboard to gain additional altitude!

And then the whole issue of hydration and alcohol consumption must be considered. I fear that I am going to have to be satisfied with small tastes of tantalizing wine, but no quaffing and very little sipping. Mon dieu, c'est incroyable. Une scandal epic!

Twenty-four hours from the race there is still hope for cooler weather, but at best that means temperatures in the eighties instead of the nineties. Cold comfort...

Yesterday the wretched rental car I have found myself saddled with blew a tire on a small country lane in the early evening while I was on my way to dinner. With the temperature still hovering around the incandescent I was forced to try to make sense of the bizarre jack that I dug out of the boot of the Peugot Laguna. Dressed in shorts, my knees, and then my knuckles, soon were on the losing end of the battle with the gravel by the side of road.

Sweat dripped from my forehead in steady rivulets and the car and the offending flat tire radiated heat. The tire was almost too hot to handle and I ended up doing a strange, oddly drunken dance as I tried to juggle eighty pounds of red-hot rubber, trying in vain not to get burnt and not to get dirty. I failed on both counts. After thirty minutes I was successful, but not before cursing every deity I could think of, luck, fortune, the French automotive industry and the rental car agency.

Rental car agencies, like insurance companies, banks and brokerage houses, are largely run by, operated and owned by crooks and thieves and the mentally incompetent for the sole purpose of seperating you from (stealing) your money and providing you with little or no service.

All the phone numbers that they provide you with are useless and should you actually make contact with a real human being and not a disembodied recorded voice, well, in short order they will prove useless too. The Peugot has only 15,000 kilometres on it and the car is crap. I mean really crap. The car was handed over to me with NO windshield-wiper fluid and the SERVICE IMMEDIATELY light in the dashboard ominously blinking red. Every panel has a scratch or a dent. At least that part is reassuring as it reminds me of my own car at home... But it doesn't say much for the overall condition of the car or, more suspiciously of French drivers...

On the bright side, the food and the wine and the French countryside continue to enchant. They recognize me now in the local market as I've gone back for oysters and champage for lunch for the last three days! C'est magnifique!

Did part of the marathon course yesterday by car and will return to Pauilliac this morning to get my bib - #6943.

Au revoir, mes amis!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Il Fait Chaud

Well, we've had a welcome respite from the heat. The temperature dropped yesterday from a high of 36 degrees to a mild 34 degrees.

Even the locals will say, "Il fait chaud" entirely unprompted. It is like being in Grade 8 French Class all over again. Personally, I'd like to hear a little, "Il fait froid!"

Spent the morning in the local market, buying produce and cheese and sausages and a little wine at a Euro a glass. In other words, after the Canadian currency conversion, a glass of wine is a mere dollar fifty. Driving a rental car, I have to exercise a rather extraordinary degree of self control. Or abandon all thoughts of venturing out onto the French roadside...

The locals are quite enthused about the Medoc Marathon. Although not as sophisticated as Bostonians, people in Bordeaux are nonetheless intrigued that people would travel from all over the world to run through the countryside.

Service in France can be a hit and miss proposition. Usually when you bump into someone in a large business and they hate their job and their boss and their life and all foreigners and anything that moves; well, you are at their mercy. And you could quite concievably die before getting any attention or God Forbid, actual assistance. But small businesses are usualy the exception. When you enter a store or a cafe or a restaurant and the person behind the counter is also the proprietor, they will go to great lengths to ensure that you either enjoy the experience or get what you are looking for. And if they don't have it, chances are they know someone or somewhere that does and they'll steer you in that direction with specific directions - often hand-drawn - of how to get there!

From the market it was too hot to do anything but go to the beach. So armed with a gigantic hat and 45 Sunblock I ventured out into the sun for the first time in months. I felt like a little bunny in a large field keeping an eye out for an eagle overhead. Very strange to not be able to blithely wander anywhere. Like a vampire, I usually bolt from shadow to shadow and conspicuously avoid the sunny side of the street...

So, slopped head to toe in Sunblock, and looking vaguely ghost-like as a white apparition, I even ventured into the waters of the Atlantic for a respite from the heat, starkers except for my French sombrero and sunglasses (I was surrounded by German naturists - so when in Rome). And I nearly lost those in the surf and waves that put the West Coast of British Columbia to shame. In the end I retreted to the shadows of the bunkers that dotted the beach and that the Germans so thoughtfully left behind after the Second World War.

In the late afternoon I returned to the Chateaux Gadet Terrefort and bought a case of wine for the week. I'll have to go back because the rest of my party - Seymour - drank it last night!

I miss my dogs, but have been informed, in very specific terms, that they are being little Hellions in my absence. I will have to beat them when I return home, and offer what promises to have to be an incredibly large bribe as compensation to their baby-sitter...

Bordeaux or Bust

Welcome to the French Desert!

We arrived in Bordeaux via the TGV train from Paris and disembarked into 36 degree weather.

Most folks on vacation would welcome such sweltering, sweat provoking temperatures...

But heat like that tends to make marathoners blanche at the very idea of transversing 42 kilometres in such conditions.

There is not a cloud in the sky and on the Medoc Marathon course; there is little or no shade as you run through the vineyards and through the countryside. There are rumours that it may cool off, and even that it may rain, but we have heard differing weather forecasts from everyone we have spoken to!

We are being billeted in a wonderfully weathered French farm house, stone and brick and plaster, much of it more than a hundred years old. In any situation when you travel with a group, and certainly when you try to make accomodation arrangements in another language there are certain to be a few "minor" miscommunications and the odd misunderstanding... As it turns out, the house we arranged to stay in through the Medoc Marathon stills has its rightful occupents, Sophie and her four daughters, aged four through fourteen. But having a Host like Sophie is the best of all possible situations, meaning that we get the inside scoop on all the local comings and goings. And someone to provide coffee and croissants in the morning!

And when I say farm house, I am not exagerating. I was forced to wear ear-plugs to drown out the crowing of the roosters at five this morning. And across the street are a herd of cows, and goats, donkeys and other assorted livestock pop up around every corner. The sights, sounds and smells are a powerful reminder on my part of a childhood spent growing up on a farm, to the extent that I milked a cow by hand every morning and afternoon. A skill I had not thought would come in handy any time soon, but who knows?

Last evening the owners of the local Chateaux invited us all over for a tour of the winery, followed by a fabulous feast. Every cousre, soup, entre, cheese and desert was accompanied by an exquisite sampling of the wares of the Chateaux, the exception being the wine served with dessert, for which we had an amazing 1996 "Gertz" (I won't even hazard attempting to spell it in full)...

Fortunately, our French hosts mistook my usual gluttony for the enthusiasm of a true Gourmand. Our Hosts - Claudine and Christian - took great delight in the gusto with which I consumed their fare and took special care to make sure my plate was never bare and more importantly, that my wine glass was never empty!

I was of course able to say that I was merely in serious training for the Medoc Marathon! And even in the French countryside, when they quizzed our party about our racing histories and our marathon track records, they were suitably impressed that a man of my present girth and appetite had run the Boston Marathon less than a year ago...

That's it. There are peasants in the background screaming at me that it is time to go to the market...

Monday, September 04, 2006

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

I have been zipping around London by the Tube, been out to Goodwood to see the Spitfire Air Show, the Classic Car Races and Vintage Motorcycles and even squeezed in a run this morning in Regent Park. In an hour it is back aboard the train and on to Paris for a night before departing for Bordeaux at dawn. Whew!

My Aunt Sylvie and Richard were both celebrating upcoming birthdays, and it was my nephewly duty to bring over a few bottles of wine and join in the celebration.

Yesterday out at the Goodwood Revival it was overcast and windy and threatening to rain, but that didn't dampen the tens of thousands of spectators who came out to see the immaculately turned out Jaguars, Aston Martins, AC Cobras, Ferraris, Maseratis, Lancias, Corvettes and other fabulous marques racing for prestige, factory honour and owners' bragging rights. The roar of the race cars was deafening, and the smell of burnt rubber, tortured brakes and brutalized clutches filled the late summer air. By mid day the skies overhead had cleared and we were treated to an astonishing series of fly bys of Spitfires a mere few hundred feet above us.

Sun came out so strongly I had to buy a hat, and in the booths selling all their goods, I spied Stirling Moss signing books and Phil Hill shaking hands. Two great gentlemen...

I spied a Steve McQueen Le Mans movie poster I would have KILLED for, but where was I going to fit in my luggage! Merde!

There was even a race of vintage motorcycles, Nortons, Triumphs, Ducattis, Moto Guzzis and Matchless. It was a treat, to say the least, if you enjoyed the smell of burnt oil and racing gas...

I ran 8k this morning in 36 minutes.

Couldn't find an England football jersey to save my life.

Given the way they played in the World Cup this summer, not all that surprising...

But did get to start the day with a hearty and gresay English breakfast!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

London at Last

I ran another quick 10K on Friday morning and then had a long, leisurely - typically French - lunch with old friends in Montmartre in the shadow of Sacre Couer.

After packing my bag I made my way to the train station and was off. Paris was hot again and the train station was ful of people from all over Europe, apparently all of whom had forgotten to bathe that morning.

I thanked my blessings that I was able to sample the BO of at least a dozen diferent cultures, the train station redolent with the odours of Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

The Medoc Marathon is but a week hence and after one of two more ten Ks, I am going to cut back on my running a little. Not a huge taper, but a little one...

I received notice in my e-mail on Friday that they were beginning to register people for Boston on Setember 6th.

So I think I am going to forgo a fast fall marathon - well, at least an attempt at one! - in favour of falling back on my Boston qualifying time that I got in Boston this spring.

In a way the effort I put in seems somewhat prescient, as I had no idea at the time what the summer and my doctors had in store for me. Like the Boy Scouts, marathoners can never be too prepared!

After living like an artiste in a peniche mored along the bank of the Seine in Paris, I have gone to feeling like anaristcrat in London; ensconsed in a stunningly beautiful and stately home on the edge of Regent Park.

You can never have too many friends.

After a mere week, I find myself missing my running buddies back in Vancouver and my dawgs...