The beginning goes back to finishing the endure24 twenty four hour race in Belfast last year.A track race that saw me break the 100 mile in twenty four hours.That day I decided I wanted to try do something different the following year.Not necessarily anything more challenging but something that would bring me out of my comfort zone.Finding the balance between training and retaining a reasonable balance in life is also important.I liked the idea of a journey rather than a race,journey here in the least profound way.I wasn’t looking to find myself or lose myself for that matter!Doing this on a modest budget was also a big consideration.The Canal du midi surfaced as an option on a trip to Paris,the inflight magazine featured the Canal du midi as a holiday destination ,they were suggesting by barge!)The canal is 150 miles long its construction was copied and replicated worldwide,It’s also a UNESCO world heritage site.
I got a book called cycling the midi by Declan Lyons on eBay,What could possibly go wrong ? The planning for my trip was pretty straight forward,I did originally have a romantic notion of running down the canal,meeting Mairead in Sete and cruising back up the canal in August..Pickeling myself in red wine and gorging on cheese and baguettes like a cross between father jack and Eric Cantona
The plan hit a snag however on my midweek fun run with Runlogic . I was able to discuss the plan with someone from the region.(thanks Alex).it could be 40 degrees in summer you know (it sounds better in a French accent)…there goes the leisurely cruise home ,I liked the idea of cruising in forty degrees but not running.A schedule change from August to March!Great I’m behind schedule already !
On a frequent trip into http://www.runlogic.com..Ireland’s finest running store I had bounced the various numbers around with Ash and so I now had a schedule
Day 1 Toulousse to Castlenaudray (approximately 65km)
Day 2 Castlenaudray to Homps (approximately 80km)
Day 3 Homps to Beziers (approximately 60 km)
Day 4 Beziers to Sete (approximately 50 kilometres)
The numbers are reasonably accurate but don’t include detours ,sightseeing or going for a pee!In ultra running terms these numbers aren’t that big and there were no mountains or deserts…but this was a holiday meets ultra kind of thing !If I ran overnight I’d miss the scenery ….for those of you who fancy it though it’s perfect to race in the early part of the year !Flights to Toulouse can be good value too if booked early.
Splitting my runs into even days to allow for some sightseeing,or to facilitate any unforeseen circumstances.Non Swimming Non French speaking non navigating first time multi day runner…What could possibly go wrong!?I actually felt quite confident but there are so many hazards in running long distances.My first hotel facing Toulouse train station was perched on the canal so that helped me get a good first nights sleep!Another inspiration the legendary Rick Stein had barged this route before…no energy gels on this run!The food plan was a bit loose but as it was France I figured I’d be O.K.
An early start on my first day saw me leave the city behind and start my journey.The weather almost immediately proved a welcome distraction,no baselayers,no hats no sunscreen … Quick stop apply sunscreen!Its been a relatively mild winter in Ireland but lengthy..a few days in short sleeves was most welcome!On my restart a cyclist gestured for me to stop.What rules had I broken?ah jaysus here we go the first test of my French phrase book.As it turned out the cyclist had only one arm…(no this isn’t a subtle Buddhist reference) the strap on his helmet had come loose,cycling with one arm is dangerous eneogh I’d imagine! not the type of conversation I had been practicing for but that’s life on the open road,we exchanged pleasentries and continued on our way.The first leg of the journey was planned to take me from Toulouse to Castlenaudray.I was going well but hadn’t figured out Easter Monday would leave most shops closed….an early test when fuel was low.A detour for fuel brought me to a pub…all those pub runs had me confident this was going to be a good trip….a beer and a packet of crisps and I was ready to run again!
Next stop Castlenaudray,the home of Cassoulet!A very famous French dish ..perfect for runners.The manager of the hotel I was staying at booked me into a restraunt he recommended….after 40 odd miles on a gel and breakfast I think I boosted his weekly takings by 30 percent!Duck salad,cassoulet desert and a little drinks 23 quid!Happy days.
Cassoulet the perfect ultra running snack…confit duck,sausage ,grains …delicious ,but you will need to run 40 miles after it ,it’s a feast!
Day 2 Target Castlenaudray to Hohms via Carcassonne
There are two parts to Carcassonne ,the more modern town of cafes and shopping but the old city provides a spectacular backdrop as the castle with fairytale like turret towers sits majestically on high,I took some time out here to take it in.It was one of those images which was so much more impressive in person.The guidebook didn’t do it justice.I stopped to have lunch .Steak and chips and a beer was proving to be my favorite dish to maximise calories and quench the thirst,perhaps not the more conservative nutrition strategy but hey ho.. It’s a holiday right!Carcassonne brought the first big challenge after lunch… The canal bank and road was entirely closed off!The attendant had no English but
I recognised the words river …..so off I went ,the canal often crossed rivers via various aqueducts so I figured I’d spot it eventually,as I had strolled around the city I knew where to go to begin my search!As luck would have it I met a school trip on river who gave me wonderful directions in perfect..French !Voitures And some hand gestures translated as follow the cars!off I went following cars,just what you need when you’re on foot ..thankfully my stunning grip of linguistics proved correct as yet again the canal came into view.A quick chat with some fishermen and off I go again!The detours are caused by the felling of the famous plane trees which line the canal .The trees caught a virus from the boxes carrying munitions in World War Two,sadly they will soon no longest be there.The sound of the chainsaw ,heavy diggers and smoking embers reminiscent of a funeral for the historical timber sales.
I knew to get the job done I’d need one big day ,the detour put a little pressure on,also not knowing whether there’d be more was a cause of some concern….time to put the head down and keep going. The canal was a big eneogh landmark to eventually return too but I could have lived without the extra distance!The canal often moved more like a river than a sedate waterway,the locks are all fully functioning .
Some stretches were punishing on the head I tried to start early to avoid the warmer days. mostly the canal was vibrant and changed with every turn,It hasn’t quite come to life as it does in the summer.The quiet was nice.
I was told that the hotter months would see a surge in numbers invade the tranquil waters.. Perhaps my timing was good at last!This was one of my favorite stretches,despite falling twice!
Leaving Homs I passed this statue of wars past.It put France’s current troubles in mind.The peace of a canal bank seem to just magnify the madness of the extremists who are now a threat to humanity,I try not to imagine the pain of those who lost family and friends in Paris.Sometimes it’s good to be alone.
On the toughest day the scenery came to my rescue,the languedoc region hadn’t fully exploded but it teased the senses all the same.
I did meet one or two dogs on route too ! The French love their dogs!
I met the Irish setter on the beach in Sete ……there’s probably a fancy literary term for that !
I think the break away was actually really good for the head,literally the only thing I had to do was run,eat sleep and repeat!It’s not that complicated.Keeping hydrated was maybe the hardest test,I’d load up on calories when the opportunity arose.I lost my water bottle out of my bag …..so I had to rely on shops and careful rationing …ten miles on a dusty hot path and I was dreaming of the iced tea!
And ice cream……
The dusty paths were hard work on low fuel supplies but there’s always room for an espresso !
The nature reserves aproaching Sete.
The home straight to Sete was a little testing ….soft sand or deathly straight cycle lanes!It was a a long slog to the finish!As the guide book I was following was a few years old I Figured I’d play it safe and stick to this path
I met this Korean couple couple cycling around France on their Honeymoon!Romance eh…!We were on the last leg to Sete and met in a lay-by,my Korean is up there with my French to be honest but we were happy to share a selfie !Its a small world !Sete was near spirits were high ,I had made it to the Mediterranean !
I had made it to the end ,no medals no finish line celebrations.Full circle had been achieved,from wanting a reason to run to not needing any…For a journey that took a few days and a little planning ,the train back turned a 150 mile trip into 2.5 hours.Not so impressive after all!Best start planning the next one.
Sorry meant to say .. the tabs are called succeed
I like in ultras cause you dont always feel up to drinking ..
Have a great trip
Ill keep an eye for reports ..great country..
Interesting – not seen them before but a good idea. I get sick of the electrolyte drinks so they could be useful. I’ll let you know how we get on in early May!
Hi – I’ll try again – first post failed. My wife and I are going to run the Canal next year (though we are giving ourselves 5 days instead of 4). We came across your blog which is a great rid and very helpful. A couple of quick questions – were there places to fill up water bottles en route or just the restaurants at lunchtime? And did you bring much kit other than what you ran in? Anything we should bring that we mightn’t have though of? thanks, Niall
Hey ..someone reads it ..😂😂
Good to hear,
So some of the answers might depend on when you run.My run was April to avoid too much heat… pale Irish .
OK from memory there are water points..usually near locks..during summer there are also pop up shops etc.and cafe.My own hard earned exp has been fill up when you can.
I used SCAPs for hydration(if your familiar?) handy to keep system balanced .. STeak and chips for lunch and croque Monsieur for brekkie 😎
Now one thing that can be a pain is there are sections where trees are being felled which can impose a detour with not much notice.All in all it is relatively straight forward.. the towns are lovely but hilly if your detouring.The ground is generally suitable for road shoes. Sete has some lovely coast before becoming a bustling town … I took a train back to Toulouse
Travel light … merino blend top .rest in heat.. start early …
a lot of fun
Shout if anything else
Thanks for that. We’re also going in April (end of) and I’m also pale Irish, though have lived in the South of France for 12 years so hopefully reasonably acclimatised to the weather. Don’t know SCAPs- maybe some sort of electrolyte tablet/drink? Thanks for all the advice, much appreciated. My only concern is water en route but sounds like that should be ok. Cheers.
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Hi – just wanted to update you in case you were wondering (am sure you were on the edge of your seat!). Due to injury and illness since Christmas I wasn’t fit enough to take on the Canal du Midi this time so the wife and I did a shorter Cannes to St Tropez run over 2 days (40km per day) instead which was fun and a good fact-finding mission for our Canal du Midi run. We will definitely do it at some point – either later this year or early next. Whenever we do I’ll drop you a message to let you know how we get on! Thanks again for your help and advice, NB
Hey sorry to hear you had a setback … but im sure just a temporary one..and canal not going anywhere 😎
Im going to spain shortly 4 a bit of a trip so it might interest you … take it easy!
Sounds fun – look forward to reading about it!
Absolutely loved this… a super run in a spectacular place.. the photos are amazing!! Please can I go next time?
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I’m looking into another!
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