With talk turning to the Marmotte 2015, it's time to start publishing Garret Connolly's opus detailing the 2014 edition. 16 Orwell members tackled it, which is coincidentally nearly the number of pages in Garret's piece.

The 2014 Marmotte Story - Part I

Garret Connolly

marmotte 'maʀmɔt/ noun

  1. a heavily built, gregarious burrowing rodent of mountainous country in both Eurasia and North America. It generally lives 1500m+ above sea level, is highly elusive and rarely shows itself in public.
  2. perhaps best known as the animal the bad guys threw into the dude's bath in 'The Big Lebowski', "Nice Marmot!"
  3. a savage, annual, one-day, timed cyclo-sportif in France for amateur cyclists; over a distance of 175km, climbing circa 5,200 metres.

For some absurd reason, fifteen of us decided to give this third, less-than-cuddly marmotte a go… here is our story…


Background to the Madness

For years, La Grande Marmotte has been a true Orwell rite of passage. Stephen Mc and Dave Mc did it and entertained us with their diary. More recently, Denis Gleeson, Stephen Hayden and Johns Hannin, Lanigan and Twomey have all conquered it. Bringing back with them tales both horrendous and heroic. Feeling he didn't suffer quite enough the first time, John H went back again in 2013! For most of us who did it this year, the tales, stories and newspaper articles of both Paul O'Neill and Billy Parker were why most of us said, why not?! In fact, I think it was me who said "if Billy can do it at his age, surely anyone can!" How silly was that?!

The seeds were sewn in September 2013 when two separate groups hatched separate plans for an attempt at the Marmotte. Myself and Dave Hendron spoke about seeing who else might be interested while in a different room in a different house, Colm Egan and Gerry O'Connor were having a similar conversation. Conversations lead to an email, which lead to a forum posting, which lead to another email. Within a few weeks we had over twenty Orwell heads who were keen. By Christmas, a firm sixteen remained. The Marmotte 2014 peloton had formed…

Starting Points

UCD VO2 Max and Lactate Threshold Testing: with Romain Denis in Department of Sports Science. Most of us did this test, which usually takes 2-3 hours and involves bringing you from an easy base to the very top edge of your exertion levels. Personally, I found this test brilliant because it gives you an accurate level for your threshold level of heart rate. This is the level you should be training at to most efficiently improve when climbing. You'd be surprised how high your max is. I had always thought my max was 184bpm (220 minus your age being a common calculation used) but the UCD test taught me that it was actually 204bpm. I could easily climb comfortably at 175-180bpm where I'd previously thought I was in the red. A great test which I would highly recommend to anyone doing a Marmotte/Étape type event in 2015. We managed to get a group Orwell club rate of €100, best tonne I ever spent!

Coaching: Some of us did the coaching, some didn't. Some used the coach's services for a short time and then dropped out. I think the main thing to remember, is to come up with a plan for yourself, that you're comfortable with, that will allow you to peak at the event and then it's just the small matter of sticking to it! Everyone is different and getting broad coaching advice for a large group is a challenge. I would recommend using a coach that gives you specific training advice for someone your body type, for a particular event. Most of us used Scott Fitness for structured training from January to April/May. I would highly recommend setting targets for your weight, morning heart rate, and kilometres cycled per week and keeping a diary with your recordings. Every kilo counts when doing the Marmotte. Aim to be down to your target weight two weeks prior to the event. Thanks to all the Orwell committee for sponsoring 50% of our fees for this. It was much appreciated.

Nutrition: The most undervalued training tool for these type of events is nutrition. Read up as much as you can on food for endurance sports. More than anything, recovery food is vital and having a full meal ready to eat immediately after your shower can be key. A good old fashioned pint of milk can be a brilliant instant hit. For those who are apprehensive or clueless in this area, meeting with a nutritionist could be a bob well spent. I did a 'Cook Yourself Healthy' three-day healthy eating and cooking course with deelitefull.ie. I found it brilliant. Dee is a wealth of knowledge about eating to improve your performance for endurance sports and was great at pointing out which foods can help in doing so. I'd fully recommend the course I did. It's just one evening a week and the grub at the end of the night makes it worth it alone.

Colm Egan breaking Rule no 95 while showing off his newly toned 6 pack… one click and I'll email this to the Velominati!

Pre-Christmas Training: inc. Spinning and 1 Weekend Spin

Most of us didn't really start to train for the Marmotte until January. However, it's vital to keep cycling throughout the Winter months. Darkness and winter weather conditions might curtail evening spins to Wicklow, but a mid-week spinning class, combined with a longer Sunday spin (usually of yellow/orange level) is definitely feasible. Most of us attended Andy Kenny Fitness, KOM Spinning classes on Tuesday or Thursday (or both) and they worked wonders for everyone. I highly recommend them. They combine power, tempo, high intensity and threshold training across 1.5 hours. Andy is a fantastic spinning coach and the camaraderie with the regulars is brilliant. A steal at €12 for a 90 minute class and he has a good loyalty card scheme too - buy five classes and your sixth is free. If you do one Andy Kenny spinning class plus a weekend spin every week pre-Christmas, you'll be ready for anything next year.

Post-Christmas Training: inc. Spinning/Turbo and 1 Weekend Spin

Most of us had decided on the Marmotte around October and by January, we were ready to really get going on the training. We formed a group alongside Joe Chester of the Étape and Ian Cullen and hired Scott Fitness to coach us. This coaching was 50% funded by the club. As well as doing longer, outdoor spins on a Saturday/Sunday, most of us were doing at least one spinning class alongside a turbo session on the home turbo. I would recommend anyone thinking of doing a Marmotte-type event to invest in one of these. They are invaluable if used correctly and allow you to do an hour of HITs or threshold tempo that can equate to a six-hour hilly spin on the road. Once the weather got better and the clocks turned forward, a lot of us hit the road on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. For me, these spins are the most beneficial in helping me survive the climbs. When you spend three to four hours on a Tuesday evening doing climbs like Cruagh, The WALL, Djouce, Lugalla, Sally Gap, Puck Castle, Fox's etc. etc., psychologically, you know that you can get over anything. Very few roads in the Alps go above 11/12% so the roads of Wicklow are a brilliant way to learn to climb, climb and climb again without blowing up.

Final Few Months

Come April and May, Sportif season was well on its way… 2014 was the first year for the Orwell Leisure Sportif Championship launched by Stephen Ryan and it proved a brilliant plan for our last few months training. Most of us made it to a variety of events on the calendar, but the big ones which benefited us the most were the following:

  • Mount Leinster - where Helen Horan and John Blennerhasset tore the legs off us for the last 20km.
  • Mick Byrne - 160/200km. A hard day with plenty of hills.
  • TKAS 3 day A runner for hardest three days of my life! Still having dreams about the aul' Sliabh Mish.
  • W200 - with 80 other Orwellians! At one stage we had a 200 strong peloton following the Orwell group towards Sliabh Mann… chapeau!
  • 9 Peaks Training Spin - nine mountains around Wicklow (Billy Parker did 10 the following day just to make me angry!)
  • 12 Peaks Training Spin - the backlash to Billy's poking of the fire! Twelve mountains around Wicklow in 115km (a world record I think, but will the 14 Peaks be completed this August??)

Once we climbed off our bikes in Laragh and tasted the 99s ice-creams, we knew we were ready… bring on the Alps!

Bikes dropped off with Ship my Bike and the nerves are well and truly hopping!