dimanche 17 juin 2012

Aravis Trail

Yesterday was the Aravis Trail.
GPS trace on Garmin.
Results online on the race webpage.
Photos on Picasa.

Before the race
The day before I realised on the website that the course had been changed due to snow: we were not going to the top of La Tournette (which was the first big bump at 2300m) anymore, so was hoping for less total ascent. Compulsory gear for the race (despite the forecast of 27°C and the maximum altitude of 1800m) still included an extra leg layer (ie race short + warm long legs), a long-sleeve T-shirt in addition to the race shirt, plus the usual waterproof jacket, space blanket, whistle, cup, phone, and recommended gloves, poles, headtorch... So I packed 2 bags: the very small one with just the essential expecting my leg warmers and arm warmers to count as 2nd layer, and a medium one with actual long tights and long-sleeved t-shirt, hoping I wouldn't need to carry any extra weight over 4000m+. Alarm at 5am to dress up and start eating, also drunk a V :) At 5.40 Mickael picked me up and here we go! until 10mn later we blow a tyre on the highway by Saint-Ismier... so here we are in race gear and fluoro jackets fighting against the screws to undo the wheel, only to find it stuck in place by rust... Kicking it in all directions was no use (apart from hurting feet). So called the insurance (that doesn't cover under 50km distance from home...) then various mechanics, that wanted to know the number on the orange safety phone that happened to have disappeared, then the police that put us in relation with highway security, that announced 30mn delay to get a mechanics to come. So decided to try again to gain time, but kicking still didn't move anything, so we wanted to try and move the car to loosen the wheel. That's when we realise that the lights had stayed on all the while and the battery was now empty: impossible to start the engine... we pushed the car back and forth instead but to no end. Fortunately not long later a young mechanics showed up, used a wooden plank to hit the wheel loose, changed it, and recharged the battery. 7am, ready to go again! Called the organisation to tell them we'd be late and they said it would be ok.

And ok it was indeed. After picking up bibs we had to wait for the last shuttle for a while, and once on the start line we were told that the start was delayed by 30mn due to marshalls having to redo the marking at some points. They also explained the new route but not knowing any name in this mountain range I only picked up that distance and ascent was the same. And I was already announcing that they always get it wrong anyway so expect to do more.

First leg
10am, starting from Bouchet Mont Charvin, a pack of a few hundreds runners, on some flat-ish concrete at first (the road to the village, that we were told had its population more than doubled by our presence ^^) before very soon turning on a small track straight up. Had the poles in hand already so used them to push while jogging up and then walking up. They were also much use in the mud that was everywhere on this track, used them to not slide and also to jump above uncounted puddles of deep mud and dirty water. Almost lost my shoe a few time getting stuck in mud... After a while we started climbing in some more alpine landscape, rocky mountain trail, yum ^^ Crossing lots of torrents from the snow melting overhead, drank from about all of them, soooo good ice cold water in this heat. Also wet my buff a few times to cool down my head. At some point we crossed a big neve (patch of snow) with snow higher than me, they had cut it open (how?) for the track to go through, so here we were between two walls of ice and snow, awesome ^^ At that point Phil was far ahead but Mickael was right behind me. After a while I also realised that the guy in green Quechua gear ("just like Dawa Sherpa" was I thinking) who had been following us for quite a while (km11-12) had a black bib number 3 (red bibs are for 42km runners and black ones for 80km runners) and might very well be the real Dawa Sherpa :-O which got confirmed by his accent when he finally cut a lace-turn to pass us and encouraged us. Wow! :-D

Later we made it to a hut where volunteers had been heavily smoking (judging from the ashtray) and drinking (judging by their mood ^^) and were serving very welcome water: I had 4 glasses in a row, caught a glimpse of Dawa resting in the shade inside the hut, and got going again. The landscape here was just brilliant, rocks everywhere, view on La Tournette summit (2300m) under the snow indeed (the reason why we were not tackling it) and on some pointy mountains. Progressing on the summit scree was just awesome (although probably not for Mickael, a Breton who doesnt like rocks ^^ I lost him somewhere in here), then crossing just under La Tournette, climbing a bit again before the great downhill. I was just between two guys when I missed a step on this narrow track and ended up falling down the side, could catch myself and the guy behind picked me up. Then we passed the front guy as I just let go at speed, having loads of fun ^^ Slowed down a bit though to not take risks, and in a scree suddenly here was Dawa Sherpa again, descending like a chamois, I tried to follow him but didn't last long before he just disappeared in the distance... But I had my chance to measure up against him downhill :) impressive!

The rocky fun trail then turns into a forest track going steeply down under the scorching sun. Tried to keep jogging anyway and kept passing people. Surprisingly, one guy I caught up to at km 17 was Olivier (Phil's friend, and driver for today) who wasn't good, heel tendinitis, so intended to just walk to CP1 at 20km and stop there. Of course CP1 wasn't at 20 but more 23km... I expected it to be at the bottom of this big downhill but we hit the forest and then started climbing hard again and I was taken aback and also quite stressed by it, realising I had no legs anymore and I was still supposed to do 2 big bumps after CP1... Still managed to pass people in this hill, including 2 green guys who had paused and wanted to gain motivation from following the "pretty girl" who was running just ahead of me (with her boyfriend ^^). Then it finally started going down again, and I started passing people. Finished my first Mule bar to keep going strong even if it's downhill, starting to get real hungry. A guy was standing by the side in his swimming boxer shorts, obviously just out of a swim in the nearby torrent, encouraging us. So when I passed the green guy seconds later I mentioned they should all run in that gear to motivate us girls ;) Later passed another guy who told how he was dreaming of a fizzy drink, I confirmed how I wanted a Perrier with lots of ice cubes and he answered that I wasn't very demanding, so I guess he was not talking fizzy water! ^^

Soon after that I made it to the road and can see CP1 so I drink some more thinking it's not worth saving water anymore, and realise good thing I did spare it before because I just got the last mouthful of it. I make it to CP1 - Le Marais where we are crossing the departmental road, in about 4h25. And I'm quite surprised to be welcome by Phil! :-D . Had a long break sitting down in the sun (couldn't be bothered moving to the shade and didn't want to make it even harder to start again then) eating bread with local cheese, tucs, pieces of orange, and drinking glass after glass of lemon cordial and then grenadine. Tried to stretch out a bit, and finally packed my second bar and some dried fruit (probably pineapple, very good!) in my side pocket, had a last glass of fizzy water and was ready to start when Mickael arrived :) We still started ahead of him, uphill again...

Second leg

We start uphill in the sun, but the slope is ok for a while, climbing on the road. Then a marshall steers us up a track and I know it is gonna get hard again... I'm lucky that Phil wants to take it easy for a while and enjoys the company, making it possible for me to follow him. Not long after we left the checkpoint, we pass a guy catching a nap in the shade by the side of the track, saying he's ok. Soon after a guy is sitting right in the middle of the track, in full sun, but there's not a spot of shade around, we offer him to follow us at least to the next bit of shade but he's completely exhausted and answers he needs to recover before moving anywhere, so we pass him, Phil commenting on how we can see people who didn't have enough of a rest at the checkpoint (that we just left indeed). He's telling me about how the same people organise a ski mountaineering race (this other thing that Kilian Jornet is a world champion at) in the same area in winter, that is run in pairs, and he wants me as his team mate of course. So when we pass two women at a turn off, he asks them about the ski race but they have no idea.

A bit further (or was it before...?) there is yet another farm (the farmers have been awesome and all opened their fields to let the race go through! thanks!) with a water basin with runners enjoying the cold water to drink or pour over their head. I wet my buff again again again and keep going, letting Phil to catch up when he's done chatting and drinking. And it doesn't take him long. He says he's happy with my pace as he doesn't want to put himself "in the red". But despite going slow-ish (as in, even I can follow the pace ^^) we keep passing runners looking exhausted and heat-stroked. I keep powering up with Phil, enjoying the "rolling" slope and the company (after being alone for a while) when I suddenly remember the speaker at the start announcing the "arete seche", a very steep finish to the "previous last climb", equipped with a rope for "the less mountaineer-footed of you". I'm told I think too much, but I still start worrying and looking at my altimeter, monitoring our progress towards 1850m, the altitude of the top of this second bump. And then after a while Mickael catches up with us too :) but he's faster and takes up with Phil ahead of me for a while. And then they wait in the shade and I catch up, repeat...

At some point we reach some race marshalls at altitude 1300m and start going down again. And down, down, down... We can see a village way further down and understand that's where we are going... :-/ So we lose 150-200m of this hardly gained altitude and then start climbing again from the village towards a couple of farms that can be seen at the top. We are sort of hoping the CP might be in them (since at the last CP it was announced as being at km30-35, halfway between CP1 and the finish) but (fortunately) don't really believe in it. I'm getting quite tired around there, the sky is spinning hard, unless it's my head ^^ and Mickael is waiting a bit for me. As we feared, the farms are not the end of the climb yet, and no CP around. Somewhere around the farms, Phil takes a long break in the shade to eat, I just keep having small bite after small bite of my second Mule bar and keep walking with Mickael, expecting Phil to catch up quickly. A guy passes us running and yells at us "look where we're going" while pointing at a biiiiig bump just ahead of us. Aouch... :-( And indeed we can see some runners along the side of the hill. At first we are on a track but then suddenly we are sent straight up the slope in the grass, and the slope goes up a couple of notches. Concretely, it's like 50-60% up with some steps in the grass left by the people before us. I just keep going pushing on legs and poles, 3 steps at a time, breathe, repeat. We pass a volunteer and I ask him who had this stupid idea to send us up that sort of slope, and that's when he tells me that this is the replacement for not going up La Tournette. Aaaah! so that's why the distance and elevation change are the same despite the course change... Thanks...!

I'm the first one of the file of runners (reduced to a very slow walk, I'm actually surprised that noone passes me... seeing as there is no track it's not like I'm blocking the way for anyone...) and I navigate my way in the grass from red flag to red flag. The wind really picks up on that exposed slope, my bib is flying on my backpack and it's getting a bit chilly but I really can't bother stopping to put on my jacket. After a while I realise that I have lost Mickael and that the blue runner just behind me is now a girl (who I will see again at the finish, she recognised my shoes, she said ^^). We exchanged a few words about how the 80km runners will love this (they started in Thones at 5am and had to run 39 km to Bouchet Mont Charvin where we started at 10, and then joined the same course that we did. At that point only less than a dozen of them had caught up to us). Towards the top of the slope a red volunteer asks us if we're ok, and what comes straight out of my mouth is "no". My achilles tendons feel like they're gonna snap from the pressure, it's impossible to put a foot down flat on this slope, my whole legs are about to cramp up. He asks me if I'm cramping and I confirm. He stays with me, showing me the crest just above (it is indeed just a few more meters) and encouraging me so I drag myself to the top where I just crash to the ground on the spot. I stay here for a while chatting with them, having them take a couple of photos for me, they tell me they have done this climb 3-4 times since this morning already, and that no they won't give me the name of the guy who traced the course :-) Then Mickael and Phil arrive on the crest too, and the marshalls mention that  from the very top (just a bit further up along the crest) it is 15km to the finish. And they also announce that before that we have 1h30 to reach the CP in Manigod before the 7pm cutoff, and that it is "doable" but we shouldn't play around too long. One of us starts objecting that we started 30mn later than planned but I'm not listening anymore.

The mention of a cutoff got me back up on my feet again immediately.  That's also when I realise it is 5.30pm already :-o We are actually on the very edge of a crest with a huge ravine on the other side, and I suddenly take in the awesome view on the other side. The volunteer advises us to stay on the safe left side of the crest, and we start climbing again towards the top. That's where the fixed rope is placed, for the climb to the very top, not very easy to handle with poles... I pull myself up the slope with one hand on the rope, the other one carrying my poles, when we hear the guy yelling at us that the cutoff in Manigod is now at 8pm. Phew! So we feel a bit more relaxed when we reach the top and have a break there having some food and water, taking more photos, with a big bunch of other runners, all relieved to have reached the top of this hell of a climb. I also take advantage of having some network to check my messages and send an update to Bernie. At this point my Garmin gives 34km and 3300m+. Some runners are happily chatting about having "less than 10km to go", I try to calm them down with the volunteer's estimation on the crest of 15km to go from the top, and another guy adds "15-20" with a disillusioned look, while also mentioning a last short steep climb just before the finish, a threat that will haunt me later. Some volunteers knowing the place point at the course that we still have to cover, the 3rd and last bump being hidden behind a hill, and everyone discusses what distance we are likely to have left. I decide to only listen to the most pessimistic predictions and set out for 15-20 more km.

Phil had started 5mn earlier to "find some shade", then I start running too enjoying the down and my legs being back after the rest, and Mickael follows a bit behind. I find Phil at the orientation table a bit further, which is anything but shaded (there is no trees for kilometres around...), say hi and pass him to keep my momentum. Fortunately the heat is starting to subside a bit now. I set out to run with Phil downhill (he quickly joined me and then I tried to keep up with him) on multiple single tracks through the grass and then on the road. We can hear volunteers yelling in a megaphone in the distance, and I hope for it to be the checkpoint in Manigod. But that hope is quickly disappointed when at km 37 we reach a table under a shade by the side of the road (Plan Bois ?), with volunteers running back and forth to see our bib numbers and announce our arrival in the megaphone "and now red bib number 527... Carole !", with special empathy for female runners and for the "black bibs" of 80km runners. I arrive together with Phil, and immediately go for some liquid. Mickael follows a few minutes later with Guylhem (a runner he just met), and leaves with us soon after. I refill my water as they announce 6km to go down to Manigod (which is a disappointment, I was expecting it a bit sooner; but then they also admit that the course is now 48km, and "don't get discouraged"), and I grab some pieces of dried pears for the road.

We start running down on the road, but that was too easy to last. A pair of volunteers (in costumes?) at a crossing show us the village on the other side, explaining that we "just" have to run down and back up to the village, only 3 more km to go. So here we were hoping that we would be there in no time, but soon enough we are back on tracks, and steep muddy ones at that. At some point while I'm following Phil I slip and catch myself but hurt my ribs or abs or something, but it just damn hurts; Mickael who was just behind asks if I want to stop, but I just need to keep going and get to this &@#$£% CP. I rant a bit about being "sure that we could have reached the village by the road"... We jog all the way down to the river, cross water and mud, and then climb hard again on the other side. We then quickly lose Phil who seemed to be in a hurry while I'm getting tired and we both take the climb a bit easy (Mickael is talking about being in the grupetto in cycling ^^). Finally the track opens in the village, and we can see the bell tower, the CP is at the back of a building with lots of shade, not that it's all that useful anymore at about 7.30. There we find Phil sitting on a chair behind the table, having food, with his legs up. I really need to sit down, so I go straight for the ground against the fence, then go up again to get food and drinks, then sit down again to call Bernie, then get up again for more food (tucs with saucisson !) and for the first toilet break of the day. I see a marshall holding a huge pile of bibs from DNF runners, and that's only the ones who stopped at that CP... scary... :-/

A volunteer is also offering a ride back to Thones in a shuttle... Mickael was saying it would have been tempting if he had been alone... Anyway, there's now less than 2 hours before sunset (at 9.30 today), noone of us has a headtorch with them, and the last estimation is that we have 4km up 500m and then 6km down to the finish in Thones. So we set out again with a plan to stick together so noone gets lost alone in the dark.

Third leg

We set out of the village, uphill for a change, on road and then quickly on a small track that goes straight up steeply cutting the laces in the road at regular intervals. Phil is on the phone with Olivier (DNF) and Maud (who finished in 9h30), and Maud tells him that this last section is way more than 10km, is totally horrible, and is gonna take 3 hours. I already knew that it wasn't 500m ascent but more like 7-800m, but now I start to really worry about getting stranded in the dark, and ranting at the stupid organisers who don't mind sending runners out in these conditions... (not that I would have ranted any less if they had tried to stop me in Manigod for any reason...! ^^) I also have trouble following the pace set by Phil and Mickael ahead of me, and I'm already imagining myself alone in the dark, feel like crying, but luckily they often rest and wait for me.

Then the small lacing trail opens on a wider forest track, I stop to recover a bit and also to read the signs at the crossing, pointing to 2 different summits, one 20mn away and one 1h10 away, hoping we do the first one but having no idea what's the name of where we're headed. Not knowing what's ahead doesn't help, plus I'm still thinking of this guy at the top before warning us against this last "short but steep climb" with "100m" somewhere but I couldn't figure out if it was the amount of ascent, or the length of the climb, or its distance from the finish... I'm wrecked, wondering and thinking too much, and my nerves are pretty much breaking down at that point. Phil is far ahead now and the only reason I'm not alone is that Mickael has waited for me.

We set out again together up the slightly better slope of the 4WD track. A woman catches up to us, she's doing the 80km with very minimal gear (no backpack, a jacket and bottle around her waist), but when I ask her how far we are from the top she pulls out a map and shows us our destination, the Petit Novard, altitude 1500m something. I mention having 4km up and 6km down, but she objects that Manigod was at 73 km for them so there couldn't be more than 7km altogether for this leg. She doesn't have a GPS and is relying on the official course description... So we start again after this short break that helped with breathing but not so much with navigation. At the top of that track there is an emergency vehicle with a woman from the rescue service who steers us to the left on the track to the summit, promising it's only 50m+ more from there. We can see the orange lights of the sun setting between the mountains, behind the pine trees, but with a mixed feeling of amazement at the view tampered by the worry about getting stranded after dark. No time for photos... At the top we catch up with Phil who was resting again waiting for us.

He pushes me to give everything in the downhill and I suddenly set out full speed and quickly leave everyone in the wind. I pass a guy who comments on the fact that I still have good legs, unlike him... Unfortunately my second wind doesn't last very long, and Phil catches up again a while later and I then just work at staying with him, feeling ok going down, but torn between following him and waiting for Mickael. And of course after a while of that hesitation I fall short of both, still way ahead of Mickael but progressively falling behind Phil who catches up with two guys in white a few meters ahead. As our trail crosses the larger track again, I see a race marshall chatting to the 3 of them but can't quite hear. Somehow I imagine that he is announcing a safer shortcut to avoid that runners would get to finish in the dark on that sort of small trail. But when I reach him and ask "what's up?" he answers "nothing, I'm just providing some encouragements". I'm a bit disappointed, plus slowing down to talk to him was enough to lose track of Phil and the two guys and I'm now alone. We're in the forest heading all the way down to Thônes, at altitude ~900m, from the >1500m altitude of Petit Novard, with some slopes at 58% grade according to my Garmin.

It's getting darker by the minute, the orange colours of sunset between the mountains to the right, and little light making it through the trees. I'm still fine but I'm a bit worried about Mickael and all the other runners I have passed (despite being too slow to my taste) who are most likely going to finish after dark... So at the next crossing I mention to the marshall that lots of runners might get stranded in the dark without a headtorch (thinking about Mickael whom I don't know how far behind he is), but he dismisses it, informing me that by now the last runners have passed the top of Petit Novard and everybody should thus be fine to finish before dark. OK... I can hear the town below, music and voices are coming up. But being all alone I decide to finally switch on my iPod on my Bastille playlist, and start singing along :-D  And surprise, a few minutes / songs later Mickael catches up! Not for long, I lose him again soon after when I decide to let go of the help of my poles and just fly down freely. Then I soon enough hit the town, very animated tonight with a festival or market or something, there are people everywhere, music, lights, a few applause, and I have a hard time navigating my way. Race marshalls in their red T-shirts call me to the right route that was all fenced off, and I start sprinting when I suddenly feel a hand on my back, from Mickael who just caught up and starts sprinting up along. And he's fast, I have to push hard to follow, start feeling sick but I won't slow down before the line! I look up and I can see the black arch, it gives me the last bit of energy I need to keep running, and we pass the line together in 11h28...


There is nothing waiting for us (as in, finisher medal or T-shirt) and I just stop a bit dazed, before walking a few meters out of the finish area to collapse to the ground. Phil joins us a few minutes later, he finished 10mn before us, and we go to the free finish dinner of local specialty of crozets and diots.


2 days later I'm really sore, my quads are still hard, my feet feel better after almost having blisters, and I am tired... No wonder after such a race...The results are online and are scary: out of 246 runners signed up, only 108 finished, I'm 95th (and 9th senior female). In the 80km only 20 runners (no female) finished the full course, and an extra 26 (5 females) managed to pass the line after being diverted on shortcuts at various points due to missed cutoffs, out of 145 starters. DNF rate is thus worse than UTMB. I guess it was a good training for it then ^^

That's all folks!

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