lundi 25 juin 2012

Trail du Grand Duc de Chartreuse

Sunday 24 June (yesterday... I have a hard time realising...) was the 23rd trail du Grand Duc de Chartreuse starting and finishing in Saint-Laurent du Pont. A loop of 90 km (instead of 86) and with almost 5100m D+ (instead of 4400). Useful links:
  • Profile on Garmin
  • My times at all the CP on geofp (bib 93)
  • Already some photos on Picasa!
  • The detailed course on the race website
  • NEW: the results are online! I'm 2nd last, but 3rd senior female (out of 4, ok... ^^)

Saturday Briefing
4.45pm is the briefing. I'm here early after taking the bus from Grenoble and setting up my tent at the nearby campsite. They remind us the cutoff times (12pm at Chalais km 32, 3pm at Saint-Joseph de Rivière km 48.5, and 6pm at Saint-Nicolas de Macherin km 65.5). They also tell us about the medical check-up mid-race (in SJR) where they will decide if we are able to keep going. The race director, the guy who traced the course, also counts us that many runners have told him how the 2nd half of the course is "rolling", being in the hills after getting down from the higher mountains of the first half; he then comments with a sadistic smile "you'll tell me about it again after you've run it". Looking forward to it...

There is a huge crowd here, not so many solo runners (specially women, only 14 of us) but also duo and teams of 5, plus all the families. Solo runners start at 5am with white bibs, duo runners start at 6am with yellow bibs, and teams-of-5 relay runners start at 7am with red bibs. There are 3 cutoffs for us, the last 2 for duos, and only the last one for teams, but even if their 4th runner does not make it, there will be a mass start (off ranking though) so that the 5th runner can still get the chance to run his leg.

The briefing is followed by an aperitif with local cheese, lots of it, way more than bread to eat it with, and also Chartreuse soleil, looking like orange juice, except there is a fair bit of chartreuse diluted in it... That's more aimed at the support crews and families than at the runners I guess.

I make my dinner out of the aperitif, buy extra bread from the local bakery but don't even touch it, not really hungry. I'm in bed by 8pm after a few phone calls, but it's the night of France-Spain game in the soccer Euro 2012. And my neighbours in the campsite are watching it on a portable TV. And heavily talking about it too. So impossible to fall asleep before 10pm.

Sunday morning - pre-race, breakfast
I still wake up about 10mn before my 3.30am alarm. Quicky get in my now traditional race clothes (short BSc tight, large white T-shirt, injinji socks over a layer of Nok, grab my poles and waterbag and head for the start line at the stadium, 500m from the campsite, by the streetlights.

Breakfast is offered by the organisers in the gymnasium: bread with jam, one tartine, then one more, then 2 more, and the a cup of the darkest coffee I've ever seen (and drunk). After a while they call us outside so they can check everybody's gear before the start, planned at 5am. It's still quite cold as we queue for them to check our mandatory gear (water, jacket, whistle) before checking us in and allowing us in the start zone (it's GeoFP, the same company as GRP, and the very same sound when they successfully scan us! :-D good memories). I'm one of the first runners in the start area so I wait a little while, all the more since the start got a bit delayed. I am tempted to put on my jacket but I figure I'll warm up soon enough after we start and it's not really worth it.

Leg 1. Start - sous cochette
And I was right. The race starts just a few minutes late (5.08am for me), and damn fast. Being early in the start zone I was at the front of the pack, so quickly get passed by lots of fast runners. It is flat at first, and then goes up a pleasant slope on an old (half destroyed ^^) road, so I can alternate power walk and jog with the help of my poles. I fall into a good rhythm, sticking in the same group, with a blue-shorts old guy I have seen before (probably at Trail du facteur) whose pace I like. I am even passing some people at times, and witnessing the sunrise on the beautiful Chartreuse range on our left, with layers and layers of mountains and morning fog on the horizon as far as the eye can see.

On this road we go through a couple of tunnels, usually short enough and lit enoug. They have even parked a car with its lights on in the longer one to show us the way, brilliant! Plus the guy just ahead of me has a headtorch. In no time we reach the first aid station Sous Cochette, officially at km 10. It is not even 10km yet on my Garmin so here I am hoping already that they under-estimated the distance for a change. It took me 1h18 to get here, while the plan was 1h30, good!

Leg 2. Sous cochette - Orgeval
This aid station is a table at the end of the "road", where we do a u-turn to start on a very narrow single track, overgrown and not very pleasant. But slope-wise i'm still fine. I remember watching the altitude for the first time at 1400m high, so having already climbed a good 1000m without really realising. Was still fearfully expecting the infamous Pre Batard climb to Charmant Som that I was warned against during the scouting training session.

We end up in an alpine meadow dotted with rocks, in the early morning light, awesome! I remember passing a guy struggling quite badly already. Then I emerged on the crest with the view on the other side, and started making my way to Charmant Som. The end of the climb is quite steep, hands are needed to climb some rocks in a sort of chimney. That's where I first meet Pierrette who is doing this race for the first time, and claiming it would be good enough if she could make it to Saint-Joseph de Riviere. She lets me through as I'm more energetic than her at that point and I finish the climb to suddenly get an open view on the other side. A bit more climbing takes us to the cross ("oh we're at the top already?", I ask) where a fellow runner asks me to take a photo for him. I then continue cautiously at first (lapiaz) and then faster on the summit meadow.

The downhill is the one i have done during training, feels good to know the course :) i pass a few guys as i let go a bit in the laces, but we shortly hit the hut 200m below, and the road. Good sign: the huge pool of mud that was there last time has completely dried out! :)

We jog a few hundred meters on the road, passing lots of walkers with red bibs (relay teams of 5), probably waiting for their team mate to finish the first relay. The checkpoint of Orgeval (km 16) is just at the corner with the track that leaves to the right. The plan was to reach this CP in 4h, and I took only 3, good! :) Then i don't remember the rest of the plan... ^^

Leg 3. Orgeval - Bannettes
But I do remember that track from the training session, so I know I can let go, feels good to not have to wait for anyone. As I leave a relay runner was asking his position and was answered he was about 6th in the teams rankings. At that point I had forgotten the teams had started 2 hours after us so I was quite amazed at being so well placed ;) It gave me extra energy to run down.

The downhill actually feels quite short to Col Charmettes, before we start climbing again. This is the climb in the forest on stupidly muddy track that I so hated during training, but today it's drier (I didn't say dry though...) and the succession of small bumps gives regular respites (or chances to jog again). So this climb is passed easily, and in no time we emerge out of the forest under the Rochers du Pre Large, and run on through the meadow to the hut at Les Bannettes (km 23) where we had our foggy picnic during the scouting.

Today it's in brilliant sun and an aid station is set in the shade at the back, meaning we see it at the last minute, good surprise. Kids are serving ice cold water pulled straight out of the spring just below. A girl asks me if i'm listening music while running (I've actually started using my ipod very early on this time), and I tell her that yes, it prevents me from thinking; i get some chuckles from fellow runners.

Leg 4. Bannettes - Chalais
After 2mn stop, we leave downwards, cross the spring and keep going down in the rocky summit meadow until we are in the forest again on a large 4WD sort of track. At some point there is a fork and the guy ahead of me keeps going straight instead of turning left, so I call him back, another guy just behind me confirms my navigation, and I take the lead.

I'm happily running down on the forest track at km 30 when I take a good fall, tripping on a rock big enough to not get kicked out of the way, so fall all the way down on my right knee, dropping my poles in the process. Strangely enough, the fall switched my knee from too-much-downhill-shocks-pain to abrasion-pain (which is much nicer), and after a few minutes to recover from the surprise, I start running again. No witness this time, then the glasses-guy behind me is surprised to catch up to me, I tell him I just fell down, he asks if I'm ok, and I say yes before taking off at speed again.

Then surprise, we climb again, then go very very steeply down in a chimney equipped with cables, a marshall at the top warning us about the presence of rolling rocks in the chimney. It goes on for a little while, with views on the town/village in the valley below. After the chimney it is up a bit again and down on a large track through the forest, all the way to Chalais monastery not much further.

It is 10.45 and the cutoff is at 12 so I'm still fine. At this CP the relay runners switch again (3rd runner starts. Our trainer for the scouting session actually was the fastest relay runner over this 2nd leg). I refill the water, eat the same as all previous CP so far: a few bretzels for the salt, a few pieces of orange for the juice, some fizzy water; and pack dried apricots and fruit pastes in my side pocket for the road. Another runner is warning about the Cheminee du Lorzier, the bump coming up now, telling it's one where you can go no faster than 2km/h... I'm making big calculations in my head about how early i am compared to the plan, and also wondering if that was really the second bump of the profile or just a sub-bump of the first that didn't show, seeing how easy it was... i eventually realise that yes it was the second bump, but also that no i'm not as early as i thought.

Leg 5. Chalais - Sous Hurtieres
We start on a track that rises above the monastery road, lost relayers ask their way to the relay zone. I'm noticing i'm already not much faster than the announced 2km/h while we're not even in the chimney yet... we're rising steeply in the forest, on a lacing track carpeted with dead leaves, and i regularly let relayers past me. When I offer yet another guy behind me to overtake, he declines, commenting that he is perfectly fine with my pace. So i start chatting, jokingly asking "what are we doing here...? - yeah, we would be better on the couch wouldnt we? - oh no! With such a weather? No way!" i answer from the bottom of my heart. And i'm genuinely happy to be out in the mountains, even if it's hard, rather than on a couch, that's for sure!

We also cross a couple of delicate passages across waterfalls on slippery rocks, where big "walking compulsory" signs remind us not to run. I remember having to walk on some sections that had nothing special, holding a relayer behind me thinking if i had to walk then so should he, fair enough, and moving aside only after the "obstacle".

It is getting hard, and I monitor the altitude, counting how much is left, but then we start going down again and lose a couple of hardly earned hundred meters altitude... And then climb it again, in the forest at first and then we emerge on the summit slopes, in the rocky alpine landscape again :-D not easier, but there I catch up to Pierrette (who had passed me downhill in the rocks after Bannettes as I was taking it easy), pass her and encourage her, as I'm much faster at that point. We can hear people loudly ringing a cow bell and yelling to encourage runners by their names. We only lose the sound when we pass under a huge rocky outcrop that blocks all sound from them. When only 100m altitude difference is left we start really climbing, hands on the rock, big steps, and we can see this bunch of young guys sitting at the top with lots of flags hanging in the wind maybe providing them with some shade, asking our names to encourage us, taking photos with their phones. I thank them for the bell that we could hear "from kilometres away!
- really? how many km?
- i don't know, far!
- how far?
- i have no idea. Very far!" :)

And here I am at the very top of Cheminee du Lorzier. A marshall points me to what's next but I just answer "photos first" and take out my iphone from the back of my pack (I need to have it more accessible really...) and snap the view, then ask him for a photo with me, and then only get going again. The people I had passed on the uphill (yes indeed!) had passed me again while I was having a photo break, so I chase them (including Pierrette). We are now running through a grassy meadow again, that I recognize as the Plateau d'Hurtieres, but after feeling all excited about being at the top for a little while, I am quickly disappointed with some more uphill, gradual but still up.

I catch up to Pierrette and run down behind her for a while until she takes a fall. I make sure she's fine and is ok to reach the next aid station no more than 2km away now, and then pass her and keep running. The next aid station is set in a grassy slope by a water basin (for cows...), not even a table, a couple of volunteers serving us cordials, I have 3 in a row (until the woman actually looks a bit annoyed at serving me again and again) and quickly resume running.

Leg 6. Sous Hurtieres - Saint Joseph de Riviere
We are under La Grande Sure (that we climbed the other day in training, but not today) and are going straight for the infamous Cul the Lamp downhill. It starts with a bit of grassy flat, then the super steep scree, i'm still ok, although not having all that much fun, i'm tiring out a bit.

But later I completely crack down in the downhill, slipping again and again, mud has dried out a bit but roots and rocks are covered in humid moss making it super tricky... I take quite a few falls, and barely prevent a few more, and i start getting really pissed off... as I cross a stream on some slippery rocks, I was so on the edge I was pretty much about to cry, the guy in blue who passed me even turned around to ask if i was ok, i said yes and kept going.

I let so many people pass, one at a time... Waiting for the beautiful wooden bridge over a waterfall that I remember from training, knowing the downhill is not over until we cross it, but it doesn't come... Finally as I turn around to offer the guy behind me to overtake, I recognize this blue-shorts old guy from the start (who I will later know is called Michel and is V3, ie 60+ yo), and notice he is in a "train" of lots of runners. "I can't afford to let that many people through", I think, "I have to catch this train!" 2 guys passed me, a guy in white who is now leading and then Michel, I'm 3rd, and the rest of the train follows. It's easier to follow than to set the pace alone, so I recover a bit. Unfortunately soon after Michel blocks his calve taking a wrong step and has to slow down while we keep going.

I'm full of energy again and I take the lead. After a while wondering if my pace is enough for them I tell out loud without even looking behind me "if anyone wants to pass, yell, 'cause otherwise I won't stop", and then realise only one guy has followed, and he answers "oh no I'm fine, i'm just trying to follow you, that's perfect". So boosted by his words i pick up the speed even more, until I twist my ankle pretty good... At the time I immediately bounce back and keep going, maybe a tiny bit slower again, but later it will start hurting.

Then we finally hit the larger (and less steep) track at the bottom of the Cul de Lampe, I tell the guy behind me the tricky bit is over, we turn right on that large track, and a bit further marshalls steer us to the rocky track to the left, the final bit to Saint-Joseph de Riviere. He takes off ahead as I take it a bit easier, it's not very long until we finally arrive in SJR anyway. There we actually run on the road through the village for quite a while, then finally arrive at the CP that is super crowded with all the relay runners (switching from 3rd to 4th runner), duo runners (that's where they switch from 1st to 2nd runner), and support crew. There is a huge mass of people on both sides of the road on the final meters, all cheering and clapping. Also all the way all the runners who passed me always had a word of encouragement or admiration for us "solo runners" because "doing it all by yourself, wow" :) it felt great to have so much encouragement

so I have to make my way between all the people, lots of kids, into the CP. First thing there I'm stopped by a woman who gives me a paper ticket for the medical check-up and steers me inside the building. Two guys from first aid are sitting at a table, taking the runners' blood pressure. The guy being checked beside me has his too high, so I figure if mine is higher than usual from the effort, it will look perfectly normal ^^ and indeed, 12/9 it is, I get clearance to keep going! Not that I would have expected that an hour ago as I was struggling through the woods and almost seeing a medical KO as a good escape from the race...

After that I quickly get some food and pull my phone out to call Bernie, then realise I'm not all that early and shouldn't muck around for too long, no time for a massage by a physio as I was dreaming on the way, for instance... so instead I quickly refill my water bladder from a jug on the table, grab some more fruit pastes for the road, and get going while talking on the phone. I give the "ok" ticket from the medic on exiting; total time at the CP 12 minutes, and it is about 2.35pm (cutoff was at 3pm).

Leg 7. Saint Joseph de Riviere - Tolvon
The first few kilometres are flat and I enjoy an easy power walk and a little chat to recover from the straining downhill. Next cutoff is at 6pm in Saint-Nicolas de Macherin at km 65, so there is 17 km to go with only 2 "small bumps" to pass on the way, so here we are making plans about me just having to take it easy back home, power walking being enough to maintain the 10' pace that would get me to the finish by 9pm. (I also think that it feels good to have race organisers who know how to count kilometres, for a change, since every CP was spot on so far.) The phone call is cut short too soon by lack of credit though (it sucks to call the other end of the world... :-/ )

Somewhere around here, we had to go through a town and the marking was really bad, we were running in the streets and I guess it's harder to place markers in there but I almost got it wrong a few times, feeling like we were going round in this town. Can't remember where it was, but there were a few marshalls at some intersections or stopping the traffic for us. A few runners passed me just in time to put me back on track as I was hesitating. Later in another village we had to follow the national road out of it and it was similarly badly marked, that was the other time I really wondered about backtracking but couldn't be bothered, kept going and eventually found a white and red ribbon somewhere, phew. Somewhere in these streets I passed a guy who offered me a bottle of water to pour over my head to cool down, which I happily did. There were also 3 teens playing the drum kit by the side of their house every time a runner went past; I warmly thanked them. On a track later in the middle of nowhere but fields, there were 2 boys, playing the recorder (flûte) and spraying us with a waterhose; brilliant! it was the warmest part of the day so it felt really good.

After a few flat kilometres at an easy pace, I'm quickly brought down to earth though when I hit the first of those "small bumps"... It takes us up, quite steeply at times (all the more seeing as the second part was the "rolling part", compared to the mountainous, alpine first 48km; well I guess we were warned it only *looked* rolling...), and I start worrying about the pace I will have to maintain downhill to make up for doing 3km/h up... We are climbing to Rochers de la Garde, altitude 700m something. At the top we suddenly start meeting runners going the other way, on a very short section with a marshall steering us. The plan is to go to the top of the rock, *walk* all around the top on the lapiaz (running forbidden), cross over a huge crack, enjoy the view (I guess I should have, realised later I hadn't even looked up, too tired from the climb), and come back down on the other side. Then I get to the same marshall, after wondering if I hadn't got confused and wasn't doing the climb in reverse already... he steers me on the track that takes us down the other side of this hill. Next is a rocky steep downhill that I have trouble running, while cursing Bernie who had announced me a nice gentle downhill to run to gain some time. But eventually the downhill turns nicer, although it's not long until we start climbing again to Tolvon.

There in the village in the shade by the wall of a house, a bit hidden in a corner, is a small table with 1 or 2 volunteers (aid station Tolvon, km 59, lap 18 on Garmin), I arrive there almost at the same time as a guy who was just behind me, there is noone but one tired runner sitting on a chair looking disillusioned. I ask how far is the next CP where the 6pm cutoff is: 6km, and ask if it is all downhill to it now (somehow that's how I had imagined it, seeing as I only bothered remembering the profile of the "alpine" section of the race, assuming the few small hills would be easy after that. My mistake...!! The answer hits me out of the blue "no. See that?" pointing at a hill way way above us, hiding the sky on the right of the road "that's where you go". I'm shocked for a second and ask confirmation, and the runner sitting on his chair answers with a disillusioned voice "not kidding, we now have to climb to Notre-Dame de la Vouise". I guess from his attitude that he has given up on making it on the other side in time... And then I announce "better get going then", I have 1h30 left (it's about 4.30pm now) before the cutoff, for 6km up a scary hill, it's gonna be tight!

Leg 8. Tolvon - Saint Nicolas de Macherin
And i get jogging down the road through the sun blazed village, followed by the other runner. Soon enough we're back on track, and then 10mn after the CP we hit this small trail on the left with an old wooden sign "ND de la Vouise 30mn à pieds"; so I check my watch aiming to check how fast (or more likely, how slow) I still am compared to the predictions for "normal people" :-). (Actually I had to check the map when writing this report to place this church because in my memory it was at km 70, after the Saint-Nicolas de Macherin cutoff...). I completely crash in this climb, it's pretty damn steep, I rant in my mind about this sort of hill at that point of the race being just torture. Even the relay runners seem to struggle. I saw quite a few girls (I guess most of them only dared signing up for the "easiest" sections in the hills, because during all the first part I saw fewer of them), most often not all that much faster than me, but they still pass me, encouraging me on the way; amazing how most of them have a nice word of encouragement or admiration. I don't feel like I deserve lots of admiration at that point, seeing as I am barely moving, 2 to 3 km/h, heavily relying on my poles. Fortunately it isn't "too" long and I beat the sign by 5mn, making it to the top in 25mn at about 5pm. There I just stop, standing facing the wall of this ruin of a church, leaning on my poles, trying to catch my breathe and get back to my senses, while the two volunteers there (a small woman and a big guy) worry for me, asking me if I'm OK, if I have enough water... I can only nod, then vaguely say I'll be OK, and get going again.

Now starts the way down to the cutoff. I can only breathe very shallowly, my whole stomach is cramped, not sure if it is stitches, abs cramping, stomach pain, or a combination of all, but it hurts so much I cannot run down at all. I try, but in the end I'm down to walking, scared that any attempt at speeding up would make it worse. I try to sing along with my ipod on the way but the words just die in my throat so I give up. It takes me 38 mn to go down 4+ km to the CP.

The end of the way is a slight uphill on a large track through fields, with a view on the bell tower of the village. I cross a few relay runners who must have been worriedly waiting for the previous runner in their team to finish this section, and ended up walking towards them (the cutoff at 6pm is also enforced for the teams, who started at 7am). As I am also worried about making the cutoff (and not sure about the distance) I ask a walker and am told there is only about a kilometre, and then later other walkers spontaneously point at the church and tell me that's where the CP is.

So I arrive in Saint-Nicolas de Macherin (km 66) at 5.45 completely wrecked. This last "bump" to ND de la Vouise took everything out of me. A woman receives me, indicates the bib scanning on the left, and the aid station on the right (just on the other side of the road, a table by a bus stop). Once my bib is checked in (I had 15mn to spare before the 6pm cutoff) I ask about the next cutoff (A cutoff at 8pm at Miribel, km 77, was written on the profile on the website but was not mentioned at the briefing; same thing for the 9pm cutoff at the finish) but they tell me that "so far" they have "no instructions", so I take it that there are no more cutoffs. A bit relieved, I head for the table, get some bits of oranges and something to drink. All i have eaten all day is fruit pastes and dried apricots plus some pieces of oranges, and loooots of water and fizzy water (and a few glasses of cordial in the aid stations at altitude where they didn't bring coke so had cordial instead). Not sure I have eaten quite enough but very regularly so far and i've had no problem of low sugar or dizziness so I guess it works. Plus my stomach most probably can't digest much more anyway.

I cross the road again and crash on the grass slope on the left of it, there are quite a few people but doesn't seem to be any runner still running, only relay runners done with their section or waiting to start the next one, and support crews. I lie down completely. invisible to everyone, it feels so good to relax a bit... I send desperate messages to Bernie about wanting to give up and needing to see the profile. He answers that there's only easier climbs at 5 to 10% max slope, sends me the profile for the 2nd part of the race, and then the full profile to help me "put it into perspective" with what i've done already. Not that it helps at all, I was also much more energetic at the start than I am now... What motivates me at that point is the will to be in the very few females who will finish this, the fact that i was told this was "at the edge of what i can do" and if i'm not believed to be able to do it then i have to prove i can, and also the idea that it would have been useless to have done the first section if i give up before the end... So eventually after only a few minutes (seconds?) of lying down, I'm up on my feet again, grab some food at the table for the way, and silently disappear on the road again.

Leg 9. Saint Nicolas de Macherin - Col des 1000 Martyrs
I walk with my phone in hand, far from recovered. reading my messages as they arrive for a few minutes, but it stops me from using my poles, and the slope soon picks up again. So I sit down on the side at an intersection only minutes out of the CP, willing to read a few more messages before putting the phone away again. Two guys arrive who turn left instead of right, so I stop them and put them back on track. Then it's Pierrette who passes me, I'm happily surprised to see her. She was also going to take the wrong track, so I help her too. She tells me she's now too tired to push and will take it easy... before powering up that hill :) I decide to follow her but she's quickly out of view. I guess her easy is still harder than mine at that point...

Soon after there is another climb that feels like 20% (but probably isn't) to wherever (Col du Bret)... very few people pass me now, seeing how close I was to the cutoff. The organisers had announced a mass start at 6.30 for the teams whose previous runner couldn't meet the cutoff (so that every runner got a chance to run after travelling that far), so I expect a few more relay runners to cruise past. It's a bit depressing at that point to be struggling so much and be overtaken by fast relay runners just zooming past... But most of them have very nice words of encouragement for me, being a solo, and a girl, I'm doubly rare :) It's very nice of them anyway, and it really helps.

At about 70 km I reach the village of Grand Vivier, it comes as a surprise when a pair of volunteers (two oldish guys) offer me some water but I decline, go past them quickly just asking how far I am from the finish now. I'm answered it's 5km to Miribel and 13km to the finish. Wow, even earlier than I thought, I think to myself! Also the last info I had was Bernie who wasn't sure if the 8pm cutoff was in Miribel or Col des 1000 Martyrs, one of them being 9 km after the SNM CP and the other 12. I wasn't sure about the order between the 2 actually and kept wondering, thinking the Col was first on top of the last tiny bump, and Miribel 2nd at the bottom. So the 2 volunteers got me confused, wondering if Miribel and the Col were actually one single CP... And despite all contradictory clues, I somehow departed from my usual principle of "do not believe optimistic info" and bought their indications. That of course later turned out to be erroneous... :-/ But right now I was believing it, imagining I could still finish before dark as I was climbing out of the village. I read the yellow hiking signs trying to find distance indications to either Miribel or Col des 1000 Martyrs, but all I could find was lots of signs to Voiron, reminding me how close (and yet how far) I was from civilisation, from Grenoble, and from home... but no indication useful for the race... So I just keep walking and wondering as the day goes down.

Leg 10. Col des 1000 Martyrs - Miribel
Just after 8pm I make it to a table with quite a few people, marshalls scanning my bib, and a few spectators sitting in the grass by the table, set at the corner between two tracks. There is no food or anything, I am told that I have 5km left to Miribel aid station. Which is a bit disappointing seeing as I thought this was going to be it, with then 8km to the finish. But at least it should now soon be all flat, right? I ask them "please reinsure me, it was the last climb, wasn't it?" But didn't work out all that well. "You are in solo? Oh no not at all!" ("ouh la non!") comes the answer... I'm very reinsured, now, aren't I...? So better get going now. Someone in the grass asks "tu veux un cavalier?" but I don't understand, don't answer, just wonder for a while if they were offering me the company of a cyclist, seeing as another woman leaves just behind me jogging besides a cyclist indeed, but I just assume he's her support crew... They quickly disappear in the distance, since I just walk now.

Somewhere in this section, navigating through forest tracks and small roads through fields and cows pastures, a guy passes me telling me "c'est beau quand c'est fort. C'est fort c'que tu fais !" He got me a big smile and gave me the chills, and I warmly thanked him. As a result I dig some more energy and speed up a bit.

Leg 11. Miribel - Saint-Laurent du Pont (FINISH !)
Another 5km later I find Miribel checkpoint at the bottom of short stairs by the side of the townhall and by a fountain. It's the last CP, there is a table with lots of people but not much food left. They were starting to pack up, the head woman encouraged me to eat all I wanted because they were going to throw the rest, but i can only nibble a couple of slices of banana and drink a glass of water. I'm also told there is still one guy behind me, they seem to know him, give me his name as if I should too, but it doesn't ring a bell.

I ask if there is now only about 7km left (according to my Garmin, rather than the optimistic predictions of the previous volunteers in Grand Vivier that I now knew were false) and am answered no rather 8km, but it should take only about 1h30 so I should still be finished before dark (I had expressed my worry about night I think). Another woman empathises "elle est pas encore arrivée la pauvre". Total stop at this CP: 1mn25... 2 guys block the traffic for me to cross the road and I disappear on the other side through the village. At that point all I can do is walk, all the more when it's down, I've stopped eating and almost stopped drinking, but at that pace I actually feel ok.

The route takes us down too much for about 2 km, then we are left with another short (and steep-ish) climb up 100m to Beljoyer. At the top of this small climb I am welcomed by a guy and a woman telling me it's the last steep bit (Beljoyer). For a second I'm not sure if they're talking about what I just did or about what is to come, but they reinsure me. Although then they also tell me it's 7km to the finish (again?!!). I complain about it being the 3rd time I'm told that, and he starts ranting about them not knowing what they say, because they didn't do the course, while he's the one who marked it, and they've (the 2 of them here) walked it three times already, and... but I don't have time to stop, if I want to cover 7 more km before night I'd better keep going, the woman tells him he shouldn't delay me any longer ^^ and I'm gone, him still talking to me behind.

At least now I'm sure I'm on the last stretch home... and I'm willing to enjoy this last hour to the fullest. I am walking on the road, it's easy enough, there is a brilliant sunset over Chartreuse in my back, dozens of flies are floating around my head but I don't pay attention. I start singing out loud as ever, I'm all alone anyway. Alone with my hallucinations :) I start seeing other runners ahead in the distance that I would catch up to (it would have been surprising too ^^) when it was only doors, or barrels.

But unfortunately my second wind doesn't last, it fades as suddenly as it came, for no reason. I guess not having eaten in quite a while doesn't help, plus downhill is painful. For the first time I am actually monitoring the altitude while going down... Started at 900m, heading towards somewhere between 300m and 400m altitude at the finish line. Also the sunlight really goes down now, and in addition we now sink into the forest, reducing drastically the amount of light available... We actually go in and out of the forest a few times, it's a relief to be back in some light every time.

3.5 km before the finish I hit a road where 4 women (2 marshalls with fluoro jackets + 2 more) are standing. They ask me if I'm ok, and as I feel pretty good power walking here I say "yes, good!" but that it's getting darker. So I'm offered a headtorch by a woman volunteer called Eddy, with a comment that it was gonna be either the car or the headtorch. For a second I imagined the car opening and lighting up the way for me and think it would be much better than the poor little headtorch... but then I realise the car was here to give me a lift to the finish... :-D I leave with the torch on my head over my sunglasses, it's on but i can't even see the spot of light it projects on the ground, there is still some daylight, so I switch it off to save whatever is left of its battery.

The last few km seem to go on forever. Now I am really alone, in the dark, with the tiny spot of dim light drawn by my headtorch, progressing through the forest hoping to get out of it soon so I would get some light from the moon (that's not even close to full, though...) or from the not completely dark yet sky. At that point my legs are completely on automatic, I couldn't bother stopping for anything, just want to get out of the dark asap. Don't dare checking my phone for the distance left or for messages in fear of losing my eye adaptation to the darkness. So I keep pushing, I'm not even dreaming of anything anymore, just imagining the gymnasium, lying down on the ground and not moving for a while. Also imagining some cheering from fellow runners upon finishing this.

When I finally emerge from the forest, it's in Saint-Laurent du Pont straight under biiiig streetlights that completely blind me. I can't recognize anything. That looks like the campsite? this looks like the stadium? is it this way? then I hear a call "par ici !", and without thinking I start running to the voices, they were those of a few kids who call me into the stadium, and just behind me I hear someone saying "dernier" (last) but I don't even turn around, I just think if the last guy has caught up that close to me (and how could he while I was walking so fast?) then I shouldn't let him pass me that close to the finish, so I'm not last. The fences steer me to do a full lap around the stadium. It was probably nice during the day under the cheering of the crowd, but it now feels a bit lonely, seeing as there is absolutely noone in sight... I can't even see nor hear this last runner behind me. I even wonder if I'm really supposed to go all the way around. But then as I'm on the final straight towards the gymnasium I can see the tent and the table (there's not even a finish arch), Eddy is on the side so I give her the torch back, then she tells me I should pass the line and get my bib checked in. There are only a few volunteers around, clapping as I finally finish this. 90km at my watch with 5100m+.

Post-race dinner and massage and travel
Then only seconds later the last guy comes in, it's this blue-shorts old guy who I had followed at various points thinking his pace was good. I stay around to see him in and cheer him, and then finally make my way in the gymnasium. I am first applauded by 3 female team runners just exiting, and then the whole group of volunteers who were serving or eating dinner start clapping as I make my way to the table, it feels great and I raise my arms and thank them. Then I make it to the table and just say "I was told there was food?" :)

But actually there's not much left, i'm offered some macedoine, heavily damp in mayo, so i decline, and there's some chicken left but no rice... i get a bottle of fizzy water and a plate of chicken, but can hardly nibble at it. I chat with a woman who is waiting for her husband, she's the one who tells me i should get a massage, that's when i realise a physio is still around! i hadn't even expected to be early enough to get a chance. The physio tells me i'll be the last one (i don't even answer there is no one behind anyway...), and that no, no need to bother with the shower. He recognizes me, and after a chat we figure out he's the same physio who gave me a massage at Grenoble 24h, he remembers me being picked up in a car after the race despite living 500m from the stadium because I couldn't walk anymore. He gives me a good long massage, and then i've retrieved enough energy to get back to the campsite. I get a big paper bag to pack my dirty stuff and get going, straight to the shower where I stay for a while before collapsing in my sleeping bag.

The next morning I wake up under the rain. Lucky it waited for the end of the race... After an hour in the bus I make my way straight to work in the tram.

My ankle kept hurting for a day or 2, my "stitch" as well, my legs were a bit sore and heavy, but back to easy jogging Wednesday morning. And I'd better because Friday (tomorrow) is Chamonix vertical kilometre, and Sunday is Chamonix marathon du Mont-Blanc, to be run under heavy rain apparently... Anyway, brilliant race this Grand Duc de Chartreuse, will definitely be in my calendar again next year and the years to come!

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!