samedi 21 juillet 2012

Chamonix marathon

Garmin trace.
Photos on Picasa.
Results on the race website.

After a Saturday dedicated to recovery from the vertical kilometre, resting, and seeing the osteopath who manipulated things to put my stomach and intestine back into place and avoid any similar digestive inconvenience on the marathon, I had lunch at the post-cross buffet, and dinner at the pre-marathon buffet, and took an early night. I also got an extra-early morning when I was suddenly pulled out of sleep by a huge thunder shaking my tent, shortly followed by a downpour... With only about half an hour to go to my alarm, there was no point trying to get back to sleep, so I started packing everything inside my tent. Shortly after 5am I took advantage of a pause in the rain to also pack my (wet) tent and rush to the campsite shelter for breakfast. There I waited for David and his hyperactive friend who I had met the day before. Last minute he realised he had lost the cap for his water pouch and had to tape it closed... not sure how he managed refills over the race then... We walk to the start where his friend is all over-stressed about starting at the very front so he would be on the photo in the news the next day... :-/ I leave them to that and stay on the side, appreciating the music, the ambiance of a starting line on the Balma square of Chamonix (next one will be the big scary UTMB...!), and the fact that it is not raining anymore! Actually a clearing in the clouds let us see some of the peaks around: just awesome! This gotta be one of the most beautiful places in the world :-O

And it is the start. I start cautiously, as usual finding that everybody is going way too fast for a 42km race all uphill. The start is a hilly section on a large track about all the way to the first aid station in Argentieres. Then it's further up through a forest, where I meet two runners who came all the way from Colmar with their club D'ranner (a few dozen runners altogether on the different races) and are filming. I leave them behind on the next downhill (yes there were a few of these, even if the course was mostly uphill) to the second aid station at Vallorcines. There the serious things begin with the climb to the col des Posettes.

I have very few memories of this race now that it's been a month since I ran it, but the one thing I'll not forget is the climb to the Aiguillette des Posettes. Now we are finally in the mountains, after a first part with roads and easy tracks that were best for those road runners. There is an aid station at the Col des Posettes at the bottom of the climb, and then there is a short final climb to the very top, in a file of runners. I pass runners, but then at the top I have to stop to take my phone out to take photos, the view is just brilliant. It was pretty cloudy but it was still worth the detour. We are climbing on top of rocks and around them on a narrow track, surrounded by mountains at 360°. And then comes the second bonus: the downhill! :-) I just pass about everybody, a (rather muscular) guy jokingly complains about us lucky lighter runners who can go fast downhill.

After this first loop we run part of a track we had done before, and start climbing through the forest again but then it splits as we reach the aid station at Tre le Champ. Someone tells me there is only 13 km left to the finish, and I'm surprised, because it feels like I've only just started this race! :-O And then I remember it's only 42km in total, so it makes sense :-) From there we keep climbing in the forest for a while on short laces. I climb rather well even compared to other runners, and regularly pass people. I think lots of participants are not trail runners but road runners and have no experience of uphills so they really struggle. And the other sign of that is that there is a full lot of junk left on the trails, and that runners are generally less chatty than usual. Then this single track through the forest opens on a large rocky track where we have to climb to the top of the col, where we can see the hut where the checkpoint of Flegere is. It's a pretty steep final climb to reach this aid station where I take a welcome break.

And here comes the last section. I pass a guy who seems to be in trouble, just as we pass a hiking sign that announces Planpraz (where the finish is) at 2 hours (for about 5k). I tell him we should be way faster than that, all the more running, but apparently he can't anymore... Well I can, so I leave him to his slow walk and decide to finish as fast as I can to make it in about 7h30. Also it's starting to rain a bit and it's really foggy now. Other than that it's a pretty fun section this one, hilly and technical track. There is one section equipped with cables and steps where the PGHM is watching for our safety. And then comes "the wall": we can see the finish not far, but just about vertically above us. Also there is now lots of people watching and cheering along the track, and many finishers walking down with their medals to encourage us. It's pretty steep and I can only walk, pushing on my poles, until I reach the final stretch, I can see the arch and I start running towards it. To finally make it in 7h31 :-)

Then I queue for ages (about an hour) to take the cable car down to Chamonix, before being told that as a runner I could have skipped the queue... too bad. I have to rush to get back to the buffet area, where I get a shower, a meal (great food!), even have time for a massage (I unwillingly skip the queue by taking the wrong entrance and then invoke my early train to score an immediate massage...), and then rush to the train station for the loooong way home. SNCF, à nous de vous faire préférer la voiture... :-/

Conclusion: this is a great race, perfectly organised, well-marked, with awesome scenery, and highly recommended! Plus it's in Chamonix, the place to be! :-D

Kilomètre vertical de Chamonix

Friday 29 June, i.e. only a few days after the Grand Duc de Chartreuse and its 90 km, here I am in Chamonix for a vertical kilometre (as a warm up before the marathon Sunday).

Garmin trace of my race.
Results on the race website.

The day started with lunch in a restaurant in Chamonix where I ordered lasagnas (we're supposed to have pastas, right?) but didn't expect them to come with so much cheese... fatal error... Then the afternoon was used to pick up bibs and T-shirts for my 2 races, finally buying my new Salomon 12litre-pack, setting up my tent at the campsite, and stressing out seeing the huge slope towering above us, with the poles of the Planpraz cable car materialising the course of the vertical kilometre just under them... At about 4pm I am lined up on the town square where we are due to start, under scorching sun, in a first wave of slower runners (the fastest ones start last after a safety buffer of time with no starters so they won't bump into anyone who would slow them down). Only guys ahead of me, mainly guys around actually, but 2 girls just behind. I end up starting earlier than planned because some people are missing. There is a TV camera on the line and a TV helicopter circling above.

So here I go. At first we go through town, with KV arrows painted on the ground, and marshalls directing us. It starts out flat enough, then starts climbing on the concrete, there are people everywhere around, so I can't really stop running. When I hit a more isolated part of the track I pull off my shirt and try speed walking instead, but I quickly pass another patch of supporters. And then after the fist 100m ascent through town, we hit the trail. There is a huge line of people who are completely blocking the road so we wouldn't miss the turn off. From that point I only walk, but fast enough. I count the signs every 100m+ and hit the lap button every time. I also start passing people who started before me, while no one is passing me yet :-O

I am so thirsty I ask two tourists watching us if they could spare some water: score! feel better after that. There are less people cheering now, as we make our way under the cable cars on short steep laces. No poles allowed so it's all in your legs. At about 400m+, still pushing hard, I am thinking this is really hard work and I am not doing it again, ever, not my type of effort. It is really hot and I am regretting to not have any water with me (decided to go light). Shortly after my stomach starts hurting, making me progressively slow down, and taking all the fun out of the race... That's when runners (walkers) start passing me from behind, starting with the girl who had started just behind me. The nice lacing trail ends too, and we end up in a sort of construction site, with unstable ground, piles of sand and earth rolling under foot.

At 800m+ we get to the climbing (with hands and cables and steps and metal bars stuck into the rock to help) part, which should have been awesome fun, but I am forced to stop for a few minutes to stop my stomach from hurting. There is a gendarme ensuring safety I guess. Lots of wind here, getting cold so I put on my shirt again. Lots of guys arrive from behind and start climbing before me. Finally I pull myself together and start slowly climbing up. I can see why poles are forbidden, they would have been big trouble in that section. Then there is a short downhill but I can't really run, and we arrive at the cable car station, lots of people again, Mickael was waiting here, gives me water, and then tells me there is still 100m climb after that. I thought the cable car was the finish, disappointed... Climb some stairs out of this balcony, and I have missed the 900m+ sign so I'm not sure how far the finish still is. I start running again, more to get rid of my support crew who keeps running along, but I can't really speed up enough.

And suddenly here it is, the finish arch around a corner, could only see it at the last moment. So no way I would stop running now, I pass the line running. On the line a TV guy asks me for some comments but I am too out of breath and hurting to answer, so after a while he tells me I can make the "kaput" sign, which I do with relief. And go crash in the grass for a second before immediately heading for the bathrooms down at the cable cars again. Then get some drinks, and getting cold so we decide to head down. Being in the cable car above the course I've just run is awesome, I can see how hard it was now. There are still runners on it (there was 400 of us so with a start every 30 seconds it takes a while to send everyone off) and I take loads of photos through the dirty windows.

Only when reaching the square where we started, do I realise that Kilian was signed up on this race and is due to finish soon...! So frustrated I didn't wait for him at the top! There is some competition but he secures the first place, and dedicates his victory to Stephane :-( Conclusion: I am pretty disappointed with my time and mainly with it being due to stomach problems, and with the fact I couldn't enjoy the race so much, so I have to do a vertical kilometre again! :)