Race Report Trail Aiguilles Rouges (TAR) 2017

On September 24th,  I raced the Trail Aiguilles Rouges (TAR). A 50km, near to 4000m ascent mountain race around the panoramic Aiguilles Rouges nature reserve surrounding Chamonix.  This event has been on my mind and in my sights since last year, when I made the decision not to compete due to a foot injury. 

This year, it was time to take it on. 

© Benoit Ract

© Benoit Ract

0 - 15km

The 4:30am start turned out to be warm. This was a relief. Only the week before there had been snowfall at 2000m, so stripping down to my arm warmers, Salomon Agile SS T-shirt, Salomon Trail Runner shorts and Salomon Exo compression calves, I felt comfortable on the starting line. Intuitively, and like many races before, I chose to wear Speedcross 4’s for keeping grippy and stable on the technical profile.

Thanks for the early pic Meg!

Thanks for the early pic Meg!

Starting at that time of day was surprisingly chilled out and peaceful.  After the final countdown, we paced it through the main street of Chamonix and I felt really calm, with a bit of thrill for what was happening. I had decided to resist pelting it at the beginning, and as we passed through those initial kilometres, I felt comfortable with this strategy. 

The first climb to Flégère was steady. The perception of an environment I had trained in many times totally changed for me in the limited light, but there was something quite magical about the firefly-like atmosphere of everyone’s torches.  From the very beginning, I was conscious of nutrition, and found myself snacking early into that first climb. Nikki Barnard (one of the best people on and off the trail)  had recommended Snickers, so I began chowing down on a bar within moments into the first climb.

Due to settled snow at Lac Blanc, the course changed at Flégère to then make a speedy traverse to Tete aux vent, before the rocky descent to Col des Montets.

With a male runner leading the small group I found myself in, I gained a good rhythm as I followed the moving light ahead of mine, taking in the boulders and changes to the path as they came. 

It was early in the morning, and early in the race. I had memories of passing other female runners at the beginning, but in the darkness there was very little to indicate where my overall position was. I found myself surprisingly unconcerned with it. Wherever I was, there was a long way to go.

Hearing from a steward “troisieme femme” in the darkness, therefore completely surprised me. However, rather than manically sprinting in some kind of hunger for glory, I decided to try and ignore it. I wasn’t even ten miles in - anything could happen. My friend and great runner Meg had reminded me of the Mantra “ In the first half don’t be an idiot; in the second half don’t be a wimp’, and there was opportunity here to really muck it up. So I told myself he probably said ‘thirteenth’, got my head down, and cracked steadily on.

15 - 30km

The race runs through the picturesque valley floor (fairly indistinguishable at this time of day) towards Buet at about the 15km point, before swinging left and towards the meaty middle section of this race: the ascent to Col de Salenton.

The sun was coming up, and with further confirmation of my third position (and more food) I soon re-gained my uphill rhythm for the hefty ascent. I was in a good headspace and this seemed paramount (despite the slight physical issue of a small pain growing in my pelvis). Soon enough, I was able to move past a female runner who had originally overtaken me on the descent to Col des Montets. I have always enjoyed the methodical nature of going uphill, and felt at peace in the quiet of the morning with the amazing autumn colours.

This part of the course was new territory for me; the further the race went up, the more scramble and boulder-like it became, and I was enjoying the challenge. Before long we were at the fairly snowy col, and I was told I was now in second.  I started to contemplate the race dynamics a bit more; if this was about half way, then how was this going to play out at the end?

30km - 50km

The route to Refuge Moëde Anterne was incredibly scenic, yet I was getting aware that the tiredness was beginning to kick in. By the time I had squelched my way through the muddy latter part of this section, I was chuffed to discover hot soup at the checkpoint which I subsequently, necked.

Then it all got quite interesting.

 Another female runner, Manon Bohard, rocked up at the checkpoint I was shortly to leave from.  This was news; given the fact I hadn’t been aware of her to this point meant she had kept a consistently excellent pace to also overtake the third lady, and was clearly looking strong.

There was a long way still to go and with this in mind, I wasn’t going to hang around here long.

Given the course changes, the route maintained it’s original profile with a trip up to Col du Brévent, before an added descent to Planpraz which then takes you back up to Brévent on the adjacent side (Brévent it's been a pleasure this summer, but I've seen enough of you for now).

© Benoit Ract

© Benoit Ract

The exact feelings are hard to describe during this part, but with the third and fourth lady now visible further down below my climbs, I tried not to lose momentum.  I knew I could gain advantage on the ascents,  but Manon, in third position, was closing the gap between us on the descents.  Thinking ahead, I knew that given the 1500m final descent from Aiguillette des Houches, my main chance to create space was to move swiftly from Brévent on the traverse while I was still in the lead. By this point my feet were sore, and the pain in my pelvis nagged a bit.  My position was maintained, but it seemed a matter of time before our paths would cross.

Which they did. The final descent of this particular race route is a force to be reckoned with; after near to 4000m total ascent, you need to keep your composure for the 1500m straight down from the ridge at Aiguillette des Houches. Scrunching my toes in order to avoid the incredibly sharp pain of literally any impact was the only way to proceed. With only a handful of kilometres to go, I turned to see Manon well on her way. She caught me up.

What was to follow was something I still can’t quite understand. Manon suggested we finish together. 

© Cyril Busset

© Cyril Busset

I couldn’t believe it. Although during the majority of this race I had taken the lead, the profile of the course had played to her final advantage and it was hers for the taking. She didn’t take it. We ran through the streets of Servoz together, and I took her hand for the finishing line.

What a woman.

Writing this has helped to re-live one of the most memorable days yet. If you want to see human nature at it’s best - test it in an endurance event. The way people come together, the support from those you love, the gallantry of competitors, is all pretty magical. Due to a time penalty incurred by the winning woman (and a huge amount of respect goes to her sustained physical power during the race), Manon and I ended up as joint winners of the TAR 2017.

It’s done. So happy, and a spectacular end to an awesome summer of trail running. 

What next? I’ve got some ideas for 2018 and cannot wait to live out more adventures on mountain trails. Let’s see… #timetoplay.

Mont Blanc Cross 23km

What a race! Short, intense, humid. Here's the breakdown.

Leading up to this race, nerves kicked in due to the potential size of the race (inscriptions open up to max 1500 runners) and the weather. I don't need to remind you how hot and muggy most of Europe was last week. Considering working, shopping, and generally moving, were proving to be an incredibly humid affair, training was not going to be a breeze.

Needless to say, the heat made training a lot tougher, and I was praying it would cool down a bit to take the sting out of the impending intense uphill race.

 ©Matt Groom 

 ©Matt Groom 

The Mont Blanc 23km is a race that begins in Chamonix, and ends up at Planpraz below Brévent (approx 2000m altitude). It is a course that undulates from Chamonix, through Lavancher towards Montroc, before hopping about the trails on the other side of the valley until the climb to the first lift at Flégère. After this checkpoint you need to maintain focus for the final marginally vertical zig-zagging action to Planpraz (thankfully finishers are then able to take the lift down).

Quite a lot going on for just 23km.

montblancmarathon.net

montblancmarathon.net

The beginning of the race was tough. The sun wasn't out in full force, but you could tell we were certainly at midsummer. This initially undulating course began on very familiar old ground, but I felt a little jaded. As my friend and yoga teacher Alistair pointed out when chatting at class this week, a race transforms well trodden paths with tension and swift moving numbers, creating a place very different. 

I knew this area, but I couldn't take it all in my stride (so to speak). The first bit of a race for me often feels like waking up in the morning on a weekday. The alarm buzzes, you know you need to move and you absolutely do, but it's going to take a few minutes to adjust to it all.

I knew I had familiar faces waiting to greet me at Montroc, a roughly half-way point, and I was there faster than I expected.Let's be real, I was basically feeling a bit grumpy at this point,  so when my friend Alice shouted 'eighteen!' I became motivated by the prospect of being in the top 20 women (we had a deal that if this were the case, she would darn well make sure I knew it).

Knowing the best of this trail was yet to come, I moved more strategically during the second half.

 © Irne Mnguía

 © Irne Mnguía

When your own inner voice is hard to hear under pressure, let others shout it for you. Never underestimate the power of a 'keep going' bellowed at you. Thank you so much to Alison, Meg, Andrea, Alice, Kaz, Nikki R, Irne and Luca for pushing me on at the sidelines (as well as Filippo who wished me well via WhatsApp. Filippo, I didn't read your message to 'get a move on' until after the race, but somehow I think I knew you had said it).

 ©Matt Groom

 ©Matt Groom

Special thanks goes to Matt, for listening to nothing but race chat leading up to the event and for knowing that even though I truly appreciated every kind word of congratulation, we both knew that I ultimately really needed that Coke and salt & vinegar crisps you brought.

In terms of kit, despite trying other great Salomon options, I decided to stick with a recent pair of Salomon Speedcross 4's. Oh, I just love them. They were beast-like on the more technical downhill section before the Flégère climb, and they were comfy on the uphills and rockier bits. Still my top choice.

I finished 10th Senior Female, 17th woman overall. A lot of heat, a lot of runners. Well that was fun! Now for the next.

Tour du Môle

A week today I raced the Tour du Môle in Martigny, in the French Alps. I was intrigued by this race; I signed up not that long prior due to changing my plans a little bit, and I found the concept of this race interesting. 35km, is not a long race, and it certainly isn't an ultra, despite the name 'Ultra Tour du Môle'. But it got you 1 UTMB point for completing the race. So..if the points weren't for length...I guess that must mean it's pretty steep...

Here is the profile and map of the race:

Race profile: http://www.utmtrail.com/-Parcours-.html

Race profile: http://www.utmtrail.com/-Parcours-.html

The race had three significant climbs. The first major hill once you had got going, is a steep 1200M ascent in approximately 8km. Tough. The starts of races are funny things, and I often question exactly what on earth I am doing to myself when plunging into the race arena in the first few kilometres of a race, with the want to gain a good race position and with the exertion of suddenly pushing yourself. Here it was hard, because it did not take long before you were being truly tested on the uphill! I was unsure of how well I would do, as although I had an awareness fairly early on of being the third of the women to be at the front, I didn't know whether I would sustain it. After all, it's easy to forget while  'pelting it' at the beginning, that this is still a long race. Using all your energy on the first climbs is simply futile!

While going on the up, I was eventually aware of a large ridge to my right of the trail we were ascending. Turns out, that's the top of the Môle. Things had not even got going yet. What a joy.  Interestingly enough, by the time we starting really embracing the steep stuff, my legs were familiarising themselves with the terrain, and my new poles were helping hugely. This was not a time for overtaking competitors or even moving fast..at all... we were all together struggling with the same beast!

Picture: © Fabien Debout

Picture: © Fabien Debout

I think I assumed, wrongly, that the ascents in this race were the biggest challenge. 3210m up in 35km is hard work, so surely the downhill would be the recuperation needed between each climb.

Nope.

The descents were really, really hard work. Normally my favourite part of any race, these technical descents put pressure on the knees, required really careful footwork, and were, basically, tough as nails. I still have a sore shoulder from falling backwards on one of the technical descents - this was some going downhill!

By the time of the second hill, the race party has spread out to the point where I felt comfortable in my rhythm and race position, so I was able to take it steady. The route takes on part of the Môle Vertical KM route, so it's just more of steep 'up'. So far, I haven't listened to music while racing, and unless I am chatting to other competitors, I am mainly kept company by my own internal dialogue. Here, it was mostly, telling myself that this wasn't really so bad (slight lie), and there was only one more climb to go before a wonderful descent to the finish line (big lie - it wasn't wonderful).

The third major climb is only 600m from the previous descent point, but I had been warned previously that this is particularly gnarly, because you are knackered. Up we headed, where one of the organisers recording our position asked, in French, what my race number was on my front. Clearly by this point, I was tired (I didn't actually have a clue what he was talking about), so I replied "Je ne sais pas", which must have looked pretty odd, considering, well, I was wearing the darn thing. A good example here of trail camaraderie: the guy in front was able to turn his head and shout out the correct info. Many thanks to you sir :).

It eventually got to the point where we seemed to traverse what felt like the end of the ascent. Hooray! However, just when I began to relax at this prospective, I suddenly heard a groan from the guy in front who had just turned the corner. I then saw what we was complaining about. 

We had a long way of ascent still to go! Why did it feel so hard? We had done climbs double this height gain by this point! Tiredness can have big effects on performance, and this really felt the case with 3210m of up as well as down.

By the time of the last descent, I was pretty pooped. I felt quite slow and was in quite a bit of pain, and let several male runners overtake who still had some power in their legs to beast the descent. I was pleasantly surprised however that as soon as the steep descent finished, we were suddenly back in the town, and it was, as it always is, so overwhelming to  hear the cheers of everybody. The crowds and supporters of the local community in this race, as ever, were really awesome.

To my surprise - I made 2nd solo female. This race could be run solo or in pairs, and it turned out one of the women in front of me was a pair, making a different podium. Many congrats to this pair for their win and efforts. The solo woman who won the race for scratch women, V2F category, Suzanne Perche, had an exceptionally fast time and I really take my hat off to her. More in depth about the results can be found on the website.

Picture: Alan Porthault

Picture: Alan Porthault

This race was a great experience, which although I found challenging, has got me thinking about what I now need to work on for future races. After a winter of trying to get a bit stronger in order to tackle up hills with a bit more enthusiasm..the down hills on steep descents are going to be my new project. :)

Also worth mentioning that this was my first race with poles. Running, or trekking poles were something that quite intrigued me. I could see the benefit of them on steeper ascents, but having such little experience of using them to practise I wondered whether they would hinder me during this race. In hindsight, all I can say is that I am so glad I had them! They were so beneficial on the uphills and even the technical descents to give a break to tired legs.

A big thank you and well done to everyone who took part in this, especially the friends of mine who were also running this beast with me. Alan Porthault, who knows mountains well and has an attitude that always makes me feel calmer before a race, new friend Thomas Catalano who I spent a considerable amount of the run with, and Samantha Brooks, who is a running legend and a good pal. Nothing better than getting to the end of the race and having a great experience that you have all shared together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dig Deep 30 mile Race Report

It was a glorious day! After horrendous weather conditions the evening before, it was pleasing to see sunny breezy weather early yesterday morning for the start of the Dig Deep 'Intro' Ultra. A rather amusing title given the navigational requirements of this 48km, approx 1388M total elevation gain route across the Peak District - this ain't no easy jaunt! The atmosphere was buzzing at the start of the race, I was kitted up, and at 8AM, it was time to go.

I started in a pretty strong position, which was a little unnerving given how early on in the race it was, and I was conscious not to get tired when we had a long way to go and hours to run. From Whirlow Hall Farm, the route makes it's way around Burbage valley towards Stanage Edge. I was aware on the way to Stanage of another female runner close behind me, however I noticed her stride wasn't one trying to overtake, so I felt no need to alter my strategy.

I wore my Sense Pro Shorts, Agile tank, S-lab Advanced Skin3 12 Set pack, Bandana and Speedcross 3's - Salomon. © johnroberts.me

I wore my Sense Pro Shorts, Agile tank, S-lab Advanced Skin3 12 Set pack, Bandana and Speedcross 3's - Salomon. © johnroberts.me

© johnroberts.me

© johnroberts.me

What I love about this sport is the ability to make friends in amongst a time of challenge and competition, so within a few miles we got talking, and I could not have met a nicer running competitor! Kate Hastings (Totley AC) and I spent much of the race together as well as chatting with other close by runners, using light banter to support each other on such climbs as the infamous Win Hill. The ground conditions were very surpising, as I expected it to be very boggy from the heavy rain recently, however I finished that race surprisingly un-muddy!

© Dig Deep Races https://www.facebook.com/DigDeepRaces/photos/a.891696660922630.1073741833.380538832038418/891696974255932/?type=3&theater
© Dig Deep Races https://www.facebook.com/DigDeepRaces/photos/a.891696660922630.1073741833.380538832038418/891696974255932/?type=3&theater

From Win Hill, the route goes towards Bradwell, before heading up Bradwell Edge and then down to eventually follow the river Derwent. By the time we got to mid way along the Derwent, some runners, including Liz Lewin (also Totley) had strongly met our position. 

Photo: John Roberts

Photo: John Roberts

Although I assure you there was no scrap (hehe), it became a very close race for the female top 3 from Hathersage, and it was hard to know what would happen with the end in sight but still some miles to go! I feel I have learnt a lot from this race in terms of tactical nutrition decisions that I made, but towards the end I began to feel heavy in my legs, which slowed down my pace. The reflection time after is always good to see how you can improve.

However, I was chuffed to come in 3rd woman 05:04:35 [1st female time 2014: 5:55:41], 2nd SEF, and 9th overall. Many thanks to Outside Shop for supporting me and the Dig Deep Festival. A fast pace and a great ultra.

Race Report: Tour du Giffre

Last Friday, I caught a plane to Geneva, and headed to the mountains. Time to trail race. Here is my race report:Tour du Giffre.

I had been looking forward to this weekend for so long. After months of injury, and discussions of whether I should do this race, I boarded the plane with a smile on my race, knowing I was ready to run, and the commitment to recover properly had paid off.

The race was held in Samoens, as part of their Trail series in June. The Tour du Giffre is a 31km mountain race, with 2200 + D. The profile was fairly steep, but nothing would put me off a mountain trail. With memories of last year's OCC, I could only dream of the terrain and panoramic views that this route would have, and I could not wait to get my trainers on and be at that start line.

http://www.samoens-trailtour.com/#!tour-du-giffre/c1clq

http://www.samoens-trailtour.com/#!tour-du-giffre/c1clq

After a restful Saturday, eating well and enjoying being in the Chamonix atmosphere, I was awoken by the alarm that Nikki Barnard had set."HAPPY BIRTHDAY TOOO YA" resonated throughout the house. It was time. Both to race, and to declare myself a year older - yes, I raced on my birthday! After breakfast we piled into the car and made our way to Samoens.

Getting ready for the race! Wearing Salomon S-Lab Adv Skin 3 12 set, Agile tank, Exo 3/4 compression leggings, Speedcross 3's Photo: Nikki Barnard

Getting ready for the race! Wearing Salomon S-Lab Adv Skin 3 12 set, Agile tank, Exo 3/4 compression leggings, Speedcross 3's

Photo: Nikki Barnard

Photo: Nikki Barnard

Photo: Nikki Barnard

The race began at 8.30am. As the profile suggests, the challenges begin fairly early on, and after running through the centre of Samoens, we headed up the mountain. It felt a fairly lengthy climb, and my mountain legs had not been stretched on a Alpine trail for little while. Psychologically this was quite a tough part of the race, as I was only fully aware of the miles ahead, and yet already I felt I was exerting a lot of energy.

Then I got my act together - some encouraging words to myself and seeing the friendly face of Nikki's husband Alan passing me, it was time to fire the engines! I wasn't really aware of how I was doing, yet I stayed in the same female position for the majority of the race. It rained just before the start of the race, so the ground was pretty slippery, and it made the trail more technical.  As the profile suggests, the race has two sizeable climbs, which although tough, are interspersed with some really great downhill. The support of the locals throughout the race was so valuable, and definitely helped reinforce the message that we could all do this!

A truly amazing day - and ecstatic to have finished the race 3rd woman.


A wonderful and unforgettable way to spend my birthday.