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:
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!
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.
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.
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.