I felt like I had recovered quite quickly from the Trail du Gypaete and was out running a few days later. This whole experience is like a lifetime ambition for me. A lot of my life before running was spent road cycling and I was lucky enough to be able to bring my road bike. I have only been out on it a few times, and my cycling fitness is shocking but my childhood fantasy of riding up and down Alpine mountains on my doorstep is still alive. It’s just incredible that it has actually been sidelined by running! It is fantastic to slave away on a climb where there are hardly any other vehicles and the views are second to none!
I came to a realisation a little while after Gypaete. It was a very obvious fact, but as seems to be rather typical of me, I couldn’t see it initially. The realisation was this : The Alps are harder to run in than the UK. Yes of course I knew this before, but I hadn’t changed the way I ran at all. Two key factors had to change : my pacing and the way I ascended. Since I’ve been here I have exploded quite a few times when out on longer runs. I have a real low spot with no energy and a little queeziness. This is not normal for me. I rarely get stomach issues, and my pacing has been one of the strengths back in the UK, but out here I realised, things had to change if I wanted to progress. I had to have more faith in walking on the hills. It can be more efficient and as fast or even faster. This must be practised! My pacing though had to be completely reprogrammed. I just went too fast for my ability and the terrain. I am used to getting my pacing quite even and having something left near the end for a final push, but out here, I basically am fighting for the end. It breaks me.
I got messaged from Rorie McIntosh one day asking if I was entered into the Samoens Trail Tour race. I had noticed this race and thought it looked pretty hardcore and being fairly local made it quite attractive, but I just hadn’t got round to entering. Rorie had moved out to Samoens earlier in the year so he was definitely entering. How could I refuse!
Since moving to the alps I have begun choosing races like I used to choose wine. Strength and price for wine, whereas all the info I need for race selection is ascent in metres and distance. The Samoens Trail Tour race is 55km long with a punchy ascent of 4200m. Those stats would ensure that I would be walking plenty!
Since moving out here, I have been getting a little carried away with my running and have been neglecting my usual relatively high levels of rest. The week preceding the race I didn’t run once. My feet and muscles were happy to get a decent break, but it certainly is harder for me to rest when I am surrounded with these incredibly beautiful mountains and their endless trails.
I had to be up at 0330 to have a quick breakfast of greek yogurt with a healthy dose of Udo’s oil stirred in before dashing out the door. The drive took around an hour and a half which included 10 minutes of driving in circles in much confusion and building panic. Fortunately I realised my error and arrived at the start area. with around 20 minutes to go. A little rushing around speaking terrible French and hopeful English gained me my dossard (number). While pinning it on, I noticed Rorie with Kate. I walked over and said hi. We were soon interrupted by the race brief in French and before I knew what was being said we were off!
Conditions were good for the start, being dry but there was some cloud looming over the higher ground so it could be chilly up on top. We begun with a swift flat run around the lake before following a winding road steadily upwards. Then we were on the single track in the trees. Rorie and I were chatting a little but I was too out of breath to speak much. Rorie seemed to be running effortlessly. We were now in single file through the narrow trails and I was occasionally putting in a little burst to get past someone. Once the path widened out and steepened, we were free to find our own place and not be stuck behind people. I now, without realising had created a small gap between myself and Rorie. I pushed on up the hill. The humidity was very high and everything I was wearing was soaked through already. This would not be great if it was chilly at the high points. The climb continued for 18km with a few hundred metres of level ground. It just kept on going up and up! Soon there was snow and finally I was in my own bubble in the cloud. I saw no-one in front or behind. Occasionally a volunteer would appear pointing me in the right direction with the encouraging “allez, allez”. As in my previous race, the marking was impeccable. Even with the snow cover and the very low visibility, it was easy to follow the route, with arrows sprayed on the snow and rocks and marker tape everywhere.
I was starting to cool down. my hands were feeling it and as I was working so hard I was still sweating quite a bit. My arms were also starting to chill. Were is the top? I knew that as soon as I started to descend the temperature would rise again. There was just no visibility so I couldn’t see the top. I reached a small col and headed left still climbing. Soon I gratefully spotted a happy French man signifying I was at the top and happy to be finally doing something other than climbing. It took a while before my legs regained some strength from the 18km monster climb, but I sure was enjoying it. Occasionally I would hear cow bells being rang too frantically for them to be around a cows neck. It would soon be revealed that it was some more super enthusiastic volunteers “Allex, allez”.
I was now back out of the clouds but it wasn’t too long before the trail headed back up again. Conditions were soft in places but were good really. In comparison to my experience at the Trail du Gypaete things were perfect! I knew there were a few more decent climbs left, so tried to hold back a little something to save myself from blowing again. I had been climbing for a little while when I realised that I was on the next big ascent. I carefully passed along a short ridge that was watched over by a member of the local mountain rescue. Sadly I was back in the clouds again so was missing out on what I can only imagine was a special view. The ridge seemed to carry on forever and it also got steeper and steeper. As I fought my way through the cloud with my heart feeling like it was going to pop out of my chest at any moment, I heard a voice behind. I stopped and turned. It was good to stop for a second and let my body recover a little. I saw nothing except the cloud so turned and kept climbing. My movements were slow and unsteady. I again needed the top soon before I blew. I stopped a couple more times for a few seconds to catch my breath on the climb, before at last completing it.
The descent was quite technical at points but I slowly gained a little strength after having almost everything sapped from me on the ferocious climb. There now was some lumpy terrain where I was temporarily reduced to a slow walk as I fed myself and waited for a little boost of energy to help me get to the finish. Two ladies shot past me at this point clearly in the race for first place female. I had to let them go as I focused on my own race which was slowly failing me. I tried to remain positive and have faith in the return of my energy. There was not too much further remaining, but I was hurting. Each little upward slope was really tough, but I pushed on. I stopped for a little while longer than normal at the next cp as I took on plenty of food and fluid, topping up my bladder also. Fuel was the only answer to this.
Soon enough I was happy to begin the long descent that would return me to Samoens. I was still exhausted, but my movements became more and more fluid as the downhill progressed. I overtook two runners and then a runner came flying past me. I knew that at one point that I was in 5th place but had lost track now. Maybe 8th? Who cares, as long as I finish ok I will be happy. I started to pass more and more chalets and was soon back in the town. I could see no-one ahead or behind so was not pressured and just pushed as much as my tired body could take. I crossed the line and was informed I was 7th! Superb!
After an attempted interview on the pa system in French, which I of course couldn’t participate in, I was free to eat and drink. I was exhausted but felt my race was, although lacking in decent pacing, an improvement over my previous effort, so was happy. Rorie also had a good race coming in just 30 minutes behind. A good day for the Brits in the hills!
A week later I had a phone call to inform me that I had bagged third in my category so there would be a trophy in the post! Cool. My little trophy collection I had begun at home in England had all been put into storage so I was starting fresh.
Next on the agenda is a week later in my home town of Chamonix. I had entered the Vertical km and two days later the marathon, both of which are Skyrunning events meaning that there would be some of the greatest mountain runners there. No trophies there I think! This means a full week of no running again. A little frustrating, but it will be worth it I’m sure.