Monday, 8 October 2018

Trail de Saint Didier 2018

Le Trail de Saint Didier s'est inscrit dans mon calendrier comme le rendez-vous habituel qui marque le début d’automne ! Avec quatre participations maintenant, c'est la course à laquelle j'ai le plus participé en france (2014, 2016, 2017, 2018). Quatre participations, mais jamais le même parcours ! Et bien que la course se déroule à deux pas de la maison, tous les ans les organisateurs arrivent à nous sortir un bout de chemin que je  n'avais jamais vu auparavant ! Et cette année ils ont été encore plus loin, en créant de nouveaux passages (ou en ouvrant des vieux trucs quasi-fermés) sous les falaises sous Venasque par exemple, et en rajoutant en bonus quelques belles descentes très raides, sur la roche de la Croix de St Gens ou dans la boue de Camp Long. Bref, le parcours était un vrai régal !

La croix de St Gens

Mon idée été de me servir de ce trail comme une dernière sortie moyenne-longue et moyenne-rapide avant mon prochain objectif (les Templiers), et aussi de profiter d'une belle matinée avec ma famille et des amis traileurs locaux sur des sentiers trop beaux à une poignée de kilomètres de la maison.

Confirmation comme quoi il y avait de la boue !

Pierre-Hugo a la malchance de devoir se mesurer à Elliot en sprint !

L'un des passages les plus secs et roulants !

Courir dans la boue - ça donne le sourire !

Le parcours

Monday, 17 September 2018

Glencoe Skyline

credit photo : Skyrunner World Series

Seven and a half years it’s been now, since we left the lush-green Scottish central belt for the piercing-blue skies of Provence. And over those seven years I’ve only been back a handful of times and usually to see family, not to run over fells. So it really was great to round out my mini Skyrunning season with a weekend trip up to Glencoe. Shane and all the race organising team have managed to pull together a perfect Skyrunning event in the uk, with a level of technicality that’s spot-on. Hard, steep and rough, but not too silly either! The Glencoe Skyline has joined Tromsø and Kima as the unofficial triple combo of ultimate skyraces. These are the real ones - the ones that get you high, over summits, along ridges, off paths. And all three of which I’ve had the fortune to attend over the last six weeks. Not a bad schedule to “get back into it” after some months off following injury!

credit photo : Tom Owens

Unfortunately for the first time in the event’s history the weather conditions were not suitable for releasing two-hundred runners onto the Aonach Eagach - a sensible decision given the wetness and windiness up on the Munro summits - so the B course was enacted on the Saturday afternoon before the race. That said the B course is still a good one, it still incorporates some proper hills and some gnarly climbs. But it didn’t half feel like a sprint racing over three hours and forty-five minutes compared to the more habitual six or seven hours!
credit photo : Ian Corless

Fully aware that race would not be an “ultra jog”, but rather an intense confrontation between the Spaniards, Scandinavians, Americans, Brits,... attending, I went straight into a relatively high gear and tried to go with the flow at the front end of the field.

credit photo : Tom Owens

It went pretty well all in all, just one tame descent in the middle cost me a few minutes and resulted in me loosing touch with the top three, definitively. I was no doubt more at ease throwing myself down steep slippery slopes when I was based in Scotland and practising such antics on a more regular basis. But hey! - you can’t have it both ways - the sunshine overhead and slippery wetness underfoot! Back to France now and time to get in shape for something more undulating, relatively flat even, some might say...

credit photo : Skyrunner World Series

Full results here :

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Kima 2018

Back to Kima after a 6-year break. Too long!
This race really is one of the best! The course is just amazing.
The start has a big climb and the end a big descent. The in-between middle section involves traversing seven short but steep passes, nearly all of which are equipped with ropes or chains, and often you're better off holding onto them! Between theses passes you navigate your way through a 20km boulder field! The skill is not in being a speedy runner, but more in having the capacity to continue moving forward at a semi decent rate whilst constantly searching out the next red flag and choosing which of the rocks in front might be best to put your next foot on.

The start was a bit of a shambles and very unprofessional from the athletes' point of view: we were called to the start at 6am, at which point an announcement was made confirming the full race route and the scheduled start time of 630. Great. So we all checked in, got our gps equipment and warmed up. At 625 everyone was lined up and raring to go. At 655 we were still there. In our T-shirts, getting cold, with no announcement having been made. At 7am over the tannoy we were told that the race route would still be the original one, but that the start had been delayed until 8am. So having spent more than half an hour standing in the cold, back to bed everyone went!
It turned out that there had been some uncertainty about the maintaining of the full route, and delaying the start until 8am would hopefully allow most of the ice on the sketchy bits to melt. So that was all a good thing. It was just a shame it was so badly organised and the athletes were treated so poorly. This sport still isn't that professional it would seem...

Anyhow, the whistle was blown at 810am (!) and 200 runners finally left the village of Val Masino, starting with a climb of around 2000m. The first 7km are on tarmac and concrete, so that goes quite quickly, but that's only the warm up, right?! The fun starts shortly after.

My right quad has unfortunately been having a bit of a rough time of it recently, feeling more dead-legged and responding less well than it can do at better times. So I wasn't able to get into a good rhythm on the climb, nor on the rocky section that followed higher up, simply because I can't control my right leg like I can my left. This was a bit frustrating as I was feeling pretty fit, but nonetheless I tried to enjoy the scenery, cos you don't get to run or race in such cool places every day of the week!

My 7th place is satisfactory, and it was good to run a couple of minutes faster than I had done back in 2012, but it was a bit annoying to still feel like I had a fair bit of energy in the tank at the end of the 50km loop. Oh well, hopefully I'll be able to put that to use on some other mountain or footpath later in the year...

Race video :

Top 9 (full results here)

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Tromsø Skyrace

The chilled-out fjord and mountainscape around Tromsø

It's been a few years since I've done one, but in many respects it was like being back at a village fell race in the north of England! An all-round no nonsense, no faff, no frills, low-key event! Down by the waterfront at the Edge hotel you pick up a number, four safety pins and a box of tea, and that's it - you're ready to go! At the prize giving late on Saturday afternoon the top three men and women climb onto the wooden podium, and Kilian hands out beer mats with drawings of moose on them. And then off you go for a pizza and a few beers. The job's a good one! There's nothing complicated going on at the Tromsø Skyrace, - you're here to run over some quite spectacular mountains, and the focus is 100% on the enjoyment of that experience. You choose your own gear, you drink out of streams, and you look after yourself as you would on any other long day in the hills. Out on the course the terrain reminds me of some of the wilder spots in Scotland. Ruggedly beautiful. And made doubly atmospheric by the fact that you are only afforded a limited number of glimpses at the surroundings, at what lays ahead, what’s above or below. It was claggy! And as we ran through the low cloud you'd spot the odd grouse, a mouse, some rocks, some water and some more rocks.

Striding down the easy early grassy slopes

I ran with Jon Albon up to the top of the first summit, Tromsdalstinden. It was actually pretty easy running all the way up there (for real!), but the descent off its back side was less so! Closer to vertical than flat. Again, much more akin to fell running than the world of French trail running that I frequent these days. The approximate direction we were to take (straight) down the mountainside was outlined by a few small red and yellow flags. The exact line you take is each runner's call to make - there's certainly nothing resembling a path down there. Perfect - no annoying switchbacks!

The surprisingly steep first downhill

I was feeling pretty good running and chatting with Jon up to this first summit, but it turned out that I wasn't in the perfect descending mindset. There are days and times when I'm more willing to throw myself down a hillside than others. My eyes clouded up with water, blurring my vision, and my head wasn't properly focused on the task ahead, and as such Jon quickly left me behind and a couple of other runners also caught me as we ran, slid and skidded down the slippery south-eastern slope of Tromsdalstinden.

In comes the clagg, out comes the jacket

1200 vertical meters later and we were at the bottom of the other side of the first big hill, through an aid station and ready to run (walk) up the next one. Cody's dad, Paul, handed me a couple of gels, some energy drink and a snickers bar, and off we headed, up the other side of the valley. It's easy to measure the time gaps to the runners ahead when you're going up, using landmarks like large boulders, or.. large boulders, of which there was no shortage! And I was happy to see that despite my seemingly disastrous first descent, I wasn't actually too far off the pace. I was running in fourth position, about five minutes behind Jon and two minutes behind Pere and Dimitry. I thought I climbed pretty fast up to the ridge, but according to my "precise" boulder-stone timing, I didn't manage to gain any ground on the guys in front on that stretch. And by the time we got up onto the infamous ridge the clagg was down again, to the extent that you could only see a few hundred yards ahead. Shame really - the views we missed are quite sublime, - from what I've seen in photos from previous years! Instead we'd have to make the most of the cloud-shrouded ambiance! It's not every day that I run through these kinds of landscapes and I have to say that I really do enjoy it, which is of course the reason for partaking in this sport in the first place. If you're not enjoying your chosen activity, it's generally a good idea to go do something else. Right! And I'm also convinced that the more you enjoy running across rocks and ridges the faster you can do it. So, smiling is a key ingredient to speed, ok!

Smile, it makes you go faster

After last year's accident on this slim stretch of ridge, the organisers had installed a few sections of rope, including for the last scramble up to Hamperokken summit (1404m). Here I encountered the front runners on their way down, and again counted that Jon now had ten minutes on me and the other two were just a couple of minutes in front.

The Hamperokken ridge

Now, normally the next bit of the course is basically a big snow-slide down the gully to the ice-blue lake at the bottom, which would have been pretty cool and advantageous for me given the context (I still wasn't in a "downhill day"). Instead, where the snow normally lies we were confronted with the underlying hard stuff, of a much more jaggedy nature. It's a bit like being offered a nice big vanilla ice-cream with an overly generous Chantilly topping, only to be told, "sorry, it's all melted", and the porcelain plate it was to be served on was all shattered and broken into spikey bits; "you can lick that if you like?" So, lick the boulder field we did! It wasn't fast going, and it probably wasn't too pretty to watch. There's a species of penguins I've seen in South America called rockhopper penguins - they'd have made a much better job of this bit of the race than I was doing! So anyhow, I did another below-par downhill, and again got caught by some more runners. By the time we were back down at the valley floor and returning through the same aid station I was back in sixth position and wondering whether that wasn't going to be where I'd stay, unless I could get my act together! But I'd been feeling good on the climbs all morning, so I was still confident of having something left in the tank and hoping to dish that out on the last 1200m uphill assault. I'm sure my in-form climbing was down to the monstrously hilly workouts put in recently at Monte Rosa and subsequently Pierra Menta, - that and the fact that unlike most of the other runners out there I didn't have poles in my hands to slow me down!! No poles, no problem!

Like a fell race!

I was in sixth at the bottom of what is best described as "a beast of a climb". My American teammate Cody was just ahead and running really well, looking good. Just ahead of him was the Spaniard Eric Moya. He had poles and was looking less good. A little further up the hill was Dimitry (the powerful Russian runner). Ahead of him the front two runners were totally out of sight, so presumably had a comfortable enough lead? All in all I thought that if I could nail this climb, I could potentially crawl (literally) my way back up into third spot. So the goal was set: "nail this climb", right! Dimitry had a three-minute lead on me at the bottom and I thought I was going pretty quickly up there, but I didn't catch him until 50 metres after the summit! He was obviously not giving in easily and was apparently as determined to step on the podium as I'd now persuaded myself to be. On the way up, I was telling myself that when I caught him there would be no more fluffy down-hilling skills! I made up my mind that I was not going to be hanging around on this last descent. And hence the 15km battle for third position commenced! And it was full-on until we were back in Tromsø harbour and under that finish arch! On the lower, grassy slopes of Tromsdalstinden I finally got ahead of Dimitry and felt I was building up a bit of a lead, but then there were a few kilometres of gentle incline, gaining a total of about 300m. This is the kind of slope that runners absolutely despise at the end of a long race. The sort of slope where you know you should be running, but you're wasted, your legs are screaming, and you just want to walk it in, please! I couldn't allow myself that option though, - whenever I dared glance behind me, the muscly man and his orange vest was ever present, just a couple of hundred meters behind! To cut it short, I grit my teeth and legged it as hard as I felt I could for those remaining miles, including a short and steep 400m downhill and then two miles of road over the sea bridge and back past the boats and the cruise ship to the more-than-welcome finish-line.

Happy to be back in town

I'm chuffed with the result, - the looong trip to the Arctic Circle had been worth it! This race represents my first return to international competition after my operation in February and a lengthy period off running before and after that. I've been training for about seven weeks now, and niggle free for much less than that. So hopefully with a bit more running in my legs and some regained descending confidence the rest of the season can go from here. It’s great to be back running Sky races too, after a venture into the world of ultra over the last couple of years. I have to say that races like this really do sum up why I run - to spend time exploring wild and wonderful scenery, on foot, at speed.

Tromsø harbour

Thanks to Kilian and Emilie for pulling this race together. There aren't many as good as this. Good job! ;-)

Next stop Kima!

Finish-line podium photo

Top 10 - all results here

Kilian handing out the winners' beer mats
- just need a beer to put on it now!

The race video

PHOTO CREDITS : yourepics / skyrunner world series

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Mélèzes du Mercantour

Trois objectifs pour le Trail des Mélèzes du Mercantour : 1. Passez un bon week-end en famille à la montagne, 2. Casser la serie de 4èmes (Monte Rosa, Pierra Menta, World Cup.. !), 3. Faire une bonne sortie longue en prépa pour la Tromso Skyrace dans 2 semaines.

On a démarré par une petite course d'orientation dans la ville fortifiée de Colmars les Alpes. Parfait pour découvrir ce joli lieu, OU parfait pour que les enfants le découvrent, pendant que nous on buvait des cafés sur une petite place en centre ville !!

Après les balades autour de Colmars et une petite baignade dans la rivière sous la cascade de la Lance, c'est parti pour les competitions ! - à commencer par les trails enfants ! Quelle ambiance !! Largement de quoi m'inspirer pour demain !! - Je n'aurais plus qu'à garder le même style, légèreté, vitesse et sourire pendant ma course aussi !


Et le lendemain, c'est mon tour : Reveille à 5h15 pour un bol d'avoine, et puis direction Beauvezer pour un départ à 7h depuis le pont de Villars-Heyssier.

On est dans les alpes, à la montagne, et il y a quand même 3000m de dénivelé au long des 50km du parcours de ce trail au milieu du Mercantour, mais j'ai tout de même l'impression que c'est rooouuuulant. Mais peut-être que tout parait rooouuuulant après Monte Rosa et la Pierra Menta ?!

5 heures et 9 minutes plus tard, un petit saut (jambes trop fatiguées pour en faire un grand - sorry !), et puis à nouveau direction la rivière glacée, afin de bien démarrer la récup :-)

Podium garni de bois (les trophées, pas les jambes), avec Sebastien Camus et Yohan Viani :

Résultats en ligne ici

Next stop, Tromso, un poil plus long, beaucoup plus raide...

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Pierra Menta ÉTÉ 2018

Wow ! Quel parcours cette Pierra Menta d’Été !

Après le Monte Rosa il y a deux semaines, il semble que c'est bien parti pour enchaîner des jolies courses cet été !

La verticalité de la chose était évidente sur le papier, et cela a vraiment été confirmé au race briefing la veille de chaque étape. 30km, ca va vraiment nous prendre 4 heures ?

Et oui, c'est possible. Avec des pentes comme ça ! :

Et qui continuent comme ça : 

La Pierra Menta se court en équipes de deux. Ce qui rend le concept encore plus convivial. C'est toujours sympa d'avoir quelqu'un avec qui on peut partager la vue depuis le haut d'une grosse crête bien pointue ! Pour ma part, ces belles vues sur les trois jours de up & down ont été partagées avec Martin Gaffuri.

Je me remets tout juste à la course à pied, après quelques mois galères de blessures (opération pour une pubalgie en février), donc l'idée était de vraiment profiter de ce "petit séjour" en montagne, et de faire un bon gros bloc "d'entrainement en pente". Marcher sur des pentes aussi raides, j'en ai rarement l'occasion. Martin, qui vise aussi les sky races de cet été, était en bonne forme, et en serrant les dents sur la fin, on termine 4ème au classement général. C'est vraiment pas mal, car le niveau est assez élevé.

Après les crêtes et les cordes, c'était souvent plus roulant. Mais tout est relatif, n'est-ce pas ?!

Check out the view. Awesome !!

J'ai vraiment bien aimé cette course, l'organisation et le parcours. Et passer trois jours à Arèches-Beaufort avec 300 personnes qui apprécient aussi la vraie bonne montagne, c'est quand même sympa :-) J'ai déjà envie de revenir la refaire celle là !

Voici les top 5 de chaque catégorie :

Photos : F Oddoux / Test4outside

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Monte Rosa Sky Marathon

The high point of the race, 4554m:
Margherita hut, Punta Gnifetti

It was a struggle to hobble much more than a few miles on the flat when I confirmed to Tom that we would be “all good” for the Monte Rosa Sky Marathon. That was ten days before the event, I was half injured, rather unfit and with next to no running, let alone climbing in the quads. But this race was just too good an opportunity to miss!! I’d have to have broken a leg not to make the start line of this! That said, one runner in the field still shows a fracture line in his fibia and he was on the start line too. But that’s a different story, and he's an entirely different animal ;-)

Welcome to the fancy dress party
I mean the start-line

So just before 6am on Saturday morning, Tom and I made our way to the church square of Alagna Valsesi to join the colourful crowd of people, all excited and ready to run up, up, up, and into the sky! In case we didn’t know it already, upon reaching the start zone it was immediately obvious that this was something a bit out of the ordinary, a touch different from your average trail race! People were walking about the village with skis on their shoulders, the runners were dressed in a mix of skimo gear and ninja suits. There was a silent but blatantly obvious competition for the most extravagant or fluorescent lycra pants! We almost felt a little out of place with “just” our normal running gear, topped up with the obligatory bits of climbing kit and “the dreaded” poles!

Run while you can!
Soon you'll be on your knees!!

So the race was launched and up the hill we ran! For quite a long time! Well I say ran, - to tell you the truth it was more of a walk, a scramble, a slosh and a slide!

Views from the slopes of Monte Rosa

Quickly out of the forest and above the tree line, the views became increasingly awesome! My legs were weak and my lungs were small (no training, no surprises!) so after twenty minutes we (I) had to let the leading pair of runners go ahead alone. It was always going to be a long shot to pull out the sort of competitive performance like Tom and I would have liked. But it didn’t matter, not a bit. We were here for the pure enjoyment, to soak up the thrill of participating in something rare - a race straight up and down one of Europe’s highest peaks. And it was just stunning. And all that stunningness well overshadowed any leg pain or frustration of not being in great physical shape. What also eased the problems associated with a distinct lack of training was the short piece of elastic cord clipped onto the front of my harness and to the rear of Tom’s - yep, he pulled me half the way up the hill!

One of the race's more runnable sections

One of the race's less runnable sections

As viewed from the chopper

The race tops out at the Margherita hut, perched on the Italian-Swiss border on the summit of Punta Gnifetti, a sub-peak of Monte Rosa. It’s the highest refuge in Europe, not that we had much time to check it out! A quick cup of warm tea and a rhubarb and custard gel and it was time to run back down! - well that was going to make a change from the walking and crawling we’d been doing so far at least!

The last climb, where the air is thin,
and the running style somewhat lacking!

Poles safely stashed away and downwards we hurled ourselves! Oh how joyous to run with hands free from the grips of the sticks!! And we’d need free hands too, to clip in and out of the various bits of safety rope and to slow ourselves down on the sections where it was safe and efficient to ssssssliiiiide.

A quick peak at the view,
before crashing back down the slopes!

It had been a long way up, and now it was a long way down too, but it passed by relatively quickly. And before too long we found ourselves back in the beautiful village of Valagne Valsesia, on the patio of a bar enjoying the obligatory pizza and beer recovery menu =) Italy not only has great mountains!

D+1m for the Calzone

So no regrets to kicking start my 2018 sky running season with this one. There’s no doubt it’s one of the best races I’ve ever taken part in. Hard to think which races compare really (els2900 would be one of them). It was obviously a bit of a shame to hold Tom back with my poor form, but you never know, maybe we’ll get a chance to come back here one day, and with the additional experience running in snow, we could try really smashing it up there!

Back in town, on the finish line with Tom

Thanks to Marino Giacometti, Lauri and all the organisers of this event. Thanks for bringing it back on the scene so many years after the original event, and for proposing what can only be described as a PROPER MOUNTAIN RACE!!!

Otro, a beautiful little village higher up the valley,
that we jogged through the following day

Results (Top 5 men / mixed) 
Franco Collé (ITA) William Boffelli (ITA) – 4h39’59” 
Alberto Comazzi (ITA) Cristian Minoggio (ITA) – 5h03’26” 
Kilian Jornet (ESP) Emelie Forsberg (SWE) – 5h03’56” 
Tom Owens (GBR) Andy Symonds (GBR) – 05h18’57” 
Vitaly Shkel (RUS) Shyngys Beikashev (KAZ) – 5h26’45” 

Website post event articile: HERE
Photos: Ian Corless