Sunday, 26 June 2016

Lavaredo Ultra Trail

Well it was a mission getting to the start, but it was well worth it!!
My original plan was pretty simple and on paper it looked pretty efficient and non-stressful. Drive 45 minutes to Marseille, jump on a plane to Venice, pick up a hire-car to finish off with a 2-hour drive up into the Dolomites. I'd be there in no-time! Well that's what I thought...
French air traffic controllers however had different ideas! Somewhat annoyed by the unthinkable idea of relaxing working regulations - you mean you want to change something, you want to evolve the law?!! - they did what all good French workers do - SHUTDOWN! 
So, as I packed my little suitcase on Wednesday evening I got an email and a text message from the airline saying that "regrettably my flight had been cancelled". Great! So I had a dilemma: find another way of getting there, and most probably risk more strike disaster, or ditch the entire plan and stay at home and chill. After chatting it through with a few friends and Carole (my wife), I took the plunge and purchased a second flight, a less direct one and a much more expensive one, but one that would only add a couple of hours to the original travel plan. So late on Thursday morning I set off from home to Marseille Airport. Plan B involved a short flight connection in Lyon, and this is where plan B turned into plan C. A 30-minute transfer, a last-minute gate change and some confusing sign-posting meant that I missed the Lyon-Venice flight. My bag made it on board, but I didn't. So now I got quite annoyed! At the Air France ticket desk I was offered two options - 1. go home, or 2. take a late-evening flight to Bologna - "it's only a couple of hours south of Venice!" To be honest I was ready to call it a day. Pretty wiped out to start with (sleep deprived from organising RunLagnes last weekend) and not really feeling in particular race form, I was really quite keen on the idea of going home, chilling with the kids and getting some sleep! However Carole thought I should go for the Bologna option! And so Plan C kicked in, and half a day later I found myself in a very random hotel half an hour up the road from Bologna. As you do.
And there I slept. For 10 hours. I just hoped that that was going to be enough to make up for some of the recent deprivation! A breakfast and a few hours in the car and by early afternoon on the Friday I finally made it to the beautiful town of Cortina in the heart of the Dolomites. It was a nice sight to finally see that start line! I picked up my race number, filled my bag with a dozen gels and some drinks flasks with a little energy powder, and then tried to get some more z's. Ten hours last night was apparently enough however, because there was no way my brain was switching down! Oh, the joys of 11pm starts! You lie there trying as best as you can to nod off, but it's just not natural and at best you might get a few minutes of sleep. Going through your mind at this point are thoughts such as, "what a silly thing to do", "why the heck did I sign up for this", "I think I'll stick to shorter races in future", etc...
But once you get going it's ok, right?! Off we went at 11pm. For the first 10km my concerns of general fatigue and non-freshness were confirmed, I had heavy legs and I was convinced I was going to struggle to get to the end of this mighty 120km. But the thing about ultra-running is that it's so damn long that these feelings can change, all experienced ultra-runners know this! Good patches and bad patches. So plod on and see what happens. Up and over the first climb the front end of the race was together in a big group of about 30 runners. On the way down I looked behind to see an impressively long snake of headlamps weaving down the switchbacks through the forest.
And at about twenty to thirty kilometres in I started to feel a bit better. We hit some downhills and then some mud and I quickly found myself off the front of the field. "I like downhills and I like mud", I thought to myself. (You see I live in France, but I keep some of the British fell-running DNA :-)
Coming out of the muddy section I couldn't see anyone behind me, - I think I must have built up a couple of minutes lead. Well that wasn't the plan! The idea had been to go with the flow for at least half to three-quarters of the race, and then reassess and attack if feeling good. At three hours in I was already off the front. Oh well, travel plans can change, so can race plans!
Keeping it relaxed I got into a really good groove. With a bit of Pink Floyd and some other classics in the headphones I was really enjoying the course. The terrain was really runnable, mainly big wide paths, but the views were incredible. The Moon was big and it lit up some of the gigantic mountain cliffs that the Dolomites are famous for. Now this is worth not going to bed for! Remember this next time you're lying in bed in the afternoon wondering what the hell you've let yourself in for!
Several hours later I was still feeling good and my lead had obviously expanded as there was absolutely no sign of anyone behind. But I had no updates on the course, so I could only guess and hope that the gap was big! I had been thinking on the go that if I could get to about the 80km mark with legs not too damaged then the last 40km should be doable, even if a bit of "grin and bear it" was required. On the map the last section looked like the most spectacular in terms of scenery, so I judged that this would help pull me through and distract from any leg pain. And funnily enough it was with about 30-40km that my legs started to tire. Well I'm at least three-quarters of the way through - nearly there! This kind of logic works in shorter races, but does it transfer to ultras, when a quarter of the race is still as long as any "normal" race distance? The race I organised last weekend was shorter than what's now left, and many told me it was too long!
With twenty or so kilometres to go I was told I had about a 15-minute lead, which was nice to know! So I steadied off a little and focused on just getting to the finish, with no major bonks, cramps or falls! The last downhill felt quite long, with my legs starting to tire - but what do you expect?! But it was all so worthwhile - changing travel plans, missing a night's sleep, etc. - to roll down Cortina highstreet and break that finish-line tape first!
Here's the top ten. An international field! But is that first guy European?! He certainly thinks so!
Now, let's hope the travel home goes smoothly :-)

Monday, 6 June 2016

Trail des Maures 2016

Petit saut dans le Sud-Est pour un weekend dans le Var ! Avec à l'agenda : châteaux de sable et baignade à la mer, une piscine à Collobrières attirante mais toujours un poil fraîche, de la glace au marron, un trail, du soleil et quelques bières - au marron aussi. Quoi de mieux pour se dépayser en 48 h ?!
J'avais participé au Trail des Maures en 2015 et j'en avais gardé de bons souvenirs. Après un départ du village mené par une cavalière, on plonge des le cœur de la Forêt des Maures et ses collines non-hautes mais raides et surtout sauvages. Il n'y a pas grand monde qui passe par là ... !
Pour la première longue montée on a couru ensemble avec un habitué du soleil et une star locale, Julien Navarro.
Mon idée était de maintenir un bon rythme mais sans forcer sur les pattes. Je ne voulais pas me mettre dans le rouge (et c'est justement facile de bien exploser sur ce genre de parcours !). Je gardais donc en tête mon prochain objectif important, le Lavaredo fin Juin, et pendant la course je me demandais si ce serait possible de courir à la même vitesse sur 115 km.. (la réponse est non, je pense !)
Aujourd'hui les jambes répondaient bien et c'était facile d'avancer de façon décontractée. J'ai pu profiter de la nature sauvage du parcours, même si cette année je n'ai pas pu croiser d'ami sanglier sur mon chemin (comme l'an dernier).
Atmosphère relativement fraîche au départ, au bout de trois heures de course le soleil commence à se manifester ! - donc voilà ma joie de croiser ma femme et nos enfants avec des gourdes de rechange ! :
(pour info, sur 4h15 j'ai bu 1l de TorQ et 0,5l d'eau)
Et une heure et demie plus tard, encore mieux que de l'eau - une bière à la châtaigne ! Les organisateurs ont tout bien compris ! J'ai du attendre 0,2s avant que cette boisson si rafraîchissante soit confiée à ma main droite :-)
Et voilà pour la photo du podium :
Et les résultats : Finalement je me surprends un peu à réduire mon chrono établi l'an dernier d'une dizaine de minutes.
Ma prochaine course est donc le Lavaredo. Un 115km dans les Dolomites fin juin.
Certes ils sont forts en glace les italiens, mais connaissent-ils celle au marron ?!

(crédit photos : F Mourgues)