The cold never bothered me anyway

Posted on: 16 Jan 2015

By Paul ... Challenge 2, La Guisanette in Serre Chevalier, was duly completed on Sunday, and a challenge it was indeed, though it was not quite the ‘Frozen’ trail that I
expected it to be.

The day started early as the race kicked off at 8.45am, so myself and Charlie Wood, a good friend who joined me for this particular challenge, and our ‘coat
carrier’, Gareth Ferguson, were at the start line in the car park of the Pontillas telecabine with about 800 other insane souls, whilst the sun was still making its way above the horizon. The first hurdle of the day was figuring out how to attach our Yaktrax ‘snow chains’ to our running shoes, which whilst simple in design, left us concerned about their durability. A few gentle jogs up the nursery slopes in front of the start line though, and the added grip these things gave to your trainers was obvious. Just before the start, I bumped into Frank Perione fromAgence web Net-Rezo who had been kind enough to arrange our complimentary entry into the event along with the race organizer, Patrick Michel, so it was good to be able to thank one of them personally and pose for a picture in my not so flattering running tights.

start

After a minute silence to show respect for the ‘Je Suis Charlie’ tragedy earlier in the week in Paris, we were off and the immediate challenge that the race presents is the hard packed piste ‘bez’, which is normally a red run into the resort of Villeneuve La Salle, that I had enjoyed carving down the day before. On this morning though the tables were turned, we were going up, not down, and the ‘chains’ were put to immediate use to find the necessary grip for climbing over 100 metres in elevation over the first kilometre or so of the run. Our pre-race plan had been to just take it easy, small steps, low pace, but keep on running. Those best intentions were soon laid to rest though as we realised the far more experienced field around us had no intention of doing a Kate Bush (i.e. ‘running up that hill’), but instead strode it out, which was a lung busting enough of an effort in itself. The final 50 metres or so of the climb was so steep and icy in fact, that I noticed a few runners without chains were comically sliding back down the slope, then crawling back up on hands and knees, in a desperate effort to get over the hump.

bez

Piste ‘bez’ conquered, the next stretch, known as Pied Route Fréjus, lived up to the old adage of what goes up, must come down, with 100 metres of descent back to the valley floor over the next kilometre or so. This downhill though was on a walking path about 3 metres wide, and no hard packed piste here, but rather a mixture of pine needles, melting snow and ice, which made for an interesting, and personally somewhat fraught, out of control stampede of 800 runners trying to avoid each other and the icy patches, with scattered occasions of breaking yaktrax and keystone cop style slips. To be honest at this point, I was truly wondering what I had gotten myself into.

As we once again hit the valley floor, ‘La Trail Blanc’ however disappeared for ‘La Trail Vert’. The unseasonably warm January weather had melted the entire snowbase at the valley level and what was meant to be a run across scenery such as in the picture on the left below, was instead replaced by the rutted fields, mud and cow $h1t of the right

nosnow

The course still provided a challenge though, zig-zagging up and down the mountainside along the valley towards Le Monêtier-les-Bains, one leg constantly higher than the other, carefully placing each stride to avoid the regular potholes or dungheaps, and every now and then braking across the snowline again as we gained some new elevation. The woolly hat and gloves were put away as both body and climatic temperatures rose, and a halfway drinks stop of something warm, if exact ingredients unknown by myself, was served up by some generous locals.

I noticed a recurring cat and mouse pattern between myself and the local runners as I seemed to steadily make my way past the same people on each incline, before they would then re-overtake me on the downhill stretches. This was a pattern that I imagine would probably be described by those in the know local runners as the stupid English guy in the 555 challenge t-shirt wasting all his energy going uphill, then being too scared of injury and unsure of the terrain to ‘Let It Go’ when gravity was actually in his favour.

The final hurdle of the run came about 2 kilometres from home as the green fields gave way to a muddy single-track, along the bank of a stream with a veritable forest of tree trunks and stumps to navigate around, under, over and through … just what you need as the legs are tiring! The home stretch was therefore a relief to hit, as the track led back into fields across to the start / finish line at the bottom of the slopes, and with a final burst of energy, safe in the knowledge that no more uphill needed to be done, challenge 2 of my 5 was complete.

end

The post race experience was delivered in typical Gallic flair with a selection of bread, cheese, chocolate, drinks, and a local speciality, cabbage soup, which
tasted better than it sounds. Conquering the terrain and the overall experience were the goals of this challenge, with times pretty much irrelevant, but for the stats conscious, I rolled in at 1:11:24 (171st out of 324 runners), with Charlie admirably achieving 1:19:18 (247th) on the back of little to no training. Despite the run definitely being challenging, we could both not help but be disappointed with those times, particularly when Runkeeper revealed the expected 12km run was in fact only 10km. I was even more disappointed when I chatted afterwards with a local expat who had lived there for 20 years and he explained the second ‘big’ climb on the route, that we had been saving ourselves for, had been removed at the last minute due to the conditions and furthermore that the lack of snow on the ground was something he had never experienced in all his years there.

Any disappointment with the times and the ‘snow never bothering us anyway’ on the run was quickly dissolved though by a bluebird afternoon on the slopes up top, a delicious steak and red wine feast in the evening, and a late night beer and pool battle at La Grotte with a group of ‘hustlers’ from the British army ski team who were in town for their annual championships. So, all in all, a great weekend!

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