Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Fresh Baguettes, Tasty Cheese and a Green and Gold Surprise.

It's currently 6:01am as I'm writing this in my hometown of Geelong and I've been awake since a lovely 2:30am. This is my first proper encounter with dreaded Desynchronosis, though it's a necessary evil and a microscopic price to pay given the utterly life-changing, eye-opening adventure I've just endured. Losing my European virginity I finally got my chance to traverse numerous time zones all the way to a land I'd most thoroughly examined mainly through watching the Tour de France in the wee hours of the morning. Rather than cycling around the French mountains though, I was there to run and to explore the vast wilderness that is right on Chamonix's doorstep. As well as the spectacular little town itself. Nestled at the foot of  Mont Blanc, it is arguably the world's mecha for trail running and numerous other mountain sports. The trails, views and sheer beauty is absolutely endless and hours of playing on the trails seemingly whips by in seconds.
Techy terrain and cracking views

Bursting with enthusiasm it was no easy task to stay off the mountains leading into the Mont Blanc 80km. Even after a couple of 4hr runs, one of which was with some of the most celebrated trail runners in the world, I still didn't feel my mountain hunger was satiated.... Good thing i'd soon be going for a cheeky 86km jaunt taking in 4 unique and beautiful climbs, totaling a hefty 6000m of vertical ascent, and in turn, descent, too! This race was set to be a true quad tester! 

Too much race preparation information and detail I find gets a bit old, so i'll do my best to keep it prompt. What i'd really like to unleash on my keyboard about is just how much more the whole experience has helped me grow, and just how much it's opened my eyes to a completely new culture, and a whole new level of running in the mountains. But for everyone else, that will probably also get a bit old, so I won't delve too far into that, either.

My expectations for this run? I didn't know what to expect! I'd seen the course and knew it was a beast. I knew that it was likely to be at least an hour longer than any race i'd done and in completing the course i'd be covering 2000m+/- more ascent/descent than any race i'd done prior. I knew that it was going to be a hell of a lot of fun and that I couldn't wait to depart Chamonix at 4am on the 27th of June! What I didn't know was how fast, or slow I could cover the course, how my legs would feel and if my race plan would fall into place as i'd hoped. It's in these few unknowns, plus many more, which is where the beauty of these races truly lies.

Solitaire had become my good companion as race day drew nearer, having no internet connection at our accommodation coupled with wanting to save my legs by not travelling to town, I forced myself to sit back and relax without the distractions social media provides. I played pretty flat out for the few days leading in - yet my skills remained pretty darn shit if i'm being honest! I was certainly hoping I'd run better than I matched cards!

After some days filled with tourist-like activities, followed by some good rest, the 2:30AM alarm for race day was ringing in my ears. I felt pretty bad waking Jo and Lucy whom were racing the marathon, they had no need to be awake at the stupid-o'clock time necessary for Jacinta and I. Being the great, selfless friends they are though, they'd go on to crew for me throughout the day and did a truly awesome job!

As the thousand headlights buzzed around the Chamonix town-center like fireflies in the night, I was surprisingly relaxed and was still struggling to fully grasp the situation i'd been graced with. The aim was to take it out conservatively, and to remain that way until I was in the latter parts of the race and see how my body was shaping up. Afterall, I didn't want a repeat of Buffalo, where Ben ended up face down in a muddy wall and I was sitting cooked in a creek bed, both unable to finish!

Checking out the Col du Terrace (2640m) with Anna and Matt

I was lined up nice and close to the front hoping to avoid any congestion once we began our ascent on some beautiful winding singetrack. I felt a little out of place standing alongside the likes of Francois D'haene and Luis Alberto Hernando, but hey, I knew for certain that those guys wouldn't be getting caught out down the back. The gun sounded and for me, pretty much the whole first hour was an ascent fueled by adrenaline. Easily the biggest event i'd run in, my senses were tingling and we seemingly floated to the top of the first climb to La Brevent, topping out at 2500m. Greeted by an amazing sunrise shining on Mont Blanc at the summit, Caine Warburton and I traversed some undulating rocky trail heaven together having a great old yarn, as the race made its way up the valley towards the gnarly loop lying on the back of the course. This loop also contains the highest point on the course, reaching over 2600m.... a lil bit bigger than Bogong!

My body and mind were feeling great. 26km had passed with everything going exactly how i'd hoped! A bit of a stock up from my meticulously organised crew (Lucy) and the second climb of the day was looming. In training i'd covered this climb with the likes of (prep for the epic name drop) Francois, Frosty, Coops and Tom Owens, they all made it look super easy whilst I really suffered that day... My taper had done its job perfectly though, and the climb that I had been a little worried about seemed to breeze by flawlessly. This was truly an exhilarating feeling. As I neared the back of the loop, I still felt fresh. A quick glance at my watch showed that I'd covered the loop much quicker than I did in training, also with a heck of a lot more ease. This was nice. This was really, really nice!

Descending to Valorcine, the French fellow I was running with informed me that we were in 7th and 8th place... I had absolutely no idea at the time but shit, what a nice surprise that was! Probably about on par with the surprise I got when I heard a voice hurling down the descent behind me. Upon turning around it just so happened to be Kilian with his backpack and Camera yelling encouragement. This day could not get any better at this point!

A scenic loop in the quaint little town of Valorcine, some further refuelling and things were shaping up well. Legs still great, energy and morale still high, I was keen to begin the 3rd climb of the day to Col des Possettes at 1997m. My legs just kept ticking away and I was feeling like I always had more to give. By the summit i'd moved myself from 8th to 6th, this was where I saw Ben coming up behind, prior to this I actually thought Ben was up ahead! He was looking as fresh as a daisy and came cruising on through.

A few trail companions

I was intent to still remain a little conservative at this point and not push too hard to the base of the last climb. I'd also covered it in training, and knew very well that a slow ascent there could mean a catastrophic time loss heading to the finish. Ben, Philip Reiter and I all ended up within about a minute or so heading to the last fully catered checkpoint of the day. I was becoming a bit tired here, though that's to be expected with almost 5000m+ and 60+ km in my legs, and even so, I still felt my legs had plenty more to give for the last ascent of the day and I was ready to really have a crack. 

Having moved to 5th, Philip was just behind and Ben just ahead, excitement was coarsing through me for the last 15-20km! There was something else less-welcome to also be coarsing through me though. I'd been managing a tummy bug for the week leading into the race. As a just-in-case-measure i'd stuffed in my hydration vest a pack of wet wipes, hoping to not see them again until after the finish. Well, I did see them before the finish as the bug came back to bite me only a kilometre or so prior to the last checkpoint. Having pitted momentarily off the side of the trail, Philip came back past me and my stomach certainly wasn't very happy at this point. I was grateful for how long it had been nice to me, now it was just time for it to hold on to the finish! 
An above average place to run - Col des Possettes above the town of Le Tour

My body no longer receptive to food at this point, so Coke it would be for the last stretch back to Chamonix! Never a great sustained energy drink, my energy was up and down like a yo-yo as i'd skull a cup or two at each check from there to the finish... Less than ideal, yes, BUT, it would eventually get me to the finish, and that was the most important thing! It was a tough and slow slog over the last climb and I lost a lot of time to those around me. It was quite frustrating as my legs still felt strong, but the energy just wasn't there to turn them fast enough! Forward movement remained though so my positivity held strong!

Amidst this suffering it was all still a ridiculous amount of fun. All I needed to do was look around and remember how lucky I was to be running in the mountains over what was easily the most breathtaking terrain i'd ever witnessed. The sun was shining and I was doing what I love... Things were still pretty damn good! 

Plan d'Aiguille hut (2200m) would see the beginning of the last descent to the finish in Chamonix. I was elated, euphoric and having minor spine tingles to be in the position that I was. At 4am I never once had a thought of being in 6th place, nor did I think I would likely be on track for a definite sub 12hr time, barring disaster in the last 6km. But it was happening. It was definitely happening. The monumental amounts of happiness within me made the descent fly by, following this with a smooth paved run into town, tunneling through streets packed with crazed french fans all cheering merrily as they sipped their espressos and engulfed their baguettes. It was by far the most effortless km i'd run in the past few hours. Maybe even for the entire day. 

Man, what a sick day. 

In 11:14:xx, crossing the line it was a feeling of relief combined with too many other things to list. Put simply, it was fricking awesome. I worked hard towards this race and it had paid off. Almost all going to plan it was a day that I will certainly never forget. Nor will I ever forget all of the generosity sent my way from too many amazing individuals to name, along with all of my incredible sponsors. Especially my biggest sponsors of all, my parents, for it's their complete and utter selflessness, supporting me in every single way they possibly can, not only in my running but in all of my past and current life endeavours, that allows me to live the incredibly fortunate life I do. They're awesome. 

So it's rest time now. It's been a big 12 months for me trying to find my feet in the Ultra trail scene and it will certainly be nice to give my body some time to recuperate fully without any hard workouts and to reflect a bit on the adventures I've had.  It's been a damn nice ride so far and I can't wait to see what lies ahead as I progress further on my journey....And yep I lied, there was definitely a bit too much of your regular "race report" happening here!

Thanks again to every last person for the countless ways in which you've all helped. 


Merci beaucoup pour la lecture! Et au revoir!

My Gear List; 
Watch: Suunto Ambit 2
Top: Salomon S-lab Tank & Salomon Cap
Bottom: Salomon Exo Compression Shorts & Salomon Exo Calf Sleeves
Shoes & Socks: Salomon Sense Ultra Softground 3 & S-Lab Sock
Hydration vest: Salomon Hydro Skin 12 with 2 x 500ml soft flasks.
Eyewear: Swisseye Novena
Nutrition: Shotz Sports Nutrition. Effervescent Electrolyte tablets, gels and bars.