It’s been a festival of running this weekend in Chamonix. Yesterday was the 10k and half marathon and today is the full marathon. In-between was a variety of children’s races, pasta parties and prize giving ceremonies.
Having lived in Chamonix for several summers I’ve been longing to have a go at one of these events as they start from my doorstep and pass through some of my most favourite routes. I decided to tackle the 10k race. It was billed as a taster for mountain races but if knew anything about alpine sports and Chamonix it was not going to be easy.
I checked out the route online, decided to take advantage of my local knowledge and run the route a few times before raceday. The route consisted of a fair amount of double track trails and one large section of single track, technical trail. After walking the single track section and working out some crafty corner cutting and tricky foot placements I felt quietly confident that I could run a good race. I figured that the race would be won or lost on the double track section before the single track where overtaking would be tricky.
So after one full practice run and several partial runs on the double track I figured I could probably finish this race in 1 hour 15 minutes. My personal best for a 10k is 58 minutes but this is not the type of terrain for beating a personal best.
The night before the race I started to get nervous. I don’t usually get nervous before races but I suddenly thought that I might get left behind by such a strong field of runners. Mountain runners are a mentally tough bunch and a lot of them are lightening fast and quick on their feet – I am neither!
Race morning, I got up at 7:30 and forced some muesli and a coffee down. I don’t normally drink caffeine but do occasionally use it when I need a energy boost. It was a beautiful day with clear skies and the sun shining on Mt Blanc. The race was due to start at 9:00 and the start was only 10 mins jog away so there was plenty of time to stretch and get ready. The nerves really kicked in and I felt a bit shaky although that could have been the caffiene!
The race start was in the parapenting field and was due to kick off just 30 minutes after the half marathon. Knowing the French I was expecting chaos when I arrived there but I was surprised – the half marathon appeared to have started on time and the field was full of 10k competitors. It was the usual bunch of runners from people in full on raid outfits complete with rucksacks to people in casual shorts and tee shirts. I was somewhere in the middle in my full North Face kit but taking nothing extra.
I decided to line up at the front of the pack. I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay there but at least I would get a good start. We counted down in French and then we were off. I must have lost 20 places by the time I crossed the line – I have never experienced such a fast start to a race.
I set off too fast which I knew I would at the front but I was ok with this as it was only 10k and I was unlikely to burn out. Off we went up the doubletrack and then to my surprise we cut across to the other side of the forest. I couldn’t believe it – we were running the course backwards! All of my planning and hard work went out of the window (I later discovered arrows on the route map that I’d not noticed before – duh). I couldn’t really chatise myself for too long though as the pace as fast and the competition fierce – elbows and people taking your line away from you but it all settled down quickly enough and I found a pace that I could just about maintain.
We hit the single track section and everyone started walking. It’s very steep, with rocks and roots everywhere.
Normally I would run on this type of trail but I needed to get my breath back and there was no room for overtaking. We walked for about 5 – 10 mins and then hit the top. It was like something pushed the runners behind me forward – they came at the downward trail from all angles. The downward trail is even more steep, rocky and rooty than the upward and these people were taking some risks. I was more worried about one of them slipping or tripping and taking me out than I was for losing my own footing! There was more than one incident on that trail judging by the comments and shouts behind me.
Back out on to the doubletrack and it was downhill for a while longer. The track was wide but with a loose covering of stones so footing was still a bit tricky. I didn’t bother with the water station as I knew I wasn’t far from the finish and I needed to overtake as many people as possible. The trail crossed L’Avreyon river and went uphill for about a kilometre before cresting. Then I knew it was downhill or flat all the way to the finish. Not that it helped much as I was still running way out of my comfort zone and was pretty pooped at this point.
I held it together though and made it into the parapenting field for a lap before crossing the finish line in 1:09. Check out this video from the event.
I was 321st out of 609 finishers and was pretty pleased with that. During the race I promised myself I’d never put myself through this again but now I’m thinking I know I can do better next year!