We spent the night in a nice quaint hotel by Lac du Bourget, a large lake in the area. This town seems to be an active area and so far where we’ve been in France, everyone seemed very outdoorsy. Bike lanes on the roads and there were a lot of cyclists out riding. The hotel is south of the lake, right across from a supermarket and a few eateries around but not like a busy tourist spot. It’s really quite. The train took us from Chamonix to Aix-Les-Bains and we walked about two miles to pick up our bibs at Run Alps, a really nice small running store.
We met a volunteer and she helped us in understanding what to expect the next day and gave us some instructions, in English. Another 2 miles walk back to the hotel to check-in then to the supermarket for some late afternoon snack. The supermarket is protected by a moat so we had to go the long way around. We had a little snack Saturday night and watched some BBC World News then off to bed.
Doug went down to get some coffee while I was trying to wake up Sunday morning. He came back and told me that we got a ride to the shuttle pick-up. Apparently, he was doing sign language with a French guy named Frank and somehow, they both understood that we wanted, a lift. Frank was also having breakfast all kitted out in running attire! I met Frank and his wife later that morning at the lobby and neither one of them spoke English and we did not speak French, yet there is this symbiotic communication happening. A lot of smiles, hand gestures, some French like “merci beaucoup.” Frank said “good luck” as he went on to meet his friends. I interpreted what he said in French, guessing!
Everyone lined up to get on the shuttle to the start. It’s about 30 min drive to a small Medieval village called Chanaz. Is every little village in France so darn cute? There was a little canal and around the village were old medieval buildings looked like little castles. Chanaz is on the north side of Lac du Bourget and in the center which is a really small place, we saw the race banner and the speakers were being set-up. We went into a small, I believe wine room where hot drinks and pound cake was being served. It was very cold that morning so keeping warm was tough for everyone since we are all in light running clothes! Some packed warm clothes but as always, the minute the race starts the body heats up fast specially with a climb at the start.
The race started and we were packed in between many racers and the whole road was packed with runners running uphill. It was a slow start and some people were hiking because it was just jammed packed in bodies even though there were only about 255 runners. I was glad I removed my rain jacket because in 2 minutes, I was comfortable and no longer cold.
The climb was runnable and manageable but I noticed that the rocks were slippery. Hmmm, I know that some rocks don’t get that slippery but these rocks have some moss on it that it made it slippery or just the type of granite. Running while slipping once in a while made me think it must be my shoes but everyone else is also slipping. The race course is about 70% single track and it was awesome single track running. Thankfully, it was runnable and we were able to run most of the way to the col (pass). There was a small check point and aid station serving hot soup, potatoes etc but I didn’t stop. I continued on the climb on a small road section back into the single track again and while running I ate my cheese and small brioche which I packed earlier.
I basically did what I usually do when we go hiking. We don’t generally stop on our hikes or trail running too long, just enough to enjoy the view and snap pictures. What I wore along with my running vest is the same as our normal hiking or running days in the mountain.
The downhill was absolutely fun with very soft muddy ground but not too muddy that it really felt good running downhill. It was not rocky but occasionally small sections but not bad. I am feeling good because running can help with our time. In my mind, we may finish around 9 hours in this race assuming that the terrain are like the ones in Chamonix. So far, the terrain is doable for us. Running through fall leaves on the soft ground and fall colors surrounding us was fantastic. It was cloudy that morning but being in the trees make one forget about the sun for a bit.
Cable section, a few in the course
Up and down of great single tracks and at one point, I was behind five people and it was a single track that’s hard to really pass people. I watched them and learned how they run. Run and hike, run and hike. No matter how short a runnable section is, they would run and if it’s a steep climb, so matter how short they would power hike. We have been practicing that a lot on our hikes in Chamonix because I must agree with how they do it, although switching from hiking to running on and off can be tiring but it’s actually more efficient in trail running. It takes a lot of practice to get the muscles to do the switching on and off. This is specially tough once the body starts fatiguing at a distance more than you can handle so, practice plus practice!
We were able to pass them on a really steep section sloping down with wet rocks and moss over it. We were just a bit more brave, I believe in this case to just go for it and try to balance so as not to crash. We continued on to climb more but still able to run on the climbs, short power climbs then a job to let the muscles loosen up to relax before picking up speed. I generally do that to do that switch on and off without really spiking the heart rate up. In this race, I wanted to really keep my heart rate low in the beginning because it takes me about a hour to warm up in a race!
We reached the next check point where there were many people cheering on. I got some more water and grabbed with a big hunk of stinky cheese and shoved it in my mouth then started climbing, again! This time, we have reached the base of the mother climb.
Wow. Steep. Relentless. Ouch.
There was a line of racers on the way up and I can see where they are going. I try not to think about how far and how steep where they are but just power hiked the best I can. We did not stop hiking until we reached the top. It was almost a vertical kilometer, climbing about 2729 ft in 3km. There were many sections where we had to scramble and I took it easy so as not to jack up my heart rate and keep it managed. A few sections had cables and ropes so I really took it easy so as not to slip the those slippery wet rocks. We saw a few guys not feeling well on the way up and a guy cramping really bad. We kept focused to keep hiking without stopping but I love these kind of sustained steep climbs, for some reason I love this kind of suffering. So, I enjoyed it but in reaching the top, I was also glad it was over!
We reached the top at about 4 and a half hours then a sort of false flat (but it felt like a climb!) to the two ladies yelling right beside their tents pointing us to the start of the downhill. There was some trace of snow from a few days back and the first section down was very muddy and rocky. We are at about 26 kilometers and 8 km more to go!
All I can think of is to do whatever it takes to get back down safely and as fast as I could. Well, it’s not easy slipping and sliding trying to run. So, I run a little where I can and then hike the “unsure” sections on and off. This is where a few people passed us on the downhill. The steep switch backs are rutted out making me go really gingerly. It was really tough the first mile down then it started to get better but still those nasty rocks just pop up once in a while and it gave me some adrenalin rush each time I slip trying to keep upright! This went on for a while until we crossed some short pavement and fire trail which kinda gave me a little break from the deep concentration looking down on my feet!
I also got carried away and almost missed the trail when Doug yelled at me that I was going the wrong way. Once fatigue sets in, you lose concentration! Just a few switchbacks later, a young lady passed me and she did the same thing I did, except this time I yelled at her “Miss, Miss!” and when she heard me, I pointed to the trail with the orange flags. I can see she is really pushing to the limits on the way down passing us. She said, “Merci” then disappeared. A couple of ladies passed me on the rocky downhill, dang they are fast!
As the kilometers dwindled down, I started to go faster and as careful as I can not to break anything. The two ladies that passed me gave me a bit of a boost to toughen up and go for it. So, that I did and slipped a few times but whatever, I wanted this to be done. It was a bit drier at the bottom but right before the road to the finish, of course, a 200 meters rock bed showed up…geez. I was able to look at my watch and we were racing about 5 hours and 48 mins which means that there is a possibility that we can make it to the finish which is about 2’ish km away to try to make it under 6 hours!
Oh, the fun stuff that only happens in a race…
I gave everything I had and Doug was right behind me and so was the couple that passed us earlier. In that 2’ish km of trying to meet my own deadline, at some point I told myself it’s okay if we went over 6 hours because we did better than we thought but at the same time I pushed myself as hard to make it. Seriously, silly stuff going on in the brain during a race!
The couple that passed us earlier were behind us. They must have stopped at the last aid station longer than us but now caught us again!
I did see how they were slower on paved road earlier on a road section, so I knew I can take advantage of the 2’ish km road and Doug can chase me down. It’s a steep downhill on road pavement, that is where I know I can run harder. I never looked back and got to the finish. Pretty fun…Doug had a big smile on his face trying to video tape our finish but since we came in pretty pooped, his finger was all over the iPhone camera while I tried to hold his hand at the finish. There were lots of people at the finish. The volunteers took our chip from our bib numbers then went over to get something to drink.
We finished at 05:59:18! Hey, that’s really close!
Grand Trail Du Lac is a really great race and the course is absolutely beautiful! It runs on one side of the lake to Col du Chat then the ascent to Relais l’ Aigle, a nice peak to get a good view of the lake, Lac du Bourget. The race is on it’s second edition and their participants doubled from last year. We had a fantastic time. The race organization, staff and volunteers were all awesome. The participants are super friendly, it was cool.
In this race, I didn’t consume any sugar products even soda and it worked great for me. After a few trail races and runs with so sugar, I’ve decided that sugar is a problem with me on my hikes and running, racing or training. The cool thing in GTL is that their aid station had no candies, gummy bears nor sports gels. I saw real food like potatoes, sliced sausages, cheese and sugar cubes. They did have Coke. I think it’s more for protecting the environment because it lessens the garbage. Almost all the racers had those folding cups which they use for their drinks, no paper or plastic cups that I’ve seen around. Recycling garbage is separated from the trash even at the aid station.
We learned a lot from the race and we are happy with our time! There’s so much more to learn, distances to work up to and practice, practice, practice. Our time hiking and trail running here in Chamonix really was super beneficial to this race. It think it really made a difference in our confidence on the trails on race day…