Monday, 13 April 2015

Vive La France!

Beautiful Lake Annecy
This year, I had decided against putting myself forward for selection for the World Trail Championships (to held in Annecy at the end of May). I didn't want the pressure of representing GB on what I thought would be a rather technical course (much more suited to other runners) and, as the race starts at something like 3:30am (ie in the dark), I still have a fear of falling over right near the start - not an ideal way to start a 70+K off road race!

Home for the weekend
My friend, Tracy Dean, is running the race for Team GB, and so decided to travel out to Annecy for a week with a friend (Ant) over Easter in order to spend some time running on the actual race route. She invited me to come and join them for a couple of nights, so as soon as I finished work on Good Friday, I made my way to the airport and flew out to Geneva to join them.

?Not the best route
It was very late by the time we arrived at the campsite in Annecy, but it was so nice to wake up there the following morning - even if no hills were visible due to the cloud and rain! We delayed our start as long as possible (with trips to the supermarket etc) but as the weather showed no signs of improving, we thought we might as well get out there and check out the final section of the race route. Ant was faffing, so Tracy and I set off first expecting him to catch us up within a few minutes. There were rather a lot of unmarked tracks (all of which appeared to be muddy rocky streams due to the past few days of heavy rain), but I put my trust into Tracy's navigation as she had run the course the previous year - unfortunately, it appeared rather different with the poor weather, and the trail we were on appeared to be descending rather a lot so we checked the map. Or rather, we tried to check the was still on the front seat of the van!! Ant hadn't appeared yet, so we tried to call turns out that his phone was also still back in the van. We decided to continue on from memory of the contours of the land seen on the map and found the trail again. And then we must have lost it again as it petered out into nothingness!!

Yippee for French bakeries!
A bit of bush-bashing (which gave us a few leg scrapes/war wounds) brought us back on track - and we should have had the courage of our convinctions and stuck with it. Unfortunately, we weren't convinced that we'd got it right, so when we hit the crest of the ridge, we decided to try to continue along it instead of dropping down to a minipass the other side (ie the correct route, which Ant took when he got there a few minutes later). Tracy and I then spent rather a long time picking our way along the ridge - at times over rocks and small cliffs, at other times having to work our way round trees - but we were following marks of sorts on the trees (it turns out that they were just marking foresty divisions rather than actual routes).  To cut a long story short, we were celebrating getting off the ridge and back onto a trail, when the trail brought us out practically back where we started (via a storm ditch). We still didn't know what had happened to Ant at this stage, so decided to run back along the road towards Annecy - and luckily bumped into him outside a lovely little bakery, where we could dry off and refuel before returning to the campsite.

With a map this time...

The next day seemed a bit clearer, though the tops were still all in cloud, and the plan was to look at the first section of the run, so Tracy and I set off straight from the campsite - Ant was going to drive to the summit of that section and run back to meet us, so we'd have transport at the end. The trails were much better defined on this side of the valley and so it was a pleasant run, even though it was a slow relentless climb. The gorund was much drier, the sun came out and we even passed a few other people on our travels. There was a road crossing 1/4 of a way into the run and so we stopped for a brief rendezvous with Ant (once bitten, twice shy - wrt the meeting up dramas of the previous day) and then continued on our way.
Breaking trail....

Playing in the snow

There seemed to be pieces of tape at regular intervals, as if someone had been out and marked the route for us (I doubt that they would have lasted from the previous year's race), but we followed them slightly too closely - as the route they marked was longer than our intended path. Still, we were enjoying the clear air and were happy to work off the cheap (but good) French wine from the night before. Once we got above 1000m, we started to come across patches of snow and ice, which gradually coalesced until it was no longer possible to run. If the surface was hardened, it was rather slippy, and if not, you could sink into it up to your knees. Still, it was rather fun......until the clouds closed in! Ant had texted to say that it was very poor visibility at the top, but that he was setting off down to meet us. It was really hard work trudging through the deep snow, so whene we came across some pisted cross country skiing trails heading up towards the summit, we decided to make the most of them. We were no longer sinking into the snow (and so weren't destroying the pistes) so though noone would really mind - and what's more we only caught sight of 2 skiers the whole time!

Woohoo - a road!
Unfortunately it meant that we missed Ant (yet again....starting to become a bit of a habit now!!), but as we had phone contact this time, it meant that he retraced his steps and reached us just as we finished our coffee and easter eggs in the summit chalet. Then it was all change as Tracy drove the van down the next section while Ant and I ran. I was rather excited to find a section of road to run on (the snow was too deep to use the trail), but before long we headed back off onto the actual race route - though I did stop to watch some of the kite skiiers on the way. Ant tried to give me some tips to improve my downhill running, but I think I'm a lost cause.....and I think his suggestion of trying small sections with my eyes shut, to build up some confidence in my foot placement, would just see me end up in hospital!
Kite skiiers
Later on, it was my chance to educate the other two....but in a subject I know much better than offroad! I introduced them to both chocolate crepes (well, it was Easter Sunday) and raclette (mmmm....melted cheese!). Both got the thumbs up!!!

Looking down onto Annecy
View across to the previous day's route
Just my luck - we woke up to clear skies on the morning I was due to leave! It was chilly (about zero degrees) but it had all the makings of a beautiful day - and was forecast to stay like that for the rest of Tracy and Ant's stay. In a way, it was a good thing that Tracy and I had gone off course on our first day, as it meant that I had an excuse to go back on a day when there was a chance of fantastic views. The plan was that Ant and I would start the climb from the far end, while Tracy drove back to Annecy and ran up to meet us at the summit (you can guess where this is going can't you?). Everything started off swimmingly - it seemed like a totally different trail compared to 2 days ago just because of the dry weather.

Looking back the way we'd come!
We climbed up to the summit and were rewarded with amazing views over the whole lake, across to the other side (where we'd been the day before) and down over Annecy itself. It was so beautiful...I just wanted to stay there for hours, rather than head back to Geneva airport. It did seem a trifle odd that we hadn't yet met Tracy, but I thought that she might have been doing some reps on a steep section of climb. By the time we were almost back into town we still hadn't seen her - and a text conversation showed that we had, indeed, missed each other again. Sitting down eating our emergency food by the van (as Tracy had the key with her) and Tracy called us - she was a bit lost on a trail in the forest and knew we were short of time to make my flight. It turned out that she was actually round the other side of the mountain, so she just descended as best she could then did some "speedwork" tearing through town to join us.

All's well that ends well however (well, it's a shame actually, as I'd love to have stayed out longer - just being there for a couple of days reminded me how much I love France - the place, the scenery, the people, the food and the drink) and I made my flight....and went back to work jealously thinking of the pair of them enjoying several more days of running in glorious sunshine!!

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