Race report: ARAVIS TRAIL 25
Elevation: 1500 m D +
Bouchet Mont Charvin to Thônes, France
I've had a few days and recovery runs to replay Saturday's race in my head, but it is already slipping away, so time to get it down. It wasn't too hard to roll out of bed at 04h on a gorgeous day and make the trip to Thônes for packet pick-up. We arrived a little before 06h, perfect timing to watch the start of the 52km race, grab our numbers, and ride the bus to the starting line at Bouchet Mont Charvin. We left Erik in town and promised to meet him by the finish, hopefully within the next 6 hours. Derek and I agreed to treat this as a training run in preparation for Iceland, we'd keep it calm and stick together, so we positioned ourselves near the back of the starting pack. This seemed like a good idea at the time, but the climb began almost immediately from the gun, and funneled us onto a narrow path right away. I expected a bit more time for the runners to spread and fall into our proper positions before the single file trail, but found myself stuck early on with no way to pass. Derek and I were separated within the first kilometer and locked into our place in line. I was a bit more aggressive, and fought my way a little further forward, taking advantage of any widening in the trail to advance. Even taking a small spill, getting a bloody knee, but I was pulling ahead. After the first climb through the muddy forest trails, there was finally an opening- I could choose my pace and run out some of the caged-animal feelings that had pent-up during the single file trudge. I kept looking over my shoulder, but Derek had been trapped too far back. I started to give-up on meeting again unless he could overtake me on the next climb, but now was my chance to run and I took it.
The downhill break was fantastic, and I felt strong as we began the major ascent to le Bouton. This was a rough climb, but the route was no longer congested as we pulled ourselves out of the forest to an exposed climb topping out at 1638m - not that high in elevation, but relentless. I crossed two checkpoints where the race organizers called out our bib numbers. I wasn't certain at the time, but I thought they called that I was the third female runner and 2 minutes behind the second as we approached the summit. Had I understood that correctly- maybe they said thirteenth, but then then they wouldn't be announcing my position, surely my French is off, but what if?...No that's crazy, ok, just keep going, no need to get overly excited, plenty of race still ahead, but it's all downhill from here. Ok, here's that girl in blue shorts again, she's fast, and we are at the summit- I call after her- bon courage as we start the descent, 2km drop down scree, and she disappears as I am more cautious on the sliding rocks. I know I won't see her again on the way down.
The few uphill bumps on the way to the finish were brutal, and the downhill pounding killed my big toenail. I felt every step of the descent. I hadn't worn my watch, my gps was tucked into my backpack, and there were no kilometer markers along the way- nothing to distract from the course. I suppose that was a good thing since the trail demanded full attention to stay upright over the roots, rocks, mud, puddles, leaves, and there weren't many runners around now to blindly follow, so it took some work to continue on the correct way. I had a few nice conversations, it was downhill now, so we weren't even winded. I was closing in on the homestretch and feeling surprisingly good, until I wasn't. Nothing major, I just had no control over my bladder. It was a tough decision so close to the finish, but I threw my poles and dove into a bush inside of a hairpin turn. Relief. As I struggled to re-dress myself, tugging my sweat soaked shorts back on, I saw two women rounding the turn. Back up the hill for me to recover my poles, and the sinking feeling that I just lost two positions with no time to regain my place. I will never stop to pee again - I should have let it go. There isn't much left, I can see the town, the finish line will be close, but it's really tempting to jump in the river and forget the last few hundred meters. No stopping, one foot in front of the other, and suddenly the finish line, just over the bridge. I am afraid the course will make us do a loop through town, but no- it's over! 03:35'01"...I had no idea how much time had passed. I gobbled some orange wedges and chugged coca cola- weird, but strangely satisfying. Now I just had to wait for Derek, and hope he also had a good run. He finished just a bit behind me at 3:46'01". Erik brought us ice cold beer to drink in the shade- ice cold beer in France- it's as amazing and unusual as it sounds, and nothing has tasted better.
After some time relaxing, sharing stories from the course, watching friends cross the line, I checked the results. 6th place for women...I should be ecstatic, but all I could think about was those minutes in the bushes that cost me 4th. I'm pretty sure third was out of my reach, but that pit stop hurts. At least it's motivation to push it harder next time, and maybe wear a diaper (wink).
I should also mention that it was a beautiful course with amazing views (when you looked up from your careful stepping), and pretty ideal weather, warm, but you won't catch me complaining. The organizers and volunteers were encouraging along the route, and the atmosphere among trail runners is always fantastic as we push our limits.