mountain running and french music

I did a 2 day run last weekend as my ‘long run’ to train for the CCC – sleeping in an auberge in Champex d’en Haut at night. There were at least 15 other runners doing about the same, all getting ready for the CCC. There were groups of Italians and French, and me the solo American chick. I ran most of the race course, but skipped out a couple sections because I started later than I wanted to on Saturday.

I started at Arnouva at the end of Val Ferret, and headed up the Grande Col Ferret right away, which is followed by a long downhill and another smaller climb to Champex for a total of about 1120m of uphill. The last 2 years I did the race, since I run that downhill so fast (it’s my favorite trail downhill evah so far … grade is perfect, trail is relatively even and the views are astounding), I’ve gotten odd inner leg cramps when I started running on the flat again (which cleared up quickly but made me slow my pace) after running it and figured I should practice the longer downhill this year to avoid that. I followed the Tour du Mont Blanc to Champex d’en Haut (about 30km), and stayed at the Auberge Bon Abri which was really nice and made very decent vegetarian food. I ran that part in 5 hours 48 mins, including a stop at La Peule to buy and consume a Rivella to celebrate my arrival in la Suisse. Even though I thought I pretty much dicked around at La Peule, I managed to run this bit of the course 1 1/2 hours faster than my past 2 years when I was racing (granted it’s preceded at that stage by 17km of running but I still think/hope that 17km of tiredness would not make me 1.5 hours slower).

I arrived a lot earlier than I expected, so I took advantage and showered (yeah, hot water & ice cold water … I always ice down my legs and hips now after a long run) did a nice yoga/stretch session on the grass near two Herens cows grazing with bells clanging and laid out in the sun lounger chair until dinner time. I was in a 6 person room, but it was not full. Another bonus (especially as it’s high summer season).

Definitely could have gone for either of my two mountain climber roommates (who’d just done the Tour du Monte Rosa and climbed about 15 4000m peaks in 9 days and were telling me the benefits of high altitude training) at Bon Abri – one of the few times I’ve been at in a shared room that I a. found the people in the room attractive and b. was not kept up by the others in the room either snoring or farting. Score for me.

I didn’t bring an MP3 player. Shocking. Well I did kindof … my phone is an MP3 player, but I didn’t even think to listen to it … was enjoying the run and being out in the world too much. Running through 3 countries with just a small backpack and a few essentials was really really cool. I was alone at several points, just me and the mountains.

The 2nd day was longer – 42km, so a self-sufficient marathon in the mountains. Storms were forecast for the afternoon and I thought I’d get up earlier but I am fairly lazy really and it was my weekend, after all. And my roommates kept me up talking mountaineering later than I expected. So as I went to breakfast at 8am, I saw the last of the French group of runners setting off, and figured that would be the last I’d see of them. Found out the Italians left at something like 5:30 am.

The first climb up Bovine was actually enjoyable. I can’t even believe I am writing that sentence. First of all I am a lazy runner … I generally, no correction, until last weekend I’d never, run 2 long hard days in a row. Normally I run every 2-4 days and after a hard run it would be on the ‘4 days’ side, not the 2 days side. So I was surprised that my legs though slightly stiff at first in the upper thighs (where my fast downhill the day before was showing) really warmed up fast, and stopped hurting at all after about 30 mins of jogging. The trail out of Champex d’en Haut is easy, and then climbs slowly and steadily until the start of the Bovine climb, which really starts to get steeper as you open the gate to the alpage. I ran all the way to the gate, which during the race to be honest I usually cannot manage because at that stage it’s already been a marathon, and I normally have to walk even low grades like that.

The climb seemed easy … well very managable anyhow. But normally during the race it’s one everyone hates, due to the high steps that it requires to get up certain sections, and the number of boulders. Also it’s usually a spot a lot of people hit at night and it’s right after dark hits, so people are not used to the dark, and all the boulders play havoc with them, I usually see people getting lost or off course on that part. Luckily I can run the course ahead of time which is a definite advantage, and I also run with a big headlamp (battery pack goes in the backpack as I found ones that sit on your head give you a headache after a few hours of running with that weight around your brain).

However, many km later, the climb from Trient to Les Tseppes felt awful. It always seems to … that climb is just a steady steep gradient all the way up – relentless. But getting up to the top used to be the happy point of the race for me – last big climb done! This year, no such luck as they’ve added another fuckoff big climb at the end, after the Col des Montets … you basically have to head straight up on a climb that has 400m of steps that are even bigger steps up than Bovine … and this will be coming at you after having run 1 and 2/3 marathons in the CCC …. or 150km in the big race. Gak. And the steep downhill from the Flegere to Chamonix will not be kind on already tired thighs.

At any rate, when I got to Les Tseppes on my training run, I was nearly immediately passed by 2 entirely fit looking Parisian dudes in black lycra with matching backpacks. They just buzzed on past me and I figured, oh well. Even more demoralizing. I always get passed on uphills … they are my weakness, which is why this weekend I have more climbs scheduled.

But … I am very good at the downhills. I thought to myself as I got to the top of the ridge that starts to head down to Vallorcine that the clouds were looking pretty menacing and the wind really had picked up. I knew I would not be going up the Flegere climb (not that I desired to very strongly anyhow … ). So I pushed it running downhill, and ran all the way (1.5 hours of running downhill) from the top of Les Tseppes, over the French border, down the ski out and to the bottom at Vallorcine. On the way I nearly headed back up the Col de Balme but corrected my 10 minute mistake when the trail started to head uphill again and I knew I’d fucked up.

Best of all — I passed by the group of French runners who I’d seen leave as I sat down to breakfast. They were walking down, admonishing me not to run as it would hurt my knees. I also caught up another runner, and then … at the bottom … the 2 Parisians pulled into my sights. We chatted for awhile and I showed them where the water fountain was hidden in someone’s garden to replenish supplies. We headed up the Col des Montets. Another group of runners was at the Col, trying to convince us to go up the Flegere climb, but I was having none of it as I could see the skies getting darker, and the Parisians were also not into it (one guy’s knee was swollen).

They tried to run a bit heading down into Argentiere but could not manage it, so I said goodbye and fairly flew back to Cham. I took one walking break in the 12km back, but when a normal jogger girl passed me, I hung up the mobile phone and caught her up and passed her, and stayed ahead. I pushed my pace, thinking if I pound my legs a lot now, maybe they’ll be able to take the extra kms this year and the extra climbs. As I pulled out of Argentiere onto the trail heading down past La Lavancher it started to rain lightly and lightning struck. I looked up at the trail leading to the Flegere and saw it was covered in cloud, and looked pretty messy. Glad of my decision, I pushed on.

I got passed on the trail, swear to God, by Marco Olmo in the Paradise des Praz … he smiled and waved as he passed me, probably realizing what I was training for by my kit and so being friendly to fellow trail runners. He was not wearing the ‘normal’ trail kit … just 4 water bottles, but he was booking it and a lady with long dark hair was not far behind him. He also never runs w/poles. I don’t use them except on the uphills, mainly to keep my upper body from collapsing down so my breathing stays steady. After that, I either fold them up or hold them as I run downhill. They get in the way for me on downhills.

The next day my thighs were killing me … hard to walk down the stairs. But my knees … not a single problem. I have a technique for downhill running that seems to work well – I tuck in my butt, and land on a fairly bent knee, but I take big steps, and let gravity help me and I try not to break too much – this means my leg turnover is fairly fast, so it can really pound the legs, but I try to let it pound muscle and not tendons in my knees. I guess it works as so far so good.

Uphill, I think I have identified my weakness — I basically don’t push off my toes enough. I have been consious of this a lot in recent training and trying to push push push off my toes with every stride whether on flat or uphill to build up my calves. I think this is helping. My 2nd half of the CCC done of course ‘fresh’ after a night’s sleep was done in 8 hours, which was 3 1/2 hours faster than I ran it in my best CCC time. I don’t expect to keep that pace up for the whole race this year – especially as it’s longer and higher climbing than the previous years … but it gives me hope that I am in better shape (I do weigh less as well than previous years) than before, and maybe I will at least survive this new course, and with luck, will be at least a bit faster per km than in prior years.

So now this week esp., I have gotten into the music thing again. I really like this French band Louise Attaque lately (even though the albums have been out awhile and I’ve had ’em for a couple of years now) — maybe because they have simple lyrics and I can understand them, but I also like the guy’s voice & the violin breaks on this one … and I like the sentiment in the song.

Listenin’ to Louise Attaque … Je t’emmene au vent

Allez viens, j’t’emmène au vent,
Come on let’s go – I will take you with the wind
je t’emmène au dessus des gens,
I will take you above all the people
et je voudrais que tu te rappelles,
and I would like you to remember
notre amour est éternel
that our love is eternal
et pas artificiel
and not artificial
je voudrais que tu te ramènes devant,
I would like you to be up front
que tu sois là de temps en temps
and to be around from time to time
et je voudrais que tu te rappelles
and I would like you to remember
notre amour est éternel
that our love is eternal
je voudrais que tu m’appelles plus souvent,
I would like it if you called me more often
que tu prennes parfois les devants
and that you would sometimes take the initiative
et je voudrais que tu te rappelles
I would like you to remember
notre amour est éternel
our love is eternal
et pas artificiel
and not artificial
je voudrais que tu sois celle que j’entends
I would like it if you were the one I hear
allez viens j’t’emmène au dessus des gens,
Let’s go, come on – I will take you above the people
et je voudrais que tu te rappelles,
and I would like you to remember that
notre amourette éternelle,
our love affair, eternal


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