Saturday 8th December 2018
Looking back on 2018 I’m very satisfied with what I’d class as a successful year. I avoid any serious injury, and completed my two main A races, including finishing my first ever 100 mile distance attempt.
After finish the TDS in August, the autumn is always a time when I take it easy. Not only is it time to wind down after my main late-summer goal, but it’s also the start of the hunting season and my local trails become like a war zone where drunk, semi-literate blokes in orange-fluro take the edge off the fun of taking to the trails.
I always like to pick a couple of short local races though to see out the end of the year, and this year I picked the FestiTrail d’Autrans. The main reason is that we’re in the process of buying a house in a village just down the road so I wanted to check out my new local running scene.
The race is part of a large mountain film festival that takes place in the alpine village of Autrans. It’s part of the Vercors plateau and has it’s own ski area, including the ski jump used for the 1968 Olympics hosted by nearby Grenoble. The climb to the top of the ski jump is something I’ve know from previous ultras that have taken in the area, and we’d be climbing it again as part of this race.
Early December is always a bit of a lottery in terms of snow cover, and this year the season has got off to a slow start. We’ve had a few dumps of the white stuff in the Alps but we’ve had long periods of cold, clear, anti-cyclonic weather which have kept the trails dry. However the day of the race was hovering around freezing, with sleety snow falling for most of it which made the conditions slippery and muddy.
Although the weather was miserable if you weren’t running, the town was full of spectators and buzz, obviously helped by the wider festivities taking place. Registration took place in a large, well-heated sports hall and wasn’t as chaotic as usual despite several hundred runners. The race pack contained my bib, a good quality technical t-shirt and passes for the hot post-race meal, as well as free entry to the film screenings later that day.
As well as the main 20km race, there was also a relay version of the race, with everyone running the first 7km which would loop back into town, and the relay racers would switch with their partners to run the remaining 13km. This made for a large mass start, with perhaps 500 of us heading out of town through the narrow streets. The organisers helped manage what could have been carnage by having us follow a car for 500m or so before being able to put the hammer down and run out of town.
After a few KMs of running through boggy fields we reached the trail climbing up the ski jump, then a forest run down the other side. This set the tone for most of the race – lots of muddy snow and some slippy descents. It was more like a British XC race than an Alpine race, but lots of fun.
Running into the finish I was pleased to come in under two hours, giving me a position of 58th. I was hoping to place a bit higher but I guess I’m getting older and there’s lots of mountain goats running these races in the Alps.