Race Report: Trail Gapen’cimes 2015 – 55km

I almost didn’t get to run this race. As you may or may not know, the French insist on seeing a signed medical certificate from your doctor before allowing you to race. Every year I go to my GP, she checks my pulse and blood pressure and then signs my note. It lasts for a year and I can supply photocopies to race organisers with no problem – in fact I’ve run 8 races in France this year with the same form.

GAPENCIMES 2015 from AIR libre on Vimeo.

The Gapen’Cimes series of races took place over the weekend of 3rd/4th October, with the 55km/3000m Edelweiss race being on the Sunday. Since the race would start at 6.30am, and the start was at least an hour from my home I decided to pick up my race bib on the Saturday, since we had to be in the city of Gap, where the start/finish was, anyway.

The course profile - pretty lumpy with the climbs getting progressively higher.

The course profile – pretty lumpy with the climbs getting progressively higher.

When I went to collect my race number I was told that the regulations had changed, and my medical certificate had to explicitly state that not only was I am fit to run a race, but that I was fit to run ‘in competition’. Sadly, my certificate didn’t say that. It was only after the race staff tracked down my doctor, and had her email them an attestation that I would be OK, that they would let me enter.

Bib collection on Saturday - like most things in France connected to paperwork, it wasn't straightforward

Bib collection on Saturday – like most things in France connected to paperwork, it wasn’t straightforward

If I’d left this to 6am on Sunday morning I wouldn’t have had chance to do this, so I’m very glad I decided to try to save myself some time.

On Saturday afternoon the south of France was being deluged by huge storms, some of which sadly claimed the lives of several people down on the Mediterranean coast as tunnels and underground carparks were swamped and people were washed away by flash floods.

The runners on Saturday had to contend with some terrible weather - here they are completing the shorter courses in the middle of a huge storm

The runners on Saturday had to contend with some terrible weather – here they are completing the shorter courses in the middle of a huge storm

Up in the Alps things weren’t quite so bad, but the rain was torrential and violent lightning storms flashed and rumbled long into the night. It was announced that although the weather would be fair on Sunday, the route would altered as many of the trails had washed away and for the safety of runners and marshals, some of it would have to be rerouted. The race start was also postponed to 7am.

I woke up on Sunday morning thankful to not hear the rain pounding on the windows. Driving towards Gap, there were still lightning flashes in the distance but thankfully it stayed dry.

Running through the early morning streets of Gap

Running through the early morning streets of Gap

300 runners assembled in the Parc de la Pépinièrein the centre of Gap. The pre-race briefing explained that the new route wouldn’t add any significant distance to the expected 55km, but to groans from the crowd of runners it was announced we would have an extra 300m of vertical to climb on top of the usual 3000m.

A quick gear check, countdown, and we were off. Running the through Sunday morning streets of Gap (a small town of perhaps 30,000 people, but one of the largest towns in the area) to the occasional applause and encouragement. The local police were holding the (admittedly light) traffic to allow us to run unhindered to the outskirts, and after a few KMs we were on trails heading up to the mountains of the Haute-Alpes.

For this race, and for the first time ever I was using a pair of trekking poles (or cheating sticks as they’re rather sneeringly referred to in the UK). I’ve never really used them before, but for the next couple of years my aim is to bag a few more ultra distance events with a view to getting to a 100 miler. I’m not sure if the use of poles made a positive difference but they certainly weren’t a hinderance.

The early stages of the race

The early stages of the race

I’d say that at least 70% of runners were using poles, and since we’d had so much rain the many streams that we had to cross had been transformed into raging torrents, they were a big help when crossing. The first couple of streams, we were able to gingerly pick our way over the rocks, but our feet still got soaked so myself and many others decided it was better off to just run through, get the feet wet and hope they dried out in the sun.

One of the early stream crossings - the guy in yellow fell in shortly after this picture was taken - after that we all decided it was pointless trying to keep our feet dry

One of the early stream crossings – the guy in yellow fell in shortly after this picture was taken – after that we all decided it was pointless trying to keep our feet dry

The first checkpoint at Rabou came at about the quarter-way stage – there weren’t many food stops, but they had the standard French trail running fare – cheese, salami, ginerbread cake, chocolate, apricots, crisps, bread flat and fizzy water and Coca-Cola. I availed myself of the food, cleared some grit out of my wet shoes and got moving.

A couple of ponies, seemingly nonplussed by the magnificent scenery

A couple of ponies, seemingly nonplussed by the magnificent scenery

As we left Rabou, we climbed higher into the mountains and sun came out – the surrounding countryside was awash with autumn colours and to the northeast we could see the high mountains of the Ecrins national park, and the recent dusting of snow that must have fallen in last night’s storm on some of the lower peaks.

Looking over to the Ecrins

Looking over to the Ecrins

To be honest, most of the race was fairly standard. I deliberately kept myself to a sensible rhythm, aiming to dose out my energy over the course of the race and not blow up. It was hard not to run some of the descents too fast though, as there were some great tracks, including a fairly kamikaze dash through a field of scree which was a lot of fun.

A nice easy, grassy descent in the sun

A nice easy, grassy descent in the sun

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By the time we made it up the final climb to a spectacular view, I was pretty knackered and little bit dejected at the final checkpoint when I asked a marshal how many had come though and he said “most, maybe three-quarters”. I was sure that I was still in the top half of the race even though things had definitely thinned out. Nobody was passing me in fact I had gained a place every couple of KMs.

VIRB Picture

VIRB Picture

VIRB Picture

That final checkpoint was just 11km from the finish, and all of it was downhill on fairly easily runnable terrain. However it was the hardest point of the race, and running into the streets of Gap, despite the cheers and applause of random onlookers, and even encouragement from the police holding up the traffic, the run into the finish seemed to take forever.

VIRB Picture

VIRB Picture

VIRB Picture

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VIRB Picture

VIRB Picture

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I made it over the finish line in 8h41’37”, placing me 138th out of 297 starters, so in the end was quite happy with a top half finish.
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Race Report: Trail des Contreforts de Piolit, Haute-Alpes, France

After my first race a couple of weeks ago in snow and fog, I was looking forward to a drier and brighter run in the southern Alps, and last Sunday’s Trail des Contreforts de Piolit didn’t disappoint. The race was 17km of pretty much straight up then straight down racing along the foothills (the contreforts) of Le Piolit in the Haute-Alpes of southern France.

The race profile - pretty much straight up and down with a few bumps here and there. The route was extended to 17,3km

The race profile – pretty much straight up and down with a few bumps here and there. The route was extended to 17,3km

The race has been going for five years, and based in La Bâtie-Neuve between Gap and Chorges, this was always going to attract a large and strong field of mountain runners and this year didn’t disappoint. 300 runners signed up for the main event with another 200 running a smaller 6km version.

Finding my way to the event was slightly problematic – I just rocked up to the town assuming there would be event signposts, but it wasn’t really clear where the race was. I saw a guy in running gear walking into a building full of people filling in bits of paper so followed him – and almost ended up voting in the French local elections. After sheepishly getting some new directions I soon found my way to the local college that was hosting the event and picked up my race pack and got ready.

The weather was perfect for racing – blue skies and temperatures in the low teens with little wind – a perfect Spring day in the Provençal Alps.

As with all of these events there’s usually a big bottleneck as soon as the race hits the trails so I positioned myself reasonably close to the front of the start line hoping not to get stuck too far back. As soon as the gun went off everybody sprinted and jostled – I nearly went face-first into the tarmac after 500m as somebody clipped my heels at full speed but I just about managed to stay on my feet.

Edging to the front of the start line to avoid the trail bottlenecks in the first KM

Edging to the front of the start line to avoid the trail bottlenecks in the first KM

After about 800m we started to hit the trails and the going got steeper. Although the the trail was mostly dry, this time of year there is still a lot of snowmelt in places and some patches were boggy and due to the crowded trails it was difficult to avoid much of this meaning feet got wet and muddy quite early on.

An easy section, so I was able to take a photo. The trails were much more technical in places but that wasn't the time for whipping out my phone.

An easy section, so I was able to take a photo. The trails were much more technical in places but that wasn’t the time for whipping out my phone.

There were two ravito (food) stops serving water, Coke and other drinks, as well as bananas, chocolate and dried apricots. For such a short race this seemed more than necessary but it meant I could race carrying nothing but a couple of gels, that I could then wash down with water at the aid stations.

The aid stations were frequent and well stocked for a race of this size

The aid stations were frequent and well stocked for a race of this size. Photo courtesy of www.traildescontrefortsdepiolit.fr

The going underfoot was dry and gritty in places, and mixed with the boggy conditions earlier on I was getting blisters on my feet – I was wearing my new Brooks Cascadia 10s which I’d only put about 30km into previously, so this made the descent painful as it was quite technical and steep.

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Photo courtesy of www.traildescontrefortsdepiolit.fr

 

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Gaël Reynaud (right) who was the eventual winner, beating the course record with a time of 1:14:30. Benjamin Rouillon (left) got 2nd place just under 2 minutes behind. Photo courtesy of www.traildescontrefortsdepiolit.fr

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Photo courtesy of www.traildescontrefortsdepiolit.fr

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The last couple of KMs were fairly undulating and I was able to make up about 4-5 places by passing a few people who were starting to blow up. The final 800m into the village and the finish line had some good crowds and still plenty of cheering going on despite the winner having crossed the line 15 minutes earlier, which helped motivate me to the finish. I eventually crossed the line in 1:33:57 – quite some time behind the winners but I’m quite happy with the result considering the strength of the field.

Overall it was a well organised and exceptionally scenic race – with plenty of food stops, plus a meal for all finishers it was also good value.

Results

Pl. # Name Club Sx Cat Time Avg Par cat.
1. 282 REYNAUD Gaël Team Optisport-Uglow M SEH 01:14:30 13,85 1
2. 184 ROUILLON Benjamin club des chats M SEH 01:16:33 13,48 2
3. 194 MANSOURI Saïd M SEH 01:16:33 13,48 3
4. 185 BARBE Geoffrey club des chats M ESH 01:17:02 13,4 1
5. 271 HALLEUMIEUX Christophe GHAA M V1H 01:17:53 13,25 1
6. 258 BAILLY Quentin Team Endurance Shop Gap M SEH 01:19:10 13,04 4
7. 7 BRUNEL Thomas CA Pézenas M SEH 01:19:32 12,98 5
8. 190 RANCON Maxime CS SERRE CHEVALIER M SEH 01:20:18 12,85 6
9. 17 ARVIN-BEROD Alexis M SEH 01:20:28 12,83 7
10. 251 MESTRE Bruno AC Digne M V1H 01:20:39 12,8 2
48. 82 CHAFFEY James   M V1H 01:33:57 10,98 16

Full race results can be found on the GeniAlp website.

Challenge Trails 05

I was keen to enter this race since it’s part of the new Challenge Trails 05 ‘league’ system. 10 trail races in the Haute-Alpes (05) departement this year, between 16-32km are scheduled, with a points mechanism where the winner is awarded 600pts, and then each finisher afterwards is awarded a decreasing number of points. The best 5 finishes of the year are taking into account on the overall leaderboard. It seemed like a good way to add some motivation and to find some local races for me.

 Strava Data