Sunday, July 3, 2011


     What an eventful weekend. As some of you know I went up to Foux D'allos ,the ski resort , to check out some of the race I was looking at doing in late July. It was a long drive and so I began my run, along what I thought was the course, at 5:30 in the afternoon. I was following a rather vague map and all was going smoothly until  I asked directions of some local folk. I was polite, said 'Bon jour' and naturally believed what they told me. This was a huge mistake as they then proceeded to send me on a half hour detour of the French Alps in completely the wrong direction and as is so often the case in these situations the problem was further compounded when I got lost in the  woods ...........4500 feet above sea level. Not good.
     Somehow and after much frustration, swearing and sweat, I found my way back onto the origonal route. This had all taken nearly 45 minutes! A terribly demotivating start. Slowly I began the climb of 1100 metres (3300 feet ) straight up, along precarious tracks , scree fields and gorges. I was worried about the fading light, the elevation, the bears, wild boars, the steep cliff edges, local nutters; you name it, I thought about it. From the start of the run to the Col D'Allos I saw no one, not a soul and it was extremely isolated.
      I  realised it was getting late and there was no way I was going to make the 22k's before nightfall.  I just kept going until finally I came out of the woods and up on to the mountain ridges. As I neared the top of the first mountain peak everything changed and all became breathtaking and beautiful. (See video, sorry about the quality,it was a bit windy! )

     I now felt calm and more relaxed........should I press on? Absoutely.......I was now an intrepid explorer and full of confidence; the hard part was over however about half an hour after this video it dawned on me that my enthusiasam may have been mis-placed and perhaps I was feeling a little light headed due to the elevation; I don't know but what I did know was that darkness was falling and I was on top of a real, not to messed with mountain and therefore I decided, after much deliberation, to turn back and take a route down to the Ski station. Yes, I said 'down' to the ski station; I was that high. By the time I arrived it was dark. I had run 20 kilometres and it had taken 4 hours! This was of course very slow but due to the climbing I guess it was to be expected. I was tired and a little annoyed at my earlier unintended detour but undeterred  I decided to start out again in the morning to continue where I left off.
         So, at 8:30 am, Sue drove me back up  again to the Col D'allos and off I went feeling good.........until I finally hit the 2500 metre (7500 feet) mark.  It was windy, again, with a track about 9 inches wide and a 1500 feet drop off, on either side..........and I am not exagerating! There was what looked like a  small rock crevice for shelter. I sat down for 5 mins and considered my next move. I had only run for an hour but the next part ahead looked really tricky with a steep and rocky climb down of about 400 feet to the next track; it then traversed all the way back up again to 2500 metres......and that had a sheer drop all along the ridge and no track. This just didn't feel right, I had no poles or sticks and there was nothing to stop me if I fell. Is this Trail Running? ...I thought to myself........feels more like mountain climbing without any ropes!
         The good thing was that I was cosy in my little shelter on the edge of the mountain and I didn't really want to leave but I shuddered as I realised that if I had continued on from the night before I would have arrived at this point in the pitch dark. This would not have been a very smart idea and potentially dangerous as many people die from exposure every summer in the Alps, stranded after dark, ill equipped on the top of a mountain.  Even now on a bright sunny morning, as it was today, the weather can turn nasty and cold very quickly. Tragically I read the next day that two experienced British climbers had fallen to their deaths near Mont Blanc.
        Even though it was a difficult route I decided to turn back and find another way down to Foux D'Allos. At this point I also realised something else..............I would not be running  The Trail D'Allos at the end of July.
      I arrived back after 2 hours, having descended 750 metres ( 2200 feet)..... and thought it all over. The half way cut off for the race was 3 hrs. Even if I had not got lost and even if I could have continued across this difficult terrain it would still have taken me 5 hours!..... and I had a nights sleep in between. Furthemore I had not even thought about the other half of the race still to come.
       But, there are always positives. I had run in total, due to my various detours, over 6 hours back to back, and nearly 32 kilometres through extremely harsh terrain  and with a combined elevation gain of 1350 metres (over 4000 feet). Practicing and checking out a large part of the course had been an invaluable lesson and it made me realise that I still had an awful lot of work to do to achieve my endurance goal. From a stamina perspective and despite the rigours of the run I felt fine. Its a sobering thought that what I had done over the past two days does not even comes close to proper ultra endurance running. Those guys and girls must be seriously fit and seriously tough.         
        Back at the hotel I spoke to a local guide and told him about my little adventure. With a rather stern face he explained a few things...... This particular race had never been run before as its twice a long and twice as high as previous races. Poles, (sticks or batons) will be needed for the runners and on the higher parts where I had been, they will be erecting a chord or guide line for the runners to hold on to. There will be medical staff along the route, at all the water stops and at the higher elevations..............and furthermore........ What on earth had I been doing up there on my own ???
       Fearless or Stupid? ........If I had fallen and injured myself and I could have done many times, it would have been very serious but there's always that possibility anywhere; I think the difference was that I was on my own in remote areas. Sue knew my route and my mobile had a signal, I also had water, energy bars, a whistle and a small thermal blanket. Admittedly if the weather had changed  and turned nasty in the dark, high up on the mountain then that would have been a different story and maybe it was this fear that prompted my descision to retrace my steps and descend back down to safety.
I certainly was not being fearless, I'm too wet for that and so I think on balance I got it about right.............. ............................whilst just narrowly avoiding stupidity.
PS Just for the record, if you read my later blogs I am happy to say that I in fact did run the race ... and finished it, remarkably. Just shows you the benefits of training.

1 comment:

  1. Phil

    You've broken a leg once on a run thru the woods. Are you trying to commit suicide?