Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Humani'Trail 2015

It's been an interesting season so far. I had hoped, and expected, that transitioning from multi-stages races to mountain ultra-marathons would be a gradual, but relatively easy shift. More than a year after my last stage race (Jungle Ultra 2014) I'm still figuring out and working to improve my performance in the mountains. I have no doubt that I made the right decision and I'm enjoying every training session that I do (you can see from my pictures on Instagram how much fun I have!), however, I haven't found the consistency or a formula like the one that seemed to work so well for me in the past.

My results at my focus races for the year weren't great (Transgrancanaria, Lavaredo) and it seemed that every time I wrote a report I had learned more lessons and had more mistakes to resolve. I joked that I'd be quite happy with a race where I didn't learn anything and just ran a good race! While it was a frustrating process I learnt those lessons and started to develop a formula that felt like it would help me to achieve my goals. I still have a way to go and some kinks to iron out, but for the first time in a while I felt like I was running close to how I love to race at the Humani'Trail race in Les Diablerets.

Last year I did the same race and came fifth. It was a good run, a great first race in the mountains in Europe and a positive way to end out 2014. This year I felt excited, motivated and ready to put into practice all the changes and adjustments I had made over the summer in a familiar race. There would be the added advantage of racing on a route that I could compare to my previous result. I learned the route, chose my favourite racing gear, and approached the race with a more relaxed and less pressured mindset that I had in every other race this year.

Les Diablerets - a spectacular location for a race.
The Race

The Humani'Trail race is a two loop course (two different loops) for a total of 56km and 3600m of climbing. I think that it's a tough course as the climbs are concentrated on three steep ascents: one at the beginning of each loop and one right at the end of the race. There are amazing sections along ridges that allow for incredible views over the valleys below and far away into the Alps. As I become more familiar with this area it is becoming one of my favourite places to run.

On the first loop I had three objectives: to start near the front and not get caught in traffic on the first climb, to run my own pace and not get caught up with the other competitors starting too fast, and to eat enough so that I wouldn't have energy lows or crashes later in the race. These were all things that I had done incorrectly in other races this summer and that I needed to improve on in a race situation (which is a lot different to getting them right in training).

I managed to achieve these objectives, enjoy an incredible sunrise from the top of the first climb and arrive at the halfway checkpoint relatively near the front of the field. I didn't wear a watch and deliberately didn't follow how many people were ahead of me so that I wouldn't pressure myself to run faster in the first half of the race. It seemed to work well so I didn't ask any questions about my place or time at half way and just enjoyed seeing Vanessa and getting her help to restock on fuel.

Vers l'Eglise - from here the race heads straight up into the mountains.

Looking back towards Les Diablerets from Meilleret.

A lake and a cabin in the mountains during a race - awesome!

The Grand Chamossaire peak was one of the high points of the race.

Swing bridge with prayer flags showing solidarity with the race's charity.

The sections between high peaks were beautiful forest trails.

About to arrive at the half way point of the race.

On the second loop my objectives were to maintain my pace without slowing too much, to climb with a solid rhythm over the two large ascents, and to finish strong. I wasn't sure where I was relative to the other competitors and I couldn't see anyone in front or behind me so I was in the perfect position to run my own race. I took on the long and steep climb at the beginning of the loop and found a rhythm that seemed to be working. It was getting warm and I was starting to feel a little tired so I was pleased that I had eaten enough and run conservatively in the first loop.

Between the two significant climbs on this route was rolling, rooted and rocky terrain. Last year I struggled on this section and ended up running and walking and slowly walking more after each challenging little obstacle. This year I ran and kept up a good pace. I passed another runner which helped me to feel positive and motivated and I kept on rolling to Col du Pillon which is an aid station before the last climb of the day. Vanessa had driven up there to surprise me and that gave me another boost of motivation to keep doing a good job.

I knew how steep the last climb was and how slow it would seem to pass so I kept my head down, tried to click into the same rhythm as before and didn't look up until I was at the top. From there it was all downhill (mostly) to the finish (still about 10km away). I ran strongly and held a good pace focusing on not slowing down. I was super excited to arrive at the finish and achieve a third place result.

Steep mountains and tough climbs.

Another high point of the race with technical and rocky footing.

Running down towards Col du Pillon.

The climb to La Palette - it was steep!

Of course all the steep climbs end with the best views.

Long and winding descent down to the finish in the valley below.

This race was my first mountain ultra-marathon in Europe last year and I achieved my first podium result in a European race here this year. I couldn't be happier. Yet, when I looked at the time and compared it to last year I was even happier! I had run almost 40 minutes faster than last year and followed a race plan to perfection. I still have lots of work to do, lots of improvements to make, and those mistakes and errors I learned during the summer are not entirely resolved yet, but I am firmly on the path towards being a better runner. It's extremely rewarding to be back on the right track and I'm as motivated as ever.

Mountains, alphorns and on the podium. Yes!!
Race result: 7:13:01 and 3rd place.

Gear and Equipment

UVU clothing - vim t-shirt, stark tights and lightweight jacket
ZP compression - ankle socks and arm sleeves
32Gi - foodbars, chews, gels, g-shots (and some prototype salt tabs)
Mammut shoes - MTR 201 tech low