Trail Vallée de Joux

I spend a lot of time training in the Jura. I love the forests and there are more than enough climbs to do some hard training while still running and keeping a good pace. Most of the photos I share are from Jura in the zone between Col du Mollendruz and Col du Marchairuz - here are a few examples and you can see even more here.

A photo posted by Daniel Rowland (@danielwrowland) on


A photo posted by Daniel Rowland (@danielwrowland) on


A photo posted by Daniel Rowland (@danielwrowland) on


Last weekend was the Trail Vallée de Joux race that followed a lot of the trails that I usually train on so I couldn't resist entering the race to finish off my summer season. The race was 54km with 2647m of climbing. It started in L'Abbaye next to the Lac de Joux, climbed up to Dent de Vaulion and then Châtel, before descending to Montricher, climbing to Mont Tendre and finally following a long loop past Crêt de la Neuve before descending to the finish at Le Sentier. A very cool loop that takes in some of the best trails through this section of the Jura.

My plan for the day was to build on the good race I had at Les Diablerets a couple of weeks ago, to enjoy racing on trails I know well and to finish the summer race season with a solid effort. Happily I managed to achieve all three objectives and have an amazing time. I ran a good race with a time much faster than I had anticipated and came in third overall.

A cool and foggy morning at Col du Mollendruz.

I was running in 4th place here about an hour after the start.

Lots of forest trails around Châtel and Montricher.

Leading after the descent from Châtel to Montricher.

Lots of fog and wind on the ridge and at Mont Tendre.

At Col du Marchairuz at about 33km.

Crêt de la Neuve was the final ascent before lots of downhill to the finish.

A beautiful autumn day at the finish in Le Sentier.

Happy to finish in 3rd.

The podium.

Race result: 5:29:47 and 3rd place.

Gear and Equipment

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

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

Chamonix and the CCC route

After a great week in Zermatt, Joel, Joe and I headed over to Chamonix to continue our trail running and training camp. It was the week before UTMB so there were plenty of runners over there and the atmosphere in town was incredible. I could feel the intensity and excitement in the air and I loved seeing all the runners doing their final preparations for the race.

We did a couple of training runs early in the week from Chamonix on some classic routes. First from Chamonix up to Plan d'Aiguille and back. Second from Chamonix to Plan Praz to La Flégère and back down to Chamonix. The weather was tough on the first day, however, it cleared after that and the views were incredible making for perfect running weather.

A perfect photo spot between Plan Praz and La Flégère.
Looking over Chamonix to Mont Blanc.

Running the CCC route

As a last long training run before his race at the end of the month Joel wanted to do a back-to-back with some good mileage. I would like to run UTMB (Ultra Trail Mont Blanc) or CCC (Courmayeur, Champex-Lac, Chamonix) next year so we decided to run the CCC route over two days. We chose Wednesday and Thursday last week which was the day before the actual CCC race so the course was mostly marked and we didn't have to find our own way around the route.

CCC route day 1

We started early and caught the bus from Chamonix through the Mont Blanc tunnel to Courmayeur. It's an easy 45min journey (€15) and we arrived in Courmayeur to beautiful warm weather.

The first part of the day was a perfect start to an incredible journey. The sun was just peaking up and we could see the sheer faces of the Alps and Mont Blanc looming above us. We ran to rifugio Bonatti and rifugio Bertone along the smooth and runnable trails that wind up the valley. It was pretty easy going and we set a decent pace.

Monte Bianco from the Italian side of the mountain.

Some abandoned building after rifugio Bonatti.

The big challenge of the day came after the two refugios. The climb up Grand Col Ferret. This climb is the high point on the route and marks the border between Italy and Switzerland. We diligently worked our way up and were rewarded with some brilliant views back down the valley and of glaciers in the mountains.

Joel showing me the climb up Col Grand Ferret.

Looking back towards Courmayeur from Col Grand Ferret.

The TMB route is well marked everywhere we went.

Descending on the Swiss side of the col we felt that we had worked up a pretty good hunger after a few hours of running. We stopped at La Peule and had the hugest sandwiches I've ever seen. The lady in the rifugio pulled out a circle of cheese when we made our order and cut us thick slabs of cheese to put in 3cm centimetre thick slices of bread. It was one of the simplest and best sandwiches ever!

A long descent from La Peule to La Fouly.

The beautiful little town of La Fouly.

The last part of our day was a long descent (about 20km) into Switzerland and then a short, sharp climb to Champex-Lac. Joel and I made a good pace on the descent, fuelled by our huge sandwiches, and hiked up to Champex-Lac. It was a warm and sunny evening and a treat to arrive in Champex-Lac to stay the night.



CCC route day 2

The second half of the CCC route is definitely the most difficult. It is essentially three big climbs and three big ascents from Champex-Lac to Chamonix. We left out cosy BnB next to the lake after a huge breakfast (more tremendous slices of Swiss cheese and bread) to face the day.

The first of the three climbs goes past Bovine and over to Col de la Forclaz and then to the aid station at Trient. It was a beautiful morning with the sun rising and bringing warmth in the mountains. We climbed gradually and slowly increased the pace as the day warmed up. The descent was longer than I remembered from a run here once before, but the trails were smooth and fun going.

An early morning start.

Enjoying the view in the Swiss Alps.

The second climb was up from Trient to Catogne and over to Vallorcine. I've run this climb quite a few times and feel familiar with it. It's a steep grind at first then becomes more runnable terrain with views down the valley towards Maritgny and later over the railway line of the Mont Blanc Express train railway line on the border between Switzerland and France. Knowing the climb helped a lot because I was starting to feel tired and the fatigue and discomfort were creeping into my legs. That could only mean one thing: time for a lunch break in Vallorcine!

Great view from the climb to Catogne.

All mountain trails and fortunately all downhill to Vallorcine.

From Vallorcine the final push is up and over Tete Aux Vents to Chamonix. We were going slow and feeling tired and the thought of just wanting the run to be over had started to creep into our minds. You can see by the fact that I only have one good photo from that section that I was starting to get tired. I don't think the section was especially tough, rather that it came at the end of two long days. I'd love to run it again fresh and learn the climb and what it feels without so many miles in the legs.

Two glaciers in the view from Tete Aux Vents!!

Running into Chamonix was an amazing feeling. We had completed our goal, had two fun days on the trail and were ready for some well earned rest and food.

Running in Zermatt

My friends Joel and Joe came over to Switzerland and France for a few weeks. They were here to run the Matterhorn Ultraks race and for Joel to complete a block of training before he races at Tor des Geants next month. I joined them for the training in Zermatt and had an incredible week exploring the trails and learning about this spectacular area in Switzerland.

Zermatt is a beautiful town nestled in the Alps in the canton of Valais. In winter it's a skiing hot spot, in summer there are plenty of great hikes and running routes, and all year there are plenty of tourists visiting to see the amazing views of the Matterhorn. I loved the fact that the town is car-less as it seems so much more friendly, calm and peaceful (we left our car at the parking station in Tasch and took the train to Zermatt).

The town of Zermatt with the Matterhorn in the background.

During the week we did plenty of running and hiking up the steep climbs. Joel and Joe had a great race and I had an awesome time supporting them and cheering on the other runners. A couple of highlights were the runs we did up to the Hörnlihütte and to Gornergrat. Here are some of the pictures and details from those two routes.

Hörnlihütte and Trockener Steg

The Hörnlihütte is situated on the north-eastern ridge of the Matterhorn at 3260m. It has recently been renovated and was closed until July 2015 so we were lucky to get a chance to go in and enjoy the new look and facilities of the hut. This is the last point that climbers go before putting on their serious climbing gear to make a summit push. It also has the best views of the Matterhorn when the weather is clear.

We set out on a cloudy day and hoped that either the clouds would clear or the hut would be above the clouds. Unfortunately neither of those happened and we climbed in thick cloud over snowy trails until we arrived at the hut. It may have been even more welcoming in those dire conditions as we were in desperate need of something hot to drink and a chance to rest and warm up.

After Schwarzsee it was serious conditions with snow and icy winds.

Some serious winter gear needed here!

Snow and steel walkways don't make for good footing...

Can you see the Matterhorn behind me??!

The renovated Hörnlihütte was very impressive and cosy.

On the return we decided to go over to Trockener Steg to follow the Matterhorn Glacier Trail and also see the glaciers. While we did get a glimpse of a glacier it was mostly fog and white out conditions for most of the run. At one point we were lost and followed a winter ski sign that almost took us over into Italy!

The trails here were fantastic and I had an amazing time. It would be one of the best trails I've ever run on if it had been clear and the views were available, but it was still enjoyable despite the poor weather.



Gornergrat

Gornergrat is the rocky ledge in the alps overlooking the Gorner Glacier. There is a hotel at the top that looks like a movie villain's lair and the viewpoints offer breath-taking vistas of the glacier. This high point above Zermatt (at 3135m) can be reached by the highest open-air railway in Europe or on foot which is obviously the way we chose to go!

Joel and Joe setting the pace in the forest at the start.

Plenty of power-hiking on this route!

More climbing and uphill!!

The trail was well marked all the way and the only real obstacle was that it was all climbing from Zermatt to the top. We made good time and while the clouds of our previous adventure to the Hörnlihütte hadn't all blown away, it was a much clearer day. The hard work was worth it when we arrived at the top as the Gorner Glacier was extremely impressive and beautiful.

The Gorner Glacier.

Tourist photo at the top :)

The Kulm hotel at the top of Gornergrat.

The descent back to Zermatt was a fast and fun run all the way with only the occasional stop to take a picture of some of the local sheep grazing.

The alpine sheep weren't enjoying the views as much as we were.

This was a great run and definitely recommended. It would also be a great trip on the train and a good stop for lunch as the restaurant in the hotel looked like it was serving amazing food (better than the gels and bars we had carried with us anyway!).


The Matterhorn is the biggest attraction to this area and is visible from Zermatt, but also from further away places like Bettmeralp near the Aletsch Glacier. It is so distinct and stunning.

Clouds on the peak are typical most of the year.

We had one day with perfect clear views of the Matterhorn.

During the trip I posted some photos on Instagram (@danielwrowland) and Joel and Joe also shared there pictures with the #TopTimesTrip tag because we were having such a good time!