Sunday, July 29, 2012

European Ponderings (and Wanderings) en Route to the FrenchChampionship Series' Manigod Kilometre Verical

Starting with the end in mind, this was the final outcome: 2nd at the Kilometre Vertical Manigod. I was happy with the result in the strong competition. I'd love it if we could create some of these races in the US. Gaining over 3,000' in a straight shot uphill (probably about two miles) is a good experience.

Many thanks, as always, to the people and products at Team Merrell, Zanfell, Yeti, CamelBak, Squirt Lube, and other past and present sponsors, who make it possible for me to make the most of life by training and racing around the world. These companies make excellent products, and their support is appreciated.

A week after the JJ Memorial bike ride (nothing like following Greg Krause's wheel for a good workout), I tested my mettle again in XTERRA triathlon at the Mountain Championship in Beaver Creek. Two lessons:
1. These guys are good!
2. I could s some work getting to the bike.
My mile swim, at 24 minutes, was not horrendous by most standards, but I still lost over five minutes to many of the pros. I tried to hang with the age-groupers who passed me after starting two minutes behind, but Tim Hola and his compatriots were very fast as well! TA1 brought a hectic wrestling match with my wetsuit, and I was very thankful to finally find myself climbing the steep hill up Beaver Creek Resort.

Meandering through a whole bunch of strong swimmers and female pros brought me to a long stretch in no-man's land, and I finally contacted a few male pros at the end of the ride. Ski resort bike rides at high altitude are a good fit for me, and I had fun.

The up-and-down terrain of the run was also nice, and I gained more spots to finish 9th. I have been enjoying the XTERRAs and the community, and I hope to continue with pool work so I can mix it up with the top guys.

Congrats to Josiah Midduagh and Sara Tarkington, who both crushed it to finish 2nd. Thanks to Adam Plumber, who saved me with a wheel the night before the race...and to the Specialized Mechanic who adjusted my deraileur at about 9:00 p.m. when I was really in a spot! Touching base with DeWett, South African inventor of Squirt Lube (truly worth its weight in gold) was a nice post-race treat.

So were the hamburger, hot dog, cookie, chips, and three recovery drinks I downed on the way home as I raced to get ready to pack for the flight the next day.

The primary purpose of our European journey was to prepare for and compete in the Manigod Kilometre Vertical, an uphill running race in the French Alps that represents one leg of the country's Championship Series. Gaining over 3000' in one short, straight-up push was an alluring challenge, and I was excited to experience the tough Euro competition.

Ponderings arose for Amy and I as we wandered through London, Saas-Fee, Zermatt, Saas-Grund, Leukerbad, Aix-les-bains, and Las Clusaz...
What, exactly, was Wyatt up to back at home?
How aggressive are Swiss cows?
Is it possible to overdose on Nutella and bread?
Is there anything the Swiss CAN'T build?
Why would anyone run downhill, anyway?
How come European coffees are so darn small? And tasty?
Is there a reason every restaurant in Switzerland has the same menu?
Why does typing a blog entry on an iPhone while riding a bus on a tiny, windy Swiss road make you so nauseous?
Where exactly does my running race start?

Nothing announces the start of a European journey like purchasing a loaf of bread and jar of Nutella. Almost two weeks of relying on these vittles as my primary caloric source has seen me ready for a bit of a break, and, thankfully, the races here do not test for Nutella levels in blood.

The Swiss can, indeed, build anything, anywhere.

Hohsaas Huitte. Not a bad spot to spend the night in a mountain hut.

Saas-Fee. Cheaper than Zermatt, but just as cool.

Leukerbad. You get a free trip down the cable car if you can run up Gemmi Pass (about 3000' vertical) in less than 70 minutes. I made it in 45, and was stoked to get back to town in time for a second breakfast. Hotels have no idea what they're in for when they include meals with the price.  The run up the other side of the valley out of Leukerbad was not bad either. Cows crowding the trail on the way up were loud but nice.  Thanks to Brandy and Matt Erholtz for the skinny on the secret deal for running up with a free trip down!

Took the lift down, again. Running is a lot more fun and less painful when you don't have to go down the hill!

Frog legs? Yep. They're actually pretty good.

Big Ben. We got re-routed through London and had to spend and evening checkin out the city. No sleep for 30 hours, but totally worth it.

Amy had fun at Buckingham Palace.

Getting to the starting line for the big race became quite an adventure. We stayed in La Clusaz, a storied French mountain town surrounded by classic Tour de France climbs: Col des Aravis, Col des Maddrassier, Col de la Colombier, Col des Croix de Fry, etc. Croix de Fry became our rival for the day when we took a bus to the Col, hitchhiked down the other side to Manigod, discovered that the race started back at the top (where we were an hour ago), hitchhiked back up (now in the domain of bikes rather than buses), showed photos of Wyatt to the nice French couple driving us, and finally made it to the start.

The next adventure came with what turned into a two hour warmup full of anxiety about missing the race. Unsure exactly where or when (I thought it was 6pm, but everyone was still in line to sign up at that time) the race actually started, I down a hill towards what I thought was the course. And down, and down, and down. At about 6:15, I began worrying that the race started far below and everyone else was driving there, so I began to run. If the racers passed me on their way up the course, I considered, would I just hop in, or would I go all the way to the start and turn around? Now at a full gallop, I finally caught the young man, below, who became my savior for the start. He also had a race number (thank goodness--I must be somewhat on track), and was leisurely strolling down the hill. After a few minutes of our French-English mess of a discussion, I discerned that we were actually at the start (marked merely by a cone on a remote dirt road), and that the other racers would be running down to the start together after the race meeting at 6:30. Well, I guess I missed the race meeting.

Twenty minutes later, worry spike again as I continued my warmup (almost two hours now...extra training, I guess) and saw no other runners. My buddy had wandered off for more running, and I really was alone on a random road. When my new friend returned, I asked about ten times of he was sure this was the start, and he insisted. He seemed like a trustworthy and enthusiastic young man, so I stayed there. Plus, my only other option was to invent a starting line, take off from there, time myself, and pretend I did the race.

I had at least five minutes left before enacting said plan when the other runners finally showed up. Initial relief was washed away by finding myself at the very back of the field as people crept to an unmarked start. I darted around and through some bushes as the countdown ensued, wondering if these were the French version of stinging nettles.

They were, but burning quads soon overtook stinging calves and shins as we headed up the hill.

The race itself was pretty simple: run/hike full speed for about 38 minutes. Given the chance, I will definitely use Nordic ski poles for another race like this.

Here's some footage from the uphill running race. The flat section shown was a short reprieve of about 400 meters after one third of the race; the remainder involved a gradient around that seen here.

Back to good old Colorado (the Alps are nice, but this is not half bad), attention turns to the Ordos Adventure in Chinese Mongolia in August and the Wulong Mountain Quest in China in October.

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