Trail des Aiguilles Rouges, 27 September 2015
I am not really sure what I should say to those who ask me whether I finished the 2015 Trail des Aiguilles Rouges (TAR) in Chamonix. On the one hand I know that I completed the course, and that the official results list me as finishing with a time of 11 hours 57 minutes, a ranking of 353 out of 642 starters. But on the other hand I also know that I missed the cut-off time at Planpraz (after 18.5km) by four and a half minutes and so was officially disqualified at that point. It might seem harsh, but those are the rules. Just because I decided to continue on the course “unofficially”, and just because, for some reason, the marshal neglected to remove my electronic timing tag, does that mean I should claim the finish? I will leave you to make your own decision.
|Trail des Aiguilles Rouges, worth it just for the scenery|
I had managed to convince two friends – James and Anthony – to join me in my attempt at the TAR, with the plan being that our wives would come out for the weekend in Chamonix and that the ladies would enter the 15km, 1,200m P’tit TAR on the same day. Sadly our team of six was reduced to four when James needed a major operation, and Sarah, my wife, damaged her ankle ligaments whilst training in Chamonix earlier in the summer. As it turned out, Sarah and James made the perfect support crew, and it would not have been possible without them.
|642 eager starters in Place de l'Eglise|
|Chamonix wakes to the dawn sun on Mont Blanc|
So what went wrong and why did we miss the cut-off time at Planpraz? First, with its steep gradients and altitude, to compete well on this course I believe you need to be comfortable climbing at pace. Anthony had certainly put in the work in training, but I think much of his running had been comparatively flat. In contrast, my 75km race in The Lake District in June, plus a week training in Chamonix in July, had put some serious vertical into my legs. This made a massive difference.
|The climb from Combe Lachenal to Col de Glière|
Second, we certainly misjudged the timing of the section before the missed cut-off. Not only were we slow climbing but we failed to make up time on the flat and downhill. We lost a lot of time on the flat section between Col de Glière and Col de Lac Cornu. The recent snowfall that remained on the north facing slopes had been polished hard and icy by the 600-plus pairs of feet that had passed ahead of us, making safe progress over the large boulders in the scree slopes extremely slow.
|Anthony at Col de Glière|
Third, we did not manage our pace well, and given that I knew the route better, I must take responsibility for this. I should have realised that we were tight on the cut-off and pushed us on harder at an earlier point. We only missed the cut-off by four and a half minutes – such a small amount of time in the context of a 12 or 13 hour race – and I am sure that if Anthony had got past Planpraz he would have made it to Servoz and probably even the finish. I had the next 7 hours to contemplate and regret that oversight.
So whilst Anthony ran down from Planpraz to Chamonix (a 5km, 1,000m descent in itself) where he was met by our efficient "domestiques", Sarah and James, I decided to continue on the course in an unofficial capacity.
|Climb to the Refuge de Moëde-Anterne with the Rochers des Fiz as a backdrop|
Driven on by anger at our "failure" and a desire to make the next check point at the Refuge de Moëde-Anterne ahead of the cut-off – thus ensuring that the marshals did not start removing the markers and closing the course on me – I set off on the climb to the Col du Brévent at a pace. I was soon overtaking many other competitors, all of whom were still "in the race", and realised I was feeling pretty strong. I raced down the other side to the Pont d'Arlevé, filling up water bottles from streams on the way – the day was getting hot and I did not want to run dry – and launched myself on the climb to the Refuge, arriving 30 minutes ahead of the next cut-off time. In the space of 10km and 2 hours I had moved from 611th to 541st and was feeling great. Given this I decided I might as well carry on pushing myself and see where I could get to.
|Competitors race past the Lac de Pormenaz on the way to the descent into Servoz|
|Climbing up past the Lac de Pormenaz|
I reached the Servoz checkpoint at 8 hours 45 minutes having made up another 93 places. I had suffered blisters from wet feet in a previous race, and after taking a shoe-full in one of the boggier sections by the Lac de Pormenaz, I decided to take preventative action by changing into dry socks at Servoz. Leaving the check point, I ran through the village and past the surreal sight of hundreds of cows waiting outside the church for their annual "Bataille des Reines", and headed to the last hill of the day.
|The long climb to Prarion|
|Sally-Anne and Rachel finishing the P'tit TAR|
The girls – Sally-Anne and Rachel – completed the P'tit TAR in 3:59:53, seven seconds inside a very tough 4-hour cut-off time and they were absolutely delighted. Despite their prior protestations that it was going to be just "a casual walk with friends, certainly no running", when they reached the peak in two and a half hours, their competitive instincts took over and they ran all the way down. Chapeau!
|About to collapse over the finish line|
- I “finished” in 11 hours 57 minutes in 353rd place out of 642 starters and 529 finishers
- My time was just under twice that of the winner (Matthieu Brignon) won came home in an extraordinary 6 hours and 19 minutes
- I was ranked 40th in my class of males over 50 – the cheek, I was “only” 49 years and 363 days!
- My GPS recorded a distance of 53km, 4,022m of vertical ascent
- The equivalent flat distance was over 85km
- Strava tells me I burned 5,900 calories versus 1,600 consumed in gels and bounce balls
- Whilst the field was predominantly French, 12 countries were represented with good a showing from Switzerland and Belgium, and 18 Brits