La Grande Traversee des Alpes 2008 Race Report - Day 11

Wednesday September 10
Larche to Roya
52 km, 2850 meters climb

We were nearing the end - not close enough to sense it yet, but close enough for me to get edgy. Anything could go wrong after all this work, jeopardizing my one remaining chance to finish this thing once and for all. Illness, injury, knees giving up... we had tried to improve our odds but you can never be completely sure until it's all over. I wanted to relax and enjoy every piece of this experience, but I couldn't completely do so.

Maybe I was just stressed because day 12 (the day of DOOM in 2006) was approaching.

The start times bounced back to the "later" version, so we'd get moving at 7 a.m. today. Except that we were told we needed to travel by groups to the entrance of the Mercantour Park. Francesco was going to take photos of each group, and I guess the scenery was better over there?

Philippe had asked if I was OK with that, since I'd probably lose some time to group 2. Well, it's obviously my choice to stay with the first group, so yes, I was fine with it. I did grumble a bit under my breath when it turned out that our group would be WALKING the 5 kilometers at the start. But OK, it was a nice chance to talk with several runners that I hadn't really gotten to know yet, and also listen to Nathalie talk about the UTMB race.

I found out later that all three groups walked those 5 kilometers - I don't know why or how that decision was made, but to me it was a touching gesture of solidarity.

Group 2 on the road:

GTA Photo

Group 3 camaraderie:

GTA Photo

Things rather fell apart as we neared the park - a couple people stopped to use the bathroom, others wandered on ahead, finally Henri saw the photographer and said "Let's go," so he and I started jogging. I'm not sure we got a "group" photo, but we were sort of all in the same area at the same time. Oh well!

We passed a marmot town very close to the road. Also a patou dog, but he didn't bother us (see John's video for footage of an up-close patou encounter).

I've determined that I'm a huge rodent fan - aren't they just so cute?

GTA Photo

Finally it was time to run again. The trail was nice and gradual for a while:

GTA Photo

Henri wasn't far behind when we started climbing up a steeper rocky section. I like the Mercantour - the topography is dramatic even if it's quite dry. Except for an occasional lake, like this one that I'm partial to:

GTA Photo

I followed the GR5 marks without too much trouble, eventually passing a huge group of hikers and then running across a rocky little drainage toward a second lake. I was the first person in that area this morning, so when I turned the corner and saw a large herd of sheep, my "patou sense" went on alert.

GTA Photo

Sure enough, I heard a dog start to bark. But he was far away, so I picked up the pace and took aim for the trail on the other side of the valley. Once I gained the high ground, I looked back to see a white shaggy streak tearing toward the trail. That should be fun for everyone else, but I'm outta here.

One more short climb up toward the Pas de la Cavale:

GTA Photo

Today we would do several shorter climbs and descents. The next drop took us down into a strange, quiet valley with interesting topography. I tried to watch my feet going down the slippery rocks while stealing glances around me.

GTA Photo

I passed an abandoned cabin at the bottom, knowing this time not to look for water there.

GTA Photo

I made quick work of the 200-meter switchbacked climb on the other side, but someone was keeping pace. I had assumed it was Henri, but when I finally looked back I saw David. Nice work this morning, David!

John coming up this section later:

GTA Photo

Looking back into the valley:

GTA Photo

Dropping down the other side, I followed my map and what I knew from my previous time here - that the trail is faint near the top, but you just want to get straight down. In order to do so, I had to ignore an obvious red/white marker that I guess I should try paying attention to next time. It appears the GR5 has been rerouted here.

I crossed several switchbacks and found my way down to a small town with a drinking fountain. That's a good place for a SPIZ prep.

Later on, Bram and John met up near this spot:

GTA Photo

Starting up the road on the other side, I stopped to drink the SPIZ and looked back to see David finishing the descent. No sign of anyone else up above us yet. A bit of road and trail led up to the Col de la Colombiere.

The descent down to the ravito in St Dalmas-le-Selvage was rather long (over 800 meters) and required going way to the left before coming back way to the right so you could see people above and below most of the way. Partway down I stopped for a cookie break and to greet David running past me. I was quite concerned about the number of downhills in this stage, so I took it very easy down this one.

GTA Photo

I caught a glimpse of fast-moving color coming my way - good morning, Laurent! He was looking good, leading the way into the ravito. I eventually made it to town as well, but couldn't find the ravito initially. After one circle I figured out that the ravito was lower down than expected, finally finding the markings leading down to it.

I enjoyed some dates and Coke while watching Laurent head up the next hill. I might have passed David here, I'm not quite sure, but soon I was on my way again.

A gentle road wound up the hill toward the Col d'Anelle, through the woods, then over toward the next descent. This one was "only" 600 meters down, but I was really not looking forward to it. I remembered it being steep and too smooth, which was the type of downhill I didn't enjoy. I hoped one ibuprofen would be enough to make it relatively painless.

I could see the bottom almost from the start of the descent - but I had determined that I wasn't going to look. It always seems so close but takes so long to get there! Here is what someone else's camera saw:

GTA Photo

The top switchbacks started out fine. By the time the trail turned straight downhill to cut across the road switchbacks, I had some knee ache but mostly kept everything under control. Same strategies, vary things as much as necessary, stay relaxed and calm. Nothing about this was fast, but I finally made it down to St Etienne-de-Tinee.

The day was turning into a warm one, so when I found a good water fountain, I climbed up onto the side of it to sit for a bit. This was a great spot to put cold water on my head, on my knees, and in my SPIZ baggie.

While I was playing around, John and a SOMFY runner burst around the corner - hi guys! They were more in a hurry than I was, but soon we were all moving through the colorful buildings toward the other side of town.

GTA Photo

Starting the climb up toward Auron, I noticed David again below me. Vincent caught up and joined us for the steep, steep ascent. The SOFMY runner wasn't doing so well anymore, but we told him he had lots of time, just take it easy.

In his defense, this climb is really tough. All things considered, it might be the hardest uphill we would face those two weeks. Extremely steep, unrelenting, sometimes slippery, with no way to tell how far you still have to go. Vincent, David, and I all seemed to take it in stride, just another uphill on just another GTA day.

Very close to the top, David came to a halt in front of me, practically frozen in place. I thought he was looking at his map, so I was going to reassure him about our route, but no. He was just taking a break, looking a bit stunned to have finished such a climb.

Vincent and I continued to the streets of Auron, talking for a while as we ran downhill on pavement (luckily not too far) and then across to the bottom of the ski area. Vincent went on ahead as I followed not quite as quickly. I looked back to see Pascal moving well. Lots of company today, excellent.

Partway up the final climb of the day (yay!) I stopped to pick a couple raspberries and greet Pascal. We went up through the woods, then popped out onto a big ski run. Pascal was on ahead of me, staying on the ski run, but I was pretty sure there was a trail that cut across here somewhere. I had missed it last time - there it was!

After climbing up more trail, I found the ski run again and saw Pascal going up the trail on the other side. He was soon gone from sight, while I stopped at the top to take in a cookie and one last ibuprofen. This was another difficult descent, one that kicked me in the butt last time.

GTA Photo

Things seemed to be going OK this time, so I was grateful. I could still run most of it, not super-fast, but not fighting gravity either. My knees complained only slightly.

However, my right foot started giving me problems. I felt twinges of pain along the top, near my ankle. This was new. And concerning.

Gilles passed me on this final descent - go Gilles! He was looking great, running stronger every day and passing me in the overall standings. You can never predict who will end up suffering and who will end up adapting and turning into a stage race machine.

I made my way down, trying to avoid some briars and trying not to fall on some loose rocks. It was more of a hobble by the end, but still a much better finish this year (9 1/2 instead of 12 hours!). A decent day, with 20 minutes gained on Sylvie, and my knees were hanging in there.

My foot, however, was a problem. It was actually giving me difficulty with basic things like walking up the stairs. I described it to John, trying not to panic. He told me that he previously had something very similar due to tight shoelaces, and he had fixed it by redoing the lacing.

So there was hope. John performed surgery on my right shoe, taking the Salomon lacing down one notch so I could still tighten it but not as high on my ankle. I was having a hard time believing that this was happening right before day 12, previously known as the day of DOOM, but I tried to focus on getting myself prepared for the next day and not freaking out.

Anyway, John had a good run (yay John!) and was feeling fine. We had a very nice dinner at the gite, complete with pie and sparklers for Jean-Paul's birthday!

GTA Photo

GTA Photo

John = 7:15:20 / 2nd among full-course runners (overall placing = 2nd)
Marcy = 9:29:02 / 11th among full-course runners (overall placing = 11th)