La Grande Traversee des Alpes 2008 Race Report - Day 2

Monday September 1
La Chapelle-d'Abondance to Samoens
45 km, 2130 meters climb

After an excellent dinner, a good night's sleep, and a nice breakfast, we were ready to begin again. Philippe had announced the starting groups, with the slowest third leaving at 7:00 a.m., the middle third departing at 7:30 a.m., and the speedsters leaving at 8:00 a.m. Group 1 included Christian J, Henri, Maria, Toni, Claude, Christiane, Helene, Hans, Antoine, and me. Group 2 generally was comprised of Sylvie, Gilles, Rodolphe, Bram, Erwin, Serge, Jean-Paul L, Jean-Paul C, David, Pierre I think, and the SOMFY relay runners. Group 3 consisted of Manu, Laurent B, Laurent J, Pascal, Sylvain, Bernard, Christian D, Christian P (I believe), and John.

I had been hoping to finish fast enough on day 1 to make it into the middle group, but I was on the bubble and bumped down to the slower group. Oh well, I made a run for it, now I can forget about that unimportant non-goal. John of course would be leaving last, so we would see each other somewhere on the course that morning. I always looked forward immensely to that.

GTA photo

We gathered in the gray dawn, Philippe told us to follow Philo who would be marking the first part of the course, and then we were off. I jogged into the lead, fairly confident about finding my way this morning.

I watched Philo pull off to the right, way before the turn I knew to be looking for. He was marking something, I figured maybe an "X" for "wrong way" so I continued on. I looked back and the rest of the group had stopped to discuss. About a kilometer later I found the trail markings and ran down across a creek. No one was even close to being in sight behind me. That is so weird, I thought.

Whatever, I got my trekking poles in gear and started speed-walking up the hill. I knew it would be a long climb, with several chances to get lost, but I had confidence in my memory of this section. Philo came up behind me and startled me - he also said that he had been marking an alternate trail section along the creek, that I was supposed to follow him. Whoops! Sorry about that. I guess if anyone had mentioned it in the briefing I would have paid more attention. I also would not have minded getting penalized for it (since my route was quicker), but Philippe isn't much into adding penalty times.

I followed Philo, double-checking his markings (he did much better than Philippe had done in 2006), and making my way upwards into the woods. It was a bit damp and slippery, then it started raining. Oh well, time to get wet. At least it wasn't cold. Maria and Toni found me somewhere here in the woods and we chatted a bit. Toni spoke almost no English or French (Maria was fluent in both), so I rattled off the 4-5 German words that I knew. Ein, zwei, drei, wiener schnitzel, strudel...

It was a long way up through wet bushes and over wet rocks. Finally we could hear cowbells and I knew we were getting close. Sure enough, there was the field. It was littered with cows. A couple bovines blocked the trail, so I walked confidently around them as they stared uncomprehendingly.

GTA photo

Maria and Toni went on ahead as I stopped to mix and drink a SPIZ serving. I could see someone from a later group just popping out into the field behind us. The rain had stopped or at least died down by then.

A bit more climbing and I was at the top. I was done with the biggest climb of the day, but with lots of distance still ahead, and I knew I still needed to take it easy in order to meet Goal #1.

I ran across the top of the field and started down toward the farmhouse below. I watched Maria and Toni make the same mistake I had made last time, while I managed to correctly locate the trail on my first try this year. They eventually made their way back to the trail where I was working my way down. If you get the sense that I tended to gloat too much about "knowing the way", well, it's true. It amused me and gave me something to focus on, but really wasn't good for the karma.

We found the dirt road at the bottom and started up the switchbacks and over to the long traverse on road. I looked back and was surprised not to see a bunch of runners streaming down the field behind us. There were maybe a couple bright jackets near the top. Last year John had passed me at the start of the dirt road. I was pleased that I would make it further this time before seeing him.

I ran well along the road, I believe passing Maria and Toni somewhere in here. Awhile later, finally several of the middle group runners came along. It might have been Erwin and Bram plus a SOMFY relay runner. SOMFY had two teams this time, with each person on the team running one stage before handing off to someone else that evening. Everyone said good morning and continued at his or her own pace.

I had just moved from road onto wet, sloppy trail when finally John zoomed on past. He said something about how well I was moving and who was right behind him. I dodged big puddles and slopped my way up the hill, moving aside for Manu and someone else in a bright jacket.

Up at the top the GTA van was stationed for the ravito. There was a flurry of activity, since the front of all three groups had arrived at basically the same time. I spoke with John briefly as we filled bottles, agreeing that the next section went up and not down like John tried to do in 2006. Everyone seemed in good spirits despite the damp and foggy weather.

GTA photo

The speed demons took off up the road and I followed with a bit less velocity. The road had a nice grade for speed-walking alternated with running. I liked to run 10 strides/walk 10 strides or some variation thereof depending on the slope. I focused on efficient use of my poles, with arms reaching forward instead of staying bent at my side.

I watched the trail signs and the faster runners going by. The scenery below, through bits of clouds, was really pretty. It was always nice to see things that I had missed last time. Maria, Toni, and I went back and forth a couple more times. The trail got a bit more technical near the top as we crossed into Switzerland, so I slowed to a walk. Maria mentioned something about it being good to run. Well, I have Goal #1 in my head, so walking is fine for now.

Sometime not long later, someone captured a nice picture of Claude coming down this section:

GTA photo

We passed a refuge next to a lake. Here is Christian D in that spot:

GTA photo

Without referencing my map, I followed other runners on the road around the left of the lake. Another runner, possibly Sylvain, took the trail on the right side. I watched and wondered if that would have been the faster way. John told me later there actually were GTA trail markings on the right side, although our map was marked around to the left.

GTA photo

I was thinking I might get to see someone go off course ahead of me after the next pass. This section tends to give people problems. And Pascal did indeed get really lost that day, although I didn't see it happen and I'm not sure where.

Instead it was just a normal boring jog down a hill with several runners passing me along the way.

GTA photo

GTA photo

We followed singletrack down to a refuge where I filled a SPIZ baggie and a bottle while everyone else went on ahead. Then there was the long, almost unending dirt road traverse. I was briefly alone (with time enough for a potty break) before another pack of runners gradually caught up with me.

GTA photo

GTA photo

We could see through the low clouds ahead of us to the next pass, Col de Coux, where we would cross back into France. I knew it would take a while to get there, and that the climb wasn't as bad as it looked.

GTA photo

Several guys and I found our way from road to trail and back to road again. I felt like I wasn't too much slower than they were, but I wondered why I hadn't seen Sylvie yet. Sure enough, I caught snippets of her voice as I approached the climb. Partway up she passed me, with Rodolphe and Gilles in tow. Hi everyone!

Over the col, down the other side. I was moving well down the hill, actually catching back up to Sylvie and the gang. Hmm, I must be going downhill too fast, but it felt like I was running in control and without too much pounding. We followed switchbacks, greeted someone coming back to the trail from making a wrong turn, and ran down to a gate where we would head off into a field.

GTA photo

Knowing approximately where to aim for, I followed red/white markings and we all stayed on track through a section that can be a bit tricky. But really pretty.

GTA photo

Then it was back into the woods toward the last climb of the day. A couple runners passed me for the second time, telling me that they had been lost. I think Day 2 will always be the most difficult day to navigate in the GTA.

I let everyone go because they were all climbing faster than I was. When I reached the last pass, Col de la Golese, I was alone once more. Well, actually I had not been alone much that day, but I never minded it either way. Here began the long, long run downhill that I had not been looking forward to.

It started with a scared sheep. This little sheep was on the dirt road, looking petrified. As I got closer it took off running ahead of me. Then it would look back to see me still coming toward it. More running. More big eyes. Finally it got smart and ran down into the field, and it seemed to be thinking, "phew, that was close." Strange little bugger.

Then there was just downhill running ahead of me. I worked on staying smooth and using my poles. I took an ibuprofen to try to ward off some of the swelling and rubbing inside my knees that I knew would be occurring. And I just tried to relax and enjoy the scenery on the way down.

I passed a trail sign and thought I read that it pointed to the right for the town of Samoens (our finish town for the day). Still high on my "I can find my way based on memories from two years ago" belief, I took the turn down to the right. It seemed a bit odd, going steeply down a rocky track. There were a couple footprints. I would have expected more. Then there was a creek crossing, THEN the trail went uphill on the other side. This just is not right.

I pulled out the map and figured out what I had done wrong. Stupid, stupid. I climbed back up, trying not to overexert or overreact. Back at the road I rechecked the sign. Yeah, that was an alternate way down - but not the GTA route.

Back on track, I soon discovered the pavement I had been SO not looking forward to. It made it easy to run smoothly, but impossible to use the poles. A potential shortcut that had been discussed in the briefing looked to be overgrown so I skipped it. Another shortcut was marked with "GTA pink" spray, so I gratefully followed it down a steep trail instead of the paved switchbacks.

Then the pink markings said to go back to the road, but too early for my liking. So I stayed on the trail (yeah, I'm a rebel). I realized that I might be missing a key turn-off, however, so I cut down to the road and walked back up to a trail intersection to make sure there was nothing there. Pink markings said, "stay on the road" and all was OK.

Further down the hill, a side journey took us on a trail through the trees. A very nice little run on singletrack. I came back to the main road and waved to Philo who was in a car checking the markings. More running on pavement. The day was getting a bit warm but not too bad.

I had a strange experience with the sun/clouds along this road. When a cloud came over I'd put my shades on top of my head. Immediately the sun would come out. Eventually I'd give up and put my shades over my eyes. Immediately a cloud would cover the sun. Finally I decided to beat the game and just keep my shades on my face, maybe that would keep the sun away. And it did. Very odd.

I followed flagging along a canal and then along the streets of Samoens. John was waiting at the finish, yay! We made it down, without any knee pain, still feeling relatively fresh. John had finished in second place behind Manu, moving him up to second place overall. Maria had finished 16 minutes ahead of me and now was less than 2 minutes behind me in the overall standings. Sylvie and crew found the same detour I had, but continued following it and came in a few minutes later. Since she had started 30 minutes after me, she gained another 24 minutes. Except that I'M NOT RACING, dammit, so I don't really care. Our times (mine and John's) were faster than in 2006 and that pleased both of us.

We hung out to watch other runners arrive. It had turned into a nice day and it was fun chatting with everyone.

GTA photo

We spent the night at a huge vacation house, complete with evening entertainment in the form of a guy singing and pretending to be Cole Porter.

John = 5:35:37 / 2nd among full-course runners (overall placing = 2nd)
Marcy = 7:58:22 / 21st among full-course runners (overall placing = 19th)