La Grande Traversee des Alpes 2008 Race Report - Day 7

Saturday September 6
Pralognan to Valfrejus
38 km, 1930 meters climb

Day 7, ah yes, the last "easy" day of the race. The profile was similar to Day 5 (up, big down, up) but shorter. In 2006 I had taken it easy to rest up for the big day following this one. And the huge downhill into Modane had really taken a toll on my knees. I was hoping/planning to change both this time around.

Maria and Toni decided they were done running, I'm not sure why. The rest of our group gathered at 7:00 a.m., along with Serge and David who were having issues and wanted some extra time.

GTA Photo

Philippe led the way again, putting marks on the pavement to keep us on track. We took a different path out of town than I was used to (on the right side of the river instead of the left) and I asked Philippe to add a verification marking at one point because my instinct had been to turn toward the old route. I had fun keeping up with Philippe and chatting with him.

Philippe wished me "bon course!" as the route took off up an obvious dirt road, complete with GR55 markings again. I knew the way, I knew the climb, I was ready to rock. I was also all alone, and very quickly this morning.

The dirt road undulated a bit then rejoined the main road past a bunch of parking areas. Looks like a popular place to start a hike. And with good reason, based on the scenery around me. I'm sure I sound like a broken record, but I do love these beautiful places.

I ran across a bridge over the creek and up a decent rise. More dirt road, nothing to see but the gorgeous mountains above me and some cows alongside me.

Bernard and Pierre making their way up this road:

GTA Photo

Sylvain and glacier scenery:

GTA Photo

Mooove it, mister:

GTA Photo

I was in "hustle mode" now, passing up a couple early-morning hikers. Then I had the great fortune of spotting a fox running across the road not far ahead of me. Awesome! Marmots were whistling not far off, they probably didn't think the fox spotting was so awesome.

I geared up for the steep climb ahead. Time to really work the poles. Here is Pascal demonstrating the slope:

GTA Photo

I passed near a refuge but didn't take the time to run over there for water this year. I had more capacity in my pack, and I was also drinking less than last time. Enough to stay hydrated but not so much that I had to pee all the time.

A small trail took off from the road and I found it easily, moving quickly to get over the next rise. It was an easy turn to miss, but generally not a big deal if you are paying attention to your map. Another trail led south from the refuge and soon joined this one. However, if you pass both of them up, which Laurent apparently did later, you will eventually find the Lac Blanc and lose a decent amount of time.

More climbing, following marks on rocks, approaching the high point of the whole GTA course - 2796 meters at the Col de Chaviere.

GTA Photo

I remembered *something* strange about the area up here, but I could not recall exactly what. Then I saw it - a whole herd of cairns lining the path. Yep, that is pretty strange!

GTA Photo

A group of hikers watched me go by. As I was scrambling up large rocks and making decent progress, one of the hikers told me I looked like a gazelle. Um, I know that was a compliment and all (merci!) but I'm having a hard time visualizing a gazelle hopping from rock to rock. Ah well, take it where you can get it!

The col was in sight. One last scramble up a rocky trail to the top - fun!

GTA Photo

The view looking back to the north (someday we should run this thing in the opposite direction):

GTA Photo

I picked my way down the initial descent into a nice field. I passed a huge troop of junior military-type kids and took a right turn at a trail intersection. It was a beautiful day and I was feeling fine so far. The view looking back to the Col de Chaviere:

GTA Photo

I stopped briefly to check tasks off my mental list as quickly as I could: Take an ibuprofen (for the upcoming steep downhill), eat a cookie, move water from my backup bottle to my drinking bottle, take a pee. Speed was at the front of my mind today.

Continuing on, I followed a meandering and slightly rocky path leading to the edge of the Parc de la Vanoise. Some good pole action and rock dancing ("footing and poles, footing and poles") helped me make good time.

Christian P coming down this section later (this was his last day on the trail):

GTA Photo

I sneaked a peak at the pretty waterfalls to the right, trying to soak in the scenery bit-by-bit while still focusing on not falling over.

GTA Photo

Then I was in the woods (already?) and having a blast with the gentle, smooth trail above a noisy creek. What a fun little section, if you're feeling good. Soon I popped out of the trees and spotted the houses where the ravito van (manned by a friend of Philippe's) would be waiting.

GTA Photo

I ran up to the van and got some great help from the ravito guy. He filled my bottles while I filled a SPIZ to put in my pack and ate as much as I could. I turned around to see John run up - hey, cool! Just as we were leaving, Vincent (who started running today and who would join us for the second week) ran toward us, looking strong.

I jogged out with John, explaining that I had not seen Laurent. John decided Laurent must have made a wrong turn (which disappointed John but didn't make me feel all that bad). We crossed a road and started down the steep trail toward Modane, John running on ahead.

This next section was one big pain in the knees. At least it was last time. For every step that didn't hurt, I was very thankful. A bit further down I ran into John again, trying to locate the trail. I asked "what about this marking next to this house?" and sure enough, that was the way. Hi again, bye again! John mentioned that his knees were doing OK so far too.

It was steep, steep, steep, and did I mention steep? I did a few things to try to counteract it, including quick side steps and lots of poling. Something was working, maybe the ibuprofen, but it was not nearly as painful as I had expected. It was still a long ways down, but then I was at the bottom and no worse for wear. Yay!

In the streets of Modane, Vincent caught up with me and we chatted briefly. He veered off to fill a water bottle in a fountain while I ran on, down across the Arc river and past buildings and curious stares of onlookers. The GTA markings started there, helping us find the way along railroad tracks and under the highway up toward the hills.

I was ready for more iPod music magic. Mambo No. 5 - yes! What a great way to start. Tubthumping by Chumbawamba added fuel to the fire and I took off like a rocket. It helps when you can't hear that you're breathing hard :)

Vincent followed me up the hill but not as rocket-like and eventually I was alone again. Steep upward steps, a smooth flat run, it was all good as long as the music was moving me along. Someone had marked "Go John!" in pink at one turn on the road, that made me laugh out loud. Further on, Laurent got some spray-painted encouragement, and this continued up the hill with many of the GTA runners getting singled out with "allez!" Whoever had marked the way was having fun today.

I was in the woods on a dirt road when I recognized a turn that I was pretty sure led to a hard uphill climb. Hmm, that wasn't so bad. Then I turned another slight corner and saw the REAL uphill. OK, that had been worth storing in my brain for two years. It took a bit of Kelly Clarkson in my ears, but I powered up with gusto.

A bit of road-running, then back to the trails. Laurent came roaring by me (yes, I was running fast, but not THAT fast!) looking intent and practically sprinting up a hill. He was completely out of sight in about 2 seconds, amazing.

I came around a corner to find the chapel of Notre Dame de Charmaix, very pretty. We got to run right under it, and I appreciate whoever built the trail this way. Here is Philippe trying to stay ahead of John (he didn't succeed):

GTA Photo

Very quickly now, I headed into the Valfrejus ski village. I was glad to remember that the gite is all the way on the other side of town (it's the very last building just past the "exiting town" sign, actually). It wasn't time for a finishing sprint yet. Just more fast running, as Pink sang the oh-so-appropriate "I'm ... comin' up, so you better get this party started." Then she moved on to "...where I can run, just as fast as I can, to the middle of nowhere, to the middle of my frustrated fears" and ohmygosh, I really was almost at a sprint now. Except I was on a solid uphill slope so I doubt I was really sprinting, but I WAS giving it everything I had. Is that really smart? I don't know, and I didn't care.

Finally I saw the gite where John was waving and cheering! I climbed the last little hill and collapsed on the finish line. Must...breathe...must...breathe. That was SO MUCH FUN :)

I recovered and ate food and talked with John for a while. He had won his first stage, congratulations! He gained 10 minutes back on Laurent, keeping him within half an hour overall. And somehow, I can't explain how, I ended up beating a bunch of people for my best placing of the whole 2 weeks. I was finally ahead of Sylvie. I wondered whether I would stay ahead of her, but figured that anything can happen.

We cheered in the rest of the runners, and then moved inside to cheer from our balconies when it started to rain.

GTA Photo

Well, the first week is finished, that went really well. Now it was time for the real work to begin. As I told Erwin later, the course can lull you into complacency, make you feel like "I can do this, no problem", and then day 8 hits you - wham!, and you realize that it's far from over.

My knees were doing OK, so I was hopeful they would hold out long enough to finish this thing. We had plenty of time that day, so John and I both got our legs massaged for the first time. Nice. I also started rubbing an anti-inflammatory gel called Flector on my knees each evening and morning.

Some folks were asking why I was starting in the first group when I really belonged in the second one. I wondered if it was mostly Sylvie driving these questions because she'd probably prefer to be able to watch me instead of trying to chase a ghost. On the other hand, I was really enjoying running at the front of the entire pack for half the day, which was such a huge change from running at the very back for half the day last time. Plus I liked starting earlier when it was cooler. So I was not all that excited about moving groups.

Philippe asked me who reached the ravito first, so I told him that three of us were there at the same time, and Laurent would have been first if he had not gotten lost. I guess Philippe was exploring the question of whether he needed to open the ravito early just for me. For now, I would continue to start in the first group, and the question would remain unresolved.

We had an "End of Week 1" celebration that night. Several week-1 runners had finished what they had set out to do and they would be going home tomorrow. This included Christian P, Hans, Christiane, and Pierre. Manu, Laurent J, and Jean-Paul C also elected to stop here. 26 of us would continue on, including newcomer Vincent and the two SOMFY relay teams of course.

The saddest news was the Cyril's course sweep work was over and he was going home. He did an excellent job following the last runners, picking up flagging, and making sure things were OK at the back of the pack. I was just glad I never had to work to stay ahead of him!

John = 3:59:32 / 1st among full-course runners (overall placing = 2nd)
Marcy = 4:57:18 / 5th among full-course runners (overall placing = 13th)