Sunday, March 6, 2016

Great start to a season: Cabornis trail race report (44km/2200m elevation)

After overcoming injury in 2015, I went on to have a great year, with varied races and first attempts at speed training, and pretty structured training in December, to end with a local 5-mile race where I shaved 4 minutes off my last time. 2016 has so far gone well also, with no injuries, progressively higher mileage and, along with last year, probably the longest stretch of consistent running and structured training in my 16 years of dabbling in ultras.

So, of course, I was heading into the Cabornis trail with high hopes, aiming for the first time actually to "race" (i.e. post my best time possible, not just take in the views, but still finish with enough in the tank to pick up training again next week). It was a close call, however, as I seriously stubbed my toe on a chair in the living room a few days earlier when I turned off the lights to go to bed, but it was a toe that apparently doesn't seem to matter for running because it didn't bother me at all even though it was still sensitive to the touch on race-day. The friend I was supposed to the race with, Jérôme, wasn't so lucky, however: he sprained his ankle on Wednesday on a night run and it still looked like he had an orange jammed up his foot three days later...

So it was sadly all alone that I took off Sunday morning at 6am for Lyons, a 2hr drive from Geneva where I live. The Cabornis takes place in the Mont d'Or just 10mn outside the metropolis, and is beginning to be an early-season local favorite, because the distance and elevation ratio is perfect, and on hills not mountains so there's a fair amount of (tough) running to be had, even though it's really up-down-up-down... Also you can choose on the spot (at mile 10) whether to complete the full 25miles/40km or only do the 23km loop.

So high hopes I had... My usual time would be around 6h30, depending on motivation and how much time I would spend at the check points/feeding stations; here my target time was 5h27mn, that of a friend in 2014 who went on to finish the UTMB that same year. With the training I had, I figured it was manageable, or at least meaningful...

Anyway - when my friend raced it, it was sunny and 19°C. This year it was barely above freezing and it rained the full week before turning most of the trail into a Woodstock-style mudfest. However, count your blessings where you get them: rain had been predicted until the last minute but we actually had spots of sunshine. Well, we had the three seasons Winter-Spring-Autumn all rolled into one race. I took off with just a long-sleeve warm shirt and vest, then it started to snow, so out comes the rain jacket, then it stopped, the sun came out and the birds were chirping and my rain jacket was off, then it was windy and cloudy, then a few drops of rain, and the rain jacket came on again... And that cycle occured three times! The third time i just bagged the vest and kept the rain jacket.

It was a very scenic race through vineyards and ruins of stone houses, the whole lot overlooking the valley around Lyons. Of course trail races being what they are, it ended up not really being what the website announced or even what the race director said that morning (must have a different model Garmin): 44km (just over 27 miles) and 2200m (an extra 700 feet of elevation), so my base comparison time from my fitness level in previous years had to be readjusted upwards to over 7 hours...

And then there was the mud - did I mention the mud? Oh, well, wasn't too bad except in the beginning and end. So we started with a gradual 1000-foot ascent, just too steep to run (at my level) and power walking was made difficult with the mud and the sheer number of people (reminds of why I don't like crowds - you feel like everyone's impatient and trying to push passed, but actually everyone feels the same way and is really polite and everything). But after about 4 miles we could really run, with the downhill not technical or steep at all. Until mile 10, it pretty much undulated this way, with some uphills even runneable and there was more pebbles and (slippery) tree roots than mud after mile 4 (and some asphalt - gasp!), so at the cutoff point (which you had to reach in under 2 hours, and I had 20 minutes to spare) I was actually on par for a 5-hour finish (again, based on 25 miles).

We had been warned that the next section was tougher, but for about 3 miles it just continued in the same vein. And then it got messy: from about mile 13 to 21 the climbs and descents - though short (300-foot elevation range) were steep and muddy and very slippery, making for slow going. I've found it easier hiking up ski slopes - in fact one section was so bad, I wasn't sure I would make it up. I couldn't find a grip and had to venture into the undergrowth away from the muddy path... After that it got better, actually with some road winding through quaint villages, except for one last section, when we were supposed to be finished (my watch said 42.5km!!!), where I almost lost my shoes in the mud that wrapped around my ankles making a pleasant sucking sound at every step.

One fellow's wife, who's obviously read too many "inspirational quotes" on twitter, told her suffering hubby, "remember, pain is only in your head". I believe I saw him pause, debate whether to return and tell her where she could stuff her pain... but then, as he was already a few steps up the next hill, he probably thought it wasn't worth it. "Don't wait for me at the finishing line", i would have said. But then, that's why my wife doesn't come with me on these things. Though I don't think she's silly enough to say something like that (then again, she doesn't read running magazines, quotes, blogs, etc. where you come across such soundbites made up by people in comms who probably haven't run a mile in their lives).

So anyway, I enjoyed the whole romp, but was really starting to want to arrive by the time km 43 rolled around and I still felt like we were lost in the hills. Then suddenly we emerged between two cow patches and there was the church steeple. The arrival was only a quarter-mile away, and I finished quite happy in 6h11, completely unable to tell whether that was an improvement in any way but quite sure it was that I couldn't have given it much more if I wanted to be able make the 2-hour drive home safely enough. At least my ranking was similar to my friend's two years ago - but i don't really care about these things...

The prize was a liter of local apple juice, which was quite welcome.

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