Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Transju'trail "mystery race" - a post GUCR "fun run"

The organizers of the Transju’trail set up this “mystery race” to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the event. The idea was a 55km race but in complete self-sufficiency (only one water point mid-race), but with course details (departure, arrival and elevation again – around 2,000 meters it turned out) unknown until the morning of the race. Finally, it was limited to 100 participants, which is fine by me.
The format seemed just too tempting not to sign up. It was ideal to share with my friend Cyril, who has sadly slacked off in his running, but with whom I have shared many races, starting with the MdS in 2006. It also happened to be on the weekend of Pentecoast which, in several years past, has coincided with bank holiday weekend in the UK when the GUCR is traditionally held. And at the time of registering, I had made up my mind that I would not be signing up for the GUCR… That changed a few weeks later of course, and chance had it that UK bank holiday was a week before.
So a mere six days after finishing a 233km race, I found myself at the starting line of a 55km trail run. My legs still felt somewhat like cement blocks and my feet had only stopped hurting at every step two days earlier. But Cyril had probably logged no more than 200km in training in the past year so we were pretty much on par for our expectations (i.e. best effort, enjoy, a finish very much in doubt) and it was great to be in the mountains again after months of training on flat roads.
So on Saturday, June 4th at 7am, participants gathered in Mouthe (a rather depressing town nestled in the Jura mountains where conditions, especially in winter, can be particularly harsh), where we were given our race bibs and course package. Then we loaded into two buses for almost two-hour trip to the starting line. There was a coffee stand, which Cyril and I quickly took advantage off, before the organizer – dressed in race gear – gave a 3mn briefing before yelling “start” and heading off himself in the middle of the pack.
Cyril and I set off at the back… and stayed there. In fact, by the time we turned off the road after 200 meters and onto the trails, we could no longer see anyone in front. That was fine, we were in high spirits. The weather wasn’t great, but so far no rain, and the path was dry.
The Jura is not a high mountain range – at least not compared to the Alps – peaking at just over 1,600 meters. But the landscape is very different from the Alps at that altitude, where foot paths are overshadowed by tall pine trees, evergreens and larch trees. In the Jura, the vegetation is more sparse and often quite barren, especially towards the top. I’ve also always found the Jura to be quite mystical, reminding me somewhat of Tolkien’s hobbit Shire countryside, and lingering patches of fog added to that impression.
Within 8 kilometers or so, I could already really feel my legs, thrown back to how I felt after 100 miles at the GUCR. Cyril was already tired too! But we munched on biscuits and peanuts and caught up on family news, and just kept plodding enjoying the scenery. We made the first summit which opened onto an incredible vista of the mountain range (picture unfortunately lost), before taking a steep descent which made me realize how very unaccustomed I had become to technical trail running.
At around 15km, we saw some volunteers taking stock of the stragglers and Cyril and I had already discussed stopping. I was in a strange mindset. On the one hand, I knew I could keep going, probably even until the end, and I knew that doing so would provide quite a sense of accomplishment. At the same time, I didn’t really see the point in putting myself through the same amount of pain for another 5 hours that I had experienced a the GUCR; after completing 233km just six days earlier, I really didn’t feel the need for a new ego boost, and I knew I had no problem DNFing this race – I wouldn’t even have started if Cyril hadn’t been with me – all this particularly considering that this was a three-day weekend and I really wanted to spend some time with the family after my lengthy absence the weekend before in England. And finally, at the back of mind was the idea that I should really recover from the GUCR properly, so that I could get back to training for the 110-mile Ultra Tour du Léman in September.
However, it was not my choice to make. The one volunteer with a car who could drive us back to Mouthe was quite unwilling at this point to do so – though he said this in the nicest possible way, and more as a way of encouraging us to continue (I think he was a little baffled that we wanted to stop this early). He said we could reassess at the next town that we crossed where he would again be checking for stragglers, “only six kilometers away”, he said.
Well, for the first time in my experience, a volunteer was spot on when assessing distance – not a mean feat considering the winding, up & down nature of the forest trails. So Cyril and I soldiered on for another hour and a half, still enjoying ourselves, ultimately happy to be doing a little more for the sake of saying that we really did put in the best effort considering our respective states of physical distress, and equally happy at the prospect of quitting at 21km (almost half!), especially as the rain started to come down.
And so after almost four hours lumbering on the trails, we stopped. In any case, at that point, we could only have continued until the one water point at 27km, since we were way off the cut-off time for that check point. It turns out this was quite a “fast” race in terms of time barriers, as the organizers wanted everyone in within 8 or 9 hours, so with over 2,000 meters of elevation that didn't leave much room for hiking as we were doing. This was not an event to be used as a training race for a longer ultra to practice specific pacing.
But it was certainly a fun race and I did enjoy the “mystery” format, even if it turned out to be a little hyped and less exciting than I had originally thought. But the scenery was great, and my guess is any of the Transju'trail runs (72km and 36km formats) are certainly worth doing.

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