Friday, May 25, 2012

Le Grand Raid Dentelles Ventoux 2012 II

Gigondas; it’s still dark at 0430 on Saturday, 19 May 2012…  It’s drizzling and 119 of us kick off to "rescapé" Le Grand Raid Dentelles Ventoux.  As we set out my thoughts are not on this race.  I’m not motivated and allow a lot of negativity to creep in.  I spoke briefly with Geert Ceuppens and focused on getting my head in the game for the first eighteen kilometers of what looks like is going to be a long day.

About twenty minutes into the race I decide to pull off the trail and relieve myself.  As I do so I watch the course of head lights pass and think that I’m still in pretty good standing at mid-pack.  After getting straight I head back out on the trail and find myself alone…  Slowly as the sun creeps into the cracks, canyons and crannies of the Dentelles Montmirail I make out a woman in front of me.  I run behind her for some distance when she asks “Passe Vous”?  I respond in my pigeon French that no, I’m not interested in passing – all is good back here.  She and I get into a groove and come to a forest path where we can run side-by-side.  She introduces herself as Isabelle and kicks up a conversation.  Dear, Isabelle…  She could not speak a word of English and my French is horrible.  Nonetheless, Isabelle goes on and on as we pass over hill and dale.  Seems as if she's sharing her life story and much more...  Suddenly we arrived at a hardball road; there is no trail marking.  GREAT!  This takes me back to 2009 when Dino Verones and I got lost for hours.  Confidently, Isabelle takes off to the left and I follow.

Isabelle and I ran downhill for twenty minutes or so, talking, and I’m thinking none of this looks familiar...  Oh shit!  Do not panic...  OH SHIT!  We’re friggen lost.  We jog on for a bit when her husband shows up in an SUV and asks where we’re going.  Isabelle explains that we are lost and looking for the trail.  He suggests that we turn around and go back to where we last lost the trail which we did.  My mind is racing right along with the clock.  We must be at the check point at Lac du Paty completing the first eighteen kilometer leg by 0800.  This is not good!

We wonder about for what seems like forever and finally come across the dreaded sweeper and his team of trailer cleaners removing trail markings.  Isabelle spoke briefly with them; confirmed our route and we were off again.  This is one of my absolute dreaded points in any trail race.  The sweeper is here and very close to me; time is running out to the make the check point and there will be not time in the check point to drink or eat anything.  This is UTMB 2011 all over again! 

I ran with Isabelle for a while longer and have now found the motivation I was missing when the race started.  I bid Isabelle farewell and took off to attempt to gain some time.  I know this part of the course and know where I can kick it and where I need to take it easy.  Slowly, every so slowly I begin to gain some time back.  I passed one runner after another and have finally got six or eight people behind me when I roll into Lac du Paty.  I greeted everyone in the best Texas accent I could throw out; drank two cups of water; asked one of the race volunteers for a drag from his cigarette (he laughed, but refused) and I roll out of Lac du Paty headed out over the next twelve kilometers to the check point at Curnier where I’ve got to be by 1030.

Getting to Lac du Paty I gained a thirty minute buffer back into my race plan.  I don’t like running this close to the cut off times as the terrain or your physical condition is going to ultimately take a toll and steal it back from you.  This portion of the route to Curnier is good; rolling but good and I continue to gain on runners and the clock.  Prior to bounding into Curnier I meet again with Isabelle’s husband who cheers me on.  I ask about Isabelle and he tells me that she is still in the race.  The check point at Curnier is the last full scale rest stop prior to the assault up Mont Ventoux.  I know this check point well and know that my bags will be checked.  I have gained about a forty-five minute buffer on the time barriers and roll into Curnier with a plan to restock water; eat as much and as quickly as I can while organizing my stuff.  At Curnier I again use a Texas dialect to ensure that the fellas know that they must speak English with me so that we’re clear on what they want to see.  Check out was easy this year; dude asked to see my wind breaker and emergency blanket.  With that completed I blast back out of the check point with apples in hand.  Leaving Curnier I had approximately twenty runners behind me.

The assault on Mont Ventoux is ten kilometers long and moves up a vertical ascent of 1610 meters with an average gradient of 7.5% and a maximum gradient of greater than 12%.  Cut off time to get to the check point on the summit Mont Ventoux as 1415.  I set out to get there around noon in order to take back some more of the time allocated for the time barriers.  I knew that the course after coming off of Ventoux and after Brantes is what I term the doldrums.  The doldrums are long uneventful stretches that although not extremely physically demanding are certainly mentally demanding.

Traveling up Mont Ventoux I was able to pass a number of additional runners.  I think that the majority of those folks I passed were new to the course and relatively new to trail and mountain ultra running.  Many did not have the right equipment or were dragging way too early in this race.  At this point in the course I felt physically and mentally well.  I know the terrain and enjoyed the freedom and beauty of the environment.  On the way up I came across a runner laying on the ground appearing to stretch his quads.  I asked “Ça Va?” and he replied with no – his quads kept tightening up.  So, in broken French and English we worked out me stretching him a bit.  Turns out he and I would cross paths again…

Just prior to moving onto the talus field prior to the final assault on Mont Ventoux the Rotary Club posts a water station just within the last wood line.  Going into this station I planned to drink a couple of cups of water and keep moving.  I was a bit let down to watch and hear two or three runners working with the race volunteers to drop.  Seeing people drop is contagious and I decided to move on without looking back.

Moving up the last approach to the summit of Mont Ventoux as largely uneventful.  Although it was a beautiful day the wind was kicking as I increased my elevation.  My thoughts focused on getting to the summit, my plan for the rest stop (eat) and getting back down off of Mont Ventoux.  I arrived at the check point at about 1210; dropped my pack and immediately put on my jacket and moved into the garage the point was located in.  Although it was freezing on top of Mont Ventoux there were thousands of people there.  Pedestrians, bicyclists and many more were milling about doing whatever Frenchmen do on Mont Ventoux on a lovely spring day.  After restocking my pockets and water and eating a lot of fruit, cheese, chips and three cups of soup I decided to move onward to Brantes.  At this juncture I was about an hour ahead of cut off times and felt good other than freezing my butt off…

Djam and I headed into the check point at Brantes.

Oh the lovely fourteen kilometer descent into Brantes.  And, no we didn’t get to take the road – it was all hiking paths for us…  Once you get back down off of what seems like infinite switch backs you head into one of the first portions of this course that I call the doldrums.  The trail consists of logging roads that slowly wind their way down into a valley before heading dramatically back up to Brantes.  It was here that I was to meet Djamel Groiuez (the same guy I stretched out on the way up Mont Ventoux).  For some reason “Djam” and I hit it off immediately and stuck it out with one another through the completion of the race.  As it turns out Djam served twenty-two years with the French paratroopers so we had much to talk about.

From Brantes we traveled along the path of Le Toulourenc and the backbone of the Combe de Réchaume to the check point at Veaux.  Following Brantes Djam’s lovely wife met and cared for us at each following aid station and check point. 

From Veaux I began to have GI issues with a lot of gas and then various bouts of diarrhea.  I’m not certain what brought this distress on, whether it was something I’d eaten, the energy food I was eating or what.  Whatever it was it cursed me and unfortunately I could not express to Djam how much I appreciated him waiting on me each time I had to take a break for a couple of minutes.  Other than my unfolding battle with my gut the trail from Veaux to Le Rissas was relatively uneventful. 

Things again got exciting on our way down from La Rissas to Le Groseau.  You have to love the French and the way they mark trails, or not mark them.  Djam and I were cruising along making good time with lots of daylight and buffer time before the cut off of 2300 at Le Groseau when we ran into Malaucène.  Again, I did not recognize this part of the course, but knew yet again I needed to hit the wood line.  We jogged into town and Djam waved down a passing car.  He spoke with the driver and asked him to go find the check point at Le Groseau which was supposed to be located somewhere on the outskirts of Malaucène.  Unbelievably, the guy agreed to Djam’s demands and sped off.  A few minutes later he returned and told us that the check point was in fact in place; where it was and the distance.  With much joy Djam and I headed back out of town to go find where we’d last seen a race marker and attempt to find the course.  All told I wound up covering 110 – 115 kilometers of 100 kilometer race course.  That dear friends is cool!  (Note heavy sarcasm.) 

We finally closed on Le Groseau with about an hour and a half buffer.  Djam sat down and his wife started caring for us.  I had a cup of soup and told them both that I was off to hit the other side of the trail and the wood line.  I told Djam I’d wait for him there.

By the time Djam came up the trail looking for me darkness had again completely fallen and we started our movement to Saint-Amand with the aid of head lamps.  Movement during this part of the course is deceiving.  Your mind is focused on the fact that you are within twenty kilometers of finishing, the lure of your headlamp and the terrain.  Passing Clairer and Les Gippières you are lulled into thinking that the course is smooth going over undulating forest paths and roads.  And yes, this in fact is the case if you are a normal hiker as there is a straight path to Saint-Amand.  But no, Le Grand Raid Dentelles Ventoux is not for the “normal” or weak of disposition. 

Shortly before arriving at Vallat de la Chaine the course takes an immediate right turn and you abruptly head up hill oriented on Col de la Chaine where you take another abrupt turn left and head directly up and over Dentelles de Montmirail.  When we arrived at the summit the wind was honking and we hurried back down the other side to roll into the rest stop at Saint-Amand and kilometer 91.
The rest stop at Saint-Amand was this year’s highlight for me.  We arrived to the sound of drums, horns, disco lights, “Allez!  Allez!” and a warm blanket.  Saint-Amand was the first check point where anyone offered us cola and Djam and I drank several cups and ate a few snacks.

From Saint-Amand it’s a mere nine kilometers to Gigondas and the finish line.  Fortunately much of this part of the course moves through the Vallat de Fenouillet.  By this time of this year’s race I as burned hard.  I had horrible blisters again on both feet.  Think that they were caused by a combination of wearing shoes that were too large from the outset, gravel in my shoes and the condition of my feet going into this race following the Hexenstieg a few weeks earlier.  I could not keep up with Djam’s stride.  Although we were both moving at the same pace his stride was much longer than mine at this point and we were both getting tired of waiting for me.  As the course progressed he would get way out ahead of me; stop and wait; gather me up and we’d move out again. 

A kilometer or so out of town Djam’s wife and another guy met us in the dark.  It was great to see them!  Djam and I picked up a slow airborne shuffle and made our way over the cobblestones of Gigondas’ main street.  As we ran Catherine surprised me telling me that she’d met my wife.  I asked her where and she told me in Gigondas.  I could not believe my ears.  “Simone is in Gigondas?” I asked.  And she said, “Yes – at the Community Center”.  It was almost 0230 on Sunday morning and Simone as waiting for me...  That my friends was the crowning moment of the entire last twenty-one hours and fifty-six minutes.  

Djam and I finished the 2012 Le Grand Raid Dentelles Ventoux together taking the 73d and 74th places.  Of the original 119 starters 77 were to finish...  Super race.  Beautiful country!

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