Specificity of training is basically replicating in training what you will do in a race. I have reversed this and am doing specificity in a race to train me to run the Grand Canyon (which isn't a race)....confused? Anyway I think you get the point, the more training runs and races I do in harsh
conditions such as terrain, height variation, temperature etc then the more I'll be ready for the big GC.
Climbing up 4000 feet from the bottom of the ravine in the distance Also races can be quite stressful and this adds to the preparation because as I descend into the darkness of the Grand Canyon at 5 am in October, alone and unsupported, I'm sure there'll be a little bit of tension. (did I say a little bit ... lol)
I also have a niggling ligament injury (there's always something) that doesn't like downhill running so again its all part of the preparation as I suspect I'll also have some niggle come October.
So Sue and I set off for the Valberg ski station on Friday night and stayed right in the centre next to the start which was quite late, 9 am, so plenty of time to prepare. This wasn't an ultra and was only about 25k but the elevation gain was about 4000 feet so quite challenging and the mountains above Valberg itself are at nearly 8000 feet, so there were altitude issues to consider. All in all a reasonable challenge I thought .... and I was right.
Still climbing It was a beautiful day, though the night before we'd had huge thunderstorms and the organisers told us that parts of the trail were still very slippy and dangerous ... and they weren't kidding. After an hour of up and down through lovely Alpine meadows we began a long descent through the woods and all you could hear was, 'Merde!', 'Ooh la la', 'La vache!', 'Ces't trop dangereux' and people yelping as they lost there footing on a slippery rock or root and me shouting 'Shit', 'Ah shit' or just 'Shiiitt!' as I flew into the hair and even 'Oops a daisy'... yes, I actually heard myself saying that :). It felt like at any moment you were going to pull a ligament or twist an ankle, crazy stuff. Finally I made it to the bottom of the ravine and then we had to wade through a fast flowing freezing cold river ... which actually was great.
The summit Earlier, when looking at the elevation map I thought the measurements were in feet but they were in metres, ouch! The first climb was tough and looking across the mountains I could see the second, except we had to descend the very steep wet trail (which I was now on) for about 2000 feet first, which meant coming back we had to climb this again (on the other side of the ravine) ...and then climb another 2000 feet up to the peak, so 4000 feet straight up! This took about an hour and a half of relentless climbing and was just plain hard. When we got two thirds up they had fixed ropes to the rocks so that we could haul ourselves up with our hands. Its mentally very draining despite the physical hardship. I always forget when running races in the Alps that this is a mountain range, with real mountains, it's serious stuff. Two things though kept me going, firstly this was great training for the Grand Canyon and second there was no choice as we were in the middle of nowhere - and I mean the middle of nowhere.
Done I hardly had time to notice the magnificent scenery because I just wanted to keep going and not fall. My breathing became quite laboured which I realised was due to the altitude but there is nothing you can do about that so you just keep putting one foot in front of the other and stay focused. Further up a race steward told me that the peak was just another 300 feet of climb, well I'm sorry but my French must be crap cos that was the longest 300 feet of my life, it seemed the summit would never come but, eventually it did and then we began the descent. I was pleased that I ran this really well despite the tiredness from the climbs. I also passed 6 or 7 people on the way down, which may not seem like a big deal, but these little victories keep you motivated.
I arrived back in the centre of Valberg in 4 hours - 20 minutes and by the time I got to the finish line Sue was on her second carafe of wine ... and of course blamed me because I'd taken so long!
We later chilled out in the sunshine in a beautiful Alpine restaurant on the edge of the village. I have to say the people were really friendly which made our little trip all the more enjoyable however after 2 hours of relaxing, my legs groaned and moaned as we got up to leave. I gave a slight wince as we walked to the car and Sue, on noticing this, just had to make a comment ...'Pussy.'