8 days, 4 races, 2 trainers and 1 new recruit
I am certainly no expert on training but one thing most good racers appear to have in common is that they do a lot of races- perhaps that’s how you get good or do good people do a lot of races? Es asked me ages ago if I fancied back to back races this weekend just gone- why not? Perhaps it would be good training as well as good fun? But following the French Champs in Areches last Sunday I realised it was going to be a busy week as Tuesday night was the following one: http://www.chamonixskialpinisme.com/chamonixrelaisdeschamois
I had done this exact race as a club race a few weeks ago with Ben Bardsley. With his legendary uphill speed and unrivalled determination (smoke coming out of his ears and a charging bull approach to uphill travel whether with inov8s or Dynafits on his feet) it was always going to be tough. This Relais de Chamois race involved 4 identical laps up and down Planards (vertical interval 200m) each. I set off for a solo lap, then we did one together; Ben did his solo lap then the 4th one was us both together. Casual inspection of the format reveals that one person does laps 1, 2 and 4 and the other person does laps 2, 3 and 4. Evidently I was a bit casual as clearly one person gets a rest on lap 3- shame I hadn’t spotted that as I didn’t get the rest.. Ethics vary in team races- usually in adventure races or ski races towing with a bungee is de rigeur by even the best competitors. I would have been delighted to accept this assistance but as nobody else was doing so- ah well, better not rock the boat. We acquitted ourselves reasonably, and despite the lack of bungee or a rest on lap 3 for me, managed to come in 3rd place. This was only the club race warm up a few weeks ago.
Ben was back at work and Jon Bracey asked I would do the actual event with him last week- excellent- another strong partner. No mistakes made this time- laps 1,2 and 4 for me! So Jon got an easy ride on his first lap with a tired me on lap 2. He was able to let rip on his solo lap 3 and we were well matched for the final blast. I have a sexy new Suunto Ambit watch which allows you to be completely nerdy to the n-th degree. My splits for the 200m height gain were improved on 3 weeks earlier- between 8 to 8 min 45 per 200 metre height gain- maybe it works, this training thing. I was pleased with our 7th place out of about 60. But lets be honest here- the gaps ahead of us were huge. Kilian Jornet and his partner Tony Sbalbi won by not a huge margin over Yann Gachet (our club trainer and previous Cham- Zermatt record holder) and his partner Adrien Piccot. But the fact that Kilian entered the race at all is remarkable, let alone won it:
Last Tuesday before the race Kilian, accompanied by Bastien Fleury (fellow ski racer, instructor and all round nice guy/heart throb for the girls) set off on the 3rd or 4th top bin up the Grands Montets- leisurely start for an easy day out.. They roped up crossing the Rognons Glacier, then having negotiated the ‘schrund took the ropes off and soloed the Couturier Couloir in 3 hours to the summit of the Aiguille Verte. OK not quite Ueli-Steck-speed-climbing but I don’t recall Ueli was carrying a pair of freeride skis for his ascents. Clip in and jump in to the Whymper couloir for a rapid descent in what Bastien described as great snow to tick one of the uberclassic steep skis of the range in a casual daytrip in early January. Oh and of course rock up and win a competitive relay race in Chamonix 2 hours later. Legend.
My racing week was interspersed with 4 days instruction from the 2 trainers and racers I referred to earlier- Yann and Bastien. Leanne Callaghan and I had organised this to sharpen us up and try and plug holes in the many techniques that are essential for speed, in which we were lacking. It appears that, despite 25 years of skinning, my stride is inefficiently long, my transitions are pretty ropy and my skating isn’t great. Bastien spent most of a morning teaching us how to sideslip efficiently. I thought I had this sussed in 1976 but again apparently not! In a race on a hard packed surface (usually the case on any sun affected slope first thing in the morning) you either want to point it out or, if that is too scary, effect a turbo sideslip- we are talking 20-40mph sideways or at least obliquely to the slope. Basically turning uses energy so is to be avoided if at all possible but straightlining is usually too fast and dangerous. Forget all those mincing linked turns and that carving nonsense- this is fast energy-saving travel. Maintain the tuck position on the very flat bits for ages- put your elbows on your knees then you can rehydrate with your hose, have a gel, think about the next transition etc. All good stuff. Yann was awesome on the body positioning for skinning, route selection for high speed travel and the minutiae of transitions. Top of the slope- unzip skinsuit, drop poles, tighten boots, adjust bindings, skins off, stow in skinsuit, zip up, pick up poles, go- 17 seconds; bottom of slope- unzip skinsuit, drop poles, loosen boots, skis off, bindings adjust, skins on, skis on, zip up suit, pick up poles, go- 35 seconds! Just like triathlon transitions I gather, having a system and practising (not that I ever want to get into cold water competitively..). So we know what to do now; no excuses.
Saturday was la Meurianne, a 1200m race from Ardent les Lindarets (near Morzin/Avoriaz). The last time I had been to this valley was 7 years ago, climbing Dame du Lac, the iconic WI6 ice climb with a 40m freestanding pillar first pitch. No ice on it this time (only comes in every few years) but we had wad loads of fresh snow. So much snow that the pisteurs had triggered a great white fright whilst putting the course in. One of them was fully buried and took 15 minutes to dig out- she gave a heartfelt account of it after the prize giving! So alterations were made- a shortened sanitised version but still with some great powder descents. Bastiens “essential turns only” technique worked a treat and I was able to catch up Ben Bardsley at the bottom of the first descent. I was racing with Es and we had a great time, missing out on winning by some margin the Veteran Homme category as he was 3 years too young!
We were joined for the weekend by Paul Cornforth, very good fell runner and previously put up loads of new routes in the Lakes on rock with Dave Birkett, back in the day. He went from zero to hero- bought all the kit on Thursday, I showed him how to use it by headtorch skinning up at les Houches on Thursday night, refined technique on Friday and at la Meurrianne on Saturday found himself on the vets podium with Ben Bardsley. Good man!! He saw both ends of the spectrum as Sunday represented a very different race experience for him.
We all dossed near Evian on Sat night and had a large steak and chips in readiness for l’Assaut des Memises on Sunday, a 1400m race with four roughly equal length climbs, 2 sections of portage (skis on sacks, fixed ropes if you want to use them) 3 north facing and one south facing descent. The recent dump of snow caused loads of skin sticking issues for lots of folk with the multiple transitions. You always carry 2 sets of race skins, some competitors had wished they had 3 sets as not everyone could finish. The descents were moderately steep with some tight sections in trees and bushes. I was overconfident with my newfound no turn technique- whilst hooning straight down a section of 30cm of powder over hardpack, failed to spot the frozen death cookie hidden under the powder. Blam, ouch, chin grazed, ego dented, valuable seconds lost. This was a higher standard race with the winner doing all of that ascent/descent/portage/transitions in 1h 26 mins. Es, Ben and I enjoyed a good battle between ourselves in the middle of the field. We were all close enough to see each other for most of the race, finishing within a few mins of each other. Paul had a great day out but despite being given bib number 1 he acted as sweeper and scooped the wooden spoon and a glorious last place to complement his podium the day before!
Couldn’t resist another quick ski tour yesterday from Brevent to Aiguillette des Houches at a leisurely pace with Ben Tibbetts, Misha and Mariza. Great creamy powder and quality combat skiing in the trees heading down to les Houches. This glade looks excellent- I am sure that will go- hmmm well OK maybe not our best route choice. Mariza caught her vital train from les Houches by a whole 5 seconds- her type 1 fun became very type 2 in the trees but I think we managed to avoid putting her off “mellow” ski touring- just.. Cold, cloudy and yet more snowfall in Cham today- phew I can justify a rest day at last. Well at least until the club training tonight.
GPS race info: