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Things the French do better than us

by kirsty
Tuesday 2nd June 2015
Tags  Tecnica-MaXi-Race   |   2015 IAU Trail World Championships   |   Tecnica   |   MaXi-Race   |   IAU   |   Trail World Championships   |   Lee Kemp   |   Kim Collinson   |   Tom Owens   |   Sylvain Court   |   Nathalie Mauclair
 
 

Race report: Run247 columnist Kirsty Reade raves about the Tecnica-MaXi-Race which hosted the 2015 IAU Trail World Championships

Photo © Pete Aylaward

There are many things you could argue that the French do better than us - food, wine, owning tiny dogs and being stylish, to name but a few. But there’s one thing that they really excel at, and that’s putting on really great trail races.

They’ve got the Alps, so that’s a good start, but we’ve got great mountain ranges too. They’ve got very talented elite runners by the bucket load, but so have we.

I think that where they have the advantage is that trail running is just such a massive sport over there. Whole towns are taken over by races for an entire weekend or even week. Whereas in the UK you might find some die-hard running fans standing out in the rain offering support on the side of a hill at your average ultra, in France you will find hoards of supporters brandishing cow bells and musical instruments, treating every runner like Kilian Jornet.

I had the chance to experience this at the Tecnica Maxi-Race (85km) in Annecy last weekend. A race so good that they also used it as the IAU World Trail Running Championships this year.

Another thing that struck me at the expo was that there are just so many brands and products we don’t see in the UK. They have absolutely everything, including things that you didn’t even know you needed. Running tops and jackets with lots of pockets which are designed to be used instead of a backpack? Check. Small plastic things to keep the wires of your MP3 player in place while you’re running? Check. Trail shoes with built-in gaiters? Yep. It’s definitely big business over there.

Photo © Pete Aylaward

I get the impression that the French treat trail running expos a bit like Brits treat Halfords. You wander round and manage to convince yourself that you really need that Ferrari spoiler for the back of your Ford Escort because it will definitely make you faster. The other difference between the Maxi-Race expo and most UK ones was that it was by the side of a lake. By a beach. With a lot of topless women on. It was a nightmare to take tasteful photos.

So we were to run round Lake Annecy. Well that sounded nice. It was kicking off at 5am. Well that’s ok, the World Championship race was starting at 3.30am so it could be worse. Oh, we’re running up there? So when you say ‘round the lake’ you don’t mean round that path where all the roller bladers go, you mean ‘very approximately round the lake using the highest mountains and most difficult route at all times’. Well then, bring it on.

The start was pretty spectacular, with smoke and flares! And the first couple of miles were flat, which meant there was a very speedy start to the World Championship race. But pretty soon the climbing started and in the early stages of my race it was very slow going due to the number of runners on narrow single-track. But it was all worth it when we were treated to the odd glimpse of the lake from high above. It was certainly one of the most beautiful courses I’ve ever had the privilege to run on and I had a smile on my face pretty much all the way round.

Photo © Pete Aylaward

I say pretty much because there was one point where the wheels fell off and there was one minor tantrum. The first was at about halfway, where I just felt really wobbly. I’d actually hit a flat bit of road but my legs just wouldn’t work. I don’t know if it was the heat (it reached the mid-20s – another key difference between UK and French races) or lack of calories but I just got myself to the aid station, sat in the nice cool hall for a bit and ate (and ate, and ate) and I was good to go again. The tantrum started to bubble up inside me when we reached what I thought was the summit of the last ascent. We reached a viewing platform which you would think was the highest point around.

I breathed a big sigh of relief. I was getting fairly obsessed with finishing before restaurants shut and now it was literally all downhill. Except it wasn’t. The path headed off through some bushes and, Good Lord, it was going up again. I don’t have a fear of heights but the steepness, the somewhat precarious edge and the use of ropes made me start to develop one.

But finally we reached the actual summit and then started on a 5km descent, which sounds nice but it wasn’t. Before the race I’d met Tom Owens from the British team who gave me some advice on the course. While he talked I did the mental translation for non-elite runners. So when he said ‘this descent’s not that technical’ I translated it to ‘you’ll find this one pretty hard’ and when he said ‘this one’s pretty nasty’ I thought to myself ‘breaking just one leg is best case scenario here’. Bits of the last descent were in that latter category, which isn’t ideal when your legs are feeling like jelly and you seem to have lost that brain to leg connection.

Photo © Pete Aylaward

People often ask what you think about when you do really long races. I can honestly say that for me on this run it was whether I found wet rocks or wet tree roots more slippy. The answer, after many hours of deliberation, was wet tree roots. I’ll be fine if I don’t see any for a while.

Eventually the 5km descent came to an end and there was that beautiful lake again. A final flat kilometre along streets lined with people and it was over to the beach finish. Races don’t come much more spectacular than this one and there were 15km and marathon distances for those who don’t fancy the full 85km. If you’re looking for a great race for a weekend away it’s perfect, and the organisation was flawless. Oh yes, the French do make very good trail races, and, if you finish after restaurants stop serving you’ll find they make exceptionally good takeaway pizza too.

Photos: IAU Trail World Champions Nathalie Mauclair and Sylvain Court © Pete Aylaward

Click here for a report on the elite race

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

About The Author

Kirsty Reade

I’d describe myself as borderline obsessed with running, racing, reading about running, and watching others run so hopefully I’m fairly typical of Run247’s visitors. I tend to do longer races, particularly off-road marathons and ultras, but am pretty much a fan of any distance. I'm passionate about helping runners of all levels to improve through running communities I'm involved in, such as Underground Ultra and Free Range Runners. 

 
 
 
 
 

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