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Tecnica MaXi Race: a 'ginger' Brit's first overseas trail race

by Tracey Moggeridge
Wednesday 1st June 2016
 
 
So, when Run247 asked if I'd like to cover an impressive trail race series for them. In France. Running upside part of a mountain encasing Lake Annecy. And write about it. What kind of fool would I be to decline? This is everyone's dream job isn't it...?! So I was there like the proverbial rat up a drainpipe.  It didn't stop the trepidation however, I'm a bit overawed by a race series like this in truth, I am not a seasoned/elite/long distance runner, I'm just a regular lass who enjoys running, I live in a middle-sized town with middle sized hills to train on.  I'm not wildly adventurous but I'm not a wimp, it's just that I've never allowed myself in running to fully engage with what feels fearful for me - long distance, big hills and technical difficulty all at once. I've a couple of UK marathons under my belt, but lovely kind flat ones (if you don't run marathons you'll probably think me utterly insane at this point - no marathon is 'kind' but hopefully you are still with me), and I've run respectable UK trail races that are, well, in the UK, and still...kind to a degree, but for some reason overseas races, to me, have a quite different look and feel to them. Possibly edgier, possibly tougher, possibly requiring more grit.  Perhaps it's also the possibility of many many more metres available to be climbed, and up a mountain where the weather is unpredictable, unforgiving, and very much alive. I may have skewed perceptions I realise, and I'm sure many of you will be happy to set me straight. 
 
My personal wimpiness aside, I can appreciate a great race series when I see one. The Tecnica MaXi-Race series has great pedigree and allure, created 'by runners for runners' and as Course Director and brainchild behind the series Stephane Agnole attested - their races are for all trail running enthusiasts and not just the elite or the long distance fiends, but anyone with a passion for trail running.  They are a young 6 years old, but have already hosted the IAU trail championships in 2015 to great success.  They are branching out to create a race series in Ecuador later in the year, and they held their inaugural race series in China late last year.  Their races are not huge in number either with a limit of 1600 for the ultra trail and 500 for the race I'd entered - a preference of mine, too many bodies smelling of deep heat, dried on sweat and other unmentionables can be a heady stomach-churning torture when surrounded.  
TM1
True to form their Ultra - the Tecnica MaXi-Race is a tough 85km, 5200m+ of height gain and technically challenging. In fact they had to alter the course after a snow and ice slide just the day beforehand. You truly are up with the Gods. It requires a devilish delight for an early morning start (think 3.30am...but you see sunrise at the top of a mountain so it would be worth it), a demand for hugely fit quadriceps, stamina, positive mind-control and so much more.  
 
So, when I studied the rest of the series of seven races to pick the one I wanted to race in, two reasons influenced the decision - a painful hip that I've struggled to heal for a long year, and the aforementioned trepidation. I chose the Femina Race, a 15k with over 1100m of climb.  Not quite knowing what to expect but feeling like I'd possibly wimped out on the distance, I packed my bags, attempted some sporadic hill training - still with a grumpy hip and headed for the airport. 
 
If like me, you don't fancy an ultra you can also flex your running muscles across a great selection just as the organisers promised. You have a team relay, that way you get to compare blisters and chaffing with fellow comrades in groups of 2 or 4 (over the same 85km), the Compression XL sport - the 85km distance but spread across two days, or you can plump for a marathon distance, a male/female 15km trail race, or the race I chose and as the name suggests, one just for the ladies - 'here come the girls...., girls, girls girls' (if I haven't shared my Sugababes ear-worm at this point you are lucky).  If you are below racing age there are also mini person races, and then there's also the vertical challenge - a 4km steep inclination for those with both heart and leg stamina!
 
I arrived on the Friday and quickly acclimatised myself with the race village and met the fabulous press team Ann and Genevieve who couldn't have been more helpful or warmly welcoming.  Walking around the village you have an impressive array of big brand running apparel in glorious neon there for the purchase lest you've forgotten everything but your credit card. Some naughtiness too if you fancy - delectable French macarons. I'm sure they count as race fuel. With a press pass I had access to behind the race scene which is, dare I say cool - or maybe it just plays to my inner running/writing geek.  I was able to listen in on the press conference and the race organisers sharing their passion - hugely evident even to my appallingly woeful French. Also to the deputy Mayor of Annecy - proud to be hosting the event in his gorgeous town, and to previous race winners - softly spoken and diminutive in stature but clearly not in racing pedigree. The talk covered a mix of pride and humble recognition of races being more than purely the active demonstration of running. So, I was feeling pretty excited and also pretty nervous about what was to come. 
 
Saturday dawned, I dunked a fabulous pain au chocolat, the race fuel of choice, painstakingly attached my race bib, donned my Tecnica-MaXi sweat band (in pink - what else), gathered together my mandatory kit - 1 litre of water, whistle, survival blanket, race fuel, waterproof jacket etc and hopped on the coach for the short but scenic ride to the start of the race in Mont Bernard. 
 

TM2

A delightfully chatty French chap compered the start, we had some banging tunes to warm up to (I'm so not down with the kids) and a sea of lasses who all looked incredibly fit and able ran across the start line to a chorus of 'bon courage' promptly at 8am. In my non-running life I work in the world of business psychology - we talk, a lot, and quite understandably about the fact that women are under-represented in so many walks of life. So to find a race series which has a special slot for the ladies - well it was a happy moment and just had to be done. 
 
We headed off on pretty much the only bit of road we were really to encounter the entire race. They broke us in gently with a steady but sure climb, a fabulous castle in the distance to 'ooooh' at, and then before we knew it the race got dirty, and I don't just mean a field of cow-dung. The longest, most technically challenging incline - I'm sure it went on...forever. The less sure-footed amongst us (me) stumbled across rocks, tree roots, lots of mud and the odd stream slowly making our way into the canopy of trees we'd previously eyeballed from the floor of the forest below.  Soon we were glimpsing mountain ranges - previously with your neck inclined, now at eye-level to finally arrive at the top to THAT VIEW. You can spot the Brit, she's the one unused to such views, such races, and who took a moment to marvel at the beauty of the snow-topped mountain ranges and the lake and town so small below. Possibly also to catch her breath and take the odd photo.  Don't judge me. 

TM4

All too soon we were making our way back down, this was for me the hardest part. I'm not used to travelling at pace down the side of a rocky/muddy/root-strewn mountain side, it's usually uneven paving and the odd bridle way and boy did it show.  Those French lasses; slight and 'fleet of foot' sure showed this hoofing blundering 'ginger of foot' Brit why they have a name for elegance...  When I eventually got used to the slipping and sliding, manned the heck up and stopped over-thinking I found my rhythm and managed to make some quicker progress.  I realised at this point that poles would have been a very welcome addition to the race kit. 
 
To the bottom of the mountain we ran forth along a wooden decked sure-footed pathway (it felt so odd!) to the finish line contained within the race village right next to the lake.  The welcome - cheers, applaud and shouts of ‘allez allez!’, most of us gingerly took off our muddy trainers to inspect any toe-nail damage and hobbled out into Lake Annecy to cool down & clean off our tired limbs. 
 
I'm not good at eating straight after a race, but if I was there were cheery volunteers supplying an abundance of post-race fuel. A delightful mix of small chunks of French cheeses, sliced salty ham, fresh croissants, hunks of baguettes, sliced bananas, cake and more - you could easily top up those previously burnt calories. Heaven.

TM3

After a welcome shower I headed back to the race village for some tartiflette and more cake (you can order a meal when you sign up and it's well worth doing - a hearty, cheap at 10 euros and hand-made affair). I'd missed the first males to cross the line but wanted to catch the rest of the finishers from the Tecnica-MaXi 85km solo and team race and the first solo female finishers too. They were all covered in varying degrees of mud, and there was a look in their eyes that these runners have that tell you the race isn't just about physical fitness but mental stamina also. Their faces tell colourful and vivid stories of digging deep and personal achievement. It still stops me in my tracks, each and every single person out there is amazing from the first to the last, and there should be no reduction in awe at those that take longer to finish, for me it shows total utter grit and courage to continue forth that much longer on over-tired feet. 
 
In the main show - the Tecnica MaXi-Race, the top male - Ludovic Pommeret of Team Hoka finished in a very respectable 08.56.03, over 10 minutes behind his rival Aurelien Collet from the same team. Both were anticipated to finish highly and didn't disappoint.  The added pressure of three places in the French team for the forthcoming IAU trail championships in Portugal meant a keener eye on the finish.  The first female (out of a small but perfectly formed pack of 109 females) Andrea Huser from Switzerland was the anticipated favourite, and managed a fantastic 10.38.40.  The race was a tussle from mid-way to the finish for the top three places with changing placement of those hotly starred. French lass Sophie Gagnon came second, just ahead of the Italian Lisa Borzani. I was able to capture photographic moments of the first, second and third female racers in the Tecnica MaXi cross the line, the tiredness and relief etched across their journey-worn faces.  If there's one thing I've learnt over the years of running, each race tells your soul a new story, a new journey of discovery and belief - even those who've raced more than you and I have had hot dinners. 
 
Running is so very much more than just running, I wish I could share this news with others as well as yourselves as you are probably runners and already know this. If you want to embrace life, learn about stretching your comfort zones and what you are capable of then try a pair of trainers on for size, and get the heck out there.  You may just feel richer, more tiny (in a humble way not a less fat way - although that's possible too...when compared to the magic of our Earth), more aware and more complete for it. 

TM podiums

So as I stood on watching I caught teams from the XL-Compression XL sport relay literally charge for the finish line to whoops and hollers of triumph and delight, tears and hugs. Whilst others simply stopped, walked and sat quietly reflecting. Beautifully personal moments - a little person carrying their Dad's racing poles utterly and delightfully oblivious to their pain and discomfort, indifferent to their journey but happy to see them, hanging off their broken legs and demanding to know when can they have ice cream. 
 
Reading the press pack it talks of human spirit, of triumph, of supporting your fellow runners, of humble appreciation for your environment, for taking care of each other and the natural world we live in.  I felt all those things as a runner and an onlooker.  It's a special race series, run from the heart, driven by those with heart and care for the wellbeing of those they are organising the race for.  
 
One of my lasting memories was talking to Cyril Cointre, not only is he an incredibly talented ultra trail runner with some tough races and top placements under his belt, he was also press driver, assistant organiser and all-round cheerful, multi-lingual translating super-star. He shared that the race director took the decision to alter the course of the marathon and the 15km mixed trail that take part on the Sunday to avoid the top of the mountain because of the strong possibility of thunderstorms - they wanted to ensure everyone stayed as safe as possible, in already tricky terrain.  This for me was care-giving and thoughtful responsibility - living up to their values. 
 
In conclusion, if you fancy a really great trail race to suit your wants and needs then here you have the perfect series.  If you want challenge, technical difficulty to keep you on your toes, a beautiful spot to run around and some decent French cuisine then they tick all of those boxes too.  If you have family that might want to support and cheer you on - Annecy has so much to offer, it's picturesque, sporty, clean and the people warm and inviting.  The race series truly walks its talk, it's beautifully and thoughtfully put together, highly professional with nothing left to chance. It's fun, rewarding, challenging, exciting, soul-fuelling and tough. There is nothing I would find cause to make judgement on and nothing I wouldn't give to be a part of it again, although next time, with some confidence under my belt, I'll be in the marathon race or I'll eat my disgustingly sweaty Tecnica-maXi sweatband. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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