Sunday, August 26, 2018

TDS 2018: so grossly under trained for this, but here anyway!

Oh my, another week to live by my globe trotter reputation... A week ago I was in London, then Paris last week, flew back home in Silicon Valley for just 2 days home and here I am again, in France, after a connection through Frankfurt and Geneva. Not anywhere in France but Chamonix for the pilgrimage to the Mecca of mountain and ultra trail running! While pious Muslims flocked to Saudi Arabia this past week, trailers as we call ultra and trail runners here in France, aspire to attend the UTMB week which starts this Monday. More than 8,000 runners across 7 major races ranging from 40 to 300 kilometers (25 to 186 miles).
But like I was mentioning in the report of my last race here (90 km of Chamonix), 2 months ago, distance is not only just a number, it hardly describes the epic ascents and descents, the mind-blowing cumulative elevation and the roughness of the technical trails. Or, as the more optimistic would start with, the amazing views of alpine summits and valleys!

Back in June, I had promised myself I would work on these quads to feel fully ready to take on the TDS challenge. Well, it didn't happen, most of the hill training I got was at Skyline 50K 3 weeks ago and a 3 runs to the top of Black Mountain in July, each with about 1,200 meters of cumulated elevation over 45 to 50K, that is about 1/3 of what the UTMB races offer. Oh, and my training was on smooth Californian fire roads, except for the 2 miles of barely technical French trail at Skyline.

To top that off, I got a cold just before my CDG-SFO flight last Wednesday so I'm still heavily sneezing, and some coughing too. I still say it's perfect timing because there are still 3 days to recover, I hope it has passed by Wednesday morning... Oh, and work doesn't stop, I have to work on Monday, Thursday and Friday while in Chamonix. Better enjoy this sunny Sunday, the weather is supposed to changed on... Wednesday (see below what it matters to me!).
This year, after my embarrassing DNF at the 100th kilometer of UTMB last year, my plan was to register for both TDS (Wednesday) and CCC (Friday). Why? So I could finally complete the loop, first the South part, clockwise, from Courmayeur to Chamonix, then the northern section, counter-clockwise, also from Courmayeur to Chamonix. Yes, crazy! The other reason is that, between my faltering ITRA ranking (they don't factor age in their performance computation) and the raising of the elite threshold, I was afraid this would be the last year I could get guaranteed entries. Well, so long for a crazy dream because, in all fairness for all the aspirant runners who can't get in year after year despite about 8,000 spots overall, the organizers don't allow double registration. Since I first proceeded with TDS, TDS it is this year. And, when I say this year, I actually mean that this may be the last one here because, not only I'm struggling on the technical trails, with a combination of age-based fear and the souvenir of breaking my shoulder on a trail in Tahoe, but the size of the field, a couple of thousands in the key races, doesn't thrill me admittedly.

Now, what is TDS? Well, to get the acronym, you need a bit of French understanding: Tour des Ducs de Savoie. Not too hard though, tour and Savoie translates 1 to 1, and Ducs means Dukes. An allusion of this troubled past of this region where Dukes owned different part of the Savoie region and fought hard against neighbors and other invaders from nearby countries, most especially Italy.

That's for the name of the race. As mentioned above, we'll start in Courmayeur, on the Italian side of Mont-Blanc and go further South than the Tour-du-Mont-Blanc trail to get more rugged terrain, make it longer, 120 kilometers (75 miles), and get more cumulated elevation, 7,300 meters (or 24,000 feet). You know, just for the fun of making it harder, why not? ;-)
Start time is 6 am (45 minutes before sunrise), which is going to require a sub 3 am wake-up call, plus hopping on a shuttle at 4 am to cross the Italian border through the tunnel. The crazy faster guys should get to Chamonix around 8:30 pm! The slowest have 34 hours to finish on Thursday by 4 pm. My expectation? I've really no clue. Again, after what happened at the Chamonix 90K this year and UTMB last year, I just hope to have a better start given my sub-elite bib number, we shall see. Without sandbagging, sincerely, my main goal is to finish, without falling (I still have scars from my fall in June, and my broken finger last year) and, per Agn├Ęs' usual recommendation or hope, I need to focus on the enjoyment part. Maybe I'll even dare to take more pictures this time, if the weather cooperates (guess what, it can certainly change as we are in the mountain but, as of Saturday, forecast goes for... thunderstorm, damned! Hopefully with without the freezing temperatures we got for UTMB last year...

The course map (you can click to zoom in):
The elevation chart:
The time chart (9 hours ahead of California so the start is at 9 pm on Tuesday night in San Francisco):
Contrary to the races in California where I see so many familiar faces, here I feel like a complete stranger and newbie. Well, at least I managed to meet one of my godsons, Matthieu, who is running the inaugural MCC (Martigny-Combe Chamonix) 40K race tomorrow; so glad we share the same passion for trail running!

I'll wear bib 6122 (122nd ITRA score out of 1,600 runners, and 3rd in my age group), and expect to see YiOu Wang (6013) in the elite corral at the start (not much after that!). YiOu competes mostly in California except that she has been exploring the world this past year, living quite an amazing life experience! Maybe Vincent Delabarre too (in my age group, 2004 UTMB winner, from Chamonix).

We are 28 runners coming from the US (or at least registered under USA) and about half of them are faster than me, that's crazy! I'm actually surprised about the low number of our contingent this year.

After TDS last year, Ron Guttierez is back from California for the CCC (albeit under another spelling, Gutierrez, beware!). If you read this, and your are in Chamonix, leave a comment below! Or if you know of someone who is running one of the UTMB races whom I may know too, I'd love to connect, let me know too!

'nough said, I need to take it easy and had better (re)build some mental to get into this race in great and positive spirit! 3 more days for that, the clock is already ticking!


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PS: bonus pictures with more information about that very special week in Chamonix, the world summit of ultra trail running!

All the races on one map:
The planning of the 7 days:
And the history since the event started in 2003 (only 67 finishers on UTMB!):

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