Race season is on or let’s say that things have just started if considering the season ahead. Last weekend was the start, never the less it was quite a roller coaster kind of start but got it done and I’ve ticked another box on the bucket list I would say. I took on La Transjurassienne a 68km race across the Jura.
I don’t know if you have these sort of memories but I do and it’s funny remembering watching TV when you were a kid, especially the news on a late Sunday, seeing those very short reports about a whole bunch of crazy people taking on such races. The fun part being that I never thought I would actually end up as one of these crazy people, still I can now proudly say I am if looking back at last Sunday.
So the weekend was the same as last years’ one, Saturday with a short warm up, bib collection and then resting as much as possible in light of what was ahead. I thought it would be a great weekend, I did the sun dance all week while tapering but in the end it wouldn’t be, weather was to be between snow or rain, grey and very windy. There were even reports of a storm coming towards us and it did, fortunately it turned out as back or side wind but still they had to cancel the marathon race this year as they couldn’t guarantee a safe race to everyone taking part.
Sunday started a 5:00 AM, in order to get the breakfast and hydration right, ham, cheese and eggs as well as porridge for a start along with some isotonic drink and a few cups of coffee, with a cold race you want the stomach to be solid. Then got all showered and dressed up, race day means the trusted kit but not too many layers in order to get the balance right with heat exchanges. You don’t want to get hot nor cold so as usual I only use things that were previously tested and by 6:30, Marc and I were off.
The trip was okay but 10 minutes short of reaching the start and Lamoura we were told to turn back by the police, in fact the road was closed but we didn’t know and didn’t hear about it previously… So back we went and followed the alternative route which took half an hour on little roads behind the slow buses… Arriving on site, all parking spots were by then full and we were to be late. We managed to park about 2km from the startline, ran all the way there to collect our skis which we had left the day before so they would be professionally waxed…
In the end it wasn’t that bad I thought as we started at 8:40 AM instead of 8:30 for Marc and 8:35 for myself but god it turned out bad and I finally understood the true meaning of starting according to pace and levels. Starting with the last group it felt like a car chase with Marc and I playing the good and the bad, chasing each others through traffic. In the end and just like in any Hollywood picture the bad crashed and I did when overtaking some guys, that man went on my poles and got me on the floor. I wasn’t down long and started chasing Marc again, still I would understand the result of the crash later…
First 15k went alright, the skis were flying if I may say and I was just getting past groups of people, it was more or less flat and I could test my technique all the way and up until disaster struck. Between km 16 and 20 I broke a pole and god knows how important poles are in cross country skiing, I mean it’s a full body sport which involves everything from top to bottom so when suddenly I heard the noise and looked down at the broken pole I litteraly thought the day was over…
As I found out, I was on a more or less flat section and I remembered the ski lessons when the teacher taught us not to use our poles in order to glide as much as we possibly could and find balance, that is exactly what I did. For 10km I just used my quads as much as I could in order to reach the next stop. A good thing happened by km 28 when I saw a medical station and a single – but short – pole left out there waiting for me! I stopped and asked to borrow it. It turned a good decision as they agreed and told me a technical station was at the next aid station and that they would give me the correct length one there for the rest of the race.
So 2k later I reached Bois d’Amont which was just short of the mid-distance, stopped for a new pole and got hold of their last one that was my size, then had a good refuel as it was now two hours into the race and got going again. The rest of the race then went on smoothly and with no later troubles. In fact, the most interesting aspects to the race were the mental game that got on from the start and by this I mean playing catch-up with the faster groups with whom I should have started as well as pacing the effort and getting the nutrition right.
Racing in cold and windy conditions is something special and very hard on the body but also the mental with nutrition being a key parameter and last Sunday was a good test all in all. The mental went okay and up to the point I broke my pole due to the fact I was just getting past so many peoples, then and when the problem happened I had a 5 minutes break where I considered throwing all away and going home. Fortunately, it didn’t last and I thought I wouldn’t have come all the way to just stop now, also and getting my way to an aid station to retire was 12k away or so. You can imagine that if I was to get there one handed and which I did, I wasn’t gonna stop and of course I didn’t, except to collect an “emergency” pole and get properly to the finish, which I did.
On the nutrition, the race was to be a test from the beginning, cold means that you burn more energy altogether and truly, I hadn’t got it perfect during the training days beforehand so I was a bit nervous on that side. Also and as per the usual long distance scheme, there’s a point where you wonder if the stomach is just gonna hold together due to the stress it’s going through as we talk here of more than 3 hours of continuous effort.
Breakfast and as said was to be the start, conservative with two ham, cheese and eggs muffins on a layer of porridge, that would bring all I needed to start with, on the drinks I got on with two cups of coffee and half a litre of isotonic drink, and all that before 6:00 AM. As the race started by 8:30 all things looked good. I used two gels during the race, one after H1 and H3 while I using a single caffeine shot for the race 50/50 by H2 and H4. Additionally, I took the time to carefully stop at each aid station after the second hour, eating dried fruits and cheese, a delight of racing in the mountains as well as drinking hot tea. In the end, got it all going throughout the race, no special need, no troubles or bad stomach so very happy.
All in all, it was a tough day and quite an experience but a brilliant one, conditions could have been better, way better in fact but I have to take it, I made it and under the 5 hours barrier. I’ll surely be back as in the end I loved every second of that day and would recommend anybody to give it a try.