Landing at St Exupery the other day, we were flying in over the freeway and TGV line when my son spotted a TGV below us. And as our aircraft put down the landing gear, flaps and air brakes, we got overtaken. I've never been overtaken by a train whilst in an aeroplane before. Anyway, my son asked me whether I was going to run that fast…
On this day last year, Roland and I climbed Mt Blanc and skied the north face, with the first 1000 metres descent in ankle deep powder. It was one of the highlights of my life, and this year I wanted to mark it with something equally masochistic yet slightly less dangerous.
The TGV is a 75 kilometre Tour of the Glaciers Vanoise with 4000 metres of climbing. You pass five refuges which you have to make by certain times before they close the gates, and you can collect points for the UMB.
The Vanoise is savagely beautiful, and the path is breathtaking without being overly technical. A few spots were staffed by gendarmes who'd anchored ropes, mostly for descents down snowdrifts where a slip would have been fatal.
There were about 600 runners, all frogs, all stupid fit with most of them a little more acclimatised than me. It is geographically impossible to train for a race like this in Oz when the average altitude was 2500 metres, and the maximum nearly 3000.
I had to wake at 2 a.m. to drive from my wife's parents chalet in Courchevel to Pralongnan for the 4 a.m start. The adrenalin at the start was almost crippling, and I had to go the toilet several times before the gun went off and we were climbing up through the village by head torch, and then up the first 1000 metres to the foot of the Grande Casse, which still probably bears traces of my stains from climbing it several years back.
The snake-line of head torches was very pretty in the dawn light, and it was amazing how soon and far the field was separated. I was feeling so fantastic at the Refuge Vanoise that I didn't bother stopping, and fell in with a group of runners who kept up a cracking pace to the next - and the next.
The sunrise was spectacular over the Grande Casse, Grande Motte and Maurienne, and now we were running in a real wilderness zone, with no mobile access or escape routes.
Soon the day began warming up, and it was the descent to the Orgere's Refuge that soon started to take its toll. With temperatures in the mid twenties, it was hard to keep hydrated - and my old knees suck at descents unless they've got a pair of planks attached to them.
Anyway, had a good break at Orgere's until my kidneys were working again before the very long climb up to the col before Refuge Peclet Polset. There was about 3 kilometres of snow running down to the refuge which was a relief for my knees and achilles, and then all the way back down to Pralongnan again in the heat.
I'd wanted to complete it in 12 hours but came in an hour later due to blisters, kidneys, old knees and photo opportunities. I got grilled on the finish line by the commentator for being the only Australian in a field of frogs, but was so overwhelmed and exhausted that my French let me down terribly. Anyway, a great run in an extraordinary place.