What a weekend!
Just took part of the Euro KIMM Mountain Marathon in the French pre-Alp region of Haute Savoie with Grant Killian of Untamed Adventure.
It was my first ever mountain marathon and so exciting! I was interested to know how I would fare on foot over such distance and I had never been to that region of the Alps so it was a no brainer when I was asked to do the race by Grant.
It was an adventure just getting there on Friday evening. A 17.30 train to Lausanne from Zurich HB was caught, with Grant, all of our equipment, his wife Jill and their cute and hyperactive dog Boli. We made it to Lausanne to catch the ferry across to Tonon Les Bains in the dark. However, when we arrived there wasnt a taxi in sight so we set off on foot up the hill to look for one to take us to Bellevaux about 25km up the road or to a hotel. We had initially intended on getting a bus or taxi to Bellevaux and the starting town of the race however we soon realised that it would be impossible. So we stayed in Thonon Les Bains overnight, much to the dismay of my suffering bank balance!
An early start on Saturday morning, and Grant and I set off by taxi to Bellevaux (extra ouch!). We arrived, registered and waited for the gear check, which consisted of showing the soles of our shoes. Apparently the French arent as concerned about us having first aid kits or lights and whistles as to what the quality of the soles of our shoes are like.
Grant had some snazzy Ribz front packs for us to try out for the weekend. Consisting of shoulder straps and a pack that snugs your body with huge pockets they are really useful for reducing the size of your backpack and storing food or anything else you want close to hand while running around the place. Ive also been using mine on long training runs too.
We had a le Mans start, running down a hill to pick up our maps. We realised they were divided into two courses and we were required to check in before 13.30 at CS to change our control cards after picking up as many points as we could over the first half of the day.
A lot of the competitors had competed in the Euro KIMM before and had come over from Britain for holidays. Seasoned marathoners and experienced orienteers it was great to be surrounded by so many good folk and pick up some tips from them along the way.
Off we set. Grant in firm control of the navigation. We hit every control bang on target except for number 10 but we subsequently found out we werent the only team to miss that one. The last control of the day we also looked for was difficult to find and in the end we had almost given up when another team took pity on us and gave it away to us!
We completed the two courses in 5.58 hours, non-stop with quite a bit of climbing and arrived back to base, weary and tired and ready for a bite of food and the chance to sit down after 6 hours on the go with heavy back packs. I think my backpack should have been much lighter. I wasnt carrying anything unecessary but my sleeping bag and thermarest could have been lighter. When I saw other competitors with tiny backpacks I wondered how they fit a tent, sleeping bag, thermarest and clothes and food into it all for two days. It amazed me. Grant carried the tent and I still think my back pack was heavier than his! Duh!
We had a beer in a nearby bar while catching up with the other teams, comparing routes and points. It hit us that we may not have chosen a very strategical route and we werent focused enough on the weight in points of certain controls. Point taken, tomorrow we would have to be smarter about chosing what controls we aimed to get.
Tent up, food cooked and eaten, we hung around on the campsite chatting to two of the older competitors. One of whom had just completed his 100th marathon! Another was the ripe old age of 68, I hope to be doing the same when I am that age. I was super impressed. And they had some stories to tell. Both had competed in numerous OMM`s.
It was very cold outside when the sun went down and we noticed most teams were in their tents having a nap. We followed suit. A fire was set at around 8pm, we crawled out of Grants sponsored Hilleberg tent like Father Jack at the whiff of the local Schnapps and scoffed a couple of glasses while speaking in broken French with some of the local competitors. It was a great atmosphere and a really nice way to end the day. I was very tempted to down half a bottle of the firey alcohol in order to sleep better but I held back!
By 9pm everyone had retired for the night, we had an early 5.30am start on Sunday morning and I knew that I was probably heading for a night of broken sleep. But surprisingly I did manage to get a few winks. The only problem in the tent was the condensation. Grant explained to me that one sheet tents are notorious for condensation build up, but I was happy to have a really light tent and not be in a bivouak outside.
5.30 am and we were woken up to the sound of a car horn. I crawled out to set up the stove and heat up some powdered hot chocolate and milk mix. It was delicious! I scoffed some cereal and we got back into our sleeping bags. It was just way too cold to get up and outside. We only emerged at the last minute and quickly tore down our tent and packed everything away.
Maps were given out at 7am, there was a mad scrabble and I noticed people marking their maps with the points values for each control, something I will rememmber for next time. We headed off and it was a brutal awakeneing, we had to climb up a brutally steep hill to the first control. We did notice though that we were at the front of the pack and keeping up. I remember thinking “this isnt right, we are going too fast and should be more conservative, we have a long day ahead” but Grant was moving well and eager to push on, so we kept it up. When we summitted we had a fabulous walk run along a ridgeline with the most amazing views for about 2 or 3 kilometers and up again to another summit for a control. After spending around 5 minutes looking for the control which should have been pretty obvious, we gave up and carried on. Another round of brutal hills later we checked in before the cut off point at about 12.30 to pick up our new control card and set off on the last half of our marathon adventure.
By the latter half of the day we were both feeling the effects of so much time on our feet and the really tough morning we had just had of all that climbing. We decided to be conservative and forgo the infamous and overly debated control no.70 and head for base down a switchback. This was where we made our biggest mistake of the weekend. The switchback didnt have any controls and it was unrelentingly steep, techincal underfoot and slippery. It would have been better had we gone the long way around, picked up about 3 controls and risked getting back a little late. But I think we were too fatigued and inexperienced to have made that strategical decision! Next time luckier and wiser.
When we got back, we were so happy! It was a great feeling to finish and we were optimistic about our chances of having won our category as we hadnt seen any more of the teams in our category close to us for most of the day.
In the end, we actually placed in 2nd place, we lost by 10 points! It was disappointing but we came in 9th place overall out of quite a few teams and experienced mountain marathoners.
I would definitely encourage any mountain and orienteering lovers to try out this event. I was surprised there were so few entries as its is superbly organized. The course was so well thought out with so many options for the not so fast, or not so experienced and had an extremely challenging option for regular mountain marathoners.
The photos speak for themselves regarding the spectacular settings and atmosphere at base camp.