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What goes up …comes down

“In dense woodland jovial chatter is replaced with heavy breathing”

hydration pack, and with a smile to my nearby competitors, begin the descent.

Single file please …keep walking!

am forced to slow to a quick walk. Labouring slowly forward on my running poles, I notice a mass of runners joining the path ahead. Happy for company, I fall into conversation with one of them, a spritely long-haired man, possibly in his 60s, with small round spectacles and a headband. He tells me they are running an 11k race called the 6 Decoverte and asks my name. “Maxwell” I reply. Much to my surprise the man makes a sudden break for it, reaches full sprint and begins to scream far louder than is polite “Allez Maxwell, Allez Maxwell, Allez Allez!” Spurred forward by the unforeseen energy of this madman, whose name I never learned, I pick up the pace. “Five hours in and I’m nearing the glacial summit. The leading runners fly past me on their way back down the mountain at senseless speeds. The terrain has become impossibly steep. Now at an altitude of over 3,000m, I begin to feel a slight nausea brought on by the steadily diluting air. Finally, I reach the summit ridge, whereon a peculiar thing happens – tears begin to well in the corners of my eyes and a sudden rush of euphoric relief comes over me. Although not an uncommon feeling during periods of intense endurance, this is something that I have only ever experienced at the very end of a race. It is clear physiologically that this moment marks a huge milestone for me – 30k complete, 30k to go, and it’s all downhill! I promptly slurp down an energy gel, take a swig from my

Down but not out

“Unfortunately, my relief is only

momentary. Terrain which felt steep going up feels even steeper going down. Under pressure from runners behind I spring from rock to rock, using my poles for balance, fully aware that a misplaced foot could have disastrous consequences. Skating across patches of snow, sometimes up to 3ft deep, I manage to stay upright. “Three hours have passed since the

hairy heights of the glacier and I’m still on the move. It’s 3pm and I’ve just hobbled into the grand resort of Plagne Bellecote. After eight hours of running at such dizzying heights exhaustion has taken a firm grasp upon me. Many competitors now lie sprawled by the refreshment station, some stretching and some gazing comatose into the ether, readying themselves for the remaining 19k. With no desire to sit down, despite my exhaustion, I cram handfuls of food into my mouth and drink some Coca-Cola; a naughty drink never to be found at a refreshment station in the UK. Regardless of its tooth melting capabilities, I gulp it down until it becomes a blissful waterfall of molten sugar across my withered taste buds. “Three hours remain until the 11 hour

race curfew, so I set off from Plagne Bellecote with purpose, determined and still confident that I will make it to the finish in time, yet annoyingly my pace slows yet further. At around 3.30pm the last of the high cloud is stripped from the sky and the sun beats down with a new authority. Luckily, shelter is close at hand and the

undulating trail cuts back among the pines. Hot and thick with resin stirred up by the afternoon sun the forest air smells like a newly varnished fence. I’m now frequently overtaken by runners making their final surge for the finish. “Bon Courage!” they cry before disappearing onwards up the track. Finally, after what feels like forever and a day, I break back into the sunshine and emerge upon the road. An eager looking chap with a white beard and a baseball cap kindly points me in the right direction and signals that I may drink the water from a hose he’s rigged up to the corner of his house. This I do willingly and jog onwards with an over-the-shoulder grin, 3k to go and it’s all delightfully flat.

“After 10 hours and 20 minutes I cross

the finish line. Pathetic by French standards given that the winner finished in fewer than six, but not at all bad for a Londoner. The man on the PA system congratulates me by name, which is a nice surprise. Naturally, my weary feet lead me straight back toward the Coca-Cola table, where I toast my success and promptly collapse.”

About the race “Entry costs 65 euros. There are between 800 and 1,000 participants each year – register at The Alpine scenery and tremendous support create a really memorable challenge. Comfy trail shoes, running poles and a hydration pack are essential. For something shorter, the 11k 6 Decouverte or the 22k Trail des 2 Lacs are equally spectacular.”



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