We completed the 14-day stage race called La Grande Traversee des Alpes last Saturday. It is quite amazing to actually be done - me with a complete finish of all stages for the first time (yay!) and John in second place (one better than last time). Many things were better than last time, from our preparation to the race organization. All the other runners were incredibly nice and we got to know many of them well.
I had a variety of small goals along the way towards the big goal of getting from Thonon-les-Bains at Lac Leman to Menton on the Mediterranean Sea on foot. My first goal was to finish stage 3 without being exhausted. This required starting conservatively, although my finish times were still faster than last time. I figured Sylvie, a strong woman runner, would remain faster than me for the whole race unless she had problems. But on day 4 when I determined for certain that I wasn't exhausted, I stopped reigning myself in and allowed my body to go uphill as fast as felt comfortable. I still took it easy the downhills to try to save my knees. Somehow I finished ahead of Sylvie, and from them on I gained time on her until the end. All I had to do on the last day was finish without a catastrophe, and I managed that, so I ended up winning the women's race (out of 6 women originally signed up for the whole 14 days). Fancy that!
John ran great, faster than last time while also taking it easy on the downhills. He had no knee trouble, no problems getting sick, basically enjoying himself and working hard on the uphills. It was clear from early on that Laurent was faster overall, but due in large part to his agressive downhilling style (John usually beat Laurent to the top of the first climb but then followed him the rest of the day). Both of them were well ahead of the rest of the field, and John was content to stay in second place until the end.
On the last day, it was quite cold at the start, so John took off fast in order to warm up. He felt great, so he just kept running hard, including down the hills. He passed me really early in the day looking great, finishing strong a couple hours later. Laurent passed me on an uphill, but then he appeared again further along in the course. This I didn't understand, and I thought he might have gotten lost (the area where I saw him again had some confusing trail intersections), until topping out at the last col. Starting down the final 1000-meter descent to Menton, Laurent was below me going downhill backwards and in obvious pain. He had injured a quad and couldn't go downhill normally, but he was trying the best he could manage to get to the finish line.
I worked my way down to him, gave him 2 ibuprofen pills, then continued on to the finish. His two-hour lead over John had nearly evaporated, but somehow he got himself down that mountain backwards as fast as humanly possible. Laurent won overall by 11 minutes and 11 seconds, and it was quite a suspenseful finish!
I'll work on more of a story but that will take quite a bit of time. For now we're in Geneva with a rental car, working on plans for the next week. Maybe we'll go back to the Alps for a bit (without running in them, to be sure), maybe we'll head toward Dijon and Nancy to the west. We fly home to Austin next Thursday Sept 25, at which point I'll have more internet time to post photos and stories.
Thanks for everyone's great comments and encouragement! I am SO excited to have finished the GTA - a 2-year project, really. It was an amazing experience, I'm very glad we came back to run it, and now it's a relief that it's over :)
Ciao until perhaps next week!
-Marcy and John