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Monday, April 4, 2011

Trail du Josas 2011.

Last Sunday saw the 3rd running of the Trail du Josas and as I write this re-cap I'm not sure where to even start. The race had it all and embodied everything about this sport that I cherish.

On a sunny Saturday afternoon I headed down to Jouy en Josas with family in tow to pick up my race pack and get some fresh air running around the fields with my kids. The weather was a perfectly sunny 23 degrees and I could only hope that in twenty four hours time it would return and bask the trails with the same. If only.....

(at least I wasn't 666)

(the main event)

(the Celtic touch)

I awoke at five o clock the next morning to sound of rain smattering away at the window, mocking me almost. Opening the blinds did nothing to lessen the effect either, it was going to be a mud bath and that was that. I flicked on the kettle and started getting myself together, a change of shoes was the first consideration as I had planned to run in XT Wings for a dry course. Given that traction was going to be a major issue I decided in the end that Speedcross 2 would probably be the wisest option. Ain't nothing on the market that gives purchase on a slippy ascent/descent like those bad boys. I downed a cup of tea and a cereal bar to fuel up, foolishly not realising that this was far below what would be required to get me to the end of thirty five hard kilometres. But we'll get to that :) I jumped on my bike at 07:45 to pedal down to the start, a nice six km to free up the legs and get drenched to the bone.

The gymnasium was warm, welcoming and impeccably laid out. Lots of toilets were available, the volunteers were super friendly and it just felt like a really intimate gathering. It may be only the third year of this event but the ambiance exuded that of a more mature competition. I think one of the main reasons for this is passion, that, and a real knowledge of the local trails combined is a winning formula. The route this year was to be run in the reverse order (the hard direction) which meant, from my memories of last year, that we would be climbing from the start. As eight hundred of us waited for the nine o clock start the race director informed us that there would be a twenty minute delay in getting going. He then went on to explain a few things about the course and the changes that had been made, I was completely tuned out and not paying attention in class at all which is why I missed two vital parts of information. The course was thirty eight kilometres and there was one aid station. I am a martyr for learning things the hard way! So, after our brief wait in the cloudburst we set off.

It took only a hundred metres or so before a left hand turn out of the stadium turned asphalt into rolling single track. It made for a slight bunch up as everyone shifted gears to find their rhythm, mine was an easy tempo with no designs on anything other than enjoying the moment. The first climb came shortly afterwards and it was welcomed like an old friend, I have always loved the uphill and its hard to explain why. Some people see it as a curse but I tend to embrace it and shorten my stride to punch out the steps at a higher cadence. There is a sense of connection with the earth, of working with it and not against. The undulation continued in a relentless fashion for the next five km and the twisting descents were a how-to in staying upright. Every five minutes the sound of bird song and sloshing feet would be punctuated with a yelp or a barrage of French swear words as yet another runner either slipped or hit a tree. Once the pack strung out though after around ten km it became much easier to navigate a the trails and this was where I decided to ratchet up the gears a bit. I thought I could push on a bit harder and left the ten or so guys I had been with, one decided to come with me and I was glad of the company. He was probably in is fifties but a really graceful athlete with a smooth, metronome stride. I never did catch his name as chatting was off the menu it seemed, but we took turns in working to extend the gap on our group. The leaders at this stage would be well away but that did not concern me, I was here to learn and to enjoy. After half way we came to the only aid station in the race, they do not issue cups at the refuel for environmental reasons which I can really appreciate, instead you carry your own chalice or you get an eco-cup at the start. I was finishing my hand-held and getting a top up whilst taking on a salt tab to keep my sodium levels in check. It was the first time I experimented with them and can see the benefits from them after just one race. So after bidding adieu at "Rue de la Soif" it was hammer-time.

(twenty mins late, but off eventually)

(straight on to the single track)

(the course split)

(pretty typical descent)

(emerging from the cave)

(it was real balancing act)

(thirsty street)

With the mindset that I am halfway and another aid station looming somewhere before the end I start to pound a bit harder. Its around here that I merged with the twenty km runners (who commenced after our race) and it messed my cadence up a little. I had to shout at people to move over, politely of course, and find a way to keep the groove consistent. Luckily the routes split before long and I was back to having the trail to myself, my running comrade having sloped back just earlier. I knew this stretch extremely well and as its pretty much my back yard and could see that I was gaining on a group of guys who had gone out way too fast at the beginning. After a brief chat and helping one of them to his feet after he slid on a mossy, grimy bridge and almost ended up in the river, I took off with gusto (I found out from a friend only yesterday that the guy broke his shoulder and still finished) I was knocking off the kilometres and feeling pretty good until my stomach started to rumble at the twenty seven km mark and my confidence was further shot down when I asked a roadside volunteer when the next aid station would be. She informed me there was none. So with barely any water and the prospect of no fuel to see me through I was going to have to scrape the barrel to stay going. I was still feeling pretty able-bodied considering I had burned about three thousand calories but had taken on none. And at the five km to go (or so I thought) I reckoned I just had to stay steady and focused and I would make it. It was soon after this hollow self diagnosis that I started to fray. Dizziness and lack of concentration stared taking the reigns and I was fighting it to the best of my ability. My gait became sloppy and my posture limp. 'Hold on', that's all I kept telling myself, just keep the movement simple, minimise energy expenditure until............... "Allez, just five km left" This was the bellow that snapped me from my catatonia. I checked my Garmin which read thirty four km done and asked the guy what was going on. He informed that there was still five to go and that it was uphill and then a flat final km around by the lake. I was completely demoralised at this and had no idea how much time I would lose on the final stretch. I thanked him a ploughed down the hill to the tunnel where I was met with two hundred metres of knee deep river, darkness and a guy at the end with a torch shouting at me to come his way. Now, this tunnel may have been the thing that saved my ass. It has been said that it's only when you see the light at the end of the tunnel that the roof caves in, I was praying this would not be the case...... I jumped off the bank and into a freezing current. The cold immediately revived my senses and I dipped my head in to further the pick-me-up. Climbing out was slow and laborious but my Speedcross drained really well and back to a trot I went, the climb that followed was the cruelest of natures stair masters and I power hiked with my hands upon my knees all the way up. With just three km to go I caught two guys who were shuffling along as was I and that gave us all a boost to be there for each other, I would feel bad for a minute or two and receive amazing words of encouragement only to be the one egging-on the guys moments later. I think the person writing this a year ago would have said that this is the part where I walked, the part where listened to the voices saying quit and threw the towel in. But that was not on the agenda today and against a body that was depleted of all the nutrients necessary to propel me to the line I found a place where I had never been, not even in a 100km stretch. A place of total calm and ease, as if my legs were not part of the equation and I just took off. I don't recall much of those last thousand metres except for crossing the line and slumping beside a wall trying to search out of the corner of my eye for a food table, a coke or a piece of chocolate, anything to get me moving again. I eventually had my timing chip cut from my foot as I lay on the ground with the rain continuing to beat down. I had no dry shoes, no dry clothes to change into and my body felt busted but I did not care. My day had been an extraordinary one, a day I had not expected but that's usually the way the best ones are. I could say that with better planning I could have done a faster time or finished higher up blah, blah, blah but that's pointless in my opinion. Every experience is unique for many reasons and that's the allure.

(coming through the tunnel)

(the climb out)

(the climb out, a different perspective)

(after the tunnel, need to get up there)

Afterwards I bumped into my friends Christophe and Yann who are great ambassadors for the sport and pillars of the running community. Christophe is also head of Brooks France and put on a great outing last year with Scott Jurek. Of course the talk turned to the Paris Marathon next Sunday and I was asked "So, will we see you there" to which I laughed, shook my head slowly and shuffled of in the downpour.

See you round the bend,


Note~Top three photos-moi, race photos copyright-Running Cafe/Pierre de Meerler.
Race Stats~Garmin Page, Official result 45th place-time 3:38:45
Special thanks to Pierre for the kind use of the photos.


  1. great report !! it sounds like a great course - everything you could ask for on a run (apart from an extra drinks station!!)... you sound well on course for the Ireland run !! all the best.

  2. Thanks a lot Martin, the course I cannot praise enough. It really was epic. My fitness is right where I want it but Ireland will be so hard. Still, gotta try eh :) Cheers buddy.


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Running for Pearl

This blog is dedicated to my daughter Pearl who was diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) in August 2009. My goal is to raise funds and awareness by doing what I love....Running.