Grande Raid des Pyrenees (Lessons Learned!)

Grand Raid des Pyrenees Hiver (GRP) is an annual endurance race starting in Saint Lary, offering three distances of 10,20, or 30km distances with 2000m of ascent round the French Pyrenees. As my first ever snow running experience, there was a huge unnerving sense of unknown to this trip, so it was inevitable we were going to come out with a few stories and lessons learnt. Here are just a few, which I hope will convince you to sign up for 2017 :) 

 

  1. Always read the small print

Don't actually read the small print, you'd never get anything done in life. Just be aware that it's there, and just be aware that it contradicts everything you ever read online, and that when you hired that car for €20, it actually meant turn up at the airport, queue for 2 hours then pay a compulsory payment of €120, have a further €1100 credited from your account, and pay additional charges for every right and left turn you take through France.

So after signing our life and money away to Goldcar, we made a quick overnight stop in Toulouse, followed by a fuelled up breakfast, and we were on our way to the snow capped Mountains of the Pyrenees.

Beautiful drive out of Toulouse

2. Don't rely on Google to accurately translate a kit list

When I read about GRP 2017 online, the only information advertised  about the race was a one page PDF showing a woman running through snow with some ski poles. Anticipation and the unknown got the better of me and I threw up the €25 reg fee and registered, convincing Dave Finch to do the same.

Thank you for all the information, I now know so much about the event......

The event details that followed was a string of very sporadic French emails, and I gave up translating them after reading the subject line. But somewhere in my inbox was also apparently a very important mandatory kit list which I stupidly didn't bother to read so there was a very last minute panic trip to Decathlon to purchase an emergency blanket, a phone holder, and a whistle. Dave also informed me, that the kit list said we MUST have ski goggles. So we frantically ran around ski rental shops the day before the race looking for skiing goggles to hire, before realising that des Lunettes de soleil does in fact just mean...sunglasses. Cheers Google goggle translate.

3. Eat well, but enjoy some cheap fromage.

I am not undermining the importance of good nutrition in the days leading up to a race - meals of 70% carbs and 30% clean protein is a good basis. But I'm a big believer in 'if you want the cake...eat it', and i'm not going to let a trail run get in the way of me and a plate full of cheese. Eating clean 100% of the time is just not a sustainable diet plan for me, particularly now this stupid blog about mochas is underway!

Pre race meals included breakfast: a pretty lavish spread of croissant, fried egg and bacon, latte's and bread in Toulouse. Lunch was delivered by the famous Carrefour, stuffing cheap cheese and salami into a very long baguette, a whole pack of hazelnut cookies, and an apple. Our dinner was a LOT of pasta, double cream(!), loads of cheese, and bacon bits. Followed by a desert of Milka chocolate.

Off to the bakery...can I baguette you anything?

Breakfast was a little more planned and this will always be my source of fuel: overnight oats soaked in almond milk, grated apple, crushed pecan nuts and topped with slice banana in the morning.

4. Crampons are essential, but so is a sledge

The ascents on the GRP were definitely un-runnable and extremely difficult. The descents however, were SO much fun.  After a straight start of an 800m vertical climb, the first descent was literally down a black ski run, so when I saw the first runners sit down in the snow and sledge, I followed suit. Some runners had obviously done the route before and were kitted out with bin liners which I kind of thought was cheating but after sliding down on my arse for more than seven metres in compact snow and ice, I wished I had a bloody bin bag! On one of the ascents it was so steep that running down just wasn't an option so I slid down at a speed so fast at exactly the same time as a small French woman straight towards a boulder and we both looked at each other with dread and fear before rolling to the side to avoid the rock collision. It was fun.

Definitely crampons weather

For some reason crampons were not on the French's precious kit list! Maybe they were just assuming that anyone stupid enough to do this race was sponsored by Salamon and kitted out with fancy snow studs? Dave was....I wasn't. But luckily Decathlon once again saves my day with a cheap pair of slip on ice grips which made the snow a lot more tolerable! I was also pleasantly that even a pro like Tobias Mews had the same pair..they must be great. They weren't that great in the end - one actually fell off half way round and I had to do the last half one-crampon-less.

Sunrise as we reach the top of the first ascent

5. You're winning just by signing up to the race

In the words of Dave Finch - you're winning. It's difficult to express the feeling of completing a trail run as epic as the Grand Raid des Pyrenees. One year ago I would never have imagined I'd be running a race like this, let alone somehow coming 5th female in my category (yayyy!). It's easy to be put off by the fancy tag lines and branding of adventure races, and even easier to be put off by the amount of expensive kit that's on show at an event like this. But the truth is, everyone started somewhere, and you have to start somewhere. So please don't be put off by the Jean Paul's in their fancy branded jackets and new fluorescent shoes. It might be all the gear, but we've all got the same idea, to enjoy the race and the experience that comes with it. And with a little self belief and realisation that you can do it, you're winning before you've even crossed the start line.

 

Sarah Pritchard