Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tor Des Geants - An Italian Adventure, Part II

One of the unique aspects of the Tor des Geants is that it is basically a "single stage adventure run" of 330km, but you have 7 days to complete it. Basically, the race has a start and a finish and in between there are aid stations and 7 major "life bases" where you can get a meal, a shower and a bed. As a competitor, you're free to use those resources however you like to get you to the finish line as fast or as slow, as you like. You're expected to be largely self sufficient and carry your own gear and food. We each had the luxury of one small duffle bag which was transported between the 7 life bases. My game plan was to run the race like a tourist. Use the life bases. Run around 50km a day, eat, sleep and take lots of photos. I didn't want to miss any of the scenery and my goal was to simply to get to the finish line.

Craig Slagel

The race started with a leisurely lap through the streets of Courmayeur and then hit the trail pretty quick. After our town tour, the trail turned upward and we started our first climb of the race: a 1,400m ascent out of the gate. This was a great way to start out the day and spread out the competitors. For us, it was a good time to socialize with the friends as we all walked up the pass, eyes wide open, taking in all of the new scenery of this strange and wonderful land.

Glen and Doone

Our first pass of the day, Col D'Arp at 2,571m greeted us with open arms and blue skys. We enjoyed a high alpine pasture land dotted with chairlifts, occasional farms, cows and history.

Col D'Arp

It's what makes the Alps unique and different - between the patches of wilderness, there are people living, thriving and working in the high alpine. We passed through both: land that was high, remote and wild and land that was high, remote but dotted with refugios, farms, cows and grazed land. Both were amazing.

Ang and her new friend

As we descended off Col D'Arp and down to the village of La Thuile, we rapidly dropped 1,200m. This would set the tone of the race: huge epic climb, followed by huge epic descent. Jaw dropping scenery. Repeat. On this day, we would do this 3 times.

On this first descent, I struck up a conversation with Max and elderly gentleman, from Chamonix. Max was local, well in to his 60's and appeared to be blind in one eye. He was kicking ass. As we gazed at the glacier across the valley, and he told us the names of the surrounding peaks, he told us that we would eventually be climbing up to the glacier. As I translated for Angela, she rapidly asked, "Today?!?" Max laughed at loud and replied "Bien Sur! Of, course!"

The first major aid station was in La Thuile and we got our first glimpse of the food being offered. We had cheese, bread, dried meats, salami, dark chocolate, a huge bowl of prunes, a huge bowl of dark chocolate, cookies and sparkling water, red wine and beer to round up the buffet. It was good entertainment to see some of the Euros partaking, evidently, beer is good fuel. I made up a couple of sandwiches and Angela and I, hit the road. It was already mid-afternoon and we still had 2 more passes to climb.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tor des Geants - An Italian Adventure, Part I

I fully knew what I was in for when I signed up for the Tor des Geants. As a high alpine mountain race, with a crazy-ridiculous elevation profile, 25 mountain passes and the lure of running on the famous Alta Via trails of Italy beneath the shadow of Mont Blanc, I was instantaneous and totally smitten. It was a race that appealed to me because it was full of all of the things that I love about the mountains: incredible scenery, constant elevation change and the challenge of it all. But most of all, it was the place that beckoned: I wanted to explore this mountain place and run on the trails of the Aosta Valley until I couldn't run anymore.

As I prepared this summer for my Big Adventure, I had to ignore the numbers of this race. They were just way to scary and intimidating. Both the distance (330km/200miles) and the elevation (24,000m/80,000ft) were off the scale, so I was entering brand new territory as a runner. I started the race feeling pretty solid mentally and physically, but I'm a realist - I know shit happens when you try and run for 7 days. My level of excitement was as huge as the Mont Blanc, I was stoked to be here in the place and to be running on new trails into new territory. The Alps were beckoning.

We arrived in Chamonix in the dark and when I awoke and saw Mont Blanc and the Mer du Glace out of my window, I was awestruck. I had totally forgotten just how gorgeous that mountain is. When we drove through the tunnel from Chamonix, France to Courmayeur, Italy I got to see it it from a whole new perspective. Mont Blanc became Monte Bianco and it was evident that the Monte Bianco was a mountain to be revered, respected and celebrated in the Aosta Valley.

Lovely Courmayeur

This was the first year of Tor des Geants and as a North American in an inaugral European race, we were all thrilled to find out that Yes, there actually was a race going on. It was also a meeting of friends, some old and some new. As well as my Tip-Top lady friends Angela and Nicki, we met up with friends Tim and Doone Watson, Michael and Tamara Cartright, Mark Hartinger, Glen and Tanya Meeth, Craig Slagel, Beat Jagerlehner, Bruce Grant, Daniel Probst and Jen Segger. It was awesome spending some quality time with these good people. We were all lovin' up Italy, smitten with Courmayeur and ready to run. Now, I know you're not supposed to try anything new for a big race, but I couldn't help indulge in the pitcher of wine at the pre-race pasta party and I couldn't help stopping for a 2nd coffee only half an hour before race start.

When in Italy....


The Girrrrls: Angela, Nicki and Leslie

Mark, Glen, Doone, Michael, Tanya, Tamara and Tim

Wired on coffee and grinning like a crazed fool, I was beyond excited at the start line. I wasn't nervous, just full of stoke and fire for the promise of a big adventure. The start line was fantastic, electric and so Italian. Music, costumes, people, athletes all together. Organized mayhem to start the day, as we ran, joyously through the streets of Courmayeur.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Running: It Warms the Heart

It's a beautiful day in the Most Glorious Place on Earth - the town of Banff, Banff National Park, Alberta Canada.

Damn, it's good to be home. Life is good when you come home from a kick-ass holiday and you're glad to be home. Coming home to Banff is always like that whether it's 2 days or 2 weeks. When I pull into my drive way, there's always a deep exhale of breath, pleasure and the warm-fuzzy feeling of Pheeeeew. I'm home. Yes.

My adventure in Europe was exactly that - a huge and monumental journey in every sense of the word. I survived 3 days of Tor des Geants and it was so awesome. My 3 days on the trail were absolutely mind-blowing and a joy to spend in the company of my friend Angela. We had a lot of fun. Nicki said it best when she described this race as "the most mind-blowingly beautiful, well-organized, soul-destroyingly difficult and memorable race I've ever done."

Unfortunately, I injured myself and called it quits at the end of Day 3, almost happily. I hadn't quite got to the "soul-destoyingingly difficult" part of this race, but I certainly had a good taste. I had 3 of the toughest mountain days that I have EVER had on trail and loved every moment of it. As well as the race, my time spent enjoying the company of good friends was equally as enjoyable, as was the short trip I made after the race. All and all - a great European adventure.

Naturally, I'm putting together a blog post to share my thoughts and photos. My 3 days were a bit of a blur of mountains, high mountain passes, people and lack of sleep. Hopefully, I can put it all into perspective. Congrats to all of the finishers of this race - especially to Angela and Nikki and the rest of the contingent, Bruce, Beat, Dan and Craig. To finish this race is impressive beyond words - so congratulations my friends!

Today, is the annual running of a Banff fall tradition - the Melissa's Road Race. It warms my heart to see the town full of runners, appreciating, enjoying and running through the town of Banff. So, congrats to all of the fine people who ran their first 10km or half marathon right here in Banff. It impressed me to see the back of the packers, struggling, moving forward one step at a time. I was out there cheering, shouting out loud: You Guys Rock! Go Runners! You Can Do It! I just wanted to share the love. The love of something so simple as putting one foot in front of the other.

Saturday, September 25th - Melissa's Road Race 2010 Edition

So, here's to running! You bring me so many good people, good places and beautiful adventures. Thanks to all of the friends who attempted this crazy-ass-silly-fun-ridiculously-challenging race in Italy - the Tor des Geants. Wasn't that a grand adventure? An even bigger Congrats to those of you who got to the finish line, I'm forever impressed with your strength and mental fortitude.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Adventure Rocks

Numa Pass

It's been a great summer. I've managed to squeeze a lot in, maximize my 3 day weekends and run, run, run on more beautiful trails than you can imagine.
I sure do love my backyard.

View from Sulphur Mountain - my backyard trail

Spring at Yamnuska

I've spent some quality time on trails with lots of new and old running friends as well. I remember my first year in Banff, I spent the entire summer running these Epic Long Runs, all by my lonesome. It was good stuff, but it was lonely and at times, a little scary too. Things sure have changed. I've got lots of good buddies to run with now and my hubby, who is no longer chubby, is also a trail runner. Time flys when you're having fun and Keith and I have just celebrated our 6th year of living in Banff.

Lake Minnewanka Shoreline in Spring

It's all still one big adventure. I love that word, adventure. It's all things good to me. Fun, challenge, spontaneity all rolled in to one. On that note, I'm off to Italy tomorrow for One Big Adventure. It's time for Tor des Geants! It's going to be new territory for me. With 200 Miles of Fun and a ridiculous-off-the-scale amount of elevation gain and descent, it's too scary and intimidating to even ponder seriously. So, what do you do if you're Leslie? You focus on the adventure, the scenery, the people and the place. And hope for the best. Afterall, it's all one big adventure and adventures are so much fun!