Trail Racing in the Alps

This past weekend we drove over to Lans-en-Vercors for a lovely day of trail racing in the alps.  The race is in the Vercors mountain range, across the valley from where we live – so if you’ve ever seen the view from our place (which is unavoidable if you follow me on Instagram) – it’s the range that we look directly at from our place.

In this picture, the peak is just below the cloud where the sunset is bursting forth



pre-race in Lans-en-Vercors



first 5km or so were all pretty much like this

It was perfect weather for a race – sunny and clear – but only about 15 degrees up at the base of the ski resort when we started out. The race gained A LOT of elevation – they say 1350m – but  about 1500m according to my running app and the race profile if you count all the elevation gains due to a last minute course change. It started off with a long climb – the first 8km were just up. From the village square in front of the church in Lans en Vercors (1010m) – all the way up to the top of Pic Saint Michel (1966m).

croix de la pic St Michel
Cross at the Peak of St Michel – 1966m
..and right back down the other side -back to below the clouds

I have run a trail race only one time before – one leg of the Grand Duc relay last year – and it’s amazing how hard these uphill sections are. It amazes me to be surrounded by all these incredibly fit people, who live and train in the mountains, and are trying to beat a certain time – but nobody can run the uphill sections. Everyone is reduced on the steep sections to keeping as fast of a walking pace as you can. It’s just impossible to run up some sections – often long sections.



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And there are sections which are so technical, sometimes piles of loose, sharp-faced rocks about the size of your head – that sometimes I found myself thinking “this is really not something that one should be running on”.


The trail crossed snow three times, went from open alpine meadows, to deep in the forrest, to rocky trials, to logging roads, to cut-into-rock hiking paths so narrow that you just can’t pass anyone for sometimes hundreds of meters.

It may seem obvious – but the last 5k were the hardest. Mostly because from the peak, it has been – overall – downhill for a long time. Then you arrive at the last feed station – and I looked at the map – and saw that one last climb. 200m of vertical over 2km. Then right back down the other side – dropping 200m into the village. yikes. It was actually almost surreal – how everyone was just ground down to such a decreased pace.

the final climb
I don’t know what’s better than having your kids come out and run the last km with you…



..except for maybe having your two year-old standing in the middle of the road, jumping up and down, clapping, chanting “Yeah Papa, you can do it Papa!”

Overall it was a great time – and now I’m hoping I can at least get in one or two more before we move from living here in the heart of the Alps where there are so many opportunities for this kind of thing.


Since it took me almost exactly 3hr.30 to run – the rest of the family obviously had some time to kill. Luckily Lans is a picturesque little town up the Vercors plateau.