Race report: Trail de l’Absinthe

What with all the news about the microbiome in the headlines, running reports have taken a back seat at Gydle lately. Before I right that wrong, I’d just like to point your attention to another article in the New York Times – the number one e-mailed article today – about how we evolved along with microbes and viruses and other delectable parasites, and how our hyperclean germ-free existence is probably not that great for our health. Here’s a choice quote:

Maybe it’s time we talk more about human ecology when we speak of the broader environmental and ecological concerns of the day. The destruction of our inner ecosystem surely deserves more attention as global populations run gut-first into the buzz saw of globalization and its microbial scrubbing diet.”

I love it! These people are speaking my language. Dirt lovers unite!

So, back to running.

I’ve been training for this Sunday’s Aletsch half-marathon. You’ll hear about that next week sometime, provided I survive.


Memorial day, I did a nice 15km trail run in the Jura mountains by myself. The next weekend, I followed my friend Monica up the Mont Tendre from Montricher – a brutal 900m vertical gain on steep trails past herds of scary looking cows. My legs hurt so badly afterward I could hardly walk for three days. I don’t know what I was thinking. Probably I wasn’t thinking.

Then Monica told me she was going to run the Trail de l’Absinthe. Maybe I’d be up for it?

The Trail de l’Absinthe is a 75km ultra in the hilly Jura mountains above Neuchatel, birthplace of the legendary Absinthe liquor. The race organizers have added a marathon, half-marathon and nordic walking event to the lineup, mostly on trails. On a whim, I decided to join her and run the half-marathon. I guess I’m a glutton for punishment.

Or maybe it was the word “absinthe” that got my attention. This legendary, anise-flavored, highly alcoholic (90-148 proof) drink was popular with types like Hemingway, Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh back in the bohemian era and was thought to drive people mad. It was banned for a long time, but has recently come back in vogue. I’ve never tasted it. In retrospect, I don’t know what I was thinking here, either. They didn’t give free samples at the finish line. My sanity is still intact, (albeit just barely).

It had been cold and rainy the whole week. On Friday, summer arrived all at once, and temperatures were predicted to be even hotter on Saturday. Great. My body was totally unprepared. I told myself this was a training run, not a race, that I just needed to put my legs through some serious trail mileage to get ready for the Aletsch. I am not racing this!

The course took off with a steady climb, one that became steeper and steeper… in the blazing sun… until we blissfully we entered a forest and the trail leveled off. I really tried to hold myself to a comfortable pace. This might seem obvious, but when you’re in a race, the temptation to push yourself harder than usual is almost overwhelming. Everyone else looks so serious. They’re all focused intently on passing you. Nobody is talking. You think, I’m feeling good. I can toastify this person. Let me just crank it up a notch… Plus I was wearing my groovy new running skirt and I felt so fashionable. None of the other women were wearing groovy running skirts. They probably thought I’d mistaken the race for a tennis tournament.

On the downhills, no surprise, I got toastified. I just don’t get it. How can these people launch their bodies downhill like that, particularly when there are rocks and roots and all manner of possibilities for breaking your face? How can they stand that jarring impact as they just let loose and hurtle down the hill? Every time I was passed on the downhill, I caught up and passed that very same person again on the next uphill. This happened repeatedly, because it was a hilly course. I guess if I ever learn how to run downhill I’ll post really awesome times.

At the aid stations they were passing out water, coke and various snacks. Coke! Good grief. I made myself come to a full stop and choke down two full glasses of water. Sweat was running into a blister in the crook between my index and middle finger that I had gotten from overzealous attacks on the edging of our patio earlier in the week, and it burned. My feet, however, were happy in my new Brooks PureGrit shoes.

There was a long. flat strech on a paved road and I was able to find a comfortable rhythm. Then we went up again, and finally, a long painful descent – in which I managed to pass a woman who was even more pathetic on the downhill than I was – and then the stretch into athletic center and the end. More water and coke and snacks – but no absinthe. Probably just as well, because it was a long drive home.

I ate tons of salted nuts and drank a margarita with Brendan on the patio that evening. The next day my legs felt fine! And the day after that, too. I think the margarita-nut combination is the ticket. Or maybe, just maybe, I’m getting into shape. Anything is possible!

In other news, I turned 47 today, an important number if you happen to have attended Pomona College. My CTO, aka Dave, is 53. As he pointed out to me, that means we are both in our “prime”. I’m going to enjoy it all year long.

And as one of my loyal readers has remarked, I still haven’t revealed what Gydle means. Maybe the time is coming. Stay tuned.

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