Julien’s First Mud Day at Trail des Châtaignes
I’d like to start this race report by congratulating everyone who did participate. Given the very low entry fee, it would have been an easy decision to just bail when it was clear that the weather was going to be really bad. And to be honest, I had the feeling that many who signed up would not show up. I was wrong.
I remember seeing this trail on the meetup calendar (started by Antoine) back in September when looking for the next challenge after « Trail des Dents du Midi » in Switzerland. I thought the date was perfect, giving enough time to recover from a pretty tough mountain trail and allowing for a few weeks of good specific training before race day.
But what caught my attention the most was the elevation gain, more than 900m of climbing over a 16K distance (1600m for the 31K). I had no idea you could run a loop with that much climbing so close to Paris, or you would have to run up & down the same hill 10 times in a row, which obviously wasn’t the case here. That plus the fact that the organizer was Aurélien Collet, one of the best trail runners in France who actually lives nearby and trains on those same trails, I knew it would be the best trail run we could get in the area.
I signed up immediately. Then the supersprint came around and I did advertise this trail to quite a few expatriés during the usual « post-race apéro », hoping that maybe one or two would be tempted. I was surprised when several expats seemed genuinely interested, but I also knew that with a couple beers people tend to get over-excited and change their minds soon after, so didn’t really think too much of it. However, when the registration closed about a week before the race, more than 30 of us were signed up and some even looking for spare dossards to get in! (I guess they were not aware of the weather forecast at this point ahah).
On race day, we all gathered in the gymnasium in Argenteuil to get ready for the run.At this point, everyone knew the weather was not gonna be on our side, but I really don’t think anyone could have imagined how bad it was gonna get in the first hour of the race! For many it was a first try at running on trails with that much elevation, and what a day to have a first experience! Makes every finish impressive regardless of final time. Personnally I had never experienced conditions quite like this in a trail run, so in many ways it was a first for me too!
We could feel the rain coming just before the start, but it got really bad around 10 minutes into the race and for 40 minutes or so non-stop. It was pouring down like crazy, « Indian monsoon » kind of rainfall ! Last race I can remember with such a downpour was the half-marathon in Paris earlier this year. I thought at the time that it was the worst race conditions we could ever get, but the big difference is that even though the rain does make you lose some traction when running on concrete, it just doesn’t compare to the mud on the trails.
And muddy it was! The rain did stop after less then 1 third of the race, but we had to deal with super muddy trails from start to finish. I remember being frustrated when running on some muddy parts in the last mountain trail I did, cause you spend more time head down trying to not slip and fall on your face than running and focusing on your effort. But it wasn’t much compared to what we got to deal with in this race.
After talking to Phil at the end, I also have to say that I agree with the fact that a trail course like this shouldn’t have a massive start with 1000+ people leaving at the same time. It didn’t bother me too much as I was more in front, but I can imagine that it must have been frustrating for those starting at the back and finding themselves stuck behind hundreds of people on very narrow paths. Besides the competitive aspect of it, I also find it easier to enjoy the experience of a trail run when I have some space, but it was nearly impossible here. Looking at how fast trail running is growing though, seems like this is only gonna get worse…
Overall, I’m happy with the race anyway and more gutted for those I pushed into doing it as a first experience of trail running. It may not have seemed like it given the conditions, but the course itself was actually really nice. Almost all of it in nature, lots of ups & downs, sometimes literally on single tracks in the middle of the woods ducking under branches or jumping over fallen trees!
I love the speed of road running, which is why I will not give it up. But let’s face it: it does get kind of boring after a while racing at the exact same pace from beginning to end on flat hard ground. Trail running is more like an adventure in my eyes, especially in the mountains, but I think this trail was still really good in that regard.
Had we done it in summer with warmer temperatures, sun all day, dry ground, birds singing in the trees as you run along, and a nice alcoholic debrief on a terrasse nearby :), things would have been much different for sure!
But it is what it is. I just hope that it won’t refrain those who signed up for this race to give trail running a try from giving it a second chance next year in another event! It’s definitely worth it, trail running is so cooooooool!!
PS : I hope everyone who participated is having or had a good recovery. As for me, I couldn’t keep my eyes open past 7pm that night, went to bed and fell asleep instantly. Woke up … 14 hours later! Can’t remember last time I slept for that long, so yes it was more tiring than it seemed!