Hank Pantier

2 Races in the Alps in 6 Days

Hank Pantier
2 Races in the Alps in 6 Days

A 40k and 50k race 6 days apart, certainly something I don’t usually do, but with such fantastic trail running, mountains and races available in the Alps, it makes total sense.

The first race, the Hoka Interlaken 40K is a point to point run from the mountains between Aix les Bains and Annecy down to Lac Aix les Bains.  The race has a little less than 3,000ft of climbing but over 6,000ft of decent Mark, our good friend traveling with us for a month, Maggie, Felix and I camped at the start line.  We enjoyed amazing views down to the lakes in a forested alpine parking lot.   I did a 10k run before the race got started getting back 5-6 minutes before the gun, but the race started a few minutes early.  I grabbed my AK Ultimate Direction vest, a few packets of Vitargo and started the race in last place by a minute or so.  Aside from the one good 5k climb and a crazy, crazy steep 5k descent, this was an amazingly fast paced trail race.  I checked my watch and was close to 7 min mile average pace through 10 to 15K on less than buffed trail.  After a lot of passing, I finally caught the leaders of the race and eventually was in the lead through half with a Technica “French National Runner” right behind me.  Much of the course was through fields and forest with lots of cross-country style running.  I hurled my body down the mega descent partially skiing the dirt and rocks.  I managed a minute or so lead on the Technica guy on the way down and with 35k to go, I had extended my lead to maybe 2+ minutes, but then missed a turn.  After two attempts with random hikers to get back on course, I figured out my mistake… 2k later.  I passed two guys in the 40k on the last 5k and managed 3:06 for 3rd.  It was certainly a big bummer loosing the lead so late in the race due to a missed turn, but it is part of trail racing and I must not have been paying enough attention.  The race was very fun and a great challenge with a number of fast studs (3hrs for a 40k is pretty fast for a trail race).

The next weekend I raced the Trail du Vallan 50k in Borg St Pierre Switzerland, but before that race I had a good beat down with some food poisoning.  Tuesday I was a wreck, no running, no comfort, and no fun.  Wednesday was still not “solid”, but better and Thursday I was able to run.  I was nervous how this would play into my 2 races in 6 days scheme.  Friday I felt fine and was ready to give the race a go.  The race is a high alpine mountain loop in Switzerland with 12,000ft of climbing.

The race started at 5am in the cold rain.  I was on time and took off into the dark.  This race had 3 or 4 fast “pro” runners, namely a couple Salomon guys and a Hoka athlete.  My strategy was to hang behind the leaders until the sun came out to avoid going off course, as I had never run in the area and had no idea where the turns were.  The pace was good and we slopped up and down the trails together with the two Salomon guys ahead of me.  In the light and on a road I made my pass after a quick conversation with the Salomon guys.  Julien, one of the Salomon guys, mentioned he saw the Julbo YouTube video about my trip to Europe and running UTMB.

I opened up a 90 second lead and at the top of a road I ran into a farm with cows and no course markings.  I asked the lady working there in the rain which way to the peak and she directed me 600 meters back down.  Back down I was running with 3rd place.  Just before the summit, I passed the surprised Salomon guys… again.  I was now laser focused on the course.  Through the slop, off trail mountain running, scree fields and boulder fields I made my way around with no sign of anyone behind.  The mountain running was amazing with all sorts of fun ascents and descents as described.  There were even some snow crossings and lots of super challenging footing.

Approaching the final climb, above 3,000 meters (very, very high for the Alps), I was passed by a young guy with a 50k bib.  I was blown away and defeated getting passed with such speed.  At an out and back, he was absolutely sprinting down the technical descents and I pretty much wrote him off as the winner.  At the final aid station, I was pushing harder than planned trying to match the passer’s pace and indulged on some of the distinctly Euro offerings like cheese and bread along with some fruit.  I saw Julien maybe 5 minutes back and decided to bomb as best I could the final sloppy descent.  I fell half a dozen times including an inadvertent trip by a hiker that skinned my knee.

I ran in to the finish through the old Swiss streets happy but bummed I couldn’t pull off a win.  I was only 3 or 4 minutes behind the guy who passed me, but after finishing I learned he was on a relay team.  Just as last week’s finish was crazy; this week was the same, but in a much happier way.

We enjoyed a Swiss dinner to include Raclette cheese and great food at the party after the race.  A great time and an even better race that I think should be on a short list of best mountain races ever.

I wore my Altra Paradigms, Ultimate Direction AK vest, SmartWool Apparel and used Vitargo for my fueling (400 Calories for the 1st race, 600 for the second).