Race Report: Les Defis du Jubile; Valais, Switzerland. October the 13th 2012

72 km around 2800hm

Les Defis du Jubile is in many ways a different adventure than other mountain ultras. First of all the “race director”, if you can call him that insist on that it is not a race but a spiritual journey. The setup is also really great; it basically follows the old biblical way from St-Maurice to Finhaut and back again on the other side of the valley. As far as I understand it is the way the old monks used to walk when traveling from church to church, and monastery to monastery, so you will not only see the nice mountain scenery, waterfall, caves and beautiful gorges but also extraordinary churches and monasteries on your way. There are 7 + 1 different checkpoints and if you decide to stop at any given checkpoint, you are seen as a finisher. Secondly you can choose to start 0700 hours or 0900 hours or simply from any given check point and run to another checkpoint. All in all this flexible race style encourages to a different kind of runner, and during the race I passed many families with kinder walking a leg, a guy with a baby carrier on the bag running a couple of legs. Old and young people traveling with dogs and family all in all a fantastic atmosphere boosted by nuns serving biscuits and sweetened tea at the aid stations.

I arrived Friday late evening to the Monastery in St. Maurice where we also should sleep in the dormitory. There were a great atmosphere under the attict of trailers in all ages repacking, hydrating, chatting and a little by little going to sleep.

The next morning we quickly found our self on the starting line after a short security briefing and some practical information. Daniel my colleague was there with me aiming for the 35,5 km which would be his greatest distance to date. It was extremely difficult to get a GPS signal due to the vertical cliffs towering behind us, and suddenly we were all moving. We were dead last, while we enjoyed the chilling morning air. It was still dark and many people had chosen not to wear a headlamp due to the fact that you most likely would only need it for 1 hour. Nevertheless I saw many people stumble and fall because they could not see ground, the rock or the rubble.

Defi no 1. The first 7 km was around 400 hm and very easy with small trails and some pavement strolling into the morning glow. We passed a couple of churches and it felt nice to be moving. When the light finally broke through there were an awesome view of the mountains in the background with fresh snow. It was surely going to be a great day. Daniel encouraged me to go on without him, and after some persuasion I found my normal pace and before I knew it I was in the first aid station.

                                             Daniel on route

Defi no 2. From Verossaz it continued up to La Sachia, where there were a short aggressive decent follow by some very small beautiful single trail pieces. Simply astonishing, waterfalls, caves and autumn colors where all around us. Little wooden bridge ahead, covered with nice leafs as I entered the bridge in full speed while turning gravity took a hold on me. The wooden planks were like soap, and I crashed into the railing full force before sliding on my backside the full length of the bridge. I felt pretty lucky that the railing saved me from falling into the boiling river, and pretty shocked. That was a close call. The next couple of bridges I went over was with a slower and more conservative approach. As we went over the 1200 meter mark, second highest point of the race a small chapel ahead of me caught my attention and there were Mex.

Defi no 3. From Mex to La Rasse was technical downhill single trails, great fun but very tough to conquer and I was for the second time in the race reminded that I need new shoes with a better grip, and more technical downhill training. From here it was pretty flat to Evionnaz

Defi no 4. A very flat piece with some pavement and not so interesting trails where suddenly shot to stones by a huge waterfall thundering just next to me. Absolutely incredible, however incredible was released by 40 something switchbacks as we followed the train some 600 hm up to Salvan, marking the 27,5 km into the race.

Defi no 5. The gorge. From Salvan we entered the most beautiful gorge or canyon. Fantastic nature and breathtaking views on a pretty flat stretch followed by 300 hm to Finhaut, which marked the half-way point.

Defi no 6. Technical “shit”. With fresh legs and German heavy metal in the ears this would have been the best part of the trail. However my legs was feeling the toll of the day, and the lack of training, so it was pure survival on the very steep decent on muddy, slippery single trail and stone slaps which ended in the bottom of the canyon before the stairways to heaven took me up on the other side. Stairways to heaven being the synonym, for the very steep ascent, mostly on wooden stairs which followed. Just as brutal as this part of the trail was, just as amazing was the nature here. From here there were a long decent on a larger path followed by a bit of single trail before ending in Vernayaz and the 52 km mark. A nice nun smiled at me and offered me home made tee and some biscuits, an in my mind also a blessing.

Defi Alesse. The cutoff time here was 1600 hours and I where there close to 3 hours before that, so there were not a lot to do other than taking the option route to Alesse which meant a brutal extra 500 hm, at this time directly in the sun to a great aid station with some nice volunteers. I am pretty sure they had a laugh when they saw me staggering up over the top, and towards them. I was sweating and panting and my legs was now really toast. After 5 minutes in a chair and some cold coke I went out on the last decent to Collonges. The decent was not my prettiest moment, and my knee was giving me trouble from the slide on the bridge, but all things have an end, and so did the ascent. I decided to walk 500 meters to relax the legs a bit before the final  11 km flat stretch back to St Maurice. From here it was mostly pavement and some nice variations close the Rhone river which let me back to where it all started some 8 h 31 minutes earlier.

It is with heavy legs and a big smile I sit now some days later and type up this report, and what can I say. It is a very cheap low key race with A LOT to offer. The setup of the race combined with the route and scenic cultural and nature spots makes it defiantly worth coming back. I would recommend this race for all trailers of all levels, however be careful of the descents and the wet bridges J.

A big thank you to the organizers, for a well marked and super organized race.

Practical details:

–       Accommodation in the monastery.

–       No obligatory equipment other than a smile. However I was happy for carrying:

  • Jacket
  • Long sleeved shirt
  • Bars and a couple of Gels
  • 2 liter Camel Bag
  • 40-100 CHF in notes
  • I-phone, water tight packed
  • Map, route description and profile of race
  • Salt sticks * 4
  • Ibuprofen * 2
  • Imodium * 2
  • Vaseline small container
  • Emergency blanket
  • Adhesive bandage and 1 pcs band aid
  • Ipod with long distance running music
  •  “Gloves” (was overkill)
  • Head lamp

Weather: http://www.yr.no/sted/Sveits/Valais/Raiffeisen_St-Maurice/langtidsvarsel.html

More trails and stories on www.facebook.com/fredstrails 

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