On a sunny but chilly Saturday morning, Team Orca Mix ventured to the French Alps just outside Geneva for a true challenge as participants in the Lake Annecy addition of the Gravity Race series. After seven hours of leg-crunching racing we were able to take home the win in the mix category as well as the overall best time in the ending 1700-m swim challenge. We fought our way back from 5th place after the first mountain, passing teams on the swims. However, our strongest competition chased us closely through the entire race, appearing to be more daunting as the hills and climbs became steeper and rockier….
I am not talking about any of the 250 teams participating in Lac d’Annecy Swimrun as for being our strongest competition, but about one that every single contestant had to take on and probably developed a love-hate relationship with throughout the day: the distortion of space-time phenomena called Gravity. Never have I been so astonished of how long an uphill climb can go on for, and never have I appreciated the possibility to roll down a moderately steeped downhill with the help of the earth’s force. On Saturday, we climbed 2100 meter in total, passing 4 mountains throughout the course, and swam a total of 6500 meter in the beautiful 15-degree lake. The landscape around us was beyond comparison: the most impressive Swimrun backdrop I have ever experienced.
The race started out with two swims along the shore, followed by the steepest climb: 900 m+ over a 9-km distance. The swims went fast and well for us, and we got a good head start following the first Men’s team. Then the uphill began. We knew it was going to be tough, and were prepared to fight. However, this climb was something out of this world. We followed the well-marked course up and up and up though narrow trails in a forest wonder world, where we mostly had to walk or literally climb to make our way. It went very slow, as I also was a bit down during this part. Moreover, no less than four Mix teams passed us on this mountain, which didn’t exactly boost our morale.
Finally, the hill ended, and we got a reward for our effort: below us Lace Annecy and its surrounding mountains and idyllic nature scenery was spread out in a panorama below us. It was just breathtaking to see it from this height! The following descent went quite well and fast, as we mostly ran on a paved trail that held a moderate incline.
A series of long and short swims followed the first mountain, and we were quite happy to be done with almost half of the race’s accumulated altitude. Here, we caught up to first mix position again and started the climb on the second mountain. Although this one had 500-m elevation, it didn’t feel so bad compared to the previous climb. It had a similar environment and again amazing Alp views at the top astonished us. I struggled in the uphill but got through it quite well. Par was really strong as he ran first and kept up the pace and energy. In the downhill on this mountain we had to take it a bit slower as the trails were covered with spiky rocks, loose stones and slippery autumn leaves.
Only one swim separated the second and third climbs, and we managed to catch up the one mix team that had passed us on the previous mountain. This one had (only!) 350 meters of elevation in total, spread out over a 5-km distance. It was again tough, but for me easier to manage as the distance was shorter. I felt okay and Par was again super strong during the climb and kept the energy up. On the way down he gracefully saved himself from what looked to be a dangerous tumble down the hill with a couple of impressive 007 somersaults (seriously, I think Par could apply for being James Bond’s stuntman!). After managing to get down the steep descent of this mountain with out any more flips or falls, we had a 1000-m swim crossing the whole lake. There was an energy station before this traverse where we got a balloon (yes, a pink and yellow party balloon – smart!) attached to us for a safety measure. The swim went fast and well and we passed a few Men’s teams on the way. Luckily no Mix team passed us while climbing the third mountain either, so we were still in the lead.
It was already a relief knowing that we only had 350 of 2100 meters to climb left starting the quest for our last mountain. This one was the trickiest one though, and definitely the most adventurous! The farther we got, the steeper and rockier our path evolved. By now, our legs were quite stiff and tired already, which made this feel worse than it really was. I tried using my arms as much as I could, pulling myself up on trees and defying gravity by climbing on all fours. Par had a low point during this climb as well, and we were moving quite slow. The return to the lake from the mountaintop was quite long as this run section was 9 km in total. I struggled a bit on this part and had to really push the last few kilometers. Moreover, we got sight of the number-two mix team at the end, but managed to increase our pace slightly and reached the last swim first.
The last swim and the longest swim was a sprint challenge. Knowing this, we tried to make a smart and fast swim, taking turns drafting. It went quite well and we actually had the fastest overall time on this section and won a nice trophy J After this, only a short run separated us from the long-anticipated finish line. My legs felt like cement after being still during the long swim and I could barely start running – but we managed and crossed the Orca-outfitted finish as the first Mix team with a time of 7 hours and 4 minutes.
- The View. It’s just too beautiful and the pictures don’t give enough credibility to these magnificent surroundings. I really want to come back and just go for a hike and take photos!
- Fun terrain. Although the height difference made this race very challenging, it was never a boring section. I love the narrow and always-changing trails and prefer them over flat runs on streets and paths.
- Course markings. Instead of ribbons, the Gravity organization used orange and pink paint on rocks and it was very easy to follow.
- We didn’t use the line that Par carried with him at all. But it was for the better – the terrain made it hard to do any kind of pulling on the run sections. On the swims we took turns drafting on each other’s feet and it worked out perfectly. Swimming with shoes, it is actually a big difference drafting on someone, and you get a good rest doing it every other swim.
- Uphill skills. Although I live in Barcelona and run hills like never before, I still feel this is such a struggle…
- No tracker or timing. It was hard for anyone interested to follow this race, as we didn’t wear any type of tracker or chip. No live results were updated online.
Equipment and energy
- Orca RS1 Wetsuit (without sleeves)
- Sports bra and seamless briefs under wetsuit
- Orca compression socks
- Innov8 X-talon 220 trail shoes
- Strokemaker paddles (size 1)
- Orca Killa180 open water goggles
- Orca Swimrun belt
- Pull buoy (strapped around waist)
- 500-ml water bladder
- 4 gels (took one on each climb)
- 1 Precision Nutrition salt pill
All in all, this was a superbly organized race in a perfect setting. Big thanks to the race organization and to Orca for making this extraordinary experience. I truly enjoyed coming to Annecy, and would definitely recommend this race if you are up for a challenge. Please just bear in mind: some serious hill training is required.
Thanks also to my strong teammate Par – it is always a pleasure racing with you and happy to finish the 2017 Swimrun season with a win together.
Now it’s time to rest. I just have to pay for enjoying those nice vistas and this win with stiff legs and excruciating pain while trying to make it down a flight of stairs for a couple of days… #swimrunlife.