I ran the TDS (Traces des Ducs de Savoie) race last year. It’s one of the five events that now form the UTMB race series, and is 119km long with 7250m vertical height gain. The wild landscapes and remoteness of the mountains really won me over. This year there was no dilemma at all which race to sign up for, and last Wednesday at 7am I stood on the start line in Courmayeur with 1600 others, waiting for the start.
Fear not, I don’t intend to provide a blow by blow account of the course, but the race stood out as one of the most enjoyable yet hard events for several reasons. My preparation had been awful, with only one day off guiding work before, and spending 33 hours looking for and finding my dog (click for story) the previous week. I sure didn’t start with fresh legs, but I did set off relaxed and fell into a good steady pace straight from the off.
What makes the TDS stand out as a race is that some sections are too steep to run, such as the Passeur Pralognan above the Cormet de Roselend, which makes it a remote mountain journey rather than a ‘normal’ trail run. Other highlights are the amazing Passage du Curé (link) which is a rock passageway cut into the side of a steep narrow gorge, and the crossing of the Col du Tricot and the Nepalese style suspension bridge below the snout of the Glacier du Bionnassay. As you’ll have got the impression now, this race is very different…
With each turn you discover a new hidden aspect of the mountains. The organisers make much of the historical influences of the old Dukes of Savoie, and the likes of the Forts du Truc and la Patte, but it is the mountains that really made the event for me. From a geological perspective the granite needles and bulk of the Mont Blanc massif are circumnavigated, and the mixtures of limestones, shales, and Jurassic era landscapes, make stunning fantastical shapes in the hillsides and mountains. If the Lord of the Rings were ever remade, the mountains of the TDS would be the real film stars.
The race didn’t go perfectly for me, as I struggled a little in the night to eat at the food stations, which left me a bit light headed on the final ascents, but I approached the finish knowing I’d given it my all. My time was nearly an hour better than last year, but that was immaterial really. The final highlight was running down the high street in Chamonix, to meet my wife and two year old daughter, and to cross the finish line with them.