Emmanuel Charpentier shares his experience of the Annecy Gravity race where he competed alongside Yves Louis. The race takes place in France around the lake d’Annecy. It’s a hilly race: 5km Swim – 34.5km Run with 2100m of ascent.
After 20 years of athletics (Track and Cross-country) and 10 years of triathlon (All distances), I found myself yearning for more authentic and natural courses more specific to my profile as a swim-runner. So, I decided in 2015 to try my hand at the Troll Enez Morbihan… It was love at first sight! I had found a new form of adventure in Swimrun.
On the Friday before the race, I meet up with Yves Louis, originally from Besancon, who is an experienced trail runner and triathlete of 2 years (He did 13hrs15 in Embrun in 2015). It’s raining and it’s hard to imagine that sunshine has been forecast for the day after next. We’re going to test out swimming roped together to decide whether to do it on race day. After a short time trying them out, we decide to go with the rope. We also discover that the water is not exactly what you would call warm. (14-15° with lows of 5° in the last 15 days).
…mass start with 300 people all armed with Paddles, Pull Buoys, Aquashoes…
07:30am, Saturday at Veyrier-du-lac and 300 swimrunners are ready to go to war. The briefing is very short, only explaining the first swim. Nobody understands, but that doesn’t matter.
The 800m Swim right at the start makes this course unique. Typically, you start with a run to spread out the pack. Here it will be a mass start with 300 people all armed with Paddles, Pull Buoys, Aquashoes… it’s gonna hurt. We have a terrible start being jammed in from all sides. I don’t panic and seeing as I’m not looking to take a beating , I swim steadily and follow the crowd. I don’t know where I’m going anyway…The swim route’s markings are made up of 2 tiny balloons (I didn’t realize we were having a party!) fixed on to two of the numerous permanent navigation buoys. I leave the water and take stock. Yves is just behind (we’re not roped together for the first swim) and it’s time for the climb, or more accurately… the double climb. In 6km we have 1000m of ascent and 200m of descent.
I’m sure Yves is just behind me. I call back to him…
I set the pace and we quickly catch up with the pack. The chase is on and is set to be a long one. I’m a confident climber so no worries there, but I hold back a little as there is a long way to go. We get to the 200m descent. It’s really tricky and slippery. I don’t take any risks here and so a few more dare devilish teams overtake us and Yves leaves me behind. But no bother because we’ll catch them back up quickly on the 650m climb to come. The finish of the climb is highly technical with a few sections that require using both hands to complete it. From the top of the climb there is a great view of the lake. We follow the ridge line along and the going is technical here too. I’m sure Yves is just behind me. I call back to him but someone else replies. I can’t see him anymore. I stop in a small clearing with a lone spectator and he tells me that we’re in 12th place, or we will be when I’m reunited with my teammate. Two teams come past and then Yves arrives. We start the climb down which leads to a long forest descent with good grip underfoot where we could really let loose and relax into the descent.
I ask Yves to zip up my wetsuit …
We arrive at the lake, quick stop at the aid station. We feel refreshed and start our preparation before entering the water. I ask Yves to help zipping up my wetsuit. After several attempts, he says “OK”. I tie myself to him and wait… you’ve got to put on goggles, flippers etc… it takes an age. One piece of advice for anyone looking to do more Swimrun events is to get hold of a Swimrun specific wetsuit. When it comes to the finish line, over the course of a race those lost seconds turn into minutes.
So, we get into the water… I’ve got a cold sensation at my back. I’m not sure what Yves did but my wetsuit is completely open at the back. Oh well, there’s only 730m to swim like this. Now we face the same problem as before: Which way is it? The swim route’s marking is still these poxy yellow balloons. At 20cm in height, 200m into the swim with the sun in your eyes, they are hard to spot. I follow other swim runners that I can see in the distance. We reach the end of the swim and it’s off with the run. We’re still roped together and coming up is one of the only sections of the course where you can really get running. I’d been towing Yves and I’m not exactly feeling great. After the second feed station, we embark on the next section; 4km with 400m of ascent. Yves is struggling. It’s going to be a long day. At last we reach the descent and a good descent it is.
We exit the water and set off for a good climb…
Back into the water for 1000m of swimming and I’m really starting to feel that I’m towing Yves. We exit the water and set off for a good climb; 300m of ascent in 3km. Yves feels better and better as we climb and we finish it well. On each climb, we’re overtaking 3 or 4 teams. The descent begins and its super slippery, limit dangerous. I fall over. One team go past and before you know it the two of them have fallen too. We overtake one stopped team (one of the two teams was in trisuit!!!? The other one will finish the race in second, you had to be courageous with the cold water). Yves runs ahead as he knows that he has to get ready in transition and seeing as I’m not opening my wetsuit anymore, we’ll be ready at the same time. Without saying anything to each other, I tell myself the same as before and I don’t take any risks on the descent. We’re actually ready at the same time. This time, we decide not to rope ourselves together. We have to swim across the width of the lake and we’ll keep close to the balloons which are signaling our presence to any boats on the lake. We can see a white building and the exit from the water is just on the right – cool. It’ll be the only time I’ll swim and actually know where to go.
We jump in from a 2-3m high pontoon. Cool! And we’re off. I’m swimming terribly and I know it. Yves stays on my feet. Gradually I start to glide a bit better until 200m from the bank. I can’t feel the bottom of my left leg and it’s starting to stress me out. I carry on anyway. Yves swims up alongside me and we finish the swim side by side. We take a little break with some hot tea and a small chat with some of Yves’ friends who have come out to support us (Nice!). For a few meters we get running on a cycle path which suits me but no, it’s not to be. We follow a sloped track in the undergrowth. The path isn’t even as wide as my shoulders – It’s a pain … I complain. After around another 2km with 200m of ascent we reach the summit and there’s a beautiful view. But right now, I don’t give a f…. On the next bit of treacherous terrain, a team go past us. We pick up the pace and gain the retake the position. Yves is looking good and is setting a good pace. It suits me. We get to some tarmac and I go in front until the water entry which seems a long way off.
The team that overtook us on the last climb come past us
We get to the water and there’s no one there to indicate where to go, just a few spectators who tell us to go left. We know that coming up is the longest swim at 1700m and after that, we’re done. Yves take a crazy amount of time to get ready and off we go. The bottom of the lake falls away gradually and we make the most of every meter we don’t have to swim. I set off ahead with Yves on my feet (once again not roped together). We’re with a team with whom we’ve been in close competition all day. The team that overtook us on the last climb come past us. The first is clearly a strong swimmer. His partner his roped to him and is swimming with a snorkel. All he has to do is to follow his feet. That is one good train, I tell myself. I take the opportunity to draft; I think Yves does it too. We swim, and swim, and stop… “Where do we have to go?”, “No idea, I guess that we have to follow the bank until we reach the exit”. And we’re off again. Except Yves is a way off…he missed the train. Suddenly, I start to feel cold and I lose the feet of the guys in front. Here we go, classic, I haven’t felt the cold once since the start and yet here I am. I’ve got cramp in my right calf and my quads are killing (I didn’t know you needed your quads to swim!). Whilst swimming, I kick my butt with my heels to relieve the pain (If you’ve never seen this before, just imagine a swimmer in paddles and a pull buoy doing butt kickers) Finally, I get out of the water. I am not warm.
I wait a good minute for Yves. Time goes slowly when your teeth are chattering. And we’re off on the final kilometer before the finish line. A team is catching up with us but we are not going to let them overtake us. We accelerate through the line to finish in a time of 7 hours and 7 minutes. We’ve come in 23rd place out of 150. (Average speed of 5.5kph). We are happy with the day’s result. All there is to do now is to replenish stores and soak up the sun on the beach. The winners and record holders for Ötillö 2016 are from Sweden. The only team to have enjoyed the water.
All in all, it was a good swimrun, with plenty of positives and plenty of things to work on. On the other hand, for swimrunners who are new to technical mountain trails, this is not the one. I prefer Engadin where the descents are much less technical.
I really appreciated the spirit of the competitors and the organizers of this course just like at the other swimruns that I’ve completed (Troll Enez, Côte Vermeille, Engadin). It makes me want to do more. However, I’ve got to point out how it hard it is to find partners. Lots of people are really hesitant about switching over to swimrun. Go on, give it a go! Become a swimrunner. The reason why I do these accounts is for those friends from triathlon who feel tempted to go and try the adventure.
Final Classifications for Gravity Race 2016:
- Men : Daniel Hansson and Lelle Moberg. Swedish Armed Forces. 05:48:11
- Mixed: Clement Boissiere and Corinne de Parseval. Team Swimrun Paris. 06:40:07
- Women: Hélene Moore and Solene Quinio. 08:08:04
This article was first published by Swimrun France. Translation by Morgan Hirsh. Photos by Jean-Marie Gueye / Swimrun France
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