I hadn’t originally planned to do the Grand Raid, but when it was included in the new UCI World Marathon Series I decided to go. Although in the past this has been a race that I have really wanted to do, over the last couple of years the race distance has kept me away. This might sound really strange – why would a marathon racer be put off by a 125km!? This is because my season goals are the European and World Marathon Championships and the UCI stipulate that, for women, they should be between 80km and 100km with a winning time of 4 to 5 hours. While the Grand Raid is only an extra 25km, it can take the winning lady between 7.5 and 8 hours to complete. That would make it the longest race that I’ve done since my 24-hour solo 3 years ago.
Once I decided to go, I started to get excited. I love the mountains and I’d never been to Switzerland before. We arrived in Verbier on Thursday evening to spectacular views of the Mont Blanc Massif bathed in sunshine. Sunshine – hoorah :D The next day I had an easy spin up the first climb of the race course; a fireroad which was criss-crossed by lots of enticing downhill runs. Dave met me in the car at the first feedzone and from there we drove to Sion to sign-on.
On race day we ate breakfast at 3:45am ready for a 6:30am race start - the earliest race start that I’ve ever had! I thought the 7:30am starts at the Cape Epic were bad ;) It was surprisingly warm and the forecast promised a lovely sunny day. My tactic for the race was to ride at a comfortable pace throughout - I didn’t want to ride hard because I’m racing the Birkebeiner in Norway on Saturday. Everything went perfectly to plan: I was able to find a nice rhythm that I maintained from start to finish. At the first feedzone I already had a two-minute lead over 2nd place, and I was gradually able to extend this lead throughout the race. This meant that I was able to take extra care on the descents in order to avoid punctures and crashes. A good job because I had a problem with my forks which meant that I had a bit of a bumpy ride ;)
The course was amazing and had a mixture of terrain: narrow, flowy singletrail, rocky singletrail, rooty trails, rock gardens, river crossings etc. etc. I think that this is the reason why time passed by so quickly - it was an interesting course. Although there were some fireroad and asphalt climbs/descents, the views were breath-taking so even singletrack ‘junkies’ couldn’t grumble – could they?! I’ve done a lot of marathons and this one has to be one of the best, if not the best, I have ever done. I give it top marks and highly recommend it.
1st Sally Bigham (GB)
2nd Jane Nuessli (Switzerland)
3rd Elena Giacoumzzi (Italy)
Full results can be found here.
Right then, I’m off to unpack and pack (again) ready for my flight to Norway on Thursday!