Nothing says ‘autumn in Chamonix’ more than morning frosts, long sleeves, quiet crags, and of course the annual edition of the Trail des Aiguilles Rouges. This weekend hundreds of trail runners will descend upon Chamonix to tackle the 50km off-road race which winds its way up and down the valley passing over the Col de la Gliere, the Col du Brevent and Le Prairon. For many trail runners, this is the event of the year, the culmination of a long summer of training, and the chance to pitch themselves against the notoriously steep Chamonix trails.
At Chamonet HQ we thought it would be far easier to talk about the event than actually do it, so we had a sit down with local trail runner and Trail des Aiguilles Rouges (TAR) competitor Nikki Barnard to quiz her on all things off road and running.
So Nikki, at the end of this week you are running the TAR - tell us a little about the event and how you are feeling in the run up to the race?
The TAR is a 4000M+ 4000M- 50km trail race through the Aiguilles Rouges reserve. It’s quite a technical race and thought by some to be more technical than the CCC race, which is the little sister of The North Face Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc race that took place in Chamonix earlier this month. Some parts of it are over scree piles and next to pretty gnarly drop offs and there are even boulders that require scrambling and climbing skills. It’s hard - nails in fact! It got the better of me last year so this year I’m back and ready for a bit of revenge - hopefully!
Is this your first event of this kind or are you a seasoned pro?
This is my second TAR and it got the better of me last year so this year I’m out for revenge! Last time out I had a hard time with my hips giving me a lot of trouble and I was in a lot of pain heading up to the Brevent at approximately km 40. Unfortunately I had to stop there and was later driven off the mountain. It was a tough pill to swallow at the time but I’ve since been working with Neil and Jayne at Le Clinique du Sport who have helped me work through my weaknesses. I feel stronger now so hopefully I won’t suffer too much this time around.
Apart from the 2011 TAR, what other long distance running events have you competed in?
I’ve tried my hand at a few races and completed the 58km 4800M+ Trail Ticino earlier this summer which was a surprisingly amazing and fun experience. I’ve also finished the Chamonix marathon a few times which is an awesome race!
What or who inspired you to take up trail running?
Wearing Lycra - I love it! Only kidding... A few years ago I watched a few mates run the Chamonix marathon and while it looked brutal, watching them cross the finish line and seeing how elated they were, I couldn’t help but think - hey I want a piece of that!
What are your goals for the event?
To finish. And if I accomplish that with a smile on my face then I will be one happy chick!
Talk us through your training schedule over recent months...
Running, running, a few core classes at Be Pure Fit gym, running and some more running. I feel like I have run a lot this year and ramped up the intensity. I run about 4-5 times a week and the duration of my long runs is about 2-4 hours. My early morning pre-work dashes are off up towards Christ Roi – Flatiere and my longer runs will take me to all sorts of places. My current favourite route would have to be Les Houches – Flatiere – Chalet de Chailloux – Les Aiguillettes – Pierre Blanche, then back to Les Houches. I love that side of the valley…..
Is most of your training done alone or with others?
I run most weekends with girls from the Chamonix Ladies Weekend Running Club which is a group set up on Facebook (everyone/anyone is welcome to join) My job in Geneva forces me to do a lot of training in the early hours of the day or late in the evening and it can be tough at times to keep motivated. I’m lucky though as my good friend Samantha Brooks is great at organising her schedule to coincide with mine which is a massive help when it comes to getting up and out on the trail!
If you run with music, what songs are on your iPod?
I’m quite a fan of music on the trails! My current favourites to run to are Matthew and the Atlas, Mumford and sons and Ben Howard.
How are you going to prepare over the next few days in terms of training and nutrition?
I’m going to start tapering down my runs, drink plenty of water, eat well and try to get some early nights – I always say that!!
In an ideal world what weather conditions would you like on the day?
Anything apart from snow! A little bit of sun would also be nice as everything always seems a bit better with sun on your face.
Which part of the course do you anticipate will be the toughest?
The last big climb from Servoz up to Le Prairon is going to be brutal. It’s seriously steep! When your legs have already done over 30km+, I imagine it’s going to be hard to get them going again that’s for sure.
What will you eat the night before and what food will you take with you on race day?
The night before I’ll just have my trusty big bowl of pasta and veggies. As far as during the race is concerned, I’ve recently become a recent convert to eating real food at the aid stations. I’ll be getting right in there at the food stations tucking into bread, cheese and drinking lots of coca cola. Whilst on the move I’m a big fan of Torq gels and bars which I get from Be Pure Fit gym. They are seriously good!
What are you most looking forward to doing when you finish?
A beer! Lots of them, to be exact. I’ll then start recovery with a massive burger from the MBC with plenty of criss cross fries and mayonnaise.
After the TAR, what’s next?
I’m off to Africa with my lovely boyfriend in October to hike/climb Kilimanjaro. That will then be it for 2012. My running partner Sam and I are lucky enough to have secured places in The North Face CCC for 2013 which we are both already getting excited about!
All the best for the event, Nikki - we'll see you in MBC after.....
For more information on events in Chamonix, take a look at our events calendar and event reports section.
If you want to find out more about Nikki's next big challenge, read our interview with competitor Kaz Williams who completed The North Face UTMB CCC race last month.