Entering the Defi du Granon race for cyclists and runners, this  August, seemed like it would be a fair challenge. The Col du Granon, is one of the highest and steepest ascents in the Alps rising up to 2413m around 1000m from the village of Chantemerle and a distance of 12.4km. It's a 'big one' for cyclists, only once included in the Tour du France back in 1986. However, I ran it a year ago, on my own, in under two hours and, okay, I started at the 10km point at Villard Laté so this would be longer and, therefore, tougher. But how hard could it be?

The sun was shining from a blue sky with the temperature around 26C and rising as I lined up with the 60 other runners in Chantemerle outside the tourist office for the start at 10am. I spotted maybe a dozen other women, a few very fit looking 20-30 year olds and a handful of gnarly guys who could have been anywhere between 55 and 75, weathered from years of mountain running. There was not an ounce of fat between them. And many were wearing serious kit as in 150€ hydration packs.

What started to dawn on me was the fact that no one was partaking in the Defi du Granon, who didn't regularly run tough races, who wasn't a registered triathlete and club trail runner. Who else would be mad enough? Who else was going to run 12 plus kilometres up a steep road in nearly 30C for the fun of it? I had thought there might be a few 'recreational' participants taking it easy and enjoying the spectacular views rather than competitively racing to the top.

But I was so wrong.

After 3km we were climbing, the younger runners were off like greyhounds already a couple of hairpins ahead and the older gnarly dudes were going up like mountain goats.  I was already way at the back. By 5km, the pack had disappeared out of sight leaving me to eat their dust.

And so I was on my own. For half a kilometre I considered giving up and jogging back down the hill - after all I was going to be last . And what if I was so far behind that I missed the coach at the top waiting to take all the runners down again? I have never been last in a race before, priding myself as pretty fit for 64 and able to beat a few runners half my age, so this was demoralising, to say the least. 

It made me think of all those runners in fun races, the ones at the back, dressed as letterboxes or plodding in ski boots. I'd always admired their spirit if not exactly envying their status as last. 

But then the first of the road cyclists, who started half an hour after the runners, began to pass me. There were around 120 in total, spread out over quite a few kilometres with the stragglers struggling up the punishing average 10 percent incline for the entire 12km.. But everyone, as they passed me, shouted 'Bravo', 'Allez allez' or 'Courage' (pronounced the French way).

I have never in all my years of running felt so motivated. Suddenly I knew what it was to be a letterbox, slap children's open palms and be cheered by the crowds. They gave wings to my trail shoes and, although I could only manage an average of 10/km uphill jogging pace, I didn't succumb to walking. And I even managed to smile and wave and cry 'Merci'. 

I was a winner even though I was the loser.

So, yep, I made it to the top. It took 2 hours 7 mins -  which I was quite pleased about - and the coach was waiting. For some it was a longer wait, for the first guy, for instance, who finished in 53 mins! My husband, Gavin (below right), 59, who should have been cycling but had a bike malfunction, also took part  running and speed hiking with a friend, Kevin (below left), 64. They finished in 1 hours 55 mins and 1 hours 43 mins respectively. So I actually wasn't that far behind.

defi du Granon

I even managed to come second in my category of Women Masters 3, which meant there were only two of us over 60 years old in the race. But, hey, I'm proud of that, too because at least, at our age, we ran to the top of the Col du Granon at 2413m. How cool was that?

Also see the summer Ski Blog on Style Altitude

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