“Are you going for a run?” The receptionist in my hotel looked genuinely confused as I headed out of the door in full running kit.
After all, it was almost 11pm – a time when many young Genevois are only just starting their evening – but the 110km LG Trail from Lausanne to Geneva in Switzerland starts at unusual hour of 2am.
Although relatively experienced at ultras, I’d never started a race in the middle of the night before. That presents its own set of unique challenges: when do you eat and sleep in the build up to the race?
I considered taking a sleeping bag to the start, arriving early and trying to catch a few hours’ sleep, but settled on staying in my hotel room for as long as possible; literally ‘Netflix and Chill’.
Later, after a perfectly-timed Swiss train and bus connection, I arrived at the Stade Pierre Coubertin in Lausanne – Switzerland’s fourth largest city – and was immediately glad I hadn’t arrived earlier.
The underground changing rooms of the stadium resembled a disaster recovery zone, with runners sprawled across every spare foot, nervous energy mixing with the smell of deep heat as they waited in the gloom.
A 2am start…
My pre-race meal was a bowl of cold pasta around an hour the 2am start, when 200 runners set off for a lap of the running track before the trail took them alongside Lac Léman – the largest lake in Alps.
The first 11km of the route hugged the shore beneath bright moonlight. It was only after the first aid station that the field spread out as we climbed away from soft lapping of the waves, through the vineyards, up onto the south-facing slopes above the lake.
Conditions were almost perfect with the temperature staying above 10C throughout and meaning I didn’t even have to put my jacket on during the night.
We continued to climb through the forests of the Parc Pre Vert towards the Signal De Bougy, where I collected my drop bag. Some runners had a change of shoes, but I’d chosen to store most of my gels and my poles to save me carrying them on the flat first 40km.
This is where the ‘proper’ race starts as the trails became steeper and took us to the Crêt de la Neuve at 1494m. The sun was just rising as I reached the aid station just before the peak and the views of the Mont Blanc massif to the south were breathtaking.
The long descent to Saint-Cergue at 1047m took us through fields of melodic cow bells in the Jura National Park. I was feeling positive: over half-way, most of the vertical done, it was now the ‘simple’ matter of a steep climb to the highest point of the course at La Dôle (1677m) and then mainly downhill.
It’s simplifications like this that kill you on ultras. ‘Mainly downhill’? You can kid yourself on an ultra, but you can’t beat geography.
After an initial technical descent on a narrow trail between sharp rocks, it opened out into peaceful pine forests before yet another ascent…and then another.
I should have looked more closely at the race profile, but despite a brief sense of humour loss, by the time we reached the small village of Chavannes-des-Bois, with just 19 kilometres to go, I was confident I would finish.
In ‘ultra shuffle’ mode…
In full ‘ultra-shuffle’ mode by now, the trail followed the shady Versoix river until I reached the ‘zone diplomatique’ in Geneva, running past embassies with dark-tinted limos parked outside until I reached the lake again, 15 hours after I’d left it just after the start in Lausanne.
It was quite surreal running through the botanical gardens, watching families enjoying a Saturday afternoon in the sun, paddleboarders out on the water and the curious glances back at runners like me dragging themselves to the finish line.
I crossed the line in 16h40m, solidly middle of the pack in 65th place of 163 starters and with 5 ITRA points towards my UTMB dream.
The LG Trail is a challenging, mountainous trail race that my Garmin clocked at over 4400m of climbing – a lot more than the official 3400m. If you’re looking for a new ultra challenge, as the next step on from a 50 miler or a first testing mountain race, then the LG Trail could be for you.
The 2019 edition of the LG Trail is scheduled to take place on 21 September. The event also includes the LG Urban Trail – an 18km night race in Lausanne with 450m vertical, the LG Half 51km option from Saint-Cergue with 1600m vertical, plus kids, team and walking options.
Iain flew with Swiss Air. He wore Brooks Cascadia trail shoes with custom insoles provided by Profeet.co.uk