Arts and Culture, Food, Running, Stories, Travel

The ALESIA Trail

A long time ago, when the Roman civilization was flourishing and France was still known as Celtic Gallia (Gaul), there lived a chap who dared defy Julius Caesar. He was known as Vercingetorix, and you may have come across his name, which is strewn liberally all through pop culture, most notably in the Asterix comic book series or film. Wikipedia says his name meant Great Warrior King, and  as a chieftain of the Arverni tribe, he attempted to unite the Gauls to rebel against the Roman legions. When Caesar built not one, but two fortifications to cut off both the city, as well as the Gallic allies who came as relief, the Gauls lost the Battle of Alesia and the Roman Empire was created. Vercingetorix was held captive, brought back to Rome, marched the streets and finally executed.

A statue of Vercingetorix in Alise-Sainte-Reine, commissioned by Napoleon III.

A statue of Vercingetorix in Alise-Sainte-Reine, commissioned by Napoleon III.

It’s a sorry end, but the man went down as a hero. So widely celebrated is this part of Gallo-Roman/French history, that the running community has decided to celebrate it with the Alesia Trail, a trail race that takes runners through the forests and villages of Burgundy, in the ancient battle site of the Battle of Alesia (52BC). It offered four distances – 16km, 25km, 34km and 51km. The Ninja Turtle won her bib on RunningHeroes, which included the post-race meal, and she was absolutely stoked.

After fourteen races since the end of February 2015, this was to be the Ninja Turtle’s fifteenth and last race of the year, and as luck would have it, a final hurrah to summer.

The duo rolled into town a day in advance and took a moment to enjoy the landscape of the Burgundy countryside during the bib collection. Alise-Sainte-Reine sits atop a huge hill, and the view was magnificent, but it did mean that the race will finish with a climb back uphill, and what a mother of a hill it was.

The race commences and finishes at the statue of Vercingetorix, which sits atop a huge hill.

The race commences and finishes at the statue of Vercingetorix, which sits atop a huge hill.

GodzillaPin decided to calm the Turtle’s anxiety by taking her sightseeing, so they drove to Flavigny-sur-Ozerain, where their B&B accommodation was, and popped by the lolly factory and the medieval crypt. By the time they checked into their B&B, the Ninja Turtle was tired enough to sleep. They were greeted by their host, who was very friendly, but when she inquired who was running the race and what distance, the Ninja Turtle was met with a rather impressed and skeptical look.

But first, a pre-race meal at the Cheval Blanc.

The next morning, the duo woke up bright and early, and their host served up a lovely breakfast of fresh fruit salad, yogurt, breads and spreads. The Ninja Turtle also got a whole flask of coffee to herself, which came to 4 cups! They were joined by the other two guests in the B&B, a couple from Paris who were also in town for the race. The husband was running the 16km, and the same look of disbelief crossed their faces when GodzillaPin announced proudly that the Turtle was doing the 34km.

Some fun facts from the organisers:

1600 runners across the four distances. 26% of all runners were women, and 74% men. 15% (240 runners) were doing the 34km distance, and the average age of all runners was 41. There were to be 160 volunteers, which meant 1 volunteer to 10 runners. The runners will run a combined distance of 41138km in 8 hours!

A map of the 34.2km route.

A map of the 34.2km route, with a climb of 1200m (3937ft) and a total elevation profile of 2393m (7851ft).

While driving to the starting line, the Ninja Turtle decided to err on the side of over-dressing, with the option to remove layers, than to risk freezing through the race. Although the forecast was a nice sunny day, it was 9°C (48°F) at the starting line with cold winds. She made it to the starting line with barely a few minutes to spare. The duo hadn’t counted on a traffic jam to happen, but with the road closures on narrow streets, it was inevitable. GodzillaPin dropped the Turtle off, and she hiked uphill to the starting line. The queue for the toilets were too long, so she found a bush close by. GodzillaPin joined her a few short minutes later for a good luck kiss, and off the runners went.

Ready... steady... GO! (The Ninja Turtle in white cap, lagging close to the back of the pack once more.)

9am flag-off for the 34km race. Ready… steady… GO! (The Ninja Turtle in white cap, lagging close to the back of the pack once more.)

After a long and hard season that culmulated in a half marathon PR just two weeks ago, the Ninja Turtle had just one simple objective: to simply finish the race and enjoy herself while at it. There are some runners out there who snub this absolute lack of competitive spirit; perhaps you believe that if one ain’t pushing hard, there’s no difference from doing just a training run, so why pay the money to join a race? Well, that may be the case for road races, but as far as the Turtle is concerned, there is no way her training would take her through the forests and hills of ancient battlefields, and she runs her trail races as experiences to be lived. Besides the faster one runs, the sooner the experience is over, which makes it terrible value for money. That’s not to say the Turtle doesn’t make an effort, she still runs in these events, because everyone else is doing it and it’s a great sensation to be flying through the landscape. Also, this race had 2 time limit checkpoints.

Landscape like this.

Landscapes like this. Lovely Charolais cows soaking in the sun, staring at the nutters running by.

The race had four water stations,three of which offered up food, and one of them with a time-check. The first of which these was in Flavigny-sur-Ozerain, where GodzillaPin waited to capture some photos of the Turtle.

The villages offered up a picturesque change from the countryside and the forest landscapes.

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It was truly a fantastic experience, as most of the race took the runners along soft forest soil, which was an absolute pleasure compared to some of her previous races. That said, the Ninja Turtle does not wish to downplay the difficulty of the race, as there were moments where runners still had to deal with sharp rocks, and at two points, the course became very technical, and runners were obliged to use cords to descend and to climb up the impossibly steep trail. To get an idea of what the Ninja Turtle lived, one of the participants from the previous edition made a video of the race.

The Ninja Turtle passed the mid-point time check and clocked in at 2h 13m 29s, ranking 164 overall. By the time she’d crossed the finish line, she’d finished the race in 4h 11m 3s, and moved up to 134 of 211 finishers. It was a pleasant surprise too, to discover that she ranked 10th among the women (29 finished), and 4th in her age group category (11 finished). Perhaps they’re not terribly impressive results to some, given the size of the competition, and frankly, the Turtle didn’t care. She was simply glad to receive some post-race TLC from a couple of amazing volunteer physiotherapists. She also enjoyed the chance to socialise with some of the other runners (they saw Asterix, a Roman soldier, and here the Turtle poses with Getafix), and quite possibly the reincarnation of Vercingetorix himself! Guilhem had run the race twice before, and this hardcore young man is the face of Alesia Trail. That’s him on the poster! He also did spectacularly well, coming in 10th overall in the 51km. And he’s only 22…

Overall, it’s been a great race season, filled with extreme experiences, new PRs, personal growth and above all, the chance to celebrate the love of running.

The Turtle has no doubt that 2016 will bring more racing fun and adventure, but for the moment, she is ready to hang up her running shoes for a few weeks, for she has earned a much deserved rest.

The happy end to a chapter.

The happy end to a chapter.

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Food, Travel

A Visit to Les Anis de Flavigny

Situated in the Côte-d’Or, in the Auxois region of Burgundy, is a little village called Flavigny-sur-Ozerain.

Just another quaint little French village?

Just another quaint little French village?

Home to just 340 residents, Flavigny is nestled deeply in the French countryside and may pass as a nondescript village if not for the fact that its reputation far surpasses it. The entire town is dotted with historical monuments, including its medieval fortifications, the architecture of artisans like glass-blowers, wine-makers, tanners, weavers, millers, etc, and a Benedictine crypt, earning it the accolade of l’un des plus beaux villages de France, or “one of the most beautiful villages of France”.

The Americans may also know it better as: the village where they filmed the movie Chocolat, yes the one with Johnny Depp in it.

True story.

Although Flavigny may be known as “that chocolate village”, it is in fact, better known for another type of candy – the Anis de Flavigny. For those who aren’t familiar, these are aniseeds coated in sugar and flavoured with an assortment of aromes.

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Visitors could try samples in the boutique before making a decision to buy. From popular flavours like lemon, orange, mint and rose, to the more exotic aniseed, ginger and licorice, there’s something for everyone.

The visit to the factory did not permit photography, but here’s a picture of the building from the exterior:

Guided tours are conducted in French, free of charge to attend, and only takes about 10 to 15 minutes.

Guided tours are conducted in French, free of charge to attend, and only takes about 10 to 15 minutes.

The factory is also home to an ancient Benedictine crypt, where the monks dedicated their lives to prayer, studies and hard work. These monks practised a peculiar “ritual” (if you will), where they’d chant nonstop 24 hours. There must have been a system where the monks rotated and chanted in shifts. At any rate, one would hear music round the clock.

As previously noted, the French are partial to their sweets, so it should come as no surprise that the boutique offered up an assortment of lollies.

Sugar rush!

Sugar rush!

And of course, there was chocolate.

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Arts and Culture, Food, Travel

Scenes from Bourgogne (and a French wedding)

Bourgogne, also known as Burgundy. Wine country!

Bourgogne, also known as Burgundy. Wine country!

Even the sculptures on the roundabouts celebrate the regional produce.

Even the sculptures on the roundabouts celebrate the regional produce.

Quaint little villages...

Quaint little villages…

A different style of architecture...

A different style of architecture…

And plenty of wine cellars to visit.

And plenty of wine cellars to visit.

Nuit St Georges, home of some amazing pinot noir and chardonnay...

Nuits St Georges, home of some amazing pinot noir and chardonnay…

Bourgogne (especially Beaune) is also known for an interesting architectural feature - the beautifully tiled roofs.

Bourgogne (especially Beaune) is also known for an interesting architectural feature – the beautifully tiled roofs.

Another regional specialty is cassis, or blackcurrants; Dijon produces crème de cassis, which is a liqueur added to wines when making a cocktail kir.

Another regional specialty is cassis, or blackcurrants; Dijon produces crème de cassis, which is a liqueur added to wines when making a cocktail kir. There is a Cassisium open for visits.

Sunday morning on the river Saône

Sunday morning run along the river Saône.

Chalon-sur-Saône lies in the south of Burgundy. It's the birthplace of photography.

Chalon-sur-Saône lies in the south of Burgundy. It’s the birthplace of photography.

A forest path perfect for running and cycling.

A forest path perfect for running and cycling.

GodzillaPin and the Ninja Turtle were invited to a wedding, and what a wedding it was!

Getting married in an abbey...

Getting married in an abbey…

Offering a bouquet to Mary, which is a tradition in this abbey.

Offering a bouquet to Mary, which is a tradition in this abbey.

Man and wife!

Man and wife!

A cute little wedding car

A cute little wedding car.

And a reception at a "domain".

And a reception at a “domain”.

Put your name on the Nutella so people know it's yours, and to keep their hands off!

Put your name on the Nutella jar so people know it’s yours, and to keep their hands off!

The wedding had a gorgeous pink and orange travel theme.

The wedding had a gorgeous pink and orange travel theme.

And look at dessert!

And look at dessert!

Partying hard, the French way.

Partying hard, the French way.

The boys...

The boys…

And the girls.

And the girls.

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