Race: Trail de lAber Wrac’h 52 km
Runner: Coach Eric Ahern
Race Date: 04/03/2022
Location: Brittany, France
Results: 5:08, 100th out of 500
Strava Activity Link: https://www.strava.com/activities/6924838370
3 Bests – What aspects of the race did you like the most?
- The competition. This race is part of a regional trail series and attracts a lot of talent. There’s almost always someone nearby to help you push the pace, to try and overtake if you’re feeling good, or ready to pass you when you’re feeling low.
- The scenery. 2022 was a modified course, but still had plenty of nice views of the rolling Breton hills, woods and the tidal river. 90% on trails, a few sections of pavement / dirt roads.
- The navigation. Very clearly marked, and lots of volunteers on course to guide the runners.
Not so much – Aspects of the race that didn’t do it for you
Only 3 water stations, with no food, meant that you needed to carry quite a bit of food and water. This required a pack, for me at least. I maybe could have gotten away with a handheld bottle, but I didn’t want to risk running out of water. I also had a couple of layers and gloves to stash, since it was cold at the start. I used a pack with a bladder, which was fairly heavy. Although I practiced with it in training, it felt cumbersome on race day. A vest with soft flasks probably would have been better.
Weird factor – What’s the weirdest thing about this race?
2022 was weird in that Covid restrictions were just being lifted as the race was being planned, so the organizers had to do a ton of work on coordination and compliance. They changed the course from a point to point to an out and back to keep it simple. I completely understand, since the race was canceled in 2020 and 2021, and they were scrambling, but it was disappointing not to be able to run along the coastal trail, past lighthouses and beaches. The race normally starts on a tiny island and runs through some beautiful coastline. We were in the woods most of the time for this version.
Highlights of your race – What did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular?
One of my main goals was to be moving well in the final ten miles, and I was pleased that I was running all the way to the finish, only walking the steeper hills. I definitely started too fast, but I didn’t blow up entirely, just dropped off the pace.
Lessons for others – Share your pro-tips on the race to help the next runner
Try not to get caught up in the fray of the first ten kilometers, when everyone is fresh and flying along the flat sections. Don’t waste energy worrying about your position until later in the race, if at all.
Lessons you learned that will help you next time around
I could have carried less water. Watch the weather closely. If it’s going to be wet, shoe choice is key – there will be mud.
Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race
I was thankful that I chatted with a runner at the start who told me the second half was the hardest part. That was 100% accurate, and I was glad to be mentally prepared. The river crossings, the tunnel of love, the steep muddy embankments, all could be a gut punch if you’re not expecting them. If you’re prepared to embrace it and just move as best you can, you’ll take it in stride.
Aesthetics – Is it a pretty course?
Beautiful in a pastoral way. The original course would be even more beautiful, as the first half is usually along the GR 34 coastal path. “Aber” means estuary in Breton language. So normally you run fifteen miles along the coast, then fifteen miles following the estuary inland, as it gets smaller and smaller. As you approach the village where the race finishes, you can see the spire of a 14th century basilica. Pretty cool.
Difficulty – Is it a tough course?
Yes. The second half reserves a lot of challenging sections – three stream crossings through knee-deep cold water, lots of slippery mud, punchy climbs, and the “tunnel of love” – a 50-foot long drainage tunnel that you need to crawl through on all fours. The short hills add up as well, with over 4000 feet of climbing.
Organized and well run – Did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?
Very well organized and well run. My only complaint is that most race communication was through their Facebook page, not the official race website. Until I realized that, I was looking at out of date information. On race day, it was smooth sailing. Easy bib pickup and race start, no issues. Results were online immediately. Nice field to hang out, picnic, and cheer on the finishers.
Competition – Is there a strong field?
Very strong field, part of the Ouest Trail Tour race series https://www.ouesttrailtour.org/. There are a lot of strong runners here, and they take racing seriously. This reminded me of lining up at a USATF road race. Lots of people pushing the pace early, and they can hold it.
Logistics – Does it require a special handshake, registration a year in advance, hotels all booked? Give us the low down on the nuts and bolts of making the race happen.
The website https://letraildelaberwrach.fr/ has all the info (French only), but their Facebook page is where all the updates came through quickest. I’m sure you could ask in English on the FB page for help. Registration is through the website https://www.klikego.com/. A medical certificate saying that it’s safe for you to participate in a competition is required. This is standard for most races in France. It’s basically just a note from a doctor, valid for one year.
Aid Stations – Standard fare or anything special to know about the aid stations in terms of what’s available or when?
Three water stops – miles 10, 15, and 23. WATER ONLY. Optional beer at mile 15.
Weather and typical race conditions
Brittany is famous for being the rainiest part of France, so I was happy to see the forecast of “clear but cold”. We had perfect running weather, about 40 degrees at the start, 60s by mid-day, and sunny. Video from 2019 shows the runners going through heavy rain all day. This would have made the trails much slower. The winning time in 2019 was 4:11. In 2022 it was 3:48.
Gear – Did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next runner?
I’d recommend shoes with mud lugs – think “soft trails” when choosing your shoes. I wore New Balance Hierro v5, which have decent grip, but a shoe with more agressive lugs would have given better performance. In a wet year I’d make that a priority. This being a dry year it wasn’t critical, but in some spots I felt like I was ice skating, especially by the river bank.
Spectators – Is this a friendly course for your friends?
Quite a few spots for spectators, and these are clearly marked in the course book and on the race website.
How’s the Swag?
Nice technical t-shirt, a bagged lunch and a beer at the finish line. I thought that was generous, given that the race was only 27 euros.
The Overall Score – How many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it?
Four stars, since I was expecting the GR 34 coastal path experience. If they bring back the original route I’d give it five stars. I’d recommend it as a fun way to see a unique area of France.
Eric is a running coach with Team RunRun. To learn more about him or work with him, check out his coaching page.
Additional Race Photos: