“Être GlaGla” in English translates as “frozen stiff” and that’s exactly what my board bag was when I removed it from the car roof on race day morning.
A Magical Event
The Gla Gla is an epic 14.5km (shorter 6km route available) race that takes place on Lake Annecy in mid January. Located at the foot of the Aravis mountain range in the Haute-Savoie region in Eastern France, 60km due south of Lake Geneva, it’s a breathtaking location.
These factors, amongst many others, make it a bucket list event for the European SUPing community.
Alongside a strong British contingent from clubs across the country, including four of us from Bray Lake, the event attracted some heavy hitting contenders especially in the ladies field, which included Sonni Hönschied (GER), Fiona Wylde (USA) and Olivia Piana (FRA) - all world title holders in one form or another. We had been fortunate enough to participate in a Q&A session the previous day with these inspirational ladies - they’re amazing ambassadors for our sport and capture the community spirit of SUP.
Inspired to paddle
I was inspired to sign-up for GlaGla after seeing photos posted by my Bray Lake SUP buddies (Gill, Sam and Marcus) who have participated for the past couple of years. Plus, I’d cycled in and around Annecy in the summer of 2013 when cycling the Tour de Force (now Le Loop) and recalled the breathtaking views of the lake and mountains from the bike.
This was my first overseas event, so it took a little more logistical planning but this made the perfect excuse to make a mini holiday of it and go on a road trip.
Considering the heavy rain and choppy conditions on the lake the day prior (Friday) and Biblical conditions in previous years, race day was close to perfect - dry, crisp and most importantly crystal clear flat water.
On race day (Saturday) we arrived at the race start/finish location at 8:30am allowing plenty of time for unloading the board and cracking the ice that had formed on the board bag overnight. All very novel.
With pre-race prep done - fuelled-up, kitted-up, warmed-up and briefing in ‘Frenglish’, come 10:15am it was time to get on the water with the other 636 paddlers for a mass start. Yes, you heard me right a MASS START!!
I got on my board and paddled out to take my spot on the start line, which felt like it stretched the width of the lake and from afar must have resembled a scene from ‘March of the Penguins’ (Luc Jacquet, 2005).
I set my gaze on a marker buoy that was barely decipherable through the lifting morning mist and focused on listening out for a series of “bleeps” that would START the race...
“Bleep” - get ready...
“Bleep-bleep” - get set...
“Bleep-bleep-bleep” - GO!!
I didn’t have to wait long as the ‘get ready…’ ‘get set...’ didn’t happen and we went straight to the ‘GO!!’ I was caught on the back foot and was immediately consumed in the choppy water created by the sheer number of paddlers.
In the final days prior to the event I’d tested a few different Black Project fins (Ray and Tiger) but on race day I decided to stick to what I knew, which was the standard issue Starboard race fin. This combined with my skinny Starboard Sprint (14’ x 20.75”), handled the chop surprisingly well.
Stick to the plan
I kept my cool and stuck to my race plan which was to get around the first marker buoy (1.5km) intact and avoiding a dip - many people took the plunge, including the pros. Next, I did my best to find clear water up to the second marker buoy (3km), which was easier said than done given the amount of wake created by the so called support boats. For the 5km stretch up the Western side of the lake, I found my rhythm and started to move up the field picking-up a few other paddlers in a chain gang behind me. Between 8km and 11km, which took us across the width of the lake, I held my line and paddled strong before turning right and hugging the East coast for the final 4.5km back to the finish line, where I picked-up the pace and hugged the outcrop of rock - my aim here was not to get passed. It worked.
I finished strong and crossed the (not so visible) finish line in 1 hour 43 minutes and 3 seconds, placing me 8th lady and 81st overall. It was also rather nice to be the first Brit home. I was beyond chuffed.
The GlaGla is a magical event and I strongly recommend you add it to your SUPing wishlist. It embraces everything I love about the sport - the awesome “give it a go” attitude, a broad range of paddling of abilities, fantastic location and most importantly time spent with friends and teammates making memories.
Well done to all who participated and for those of you who are thinking about it - get signed-up for GlaGla 2021, scheduled for 22-24th Jan.
Top 10 tips:
1. Practice choppy mass starts - I’ve not figured out how to do this yet. Any friend willing to participate in mass start practice?
2. Gradually build-up your paddle endurance from November onwards, making 16km you target distance.
3. Invest in winter kit, ideally a ‘SUP Skin’ - it’ll keep you paddling on the coldest of days and doubles-up as an insurance policy should you fall in.
4. On that point practice falling in and getting back on your board in a safe environment, ideally wearing the kit you intend to wear on race day.
5. A plan is only a plan but have one regardless - consider the weather (especially wind), race distance, buoy turns and landmarks along the course.
6. Once you’re off the water get warm, get changed and re-fuel. I failed to do this and missed out on doing the technical race as my head and body weren’t coordinating!!
7. Keep things familiar and use the same bag on race day that you use for club training session as your race day bag - I guarantee that the spare ‘thingy-thing’ will be there when you need it most.
8. Embrace the day and remember why we paddle - to have fun, to challenge ourselves and to set new targets that enable us to grow both physically and mentally.
9. Stay in Talloires (race start/finish) for an authentic French Stay (much nicer than Annecy town) and take an extra day or two to head into the mountains for some fun on the snowy slopes - La Cluzas is around 30min up into the mountains from Talloires
10. When transporting your boards not only check your straps are secure but check your roof bar fittings are secured too - ours failed on route home and we nearly lost the boards on the French motorway!! Plus carry extra straps and cable ties in case of such an emergency.
Board - Starboard Sprint 2020 14’ x 20.75’
Fin - Starboard Race fin (as issued with the board)
Leash - Starboard coil leash attached to quick release race belt.
Paddle - Black Project Hydro 2019 (83/medium)
Clothes - Prolimit 1.5mm neoprene long johns and short + long sleeve combo. Atam Hot Mistral 7mm booties. Dryrobe used when I came off the water. SUP Skin used for training sessions.
Hydration - ION hydration pack with a light mix of electrolyte and water. Whistle and foil blanket in case of emergency.
Date posted: Mon, 3 Feb 2020