Tuesday, February 10

100 Miles Sud de France report (in English) 10/10/2014

I don't know how much sense does it make to write a race report after three months.

Well, I don't know how much sense does it make to write a race report at all.

But it seems like few crazy souls are still willing to have a go at my reports, and just last week a good friend asked me some infos about the race, and I always Google around as much as I can to try to understand something about the races I'm signed in. Not sure how, but it might help someone.

Therefore, here we go again.

I recovered quite well from Lakeland 100, but I wasn't willing to commit immediately to another hard and long race. I just waited few weeks without pushing too much, no speedwork, a lot of easy recovery run and some nice longer runs with MC, before calling Pierre, the organizer, who was kind enough to get me an entry.

We decided to go there by car, since it's not that far from Genoa and it would have been a nice trip through South of France. I started my taper by crewing Maria Carla in her first three digit race, where she placed an incredible second after running smooth and easy all day long. She didn't need much help, but it was great to be on the other side of the game for once!

Most of the guys I talked with were pretty adamant that Pyrenees are no joke. And I trusted them. But on the other hand, the race in itself didn't have that much climb, and it was mostly run on GR10 with just the first part at altitude. And the race organizers had a 20 hours forecast for first place, which sounded quite fast to me. Oh boy, if I was wrong. We were all wrong, actually.

The trip was smooth sailing, we left rain and bad weather behind and laughed our way to Font Romeu, were we settled in a nice and cosy hotel room after picking up the number and race pack. Time to have a walk and cook some healthy pasta and I was developing some sort of flu: headache, cough and a general sense of fatigue set in, but I took some homeopatic pills and went to bed early with the hope of sweating it out. During the evening, we got also few alarming messages about the rain back home in Genoa: it was getting worse and worse, and new floodings were announced. Worried, but with nothing to do but wait, we slept well and had a glorious breakfast in the morning.

With the race starting at 3:00 pm, I had time to stretch, relax, sleep a little bit more in the car and then, with 15 minutes to go, dress up and head to the starting line. I looked around and saw that most of the people looked local. I felt good and relaxed, ready to tackle the beast, and when the gun went off I tried to not get caught in the usual frenzy of the first few miles.
It always takes me a while to warm up...
Upfront some guys were already battling it out, and I wasn't holding back that much, but after first CP at the Citadele de Mont Louis, where soldiers were manning the aid station, I was in something like 20th position, which suited me fine.
The leading pack enters the Citadele
Some easy trail and after the second CP of Planes, things started to get serious. It was time to enter the mountainous part, which presented immediately a long climb that for the first part was still runnable. As usual, I didn't feel that great early into the race, therefore, I was power-walking most of it, with guys motoring past. The view was incredible: long valleys with severe peaks and the sun coming down behind. But after a while it got really steep and nobody was checking the panorama anymore. I grunted my way to the top and started the long descent to Refuge Caranca, where we arrived in a pack of three due to my well known disabilty with downhill.
Still smiling early on
I run in the dying light with a cool spaniard, who offered me half of his giant jamon sandwich, telling me it was good for the energy. Had he known I was planning to go on exclusively with gels he might have killed me then and there, but I just declined politely and proceeded to move ahead while he was digesting the beast. I switched on the lamp and it started to rain, lightly at first, but going further it became stronger and colder: another short stop for putting my jacket on and up again. At this point, I started to finally feel better. I found a good rythm and started to pass few runners in the dark. The rain was now a proper downpour, but the temperature was still quite warm; I coupled with a french guy and on the following descent I had the first meeting with pyreneean technical trail. Still quite fresh and springy, it didnn't bother me that much, but when I discovered at next AS, in the beautiful village of Mantet, that I still had 6 km to go before seeing my crew, I started to understand this race would have taken me longer than expected. How longer, I discovered in the following 40 km...
Before the storm
I got briefly lost climbing to the col, due to the pouring rain and fog, but once on the other side, the sky cleared up and I started bombing (well, not exactly, let's say I wasn't slogging it out as usual) the descent to Puy, anxious to meet MC. I entered in 13th place, almost an hour behind the leader after only 44k, but willing to move forward. Maria Carla was spot on as usual: I changed my socks, put a wool long sleeve shirt on and went out to her words "now you have a long but easy climb on good terrain, that's what I was told by a local!". Good, my kind of turf.

And the first part was quite amusing, climbing in the forest on a good jeep road, but it seemed to last forever. After a while, the jeep road became a double track with lots of big boulders and from amusing it became harder and steeper. At a certain point, the double track ended and it became a "spot the mark" game between the trees. The course was really well marked, but the climb was getting the best of me. And I was moving reasonably fast, but no sign of other humans. I finally reached a jeep road that we followed for the next ten mins before finally reaching Refuge de Mariailles and catching up a guy I talked with in the early part of the race. Some Coke, bottles filled and off in the cold of the night. I immediately had to put the jacket back on, we were at 2800 m in dead middle of the night, but I was doing fine and in the following kilometers I started to reel in a lot of runners in the flatter sections around the remote valleys we were traversing. The runnable parts where often interrupted by incredibly slow scree of rocks and boulders with the trail faintly recognizable: a real pain in the ass, but at least it was a slowdown territory for everyone. I was feeling good, and passing people is always a morale booster, but I could tell it was taking me a lot of time to cover the distance. I finally reached the Refuge de Cortalets quite tired, but happy, because in 15 kms I had climbed up to 6th place (unbeknownst to me at the time).
Bitchin' traverses
I kept running in the following flatter stretch even if the stomach was turning a little bit sour on all the gels, but I had two secret weapons: a pack of Powerbar wafer that I slowly munched during the hard climb to Col de Ciriere, and the "eau petillante", sparkling water, in my bottles. Even if the UD soft flasks looked like Pamela Anderson tits with all the gas in them, it was a blessing for my stomach.

I was tailing a cool guy on the climb, but as soon as we reached the summit, I opened a small gap on him. Soon I found myself stuck in the thickest fog I've ever seen: not good, but the course marking was perfect and after ten or fifteen minutes we started descending and I soon left the fog behind. I turned to see the other guy coming down fast, and I decided to not indulge at the Gite de Batere aid station and start the downhill to Arles, second main CP of the race. God knows why, I was pretty sure it was a quick 4/5 kilometers to the city of Arles... it turned out to be a 11 kilometers downhill pounding on my battered legs. The good part was that I caught the 4th place guy close to town, which gave me the usual boost. But I was really tired, and I realized I was just at the midway point. I hoped Maria Carla and the new day rising could give me some strenght, but to be honest, I didn't feel great. I wasn't that sure I could really finish the damn race, let alone in 4th position. But I pressed on, remembering what Pierre said, that the climb out of Arles was a crucial point of the race.

It wasn't that bad, especially after almost 20 kms of runnable terrain, and it offered a completely different landscape from the high mountain part we just finished. At the CP I asked Maria Carla (out of sheer curiosity) how much the third place guy had on me: one hour and a half. Right, game off for a podium place. Quick stop at the lovely village of Montalba, where I started sucking on lemons and oranges in order to take away the sweet taste of gels, and off to the climb to Col du Puys de Neiges, right under the Roc de France. This was the hardest part of the race for me: the climb started slowly, but it soon became a monster direct climb in the wood, followed by a long stretch of higly runnable trails. It was hot, humid and brutal, and I started to have mild hallucinations: I was quite sure someone behind me was catching up, but whenever I turned to check, he was hiding behind the tall trees. Funny, I know. Not at the time.

It took me an age, but I finally got to the checkpoint of Puit a Glace, quite sure I covered at least 20 kms from last CP. Not quite, just seven. To give me the final hit one of the volunteers told me "come on, you have the third place ahead..." at which I responded with a blank surprised stare. He soon added "...of one hour and a half" to the laugh and joy of his mates. I forgave them, because they were nice and had "eau petillante". The sun was now becoming an issue, the legs too and stomach followed soon. I ventured on a jeep road, amidst people on the hunt for mushrooms. The fact that everyone was speaking spanish worried me a little bit, adding a bizzare twist to an already comical situation, but the village of Illas came up and it was a welcome sight. Quick stop, more Coke, more oranges, more eau petillante: I had to keep the belly working, and I took care of it the best I could. Of the following 15 kms I just remember the change of scenery and vegetation to a really mediterranean zone, and the fact that it was mostly running material. More people turned up along the trail, and I have to say it was great to have some cheering after all the solitude of the night. Finally, I spotted MC which run with me the last two kms to the Aid Station of Le Perthus.
Scenic, innit? 
A guy offered me a massage, and willing to try everything in order to give me some hope, I agreed: boy, he did wonder, if you'll ever read this, you are a legend. Maria Carla was incredible in pushing me and after socks change, a generous zinc paste treatment and gel swap, I grabbed my vest and visor and headed out for the last 40 kms. I knew I still had a long way to go, but for the first time I started to think that the finish line was a real possibilty. And what's more, I was now in third place, after the collapse of the guy who had been in first place for most of the race!

I was probably a little bit to excited, because I immediately took a wrong turn and lost 20 minutes in the thorns. Worried about my third place (shouldn't have, fourth and fifth place came out of the AS more than one hour later) I managed to keep a decent pace on the first climb and run most of the following road. When I couldn't manage running anymore I switched to a "three minutes run, one of walk" tactic. It turned to "two to one" and later "one to one". After that, it came a climb, luckily.
The guys at the aid station were great and told me I had more climbing to Col de Ouillat, which at the time it sounded good to me: everything but running.
Descent from Col de Ouillat

At Col de Ouillat more support and then more climbing, followed by a deadly descent on tired legs and the start of a painful 8 kms stretch of running. I got passed by the first guy of the 100k race, and shortly after by the second, Nemeth Csaba, but at the small aid station right after a nice guy told me to relax, that I had a good margin on fourth place and that I was doing great. But the road to Pic the 4 Termes was all running, and it took a real effort to not indulge in more walking. Finally, a small water stop at Col des Tres Hetres marked the beginning of the descent to La Vall. The guy told me a real Check Point with food was just 4 kms down the road, therefore I moved on. The guy also added to be careful on the downhill, but to be honest it was nothing compared to what we had during the night. Until I reached a plateau and the trail ended at the edge of a steep ravine: confused I looked around to see no sign of marking or paintings. I carefully watched over the edge and there you go, a trail mark on a tree 100 meters down. Do I have to go there? Yes, you do.

Result: 4 kms of downhill in almost 45 mins, of which the first and last done at full speed. The rest was downclimbing, rock hopping, rope assisted descent and generally speaking a painful affair. I couldn't believe someone had conceived this death trap at the end of a hard hundo. I arrived at the CP in the lovely village completely fucked up, so much that when the lovely ladies offered me some soup, I didn't have the will to refuse and sat down for a bowl of veggie soup. Boy, it was phenomenal, so much that I wondered why I hadn't had any before. And the old grannies were so nice that I felt compelled to make some show and please them with compliments and my newfound appreciation and uttermost respect for the Pyrenees, to which they erupted in a loud laugh and more cheering.
Last climb!

I had just one single climb, one downhill and some running in front of me, and even if the climb was pretty harsh, once I came on top and saw the sea and Argeles at the bottom of the hill, with the light of a dying sun, it finally downed on me that I made it. I bombed the downhill (yes, this time I really bombed it) and when I saw MC coming to me I just let out a howl and put a huge smile on.
She even tried to push me to catch second place, which was just 5 mins ahead and looked rough, but I didn't have it in me, as simply as that. I just relaxed and soaked in the atmosphere of the last few kms that included a painfully long seafront. It was great to share that last stretch with MC and the finish line with a band playing, people cheering and all the usual galore was heaven after 28 hours 41 minutes and 49 seconds.
Celebrating right before the finish line

First place Seb Buffard came in right before the 27th mark, which shows how wrong the organizers were on forecasted times. And he's no slouch, having finished UTMB and Diagonale des Fous in the top ten.
Seb Buffard relaxing after the race

I ranted something in poor french, shook hands with Jean Francois March, second place finisher, and then happily crumbled to pieces on the grass. What an elation.
Maria Carla drove to the hotel, and after a shower we went both straight to bed. Legs hurting and still pumped from all the caffeine I ingurgitated I woke up early and had a beautiful hot bath before heading to the sumptous breakfast determined to polish off everything. Which we both accomplished.

Back to the starting line, it was time for last arrivals and some hearfelt cheering (plus a couple of beers) before the prizes presentation and more French babbling from my side. I actually said something passable because few guys stopped me afterwards for congratulations and a lot of smiling. Good I paid some attention to my French in high school.


The drive back home was quiet and uneventful, and once in Genoa we were pleased to see that nothing happened to our flat, but the flooding hit hard in some other areas. Once again.

The race? I'll just repeat my first few words after the race: dur, tres dur. Don't understimate it, it's a badass motherfucker of a race. The Pyrenees might look innocent, but they're not. They're vicious and bad and steep. The organization was just perfect: good course marking, loads of aid stations and incredibly kind volunteers. Now that I think of it, what I remember most of this race is not the views or the course (which were both phenomenal, nonetheless), but it's the people. Few encounters that really made my day, even if this time I ended up running on my own most of the times. To all of them, thank you, it wouldn't have been possible without you all. And most of all to my one girl crew who drove all night and day through desolate and desperate valleys in order to hear my whining: you are awesome.


Material:

No doubt about the shoes, my La Sportiva Helios were outstanding. Comfy, roomy, quick drying and with enough cushion to take me to end in pretty much decent shape. Some minor blistering, but hey, it's 100 miles, not a walk in the park.

I had my Zero Running short sleeves top at the start, switched to a wool long sleeves top for the night and then to an old Patagonia capilene 3 early in the morning. Zero Running vest for the next day, when the sun really hit hard.

I used Drymax socks in the first part, switched to Injinji and then back to Drymax in the last part. Both great. Once again, a healthy dose of Mustela paste it helps.

I used again the North Face vest I had at Lakeland, and it was ok, even if it gave me some chafing at the bottom of the back. I used the soft flask for carrying a liter of water with me, and it worked well all day long

I had the incredible Montane Minimus Smock and Trousers as waterproof: I used the smock most of the night, and it worked really well in downpour or cold without making me sweat like a pig. Good good stuff.

Food: usual diet of Powerbar gels, with some Powershots and a Powerwafer mixed in midway, which was a pleasurable detour from the gels. I had a Powerbar Recovery drink at eack crewed CP (good stuff). From CP I drank gallons of Coke, and oranges/lemons to take away the horrible taste of gels and refresh my mouth. To that extent, I discovered sparkling water in the bottles makes all the difference. Impossible not to mention the tasty soup I've had at the last CP, which made me think I should have had more earlier too.




3 comments:

  1. Pezzo pregiatissimo bro'! Anche se abbiamo dovuto romperti un po' le p@lle per fartelo scrivere, ne valeva la pena. Mai stato sui Pirenei, ma è una lacuna che dovrò colmare presto. #HastaElTerzoSiempre

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