Grand Raid Pyrenees
27th/28th August 2010
I had a brilliant time in the Pyrenees and really enjoyed the few days I had there. The area is very mountainous and green. The villages are relaxed and the people very friendly and helpful. The whole race organisation was very low key and well run. It was nice to be in such a small location with everything within easy walking distance.
Wednesday - flew from Heathrow to Toulouse arriving at 5pm. Drove to Saint Lary to the hotel. Quick bite to eat and bed.
Thursday - registration / kit check / drop bag collection but this hardly took anytime and so we were left with time to relax. It was very hot and forecast to get hotter with Friday being 32C, night 26C, Saturday 28C night 20C, Sunday 22C night 18C. No rain but cloudy on Sat.
Friday - Race starts at 5am from Vielle Aure (15 mins walk) . It was very hot overnight making sleep hard then we were up at 3.45am for breakfast. Got to start just 15 minutes before the off - it was dark so headtorches were needed.
My plan was to set off faster than Reunion but within myself. To eat and assess the heat / food / water availability then push on while it was cooler. To take it easy if hot then push on again overnight.
The pace at the start didn't seem too fast and apart from a couple of competitive women pushing past the runners were friendly and considerate. The 1st climb is brutal from 800m to 2215m; initially easy going however it turns into a stony and very steep ski run climb which really hurt. Arriving at Merlans at 7.30am (the first food stop) I assessed food - it wasn't ideal as I don't do salami and cheese but there was fruit, ham, coke, tuc biscuits so I tucked into those. Off up again slightly but the next leg was more runable and flatter. The scenery was lovely and green. I was getting into my stride now and also ate my rice puds and fruit salad to reduce weight! I got to Artigues at 10am and refueled again.
The next 2 legs are uphill - from 1200m to 2378m then an out and back to the top of Pic Du Midi (2876m). The initial climb was a grassy path and very pleasant but the mountain always loomed. I was worried I had set off fast but just kept going and eating. The track to Pic du Midi summit was a gentle gradient and I could stride out. Here I was told that I was 2nd woman - not too pleased as just thought it reinstated the fact I was off too fast but damage done so kept going!! I caught the 1st Lady and passed her. The view from the top was magnificent - I must go back with more time to stop! It was great to see other British runners I knew as I descended and everyone looked well.
I refueled quickly at the base and got off keen to open up a gap. I caught Tim Laney and we ran for a while. It was getting hot but bearable - hat and sunscreen came out and on. I pushed on but tried not to overdo it as it was so early to be leading. This leg was the longest one of 18.9km and undulating. I had underestimated my water consumption and ran out half way which wasn't pleasant. Eating my gels, fruit salad, fruit purees for liquid value and then managing sweets but generally struggling to eat without water to wash the food down with. There were a couple of hot little climbs as well. Then the clag came down which was a blessing but made route finding hard work even with markers every 30m or so. I was always running around people and together we found the way to the top of Hautacam and liquid - lots of it!
Leaving Hautacam (1600m) in the clag on my own it was tricky finding the path off but once on track it was easy to follow and basically just contoured round a hill for what seemed like hours, still in clag before dropping down into Villelongue at 500m. As we crossed many streams my feet got wet and after much deliberation as to time wasting I made myself stop and change my socks as I really didn't want blisters like in Reunion. Arriving at the stop I was glad of my drop bag but after adding my spagetti hoops to the pasta they provided I tasted something fizzy. Thinking it was the pasta I tried the spag on its own - "Oh no it was that" and horrid. "That will do me no good I thought!". Quickly collecting more food and spare socks I got on my way.
This was another big climb and something wasn't happy in my stomach. I tucked in behind 2 runners who spoke a bit to me but chatted a lot to each other. I couldn't breath and wondered how they could chat!! I ate some cheddars to settle my stomach and that helped. Cheering up I enjoyed the climb as it emerged from the trees, gave us a lovely view and arrived at Turen de Bene (1550m) at 19.45. Stopping quickly for tea and ham but not trusting my stomach to soup or anything else. I ate my rice puds and more hula hoops. From there I was running with the same couple of guys for about 6 hours. We took it in turns to go in front and find the way in the dark, I was struggling and feeling sick on the steep uphills but once they levelled off I always caught them again. My torches were better than theirs so on fiddly paths I fared better. At Aulien I tried the soup and it was very good !! The descent to Luz was a new route and the worse ground we encountered on the whole race. 1050m of tussocks, bogs, low trees, bracken and sheep trods. I was hoping to be down quickly but soon resigned myself to taking a lot longer. Eventually we were down and running. A guy caught us up that I hadn't seen before and that worried me as if he could then so could 'she'! I overtook my friends (incl No 120) and set off after him.
Into Luz (700m) at 03.06hrs I once again needed to be quick. After getting my drop bag I sorted out all gels, gel blocks, fruit salads and rice puds to take and left sandwiches, crisps etc as I still had lots of them. Another bowl of soup and I was off. Running up the road wasn't a good idea - the soup was determined to make a reappearance and after struggling to hold it down I spat some out. Back to a walk and got a rice pud down. I was using my maps a lot now - just going from CP to CP and not thinking about "the bigger or much longer picture". Soon after Luz we had to cross a marshy field and so annoyingly my feet got soaked - I made myself stop straight away and changed my socks putting on anti-friction cream as well. Tucking my wet socks into my shorts I hoped they might dry - "fat chance!!" This was a nice ascent - 11km climbing only 800m on a very good path or road. I was quite happy and realizing that this could be doable. No-one was catching me so I couldn't be too slow. I just needed to maintain pace and get something down.
Arriving at Tornaboup I didn't feel like much food but picked up water and chocolate. I had been having energy drinks also but generally was going off food. Fruit purees and gel blocks were still edible though and so I stuck to them. Off up the valley was a pleasant climb and with the prospect of daybreak I was quite cheery. Passing a water / coffee stop I was tempted but decided to press on. Up the last major climb onto Col de Barages at 2480m then a long, long, long descent through horrid rocks and tree roots. Just when I was berating running, racing and life I was caught by No 120 (Valery Caussaurieu) and was pleased to see him. He was flying and so I tucked in behind him and we pushed onto Merlans. Only 10km to go in 90 minutes to get under 30 hours - I didn't think it was doable for me. I was climbing well but my hips were complaining on the descents. Anyhow we did the best we could and unfortunately got caught by a couple of guys on the last run in but there wasn't any fuel left in my tank!! Valery stuck with me and I thank him for that and the hours of companionship through the night.
It was a magnificent feeling running through the finish - not only completed but won in 30hrs, 14 mins and 30 seconds! I was as elated as I look ...
After finishing I was surrounded by camera's and being interviewed (luckily in english) when I started to feel dizzy. I knew what was coming and asked to sit down but too late. Next thing I was having a lovely dream and felt I was floating on a bed of hands. Opening my eyes - I found that I was! The medical people were lovely as too was Ann-Marie from Sleepmonsters. My blood sugar was 0.54 !!! I had some sugar, food and a sleep and then was able to leave them and enjoy myself!
Thanks to Amanda and Andrew at www.racekit.co.uk for lots of information, support, x-socks, sunhat, and Raidlight top. The photo's are also Andrew's !
Link to SleepMonsters Race report by Ann-Marie Dunhill
Link to Race website Le Grand Raid des Pyrénées