Grand Raid Pyrenees
26th/27th August 2011
After a busy running year the GRP was supposed to be enjoyable. In the weeks following my Lakes 24 Hour Record I continued running as normal and even completed a record Tranter Round. In the two weeks leading up to the race we were very busy on the farm harvesting straw, catching a bull / escaped cows and I was looking forward to a break. I travelled to London to meet my brother Charlie and flew to Toulouse late on Tuesday evening. We arrived at 1am to find a lovely chalet courtesy of Gerard and Marie Annick at La Ferme de Gayri . To Charlie's relief it had two double rooms in it!
Wednesday was spent finding our way about and sorting stuff out for the kit check on Thursday. The day just flew by. We were invited to drinks with Gerard and Marie along with Ali Bignell, his girlfriend Kate and their families who were also staying. They were also English but unlike us spoke French! It was a lovely evening.
Thursday we checked the weather constantly as my site www.theyr.com was showing a low moving NE across us during Friday bringing wet and windy weather then very cold overnight. I was all packed and ready for it though. After putting the drop bags in we went to the briefing but left soon after as we couldn't understand it. They did however have an English translation at the end which we missed and was important. Luckily Olly and Ali called in to tell us the news. 1) we were starting at 7am not 5am 2) we weren't going to climb Pic du Midi due to thunderstorms. I was disappointed in both decisions but as I was still happy with my kit and clothes I just accepted two more hours in bed.
Friday morning found me nervously standing at the start. I was glad to be off. I tried to set off steady and walk the hills on the road / tracks. I felt ok but I was too focussed on the other women rather than on my own race. I kept reeling myself in. The gentle running felt ok but when we hit the steep climb to Merlans I felt tired and the legs were heavy. I was breathing hard and wishing I had brought my poles when Olly Stephenson caught me and offered me his. I was quite worried about my lack of energy but once at Merlans (time 09.14) felt better and hoped that with good eating I would be able to pull it round.
I caught the 1st lady soon after Merlans and so then had the added incentive to keep going. Running along to Artigues it was getting cold and starting to rain. Coats and gloves came out of the bag and I ate some fruit salad and rice pudding too. At Artigues (time 11.49) Charlie was waiting in the pouring rain. The soup was good and I collected a mousse and my poles before heading off. The climb to Sencours was ok but cold and I was glad not to be going up Pic du Midi in the wind and rain. I picked up some chocolate, biscuits and soup at Sencours (time 13.32). Running across from the road in the clag we went slightly wrong but luckily were called back by fellow competitors. Olly was ahead and I let him go deciding to sort myself out as I was feeling jaded. I ate two rice puddings, two gels and a fruit puree. That soon kicked in and I felt better. All of a sudden the temperature dropped to about 7C and it started hailing. I ran on with my legs stinging and my hands getting cold holding the poles. Eventually I couldn't stand it any longer and stopped. My fingers wouldn't grip the clasp on my rucksack and I struggled to open it but managed in the end. Getting out my fleece hat and buff I put my poles away. I put the hat on, buff round my neck and then could pull my hands into my coat sleeves. As I was running I flexed my hands desperately trying to get blood back into my fingers. Once a few fingers were warm I pulled the gloves so they worked like mittens and warmed the other fingers. This worked well and I was ok by the time I caught Olly again. We ran into Hautacam (time 16.39) together where I was given a GPS tracker to carry.
The descent off Hautacam was a better route than last year; I was slightly worried about my right hamstring and left patella though which hurt on descents though. I got a huge cheer running into Villelongue (time 17.47) and was met by Charlie again there. Sorting out my food and clothes I struggled to get the pasta down but took some beans of my own from the drop bag which I ate on the climb to Turon de Bene. In 2010 I found this climb very hard and hot. This year it was cool and I was ok on the gentle climbs. It was the steep ones that made me puff a lot. My stomach was ok but I never felt that I was flying or had much energy. I took more delicious soup from Turon de Bene (time 20.14) and continued on into the clag. It was dropping dark now and I followed lights to the top of Pic du Cabaliros at 2334m. This reminded me of Bryn Banog in Wales; steep and grassy. I remembered the climb to the col in 2010 was actually worse so didn't mind this at all! I followed a guy off the summit who smelt nice and thus was nicknamed "Lynx". Last year this was a horrid descent so when we were directed by the flags straight down I was pleased as it meant we were getting the boggy tussocks over in one go and would soon hopefully be down. We were then on roads and paths which were good.
Arriving in Cauterets (time 23.22) I wasn't feeling my best but got some soup and beans down. I tried a rice pudding and had to fight to keep it down. The next climb to Aulien was mainly on gentle roads and tracks "these I can manage" I thought. The pace was slower overnight - even though I was on my own a lot I wasn't being caught by anyone I hadn't seen before. The men were all very nice and Lynx kept wafting past which was pleasant. I found the descent to Luz painful on the legs and a lot of the road was unmarked so I was unsure I was on the right route. I flagged a car down eventually to ask and was reassured.
At Esquere Ser (time 03.48) it was lovely to see Charlie. I was looking forward to the "Charlie stops" now and counted that there was only one more (Tournaboup) and hopefully about 8 hours to go. I raided my drop bag for fruit salad and gels. Off I went again. This section soon plummeted into my hardest leg to date. I ate a fruit salad after 30 minutes and was sick immediately. But to make the situation a whole lot worse I continued being sick bringing up what I had eaten at Esquere Ser as well. Lynx came passed and asked if I was ok. Hmmm. I carried on walking but wavering all over the place and even looking at patches of grass wanting to lie down. I knew I was very slow; last year I was running most of this leg. It was awful. After 30 minutes I tried a gel. It made me nauseas but stayed down.
I walked into Tournaboup (time 06.49) knowing that I had to get a whole mousse down and more if I was going to have any chance of finishing. Charlie met me looking worried; the 2nd Lady was catching and had made up 15 mins on me. The mousse went down and tried valiantly to come back up but I was stronger. I even managed a few beans on top. Feeling decidedly light headed and sick I decided to make a start. Walking up the hill Charlie was being the elite supporter he is giving me all the words of encouragement I needed. He left me with a black coffee which I drank hoping it would wake me up. I took it steady though the 15 minutes of stomach upset that always followed eating anything. I thought about all the reasons why I should now push on. All the people behind me; Steve at home working; Charlie up all night supporting me; Carol his wife pregnant at home letting him come away with me; Amanda and Andrew Heading having enough confidence in me to sponsor me. I had to try for these people. I formulated a plan - I had to be stronger on the climbs; it is always my strength. With a huge climb of 1000m in front of me I would climb as hard as I could then hope I could descend well enough to hold my position.
It felt good to be positive again and I climbed as hard as I could, always on the edge of breathlessness. I had 5 gels and a fruit puree to last me six hours. I got them all down along with energy drink and water. I was catching people again and so knew I was doing better. Reaching Merlans (time 10.49) I said I wasn't stopping to Matt (from UK) and with only a few quick words to Ann-Marie from Sleepmonsters I was off. As you can imagine the descent was purgatory. At least we went down the route we had climbed up so with a couple of very very steep descents we soon dropped 800m and only had another 600m to go. I had hoped it would take me about 1.30 hours from the col but that time came and I was still zigzagging down not taking even the smallest shortcut for fear the tracker would catch me out.
At last there was the village of Vignec and Charlie !!! He grinned and jogged alongside me. "She was 30 mins behind you at Merlans so lets push it a bit shall we?" I agreed and off we went. All the way through the village and out into the countryside. "Lets get to the houses then I'll slow down" I said as I wanted to enjoy the last 50m. I heard the cow bells and cheering and it was brilliant. I ran to the finish with a huge grin on my face. The time was 12.47 making my overall time 29 hours and 45 minutes. With missing out Pic du Midi and including the improvements in the course I was slower than last year I think. But never mind now - I was 1st Lady and didn't faint so could have interviews and photographs taken.
This win means so much more to me because it was hard fought for. I love the race, the organisation, the scenery, village and atmosphere. Its wonderful to sit in the square afterwards soaking up the atmosphere and watching people finish both the Grand and the Ultra all afternoon and evening.
Thanks to Amanda and Andrew at www.racekit.co.uk for lots of kit, information and support over the six years I have known them.
Link to Sleepmonsters Race Report by Jaques Marais (who also took the running pictures of me) and thanks to Ann-Marie Dunhill for translating at the presentation! I really must learn some French.
Anne Marie at Sleepmonsters has also put an article on their site about my win in the Pyrenees.
Link to Race website Le Grand Raid des Pyrénées