I never sleep that well before a race, especially if the start is very early. A hot van did not help but I slept more than I had hoped and was up at 4am for porridge.
By 4.30 I was itching to go and we walked up to the village square which was already filling up with runners and supporters.
Once my timing chip was bleeped I searched out toilets and friends. I soon founnd Tony and Albert.
The 30 minutes flew by and despite the dark a torch barely seemed necessary amongst all the other runners. With a couple of km on lanes to spread us out I was anxious of setting off too fast. I saw Tony up ahead but let him go. I waved at Bob as we crossed the bridge and then at Heather and Naimh as we neared Vignec. Support would be a bonus later in the race. On the zig zags out into the hills I passed Forest and Tracy and people settled into a happy plod in the dawn light. La Cabanne seemed to come much more quickly today and we were soon out of the chalets and onto the pistes. The first 14km has a climb of 1509m; a great way to start the morning. I was glad that I knew what to expect here as the climb to the small road tunnel and then up to the Col de Portet is particularly steep.
The sun was just appearing over the ridges as I crested the col. Running down to Merlans, a ski restaurant I met Tim who said he was struggling.
I dashed in to the toilet (dodgy tummy already?), grabbed a bit of food and set off into the unknown.
The path from here was a joy as it hugged the hillside round and up into the Bastan valley full of lakes.
This is where I had hoped to see down to from our second walk. The climb over the Col de Bastanet passed quickly and I was settling into a steady pace with just slight concerns about an iffy tummy.
The section from the Col de Bastanet could be my favourite. My notes warned me that it would be technical but the rock was dry and grippy, the boulders fairly solidly set and I loved it. I could not believe how many men I overtook even on the downhills.
We passed two mountain huts and it was good to have the support of all the walkers. The spray as we crossed the small bridge after the barrage of Lac Greziolles was very welcome.
It was only early morning but already hot and clearly going to get hotter.
On the track heading to La Mongie I passed a jaded Albert; he hates the heat and was already struggling.
Climbing over the avalanche sheds to the ski resort I spotted Tony and we ran into the CP together.
I headed for the toilet again but at least my tummy still felt like eating. After last year at the UTMB this was one of my biggest worries.
I tried banana, salami, chocolate, oranges and then grabbed some energy bars for later, determined to eat well and early. Tony decided to wait for Albert and I was slightly disappointed not to run together at all. Leaving the village it was a shock to go downhill for a km or so as we were heading for the Pic du Midi. Ah well.
One more urgent toilet break and now all seemed well. I felt strong and despite the growing heat stormed up to the Col de Sencours even having overtaken a few people on the way. I never used my maps or description info but did use the spreadsheet with distances, climbs and times on it.
The reception we got here was fantastic. The marshalls and the tourists were great and their cheering and kind words really helped. The out and back up the Pic du Midi was a bugger in the heat but it was good to cheer other runners as we passed each other.
It was now well over 30C and even I had dug my cap out and been soaking it in any streams I came to. Up to the Col is almost 500m and then the Pic another almost 500m. It was great to see Heather and Niamh at the top and I really enjoyed my run down- the path apart from the very top is big enough to drive a 4x4 up and so there is plenty of space for those going up and down, both runners and tourists.
Back at the Col I filled up my water after warnings that the next section was long dry. I also grabbed a load more food. In addition to theirs I was also eating home made flapjack with chia seed and using the odd torq gel. I was eating lots and happy to do so.
Soon after the Col our route diverged from the one Bob would follow later. The scenery was stunning and the paths wonderful.
My main memory of this section was running round two sides of Lac Bleu and just wishing we could stop for a cooling swim. This was followed by another 1000m climb up to Hourquette d' Ouscouaou. I was now roasting but bouyed up by the supporters telling me I was third lady.
I tired a bit over the section to Hautacam and should have eaten more. The heat was making it hard to swallow dry food. Rice pud, custard even yogurt would have been good.I love the sun but it was a relief to enter the CP and find shade and food. I spent more time here than I had intended but wanted to make sure I did eat and that just was not a speedy process.
Some runners were stretched out on beds- perhaps the heat as it seemed a bit early for a kip to me. The next sections of over 20km were mostly downhill. I set off with two guys in the hope that together we would run more. It was a struggle after the stop and my feet were starting to complain big style. I had convinced myself that once I could see Pierrefitte town then the CP would only be minutes away. Ha ha. the drop to the valley floor was huge plus we then did a huge loop south to skirt the town and even climbed slightly before finding our way to the CP. This was perhaps my low point. The marshalls were great and my drop bag appeared. A friendly guy waiting for his friend got me soup and I was emotional and close to tears. I needed food but was struggling with solids. I was so pleased I had put the milkshake in my drop bag. I slid down a treat and was followed by two bowls of soup and some bread and flap jack. In the midst of this I inspected my feet. Oh dear. They were a white spongey wrinkled mess, and sore. I tried to tape them a bit but with damp feet really it just wasted 10 minutes. Dry socks was the best I could do. meanwhile the 4th lady had appeared. I shot off without my water and luckily only got 100m up the road before I realised. I now knew I was being chased. If it was down and down into the CP it was now up and up on the way out.
The scenery was different though with wide grassy tracks up through woods and bracken covered slopes. Towards the tops it seemed more like cattle country and there was even mud. By the tented CP at the top of Pouy Droumide it was dark enough to need our torches. Eating here the 4th lady appeared and we got chatting. Marcia was american chinese and lives in Hong Kong so we had things in common. I left before her but on the way up the Col de Contente she passed me and was going strong. Oh well, keep at it you never know. This climb was a real pig and the tapes ignored the zig zag paths instead taking us straight up. The organisers had kindly not only flagged the route but in several places had used a long ball of string in case of really low cloud. It took a lot out of me and I was slower than I had hoped descending into Cauterets. From here on my memory is more hazy (thank god, the report will get shorter I hear you say). I might even have muddled the slopes up out of here with the ones from Pierrefitte. I do remember the ski pistes leading into Aulian and the heavy rock music blasting out as the scouts manning the CP were having a great party. A kind medic saw me struggling to eat and gave me something to settle my stomach. I made myself stop and eat and was lucky to leave with two friendly guys. We ran almost all the way to Luz together until they got ahead on the slippery sections of a small path. In Luz we were joined by runners on the 120km route. I should have realised the implications of this. The food station was busy and crowded but worse the infirmery had a queue. I managed to eat and then having collected my drop bag checked my feet. Not great. The soles felt on fire, my heel bones were sore and the only tape doing much good was the bit I put on my toes the night before. I decided I had to go and get them sorted before I set off in dry socks. Marcia wanted me to leave with her but I just wasn't ready. I regret this now but..... it is easy to think of if only. Twenty minutes later with my feet nicely taped and protected I set off into the sunshine. I was sad to have dropped to 4th but knew in my heart that without getting my feet sorted I might not even finish. The climb to Tournaboup stretched forever with cruel descents and mini climbs all the way. As I crossed the car park I was overjoyed to see Charmain and she was so positive and really bouyed me up.I couldn't eat much despite her efforts to tempt me and decided the best bet now was just to get on with it. My next few km were slow but it was the best I could do. Once up at Aygues Cluses I perked up a bit even though the climb to the main col was still to come. At some point after the col of Hourquette Nere the cloud increased and it started to rain. I ignored this until it got heavy and then paniced that it might not stop before I was soaked. I stopped to get my cag on. So then of course the rain stopped.
The woods towards Lac de l'Oule were getting muddy but not too bad yet. As I headed towards Merland the rain started again but heavier. I worried about being cold going over the col and got my cag out again. How I would later rue these wasted minutes. Before Merlans I had taken it off again.
Suddenly I realised the end was near. I ran on towards Merlans, was slightly irritated at having to go inside and back out again to get bleeped and then set off up the Col de Portet at a good pace. We had not recceed the return loop but I knew roughly where we were. The initial descent on steep stony piste was torture for my feet but as we dropped to Espiaube and the gradient reduced this improved. The little path through the woods was great and the interesting twists and turns took my mind off my sore feet but then the rough track from Granges de Lias was torture again. I could not wait to get on more level ground. I ran into Vignec but really struggled to make myself run the very slightly downhill section of smooth tarmac from there to Vielle Aure. Two short walk sections were needed. At the edge of the village I almost cried when I saw the way they were diverting us to the town square and adding about 300m. The crowds helped for the final run in and the red carpet and big blow up gantry made us feel like heroes. I was welcomed in to the square and up onto the commentary truck. Forest and Dibgy were sat and the cafe with a beer and came straight across to congratulate me. I was too tired to care but did not get a photo at this point.Yes, I was disappointed to have lost 3rd lady even if it was only by 2 mins, in fact that made even more annoying. There were no rolling screens at CPs like in the UTMB so I had no easy way of knowing how far ahead Marcia had been.
But I was overjoyed to have finally finished, to have beaten all my expectations of time and to be first vet (40 or 50) as the only other vet was second lady.
I cooled my feet in the fountain and having recovered a little headed for the van to collect my shower stuff. Getting organised seemed to be a mamouth task but I was eventually ready for the navette to the showers and it was worth it. I arrived back at the van and collapsed into bed.
I had then hoped to go up to the square for beer, pizza and to cheer Tony in. Sadly the weather had other ideas. I lay in bed listening to the rain which at first was not too bad but then got torrential with thunder and lightning mixed in. I guessed Tony would forgive me for not being there and that he would not want to hang around anyway. I hoped Bob and Michelle were safe from the storm- perhaps being held at Merlans? The next thing I knew it was the early hours of the morning and Bob was back. His race had been stopped for those at his pace above Tournaboup. They were turned back from the col and then bussed home. He was understandably very disappointed and initially rather confused as where he was there was little rain at that point. He got the T shirt but had been denied Pic du Midi and then denied finishing despite being ahead of his schedule. Checking the results to find he would have probably have been 2nd V70 just rubbed salt into the wound. The prize giving in the morning was follwed by beer and then the buffet. Albert had pulled out due to the heat, Forest and Tracy stopped with heat and trashed feet. Tony was pleased with his time and so was Michelle. Digby had a storming run to finish 10th! I would go back and have compared the GRP and UTMB but I will save that for later.