Friday, 7 September 2018


It has become our norm to have the summer in France and to include one big foreign race. This year would be no different except the plan was for lots and lots of rock climbing. This was exciting but worrying as my last race was Nav4 Pennine 39 on 7th July and I was planning to return to the Grand Raid de Pyrenees for their 165km ultra on 24th August. Would I still be run fit?
We were away for over 6 weeks so the race report is a bit long, sorry.

I'd sort of believed maybe I could fit some running in between the climbing, ha ha. It was so hot we ended up climbing early, collapsing in the heat of the day and climbing again when it got cooler. Running was a long way from my thoughts. Sport climbing let us do quite a few routes a day so I was physically tired and also I was determined to lead all that I could and to push my standard, so I was mentally tired too.

We broke the journey through France near Chalons to climb at Cormot
No I can't climb 7 or 8s!
and Remigny and then again at Vergison. At this stage we had notched up over 50 climbs and I had worn a hole in my shoes - a trip to Decathlon put this right. Remigny was all we remembered but Vergison was new.

 What a fab place! Easy parking on the hill and even a toilet up there, a village lavoire that was cool enough and huge enough to swim in, a water supply and hardly any people.

We stayed several days and got a good number of climbs done. Solutre on the other-hand was full of tourists, the rock didn't look great unless you could climb 6c/7a and just didn't have the relaxed vibe at all.

Highlights of climbing were probably Orpierre, Baume Rousses and The Dentelles.
That was the sky that we had almost through the whole trip

You could probably spend the whole holiday in Orpierre and climb every day but we packed lots into our 4 days there.

The Dentelles caused us some consternation when we found the access had changed.
Sadly too windy to climb on the lacy bits on our last day, but a reason to go back
Our memories were of a desperate off road journey in and then finding a slightly better way out. However in the past couple of years the dirt road has been gated. On the plus side there is a nice new and huge car park, a natural spring and the walk in of about 1km is well worth it. By now it was very hot and we were searching shade for belaying and avoiding the worst heat of the early afternoon. 

We also completed two new (for us) Via Ferattas; one near Buis les Baroniers which was actually 3 routes that we strung together and one in Cavaillon.

 I belatedly managed a long slow run from Buis as well. Our last stop before heading for the Pyrenees was Orgon where we climbed and swam in the lake (with a snake!).
Have never swam by a snake before
I love Vielle Aure where the GRP is based and was happy to get there almost a week before the event as usual. We ran on the local trails and I had one day where I power walked and jogged the first 15km of the race route and then the last 10km too. I knew it was too late for any training benefit but couldn't sit and do nothing. I noted my times to La Cabanne, Col de Portet and Merlans and then prayed the race adrenalin would make me just a little faster.
The RO and the square

As the week progressed more van appeared along the riverside and joined our mini camp. In the village there was more and more evidence of the race with posters, banners, the marquee and then under the cover of darkness the big articulated lorry podium arrived.
Easy run down the valley
We ran a bit, explored, ate ice cream and waited for friends to arrive. We also got a bit of a shock when we found that in early August the routes had been changed so our time-sheets and printed maps were now wrong in several places. Oh well, it's a marked route so it will be fine.
3 Brit/ NW fell runner finishers

 Registration seemed very slick this year and we took the obligatory photos. I spent the rest of the afternoon sorting out my drop bags and worrying about which shoes to wear. The race briefing went on for ever and then the short English version was interrupted by runners wanting answers to stuff that must have been covered. It was nice to meet Jack again who had raced at the SW100 and won. I won't be seeing him for long in the race. I am hopeless at sleeping the night before the race but I did my best and was awake before my alarm at 4am.
Most Brits were celebrating the forecast for cooler weather but not me after 4 weeks of climbing in 30C+
Just time for breakfast, faffing, toilet and to walk to the square. I found Tony and Albert only to lose them again when I went to the loo. It would be good to see them in the race and even better to run with them but we all knew this might not happen. Before 5am I was warm enough to take off my windproof but the forecast was still for 6C on the Pic and also cool overnight plus some rain. The emotional music started and then the arm waving and the countdown. I made sure I was not too near the front and kept telling myself not to get carried away by the pace. I didn't spot Bob on the bridge in the dark as I was trying not to trip over heels but I did see Heather, Tony, Michelle and Abbi up in ST Lary. I managed without my head torch as so many others were so bright the path was well lit. Up the zig zags out of Vignec I chatted to Jack and then never saw him again. I later found out he was in the top 10 and racing well when a medical issue pulled him from the race with only about 12km to go. How cruel.
The climb to La Cabanne goes on and on but checking my watch meant I knew I was doing OK and the crowds at the chalets lifted us too. It was up and up some more through the ski area and just one short downhill  before the final steep pull up to the Col de Portet. 

By now it was light and the cameras and race drones were out. A quick run and we were down in Merlans with lots of supporters and the first feed station. It reminded me to try to eat early and often.
By now the runners were nicely spaced out and although I wasn't alone  it was nice not to feel crowded. I wondered where Tony, Albert, Carol etc were. The race moves into better and better scenery as it passes Lac Bastan. This year the route had changed after objections to so many runners in the National Park. It meant we took a much more technical route and added km and metres of climb. Hourquette Nere and Pas de Crabbe were harder than Barrages. It didn't seem too bad to me but I know Bob found it exhausting. Somewhere near Pas de la Crabbe I met up with Tony. He was much faster than me down the nasty rocky piste but by La Monji we were together again. Despite all the dry ground I had managed to step in a bog crossing a stream and so now had wet socks. We stopped, ate, refilled water and Tony waited for Albert. I felt shattered already and was now worried about being a DNF.

 Our route up to Col de Sencours was new and seemed harder than the gradually climbing old route. There were even some safety signs and a couple of Mountain rescue guys sat waiting.I stopped on a rock and ate and drank more. It was hot and I felt rubbish. I had set myself targets based on my 2015 time but couldn't help wondering how I was doing in the ladies race. I knew at least on V50 was ahead of me. I arrived at the Col in a bit of a state and felt sick which made eating hard. Sitting down just caused a rush of concerned volunteers so I got up and moved on. I felt like snails pace, especially compared to the front runners charging down. I tried to count the ladies descending and thought perhaps 6 or 7 were ahead of me. By the top it was cool and blowy. Not clagged in yet but not the usual distant views. 
Lac d'Oncet coming down from the Pic and Sencours
I felt so negative and rubbish that I even asked Heather and Tony where their car was. Jogging down I passed others coming up; first Tony, then Albert, then Carol, Simon and somewhere in there Martin too. 
You can just see the aerials on Pic du Midi- yep, it's a long way up
I knew I must eat so went into the hut for warmth and food. Soup with mashed potato in it went down OK but I couldn't face anything else. I could remember the next section quite well and knew there were some decent paths and even some grassy runnable bits. By now the weather was certainly turning. Also recent rain had caused some path erosion compared to just last year.We lost the flags in an area where cattle had chewed them but I was fairly sure I knew the way. 

By Cabanne Bareilles it was wet. The marshalls had huge ponchos and were fighting to keep the horses away. I should have stopped to get my cag out but at the time it was easier to reach for my windproof in an outside pocket.The rain got steadier as I climbed the last col. The easy paths towards Hautacam were now ankle deep and it was chilly. I hadn't stopped to eat enough but tried to make up for this at the feed station. I really struggled to get much down and although this was inside I was cold. I felt vaguely sick but so tired. I decided to lie down under a blanket. This was a mistake as I never got any warmer in all my damp clothes and should have just kept trying to eat.

 After 15 minutes I gave up and pushed on knowing it was only about 8km to Pierrefitte and our first drop bags. At least it was mostly downhill to there, although again there was a new bit that seemed to add about 1km. This is actually the lowest point on the course and what goes down must go back up again it seems.Thank goodness for drop bags. The chocolate milk went down a treat and so did a whole box of ambrosia custard (got some odd looks but who cares). I didn't manage much else but did swap some food over, refilled my water and Mountain Fuel and changed my socks. It was a joy to get out of wet clothes and be warm for the night.I then changed into dry shoes and regretted it for a few miles as they were less comfy. Before I left Tony and then Albert arrived but nobody else I knew. If I didn't fancy eating there seemed little point in waiting so I set off. It was still light but would be getting dark soon. Not that I mind. This section was new so I didn't know what to expect. It started fine but got steeper and more rugged. By dark I was struggling for energy again. At Cabane du Boussu I tried hard to eat and managed soup, coke, biscuits and more but then promptly threw it up about 200m up the trail. Retching then gave me a stomach cramp. Plod on. The guys with me were nice but there wasn't anything they could do. At Pierrefitte I had been chatting to a family and they lived in Cauterets and would be looking out for me. The last Col was awful but the drop to town improved things and I recognised some of the route from last years 220km.  I arrived at the casino, cool place for a CP, knackered. I didn't want food just a lie down and then fell asleep for almost 30 minutes. For me this is unusual and I have never slept on a 100 miler before. I woke just as the lady next to me set off. I had last seen her at 15km so was surprised to have caught her up. I had all I needed so off I went into town to trade banter with two drunks trying to find their way home. It was cruel to have to have to regain all the height lost when we dropped into the valley. The steep sections were narrow and the vegetation was wet. 

The very top before the drop to the little ski station of Aulian was almost vertical and loose. This year there was no loud party music but still the excellent staff. When I claimed I couldn't eat I was waitress served mini crepes and cups of tea. Setting off I knew the way from last year and it helped that those around me seemed to be in no better state than I was. 

A big drop to Grust and then more down to Sazos and Luz itself. Another drop bag was waiting. This time the staff asked what the box was so now the french have been introduced to ambrosia custard. I refilled my sack with some food I thought I might be able to manage, refilled water and changed my socks again. Suddenly I was tired again. I went to lie down and again fell asleep for about half an hour.
Pic du MIdi in the far distance- it's huge
I just couldn't help it although I did wonder who had overtaken me during these kips. At least it was a fresh day and light when I set off. This section was new and although initially steep it got better as we ran to Sardiche and a water stop. I felt better now and was managing to eat small amounts of bars and gels. not great but better than nothing. We were told 5km to Refuge la Glere and I had in my head which one it was from last year. 

In fact it was about 8km and was the highest one with the amazing views into the Neouvielle National Park and the most spectacular scenery of the whole route. Sadly to create a loop the inward route was really tough with lots of rock clambering. It seemed harsh to send us all the way up on such a difficult trail when we knew the next step was a huge descent back to Tournaboup. It went on and I letting me realise my mistake in which refuge it was. There were lots of raspberries as a bonus though. At the prize giving they recognised how tough this section was and promised to take the section out for next year. It's a shame as it is beautiful. The staff at the CP recognised me and I managed some soup. A group of 5 of us set off for the big descent. One guy was awesome and was soon way ahead but I surprised myself at being faster than two - I am not great on loose stony descents.By now we were running with the same people on and off so it was good to chat, smile and encourage each other. We were also getting caught and overtaken by people on the 120km and 80km races. The 120km runners were in no better state than us but the 80km runners appeared to be sprinting compared to our efforts. They did all appreciate me stepping off the path and were all very encouraging. I stopped at the CP for coke (ugh) and some food but it was roasting hot and I was keen to leave. Last year I suffered from a strange muscle spasm under my left ribs and now it started again. I made me stop, lie and stretch a few times but by now it felt like the home straight and after the trials of the night I was not giving up now. Cabane d'Aygues came and went only noticeable by the fact we now left all the tourists behind. It seemed to take an eternity to get to Cabane de Lude, but perhaps it was just my memory from three years ago playing tricks, and today the valley path was deep in water. Climbing to Merlas I got second wind. I didn't run much but certainly powered ahead of the guys I had been with. The last section was also freezing cold and I didn't want to waste time digging out my cag. I wanted to run and knew I needed food but still felt queezy. Three years ago the medics had a magic pill that let me eat again. I made the mistake of asking now. A very thorough medic insisted on taking my blood glucose, watching me drink coke and eat cake before letting me depart. It cost more time than I had intended but perhaps helped fuel me up the col de Portet. In the dark and cold I ran most of the way to Soulan. I was horrified at the hours I had taken. In 2015 I finished in 34 hrs 25 and although this route was different I had expected the same. It was several km longer, did have more climb and did have some tough less runnable sections but still. I tried not to despair and when I knew I couldn't scrape under 40 hours just jogged and made sure it was certainly under 41 hours. I crossed the finish line a bit dispirited and feeling sick and very tired (despite the sleep). Carole wanted to interview me but I just wasn't up for it. I staggered off to get my finishers hoody, looked at the food and decided to just head straight back to the van. I wish now I had taken longer and had time to find out and believe that all the times were about 5 hours slower and that I was in fact 3rd lady again. Bob was in bed but not alseep and kindly made me hot chocolate and warmed water for me to do a not very thorough wash. I was asleep in under an hour. Bob had found the new route to start to 80km tough. He ran with a friend and they gave ip/ were timed out at La Monji after a good day out.
Some of the photos above are now from the race but from our walks afterwards.
Sunday was prize giving and the closing buffet. I was feeling better if not cured. I still had not understood that I was 3rd. 

When I saw on the web I thought they had jiggled people around somehow as they do sometimes. The prizes started with our race and the ladies so it was a real shock to be called as first person to be on the podium. 
Look like a midget?
Where had all the other ladies that were ahead of me got to? I think 21 of us entered and 7 finished, a pretty dreadful dnf rate of 66% (the race overall had a drop rate of about 45%). 

So it just goes to show: never give up, don't base your times on a previous route and then beat yourself up, find out how to use the race results site properly and even ask on the way round how you are doing!

After an amazing closing buffet we set off for Piau Engaly to use my winning voucher from last year to claim two nights in a hotel. 

A shower and a real bed after 5 weeks in the van was wonderful. We also had two fantastic walks there and the scenery was superb - perhaps enough for me to be tempted by the 120km race that starts there. The walks included high passes and snow. 

It was a real treat on the second day to drive into the heart of the National Park and show Bob some of last years 220km route.

I have to go back after all as this year I won a week in an apartment for 2019. We said a sad goodbye to the Pyrenees and set off for more climbing at Seynes and then the Ardeche. Seynes was good but seemed hard and the Ardeche was hot, busy and rather polished. What a great summer.

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