Sunday, October 16, 2011


 Whats with the on. Having dragged Sue out of her lovely farmhouse bed at some ungodly hour we made our way to the start just outside Dignes les Bains. About 100+ hardy souls were getting ready for the off. I could see the mountain far away through the rather chilly morning mist (actually it was -1)....... That would be the first big climb of the day all the way to the summit.......'daunting' was the word that came to mind. Nevertheless I was in a  positive state about my fitness and I had a plan for the race. I split it into 6 quadrants;-

 1 First 10 k to first Aid Station...Goal 1hr:30 mins into race.
 2 Complete the 3,300feet  climb to summit at 17 k mark ...Goal 3hrs:15 mins
 3 Fast 6 k descent to second Aid Station at 22k...Goal 3hr:45mins hours.
 4 Fast as possible 10k run with more (500 feet) climbs to third Aid Station at 33 k...Goal 5 Hrs:15mins.(Meet Sue with extra supplies of water, Isostar, gels, soup, muffin, etc.)
 5 1,700 foot climb to summit Mount Cousson at 37 k...Goal 6hrs:15mins
 6  Steep descent 7 k's (miss fourth aid stop, unless neccessary) to finish 44 k's....Goal 7hrs
 The profile graph is in metres so I did the approximate conversions but this was the plan.

By using Google Earth I could track the terrain and work out the tough bits but, of course, the reality was somewhat different.
      Off we went, very similar to Val d'alloss marathon in that you climb immiediately and don't stop for 3+ hours.I warmed up pretty quick as we passed through amazing volcanic structures and rock formations. I felt suprisingly tired and it took over an hour to get my second wind but I hit the first stop within a few minutes of target. Then the climb steepened considerably as you can see from the graph. It was just hard, hard, hard and at one point I was on my hands and knees climbing up the rocky ledge. It  took just under 3 hrs:15mins to reach the summit which amazingly left me bang on schedule. Its bizarre as 16k's on a road is nothing but on steep trails.......madness. (See video on the right or You tube at:- trailjunkiephil)

The views were incredible but  with no time to stop I began the scary descent, my quads and knees took quite a pounding but I had been practising quick descents so you just get on with it.
       I was relieved to have done the first mountain, the total cumulative elevation was over 6000 feet (1750metres). A race Marshall said I was in 58th position out of 100.....although it felt like I was last! These ultra races are so hard I must be getting old.....'You are old' (Sue's contribution). I then began the fourth part of the race and made good time passing a few people. After another climb I began a long descent on a wide clear track and was about 1k from the 33k  stop with Sue waiting with extra supplies, on time, and feeling okay.......and then DISASTER.....except I didn't know it yet.
      I kept going along and assumed at any moment I would arrive at the checkpoint......but it  never appeared. There were no markers and I became a little nervous until I saw a figure moving up ahead. I could only catch a glimpse through the trees but assumed it was another runner which meant I was on the right track. I just thought I had miscalculated the distances to the next stop.
     I continued on but at the top of the hill the runner had suddenly dissapeared. Panic now set in...what was going on? I became very confused and dissorientated as I had now been running way  past my check point time. Suddenly out of nowhere a mountain goat shot onto the track in front of me....the type with curly horns and scared me half to death! This was obviously my fictitious running friend.......I had lost the route and now had quite clearly lost the plot!
       I felt terrible as I couldn't go back as I had no idea what had gone wrong or where. I rang Sue ( luckily my mobile had a signal). There then followed a series of frantic calls and discussions with the organisers to try and figure out where I was. The problem was no one could work it out. As I was now descending I figured the best thing was to keep going but by now I was devastated because I knew I was out of the race whatever happened.
       On and on I went and in the far distance I could see a big river and so I aimed for that. I told Sue and she relayed this to guys in charge. One guy said he thought he knew where I was...... wait for it........about 20 kilometres from Dignes: the start/end point!! He was right as in the distance I could see the tiny chapelle  at the top of the mountain that I should have been up. He then came out with a classic....'Can you find a way to climb up to it?' Well let me see, first of all I'll hike 10 miles and then with ropes, an ice pick, Sherpa Tenzing and Edmund Hillary, I will scale the sheer cliff face of 3000 feet (900 metres).......Piece of cake.
        They decided to come and get me but Sue said she would come if I could get down to a main road: which I eventually did about an hour and half since this disaster had begun and 6hrs- 45mins since the start of the race.
         I sat down on the roadside all forlorn. I never get lost...ever, and yet here I was. I was shattered and with nothing to show for all my efforts. I had run the same distance as the 'Ultra Trail de Cousson'(so I guess it sort of counts as my third ultra) except three quarters of it was theirs....and the rest was mine.....'Le Trail de Philippe'.
      Sue finally arrived to rescue this miserable wreck....and the customary tears flowed, except this time they weren't for success.  I will no doubt ponder this day in a later blog but for now its ibuprofen and bed.

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