Monday, April 30, 2012


Nearly 12 months of beautiful weather...........but not today. I went to bed on what felt like a warm summers evening and awoke to a tropical rainstorm! At 4 am I felt like going back to sleep instead of venturing out into this deluge. This was going to be many things but  'fun' was not high on the list.
Getting ready to go
       Right, I thought, change your state, take a deep breath and make a decision...........I was going to embrace today and make it happen no matter what........and with that I was up and out of bed.
       Arriving at the start were 250 rather sad and damp looking figures..... and we hadn't even started!
Going up the first climb
  The gun went off at 7 am and up into the storm covered mountains we went. If this sounds crazy, try doing it because its completely insane. I felt quite sluggish for about and hour which is not good when climbing a mountain in the rain. At this point I thought 'How am I going to do this ?' Its just so hard but I just kept moving, eating gels, electrolytes, S-caps, Cliff blocks. Mentally, its exhausting because on this technical terrain of rocks, roots, loose stones, one slip and thats it, especially on a steep descent.
       For  some bizarre reason here I was doing a French ultra and yet I was surrounded all day by Italians ! Go figure. They never stopped talking (not to me of course, as me no parle Italiano), no Brits , no Yanks, and so it was just me alone with my thoughts. This made it a very long day as in these wet mountains there were no spectators. All I could think about were the logistics of staying on my feet, keeping dry and remaining focused.
      To be honest I'd felt better on my training runs but maybe it was all those carbs and associate water retention.........or maybe I'm just slow. The fact that I knew the course was both good and bad. Good, in that I could prepare and plan when to run fast or slow down, therefore enabling me to control my energy resources and refueling strategy; but bad in that I knew how far and how difficult it was.
Le Pic De L'ours on a sunny day (not today)
    Physically I had trained hard to deal with the mountains so I knew I had the stamina but after many hours your leg muscles begin to tire and ache. As with all races you always get the unexpected. This time a fall on the first climb, pulled my left hamstring, I managed to run it off but later on that pain would return. Half way up the second climb, the Pic de L'ours, (Bears Peak) I slipped again as the ground on the side of the hill just gave way and my right leg was suddenly 3 feet lower than my left.....a little scary. I was now 2 hours into the race and miraculously the rain had stopped which was great because now we were in the mist........couldn't see much but thats okay.
      I kept passing and then being overtaken by the same group of Italians......this went on for hours. I think the problem for me in these ultra's is that I'm so worried about the distance and the time it will take that it leaves me feeling quite negative and unable to 'enjoy' the experience fully. Maybe this is normal but in this race with the terrain being so difficult you have to concentrate the whole time and its mentally fact its true what they say about Ultra's, its all mental. For those who have never done one its quite hard to explain. At 2 or 3 hours, you still have maybe 8 hours still to go of the same relentless takes a lot of discipline and focus.
       After descending into a beautiful canyon, the 'mal infernet' I jogged along quite happily, which is strange because the name means 'pest ridden' and during the middle ages they used to throw all the pest ridden people into the canyon! (not a pleasant thought). Anyway, moving on I shortly began the long slow climb up the third mountain, the Cap Roux and just before the lightly stocked aid station a man shouted out 'Bonjour Monsieur Jeremy'. Fame in the middle of nowhere!....well actually it was my local doctor who, smiling broadly, seemed geuinely pleased to see me.....either that or pleased to see me alive, not sure which, but he was the leader of the medical team in this part of the course and as we shook hands he kept saying 'Bravo, bravo, allez, allez' (go, go)'. This perked up my spirits as I had not spoken to a soul in 4 hours and I thought well if my doctor thinks I look all right then onwards and upwards.
The sun comes out on the Cap Roux
       The last part of this climb is up a scree field and its torturous. After an hour, when I finally reached the top, relief turned into panic as my knee virtually collapsed underneath me with a sharp shooting pain. This had never happened before and at the most inaccessable part of the course, (the 4 zones of danger). I then had to descend a really steep rocky path thinking 'Is this game over?' Every step hurt and I felt I needed a nice smooth path to try and walk it off....I didn't get one so I just kept going and  very, very slowly the pain eased. ( How come these things never happen in training?). Helen my physio would later explain that after all that use of the knee joint in one direction it suddenly switched to the complete opposite and that caused the joint to strain and stretch (or something like that).
       I was so relieved when it eased up that I kept moving okay and then suddenly the clouds lifted and sunshine bathed the coastline, it was a dramatic and beautiful sight and slowly it got warmer. As we descended it got very warm and so I reached for my hat........that wasn't there. Unbelievable, I hadn't needed it all day and now I'd lost it. When the rain lifts in France it can get very hot, very quickly and I knew this and had prepared for it but, shit happens.
      Finally at 6 hours I reached the sea shore and another aid stop and then, in my wisdom, decided to go on an extra one kilometre diversion. The course must have been shortened and I'd missed the turning (fatigue, heat exhaustion, stupidity), eventually I got back on track and 10 people who were behind me were now in front. I was very angry with myself as I'd turned a 52 k ultra into a 53k...Idiot.
....and down the other side.
Les Grosses Grue, the trail up......

     Another up and down and then a 2000 feet climb back into the mountains. Just at the base of the climb there is a small turn (at about the 40k marathon distance) and many times in training I'd pondered what it must feel like to be 7 hours into an ultra with a huge climb ahead, well now I knew...........bloody terrible! But, relentless forward progress is the name of the game ( with full credit to Bryon Powell of and up I went with the sun beating down on me. An  hour and a half later  and the final climb of the day, Les Grosses Grue, was nearly at an end. The last bit is nearly vertical ( thank God for my poles) and as an Italian and I reached the top  we nodded a sort of 'well done' to each other. The view was spectacular and I relaxed a little now with only 8 k's to go.
   This was the best bit of the course, a lovely open down hill track. I looked across the valley to where we had begun nearly 9 hours before, I couldn't believe I had come this far. I'm pleased to say that I had no quad or calf problems at all and so I could still run, it was just slow due to overall fatigue. One more small climb and then 5 k's down to the sea and soon, at just under 10 hours, the finish came into view.
    Sue was there and I burst into tears.(Of course).
Impossible ?
    Many years ago I had seen a picture of runners at the top of the third  mountain (Le Cap Roux) and I had said to my friend Jamie, 'Whats that?'......he replied, 'Its a race, an ultra'........'A what?' I said, 'I know those mountains, people can't run that, its impossible.'
    7 years later and at 57 years of  age I'd just done it............and I still think its impossible.



  1. Phil

    Well done. I hope your knee is okay too. More power to you! Well done!

  2. Truely impressive. Congratulations! Get some rest and I hope to hear more at Cafe Latin.