I drove to Gorbio arriving around 7am - for once I did not get lost. A minor miracle - this is my 3rd time doing the race, not to mention 2 or 3 minor races in the village as well - and every time I have gotten lost on the way, and arrived flustered and only just in time to register. This time, no issues. I registered, availed myself of the facilities, and jogged to and from the car getting myself sorted. It was pretty chilly so staying warm before the start was difficult, but once the sun came up it was better.
Normally they have a photo at the beginning and then it is in the paper, so I made sure I was right at the front. In the event the group photo was not in the paper! Aww shucks. Anyway, a quick briefing, everyone was checked in, and then the gun went off. Because I was right at the front I had to go out quite quick initially so as not to become roadkill, but it was uphill and everyone (120 starters I think) was pretty experienced so it wasn't too fast, and after the 1st kilometre, having been in 3rd place for the race so far, I pulled over and slowed right down letting 50 odd people past me. The first 10km is all uphill to the Cime De Baudoin - a nice climb as the sun comes up over the sea and I took a few photos and held myself from running too quick. I even walked up the steeper bits. I have attached a few photos for your perusal.
The first descent was as fun as ever - a steep descent down past the radar station on Col De La Madone, obviously overtaking people other than the chap who eschewed the switchbacks for a more direct (and downright bloody dangerous if you ask me) straight down approach. Then a small climb to the summit of Baudoin, a run through the single file path of brambles which is like a tunnel (I kept thinking about the Dorothy line from the Wizard of Oz - Lions and Tigers and Bears), and then a nice long descent for about 6km, some technical, some not so. I ran through the first ravi stop without stopping as I still had quite a bit of my fluids left, and my race strategy was not to eat (as Mad Dog Mike has counselled me from the beginning). I could feel my breathing climbing as I was running quite quick, but was using gravity to charge down and overtake people as much as possible. A couple of people were already sitting and eating, one chap had fallen and was getting medical attention. I fell but was fortunate to fall backwards on a very steep bit and managed to stop myself from getting injured grabbing rocks. ALL too soon we were on to climb number 2.
I wasn't really trying to go too hard, but was overtaking people on the second climb - it wasn't such a bad climb - not too steep apart from certain bits and a 10 foot section which required hand and foot holds, but otherwise a nice path. One chap overtook me wafting clouds of aftershave as he marched - immaculately turned out in colour coded lycra. Must have been Italian. The weather and views were stunning, and I was really enjoying myself. My quads were completely untouched after the first descent, and my knees and ankles had full articulation. I did not feel too bad physically either, so all was good.
The second descent was equally as fast - a nice pasture to sprint down, not too technical, although a few tricky sections -this one was very short as we had a couple of short climbs after this. I met Cro Magnon Pietro who mentioned the Cro had stopped now - they can't get permission from the Mercantour National Park to do it, so that is very disappointing. I could tell he was upset. I grabbed a Coke, not stopping too long to chat to Pietro, and then carried on - up hill on a trail and then cinder path, and then a final steep bit of trail before cresting Col D'Ours. The next descent was quite tricky - fist sized loose rocks / scree on a cinder type trail and quite steep. Bits of it were very steep and narrow - switchbacks. The views were great, but I could not enjoy them as I was trying to go fast and hard downhill. I was again overtaking people - there were a group of 5 of us and I was able to overtake 4, and put in some real distance between me and the guys behind. My feet were suffering though - I have gone back to road shoes after the UTMB - they work better for me, but the elastic laces for tri's don't work so well for trail runs, and at points the rocks dislodged the shoes and almost tore them off. I could feel a hotspot coming on my right heel, but had nothing with me to address the issue, and besides I was racing, so I just cracked on. As I got to the cinder trail where the earth was compacted, I heard a chopper behind me - I looked up and it was an air ambulance. They confirmed at the next ravi stop it was a runner being airlifted for medical reasons. I have no idea why, but I hope he/she was ok.
I arrived at the second last ravi stop - I turboed a couple of Cokes, and water in my camelback. Then it was time for the last climb. I know this one well - it is 900m of altitude and very very steep - bits of it are hands and feet only - about 3km. They had told me that I had arrived at the CP in 41 place overall. I left it in 40th overtaking someone in there. However he overtook me before long on the climb. He pulled away from me, but both of us were overtaking people as we climbed. I could count down as I went up (not out loud - that might have been rude!) - a huge motivational factor - 40th, 39th and so on. As we got to the technical bit (just after a false summit) a couple of people buckled - hands on knees, blowing hard, and resorting to gels (I picked up quite a lot of litter on the trail as it happens - I am pretty disappointed with anyone that throws away a gel tube or wrapper - this stuff does not biodegrade and it doesn't take much to keep it until the next rubbish bin). Anyway, I was happy to overtake them!
I could see a group of 5 people ahead - I calculated that if I overtook them all it would take me into 30th place overall. So I continued the climb, and gradually reeled them in. I could see the summit, and sprinted past the CP, and then onto the very very very technical descent. I tripped once, windmilling madly (and swearing) to keep me from pitching over the edge, but held it, kept up momentum and then rounded Cime de Baudoin for the second time that day. Then down the steep, man sized boulder descent. I overtook the last of the 5 people by taking a slightly different and more direct route on the descent - jumping from boulder to boulder like a mountain goat. The kids and I had joked that the ski chase in OHMSS (Bond) was a bit like me trail running, and they said I should imagine I had men in balaclavas with machine guns chasing me down the hill. That is what I did. And all of a sudden I was in 30th place!
What a hoot! I now had 2 aims - to try and find someone in front of me to overtake, and to stave off the threats from behind.
I crested the last little summit, sprinted through the last CP, confirmed I was in 30th place, and grabbed a Coke, drinking it as I went. Then for the last sprint downhill - it is a footpath, but with little climbs - requiring hands to steady oneself, slippery rocks, exposed tree roots, and lots and lots of switchbacks. I tried to imagine myself flowing down this pathway, and all the while was focussed on listening for the guy behind - I thought I could hear footsteps a few times, but everytime I risked looking behind me I couldn't see anyone. The only person I managed to overtake was a lady carrying a baby on her back - turns out I was 8 minutes behind the guy in front of me so I had no hope of catching him at this point, but I didn't know, and even though I was close to exhaustion point I was still pushing and pushing. I emerged onto the cinder track and passed a bored looking medic, and sprinted on. I could hear snatches of the microphone from the village, but still had a km to go - I pushed and pushed and pushed, and then emerging as if by magic into the village. The streets were lined with people and they all clapped and cheered. As I passed, it died away and then started again - someone was just behind me so I rounded the corner as fast as I could go and crossed the line. In 30th place, and 9th for my age group. The next chap was 11 seconds behind me! I am very happy with that - a significant portion of the people in front of me were semi pro - sponsored by the North Face, and so on. Whereas I sit in an office for 55-60 hours per week in front of 4 computer screens!
What an absolute blast - I had thoroughly enjoyed myself - every aspect of it. My legs were a bit stiff, so I had some Coke and stale ginger cake, and walked the km or so to my truck before driving home for a roast lunch and a dip in the pool (chilly).
It was a great run - I love the mountains, the trails and the smaller races. A great deal of the race was spent on my own - real adventure stuff.
If you wanted to do the race yourself, it's www.asgorbio.com