Following on from my exhausting week coupled with a cold, Saturday 27th I took very easy - worked until 11pm the previous night, and slept until 1030am on Saturday. Wow. I felt much better, unsurprisingly. I carb'd all day, coupled with quite a bit of rest apart from when I lost the parking ticket and had to schlep all over the place to get a replacement as the car was locked in the car park in town. Doh. I didn't get to bed until about 1030 as I watched Men in Black 3 with the kids, but felt ok when I woke up at 445am on Sunday 28th.
I had porridge, tea and coffee and headed down to the venue. The weather forecast was rotten, but I wore shorts and t shirt and took a jacket in case, although it was about 14 degrees at 6am so I thought it'd be ok.
I parked the car about 800m from the start, jogged to the start and saw the meagre 50 or so runners set off for the 62km adventure. The start was on the beach - in the sand, next to an ancient castle. Was pretty cool. I got my number, jogged back to my car, ditched the spare layers, and walked back to the start. There was a briefing - all I got was the 'danger' signs which were self explanatory, and then we were off at 7am. Not sure how many of us there were - but I was right at the front and for the first 15km or so people were overtaking me.
Before even 1km had gone by we were in 'bush' and going steeply uphill and away from the coast. The rain held off and I felt good so I enjoyed myself - taking photos, walking the ups, running the flats and tearing downhill. I was very conservative as the terrain was very rocky and a few times I nearly twisted an ankle, but somehow managed to escape unscathed.
After 2hrs or so we headed uphill hard - very very steep, hands on knees job, and I started to overtake some of the 62km back markers which was a boost. At the top I even managed to crack a joke because we were clambering above the tree line on man sized boulders - the technique involved throwing your weight forwards so that your hands were on the next one, and then sort of jump and pivot onto that one. I said to the next chap I felt like a chamois (mountain goat in French) and he actually laughed - I think that is the first successful joke I have cracked in French in 10 yrs of living here.
Anyway, the mood soured as we crested the Col, and I saw a rope had been drilled into the rocks. We had to 'rappel' down a 10m drop, with sheer drops both sides. I couldn't see how far the drops were due to the fog, but I don't mind admitting I was terrified. Anyway, a lot of swearing under my breath, sliding on bums, backwards walking and more whispered swearing and I was back on terra firma for one of the most technical descents I have ever encountered.
Then the heavens opened and everything became like an ice rink. We sort of traversed a switchback path on an avalanche with massive rocks for a bit, and I was able to open up in the trees and then a long descent on a cinder trail. At the bottom we crossed a river on boulders - hopping from one to the other, which was pretty fun. We followed the river valley for an hour or so, and as the field had thinned out I was basically on my own, criss crossing the river - here a plank, there a felled tree, boulders again. Was really nice.
The rain stopped and I warmed up. I can't remember exactly in what order the ravi stops happened, every 12km or so, but the first one I blasted through - just dropping rubbish I had picked up from other runners. I just had lucozade in my pack and that was fine - I had plenty so held out for stop 2, so I overtook 10 people at least in stop 1. Stop 2 I dumped rubbish, had Pepsi, filled my pack with water, as I did for 3 and 4. On one particularly evil ascent, I was jumping from rock to rock and didn't see a branch which had broken off - it caught me right in the arm mid jump, and has a left a very neat upside down J in tandem on my arm - just a graze and a bruise, but it goes from my shoulder to my elbow. Kids were impressed when I got home - it almost passes for a fresh tattoo! I have cuts on my legs and arms from very close paths with thorns on either side - now I see why trailers wear those funny tight things that aren't attached to the sock, and similar on their arms. Mine are scratched to ribbons - nothing major though.
After 36km, the heavens opened properly and for good. I was ok at sea level, but cold in the fog at the Cols - we did I think 5 serious climbs. We descended from CP2 all the way down to the beach. Ravi stop 3 was actually on the beach in the sand, and then we climbed miles to get to CP4, and more technical descent. Really hard - and by this point I was whacked and cold, although I managed to overtake a couple people on the interminable ascent, and descent. It was difficult to keep track though - there was also a 33km race which combined with the 62km and my 52km race meant that everything got all mixed up. I jogged along with a chap from Marseille for a bit - we had a bit of a chat but with my awful French and English accent and his thick Marseille accent, not to mention the fatigue of travelling on our feet in pouring rain for 46km and 7hrs and change meant that the conversation wasn't up to much! Eventually I left him and followed a woman in the 33k race. I recognised her from Gorbio and other trails, and as we approached the beach again I overtook her and gave her a few words of encouragement which were meant as much for me as her!
Eventually I arrived at the beach - and then a 1km run in the sand, sprinting in the rain. A few brave souls cheered us on and I managed to hold off everyone behind me and cross the line in about 7hrs 50 with garmin saying 53km exactly. Battered, bruised, scrapes and soaking wet. I literally grabbed a few peanuts, a coke, a plate of gnocchi and finisher t shirt (starting to run out of room for those!) And then waddled to the car. 800m in pouring rain, and pretty cold. Once at the car I changed tops, put on every item of clothing I could find and dried myself with the towel I use to wrap my push bike when its in transit, and then drove home. I had a protein flapjack in the car, and then when I got home I had a dip in the pool to freeze my legs, and a coffee and shower.
I looked on the website and my official finish time was 7hrs 55, which is a little over what Garmin register, but whats a few minutes between friends. I was 74th out of 115 or so finishers, so not really at the sharp end, but I'll take the finish. I clearly need to lose quite a bit of weight before the Western States, but am hoping that the 52km will have been decent training for the quads, and also gives me motivation to do what I need to do before the end of June. It was also great fun - in hindsight. I am sure these ultras are a bit like childbirth - awful at the time but fun when one looks back!