I say that in part because I have had a pretty tough block of training recently, as I approach the Cro Magnon both ways. However, since #2's diagnosis I have generally been up late treating hypos, and especially since the pump was fitted, I have been up at 3am every day in order to try and work out whether she is going to bed with too high or too low BGL, and how we should deal with that accordingly. Sunday morning was a little different to the norm, however, as I slept from 10.40pm until 4.40pm, and then went to check her BGL. It was very high - for some reason she tends to rally in the night unlike the text books, but borders on hypo before bed. I administered a bolus corrective dose, managing to wake her up in the process, and then went downstairs to find my Camelbak had dribbled sticky Isostar dilute all over the floor. I wiped that up under the watchful eyes of Jack, and bleary eyed made myself some tea, coffee and porridge - pre match breakfast.
As I left the house, it started to rain in earnest and the temperature dropped so I grabbed a few more layers as Jack laid on the guilt trip with his sad eyes as I left him behind. Mrs R called me 5 minutes later to say that he had barked, whined and finally gone on a frenzied lap of the house to look for me. Poor Jack and poor Mrs R. I was awakened from my thoughts by the speed camera flashing in my rear view mirror as I went past a couple of km's quicker than the prescribed 70kmh. I was actually quite pleased as I did not think my truck was capable of breaking any speed limits, although I now wait for the ticket to drop through the letter box.
I briefly braved the rain on the sea front at Mandelieu Napoule to pick up my dossard - true to most of the trail races locally there was no goodie bag, not even some complementary safety pins, although the - deserted - expo had grown exponentially since 2013. I spent the rest of the time before the race huddled in my truck with every layer of clothing on, willing for some nice weather.
A friend and his wife had come from the UK to do the race, and I met them in the tent just by the start to give her a spare Survival Blanket which she did not have. We chatted for a bit whilst the briefing was going on (as we couldn't really hear it), had a last minute pee - the start was on the beach, and then at 7am we were off.
The first part of the race was from the beach to the road for about 6-700m, all quite steep uphill, before we peeled off into the woods and single track. The field was a lot bigger than the previous edition, with about 280 registered, and 265 or so starters, so once we hit the single track it was impossible to move at anything more than the pace of the chap in front. There was a short stair case early on and everyone was queuing so I dashed up the side of the stairs and made up the ground to my friend and his Missus. We then ran together for the next 10-12km, chatting about previous races and so on. Geoffroy is practising for the CCC, and his wife was trying out the trail as she races - and gets top 5 rankings - in shorter races, but wondered about the longer ones.
When the path widened, I slowed down and took off my rain jacket attaching it to the back of my Camelback. The rain had all but stopped and it was warming up a little. For the first 8km the race went pretty much uphill with the field spreading out quite substantially. We went from sea level to 360m, chatting all the way. At 8km there was a narrow downhill section which I opened up a little, on. I had strapped my knee beforehand but it had not been bothering me for a while, and as I tested it, everything felt fine. I was able to overtake quite a few on this quite technical section.
The path leveled out a little, and then we had an extended 3 or 4km of downhill / flat cinder trail - this was made for me - I relaxed and thundered down the hill pretty effortlessly, enjoying myself. I opened up a gap between myself and my friends - unintentionally, and even though I stopped to take a photo at 16km or so, as the views were spectacular, I seemed to be on my own.
After the down, inevitably came the up, and we climbed sharply from 125m back up to 450m again in short order - within 2km or so. It was pretty steep, and I was glad that I had not filled up my Camelback at all during the 2 aid stations as it was less to carry. I slowed down on the climb to take off my underlayer, and just be left with the t shirt, as it was extremely warm work! Hands on thighs like pistons I went up the hill to the top, and then at the top a guy was taking photos with the sea and mountains in the back ground. I unclipped my Camelback to show off my Diabetes UK logo to full effect, and smiled for the camera. As I descended the initial 10-15 feet I could hear the next guy chatting to the photographer, behind me. There was noone in front. There was a couple of hundred metres of flat ahead through a wooded area, and I tried to buckle up the back pack - one of the buckles came loose as I was fiddling and fell off onto the floor. As I was looking for it, I rolled my right ankle and yelled out loud - it was one of those moments where the mind can hear cracking in the ankle and I desperately threw myself to one side to avoid putting my whole weight on it, as I went. The knee wasn't particularly amused with that, I can tell you. The guy behind had seen it and asked if I was ok - I just said I had an issue and was going to walk for a bit. He said to stay moving as to stop would probably be quite dangerous given that I was soaked with sweat and if I stopped I'd get cold. I walked for a bit, but surprisingly, the stabbing pain in the knee subsided, and the ankle did not give me massive amounts of grief. I started to jog and managed to stub my left foot horrendously - nearly losing my balance and cursing out loud again. However, I soon recovered and tucked into a short climb where I was pressing the guy that had overtaken me, and when we hit downhill I thundered past him at Mach 2 - he did a double take worthy of a Tom & Jerry cartoon.
All downhill to the next aide station - at 36km, and on the beach at Theole Sur Mer. This was FUN. I overtook a couple of people on the downhill, and then ran along the sand and path past a load of picnickers and people out riding bikes with their kids, and at the aid station grabbed a Coke and filled my Camelback with a litre or so of water, and then cracked on. We followed a storm drain underneath the road and train track, and then headed left into the woods and another climb - the steepest of the day. I managed to overtake a couple but was overtaken by a couple that I had passed at the aid station. Hands on knees again, and seemingly everyone I passed would ask how much more climbing we would have to do. I have to confess I did not know, but gave a passable opinion!
We had a short descent to a massive statue which was fascinating. This marked an intersection between several footpaths and there were a lot of mountain bikers to watch out for as they were descending at speed on narrow footpaths we were heading up, but I could hear them coming and ducked into the undergrowth a couple of times. The statue marked those that had died fighting in North Africa during the French colonial wars. You can see more about it here http://www.memorialnotredamedafrique.com/
It was truly amazing and the views over the red rocks of the Estoril and the sea were amazing. I really wanted to stop and read the inscriptions - amazing to see how recently France had lost military personnel - and civilians - in Africa in former colonies. Unsurprisingly, the rights and wrongs of France's incursions abroad have raised many a heckle (with allegations of mass tortures and "disappearings"), and there is now a movement to have the statue removed. For the interest of balance, read here http://www.henri-pouillot.fr/spip.php?rubrique84
I managed to resist the temptation to do nothing more than slow down, and then I went up the bike path dodging the aforementioned mountain bikers as I went. I joined with another fellow, and we were astounded as two very professional looking trailers blasted up the hill, past us, at high speed. They were I think 4th and 5th in the Ultra Trail (80km) race. They were clearly part of a professional team wearing identical uniforms, and quite inspiring, as we broke into a jog despite heading uphill. We crested the top of the hill, enjoyed the view for a second, and then I did my thing on the downhill through the woods and then opened onto the cinder trail. I managed to overtake several people on the cinder trail before we crossed a road and then technical single track all the way to sea level. Again, I overtook 3 or four people - some of which I recognised and not happy at being passed - despite there being a sheer drop off to one side with numerous "danger" signs where the path had disappeared down the hill. It was great fun and clearly those that I overtook had nothing left in the tank with which to defend. I reached the road on my own, and then meandered, running, through the suburbs, under the train tracks, and onto the beach path for the last km or so to the finish.
I have to say that a key feature of this race was that I really enjoyed it. It felt adventurous to me, yet I had paced it well enough that I did not finish "crevee" as I have others. Could I have done better in the rankings? With more training, sleep, no job and family commitments, of course. On the day, probably not.
I finished smiling!