Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Marathon du Pays Basque 2012

Didn't finish this one. I'm amazed it didn't happen sooner but this isn't a tale of woe or injury or inadequate preparation. Inexperience stopped me dead in my tracks.

Here's how it went:

I knew this would be a tough one. Really tough. So I've added lots of hills and strength work into my routine for the last couple of months. Even so, I realised that there's a world of difference between a hill and a mountain and I was somewhat filled with trepidation about this one.

It's the fifth annual event for the Marathon du Pays Basque which takes in both Spanish and French parts of the western Pyrenees. Realising that the unaccustomed altitude might be an issue I went down a couple of days before to try to get at least a little acclimatised. The whole of the day before was spent riding my motorbike all through these amazing peaks and pretty much completing the job of terrifying myself with the severity of the ascents.

On Friday evening, I picked up my bib and then went on to the Pasta Party. It was an oddly quiet affair but I got talking to some very interesting people from all over France.

As usual before an event, I slept really badly and ended up going to their breakfast at the start area at 6am. I was expecting the time to drag but with the friendly volunteers and more interesting conversation at table, the time flew by.

The first three km was kind of flat but then we got to it with a 5 km climb. This went better than I expected and was followed by a gentle descent followed by another climb to the 10 km mark. I wasn't making great time but it was all OK and there was no real fatigue to speak of.

Then came 6 km of descent. This wasn't just steep. It was precipitous in places. The trail often consisted of loose, head-sized rocks and had a massive drop to one side. I have pretty much totally done away with my vertigo over the years but I had no experience in making this kind of descent at speed. In places I was literally climbing down backwards.

Around km 17 just as the ascent began again, I was removed from the race for being over the maximum time allowed. I would love to have tackled the next section.  I had to agree, though, that there was no way I could have made up the time needed even given that I felt strong and pretty fresh to this point which certainly was a pleasant realisation.

On the section I completed, I did over 1100m of ascent.  As context for any British readers, that's a little bit more than a Snowdon ascent from sea-level.  The descent that did for me dropped 400m in a single kilometre.  Given that there was a rise in the middle of that, it was pretty much a 1 in 2 on average with some sections much steeper.

The whole experience was very positive and if, as I hope, I return to try again next year, I need to get some serious experience making these rocky trail descents. I also need some different kit for this kind of thing. I'm not saying that different equipment would have magically changed the story but I can see I should get (and learn to use) climbers poles.  I also ought to get some purpose-made trail shoes. My road shoes lack the structure, support and grip for these conditions.

All in all, a fun and positive experience. As a beginner at this running lark, it was also a good reminder that I have a great deal to learn. Hopefully, I can write a very different report next time...