Monday, 21 July 2014

Andorra Ultra Trail Mitic: a race of wonders

Andorra a tiny country lost inbetween France and Spain. The shopping lover would describe it as a shopping paradise for cheap cigarettes and alchohol. But for the nature lover it is simply A paradise. Full of mountains, waterfalls and quietness where time stops to let you enjoy the moment.

Andorra Ultra Trail: 4 races across the mountains of Andorra where elevation gain; technical terrain; beautiful views, ups and downs  are on the menu. therefore you would conclude a paradisiac race?
While La Celestrial with its 83km and 5000m of ascent and the Marato with its 42.5km and 3000m sounded too "flat" therefore too "fast" for my little feet. La Ronda del Cims with its 170 km and 13000m of elevation gain not only sounded way too long but also looked just too much, La Mitic sounded like a nice long hike with its 9700m of positive elevation for 112km. 

Turns out, my description of the race was spot on, it was a" long up and down- let me see if you can go up again...and down" hike (not run) with superbe views (with the full moon and all that!) and technical like you never knew it was possible type of technical! But oh so lovely for the eyes and fulfilling for the heart as you meet awesome humain being in each of the runner you cross (even the grumpy one) and the most wonderful volunteers you ever and will never again encounter ( I am now certain the organisation has handpicked each of the 300 volunteers and medical team for their caring, generous and did I say caring? nature).  During the race, the how long do you think you'll take question becomes obsolete and is replaced by how much did you get to see? it's is a race of wonders and I'm glad I got to experience every single step it took to complete it. 

Have I convinced you yet to sign up for next year? If not, I'm sure below will!
In paradise
It's 5 am, yes the race starts at 10 pm and yes I woke up at 5am. Not a good race strategy but one where I can make sure Mick has a good breakfast before heading towards the start of La Ronda del Cims, so why not?

It's 7 am, Mick has started la Ronda while I'm heading back to the motorhome hoping to get some rest....but who am I kidding?! with the noises from outside, the sun poking through the windows and me wondering how Mick is doing, I'm back out to get some Wifi... Mick is doing great so I'm back in the motorhome...think about go back out for wifi...this I will do for the next 12 hours, until I'm so tired that I wonder how I will make it to the start of La Mitic or even finish these 112km with 9700m of elevation route!
Andorra Ultra Trail

It's 9:30 pm, in the starting zone, very nervous I'm distracted by the facebook updates from Mick's tracker and millions of  thoughts . Some runners are quite chatty; others are as quiet as myself. It's weird to be by myself at the start line, but 10 pm comes along with the music and firework and we...Go
From the ascent to Clo del Cavalls with daylight
For the night section the organizers had prepared a nice little menu: 
6 km road/trail to Llorts to warm up and say goodbye to artificial lighting
6.5 km 1200m of ascent to Clot del Cavalls to stay warm in attitude
5 km 600m of descent to the first aid Station: Pla d'Estany to ensure your knees are not jealous and your ankles stay flexible
3km 880m of ascent to Peak of Comapedrosa to have fun in the big rocks and get scared with their shadows and a full moon - droit dans la pente = straight up the climb
3.5 km 600m of descent of the 2nd aid Station: Refuge de Comapedrosa to pee your pants with the glacier lake and snow trails where you can kiss goodbye to finish if you take a wrong step and fall in the lake!

6 km 300m of ascent and 400m of descent to Coll de la Botella to show off the ski slopes of Arinsal and high grass and another 4km of Andorran "flat" and 1.5 km with 400 to Bony la Pica- just because!
The "please don't fall and slide" part of La Comapedrosa descent (it's scarier at night thou)
Ascending towards la Comapedrosa during our reece
 If you are "fast" you could still be doing the next section long before the sunrise but I was glad to arrive at Bony la Pica with the first sign of daylight because the famous descent to la Margineda was already so challenging with fresh legs, I couldn't see myself doing this part "by night" (well done to the superstars who've done it thou!
I "ate" the first 20 km, played "night guide" to whoever was listening and had fun sliding on the snow trail of la Comapedrosa because we had reece the first 40km of the route. The slowly but safe "running tactic" did enable me to not be out of breath while still plodding along other runners. I was having so much fun and was happy to be early from our previsions...that I've lost focus so  700m before arriving at the Refuge de la Comapedrosa aid station; I hear a snap, I feel my whole body crumble and Sebastien (a runner who ran with me til now) says "Shit Dude that looked bad, are you alright? ( in French). 
Yup you guessed right; my "flying" up and down suddenly came to a halt from a snappy right ankle incident. Sebastien puts me back on my feet and ask if I need a helicopter, I'm laughing while fighting tears, load of emotions are turmoiling but one sticks out: frustration! I didn't even get to the half marathon point! Arrrrhhhh, leaving me there Sebastien carries on to the refuge, I'm limping to the refuge watching other runners passing by and unable to stop thinking about how good I felt 10 minutes earlier. 

Arriving at the refuge, of course everyone looks at me with pity in their eyes, they "know" that it's over for me, barely looking at them and with a soup in my hand ( I did come for the soup :P) I go see the Red Cross volunteer asking him if he can do something for this little snappy ankle. Taking off sock I hear some weird sounds coming out of his mouth; I don't understand Catalan but it doesn't sound good. He tells me in French it looks bad, very bad, I should stop as there is some more steep ups and downs coming our way. I tell him I can't stop, I haven't done a marathon (is that even a sane reason?!) he chuckles and say I'm crazy so I sweet talk to him into wrapping the ankle for me to get to Coll de la Botella and catch a ride with a car ( the helicopter wasn't planning on coming here anytime soon)
Portilla del Sanfons before the descent to Col de la Botella
So with a wrapped up ankle, another bowl of soup and 45 precious minutes "wasted" (I was only supposed to stay 10min) I'm heading towards the Col with my head down, heavy heart and pissed off. Kicking rocks with my good foot and slicing grass with my walking poles, I can't stand myself and nothing seems to taking me out of this. But an older runner pats me in the back and enjoy the moment as soon we will be reaching the road and road is bad for the knees. For no reason this makes me smile; seems like true mountain runner loathe the road, I join him in the final descent and encourage him to keep going; he says to not wait for him that he is a grandad with back problems; I say I'm a youngster with a sprained ankle so together we are a winning team; laughing at my joke he makes me forget that I'm soon to the place where I'm supposed to give up...
Arriving at the Col I see ALL of the runners who had passed me during my little accident, they all looked messed up, they are surprised to see me there; and even more surprised to see me carry on; because with my other bowl of soup I want to see the sunrise at Bony la Pica; I want to forget that my ankle is stupid and remember that I had a great first 20km ( it had NEVER happened before) and that I could get some more great kilometers.
Bony la Pica Ridge
With a mixture of running and walking limping and swearing Bony La Pica shows its ridge and I'm happy! The view is amazing; just below the volunteers have put a small welcoming fire and well I'm "almost" a la Margineda. So taking my bad ankle and determination; I start the challenging descent to la Margineda, half way I meet one of the volunteer we had met during a reece; he gives me this massive hug; I can't give up after that right?! he tells me I have 2 hours to Margineda; I laugh and tell him not with this one; looking at the "egg" he make this face which tells me how crazy this situation must be looking: True I do have 70km left to do! but if I go one step at the time, maybe...just maybe the finish line could come along. He tells me to be careful and to use the chains...really? Unless you want to go down on your butt he says, you should use the chains and just be careful, no point of turning the other ankle or worse make the egg bigger...alala ok! With his warm encouragements I carry on first to Aixas an one house "village" then up to Coll Jovell to carry down to Margineda School; the first bag dropping area. It's very early in the morning and the lighting is very soft on the tree lines and making the mountain cliffs looking less mean!
The Chains
The descent is a mixture of straight down a grassy cliff, then straight down "let's sky" in the loose rocks part (wish I had taken a pic of that!) to a "relaxing" single track to la Margineda school. I arrive there at 7h30am. So 10hours for 42km, not bad considering that with Mick we had planned for 11h45 to get there; ah that means maybe I could go on a little? check out the part we didn't reece to Claror? It takes 45min to debate with the doctor and Thomas ( a runner I've been going up and down with on and off depending on his mood) about the ankle. I'm not too impressed that since the "incident" it's been 90 minutes of talking about something that hurts just thinking about it. I could have used these 90 minutes to climb up and see some cliffs instead of standing in a with that I take my bag, take some salty biscuits and chocolate ( yup together they are a hit in my mouth hehe) and walk away from the blabla.Thomas takes his stuff and run after me convinced that he shouldn't leave some "crazy little one" go alone to tackle the next BIG bit: the ascent to Col du Bou Mort 8.5 km with 1600 m of ascent!!!!!!!! I'm glad to be with someone! The trail starts with some road bits to join a forest path, under the trees the small breeze washes the frustration but replace it with sleepiness. Oops! I think i'm starting to feel the effects of yesterday and the demanding course...but I can't stop; not now; don't want to give Thomas any reason to say "I told you so"  (he did say he wanted to slap me; so checky!)...looking at him he is also not looking too good but he doesn't say anything about it, so I don't either and we slowly carry go...up and up and up; arriving at Cortals de Manyat; he tells me he is taking a break; I tell him I'll carry on because he will catch me. what I don't tell him is that I desesperately want to sleep...
Are we there yet? Prat Primer Refuge
One foot after the other; I catch another runner and he likes to chat going uphill; I smile out of all of the places; this guy can't stop talking which helps me forget to zzzzzzzzzzzzz he stopped talking and backtracked while my eyes are closing themselves...micro nap? My feet are not lifting high enough and I'm stumbling, not good for the ankle but zzzzzzz I need to stop zzzzzzzzzzzzz the trail looks so soft and comfy; I could take a little nap...but I see huge ants, red and scary eeewww I got bitten once and don't want that same experience again so I look for a rock but there are none, I'm in the only place when there is no rock to lay on!!! Till I reach the refuge Prat Primer not an aid station but a control point; I ask if I can sleep; they say yes and put me in this room where another runner is fast asleep. I try to do what he does, but there is a horse with a big bell that keeps knocking at the door....arrrrhhh I can't sleep!!! after 10 minutes I want to strangle the horse (sorry) so instead I take my stuff and carry on. 
Can you see Claror Refuge and the path? 
Just 1km with 250m of ascent left to the Col. While I turn to thanks the volunteers, I see...a girl!!! the first one after more than 12 hours of race!!! Nice, I welcome her with a big smile but she stays a bit at the refuge, so climb up slowly and then descent slowly to Claror and sit there for another 15 minutes eating and talking away trying to forget that I want to sleep and that the ankle didn't like that part. I wait for the girl; chat a bit, and found out that she is the third lady...which means I'm 2nd!!! wooh ok I get up, thank the volunteers and make my way to the next aid station 12km away because right now I feel...good well for the next 15 min and then the sleepiness comes back and I'm alone; no one to distract me...I want to give up, I want to stop, I reach a control point (Perarfina Refuge)  and ask where I can stop (my feel good moment didn't last long, did it?) they tell me here but I'll need to make my way back down to the valley; how long is that I ask, they say 20km, what?!! the next drop bag is in 20km I said. The lady said yup it would make more sense to get there you can even get a diploma saying "completed" 72km! Ok I said (how sad heh? I'm chassing a bit of paper) so I go up to Collada del Maiana the view is beautiful and there is a runner coming my way, I stop at on a rock (with no ants) take  a brownie and wait for him, at least I could have some company; doesn’t matter if I don't speak his language! But wait! it's Drew!!! a runner from the Centurion Running team UK who's doing la Ronda del Cims, he looks good even thou he's done more than 100km, I ask him if he saw Mick; he tells me no but not to worry too much. We end up doing the crossing of the Madriu Valley together; we are looking for the Illa Refuge this 10 km stretch is long but the refuge finally appears and the volunteers are the best; taking the bag off, filling the water; feeding you, massaging you; giving you some more strength to tackle the next climb la Collada del Pessons 1.5km with 350m of ascent, doesn't sound much but all of these little climbs are straight up the hill; no zig zag (well you can make your own but good luck!) but what an amazing view you get when you are at the top, small lakes spread across, spain to the right and left; France to the right and left, and just mountain tops after mountain tops.
From Collada del Pessons top
I'm so thankful to be there and I can wait ( yes I can) to go down to Bordes d'Envilara. I wish I could just stay there; lift my ankle and just stop the time! But it's getting cold and well...I want to get closer to the lakes. That descent is technical, it has zig zags but with loose rocks and man, it is vertiginous; I take ages to get down; my ankle is throbbing and I have enough, this is sooooo long and even the lakes are not distracting me enough. I think about Mick, thinking by then he must be in the dreaded Pas de la Casa's part...maybe I could find out how's he is doing and if he has finished or dnf I could just...dnf? yeah that's a good plan! So with this "new" motivation I go a bit faster to the lakes,  I reach them and the tourists and then this long stretch of shallow ascent ski slope,arrrh soo long it sucks! Lots of cow poo, and sloppy grass, I'm getting frustrated not to see the end of it, but wait it's descending so.... there is it!!! Bordes d'Envilara, I take off my shoes; and ask to sleep; what am I doing?! The red cross looks at my ankle put ice on it; and just tell me to close my eyes and try not so hard to sleep; I'm so exhausted, that for once I do listen and just close my eyes. But sleep still doesn't come and after 15min I get up and go eat, Thomas is here and I'm happy to see him. He asks me if I'm carry on, red cross dude tells me that I'm still 2nd one; of course I'm carrying on, I laugh and ask him if it is reasonable with the ankle; with this massive smile he says he has faith and that this 2nd place is mine. what about Mick? who's Mick...don't worry about him, ask at Val d'Incles, red cross dude is really trying!....hum....Val d'Incles...10km ok I can do that! or....this mental debate go on until RedCross dure stop  listening to me,  fills my water; put the powerade like some drug, shovel food in my hands and takes me to the next...climb 53,7 km with 375m ascent. I soon catch Myriam,  the 2nd lady she is awesome! With my broken Spanish we talk until the serious climb to Pas les Vasques, no words can help, it's hard; straight through the cliff. I'm back at the 2nd spot but for how long! But here is the top and I'm happy because hehe we have reece the next 20km so in other words, well I'm prepared! So here comes the descent to the Siscaro Lake:
Descent to Siscaro Lake and Refuge
I feel good, the ankle is still hurting but the end is so close that it doesn't matter; I'm just praying at every descent and flat that I don't twist it again! But here is Val d'Incles brings the two next climbs la Cresta de Cabana Sorda and Collada del Meners.

Climbing doesn't hurt so here we go; 800m of ascent to la Cresta; then down to the before last refuge Coms de Jan; I'm happy it is still day time and the rain doesn't bother me (yet) Albert, a funny guy from Andorra has decided to take me to the finish or at least try! So after we pass one of the control point, he takes the lead and start to push, but I don't. I know what's coming and I need my energy for the last 300m! They are steep and Albert is struggling now. I encourage him and we go down to Coms de Jan; here is the last ascent; 500m of ascent on loose rocks and snow and oh rain, wind and the nightfall. 

Not problem, jacket and lamp will do...after an hour; washing up gloves (they are waterproof) are taken from the bag and I try to warm my fingers; it's freezing cold and I lost Albert; he was climbing so fast; here is the top, aaahhhhhh this was the final climb; no time to contemplate thou because the wind is not welcoming and well there is still 16km to descent to Ordino. I go down; pass a few runners, the Nao is dying; I hope to get to the last aid station with it but after being scared 3 times by it flashing; I take out my old shitty black diamond (very grateful to have it thou hehe) mid way to the refuge de Sorteny.
Going Up to Collada del Meners- the last one
Not problem, jacket and lamp will do...after an hour; washing up gloves are taken from the bag and I try to warm my fingers; it's freezing cold and I lost Albert; he was climbing so fast; here is the top, aaahhhhhh this was the final climb; no time to contemplate thou because the wind is not welcoming and well there is still 16km to descent to Ordino. I go down; pass a few runners, the Nao is dying; I hope to get to the last aid station with it but after being scared 3 times by it flashing; I take out my old shitty black diamond (very grateful to have it thou hehe) mid way to the refuge de Sorteny.
Going down to Sorteny Refuge
But even with crappy light, I know where I am and I carry on mixing running and walking as the ground is now so slippery with vicious rocks. Twice the ankle twists. Twice I tell myself to be careful but I want to go to Ordino and find out where Mick is. The small bridge, the path by the river the crossing of small nasty torrents and then here the refuge. I don't want to stop but apparently we don't have 10 but 13km left. Crap will I have enough energy? I don't want to eat (that was stupid!!! I paid for it later on) so I fill my flask with powerade and carry on. I have this crazy idea to finish in 27h30. Mick thought I could finish between 28-30 hours. How cool would it be to finish earlier with a sprained ankle? So there I am going down to El Serrat, swearing at the path as it is slippery and well I have enough of trails at this point haha. I reach the road and another runner; we run together until he slows down. We are almost at Llorts I tell him; 6,5km to the finish. He doesn't listen so I carry on; run Laureda; run; here are some hills; the golf course; and then what is that? I don't know this part and this throw me off! So I stop running and walk, slowly where am I?! Shit I won't make it to 27h30! Ok what about 27h45? Ah here is Borda Asalonga Camping; ok so that's 1,5 km to the finish. So I start running again. A runner passes me, oh well as long as I make it to 27h45!

Here the finish line and...Mick!!! has he finished or did he give up? Awww I'm estatic to see him. He tells me he finished la Ronda in 38h50! How cool is that?!!! I'm more than happy to see him, I'm so impressed with his achievement that I forget my own: I didn't give up I tell him! The nice volunteers give me a beer and tell me where the shower, the masseuse and the food are...I smile and ask them "and the bed?"
There is no one really at the arrival beside hehe Albert... with a cigarette (can't believe he is smoking after this!)!!! we congratulate each other, he finished in 27h30 (should have stick to his butt...)
I''m out of it so many emotions are passing by with extreme speed that I can't speak or realise where I am! I'm feel overwhelmed with gratitude; thinking about the organisation who created this crazy event to share their love and pride of their mountains. I think about the awesome volunteers who made us feel like VIP's all the way to the finish line, to all the runners I've met who helped me sooo much along the way to not DNF and believe in me even thou I was a stranger...I think of Mick's training and dedication who brought us to the finish line and I think about the other runners still on the course: hat off to them for trying to get there no matter the time, the tiredness the sore feets; I think about what we have accomplished and what's still to come, and for now nothing else matter: we've done it!

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