Written by Neil Bryant
Trans-Europe here I come, ready or not!
In just over two weeks time I will be toeing the start line of the biggest most exciting adventure of my life so far. The biggest because it will cover over 42 miles a day for 64 days. I will travel through Denmark, Germany, France, Spain before a final short stage on Gibraltar. I am not only excited by the massive physical and mental challenges that I will face, but also by seeing these countries in what has to be the best of ways!
When I first read about the 2003 TE race I was completely blown away with the concept. I could (almost) understand there being people who would and could do such a thing, but to actually have a race was just incredible. The more I got into running, and the more my confidence grew, the more my interest grew. I then was entered into the JOGLE in 2010. I had heard about the TE 2012 before the JOGLE and had decided that if I had a good run at the JOGLE, then I would enter the TE. I finished and won the JOGLE so I was very disappointed when I got home and discovered that the TE was full. I went straight on the lengthy waiting list. There was over two years!
Around July last year after obsessively watching my name slowly rise through the ranks, my name was suddenly on the start list! I remember this day very well. My palms were sweating and I was shaking! The adrenalin was coursing through my veins! I wasn’t sure if work would give me the 10 weeks off so had to have a think. What would my plan be if I ask them and they refuse? I thought about it overnight and when I had decided, it seemed very obvious. If they were to refuse me, then I would leave my job. I have been there for 10 years and the pay is ok, but TE is a dream for me that only comes around once in a lifetime and I knew that if I didn’t take this opportunity then I would regret it for the rest of my life. Fortunately, work have given me the time off as unpaid leave.
As the race drew closer I got more nervously excited. I have had some great performances this year winning two races, making it by far my strongest. I had races planned up until 5 weeks to go. The penultimate race on the list was the UTSW. This is where my story takes a turn for the worse. Without going into too much detail (read the post if you want to) 20 miles into the race, I twisted my ankle. I pulled out due to the extreme pain with a concerned mind, trying hard not to worry about TE.
In the weeks that have followed this, My ankle improved lots till it just halted. It now has a slight bit of swelling and a good but not great mobility. I am pretty sure that there is not enough time for it to recover enough to enable me to run for 64 days straight. My experience from the JOGLE has taught me that you don’t need to be in top fitness, but you do need you body to be in good uninjured shape. I know that some people will say that this is possibly a little negative, but I honestly just see it as realistic.
I have thought long and hard about whether to start and I just think I would regret not starting, especially seeing as this is the last ever TE. So, my plan is to start and enjoy the atmosphere and the great event that this is. I will run until my body stops me. I will take one step at a time and if that gets me to the end of one day then I will be grateful.
As I’m sure you can understand, this has been heartbreaking for me, but what has surprised me is that I have managed to remain positive but realistic for the most part. I appreciate the power of the mind so will stay positive. Also, the other day when I felt a little down about it all, I suddenly had the realisation that I should be grateful for the fact that I will be on the start line at all. So many people around the world will never have the opportunity to even consider taking part in such an event due to not being physically able, not having the finance, not believing they have the ability, coming from a third world country and so many other reasons. I now see that what I have is a truly incredible opportunity to have a unique experience which will enrichen my life and add so much more than what ultra running already has. I can’t wait!
I plan to keep this updated day to day but depending on whether I find some free wifi or the energy there may be a few days gaps every now and then.
I am finally here in Skagen. The journey was relatively easy, with us catching two trains to Gatwick and a short flight to Aarlborg in Denmark, We arrived just after 11pm and a short taxi ride later we were booked into the Cabinn Hotel. The hotel was similar to a Formula 1 hotel in the UK. i.e. very small but perfectly adequate, clean and tidy. Ideal for our last night alone before we joined up with the TE race, further up North. When we woke the next morning, we decided that we should have a little look around Aaarlborg before leaving as there was no rush. Denmark seemed like a very neat and tidy country that is very pretty. I was really surprised about the large amount of bikes rolling around the flat streets and the real lack of cars driving around. We found a nice café and I ordered a double espresso and a little rye roll with cheese and we sat and watched the Danish streets slowly coming to life outside. From all the communication we have had with the Danes, it has been a pleasure. Firstly because they all seem to be able to talk English (I have the level of ignorance where I do not even know what “hello” is in Danish!).
After Breakfast, we wondered the streets a little more before making our way back to the hotel, packing up our kit, working out the remainder of our trip using the hotels wifi before carrying our bags to the bus terminal which was about 20 minutes across the town. We bought our tickets and were soon on our way on a coach that resembled a National Express to Frederikshavn. The countryside is pretty flat but very pretty. I really like the look of Denmark. After a quick change and another coffee, we were now on the final leg of our journey.
We rolled along the rails stopping at many small villages, and then we slowed and a sign with Skagen passed the window! We were here, finally! The wait had been long. It had been years since I had first heard of this race, and although I was not in tip top shape, I was here, at the start line. It was becoming more and more real now. I am scared that my ankle will force me to retire early, but at that moment. I was just filled with jittery joy to be here. We have since registered and slept in a dormitory at a sports centre. This morning we ate together with the other runners and crew who had also arrived. Today is just a lazy day before it all begins tomorrow.
I am as I previously mentioned, scared about my ankle, but also very excited to get out running again. I haven’t really ran in the last 12 weeks, so if the first day goes ok, I am expecting some serious DOMS, but that’s fine.
Anyway, I’ve promised myself not to be writing to much for this, so I’ll be off to get some cheese and ham to eat with the bread we got from the bakers earlier.
The next time I write will be after the first days run. Thankfully it’s short at 35 miles, and hopefully I’ll have a positive report for you.
Day 1 – Skagen to Oster Vra – 56km
I had placed a lot of weight on today. My ankle had not been tested for about 3 or 4 weeks and even then it was only for 25 minutes. So I really had no idea how it was going to respond to 35 miles on the road.
We all packed our luggage on to the truck before slowly wandering down to the port about 5 minutes away where the start of this adventure would begin. After about a thousand photos of the Japanese, we all stood behind the banner and listened to the mayor of Skagen as he gave us some kind words before firing the starters pistol and we were off. This was it! All the money, the concern for my ankle was behind me now. I just had to run and hope my mind and body would pull me through.
We had been told that today was going to be the hottest day for two years, but as we jogged out of the quiet, tidy streets of Skagen conditions seemed ideal, being a little fresh but with a headwind. The sun was no-where to be seen. Plenty of time for that to change. We spent most of the first 20 odd km on lovely cycle track through pine woods and sand dunes. There were a number of cyclists out on the trail including a cycle club of at least 40 cyclists. Throughout the whole day all the Danish that we encountered whether on foot, bike or in a car were great. Allways slowing and giving us plenty of space with no aggression from the car drivers even when we forced them to stop as there was not enough room to pass.
So after we had finished with the track, it was out on to the roads. They were pretty much no real hills, but there were some gentle slope to break things up. This was all fine, but the uphills forced my foot to dorsal flex more than if I were on the flat causing a little pain. Overall though, I’d say things went really well. I kept swapping places with a Austrian chap with a flag hanging out his bag, and with around 15 km left we made an unspoken decision to stick together which was nice. The last few hours were pretty hot as the sun peeped through what remained of the cloud cover. With just a few km remaining Russell Secker met us on his bike and rode with us for the final part.
I finished happy that I have survived the day. Tomorrow will be tough as I will be very stiff due to not having any running fitness due to resting my ankle. I know what to expect though and just have to drag myself through. This is the quickest way to get run fit. Not recommended though!
Tomorrow is a little longer, but I am already in the one day at a time zone. I am showered, fed, massaged and resting, so now I just need to recover lots before the morning.
Day 2 – Oster Vra to Stovring – 63.5km
After yesterday’s effort, my ankles swelling had subsided to probably the lowest amount since the incident. I did have a small hope that this would happen. Ace!
Anyway, enough of the excuses (just for a minute). I don’t think anyone slept well overnight. I’m guessing that we will adapt to this and the advantage of being utterly exhausted will help. The routine is that the lights go on at 4am, Breakfast at 5, then the slower runners (calculated from the day befores results) leave at 6 followed an hour later by the fast boys at 7. Thankfully I was in the slower group, meaning that I would get further down the road before the forecasted heat would hit. After a great breakfast, my body begun to feel a little less broken. Ready to run!
We lined up and the Japanese took another couple hundred photos, before we were on the road again. Soon we were leaving the village and were striding down the road. The sun was hidden by the clouds but I was heating up already. I’m pretty rubbish in the heat, so I’d better look after myself. Soon we were off the road and were heading through a beautiful woodland on a trail. I was cautious with my ankle, but it seemed to be coping fine. Amazing that I can do almost no running for 12 weeks and then do two days of ultras and it responds by feeling better. Long may it last!
After spending a few km in the woodland we were out on the road again, there was a cycle track which makes it nice and safe, but I’d prefer to be on the back roads. The sun was beginning to work its way through the overcast morning, and with it came the heat. We were mostly unsheltered so it was quite tough for the ginger. I drank well and just about kept on top of it all. At around the 40km point the traffic became heavier, and the buildings more numerous. We were heading into Aarborg. I recognised a few buildings from from the coach journey a few days previously. The signage was it’s normal incredidibly fool proof self, making it simple to run through the city with no doubt. I was now with Christian. Christian is Swiss and can speak excellent English so we had a great chat as we fought our way out of the Southern end of the city. I wanted to get off this road now, and just before the next cp we swung left and were suddenly on the quite roads I already think of when I think of Danish roads.
The heat was blazing now, so I made sure that I drank plenty and topped up my bladder before walking off while eating some food. So far, so good. I considered my thoughts around two weeks ago, and it was pretty grim. I was honestly not expecting to get through the first day, but here I was closing in on the finish line for the second day. A drop in the ocean maybe, but a huge mental barrier has been smashed down.
The next cp offered a bucket of water with a sponge in it. Heaven! My head was coated in salt and dust so the luke warm, dirty water was bliss. It was just 7km in to the finish now. One last push.
We finished together just under 8 hrs. Excellent! I am again as stiff as hell, but I don’t care. I just had a lovely shower and am about to go and stuff my face at dinner. Tomorrow is nearly 67 km. Longer again. I hope but don’t expect any sleep again, and will most definitely be very stiff as I try to get up off the gym floor in the morning, but I don’t care, as I’m still in the game.
I hope to write with a similar report tomorrow
Day 3 – Stovring to Bjerringbro – 65.7km
Every day I get through now feels like a gift. I feel shattered and getting up off my airbed is not as easy as it should be but I don’t care. Last night I managed to get a lot more comfortable and so managed to sleep which felt great. Still the 4am lights on though. I don’t mind this too much. I’m an early riser anyway, and having 2 hours to get ready for the off is quite relaxed which gives your legs time to loosen up a little.
My appetite has shrunk a lot lately as I haven’t been training, but already it is returning to its former ways. I know from JOGLE that it will become much larger yet, and I will still lose weight. Breakfast was great and I stuffed myself ready for the day on the road. Soon enough we were on our way. Today is 55.7 km. Each day seems to be getting longer. A nice introduction for my untrained self.
A we set off the sky was beautiful but looked as though the sun would be coming out again to make my life a little more difficult. It was warm, but manageable. I would keep my fingers crossed all day to try and keep the sun hidden away. I didn’t feel too bad as we begun and slipped into my TE pace which seemed to be becoming more natural. It’s interesting to watch peoples paces throughout the day. Some go off hard before slowing, while others speed up then slow down all the time. My pace is fairly even throughout. I don’t care if someone shoots past me, as long as I stick to my own pace then I’m happy. I spent a lot of the day alone today which makes pacing easier. The first 30 km were on a main road which was fairly busy, but in comparison to UK roads they were a pleasure to run on. The Danish drivers are very considerate.
Yesterday I needed a toilet, when in the middle of no-where. I rounded a corner and there was a garage. Bliss! My quads don’t need any further exercise! The same happened today! The toilet God is looking down on me favourably! I was a lot happier to be running with less heat today, and I felt faster for it too.
The cp’s are between 7-12km apart with measurements always incredibly accurate. I have not needed a map at all as the signage is superb. All you have to do is run! I remembered from yesterday that the faster runners that start 1 hour behind caught me at the 30km point. Today I made it beyond that point before Robert Wimmer jogged past me making it look effortless. The finish for each day can never come quick enough but today things went a little quicker. Maybe I am already starting to slip into some sort of rhythm? More likely, I think it is me gaining fitness.
A couple of the faster guys passed me at the 40km point. I let them go, but I also caught a chap from my group who shot off earlier. I had him in my sights for about an hour, so knew that I was catching him. As I passed him, he held onto my tail for as long as possible, but for some reason I wanted to continue alone, so I kept the pressure on. Around 3km later he dropped off. There was now only 9km left till the end. I entered the town we were staying in and ran all the way in. My time was quicker than yesterday and was 2.5km longer. I felt exhausted but good.
Our accommodation tonight has some carpet tiles on the floor so is a luxury. The showers were amazing. I will miss Denmark for many reasons, when we leave in three days, but one of them is the fact that they have some amazing gyms in some tiny villages!
Today seemed to be a day of much roadkill! On day 1 I saw a dead but unsquashed porcupine in the road, I don’t really remember anything yesterday but could certainly smell lots with the hot weather! Today I saw plenty of birds, A few mice, and sadly two pussy cats.
Anyway. Time to rest!
Day 4 – Bjerringbro to Uldum – 70.9km
Today was a tough day, but it was a good day. I expect them all to be tough. The reason it was good was because it felt like a job. Not sat at a desk staring at a monitor of data, but that there was routine. It all felt normal. Alarm at 4. Lazily, and stiffly sort your kit out. Breakfast at 5, then run for 70km. God knows what it will feel like in a few weeks. I think I will really struggle to remember how I used to live!
This morning as I woke on our luxurious carpeted floor, I thought I heard rain, but ignored it thinking that my sleepy mind was playing tricks on me. Later on I peered out and it was chucking it down! I don’t really mind running in the rain except the chafing it tends to cause. We didn’t have access to the kitchen so breakfast was a little sparser than usual. Never mind, I’ll stuff myself at the cp’s throughout the day.
We gathered out the front in dull, miserable conditions. Ingo was handing out plastic ponchos, so I grabbed one. I didn’t expect to wear it for long as it was still warm. As we all went back into motion, I straight away went near to the front. I am learning how everyone else paces their days. Some shoot off fast then slow in the second half. Others start steady then get stronger like a diesel engine. Then you get the completely unpredictable ones who are speeding up and slowing down all the time like they feel the need for some interval training. Of course, because of the nature of this race, people will change throughout.
The rain didn’t really last too long, and predictably the poncho was getting me pretty hot, so I took it off and tucked it in my bag. I was running quite freely and feeling ok. My shin felt a little tender the night before, so I was very cautious about irritating it further. It can be beaten, you just have to be careful (fingers crossed). So, the pace was good, and I was a little quicker than the day before. It’s so much easier for me when it’s not hot. The gaps between cp’s today where all close to 10km which broke it up nicely, but I did miss the shorter ones.
The day was very evenly run and was very English with the weather. One minute it was beautiful sunshine, and the next it was sweeping rain. It was quite nice really. Just when you got pretty warm, the rain would rescue you and clean the salt from your face. I ended up running the last 30km with or very near a Dutch woman called Ria. She is very experienced and very strong and today our paces matched.
The faster guys usually pass me at the 30 km point, but today they didn’t till gone 35km. It will be interesting to watch the race pan out at the front as these guys are really racing hard. Then they have the cheek to look fine and showered when I finish, even though they started an hour after me!
I haven’ seen the results yet, but I know I will be up a little. My ankle feels ok, but is a little swollen. Nothing to worry about just yet though. Only one whole day left in Denmark left before we cross the border into Germany. I’m not calling it a Transcontinental race until I have passed into the second country.
Anyway, it’s time for me to get my feet up. A slightly longer day tomorrow.
Day 5 – Uldum to Haderslev – 72.2km
We lurched off at 0600 from our cosy accommodation in Uldum. I had slept pretty good, though waking an hour early as normal! How does that work? I normally get up at 5 in real life and often wake an hour early. I change everything in my daily life, and still my body seems to be an hour out of sync! Never mind, I felt well rested and was ready to go (sort of).
Today was going to be a day of long, straight busy roads. The weather was perfect for me, being warm with a nice gusty breeze to keep you fresh. Today I found myself in the lead for a while. My pace was similar to the day before, but then, as seems to be the way, Fabrice the Frenchman seems to wake up then just shoot off into the distance, not to be seen again till you cross the line and there he is holding a bottle of beer. I spent almost the whole of the day alone and felt quite strong.
Just a side note on my descriptions of my state. If I say I feel good, it means that although everything really hurts and feels as though something may snap at any moment, I can still run at 8km/h. If I say I feel bad, then believe me, it’s pretty horrific.
So, after passing through a decent sized town, it gets a little lumpy. Now it’s nothing much, but compared to the first few days, it’s positively Alpine. We climb out of town on a busy large road. I don’t mind really as there is plenty of space for us at the side, and we are passing through a woodland. This climb seems to go on for ever, but I am enjoying it as it is runnable and the same gradient all the way up so I could just find a rhythm and sit in it all the way up. Once we reach the top we begin the straights. They are long and monotonous and as soon as you get to the end, you turn a corner and there laid out in front of you is another long straight! The saving grace to this was the aforementioned weather and the splendid sights all around.
Eventually it starts getting more built up again. I am entering Kolding, which seems a bigger city than the first. I pass through the rather ugly docks area before seeing a little of town and continuing out and up again. I then am treated to another 25km of long straights. I am passed by some of the speedsters along here, but just stick to my own signature plodding now.
I am caught by a German chap who started at the same time and we run in the last bit together. I hurt and am exhausted, but we have an amazing gym here. It’s large, clean and I have some very thick gym mats so it should feel like I am in bed. Well I can dream. Tomorrow we cross the border into Germany and it becomes transcontinental! The bad news is that the German gyms are not the same high calibre as the Danes. The French gyms are supposed to be dirty (according to the French), and I don’t hold much hope for the Spanish gyms.
Day 6 – Haderslev to Eggebek 78.5km
What a bugger of a day! I know there are going to be tough days, in fact they’re all going to be tough, it’ll just be a case of how tough.
So, why was it tougher today than yesterday? It was a bigger day, but that wasn’t the reason. It was tough just because of the pain. My feet felt really painful, my ankle felt a little weak and painful at times, but by far the most painful of them all was the poor hip flexors. I knew this was coming due to past experience, JOGLE in particular, but you can’t be prepared for it when it hits. Every footstrike and forward swing of the leg is agonising at the groin.
I had slept not too badly, but had woken not feeling as fresh as I have. I tried not to think about it. Surely once I get going things would ease off? There was an unfamiliar face amongst us at the start. I guessed this was one of the day runners. Day runners are people who can’t commit to the whole thing so are along for one stage.
As soon as we set off, Fabrice accelerated more than usual. The day runner decided to run with me. His name was Dirk, and he lives in Germany near the end of the stage. His English was good so we chatted a fair bit. It was a bit tortoise and hare though as he had fresh legs and kept pulling away before noticing. I just sat at my own pace.
At the 20km cp he wanted to sit down for a bit, so I said goodbye and left. I was now starting to struggle. I had 60km left. I have my watch set at 10km laps, so I get an alarm, that reminds me how good or bad I am doing. Today, was getting slow. I was struggling to blank out the pain. I knew I would make the day, it was just going to be hard.
Today’s route begun with 30km on the same road. Thrilling! The weather was overcast all day to make it a little easier. It was still a total grind. There was some negativity flowing through my mind too. There was a very positive moment though of course, and that was at the 55km point when Ambros the Austrian who was just ahead of me suddenly dashed towards a sign with his camera. It was the border with Germany! I ran to him and took his picture and he took mine. We felt great! Then it was back to work for the final 23km.
I wanted to get back smartish so put in a (pathetic) injection of pace. The instant difference with Germany is that the cars drive lots quicker! I also got a few beeps. In Denmark I got none. I pushed on till at last I was in the finish town. I was done in 9:46. Not great but it’ll do.
I know that tomorrows 74.4km stage will again be a real struggle, but all I have to do is drag myself through. Easy!
Anyway I’m tired and am typing nonsense. Night.
Day 7 – Eggebek to Hohenwestedt 74.4km
After my slightly negative day, I really wanted to rest well to hopefully be a little fresher for the next day on the road. It was shorter but only by 4km. After yesterdays run, I staggered out for a stroll to find a shop to get some food and get some Euros. The shop was about 200 metres down the road, but this was just about all my feet could handle.
The night was not exactly great as we were in a wide corridor in a primary school. Room was very tight, and I had the loudest snorer in the room right beside me. The room also had motion control lights, so whenever someone went to the loo, the glaring lights came on. Needless to say, there were a lot of bags under the eyes at 0400 when the lights came on.
I just wanted to get on the road and get it done now. When we began, I slipped into my pace and straight away noticed that I didn’t feel as bad as I expected. I thought I had better use this moment of relative pain free running, so pushed on. I deal with the pain when it returned. There were plenty of casualties now. Mostly peoples shins, which so often ends peoples dreams. Fabrice shot off again, and soon it was just Ria and I. Sometimes we would run together and chat a little, but other times we would have a little gap. We both seem to have a similar pace which makes it difficult for us to get too far away from each other. The only time this really happens is if one of us is having a good or bad day.
The route today was as flat as the North of Denmark which made things a little easier for all the people with shin splints (It’s horrible to go downhill with shin splints). I kept going at a decent pace, waiting for the pain to hit, but it took a lot longer than anticipated.
At the 57km point we came to a large wide canal (big enough for container ships) and had to wait for the ferry for 5 minutes. We waited with two of the faster runners, then quickly boarded when possible. As we sailed to the other side we looked behind but couldn’t see anyone turn up. We had opened up quite a gap, and with 17km left we should be back in a reasonable time.
I was overjoyed with the recovery of the body. This gives me strength for the future.
The last 17km were hard but fast managing to finish in just below 9hrs. I have literally just been informed that I am tomorrow going to be starting with the speed demons! I’m a bit gutted as it means that you get less rest. Not good. Never mind, it will be nice to see lots of the field that I haven’t yet seen as I hopefully pass them.
Anyway, it’s 2025 and it’s my bedtime. My belly is stuffed to the point of feeling ill again!
Day 8 – Hohenwestedt to Ahrensburg 70.4km
As mentioned in yesterdays post, I started with the faster group this morning. My initial response was that this was ridiculous, but my speed really sits on the border of the fast and slow groups. What the hell, let’s have a different day.
As everyone woke at 4, I laid there a little longer. Breakfast was at a restaurant that we ate at in town the night before. This was an 800m walk which was challenging enough. I strolled back with a very full belly again in no rush. As the Sports hall did the incredible transformation that happens every morning from a refugee camp back to a sports hall. I laid there on my air mattress watching the place clear. Then at 6am I watched them off. Now just an hour to laze around before we were off.
At the start, Fabrice and I watched everyone shoot off into the distance, and by around 3km we lost sight of them and would not see any of them again until the end. Fabrice said that he was planning to go a little slower today as tomorrow is a big day at 79km. We agreed to stick together if our pacing seemed even. My pacing suddenly became a bit of a mystery. The routine was gone. At the first 10km check I was going fast. I didn’t feel too bad so continued. Well, I say I didn’t feel too bad. My Tensor Fascia Lattae (small muscle on the side of the hip) on the right side was burning hot, one of my knees (can’t remember which one now?) was sore and my good old hip flexors were sore. Not bad though really.
I discovered that Fabrice usually does that first 30 or 40 km quick, then holds on as best he can for the remainder. I said to go if my pace was too slow for him, but he seemed happy to hang around. It would be nice to have his company for the whole day. He’s a really nice chap who will go out of his way to help you out if necessary.
I had estimated that we would start catching the back markers of the first group by around the 20 km point. We caught and passed the last runner, a Japanese man, just before 20km. From here on we had an almost constant flow of runners to catch and pass. This of course was very positive, but it did add an extra factor in that made our pacing that much more difficult to control.
We got to 30km in a decent time. We stopped and both had soup. From here on we would run for 40 odd minutes and walk for 30 seconds to make sure we drank and use the bush if it was needed. Our pace did drop and we were both fading the further we got. I am beginning to see the 20km to go point as a really positive thing now. I feel as though the end is manageable, and it gives me strength. We were seeing fewer and fewer runners as the further up the field we moved, the closer to our equal ability we got.
It was within the last 10km that the heavens opened. And this was no short shower, this lasted for at least 25 minutes. It was still warm and I was working hard so I chose to get wet rather than put a jacket on. Just before the end we caught and crossed the line with three other 6am starters. Day 8 done in 8:25. That’ll do.
I forgot to say that yesterday, Barbara a Canadian lady had dropped and was out of the race with a bad shin. She planned to take the allowed 3 days out before re-joining the runs (though her results would not show). She loved this race and really didn’t want to leave it. They apparently took her to hospital this morning and they kept her in with some sort of infection. We won’t be seeing her here again. Very sad. There have been a few other drops as well, and as previously mentioned, there are bandages and ice packs all over the place. When the van with the baggage drives forward in the morning to our next sleeping spot, one of the first things they do is plug in the ice machine. It is constantly used!
I am off. Tomorrow is our longest day yet and I feel a wreck. I’m sure it’ll be fine. What can go wrong…?
Day 9 – Ahrensburg to Bienenbuttel 79.0km
Have the Germans not heard of the internet or something. Fabrice and I just popped into the town on a lead that there was wifi in the bar. After a slow and tiring walk we when we asked at the bar if they have wifi, they looked at us like we were asking to have gold dust sprinkled over our heads!
In yesterdays report I forgot to mention that I was again supposed to be in the speedy group, but I wasn’t keen with it being a long day. I spoke to Ingo and he was fine about it. Fabrice did the same.
I again had a poor nights sleep as the guy who has the loudest snore in the western hemisphere decided to camp next to me. During the night I had to drag my sleeping mat to the centre of the hall to escape it!
I woke feeling ok. I have not worked out what shape I’m in till around 10-20km down the road. I guess I will learn this. So my tactic is to go out at a reasonable but comfortable pace and wait to see how it affects me. After my day on the speedy group, I was back on the slow group and as usual, Fabrice shot off. I was in second and just kept shuffling down the road. People dropped away behind. I didn’t feel too bad. Not exactly great, but I don’t think I’ll be feeling that again for a few months yet! If I feel alright, then I will run and take advantage of it as I know it won’t last.
Soon I had just Christian in sight behind. I didn’t get overtaken by any speedys till 37km. A equal record I think! Things were ok and I was enjoying the route today. We had passed through a woodland at a fairly early stage and was on some nice trail. It was stunning and made me smile. A little reminder that my first love is trail running.
Just before the 50km point I could see Fabrice up ahead. I was catching him. That’ll be a first! Whilst he was at the cp I caught him. He took his time, and from this I guessed he was happy to run together. I know that people want to run alone a lot of the time, myself included, but there are times when the company can really help the day go better.
We both pushed on and when we had 27km to go, we met the canal and followed this for the most of the rest of the way. Now, for those that think that British canals are boring then you would certainly find this one boring. It was pleasant enough and obviously traffic free, but it was at least 100m wide and I only saw one boat. You could see for absolutely miles and the great news is that most of tomorrows 76km stage is on it! Oh well, it’ll make a nice change.
We both struggled as usual for the last 15km but finally we arrived at our new floor for the night. I am again sick due to eating so much. Though I will be hungry again soon!
The results for the day are not up yet, but I suspect that I will be in the fast group. Hmm… we’ll see!
Day – 10
Well what a thrilling day that was. After my 20km taster of the canal yesterday, I at least knew what I was in for today. I had slept relatively well and felt quite average (as I am learning!). The day wasn’t short either at 76km, so as soon as we begun, I plodded off with nothing on my mind except the end of the day. Fortunately on the 6km run to the canal, we were treated to an incredible pink and orange then golden display as the morning begun.
Then we were on the canal. Today the canal inspired me the same amount. I arrived on the canal behind Fabrice and, other than the speedy ones flying past, I was alone all day.
I did see boats though! Massive great big barges carrying god knows how many tonnes of stuff. All slowly chugging past me at a speed a little faster than my running speed in the opposite direction. I would say it was splendid and interesting, but alas no. Usually on the road I am kept busy with looking out for route markers, but there was no need here. It was just straight on as far as the eye can see.
I didn’t feel great, but I was ok, and I was happy when I crossed the line for the day in under 9 hours with 9:58.
I’ve had my hour of laying on my camping mat in agony as everything eases off a little. We still have 30 minutes to dinner though and I’m starving! I have iced my knees tonight as they are a little tender. Tendon overuse I imagine.
A shorter than normal post tonight, and still no wifi!
Day 11 tomorrow. My lucky number.
I forgot to mention our accommodation last night. It was a small village hall. I don’t know the exact figure, but there has to be around 70 of us. You can imagine how close we all were. The other point worth mentioning is that the building does not have showers, so the locals have erected an old canvas tent and bodged some showers out some garden watering parts. They were of course cold too! The day had been long and hot, so I wasn’t bothered about it really. Our sleeping arrangements aren’t too much of a concern either, as all I need is somewhere to lay, and if it’s bad then the next night we’ll be in a new place.
So, I wasn’t expecting much of a sleep, but actually slept ok. I woke with the normal stiffness and had a fair amount of breakfast. The day was a little shorter at 72km. The Trans-Europe circus stops for no-man, and this I am learning is advantageous. If there is a big day coming up, all you have to do is just hold on for a few hours and its history. Just the next day to worry about then though!
The first 20km of todays stage was along my beloved canal. As it was only 20km it didn’t matter. I have to admit that we had a stunning sunrise, and there was some wisps of mist over the canal and it all looked very pretty. Then we left it. Back on the roads! Fabrice had gone off pretty quick, but I wasn’t far behind on the canal, and was then with him on the roads. I felt relatively fresh so was happy with my pace. It was looking to be a hot, still day. Not my favourite, but as long as I drank plenty, all would be good.
The route was certainly more stimulating today, and with it the km’s flew past. I was running pretty quick today. Every day I see what my time is for the first marathon. If it is a good day then the time will be below 5 hours. I know that Christian, the French guy who is easily in the lead, does his in around 3:45. Everyday! It really looks easy when he smoothly glides by.
As the day went on, I was actually expecting a bit of a low, but it didn’t really come. Things got more and more painful as the day progressed. Nothing unusual though. Am I getting used to this madness? I forget what my time was, but it was respectable. I’m happy. I have had my painful lay down on my bed in my new home. I forget what the name of the town I’m in is called!
Who cares! Tomorrow is 76km and we’ll be sleeping on another floor.
Day 12 – 76km
So, today was relatively long and I had been placed in the speedy group again. This time though there was no Fabrice. This meant that everyone else in the group usually finishes at least an hour quicker than me. This of course means that I would be left in there dust but would then be alone for around 20km when I would start catching the earlier group. Ideally I don’t really want to be in the speedy group on a long day, but I thought I would just do it and enjoy the change.
I felt as though recovery through the night had been ok, and both my knees no longer felt warm like they did the night before. I knew that they would get irritated again once on the road. No need to worry about that. Deal with things as they happen, or before if you can foresee anything!
As the guys all shot off, I was happy to be cruising along completely alone. I heard the route was a little bit hilly today. This was good. It makes for far more interesting running. I hate the flat.
It was quite early on that I felt a little laboured. I didn’t seem to have the energy. Maybe I hadn’t been eating enough? I certainly wasn’t as stuffed last night as normal, as they had run out of food. Oh well, I would just have to fight it out for the day before getting back and eating properly.
As I approached the second cp there ahead was the back runner. I passed him wondering how long his day was going to be (over 12 hours!). Then there was a near constant flow of runners to overtake for 20km. The route was certainly getting hillier and even though I was drained, the scenery really agreed with me. I was beautiful.
My 10 km splits weren’t too bad, and I could certainly go a little quicker but decided to stay at my safe pace. It was still tiring though!
I ran with Christian for a little while, but then went ahead. I was keen to finish and get resting.
I finished in 8:59. Very respectable. It is currently absolutely hammering it down. Thunder and lightning too. Very exciting! Tomorrow is a ‘shorter’ day at 68km. The following day is an easy 64km. Barely worth getting out of bed for!
Time for me to sleep. Ciao!
Day 13 – Ebergotzen to Waldkappel 68.3km
A shortish day at last! Of course, once I got going on it I soon realised that although it is shorter than all the stages so far in Germany (?), it is long enough to make it not a day off!
The morning had been pretty standard Groundhog Day stuff, other than the fact that when we went outside for the start just before 6, it was a bit fresh and there was a heavy mist. Heavy enough to put on my massive orange TE safety vest . As we shot off into the mist, I took the lead with Ambros. I don’t really have a plan with each stage. I just see how it feels and what mood I’m in. If the body feels up for it and I feel competitive then I will run with that.
Today, I was ok, but felt like a not quite full bore effort. After around 15km we climbed out of the mist and saw that we were surrounded by the rolling hills of Germany. The route was already proving to be a lot hillier than anything else we had run. We were passing through some really pretty little villages as the last of the mist cleared and left a lovely calm blue sky behind. This has to be the best way to travel through a country and get a close look at it. It is a little painful though.
As the day progressed, so did the scenery, then we passed through a decent sized town and then hit a large, steep hill leading straight up through a shady woodland. I ran for about 10 minutes then realised that I was wasting my time. I was soaked with sweat as I was working so hard. Time to power walk. The change was very nice, and the speed difference was minimal.
By now I was really enjoying the day. Once I had got to top, it was time for some downhill. I wasn’t overjoyed about this though as it would irritate my knees. Anyway, enough of the whinging!
Unfortunately there was quite a bit of down, and it was pretty painful. I can only hope that it will pass with time and not just keep getting worse. Finally we entered the finish town and then we were done. My knees were sore but I felt ok.
Dinner was a 500m walk to a restaurant in town. I ate till I could eat no more for fear of not being able to hold it down. I then walked back and was ready to eat some more. I love to eat, and you would think that to be able to eat whatever you want and still lose weight would be good, but it loses its appeal quickly.
Anyway, I’m going to have a little read now and then hopefully a long deep sleep, so that I’m all ready for tomorrows short 64km stage. Should be easy!
Day 14 – Waldkappel to Queck 64.3km
The short day. I had probably been looking forward to this a little too much. I slept quite well and felt well rested in the morning, but when going down some steps in the school that was home for the night, my knees reminded me of the large amounts of downhilling I had done the day before. I may need to rethink my days running. I thought about my aims. There was only one, and that was to reach Gibraltar. Position does not matter. If I feel good on a day, then I may get caught up in the competition, but if things weren’t feeling good then they needed to be dealt with. The knees need to be looked after.
As we set out, I was just behind Ambros for a while. The pace certainly seemed steadier. Ria and Christian were just behind me. Then we hit a decent uphill and I decided to walk. People begun to accelerate in comparison. There was the first cp at the top before a fairly steep descent. This is where my pace was a lot slower than everyone else’s. It took a lot of self-discipline to let everyone slowly move away from me. I kept thinking about my overall classification that I had worked so hard for over the past two weeks. I must finish!
Soon I was alone and slowly plodding down the road. It was thankfully a lot flatter. At around the 40km point, Christian caught me up and asked if I was alright. I explained my situation and he decided to stay with me. This was a great thing, as some slightly negative thoughts were creeping in and we chatted which kept my mind off things and the time flew by. Soon we were done. My knees definitely felt better than yesterday when I had finished, but where not exactly fixed. I will have to do this for as many days as it takes. Even if that is another 50!
Well I am stuffed with German food again. Now to hopefully sleep well again. Tomorrow is 70.7km but the day after is 81.6km! The biggest yet! Could be a long day out.
Day 16 – Zeitlofs to Dettelbach 81.6km
I must admit that I was a little nervous about today. It was long and apparently hilly. Ups are fine, but the downs are painful on my knees so I have to take them a lot slower. Before there is a chance to really think about it too much, we have begun! I intend to go fairly hard on the ups and rest on the downs.
It is a little chilly as we begin, but straight away we are getting stuck into a steep up. Perfect. I walk hard and am soon plenty warm enough. The hill is only a couple of kms long. At the top we turn left and have a most glorious view of the pink sky over the German countryside with pockets of mist in lower areas. Soon enough the first cp came. This was going to be a hot day too as if it wasn’t hard enough already! We had a large steep downhill and my knees were not too bad, but I was going very slowly. Then another large up. I was beginning to sweat a lot now as the sun begun to show its power.
I ran the whole day alone again. This worked out well as I could adjust my pace depending on how my knees were playing up. They were certainly letting me push a little harder than yesterday. My pathetically slow downhill running was even a tiny bit less pathetic.
We passed through a town and then within about 15 minutes, I had the top three runners come flying past at an incredible pace. How these guys are running so fast and hard every day is quite unbelievable to me. They are running one day faster than most ultra runners could do it in.
It was now a stifling heat and there wasn’t a lot of shelter. I’m not great with the heat, but so far things had gone ok. I was managing to stay hydrated and felt ok.
As the kms passed by I started to see the day as it was. Just another day. Soon enough I was entering the outskirts of Dettelbach. Rainer Koch lives here and I was expecting to see him somewhere. When I ran with him for one stage of the JOGLE earlier in the year, he said when I pass through his home town, he would take me out to check out town. Rainer is a legend when it comes to crossing countries and continents incredibly fast. I don’t think he understands that when I’ve finished running for the day, I just want to rest.
Just before I finished, I saw Rainer walking away. I quickly said hi before finishing. Later on he came and chatted for a bit. I felt pretty empty so went outside to get some food from Thomas. Thomas is a German guy that is part of the crew. He runs cp4 usually that always has soup. He has a small old caravan that he parks up and then gets a tarp strung out to what ever is near and creates a shelter. At the end of the day he creates this same café near the finish line, tables and chairs will be put out and he will be cooking up a large meal of fried potatoes, eggs and either sausage or bacon for whoever wants it and has five euros. Today I had bacon. I ate it at an incredible rate of knots, then just before I was finished, I suddenly felt a little dizzy. I needed to lay down. I stood to make my way into the hall to find my camping mat. I thought I was going to pass out. I sat on the floor then just lay down on my back for 2 minutes till I thought I was ok.
I feel fine now. I had obviously been affected by the sun. Hopefully I will sleep well tonight and all will be back to ‘normal’ in the morning.
That’s day 16 done. One quarter of the time done! Awesome. 73km tomorrow.
Day 17 – Dettelbach to Assamstadt 73km
My nights sleep wasn’t great, but it was better than some. It was a beautiful clear morning out and not cold. All lovely, but I was guessing that this meant another hot one. We started out on some lovely quiet cycle tracks. The sun first showed itself as a bright red circle over the cornfields (about all they grow over here!). Then some light cloud covered it for an hour or so. I knew that this wouldn’t last so just put my head down and took advantage of this cooler period.
My knees felt about the same as the previous day. Today was by all reports supposed to be quite hilly too so even though this was a shorter day, it was by no means going to be easy (are any?). Today would also be another day alone. I spent the first 20-30km going at a half decent pace, but was really shocked when the lead man, Stephan flew past me at 30km going at an incredible pace. A couple km later Trond flew by in pursuit. Do they not injure?
I stuck at my pace and was feeling pretty good. It was very hot with just a lazy breeze to keep me cool. There was again very little shelter, except for about 15 mins running through some trees. It was so cool!
By around the 50km point, I was starting to feel the heat. It makes everything so difficult. It always makes me feel lazy. I want to walk, must run…
Then there was a sign giving a gradient for a downhill approaching. I wasn’t happy when I saw it. 20%! It seemed to go on for ages, but finally it bottomed out in a town. Once I had weaved my way through the town following the tiny orange arrows which faultlessly guide me through Europe, I was at the final cp. I didn’t hang around too long before departing, eager to finish. There was a long climb followed by a long fast stretch into the finish town. I possibly went too fast at the end and irritated my knees a little, but never mind. Tomorrow is a paltry 65km and the following days are shorter! I think this is classed as a rest!
Anyway, I have to try and sleep as I am knackered.
Day 18 – Assamstadt to Frankenbach 65.2km
A shorter day, but still a fair jog to be fair! The day was another scorcher which is obviously all they get throughout Germany. It’s like the South of France!
My ankles both feel a little stiff and painful at the end of each day. I don’t think I have mentioned this yet? The heal hurts a bit and is awkward at the end, but seems to heal enough for the start of the next day. I’m sure it’s fine.
I again pushed off alone today doing my own pace. I slept ok, but felt a little weary none-the-less. We were soon climbing out of the town and then we had a large descent. The sun wasn’t out yet to punish us so I was really enjoying it. The scenery was beautiful as always, and the roads were deadly quiet. We all spread out rather quickly.
I followed along the valley floor for a while pushing through the mist that had settled in the lower land. Then it was back up again. This was the theme of the day, though once the sun came out it was baking. Fortunately a lot of the route had trees to provide some much needed shade.
The majority of the day was spent running through glorious wine country and fields of orchards. I stopped at one point and selected an apple to eat. It was lovely and refreshing. At another point I had a few cheeky grapes. So incredibly tasty. Then I was into the final 10km grind. The last part was spent running into an industrial area which was pretty uninspiuring, but who cares when the day is done!
The gym tonight is large and I have acquired a thick gym mat for the ultimate comfort! Louise arrived a couple of hours ago so I am a very happy boy. Tomorrow is 62.5km.
Day 19 – Frankenbach to Malmsheim 62.5km
Today was mostly good. I slept ok I suppose. My ankles felt quite stiff but loosened up before we set off. My right knee felt quite average so I went off at my normal pace. Things felt ok and it looked as though the sun wouldn’t show for a little while because of a little cloud cover. Awesome!
We started on a busy main road, and sadly this continued for 35km. It was after this horrible section that my knee really started to hurt. It first reduced my run to a limping run, then an equally painful limping walk. Not good. As I dragged myself forward, all sorts of negative thoughts went through my mind. Just try to relax it will pass. It lasted around 20-30 stressful and painful minutes. Slowly my running became a little more fluid again, and I was almost back up to speed. All I had to do was get to the days end then rest and it will be a new day.
I finished just under 7:30. Not bad considering the little episode my knee had. The hall we have for tonight is very cosy to say the least, so Lou took the initiative to pitch the tent, so tonight we’re camping! No listening to loads of groaning and snoring all night. It’s a beautiful evening too.
Tomorrow is a mere 58km. I just hope that my knee holds up enough and that the short day will feel like a rest for it.
Must dash. I have some recuperation to do.
Day 20 – 58km
The night in the tent was really nice. I didn’t sleep great but the face that there were no noises from the others was refreshing. Talking of refreshing, it was pretty chilly out there too. It was a bit more of a struggle to get up at 4 with no people preparing around you and no lights on though. After a bit of rushing around, I was just about ready in time for the off. It was a beautiful clear morning with all the stars out. Nice and fresh now but probably boiling again later.
I had decided to wear a thermal top which I’d probably discard at the first cp. The pace was comfortable and all my bits were not complaining alarmingly so I was happy. I really wanted to get through the day with no issues like yesterday. The route took us along many tree sheltered paths for the first few hours and because of this I didn’t warm up enough. I could see the suns rays hitting the field 50 metres away, but I was getting none of the warmth. I knew that within a few hours time, I would probably be cursing the sun for overheating me again.
Finally I felt the warmth of the sun on the back of my hands and it was glorious! Today, a lot of my time was spent fairly close to Ria. We were chatting as we entered a town and were soon heading down a cobbled shopping street. Problem was we could see no orange arrows! No problem. After five minutes of backtracking, we were back on route. The first time I have been lost yet!
The day predictably warmed up, but thankfully we had a fair bit of shelter. The route was not flat, but there were no real hills to speak of either. Not until after the final cp with 9km to go anyway. Straight away I was on a trail gently winding down through some beautiful woodlands for a few km. Then at the bottom I made my way through a stunning little village before climbing up a meaty climb on a large but quiet road. It was then back on a nice bit of trail that bought me nicely into the finish village, which just happens to be Ingos’, the race directors hometown. I was very happt with todays run. I had used RockTape on my knee and it had been good. My heal hurt but there’s always something!
Dinner tonight was in a Chinese buffet restaurant where I ate considerable amounts. It’s good the appetite is still healthy.
Another small day tomorrow. Hopefully the knee will be the same again, and I’ll be a happy.
Day 21 – 58km
Today was the same length as yesterday, and I really wanted it to go in a similar fashion. My sleep had been ok. Breakfast while we’ve been in Germany is generally lots of different jams, honey, chocolate spread, A selection of cheap hams and cheeses and then the dreaded sliced rye bread. If you know me, then you’ll know that I like my bread, and I actually like rye bread, but when you have it every day for breakfast, and breakfast is very important so you need to eat lots, then the rye bread becomes challenging to say the least! Then again, the whole ‘fueling’ process really isn’t quite as exciting when you have to eat so much just to stay healthy. It’s hard work!
Anyway, that’s enough breakfast talk. We begun bang on time and were soon dropping down a hill into a town. It was then that we picked up a cycle route that followed a river through the beautiful countryside again. The first cp came quickly. I was enjoying the cool morning again, and was again wary that the sun could be equally as strong as yesterday.
The route was a real joy today as we were on lots of trail through lovely shady woodland. I was again alone most of the day after the early morning selection. Today was a real fun day. I was really happy that I was running ok and my knee seemed to be ok. The weather was glorious yet the sun wasn’t baking me. Life was good today.
My first marathon passed at around 4:51 and it was a bumpy route too. Then I was at the last cp with just 9km to go! Ace. I pushed on and kept the rhythm as continuously as possible. I was keen to finish and get resting. The finish town is quite a decent size with shops and everything! There is a supermarket about 25 metres across the road too, which I will check out soon for the novelty factor.
My time today was a few minutes quicker than yesterday which is nice. This whole thing is a battle to stay positive and to push the negative thoughts far away. It’s difficult as you have so much time alone with your thoughts but I feel as though I am growing physically and mentally. I can do this.
Tomorrow is 73km. I am sort of looking forward to getting stuck into it. Don’t ask me why.
Day 22 – St. Georgen to Bad Krozingen 74.5km
The last full day in Germany! I can truly say that I really wouldn’t have believed that I would have got this far if you had asked me four weeks ago. Truly gobsmacked and happy! Tomorrow I pass into France and also pass the 1000 mile mark. Of course no-one else here is backward enough to care about mileage and normally I try to stick to metric, but there’s something special about 1000 miles isn’t there. It’s a bit like numerology now as you tend to find milestones in almost every day. There’s always something that is mentally reachable, and if not, then you make something.
Today was a long day and apparently we were passing through a very hilly part of the Black Forest. Sounds good! We set off into another cool morning. I just wore a t-shirt today though. We were soon enough into a decent road climb. Once we had crested it we begun a very long descent into a stunning landscape. I went cautiously and my knees seemed ok. Next we had some confusion with the arrows as someone had apparently moved some. After a bit of head scratching I was back on route and was passing through a town.
The towns roads had largely been closed off in preparation for a mountain bike race. I had some food at cp2 before beginning the climb that would last for around 20 mins. Half way up the lead group of bikes went past at a fast pace, followed by a steady flow of riders. On the downhill that followed I was careful as they were flying past. I then turned off the course and was on a beautiful alpine like descent through heavy forest. It was lovely and cool.
This descent went on for ages but when it ended, it was straight into another very, very long ascent that wound its way through the gullies and up till eventually I was out of the trees. The next descent was the longest yet. Beautiful but very long. Once at the bottom of this one the rest was relatively flat. It was warming up all the time and the forecast was for it to reach the 30’s so I didn’t want to hang around too long.
All was going nicely until I stopped to go to the loo with 10km to go. When I began to run again My knee really hurt like the other day. Don’t panic. It’ll pass, and there’s only 10km left. It did ease a little but was still very painful when I finished. I have iced it and think it could be a tough next two days as they are both long but apparently not as hilly.
I have been getting quite emotionally stretched lately. Every little thing that goes wrong I can’t help but see as a real major problem. Thankfully Lou is doing an ace job of keeping me grounded which can’t be easy!
Day 23 – Bad Krozingen to Valdoie 82.6km
I would be lying if I said I was looking forward to today but there were lots of positives. 1000 miles, new country. I of course was a little concerned about my knee as this was the biggest day yet. It was going to have to be a steady one. Single main aim was to get to the end with no ‘episodes’ from my knee.
The course was said to be flat which although incredibly boring for me, is good on the knee. The first 10km went ok and after the first cp there was only a couple of km before I would be on French soil. I got my camera out to snap the sign that signified the border. Soon all the road signs were French, and a little later I was in my first French town. No sign? Damnit! Never mind just another 70km left for the day.
Today it was warm first thing and just got hotter. I just spent the day with my head down keeping things moving. The heat and the fact that I felt really weary meant that this was a slow day. Maybe this was a blessing in disguise as it forced me to go easy on my knee.
Sadly the first 50km of the day were on very busy roads with no pavement or hard shoulder. You had to keep your wits about you! Eiolf actually got hit by a car and when he finished got taken to hospital to get his wounds dressed.
I really struggled at some points today, but the last 10km eventually arrived and I found some more life. I enjoyed it a lot more.
Tomorrow is a 79.5km stage but after that there are some short ones. I can’t wait. I found some chalk earlier and wrote on the road 1000 miles and had my photo taken next to it.
Time to pass out. Night.
Day 24 – Valdoie to Noidans-le-Ferroux 79.5km
Today was going to be treated as yesterday, with the chief aim of reaching the end with no knee failures again. Time was irrelevant. I started out in the warm morning. There were clouds around and I prayed for the to hang about for at least 10 hours. Fabrice had looked at the weather and said that there were storms forecast. I do hope so. I grinned when he told me.
Soon I was running with Eiolf who was covered in bandages from his accident the day before. They had decided not to stich him but they were fairly large cuts. He had a dressing on his forehead that was bloody and kept dribbling down his face. God knows what the natives made of him as he loped through their villages.
We chatted and both said that we wanted to take it easy today. Survival was the word of the day, so we decided to do it together. This was a really nice change and the day went that little bit quicker even though we were going quite slow.
We stopped at cp’s and ate well. We walked uphills and generally took it easy. The cp’s went by at a steady rate until we were at the final cp. Only 8km to go. We both put our heads down and pushed the pace up a little. We could almost smell the end. When we were within 800m of the end it begun to rain, and within a minute it was torrential. It felt so cooling and cleansing.
Today was another grinder, but it was cooler, I had Eiolf for company and tomorrow is a mere 48km. Our home tonight is some Gites. Lou and I have a room with beds and a bath! I want to stay. I like beds.
Must dash as I feel really tired and really must get some good sleep.
Day 25 – 48km
At last, a nice short day! 48km is the shortest day yet (I think?). I woke from a good sleep in the luxury of a bed in the Gite but felt rather stiff. There were lots of sore spots. Breakfast was in the local restaurant and consisted of some nice French bread and jam. Nothing else except the rather grim coffee. Even though I feel stuck in groundhog day each days accommodation and food is a new experience and a surprise.
We started in complete darkness. I wanted the day to be over so that I could lie down and maximise my rest. At the first cp I was alone and going at a nice clip. It usually takes around 5-10 km to warm up and for my aches and pains to subside a little. Only 37km left! This day will be over before it has begun!
Todays route was on some lovely rural roads that were very quiet. The weather was blissfully overcast and cool. As the day progressed I was enjoying it more and more. Soon I caught up with JB at one of the cp’s. Today was JBs’ 52 birthday (he looks 45) and he told me he was going to buy a large bottle of red wine for the evening. We ended up running the rest of the day together which was nice. We came in together in 5:25. A good day.
I have had a little snooze and we all just popped down to see the mayors from the local area who handed out some medals gave a welcoming speech and then we were set loose on the buffet! How lovely of the community.
Tomorrow is another short day at 55km. Ace! Then we have the two longest days of the whole race at 83km and 83.3km so I really need to take advantage of all this rest time.
Day 26 – 55km
Today I was hoping for another relatively easy, uneventful day. The rather small hall we were in last night gave the predicted poor nights sleep. Ingo has decided that we start 15 minutes later as it’s so dark at 6. We are still woken at 4 and breakfast is still at 5 though meaning that we get 2:15 in the morning to pack up and get ready. Very relaxed!
We ran off into a dull and damp morning. I was hopeful for some rain today. The forecast was for it to get hot again soon so it would be nice to enjoy some refreshing rain before being exposed to the evil sun again. I soon found myself with Eiolf again. He said that he didn’t want to go too hard. I think everyone has the next three long days on their minds.
The pace was nice and steady like yesterday. Nice. We were soon on some lovely rural roads again. They were very peaceful and this made for some very relaxing running. A lot of the day we spent slowly climbing up until we were eventually high up on a plateau. We ran through a forest for a long time where there were wild boar and we got rained on a little. I even put my waterproof on for the first time on this trip! Soon enough though we were at the 45km point and only had 10 left. The last 10 are always a little quicker (unless something is wrong) and Eiolf showed me his speed as he slowly eased away from me. I finished at a speed that was a little slower than yesterday. Not bad considering there was a lot of climbing today.
Just on the final descent into the small town where we are staying I saw Louise walking up the hill. What a sight! I ran up to her and kissed her and we ran the last few hundred metres together to the finish. On the way down, she told me she had got a room in a hotel for us! We are in a bed again! I feel so spoilt, but so much more comfortable.
Well I really must rest before getting stuck into the 83km day tomorrow. I will hopefully write again tomorrow with a nice uneventful report.
Day 27 – St-Seine-l Abbaye to Avallon 83.0km
Today is the second largest day. The longest is only 300 metres longer and that is tomorrow! I had slept ok and was about as well rested as the time would afford in the luxury of the hotel room. Louise and I had gathered enough food together so that I could do breakfast in bed instead of having to get up earlier and join the rest for a more than likely disappointing breakfast. I was a little concerned that the morning could be difficult seeing as we were away from the routine, but as it was it was really nice lying in bed eating my breakfast, just the two of us. We left the hotel and arrived at the start with 15 mins to spare.
I just wanted to get stuck into today. These two 83km days stuck out like a sore thumb to me from the first time I looked through the stages and now I was here. It’s silly really, because the other day we did a 79.5 and a 82.5 together. I knew it was completely possible for me, it was just doing it.
The morning was very foggy and there was a bit of a chill. I wore just a t-shirt which was just about right. I quite like running in heavy fog sometimes. You feel truly alone and there is no competition. As I warmed up, the old battered body felt better. The route was again on very quiet back roads again and today was very hilly. In fact it had the second largest amount of vertical gain at just below 1100 metres. I was very grateful for the fog hanging around as long as it did, as it made things safer by slowing all the cars down, and of course kept it cool, but after around 3-4 hours of running it was gone and all that remained was a splendid blue sky and a scorching sun. There was a lovely refreshing headwind that blew all day and did a great job of keeping me cool.
There really didn’t seem to be too much flat today, and as usual I was enjoying the uphills but taking the downs quite conservatively. My knees just feel fragile now and I am learning to live with them. Speaking of pain, my heal is very painful after around 40km but I am starting to get used to it. I believe this could be some Achilles tendonosis very low down, but I’m not sure.
As the day progressed and the cp’s passed one by one, I didn’t start to fatigue to badly so kept on pushing. A lot of the reason I push sometimes is to finish and therefore maximise my rest. It is just trying to get the balance right for my fitness and my current physical and mental state.
When I got to the final cp, I was told that the route was not 83km but 86km due to a diversion earlier on. I felt quite positive at this stage so this potentially damaging information didn’t affect me too much. I was surprised and happy with my positive outlook. Thankfully the last part of the day was following a river as it meandered through lovely little villages, before the route climbed up to the finish point right on top of a hill.
I finished in about 10:10 I think, which I am very happy about. One down, one to go. My heals both hurt a bit but I know that the rest will prepare them for tomorrow. Day 28! Wow, I never thought I would get this far!
Day 28 – Avallon to Guerigny 83.3km
The longest day! As you may have noticed, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to these two days, but this morning, I had already completed one. Just one more left. Well, 80km that is. The next day is not exactly short at 73km but that is a whole 10km shorter! I had slept pretty average and felt fairly rested after yesterdays effort. The morning was completely unfoggy like the previous morning, but I couldn’t see any stars meaning it was cloudy.
I loaded my bag up onto the truck and waited outside for my GPS to find some satellites. I was chatting to Eiolf when he commented that it looked like it had started as people were walking away. We had missed the start. Not really an issue as the starts are very leisurely affairs at this start of the race, as most people warm things up very slowly. Soon the usual pattern was playing out. I was fairly close to Eiolf and Ria. Eiolf usually gets faster after around 10-20km and I won’#t see him till the end. Ria, I am usually no more than 20 minutes away from. I generally run alone though.
We were being treated to some more beautiful French countryside again. This helps the time pass, and soon I was passing 10km then 20km. I was feeling quite tired today and was hoping to get some good sleep when I finished the day. It all depends on the accommodation of course. Always a surprise. The best is usually a large sports hall so that everyone can spread out plenty. The main issue with the smaller halls is not really the lack of space, but more the fact that you can’t escape everyones snoring and moving around. There are some incredible snorers here!
The first cp only has drinks, so that means you have to run 20km before you get a cp with food. This normally wouldn’t bother me, but the last week or two I am hungry before I get there. I need to eat more, but it is difficult. I now carry a small snack in my bag to get me through the first 20km.
The overcast weather continued for a few hours but when the clouds parted it was very warm. There was a slight breeze though which helped. With 30km to go, Ria accelerated and I had no answer so let her go. Frederic the French chap who starts slow and gets stronger as the day continues, caught me and we stayed together till the end. I was knackered, but very happy to have got through the last two days without my knee being silly.
Tomorrow will be tough, but not as tough as the last few days and hopefully means getting back earlier and getting more rest. Tonight the gym is large and we sleep on thick gym mats. Luxury!
Day 29 – Guerigny to Charenton-du-Cher 73km
Oh what a day. It was a chilly night in my cotton sleeping bag liner but I managed to sleep ok ish. I poked my head out of the door to check the temperature. It was pretty cold out there and the starts were out. I put on a thermal and dug my gloves out of my suitcase. Breakfast was another dull affair but I managed to eat quite a bit.
I said goodbye to Lou, started my GPS and strolled off to start another day. It took me a little longer to find any sort of stride today, so decided that today would just be about getting to the end in one piece. No chasing people. One of the Japanese runners who was out of the race but who would still run some of the days, Yoshitaka, ran just off my right shoulder. After a while, I realised that he seemed to be happy with my pace. His English is almost non-existent and my Japanese is completely no-existent so communication would be minimal. He would let me make the pace which was perfect for me. If I took longer at a cp or went to the loo, he would slow down or wait for me.
The day predictably soon warmed up. We were running on really quiet, fairly flat country roads. The land was more yellow than green and looked burnt. There were no trees along the roads to provide shelter from the sun.
I loved the route today, but I have to say that I would prefer some more hills. When you run on the flat all the time there is no change to you running style or what muscles you use. If you get a steep hill, it can be a great excuse to walk too!
Soon, Yoshitaka and I were joined by Frederec again. We ran together for a while, and I found it amusing to think that there were three of us with three languages, but we couldn’t communicate to each other. Thankfully the final cp came into view and Yoshitaka said something in Japanese then thanked me and shook my hand while bowing. At the cp, He sat down and said goodbye. I ran off with Frederec and together we finished with Lou meeting us with just 300m to go. When Yoshitaka finished, he ran to me and hugged me and thanked me again. I thing he was happy that I paced him around 65km. I was happy for the company.
I feel very tired now. We are in a Judo hall tonight, so there are mats covering the floor. Lovely. Tomorrow we run 61.5km. That’s a bit better.
I forgot to mention that yesterday was the end of the fourth week. Also today, we passed the 2000km point. And the biggest milestone yet is tomorrow. The half-way point. When I look at the map, It looks as though our journey takes a more Southerly route again tomorrow. Towards Spain!
Day 30 – Charenton-du-Cher to La Chatre 61.0km
The judo hall was comfortable last night but we had a million flys in with us to keep us awake. Also, I seem to be coming down with a bit of a cold. Not ideal, but totally expected. My poor immune system hasn’t got a chance. I awoke feeling quite bunged up and very tired. The cold doesn’t bother me too much for my running, but it does bother me with the problems it will give me trying to sleep. Oh well, less of the whining!
The morning was cool but not as fresh as the day before. We sped (?)off into the dark. I felt ok once I got going so had a little push. My knee begun to hurt at around 7km. Maybe a little more than normal. I eased off and tried to be patient. This short day could really drag if my knee played up.
After 5km or so, it was back to its normal self. I concentrated on going slowly and steadily with even shorter steps. My stride is very short for this event, but I am trying to shorten it further. It seems to be a little easier on my knees I think. Some of the guys here take incredibly short strides. I literally can’t follow their pace.
Ria had shot off at the start and I had left her too it again. She was very strong at the moment. About 35km in I could see a black speck behind. I couldn’t work out who it could be. When I got to the next cp I saw it was Ria. She’d gone and got lost again. We ran together for a while in the midday sun. We were again crossing the sun bleached empty French landscape. I feel like Germany was months ago. I have been in France forever!?
I wanted the day to be over. I just want to rest my poor knee. As we got within 7km from the end, I had to let Ria slowly ease away from me as I tried to go easy on my knee. It hurt quite a lot now. Soon enough I painfully jogged into La Chartres. It looked like a beautiful town, and after picking my way through the narrow streets, I found the finish line with Lou sat behind it. Phew!
Tonight we sleep in the Auberge de Jeunesse and Lou and I have our own room and a bed! Amazing. Hopefully the cold pills Lou got for me will help me sleep. It’s all about the rest.
I forgot to mention that with about 3km to go I passed a circus on the move on the country roads, consisting of around 3 horse drawn carts and about 15 dreadlocked people sat playing guitar, walking beside and generally looking very happy. I was very tempted to ask if I could join.
Tomorrow is 67km so is not long or short. I will have to go careful on my knee as usual.
Over half the distance done now!
Day 31 – La Chatre to St-Sulpice-les-Feuilles 67.5km
The rollercoaster ride that is Trans-Europe. After yesterday, I thought that my reaction had been more positive than when my knee had been bad previously. Looking back I’m not so sure. That combined with the general lack of adequate sleep I am experiencing and the stinking cold I have developed made me feel a little sorry for myself. The night was poor, and my knee hurt on waking.
I began the morning very slowly. My knee hurt for the first 10km. Lots of negative thoughts, but I of course persevered. When I left the first cp, it felt a little less painful. I continued with the same cautious pace. The route was a little hilly today which provided distraction and let’s not forget the fact that the horrible old sun didn’t show his face all day. It was nice and overcast all day with a little bit of drizzle in the afternoon just to make things a little better.
I heard the sad news that Stephan, the current leader of the race had pulled out with injury. How gutting for him.
It is very difficult when you have been in this world for over four weeks and you are alone most of the day to not obsess about problems. I thankfully have been running past lots of fields with cows in which have for some reason been very entertaining for me. I try and get their attention by giving a very realistic moo, but they just look at me as though I’m mad.
With around 10km to go I saw my buddy Yoshitaka up ahead. I caught him up soon and said hi. He looked very excited to see me, so I told him to finish with me. The last few km went lots better with Yoshitakas company, even though we didn’t really speak. He did ask my age. I told him and asked him his. He was 69! All of the Japanese here look around 20 years younger than their actual age, it’s quite astonishing.
The day finished with a fragile but intact knee. I didn’t expect it to start great, but it improved as the day went. It basically governs my speed. As soon as I push it too hard it bloody hurts. Simple. It is of course very frustrating as the rest of me could go faster and compete a bit, but as it is I just have to let people go. I must remember that the main aim is to reach Gibraltar.
Tomorrow is a little less at 62.1km. The route has now met up with the Trans Gaule route so quite a few of the runners here know what’s coming over the next 8-9 days. Apparently it gets hilly!
Day 32 – St-Sulpice-les-Feuilles to Bourganeuf 62.1km
Possibly the hardest days running ever. Mentally at least. The first 20km were surprisingly ok. I hadn’t gone too quick, but was very conscious of my knee. Small steps and no racing. I ran with Frederec for a fair while. We arrived at cp2 with Christian and Ria close by. I was hungry so was the last to leave. I thanked the crew and walked off with both my hands full of food. Within a couple of strides my knee was hurting. I continued to walk. I decided to walk until I felt I could run comfortably. This took 35 minutes of painful striding.
Then at around 35km it went again. I limped along again and slowly people were overtaking me. People I don’t normally see. Then Christian Marti caught me up and asked if I was ok. I cried as I told him about my knee. I was very low and could not see a way out. Everyone was so kind.
Then Yoshitaka caught me. I pointed at my knee and he walked with me and found a chocolate in his pocket and gave it to me. He was going to stay with me for the rest of the day regardless of speed. I was touched. The company would make all the difference for the rest of this day which could be a drawn out affair.
My knee had one more episode, but the rest of the time we managed to keep some sort of rhythm going. The final steep climb through the town was tough but we ran it all, and my prize was seeing Lou smiling at the top waiting for me.
Yoshitaka asked the Japanese medical chap to look me over which he has and will be taping me up in the morning. I will be getting some new shoes tomorrow afternoon and will be taking some painkillers for tomorrows 73km stage (I don’t touch them normally).
So, that’s over half the distance done and half the days done. I’m not really sure what to make of tomorrow. I will not think about it and just wake up and get on with it. Nearly all uphill apparently! We finish at over 900m altitude.
Day 33 – Bourganeuf to Meymac 72.6km
After my emotional day I was keen to run again and hopefully have a less disastrous day. It was nice having Kado the Japanese physio look at me. He did some acupressure and found some very painful spots. He thinks that my feet have got tired after over four weeks and can’t support the arch so well so my foot is over pronating which is causing a sore spot on my outer knee. It seems logical and it makes sense to me. I have managed to get a new pair of shoes after todays run that are exactly the same as my current shoes but have some arch support. Kado also taped me up lots in the morning and it felt pretty good.
So todays aim was simply to be better than yesterday. It is 10km longer and said to be very hilly, but I felt a tiny bit confident that things would be ok. I was pretty sure that my knee would have a turn and force me to walk for a while, but if it only happened once then I would be happy.
It was a chilly 4.5 degrees outside, but apparently the first 10km was up so I didn’t bother with trousers or a jacket. Straight outside of town we started to climb. It was pitch black out and we were on completely unlit roads. I liked it. My heavily strapped knee felt good but I was a good boy and stuck to my slightly safer slow plod and let the usual runners who are near me disappear into the darkness ahead. No fighting for position now.
As I gained height it got colder till eventually there was a frost on the grass. I couldn’t wait for the sun to light up the surrounding hills so I could see them. The first cp came and went and the knee was being good. Lots of positive thoughts. I am holding on to every positive thing tightly, but at the slightest sign of something negative, I come crashing down.
I was now running alone and enjoying it. The surrounding scenery had made itself shown and it was beautiful. Not that I could see much most of the time as I was passing through a forest. So although the sun was blazing, the trees provided a refreshing coolness.
Then I found myself at cp5 at 43km. I was there for about 3-4 minutes. As I walked off, my knee hurt. Stay calm, and just be patient. You knew this would happen. Just walk it out. After a frustrating and painful 30 minutes it eased enough to begin an awkward run again. An hour later my run was a little more normal. I was covering ground.
With around 13km to go, Christian Marti caught me up and said he’d run with me. It was good to run with him again. It felt like months ago when we last did. The final 7km was downhill and was not too bad. We kept a nice little pace up and soon we were thankfully seeing the sign that said we were in Meymac, our home for the night.
I finished very happy with a fragile but ok knee. Todays route was the most beautiful of the whole journey yet. I love mountains, they seem to make me happy. I have my new pair of trainers, and tomorrow is a short day at 50km. We are starting at 0630 and the lights won’t go on till 0430. An extra 30 minutes in bed!
Day 34 – Meymac to Mauriac 51.7km
I slept alright last night up on the stage of the town hall we were situated in. Before I slept my knee was quite sore which wasn’t encouraging. On waking in the morning, 30 minutes later than normal, I prodded and flexed my knee to see how things were. The nights rest had been good apparently! It felt pretty good. I had a breakfast of loads of baguette laced with cheap jam and strong good black coffee. A short day. Let’s hope I can enjoy it.
I stood out in the cool morning with my knee heavily strapped by the ace, Kado again. I also had on my new shoes which were just a little brighter than the sun. Surprisingly not my choice! Would they help? I was aware that even if they would relieve some of the pressure, there was some inflammation that wouldn’t just disappear. We began and straight away I got into the now all too familiar rhythm.
We were again passing through some lovely rolling countryside. There was barely nothing on the roads again, so I could run free from stressing about cars flying around the corners. After around 25km I was feeling good. So very cautious of my knee having a turn though. Due to the pattern of it seeming to happen after being still for even just a short time, I now try to keep moving when at the cp’s which makes it look like I am six years old and need a wee, which give much amusement to the crews.
The road now turned down and was winding its way in and out of the gullys. I had an alright little clip down here and my knee was no bother what-so-ever. Would I get further than yesterdays 43km before anything went wrong? The tree cover thinned a little and showed the water below. It looked beautiful. I kept seeing trails off to the side and wanted to go exploring. Maybe not the time. It had turned into a beautiful day and the trees were doing a great job of shading me and keeping my cool again.
Finally after a long time descending, I reached the bottom and saw a bridge ahead that we would have to cross. Once across, I began to climb. Still my knee felt good and I was really enjoying things. I soon caught one of the Japanese guys who descends very fast, but walks the ups. Once past him, with just 8km to go, I wanted to run normally, so I upped the pace. A grin crept across my face. If the knee whinged at all I would ease off. The climb continued for about another 5km and my knee was ok. Just before I finished, Fabrice powered up to me as he had started 1hr before me. We ran through the town together and ran across the line hand in hand.
I have just come back from a little stroll in town with Lou. We stopped off for a quick coffee. I can’t believe how much better I feel after one good day! I feel great. I know that the lows will hit again as this is just the longest rollercoaster ride, but as Lou said “just ride it”.
Let’s see what tomorrows 62.8km stage can throw at me. Will I be crying or grinning, or both! We get quite high tomorrow reaching our highest altitude yet at over 1200 metres. We pass over three cols. I honestly can’t wait.
The new problem now is that I have five pairs of mostly worn out shoes that I think might hurt my knee and one pair of good shoes with around 1800km left. I need more but it just isn’t easy when you’re on the road like this. I’m sure Lou and I can arrange it somehow… !
Day 35 – Mauriac to Jussac 62.8km
Last night I had a terrible night. I just couldn’t get comfortable or sleep. The lights went on at 0430 and I was exhausted. Not a great start but it was a relatively short one and I was quite excited about it with the mountain climbs in it.
I went off at a steady pace. I could straight away feel the knee but it was ok. We were heading right out into the countryside again and were soon following the “fromage route” which was a tourist route that took you past many farms that made cheese. The land was beautiful and the hills were rolling. The day was overcast and a little damp but mild. I had started the day with no thermal top which was a first for a few days now.
Just after the 20km point, we passed through the medieval town of Salers. It looked like it would be worth a visit. Maybe some other day. I soon learnt that it was perched on the edge of a steep hill which I now started to descend. I find downs very frustrating now as I have to go so slow because of the knee. People who I can stay with on the flat and on ups just make up so much time on me. The descent continued for around 3-4km down to the valley floor. There were again very few cars around which is just perfect. I then was directed by the orange arrows up a sleepy rural valley until I reached Thomas’ cp. I didn’t have soup today and moved through quickly. This was the bottom of the ascent up Col de Legal which was a pleasing 9km. I love climbs and the longer the better. When I looked up for the top all I could see was cloud as the surrounding mountains were all unfortunately hidden. The road was very twisty and turny and although not very steep, certainly got the heart pumping a little harder. I felt strong going up. I soon overtook Frederec who had earlier passed me on the descent.
There was a cp at the very top where I stopped for a few minutes and stupidly forgot to keep my leg moving. As soon as I left, I could feel it. Not too bad, but definitely showing its presence. I could run on it slowly so did. The longer it was left the worse it would get. The next 10km or so were generally down but were rolling. It was a pleasure to come out of the bottom of the clouds and for the valley view to open up around me. The route was still dropping, but I knew that there was a steep drop with around 10 to go. I’m glad I knew this because it was pretty tough on the knees. The final 6km was flat and now I could feel the knee quite badly.
Was today a good day? Overall I’d have to say yes, because of the beauty and the amazing climbs and the general good feeling that they give me, but of course my knee is quite sore now. Tomorrow is 68.8km so will be a bit of a test, especially as we are in the Massif Central.
Nothing to be scared about. This time tomorrow, I’ll be writing about the next day and whinging about my knee again.
Time to sleep!
Day 36 – Jussac to St. Cyprien-sur-Dourdou 68.8km
I didn’t know what to expect from today. Yesterday had been ok but had left me with a very irritated knee at the end which made me walk when we had to walk the short walk to the restaurant in the evening. I also had a bad nights sleep again, partly because of it. It was pretty damn sore in the morning too. I managed to stay calm and fairly positive I think. Lou may counter that comment!
It wasn’t a short day and it was pretty hilly again, so would certainly be testing on the knee. Immediately as we started, it hurt, walking. I tried a very gentle run to test it. Not great. Oh well, I had nothing else to do, I may as well get on with it. I went very gently and assumed that this would be me for the day. Hopefully it would ease a bit though as it was quite painful.
At around 15km Chritian Marti caught me up and we stayed together chatting. My knee remained painful till close to 20km, where it actually eased off a little. Amazing! We had done a fair amount of climbing today and it was satisfying that my knee was deciding it wanted to run again. I am really struggling to see what causes it to flare up other than stopping moving for a short time. What I do know is that when it is good, I am happy.
The kms just passed by really nicely as Christian and I chatted our way through the yet again stunning scenery. With around 25km remaining, the road took a turn downwards. Apparently this would continue down to the river in 9km time. Fortunately it wasn’t steep. I was more concerned about the 15km that followed that followed the river to our home for the night. The flat doesn’t sound good after a 9km descent.
The descent was down a very dramatic wooded road far, far below to the river that we occasionally saw sparkling in the sunlight through gaps in the trees. We stopped to take a picture and continued. Our pace wasn’t great, but I was very content that we were doing it with relative ease and my knee wasn’t too bad. Finally we reached the bottom and crossed over a bridge where we saw Christian Fatton ahead. He didn’t look like he was running very comfortably. When we passed him he complained about a lack of energy. We were now on the final 15km flat stretch that followed the river. It was again truly beautiful and there was even a cooling headwind blowing up the valley which was surprising seeing as we were so deep down in the gulley.
We crossed the line together in around eight and a half hours. Much faster than I thought I’d be getting around in. My knee feels much better than it did this time yesterday! I don’t get it, but I like it. If I could get a good day out of it tomorrow I will be well chuffed!
Tomorrow is a shorter stage at under 60km. Let’s see if the knee will play.
Day 37 – St. Cyprien-sur-Dourdou to Cassagnes-Begonhes 57.8km
Yesterday afternoon we had the mayor of the town come and welcome us with a speech and drinks and a few nibbles. It’s lovely but it’s hard work when all you want to do is rest instead of listening to a speech in French.
I managed to get some sort of sleep last night which was a relief. I was awake to hear the torrential rain and the thunderstorm though. When I lifted my Bag in the morning I exposed a baby snake underneath next to my bed. It was slithering around looking for somewhere else to hide. I then remembered that I wasn’t in the UK and that it could possibly be dangerous. Thankfully one of the French came over, picked it up and threw it outside. He thought it was a viper.
It was wet when we started but wasn’t raining. It was very mild though and I was soon wet with sweat. The knee seemed to be in a similar state to yesterday so I went fairly steadily with the hope that it would get better. After a short while, I was with Christian again and we were happily chatting away soon enough.
Our first town of the day was Marcillac after cp1. I dumped my headtorch off and made my way through the town. I lost Christian around here. I then turned left out of town and immediately the road ramped up. I decided to run it. It was quite steep in places and went on for around 3-4km so the field really split up here. I was with a Japanese chap. Once the hill was crested the scenery turned a bit Dartmoorish. The weather was even quite dull and it was damp. Just like Dartmoor! My knee was starting to ease a little and I was beginning to enjoy it. Just before I reached cp2 the rain got a little heavier, and soon it was torrential. There was quite a strong wind from the right and I was completely soaked. Once at the cp, I put on my windproof to stop me getting cold and put my cap on to keep the rain out of my face. I grabbed some cake and nuts off of the poor crew who were also getting a soaking and left.
After around 20-30 minutes of rain, it calmed down a bit, and soon I was unzipping the jacket and trying to dry things out a bit. I now realised that my knee was feeling ok which really made me happy. I was heading into a large town now which I soon learnt was Rodez. I now had dropped the Japanese chap and was completely alone. There was a steep climb up through town which a ran and then it was cp3. Soup time! I was then off again trying to capitalise on the fact that my knee was feeling ok. The going was pretty hilly again today, and I was again enjoying the uphills a lot.
Then with around 20km to go the road turned down again and I was heading deep down into a wooded valley again. This was on a large wide road, but it was still beautiful. This lasted for around 4km. Then I was following a river along the valley floor. I thought this would be it for the day, but then to my surprise, the road began to climb. I decided that I was so close to home that I’d just as well have a dig and accelerate. It was so much fun to use the lungs a bit and for my knees to not complain. I was soon in the finish town and was feeling great. Two good days on the trot. Excellent. A slightly shorter day tomorrow too.
Our accommodation tonight is a warehouse/shed type of building that used to be used as a cattle market. It’s pretty basic, but the exciting thing is that Lou had a chance to go to a Decathlon shop today and bought us a ‘luxury’ double bed with a quilt and pillows. It’s the best thing ever! I’m so excited about it. Our lives are so incredibly basic right now that the really simple things in life provide much happiness.
Time to test it out!
Day 38 – Cassagnes-Begonhes to St. Sernin-sur-Rance 54.8km
I woke this morning from one of my best nights sleep yet since starting TE. I love this bed. Lou slept well too. It was a cool morning but not too bad. Being a short day of 55km, I was keen to finish so that I could rest. I have often upped the speed just so that I can rest sooner. Not competitively. My knee felt well rested so I decided to start at a decent pace. The road went up on leaving town for 3km and I was feeling pretty good. There were a few people that were complaining of lack of motivation over the last week or so, including Henry the race leader (he still went on to win that days stage I remember!). I was ok. You just wake up and run. Simple! No real time to think about it.
There was then a gentle but fairly long drop into the small village, La Selve. Just beyond this was situated the first cp of the day. I had my standard two cups of apple juice before dumping my thermal and headtorch. One of the runners , Gilbert, had painstakingly programmed each and every stage into some software over winter to get a small card that had a route profile for each day. I occasionally asked to have a peek at it to get an idea of what I was facing for the day. This morning I had had a look and was a little surprised to see that the profile was again quite lumpy. Ria and I were running together which hadn’t happened for a while due to my forced slow starts. Frederec and Wolfgang were also in the vicinity. By the third cp I was hungry and ate lots of nuts and a piece of cake.
We passed through Plaisance and were soon on another large descent. Ria and I stuck together down here and just near the bottom, Frederec caught us with his fast descending. He then stopped and picked something off a tree and ate it. We stopped too and asked what it was. Figs! Yum, we each had about 6 of them. They were amazing. We then passed the beautiful village of Lincou. We stocked up at the bottom of the 10km climb before pushing off. My knee felt ok, so I decided to go fairly hard. I really enjoy pushing on the ups and hate it when my knee prevents this. My pace wasn’t too hard, but Frederec stuck with me. He would normally run/walk the hills, but had obviously decided to go hard here too. Soon we had lost Wolfgang, and within a few km we had also lost Ria. We went really well and after 10km we reached the cp at the top. Frederec began the descent and soon was out of sight. How frustrating. I was now alone for the first time today. The descent went on for a good 10km
I got to the penultimate cp with 12km remaining. Here Wolfgang caught me and we ran the final section together. Wolfgang has got quicker and quicker over the last few weeks and we went quite hard. The day had been pretty quick compared to my last few weeks of performances. I have had a snooze this afternoon. My knee is a little tender but not too bad. Tomorrow is a fairly long one at 72.4km but the next day is a svelte 50.1km! Tomorrow will be fun!?
I believe that we have wifi nearby! I will now go and check it out and if you’re lucky you could be reading this in an hour!
Day 39 – St. Sermin-sur-Rance to St. Pons-de-Thomieres 72km
Today was a little longer at 72km and we were passing over 3 cols. Should be epic. My knees were both whinging a bit when I woke. My sleep had been good but not great. I was relaxed about the day even though it could be a long one as I was planning to go as fast as my knees allowed. i.e. slowly.
It was an overcast and warm morning and I knew that we would be getting stuck into a 10km climb almost straight away so I was just wearing shorts and t-shirt. We started and I walked for a 100m or so before very slowly firing up the shuffle. Before the climb we had to pass through town which included a steep downhill. Then we were on the hill. It was not too steep, but I went at a steady pace. No rushing today. I soon heated up as I climbed up through the hills. There were one or two cars, but other than that it was very peaceful. I was not feeling too lively coming up here and was glad that I had decided to go relatively easily.
After a few kms I caught up with Frederec and we ran together. As the dawn began to light the world up, we could see the wonderful views we could see from our ever growing altitude. I love France, it is such a beautiful country. It is my favourite yet. Let’s see what Spain has to offer! I had my apple juice at the first cp and carried on. The road went ever on upwards and we were soon in the clouds and the temperature had dropped a few degrees. It wasn’t till around 15km that we finished climbing. We know had a gentle descent which I slowly made my way down. Then we started to climb again. It was here on a large sweeping bend that Frederec and Jean-Piere, who had both done Trans-Gaule, took a short cut I had heard about that they use on Trans-Gaule. It only cuts off 400m and it passes through a very steep field, so it’d debatable how much of an advantage it actually gives, but it was a change from the norm which is always good.
Just a side note. I have mentioned Trans-Gaule a few times now and some of you may not have a clue what I am talking about. TG is a stage race that is put on by JB who is currently running well here. It is around three weeks long, is held every year and travels from Northern France to Southern. The Trans-Europe route has been following the TG route for around 8 days now and tomorrow we leave it. Maybe one for the future?
After a little more climbing we began to descend again for a good 8km. I of course was painfully cautious and watched the two Frenchies gain much time on me as they dropped down the hill comfortably. Ria and I were close now. She also was not enjoying the descents as much as usual.
I was grateful when the road finally levelled out and we then started the final climb of the day. We got directed off of the road and up a track which got steeper and rougher. Trail! I power walked as it was too steep to run. It only lasted but I enjoyed it, before joining a wide but quiet road that continued the theme of the day and headed upwards. It was here that I spotted Christain Fatton up ahead. Ria caught me up after I had left her on the trail, and then we caught Christian up. I knw that the day ended with a 10km descent to the finish town. I was not too excited about this, but at least it was at the end.
Once we crested the hill, the view opened up ahead. We could see the Mediterranean in the distance. Awesome! Now, let’s get stuck into this hill. Ria had stopped for a call of nature so it was just Christian and I. We chatted our way down. I learnt what a great runner Christian is as he told me about some of the races he’s done. Fortunately time flew, and my knees didn’t quite explode, and we soon spotted the town below us that must surely be our new home.
We entered town and passed through. The school we were staying at was out the opposite side of town. Just before finishing, Ria and Gilbert caught us up and the four of us crossed the line together. We were well below 9 hours which I was very happy about seeing as it was the hilliest day yet with over 1,3000 metres of ascent alone.
A good day!
Only 50km tomorrow, and we leave the Trans-Gaule route too which means it will be new to everyone instead of lots of people knowing what’s coming.
Day 40 – St. Pons-de-Thomieres to Lezignan-Corbieres 50.1km
A nice short day. I felt a bit stiff in the morning, but I wasn’t bothered as it was the 40th day! I am truly amazed that I am here. I know I’ve probably said this a few times, but I just didn’t think that this was possible with my ankle. The ankle by the way doesn’t even cross my mind when I’m running. Every day that I complete, the whole thing becomes a little more important to me. And now I only have 24 days left and in three days time a new country will keep me interested. How exciting! As you can tell, I am so much more positive now. I feel more in ‘control’ of my knees and am just getting through one day at a time. Time is passing a little quicker.
So, this morning, I had a peak at Gilberts profile for todays stage. It was hilly for the first 35km, we would then drop down from the Massif Central and would be on the flats for the final 15km.
We were straight into a 9km climb today, and we were in some chilly fog. I soon climbed out of the fog and instantly felt warmer. I Felt ok but a little weary, so didn’t push too hard. It seems to take an age to warm up the muscles lately. No need to push them too early and risk injury. After just over an hour I went over the top and was now in almost complete daylight. The views all around were as stunning as I am now getting used to in France. I can’t wait to get in the Pyrenees! I now descended for a little while and was surrounded by the usual bunch, Ria, Frederec and Gilbert. My knee wasn’t too bad and was letting me descend at a not too pathetic a pace. Fred still went ahead with apparent ease though.
At the bottom of the descent there was a turning to the right that led up which we were diverted up. Fred informed me that this was the point that we left the Trans-Gaul route. The road was instantly deadly quiet. The surroundings changed a little and reminded me of the landscape of a greener Gran-Canaria. The road we followed wound a confusingly twisty trail through the hills. The trees looked completely wild and unmanaged. Ancient. This was special. I wasn’t feeling too bad at all and was really beginning to enjoy the day. After passing a remote church and the next cp, we began a nice climb that took us out of the gorges and soon I was coming to what looked like the top. Sure enough the most beautiful view opened up before me. Ahead far below were a layer of clouds that were completely covering the flat lowlands below. The was a small piece of land in the distance maybe 20kms away that was a little higher and so was poking through the clouds with wind turbines on. It was a special. I took a few photos that will never do it justice and began the long descent to the next cp.
Ria, Fred and I ran down here together. Fred is a bit of a forager and knows his plants and was pointing stuff out on the way. After a quick stop at the next cp, leaving with one handful of nuts and the other full of chocolate raisins (my staple now) we were presented with a small canyon to our left. We looped around the top end so that we were on the other side and were heading towards the medieval village of Minerve. Fred and I looped around and headed up and away from it. Then we were on the final descent off of the Massif Central. Ahead and below of us were the vineyards of Corbieres on the flat land. It was hot and sunny now.
The last 15km was good as I was expecting some complaints from the knees but they were alright. Three of us finished together in under six hours. This has to have been one of the most fun and beautiful days yet of my Trans-Europe experience. As I was finished early Lou and I went into town and bought a coffee and sat in the sun drinking it. So nice and relaxing. Tomorrow we have a 66km stage. No bother!
Day 41 – Lezignan-Corbieres to Estagel 66.1km
I must admit that my perception of what I classify as a long stage has dropped a little. A few weeks ago Anything over 72km would probably have got dumped in the ‘long’ bucket, but this morning before the start, I was definitely viewing the 66.1km that lay ahead as ‘long’. It didn’t matter though. My right hip was a bit inflamed and was sore when I pulled my leg forward. Uphills were especially aggravating. That’s fine, I’ll just buckle down and get through the day and rest. I knew that the next day was shorter. Today was also a little flatter than what I’ve got used to lately so it would hopefully be ok.
From the off my hip was a little sore so I paid extra attention to a small stride. The knees were also their now ‘normal’ sore and I am gaining some sort of confidence that I am learning how they are reacting to the daily grind. We were straight away on some flat road which made a nice change. The day was pleasantly overcast but still quite warm. The scenery was beginning to look quite Spanish now. Very dry and not so green. There were vineyards everywhere and often the smell of decomposing grapes. I found myself surrounded by the usual bunch and was running with Christian.
To be honest, today was quite a grind. My knees weren’t too bad and my hip wasn’t too bad once I’d warmed it up, but I just felt exhausted. I hadn’t slept great for a few days and have run an ultra every day for the last 40 days so was feeling a bit worn out. But the route was pretty good, and as I said things were looking and feeling a bit Spanish which was very exciting. There was a bit of a climb that went on for a few km about 15km from the end which gave our first view of the Pyrenees once we had topped it. They looked incredible far away on the horizon. We will be making our way over them soon!
From here the road was mostly down to the finish town. I was now running with Ria and Christian was 100m ahead. Ria and I were chatting about Spartathlon which was currently on. Then with about 2km to go we crossed a railway line. Ria tripped and stumbled, then crashed heavily to the floor. She got up a little shaken, with more grazes to her knees. I stayed with her to the end.
Dinner was a short walk to a restaurant in town. We had a nice meal! We also got serenaded by a group of the Japanese as they stood and sang some Japanese songs to us all as we ate. It was amazing! They are such a bunch of ace characters.
Day 42 – Estagel to Arles-sur-Tech 54.3km
JB had written on the notice board that always gets placed centrally in the hall or whatever it is we’re sleeping in the weather forecast for the following two days. This consisted of a picture of a dark cloud for today and a bright sun with 30 degrees for Sunday.
The dirty gym that was our home last night was a bit cooler which is good for me because it means that I would possibly get some better sleep. I don’t like it when it gets warm. On waking from a decent sleep, We all looked up as we thought we heard rain hammering on the tin roof. Doesn’t matter as we don’t get going for nearly two hours.
According to Gilberts daily route profile, the day was lumpy, but nothing to spectacular. It was also only 54km so will probably be a bit quicker and more importantly, I will be finishing around 1300. Lots of rest!
I started off keen to see the mountains. We were straight into a decent length climb, but it wasn’t at all steep. Once over the top the land opened up before us. There were high mountains top the left and to the right. The ones on the right were piercing the cloud base. The ones on the left were currently visible, but had very angry looking cloud hanging over them. As I made my way along the flat land towards the lower mountains between the two higher sets, I watched the weather above the left set build. Eventually there was heavy rain falling over them and then some terrific bolts of lightning. I could clearly see the edge of the storm ahead. Would our paths cross? As I progressed up the road it looked as though the storm was getting closer. Just as I was entering a town, I felt a few drops. I straight away put my jacket on as this was probably no shower. Five minutes later, I was at a cp and it was raining heavily. I grabbed some peanuts and was off.
There was now a climb for around 8km which was beautiful as it was lined with knarled old olive trees all the way up. It rained heavily all the way up. I was drenched, but warm. The road was alive with rivulets of water. I was quite enjoying myself. My only concern was getting blisters. Once over the top as always follows the long ascent, the long descent. I managed a reasonable pace down here. The rain faded a little but then I headed back into the cloud and just before reaching the town at the bottom of the hill, it became torrential again. The last 10km was along the valley floor along a rather busy road. I went quite quick along here as I wanted to finish and was feeling relatively ok. I finished with a rather spritely Makota. Another good day! My nipples had chaffed in the super wet conditions and had left me with red streaks down my white t-shirt. Lovely!
We are in a very nice gym tonight and we have wifi! Luxury. Tomorrow we will be sleeping in Spain. Everyone is a little unsure of what will be our new Spanish diet. We cross the border at 34km at the top of the Col de Ares at our highest altitude yet, 1510m. The last country! Only three weeks left.
Tomorrow is a 65.1km stage which I know will be challenging, but I am very much getting into the swing of this thing now. It will be a hard day, but they all are. Overall it will be quite a monumental day for me. My ankle, that I thought would almost definitely end my experience prematurely has seemingly improved and certainly not really been any issue. Just incredible. Trans-Europe, the perfect rehabilitation for a sprained ankle!
Next post from Spain.
Day 43 – Arles-sur-Tech to St. Joan-de-les-Abadesses 65.1km
As already mentioned, today seems to have built up to be an important milestone for me. Three weeks remaining, entering Spain and leaving France. I’ve never been to Spain, so this made it doubly exciting.
I felt like I had slept ok, but the morning was the normal creaky, stiff start. After an hour or so of sorting through my stuff things start to loosen up a bit and the idea of running up a mountain actually seems slightly possible. We started in a quite mild morning. I was wearing my windproof as my rucksack was completely drenched from yesterday still and I’d forgot to try and dry it. After around 4kms I was roasting, so stripped off the jacket and put it in my bag. The first 34km of todays stage were uphill. To the border at the col de Ares at 1510m. The first 10km were a steady pace as I waited for my body to warm up. At the 10km cp I grabbed a banana that I had put in the drop basket and ran up the road eating it. The weather was perfect for running, being a little overcast and not too warm.
At around 17km I put a little more effort in and started to enjoy the mountain. I ran all the way to the 2nd cp where I grabbed a handful of nuts and chocolate raisins and left quickly. There were 14km still to the top, and now it got steeper. I passed a few people who I know would pass me on the long descent. Good to get a bit of a headstart! My knees are quite painful but they don’t seem to be having any episodes like before. They really dictate my speed downhill though.
The road was thickly lined with trees, so there wasn’t too much of a view. Occasionally I would get a view of some snow-capped peaks far above. I eventually made it to the first col and the trees now thinned a bit to give me some magnificent views across the range. I looked ahead and could make out the road zig-zagging up the mountain and the disappearing over the col in the distance. There was still 4km left! I was really loving this climb, but was getting very excited to be so close to the border. At the top I took a few snaps of the amazing views before beginning my first ever Spanish descent. It was long but not too steep. Sure enough though, some of the guys came past me after an hour or so.
I was feeling a bit weary again, and was looking forward to crossing the finish line. The last 15km were relatively flat along a fairly busy road. It was a bit of a drag, but I was ok. The mountains around gave me plenty to look at. I now realise that my French is pretty awful, but my Spanish is pretty much non-existent. Well I have three weeks to pick up the basics I suppose.
Soon enough I crossed the line and was told the fantastic news from Lou that she had booked us into a hotel as the hall for the evening was very small. Woohoo! Dinner was stereotypically a paella dish with rioja! Hopefully we won’t get that for the next three weeks.
Day 44 – St-Joan-de-les-Abadesses to Berga 55.6km
Lou and I awoke at 0500 this morning cosy in the hotel. It was bliss to wake up not surrounded by everyone else. It’s a little weird now that Lou and I have the double mattress with the quilt as it’s a little like being in bed at home, only surrounded by around 60 foreigners.
I had breakfast in bed and then we packed up before walking down to the start area for the day. It was a little fresh out so I wore my thermal over the top. Here we go again. I hadn’t seen the profile for the day so had no idea what to expect. It would obviously be hilly again.
We began on around 15km of flat road which made everyone go very fast. I put my head down and got on with it. Motivation would be a problem today. It didn’t take long for me to be wishing the day over. There was a 74.4km stage to look forward to tomorrow too. I pushed that thought to the back of my mind.
We passed through a fair sized town called Ripoll, which was just coming to life. We then turned right down a much quieter road and I began to warm a little to the idea of running again. The road now turned up and we went straight into some thick cloud which was quite fresh. I kept my thermal on and pulled the sleeves down to keep my hands warm. The road really was now very lumpy. Plenty of short ups and downs. I was really finding today a grind. Lacking in energy and motivation. I kept telling myself that it was a short day.
I was running near Ria and Eiolf who had a sore hamstring. He was listening to the Monkees on his headphones and kept singing single lines from songs. I like Eiolf, he’s a really nice chap with a funny sense of humour. Together we battled it out on the rolling roads of Catulyna. We hit the last cp and moved straight on. All three of us eager to finish. After crossing a large reservoir with a dam, the road went up. I accelerated a little and ran alone for a while. The top came around 30 minutes later, and when I got over the top I could see the large town of Berga below us. The cloud had cleared in the last 10km and visibility was very good now. Eiolf caught me up and we ran the last few km down into the town and to the sports hall together.
The hall is large and clean. I will be sleeping soon as I need rest with tomorrows stage looming. We are waking 15 minutes later tomorrow at 0445 due to the fading light so a mini sleep in. Woohoo!
Next stop Guissona!
Day 45 – Berga to Guissona 74.4km
As you can probably imagine, the 15 mins extra in bed was well appreciated, but didn’t help much on the recovery front. Lou had given me a good massage the night before and my right leg, where all the troubles seem to be, felt a little looser. We had a most odd breakfast of two bits of sugary bread, a piece of chocolate bread, Pineapple juice and half a bar of chocolate! They could put anything in front of us, and we haven’t got a choice, we have to eat.
We started off walking up the steep street in town. Once out of the city we were off. Today was supposed to be quite hilly again, and being long, I was looking forward to the end. We have a few big days over the next week and everyone will be happy when we get through it. The roads started off being quite good. Not too big, quiet and with good scenery. The sun was out but it was still cool.
After around 30km though we turned onto a larger road. It wasn’t too busy, but it was straight and boring. You would get to the top of a hill and then see that there is a massive hill ahead. I prefer the twisty roads that keep you guessing. I had found a bit of a rhythm but not much. This was a laborious day. The kms were passing sure enough though and soon I was at the penultimate cp with 17km to go. Next was a 12km downhill off the plateau that we had apparently been on. I went at a reasonable speed as I wasn’t enjoying the down to much and wanted it to end.
Eiolf joined me and together we slugged it out till we crossed the line together again. I was exhausted (still am!) but very happy with the day. A hard but good day in the office. Tomorrow is 66km and supposedly a fairly flat stage.
Time to sleep. Night night.
Day 46 – Guissona to La Bordeta 67.4km
I actually slept quite well last night. The long walk to the restaurant was rewarded with a massive plate of tasty pasta as the starter, followed by a main of a few lumps of fatty meat with chips! It was great. A few of us weren’t going to wait around for dessert and as we were leaving, the waiter gave us our dessert to take with us! It was ice-cream in wafers that was perfect for the long walk back. I woke feeling pretty battered as is normal now. After our typical Spanish breakfast of a sweet croissant and a Danish (?) pastry, I was starting to feel a little more alive. I hadn’t seen The profile for the day, but had heard that it was basically a flat day that dropped downhill a little over the whole day. I can’t remember the last time that we had a flat day. My hip flexors have been getting a bit strained lately with the uphills, so maybe they will get a bit of a break? My knees of course will also be happy to not be doing so many long downs. The day started off at a fair clip. I was expecting this. Things are getting more and more competitive as time moves on. We all have fairly well established positions now and we are all aware of who is near in the overall time. I make calculations of the guys who are behind to see what’s the minimum they would need to beat me by daily to catch me up. I then keep an eye on this on the road and try to prevent them getting to far ahead. I can’t believe that I am now getting competitive in the seventh week of this race. My main aim is completion now, which I actually believe is possible. I just can’t help myself though, and nor can anyone else. The competition is in our blood. You can’t just switch it off. So, the day started off fairly quickly but as the sun rose, I sped up. I had the company of my Japanese friend Yoshataka for the first 15km. He had to slow then as his shin was sore. It was just me now for the rest of the day. It was warm and the road was large and busy, but my pace was quite solid throughout. As the road was long and straight I could always see a few runners up ahead and behind. I was quick at the cp’s too today. No messing around. I then thankfully got directed off the main road and down a small quiet farm road. After a while, a car pulled up and the driver started chatting and asking questions about the race as I ran. He then got out and took a picture. I shook his hand and said goodbye. 500m later I entered a small village and there parked up with his boot open was the same chap. He had a running shirt in his hand and wanted to do a shirt swap. Why not I thought. I apologised about the state of his new sweat sodden shirt as I peeled it off my back and placed my brand new shirt on. He ripped the labels off and then we did another photo. I thanked him and dashed off. A nice little break and a nice chap! There was now around 10km left. The trails got a little rougher and I was starting to enjoy it a bit when it then stopped and I was back on the tarmac. It was warm now but I wasn’t too bothered. Maybe I’ve actually acclimatised to the heat a little! I finished happy with my time. I have had a little sleep and have had dinner which was a starter of pasta salad followed by a main of a very large sausage with crisps! Strange Spanish food. Tomorrow is the big day. 83km. The final stage in the 80’s. The day after is a measly 44km so it doesn’t matter what state tomorrow puts me in. I will keep on plodding. Gibraltar here I come!
Day 47 – La Bordeta to Caspe 83.0km
Day 47 – La Bordeta to Caspe 83.0km The long one! I hadn’t slept great with some weird dreams but the show must go on. I got up and got a coffee and got back into bed for five minutes. It feels so much better when you get back in. Finally I dragged myself up. I was expecting to take around 10-11 hours. The route was half flat then half hilly. We started and were off, working our way through the town. This took a while today as it was a big town. Eventually we were out on the road again. We were again on a busy main road. Damn! There was some heavy cloud cover again which got thicker and thicker, until I had around 60 metres visibility. I was happy with this as it meant no sun. excellent! Slowly but surely though, the cloud lifted to show the hills surrounding me and the blazing sun. I passed over a bridge then a second bridge and started the second half. The hilly half. I was instantly dripping with sweat as I slowly worked my way up the first large hill. The hills kept on coming and it kept warming up. Not quite up to Spartathlon standards this year, but enough to affect this ginger. Most of my day was spent alone. I was focusing on the next cp and nothing else. I was drinking plenty and eating much. By the final cp I was pretty exhausted, but with only 7km left to push, I put in a little spurt. I needed to get to the end. Soon the finish town came into view and I saw that there would definitely be some uphill involved as the town seemed to be perched on a cliff. Last push I told myself. A few kms later, I was thankfully done. I had completed the 83km in 9:33 which is not too shabby considering how it felt. When I got in the shower, I felt a bit faint and had to sit. I have drunk and ate plenty and feel fine now. Well, as fine as you’re going to feel after 47 days of this madness! Tomorrow is a piddly 44km and we are starting at 7 instead so a massive sleep in! The four following days are pretty big though. Once these are done then I’m in the home straight! Incredibly tired…
Day 48 – Caspe to Calanda 44.4km
I am still amazed how the body recovers after you continually beat it. I didn’t feel to great after yesterdays exertions, but after a good laydown in the afternoon, a belly full of paella and chips and a good nights sleep, I was ready to go again. Todays incentive was a nice early finish and plenty more rest. It was a mild morning and looked clear so I was waiting for the blazing sun again. For now though it was perfect conditions for me.
We left the town of Caspe and rejoined the same large road that we trod the day before. Not great, but it doesn’t matter as it’s a short day. Nothing matters because it’s a short day. I knew today was going to be quick, so I was happy that I wasn’t labouring too much to keep a reasonable pace.
This morning there was some more cloud around which I absolutely loved as it kept the temperature low. I ran the whole day with Fred today. He didn’t try to attack today and was happy to run with me and chat. I teach him some English and he teaches me some French.
Soon the clouds are gone though and the sky is a pristine blue. The temperature rises. Nothing matters today. There were some hills to make the route a little more interesting and we passed through a town called Alcaniz. Soon I was watching my GPS to see what my marathon time would be. It was my fastest yet at 4:38. Only two km left too!
We cruised into Calanda and found the finish line just before midday. Our time was 4:53 I think which I was very happy about. I felt ok too. It’s amazing what difference a day being shorter by 40km makes! We have just eaten a very good meal followed by an incredible large and super tasty peach. Lou and I went for a walk around town earlier which was very nice. Tomorrow is 60.5km and is supposed to be a hilly one again. We reach 1200m in altitude I’ve heard.
16 days! That is all that is left. It is still over two weeks, but all I need to do is look at the map with the route on it to see what I have already covered.
Day 49 – Calanda to Escucha 60.5km
I have seen today as a ‘filler’ day for some reason. Maybe because of the short day yesterday and the three long days that commence tomorrow. Whatever the reason, when I awoke this morning feeling very tired, the day certainly no longer seemed such a ‘filler’. Over the last week or two I seem to be getting more and more tired. My knees seem lots better than they were but still manage to keep me awake some times.
It was very mild this morning and there was a star-studded sky above. Another hot day ahead I guessed. The day is only 16km longer than yesterday so should be no problem. The daily split of who goes in the fast group the next day meant that the faster group was a lot larger today, which meant that my slower group didn’t have to many people to push the pace. This made the day instantly more relaxed as there was less racing off for the first 20km. The stage was mostly going upwards today with a few little downs on the way.
Fred and I were together again and neither of us seemed to be wanting to really push things which was nice. We were still going at a decent pace but it was more fun than slogging my guts out. We stopped to look behind us to see the sky turning an incredibly perfect pink and then red as the sun was rising. Fred loves the heat and the desert. I see the beauty of the desert, but much prefer the greenery. And the heat!? Well, I don’t think I need to give you my thoughts on that!
As time passed the temperature kept rising. The climbing was usually gentle, but relentless none-the-less. We saw a few dead vipers at the side of the road, but no live ones. I was happy when we finally turned off the N211 road which we have been following for the last few days. It’s not like the A2402 is much different, but it just feels different.
Then the town of Escucha came into view. It looked pretty small. Fred and I finished together again in a comfortable state. Our time was nothing special, but it is better than I thought I would have been capable of at tis stage of the race if you had asked me three months ago.
So now to get on with the three big days. They will be hard work but I’m not bothered really. I’ve just eaten quite a big meal and will have another big one in a couple hours as I have been very hungry over the last few days. I have weighed myself today and there is no change. I would love to know my body fat measurement though.
Day 50 – Escucha to Teruel 69.6km
I actually felt like I had slept pretty well last night. It still took a while for me to feel awake though! Today was the first of three longer days. Today being 69.6km and the other two being over 70km. It was mild so there was no need for a thermal. It already seems ludicrous that it was really quite chilly first thing in the morning! I just expect it to be very hot by midday. It’s just a question of how long it will take to reach very hot. I’m very glad that this was organised to pass through Spain this late in the year. Today’s profile begins with a 7km climb followed by a gentle descent for the remainder of the day with the exception of another smaller climb before 20km. Not exactly my ideal day, but it will be quick which equals more rest. The climb was run in complete darkness. I was just warming to it by the time I went over the top. Fred came rolling by effortlessly on the descent. I didn’t expect to have his company today as we are opposites. He loves downs and is strong in the heat. I had the standard beautiful desert land, beautiful sunrise. There were some thin whisps of cloud floating around though so maybe I will get a slight break from the heat? It took me a while to find my pace for the day, but soon I was there. The scenery was a little greener today and the roads were very quiet as it is Sunday, and nothing happens in Spain (or France and Germany) on Sundays. Our destination town, Teruel, had been on signpost for the past two or maybe three days now, so I knew it would be a decent size. As I descended I saw to my right the awesome view of the town of Alfambra. It looked beautiful, and from a distance I could imagine that this is what it would have looked like to travellers hundreds of years ago. The valley floor around it was very green due to the extensive irrigation. I was happy when I realised that the road swung around and took me towards this town. The sun was out but it wasn’t blazing yet. I counted down the kms, one by one. When I got to the penultimate cp which was off the road and under a bridge, I noticed that Wolfgang, who was a few hundred metres up the road had bypassed it. Had he missed it, or had he purposely ran on to save time? I went down and got some more water and apple juice. It was certainly getting warmer now. Only 16km to push and one more cp still. I made sure I drank plenty as I didn’t want to be playing catch up later. I now was thankfully being directed off the N420 towards the town. I saw ahead that Wolfgang had continued on the road. I shouted and whistled to get his attention. He just about heard me and decided to try and cut through the undergrowth rather than backtrack. Hopefully he won’t disturb any snakes! Just before arriving at the final cp, Clo, Freds wife who rides the whole route with Fred on her bike rode back to me and said she was just checking for Wolfgang as he looked a bit spaced out earlier. He was fine, with only 6km left. I now had a little bit of trail to negotiate which I loved and it seemed to energise me a little. I was now in the town. It was surprisingly busy as there seemed to be a few events going on, but I just kept spotting the orange arrows and picked my way through. Then I was done. It felt really hot now. In the 30’s I hear. The gym is thankfully nice and cool and I have rested already. There are still some guys on the road. I don’t know how some of the slower guys do it. So much time on the road and so much less rest. Incredible! Dinner tonight is at a Chinese which is good. It’s not till 1930 though which is bad. Never mind. That is day 50 complete. Only 14 days left. In fact, this time in time weeks (barring incident) I will probably be drinking something alcoholic and falling asleep with a grin on my face.
Day 51 – Teruel to Canete 77.3km
This will be a short report as I feel a little ill. I’m not concerned as I just need to rest and be out of the sun for a bit.
Today was a big day. I ran the whole day with Fred which was nice. Even though our strengths are very different, we have a very even overall pace. The first 40km were following a river. The road wasn’t great for runners as there was no hard shoulder, but because of the river, the area was lush and green. Since I have been in Spain I have just wanted to lay on some plush green grass, and today I saw plenty of it, though I didn’t lay on it. There was much food to be foraged on this road, so Fred and I were stuffing our bellies with figs, walnuts and grapes.
Then after cp 4, we had a 10km climb. It was hot and exposed, and once we neared the top a strong headwind started up, which at first was nice, but then frustrating as it dried my mouth out. The final 25km was a tough grind as the temperature rose. But we both stuck together and motivated each other. Fred said we could beat 8:45 and we came in 15 seconds before that.
Overall a good day. Hard but consistent. Tomorrow will be more of the same. I’m not bothered really. I can hope that it’s a little cooler though. I just had to bring my main course back from the restaurant as I felt a bit sick. I will now try for a second time to eat it. I may need it tomorrow!
Day 52 – Canete to Motilla del Palancar 76.0km
The last day of this brick of long days. All I needed was to get a good nights sleep.
During the night I am slowly woken by what sounds like, to my foggy head, like a cat meowing in distress. I lay listening and decide that it is. It sounds like a kitten. I check the time and look at my watch. It’s just before eleven. The lights went out at their normal time of 9. Damn, that means that I acyually got to sleep reasonably quickly. A cat has somehow made its way into the gym and with the help of Tronds searchlight like torch, everyone who is awake can now see the poor thing on a ledge meowing its heart out. Robert has had enough and sets after it with his feeble torch and his plastic fly swatter. His first mistake is that he walks slowly. The cat is young, agile and scared so Robert is like a lumbering giant. Simply no competition. Finally Trond gets up and walks around after it shining his searchlight at it. The cat darts back and forth and finally leaps onto the floor and shoots out the hall towards the bathrooms. The entertainment is too much so Lou and I get up to help/laugh. It has shot into the womens showers. We go in but can’t see it anywhere. We are sure that it is still in there so we close the door and go to bed happy that we can sleep again.
Just before the lights go back on at 0430, the cat is back on its ledge meowing again. This doesn’t please me until I realise that rest time is over anyway. Back to work!
So, as I was saying, a good nights sleep is all I wanted. I didn’t get it. For breakfast I made sandwiches with the leftovers of the dinner from the night before. Time to go. Fred and I were straight away together again. We are really starting to enjoy each others company now on the road, and our paces are suitably matched so that if we stick together we know that we will get around in a decent speed.
The weather looks roughly the same every day now, though blissfully I needed my thermal this morning and my hands got a little chilly! I knew it wouldn’t last though as when the dawn came there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky, and one wouldn’t be seen all day. It got warmer and warmer again. It was a race to finish to minimise the amount of time you were running in the midday sun.
Todays route was undulating, with no real climbs or descents to speak off which was a pleasant surprise. We both took a while before we could find anything that remotely resembled rhythm. The scenery was distinctly greener today. More grass, more trees and some beautiful rock formations that all made me smile. There was less foraging to be done though which was a shame.
Fred seems to be a bit of a collector or I suspect a hoarder. He is always scanning the side of the road and finding allsorts of weird and wonderful things. Todays finds were an intact glass electrical pylon fitting that makes great candle holders (He carried this for a while before being able to offload to his wife) and a dogs skull which he removed the teeth and pocketed them, telling me they polish up very well. It all certainly makes the day go quicker.
As the temperature rose and the feet seemingly got heavier and heavier, the end thankfully got closer and closer. There was a 9km drag to the end from the last cp. We finished together in 8:29. A little quicker than yesterday. I felt better too! The short day tomorrow will be a fantastic time for recovery. Oh joy!
Time for bed soon. Let’s hope it will be meow free!
Day 53 – Motilla del Palancar to Tarazona de la Mancha 39.0km
We started a little later today and was still finished well before midday! That’s what every day should be like. Since I have finished I have showered and handwashed my clothes as normal and had a little lay down, before popping into town with Lou to look around the market and pop into a bar for some tapas. I am now sat up in bed typing this and it’s still only 1600! Just like a real holiday!
This morning I felt not too bad as I had a meow free night and had managed to sleep well. I was planning to run without my camelbak today as it was so short and just carry a little bottle. It’s so much nicer to run with nothing strapped to you.
The forecast was scorchio for a change, and the morning was already pretty mild. I will be very grateful to be finishing before it gets really hot. As expected, the start was pretty quick, but today I was determined to enjoy it so tried hard not to get into a pointless competition. I started off with Fred as usual and soon thought I recognised the cadence and scraping of feet behind. I turned to see that I was right, it was my friend Yoshataka. The three of us ran together for a while at a fairly comfortable pace before Fred injected some pace and went ahead. I was happy chugging along with my Japanese compadre. We passed through a town and there were a lot of people standing around or sat outside at bars, and I suppose it is the sight of Yoshataka with his traditional Japanese pointy hat (I must ask him what they are called?) running towards them that makes them stare. Everyone we passed we both would cheerfully acknowledge with a couple of poorly pronounced “hola”.
We were then at the final cp and just before we arrived there someone left. Yoshataka pointed at him and said “first Japanese”. I knew then that he wanted to beat him. There are many sub-competitions going on and one I was aware of was the daily fastest Japanese. Yoshataka had finished as the first Japanese before but I knew he wanted to win today so I went with him. Maybe I could help pace him in to win.
He really turned the pace up for the last 8km.I remind you, he’s 69! It was great fun and we overtook the other Japanese runner with a few km to go. Good old Yoshataka got first! Brilliant. He again seemed really grateful, even though I had done nothing and later came over and gave me a bunch of grapes . I like Yoshataka.
So, a nice easy day before getting on with the final 11 days. On Friday, the accommodation is apparently in a dirty garage so we have booked a hotel for a bit of luxury.
I will try to snooze a bit now before dinner though it’s pretty warm and the flies are particularly irritating here.
Day 54 – Tarazona de la Mancha to Lezuza 57.4km
Another relatively short day? Yes I suppose it is, but I’m not sure it really felt like it. Today was hard work. There is not a great deal to say about today, so I won’t. Fred and I were together again from the start. A lot of people are getting more and more weary, the further we get. Myself included! If you went back 4-5 weeks, there would have been a faster start with more people near the front. Today, Wolfgang and Gilbert went off the front quite fast. But after 20km of an average pace, there was no-one else close by.
The road was long and straight. Dull! There weren’t even hills! Today’s saving grace though was the fact that it was overcast all day and the sun didn’t show. After the 4th cp in the town of Barrax, we turned right and with this turn came the fierce headwind! The scenery was certainly a little more interesting, but this was a case of head down and push on.
We then turned left after 10km and the wind died down to a manageable strength. Now, if I could just find some energy! I felt very tired and was looking forward immensely to the end. With about 25km to go Fred and I guessed that we could beat 6:30 for the day. We finished at a shade over 6:29!
Tomorrow is a little shorter at 55.1km but I have a funny feeling that it will be a grind. There are only ten days remaining but they will all be hard. Never mind. It’ll be worth it I’m sure!
Day 55 – Lezuza to Villapalacios 55.1km
I am so happy that the mileage in Spain is not as high as in Germany. We are so close to finishing now but there are still over 500km left. Not exactly ‘just around the corner’! The problem is that my body seems to think it’s done. It always amazes me during a long single stage race how much you can keep pushing, but as soon as you cross the line and sit down, standing and trying to walk again seems incredibly difficult and painful. Maybe the same is happening here, just on a much larger scale?
After a really nice meal last night, my sleep was broken but ok. I woke feeling a little better than the day before. 55km was all that had to be done before I arrived at that finish town, and more importantly, the hotel that Lou had booked for the night! We were in a hotel as the accommodation was said to be a dirty garage that smelt of oil so we thought we would spoil ourselves for the final time before Gibraltar. We started under a star studded sky, but within 10 minutes the stars could no longer be seen due to a heavy cloud cover. Someone had mentioned rain the night before. The road was quiet and heading gently upwards. As it became light we could see many wind farms on the skyline and the oncoming sunrise was showing its beauty once again. I may not be too keen on hot places, but you do get incredible sunrises and sunsets most days.
I was once again with my French buddy, Fred and soon Ria joined us for a while, and we chatted our way along for a while. Ria dropped off the back and we pushed on. Today’s route had a few long straight bits, but overall was loads more interesting than the day befores bore fest!
As the French say, I had ‘good sensations’ in my legs today so things felt a little easier too. Just to be clear though, it was still hard. It will all be hard now. It was warm but the sun was still hidden so I was quite comfortable. Would we get rain? I sort of wished we would.
Onwards towards the finish. We crested a small hill and saw what had to be the finish village 5km away. We overtook a Japanese man on the final bit and crossed the line together. The Japanese man who I had never spoken to came to me a told me he was 67! The ages of people here never ceases to amaze me.
The hotel room is basic to say the least, but it is clean and fly free (almost). Complete luxury!
Tomorrow is 65.6km which looks to be all on the same road. Dull. The next day though is 48.7km so that will keep me going. We are now into single figures for the days remaining which is quite extraordinary to me.
Day 56 – Villapalacios to Villanueva del Arzobispo 65.6km
The beds in the hotel were the same as the beds I slept on in the army. Terrible. Just a metal frame with noisy springs across the top with a foam mattress on top. You just sink in the middle. Blimey, straight into a whinge! Excuse me. I thought I had slept badly, but Lou informed me that I was making definite sleeping noises for most of the night. Excellent!
We awoke just before breakfast which was thankfully downstairs in the ‘restaurant’ in the hotel. Dinner the night before was a celebration of deep-fried food. Perfect trans-continental fuel. Breakfast was the usual fare of bread and jam with espresso coffee. They even toasted the bread. I really miss a good piece of toast. It was then off to the start for the day.
Fred and I started off at our normal sort of pace. Some of the faster guys in the group were ahead, but not as much as usual. People are tiring and most people have numerous issues that they have to manage daily. Eiolf was having to go a little slower as his hamstring was very painful. Christian Fatton has so many issues I forget most of them. He is incredibly strong-willed to still be pushing so hard at this late stage. Poor Ria is still off key. I hope she starts enjoying it again before the end. I looked behind after around 10km and saw someone I didn’t recognise. Fred looked and said it was the Japanese runner thomihiko (Spelling?). We never see him, so guessed he was making a big brave attack to be first Japanese for the day. I love this competition they have. They really seem to put so much into it even though they laugh after. He was travelling very fast and was gaining on us quickly. He then shot past us and disappeared up the road at a similar speed to Henry. Incredible! We guessed we would see him again before the end.
We had lovely overcast weather for most of the day again with the sun popping out a little later on. The terrain was hilly and visibility was excellent. We have been passing through olive country and it is quite extraordinary just how completely they have carpeted the entire scenery, no matter how steep the terrain with olive trees. As far as the eye can see!
The route was rolling for the first 50km then we had a 4km climb that took us to the final cp. As we left, Christian was just approaching. We continued and as usual, we accelerated a little smelling the finish line. With 4km remaining, we caught Thomihiko. We decided that we would run with him to the end. He was pretty broken though from his big effort and we dropped him. With just 800m left, Fred turned to look behind and suddenly accelerated saying Christian was close! I couldn’t believe it. He must have really chased hard to try and catch us. We were sprinting!
My god it must have looked ridiculous. We were ‘sprinting’ up a steep hill to the gym and the finish line. Christian was also going hard behind but wasn’t going to catch us now. We crossed the line about a minute (?) ahead of Christian in 7:10. I think we’re getting faster! It’s damn hard work but good fun.
Tomorrow is a mere 48.7km so should be done nice and early. We will be in a big town which is good, but it’s Sunday so being Spain, nothing will be open.
We have now been running for 8 weeks. We have just 8 days left and people are talking about Gibraltar all the time. I am tired and exhausted but very excited that this dream may soon be complete. There is also a piece of me that that doesn’t want this to end. Fred and I joke that we will catch a ferry to Africa and run to Cape Town.
Day 57 – Villaneuva del Arzobispo to Baeza 48.7km
Today was pretty short and thankfully wasn’t just a lot of suffering like some days have been. My knee warmed up a little but always hurt as usual. It still slows me down on the downhills. Not long left before I can rest it properly.
Fred and I had been asked last night whether we wanted to start in the fast group this morning. We both decided no. You spend less time in the sun and you finish earlier in the day. We ran together again in the first cool morning for a long time. I actually had to dig out my thermal again! It was very cloudy, but started to clear with the sunrise. Yoshetaka was running again today and was just behind. We were a trio. Fred and I could communicate adequately in English, but frustratingly Yoshi only has a little English so there is no real conversation. I would love to be able to sit down and chat with him.
I was feeling pretty average as we made our way along the fairly busy main road that was quite hilly today. We were again completely surrounded by miles and miles of olive trees. The sun slowly began to penetrate the clouds until we finally had blue skies. There wasn’t too far to push by this stage so I wasn’t concerned by it. Yoshi was currently second Japanese for the day, but after we had a speedy final cp, he was in first. I seem to be getting caught up in these Japanese races more frequently! It’s good fun though and I like seeing Yoshi looking so chuffed when he wins.
The final few kms were uphill, but we were in overdrive now. It didn’t matter as we were nearly done. We entered the crown and soon spotted the Hertz hire truck that marks the finish. 5:28 was our finish time. All three together. Yoshi was of course overjoyed. I now have a long afternoon to rest before we start the final Monday of this race. Yes, we have only 7 days remaining. This time next week I will be done (barring incident).
Day 58 – Baeza to Jaen 50.6km
I slept well last night! I did wake to hear some strong wind blowing outside though. It was also chilly in the hall. We had bread and jam breakfast in the hall again and there was still a nip in the air. A definite thermal top start! I even dug my thin gloves out. I was sure I would be overheating soon enough.
Just before the off, Fred said that we started with a large descent. I looked around quickly to locate Gerald. I saw him straight away and made my way over asking if I could check his profile card. Sure enough there was around 1 or 2 km in town, then we dropped with reasonable speed for around 10km. After that is was undulating. I guessed that I wouldn’t be running with Fred today as he would drop down the hill lots faster than me. I was proved right as soon as the road pointed down, he flew by on a mission. It would be nice to run alone again.
The descent was on a large, very busy road and although my pace wasn’t too bad, I was not enjoying it. I remembered that we did turn off of this road at some point, but I had no idea at what distance. I will just have to be patient. As I made my way down the hill I could see light pollution from two towns in the far distance. I guessed the larger of the two was Jaen, our destination for the day.
The dull, fast road continued for 20km before I was mercifully directed off to the second cp. The road now was very quiet, narrow and cut right through the olive trees. I was happier now. It was undulating again and this also was good for me. Things were about to get better though!
I now got directed left onto a rough road that was not tarmacked in places and this was great. The sun was out but it wasn’t ridiculously hot so for me was pleasant. Less than 20km to push. This really went quite quickly. The city was in view and looked pretty big. Should be a good gym! The city was located at the base of some mountains and between me and it was a bit of a dip, so I had to descend for a while, before the finishing climb. Once in the city, as is typical, I was directed up to the top of town. Up and up I went until I spotted the finish on a university campus.
We were initially told we couldn’t have the gym until 10pm which would have been a nightmare, but it finally got sorted out and I was setting up camp soon enough.
Tomorrow is 10km more at 60km and the next day is 10km more again at 71.3km. They will both be hard, but nothing really matters anymore other than forward motion. Six day to go! No more Mondays!
Day 59 – Jaen to Albendin 60.0km
I had hopes that today would be the end of the seemingly endless fields of olive trees. I love olives, but I need a new view. I would prefer to be seeing wild unfarmed mountainsides, than the ordered lines of trees that are everywhere. Lou read that Spain is the biggest producer of olives in the world, and that Andalucia, the region we’re in now, is the olive capital of Spain. Dodgy facts!
The day was a little cool again, as we began to weave our way out of the city. This took a good half an hour and as we left, we were directed onto a cycle path the headed very steeply upwards. The path was the best cycle path I have been on as it snaked its way higher and higher up the mountain side. The city was situated at the base of the mountains and the higher we climbed, the more small towns we saw nestled in the folds of the mountains. The sun was coming up over the mountains and was beautiful.
As we climbed higher, it cooled down a bit and when we passed over the pass my hands were quite chilly. Fred and I were together again. We both felt quite exhausted so today was not going to be breaking any records. This was the first time I was happy to see the sun shining. My hands slowly thawed out and I felt good. We passed through a small town and then it was back into the olive trees for the final 45kms. The going was pretty tough today, but we kept running and the kms slowly rolled by.
The temperature kept rising, but I didn’t care too much. Maybe I have acclimatised a bit? Even Fred complained it was too hot. Then there was only 10km remaining and naturally the speed went up, but after a few kms it dropped a little. “I’m kaput” said Fred. I agreed. We just need to keep the forward momentum going for another hour.
We didn’t see the small town till the very last minute as we turned a corner. It wasn’t the easiest of days but it is another day complete. That means that there are no more Tuesdays to run, and ONLY 5 DAYS LEFT. Not that I’m excited or anything. Tomorrow is the last longish day at 71kms. I don’t care. I am currently a robot and just wake up and run until I cross the line. The distance matters not. Well not too much…
DAY 60 – Albendin to Puente Genil 71.3km
The last 70 km day. From here it is all downhill to the Med! Yesterday was a bit of a slog, and I was expecting today to be following a similar theme. It’s tough out on the road, but 6-8hrs is a short time to have to keep placing one foot in front of the other before showering and laying down and having one less day remaining. It’s a simple process that roles on regardless. All you have to do is hold on for dear life and just hope that nothing breaks and can’t be fixed.
Looking at the roadbook for todays route I saw that there were many road changes. A sign that the route could be a little interesting. Maybe I will start to see the back of the olives. The day started with a rather large climb. A bit of a surprise, but not a bad one. I think a big climb is a good way to start a day. I soon joined up with Fred and discovered that his shoulder was giving him a lot of grief. Fred is a tough cookie but every now and then he would walk and try to stretch it out. It looked like he was in a fair amount of pain.
It was initially quite chilly as the surrounding mountains were shading us from the sun, but when it finally hit, it was hot. There was a nice breeze though which kept me in a happy state. As the day progressed I didn’t feel any real good patches as I do most days. I was lacking my friend motivation! The day turned into a mental battle to the end. Usually I’m happy to have a long way to run through the finish town as it’s a change of scenery but not today. The last 10km saw now injection to pace as we both shuffled our way along. In hindsight, the town looked quite interesting, but today was just a drag, just waiting for the finish line to appear.
But it of course appeared, and we of course crossed it, which means the very satisfying facts that we no longer have any more Wednesdays to run, we only have 4 days left and I am one day closer to shaving my beard off (mostly).
As I was laying on my bed earlier, Louise came and introduced to an English chap who has lived here for a while since retiring. He heard about the race and was intrigued, so had to pop down to see it. It was really nice to chat with someone British with no language barrier. We chatted for a while before he left. He said that he may pop out tomorrow to see us on the course which would be very nice.
Tomorrow is 54km so should be finished pretty early if I can be bothered. Ciao.
Day 62 – Campillos to Ronda 63.7km
Last night was entertaining. We were only allowed half of the gym as there were kids in there playing football with the partition curtain down. This was only till around 8ish and although very noisy, was ok. We attracted the usual gathering of children who were fascinated with the travelling carnival. Todays bunch were a bit cheekier than the usual inquisitive innocence. Our bed was a long way away from the door though so they were no bother to me. After this there were the aerobics sessions that were going on till 10. These were in a separate room, but the music was very loud and bassy. This was some pretty mad dance music. It was a strange sight as when you looked around our half of the hall, everyone was carrying on as usual, eating, sorting kit out or sleeping, yet there was this music that was loud enough to fool you into thinking you were in a club. A little odder when our lights went out at the usual 9 and everyone was in bed and the music was still thumping away for another hour! Needless to say that sleep was a little on the lacking side.
It doesn’t matter that rest was lacking as there was only three days to push now. The forecast was for rain and we had some through the night, but the temperature was still good. Mission – the finish line at any speed. Fred and I were together. Our pace was slow but I was happy with this. I assumed that today was a flat day on the plains, but Fred informed me that we had our last decent climb of the whole race today. It would prove to be over 10km!
Today was not quite as buoyant as yesterday, but as we begun the climb, Fred put his music in his ears and the speed shot up! I sped up and held on for dear life. After about 30 mins, the music came out and the hill got steeper near the top. I prefer the steeper stuff, so went ahead. I was tired but felt like I should enjoy the last big hill. Once over the top, we had less than 20km to go and we both admitted how kaput we were. Freds shoulder was still hurting him a lot, and my feet and knees were their usual painful mess, but we reignited the lorry horn game again as it really helps pass the painful times.
Once into the city, we followed the arrows faultlessly, looking, to the pedestrians as though we knew our way around. We had a couple of kms running in the city before we were in the ugly, industrial area where our gym is. I had heard that this was a pretty city, but we have been unfortunate with our location. It was a tough day today, but not a bad day. The excitement of Gib looming on the horizon (not literally yet!) is pulling me along. I am very happy .
So, just two short days left, and the last day doesn’t count. The one race I was convinced that I would DNF on, is almost over and I should be getting my finisher t-shirt! I am even more surprised that I have managed to write my blog every night. Not bad seeing as a race blog usually takes up to a month!
Day 63 – Ronda to San Pablo de Buceite 53.4km
If our evening meal is at a restaurant then Ingo will mark the floor with chalk arrows accompanied with the word ‘eat’ and we will follow them there. Last night, the arrows took us over a wall and through a fence and finally to a supermarket café. Oh the luxury. I have adjusted to eating poor food quite well. I don’t want it but I know I have to have a full tank so just get on with it.
We couldn’t use the gym last night until 11pm as it was being used, so we had the use of two very small rooms. It was a very tight squeeze to get us all in and of course by 11, the lights were out and most people were snoring. At 1130, lou whispered “shall we move into the gym”, I woke my brain up then said yes. We crept out into the large empty hall, and found a nice dark spot. I slept very well.
When we started in the morning it was a bit fresh and once we had passed through the pretty looking town, we were heading uphill. I thought that today was going to be a fairly flat day but after a quick look at Gilberts profile I saw that this was not the case. As the day got lighter I soon saw that the surrounding scenery was really beautiful. Wild, green and dramatic. We kept climbing higher and higher. I was very happy and excited that I was running the penultimate day in the mountains.
As I came around the top the views became more and more impressive. The downhill was just as long and exciting. I was a little less cautious about my knees and just let go a bit. I no longer had to save myself. The road now begun to snake its way through the mountains, passing some pretty white villages perched in some incredible locations. Would we see Gibraltar today?
There were many viewpoints along the way that I stopped at. One of them was a few hundred metres up some steps. When I got up there I looked South to see if I could see the rock. There was a jagged rock, looking like a broken tooth far away. I looked down at the tourist map plaque and sure enough it was marked as Gibraltar!
I ran up the road and found Fred and told him. We sat on the wall there for a while. Ria caught us up and we took pictures. Then Fabrice and JB caught up too. Time to move on. After a few km, the road started to go down. I again went at a decent pace, enjoying the long mountain descent. My knees were hurting but I wasn’t listening.
Fred and I finished together again. Day 63 done. Just a short day tomorrow of 48km. And then it is all over. Tonight is our last night sleeping in a gym which I already know that I’ll strangely miss a little. I will write more tomorrow if I’m not too drunk (two beers).
The Finish – San Pablo de Buceite to La Linea 48km
I will always remember the great feeling of the excitement bubbling away last night. Everyone was in a great mood. Dinner was actually pretty good, and no-one complained about the long walk to get to the restaurant. No-one cared that the service was slow. Who cares if we didn’t get much sleep tonight? One little day.
It was very cold in the gym last night. I slept till around 1130 then needed the loo. After that I didn’t really sleep. My mind was active (unusual). As we left in the morning, People were singing and whooping. We were done. This was a day to appreciate our achievement. My body was in its now normal battered state but things were different. This alone is proof of the positive mind being the most powerful physical tool. I felt strong. I felt I could push hard, but not today.
Yesterday, we lost sight of Gibraltar as we came down off the mountains and lost height. I was very excited to see it again and was eagerly scanning the skyline as we ran. Fred and I ran together again. We should finish this thing together. We have become quite close over the many hours on the road together. We are also the two youngest in the race.
Gibraltar doesn’t come into view until we are at the final cp with only 6.6km left. It is a glorious sight. Maybe one of the most incredibly beautiful sights of my life, not so much for its looks, but because of the many hours spent toiling, the many times that I was convinced that this was not possible for me and the much doubt about myself. We are now running along the seafront and I am buzzing. Fred and I have caught up with Fabrice. Fabrice had to pull out of the 2009 TE on day 56 because he badly cut his finger lifting his case, so I know this is seriously big for him too.
We then hear a whistle. There is the rickety old finish that has served us well for the last 63 days. I get handed a Union flag and my good friend Yoshi is there offering me his pointy hat which is apparently called a kaso. I take my cap off and proudly put it on and with the flag flying behind me, the three of us finish together. I go immediately to Lou and we hug. I cry like a baby with happiness. I have finished.
I have showered and had the pleasure of not having to handwash my running kit for the first time in 64 days. Tonight we have a dinner in the hotel where awards get dished out. This will be nice as everyone will be so happy and relaxed with nothing to do tomorrow. I am looking forward to having an explore of the rock as it looks amazing, and I really hope to see the cheeky monkeys.
I will sign off now. Maybe I will write again with some afterthoughts once it’s all had a chance to settle in.
Before I forget, I must thank everyone of you that messaged me somehow or another with your lovely positive comments. I drew so much from them that certainly helped a great deal during the harder times (all?). I would check my phone obsessively in the evenings. You all helped me get to this spot right now, so a sincere thank you to you all.