Written by Paul Navesey - http://ultrapaulo.wordpress.com/

Andorra, a Principality sat in the Pyrenees, is a brilliant place and the location of my first effort at a European mountain race.

Arriving into Ordino on Wednesday before the race, the collection of ~2500m peaks look fantastic but with Ordino sat at just over 1300m they don’t look so intimidating. However, they certainly pack a punch!

Throwing our bags into the rooms we headed straight out for a little jog to get moving a bit after the flight and bus journey. Straight out of the town (even the roads are steep!) and onto the trails. From the first step onto the trail I was excited. Even more so after we took a stroll up to 2400m on the Thursday morning. Well, we took the cable car most of the way!

The weekend is made up of 5 races. Ronda Del Cims (170k), Mitic (112k), Celestrail (83k), Marato (42k) and Soladitrail (10k). With Ronda being a huge 170k and 13000m of climbing they get a little head start and set off at 06:00 on Friday. The morning was spent seeing Drew Sheffield head out onto the huge course.

A view out onto the course. Photo by Andorra Ultra Trail

A view out onto the course. Photo by Andorra Ultra Trail

After getting the hang of things in Andorra and grabbing a siesta I set out in search of a replacement for my favourite pre race food of banana pancakes with honey and nutella, finding a cafe serving banana and nutella crepes was a winner! Claire Shelley making the wise choice to go for them too prior to completing a fantastic run to finish well inside the top 10.

The drums started to wind up as we got closer to midnight, heading down to the start area where the number of people and the noise is fantastic. We have a short wait before fireworks are set off to make more noise and the race is underway. Firing up my Petzl Tikka RXP I chase the huge field of runners out of Ordino about 100 or so back.

The first part of the course sees us head out to Clot Del Cavall (2586m), there is lots of snow still about and even under torch light it is an amazing place to run through. I have always been ok at running for the shorter periods of time, but knowing this was going to be about a 12 hour effort I really wanted to make a step in how I manage myself during races so started here by grabbing extra food at the CP on top of Mule bars and my favourite apple strudel gels.

A quick descent and another climb up to the refuge Comapedrosa (2250m), enjoying this new eating at CP approach I suddenly came over all European and grabbed some olives! No idea why, they went down ok but I’m not sure I would rush for them again. Maybe throwing them down with a few squares of chocolate meant they didn’t get a fair trial but in my mind I had put a variety of food in so I was happy enough.

More climbing followed the refuge CP and then a really fun if short run along a rocky ridge then a long descent to the next CP on a mix of rocky and grassy trail.

Out of the CP this time into a forest for some excellent running heading down towards the main CP of the Celestrail course in Escaldes at 44km. Having had the headtorch on full power since the start so I could be a real tourist and have a good look around at everything, my torch faded just as light came up. Perfect timing, although popping in and out of a forest on the descent to Escaldes where it was still quite dark kept my attention and was a lot of fun.

Taking a few minutes at Escaldes to work through my to do list of empty the stones in my shoes, grab some extra Mule bars and gels from my drop bag, eat some food and fill bottles. I had also been practicing my Catalan in the earlier checkpoints and really went to town wishing everyone a good day, asking for water (specifically non-sparkling) followed by thank yous and goodbyes. I have no idea what they said to me, but there was lots of venga venga venga, which never failed to make me smile.

A small amount of road followed then onto a path out of town, which confirmed that everything in Andorra is steep. This eventually lead up on to more great forest path and stone track. This section certainly allowed more running. In fact, I would go as far as to say flat in comparison to the first 45km.

A couple more CPs passed by, this time making the most of the ham and cheese on offer. I hadn’t managed to learn any more Catalan so I hope whatever I was being asked only required me to answer hello, show my number and ask for water.

We were promised a treat in the last 15km during the briefing, sure enough as the last climb started, around the corner appeared a short but incredibly steep climb. Short enough that everyone perched on top looking down could be clearly seen and heard but steep enough that it took a really long time to get there! I would guess at about 30 minutes to cover the final 1km of the climb.

At this point I was pretty close to 4 or 5 other runners. My legs tired but energy ok I thought now was a good time to have a good crack at making a break for the finish. Yep, the guy from Southern England picked the steepest part of the course to try and be a hero. I worked as hard as I could to the top. Mouth open and legs tired with lots of enthusiasm and “venga venga venga” flowing down from the people on the summit.

Onto the top and I was feeling the effort, I had made a very small gap on each of the others but I was passed straight back in the CP on top as the effort took its toll. Fixing my new found low state with a bottle full of coke I headed onto the descent with my legs not wanting to run as fast as my head was suggesting. My legs won and I lost a little more time in the first half of the descent which was almost as steep down as it was up.

Hiking a small climb in the middle of the descent (even the downhill is uphill!) and taking a bit more coke on I was feeling better. With 2 runners close behind I managed to get some running legs back and finished the descent off as best I could, hitting the short road section back to Ordino.

The run in to the finish is fantastic. Lots more vengas and animos are shouted before running up a corridor of people and into the finish.

Start Finish area in Ordino. Photo by Andorra Ultra trail

Start Finish area in Ordino. Photo by Andorra Ultra trail

What a brilliant race, in fact, entire weekend of races. Happy to be done, having had a great time and very pleased with a top 10 finish I had a short wait for Claire, James Warren and Richard Felton to arrive before we could have a sit down and talk a bit more about running!

Heading out the following morning to see Drew finish the beast that is Ronda Del Cims. A massive effort on a course that has to be seen.

Cheers Andorra. See you again soon.

Kit :
Petzl Tikka RXP headtorch
Mulebar and Mulebar Kicks gels
Inov-8 Race ultra vest
Inov-8 race elite 140 shorts
Drymax lite mesh trail socks
Julbo Dust sunglasses