Shade. I needed shade. It was hitting 30 degrees, perhaps more, and it was almost unbearable as I collapsed on the other side of the finish line. There was no shade. Anywhere. The little that was available was taken up by the those who had come in before me.
I had just completed my first half marathon. Not just any half marathon, though. Hosted by BUFF, 2015 was the second year of the race taking place in Catalonia in the Pyrenees.This year saw the introduction of two new races: the 42km and the 21km. My choice of the 21km race was partly down to my inexperience at racing. I was keen to pit myself against the challenging route but cautious in knowing my limits because of recent injury.
What a wonderful location for a race. Flying into Barcelona we were in for a treat with the trip to the race base in Barruera. The mountains stood high and proud, blanketed by trees with jade green lakes at their feet. We would soon be running amongst it all: what a thought!
Saturday dawned with flawless blue skies and bright sun. The start of the race was in El Pont de Suert, a fifteen minute drive away from the finish line at Barruera. There were plenty of people milling around the start line, snapping the compulsory pictures under the starting gate waiting for that announcement to tell everybody to line up. As soon as it came there was a massive rush of people jostling to get behind the line. A hum filled the air as excitement levels started to rise and concentration on the challenge ahead took hold of the competitors.
After the initial rush out of the gate and the exhilarated dash past lines of people shouting (what I hope was) encouragement the path became quiet. There was not much room for the crowd of runners to spread out and the first 10 kilometres were slow. There was a lot of walking as the single track couldn’t cope so soon with the mass of participants. It was largely flat with not a lot of incline. Here was where you could, carefully, make up speed but as I started at the back getting by those walking on single track was not possible. Happy to trot along slowly behind the group for the first six miles I couldn’t help but appreciate our surroundings. Although, mostly under cover of the trees we had glimpses of the surrounding mountains and ran along a beautiful river bank, hopping over the rocks and boulders lining it. Besides from this, the woodland itself was a really pleasant place to be. I was glad of the shelter from the sun that I knew was scorching anybody not covered by shade even at 10am.
Managing to squeeze my way by a few competitors after the first aid station I often found myself alone on the trail or catching up to small groups and running along with them for a while before heading onwards. By the time I reached the third check point the heat must have been getting to people as those already there were being dowsed in water in an attempt to cool down. A cheery looking woman approached me and asked if I wanted water over my head. Declining, I grabbed a half cup of water before jogging onwards. I do not get the point of throwing water over your head as you soon warm back up but only you’re now wet, too. Turning a corner, I came out on a small plateau and had wonderful panoramic views out over the mountains to the north west of the trail. It was a camera moment if there ever was one; I had to stop to take the views in for a minute at least before heading onwards.
Watch the video
The trails that came next: wow. Dirt tracks circled around the top of the mountain, pelting downwards, over roots and rock drops. It was a fast track and I let me legs take me; the trails pulled you along so easily and it was easy to forget that I still had the real climbing to tackle.
Boy, when I hit the climb I felt it. It was often steep enough that if I didn’t get a good grip my shoes would slip back down underneath me. Slowly and surely I made my way upwards passing those who had tried to hit it too quickly and were now hunched over gasping for breath. The fourth aid station was very welcomed after the worst the climbing had passed. It was loaded with energy bars and water melon. If you’ve never had water melon on a hot day, especially when you’re thirsty, you’re missing out.
The path downwards was much easier than expected but it was fast. Remember that training for downhill is just as important as training for the uphill. Soon I was back down in Barruera and pacing my way towards the finish line. I couldn’t quite believe that I had made it and the crowds lining the sides cheered, although I was a stranger to them, spurring me on for the last 100m to cross the gate.
The race passed in a blur and sped by in what felt like only a few minutes (but what was in fact hours – 3 hours 20 minutes to be precise).