Today we went to the Spanish part of the Pyrénées to do some more running. Despite a 7 am breakfast and 8 am departure from the hotel the stage started quite late, after 11. (We were sent on a little sightseeing trip before the stage, to give the organisers time to mark the course and set up the drinks station.) We had been warned it would be hot, and correctly so. In Norway the spring has been very cold, and summer is yet to arrive. The last time I ran in hot weather was last July, when I nearly succombed to heat exhaustion. The sensible thing to do today would therefore have been to take it easy…
Today’s stage was also a 10k, it seems that the organisers have shortened the first three stages in order to help us preserve energy for the grand finale, Sunday’s sky marathon. At the start Virginie also assured us that today’s course was much easier than yesterday’s.
We started running along a dirt road, the kind that plays tricks on your brain. Because it is a road you expect it to be easy, but the surface was very rocky and uneven, with deep trenches dug out by heavy rainfall. Add heat, a persistent 5-6% gradient (my guesstimate) and switchbacks, and the result is that you have pay close attention to every step to avoid a painful faceplant.
My vague plan to take it easy quickly went out the window. Unsurprisingly, since my heart rate was in its 130s when standing still waiting for Virginie to give us the signal to start. It leapt up to 150 soon after starting running, but after I fell in behind Pasquale and let him decide the pace it went down slightly. Not for long though, the heat and cardiac drift soon added 10 and then 15 extra beats per minute. Like yesterday I was running with Pasquale from start to finish, but unlike yesterday we did not alternate being in the lead. It was Pasquale in front the whole way, and me breathing heavily a few paces behind.
After about 4 kilometers of running on the tree-lined dirt road an orange arrow told ut to take a left turn down a single track trail among the trees, where Daniel was waiting for us with drinks. I had plenty of water and sports drink, but felt it was polite to stop and have a glass of cola. Then it was onwards and upwards. And downwards. The course profile was quite similar to yesterday’s, with lots of climbing in the first half followed by even more downhil running in the second half. At first the downhills were quite straghtforward, not too steep and not very technical, you could just let go and enjoy yourself. We also got a beautiful view of a river in the valley below us, clay particles in the water reflecting the sunlight making it look turqoise. Then came today’s challenge, a steep descent along the ridge of the sunbaked debris left behind by a river, probably the very one we had just looked down at, halfway along which the trail made an almost 90° turn. Overshooting this turn would have led to some ungraceful aerial acrobatics followed by a very painful landing. Jean Christophe had therefore taken up position on this section so he could coach us safely through it (I would assume he also had a very big first aid kid with him, just in case).
Coming down from this section we followed the bed of a nearly dried out stream. I glanced at my Suunto, and even after all the downhill running my heart rate was still very high. As we negotiated what turned out to be the final ascent it leapt up even higher, and I started worrying about having a complete meltdown just a short distance from the finish line. We were back on the dirt road, which flattened out and then started sloping. Eight kilometers down, just a few more to go. As it turned out, it was just a few hundred meters to go, and then we could see Virginie and the Patou Trail beach flag on the other side of a stream. I tried to pass Pasquale and snatch the stage victory, but once again we reached the flag side by side and was given the same finishing time. Alan followed a few minutes later, then Sara and finally Nicola (sadly Claudia was taken ill today and had to stay in the hotel).
After showering at a nearby hotel we stayed in Spain for a few more hours for lunch and sightseeing in an old citadel. Lunch was a fascinating experience for us vegans, witnessing the Swiss-Italian guys devouring nearly half a cow between them, after a starter consisting of the cured and dried remains of a poor pig. Even the Spanish waiters seemed to be slightly disgusted yet also in awe when coming to clear away the plates. And yes, back in France a few hours later they both managed another meat-heavy three course meal. If the French Pyrénées Patou Trail had been an eating contest instead of a running event there is no doubt, the Swiss-Italian contingent would win it hands down.