Into the fire once more
In ultra marathons you have to be able to deal with every difficulty thrown at you. Things had started early this time
My phone pings as I’m sitting on the beach in Nice in the south of France, gazing out at the azure blue sea, the sun shining, my belly full of gnocchi and ice-cream.
“Extreme weather kit activated!” says the message. “Bad weather is expected all day tomorrow. Heavy thundery showers, with snowfalls on the summits.”
It’s not what I want to hear. But then you don’t enter a mountain ultra marathon for something easy. Ultra running is supposed to be tough. And the weather can always be extreme in the mountains, even in the south of France.
I roll over on my towel and decide not to fret. In ultra marathons you have to be able to deal with every difficulty thrown at you. Things had started early this time, but I was a wise old owl. The secret was not to worry. Don’t let it get under your skin. Accept everything and keep moving forward, whatever happens.
After a brief, disjointed sleep, the alarm goes at 2am the next morning. Despite our best efforts to get ready quickly and race across town on our wobbly hire bikes, we’re among the last to get on the bus to the start. This means that instead of getting to sit dozing next to Marietta (my wife and my crew) for the next couple of hours, we’re both left wedged in, bolt upright, next to fidgety French ultra runners, as the bus jolts and revs its way up into the mountains.
By 5am we’re there, in what feels like a village forgotten by time, sitting under a cafe umbrella as the rain pours down. All around us ultra runners stand stoically, staring into space. Waiting. Almost nobody talks. Don’t fret, I tell myself. Take it as it comes.
Another text. Ping. Ping. People are looking at their phones, their faces barely reacting. The start has been delayed by an hour, the text says. OK, OK. No one grumbles. A small chink of light appears as they open the church to provide shelter from the rain.
Finally, at 7am, we set off running, 706 of us, 111km, from up here in the mountains, down to the sea. In my mind, with slightly less elevation, this was going to be easier than the CCC. There was more downhill than uphill overall. Surely the mountains this close to the sea couldn’t be as steep, as high, as those around Mont Blanc. Right?
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