The morning dawned hot (there’s a theme here 🙂 ), touted as the ‘easy’ stage, Day 3 isn’t really easy. AAUT is a degree of extremes, yes, it’s a less crazy route but it’s still tough and actually, Day 3 is the event decider. Go out hard and you risk depleting energy reserves for Day 4 – the event’s longest stage. Go out too steady and you’ll be on the trail a full day, minimising the recovery period you have for Day 4.
I had my target time; a little faster than the previous year but nothing crazy. Could I stick to it? Something of a ‘push me, pull you’ game was developing with the current event 2nd placed lady, Liz. She’d come home 3rd on Day 1, but the 2nd placed lady that day, Jo, was struggling to recover, had a tough Day 2 and was talking about dropping. We were all pretty close. Liz had come home 3rd on Day 2 following an unfortunate detour, so there was now another lady in the fray, Megan, vying for an overall top three placing. I was in the lead overall, but one wrong turn in a stage race can see hours added to your finish time. There was still all to play for.
Lining up on the start line, I was in the last group to leave for the day, with the slower-ranked runners already on route. The first 10km or so is mainly on road, and a good chance to build some pace on a straightforward surface before the heat kicks in. Its temptingly easy to surge off up the runnable hills, rather than playing the long game and walking on short ascents. CP1 cleared the route starts to head off road and a more serious climb to CP2. I’d started catching up the earlier starters who were all in good spirits and ploughing on. Word came back that I was tantalisingly close to Liz in the lead. I could often see her and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted to push for a stage win, but I was already slightly ahead of my day’s target time and did not want to risk a difficult Day 4.
Backing off after CP2 on an exposed part of the course I wanted to keep my core body temperature low as the day’s heat kicked in. A runnable descent to CP3 risks trashed quads and feet and it was a case of ‘gently, gently, remember Day 4’. CP3 cleared and an uphill to another exposed stony track, I recalled the battering the pads of my toe-box got this time last year. Lesson learned, I picked my way much more carefully. A final quad trashing descent and another Paul Bateson special (crazy-hang-off-a-cliff-track-for-no-apparent-reason) and I rolled into camp.
Liz had taken this stage by about 10 minutes.
It was time to tuck in to finish-line fodder – melon, bananas, orange, crisps – I knew that I simply could not get enough food in before Day 4. Eat, eat and eat some more, the 67km stage burns it all.
My feet were in great shape, aside from a big juicy blister on my heel! Regular readers of this blog will know, that I don’t get blisters! I’d got some sand under my calf guards on Day 2, developed a little sore area and so as not to make it worse I’d stuck some rock tape over it. The problem was, the rock tape had rubbed and unbeknownst to me caused a blister.
Some folks said leave the blister, others said pop it. The physio spotted it on the massage table and wanted it gone due to its position on my Achilles. I’d have to visit the event medical team – not expecting a blister I had no kit to deal with one. Thankfully Geert and Patricia came to the rescue and Patricia needled and drained it, telling me to keep it clean overnight. Easier said than done in a camp site, but the angel of blister-care, Paula produced some Compeed plasters to keep me on the road. (Thank you Paula 🙂 )
Fresh Compeed applied, we were ready for the off. An early start for all on the 67km long stage this year due to record temperatures and worryingly, the bomeros had been flying overhead the day before tackling localised bush fires. The long trek to camp 4 may be the least of our concerns!
Again, I had my target time, and strangely my legs and feet felt really good. I guess the back to back runs clocked up around Moclin had paid off. I’d covered some tougher training miles this time around and as we crossed the start line I was up front. Tracking our way out of camp and down to a river track, I felt that happy surge. I love the first 20 km of Day 4, it’s runnable, agile, trail, through varied scenery. A couple of km in and we were crossing the river where David Thompson famously dipped a toe, before the first walk climb of the day. Liz had been on my heels and took this opportunity to go ahead. Dropping down the other side, I retook the lead and enjoyed some clean running to CP1.
Beginning to catch the earlier starters, emotions were mixed. Some were in an okay place, others not so great. Reminding them that
everyone was going to feel pants at some point today, such is the nature of ultras, we carried on our way around Lake Bermejales and CP2. Tagging my other half Steve, who’d headed out hard with the earlier starters, he knew he was in for a long day. This is the point the stage really begins with a tough climb from the lake to CP3.
The day before I’d noticed my stomach churning out of checkpoints. Why? I’d wondered and then I realised. The Bedouin never gulp down cold drinks. With a few thousands years more heat knowledge than me, there’s a reason why they do this. The cold liquid hits the stomach hard as well as constricting the throat. They sip tiny cups of boiling karak. While I didn’t have karak to hand, I could avoid guzzling. I was being conscious to take tiny, regular sips from my water bottles and managed to persuade Phil at CP2 to let me take a cup of coke, accompanied by him to retrieve the cup over the next couple of hundred metres while I sipped.
CP3 clear, it’s a trundle on to CP4 in the heat and the bar at Cacin. It’s always a relief to drop off the gravel track into Cacin. I was aware that my arms were starting to burn as the sunscreen applied earlier had sweated off. Reapplying thanks to Steve Cable’s supply at CP4 we were on our way to the stream crossing and the climb to CP5.
The jungle drums had relayed the message that I was well ahead and realising that I was chipping down my day’s target time too quickly, I decided to ease back the pace. Another sunscreen top up at CP5 and I was on the trek to CP6. This is a long and lonely part of the course. This year I’d find Graeme and Orla, who had been forced out of the race due to injury, partying as they encouraged runners along the trail.
Finally reaching CP6, I sat down. Take note – I do not sit down in CPs – but realising that I was far too ahead of my target time – I decided to
take it easy. To be fair, I’d probably still be sat there if Fran, Joe and Mike hadn’t kicked me out. Just 7km to the night’s camp, more up and down, before I put on a little sprint to cross the line.
I’d estimated a finish time of 8:15 but ended up coming home in 7:47, and more than a little worried I’d crash the final day.
…to be continued