Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Grand Raid des Pyrenees - So near, yet...

Oops. Not done one of these in a while. Sorry about that.

I'm a bit of a mixed-bag of thoughts today. After a mediocre season of training, and a fairly odd summer all round, I failed to complete at the Grand Raid des Pyrenees. I'm disappointed, but not surprised or annoyed, and while there's a multitude of reasons, they're exactly that - reasons not excuses. This post is maybe to try and state some of them, for my own cathartic benefit.

Frankly, my training this year has been poor, and the GRP is not a race that someone like me can afford not to train properly for. I don't have any natural talent as a runner, so it has to be the hard work route, and that didn't happen. I've had a bunch of niggling, awkward, minor-but-sufficient-to-really-upset-things injuries since January: lower back and hip pain for most of Janathon; throat infection and breathing trouble at the Deerstalker; knee, ankle and IT niggles in June. Nothing huge, nothing fatalistic, just stuff that needs rest, ice, care. But, the constant dribble of injury has meant too much time resting and not enough time in the hills, not enough time on the feet, not enough fitness.

There's probably a root in the fact I didn't do much running over the autumn and winter, after that last Grand Raid. After a season spent on foot, I opted to get back on my bike, in my kayak, and spend some time doing the things I hadn't done all year. My first run of 2012 was a good one, but the theme didn't continue, unfortunately - since the 2nd of January, there's never been a time when my body felt 'right'. And yes, there's no excuse there, there are a myriad therapists, physical manipulators and physio-terrorists I could have seen about those, but I thought "Okay, just rest up a touch, it'll sort itself". It didn't. Surprise surprise.

That's not to say the season's been all bad. The Tyne Tour, paddling with my Dad taking on his first whitewater was great fun - not competitive, but fun. The European 12hr Endurance MTB Championships went well, for someone who hadn't trained (short notice as opposed to laziness on that one). The Woman of Weetabix MTB race went fantastically well considering, again, the lack of training and the heat of the day. There was a humourously crap weather weekend in the Brecon Beacons. All high points of the season, all fun and worth repeating.

But come the race, I knew down in the depths of my heart I hadn't done enough. There was a glimmer of hope, I grant you, but there was also a fundamental realism to my thought process. I was going out to give it my best shot and see what happened: If that best shot turned out not to be good enough, well, no-one could be blamed but me. The weather conditions were perfect, cool and a little overcast, no chance of cooking. There wasn't a lot of wind to help or hinder, I'd sorted out some of the tech issues from last year, I was carrying less, all good helpful bits. Still, the slogged climb up the valley side, through Soulan and onwards to Merlans, showed the holes in my fitness. Considering that climb is over 1400m of ascent in 12km, that's not surprising, but when the mind's playing the "it didn't feel this bad this time last year" tune it makes it all the worse. At Merlans I knew I didn't have the spring in my step and the wind in my hair. On the short climb from the feed station back to the GR10 I was nearly sick. The 15km to the first cut-off at Artigues became the Death March Into La-La Land: I was managing a fairly decent pace on the flats and the downs, a good clip, trekking strongly and jogging when the ground allowed (not very often!) but the ups were just plain killing me. There's another steep jab up to the Col de Bastanet, and it felt endless, undulations wiped out my legs bit by bit.

Descending to Artigues, a friendly local said "Only 5km to go!". I checked my watch. A 5km PB would have seen me under the cutoff time, but there was naff-all chance of a 5km PB. I trotted on, down, jogging and hiking. I checked in: 13:07. Game over by 7 minutes. Tea, food, faff, food, tea, bus, sleep.

As always, there are some positives. I now know I couldn't, rather than wondering if maybe I could, and as a good mate pointed out, it's better that way. Anne-Marie now knows the same, having got cut off at the same point. But, we both conceded, at least we both got off our arses and gave it a go. And she was smiling and laughing, not beating herself (or me) up about it. Ross came in in the early hours of the morning, and another positive was seeing him in - it's a small consolation that the guy I reckon is a far, far better runner than me only beat my time by half an hour. He'd teamed up with one of the Irish guys (who, scarily, had read this blog in their prep for the race. Odd!) and, like Team Europe last year, they'd helped each other through the bad patches. He was glad to have finished, tired and weary, but satisfied. I was ecstatic for him.

I've had a few days to reflect and I'm still pretty mellow about it. I did what I could do on the base I'd built.  It wasn't enough, but I've one finisher's shirt they can't take off me. I'm disappointed I didn't add a second, but such is life. Whether I'll have another go is pretty open, I'd like to do more biking and boating again this year and if that leaves me with less time to run, well, so be it. I've got a few shorter (5-10km) trail events lined up for the late season, just to get me out and about. Not as severe a challenge, but a chance to push my self and have fun. And I'd like to get rid of all these niggles first, please.

So, whatever's next for anyone reading, good luck, have fun, and do whatever you can do. Keep on trying 'til you run out of cake. Remember: neither success nor failure is ever final.

Take it easy