Good morning folks
I trust this finds you in finest fettle and that you had a superb weekend.
A tale of two weekends.
Last weekend saw the inaugural Ultra Trail 69, a series of incredible trail races high in the Peruvian Andes near to Yungay, It was an ambitious outing (for me).
This weekend was Father’s Day and a day that is pretty blooming big here.
In between were all the gubbins and stuff that usually gets in the way of what always looks like a steady week (on paper, but never actually is in real life).
D.N.F. The three letter every runner dreads!
Did Not Finish!
It’s only ever happened twice to me. Once in the Mickleden Straddle (winter, borderline hypothermia), then in the New Chew (top name for a well-out-of-my-depth navigational event around Saddleworth Moor, again winter, again borderline hypothermia).
This particular race was a seed that was planted by a chap called Charlie, Charlie Good.
A chance FB conversation whilst I was on my break at work on the 2nd of January.
The racing calendar was still blank and Charlie sold me a place on his event, It looked epic.
After 6mths of up-&-down training, I’d had a lot of injuries, but had squeezed in some good miles and lots of hills. The climbs weren’t a worry, but the altitude was.
This race starts at above 4000m (13300ft)!
Both my regular blog readers will know that the lead-in didn’t go too smoothly.
I copped for a dodgy chest cough two weeks before, which lingered and lingered, so I was full of doubts. Even Lina remarked that I seemed on edge about the race (& she never, ever comments on my running). On top of this I’d had chronic guts all week, never good. The week itself was the usual bonkers-fest and it wasn’t until I was on the 22:40 Moviltours bus that I actually had time to realise what I was doing/where I was going…
Lima’s snarling traffic monster didn’t disappoint. It took us over 2 hours to get across town, which meant I was 2hrs late for my connection, which meant a s/50 (£12) taxi ride!
I finally got to Llangunuco Mountain Lodge around 9am and met the man Charlie.
What a guy, super-friendly and redefining the term larger-than-life. I was keen to get my head down, but one thing and another meant that this didn’t happen until mid-afternoon, but in a sweltering tent, sleep never came. The start was at midnight, so I just spent the day trying to get some food down (and keep it down). The demon Lima belly had struck again and I wore a trail to the khazi-&-back. Around 8pm the rain began and the full-moon sky clouded over, another failed bout of trying to sleep before the rain stopped and the 11:30pm pre-kick-off brief.
Candlelit brief (pic courtesy of UT69)
There were only 8 runners in the 80km race!
I’m not keen on running at night, 7 years of shiftwork made me hate the 3am drop-off. A time when your body says to you “Even if you’re out clubbing mate, you should be in bed by now”
The route itself starts with a 6 mile loop around a local hill. through lots of tinpot villages (with lots of snapping dogs), then a long haul up to the famous Llangunuco lakes, up Portachuelo Pass, back to Cebollapampa, up to Lake 69, cross the moraine, through Cebollapampa and then a long hobble home. The midnight moon came out in time to gleam down on the towering Cordillera Blanca and Huascaran Norte (over 22000ft high!)
I realised I was very near the back. A team of local lads had shot off like bullets, I wasn’t 100% sure of the route and didn’t fancy 80km on my own so I struck up a conversation with a really sound, down-to-earth bloke called Nicolas, a Chilean lad living in Lima, whose English was better than mine! We were running at a similar pace, so we tagged together.
Laguna Llangunuco (pic courtesy of UT69)
The climb seemed harder than I recalled, but memory is a funny thing and I later realised that the last time I’d been this way (in 2004, when I had suffered like a dog on my first time at altitude), I’d done the first 20km in a bus! The night got darker and darker and the cold seemed to penetrate one’s bones. The moon was high and dawn was a long way away. The miles were slowly being ticked off, but I really didn’t want to blow up early. I was being troubled by my grumbling guts and had lost all my appetite. A drop-bag was waiting at a checkpoint called “Cebollapampa”, but I was stuffing food and gels into a bumbag that was already full.
Pics courtesy of Nicolas
The next climb up to “Portachuelo Pass” had a reputation, but it started easily enough, until my bellyache finally put its foot down and I started going backwards and had to stop, (I won’t go into detail), I’d told Nico I’d catch him up, but I was now going at snail’s pace, I’d bonked!
A “bonk” happens when your body runs out of glycogen (the easy to convert fuel), it normally happens late on in a marathon, but I wasn’t even halfway round. I forced some gel down, but felt worse, even water made me wretch. The route got steeper still and as my watch was set in “feet” and I couldn’t see the top, I couldn’t work out how high 4960m was (in old money).
Pics courtesy of UT69
Dawn broke in a blearily cold fashion, I was craving a bit of sunlight which was only just touching the highest peaks on the opposite side of the valley. At one point I saw a guy above me in an orange jacket shouting “Bravo!” This was to be a mystery as there were no other runners wearing orange, I was plum-last by a country mile. I have no idea who he was (if he existed!)
Pic courtesy of Nico
I reached the pass and started the descent on one of the “World’s most hairpinned roads”, I tried running but it felt stupidly hard for downhill, until my tired brain realised that I was still near to 5000m above bath water on a road that didn’t seem to be descending, just twisting!
Still going! (Pics courtesy of UT69)
The views were by now spectacular, soaring peaks so high that they didn’t look real. Fortunately I caught up with Nico around this point. He was going well, but tired too. His drop bag hadn’t yet arrived at Cebollapampa the first time, so he was hoping it would be there when we got there. Off the hairpins we plummeted onto an old Inca route, which was mega-steep. I was doing sums in my head of the cut-off times. The descent took us much longer than we both expected. There was another big climb and then a technical traverse across glacier moraine still to come. We got to the checkpoint to be asked if we were continuing…
I’d never really considered nor thought about dropping out, but the reality now slapped us in the face. We’d have to speed up to beat the cut-off chop, but then we’d arrive very late to the finish, maybe too late (and if I missed my bus home, I’d be screwed!)
The decision was made, we’d had an amazing foray into the Andes, but this race was over, but it wasn’t yet, as we had another 12 miles to the finish…
Count the donkeys! (Pic courtesy of Nicolas)
The road home seemed endless, as we jogged/walked/hobbled back. The support team at each checkpoint were brilliant. We eventually got back around 1pm. Everybody was congratulating us, but I said we hadn’t finished the course, people still congratulated us anyway.
Clowning around with the marshals, but could’ve used some of this on the climb!
I was desperate to get some kip in my diddy tent, which I did immediately, but I felt like a man who had fallen asleep on a park bench after a party and woken up to find the park full of people! I knew a lot of runners from other races, but made a lot of new friends too. The race had a real carnival/party atmosphere, with free beer (which I would’ve loved to have partaken in, but my empty stomach said a resounding “no”).
I shared a cab with some marshalls back to Yungay and then waited for the overnight bus. I was hungry by this point, but was short of bra$$ (due to my taxi the morning before), so brewed up some supernoodles and dreamt of proper food when I got home.
Although the bus was a superluxurious “Full-cama” (180 degrees reclining seat), I was about 6″ too tall to appreciate this, so I laid twisting and turning and not really sleeping until we hit a wall of Lima outskirts traffic at 5am. Welcome back!
Home by 7am, a grasshopper incident (explained next week, along with a lizard visit) and after seeing the two ladies off to school, I finally got a few hours glorious kip!
- Do not try and run a race at altitude with a smoker’s cough and exploding intestines!
- Acclimatisation takes more than 15hrs.
I should have dropped down in distance to the marathon, but I didn’t. I finished with legs and feet intact, but woke up on Tuesday morning feeling like I’d had a double hip replacement!
Hobbled around most of the week and found it very hard to concentrate at work, but it was a great weekend, a brilliant route and with better preparation, hopefully/potentially a different result. Thanks to Nico for the company and to Charlie, Luke and all the UT69 team, I’ll be back!
I gave myself a week off training to get my head together again, Andes Race in August needs some proper preparation. On the day of the UT69, I simply wasn’t good enough, I need to step up a gear now.
I’d been given a presentation to do at the start of the month, but had been putting it off (getting ready for the race), so I was under the cosh to get my work in. A midweek First Aid/Firefighting course (2hrs) on Wednesday meant it was all to do on Thursday, as Friday was a Father’s Day lunch, so “rushed” sums it up nicely.
Will I still have a job next week after my presentation of British sports (including Cheese Rolling, fellrunning, Cumblerland Wrestling and Bog Snorkelling) remains to be seen, watch this space…
El Dia de Padre
Mother’s day and Father’s day are much bigger here. People who aren’t your kids wish you Happy Father’s Day, complete strangers too. It takes some getting used to, but in a positive way.
On Friday I was invited out for lunch with work, we were taken to an amazing (pricey) restaurant called “El Hornero”, a top-notch meat restaurant which I’d never been to and probably will never go to (off my own back). After a years worth of “carne”, I dashed to work in time for another meal/reunion to celebrate Father’s Day, along with a gift (voucher) from the company.
On Saturday morning we loaded the car and headed up into the hills of Chosica. 25 miles away, but taking us well over 2 hours and 3 major “disagreements”, I wasn’t driving, Lina did admirably to get there without putting me out!
A friend called Sophie is a riding instructor at “El Bosque” so she arranged for the Nipper to have a tootle round on a pony, around the yard, and she loved it. Move over Frankie Dettori!
Later on we’d arranged for our amigos, James B, James D, Erika and Irma to come and stay, on my promise of a barbecue. Now I was brought up on a burnt-burger-&-beer-BBQ ethic, but I now know that my sights are low (and skewed by drink!) It all worked out ok though and nobody went hungry, nor thirsty!
Sunday was spent mooching and relaxing around the place, before braving the gnarly Carretera Central and home. I promised Lina I would pass my driving test here soon.
I was trying (& failing) to explain a video whilst singeing my eyebrows over a hot Barbie.
Vintage Vic & Bob, taking off vintage British comedy, here goes…
Have an awesome week
Johnny, Lina & the Nipper