Know Your Place
Les Templiers Recap
Sunday 5:15am. We took off down the road through fog scorched red with the sparks of fireworks, into the cold night running beside the river.
We were a dozen deep on the first climb, a 2km dirt road at 25% incline. Some guys hiking, some on their toes, the headlamped mass working upstream. Snot rockets and farts. The visible chuff of respiration.
We crested the climb and broke into a swift clip. Little surges and switching leaders we perused the plateau on smooth forest roads. Distance tunnelling by.
When we turned onto the muddy single-track, Jon Albon took the lead and shot down-mountain as the group stumbled on the suddenly technical path.
I got stuck behind and waited for an opportunity to pass. As I’ve said before, racing is comprised of little moments. I felt it was too early to start losing time and eventually forced by.
Coming through the first checkpoint at Peyreleau (23km), I was 90 seconds back. I filled a bottle and took a caffeinated gel, put in a surge to gather the light beam of Jon.
Now just 30 seconds off him and in plain sight, I slowed down to recover from my effort. In hindsight I should have completed the surge by finding his heels but in the moment decided it was too early to burn a match. Unfortunately this was the last I saw of Jon until the finish.
2h40m to the first crew point at St Andrée de Vezines (35km) went by in a flash. I switched my pack for a running belt and hammered toward toward the rose crinkled clouds on the canyon rim.
Francesco Puppi was soon on my tail and we made haste up the next climb, before trouncing down the steep ravine to La Roque St Margeurite (46km). I filled a bottle and held on as Francesco took the reins for the next climb.
We topped out and the trail eased flat. I took gels and did my best to crack the whip, but my ‘fast legs’ felt burnt.
Speed is a function of stride length and cadence. I tried to lengthen my stride and boost the cadence but it was not enough to hang on. By the time I rolled through La Salvage (56km) Francesco was gone.
After some technical trails I was relieved to find smoother terrain and was soon flying down-canyon to Massebiau (70km).
To give you an idea of pacing, I ran this 5.5km descent at 14.7km/h. Francesco at 16km/h and Jon at a cracking 16.5km/h. My ‘ultra-legs’ had taken charge and the fastest I could swing them was 4:00min/km pace.
Seeing my wife and son in the village filled me with optimism and I managed to run nearly the entire climb to Le Cade (73km).
One final stop with my crew. I was told that Francesco was well-ahead and the fourth runner well-behind. Although it was comforting that third place was within grasp, the situation left me deflated.
I lost my sense of urgency and left time on the table during the final section. A gnarly descent, then a direct shot to the final high point (La Pouncho) and drop to the finish.
Finding a bit of speed in the very last kilometres, I confidently pushed to the line, where Jon and Francesco were getting cold.
Overall, I am pleased with the result. In such a competitive field, making the podium is no walk in the park. Jon and Francesco were flat out stronger than me.
I would have liked to match them for longer, but it is what it is. Dropping down in distance left a lot of uncertainty if I had the capacity to run fast for 7 hours. I proved I am more than capable, but far from a specialist.
Last year I closed my season with a third at the Grand Raid and this year, third at Les Templiers. Placing third allows you to see, up close and personal, where the next level lies.
This knowledge of my deficits is ultimately a huge source of motivation and I intend to put it to work as I prepare for next year.