Andorra Race Recap
It begins at dawn in the village of Ordino. The pack quickly sifted on the first climb and just 6 of us pushing up Coma Pedrosa (2943m).
The early stages of an ultra can be discombobulating. Fresh legs and adrenaline. A long day ahead.
I summited Coma Pedrosa in third, feeling awake. On the technical descent I jumped ahead of Pau Capell (trail celebrity and winner of UTMB 2019 who lives in Andorra).
The 2000m descent into the mini-city of Andorra La Vella passed quickly, I felt smooth and under control.
At the aid station I pound coconut water and Arizona tea, while my coach, Dimitri Grudet tells me that Tschumi has an 8 minute lead.
It was hard to believe. I remind myself that the day is young and to focus on the immediate objective, a long 2000m behemoth of a climb on largely runnable track. The plan was to push to the top, to run as much as possible.
At the base of the climb I hear the clicking approach of trekking poles on stone. Pau on my tail.
Legs must be told what to do. I cracked the whip and sent them pumping. The tic tic sounds faded. Every few minutes I cracked the whip. I held my vision just ahead, 5-10m and tunnelled into that gap with cadence.
This stuff hurts folks. But over 2 hours I had gapped Pau and unknowingly gnawed the distance with Tschumi to nothing.
The trail breaks into the alpine. Among the rock, one biped jog-walking with poles. It was a revelation to see him.
I stopped at a stream to water. Splashing the cold stuff on my legs, filling my hat and dumping it over me. Patience. Diligence.
At the refuge I fuel next to Tschumi and we climb the steep 300m to the ridge in a steady low-gear which would become commonplace as the day wore on.
The following downhill was atrocious. Steep, rocky, awkward. On the last stretch of technical terrain I crashed. One blip in concentration landed me in a pile of rocks. Arm bleeding, hip bruised.
I launched down the mountain shouting obscenities. Then realized my sunglasses were not on my face. Dam !
After a gruelling climb in deep alpine grass we arrived at the second (and last) aid station where you can receive assistance from your team. The sun was high and roasting us, not a cloud in sight.
I knew we had entered that zone where forward progress is a grind. Movement some alchemical product of will-power seeping from the brainstem into the crude limbs shuffling beneath.
We ran well to the Incles aid station, clipping 12km/h pace on the high plateau and for much of the descent. On the steep, rugged climb just beyond, I felt the tingling of wanting cramps. Right quad and hamstring. Both shins.
I was forced to shorten my stride but compensated by increasing the cadence. Tschumi was a in the same boat. We spoke few words but I heard him holler, “Au putain les cramps!”
The route begins to track across the mountain following a topo line in and out of the folds. Suddenly Tschumi has fallen off the pace, there is a gap. “Flip the switch, go for it.”
Tight switchbacks on the forest slope. Wham. A cramp rips through my right leg, seizing at the quad and hamstring simultaneously. I limp along, saying aloud, “Tout va bien. Calm down. Please for the love of god go away.”
I hobbled down trail and stopped at a stream to pound a half-liter of water. Took 1g of salt and a gel. Tschumi caught up.
We trotted along, fully brutalized by the sun and the relentless climbing and descending.
With one serious climb remaining we got word that Pau was eating into out lead, down to 6 minutes. Silently we resolved to not let him catch us.
We set our teeth to the climb, sharing the lead. From high we could see Pau hustling up trail. I looked at my watch and calculated him 7 minutes back.
Up and over the mountain shoulder, descending from alpine to forest to water-laden-glen, we reached the last aid station. Tschumi proposes we finish together. It feels right to me.
On the rolling gravel paths back to town, we are informed that Pau is 12 minutes back. Our push over the final climb decisive.
It is a laborious hour to finish. We arrive hand and hand, the place buzzing, crossing from this world of inertia into the next. Victors ensemble.
After finishing and giving interviews I’m sitting on a bench trying to eat water melon. I vomit three times. Go cold. Cramps rip through my right leg.
Dimitri lets me know that Gautier has finished. My training partner for the last two years, I knew Gautier was strong. His fourth place at Andorra is impressive and well deserved.
The fact that the body mends itself is nothing short of a miracle. The convalescence is underway and my eyes are fixed on the next and awesome objective: UTMB Mont Blanc.