#325 Raid Golfe du Morbihan: Ultra Marin Race Report

Le Grand Raid Golfe du Morbihan done! 177km (110 miles in old money). So this adventure was way, way, way outside of my comfort zone! I like to know exactly what I am getting myself into and this French ultra was vague to say the least, couldn't find out much information about it, and only Jennifer Bradley had even heard of it let alone know anyone who'd actually done it. Was vague on the route, the aid s tations, what you got, everything, but was going to be in France, and it was around the self styled "Most Beautiful Bay in the World".

The French don't get out much.

So we roll up on Friday evening for the start and soon discover that in this part of France, nobody speaks English, and I mean NOBODY. Eventually sorted out the one drop bag and finish line bag and got to the start line, where 5 differend souls are banging on about who know what. Nobody is paying the slightest attention and then we're off 25C, so going to take it easy. First thing I discover is that they've stuck a k on the start so we can all run round the town, as if we're not going far enough already! Second thing I discover is French ultra runners have no regard for anyone else, (a theme...) three times in the first k I have a runner stop dead in front of me. Not impressed.

So anyway off we toddle, my plan as always is just run as far and as fast as possible till it gets dark and go from there, 6 hours till lights out probably, so knock out 30+ miles maybe... the vagueness is now a problem as I have no real idea where the aid stations are (they were vague plus 10 secret check points, French runners cheat it seems so this was all anti cheating mechanisms). So ten miles of being pushed, shoved, whacked with poles. In a US or UK ultra the first 10/20 miles are the chance for a chat and a bit of a laugh whilst you settle in to it, in France its an opportunity to get in a fight. Maybe its a cultural thing, maybe they're all serious, maybe focussed or maybe they just fancy their chances against the only foreigner in the field.

First aid station, can I find water? Nobody speaks English, sparkling mineral water? Mmm...

Ah, this would have been good to know. A 400 yard wade through thigh deep water. I nearly quit there and then, 100+ miles with soaking feet and I have on the wrong shoes, my feet are taped incorrectly for this, I'm going to suffer. Damn.

So off we toddle in to the gloom, nobody tries to talk, everyone seems very serious. I knock out a marathon in about 5 hours as the lights dim, 50k in six and my right ankle is hurting badly, I can feel my feet going already. Some French guy decides the correct way of getting past a runner is a whack around the side of the head with his pole, luckily for him he is 4' 6" and looks like a hobbit, we had a frank exchange of views in two languages.

By now I can't really run much, walking is fine but a few steps and the ankle is really sore. 80 miles to march is a long way, but hey ho, it might get better. So into the night, throw up at 43 for 5 minutes, obviously not one runners stops to enquire if I am OK. My low opinion of the French is being lived down to. 50 miles in 11 hours, you get a boat across the bay at the far end and Rachel tells me I should be at 56 miles, a pain as I have 62 already (I end up with 116 miles). Feet sore, ankle painful and I've had enough. Aid stations are dreadful (this race is put on by people who are not runners - seriously I cannot face cake!!) - at SDW100 two weeks ago the aid station folk can't do enough for you, this one, not once did an aid station person speak to me, offer anything, in fact I got told off at AS3 for taking some water from something I shouldn't have. Was tough not knowing how far the aid stations were apart or where they were, ten in total, towards the end that's 4 or 5 hours....

So pretty fed up by now, world of suffering, but been worse, was pretty (10000' of up I think it said) lots of beaches and steps to annoy the ankle, but by now everything hurt so much that didn't worry me so much. Was feeling rough, but not much quit in me, so the last ten hours or so were spent allowing 5800 runners past from the 56k and 87k events, 98% of whom of course look at you like you're a moron for letting them past rather than say thank you. Not a world of fun for hours on end on single track parts...

Oddly towards the end runners finally started trying to make conversation, I must have looked dreadful as maybe 50 folk offered me a "bon courage mon ami" type things, I said "merci" a lot. Not one person ever stopped to let me get past, being British I reckon it's better to wait 50 yards to pass rather than shove past, French runners don't have this view. Mmm...

So eventually the end comes and Rachel catches me up (she was far more sensible and did the 56k) and have the first English words in 29 hours! Finish in 29:41 which was OK really given the course, the distance and the state I was in.

I disovered why I hadn't been able to find any references to buckles or medals. You get a t-shirt. Yeah I'm all over French ultras in the future! lol Daren't look at my feet, hobbling about a bit. Been worse, I'll still turn up at overseas events with a Union Jack round my throat, I want others to know where I come from, I don't get the impression the French ultra scene likes me showing up like that, I was the only person in a marathon shirt, the only one with handheld bottles, the only one I swear not in Saloman or Raidlight gear. I could try and fit in. Nahh...


We'd been meaning to visit France for years to visit friends and in 2014 once we knew that Western States wasn't happening for us we made plans, we'd decided to drive so that we could visit the Normandy Beaches for the D-Day Battlefields (somewhere I'd wanted to visit for decades) so were looking around for an event that we could run en route and found one called the Raid Golfe du Morbihan: Ultra Marin which we'd heard nothing about, the website was in French and we struggled to find out anything about it really, but it was its 10 th year and attracted over 5000 runners at the last running over the various distances. So we signed up, myself for the 177km and Rachel for the 56km. (There are also 87km, 36km and “29km Nordic Walk” options) What could go wrong with that plan? 42 hour limit looked generous, 4 UTMB points (which was where we found the race originally in fact) We have Google Translate these days and maybe more specific information would appear on the site as the event grew nearer to race day.


Unfortunately it didn't! Although there were some pre-race emails that seemed to give away remarkably little there really was a distinct lack of the sort of information I like to see to prepare myself for a 100+ miler. i.e. the exact route (for GPS traces), where the aid stations are – exactly, where control points are, what would be at the aid stations and all that sort of stuff. I did create a trace from the flyover they provided and the rather vague map (A4 size for 177km isn't a large scale!) but wasn't very happy with it as just too lacking for my liking, but we roll up in Vannes on the Friday afternoon and perhaps they'll be some more information there we could pick up.

Nope! The “race village” was easy enough to find on the Quayside and they had maybe a dozen booths there of assorted other races, gear and other race like things and at the far end was the registration tent. First problem was that nobody there spoke a word of English, not even a bit of pidgin English, so changing the phone number was a challenge (part of the compulsory kit) but eventually we found our numbers/chips/security bracelets, went back to the car and sorted ourselves out. Well I did, the 177k started at 5pm on the Friday, the 56km at 3pm on the Saturday, the idea being more or less that events tended to finish together, ish, there were no pacers allowed (or crew aside from 3 checkpoints so that was pointless). You could have one drop bag at 89km so just had a spare shirt in there and an ice cream tub worth of food (I tend to put race things in tubs as these bags get crushed, thrown around and so on, crisps aren't likely to survive intact!)

With the late start I'd gone for big early breakfast, light lunch, couple of afternoon snacks and that seemed to work well. Better than the overload at SDW100 anyway.

It was pretty warm by race start time, 25C was forecast, down to 15C at night, bit of a breeze, showers next day for a while so in the end just went for a shirt, no base layer and had a Montane Minimus jacket in the pack (compulsory gear was only wind proof, but this was the lightest jacket I have) for if I got cold in the night. I figured with the evening start that I'd be moving much quicker than normal through the night stage so shouldn't get so cold, didn't bother with gloves or a hat or anything else to keep me warm. Other compulsory kit was a head torch, spare batteries (I took ones that were almost flat, I had zero intentions of needing another set for a second night (No plan B!)), ID (any cheating measure), a big plaster, 2L of water capacity (I took 2 x camelback handhelds, not quite 2L but near enough), spare food, phone and reflective arm band (which I had on the back of my pack).

Unusually they'd asked for runners to wear running belts and the numbers had ten boxes at the bottom where the control points would clip them (so no folding them up and wearing on the shorts like normal) so wore a running belt which I'm not hugely keen on as feel that makes my shorts sweat more than normal when it's hotter, and it was hotter!

So wandered down to the start area at about 16:45 and there was some chaps burbling on the PA about who knows what. Nobody was paying any attention to them anyway. Was very busy for the start line of a 100+ miler (there were over 400 finishers in 2013 so maybe 600-700 I figured started, Rachel thinks nearer 1000) and I was quite near the front as had seen a video clip of the start the year before and looked very slow at the back) and the burbling went on and I was getting pretty bored and hot by now crushed in with a lot of Frenchmen! 1700 came and went and a couple of other fat Frenchmen took over the microphone to blab about something else that nobody seemed to pay the slightest attention to, then some music and then finally some 8 or 9 minutes late we were off. Much to my surprise not on the route that they'd published as just for fun we ran around Vannes first, I was not impressed as an extra km on top of 177+km was just what I was hoping for!

I was even less impressed after a few hundred metres when the chap a foot in front of me decided to stop dead to give someone a hug, just about managed to avoid flattening him but got a good whack for my sins from someone I'd stepped in front of trying to avoid the first guy and then it happened, again, and yes again. Three times in the first k, was seriously unimpressed. So much for settling in to a nice rhythm, was lots of noise and crowds and zero sign of anybody who wasn't French!

One thing I was to discover and I'll get it off my chest now so as not to litter the rest of the write up on it is that the French ultra runners don't appear to give the slightest bit of care or respect for other runners, it's everyone for themselves. Seriously. So stopping dead in front of someone is fair game, shoving, pushing, poking with poles, hitting with poles, you never say thank you, or excuse me, never make conversation, never see if anyone is alright, finishing 374 th is much more important than finishing 375 th and you have to look the part. So everyone was kitted out in Saloman and Raidlight especially, all the bells and whistles, nobody was wearing a marathon shirt like I was, nor carrying hand held bottles. Maybe it's the culture, maybe they're all super serious or maybe ultra running in France attracts a bunch of inconsiderate tossers?

A couple of examples… about mile 15 ish, chap stabs me in the calf with his pole on single track to get past, I'd heard him come up behind and I reckon he'd been behind me for 0.5 seconds before stabbing me. I stop, he shoves past without a glance or word. I advise him not to do that again. This guy is about 4' 6” tops. About mile 35 I get a whack around the side of the head from a pole, I mean a proper whack and I've had enough by now, so I am basically going to deck this guy, and it's the hobbit guy again and I don't get out of his way this time and luckily for him my reflexes were pretty good as I was about to flatten him, we had a frank exchange of views in two languages but he got the gist of my complaint shall we say. Next aid station he glances at me and looks terrified when he recognises me! As an aside after this aid station another chap brushes past me real lightly and goes in to profuse apologies, maybe word had gotten around! If this was isolated then that's one thing, when he's the 87 th person to shove, push, poke you, the novelty wears real thin, especially when you're battling for 212 th spot.

About mile 105 another 100 miler walks past me marginally quicker than me, eyes front, ignores me (as basically I'd been ignored most of the time), so he's going 19:30 hobbling pace, I'm 19:45 hobbling pace, just gets past me, cuts in front of me, two paces on, stops dead in front of me so have to stop, side step, walk around him. Seriously, why would someone do that? Had to be deliberate.

These are just two examples which spring to mind, but two of what felt like just hundreds of small irritations, these things are tough enough as it is, but there was just the utter lack of camaraderie that you find at the ultra events in the UK or US. I must have gotten out of the way of 1000 runners by the time I had finished, times I was thanked? Ten? Twenty? Maximum. Times someone got out of my way on single track? Zero.

Interestingly towards the end I noticed a change in that several runners tried to speak to me (NOBODY at all at any stage I came across spoke English, not a word…) and the first was after maybe 18 hours, but latterly when the guys who weren't doing so great at the 87km and 56k events were passing, several tried to make some conversation, got a few thank you's and right towards the end (I must have looked dreadful I figured, especially from women, quite a few “bon courage” type comments. But anyway, back to the tale…

So after the unexpected lap around Vannes, we're back through the start again and settle in to things, it's nice and wide on the Quay so everybody sorted themselves out and I settled in to a kind of 9:30 type pace which felt easy enough without over doing things, was warm and I was sweating quite heavily from the get go. Of course this is when having vague information starts to be a real hindrance. The aid stations are approximately 18-20km apart, so 9-10-11 miles, but is that 8 or 9 or 10 or 12? Main concern is water of course, there is quite a difference between 8 and 12 miles on a warm evening and you're sweating buckets!

Rachel popped up about mile 3 which was nice, she was camping overnight and discovered the campsite was a few feet from the route, so that was nice and saw her again very shortly afterwards as we went around a tiny peninsula. The course was described as 80% trail and 20% road, well that's not quite right, 80% was part of a network making up the footpaths around the Bay and just assumed the other 20% was road as when making up the GPX files there seemed to be fair bits of road and I'd say overall that was probably about accurate. The trails varied from nice wide tarmac bike paths, to very high quality graded, trails, plenty of single track and double track, who knows how many bits of beach, sand, rocks, steps and I'll come to the best bit in a while. It was 99% all runnable, lots and lots of ups and downs, but all little ones, one hill in the night felt pretty steep but wasn't much, lots and lots of steps, usually on and off of beaches or when ramps went through sea walls, so you'd go down 4 steps, across the boat ramp, up 4 steps, not huge, or vast, but lots and lots of them overall! I began to discover why the time limit was so long and there weren't lots of fast times.

First aid station came along pretty quickly really, before 9 miles which was a surprise, obviously the French way of getting to an aid station is to stand in front of it and graze so nobody else can get past or see what's on offer. My first problem was water, ah, big bottles of it. So you decant that in to your own bottles. OK. So firstly throw away a bit of water in one bottle, decant some coke in to it (a cup was compulsory gear so no cups at aid stations whatsoever, I didn't bother as had the bottles), have a few mouthfuls of coke, fill up with water, grab a couple of squares of chocolate and some little cakes in wrappers and off I go, take a small swig of water, yukkk, it's sparkling mineral water, I cannot stand that, go back to the aid station, try to speak to several folk, no joy, notice one bottle of water standing half full has a blue cap on while the others are green, read the label, normal water, throw away a bit of the sparking rubbish and dilute with what I've found. No sign of any other blue topped bottles, another couple of attempts to speak to the aid station folk but cannot make myself be understood and they keep pointing to the green topped bottles when I mention water. This is not good, I cannot do 100+ miles on this stuff. So rationed and horrible, I really just plain dislike fizzy water, yuk!

So anyway off I toddle and just settle in to it really, the field has thinned out and the annoying French runners aren't bumping in to you on the single track stuff anymore to get past, it's a pleasant evening and even though the “Most Beautiful Bay in the World” is a blatant lie it's not bad and all is well, trotting along at about 10:00 pace, music goes on, making decent progress, and a pocketful of cakes (on top of more food than normal, with just one drop bag I was carrying a fair bit just in case the aid stations weren't full of stuff I liked the look of). Almost certainly wasn't drinking enough but I'd be OK till the next aid station, whenever that was.

So about mile 10 or 11 I'm in for a shock when I find about 20 French guys queuing so knew something was seriously wrong. Ahh, *!!&$%%! Fantastic, a string of French guys wading across between two bits of sea wall, are you “@!!$!! kidding me? Now this is a serious issue for me as I have my feet seriously taped up for this, what I do not want is wet feet, some guys are taking their shoes and socks off, some aren't, some shoes but leaving socks on. I have no idea what's under the water, is it sand? Is it rocks? Now wouldn't this have been useful to know beforehand? Could not the website or race instructions said, hey guys, the tide is in, at x point you'll get soaked, be prepared.

I seriously considered pulling out right there and then. What if there were 20 water crossings like this? My feet blister and they're already not at 100% from the SDW100 two weeks before, my two little toes are not good to say the least and this is condemning me to another 100 miles with messed up feet. Damn. Had I been warned I would have taped my feet differently, worn different socks, brought spares, I'd have even brought old shoes to wear to throw away even so I could keep my feet dry, but this was just going to be impossible, it was maybe 400 yards and you could see guys near waist deep.

So I wade across very slowly in the line with everyone else going across very slowly. I'm not happy and squelch out the other side unimpressed. Turned out to be only compulsory wet feet experience, but with so far to go, wasn't the best time for that shall we say, and of course didn't know that at the time. The route changes every year it seems (I found a 2013 GPX trace but was rather different in many places from the 2014 outline I was working off).

On the plus side, every road crossing so far had marshalls controlling traffic which surprised me as there were a few and the course markings were excellent, either reflective red/yellow arrows/flashes or barrier tape. This was reassuring as there was almost never a time when I was in doubt I was on course, a couple of times in the night and once later on which I'll come to, but the trace on my watches was so vague that I was reassured that I was on course often. And when I say often I'd say there was some kind of marker maybe as often as every 200 yards, maybe 300 yards even where you're on one path, with no alternatives, they kept up with markings so you always knew. I guess they have to do this because of the “secret check points” ah yes, the check points aren't the aid stations, though most had chip timing recorders. They had 9 or 10 checkpoints where they checked you off, but didn't give any indication of where these were. It seems the French cheat, and this was an anti-cheating measure as they could have been anywhere. You also had to carry ID and had a non-removable bracelet with your number on too! Now to most people reading this you'd think that's all ridiculous, I did, why would anyone want to cut the course? But this course was made for that, dozens of inlets and peninsulars you no doubt could cut miles off if so inclined, so they obviously felt that they need to do this sort of thing! French ultra's were all a new experience to me… and so I begin to understand perhaps why the route is a bit vague and the aid stations are a bit vague and check points are secret. It's anti cheating… bloody French!

Another problem I noticed very quickly was that the numbers were rubbing off on the bib! I had no idea what “851” was in French, so every time that got checked it needed pretty close scrutiny from the checker, just all tiny frustrations… as whilst it was good that they were recording things, so they knew where you were roughly, on the 45 th time that someone wanted to just check your number closely… you know, just gets a bit wearing. And you smile and be very polite, but they can't understand you, I can't understand them, so you stop and you make sure everything is OK with the list they have, and they cross check you on their list or computer. Ultra's are strict, and I don't want to get to the finish and find a check point didn't record me!

Aid station 2 comes along and there is a big crowd cheering folk along (in fact the crowd support in the evening was quite surprisingly vocal and numerous, hardly a big marathon type, but far more than on any ultra I'd ever done, was in little pockets as you went past houses or road junctions, that kind of thing, nobody ever handing anything out like you'd often see in the US or was so nice at TEC100, but support always welcome of course). This was a big aid station, I recalled reading that there were four big aid stations that were doing hot food and had medical support etc at. Unfortunately the hot food looked horrid (to me!) pasta something, green soup something, some white something, I must have passed 50 runners here as seemed that folk were having a picnic! The concept of grab stuff and eat whilst walking seems alien here, no cakes this time, but cut up cake, chocolate, fruit, a few crisps, dry bread, some very suspicious looking cheese (had green bits in it) no butter to make the bread edible had one mouthful of one bit and was just a bit stale and dry. But my main problem was water, could get boiling hot water, the bloody sparkling stuff, where is the sodding plain cold water guys?!!! Help, help, help?!! Who knows where it is, so I plump for the electrolyte offering they have. Well I presume that's what it is, there is a big tub of pale yellow fluid, it has packets of stuff on top and tub of something which clearly looks like electrolyte powder. So fill my bottles up with that and off I go. Maybe aid station 3 will be better…

Now what I thought was electrolyte drink was in fact a vat of Satan's urine, which has been left to rot for a few centuries and then carefully distilled with rancid cheese, brussel sprouts and vomit. It was VILE. As it turns out I was stuck with this stuff for 12 miles, it was horrid to the point it was making me feel really quite sick with each sip, I had to eat something after every mouthful to take the taste away and by now was seriously worried about the fluid situation. I'd by now tried ten times asking for water, pointing to my bottles etc etc and as yet discovered not the source of the magic elixir called cold water. I like to think I'm reasonably bright, I've done 50 ultras, it must be me, but where is the water guys?!

Obviously during the next stage there is no sign of civilisation, a shop (I had 30 Euros with me for such things), or anything resembling a source of clean drinkable water! How I now longed for the boiling hot water I could have had rather than the rancid electrolyte disaster, at least by now it would have been drinkable! Yeah even hot water on a still probably 22C evening was a preferable option now! Though was beginning to have serious worried about dehydration.

So anyway, through marathon distance in just a shade under 5 hours, lights finally go out at about 11:00pm and the night starts but going fine, 50k in six hours, slowing down and some of the terrain is very tricky, whilst the trails are often decent, at night the dust is a minor issue, more of an issue are the billion roots through anything tree like, rocks in the path, just lots of trip hazards you always need to be aware of, steps are tricky in the pitch dark, that kind of thing, slows you down and you need good concentration I find. But the reflective course markings are excellent and oddly on 75% of all road crossings I'd guess they had marshalls (and even at two or three places where there was a major course routing change (I suspect somewhere you could have cut off a big corner and they had no “secret checkpoint” on it))

It was some time around here I think that I strained my ankle, whilst I hadn't been flying around, I was happy enough, and making decent progress but along a bit of trail there were trees to the left and a stream to the right and the “path” was angled and really slippy and think I just slipped a bit and strained the inside of the right ankle. Wasn't long before I started feeling some pain there.

Aid station 3 comes in to view in some town, about mile 30, and I am not leaving here without cold water! All the aid stations were identical I was to discover food wise, this one had cakes again so picked up a few of those for the pack pockets, few chunks of chocolate, slice of cake, some normal cheese so had a handful of lumps of that. But water, where is the bloody water! Coke, had about a litre of that as was genuinely thirsty by now, steer clear of anything that came from Satan. Cup of coffee I could find, ah ha, what's that? A big container with clear liquid in. Fill up the bottle a tiny bit and take a sip (not falling for the electrolyte trick again!) and its cold, clean, drinking water next to the coffee station. Trickles out the tap but am not moving till I have two full bottles. Some runner stands by me and starts to berate me! I try to explain that I don't speak French and I am obviously not doing something right but seriously dude, 1) calm down, 2) I cannot find any other source of bloody water 3) he gives up 4) some other runner guy and an aid station guy start telling me off, I don't what I'm doing wrong but its obviously something. Guys, it's a big container of water, in an aid station, facing the runners, its full of cold water and I have bottles that need water in them, how wrong a thing can I be doing? I explain I'm English in “my appallingly bad French, “Parle vous non François, je suis anglais “ or as I often seemed to say “Ich bin anglais” for some reason, but I've got a Union Jack buff around my neck, you must understand “non francois” there must be 50 runners and helpers here, does nobody speak a word of English? Apparently not. They give up telling me off and off I go.

Or not, kit check time, at least this guy is cheerful when he gets to me. And checks everything I have, so that's 10 minutes of my life I am not getting back as during this process. To be fair I wasn't singled out but luckily by now realised this probably wasn't going to be my 16 hour 110 mile run! Lol

Off in to the night I go and the ankle twinges go from twinges to pain, from pain to really rather hurting. Walking was OK, but running, soon started hurting and quite badly. Took some ibuprofen and discovered I only had two left, had lost one of the little packets that I carry with another couple in. That's not good, but could have been worse, so basically those and two more to get me around. And I'm about 80 miles from home, and beginning to struggle a bit!

So I adopt a forced march type strategy, anything downhill I run as best I can until it hurts too much and then march the rest and progress is pretty decent still. The running phases are getting shorter and shorter, and it's frustrating as the legs feel good, the ankle is just painful. Mmm…

The night wears on and somewhere there is another aid station, this one finally had taps with water. Manna from heaven! Lots of cakes in the wrappers, fill my pockets with those, at least an aid station, in and out, two minutes tops. Eat cakes. Chocolate, plain, apricot, strawberry. Mind you they all tasted oddly similar. But hey ho.

Mile 43 I've had enough of cakes apparently as within a five minute spell I go from mmm… cake, to mmm… I don't feel so well to mmm… tell you what I'm going to be sick. Have a couple of minutes wretching and having a bit of a throw up, five minutes after that felt good again. It almost goes without saying that 5 or 6 runners went past without any kind of comment or pause to show concern or if I needed anything. By now sadly I expected nothing less and the French were certainly living down to my expectations.

I think what I found quite sad almost more than disappointing was just how little regard the runners appeared to show for one another. It's not like we're winning this, we're maybe 250 th , at SDW100 in the night Alan Rumbles comes up behind me and he has no idea who I am, I'm wrapped up, I'm just a pilgrim going a bit slow and not looking great, but it doesn't matter who I am, it's just showing concern for a fellow runner, I was anyone and it was hey, how you doing, need anything, why don't you tag along with us for a way.

Onwards we go, little tiny ups and downs, 50 miles in 11 hours, too many steps for my ankle, too much sandy beach, neither of much in reality but was fairly painful by now. And was about to get worse as this was when the rain started, not forecast but was to set in for basically the next 10 hours, never really hard, but just steady rain, for hours and hours. Jacket came out as it was getting a bit cold too by now and it didn't take too long before I was nicely drowned.

The boat crossing was next, across the mouth of the bay, that was nice to have a sit down and I texted Rachel to let her know my progress and unfortunately let me know I was at 56 miles when I got my drop bag and already had 56 I think it was on the Garmin (OK Ambit 2 GPS). My trace was 174k but that had a LOT of straight lines and wasn't anything like on the line so knew that was almost certainly going to be wrong, but didn't fancy a 187k event right at that moment! Tried to doze on the boat, but was a small one and quite choppy, so no luck there, but was nice to have a sit down. Loads of water here, so maybe at last had cracked that! I actually think I may have missed a food stop here, there were timing things at either end of the boat trip, water and I noticed that there were a few folk hanging around a building, but was nothing to indicate that I should go in, stood there for a moment and noticed a couple of runners heading off so thought I'd just follow them, but worked out was 20 odd miles between places to eat, so am guessing I might have missed something there.

The “56 miles” checkpoint showed up, a big sports hall type place, lots of runners in here, found my drop bag and generally had a bit of a sort out and feed up. The aid station food was looking a bit like cake or nothing for me now, really was no variation, nothing was looking good, so more cake it was. But at least had my own goodies here so stuffed as much as I fancied carrying away.

By now I was noticing the aid stations were looking a bit messy, I am guessing that there was no aid station “captain” and it all seemed a bit untidy, a few crisps, 49348 cakes, some sorry looking meat slice things that may have been there for hours and hours, it just didn't look good to me, partly me, partly them. Absolutely NOTHING like a UK or US aid station. Not once at any time did any aid station person speak to me, it was all just help yourself, which is fine but not usual, zero assistance anyway and by now there were some sorry looking pilgrims around. They had lots of beds here for the medics and a few runners seemed to be just laying down to have a sleep. Did smile at the two MdS shirts having a lay down.

So with the long ones this is generally where the fun and games start, knock out the first 50 miles/100k and it's the difference between those who make it and those that don't shows here. Most folk I reckon can get this far, but beyond it's about will power and the willingness to suffer. 50 or 60 more miles, 15 minute miles, 13-15 hours, I can still do this in maybe 25/26 hours. Jacket off, lights away, off we go. Still raining but I'm wet anyway so and it's not cold so might as well not worry about the jacket.

Plod, plod, plod. Splash, splash, splash. Things getting a bit muddy in places but generally these could be weaved around OK and really only one bit of flat out swamp land which was stupid muddy kind of thing. The hours pass, annoying Frenchmen would still rather shove past you than wait 2 seconds or say excuse me. Several times I step aside to let someone pass and they look at you like you're a moron for letting them pass you so easily.

The hours pass, the rain falls, the miles tick by painfully slowly, but I'm always forcing myself along, the miles aren't quick, but there is mostly bits of running still involved I take the last two ibuprofen and hope the ankle doesn't get super painful. My feet are getting worryingly sore and painful too by now as well, the effects of that nice saltwater soak early and now the endless rain and the miles taking their toll.

All becomes a bit vague here really, lots of miles, lots of hours, Rachel and I have a brief chat as she's not totally convinced that she wants to run, or have me waiting for hours at the finish for her if I am going well, we'd generally hoped at some point she would catch me up, unless I had a good race in which case I'd be there before her. She decides eventually to run (she has to get a bus so it's an early decision) I decide to plod some more, the ankle is hurting less now anyway which is good, but I strongly suspect that's got more to do with more other things hurting more so am noticing it less!

I recall at 18 hours someone made a comment as they went past me. I remember it as I am pretty sure that's the first time another runner spoke to me first! Did have a conversation with three guys who appeared back down a trail coming towards me at a junction which was quite clearly marked as the way to go, but they were babbling amongst themselves and clearly indicating that wasn't the way to go. I hadn't really bothered looking at my GPX traces for hours and hours as the course was so well marked but got the trace to show, and whilst I wasn't on the line, it was straight near enough and so I showed my watch, pointed at the line and headed off down the alternative path. Within 200 metres there was another marker, so I am guessing some kind soul moved the marker as was clearly in the wrong place. After a while the three go past me, not a word of course.

Some guy hauled it past me, closely followed by another, the 87km runners were beginning to catch up now. Not had the music on for a while now, but gave up totally from this point so could hear other runners coming up behind me and could get out of their way. I quickly learnt not to stand by a puddle when letting other runners go past, the quick guys would just go straight through the puddle of course rather than make any effort to try and not splash you. It was maybe the 147 th runner that passed that was the first to say “Merci” generally it was just oblivious to you being there or a look of incredulousness.

The end game was pretty miserable to be honest, the rain eased off about 2pm perhaps and I eventually dried out, never really got warm, but at least the weather was rather more pleasant for the rest of the time. When you were on road or wide tracks it was fine as you weren't worried about others getting past but on single track or narrow it was basically someone going past you every 15 seconds perhaps for eight hours, depressing on just about every level.

The main thing I was looking forward to was Rachel catching me up, although there were some worried texts as I frankly had no idea where I was and worrying could even be behind where she was, had no idea where her start was, I'd seen zero evidence of another race start line and by now I was in the 80s GPS wise so if I was behind her then I was looking at a 120 mile run!

Had my tired spell about 3pm to 4pm, certainly wobbled a bit and went real slow for a few miles, took caffeine and snapped out of it before too long. I recalled at TP 100 in 2013 that the guy leading the race had stopped to check on Liz Tunna and I when we were having a bit of a slow wobble in the night. Different class of runners in the UK! Here of course nobody paid the slightest attention.

Plod plod plod, finally another aid station, running pretty much not that active at this stage, probably the worst aid station. Very muddy, food a mess, sit down for five minutes to give the feet a break and re-sort my back pack, can feel some nasty chafing (which had started at SDW100 and was getting re-aggravated now), arms aching too from two bottles so was going to pack one of those away. At least water was sorted now, hosepipes with water basically, I did wonder if I'd simply somehow missed them early on, I think I must of in retrospect, how? I have no idea.

Stand up to have a 15 second graze at the aid station table, turn around, ah of course, now some French guy is sitting where I was. What else would I be expecting? I grab my stuff, go sit somewhere else. Took two goes, obviously he was sitting half on my backpack. He just looks at me like I'm an idiot for daring to pull out my backpack, with an “excusey moi” in my “polite thing to say to French runners rather than just smack them” phrase book. I'll admit my patience was wearing pretty thin by now.

The usual no idea how far the next aid station game is resumes, more runners pass, some in the 56km race now, so of course they're hauling, at least now the 87km runners aren't so quick, so can bear to be behind you for 5 seconds before you give them the chance to get by on anything single track.

In reality this was probably the most straightforward bit of the course, a long section on good trails through woods and on road without too much narrow stuff to cause concern, and with so many runners any worries about navigation had long since vanished.

Rachel is long in to her run now and am hoping she'll catch me up and I get a text to say she passed a point that we both knew about (I was texting her a couple of landmarks) and she was two hours behind me, so that was good. Probably going twice as fast as me so would catch me up soon hopefully.

The last aid station finally hoves in to view, hooray! Unfortunately I know pretty well that this is 22km from the finish. 14 miles, at least (this was one of the places you could be met at so knew the mileage of three locations for sure). Was busy, you can tell there was no one in charge, mainly because couldn't get to the food for about 30 non-runners, kids and so on blocking the way. I've got maybe 101-102 miles on my legs, yeah, let's have a jostle for food, all a bit chaotic, looking at maybe 5 hours to the finish now. I've eaten everything I was carrying. I bet they have lots of things that I could just put in my pack or pockets for the long haul till home. Silly me. You can tell this event was put on by non-runners, no other 100 mile event would be like this so far from home with guys who are suffering now. I manage to find two of the little cake things that I am sick to death of by now but that's the only thing that isn't going to disintegrate within two seconds of leaving the place. Have a sit down, of course all the close benches and chairs by the tables have friends and family sitting in waiting for their runners. I find a chair 50 feet away. Leave my pack and bottle on it to go graze a few crisps after a little while, yeah back in 30 seconds and someone has but those on the floor and is sitting the chair (56k runner I noticed but hey why should they be any different?) I go sit by the medics. Did try to get some ibuprofen as was in some serious pain now. That conversation didn't go very far, my own fault of course and soon gave up. Sat down again and thought I'd wait a bit in the hope Rachel would catch up. But was seizing up and after far more procrastination that I should have had eventually plodded off.

I'd say generally I was still moving with purpose and everything was hurting so much now in a general kind of way that running wasn't that much worse than walking so took to falling down slopes a bit more than I had and gradually in fact noticed that as the miles (and hours!) ticked along that the runners were beginning to get a bit friendlier! Yes, the occasional “merci” when you let someone get by, “bon chance” a couple of attempts at making conversation (which never got anywhere as nobody spoke a word of English, but at least trying!), some spectators started to reappear and the general atmosphere was lifted somewhat.

At some point I must really have started looking bad as I started getting quite a few “bon courage” from girls especially, I think by now all the quicker runners doing the 87k and 56k were gone and everyone now passing was walking or run/walking kind of thing.

Just for fun there was one last nasty beach section, which was a rocky sea weed scramble to avoid a dunking, that was fun on 110 mile legs, especially when the guy behind grabs me about 5 times to keep upright!

The end would just never come and the lights were beginning to fade a bit, cruelly one way or another folk start to say “cinq kilometre”, “sept kilometre” etc and this was from maybe 12 or 15 out. Garmin had died now. But gradually the “how far you have to go lies” went from 5/6/7 to 4/5/6 to 2/3/4, was getting a bit worried that Rachel hadn't showed up yet as I really was not going quickly by any imagination!

Finally a bend comes and you can see a “dock” of some sort and then there are about 30 “false finishes” you spot as another bend, another building, another path to follow and finally the ultimate insult, a bloody diversion off the straight line maybe a km from the finish! Was maybe only an extra 200 yards, my Garmins had died with 112 miles on them and that was a couple of hours ago! So I'm guessing I had 116-117 miles on my legs (Rachel's 56km was 4 miles over by her Garmin, which also explains why she took longer than I thought to catch me up), and bless her she did, maybe 500 yards from the end. Could have cried! First English words for the whole 29+ hours. Lots of cheering towards the end, was very well supported there. I was way beyond caring as the 56km runners steam past to have a flashy sprint finish!

At least the finish, what would the medal be like? Or was it a prized buckle? 177km (ho, ho, ho!) runners to the left, others to the right. What size shirt would I like? Medium please. Yup, that's it. No drinks, no food, no medal, no buckle, a rubbish shirt. Thanks for coming. Finish line drop bags? Of course “miles” away and was so glad I had Rachel there! She actually put on my number, and ended up having to rummage through a few hundred to find mine, I just wanted to sit down. The French are masters of the finish line anti-climax. Not that I cared. I just hurt.

In the end official time was 29:21, 281 st out of 587 finishers, so in the top half, which is surprising. No figures for DNF's (race limit was 1000) so have to think 200-250-300 wouldn't have made it. Worked out that roughly 1750 runners passed me in the 56km and 87km events!

In the end I am glad that I did the event, it was an experience and in fact despite everything I think it was well organised and much of my unhappiness with the event is my own fault for having any kind of expectations, not speaking French and not accepting that the ultra running scene is fundamentally different in France. I get the feeling that ultra running here is a “clique” – it's the elite, you're serious, you look the part, you have the gear, you have a game face, nothing else matters, certainly not other runners. Finishing as high up the race ladder as you can is all that counts. The later, slower runners seemed more “normal” for want of a better phrase, friendlier, more supportive, basically the slower they were, the nicer they seemed.

What I like about the US and UK ultra scene is that it's full of decent people, fundamentally good chaps and chappesses. Nobody gets left behind, nobody falls and aren't caught. There are no idiots, everyone is friendly and you're all in it together. The battle is within against the course, not against the other runners. I don't go along looking for a fight, I bet I lost an hour slowing and stopping for other runners to get past, the French ultra runner thinks I'm an idiot for letting them get past so easy. Why would I be smiling at them as they pass scowling at me? I only just realised in fact that when this real pretty girl put her hand on my shoulder and started talking to me with a “bon courage, mon ami….” I wish I knew what she was saying, but it occurred to me that she was the first runner I saw smile. I'd say that was about 27 hours in.

The event really is huge for an ultra, over 500 finishers for a 100+ mile event makes it one of the biggest on the planet so all the more surprising that nobody seems to have heard of it, I suspect they don't care. On the plus side the course was the best marked I'd ever seen at a 100, the amount of marshalls on the course was unprecedented in my experience. Otherwise though, for a 100+ mile event the aid stations were inadequate, to the point frankly of being an embarrassment, but when you're the 2000th runner they've seen, so what. They're trying to cater for folk out for a 28k walk as well as a 177k run and it's probably impossible to cater for everyone. It obviously was not an event put on by folk who have ever run a 100 mile event. At TEC100 for example, everything was set up about one foot from the racing line, the last aid station here the benches were 50' past the food, and the water was outside. Only those who have 100 miles on their legs can fully understand the misery of an extra 50' when there is a huge space right opposite the food where the benches could have gone, it's just a thousand tiny aggravations like that. In isolation any one little thing wouldn't matter a jot, but 29 hours of several thousand tiny aggravations wears you down. And it's not like I was treated badly by everyone or anyone for that matter, everyone treated everyone the same it seemed. It was just me being ignored at aid stations for example, no runners got any help, the French shove and push each other as much as they did me.

I think the really sad thing is that I really wanted to like this event. It was out of my sphere of being comfortable, well over 100 miles and I hoped it would be good. Maybe it was and I missed the point? Perhaps this is French “old school” and I'm too much English “new school?” But hey, a couple of Brits showed up, Rachel did great at her run so soon after the SDW100, and we got it done.


Things I Learnt

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