The next stop on my skyrunning season was Buff Epic in the Pyrenees, a “supersky” race in the Skyrunner World Series meaning double points were up for grabs. Another new course for me but not my first time in the valley after holidaying there last year.
Driving down in the van the week before resulted in many benefits to the usual flight. For one, we could drive up to 2000m every night which helped acclimatise, normally my biggest weakness. We also got to look around the course a bit more than usual. A few days before I did a big run to look at the top section which featured the main ridge. Considering the race was put onto a bad weather course due to forecast storms, I was glad I got to at least experience this ridge in training!
Running a bad weather course is never as fun as the intended one but at least this one was of a similar distance and climb to the original. The amended course ended up being around 42km with 2800m of ascent, just cutting out the highest section of the original route. The possibility of rain excited me even with the altered route. The day before the race was 35 degrees and I doubt in that heat I would manage to even finish.
Throughout the race I was always pushing and hoping it would start raining soon…it never came, this coupled with more running lower down in the muggy valley didn’t help my race but throughout I just kept going hoping that by the end maybe everything would turn out okay.
The first climb was around 600m and I was already trailing by the top. In Skyrunning, uphill speed is my biggest weakness. Thankfully running downhill is turning out to be one of my strengths and I overtook about 10 people on the way back to the valley floor. One climb done and I stopped at the next aid station to fill water. With the lack of stormy weather this would happen more than intended and not having a support crew was going to cost me important time.
The second of the three climbs was the biggest and I did most of it with Zach Miller. We had just about caught Oriol Cardona Coll and Zaid Ait Malek by the top but the downhill opened big gaps.
Last climb and I am in 4th position. We now had 1000m of ascent left before descending back to the finish. Up to this point the entire race had felt hard but I had refused to give in and just carried on pushing. Finally, my tenacity begins to pay off. I catch Zaid half way up and Rui near the top who had completely exploded. I am now in second position, with just Oriol ahead. I try to push on to catch him but quickly understand that I just haven’t got it in me. A stitch had been building the entire way up and even though I was less than a minute behind by the top there was no catching up on the downhill.
Crossing the line in second I wasn’t too disappointed but it doesn’t take long for me to question how I could have closed the gap earlier in the race. Still, the race gave me important points in the world series and the next race is an old favourite and far more of my sort of terrain. Tromsø here I come.
Great photos by Sho Fujimaki