AUGUST 12 2017 TRAIL DES FANTOMES 100K
La Roche en Ardenne, four o'clock in the morning, start of the Ultra Trail des Fantômes...100 KM, 3200 meters of positive altitude difference and many, many long kilometres of highly technical terrain.
At 58 years old this is my first 100K and I feel some degree of trepidation in advance of what I presume will be the biggest challenge in my running career so far. I have the headlight on since the first three hours will be run in darkness, I'm carrying 2.5 liters of water, 10 energy bars, security blanket and whistle, spare T-shirt....I decide to leave the rain jacket in the car...bad decision since it will rain for most of the day....feet covered in vaseline since there will be river crossings involved.
And we are off....the first 10K are not very technical but serve up some massive climbs: despite the very cool weather I'm quickly drenched in sweat. I'm trying to follow the first lady for a while, but this soon proves to be too ambitious, so I settle into my own rhythm and watch her disappear into the night....not to be seen again until the finish. After about 10K the course starts to serve up the first technical stretches: single track trail following the border of the river Ourthe with fallen trees to climb over, tree roots covering the path everywhere, slippery moss-covered rocks to negotiate....and all this still in complete darkness by the feeble light of the headlight. Soon I pass another runner lying next to the trail covered by his security blanket: I learn later on that he had to be evacuated with a broken leg....a sober reminder how important it is to remain careful: speed is not important here, being safe is!
More climbing, this time straight up steep slopes, sometimes crawling up on all fours....ah, the delights of trailrunning!!!
I reach the first 'ravito' at 20k after 2h44: take a few minutes to refill the bottles, eat a banana and a couple of handfuls of raisins. And I'm off again: from now on I will be more or less on my own for the next 12 hours....if you like to be around lots of other people...go run somewhere else!
I cross the river at KM 23, wading through the stream with the water at some point up to my buttocks...better not slip and fall here....at KM 26 we cross the Barrage de la Ourthe and start climbing up a magnificent single track, up several stairways, I have one runner keeping me company for a couple of K's, but then he falls back, another runner passes me...and I'm on my own again. Now the trail follows the river again for a long time: to say that the going is slow would be an understatement: at one point the trail goes so steeply up that you have to pull yourself up using the (conveniently present) metal chain handrail. From Km 30 onwards my legs are starting to ache...only 70 more Km to go...jippee.
I reach the second ravito at KM 38 after 5h16: two glasses of coke, cake, peperkoek and jelly bears provide a sugar boost to keep going. For a while the course seems to be somewhat easier now, until I reach a point where some saboteurs have removed the arrows. The organisers are busy putting them back, but still I get lost and end up completely off-course in a village. Thankfully I remembered the name of the next ravito point and some friendly hikers point me in the right direction. I have just added 2K to the course...so the tally for the day will be 102K. I reach ravito 3 (KM 59) after 8h17. Time to Whatsapp the home front with a re-assuring message that hubby and daddy is still alive and (feebly) kicking.
The second lady catches up with me, we run together for 20-30 minutes, but she slowly pulls away from me: my testosterone level being quite low at this point, I wisely refrain from attempting to follow her.
There are now 24 long kilometres to cover to ravito 4 at KM 83 (this is where the extra water I have been carrying all day will be needed). Again the terrain gets quite technical as we re-join my favourite river Ourthe (NOT!) for many more kilometres along its delightful banks. It feels like I climbed over at least 100 fallen trees, although this is probably a (slight) exaggeration...the trail being so technical, I also forget to eat during these long hours and I'm having a serious mental dip as I pull into ravito 4 after 12h06. So I make the wise decision to rest for around 10 minutes, drink more cups of delightfully sugary coke (miracle drink for the trail...) and eat a large portion of rice pudding...nothing in my life has ever tasted so good!
Revitalised I hit the road again ('road' being distinctly the wrong word here...) for more invigorating long hills and single track. But I feel the worst is behind me now and every kilometre ticking away brings me closer to the finish... (yes, I know that has been the case all day, but now it finally feels like the end is within reach.
Final ravito at K 95 (after 14h03), followed by one more massive nose-touching-knees-will-this-hill-never-end-WTF steep climb and then I'm over the top followed by three easy K's down to the river. I feel massively good (ahem...under the circumstances) and I'm hitting speeds of 6.00m/K for the first time all day. There is the sign 'Finish 2 KM), more downhill, into the forest on a switchback track now, sign 'Finish 1 KM', careful, CAREFUL, nothing should go wrong now, down to the river, into the river, the water feels great, I'm on top of the world, out of the river and up the river bank on the other side...500 meters to go, through the La Roche campground, I smell BBQ, people are eating and drinking beer along the track, I recognise some faces of kind souls who have been encouraging runners throughout the day at various points, I receive encouragements, I receive applause, one more turn, there is the finish, that's it, DONE, OVER, NO MORE.
14h47 minutes, 22nd place out of 69 finishers, I'm one happy trailrunner!
Thanks for reading....and....keep on running!