La Diagonale Des Fous 2017 – Back to racing, back to 100 miles

After doing the Chamonix races CCC, TDS and UTMB three years in a row it was time to try something different. After surviving UTMB I wanted to try another 100 miler. As a result of approximately 5 minutes long selection process I picked the La Diagonale. This was back in September 2016.

Since then things went a bit downhill – couple of injuries early in the year affected my HK100 and 9Dragons races. I took few months off training – just jogging and hiking for fun. Then one day in June on a easy morning run my left calf gave up. Sudden sharp pain right across the leg and I knew I have a problem. Just as I was about getting ready to start the proper training for La Diagonale…

There was no running, no hiking for me for the rest of June and the whole of July. Not ideal with tough 100 miler on horizon. Physio treatments were working but the stubborn calf took its time. All I could do for almost a month was the stationary bike. Then at the very end of July I felt reasonably fine to give the calf a test. Very slow and careful walk up and down the road with total elevation gain of about 10 meters over 400 meters of distance – yep, can call that hill repeats. I had about 10 weeks to get from that sorry state of mine to 100 miles ready.

My training was not ideal. I did no flat running, no tempo training, no uphill running at all during those 10 weeks. All I could do were different variations on walking uphill and running downhill. The Mt Parker radars and Mt Butler steps felt like a second home. And from time to time I went back on the stationary bike for some cardio exercise.

I felt I have managed to build up some decent strength in the legs. Was it good enough for some 165km and close to 10,000m of elevation gain and loss though? I had no idea. I have to admit that I was quite nervous about this one …

I had to be realistic so I had no time target for this race. Just based on my UTMB experience I thought that any result between 40 to 48 hours would be good for me. The fact that the La Diagonale cut off times are very generous played in my favour a bit. My post-injury leg still needs some time to warm up before running. So to play it safe I decided that no matter what is happening around me I would start just walking for first 1 – 2km and deal with the consequences of that decision later.

We arrived in Reunion only 2 days ahead of the race (Tuesday afternoon). That gave me just about enough time to recover from the flight and do the bib pick up chores on Wednesday. No time for course recce – the only warm up were few short walks around Saint-Dennis.

The race starts Thursday at 10pm in Saint-Pierre – about 70km south of Saint-Dennis. While it takes about 80 mins by car the race shuttle journey is about 3 hours long as the buses stop and pick up people along the route. I was aware of this and chose the shuttle with the idea of sleeping on that bus. It sort of worked.

The bus convoy to start at St Pierre

The bus convoy to start at St Pierre

Once in start area in Saint-Pierre we had to put on the event tee (compulsory to wear from start to CP2 and then again from the last CP to finish) before dropping the drop bags and going through the mandatory gear check. When this was done all we could do was to sit down on the rough gravelly ground in an enclosed area and wait for the gates to open.

Sitting and waiting for the start

Sitting and waiting for the start

I used 2 drop bags – one for Cilaos (after about 70km) and one for Sans-Souci (about 40km before finish). I had fresh pair of shoes and socks + clean jersey for each. On top of that spare headlamp battery and extra power bank for Cilaos and some stock of energy bars and VFUEL drink powders.

Packed backpack and drop bags

Packed backpack and drop bags

With me I carried all the mandatory gear + phone (surprisingly not mandatory), power bank, light windbreaker and extra softflask. No hiking poles – these are not allowed for this race.

Once the gates opened we could move behind the elites to the starting line. At one point I feared I would get crushed by the moving mass of human bodies but at the end i made it safely to start and quite close to the front. Few minutes later the race was on and Saint-Pierre carnival could begin. It was unbelievable how many people were lining up both sides of the road cheering, dancing, singing, playing bongos, giving us high fives. They even had fireworks. And while this all was happening I was walking and only gradually speeding up. I tried to keep as close to the right side of the road as possible in order not to block the others running pass me. This resulted in me probably high fiving more people than any other person in the race :-) . But at the same time I was dropping down the order towards the back of the field very quickly. I knew this would happen. It was a bit tough to go through but I kept reminding myself that pulling some muscle right after start would be pretty silly.

Eventually after feeling sufficiently warmed up I slowly switched to jogging and by the time we reached the beginning of the first long climb I ran the longest flat distance in past 4 months.

The climb was initially on the road. I had no idea how far back I am (I though naively that perhaps at the end of top 1000) but I thought that it is time to start having some fun. So I decided to go on and see how long it will take me to pass 100 people without pushing too hard. I counted one by one each person I passed. After first 100 I started to count another 100. It was fun and made those first kilometres of climbing feel easier. By this time we were already climbing up through some sugar cane fields. I tried to keep my pace steady and comfortable. I was constantly passing people – and that felt great. I could see why John Ellis enjoys starting slow. At one point a police off-road car passed us, stopped at the side of the trail – the policemen opened the window and started singing and cheering us on. How cool was that. I somehow can’t imagine that happening in Hong Kong.

While I was climbing quite well very soon I started to feel very very sleepy. This never happened to me on the first night of any ultra. Maybe it was the quick change of altitude, may be the blocked nose that was making me feel uncomfortable from early morning. But whatever it was I could barely keep my eyes open only few hours after the start. Luckily the night was not too cold. I decided to go for power nap number one. I just sat down on the side of the trail and closed my eyes for 5 minutes. It worked magic. Five mins later I was fresh as daisy and ready to start passing the same people again.

My nutrition at this stage and for most of the first 100km was VFUEL drink and then whatever I could grab from the Cps – chocolate cookies, Coke, some crackers, some bread. I stayed away from bananas – for some reason I did not feel like having them – but I ate some oranges – the exact opposite of what I would normally do. It was working well, for now.

Good thing was that as the night was progressing my nose unblocked itself. That was one issue out of the way. But once we left those wide roads and trails and entered the wooded area  after Notre Dame de la paix (25km) the bottlenecks began. That’s the one big consequence of starting slowly… The first came soon after the 25km CP – I was stuck in one place for over 20 minutes. I noticed quickly that jumping the queue (while technically possible) was seriously frowned upon by the crowd. I did not even dare to try :-) . So here I made up my mind – I told myself not to stress, take it easy and enjoy the night out. I was a bit shocked when I saw that the reason of this bottle neck was one totally insignificant mud puddle but it was what it was. I had no cut-off time pressure so no rush.

Once I cleared this bottle neck I tried to pass people again – just to be more ahead in case on next bottleneck. And there were 2 more serious ones. The second one as silly as the first – just some minor obstacle on the trail. The third one was a result of the trail all of a sudden getting pretty steep (downhill), narrow and technical. This early in the race it was bound to create a bottleneck. Altogether I lost more than an hour and a half by not moving at all in these traffic jams.

Other than this all was fine. Calf was holding up, shoes were grippy, I had for me unusual confidence on technical bits and I was passing people. We were now crossing some cattle areas without really seeing any cattle. The new day was slowly breaking and the surrounding mountains were slowly emerging from the darkness. The dawn views were stunning.

My legs felt pretty good and although the trail was single track the grass around it offered good grip. I used that extra space to push through field. Short climbs and descents were alternating for a while before we started the final climb towards Piton Textor. Then all of a sudden I began falling asleep again. My brain was no longer able to pass the “move” messages to my legs. I must have been a comedy sight. Lucky for me I was now on what looked like some dirt service road in the woods with nice grass around it. I quickly found nice place to sit down and sleep. I don’t really know how long was I sleeping, I was too sleepy to look at the watch before I closed my eyes. But I guess it was not more than 10-15 minutes. Soon after I woke up I was again passing some familiar faces.

After the first night

After the first night

I kept my phone off and deep inside my backpack since the start but here near the Piton Textor CP (41km) I had to stop, pull the phone out and take some photos.The views were simply too stunning.

Stunning views

Stunning views

From Piton Textor we went downhill (mostly) for about 10km to Mare a Boue. Although we were now above 2000m we were also above the clouds and under the direct sun. It was getting quite hot. Since the start I only carried with me max about a liter of drinks. I had a spare empty soft flask in the backpack. And with this sunshine I was wondering if it would not be smarter from now on to fill up that spare bottle too. For the time being I decided to stay with one liter and save some weight.

Checkpoint

Checkpoint

The downhill to Mare a Boue was rather uneventful for me. No issues, running happily. But once the downhill ended and we emerged on flattish concrete road I decided to save the legs and walk instead of running the final few km to the CP. I still switched to jog mode here and there when the road seemed to go at least a bit downhill but mostly I stuck to the leg saving mode. I believed that I might need those legs later on.

I grabbed some sweet biscuits, had some Coke, refilled my VFUEL bottles and went on up the hill towards the rim of Cirque Cilaos. This climb was definitely tougher than the profile map was suggesting. I tried to keep steady pace but it was not easy. But at least I kept going on without pausing. In any case my mind was already focusing on the insanely steep downhill that followed. One of my pre-race targets was to reach Cilaos still feeling fresh. So surviving that descent was quite important.

Once I reached the end of climb I could see nothing but the cloud below. This was going to be like plane landing descending from blue skies through the clouds and hopefully landing in Cilaos in one piece.

The first part of the descent to Mare a Joseph was quite something. Over about 1.5km we dropped down more than 700m. It was technical and probably thanks to being in the clouds quite damp. I was really appreciating the performance of the Michelin rubber on my shoe soles. Luckily I had no mishaps on this downhill.

On the way to Cilaos

On the way to Cilaos

I refilled my provisions at the Mare a Joseph CP (63km) and moved on towards Cilaos. Here I took out my phone again to take some photos of the mountain wall we just descended. It looked pretty ominous live but the photos can’t really reflect the three dimensional reality… As my mind was up in the clouds I went straight where I should have turned left – on impossible to miss turn :-) . Lucky for me there were several good souls shouting at me “à droite”.

We came down from that wall, from somewhere high above those clouds

We came down from that wall, from somewhere high above those clouds

I can’t remember much from the rest of the 5km long trip to Cilaos (68km) except that all I was thinking about now was my drop bag and fresh pair of shoes and socks. So when I finally got there and had possession of my first drop bag I was keen to get down to business. I was quite surprised by the set up of this CP. Same like at other events I expected everything to be in one place or in some logical directional order. Not here. Here first were the drop bags on the football stadium. Sitting down under the sun on the football pitch I changed my jersey, my shoes and socks, plugged the watch to the charger and with the drop bag in hand I went to find food and drinks. To my surprise these 2 things were not in the same place. I quickly ate something and went to search for drinks. I found out that the drinks are further away – right at the exit of the CP. I was keen to go on but not before dropping back my drop bag. To my surprise I had to go all the way back to the football pitch at the other end of this large CP – to return the drop bag at the same place where I picked it up. And then back to the other end – the CP exit – where finally I could also get some drink and refill the bottles. Overall I can’t really say anything bad about the organization but the set up of this Cilaos CP did not make much sense to me. It is hard to believe that there was not any other better way.

The beginning of the next section was mostly downhill although here and there we had to climb too. At the end of this post Cilaos descent we had to cross a stream. It should have been routine crossing – jump from a rock to rock and to the other side. Not for me… We were under the hot sun and I had this genius idea to cool down with this nice cold stream water. And even better idea to do it while standing on one of the rocks in the middle of the stream. I somehow forgot there is a ballast on my back (aka backpack). It moved a bit, I lost balance and there I was almost knee deep in the water. There went my fresh dry socks and shoes I just put on … My only consolation and hope was that no sand made it in with the water. And I hoped the shoes and socks would dry fast in that mid day heat. Luckily that is what happened.

Once on the other side the climb up to Col Taibit begun. It was the first one of the monsters to come. Surprisingly I felt great climbing. I was passing lots of people going up. Few had managed to pass me too but I re-passed them again later when they stopped to catch breath. I went all the way up non stop without pausing except for the quick water and Coke refill break at the CP at km 74. It may sound freaky but I was so enjoying this climb. And higher up we were getting the more breathtaking the views were. I felt like I am in the Avatar movie – all that was missing was me turning blue and flying around those hills.

My having fun continued for another 20-30km – I was going up running down often with a smile on my face. These were the best moments ever I had during ultra races.

But nothing good lasts forever, especially during ultras. Things can change very quickly. And when few things conspire against you at the same time a disaster can be on cards. This is what happened as the darkness of the second night started to set upon us.

First – just around the Ilet a Bourse CP (97km) I started to feel weird, weird bordering on sick. A feeling I have never experienced during any ultra event before. First I was worried I may have been drinking way too much (because I was drinking quite a lot). And that would not be good news. Then when I reached the CP I had a sip of Coke and that made things worse almost instantly. I felt dizzier right away. At that point I suspected that the issue may be simply too much sugar. Well since the start my nutrition was sugar based – VFUEL, Coke, sweet cookies, biscuits, oranges. And it seemed that my body had enough of this. With about 70km to go I had to make a change and switch to a nutrition plan I have never tried before. One of the rules of surviving ultras is to never to try anything new on a race day. I had no choice though – I needed to keep replenishing my energy stores and I had to start experimenting.

Luckily La Reunion – even it is an island in the middle of Indian Ocean – is still France. And France is the land of saucisson :-) . I always stayed away from cold cuts or meats during ultras. That simply was not something I would consider to power my runs. But now I had to try something different as sugary stuff was out of question – at least for the time being. I filled my bottles with plain water only, no energy drink in it from now on. And I stuffed myself with saucisson, bread with some pate and while I was on it some dried ham too. This should provide some calories and I guess it was also stuff rich on sodium that was no longer part of my drink. One problem with the new nutrition was that I could not really carry anything that I could eat with me. So from now on (if this new diet worked) I would have to eat enough before leaving each CP to power me to the next one. I still had few energy bars with me but I was trying to avoid eating them as they all were sweet.

Now the second problem was the lovely elevation chart we had on our bibs. Due to its scale it was a bit misleading. Many tiny bumps on the chart were serious climbs. This mixed up with the tiredness that comes with the second night lead to some major surprise for me. And it was not a good one.

The evil elevation chart on the bib

The evil elevation chart on the bib

Somewhere after Ilet a Bourse we started series of climbs and descents. In that darkness I could not really see all the tiny details on the chart. Also unlike many other events the CPs did not have those large banners with name of the CP, the distance done, and distance plus elevation to the next CP. And if these were there they were well hidden from me… So after few hills I totally lost any sense of location (without knowing it). Somewhere somehow I mentally placed myself one climb ahead of my actual location.

So when I reached Grande Place (101km) I believed I am already at Roche Ancree. When I reached the medic area (and stream crossing) at Roche Ancree I was confused – as I expected to find a CP there, not just medic tents. It should have hit me that I am not where I thought I am but my brain somehow ignored all the warning signs of being wrong. So when the next big climb came I was totally convinced I am on the final ascent to Maido. I pushed up the hill, feeling strong, planning to take a short nap once I reach the CP at the top before running down to Sans Souci. I was a bit surprised that with this pace I may reach Sans Souci before sunrise but even this clear sign that my brain is wrong was ignored at the time. I reached the top, arrived in CP, ate some more cured ham and saucisson but not too much, as after all I had 14k of downhill awaiting. Right… I pulled out the space blanket, wrapped myself in it like a cocoon and went to sleep for 15-20 mins. Once I got up again I topped up the bottles with water, not fully because again, I was going for cool dark 14K downhill. I did not even take any more food before leaving the CP.

Once leaving the CP I followed the directions of the marshals and soon I was climbing up, steeply. Now I was confused. First I thought I am going the opposite way – back where I came from – that would be the only explanation why I am going up instead of down. But when I saw that everybody was going the same way first I tried to verify my location and direction but without success. So I followed. My next line of thought was that perhaps this is another of those minor bumps on the profile map and once I get over this that promised downhill would begin. Then when another 2 guys arrived I asked them directly why are we still climbing when we should be running down to Sans Souci. One of them told me that indeed we will run down but first we have to climb “a little”, about 800m. I naively took this as going uphill for next 800 meters and then finally start running down. What a confused idiot I was…

What followed instead was even steeper climb. And then through the trees I saw more lights much much higher up and moving – so clearly not stars. I started to panic a bit. I was in no way ready for a major climb. I did not think I have enough water and most likely I did not eat enough at the CP to get me over this monster climb. We are talking about 1000m elevation gain that I believed I had done already …

Then when I saw the sign Maido – 3 hours I knew … I screwed up… I was now seriously concerned that because of this confusion my race may end here. Not because I wanted to give up. But because I may not have enough energy in me to get me up that hill with enough strength left to continue.

I was mentally broken. From happy man enjoying the trails like never before to a broken zombie within one CP… Not much I could do though. I was still sane enough to think what the best course of action could be. I decided to take the climb a bit easier, pause here and there, to preserve some energy. And I had to ration my water – just a sip here and there when I felt really thirsty. Enough to fool the thirsty mind.

These were seriously tough 3-4 hours. While I managed to avoid any hallucinations I realized that no matter what the brain will always  find some revenge for having to stay awake for 2 nights in a row. If it does not let you see weird things it will at least make you believe you are further than you actually are. And then hit you with the reality when you least expect it. Brains are mean!

As I was making my way I could hear spooky sounds of the wind coming out of Mafate. It was quite windy but most of the time I was sheltered by rocks or trees so other than the horror movie like sounds the wind was not an issue. The slower pace and food rationing somehow worked and I was getting closer to the top. At one point I saw someone jogging down in the opposite direction telling us that we are very close, only 10 minutes. Well that was clearly false information. In about 10 mins I did reach some place full of people – but that was neither the top nor the CP. It was some place where various support crews of local teams assembled. To get to the top and to the CP I had to keep on climbing for quite a while longer. How long I have no idea. But by the time I reached the top and the CP a bit further down the hill a new day was dawning. The trail was on the edge of the Cirque Mafate and the shadows of the mountains, peaks and ridges started to emerge from the darkness. The view was absolutely stunning.

I finally made my way to the Maido CP (115km) too exhausted to do anything. I just sat down and remained sitting still. The volunteers came to ask me if I want anything – food, drink, bed with blanket… I had no strength to even reply them at that moment. I was mentally drained. After a while I came to a mutual agreement with a lady in charge of the noodle soup that the soup would be good. I ate or drank two big bowls. Once this was done I started to move around the CP going after everything not sweet they had. The saucisson was the clear winner of my quest for sodium and calories but bread with pate, ham, and salty crackers also went down to the belly. I filled up my water bottles with plain water and drank some sparkling water and coffee at the CP. After about 15 mins spent here I was ready for the 14k long descent to Sans Souci.

While physically I felt reasonably well mentally I found it hard to run after that Maido massacre. So I was just walking down the hill. Lots of people were passing me but I could not care less. Less than a kilometer after the CP I had to stop and take a nap. The exhaustion from that Maido climb was overcoming me, I was falling asleep while walking. I found a nice tree at the side of trail, sat down, leaned my back against it and closed my eyes. I guess about 15 minutes later I was ready to go again.

The short nap helped a lot. It was quickly getting hot on the sun but I was quite happy to see the blue skies after the long night. Confidence was slowly returning and I started to alternate fast walk with jog on this long downhill.

About 5-6km before the Sans Souci CP the surface changed from classic forrest trail (soft soil, roots, some rocks, some grass) to a dusty orange coloured but quite even surfaced path with some steps. It was a gradual descent, not to steep and I decided try to see how running would feel. And it felt OK. I picked up the pace and started to charge down towards the CP. Soon I was passing people, more less everybody who passed me earlier on this downhill. I only slowed down and switched back to walking pace when the road evened out – it was time to save the legs for later mode again. But the happy days were back!

Sans Souci (129km) was the second drop bag location. Based on the elevation chart only few small hills were awaiting us but one thing I learned earlier was not to get fooled by that drawing and expect the worst. To get ready for that I decided to make the most of this CP, eat, drink, change, rest before heading out.

Unlike at Cilaos here the set up was more logical. We entered food and drinks area first. I refilled my bottles with plain water again. I ate the saucisson that seemed to go down well not causing any digestive issues. So I ate some more of that and then some more and topped it up with the cured ham. This was a complete nutrition U turn for me. A cup of sparkling water and coffee completed the feast. No sweets, no Coke.

Job done for the second pair of shoes

Job done for the second pair of shoes and socks

Then was time to go and grab my drop bag and change the jersey and socks and shoes. I don’t know who came up with the idea to provide us with buckets of water for our feet – but that person would deserve Nobel prize for humanity if such thing existed. I took off my shoes and socks and soaked my feet in that foot bath. Nothing better than going into fresh socks and shoes with cleanish and refreshed feet. I noticed some minor bloody abrasions under my ankle so I asked one of the medics for some bandaid – I immediately received some professional minor wound taping service – and I was ready to go.

Bath for the feet

Bath for the feet

Fresh, happy I set off towards the unknown. On the way down from Maido to Sans Souci I suspected that the ridge on the other side of valley may be what we may need to climb later. I was right. We ran down the road for a while, then down through some not exactly pristine wooded area until we ended up on a gravel road. Here as was my strategy I switched from running to fast walk. Then came river crossing, climb up under or over some sort of water pipe and we were climbing again. First on some rugged trail, later on the road for a while. Finally we reached the trail proper and from then on it was a relentless never-ending climb up in more less straight line. No turns, no switchbacks – just straight ahead up the hill until there was no more uphill left. I was in a group of 4-5 guys here. Some started faster but later ran out of steam and dropped back a bit but at the end we made it to top more less all at the same time. So far so good but “fun” was about to begin.

River crossing

River crossing

The following downhill started innocently, just a road. But soon we were in the woods on what looked like mountain biking trail. And then that finished and super technical section full of boulders and rocks hit me. I slowed down preferring safety of my knees, ankles and face before the speed. That resulted in more and more people closing on me from behind. And having people behind me on this sort of steep technical downhill makes me nervous. I usually prefer to pause and let those people go ahead. And that is what I did. It slowed me down even more but I did not really care that much knowing we will be at a CP soon anyway. Eventually I made it on the road and to the next CP (138 km). This CP was either not stocked very well or the good stuff was already eaten by others – nothing not sweet except some salty crackers. I grabbed several of those, had a cup of sparkling water, topped up my water bottles and went on.

Again I believed naively that as the elevation chart on the bib suggested we are going to continue running down towards La Possession. What I failed to notice was this almost invisible to tired naked eye mini bump on the chart. This in reality meant another technical bouldery rocky section – this time straight up. And more up. My legs were rather fine but I was starting to hate the unknown author of that elevation chart. How the hell can they make Dog Tooth like (or worse) climb totally invisible on the elevation chart … I was quietly climbing and taking this on the chin but inside I was boiling with rage. Moreover – until now (unlike UTMB) my feet were dealing with the terrain well – the strategy with 3 pairs of shoes for the race clearly working well. These boulders, rocks and gravel however were beginning to change that. My feet were hurting. And things were not getting better. I don’t know how many variations of bouldery, rocky, gravelly, pebbly surface mankind ever invented but I must have gone over all of them between here and the next CP. Uphill, downhill, flat – no matter what – boulders, boulders, rocks and boulders. I could not believe it. I wanted to kick those things in anger but that would obviously cause more damage to me than to those boulders.

Finally all sore I reached La Possession (145km). I did not waste much time here. The usual routine of saucisson, some bread, sparkling water. I believe I also had some noodle soup here. I refilled my bottles and as it was getting really hot I filled up also my spare soft flask to have extra water just in case. After pre race talk with Dennis and Henri about their recce I knew that what was coming was “technical AF”. But that was all I knew when I left this CP.

After short walk/jog along the coastal road we made a turn and reached the beginning of Chemin des Anglais. This is historical site – old road paved with the volcanic cobblestones. Some sections are relatively fine, especially going up. But some look like some big flood came, removed all the cobbles and absolutely randomly displaced them all over the place without any concern what direction they face. If you ever watched some of the pro-cycling spring classics then most hardcore cobblestone sections are totally pale when compared with what this Chemin des Anglais offers.

Chemin des Anglais - this is the "smooth" bit

Chemin des Anglais – this is the “smooth” bit

I tried to keep steady pace but the crazy uneven surface and the heat were not helping with that. I was glad I took that extra water – I had some spare to pour over my face from time to time. The first shorter climb and the following downhill were quite fine. The next longer climb I was also managing reasonably well but the downhill to Grande Chaloupe was intense. It was proper cobble mess. Last thing I wanted was to roll an ankle this close to the finish so I tried to avoid any risky manoeuvres. But it was not always possible. Finally the insanity was over (for now) and I made it safely to Grande Chaloupe CP (153 km).

I sat down for a while, had some food, drinks and water refills (still no sweets). I checked with one of the marshals when exactly I need to put on the official race tee again. When I was told that “at Colorado” (the next and final CP) I took off. And soon we hit another section of the Chemin des Anglais. Surprisingly though this time I had no issues with it. I just kept climbing. Somewhere here I started my first conversation of the race with a local French guy. The chatter helped to forget that we had over 150km in our legs already. The volcanic cobbles eventually ended and we were now climbing up on hardened orange soil. Sun was getting low again. It was getting clear that I will have to take out my head lamp one more time…

We made it to the top of a hill and I saw some building not that far ahead. I asked my buddy if that is Colorado. His answer was “Yes, but as this is Reunion Island first we have to go down again before we can go back up”. That about summed up the previous 40 something hours :-)

The final bit up and the first part of down were on the road. I decided to pick up the pace and run whatever was runable. Here I lost my chatter buddy and as for most of the race I was back in solitary :-)

I was on the side of the road on the edge of some ditch or catchwater thinking about not falling in. A bit later we had to jump over this ditch and hit the trail straight up.

I was beginning to feel pretty good now but as there was still some climbing to be done before Colorado I needed some calories. I decided to take the risk and eat one of the bars I carried with me from the start. The half a day or more without any sweet stuff probably helped as this energy bar caused me no trouble.

The rest of the climb to Colorado was seriously enjoyable for me. No issues, no pain, no more heat. I still had to stop though to get the headlamp on as it looked certain that darkness will set before I make it to the CP.

From Colorado (162 km) it was only 4.5-5km downhill to the finish at Saint-Dennis. This descent was described as “technical” and after what I saw earlier in the race I was mentally prepared for the worst. I was ready to just carefully walk it down. But once I left the CP my legs started running like if they had mind of their own. This was still the road but soon we turned into the forest and the descent proper started.

Last year at UTMB I could barely walk the final downhill “thanks” to my destroyed feet. This time I was flying. I don’t know where this sudden confidence came from. I am normally slow on technical descents and especially in the dark. But this I just went for it. I was passing people left and right jumping over the rocks and boulders and roots like a man possessed. And I had zero worry that something may go wrong. I got stuck for a while behind a group of 4-5 guys who clearly did not feel like letting me pass so I had to pick them one by one. But once the last one was behind me I was back in the beast mode. I don’t know if I ever enjoyed any downhill more than this. I enjoyed it even more knowing that I am about to finish La Diaginale Des Fous! I passed few more people before hitting the road down at Saint-Dennis – my total tally was 25 people overtaken on the final descent.

Then came the road, final few hundred meters, then the La Redoute stadium and the finish line in sight. My wife was waiting there for me and joined me for the last hundred meters or so. We slowed down a bit to make sure we don’t spoil the finish photo for the family right ahead of us and then it was my turn to cross the line. 45h45min43secs – I could not be happier.

Finishing La Diagonale Des Fous

Finishing La Diagonale Des Fous

What looked like mission impossible in July/early August became reality. I had some dark moments during this race, especially the Maido fiasco on the second night and the boulder nightmare the next morning but overall this was hands down my best and happiest ultra experience so far.

Job done

Job done

Gear used (selection):
3 pairs of Mizuno Wave Mujin 3 shoes
3 pairs of Injinji Trail socks
Gurney Goo to prevent chaffing
AWOO tights, shorts and 3 jerseys
My trusted Raidlight Olmo 12L backpack that got me through CCC, TDS, UTMB and now also La Diagonale
Compressport Compression calf guards
AyUp headlamp with 3 batteries
Sahara style hat provided by organizers – worked well under the sun

Nutrition:
VFUEL sports drinks
Selection of power bars – Overstims, Runivore, Nature’s Bakery
Coke at the CPs
later switch to saucissons, ham, pate, bread

Finisher medal and tee

Finisher medal and tee

One thought on “La Diagonale Des Fous 2017 – Back to racing, back to 100 miles

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