Before I get into this small introduction, I state that with my team mate Ben, we did not finish the race. We had some serious issues in case of fatigue and digestion. Instead of tackling the last peak of 200m, we went around and arrived to the finish line missing this one crucial puzzle. Finally we went through 70km of distance with around D+6800m of gain.
What did I learn ? Starting fast has no meaning ! We went out too rapidly, despite that my partner was already complaining that we are too slow, as the head-lights were kilometers ahead after only about 2 hours. For me starting even slower would have been a significantly better option. The first aid station we passed was at 2:30 am, 1hour before the very snug “fitness” cut off. I prefer racing Marco Olmo style, starting super slow, warming up to race dynamics and closing in faster and faster. In my opinion if we did pass 30minutes later at that very first checkpoint, slowing us down to comfortable effort, we could have arrived at the finish line 6hours earlier. On that very first, steep slope we had like 900m/hour vertical speed, instead of the planned 650m/hour ! That is completely unsustainable through 7000 meters of steep elevation gain ! It just shot our legs and emptied our glycogen stores to a low level, that I never could top up again. We were very fit – honestly – just totally misjudged the effort given in the -5°C windy conditions at the beginning of the race.
(I did over 200.000m of elevation gain this year, with some disastrous, but finished 24h+ races and a great GR20 traverse. Ben did Mont Blanc, Barre des Ecrins and a lot of big days over 2500m elevation accumulated and the 80km in the Pyrenees. He might say differently, but in my opinion we were completely capable of finishing in a very strong position ! )
The passing lamps meant nothing, as the leaders abandoned and many teams behind were quitting too, while everybody was slowing down ! My teammate was crapping himself once every hour and I was also completely stoned any time we were moving uphill.
At the end, despite the turtle like slog-fest we were experiencing, this mountain festival was just the best ever adventure in a competitive environment !
ELS2900 – The Source
Maybe you’ve seen some race photos from past editions. Well, this year there were no fixed ropes and no course marking visible on those photos. Really back to the good old days, just like an FKT ! At the beginning we were a kind of scared of this, then about 20minutes into the race, we started realising how genius this is. You choose your own route. If you well planned ahead, the differences between teams are not that big, but you can play small tricks on peoples mind. You arrive to a point of crossroads, wait till the team behind passes through and then you continue on a completely different off-trail section, giving them 20minutes of disadvantage on a 1000m climb. Some couples even were hiding behind rocks or lamp posts with their head-torches turned off, or using only the weak infra-red lights to not to reveal their position.
In the meantime, the organisation was following us (and laughing) on the mandatory CrossCall phones, using the Alpify application. These cell phones were equipped also with a weather app and the full route and map of Andorra. It is amazing to see how this rugged, brutal, mountainous area has this amazing cell phone coverage. You can make a FaceBook live in any valley or mountain top !
This is a very technical course. There are ridge crossings and scrambling of course, but the variety of terrains what make this so brutal. There are rocky areas, scree slopes, boulder hoping, steep grass-fields and at least half of the course is completely offroad ! If you arrived to the last section to Col d’Estanys(where there is no refuge despite it is marked on the map), you were even obliged to put on your helmet and harness in case of a rescue needed to be planned and had to rope up for an exposed final ridge. I was really not comfortable climbing up to Pic de Medécourbe with headlamps on, as the rock is brutally fragile there. It is not albinism, but very tricky scrambling ! In the last two years, I really got into heights and altitude and got on to exposed ridges and did some very basic solo attempts to mountain tops. I am not afraid of anything, but one single thing scares me: not being in control. Normally when I don’t know something, I don’t do it, until I know it ! When climbing up, everything was moving. Giant unstable cliffs were covered with scree and dust, so while you were slipping all over them, you could even dislodge like literally a couple of tons of rocks ! The other side was on the contrary, white, rock solid cliffs. Despite a little bit more exposure, I felt comfortable and free to move, while advancing towards Roca Entrvesada. Easy climb and down scramble to the Col.
I am telling you, more of these races should be present in the world’s “running” circuit. I cannot tell you and explain with simple words how emotional this race is. I am not talking about, crying, feeling happy or human struggle and about achieving something. It is part of it, but it is not the point. I am talking about the wild and wide open passion for mountains and outdoor life. The seriousness and approach to race organisation while being family style is just so welcoming and calling. You just want to come back ! Hopefully we will !
Ps.: Did I talk about the obligatory equipment and clothing necessary to tackle this beast:
You have questions about the ELS2900 or consequently any mountain running race ? You want to know more about equipment choice, clothing, training, bio-hacking and more ? Drop me an email and we can discuss !
Special thanks to Chullanka Antibes for all the help given to make this trip invaluable and unforgettable !
Also a big thank you for X-Bionic for the clothing as it is the best ever real technical textile in the outdoor market, that we’ve been testing now for almost 4 years in a row ! There is nothing coming close to heat management, comfort, resistance and longevity. Reviews are coming soon on long term use of these fabrics !