In the middle of July I traveled to the Pyrenees of Andorra, in order to participate in Ronda Dels Cims , considered as the toughest European 100 miler.
There, after participating in quite a few ultra- trail races, I was about to experience for the ﬁrst time something strange and equally interesting, that many people involved in that type of events already have ( or may in the future ) experience.
Hallucinations, as a result of fatigue and sleep deprivation!
But let’s take things from the start!
The race’s course runs the perimeter of the Principality of Andorra. It passes through landscapes of exceptional interest and beauty, including 16 high summits and passes, gaining 13500D+ in 170 km.
Two months before the race I trekked for nearly a month in far-Eastern Nepal. Despite being an experience of a diﬀerent kind, it surely helped as an alternative “training” for the event.
Joan Canut refuge (Km 44)
What a hot day!
Hours have passed since the human ﬂow of 400 souls left the streets of Ordino for higher elevations. The beauty of the route has gained my appreciation from the start. On the other hand, by not paying the appropriate attention to hydration, I already feel badly dehydrated.
The steep ascent to Comapedrosa (2942m), Andorra’s highest summit, has what I like the most ( rugged terrain full of boulders ) but because of the condition my pace is really slow.
On the summit a rescuer – who’s there for security reasons – oﬀers me a few nuts and we chat while admiring the magniﬁcent view!
A steep descent leads me to two picturesque glacial lakes. From there, following the course of a creek, I arrive to Comapedrosa refuge ( Km 50 ), feeling a little bit better.
I feed myself up with salty soups, bread, fruits and Cola. I’ll keep up to this protocol for the remaining of the race. In the meantime I see Jo, one of the two other Greek participants . She doesn’t look good either and I try to lift her spirits.
By climbing a steep slope near the refuge, I get myself higher. Darkness has already covered the bottom of the valley but the long ridge line is still bathed in a golden light !
Running in such conditions is so mesmerizing…
I turn on my ﬂashlight at 22:00 hours, as I roll through muddy meadows. It’s a calm, pleasant night and the only sound that interrupts the silence is the occasional cracking sound of the underbrush as I pass through. Progressively the forest gives its way to rhododendrons and then to alpine meadows.
On the pass, the volunteers who record my race bib, remind me to pay attention to the long and technical descent that follows. The ﬁrst part is steep but there are chains placed on the exposed sections, so it’s not a bit of a problem.
The hallway of the 1st Aid Station ( located at the towns Sports Center ) looks like a nursery with wounded, tired, even desperate athletes. In fact it has built up a reputation over the years.
“ How many will abandon this year?” I wonder.
I change clothes, eat and rest a lot more than usual in order to recover. Before leaving Jo turns up. She looks really bad and I can guess that for her it’s over. As it turned out later that girl had great strength reserves.
After leaving the streets of Margineda I pass through a Roman bridge that reminds me a lot of the one that I passed in Donnas during Tor des Geants of 2014.
The hours in the forest pass slowly for the remaining of the night. Negative thoughts keep circling in my head until dawn. Experience here really helps as I know that sooner or later I’ll start feeling better.
As the sun comes out, I feel fresher than ever and descend from Pic Negre ( 2645m ) summit quite fast. I reach 2 runners with a good pace and we form a group on the traverses that follow for the next few kilometers. Ups and downs keep alternating in a scenic landscape until the afternoon.
Pas de la Casa [Km130]
At the hall of the 2nd Aid Station the volunteers encourage me and one of them informs me about my overall position. Well, I really don’t care but the only thing that comes out is a “ Thank you !” and a big smile. I change socks and t-shirt, eat a lot and leave again for the ﬁnal 40 km.
Heading in a NW direction, after passing the river, the sun hits me in the face making it diﬃcult to spot the marks that are just above the dense and tall grasses. Nearly 2 hours pass like this. I love this game !
By a steep descent Vall d’Incles is reached just before dusk. I stop for a while to catch my breath and eat. I leave shortly afterwards. 2 more climbs remain.
But a few minutes after turning on my ﬂashlight my eyes start closing more often. I feel the need to sleep and , as I ignore it and keep hiking up the slope , hallucinations come into play !
It might sound funny or dramatic but it’s exactly how I experienced it and found it interesting to share.
For some reason I think that 2 paths lie in front of me ( it was actually one as you can guess ). One that’s the race’s course and another one that leads to Caracara pass in Peru ( ??? ). As I proceed I’m getting more confused.
“ Which is the one I’m following?”
With every step forward I believe that I took the second option and I’m wandering again in Cordillera Blanca. When I reach the pass I’m almost asleep.
The only ﬁgure who’s there informs me that the refuge is just 2,5 km downhill. I let myself “roll” on the descent as if there is no gravity.
“ How strange this is !”
I feel like swimming in the dark waters of the sea, with tiny shiny dots helping me to navigate through its vastness. I stop for a minute and turn oﬀ the ﬂashlight. The full moon baths the mountains with light but no human activity can be detected.After what felt like an eternity -and almost certain that I’m lost – I ﬁnally reach the refuge.
« These were not just 2,5 km !” I keep saying to myself.
I try to sleep but without succeeding- due to the noises- but I relax and the hot soup helps a lot.
Hallucinations return even wilder ( … ) during the ﬁnal ascent . I’m certain that I ‘m hiking the exact same route to the previous pass. I’m so certain that I can guess what lies in front. I climb the last meters. It’s deﬁnitely NOT the same Col. Here, on Collada dels Meners I can ﬁnally think clear again !
Before reaching the last refuge , a fresh energy wave takes over , accompanying me till the ﬁnish line.
Just to mention, in this ( 2016 ) edition of Ronda dels Cims – blessed with superb weather – just the half of the participants ﬁnished the race. The 3 Greeks were among them.
In demanding ultra-trail events – and life alike – that require a lot of eﬀort, great psychological transitions may occur, feeding thoughts of DNF as the only logical option and thus making them very attractive. Right there, gifts like patience and endurance value far more than VO2max and quadriceps volume.
Add to the above the magical sensation of wandering in the forests and Cols at nights and it’s not a surprise that such type of events attract among others people of another breed . The ones who are not chronometer obsessed, but have a thirst for adventure and are always ready to dance with sensations and ( who knows ) hallucinations as well !
Wherever you travel, whatever you do, ENJOY