Updated: Sep 24, 2022
This Autumn I’m going back to the Pyrenees for a second attempt at the TransPyrenees Race. I last raced it in 2019, and finished outside of GC (getting to the final control within the set time) and as soon as I'd had time to process it all, I knew I wanted to come back to try and make the time cut.
More on the race
The race is based on a series of checkpoints which you plan your own route between, juggling whether a shorter hillier or more off road route is better than a flatter one, whether you want to risk the busier roads which are usually better surfaced, or go for the peace of the quieter roads, which might have less shops and places to stay.
It’s completely self-supported so you need to carry all your own stuff (you can buy food on the road, choose to sleep in hotels, but cant have any sort of support providing it to you). The total route is about 1600 km and 35,000m and starts in Biaritz at 6am on Friday 30th September, crosses through the Pyrenees to get to the East coast, and then back via the RAID Pyrenean route (28 Cols and 13,000m of climbing), and to be within GC needs to be finished by midnight Friday 7th October 2022 i.e. Thurs eve), so just under 7 days. That works out at about 230km a day, which is doable, but the 5000m of climbing every day is rather more daunting!
You can follow my progress with some (super slow) dotwatching on the TransPyrenees website (I imagine the page will redirect you to the map once the race is on) or Follow My Challenge, I’m rider number 77 and Hector is 50. My rides will be on Strava and some thoughts as I go along on Insta and Facebook . If you’re following please do give me a shout on there, it means a lot to know people are watching and really helps keep me going!
Why it matters to me
Racing it last time was probably one of the ‘biggest’ events of my life. Big in terms of the impact it had on me, on building my confidence of what I am capable of, and provoking some of the deepest and most varied emotions I’ve experienced. From pure joy at some of the views I had the privilege of riding through, at riding as the sun rose and went down each day, lighting everything up in that way that rewards you for the lack of sleep in its beauty, the peace of riding through the darkness, everything coming down to the circle of light in front of you, occasionally punctuated by glimpses into the lives that seemed so far away being lived in the houses I passed, or the excitement of seeing another red light blinking ahead of you, and catching them up for some brief words with someone who was sharing this experience.
Through to overwhelming fear coming down a mountain, shaking with cold and barely able to see through my glasses in the rain, the constant nagging worries about not making it to my accommodation that night or about whether my partner (also racing but not with me) was safe, and despair about ever making it to the end. And the ‘bigness’ of landscapes we passed through, enormous mountains that went on and on, that revealed vast vistas unfolding below them. Whilst loving and hating it in almost equal measure at the time, I was hooked and there was no doubt that I wanted to go back.
But a lot of time has passed since then, as with so many races, it has rolled over and rolled over, and this year has already had its fair share of big races for me, as well as moving house, and the prospect of another ‘big’ event doesn't seem quite so appealing! Or maybe that’s just the usual pre race doubts and worries.
Learnings from last time
In terms of my goal of coming in inside the GC, it’s hard to say whether I’m better or worse prepared this year. I spent a lot of time after the last race working out my learnings and ways to improve, and I’ve been steadily working on most of them since then.
I’ve certainly done more consistent riding, last time I was fairly new to the world of ultras, since then I’ve made sure I’ve ridden at least one 200km every month, as well as a fair few longer rides and a few other ultra-races in the UK. Although I’m not convinced that means I can go any further each day, I’ve hopefully at least got better on cutting down faff time each day and have a bit more of an idea what to expect.
One of the biggest reasons I felt I didn’t meet my target last time is because I’d constantly book accommodation for earlier than I needed to because I was worried about not making it there before it shut. My only real solution to this is to bivvy (sleep out in a special waterproof sleeping bag), which I’ve concluded I’m not made for - I get too cold and so would have to carry too much additional kit up all the mountains to make it feasible, plus insects and ticks love me, I don’t have a dynamo so would worry about charging lights, and quite frankly, after riding over 300km I need a shower!). Instead I’ll just need to make sure I get an early night, and leave as early as possible the next day. I’m useless riding when I’m tired anyway, so hopefully at least knowing the sun will come up soon will suit me better than riding through the night.
I’ve made a few improvements in other areas, I’m slightly less terrified by the experience now that I know what it entails so will be carrying a few less ‘just in case’ items. Last time I spent too much time stopping to hitch up my bags to stop them rubbing on my wheels (as a smaller rider there’s a lot less clearance) so this year I’ve ditched the bar bag and have a Tailfin at the back, which is heavier, but doesn’t droop down.
Although I spent a lot of the race last time with constant nagging worry about where I would sleep, and how my partner was doing, sometimes replaced with real fear about whether I would make it off the mountain that was enveloped in a never ending storm, in general my mindset was good. I knew I just had to keep on peddling and I was fairly good at motivating myself to keep going.
Probably my biggest issue this year is that whereas last time my only goal was to get to the end, this time my primary goal is to make the time cut. But I don’t know if it’s a realistic goal (that’s not me putting myself down, last time only 66 out of the 107 riders who started finished, and only 46 of them within GC). If it isn’t realistic or looks in doubt, then I need to find a way to stay motivated - a convincing plan B to keep me riding. For some reason, they’ve moved the finishers party forwards to the Thurs eve rather than Friday so there’s not even the motivation of making it back in time to catch up with people there.
Having scratched from another ultra-bike race (All Points North) earlier this year (I completed the 10 check points, but I just didn’t have the willpower to take on the idiot drivers and ride the final 100km back to the finish) and then feeling like I didn’t do justice to myself at Ironman at Roth the following month (largely I think because I’d used up all my willpower at APN), I've concluded my goal for this race is simply to make it to the end, and do so knowing I’ve done my best. We’ll have to see if that stands the test of motivating me through to the end! And if that's not enough, then hopefully either the (sweat tinged) beauty of the experience or the excitement of getting home to see the cat again will get me through!