Trail des Fantomes 2016

Running the Bear Race in June sparked something in me: a renewed motivation and drive for running, training and racing. Running 2/3 times each week: long runs, speed work, intervals. And off course, I started looking for new race to run.

Sportevents.be puts on bunch of trail and triathlon races in Belgium and I decided to do one in the middle of August: the Trail Des Fantomes in La Roche En Ardenne. They had a 33km and a 65km distance on Sunday and I was quiet sure which one I wanted to do from the get go. Ultra or bust, right?! 😀

Luckily, I’m blessed to have friends that are just as crazy as I am and that wanted to drive me down to La Roche on Sunday morning. The race started at 7, which meant we have to leave in Leuven around 4:30 in the morning.

Race day

My alarm went off at a quarter to 4 and I got out of bed right away. I was pretty nervous and didn’t sleep much at all the night before. Made coffee, dumped breakfast in a container I could take with me and triple checked all my gear. On the road 4:30 and as you would expect there was hardly on traffic (because it was still the middle of the night). Arrived in La Roche just after 6, where it was cold and very foggy. Found the registration tent, collected my bib and headed back to the car the change into my running kit.

A couple of minutes before 7 we all bunched up at the start, the air filled with nervous anticipation for the day to come. I was pretty nervous too, scared even. 65km, what did I get myself into?!? But when 7 o’clock came around, we went for it. 500 meters up the road and then straight up into the forest. At this point I already wished I had brought my trekking poles with me (pro tip 1 if you wan to run this race next year: bring them poles!). The climb was super steep and it felt like it just kept going and going. The first 15 or so kilometers were more of the same, alternating between steep ascents and speedy longer downhill sections.

Then the course hit the shores of the Ourthe river and it ran along there for a good bit. There wasn’t really a trail there so we were constantly scrambling over rocks, under fallen trees, up, down, etc… An okay part of the course I guess, but not a part where you could run or go fast so this part took a big chunk of time.

Around 25km we crossed the Ourthe, at a place where it was about 40 meters wide, and continued on the other side. I was doing good but tired from the slow rocky part. Interchanging running and walking for the next 10km, I pushed on.

By then it was around 11am and the foggy morning had traded places with a bright sunny (and hot) day. On a big downhill section, I noticed that the insole of my shoes were sliding around and bunching up under my feet. So I stopped and straightened them again, slightly worried that I’d have to do that after every 4/5 km for the rest of the race. But on the next big climb, the upcoming blister on my right foot started hurting much more all of a sudden. I pushed through it on the climb and when I reached the top I saw the insole had worked itself way out of my shoe on the inside and up to my ankle (past that blister, hence the extra pain). Knowing I couldn’t carry on like that, I took both insoles out of my shoes and stuffed them in my pack. But I also knew that that wasn’t going to make things any easier. These shoes, the Salomon S-Lab Wings, are light and fast race shoes that don’t offer a lot of cushioning. And taking out the insole basically took away the little cushioning that was in there from the start.

With still 30km to go, things weren’t looking up. I walked for a big portion here, running on the downhills and pushing hard and fast on the up hills.

Still walking and a couple of kilometers later, I passed Pieter, who was also walking and was clearly in pain. Chaffing at the legs, feet in pain, not eating anymore, the works. He was going to walk to the aid station at 40km and get out there. We walked and talked for quite a bit and ended up making it to the aid station together. That station was at 44km by the way, and by then he (and I) was in better spirits, I even convinced him to try and finish :). So we refueled and resupplied on water and cookies and headed back out. By then we had been out there around 8 hours and we still had about 20km to go. Rough, but I was going to finish this.

Doing a mix of running, walking and scrambling over/under things I made it to 55km, where 2 runners from the Netherlands passed me. With 10km and just under 2 hours until the time cap, they urged me on and said I should hurry. I was way too optimistic at first and said that wouldn’t be a problem. But as they were 100m ahead of me I changed my mind and I even got a bit worried. I was going to finish this and it would damn well be before the timecap! (the time cap was 12 hours or 7pm, at that point in the race it was just after 5pm). So, time too toughen up and hustle.

I hit the last aid station at km 60 about a minute before the Dutch pair. It was 5 minutes before 6pm then. We had glass of Coke or 2, some cookies and then headed out together for the last 5km, and the last big climb. We struggled up the 800m climb and started running once we were up and over the peak. All that was left was a slow downhill for about 3km, then the route dropped fast to the Ourth. Cross the river, about 500m through a camping site and the finish line was in sight. In the distance I could see Manuel (the guy crazy enough to give me a ride in the morning) and my mother & sister waiting for me :). They didn’t tell me they’d be making the drive down so it was a great surprise to see them there.

I crossed the finish line after 11 hours and 51 minutes. Relieved, exhausted, happy.

65km, 2800m of elevation gain and 4 UTMB points. That says something about how tough of a course it was and I certainly underestimated it. It took me longer than I had planned or expected but I made it through none the less. This was a rough ride mentally as well and there were definitely times where I wanted to quit. But in the end it was all worth it, those last 10km and crossing the finish line felt great.

Thanks for reading all the way down, until next time!

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