Récit de la course : Le Grand Raid des Pyrénées 2012, par Viktor

L'auteur : Viktor

La course : Le Grand Raid des Pyrénées

Date : 24/8/2012

Lieu : Vielle Aure (Hautes-Pyrénées)

Affichage : 1723 vues

Distance : 160km

Objectif : Pas d'objectif

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Grand Raid des Pyrénées (en anglais)

I’m standing in the heat of the shower, in one of the many booths filling the sanitary barrack of the french camping. It’s 2:30 AM and I’m alone. Each time the shower drops in intensity, I bump the button with my back and the water comes rushing again. Again and again. My right big toe stings, from under the band-aid and the bandage. A flesh wound from hell, but I barely have the energy to grasp the pain, nor the presence of mind to consider the towel. It’s like being thrown between unconsciousness and drowse in spasmodic intervals, and each return to the shower flow is registered by the brain as an unexpected event.

A blackout later, while entering the sleeping bag, my body short-circuits. The pain is insanely intense and it seems to emerge from within my bones, piercing through my muscles. The calfs, the thighs, the backside. Beyond burn out. I want to scream and cry, take off with the tent on a launch to outer space, disappear from grass patch number 136. But I should rather just laugh at the aftershock, grin at the fallen deamons that lie with lifeless eyes: At the finish line in Vielle Aure.

One could think of it as a tipping point. The moment when 786 runners set off. In one weighing pan, each ones (more or less) zealous physical preparation. In the other, a big empty space with room for some 160 km and 10 000 vertical meters. Asphalt running for a start, away from the flat land of the valley. We head for the first of many mountain sides to tame. All around me, an advancing mass of shoes, compression clothing, rucksacks and poles, dressing our naked will to, in a day or two, return to the little square in Vielle Aure. Without getting hurt and avoiding getting lost in the haze of exhaustion. A privilege that some fourty-six percent of us will enjoy.

After 13 km and a 1 300 meter climb, we arrive at the first checkpoint, located by the Merlans Restaurant, hang out spot for hungry skiers, now absorbed in summery torpor. I fill my water bladder and acquaint myself with what the food tables offer. We will develop an increasingly narrow relationship, me and the scraps. The banan halfs, the bits of bread, the orange segments, the cheese, the biscuits and the cookies. The fact is, when you are twenty-four hours into a race, you prefer having the calories served intavenously, letting your jaws take a rest from grinding on some half dissolved slab of baguette.  


When film critics talk about slumbering action, you know the dramaturgy is shuffling. That’s generally the case in the initial hours of an ultra race. Not that much of suspens. More of a nature program with its stack of stunning panoramas. A twist of feel-good running while me and another swede share our impressions in-between the steps and the strokes of the poles. I drink some. I eat some. I turn my cap 180 degrees to shield my neck from the sun. A ridge, a turn and then downhill. My eye gets caught in the view finder and I burn yet another mountain lake, plus some white water, into the memory card of my camera. The rushing water enchants me. In the same way that we are easily hypnotized by the flames of a fire, doesn’t the untamed fall of a torrent hold the same kind of attraction. The primitive force of nature. 


Leaving the checkpoint in the village of Artigues, you can already see it, the culminating point of the course: Le Pic du Midi (2 876 m). After a handful of steep turns I emerge from a beautiful leaf tree forest and start climbing through a gently modeled valley. The bleached path doesn’t forgive. I play it safe and stop now and then to recover my breath. There is a shortage of shadow. Most of the competitors take their time to, after a few hundred vertical meters of climbing, sit down on the grass for a while, right where a rock hides the sun. Weary heads and lackluster eyes. When I reach Col de Sencours (2 378 m), a volunteer informs me that the Pic du Midi passage is closed, due to fierce winds. Meaning that a bunch of runners are deprived of an amazing view.  


As I make my way into the village of Villelongue after 64 kilometers, the darkness thickens. In contrast, the assembly room of the village hall feels like a warm and welcome oasis of light. But a sense of sickness takes some edge off this moment of well needed recovery. I sit down by one of the long tables and do nothing. I have no desire to eat.  

It comes without warning and I press my lips together in half panic. With my mouth full of throw up I run towards an open back door, out into the night, where a small stone wall stops my body as my head takes a dive forward. There is no glory in puking your guts out, but there’s relief. I sit down and lean my back against the wall. Time flies. I try the thought of abandoning and it feels like hell. Does my race end here? Another runner comes out to vomit. A poor consolation, but an evidence that the heat and the distance have shaken others than just a battered swede.

At last I come to my feet and manage to keep an energy drink and a slice of bread. I run a few anxious meters and feel more or less ready to carry on. I’m now determined not to give up on myself. After two hours of involuntary rest, I am reborn as a fighter. I leave Villelongue to the sound of my smart phone, now turned into a friday night disco, and I sing my way into the woods, into the deepest of nights and up the mountainside.

Lying on my back on top of the Pic du Cabaliros (2 334 m), watching the most beautiful starlit sky I have ever had the pleasure to lay my eyes on in an endorphinated state. If it wasn’t for a growing urge to run, I would have stayed there an eternity. My legs are suddenly in overdrive. The past thirty minutes I have been passing numerous runners, viewing every flickering headlamp ahead as a trophy to take. To sum things up, I’m in racing mode. And the 1 400 meter descent that awaits me doesn’t do much to dampen my fervour. I lengthen my stride and set off as if on the final lap of a 1 500 meter race. Out of my senses and lost in another dimension of the runner’s high. The track flows down the mountain in perfectly dosed bends and life is a playground. A hundred places later I reach the village of Cauterets, with its attractive buildings and picturesque framing. The aid station is located by the ocra painted town hall. It’s late morning and I’m taking a well earned rest. I eat with good apetite and do some light stretching, making sure not to provoke any cramps.

I ran across Gratianne the day before race day. Noticing the swedish flag patch on her backpack, I was suprised to find a fellow-countrywoman in the midst of pre race excitement. Now, Gratianne turned out to be a french runner, living in Canada, having studied at the Göteborg Business School, and since then officially in love with Sweden. During the early stages of the race I see her blond pigtail now and then. On the way up to the ski area of Aulian I decide to join her and her company brings a good dose of chatting and laughing.  


While on our way down to Esquièze Sère, the second main checkpoint, I leave Gratianne for yet another capricious sprint. Not an act of chivalry, but an acting out of some inner trigger mechanism. The path turns into somewhat of an adventure track, sweeping past house sites and fields, tempting me to accelerate and forcing me into sudden slow downs in a playful duel with gravity. 112 km, 7 000 vertical meters, and running. 

A marathon to go! One reaches a kind of acceptance after thirty hours. With a plastered big toe in renewed shape, I absorb the surroundings with a sober gaze. The drowsiness comes and goes, but I am having a clear moment. Mother Earth persists in her art of seduction. Terraced mountain slopes dress the valley in verdure, where patches of forest and groups of houses form broken patterns. Higher up, exposed rocks wrapped in small and volatile clouds. 

I’m glad to see Gratianne again at the checkpoint in Tournaboup, yet another lift station in summer lair. We stick together and hold a steady pace. Night falls. Close to forty hours in the legs when we reach the last checkpoint. I eat more or less mechanically from what’s on the tables, preparing mentally to confront darkness, fatigue, cold and pain all the way to the finish. I pull on a pair of overtrousers, put my gloves on.

With a touch of self irony, I am known to claim my resistance to cold weather (acquired from a distant and glacial military service in Laponia), but in the last ascent it is freezing. A light rain on top of that. Two British runners beside us wear shorts. We reach a mountain pass and from there it is all downhill. My tibias scream from nearly every step I take. It is about time to bite the bullet and also to encourage those who suffer even more. We pass runners that advance like marionettes, keeping their legs on the backburner. No matter our mental and physical statuses, we are all driven by a burning desire to wrap this venture up. 

I’m planning my finish line celebration. Which dance routine mesures up with having battled oneself as well as the mountains for roughly two days and nights? With ten meters to the spotlight-drenched finish, I let the thought of somersaults go. Instead, I just raise my arms to the sky. With Gratianne by my side, I come to a stop and the Grand Raid des Pyrénées is over. In a way the air goes out of it all. To cross the finish line is somewhat equal to bursting out of a bubble you love to dwell inside. A state of being that you have gotten to appreciate and that you long to revisit. But the rest is welcome and I embrace it like a precious medal.


I’m standing in the heat of the shower, as a winner.

4 commentaires

Commentaire de domi81 posté le 18-03-2013 à 06:01:05

and in french ?
congratulations. ;)

Commentaire de Viktor posté le 18-03-2013 à 08:06:37


Désolé, mais ça aurait fait une troisième traduction. La version originale du récit étant en suédois. Celle-ci est fait pour un catalogue en anglais. Normalement je n'écris qu'en suédois (sur bonjourtrail.se), mais peut-être que dans l'avenir je devrais m'efforcer un peu pour mettre quelques lignes en français. :-)

Commentaire de grumlie posté le 23-03-2013 à 18:22:21

Well done for the race and the text! I'm on the 3rd photo walking on the rocks without sticks!!!

Commentaire de Viktor posté le 26-03-2013 à 15:21:12

Merci Grumlie! And thanks for bringing some action to picture #3!

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