Raid des Bogomiles (Grand raide des Cathares) Race Report 22.10.21

Thursday felt like a stressful day. We could only go and collect out bib numbers from Carcassonne at 5pm so that meant we had a whole day to fill. This meant checking our kit over and over again and just generally getting nervous. To pass the time, I also cleaned the house. My toilets have never been so sparkling and there is not a dog hair in sight. Come 5pm, we were just about the first ones to arrive at the Dome in Carcassonne, with the 165km runners having been already.  A quick check of our covid pass and signing a form to say we took all responsibility for anything “bad” (I usually fall over at these things!) that happened and then we were on our way home. 

Carcassonne - Raid des Bogomiles
Ready to Run

Raid des Bogomiles

I thought that I wouldn’t sleep that night but I actually surprised myself and woke up with our 6am alarm. Getting ready felt like our usual prep for our weekly long runs so we kind of did it on auto pilot. It was difficult to force myself to eat anything but managed a banana and some cheese and Bill had his usual HUGE bowl of muesli.

 I had left my Garmin charging overnight as I knew that it was going to be a struggle to have enough battery to finish the race, so I wanted to get as much juice out of it as possible. But…..the screen was black. What the heck!!! For some reason, it had fully discharged overnight and there was nothing that I could do about it. The only solution was to wear my everyday watch so at least I knew what the time was. Bill thankfully had his Garmin and as we were planning on running together, I would rely on him. I was still planning on using my Stryd power pod so I hoped that would capture something at least.

We arrived in Carcassonne in good time and had just over an hour before the 9am start in front of the main gate to the famous world heritage site of the “Cité de Carcassonne”. We filled the time by drinking coffee and depositing our bag change at the Dome centre. This was so we could have a change of clothes at the halfway point at Château d’Arques. Waiting at the start was kind of exciting and finally I felt calm. I always feel a bit out of place though as there are usually not many females. Today there were 210 runners of which 26 were female and I was the oldest female. I did wonder if we were mad doing this and at the age of 60 I felt I had no place to be there but at the same time I felt why shouldn’t I.

After some instructions and a bit of working up the crowd, we were off.

Depart Cité de Carcassonne - Raid des Bogomiles
Race start - Cité de Carcassonne

Raid des Bogomiles
And we're off

We couldn’t have wished for better weather, cool, no wind and mostly cloudy. There had been a small amount of rain the night before so the ground was soft but not boggy. We knew that the first half had to be done at a relatively steady pace as the cut of times were quite tight but I was surprised at how quickly everyone shot off. Of course, we followed suit but I quickly found myself out of breath and with calves that were shouting at me to slow down on the hills. That never happened and we kept on pushing forward with everyone else. The normal strategy for 95% of runners in an ultra, is to run the flats and downhills and to walk the hills. Bye bye normal strategy!

The first few km’s were quite undulating but we arrived at the Lac de Cavayere (6km) in good time. Then we had 650m of elevation to cover and 13km until we reached the first ravitaillement (drink stop) and barrière horaire (time barrier) at Molieres sur L’Abert (20km). I felt I was pushing hard and there seemed no time to take a breather (or photos!). We were running with quite a few others and the narrow paths made it difficult to pass anyone. Once we got to the Villemaury military firing range with its wide open pistses and scrub land, it was easier to find space. We were clocked in and out by soldiers who obviously wanted to get on with their training but couldn’t whilst runners were randomly scuttling about. Bill and I had run here during training and nearly got shot at, but that is another story.

Raid des Bogomiles

Raid des Bogomiles
We were often running on our own

We made the first barrier horaire at the pretty village of Molières sur L’Abert, with 45 minutes to spare. It was a nice time cushion but I did panic that we might have started off too quickly and would pay for it later. We had planned not to stop here but we found ourselves so welcomed by the volunteers that we ended up cruising round the food table and enjoying the salty snacks and fruit juice.

Gradually as the race went on, people started to spread out so it meant we could stick more to our own pace. We did find we were playing cat and mouse with another couple who looked a similar age to us. They seemed very relaxed as though they did ultras on a regular basis. My competitive side did not appreciate it when they kept overtaking us but Bill kept reminding me that we should run our own race. So true! I did wonder though if the woman was the competition in my category as I knew that there was one other female in my age group. Then there was BT guy who lived in Paris and worked a lot in London. He seemed a strong runner so it was nice every now and then when we would catch him up but then somehow he always managed to scoot past us.

We knew that the first 50km would be in the day light and so we were able to enjoy the views but we also knew that the cut off times in the first half were quite tight. We had 11 hours to do the first half and 16 hours for the second half. Living locally, we had managed to run quite a lot of the route during training but the sections over private land were new to us. These sections were an eye opener as we had to cross over electric fences and barbed wire. The organizers had “kindly” erected 6ft ladders over the fences (about 10 all in all) but for me who doesn’t like heights and when you have a 3.5kg backpack on and tired legs, I felt like the tin man.

Ladder crossing - Raid des Bogomiles
Only 9 More To Go...
Then there were the horned cows and their calves. Of course, they happened to be meandering around right in our way and I was terrified of coming between a mum and her baby. Slowly we inched forwards whilst the cows eyed us with suspicion and at the ready to attack if necessary.  One by one they moved off to the side to let us through but it seemed like it took forever. We then had a REALLY steep hill to climb and it started to rain a bit. We could see the older couple and BT guy ahead of us slogging up the hill but we just kept our heads down and forged on.

The route for the first half had quite a lot of elevation (2500m) but it wasn’t too technical. It was more rolling hills with a bit of clambering at times and one section which involved using a rope. As per usual, anything remotely difficult, had me falling to my bum and slithering down like a toddler. 

Thank goodness I had Bill with me as some of the drops/climbs were a very big stretch for my little legs. Sometimes we were in open fields and others running through damp forests, under bridges and through shallow streams. The organizers had done a great job with the orange markers and we only had to question the route once, apart from the last 500m (just when you need it to be easy). 

Château d'Arques - Raid des Bogomiles
Half way (50km). Château d'Arques

We reached Château d’Arques (50km) just before 18h00 so we were easily 2 hours ahead of the barrier horaire. The last km had been a nice run in and we overtook about 8 people including the older couple and BT guy, which was a wonderful feeling. We both felt strong at this point but still decided to take our time here and eat some proper food - chicken noodle soup, ham and bread never tasted so good. We also changed our socks, got into long sleeved tops and got our head lamps ready for the long night. Our aim was to finish in 24 hours (official time limit was 27 hours) so that would be 9am. I just hoped I had bought enough batteries for my headlamp.
Feeling Good

Château d'Arques - Raid des Bogomiles
Getting ready for the night ahead

Château d'Arques
Soup never tasted so good

Château d'Arques - Raid des Bogomiles
Foot Prep

From the halfway point, we seemed to be on our own most of the time. The runners that we had passed earlier never seemed to appear again. The second half was meant to be easier as we had done more than half of the elevation, however, we didn’t seem to find it easier. I think a cumulation of fatigue and quite technical descents, made us slower. Having said that I felt stronger in the second half. My calves and thighs were happier as we were able to go at our own pace and we settled into a steady rhythm.

Thankfully the aid stations were more frequent and so we made sure to eat and drink at each one. However, as time went on, our stomachs began to rebel. For the last 20km neither of us could face anything apart from the odd sip of water. 

I quite enjoyed running in the dark but in the woods we were constantly watching out for slippery wet leaves underfoot and some of the rocky descents were exhausting as we tried to stay upright on moss covered rocks. Fortunately, I didn’t have to worry about my headlamp this time (unlike the ultra in the Pyrenees) and only had to change the batteries once. We also really appreciated the advantage of running together. It was like always having an extra pair of hands and eyes. We knew in our previous ultra that we wasted time doing individual pees stops and having to empty our shoes, so this time we tried to coordinate and both do all that at the same time. 

Once we got to Ladern sur Lauquet (82km), we had 20km to go and I knew that we could finish. I was trying to calculate our finish time at this point but my brain had turned to mush and I just couldn’t add or subtract anything bigger than the fingers on my hands. From this point, we also both started to feel nauseas. Too many snacks and not enough real food or perhaps our stomachs were just shutting down? At one point I said to Bill that I wanted to make myself sick and he immediately started retching. Oh, the power of words! 

We now had one ravitaillement to go but were in no hurry to eat anything. There were 7 ravitaillements in total and at each one, the volunteers were just so cheery and helpful, even at 2am in the morning. The choice of food was snacks, Tuc biscuits, cheese cubes, saucisson, chocolate, banana and so on and then occasionally soup and pasta (such a treat). I even downed 2 big cups of coffee at one point. That was a real pick me up being a caffeine addict. We had filled out water bags with Tailwind which we knew suited us from our training and then brought along a peanut butter sandwich (tomato and cheese for Bill), nuts and raisins, dried apricots, and caffeine bullet sweets. I think we managed our nutrition pretty well so the nausea later in the race was a bit of a surprise. 

We also now started to see other runners. Most were walking but we carried on trotting although we probably looked like we were limping along as best we could. You could tell that most of the other runners that we were passing had done the longer race of 165km as they were muttering to themselves (probably hallucinating!), looking pale and sweaty, bleary eyed and just generally had a glazed look. This was the result of 2 nights with no sleep, which I just couldn’t fathom how they did it. 

At this point we still felt alert and we kept our minds and bodies active by chasing the lights. As part of our obligatory kit, we had to have a flashing red light on our back so it became a case of chasing down the red lights ahead of us. 

 Finally, we reached the final ravitaillement in Palaja and now it was a 10km to the finish. We were going to finish! Those 10km seemed to take forever though but the excitement and buzz of being a finisher, kept us putting one foot in front of the other. We had run this bit of the route a few weeks earlier so we knew what to expect, however today the fields felt lumpier and bumpier and just everything seemed harder. What a lovely sight once we reached the Cité de Carcassonne. We knew we would have to circle the castle walls to reach the finish and this bit was horrible as we were running on old cobble stones and wow did that hurt my feet. Added to that, the markers were few and far between so we lost time running around like headless chickens and finally asking an early morning delivery driver where to go.

Then suddenly we heard the beep of the timing mat and we were declared “100km FINISHERS”. Being 5:30am, there weren’t many people about to welcome us over the finish line but we got a nice medal and our photo taken and then we headed off to have a shower. 

We were also offered a camp bed for a snooze but preferred to wait for our hotel room.

Funnily enough we were so wrapped up in being a “finisher” that we didn’t even look at what our finish time was until we got to the recuperation tent. When we realized it was 20:34 we were so chuffed. 

Raid des Bogomiles
Hotel du Pont Vieux, Carcassonne

One downside of arriving early was that our hotel room was not going to be ready until midday. Thankfully the hotel managed to find us a room at 8:30am so it was the end to a perfect 24 hours. Shame there was no lift though and we had to climb a long flight of stairs to our room (with difficulty)!

104km, 4350m elevation
Time: 20:34
155/210 runners
Nicole: 1st M5F & 17th female/26
Bill: 5th M5M

Not bad for a couple of 60 year olds ;)