Font Romeu Nature Trail

Font Romeu Nature Trail is a weekend of racing the first weekend in July - a great way to start the summer holidays. The marathon (which goes up the Carlit) and the shorter 23km race take place on the Saturday and then groups of shorter races (a 15km and 7km along with some shorter children’s races) take place on the Sunday. As far as a family running event goes, this ticks all the boxes and the amazing scenery makes for a very pleasurable if somewhat tough running weekend.

This year I chose to do the 23km race on the Saturday, keeping my mind on the Championnat du Canigou a month later I wanted to save my legs. Despite the shorter route with less climb (a mere 1064m!) the scenery did not disappoint. Given the heat on the day, I was not sorry I had chosen this shorter route.

As I discovered this race was tricky to pace! The first 5.3km consisted of an ascent from Font Romeu town centre to La Roc de la Calme, steady and runnable for the most part with a final short sharp climb up a ski slope seeing the first 261m ascent.

Le Roc de la Calme - reccy with personal trainer!

Le Roc de la Calme - reccy with personal trainer!

A non-technical but relatively steep descent with amazing views of le Lac des Bouillouses brought us down to L’Étang de Pradelles where there was a second very welcome refreshment stop.

L’Etang de Pradelles

L’Etang de Pradelles

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The next section was possibly my favourite, a short relatively steep climb across fell brought us to the top of a banking with a clear view of the Carlit (I was not envying those marathoners who had to climb it in that heat). The course continued off piste and on small trods to the Estany Llat; this was great running, everything I love about it with the open spaces giving a real feeling of freedom.

From this point the course gets gradually more and more technical. It meanders through the lakes on a pleasant, well-used path but with a good scattering rocks - enough to cause a tumble if you don’t keep a keen eye on the course. As the descent down to Lac des Boulliouses commences the way becomes rockier and more and more tricky; tiredness was kicking in for me as I began blindly following the way markers rather than choosing the best route through them. I was beginning to realise that I had set off too fast!

An intensity factor of 0.8 in the fist 10km of a 25km race is not ideal!

An intensity factor of 0.8 in the fist 10km of a 25km race is not ideal!

I knew I had one more climb to go before the 5km descent back to Font Romeu, and I knew it was a tough one - straight up the piste back to Le Roc de la Calme. At the start of the climb I knew this was going to hurt, my mind was saying ‘go’ and my legs were saying…’no!’ Some words of encouragement from an unexpected friend half way up helped me drag myself to the top.

Me with my ‘all in’ face on the final descent back into Font Romeu.

Me with my ‘all in’ face on the final descent back into Font Romeu.

The first part of the final descent is a tricky blue way marked route down to the carpark; I knew it was tricky as I had done it several times before; steep and rocky with the path sunk into the ground making it difficult to see beneath tufts of long grass and the various foliage that adorns the mountainside. I failed to stay upright and on reaching the carpark knew that this was now a case of just trying to keep going to the finish; I was all in!

Fortunately the final 5km is more or less the same as the first climb, gentle and runnable. How I held my placing I will never know, but after three weeks of feeling rather grumpy with my race, I can look back and feel a certain sense of achievement as well as taking on some important lessons for my next longer race:

1) Don’t underestimate the heat and plan; start slower if it’s hotter than I am used to.

2) Take my emergency gel before the last climb, not after it!

3) I am not as fit as I thought I was and need to pace my next race accordingly.

The race itself was very well supported with drink and food stations every 5km or so. John Hampshire was also there, camera at the ready. It was lovely to sit back and relax with a camera myself the next day and watch the shorter races.