Ruby Muir Trail Des Cagous Race Report

logoTomorrow Ruby Muir takes on the Glow Worm Trail in Australia, but just a few weeks ago, on the 2nd June, Ruby race the 53km Trail Des Cagous in New Caladonia- below is here race report.

Better late then never apparently; so here is my race report for Trail Des Cagous, a 53km ultra run in New Caledonia.

I had planned on taking it easy from Tarawera until a few months closer to the races I was targeting at the end of the year, so when I got invited to this race I knew I would be running it off the back of my Tarawera training. That said, I was fairly confident I would be able to perform, and most stress was generated by trying to organise getting there with less than two weeks notice and an unhappy boss, not from concern about the race itself.

It was humid and hot with a sideways rain when I landed in Noumea. Knowing only as much about the race as I could gleam from their French website I was worried about what effect the weather would have on the track conditions. Will it get very muddy? I asked the race director David as he picked me up from the airport. He gave me a knowing smile as he replied; mud is not the problem. Feeling relieved considering my Seeyas don’t exactly have lugs, I chalked the bad grammar up to our language difference and totally failed to take in the hidden meaning of those words. Oh, the benefit of hindsight.

Two Aussie guys and I stayed out at the race start in a cabin with a big crew from Tahiti. There was nothing except wilderness, which was a pity as all I had brought with me were four packets of Gu Chomps for race food. We wandered around in the dark until we found the volunteers barbeque and proceeded to help ourselves. Sadly being vegetarian is totally alien to Noumeans so my pre race dinner consisted of a plate full of white rice. I know there are crazy carbo loaders out there that would eat that intentionally so wasn’t too worried.

I did become worried when our cabin buddies woke up at 2.30 to start getting ready and I realised this would be the first day in 6 years for me that hasn’t began with a strong coffee. 2.30am combined with no coffee does not promote the pleasantest side of my personality. Thankfully I did have a biscuit I had saved from the flight, so I called that breakfast.

Race start was a good hour and a half before daylight. The first thing that struck me as we headed into the night was how incredibly slow they started out here. I had real trouble not burning off alone. We were on a flat slightly downhill road, yet were running slower than I hoped to be running at the finish.

Trail Des Cagous1

Photo- Michel PAUL

After about 4km we began our first climb. As soon as we left the road and climbed the bank onto the single track I thought: Oh shit. It was hard, smooth track, but it was polished like marble and as slippery as ice. In the dark I had no hope of reading that surface and working out how to run on it. Even on that uphill my toes would slip out behind me as I pushed up. I had to utilise my calves to hold my toes down and knew that method wouldn’t be sustainable for 53km. Suddenly the locals I had seen at the start with socks over their shoes made sense.

Halfway up I had to stop to ditch my top and repack my bag, as it was way too hot. Sadly this meant the front three pulled away up the hill, as did the three guys behind me. Looking down the next headlights I could see were right at the beginning of the climb so a very strong lead group had been established. I was alone in the dark with a headlight that didn’t cut the mustard and on a surface I couldn’t understand. I am used to being very sure on my feet with those around me slipping, so this was a humbling experience. I felt like I was stumbling around with no idea what I was doing, I really needed to catch back up to those fellas and share their headlights.

I closed the gap a bit but didn’t catch them by the top of that climb. This meant I had to navigate the descent alone. I love technical running and I love taking risks, and I’m not ashamed to tell you I was practically nannering it down there. With no warning my feet would fly up into the air and my arse would go down like I was a cartoon character on a banana peal. I fell hard twice, cutting up my knees and the bum of my pants. In the end I resorted to running in the bushes. To turn I would have to deliberately collide with a plant, adjust my direction and start again, as there was no changing direction whilst I had momentum unless I wanted to land on my arse again. How I prayed for some light to see this shit. Had they secretly laid the track with those kids crocodile waterslides you spray detergent on?

Anyway I can’t have been doing too badly as I worked my way back to just behind the man in fourth well before the sun rose. We reached some awesome rooty jungle track with mud and leaf litter that I was so relieved to see. At least I knew how to slide around on this and stay in control. In the semi darkness it was still hard to read the track but I was starting to work out this surface. Some parts had a smear of green slime, which believe it or not, gave me more grip than the bare clay.

From here to the 27km aid station was really fun running. Two big climbs with awesome jungle tracks and river crossings. In one section the tags just went straight up a stream and through the bush, no track required. It was here I passed fourth place. These technical sections were joined by short stretches of flat clay roads. Which would have been perfect to stretch the legs and pick up the pace if they weren’t made from the clay of doom. Flat, hard and shiny and a total waste of energy to run fast on; your feet start slipping out from behind you.

I was keen to make the podium overall, so after the aid station at 27km, when we hit another section of clay road I put my head down and did some serious work to make my way forwards. I chose some good metal songs and used the tire tracks which gave me a little more grip. It took me at least 3km before I had any doubts. Where were the footprints? Where were the markers? There had definitely been no intersections for the last two kilometres; maybe I should just push on. I gave myself three more corners in the hope I would see something, then skidded to a halt. Walking backwards and forth across the road I could no longer fool myself. There were definitely no footprints.

Running back for two kilometres seeing no markers and no people was pretty demoralising, how could I not have noticed earlier? Then around the corner came Clayton, who I’d been staying with. To be honest my initial reaction was, Oh fuck, I had been going the right way. But I knew there had been a few runners between me and him, and knew that the elevation profile showed no stretches that were flat for this long. We had a brief conference that involved a few choice words and the he turned around and continued back with me. A km more and we encountered 5 more athletes.  Thankfully Clayton had a little French and convinced them to turn around. After about 3.5km for me all up of back tracking I found where we had all went wrong.

The track diverged and climbed steeply away from the road to the left and unlike every other time the track had diverged from a main road the way we’d gone wasn’t taped off. Bugger. At least I wasn’t alone in my folly.

I found it very hard to motivate myself to work my way back through the field. I wasn’t angry exactly, but all the work I’d done earlier on to keep up the pace seemed like such a waste. We had a hands on knees climb, during which I muttered away to myself, and then a lovely techy descent that normally I would have really enjoyed. I realised I hadn’t turned my music back on; a sure sign I was throwing my toys out of the cot.

At the bottom of that hill things got even lower. We dropped down to join a road and damn if I didn’t recognise the corner to my right. It was the point I had turned around. I had been running on a road the skirted the bottom of the hill I’d just back tracked to climb. I guess it’s a good thing I turned around, otherwise I would have cheated without even knowing it, but at the time it just felt like I’d given myself an unnecessarily long day.

Clayton used his French to inform the marshals here about the marking mistake, and hopefully someone headed back on a quad bike to save any further back in the field. I decided it was time to move on from my frustrations, I turned on my music and as I’m want to do in times of woe, I started to sing. This was the biggest climb of the day so I wasn’t waxing fine lyrical, sorry guys. But that, coupled with some refreshing rain really boosted my spirits. I was on some fun single track, in a beautiful foreign jungle with gorgeous views; the only thing to stop me enjoying myself was my ego so I decided to stop listening to it.

Trail Des Cagous2

Photo- Michel PAUL

We joined up with some of the shorter courses partway down our decent so I no longer had any way of telling where I was in the field. All I could do was run. It was heating up and I was going through more water than me and K drink in a week at home. The sun was radiating off the red clay from hell, which I’ve since learned is called laterite, but I had started lovingly referring to it as black ice. With the heat getting me down it was a real pick up to catch up to a cute young  Noumean man who was running the 27km and was pretty slick at descending. This, I think, was one of the first times I ever had someone to keep pace with me on a techy decent. My swollen hip was a constant warning not to fully open up, every safe looking step could prove treacherous.

This report is getting long, so lets cut to the chase. I climbed again. It was hot and hard and slippery of course. The finish was a long decent and a couple of flat km along the muddy lake edge. I finished fourth overall, though I didn’t know it at the time. I wasn’t hungry, which was worrying considering I had run 6okm with a biscuit for breakfast and eaten only two and a half packets of Gu Chomps. My first priority was food, but I found only meat, so moved down to priority two, which was shower. Before I could get there someone from the race organisation came in a big rush telling me they had a surprise. Clayton and I were bundled into a car and driven to a tiny helicopter. We were taken up and shown the course; we could see tiny runners on the hill tops, beautiful drowned forests in the lake and gorgeous topography. It was breathtaking; sadly it was also stomach taking. When the pilot started doing some aerial acrobatics I did get to the point where I was leaning out of the tiny window. FYI: do not go up in helicopters when you have run 60km and eaten nothing. On the bright side at least there was nothing for me to bring up.

It was definitely one of the most fun courses I have run. The hills were all steep enough to feel like mountains and the tracks were super fun. In fact I loved it so much I voluntarily raced 7km extra. And guess what, next year the 53km race will become an 80km… Who’s Coming?

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