A couple of years ago we went on a little trip to do a bit of road biking in Girona. On one of our rides we stumbled across an XC race which got me thinking about how cool it would be if I could tie in a trip here to do a local race. Well as luck would have it they run a marathon distance race each year – La Tramun Singletrack Marathon. Perfect!
La Tramun is a 77 km point to point XCM race starting north west of Girona and finishing in the city. In addition to the XCM race they run an XCC distance race of 33 km starting on the same morning run over the second half of the XCM course. Assuming you’re located in Girona, getting to the start would present a challenge were it not for the fact that the organisers have all that sorted. They ship you out to the start of each race on coaches with all the bikes loaded into trucks. That makes for an early start meaning that I was at the meet point for the transport at 6 am in the morning. During the long coach ride you’re conscious that you have to ride all the way back, off road and not exactly as the crow flies. That combined with the fact that it had started raining and then raining really hard, suggested that conditions for the ride might be a little challenging. The weather forecast was not great. It was probable that we were going to get caught in thunderstorms before finishing the race unless you were a super quick rider.
In the signing on process I had discovered, much to my surprise, that I was in the UCI ranked category meaning that I’d be gridded towards the front of the 400 strong field. I’m not sure how that had happened exactly but I was happy to take any advantage I could get. My preparation for the race was not quite what it had been for my races earlier in the year as this was supposed to be my ‘fun’ race i.e. not building it up into something that you had to perform at your absolute best for. I wasn’t sure exactly how that was going to pan out until we got into the racing itself.
As usual my ability to recall blow for blow each section of the race tends to be somewhat limited so instead I’ll paint a picture of what the whole thing entails and a few of the highlights. For those that do a bit of endurance racing, you’ll tend to be familiar with race courses often including long stretches of doubletrack or interconnecting tarmac that intersperse the more entertaining singletrack. Not so with this race. It’s described as a singletrack marathon and that’s exactly what it is. I can’t recall a race with that much singletrack. It’s mind blowing how they managed to find a route with so much of it. I’d seen in a write up of the race from a previous entrant that described the course as technical. They were not wrong. I’ve done (gravity) enduros that are less technical than this. Think rocky sections, super steep slippy muddy sections, drop offs, switchbacks, large rocks, flicking in and out of trees and not just short sections of this but endless, extended super techy fun and a fair bit of butt twitching scariness. Then there’s the climbing. There’s a fair bit of that with 2500 metres of ‘up’ over the length of the course but interestingly you get 2900 metres of descending so a little more down than up. As I mentioned in my intro, I was expecting the heavens to open and they certainly did. Some courses can be described as standing up well in bad weather. I think it’s fair to say that this one does not. There was a lot of mud making the already challenging descents near impossible in places and climbs which could conceivably be ridden in the dry became long pushes due to lack of traction.
Before the race I had estimated how long it was likely to take me. Unfortunately I had based those estimates on a dry, non-technical course meaning that it was going to take me longer than anticipated. It became apparent fairly early on that this was going to be quite a long day in the saddle. Going was quite tough both on the climbs and the descents both involving a bit of ‘off bike’ work. While my technical skills proved to be a little lacking on the day I did have one moment of glory. Shortly before the second technical feed zone I had been passed by a rider who seemed to have the edge on me when it come to the technical descent we were currently negotiating. I then noticed him having stopped part way through one section which suggested that he’d found it too difficult to get through. Worryingly a group of spectators had gathered around this section again suggesting that it was catching riders out. ‘Conveniently’ one of those spectators was pointing at the line he suggested I should be taking. Heading towards that point, I took a glance down and realised it was a proper ‘danger of death’ tricky drop off and switchback that would take Danny Macaskill-esque skills to negotiate. Having one of those ‘all of nothing’ moments I went for it and somehow came through unscathed much to the delight of the crowd from whom I got cheers of what I guessed was “technique!” in Catalan ascents. They didn’t need to know that I’d crashed only metres before that section and then again shortly afterwards.
Five and a half hours in, I’d consumed all ten gels I’d packed and, with a significant distance still to go, I came to the realisation that I needed to dig in for another couple of hours. Where normally I was thinking about where might be a respectable placing, on this occasion simply finishing was going to be an achievement so I readjusted my expectations to something a little more realistic for the day. Towards the end of the race the riding became a less technical as might be expected as you approached the city. It had one last sting in the tail though. At what must have been 2 km from the finish the trail seemed to run into a small lake / massive puddle. It turns out that a river had burst its banks and where the trail had been, there was now waist deep water. Once through that though, the race was all but done and shortly after I was over the finish line after what seemed like an astronomically long time (7 hours 47 minutes). Still, despite the sluggish pace, I had made it and, given that fewer than half the field finished the race, then that was an achievement in itself.
Before the race I was that excited about doing it that I was already planning on inviting all my mates and going again next year. During it, I was thinking “never again.” Shortly afterwards my memory of the less than ideal aspects of the race was quickly fading I was already thinking about going back next year and who I might pester into doing the same. Assuming I’m successful in persuading someone what a great idea that would be, whether they thank me or not is likely to depend on the weather and / or whether they have a penchant for wearing their underpants over the top of their trousers.