The Trail Quillan, a 28 kilometer run up and down the hills above Quillan in the Pays Cathares, was the focal point of my winter training. It looked like it would be hard and I ran a lot of stairs and hills to get ready, but it kicked my butt anyway.
After visiting nearby Mas Amiel and the Château de Quéribus my family and I spent Saturday night at a hotel near the starting line in Quillan. I hopped out of bed before dawn to eat breakfast and went to the town's rec center for my dossard (the bib with my number) and coffee. I was pleasantly surprised to find two large, American-style, tanks of hot coffee!
The weather was crisp, 2°C just before the 8am start, but clear and calm after nearly a week of wind and rain. Unlike last year's Fort Collins Marathon, it warmed up nicely during the race and I was never cold.
The course was tough. We found ourselves hiking and running in snow at the top and in mud of all kinds below the snow line. Frozen mud, snowy mud, sticky mud, slippery mud, mud mixed with running water. There was one short stretch of pine needle-strewn singletrack, but the rest was mud, snow, or rock.
The course was steep! According to my tracker we climbed 200 meters during km 8 and descended the same amount during km 13. There were 6 kilometers with more than 100 meters of elevation gain and 5 kilometers with more than 100 meters of elevation loss. All together there was 1500 meters of cumulative elevation gain, and since we finished at the starting point, the same amount of descending. 5000 feet is more than twice what I've done in the Black Squirrel or Trail des Calades.
The penultimate descent down the rocky gorges de la Pierre-Lys was a lot of fun. The height and exposure were exciting and tribal beats from a local drum line in Belvianes-et-Cavirac, the town below, kicked it up another notch.
I've never tried to run at race pace in this kind of mud before. It sucked a lot of energy of out my legs. I think that I did not do quite enough hill training this winter, either. My legs were completely spent at the end and I was sore all the next week.
Trail Quillan was a fun race, well organized, and attracted a number of very competitive runners. Surviving it makes me think seriously about registering for the Blue Sky Marathon in October, a longer but flatter and (I expect) drier trail that I already know well.