Zegama, Spain. My last experience here in 2010 was an off-the-couch-Skyrace…..oops. I didn’t have fond memories except for the radiance of green in the Beech tree forests.
This year, Zegama greeted me with two days of blue sky upon my arrival. The warm sun and long days provided ample time to go for runs, relax in the sun and take in the landscape. At no point early in the a.m., late in the p.m. or during a wind or rain was it at all cold in the town of Zegama.
But, as one must know about the Zegama Skyrace is it is notoriously a wet, muddy race nearly every year. And so when asked about what I though about the weather I said bring it on. And that is what happened. Always be careful what you ask for.
The insane amount of mud on the course (more than usual) WAS fun as it provided soft foot steps and an added element of adventure.
As the race began in town, I was hot in my super light t-shirt and shorts, I got a slow start which was fine with me but I had a lot of progress to make. And that I did, my body feeling really good at the pace.
15k later, as I hunted down the first place gal we were reaching the high point of the race, and the beginning of the rocky ridge line that connects the multiple ‘peaks’ (do not be deceived by the photo, this ridge is not Colorado scree but jutting rock). I caught her amongst a group of hollering fans but very soon thereafter and all of the sudden sweat turned to cold. The vast amount of cheering fans (Zegama is known to have the best, toughest fanbase of any race) was noticeably absent…..she was absent, the men that I was running with were absent…………..
……I was on the rocky ridge that was much slower and more technical than I remembered it. It was eerily quite except for the chill which had a sound of its own and the wind that came with it. I was cold but still fine, I figured it was only 2k and it would be as warm as the beginning of the race in no time.
All of the sudden a man in front of me was screaming and crying (I am not kidding you) and being warmed by the arms of a course marshall.
I was still fine until a moment later, as I reached my arms up to scramble vertical I developed some sort of minor tunnel vision (there were half circles on the periphery of both R and L sight, pulsing in like a tunnel) and my legs turned to limbs of limited control in a confused way (they felt like ropes).
It had very quickly turned into a desparate situation that didn’t reverse soon at all.
This ridge is as technical and slow as it gets without rope assistance (because there is no vertical danger). I was still on my own, totally unaware of where anyone else was because I was now very aware that I needed to get lower and warmer a.s.a.p. The ridge was only walk-able for me today, and after that, was the steepest grass decent known to man.
I am used to the cold more than most, I always over dress (except for today), I have been outdoors and freezing cold many times. But at this point I knew this was a serious situation within my circumstances (racing with minimal clothing with a very sharp change of weather). I knew that I would be fine because it is a supported race but that doesn’t stop a human from knowing that they are in trouble. I was only racing to get warmer.
I couldn’t shake the cold and with my legs hardly working it was a struggle to move a fast as I could to warm up. This lasted around 8-10k. If there was an obvious medical tent I might have stopped. Luckily there wasn’t and I just had to keep moving.
I figured all the gals behind me could be inhibited like I was but then I looked back at a smiling, fresh looking Yngvild Kaspersen. We exchanged words and in no time she was 6 minutes ahead. I was checked out, barely able to put my foot where I wanted it to be, still very cold.
I moved at that point to get warm but also to maintain 2nd place, I hit the dirt road which was also very muddy and was finally warming up.
Somewhere along the way, what I had coming to me occurred and I fell flat down on the ground…..into the mud. ‘Say what?’ I paused, my eyes fixated forward, lifted and actually shook my head, got up, covered with mud and ran it out.
Interestingly enough I didn’t think once that whole time that I wouldn’t finish the race. I really think it was because I knew I needed to keep moving to get warm.
As for my new impression of Zegama, this course is one of my favorite and can’t wait to go back. As for Spain, what a beautiful country!! Next year I’ll write about the lengendary crowds that stand in the hundreds cheering you up the steep ascents and descents of the course. So much spirit!