Buff Epic Trail – A Skyrunning Adventure through the Spanish Pyrenees

This event was a bit of an unexpected addition to the race calendar for me. 6 weeks before race day, I was lucky enough to win entry to the Buff Epic Trail 21k Skyrace through a competition held by SportsShoes, sponsored by Buff.

I don’t tend to enter competitions unless I REALLY want the prize. So I would like to thank SportsShoes and Buff for giving me the opportunity to race in such an EPIC event, and to finish 1st Brit with Graham Willgoss from Sport Magazine coming in 2nd Brit.

Here is the official Event video which was released a couple of days ago. I figure that if I hit you all with this mountain running visual delight now, then you will be captivated to read on and learn more about it 🙂

Oh, and at 1min 21sec, you will see me proudly representing U.K. !

Buff® Epic Trail Aigüestortes 2016 Highlights from BUFF® on Vimeo.

Profile

As you can see, its very much a Skyrace 🙂

Route

A loop through a section of the Spanish Pyrenees. Starting and finishing in Barruera.

Terrain

This is a very important part of the race. The 1800m climb to the high point of the race will show you some absolutely stunning views back down through the valley that you are ascending.

Views back down through the Valley
Views back down through the Valley

Watch out for the top section as you approach the peak, the grade will reach 50% incline. As the altitude will force most people to slow right down at this point, it’s important to be alert for tumbling rocks from runners above. There is also an incredible ridge section at the top which will continue to reduce your average pace as your attention turns more to careful foot placement and trying not to slip. This will really put you in the “moment”, so it can be difficult to remember to take in the stunning views, which you must.

The ridge section
The ridge section

On the way back down the terrain can get very challenging so don’t be surprised when if you slip over multiple times. It appeared to be the norm with people working it in to their controlled descents. In fact its something I copied. Don’t let any of that put you off though! The extra challenge from the terrain rewards you with views that you may not get the chance to see any other way.

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The course terrain included flat rocky sections along rivers, steep forest trail climbs, grassy hill climbs/descents, scree ascents/descents, rocky ridge running, a bit of via ferrata on the descent (there were mountain guides there to make sure you don’t fall) and lovely buffed winding trails towards the end where you can put in some speed.

Check Point Nutrition

I really appreciated that there were so many checkpoints along the route. Almost every 5km in fact! Because of the terrain and climbing the gap in time was actually quite a while, but I never felt the need for one sooner than it came. So kudos on Buff for this!

The stops had bananas, isotonic drinks, water, Nutella sandwiches and more. I tried not to stop too long so couldn’t take it all in.

Race Village

Images say more than words when it comes to describing the atmosphere and spirit of a place:

The Race

I didn’t know what to expect from this race. My online research wasn’t affording many images of the terrain but any written descriptions gave me an impression of a route with very challenging terrain. So from that perspective I was a little bit nervous, but also excited to take on the challenge.

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Pre-race selfie with Graham. Photo credit to Graham Willgoss
Pre-race selfie with new trail buddy, Graham from Sport Magazine. Photo credit to Graham Willgoss

The first 3k

The race starts with a 3 km flat run with rocky patches, which works really well as a warm up section. There were a couple of surprises thrown in during this early stage:

Early race challenges. Photo credit to Graham Willgoss

The climb

At around the 4km mark you start to feel the climb coming but its not until 8km that it really begins to bite! This for me is where the race really began. I have been working a lot of hill climbing into my training this summer so was very eager to put it to practice on the serious stuff. I noticed that I was able to stay strong on the climb to the peak, and developed a strategy that really worked in terms of gaining places and helping me stay motivated to keep pushing. It was simple really, I would always try to catch the pack of people in front of me. When I caught them up, I would tail them for a few minutes until I noticed the gap between us and the NEW pack in front increasing. I would then work my way passed my current pack and do the same to the new pack ahead, and so on. This meant I never got too comfortable which can be dangerous as you end up letting the runners get too far ahead.

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I’m thankful for most of the climb being shaded by forests. Otherwise I thing things may have gone very differently.

Stunning views back down the valley

The summit

Eventually I could see the aid station at the peak of the climb, the altitude was starting to affect my speed at this point so I ended up taking it easier ready for the challenges ahead and making sure I was recovered enough to begin running without pausing too long at the top.

My high altitude face
My high altitude face

Once at the top you’re greeted with those stunning views I mentioned earlier. Here are a few pictures to give you an idea of how amazing it was:

Views from the peak
Views from the peak

Views from the peak
Views from the peak

Views from the peak
Views from the peak

The ridge

Once you’ve taken a few minutes to take it all in, its time to tackle the ridge line. I personally had never done anything quite this gnarly, which made for a brilliant and exhilarating experience. Some may be put off by it but I think most people that take on a race like this are there for these very reasons. The challenges and experiences.

The ridge section again
The ridge section again

I was so happy to see photographer Jordi Saragossa hidden away along the ridge taking photos of us as we made our way along it. He snapped this great photo of me:

Me running along the ridge - Photo credit : Jordi Saragossa
Me running along the ridge – Photo credit : Jordi Saragossa

The descent

You will be going along this for about 2km before things get a little less scary. The descent may shock some too with a little bit of via ferrata, captured very well here by Graham Willgoss:

Rope descent section - Photo Credit: Graham Willgoss
Rope descent section – Photo Credit: Graham Willgoss

The main steep descent on the back end of the race which lies between 15-16km involves a lot of steep and slippy grass sections. I was struggling a bit to find an efficient way of getting down it. Then I saw a lady bombing down passed me. She seemed to have no fear! She would run, slip over on her bum/back, slide down 5 meters, get up and run, slip over, then do the same thing all over again, and again. But she was moving so fast. I figured if someone else can get down this thing that quickly then I’m going to have to try what she was doing. So I did, and have an amazingly grass/mud stained pair of Salomon S-Lab Twin Skin shorts to prove it. The technique worked but I quickly learned that I had to pick a line before going into a slide as there were a number of rocks poking up through the grass.

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Final aid station

At 16km there is an aid station which was in a perfect place because the race finally opens up to buffed downhill trails where you can get some serious speed up if you still have something left in your legs. You will then reach the final aid station at 20km. Due to the 4km of fast running, I was very grateful for this, even though it was so close to the end, in distance at least.

The finish

The final couple of kilometres involves more descent and a lot of running past crowds of supporters, cheering you on in mostly Spanish! There was such a great turnout. Then comes a little run through the town of Barruera and the roaring crowds at the finish line. I couldn’t see Helen or my new friends at Team Buff UK but I could hear them shouting out my name so naturally I felt I had to sprint to the finish line 🙂

Buff Epic Trail - Happy finisher
Buff Epic Trail – Happy finisher

Team Buff - Happy finishers
Team Buff – Happy finishers

Beer time to celebrate
Beer time to celebrate

Race numbers:

Epic Trail 21k overview

  • Position – (CP1 = 172, CP2 = 155, Finish = 147) – Climbed the ranks nicely 🙂
  • Distance – 21.3km
  • Elevation Gain – 1800m
  • Time – 03:59:55
  • Average Pace – 11:14 min/km

A BIG Thank You to Buff for creating such an amazing race that is both well organised and has an amazing spirit to it. And thank you to Buff UK and SportsShoes for my VIP treatment during the event weekend. Hopefully see you all again next year!

Alastair Dixon
Alastair Dixonhttp://www.alidixon.com
Founder & CEO of Trail & Kale / Landscape & Adventure Photographer.

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