Trail des Cagous 

I did some research after accepting entry to this event and realised it was going to be a real challenge.  Significant elevation gain 3600m over 80km in a remote location which limited the availability of aid stations.  However I approach any new event with an open mind ready to accept adversity and to enjoy it as best as I can. It was a day to be fearless to trust in my instinct and to keep moving forward.  It was a day where yet again I learned more about myself, reveled in the beauty of nature and forged new relationships through shared experiences. Yet again I am grateful for the support of my husband and family back home in Australia.

Sunday 24th May

The race started at 7:00am.  Chris Truscott and I signed in, passed through the gear check and mingled with the other starters.  Everyone spoke French and Chris and I chatted while we waited for the start.  Just prior to the start the Aussies Chris and I were introduced to the crowd along with other prominent local runners.  What was said I have no idea the only words I recognised was my name, we received a cheer and people clapped, it’s always nice to be acknowledged.

Then there was a countdown from ten (in French) a starting hooter or horn and we were off.  I settled into an easy paced run letting the 30km and others charge off ahead of me.  It wasn’t long until we were forced to walk on some single trail up an incline and while I might normally run it I was happy to walk at this early stage in the race.  I did manage to pass others at certain points and realised too late that I should have at least learnt the French world for ‘passing’.  Most people were polite and would let me pass.  A video of the start taken by drome camera can be found here.

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The race start. At Parc La Riviere Bleue, New Caledonia.

Then we got into the first of what was to be lots of technical single trail.  It was wet, slippery and steep in places.  Scary steep going down in wet slippery conditions and technical as well as the terrain was forested much like rainforest.  I came across Danial one of the race organisers who had collected me from the airport and accommodated me the night I arrived and then Martial who also put in a lot of time organising.  Martial also ran the Surf Coast Century last year he did well to finish in under 11 hours for someone who prefers multisport events.

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You can just see a Cagous in the bush on the other side of the road from the Aid Station table. The Cagous is a flightless bird unique to New Caledonia.

A kiwi guy who lives in New Caledonia who was running the 30km came past me and we chatted briefly.  He was pleased to have someone to chat to in English.  I caught up to him again a little later and we chatted while running an easier more open downhill section.  He had run the Tarawera Trail 50km event it was his 1st marathon and I had run/hiked it back in February a couple of days after the Tarawera Ultramarathon. It’s a small world.  We then approached a checkpoint or PC as they were called here.  I didn’t need much some Gatorade and some fruit to eat and I was directed one way to complete a loop while the 30km runners were directed another.  It was a challenging loop.  Again lots of ups, downs but some really great views.  I stopped to take a couple of photos.

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One of the many scenic views along the course. This is at one of the highest points. Just beautiful.

There were several river crossings which were great places to wash off some of the mud off my legs and hands. In the end it was a pretty pointless exercise but the water was cool and fresh.  At one aid station I think at about 40km they only had fruit, biscuits etc, cool drink or Gatorade and the like but not water.  I needed more water so I was directed I think (I couldn’t understand the French) 500m down for water.  I came across the medical personel one of which was napping in the shade of the tent and asked for water.  They said (I think) they didn’t have water only for them and again he pointed down the trail.  Down the trail I came across a river and filled my pack from there.  I had been assured by the race director Stephanie that the water in the creeks was clean pure source water and better than the water out of the taps in Noumea and it tasted pretty good.  I filled my little bottle as well and continued on.  I had made up some ground on this long trail section moving up the field and was in 6th place by the time I reached the next PC.  I had passed a guy about 2km out from the PC who asked for water and I was more than happy to stop to let him drink the last from my small bottle, about 250ml.

I was running down a road with a river on my left and there was tape crossing the road indicating a turn.  It was not immediately obvious which way to go and I stopped trying to work out where.  There was a bridge, but the way to the bridge was blocked by the tape indicating that wasn’t the way to go.  The way to the river wasn’t blocked, surely they didn’t want us to wade through the river to cross if there was a bridge, the river was quite wide but it looked passable. I could see there was a checkpoint this was the major 56km checkpoint where I had a drop bag I really needed and then I spotted the orange flagging in the dense foliage on my right and found a trail up to the checkpoint.  I stopped here to change into a dry top, restock my gels, eat a banana take in some fluids and use the toilet.  As I returned from the toilet I started to remove my top to put on the clean one and as it is the direction from which runners came the PC crew started clapping it seemed to me because I was taking off my clothes. A funny moment in my day. All day the checkpoint crews were good spirited and encouraged runners as they passed through.  I was always able to get essential information, how far to next checkpoint, how far had I traveled and how far to go.  My garmin was reading the course a little short so I was actually further along than I thought which was heartening later in the race.

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Approaching the last checkpoint and aid station. About 7km to go and about 30 minutes of daylight left. I don’t think I could get any dirtier than this.

I continued on over the bridge glad to have a section of road to run and opened up the legs moving quite comfortably hoping to get as close as I could to the finish before it got dark.  In the last 10km when the trail was not too technical but the ground still a little uneven I tripped and fell.  It wasn’t a bad fall but shook me up and thankfully the ground was soft as I literally face planted into the ground banging my lip and nose.  I was really dirty now.  Soaked through from the light showers throughout the day, sweat and now muddy too.  A runner came past while I was sitting on the side of trail trying to compose myself.  I asked him to pass me my sunglasses a couple of metres away which he did and then he continued on.  I got up and moved on testing out the limbs I seemed okay and cautiously ran on. I fell once more just after passing back over a pedestrian only bridge and a monitoring point and washing myself in the lake there.  I had another opportunity to wash myself in a creek but again it was a pretty pointless exercise.

I looked forward to the final ascent which I power hiked up and then some sweet downhill which switch backed down the hill.  It began to get dark and it was even darker in the dense forest sections but the course was very well marked and the reflective tape showed the way very well.  I could see the finish precinct in the fading light in the distance and cautiously made my way along the wet, slippery, muddy trail.  Even in the last kilometre through the forest there were clay sections where I skidded along but did not fall.  Finally I finished running through an avenue of trees to finish, welcomed in by race director Stephanie and fellow Aussie Chris Truscott who had redeemed his DNF at TNF100 a week earlier finishing 2nd.  I was the first female in (GO GIRLS) and 7th overvall I’m very pleased with my result.  It’s a great event, extremely well organised in a beautiful part of the world.

The final results can be reviewed here.

What a day, my only disappointment was not seeing the Cagous the flightless bird unique to New Caledonia that the race is named after.  Chris did see one though so at least one of the Australian’s had that experience on this run.

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I picked up a lot of dirt along the way.
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I had a sports drink to re-hydrate and replace electrolytes and THEN I celebrated my finish with a New Caledonia Beer.

I feel blessed to be afforded this experience and it has been a real experience.  Thank you to Sam Maffet and the people at Rapid Ascent for organising this exchange.  Fortunately for me Kellie Emmerson and Amy Lamprecht both great trail runners were unable to take up the offer.  Finally thank you to Stephanie Lacroix, Laurent Devaud, Daniel Bonnefis, Martial Devillers, Thibault Le Gallic who did a short run with me before the race to introduce me to the trails and make sure I didn’t get lost in the bush and many others who made me welcome.  Special mention of Veronique Chamberland one of New Caledonia’s top athletes who was 2nd,  female and 9th overall who met me a couple of days after the race and took me for a swim which was great for our recovery and also invited me to lunch for yummy French crepes.

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