Adventures and Reflections from Cathy O'Dowd

Adventures & Reflections
from Cathy O'Dowd

Water cascaded down the path faster than my tired legs could follow it. Rain was lashing from the side, driven by gusting winds, crossing Serra Montsant in squalls with just enough time between them to let you get half dry before the next wall of water struck. I had both a thermal top and a lightweight goretex jacket in my rucksack but I was already so wet that there seemed little point in stopping to put them on. Just another day out having fun in the mountains, running the UTSM (Ultra Trail Serra Montsant) Half.

Rainbow over the fields below Serra Montsant
Rainbow over the fields below Serra Montsant, taken on the drive home.

I’d not managed to convince any of my friends who do this mad sport to join me for this race, so drove down on my own into a weather report that resembled a lake waxing and waning over the massif, and the news that the race had already been shortened from 44km to 38km (down to 1800m vertical gain) to keep us from crossing over the top. I’m not sure if the field was small anyway or the weather put people off but as we lined up in the starting pen, I realised there were only two other women racing! I’d won a prize before even starting. It didn’t feel much of a consolation when I was positioned second last within 10 minutes of starting, but I’ve always found the back of the field starts too fast, and this time proved no different.

The first major downhill, down a steep twisting single-track through trees let me pick off a number of the road runners at the back who were picking their way carefully down. Ignoring the aid stations except to briefly tag my electronic chip and grab more water left behind several more of the men. Running straight off the top of a hill I’d power hiked up with two others dropped them. Thereafter the aim was to finish under six hours, despite the ever worsening rain.

It wasn’t my favourite type of race – too many sections of dirt road rather than true mountain footpath and not enough of the vicious climbs and descents that I enjoy, but the sensation of moving quickly through a wild landscape, ravaged by weather but undeterred, was enormously satisfying. I came in as the second woman in the end and under my six hour target. We’d run a one-way race, having been bused to the start, which made up just under half of the 91km being run by the full ultra field. They’d started three hours before us, and the winner came in about 15 minutes after me. Phenomenal!

It was a great race, organised with a combination of efficiency and good humour essential in such difficult conditions. I came home with two bottles of wine, a cake, a plate, and two sleeping bags! Good value all round and a wonderful day out.

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