Despite many hours running alone, a good result is seldom a solitary achievement. There is competition which cracks the whip, the energy and nourishment of aid stations, and if you're lucky—a crew.

At the Grand Trail Valleé d'Ossau I had all three. The crew? None other than my wife and 17 month old son. We piled into the car at 4am for the 5am start and planned on meeting at three points on the 72km route.

I started hot, chasing the lead runner of the relay race who was burning all his matches as he would be relieved half way through the course by his teammate. I appreciated the haste and clung on most of the way, coming into Louvie-Juzon 3 minutes behind, and right on course record.

topo map of the race course

Having done a reconnaissance of the second half, I knew the task before me: 35km 2350m d+. I was feeling good, but concerned about my hydration. Just saying this now means it should have been very clear then, to stop and chug fluids. My goal was to drink 0.75 liter/hr and I was sitting closer to 0.5L/hr. Due to the heat, the goal should have been 1L/hr. I was getting way behind and wouldn't pee for 12 hours.

From Louvie-Juzon the course shoots 900m up Montagne del Rey. On the steep sections the cramps started nipping and I knew I was deep in the red. After the tricky descent, I saw my team one last time, alerting them that the tides had turned. “Tough,” I told myself, “Do the work.”

I fell off the course record and struggled to maintain an acceptable pace. On the last climb I checked my shoulder expecting to see a battalion of runners licking their chops, but was alone.

At Col d'Aubisque, the last aid station, I was too nauseous to eat and asked for a sip of a spectator's beer, “Est-ce-que je peut avoir un gout de votre bier?” He looked at me as if I were retarded. I drank the whole thing and it sat fine. I galloped down the 1200m decent into town, crossing the finish in a respectable 8h30m.

Ben Dhiman at the 2022 GTVO

Given the cramping and poor fueling it doesn't feel like an outright victory as I know those mistakes would have buried me if the course was longer. The record stands at 8:10 and the 20 minute difference is massive, but well within reach if I get my tactics right.

The GTVO is a superb route, deceivingly technical and beautiful. I take from the race a giant wheel of cheese and several vital pieces of feedback to improve performance on longer races.

runners on the podium
victory cheese