The south coast of France, right on the Spanish border, is a beautiful place to visit. Castles, vineyards, beautiful old French towns and villages and great weather, nestled at the foothills of the mighty Pyrenees combine to promise a great experience for a visit, with or without a swimrun.For athletes, come with the family and extend your stay for some quality ‘acclimatisation’ before the race. Swimrun Côte Vermeille is situated around the town of Argeles sur Mer, easily accessible from Perpignan, Toulouse or Girona airports.
The organisers of this event do a fantastic job. The workload in getting an event of this size, with 1100 total competitors to work so well is incredible and the main team are supported by 230 volunteer marshals, aid station angels and water safety crew. Everything flowed seamlessly, from start to finish. Many thanks and congratulations to them all.
With 6 events running concurrently within this swimrun, there is definitely a distance for everyone, even kids,
· La Kids – a 4km total race around Argeles harbour
· La Courte – The shortest of the adult events covering 13km from Port Vedres to Argeles (10.74km run / 2.11km swim – 328m elevation)
· La Moyenne – Middle distance – 26.6km total (22.44km run / 4.06km swim – 738m elevation)
· La Longue – 47.2km total (40.3km run / 6.94km swim – 1863m elevation including the mighty climb up to Madeloc tower at 738m elevation)
· L’Ultra – 63.3km total (54.73km run / 8.66km swim – 2498m elevation) This is an Otillo merit race.
· L’Ultra en relais – as above but with various possibilities for splitting the race into run and swim sections.
The South Of France Basks In Heat
With the weather forecasters advising “hot, hot, hot!”, with official air temperatures topping 30c, this was going to be a hydration dependent race and it didn’t disappoint. Having aid stations roughly every 3km was perfect. These varied from pure hydration points to others with fruit, snacks and sweets.
Having left Argeles in darkness we arrived at the ‘Ultra’ start line at Cap de Cerbere at 06:00, just as the sun started to rise over the Mediterranean.
The 80 ‘ultra’ teams gathered and prepared for the long day ahead. Some warmed up and watched the sunrise in quiet contemplation, others prepared whilst chatting to fellow athletes about the day to come.
With a prompt start at 06:30, we set off on the first run, a 7km route down into Cerbere and then up into the hills behind the town surrounded by vineyards hugging the hillside. Coming back through historic tunnels under the town, we emerged onto Cerbere beach for the short swim across the harbour and a crowded exit up a single ladder onto the harbour wall, hand paddles clashing in the melée.
After A Busy Start, Solitude Is Found Over Rugged Terrain
Running up the hill out of the village, the field spread out and we followed rugged, rocky cliff paths, with lots of steps and quad stretching hills between swims in the flat calm sea of less than 1km and runs of less than 2km until we picked up the Longue course athletes in their blue race bibs and
Eventually reached a middle section of 2 longer runs of 4km and a 760m swim to take us into Collioure with its beautiful castle, charming beach front cafes and old world charm. On any other day, spending time here would be a chance to relax and unwind, but today this marked the start of the long run. After 40km already covered, a 17km feat of endurance was now required to take us up the 670m climb up to Tour de Madeloc, a 13th century tower, perched precariously on an arret looking down over the bay with 360 degree stunning views. To get there, imagine barely walked paths over quartz like rock, steep technical climbs and hot rocks reflecting the peak of the day sun. The wind increased as you climbed, providing at least some cooling. Not much running could be done at this point and fatigue was definitely ever present. The aid station at the top, with a marshal spraying athletes with cold water was a very, very welcome reprieve before the run back down along narrow paths and winding roads back into Collioure to jump back into the refreshing sea.
The Inevitable Swell Builds As The Day Progresses Into A Crescendo Of Motion
By now, the wind was picking up and the flat calm sea of the morning had changed to a building chop and wind swell which made sighting on the swims tricky at times, but at every swim start the marshals have a picture board which shows the route, bright yellow buoys at regular intervals and on every exit there are 2 large flags which are fixed into position to make them visible from sea regardless of wind direction. Another bit of great race planning that really made a difference.
4 runs and 4 swims separated us from the finish line on Argeles beach. We were on the home stretch. The last run started with a gruelling deep sand run before reaching Argeles Marina with its yacht’s masts clanging in the wind. Fighting back the fatigue, we jumped into the water for the last swim through heavy swell, round a buoy and lined up with the finish line on the beach to our left. A quick run up the beach, we were met with loud cheers from a fantastic crowd lining the finish tunnel.
We were done. 63km of hard work, camaraderie, personal challenge and ultimately successful achievement. Thank you Cote Vermeille and everyone who took part, whether as an athlete or as a volunteer or one of the organising team. You were incredible.