We’d been in Corsica for a few days and I was witnessing our first real “Corsican experience”. I had slept in that Thursday morning so had gone out running an hour later than usual in Feliceto, a tiny village of 100 or so souls perched high up in the Corsican mountains. Within a minute of setting off, I stumbled upon what I assumed was a car crash: police van, flashing lights, ambulance etc and a bulletproof-jacket-clad cop blocking the road. I thought it was a bit OTT but nationalist Corsicans are known to regularly use French police as practice targets so maybe this was normal. I turned around and headed into the hills, intrigued but thinking little more of it. As I crested the next hill, a police helicopter flew overhead and landed on a steep slope outside the village. Odd, but whatever.
An hour later, I returned to the village and was greeted by that somewhat alarming welcome, which was the opening gambit to an equally concerning statement that “a madman had shot a tourist dead, the village is on lock down and there’s a huge manhunt for him”. Mmm. Cue my new 100m PB. Uphill.
We sat around all morning watching riot police comb the streets and reading news reports about having to stay put whilst they hunted for an armed and dangerous man. As the joke goes, are there any Corsicans who are NOT armed and dangerous…?
Anyway, to cut the story short: the madman was in love with a local girl who had another lover. Madman drove into the village that morning and saw a car coming towards him which he recognised as the love rival’s. As any rightful Romeo would do, he leapt out of his car and twice shot the driver dead before he’d double checked that it wasn’t just a 57 year old tourist innocently driving through the village with his wife. Oops. He then went to our neighbour’s house, drank coffee, had a shower, changed his clothes, dropped his shotgun off and went on the run. He was eventually caught at midnight and will hopefully be spending a few years in jail…
So that’s that. A mountainous race through Corsica’s wilderness doesn’t sound quite so exciting now! I’d stumbled upon this A Macrisa race a bit by fluke: ahotu.com lists a ton of races around the world and it just happened that one of the few ones in Corsica was on our last day there. The race is so tiny that it’s hard to find much information on it but the gist of what I gathered from the Internet and talking to organisers is that it is a historic race between three tiny villages about 1,000m up in the mountains. On road (thankfully), the course is simple: run along the only road that joins the three villages, don’t get lost and complete the loop.
We arrived in Marignana bright and early. To my relief, it was pleasantly cool at this altitude. After a bit of blagging to be allowed to sign up (I forgot that French races require a medical certificate), it was time to settle the normal pre-race nerves. To my absolute delight, there was none of this portaloo rubbish here, it was just “go up that hill in the field of wild mint and shit away”. Best smelling toilet and best pooping view ever.
The organisation being somewhat villagey, we comically had to clear the road three times to let cars by after we’d lined up to start. After one last clearance, we were off and attacked our first hill of the day. Only the three kilometres of climbing…my last hill training session was in early November so this was an ideal race for me! I held my ground in the front group of 5 for the first couple of kilometres and, although it’s hard to judge what a correct pace for going uphill is because all the normal markers are off, this felt alright. Ish. After 2km, my ears popped: a race first for me!
On the plus side of all this climbing malarkey, being really in the middle of nowhere meant there were hardly any cars on the road to avoid. In fact, the biggest and most common obstacles were wild pigs casually trotting by!
The other noticeable local ‘twist’ was the fact that almost every single road sign was peppered with bullet holes: practice for the proper sport of tourist-shooting?
Best described as horrific, I was very close to walking more than a few times. The only time I stopped was to bin a water bottle (water stops were remarkably good!); quite a few runners just threw them to the side which I feel was very poor behaviour in such amazing surroundings. My stop allowed a few runners past. I was now 11th, and would stay 11th until the end. I couldn’t see anyone in front of me, nor could I see anyone behind. The scenery, incidentally, was a stunning mix of volcanic mountains, valleys and seascapes. Not that I was enjoying them much at the time.
Out of pride more than anything else, I kept going until Evisa, the prettiest of the three villages. I had no idea what the rest of the course would be like at that point and would most likely have crumbled if it involved many more hills.
Thankfully, the next 6km, while vertiginous, were DOWNHILL! We’d climbed quite a bit by then (around 500m ascent over the course of the race) so, while much much faster, this segment wasn’t done at a particularly breakneck speed either.
At the bottom, I reached the longest flat stretch of the course: about 12 metres. One last climb and I was back in Marignana in a (reasonably) respectable 1h19, a good 8 minutes behind the winner and an hour in front of the last runner.
My legs were both (figuratively) shot, but I (literally) wasn’t. So a good day all round then I guess?
Final Time: 1h19.52 (11th/50?? No idea, can’t find records anywhere!)