Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie

30 09 2011

In the footsteps of the Dukes of the Savoie

Warning: this is 6,955words long. That’s LONG

Warning 2: Contains profanities, from early on, but not huge in number.

Col du Joly, >80km run, vert. climbed ~5,530m, alt. 1,989m, running time ~19.5 hrs

26th August 0424, text from Dad:   “Daylight soon ”
26th August 0430, reply:     “Can’t come soon enough, this is fucking grim…”

But that’s later in the process. Where did this madness start that lead me to be here, in the corner of a tent, shivering with my whole body?

Iain Martin’s, fault. He wrote in his blog that he was going to do the Chamonix Marathon, which I thought sounded interesting so I put it into Google and one of the hits was Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB), a race I’d heard of but didn’t really know what it was. This must have been late in 2009, I started to wonder “what do I need to do to run 166km around the Alps?”

Actually, it all started further back than that; I bought a lot of triathlon kit in a shop called Up and Running in East Sheen. On a day in May 2006, when I should have been studying for a work exam, I went there and bought a bike, a wetsuit, a helmet… basically all I needed to call myself a triathlete (apart from the actual doing a triathlon part). Here they had runner’s numbers pinned up from the London to Brighton run, had been a road race; I thought “amazing, people can do that. I wonder if I ever could?”

Thinking about it, becoming a triathlete was partly Iain’s fault too, but that’s another story.

I found out that to do this UTMB event qualification points were required. The London to Brighton is now off road self-navigated run, deemed worthy of two UTMB points. Two points allows entry to the TDS, which gets three points fulfilling the 5 points in two years from not more than two races to enter UTMB. Simple!

TDS Website

Mt. Blanc (I think!) from the start line

View from the start line, we looked the other way, but it's nice, eh?

I finally bit the bullet and entered the TDS in January ’11, having seemingly forgotten how uncomfortable London to Brighton was. I sent a text message to my parents who spend some of the summer within sight of the TDS route asking “Are you going to be in La Rosiere at the end of August? I may have just entered a slightly silly race”.

The Arrival of August!

suddenly I’m stood in a queue in Chamonix to register. Scared that I’d forgotten something on the kit list, scared that everyone around me looked amazingly fit; just scared! They let me through, my kit acceptable and what seemed like only seconds later I was lying in bed thinking “Surely not, that’s not the alarm? That is the alarm. Best get up”

Trying to keep quiet I pottered around the chalet, made a big pile of porridge and sat down to see how many calories I could stuff in my face in one sitting. Turns out quite a few! The porridge was going down pretty well, as were the chocolate Brioche I’d discovered were easy on the palette before IM UK. A banana or two followed and eventually my stomach started to revolt. I showered, shaved, and got my race kit on. I had a chat with my feet and re-tied my shoes. I applied sun-screen and gave myself a pep talk in the mirror. I worried about the kit list, the altitude, blisters, sun, rain, heat, cold, wind.

Running over the previous days had shown me a few things; running in the mountains is HARD. Running in the mountains is also BEAUTIFUL. I was excited about the race, but I was also really scared about the race. I knew it would mentally take me places I’d never been before, and that was part of why I entered it; I saw it as an opportunity to find out what I was made of, I was just hoping I didn’t come away from it disappointed with what I would find.

We headed out into the early morning sun-rise the moon still faintly in the sky. Just before leaving I realised in my packing I’d forgotten my sunglasses so rushed down to get them; not great for my state of mind! I’d ticked off everything on the list and running through it in my mind it was OK. Just the sunglasses hadn’t been on the list; so what else might be missing?

I’d looked at past results, most people finished in around 24-26 hours. I saw no reason I couldn’t be up there with them. I wanted <24 hours, but I wasn’t going to push too hard for this it was more important to make it through than anything else.

The race breaks up, fairly simply, into three;

>Courmayeur to Bourg St. Maurice (44km)
>Bourg St. Maurice to Les Contamines (89km)
>Les Contamines to Chamonix (112km)

The Race Profile... kind of lumpy!

Courmayeur to Bourg (44km)

I avoided getting into the start for quite a long time. I sat on a step while my parents looked anxious and talked to a Scottish woman called Lorna who was rather more expressive with her anxiety than me; I blocked most things out and just sat on a step, I think this was a concern to Mum, but shouldn’t be a surprise having seen me pre-IronMan.

Getting ready!

Pre Race Nerves...

Eventually I gave in and joined the crowd. I was a long way back and they all looked so fit! They all had poles as well, I did not. Just standing there I couldn’t get my heart rate under 110bpm. The music was loud and stirring and eventually the people a head moved off. I felt overly emotional and there were tears in my eyes as I crossed the start line but soon I got down to the important business; where could I take a pee?

Bladder emptied it was time to get going again… and soon I saw my parents for

Stop for a pee, and you will lose places!

what I thought would be the last time for the next 6 hours or so and again I had to stop. This time to sort out a small stone in my shoe; I had made an agreement with myself – I would look after my feet and then they would look after me.

The climb to the Col Checrouit (7km) was OK. I’d lost a lot of places with my stops and so was climbing past loads of people as I went and feeling good. At the top there was an aid-station and soon I discovered it was carnage the only solution was elbows out and grab what you want. The volunteers were swamped but I got a bit of stale bread and dunked it in some honey and looked for the rest of the food. That was it. We’d been going over an hour and all I got was a bit of bread. I cursed, thinking I’d need to task Mum & Dad to fetch me a load of food for the rest of the event that I could pick up at the next aid station, and broke into the emergency supplies I had in my pack.

First climb goes up and to the right of the image... and up and up and up!

Here we pressed on to the Col de Youlaz (11km), feeling good, if slightly concerned about the food situation. I found I was being held up by those in front, but it was

single track path so while I would make a move to pass people when I could I decided I wasn’t going to get too worked up about it – a few minutes in the grand scheme of things wouldn’t make too much difference. Some didn’t agree and would barge through receiving shouts of disgust from the Italians and French.

I knew I was a way back, but just how far back became apparent when I was stopped dead at the Col de Youlaz traffic jam. A single track path up a steep shale slope lead to a bottleneck of epic proportions; people were going off route and leading to shale falling on people below, there was much shouting! I took the opportunity to have a bite to eat and pulled on my wind-proof-gillet which was an asset as it fitted in a small pocket on the outside of my pack and I could quickly get it on and off without removing my pack for just a little bit of warmth. 40 minutes later we topped out and proceeded down the beautiful valley to La Thuile.

Some of the descents are pretty steep!

Running down hill I was worrying about my quads, but having so much fun I just went with it. I stopped for water and to dunk my head at one of the fountains as it was getting pretty hot. I was having a great time running what I could, walking what I couldn’t and with a really well paced group of people.

The La Thuile aid-station was chaos again but there was a lot more food. Here I discovered the Overstim’s Amelix Bar. Basically a chunk of marzipan, 100cals in a tasty little bar was a winner. I ate some random dried meats, topped up my water, grabbed some cheese and pressed on. Shortly after coming around the corner I noticed my feet were rubbing. I’d not checked them at this station so took the chance to brush them clean, re-lube and press on.

I was surprised and really pleased to see my parents just around the corner, stopped for a quick chat then continued the march up the 700 vertical meters in 9km to the Col du Petit-St-Bernard. In my mind I was keen to get there for 3pm, which would put me on for a 24 hour time. I was feeling really strong on the climbs and passing lots of people, though not doing so well on the flats, I was already starting to walk things I should have been running, a quick kick up the bum sorted that out and I made the col with 6:08 on the clock, but was worried;

In high spirits in the Col du Petit St. Bernard

I’d not stopped for a wee since start. Time to get my hydration on I took this opportunity to get tucked into the soup, and started on the coke/water mix. Three bowls of soup, 500ml coke 500ml water and 2L in my bag, I thought that should cover it for now! I moved on quite gently worrying about my full stomach, and again saw Mum and Dad who had found a place to sit just off the route. I stopped for a word before pressing on down to Bourg St. Maurice, generally in high spirits.

During the descent I found my quads were tiring and each step was a little harder than the last, which would have been OK, but there were rather a lot of downhill steps, and a lot more to come. The weather looked threatening and looking across the valley to La Rosiere, where we’d been staying, wasn’t as cheering a sight as I’d hoped it would be. I knew I wouldn’t be back there for another 17 hours, at the very best, which seemed like an awfully long time.

I had a chat with a Scottish guy called Roddy, I’d see him again, and believe he was integral to my finishing, but at this point it was just nice to have a bit of a chat with someone else. I started to feel I was really settling into my rhythm, and without a concerted effort I was showing ~20 minutes/mile, the magic 24 hour pace.

Down through a picturesque village called St. Germain the route passed wooden mills and down some stairs with yodelling music playing in the background – the steps fitted in perfectly with the beat of the music and I got a big cheer as I “danced” down the stairs in something approaching time with the beat. It was moments like this that will stay with me, the area was beautiful, the people were supportive and every now and then I’d forget just what a ridiculous thing I was doing.

Arriving in Bourg St. Maurice, I think the face says it all!

Bourg St. Maurice brought one of the three flat bits of the course, there was to be this one at 44km, another at Les Contamines at 89km and another at the finish. The threatening weather proceeded to rain a little as I picked up the pace through the trees towards the aid station, completely disorientated in a small town I’d though I knew the layout of; now it seems obvious I was just starting to fatigue.

I met up with Mum and Dad at the cross roads by the aid station; this was one of the points I was really concerned about. Here would be the easiest place to drop out, I could be back in the Chalet in 40 minutes with a beer in hand; if I’d been in a bad way it would have been the easy choice and I went into it concerned I might make that choice. But it never really crossed my mind.

Chaos in the background, and a bit of a wobble...

The rain started to pour down, and I felt bad about Mum and Dad being in the rain, I felt quite tearful at the support they’ve provided for me and realised this emotional swinging was a sign I was potentially calorie deficient; and I’d only been for one very disappointing pee.

I started off with some water, then some coke. I got tucked in to two or three bowls of soup, and some local sausage. Who puts hazelnuts in Saucission??? I tried some cheese and some cake and a few energy bars and once my stomach started to feel full I concluded I wasn’t going to get any more in me. I had to stock up though, as we were about to go through a detour. Total stoppage time was around 30 minutes, someone asked on Facebook “What happened, did they nail your feet to the floor?” No, but it shows how quickly the time goes by even with my rule of “if you’re sitting you have to be doing something” checking feet and eating food takes time, but isn’t worth skipping.

The detour was to avoid a high point on the map, this added 8-9km to the total distance, but kept us out of a storm warning. It also meant it was going to be further to our next water stop, which was a good reason to have stocked up on what I was carrying as well as what was in my stomach.

Bourg St. Maurice to Les Contamines: (45km + detour 8-9km)

Out of Bourg was a long slog up to Cormet de Roseland. I ran into Roddy again here, who was struggling to keep his dinner down, after a brief chat and the suggestion he take it easy to let it settle I pushed on.

The rain had taken a bit of the temperature out of the air which was reducing my ridiculous sweat rate. I briefly lost the bite valve off my Camelback with some over-zealous pulling; “SHIT!” I shouted, folded the tube into a kink and looked for the valve. It was by my foot but occurred to me it would be a good spare to carry – no weight but with potentially race-saving usefulness, I was tired and over reacting to things!

A little while after this I text my Dad “third wee since Bourg!” very happy to be sufficiently hydrated again, my mood was definitely on the up… for now.

Roddy caught me up again and we walked together in a purposeful manner, wincing as people ran down hill past us. Both of us were feeling fatigue in the fronts of our legs now and I really I appreciated the company of someone at this stage, talking about nothing in particular but tramping on. When Roddy answered a call of nature he said he’d catch me up, it was about this point the road started to kick up for the long slog of our detour to the Cormet Roseland. I got my head down and was comfortable walking around 15:00/mile, really happy with what this was doing to my average pace, and passing lots of people while feeling well within myself.

Headtorches started popping on around me and I decided it was time to join the fun, slightly anxious at my first time using it in anger, and feeling awed by where we were and the view of the mountains silhouetted against the darkening sky. I wished I’d had a decent camera with me as it was really beautiful.

The rest of this passed without great note; I walked, I ate, I drank. I passed people most of the way up and only a 3 or 4 of them caught me back up; I left Bourg St. Maurice in 728th place, when we got to Cormet de Roseland I was in 623rd place!

I was pleased to make it to the Cormet de Roseland, 61km through the race, in 13 hours 31 minutes. We had now done the detour so I was really closer to 70km into the 120km race, or 58% of the way through in 56% of my target time. The calculations in my head weren’t quite this specific, but the GPS watch was still saying <20:00/mile; unfortunately it was also now starting to say the battery was getting a bit low. I didn’t hang around this aid station long; it was heaving with bodies and getting to the food was difficult, there was no-where to sit inside and it was HOT. I ate another bowl of soup and tried to snack on a few bits and pieces, but I couldn’t stay in the tent to eat so went outside. Here I got to see three people being taken off the route in ambulances, two with leg braces, one guy wrapped in foil like a turkey prepared for roasting. I squatted down to stretch out my knees and heard an almighty pop from each one – the guy stood next to me raised an eyebrow and laughed as I looked at them terrified! Realising I was getting cold I started to make a move. A little further on I had to stop to put on my full length jacket. Then my thermal, basically I didn’t know what to wear and kept changing my mind. One minute I would be too hot then the wind would get up and I’d be cold again. Eventually I settled into my rhythm and kept moving up.

It doesn't look so bad in the light, but tired and by headtorch it's tricky!

To now the terrain had been pretty straightforward, mostly good footpaths and because of the detour the last couple of hours had been spent on roads, but this now changed significantly. We seemed to be crossing large areas that were covered in grassy lumps which made getting one’s footing correct difficult, the resulting stumbling wasn’t helping my tiring legs. It became a vicious cycle; stumble because legs are tired, have tired legs because of the stumbling, repeat!

I have heard it said that an event of this length you can get through the first half on fitness, the second half is mental. I was now in the second half and I was tiring. I wasn’t running any more, I would jog a bit here and there when the gradient and the terrain came together into a rare but welcome path that wasn’t too steep but mostly I’d try to walk in a determined manner. This was my first time “running” with a head torch and I was glad to have taken the same view as one of the Elites I read about who said there’s no point in sacrificing brightness for weight; if it’s heavier and brighter you’ll be faster than if it’s light but not bright. My Petzl Myo RXP was about the brightest I saw out there, so I was pleased with the investment I’d made in it.

In my memory much of the next few hours is a jumble. The wind really got up at times – I don’t know for sure if it was actually all that windy, or if the annoyance factor of the wind made it seem much worse than it actually was. Around 1am I was in a really low place, stumbling around in the bottom of a col I was passed by several people who had passed me earlier. I just sat down on a rock, shouted at the wind for a bit and thought about giving in. I decided I was probably short of calories so tucked into a couple of gels, had a drink, and checked my phone for amusing text messages. These were a life-saver, knowing there were people outside really raised my spirits; even if one of the messages did say “on a scale of 1-10 how much fun are you having” and I had to reply “none”.

At some point along the way I met up with Roddy again, he’s more experienced in these things than I am so I asked if he had any top tips and his reply was “you need a mantra”. He said the famous “pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever” works for him, so did “Just do it” so I tried to apply some of these but couldn’t quite get it to work for me. I did, however, find focussing on an acronym helped, every left foot was “J”, right “F”, left “D”, Right “I”, and repeat. JFDI – Just F**king Do It and HTFU – Harden The F**k Up. Would see me through the next 14 hours, they worked to keep a rhythm and my mind of how much it hurts.

We chatted for a bit and as it pitched up he said he’d see me later; I was still climbing pretty well but knew he’d catch me back up on the descent, and we each had to make the most of what we had available. As it turned out it was the last time we saw each other, and it seems he was a DNF.

As the route pitched up we were climbing into the wind, which was carrying a lot of dust. When I coughed I felt my chest tighten a little but I pressed on thinking it would be OK. It became harder and harder to take a proper breath, I was taking shallow fast breaths and anything deeper made it feel like I was breathing in chilli fumes and I would cough uncontrollably. I made it to the approach to Col est de la Gitte (I think this is where I was anyway!) where there was a timing check and a medical point. By here I was feeling quite light headed and knew something wasn’t right. I have no idea what the problem was though.

I saw a chair and took a seat, determined to get my breath back before pressing on. I didn’t know if this was what it was like to be asthmatic, but it was how I imagined it to be; what a place this would be to discover I had asthma! A medic guy came and asked if I was OK; I explained I was just a little short of breath, was going to rest until it came back, and it was probably just the altitude. He looked concerned, reluctantly said OK, and then was called off to the tent they had set up, where he promptly started to administer Oxygen to a guy who was wrapped up in blankets in there. When I saw the oxygen cylinder I stood up and made a move, scared I would be shepherded into the tent myself, knowing that if I got in there I would get warm, comfortable and it would be race over.

Within 100 meters I was struggling again; the light-headedness had come back and I realised I was hyperventilating. I sat on a rock for a moment and tried to weigh up my options – medical reasons for pulling out would be acceptable to me, but I’d have to know that I couldn’t have carried on so I gave myself another couple of minutes to get it back together before I would walk back to the medical point and seek guidance. I found that with a bit of care I could walk at an OK pace and my breathing would come back to approaching normal.

This left me behind a group of about 5 people one of whom made an irritating grunting noise every 5th step. It was like he was clearing his throat, but not clearing his throat. Within a couple of minutes it was irritating, by the time it had been going on for 15 minutes I was ready to shout at him. Fortunately the path flattened out and widened and with my new found ability to breathe I lengthened my stride and put some distance between us… until the wind picked up some more dust and I was reduced to a stumble and cough. He came past again, still grunting, and this time I just let him go.

The terrain continued to be bad, there were small rivers to cross, and running over a slippery log having been awake for 22+ hours and running for around 18 focuses the mind somewhat. As does being told to take care by a medic who’s tending to a guy’s knee on a path about 2m wide with a rock wall on one side and the sound of running water below to the other side, far below!

Eventually the Col du Joly aid station came into sight, it had been in sight once before but the route was evil and looped away from it again, so going down the ridge and realising that this time I was actually going there was a good thing. The bad music and the fire looked pretty inviting. I also noticed I was in the middle of some puzzled looking cows. As much as a cow can look puzzled, anyway! I stopped and went “MOOO” at one. It just looked at me and shook its head making the bell ring. I tried again “MOOOO” and then from behind I heard a slightly tentative sounding “Ca-va?” So what? I’m trying to communicate with the cows, they probably didn’t Moo back as they must speak French!

I stumbled into the Col du Joly aid station. It was set up as two tents – one for sitting, one with food. I deposited my bag on a bench, grabbed my mug and went in search of Soup, Coca-Cola, and random dried meats. When I got back to my bench I started to shiver. The kind of full-body shiver that makes it difficult to get a spoon into a bowl, never mind getting the contents of the spoon into a mouth; there was a blanket near me, so I wrapped myself up and, giving up with the spoon, grabbed the bowl with both hands. I was cold, I was tired, and I had no idea how I was going to get through the next 30km. I imagined having got this far, and failing, and how that would make me feel. I thought about Roddy’s mantras, about the IronMan quote “You can quit, and they won’t care… but you will always know”.

And then I started to cry. Great big tears rolling down my cheeks and dripping into my soup; I made the sniffing noise a small child makes when they graze their knee. I shivered some more and I looked around me hoping someone would come over and say “It’s OK, you’ll be fine” but no-one did. I wasn’t the only one in that state, I was better than the guy rolled up in the foetal position in the corner. I took a bit snotty sniff, screwed my eyes up, dried my cheeks on the blanket, and ate my soup. There was an announcement “the bus to Chamonix leaves in 5 minutes” and I wobbled again, so tempted to get on it and go somewhere warm. I got the text from my Dad “Daylight soon” and replied “Can’t come soon enough, this is ~#*$ grim”. Then I went back to pondering how I would make it the 9km to the Les Contamines aid station in 4 hours while I sorted out my feet. I decided I wouldn’t quit, but if I didn’t make the cut off there at 9am, I would know this was a bigger challenge than I was. I got some water, ate some more of the odd selection of food and had a chat in French with a medic who looked at me concerned. I tried to be jolly and explained what I’d eaten and I’d be OK but was a bit tired; how much of it made sense I have no idea, as my French is rubbish but she let me go on!

The descent to Les Contamines was tough; I found I could shuffle along the flatter bits OK, Lorna who I’d seen at the start line shot past me like I was standing still – I may well have been standing still – and on the descents I just tried not to think about the pain in my knees and quads. I lost another 87 places here as people showed me how descending should look, and their well placed poles certainly looked helpful. On the long path into Les Contamines people were running like it was just a normal jog, passing me as I shuffled; as I approached the aid station an old woman walked past me with her shopping, I was going that slowly.

I got there though, with about 30 minutes to spare. I used to toilets and ate yet more chicken noodle soup. I had some dark chocolate and a chat with a woman who suggested a massage might be good; I have no doubt it would have been amazing, but would I manage to get off the bench again? I watched a guy drain an enormous blister on his feet, judging by the bandages it was one of many, and I felt the time checking my feet had been time well spent – I had one small blister that had popped and rubbed away without my noticing it.

After shovelling as much food down me as I could face, and with a fistful of chocolate in one hand and my mug of Coke and water in the other I staggered out of the aid station with 2 minutes 41 seconds to spare… or so I thought; the timing official told me I had another hour because of the detour, someone had tried to explain this to me earlier but it was lost in translation, I was moving now so I pressed on anyway.

It was morning now so I had text messages with several friends at home, all of whom said it would be OK to quit… but I stood by my agreement, I’m not stopping unless they make me.

Les Contamines to Chamonix (23km)

Walking out of Les Contamines there were families cheering, I tried to explain to them not to – I felt I wasn’t doing anything special. Walking past a café I had a strong urge to go in and get a double espresso, but I wasn’t sure how the rules would see that imagine saying “I did it, but I got DQ’ed because I stopped for a coffee”.

Clambering up the first climb out of Les Contamines I realised I was feeling warm for the first time in HOURS. I applied some sunscreen, and up we went. Eating some of the snacks I’d got from the aid station I felt pretty good about things, and in the surroundings it would be difficult not to.

To feel bad about the surroundings take a painful descent and in full view put an enormous climb up what looked like a wall; the Col du Tricot. I looked around trying to find a route that would mean we didn’t have to go straight up, but I couldn’t see one, and the tiny spots that made up the people already on the path were indicative that that was THE WAY. I was still climbing well, but being able to see the whole climb made it mentally tough.

As we started the way up it I passed a group and noticed I was feeling flat and down again. I stopped, found a rock to sit on, and had something to eat in the sunshine. I knew I’d be breathing too hard to eat on the climb, but needed to get something in my rumbling stomach. Soon I caught up with the group I’d been with and one after the other they pulled over to catch their breath and I passed them. Despite climbing relatively well, this went on forever and was blowing a gale at parts. At the very top I wrestled with my wind-proof gillet for a while before one of the medic guys who had been looking at me in a puzzled way came over, took to from me, and basically dressed me, in broken French I tried to explain “Merci, je tres fatigue. Je suis comme un enfant!”… I’m not sure how well that translates to thanking him and saying I was knackered, but he chuckled a bit as I shoved a couple more gels down my throat.

I was confused; I knew there was another climb to go from the profile but couldn’t really see where it was. A guy called Tom caught up with me and we chatted for a while, I was struggling a bit to keep up with him on descents but he seemed to know where he was going and he explained he’d walked part of the route before and had previously done the full UTMB and the CCC so was well experienced but had been struggling with stomach issues on this event leading to quite a lot of vomiting!

The climb came and went, including crossing a suspension bridge over a torrent of water coming off the glaciers. It was an amazing sight and there was a nice cooling mist of water coming up. We continued to chat away and passed some people confirming where possible we’d be OK for the Les Houches cut off… they all said yes but we weren’t so sure. This doubt lead to some extremely painful descending and the return of the “H.T.F.U.” mantra, having got this far I was pretty determined to hit this cut-off. It was odd how I found it possible to keep pace with Tom when he was ahead, but when he stopped for a call of nature my pace just slowed right down to a moderately fast walk – I understood better than before how important pacers must be in the really long races. Following some discussion of “I can see the aid-station, it looks to be about 1km away, we’ve got 15 minutes” we developed a plan where, if short on time, we’d run through the timing mats and then double back to get snacks and supplies. We made it with a couple of minutes to spare…

I got something to drink ate some snacks and generally felt a bit pooped but was now just 8km from the finish, text my Dad to say we’d made it and he replied “you CAN do it”. I wasn’t so sure, but Tom came over looking a bit sheepish asking if I wanted the good news or the bad news; bad news, we had an extra hour because of the cut off changes, we didn’t need to axe ourselves running down. The good news was we could now amble gently into Chamonix, we had 2 hours to cover around 8km, and off we set.

According to the profile this looks dead flat, I’d been really looking forward to the flat bit, but it was not, there were several undulations. I guess when a profile represents 1,000+m climbs little undulations don’t get represented, but my legs felt they were worthy of note!

A few people ran past every now and then but we just kept plodding, if we’d run we would have gained a few minutes but a few minutes in 30-31 hours didn’t seem worth it for the pain it would bring. We chatted with people who were walking past on their way into town, at one point I noticed just how bad I smelt as a woman walked past with perfume on and what a contrast that was!

Tom met up with a friend who was doing the full UTMB starting later that day and jogged on to the finish. He encouraged me to come with him but I was happy ambling into town on my own; the route comes down one of the side streets where people were just shopping, and I walked down just looking around smiling to myself. Repeatedly someone would spot that the stinking dishevelled guy had a race number on and there would be a spontaneous outbreak of applause. Soon the barriers were there, and the mass of supporters grew, my parents started shouting “Go Iain, GO!” and other people got involved too, and it felt like a wall of support and noise… well it would seem a shame not to go for the “sprint” finish!

If my legs could speak the conversation would have gone like this:
“What? WHAT!?! What the ~#*$ are you doing?”
“Are we running again? I thought we were done with that? But if you say it’s not far…”
“Hang on, we should be done by now, now we will not go faster, this is ridiculous”
“Seriously now THIS HURTS”
“Oh thank god we’ve stopped”

It was sometime later that I found out the supporters hadn’t been made aware of the 1 hour extension, so my parents thought I was about to miss cut off by a few minutes, while I was ambling along in a relaxed manner!

And we're done

A woman greeted me over the line, smiling. I don’t know what she said to me, but I just said “never again”, she smiled and suggested I wait until tomorrow morning but I shook my head and repeated “never again”.

And We’re Done

Seemingly satisfied I wasn’t going to collapse she congratulated me and let me go on. I got my finisher’s gillet, gave in my timing chip and was reunited with my parents. After a congratulatory hug I stumbled forwards to something I could sit on and just sat for a little while thinking about what I’d just done. Thinking about the good bits and the bad bits, trying not to cry (and not wholly succeeding). When I stood up again my feet were screaming at me and the paces were very small, but I had a few more to take to a proper seat, a seat at a bar! The beer tasted pretty good. Cheering people over the line, and feeling a mix of emotions from the ecstatic to disappointed with my time.

We walked to the bag drop off, which can’t wasn’t far but felt like miles. Back at the car I brushed my teeth, it felt indescribably good to have the last 35 or so hours of scum off my teeth. I drank some water and carefully folded myself into the car seat for the drive back to La Rosiere. We stopped off at a Pizzeria on the edge of town, had another beer and was told I was nuts by the owners!

Pizza was good, another beer with dinner and then I tackled the shower. It was a struggle at first as my feet hurt to stand up, but being clean felt amazing. I finally went to bed about 10pm, still not feeling that tired. Mum provided me a big tub of pasta in case I woke up hungry in the night (it was most welcome about 6am!) and I slept surprisingly well. The next day the swelling was coming out of my feet, and I didn’t appear to have any DOMS – I could walk down stairs forwards and while getting from standing to seated took a bit longer than normal I was feeling OK. My feet were feeling decidedly bruised, however, which wasn’t so good.

My feet aren't usually quite that fat. Or red.

The aftermath had some unexpected consequences. Most notable was wild emotional swings; my return journey left me with a couple of hours to kill in Paris, I found a café and welled up with tears when the owner welcomed me in; this lachrymose response would creep up on me over the next couple of days without warning. At times I would just stop and wonder what the hell have I done to myself that’s made this happen? There was also the tiredness – I would have the most amazing night’s sleep and still wake up feeling tired the next day.

Thanks

My Parents They’ve supported me in all my endeavours, no matter how crazy.

Darryl My coach, without whom I wouldn’t have even started these things, never mind finished.


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3 responses

1 10 2011
jontsnz

Epic story for an epic event. I don’t understand what drives a person to tackle such an extreme challenge. You are f@cking CRAZY – but also a little bit inspirational!!

That’s a life-moment right there. Well done!

27 04 2012
Riding London to Paris, in 24 hours… « I Dream of Kona…

[...] this “should be a breeze” for me, I’m certain it won’t be. Running through the night at The TDS was the hardest thing I’ve ever done; when think back to being in a wind buffeted tent at 4am [...]

20 10 2012
Reset: The October Stoke… « I Dream of Kona…

[...] Marathon’s a good start but after April…? I’d been thinking about returning to the TDS, and while I was interested in it didn’t make me think “oh wow, THAT I want to do”. I wanted [...]

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