It still amazes me how things fade from memory so quickly. Specifically, how discomfort and pain seems to be forgotten and you only focus on the positive feelings and satisfaction from a job well done.
So it is for most endurance activities, mountaineering, trail running or whatever.
For this most recent race, I think I was already analyzing my race and deciding what I would do differently next time when I was still stood next to the finish line. Not that I voiced these thoughts aloud, mainly because my partner Emma would have probably thrown some heavy object at me.
All this despite the fact that the previous two hours of the almost sixteen hour race had been some of the toughest running I’d ever done. I was reduced to a fast hobble on sections that I’d normally run five minute kilometers on. I’d been caught by a few runners, and it took a lot of mental effort to start running again.
Therein lies the fascination (for me) of ultra running and other endurance pursuits, was I walking because of physical fatigue, or was it my head telling me I was tired? Did I have anything left? Or should I give in and hobble all the way to the finish?
All this mental torture is slightly inevitable, if you start anything where your going to push yourself for several hours you will certainly be wanting to stop or slow down at some point. There’s always a multitude of (imaginary) reasons as well; sore feet/legs/lungs, a lack of (expected) performance or just plain fatigue.
I see it almost every week with my mountaineering clients. People pushing on through preconceived levels of activity, to achieve their summit or objective. Quite often I am surprised and inspired by their performance, people really will push hard. I’m almost equally surprised by some of the people who fail, who will blame almost anything rather than the fact that they are not physically, or mentally fit enough.
The racing brings to light every day guiding things as well, such as pacing, nutrition and body awareness. The classic mistake of going off to fast, and then fading massively over the second half of the course was in evidence at the CCC. It’s always better to have a stronger finish I guess, but perhaps it’s good to run whilst you still can early on before the walking kicks in anyway?
I started reasonably conservatively, but still fairly swift as I didn’t want to get blocked when we reached the single-track on the first hill. I’d learnt my lesson from the 80km race around Chamonix in June, when it took me an extra half an hour to get up the first slog, just due to the shear number of people.
After fifty kilometers we arrived in Champex-Lac, and at the first aid station where runners are permitted assistance from friends and family. This is strictly controlled however, with only one person per runner being allowed in the checkpoint, via a ticket system. It’s such a moral boast to see a few friendly faces, and I bounced the baby whilst Emma ran about filling bottles and trying to persuade me to eat something.
By the time I left I felt like a new man, and picked up the pace. I really felt like I was racing again, rather than surviving to the next checkpoint. The second half of the race suited me better as well, more hilly and less flat running.
At Trient there was another “assistance” checkpoint, and another moral boost. I swapped my sweat soaked running vest for a clean T-shirt, and took on a heavier torch in preparation for night fall in an hours time. At the top of the following climb it was getting pretty dark, but I ran on down the next descent with a bit of night vision, more for the fun of it than anything. After half an hour or so it was getting tricky, so out came the Petzl Nao, and some full beam downhill running.
The Vallocine checkpoint was great, I had Matt and Ime there as well for extra cheering and general psyche. I was determined not to spend too long in the checkpoint, and perhaps this was my undoing for that final climb out of the Col du Montet, another few minutes at the checkpoint, a few more calories….. who knows.
It took me about a week to recover from the race. Enough to go back to guiding work, but I haven’t done any hard training again yet, probably another few days. No more ultra’s this year, two is enough. I am signed up to the Vertical Kilometer race at Fully in late October, which will be an excellent primer for the winters Skimo racing season. Can’t wait!