Race Reports

UTMB TDS Race Report (Part Two)

In any race, a runner will usually encounter a series of disasters…It is inevitable (at least for me). The trick is to get them out of the way early on so that you have time to sort out a Plan B, C, or D.

Disaster #1: The night before the race I was packing my backpack with all of the equipment and food I thought I might need during the run, when I suddenly noticed that my long-sleeved top was missing. Hmm. I had a short-sleeved top and my thin gore-tex shell in case it rained, but that was it. Not good. Reports were saying that the temperature could go down as low as 0 degrees during the night on the mountain and I am notoriously cold to begin with… I looked through my suitcase about 4 times (even though there was absolutely nothing in it – does anyone else do that too?) before I finally admitted that it was gone. I thought back and figured out that I had left it on the minivan bus that had taken me from the Geneva airport to Chamonix. Grrrrrreat. Luckily, I was able to charm the French hotel guy to track down the minivan company, figure out which bus brought me to Chamonix, have the bus searched, and when my shirt was found (yay!) arrange to have it brought to the hotel on the next trip into town. Parfait. Crisis averted.

Disaster #2: The more important the event, the more alarms I set to wake me up. Usually this means that I am rudely wakened by a discordant symphony of bells, rings, beeps, and sometimes laser noises (thanks to my iphone).  On the morning of the race, however, TWO of my alarms failed. One was the hotel’s fault (no wake up call) and the other was mine (I set the alarm for 3:45, but the clock was still on London time….). Thank goodness my third and final backup alarm went off at 4:00 am. This meant that I was late, but at least I was awake. Crisis averted again. Whew.

With two small panic attacks under my belt, I felt ready to stand on that start line, confident that nothing else would go wrong. Okay, hoping that nothing else would go wrong. The atmosphere was electric: runners jumping up and down with nervous energy, turning their head torches on and off for good measure; family members and supporters snapping photos and giving final words of encouragement; and the race announcers counting down the minutes to the start. Inspirational “going into war” type of music was blasting from the speakers in front, which definitely added an element of drama to the scene. It was strange being out there on my own – it seemed like everyone else had at least one other person to stand next to and chat with, but I didn’t mind so much. No matter what was going to happen over the next 24 hours, this was going to be my time to run. Simply run…

…What I didn’t realize was that I would be practically crawling for most of the race! The course started out alright as we followed the cobblestone streets out of Chamonix and onto the trails… but then the real fun started. Within minutes of ascending the first “hill”, my quads were burning and my heart rate was through the roof. Either everyone else around me was being “British” (aka stoic) or I was seriously out of shape, as it seemed like I was the ONLY one weezing my way up the path. Talk about a stairway to hell – it just never ended! I tried to keep my head down and just focus on the ground in front of me, but I couldn’t help but notice the long line of runners ahead, dutifully marching along like a trail of ants to a picnic. I felt like a total hack. At least the scenery was gorgeous.

My spirits lifted somewhat when the sun rose and the course flattened out a bit. I could feel my right leg (the injured one) with each step, but at least it was holding up.  The first downhill proved to be a challenge. My left shoe was slightly loose, which meant that my foot slid inside the shoe each time I struck the ground…after 30 minutes or so I could already feel the giant blister forming on my heel. I made the decision then to just grin and bear it for the rest of the race. Some runners prefer to deal with foot issues during the race as they arise in order to prevent them from getting worse, but my strategy is always to avoid taking my shoes off if at all possible. Blisters always hurt more once you’ve seen what they look like and having a bandage on itself can cause further problems. But that’s just me.

I started to think I was in real trouble on the second (or was it the third?) major climb. I had to take the occasional break on the uphill and I noticed that people were starting to pass me. Somewhere around the 15 mile mark I caught up to Ricky Paugh, who I knew from the Namibia race earlier this year. He too was struggling with the altitude and said that he’d blown out his quads on the hills already (Ricky ended up pushing through for another 20 miles or so before pulling out of the race). Confidence was waning and the little running demons started whispering in my ear…

Steph, everyone will understand if you need to pull out. You’re injured for goodness sake! It’s great that you made it this far at all. No one will think you’re a wimp. All you have to do is get to the next aid station and hand in your race bib. You can be back in your hotel room with a nice hot shower by lunch time. And perhaps you’d fancy some french baguettes? Maybe a pain au chocolate? No need to prove yourself here…

I must admit, the running demons were starting to make some sense. I pictured myself telling my friends and colleagues that I dropped out, and for a brief moment I actually convinced myself that I would be okay with that…but I knew that ultimately I wouldn’t forgive myself. The ONLY race I have gotten a DNF in is the race in which I got the pelvic stress fracture. Barring any broken bones, I was not going to have a DNF in this one….

Stay tuned for Part Three!

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