Okay, back to our regularly scheduled program…
Right, so I was seriously doubting my sanity going up these hills. I mean, sure, the scenery is great and the tougher the race, the better the bragging rights…. but when you’re gasping for air and your face is practically up the derriere of the person climbing the hill ahead of you (keeping in mind that no one smells particularly good at this point), you start to wonder. It is almost like having a split personality. Who is this person that signed me up for this race???
I did, however, have some really high moments that kept me going. At certain points during the course we would descend from the mountains and run through a village, where people were gathered in the streets to cheer us on. Courage!!! Allez allez allez! Sometimes I even got a little extra cheer for being a female, which, despite my feminist beliefs, I really quite liked. I sure wish I could have claimed I was a member of the weaker sex, let me just say that…
I think it was the sounds of the cow bells though that really boosted my spirits. Herds of cows dotted the hillsides all the way along the course, and when the wind blew their cow bells sounded like soft wind chimes …It was really quite soothing. Small children in the villages continued the musical encouragement by ringing their own cowbells with great enthusiasm each time a runner approached. How cool.
I finally made the decision that it would be crazy to drop out. Yeah, it was tough. Okay, my foot hurt. And yes, I felt like a 2-pack a day smoker hooked up to an oxygen tank. But I was consistently hovering around 9th or 8th place amongst the females, so I couldn’t have been doing that badly. Hey, if I’m struggling this much, then that means there are a whole wack of chicks behind me that are hurting worse. It would be an insult to drop out now.
The second half of the course was actually much more enjoyable. The hills were still technically difficult, but the gradient was slightly better, which made a world of difference. I used hand signals at the aid stations to try to determine whether I would be facing an uphill or downhill next… Thanked the volunteers in my horrible french accent for the cheese, salami, bread, and soup… and kept plodding along. Finally I came up to the last hill (other than the finish) and one of the other runner’s told me it would take two hours maximum to reach the top. Hallelujah.
I crested the top of that last hill just as it was turning to night and I geared up for the drop in temperature. Long-sleeves (the one I left on the bus!), gore-tex shell, gloves, and my massively bright new head torch from Petzl. I love the nighttime parts of races — everything seems to get a bit quieter, a bit calmer, and much more meditative.
The descent down the last hill was long and lonely, but I didn’t mind. I popped in my tunes and embraced the jello legs. They just simply were not working properly anymore! Almost near the end I saw some reflective lights ahead and ran right towards them… it wasn’t until I was about a meter in front of them that I realized it was the lines on the uniforms of two Italian police officers! (Yes, I had crossed over into Italy! Feeling like a real Von Trapp…) I used every last ounce of energy (and more) to make it into town and was rather pleased that I only fell once. I saw the lights ahead, heard the music and the cheering, and knew my journey was coming to an end. I opened my jacket to make sure my race number was showing, wiped the crusted salt off the sides of my face, and prepared for an emotional finish (ha). When I got to the “finish”, however, the volunteers cheered me on and pointed me further along the road. Excuse me? It lead straight back up another mountain.
Not only was I NOT finished, but I was facing another HOUR of uphill. No water left. No food. No energy. There was no jiggle left in my jello legs. UGH.
But then, in fine steph form, I saw a female ahead on the course just 15 minutes before the finish line. TURN ON THE JETS!! As much as I dreaded it, I knew I had to try my best to finish strong. Well, I doubt I could call it a STRONG finish, but it was a solid one. 7th female out of just 88 starters and 58 finishers. Quite a small number out of a total field of 632!
Now the ultimate question remains: what’s on tap next?