Tuesday, September 6, 2016

2016 Swiss Irontrail T201 race review: a glorious DNF at a must-do race!

(201km, 11'500m of elevation gain; DNF at 137km and 7'300m)

I have found my race. I loved this race. Everything about it. And for the first time I am already looking ahead for "revenge" in 2017. I've "only" had two previous DNFs, and I had no real desire to go back and do them again. The UT4M because I wasn't crazy about the race itself, and the TDS because...well, it's that whole UTMB crowd and I don't enjoy the mountains surrounded by a few thousand people, not to mention over-crowded check points with hundreds of crew & sundry supporters milling about. Still, at the time they were the longest races I'd attempted in years and of course I wanted to know if I could go the distance. Something similar has happened since I pretty much timed out at the Swiss Irontrail, though at 137km after 42 hours I now know I have it in me to finish a 100-mile mountain race - though perhaps still not 125 miles and 38'000 feet (11'500m) of vertical elevation! But that's only part of the appeal - my main reasons for wanting to return are the landscape, the atmosphere, and everything this race made me feel and experience.

As for the reasons I now assess for my DNF, I will get into them at the end. Essentially they are encapsulated in the "pretty much" of "I pretty much timed out", since I still had 10 minutes to spare at Savognin when I dropped.

A low-key beginning in Davos

So back to the start, 4am on Friday 5 August, in Davos. Out of the 200 competitors, or thereabouts, originally signed up for the T201, only 155 showed up at the start, the rest having switched to a shorter distance race (the T91 50-miler) primarily because of the horrendous weather that was supposed to last all day and even into the night. I was exchanging some not-so-memorable banter with my friend Jérôme who was embarking on his 2nd ever mountain trail (and only 3rd ultra).
It was pouring down rain and barely 8°C (46°F), and half of us were waiting for the start time in the gymasium where the organization had set up its headquarters. The other half, we found out when we starting easing out of the gym into the courtyard at 3h55, were under the schoolyard bike garage. Then we heard village church bells ring out at 4am, someone blew on an Alp horn... It took a while to realize that the race was, in fact, on! And it happened in trickles, with the last one out of the gymnasium passing right through the departure/arrival arch. The most low-key start I have ever seen, no announcement, nothing. 4am? bells and alpenhorn? Ah, time to go!
Wonderful. Almost felt like we were off for a weekend long run.

Dürrboden - 6am or thereabouts - 14km, 400m

Geez it was pissing down. Within 90mn, despite my supposedly UTMB-proof weather jacket (Craft) and trousers (Salomon), I was feeling distinctly damp. It was early hours and easy going, however, so the pace was keeping me from getting too chilly. The terrain was perfect, just like I like them - not too steep, not technical at all - just what I'd hoped for. Still, by the time we made to the first checkpoint at Dürrboden around 6am, I was cold and already wondering whether I'd make it my first drop bag in Samedan without getting hypothermia. And my mind must already been dissolving into a mental marshmallow, since I find it funny in hindsight that I extrapolated an "easygoing race course" out of the first 14km that post a mere 400+m of elevation gain. Anyway, first faff of the race as Jérôme and I proceed to remove wet clothes, wring them out, put on sweater and eat - 15mn instead of the 5mn stop I'd anticipated.

But, here's the Dürrboden checkpoint on a nice day (ah, the typical Swiss chalet and landscape!):



And here's miserable me leaving it at dawn:

 

 Chamanna - possibly 8.15-8.30am - 25km, 1400m

With dawn came the first serious climb up to 2'600m (8'600ft). Which is when Jérôme and I realized something else as the temperature edged down towards freezing: our gloves were not waterproof, so they were now basically ineffectual. Now, my friend Anthony (who was meeting us in Pontresina and crewing the rest of the way, brave man) was at Sandhurst and told me that one of his officers once said, when he complained about being wet: "Your skin's fucking waterproof, Kennaway!" That, however, did not help. My skin might be waterproof, my hands were getting very cold.

Still, going briefly off track and the view of the high treeless mountain ridges and several valleys intersecting, with no sign of life anywhere - an amazing view even in the rain and clouds - kept the mind off things.

Also, the checkpoint at Chamanna had broth/bouillon. This only added to the already intense faffing about, as we tried to wring our clothes dry again (however, I will happily note that with the sweater, the Craft wind jacket did keep me relatively warm, if not particularly dry; and the legs were good) and eat some crackers and cheese, and top up the gels in my belt, and attend to toilet duty. We'd holed ourselves up in the ski locker at the side of the entrance, and suddenly heard sounds that sounded eerily like a woman giving birth. Actually it was someone who was having multiple cramps spreading through her legs. Not even five hours in and it wouldn't be long before the first DNFs.
20mn break, perhaps even 25mn. And already almost an hour off my hoped-for finishing time of 55h (I definitely won't admit now what my double-secret finishing time was).

So here's Chamann on a bright, sunny day:


Bergün - 10.51am - 38km, 1400m+

(I can be so precise about some arrival times because these are registered on my results sheet on the race website.)
Next we were in for a 1300m (4300ft) drop into the first valley, but what I liked so much about this race is that the "valley" was never lower than 1300m, the altitude at which Bergün sits. Most were above 1800. (Actually there is one at just under 900m but i didn't get that far). Anyway, this drop made me realize that as cold as we got going up, we could warm up going down the other side of the mountain, somehow consistently out of the wind. This would be quite a lifesaver. At this point I'd removed my gloves and would cover them as much as I could with my sleeves going uphill. Needless to say, I wasn't winning any points for speed.
Same for the downhill, since this was when the Swiss Irontrail became decidedly technical and would never quite let up. Oh, there was some running spots, and it wasn't as bad as the Beaufortain, but with the bad weather we had ample mud to trudge through ("don't let your shoes get sucked in!" - one bloke almost ended up in socks) and overflowing streams to wade through (picking our way over wet rocks - with a recently cracked tailbone, not my idea of fun).
The rain was supposed to let up by noon, drizzle till 4pm then stop. It wasn't letting up (well, it wasn't noon yet but having left at 4am after only a few hours sleep it certainly felt like it should). I know, because I don't have much recollection of this passage, probably because my eyes were glued to my feet. I wear glasses, without windscreen wipers sadly.
I don't think Jérôme and I spoke much, except for one funny moment (at least, I though it was quite amusing) when we spoke about finishing times and I realized that Jérôme hadn't really quite caught on that this race would last well into Sunday. I said, "I'm hoping to finish under 60 hours. That gets us in at 4pm on Sunday, we should be able to catch a train to Zurich and the last one to Geneva," ignoring the fact of just how utterly beat we would be by simply thinking that we'd sleep on the train. For Jérôme, it suddenly became non-negotiable: "I'll keep you to it - I have to get back by Sunday. I have a job interview to prepare for on Tuesday and some work to get done on Monday". Okaaay. Fine with me. No more faffing. Still, Jérôme just had no clue - a job interview on Tuesday!? - it was quite refreshing. That's why I figured he had all the right intrinsic qualities to finish such a race, even though the longest he'd done was 15 hours at a 50-miler mountain race earlier that spring in great weather in the south of France. This race was just a job that needed to get done. That simple.


I don't even remember the checkpoint in Bergün. It was at a school gym, I think, like so many I've been through. All the others in this race were memorable - not this one. All I know is that we spent less than 8mn here, so all that pep talk about "getting it done" helped in that respect.
I do remember a nice, long stretch of gently sloped decline that allowed us to run for 45mn at a decent clip.
We passed some serious work going on by the forest rangers to avoid landslides and river floods outside Bergün. It wasn't very reassuring to realize that one at point we just crossed an area that was now cordoned off to hikers.

Bergün


Naz - noon or thereabouts - 43km, 1800m+

Getting to Naz was great. It was like going through the Shire, hobbit territory in the Lord of the Rings. Low alpine vegetation, twinkling streams. A lull in the rain (as predicted!) helped. And there were the postcard-perfect mountain railways.
Jérôme and I spoke about when to sleep. He wanted to anticipate fatigue and rest in Samedan. I figured that would be too early and wanted to get to Pontresina where I knew Anthony was waiting with hot food, eat and then rest before heading out to finish the bigger part of the night. We figured we'd play it by ear.
Naz was just a lean-to on a roadside farm, but there were boiled potatoes and broth, so we managed to spend about 15mn here, again too much, but it seemed necessary and maybe it was. At this point, finishing times were taking a big backseat to cut-off times. We were an hour ahead, so we figured we were still on for 60 hours since we hoped to stretch that margin more as the race went on (ha!).



Samedan - Just before 6pm (or thereabouts) - 60km, 3100m+

There is actually a checkpoint between Naz and Samedan at km 54 - Spinas - but it's really just a few volunteers huddled under a marquee (actually a bit like Naz) with some coke, banana, and horrible chunks of powerbar that tragically (for me) looked like chocolate. I almost puked for the first time in a race. Won't make that mistake again.
Again, don't remember much of this stretch. It was pretty, however. My fingers went numb on the uphill, despite trying to cover them with my sleeves, but then they defrosted on the downhill so I started to ignore that problem. Everything else was actually fine and dandy. Some leg soreness earlier on had disappeared and I was feeling quite good.
The drop into the valley was again technical and slow going, but  before reaching the bottom we had some fun heading off the switchbacks and going straight down - the going was easy enough and the switchbacks went right through a cow herd that I was anxious to avoid. Jérôme and I were followed by another competitor who turned out to be from the Lakeland district. He encouraged me to come run the Lakeland 100, which I've heard about and am tempted - but then there's the remoteness and was about to tell him that when I realized - "wait, here's here in the Engadine, that's pretty damn remote!" Then I mentioned the GUCR, which has been on my radar for a few years now, and he said he'd heard of it. "Bloody long though, innit?"
WTF?!?! Yes, it's 145 miles, 238km. Sure that's almost a marathon longer than this race, but it's also flat as a pancake in comparison. The cut-off time is a twenty hours less. 44 hours to 64. Almost  whole third. 44 hours would get you in the top 10 if not 5 here at the Swiss Irontrail.
Still, made me wonder if I really wanted to run from Birmingham to London. Then it made me want to do the GUCR even more.

By the time we reached the valley, Jérôme had slipped into a low point, I think, but he didn't express it as such and following our recent high spirits, I didn't notice it. There was a 4km flat stretch before Spinas that I was able to run, but Jérôme lagged behind a bit. Under the marquis in Spinas we had our first minor altercation. I didn't want to stop more than the 2mn necessary to fill up my water bottles, while Jérôme needed a longer pause, and had decided to reconvert a ziplock bag into rainproof gloves (yes the rain had not let up at 4pm). He said I was stressing him;  I could see that, but didn't mean to: I was just informing him that I was getting cold and would move ahead and he would catch me up going uphill. He got it. And after all, we had decided before the race that we would split if necessary - this didn't seem necessary yet, but out of all the races i've done, this seemed the one where it would be most difficult to stick to someone else's pace, either too slow or too fast.
So I went on ahead. But actually I didn't really fancy going up the hill alone and I thought it was too early to split up, and somewhere in my befuddled and race-focused brain I probably realized that Jérôme as have a bad patch, so I decided to wait for him somewhere out of the rain and wind: I spotted a cow barn and headed inside. Kept me warm for the few minutes it took for Jérôme to catch up, and it cleared my sinuses!

There was another uphill trudge before arriving at Samedan where our first dropbags awaited us. It was a great rest area, particularly since in a 200-km race with only 155 participants, it was hardly crowded. And a few kids were there to go get our dropbags, asking for our numbers as we arrived and bringing them to our tables - what service!
Changed shoes (Sportivas to trail Hokas), changed socks (old trusty compressport to Decathlon-bought X-Bionics) and changed shirt - I donned a thicker Skinz long-sleeve shirt, and that along with the windbreaker (no sweater) would be sufficient to keep me warm enough at night and in the freak snow storm at 2'600m - ate some personal rations (salt & vinegar potato chips, sour cream & onion chips, strawberry protein shake, energy shot), drank some coffee, and I was out of there. Well, not that simple. Faff, faff, faff. Changing shoes and socks and in what order what turned out to be a horribly complicated matter. Then I wasted time trying to dry my gloves with the hairdryer in the changing rooms.
I was finally ready to leave after about 40mn. Jérôme said he was going to rest some more. I reminded him that the cut-off was at 7pm. He planned on leaving just before.


Pontresina - 11.37pm - 73km, 4300m+

In hindsight probably my most ecstatic stretch. Night was falling and I love the night. There was a 3km joggable flat stretch (more faff taking off the sweater that I'd put on in Samedan but would not put on again - I was actually too warm and risked sweating and getting wet from the inside, the irony...) and the 1200m climb was divided in two parts with another 3-4km runnable slight downhill stretch in between. The first part was through the woods and then only a bit above the treeline, and out of the wind. The second part was high up above 2000 meters and on rocks - but they were all flattened to big slabs so the going wasn't too tough, very much like climbing giant steps - or it wouldn't have been if it wasn't night, with high wind, and now a snow storm! Good thing I was in high spirits because it felt rather like an adventure.
I spotted a bench (go figure!) so I stopped to exchange text messages with my wife - to say good night! -, with Anthony - he was still trying to locate the checkpoint in Pontresina -, and with Jérôme who'd latched on to two other runners, quite overwhelmed by night fall and the weather (he hadn't yet seen the worst of it), but then my fingers were way too numb to hit any more keys. But I knew I just had to stick it out until the downhill and things would warm up (besides, what choice did I have?) About 15mn before reaching the top, I saw a figure coming towards me: a volunteer was up here in the storm making sure people were ok. Amazing. He was some grizzled mountaineer who seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself and it was infectious. That raised my spirits even further, just enough to get over the hill - the climb was starting to get very long and I was ready for it to end - then a steep drop into the valley.

Arriving in Pontresina was great. Anthony was there outside the checkpoint to greet me - he'd been following my progress on his laptop and knew pretty much to the meter when I'd arrive since we all carried GPS beacons. There was snow on the ground but the rain had let up. There were even a few timid stars out!
Unfortunately Jérôme had texted me to say that his knee was hurting, he could hardly bend his leg, and was making very slow progress.

Long pause in Pontresina, but a good one (maybe 10-15mn too much) during which I ate a bacon cheeseburger that Anthony had cooked and chatted, before putting my head down for 15mn (without really sleeping). Anthony also thew away my trail mix that I could no longer stand the sight of, and handed me his own home-made potion - with M&Ms in them. Mmm.
The location was amazing, I couldn't get my head around the layout, it almost seemed like the checkpoint was set up in a small hotel, with food and beverage on one level, and sleeping mattresses on the landing on the upper level. The food and beverage was rather spartan, however, and I was making the other competitors rather jealous with my burger.
When I came back down from my nap, Jérôme was there. It was midnight, the cut-off was in 30mn, and he said that he couldn't go on, just too painful. I was really sorry for him, but at the time my tired brain couldn't only really focus on continuing and what I needed to do before heading out, so I received the news rather matter-of-factly. He introduced me to Richard, who was one of the "veteran runners" who'd helped him get over the mountain in the night, but who was now also thinking of dropping due to nausea.
Jérôme gave him one of the anti-nausea pills (motilium) that we carried and I encouraged him to go on with me. We'd end up spending pretty much the next 24 hours together (and he'd go on to finish!) (and he filmed parts of it which means I figure in a race video for the first time in my life!).
So we headed out at  12.10am with Anke, a 3-time finisher. I figured I was in good company.

The view I didn't see of Pontresina in the day time

Station Murtèl - around 5am - 87km, 5'300m

So I headed out into the night with Anke and Richard through the streets of Pontresina. Except that after five minutes, we realized we were headed down the wrong street. Well, Anke realized it, pulling out her pocket GPS. Though this was her 4th participation, she said it was different every time, if only because the start times had been different each year (first 6am, then 8am, now 4am).

Anyway, we found the right street, then headed off into the forest. After some desultory conversation - during which I learned that Anke had won the women's 100km Biel run more than ten years ago - I upped my pace a little, moving ahead of the others. It wasn't that their pace was slow (I had my mind on the cut-offs, but was quite sure that Anke was intent on finishing - and would - so as long as she was in my sights I was ok), but I think that I wanted to be on my own. Jérôme and I had never really been on the same wave length and that created some tension between us, as he felt pressure from me to spend less time at the check points, and I felt stressed by his desire for me to adapt to his rhythm. Especially since I felt somewhat responsible - this was, after all, his first serious ultra, and we trained a lot together, and the conditions were atrocious. In fact, the weather had only compounded the tension, as we found ourselves pretty much in survival mode very early on.

Now the weather had cleared, I could even see some stars, and I wanted to be alone. I felt bad for Jérôme forced to drop, he had invested so much time, energy and hope (and money!). But though he may feel I let him down, and perhaps in some way I had, I'm not sure how I could accommodate our desire to run together and the evident need to move at our own paces. This was my 'A' race after all, something I'd had in my sights for several years, and I needed to give myself the best chance of completing it. I know that at some level he knows that too.

So now I have a race to do, step by step. I'd been going for 20 hours, but barely cracked more than a third. Still a long, long way to go.

The first miles after Pontresina were very pleasant, through a forest in which I came across a family of deer, and it was a gently rising slope that made the pace feel easy. About a half-hour in, after a random phone call on my 'race phone' (a cheap, highly resistant, old-school Nokia, with a 3-week+ battery life, ideal for these conditions), from someone I didn't know and couldn't understand (only my wife, Anthony and Jérôme had the number, and the race organizers; i thought at first it was Richard telling me I'd gone off course, but turns out it wasn't - mystery...), I arrived at the foot of the next steep climb.

It was endless. I played leap frog with three South Koreans who were playing leap frog with each other. One of them and I pulled ahead and with great Asian politeness, he kept letting me go on ahead. But after a while, he dropped way back. Then he caught up again when I stopped to eat, pee, faff. When I caught up with him again, I saw him turn his head and groan - and he let me go way ahead again... Then I understood what was going on: though my stomach felt fine, I'll admit that I was experiencing rather heinous gas. Understandably, he wanted to keep his distance.

When I finally reached the summit, feeling like a climber on Everest taking minutes for each step, it was only to realize that the reflective strap indicating the way had disappeared. I had no idea where to go. Eventually I was joined by the three South Koreans, Anke, Richard and some other person. After a little while ambling around at 9'000 feet in the dark, Anke finally decided upon a direction and - after some hesitation, but with Richard confirming the route - we headed off after her.

I can't remember much of the next part, I just remember it being very cold as we pretty much remained on the mountain top, making our way across to the next check point: Murtèl, a mountain top restaurant located at the arrival of a car. The atmosphere there was very sedate. One person was passed out on a mattress, about five-six others were shuffling from the food station (coffee!) and the tables. I found a seat with Richard who asked if I was continuing - well, yes! Turns out, if you dropped here, it was just a cable car ride down to a bus ride back to Davos. Hell, no...

Maloja - 8.30am (in), 9.26am (out) - 101km, 5'500m

So Richard and I, and some other quiet person whose name I have sadly since forgotten, headed down the mountain, actually with a bit of skip in our step, Richard leading the pace. Dawn was breaking, and yes, renewed energy came with it. It was an amazing descent, along the flank of the mountain, over looking the valley spotted with lakes. The difficult part was that we could see Maloja in the distance...

We arrived in Sils, where Richard showed me the house where the German philosopher Nieztsche used to live as we passed it. No time to visit, sadly.

Nietzsche's house in Sils

I may have had more energy, even feeling a little sprightly, but the run to Maloja is a bit of a blur. Richard and I chatted about different races, he was telling about his daughter who was competing in the T91, and I also spent some time hanging back, listening to music.

We arrived on flat ground in the valley, just as some Saturday morning joggers were out for their morning exercise, and then it was jog/walk along an unpleasantly hilly (but very picturesque) path the lake into Maloja. Strangely, both Richard and I were talking about dropping in Maloja as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Of course we were going to drop. This has gone on long enough! I was also convincing myself that considering how much time it had taken me to get this far, there was no way I could make it to Savognin in the cut-offs... But at the same time, we were saying that if we go to Savognin we got some sort of special ranking. I figured I should go to Savognin, then I thought it would be nice to get to 160km - the 100-mile mark. And then  I started to realize that if I made it back to Davos, it would be too late to take the train home and that meant the family vacation in the South of France wouldn't start until Tuesday, and my wife would be disappointed about that, and I was started to feel that it would be a shame, I'd already asked to sacrifice so much for this race...

Fortunately 5km outside of Maloja I heard a peppy British "well hello there!" My friend Anthony had jogged all this way to meet up with me. I remember babbling, but not what about, only that at one point I did say that it had now been three years almost to the day that I'd stopped drinking any alcohol. Anyway, he pushed me to run more than I would have done otherwise, and thanks to that I arrived at Maloja with an hour to spare - just enough time to regroup, rest, change and eat.

Jérôme was there too, cheering me on. The two of them pampered me, Anthony re-packed my Salomon backpack after I'd changed and cooked me a breakfast of eggs and sausages, while Jérôme got me a chilled Monster energy drink that Anthony had stored in his portable fridge (I was almost embarassed by the looks of starved envy from some of the others runners). I ate all that after a 20mn nap, and Anthony was sure I would just puke it back up on my way up the mountain. Oh, no! It was amazing. 

Richard was there filming - he'd managed to get his camera working again - and off we went together three minutes ahead of the cut-off time, but not feeling anxious about that at all. I figured if I just kept going, it would all sort itself out. In fact, I was in such a state after weathering the shittiest weather I've ever experienced in a race that nothing could phase me now that the sun was out. I realized that I'd left my Skinz spandex compression shorts back in my dropbag in Samedan - and the long pants were too warm - so I was stuck wearing just some running shorts, old school. But it felt good to have the breeze on my legs, and I just lathered on an extra layer of lube to avoid any chance of chafing. Figured I'd worry about the next night when it came.


Maloja, the most beautiful moment of the race

 Bivio - around 2.30pm - 115km, 6'400m

I wasn't exactly in high spirits. Mellow, would be the best way to describe it as I was so sleep deprived. 'Suspended animation' might actually be closer to the truth. Richard's video (posted at the end of this blog entry) shows (around mn 7) how slow I was making my way up the mountain. But it was all good.

And then I had what I can only describe as an instantaneous mental and spiritual collapse. I signaled to Richard (who was some ways up), using the scuba-diver's "no air" sign, that I was heading back down. I called Anthony to tell him that I was handing in my bib. That was it, I was done.

Thankfully, Anthony did his duty, basically telling me there was no point in me coming back down, he was going to wait for me in Bivio. FINE! Anger was the best antidote. I hung up, put my phone Aaway and headed back up. By the time I reached Richard, I realized that I was full of energy. It was total elation - not only did it feel like the past 30 hours had just melted away and I was barely an hour in on a weekend long run, but I knew that this was the very moment I had hoped to experience on an ultra: a complete turnaround. Perhaps the nurofen that Anthony had given me as I left Maloja had something to do with it. I'd been complaining about some pain in my leg, but that was all gone now.

We summitted the mountain and I literally charged down the other side, taking advantage of the easy trail, that merged with a dirt track and then road, to run at almost 12 km/h into Bivio. I remember texting my wife to say that I had found everything that I'd come here for and that it didn't matter now if I quit. She didn't quite understand what I was going on about... Problem is, that very emotion contributed later to my DNF. I really had found what I was looking for. Finishing didn't seem to matter much. Having experienced this amazing turnaround, realizing what I was capable of, it seemed more important to be home by Sunday night so that the family could travel to the South of France on Monday morning for our last vacation before I started my new job.


Savognin - 9.47pm - 137km, 7'300m

Bivio was quite a happy affair. Jérôme and Anthony had set up their quarters in a restaurant, and by the time I arrived they had a pizza waiting for me. Anthony had texted me on the way down asking what I wanted. Can't quite remember what I asked for, but it had onions on it. Mmm, delicious.

When I went to the official check point to beep in, I saw Richard there again. After attempting another ten minutes nap, we headed out again, with another (different) person who was going on about competing in the Petite Trotte de Léon (the UTMB's big sister, over 300km) in two weeks. Totally mental!

After that, it became a slow meltdown. Richard waited for me for a bit, before saying that we might not make the cut-offs. I told him to go on, of course. My heart started racing anytime I tried to up my pace, so I settled into a slow pace that gradually cut into my resolve. I started once again on all the reasons for not going beyond Savognin, and how much I'd accomplished already, and how I'd be back next year to finish, with better uphill training to increase my speed and less messing around at the checkpoints.

All that is true, but also next year I'll have to make sure there is no family holiday planned for after the event - nothing that could make me want to cut the race short. Still, I think I slowed my pace in some ways so that I would not make it in time to Savognin to be able to continue. The fact that I managed to jog at certain times so that I could be sure that I wouldn't at least completely miss the cut-off, and therefore still be ranked in Savognin, is some indication that I could have pushed a little harder, had a little more time in Savognin to get my drop bag, eat, change and rest - and head out again. I could even have taken Anthony up on his suggestion to grab my bag, get out under the cut-off, then rest near his car. But my heart wasn't in it. The run into Savognin, along an endless road that winded its way through the forest, and then up and down through the forest a few hundred yards from the road (during which I sat down against a tree and closed my eyes for 5mn, completely disappearing into Neverland), had defeated me a little more.

And night had fallen again, and what with that and sleep deprivation, hallucinations were staring. I was starting to see little gnomes in the tree stumps, my water bottle attacked me at one point. I don't mind them, it was quite fun, but sadly all the more so because I was actually happy at the prospect of dropping.

That's how I want to remember it. Yes, there are reasons for my DNF that I can address next year:
- increase my uphill speed (downhill sadly depends on me overcoming my fears of falling, after dislocating my shoulder and cracking my tailbone)
- less faff at checkpoints
- not forgetting the ultimate goal: "good effort" is not the same as "great finish"
- don't have a family holiday planned after
- don't give up until it's really over - meaning, really, a little bit of "mindfulness": don't keep projecting what comes next, extrapolating times, etc. Just give what I can give at any given time.

So I'm proud of what I accomplished, thrilled at what I experienced - and looking forward to returning. I know I had the endurance to continue - I jogged into Savognin with no blisters, no pain in my legs apart from normal race fatigue, no stomach problems... Just too damned sleep deprived to continue - but happy. It actually felt like a finish! I suppose that's the best way not to complete a race, if that's what it's going to be.

A glorious DNF. The greatest race I Did Not Finish.



Richard's 12mn video, Jérôme in the background






3 comments:

  1. Eric, a beautiful report. The T201 has been on my list since its first year for all the reasons you describe - No 1 being you are not sharing the ride with thousands of others (though I did finish the TDS ;)
    Not sure I'll ever get permission from my other half to give this one a go unless I swear it is my last ultra (I have sworn that before!) so in the meantime reports like this are the closest I get. I'm sure you'll be back!

    PS I can recommend the GUCR - it lacks mountains but it too is wonderfully low key. It's the only ultra I've run twice

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    1. Thanks! I hope you make it, but I understand - i'll probably have that problem next year, so might not be back till 2018. Certainly time off is an issue for the GUCR for me too, although there's also the distance, admittedly. For me running flat is far more tiring on the legs than hiking in the mountains, and i've never gone more than 90 miles on road, so 145 is a frightening prospect! But it is in the cards... Hope you make it to the Engadine.

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