Thursday, July 14, 2011

The North Face Ultra-Trail Du Mont Blanc (100 miles)

Well, it's another race off the list, and another painfest logged into the books. The North Face Ultra du Mont Blanc proved to be the toughest thing I have done yet. And I can just hear the "oh sure, whatevers" now...since it seems that I say that just about every time I get back from a adventure. But since I do keep upping the anty on my races, and choosing harder and harder ones, then it all just makes sense I guess.

I had trained quite hard from this as many people on my FB updates might have noticed..from doing trail races throughout the summer...Old Gabe 50K in Montana (11,000 ft of elevation gain/loss), the Mohican 50 Mile trail race in OH (5,000 feet of elevation gain/loss) and the Rattlesnake 50K in WV (7,000 feet of gain/loss)..or the countless hours I spent pulling tires, or climbing hotel stairs, hours running on soft sand, or on stair masters, etc. And I had come off the 150 miler in Namibia in the spring, so I'm not really sure where the training actually "started", since it seems it hasn't really "stopped" anytime in the last couple of years. So I surely couldn't be accused of a lack of commitment for this one.

We had a long, tiring trip over to France, but I perked up as soon as we drove from Geneva to Chamonix. I'll never forget my first glimpse of the Alps in our bus ride. I looked out the widow and was amazed to see the snow capped mountains, and the spiked peaks just about everywhere I gazed. I got chills down my spine thinking that in a few days, I'd running up and down those beasts...and a mixture of excitement, fear, and doubt rushed through me..and the old thoughts of...have I done enough, did I train hard enough, long enough...came rushing into my head!!! By the time we arrived in Chamonix, I was as nervous before a race as I've ever been.

Well, onto the race....the race began at 6:30 PM Friday evening and although I had planned to rest and sleep some during the day before the start, I had too many things still to prepare, and honestly I was so damn scared about the race, I couldn't sleep even if I had tried!! The experience at the start of the race, was just behind my Hawaii Ironman finish, as the coolest thing I've ever experienced. The air was just electric... and seeing everyone lined up...all 2,300 of us, a massive amount of people for a 100 mile ultra...was just amazing!! As the gun went off, this incredible sort of Gladiator movie soundtrack music was blaring over the speakers, and as we ran through the quaint streets of Chamonix, everyone was lined up on both sides yelling and cheering...and people were hanging out of windows waving and screaming. I felt like we were an army of warriors that were heading out to brave the dangers of war, and that many of us wouldn't be coming back...and many wouldn't!! It was such an incredible experience and I must have had chills for the first 3 miles...absolutely amazing!!! If I could have just bottled that feeling, and kept it for future use...but I'll never forget it.

I wish that kind of exhilaration would have lasted the whole race, but of course I knew it wouldn't...and it didn't...unfortunately it slowly turned into a plodding nightmare of pain and misery!!! The first 50 miles actually went relatively smooth and steady, and even though the climbs and descents were BRUTAL, we powered up strong, and ran the descents easy (and I say we because my friend Alex was also running and we stuck together throughout, which in a race of this distance, is a small miracle itself). But despite the "easy" descents, believe me, nothing was easy about coming down steep terrain like that, and by the halfway mark, my quads were toast!! It took me about 16 hours to reach 50 miles, but then everything seemed to grind to a halt and go in slow motion. Every other checkpoint seemed to be coming slower and slower, and harder and harder...well, probably because we were actually going slower and slower!!! At some points, my legs were so sore from the descents, that I was actually able to climb up the mountains faster than I was able to go down them!!! Fortunately though, some of the most beautiful scenery was in the beginning, and I made a point to look around and appreciate the beauty of my surroundings before I knew what was to staring down at my own two feet, just putting one foot in front of the other!! In the beginning, I kept thinking of how few people are lucky enough to see this part of the world...these amazing mountains..the snow capped peaks, the green valleys...the fresh cool mountain air...the snow melt streaming down the mountains...the peace and solitude. And then of course at other times I thought, how few people are stupid enough to sign up for this torture!!

But another issue that came early on...was that I had developed the most horrid blisters on each of my heels, from making the steep climbs. And they actually weren't even blisters...but rather they seemed to have skipped the blister stage, and gone straight to the skin being just ripped right off my heels...and so I had 2 totally raw sores on my ankles that were absolute AGONY for just about every step. Looking back on it, I still can't believe I was able to plod on and on in that kind of pain!! And I think the only thing that took my mind off of it, was the pain in my ass!!!!! LITERALLY!! I had also developed the most insane chaffing on...well, no other way of saying this than to just say my ass cheeks and "beyond"..if you know what I mean!!! I felt like someone overnight had jammed a piece of sandpaper down my shorts between my butt cheeks! Hell, I was so out of it over the TWO nights I ran through, that it might have been entirely possible. With every step I took, my ass was grinding away...OH MY about misery!!!! At each checkpoint, I would stagger into the rest area and right in full view of everyone, hike down my shorts and cram Hydropel (lubricant) down "there"!!! Gee, I wonder if that might have been the reason for some of the dirty looks from those lovely Frenchmen!!! I bet THAT ruined a few appetites!!! Or maybe the others just weren't happy because so many of THEM were quitting, and despite me walking bowlegged and limping for 70+ miles, this damn American with no manners, just wouldn't quit!!!

There were times when I thought to myself no human should ever voluntarily put themselves through this kind of pain and misery! There were many times when I was so exhausted and worn down, that I simply couldn't conceive of making it up the next hill in front of me. I remember at 3am (on the SECOND straight night), on probably the hardest climb of the race...with terrain so steep I was climbing using my legs AND arms to grab rocks and vegetation to pull myself up...and thinking to myself that this was the most insane thing EVER and what in the HELL was I doing here...I was in HELL actually. But the thought of quitting, knowing my mind set and that I'd have to come back the next year and try again, was just NOT an option. If the CIA wants to get the goods from the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, they should do away with the water-boarding and just sign some of those boys up for UTMB, and they'd be singin like birds before 50 miles!!!!

But believe it or not, there were fleeting moments...however rare...when I felt as alive as a person could feel...when I felt like I was doing something that so few do, or can do, or maybe are too smart to try to do...but it was a amazing I was really and truly living life...breathing it in, feeling it raw, feeling it's wonder, it's pain..and at least trying things and experiencing things that so few people actually do. So many people live their 9-5 lives and ask me why I would want to do this...and unfortunately those people just wouldn't ever "get it". And of course I asked myself that question a million times, but deep down, and as much as I bitch and moan and complain about it...I know why I do it..I love the challenge and wondering IF I can do something, and it makes me want to go out and try it. And the feeling of accomplishment when it's done...and completed...THAT is a feeling that no money can buy!!!

So on and on it went, for the 2nd day and night, a lot more of the same...massive ups and downs...burning up during the day, cold at night...and hours passing...pain from this and that...sometimes more this, than that...wondering if my body would keep it up, or at least listen to my brain telling my legs to "keep on keepin on", well past any good sense...and a lot of thinking...and thinking...and more's amazing how much you can think about in 42 hours...and then other times of not thinking at all...the body and brain going so numb that you're in a trance...a moving trance...and hallucinating...seeing things in the woods that weren't there...hearing things Alex said only to find he hadn't opened his mouth. I don't imagine LSD has anything on this!! And it was interesting to get to checkpoints and see people that looked to be much tougher than me, throwing in the towel. In a way, it gave me strength thinking that "that guy" is quitting but I'm still standing...but other times I'd think "holy shit, if he's done, what the hell am I thinking"..but then off I'd go...just gritting and bearing it. My buddy James from the UK was due to run also, but came down with an injury at the last minute, so he was nice enough to meet me at a number of aid stations and carry some of my carbo powder and gels, which helped out a lot and I owe a great thanks to James for that...thanks buddy!!!

Actually the scariest part was only about 6 miles from the was super hot and sunny and we had reached the top of the last brutal climb, and I was actually getting really dizzy and lightheaded and thought I was going to seriously pass out. I had run out of water on the climb and was having to literally shake my head to knock off the dizziness. I made it to the last checkpoint and told Alex that I thought I was going to pass out. I poured cold water on my head, and drank some, but nothing seemed to work. I was afraid to tell the race officials for fear they would make me stop and wait, or worse...stop me all together!! The thought of the race being out of MY control, and for me to have made it that far, and still maybe just pass out, was horrifying. I always said that I would NEVER quit on my own, unless I just passed out...and here it was actually I quickly said the hell with it...if I'm going to pass out, it's going to be running, not sitting at the aid station. So I filled up with water (or thought I did) and took off down the mountain. In my delirium of exhaustion, I thought I had filled up my camelbak with water, but apparently my rolled up jacket was pressing on the water compartment (all other times I had taken the jacket out so as to give room for the water to flow in) and so only about 5 ounces (one drink) went in, and I was too out of it to even notice..that is until I had left the aid station and was well away from it and then tried to take more than a sip and realized that I was out of water again, and still 2 hours to run...not good!!

But it's amazing what adrenaline will do to the body and before I knew it, Alex and I both were cruising down at a great pace. The closer we got down the mountain, the faster we went. When I reached "civilization" again, and the thought that FINALLY after 42 hours of virtually non-stop movement..being awake for well over 50 hours, I was going to finish!! As I got closer to the finish, the number of people cheering and the sound of the crowds increased, and so did my disbelief that it was actually almost over...oh my God, I have never wanted to see a finish line so bad in my life. and the thought of Chelsea waiting for me there, spurred me on even more. I ran the last few blocks with people lining the streets cheering, and the music playing, and my emotions were all over the board...thrilled, exhausted, delirious!!!!! I had done it...what a moment and at the very second I crossed...RELIEF... just relieved that the pain was over...well, it still isn't over as I gaze at my feet...but it was DONE!!!!!

I finished in 833 place out of just under 2,300 runners with over 900 people dropping out!!!! I was NOT one of them...YES!!!!

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