There is something very relaxing about running a race that no one you know is, or ever will be, doing. The change to the race meant this was a one-shot. I had no one to compete with. At no time will anyone else I know run this race and then say they were faster. I could just try and finish without pressure.
I gave myself a goal of doing four kilometers an hour. Every time I passed a point, I would figure out how many hours to the next point and try and make it in that time. Even if I was ahead of the overall schedule, I could use that to orient myself.
The starting line was a mess. It was probably well organized, but trying to get 2300 people through a chute is inevitably going to be problematic. Problems on all sides too; a guy next to me in the huge crowd just squatted down to relive himself. My issues were the bottle of Boost I had brought with me had had the safety seal broken and had turned to cheese. “Fromage” as the locals say. I suppose it is better I found that out before I carried it all the way through the Alps. Also my GPS unit hadn’t been fully charged, so it only lasted an hour into the race.
It wasn’t raining at the start, but that wasn’t going to last. We walked through the starting gate, eventually we ran for half a minute and then got caught in another traffic jam. Eventually it opened up and we started to head out of town, with many runners quickly going to the side of the road for pit stops.
We ran along the banks of a mountain river. Unfortunately, 6 km in, I twisted my ankle. I decided to ignore it. I’m not going to give up that early. And for the most part it was okay.
An hour into it, it started to become dark and the rain picked up. Before the race, my mother wished my luck with the full moon. So I was thrilled when I saw it rise. It was literally behind the runners further up the mountain. I took some pictures of their silhouettes. It was very beautiful.
Well, according to Star Wars, “That’s no moon.” The support station had a big globe light propped up above them. I never actually saw the moon at any time.
The first pass of Le Delevret wasn’t that bad. It was a gradual ascent, although I slipped and fell in the mud on the trail on the way down. At one point the trail became so narrow it became a conga line. There was no passing. And then into the lovely village of Saint Gervais. Civilization! Now this was a support station. Bananas, hot soup, local cheese, Coke. (I drank more Coke on this run than I normally do in a week.)
After 21km we now have the biggest mountain of the run to face. The first ten kilometers were a bit confusing because I kept expecting us to drop away from the road nearby. But it kept with us all the way into the village of Les Contamines. Then we started to climb along trails.
It rained all night. Well, it also snowed, but it was nothing terrible. I’ve handled much worse. The organizers were saying that people should be bringing four layers of clothing with them, instead of the normal two. I ran in shorts the entire way. The rain jacket was good to have, but I never used the hood they insisted it should have. The Goretex socks I had on were a lifesaver. I highly recommend them.
And yes, there were clouds that I had to go through. It was hard to see anything, beyond the fact that it was night. But for the most part, I don’t think I ever actually saw any of the mountains I was running along.
After passing the summit, and down, what felt like a rockslide someone had traced a path on, there was an alpine hospital in the middle of nowhere. I distinctly remember it, because a kilometer after it, I twisted my ankle again. I think it had something to do with the night running I became a lot more cautious in my running after that, and it slowed me down a bit.
It also made me hesitant to change my footwear. With the change of course, we no longer had access to the support bag at the halfway mark. I wouldn’t be able to change my shoes. So it became more important to have a change of socks, and I did have extras. But if I took off my shoe, would my ankle swell and prevent me from getting the shoe back on? It wasn’t so much a problem with the cold, so I wasn’t sweating into my socks. Little did I realize how hard it is to remove Goretex socks, because they don’t stretch. I only found out when trying to take my clothes off before a shower.
I got lost heading back into Les Contamines. I don’t know where I went wrong, but I did eventually find the transition and saw bunches of runners coming from a different direction. I guess I took the long way. There was also a blessed public washroom. FYI public washrooms in France are scary. No seat, just a hole. Hope you have good balance.
The next mountain was small, and not too bad. And I was able to run down the other side safely into the village of La Villette. The next mountain was malicious. It started with some paved paths, but after awhile it became a conga line along the narrow switchback to the top. I had to take frequent breaks. Frustratingly, at the top was a tram station. The trip down was just that, a trip. It was steep and all mud. Mud stirred up by 1700 other runners. But I made it to Les Houches on my schedule, barely.
The next climb should have been pleasant. It was on a road, going up gradually to a park. But I started to encounter my biggest problem: digestion. I’m not used to the bacteria in the water here, so the digestion system was not happy with me. It didn’t help that I had the complimentary pasta dinner an hour and a half before race time. I had assumed that I didn’t have Imodium with me, because I didn’t remember packing it. For the rest of the race, my lower intestines were in open rebellion.
I got down that mountain slower than I would have liked, and knew there was only one left. After hitting a support station, there was an uphill, that, for some reason, I assumed was that mountain. So I was feeling fairly cocky, and surprised at how ahead of schedule I was. No I wasn’t. The worst was yet to come. Steep, side of the mountain, conga line of exhaustion. And there was no point to it either, because we never went over the top, we just went down the same side, at the same level of steepness.
Eventually we got down, but my quads were so exhausted, that it was literally painful to slow down to the same pace as the person ahead of me. It was great when it opened up into the village and the last support station.
I had four and a half hours to do the last 10km. My legs hurt, and I decided that I deserved a break. I sat down for a solid twenty minutes and had people bring me food. I even found my secret stash of pills. Imodium, along with some much needed Tylenol that actually shut my quads up and let me run again.
Now, I had been told the last ten kilometers were all downhill. I did have a goal in my mind of finishing in 24 hours. But this was beginning to feel like the Sinister 7; a short run, downhill, after a long run, in two hours.
It was not all downhill. There was a rather noticeable uphill along the side of a mountain. So the first part was slow, but then the Tylenol started to kick in and I could run again. I even found a nice woman from Chile to help me keep at it. I think she thought there was a 24 hour time limit, so she was very motivated to finish in that time. And at some point, my compression shorts developed a rip that decided it would be fine to scrape across my sensitive skin. Then the end was in sight and we were running through the village of Chamonix, in areas I recognized. And then there was the finish line.
It felt great to cross it. I was done. I was so happy. I was also really emotional. Unfortunately, they had run out of the finishing prize in my size, so I have no evidence to show that I did this.
And I was all alone. No one I knew was there. Nobody was even speaking English. There was nothing. I guess this is what they mean when they say “The loneliness of the long distance runner.”
I’m really going to have to force someone to come with me next time.