CROSSING THE DIVIDE...FROM RACING IN DESERTS AROUND THE WORLD TO TAKING ON THE ITALIAN ALPS...
So we left Valgrisenche at about 3 am which only gave us a 4 hour time cushion...and we were slowing down. We headed up toward Col Fenetre which would pretty much take us the rest of the night.
I tell you what...there are a lot of stone slabs set in the ground to hike up these mountains. I really liked that, and was really grateful for all of the stair training that Coach Cal had me do. Nicki Rehn told me before this race to do lots and lots of stairs and that is what I did. Running stairs, walking stairs, wearing leg weights and a weight vest while doing stairs...it all helped!
As we hauled butt up the mountain in the dark...my headlamp picked up these unusual long, black, shiny things that looked like poop. Turns out they were about 3 inch long slugs that were leaving a slimy trail behind them as they moved on the rock steps! I avoided them ... but there were plenty of people who had not seen them and had stepped on them...leaving behind a black, gooey mess with what looked like white strings of guts. Gross.
We arrived at a chalet and decided to take a brief nap, since I hadn't slept yet. Rif chalet de l'epee was a great place to take a break. Warm and inviting, it was a little piece of heaven in the cold darkness. The volunteers took great care of us, and I lay down on the floor to take a 30 minute sleep. I never have any trouble falling asleep anywhere, a gift during these types of races. My alarm woke me up exactly 30 minutes later. Refreshed, I had a quick cup of hot chocolate and we were off.
By now it was dawn...about 7 am. We had to make our way up the rest of the way to the top of Col Fenetre...2854 meters. There was a lot of scree as we headed up...and once again I was slowly picking my way up through the rocks. Where to place this foot, where to place that foot. I am just not a natural. Jim was stopping and waiting for me at regular intervals.
By now my chest was aching. I was putting my hand on my chest plate and pressing in...almost feeling like I was trying to heal myself. My head was plugged, my nose was running, I kept spitting up phlegm, my headache was constant...and Jim was worse.
We finally made it to the top and looked around...what a sight! Behind us we could see a massive valley down below with the huge field of rocks we had just come through. Ahead of us was my worst nightmare! The steep downhill ascent on this mountain made me want to vomit. I could not believe it. I had a brief moment of panic. I looked at Jim and I said..."There is no way I can get down this!" I had never seen or done anything like it.
I had read a few books before leaving for this trip about the Navy Seals. I am really fascinated with the Special Forces units around the world...and like to read about their training and missions. One of the quotes that was inspiring me for this trip was from the Navy Seals...
"The only easy day was yesterday."
I had this in my head during my six months of training...and felt it would be great during this race as well.
I may have read one too many books on this subject. I was trying to think of an escape off the top of this pass, when I visualized a helicopter coming to my aid. It hovered above me and a soldier dropped down a rope ladder. It swung above my head and I reached up and grabbed the furst rung on the ladder. The helicopted lifted up and pulled me off the ground, and I started to sway back and forth in the air. I was afraid of letting go of the ladder, but it was better than trying to make my way down that pass!
Well, no such luck. I was going to have to hoof it down the path...and I felt sick about it. It was probably about 1000 meters of going straight down on narrow switchbacks. What was amazing to me is that there was a trail here...meaning people regularly did this route. Are you kidding me?! Jim talked and walked me through it. The only way I could keep going was to stare directly down at my feet and not look anywhere else. This was pushing the envelope for me...which was sickening and exciting all at the same time. This is what living on the edge means!
I saw a metal fence line set up in the boulders off to the side...they sort of looked like snow fences that we had up in Canada to prevent avalanches. These were meant to do the same I guess (landslides), but I initially thought they were there to block the falls of people like me...I could just see myself bouncing off the rocks and smashing up against the fence...arms and legs everywhere at odd angles. (I think I am going to be sick)
We made it down through the tough part and we stopped in a grassy area to eat. I am always starving. I dug out some chips and we started to talk about what we were up against. Jim was sick and I was sick...and we were getting sicker. We were also getting slower. I told Jim he had to go on ahead. He refused...saying that although he was faster than me right now...he was also in a lot of pain. He felt like he had fractured a bone in his right foot. He could barely walk on it and was on some pretty major pain killers.
We worked our way down the mountain to another really picturesque Alpine village...the location of the next checkpoint...Rhemes n.d. It is so beautiful here, so green and so clean. We made our way up the street through town to the CP building. Once inside they scanned our race bands and we sat down to eat. We had gone 64.5 kilometers now and it had taken us 24 hours!!!! Crazy.
Jim did not think that we were going to make it to the next lifebase before the cutoff. We still had to make it up and down two more passes...including Col Loson. I really wanted to make it up to Col Loson because it was the highest pass on the course and it would put us at about 1/3 of the way into the race...about 100 km.
At a certain age, at least as it applies to us...you begin to become practical. Over the years you push yourself hard...and you know what you have inside of you. I know when I can push forward...and I can accept when it just is not going to come together for a given race. This race was over for us before we left Florida. Jim got terribly sick...and then I became sick. Not only that, but for me, I was just too cautious, and therefore slow in this terrain.
This race had been fantastic...it was everything everyone said it was and more! I loved it...but I was not going to be able to finish it. It sucks...but c'est la vie. If I were to move to a place where I had mountains in my backyard I would come back and compete in this race again and finish it with surer footing. I would also make sure that I was topped up with Vitamin C a month before the event! But that isin't going to happen. And besides, I am a desert runner and love being in the desert. It is time to go back to the sand and the sun!!!
We approached the front desk and told them we were not going to be able to continue. They sympathised with us and then proceeded to cut off our wrist bands. A shuttle bus was going to be by in an hour to come and pick us up, and until then we decided to head down the street and get a soda.
We arrived back in Courmayeur late afternoon, picked up our race bags, had a nice bath and went to the market to pick up some things for supper. The owner of the Hotel we were staying at had a gift for us...she had gift wrapped some massage cream for us. She had done this for every athlete staying at her hotel. Can you believe it?! Josey, you are a doll!!!
The following morning (Tuesday) we spent the day making arrangements to head to Florence on Wednesday. We weren't supposed to head there until Sunday. But there was no sense killing time in Courmayeur. We had already spent a few days here before the race. But there was some business to take care of. Which flavor of Gelato should we try? We couldn't make up our minds on just one or two flavors....so we ended up getting two dishes with 6 flavors in all!
Vanilla, Italian Vanilla, Pistachio, Hazelnut, Dark Chocolate and Banana.The Gelato, along with a strong cup of Italian coffee, and we were jacked! Onward to Florence!!!
As it turned out, the race provided some extreme challenges for organizers and competitors alike this year. The race had to be stopped once due to a landslide. And then mother nature struck with howling winds and snow, preventing runners from climbing up to the last pass of the course. Organizers had to stop the race again, and then ended up cutting the course short by 30 kilometers. The race ended this year in St. Rhemy.
Congratulations to all of the competitors...and to all of my new friends who all did so well!!!! It was so much fun...and I really hope I will see you all again one day....but you will have to come to the desert to find me!!!! Hugs from Florida!!!!!
My next blog is going to be about the time I spent in Florence and Venice...healing, resting, eating, and sunning in beautiful Italy!!! And let's not forget the wine!