I did feel a bit better after my sleep, and my legs still seemed to function, with the knee niggle from my fall seeming better for the rest. I knew I could continue but not whether I actually wanted to.
When Peta and Paul arrived they were sympathetic and supportive. In the end Peta decided we should toss a coin to continue. Heads to continue, tails to pull out. The point of the coin toss is to help decide whether you actually care about the result, but I actually felt almost indifferent. In the end Heads won the day, so I continued. It was that close — I do think I would have pulled out if it had been Tails! We also arranged that I’d next see Paul at Refuge de La Pra in a few hours.
I knew that the first stages of the day were basically an accumulation of 1600m of climbing from Riouperoux to Croix de Chamrousse. The first step was the 1000m to Arselle, which was just a long long slog. Every so often the route was marked with signs from the Vertical Kilometre race, marking the ascent in 100m intervals. It seemed to take a while for each extra 100m. I was having to pause quite regularly to regain my breath but I was not unhappy with my pace. After the long climb, there was a flat section where I even managed to do some running for a bit, some of the only running all day.
I had a quick stop to refill bottles etc. at Arselle before the climb up Croix de Chamrousse. The climb was a lot gentler than the Arselle climb, an average gradient of 10% rather than 25%! This was far more to my taste and I was able to maintain a steadier pace. For a good while I was able to see the tops of the ski lifts in the far distance, and they finally got closer and closer until I’d arrived. I had a reasonable break at Croix de Chamrousse including a cup of tea and some chocolate, and let Paul know where I’d got to to give some idea of when to expect me at Refuge de la Pra.
The run down to sous l’Echallion started well — there were some quite runnable sections on the first relatively gentle sections, but after that it seemed to take forever. Even the flat stuff wasn’t very runnable, with lots of rocks and steps up and down and just loose surface. Once on the route up to Refuge de la Pra it was just a matter of keeping it ticking over. Although the first of the UT4M 90 runners had started overtaking us just before Croix de Chamrousse, it was on this part that the trickle started turning into a flood of runners. I tried my best to keep from obstructing them.
As I got closer to Refuge de la Pra, Paul had come out to meet me, so we hiked the last 500m or so to the Refuge together. The last steps up to the Refuge were very steep which seemed a little harsh. It was nice to sit down and let Paul look after me!
The route up to Grand Colon pretty much broke me. Every time I thought we must have done enough to do the 2.3km and 283m ascent that the stage was supposed to be, we’d round a corner and see runners in the far distance snaking up yet another massive looking ascent. I suspect the combination of the hot day, being at 2000m above sea level and the fact that the stage was harder in reality than on paper sufficed to make the stage seem very hard at the time.
At the top of Grand Colon, I knew that I had had enough. I would have quite happily stopped, but I had to get down to Freydières either way! When I checked what was next after Freydières, I knew that I couldn’t face yet another 1000m of descent. I let Peta know to expect this, and pack for me finishing. Before my final descent a few of the people I’d met during the day accompanied me for a bit, but in the end outpaced me as I was descending so dismally. Again I was having to stop to let people past a lot. Once in the forest track the running got a bit more fun, and I tried to run the flatter roads at the bottom but I’d mentally long since given up, and it was just a matter of keeping walking. The road to the checkpoint seemed awfully long at the time! Lots of people shouted encouragement, which I gratefully acknowleged. During that final descent I discovered that I’d managed less than 3km/h for the entire day, which would definitely be insufficient to finish, and again helped me accept that I was making the right decision to abandon.
When I stopped I was in around 160th position, and about 140 people finished. This was out of 400 odd people, so I did well to get as far as I did (early on the second morning I heard people remarking on the high numbers of abandonments).
Bon Courage was something I heard so much on the race — it seemed to be most people’s best wish of choice. I like the phrase a lot in that it’s so much more appealing than ‘good luck’ as it focuses on internal strength rather than external factors over which you have no control. Courage to me is also the strength to know when to stop and I hope I took a courageous choice to stop on my own terms rather than destroy myself only to still miss the cut offs.
Thank you so much to my amazing support crew — they stuck by me even when I was questioning my commitment to continue, and also when I decided it was time to abandon. I changed plans on them a number of times (including when I told them I’d like flat coke and then after having some flat coke remembered that caffeine currently seems to give me chest problems). It is a tough job being support crew — basically being out in the sticks just waiting around until I finally deign to arrive, a mad rush of servicing my needs for 5-20 minutes and then back to the waiting around stuff. I’m glad to see Peta and Paul made the best of it with lakeside pizzas and beer/wine.
The race organisation was good for a race of this scale. Sometimes my lack of fluency in French was a problem (I can usually ask for things but don’t understand very much that is said to me — I can read French far better than I can hear it). The route markings were absolutely excellent in general, I only went slightly wrong twice the entire time, and quickly realised my mistake because I could always expect to see a marker within the next few footsteps). Also the volunteers were all wonderful, and very positive and helpful. Having traffic stopped for you is a wonderful feeling! My only real complaint is that the checkpoint ascent and descent changes seemed to be way off (for example I did 6000m of ascent in the first 72km, the checkpoint spreadsheet suggested that I should do 5000m). This meant that my timings were way off (1000m of ascent and descent is around 90 minutes using my calculations, but given my struggles on descent, should probably be more like 2 hours!)
I felt I trained almost as well as I could for this race given what I have to work with. It is very hard to train for the Alps where we live (bayside Queensland, with the nearest 50m hill 10km away, the nearest 300m hill 30km away and the nearest 1000m hill 100km away). I could have done more to practise my descending, but even then, there’s not much of the scrabbly stuff that I struggled with so much. And I wouldn’t be able to train for running at 2000m without some trips down south.
My running plans are now fairly low-key. I have zero plans to attempt such a thing again, given that I don’t really know what I’d do any differently next time. For now I plan on doing some parkruns, and hanging out with my running friends for fun running. I may do some of the local trail run series.
Our house renovations mean that it’s a good time to reduce my running schedule and focus on that priority — I still aim to achieve 30-40km/week but leave the weekends mostly free.
I will be making a UT3M t-shirt. I feel I’ve earned a t-shirt (even if I haven’t earned a UT4M finishers top), and something that helps me remember what I am capable of, and what I currently can’t do, will be nice to have.
We choose to … do … things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard — John F. Kennedy