I am planning on going to Comrades next year and will be putting plans together for anyone interested. If you would like to train for a 50 miler closer to home I can set up a program to get you to that goal as well. I will individualize your plan and build it around your racing schedule leading up to your A race. So lets all set some big goals for 2016. Hey as Dick and I say "you are only young once!"
Below I have included a story of my experience at Ultra Du Mont Blanc which I ran in 2013. I hope it will inspire you to always challenge yourself and make your dreams big. I truly believe that we only experience growth when we step outside of our comfort zone. I try to do just that once a year by challenging myself to complete a race or hike that scares the hell out of me. I hope you enjoy my story.
It’s hard to describe the experience of running this race. Words that come to mind, beautiful, brutal, awesome, humbling, exhilarating...all that and more. The start of the race was so unbelievable, 2500 or so people crowded into the center of Chamonix, the Alps looming above, music blaring, crowds cheering and then we are off. It was the first time in my life I started a race with tears in my eyes and I don’t know why, except that I was just overwhelmed by it all.
So my race was underway at exactly 4:30 pm and I would be hooking up with Paula in Les Contamines at the 31 km mark, or so I thought. Unfortunately we missed each other. I expected to be feeling fresh at this early juncture of the race but I was exhausted by the time I arrived and only 31 minutes ahead of the cut-off. I didn’t even sit down, guzzled a quick bowl of noodle soup and was off into the night.
The Climbing Begins
We are now on the first major climb, the Croix du Bonhomme, and it is brutal but beautiful. The night is surprisingly warm; the sky is spectacular with every star shining brightly and a crescent moon on the horizon. As I look ahead I see headlamps blazing in the pitch black and behind a string of lights as far as I can see. I am comfortably in the middle, not much reason to try to advance and no real opportunity as we are on some technical paths that are quite narrow. The thought of pitching off the side is rather unappealing and frightening.
After this ascent we will have two more big climbs before descending into Courmayeur, where I am hoping to meet up with my trusty Sherpa Paula. I have been thinking about her and wondering how we could have missed each other at the first stop. I have a few problems at this point, I have broken my sunglasses, no big deal, and my stomach is giving me some major grief. I can’t really eat much without feeling like I am going to up chuck…For the first time I begin to have some serious doubts about my ability to finish. How can I keep going if I can’t eat? Well I convince myself that I can go on with just fluids. I know Paula has a couple of bottles of Boost for me when I see her and I know I can get that down. I begin to develop this craving for ice cream, not sure why but it is all I can think about. I have been trying to listen to MP3 player but it keeps randomly switching songs half way through each song. My mind is so messed up at this point I keep finding myself laughing away each time it switches…OMG I am beginning to lose it.
I literally stagger into Courmayeur. I have been going for about 16 hours and have travelled some 77 km. I see Paula right away and she guides me to a chair. I change my socks, shirt and drink two Boosts. I am feeling tired and beat up. She explains how we missed each other, they wouldn’t let her in because according to them I wouldn’t arrive for another hour. In fact I WAS there and left when I could not find her, oh well.
We visit for a short while and then I leave to go to the runners area. I try to eat and find I can tolerate bananas and oranges. I eat as many as I can. I mix up my drink Paula has brought and off I go. It is now time to travel through Italy heading North till we get to Switzerland. As I head off I am feeling much better. Amazing what a little break and some food can do. I am feeling optimistic again. I have 91 km to go and a whole lot of climbing to do. I will meet up with Paula again in Champex-Lac in Switzerland at the 122 km mark.
From this point on it is basically just a matter of survival. One thing I know for sure is that as long as I practice the mantra of relentless forward progress I should be able to make it to the finish line as long as the body holds up. A few more problems have arisen. The first is a sharp pain in my left shin. As the km go by it gets more sore to the point where I begin to really dread any downhill running. The second problem that begins to surface is a rather hideous rash that has appeared shall we say south of the equator. It rivals the pain I am feeling in my left shin. I am still convinced I can finish the race.
I have scattered my Dad’s ashes now in 3 different countries. As I enter Switzerland I stop and scatter ashes in a field overlooking a beautiful pasture with the Alps framed in the background. I feel a sense of relief knowing that even if I don’t finish at least I have done what I had promised myself I’d do.
I am now nearing Champex-Lac. I am so looking forward to seeing Paula. The village is absolutely beautiful. I am soon reunited with Paula. It is just about dusk. I am 28 hours into the race. Paula is wonderful. She tells me I look great. She feeds me two bottles of boost. We visit for about half an hour. She helps me change into a long sleeve shirt. Soon I am off into my second night. Surprisingly I don’t feel like sleeping at all. I am dog tired but the thought of closing my eyes has no appeal at all. I just want to finish. I want to sit in the center of Chamonix and drink a cold beer. I want to feel the thrill of finishing what has become by far the toughest challenge I have ever faced. I want the pain in my shin to go away and the rash to end(no pun intended).
The second night begins with a very tough climb. It seems to go on forever. It is on this part of the course that I meet up with Boris Tourne, a French racer who speaks very good English. He will be my companion for most of the remaining time. He seems to be in about the same state as me. I tell him I am having a helluva time descending and he tells me not to worry because I am still quick on the uphills. I follow him on all the descents and it is great to have someone to share the experience with. We travel together through the night and I meet his wife Sophia who is lovely. She looks after him like Paula looks after me.
The night is again beautiful. A little cooler but the stars and moon are again spectacular. Every once in a while I have to stop and look up at the sky and feel a sense of wonder. Just a few days ago I was sitting in the airport in Toronto and now I am in the Alps climbing like a madman. At one point on a climb this night Boris, my French friend, sits down to take a rest. I stand beside him, afraid that if I sit I will have trouble getting back up. After a short break we agree to go on. I don’t know it but Boris has fallen asleep and when I arrive at the top he is nowhere to be found. I wait at the top for him. I change into my jacket and change headlamps as my batteries are beginning to wear. Boris shows up and tells me about his little cat nap and we have a good laugh. On we go.
The second night is all about climbing and they just get tougher and tougher. I start to wonder about what fiendish mind would conjure up such a course. It just gets harder and harder, unrelenting climbs that numb the legs followed by hellish descents. Strangely the second night seems to end quickly and we find ourselves at Vallorcine. One last big climb and then a long descent into Chamonix. Paula and I have agreed not to meet here. Sophia is there with her son to meet Boris.
The last climb totally finishes me. I have to stop over and over again. There is nothing left in my legs, nothing! Boris is hanging with me but I finally tell him to go on and we will meet at the finish. He says no he will stay with me. I tell him it would be better if he went on as I am only holding him up and he finally agrees. I feel a little better seeing him head off. I know I have enough time to finish although my shin is giving me grief and my rash is unbearable.
I continue on hobbling down the mountain. I now have a terrible blister problem on both feet. It feels like someone has put hot coals in both my shoes. Every step is beginning to hurt. Finally I sit on the path and take off my shoes to inspect the damage. A young boy comes along and asks me if he can help. I say I don’t think so and with that he runs off and returns with his mom who just happens to be a race volunteer. She asks me if she can do anything and I say no thanks I’m fine even though I’m not. I have this horrible fear I might get pulled from the race. I ask her how much further and she says I can be in Chamonix in 2 hours, which is fine because I have 4 hours left.
I am on a beautiful path that winds its way down the mountain to Chamonix. This should be the easy part if it were not for the shin, rash and blister problems. The shin hurts so bad that at one point I try and walk backwards but it doesn’t feel any better and I am afraid I will just fall on my ass, which is sore enough as it is. There are tons of spectators along this part of the route. Our bibs have our names and country on them. As I hobble pathetically along I am greeted to cheers of go Tim, go Canada. It never gets tired. Once I pass an Inn and the patrons are offering me beer, I reluctantly decline and soldier on.
After what seems like an eternity I am off the trail and onto the streets of Chamonix. A French lady appears out of nowhere and asks me if she can walk with me. I say for sure, I could use some company and she walks for about 20 minutes with me. We have a wonderful chat and she is so nice that I kind of forget about all the things that are wrong with me. When we part I have less than a km to go. By God I have made it, I could crawl on my hands and knees if I had to at this point and that is still a possibility. The crowds are amazing, screaming go! go! I want so badly to run but I can’t, the pain is too much. Oh well, this part is so thrilling why not make it last. As I round the last bend I see the finish line and I hear a voice yelling my name. It’s Jose my facebook friend who I have spent a year or so conversing with. We shake hands and he tells me I am a champ which is strong praise from someone who has conquered some pretty major races. Then I hear Paula yelling behind me. Jose and I say goodbye and he tells me to get going. I run the last 20 steps for good measure. At last, Je suis fini.