Archive for September, 2019

Sights for sore eyes……

September 8, 2019

Would you like these raspberries? We just picked them……

Would you like any pizza? Quiche?

Student mix?

Malt loaf?

Chocolate?

Do you want some tahini and jam rice cakes…..ooh they’d been so nice last time……no thanks.

It had been hard for Lynn, my incredible resilient and creative wife and support crew on this year’s UTMB. She had witnessed my gradual unravelling over the course of 100 miles or so.

Lynn had been with me every step of the way in spirit, as had so many wonderfully supportive dot watchers. So many people who know what this race means to me, the joy of moving in high mountains, being out in the elements, passing through three countries and now back in France again……the furthest I had ever got.

She was now rightly trying to get energy into me at Vallorcine, so I could do the last climb up Col Des Montets, one we had walked together pre race so she knew what it entailed. And so did I, or at least I thought I did. It finished me this time.

With Chamonix in my sites in the valley and two more cut offs to make, I make one at Tete Aux Vents but La Flegere with 8 km to go gets beyond me because I fall asleep while running and fall asleep when I sit down briefly, I fall asleep balanced with my head and hands on my walking poles and standing up.

I am a mess. I am done. I am strangely at peace with it. It’s like I have done it. I have completed a circuit of sorts. I can see Chamonix and if they let me I would have gone on. Instead I receive my third ceremonial ‘snip’. The cutting off of the bar code on my number and the metal tag on my bag. Actually there is no ceremony, it’s very matter of fact.

Back track 46 hours. I’m rhythmically clapping (think Iceland and spaced claps in some recent football tournament where you do single claps and they build to a crescendo). I blow out hard and wonder how it’s all going to be. I am standing in the central square with any number of nationalities, a few handshakes with complete strangers tied with a common purpose. To run 10,000 metres of ascent and 171 km or 106 miles out of France, into Switzerland, into Italy and back into France within 46.5 hours.

Last year I timed out at Les Chapieux at 50km. Three weeks prior to the race I carelessly let a big boulder strike my right knee as I dislodge four or five of them on a scramble with Lynn. Three weeks before, I cannot walk very well and have to use a stick. When I hit St Gervais in 2018 and Lynn and Wilf ask me how I am, I say, “Can’t complain”.

This year 45 minutes up on that time I say I feel fantastic. I’m moving so well that Lynn’s bus doesn’t get to Notre Dame de La Gorge in time and she claps all the runners through before she realises she’s on her own in the dark and I’ve already gone. Somehow she ends up in a mess tent with fondue and wine and a camp bed!

In 2015 I ended my journey at Trient dry retching into a bush. It had been up towards 30 degrees and I was worried how my body was going to cope with the growing heat his year.

Courmayeur is seen as the traditional half way point and I knew I would see Lynn and get my drop bag, and could refresh entire kit if need be including trainers. The heat had been building and I remembered the never ending ascent out of Courmayeur and exposure to the sun. Kim, my coach had advised me to take a sponge and this was to prove invaluable in the various fountains and small town troughs. Back in the sports centre in Courmayeur, two UTMB officials asked Lynn and me if I was ok as I lay on the concrete…..the cool cool concrete. I could not eat very much. In reality I had been surviving on orange segments and water melon. Liquids had been going in but I was very short on calories.

Somehow I left Courmayeur, my hearing was coming and going in my left ear with the pop from altitude gain and loss, I felt hot and empty.

At Arnouvaz I vomited three times in quick succession, projectile and as it ejected lamenting all the liquid as it left my body. I was conscious briefly how it seemed to consist of liquid and black olives eaten two days ago?. This was just before one of the biggest climbs of Col de Feret. Oh and the hail storm.

The lightening flash came and before I had the chance to think, I wonder how far behind the thunder is coming, BANG! heavens opened and the hail stung my legs. I was a bit chilled at the top so thought if i pushed it out a bit on the descent of ten kilometres I would warm up. Unfortunately the constant jigging unsettled my stomach again and I managed to eject yet more precious liquid. Also when you vomit on a race don’t grab an electric fence to steady yourself afterwards.

It becomes a bit of a blur between the next check points but I make La Fouly, Champex Lac, Plan De L’Au and the crazy steep descent into and out of Trient! I go further than ever before!

And here we are back at Vallorcine. I am half a person. Something drives me on. This race, mountain people, the elements, the sheer beauty. I love it.

This woman, I love her.

Somewhere inside there is a light and I am proud of myself. Every time I think of my children or someone says something positive or Lynn relays a message from home I fill up or I start to cry. I channel the English fells, I think about my running buddies, JJ, the Hardmoors family. What would Kim advise? All to try and trick my brain to keep positive and forward moving but the reality is my body is consuming itself and the curtains are closing.

The aftermath.

I’m driven down the mountain. I sleep all the 10km and two journeys. I get out of the last van and curl up on the grass. The officials are concerned and ask me i I want an ambulance. They take my pulse. They offer me liquid and I drink it too fast. I vomit behind their shed. Is is just after the kindest arm of comfort from Jon Steele who spots me and comes over. Mark and Dave two other UK runners, successful in their different quests say later they see me but can’t come over as they have no words. I get it completely.

When you have ran for two days with the same lenses in do remember to take them out. I didn’t and one week later as I write this have not retained my full vision. The journey home has so many heroics from Lynn and kindness and love it probably warrants a separate blog. Guiding a one eyed man around Chamonix, Geneva, Paris and London whilst wrestling all our bags is just a flavour.

I lost fourteen pounds on the run alone. My stomach is still cramping and I am as weak as a kitten. I lie down all the time. I fell asleep in our suitcase mid way through unpacking. My colleagues sent me home from work on Friday mid way through my first day back. Day by day I regain sight an energy.

Thank you for reading and thank you from the four chambers of my heart for all of your well wishes, encouragement, enquiries, love, comments. They mean more than words can say.