[This is the abridged version. Full story to come when I can wrap my head around it. 😉 ]
No matter how well I plan, there will always be the chance for mistakes (story of my life). Mistakes are a golden opportunity to learn. That’s part of life, right? Live and learn. And life sure loves to give you to opportunities to learn. Unfortunately in a multi-day distance event like the Tor Des Géants, trying to learn on the fly from some mistake can be a lesson in futility. Making a string of seemingly unrelated mistakes can be a recipe for disaster soup, which I made plenty of in a very short amount of time.
Many of you have been following my adventure here in Italy leading up to the race. I’ve been spending the last YEAR preparing for it. The 200 mile mountainous Tor Des Géants, is arguably the hardest race in the world. Yes! I said that. Argue with me if you must, but that’s another lesson in futility.
Jena and I were pretty confident we had everything dialed in. At least dialed in for what we know. Weather was not favorable at the start. There was a light rain, as I noticed many runners with their rain jackets over their packs. I had done that at Tahoe 200, and thought, “Yeah great idea”, except doing so wouldn’t allow me to stow my poles, which I was now proudly proficient at.
Throughout the day the rain eased up a bit, but heading into the night it became relentless. In addition, the climbing was more than relentless, with 3 to 4,000+ft climbs over massively choppy terrain of large boulder fields. At this point I decided to keep my poles in hand even through the descents. By doing that I was now free to employ mistake #1: utilize the jacket over pack method. Mind you, it’s not a bad method, but it has it’s flaws which aren’t always evident until it’s too late. Although I had rain gear on, I wasn’t necessarily dry, and mountain rain is usually served with a bone chilling side of wind. Knowing how far this race was, and how much of this rain and wind I might be in for gave me a slight cause to be “concerned”. By this point I had already put a good amount of distance and climbing on my body. I was still comfortable in my effort, and dealt with the adverse conditions, by slipping into my own private Idaho. Unfortunately, this led to silly mistake #2: I lost focus on what was ahead of me.
It’s about 4am, and I start what appears to be yet another relentless climb (totally unaware that it’s the longest climb of the race). No biggie, except I realize, that I’ve slipped into a “situation” that’s given me cause to be “concerned”. The temperature has noticeably dropped. My warm jacket is in my pack, which is covered by the rain jacket I’m wearing. So much for a great idea. It’s cold enough that I need a warmer jacket, but It’s also raining hard enough that if I stop to get the jacket it’ll get soaked, and complicate matters. I’m wishing that I’d stumble upon a mountain hut, or Refugio to make a safe change transition. The trail has so many scattered along it’s length like convenience stores, yet to my dismay the landscape is absent of anything except faint distant headlamps up ahead and far below. if I slowed down, my core would cool drastically. If I sped up, my legs would surely get over worked. Then I noticed the frost on the ground. The idea of hypothermia starts to set in, and once again, I’m “concerned”. Mistake #3: Not putting on the damn jacket!
Within minutes, the trail suddenly disappears under a coat of white. I look up ahead to try and locate trail flags, but they’re quickly disappearing too. I’m slipping like crazy in the snow trying to find the safe part of the trail. The effort on worked legs was taking its toll. Eventually I make the summit above 10,000 feet. To my relief there’s a small, warm hut to take refuge in, and change into my warm jacket. I happily accept a hot tea from one of the two guys there. I exclaimed that I was surprised by the snow. He said, “What do you expect at 3,000 meters when it’s raining?! I said, “I’m from California, I don’t know what rain is anymore”. With that, I thanked them, and stepped out into the most spectacular sunrise in the world. Yes, my Mt.Tam peeps, although every sunrise is a beautiful thing, from here in out, all Tam sunrises will pale in comparison. I would have taken a picture to “prove it”, but my phone was in my pack beneath both my warm, and rain jacket. I know, some mistakes, you just never learn. As I descended down the peak, the trail was now a slide. The only thing to keep me from sliding to my death were my poles. Up till now all my “concerns” were safety and health related. I promised Jena that I would not die on this expedition, and this was the pinnacle of that “concern”.
With every quad wrenching slide/step, I made my way down to the end of the snow line. By the time I got to Jena, I knew something was not right. My quads had taken a huge beating through that last climb, and it wasn’t going to get any easier. Despite that, the sun was out and I put my best foot forward, hoping that the quads would mellow out, but it never did. Climbing wasn’t too bad, but every step down was like being hit with a hammer on my thighs. That’s right, a hammer. You know what that feels like right? For the next 30 miles I searched for the sweet spot in trying to let my body get over the pain, but it just wasn’t happening. By mile 95 and over 40,000ft of climbing, I saw Jena again. My heart was pierced. Reluctantly, the words “quit” came out if my mouth. But how?! So much time, energy, and sacrifice for this one event. I was letting myself, Jena, my friends and family following from afar down! Not to mention the owner of the spa we’re staying at in Courmayeur, who said, ” No one who has stayed here and run the race has ever finished the Tor.” It was night again, and the hardest section of he race was before me. Jena suggested I have my quads worked on by one of the masseurs there. In addition, I slept for 30 minutes. What followed was my last, and greatest mistake of all… Mistake #4: keep on moving.
That night was the most painful, nightmarish, hollow and abysmal night of my life. I tried everything I could to lighten the load, but sadly all my self motivating pacer tricks weren’t going to help me now. I had resigned to walking the rest of the race, but even that was becoming a stretch, as the distance and terrain just seemed to get even more challenging. Finally, out of desperation, and in the most surprising of locations, high atop a mt. peak, I turned on my phone to find I had reception. I texted Jena that I needed a rescue at the next accessible Refugio. My raw nerve endings were crushed when I tearfully saw her, and said, “I’m sorry. I couldn’t do it.” As the Europeans say it, I “withdrew” from the competition. I had let myself, Jena, my friends and family down, and especially the owner of our spa in Courmayeur. No, I know that’s not true. Except for maybe the owner of the spa. I know that the support and well wishes from you all are endless. I thank you all for sending your love, good vibes, and ultimately “concern” 😉. This adventure was worth every minute. A triumphant finish was the plan, but what I experienced was no less rewarding. Well, only slightly less rewarding.
The final numbers I ended with are: 136 miles traveled. 58,500ft of elevation gain. 45:47 hours moving, 7:44 stopped time (usually skewed by the slower walking pace). For those that want to see details, I’ll Strava it when I get home. In the meantime, I just want to thank a few key players.
Jena, you are the glue, and without you I’d be dead on Col Loson.
Suzzana “mighty mouse” Bon: thanks for cycling the 200 mile training vibe with me. Congrats on your Tahoe 200 finish. Don’t wonder “What Victor would do” in a 200 miler. As you can see, I often make big mistakes. It looks like “What Suzanna would do”, is just fine.
David, Dawn, and Wendy Wronski: your course previews, dinners, GPS altimeter, and good company totally prepped me… Except for the snow.
Bob “Coach” Shebest, you figured out how to coach me for a 200 miler, while figuring out how to coach me for a 200 miler.
Luke, Heather and Kenai, for taking in little Lucy. Hopefully, she’ll want to go back home with us when we return.
Louis and Linn, for letting me stay with you in Chamonix, and help out during UTMB. Louis, You may not want them back, but we’re washing the manpri’s right now.
And to my awesome in-laws Hank and Terry, you supplied our airfare and put us up in a swanky rustic spa in Courmayeur.
For now, I’m going to enjoy the rest of our time here in Europe. Allow my body to heal up, and set my sights on the next big, silly, life changing extravaganza. Thanks again for all the well wishes and positive vibes sent. You are such a shining community that supports each other through thick and thin, and it means everything to both myself and Jena. The only thing I think we could all work on a bit, is learning how to excitedly call out “Allez! Allez! Allez!!!” peace.