My block of training after Western States leading up to UTMB was not great by any means. I got some really long, really fun runs in, but through much of this time my body wasn't recovering as smoothly from long runs as usual and this was forcing me to take more days off than usual. Three weeks before uTMB though I started to feel a lot better for a nice 10 or 12 day stretch in which I got in 3 nice long runs (about 30 miles each and about 25k ascent between the three of them) and seemed to recover right away from each one of them. This gave me a nice bit of confidence going into the race. I felt that my body was feeling better than it had all summer, and I felt that my mind and my body were as ready for this race as any race since UTMB a year ago. I was however a little bit uncertain about the fact that by the time the race would start I had not run a step in 6 days. When I arrived in Geneva on Monday my luggage was not with me. I didn't get my stuff until late Wednesday night, therefore I had nothing with me except the clothes I had worn on my flight, and thus didn't do any running in the days leading up to the race. I was a little concerned about this, but I also looked at the forced rest as perhaps a good thing since my body was having a slow time recovering all summer.
And so I started the race in what I would call a cautiously confident state of mind. The weather was pretty nasty (cold and rainy) at the start but I wasn't too concerned about this. I was carrying (by requirement) enough stuff with me to run through a hurricane. I can't imagine any conditions in which I would ever wear all the gear they make us carry in this race. I have never run a step in my life in waterproof pants, and I can't imagine a scenario in which I ever would.
At any rate, off we were and I was feeling pretty good. It was amazing how similar the first three hours of this race were to the first three last year. The weather was about the same. I was running in about the same part of the pack on the way down to Les Houches, and somewhere near town Mike Wolfe and I seperated a little bit ahead of the rest of the American runners and began the climb over to St. Gervais behind a lead group of 5 or 6 European runners, led by Kilian. On the way down to St. Gervais several runners (including Nico of course) went blowing by us and then Mike and I gradually reeled them all back in on the gradual ascent on the way to Les Contamines. By the time we arrived in Les Contamines (30k) we had caught up with the 4 person lead pack and the 6 of us ran into the aid station within a few feet of each other. Things had progressed so similar as last year to this point that I was kind of caught off guard when we weren't told that the race was being stopped. Instead we made exchanges with our crews and were off up the trail toward the first serious high alpine of the race.
I wouldn't say I was feeling great heading out of Les Contamines, probably pretty average for 20 miles into a 100 mile race. But the rain had stopped, the stars were coming out, and I felt like the 6 of us were likely settling into a lead group that would end up doing battle for several hours of time through the mountains. Mike looked strong, Kilian and Miguel I knew would be strong for a long time down the trail. I didn't know the other two runners but I just kind of had a hunch that we would all be sharing this adventure for a huge portion of the race. I also knew that Sebastien was just a couple minutes back and would probably join us for the fun.
And then we hit the first steep climbing about 20 minutes past Les Contamines and almost instantly my body felt weak and challenged. I was cramping a bit. Cramping in my legs, but also cramping in my arms and my hips and my abdomen muscles. Cramps in places I have never cramped before. This also caught me off guard as we were only just over 3 hours into the race. I've never cramped that early in a race before. And so I had no choice but to slow way down on that climb. Initially I was fine with this. I was pretty sure I just needed to drink a lot, eat a lot, take in some salt, keep moving as best I could, and things would come around for me. I made it to the top of the climb in pretty bad shape and then when I started running down it felt even worse. The muscles all over my body felt like I had already run most of the race. By the time I got down to Les Chapieux (50k) I physically felt like I should be almost to the finish, when in reality I had not even run 1/3 of the race yet. From here things just progressed further in this direction. Each mile I ran seemed to effect my body as though I had run 10. My quads were pretty much destroyed by the time I began the descent down off of Col De La Seigne.
My mind stayed strong and I shifted quickly from try to compete mode to try to finish mode. I slowed way down and tried to regroup. Ultimately it was way too late though. By the time I finally dropped in Courmayeur (78k) my body was just too thrashed to continue. I was to the point in which I was walking the steep descents backward because my quads couldn't take the impact anymore. I was doing damage to my body with every step I took and thus the decision to stop was almost not even a decision that I needed to make with my mind, my body had made it for me.
With this experience behind me it's still a bit diffucult for me to know what went wrong. There were a lot of top level runners (American and Foreign alike) who had days very similar to mine. The common thing I kept hearing from almost everyone who dropped out of this race (which was more than half of the starters) was that they eventually just hit a point where their bodies felt like they had already run 100 miles. For several folks this occured even earlier in the race than it did for me! For me though I don't know how much my troubles were isolated to this race and this specific day. The weather was a bit tough, and it's a challenging course for sure, although not enough more challenging than a few other hundreds I've done (Wasatch, HURT, and Bear) that I should have felt as beaten up physically after 4 hours as I usually do only after 17+. For me I think my diffucult race was more of a larger picture thing. My body has not felt "normal" for the better part of 3 months now. Typically I feel below average (physically) about 20% of the times I go out for a run. The other 80% is usually average or above. In the past three months though this ratio has pretty much been flipped around. I've been able to fool myself into thinking everything was OK by taking way more days off than I usually do, but this race made it obvious to me that it's not a few days off that I need, but rather a few weeks or months. Just as we hit low stretches in our running in the shorter term, I think I have hit a low stretch in the longer term. After more than 24 months of pretty steady growth and strengthing in my body, I have hit a point in which my muscles need to reset a bit before they can go forward. Basically I feel myself at the same point I was in May of 2009. At that time I took about a month off and came back to running not even sure if or when I would race again. By the end of September that year I had run (and won) 3 hundred mile races. I bounced back that time even stronger than I had been before that.
I had a very strong craving to do well in this race, but I didn't have the fitness right now to do so. I'm OK with this. I'm glad that I finally put my body up against something so challenging that I have no choice but to read the writing on the wall of such an inability of my body to perform when pushed to do so. Where this all will take me in the next several months I have no idea. That's the thing about reseting and then moving on. You have no idea what moving on looks like until you do the resetting. I'm actually really excited for the next several months, and to see where this all takes me. It's hard to totally clear the mind, reset, and just go with what feels right down the road, but this will be what I hope to accomplish over the next several weeks/months.