Friday, 19 November 2010
How would you like to run for 330 km? You probably wouldn’t, no sensible person would. Would you like to do 24,000 meters of ascent and decent? No definitely not, you would have to be out of your mind, right. The Tor de Geants is a race, or event, that takes in the 330km and 24,000meters of up and had 380 entrants of all ages, who thought it might be fun. Surprisingly they all seemed fairly normal to me, a bit passionate perhaps, very fit and eager, but no they weren’t out of their minds. Don’t get me or them wrong, none of them thought it would be easy, and they certainly knew it would hurt more than a little. So why did they do it? Well for a start the TDG is held in some of the most beautiful valleys of the world and they were arranged in a logical way to create a journey that showed this beauty off, but also paid homage to the local people who try to live within these mountains in a peaceful and harmonious way. The TDG takes high level walking routes around the mountains of the Aosta region, starting and finishing in Courmayeur. Courmayeur is well known to the climbing community, but in the last few years it has become a great centre for mountain running. And this is where I personally got involved, as I know these valleys intimately from climbing in them for 30 years. I noticed the TDG announcement 5 weeks before its start and was seduced by its magic and its provocative challenging allurement. All that beauty within a scant 7 days, was it possible? It was apparently possible for non professionals, but was it possible for me a rock climber who hadn’t done any endurance for a few years. I had been looking for an excuse to take a break from climbing, and the more I thought about all those lovely valleys in the race, the more I was hooked.
On race day I walked the 2 kms to the start and got excited seeing all the great athletes and all the ordinary runners who were about to try really really hard just to finish. The excitement was really extraordinary, the organizers put on a great start and everybody was pumped up with the music and the enormity of the distance. Before I knew it we were off, and because the first couple of hours were uphill only there was no painful landing on my heels and I started to gain places from my back of the pack start. The weather was glorious, the mountains stupendous, and the feeling among the runners was uplifting. I felt no real pain that day and ran a fair bit, the crunch came later that day at the end of the days stage. We all had the opportunity to rest eat and sleep in a so-called life base, these were entirely adequate indeed excellent and with lovely volunteers but due to the runners nerves the coming and going of people and your metabolism being all over the place sleep tended to be impossible. Indeed the good guys and girls didn’t stop, they just pushed on, it was something I didn’t really understand and even if I had I would not have had the confidence to do. This was my first race, and I had jumped into a big one where tactics and experience counted even more than running ability and things like VO2 max. In this race and others like it, sheer grit and being very tough count very high, I was finally ahead of better athletes than myself and I in turn was placed lower than some ordinary but fantastically enduring people.
At one point a good Italian runner paused to cheer me up before he over took me. Come on he said a bit more and a lovely smooth decent for 14km. And he was right, a smooth even path but I couldn’t do it justice, a slow dogtrot was all I could muster.