Tor des Geants Race Report

Tor des Geants Race Report

So in February of 2013 I entered the lottery with my good friend Wade Repta for what would prove to be the biggest athletic challenge I’ve faced in my lifetime, running Tor Des Geants.  I had applied to several lotteries and decided that fate would make the decision at to what challenge  I would get to take on this year; Tor des Geants it would be!  I still remember the butterflies in my stomach when I checked the lottery and  saw our names.  I then for some crazy reason decided to have my good friend Maria over for dinner and celebrated with champagne. Who celebrates that they are about to run 330km with 79,000ft of elevation?  That’s climbing Everest 3x and I had 6 days to do it!!  I wasn’t sure it was possible but I was damn willing to try!

Training in 2013 was one of the most fabulous spring/summer’s I’ve ever had.  For pretty much 6 straight months, every weekend was a new adventure, exploring a new trail or running old favorites, stringing out a 23 hour run with a 2 hour sleep in the middle, running the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier with a group of friends in 3 days.  I had a personal best at kneeknacker and got up the next morning to head out on another adventure run.  It could not have been better.  There were a few rest weekends, and a few hiccups including finding out that my iron/ferritin level was super low (thankfully in enough time to turn it around).  I headed to Northshore Athletics I feel like almost every weekend neuroticizing about something and in the last month my new ultimate direction pack that I was loving, started to fall apart and I had to find a substitute!

As I started to pack for Italy, I became completely neurotic and overwhelmed.  The race had 7 stages and we had one drop bag that would follow us to each of those 7 life bases.  I began trying to sort out what I would need at each stage and packed 7 individual drop bags that would go inside my big yellow bag.  It seemed overwhelming, batteries in each pack, contacts, drugs for every possibility known to man, and food to supplement the aid station food for each stage.  I got it done and was fairly organized which may come as a surprise to anyone who is close to me.

Sunrise on the first morning – Col Entrelor

So, I arrived in Courmayeur a few days before the race and my luggage arrived too.  Funnily enough, as I hung out with my buddy Wade, going for a short run, grabbing a few last minute things and just hanging out with a coffee in Courmayeur I began to feel more relaxed and sort of accept that this was what it was.  I was going to take on this challenge and whatever happened, happened.  So…we picked up our big yellow drop bags and got our numbers, packed our bags and life was good.  I had met my new friend Claire from Calgary on Facebook…she did the race last year and I spent a few dinners prior to the race sharing laughs with her and her parents, which also helped me to feel relaxed.

As we stood on the start line, in the pouring rain on Sunday morning at 10am listening to a crap load of Italian speeches and having no idea what was going on I didn’t actually feel nervous….I felt like there was no point, it was going to be a long race and I had to take it as it came, there was no other way to go about it.  The race started almost 30 minutes late, which I’m told has never happened before so we stood in the rain for a long time itching to start moving and getting a little chilly.  As the race began, I was with Wade and we didn’t waste any energy trying to run through town, we just hung at the back and took it pretty easy.  The energy in the town was phenomenal, I was almost in tears as it was quite overwhelming and I couldn’t believe my adventure was really starting.  Cowbells were out in fine form, and the town was completely lined with people despite the weather.  I’d have to get used to those cow bells in the days to come, now was as good a time as any!

Stage 1 – Courmayeur to Valgrisenche 48.6km

As we started the first climb, there was a huge bottle neck at the trail head so we hung out and used the bushes and waited patiently.  I’m not sure I could have gone slower on that climb if I wanted to.  There was no point in wasting energy passing people at this point, it was only day one and I knew there was lots of time for that later; I stuck with my plan of not working hard in stage 1.  I spent a lot of time in the first few days with my buddy Wade, it was like we were on a training run, with 600 other people!  I remember cresting the first climb Col Arp and thinking wow, this is spectacular and it’s only the first climb and then on the descent I remember all the Europeans taking off really fast and cutting all the switchbacks, I decided to stick to the trail as it was gentler on my legs and figured I’d be kind to them, I’d need them for awhile.  At the first aid station which was somewhere after the climb I decided I would try some cheese…it was the local Fontina cheese, I was told it was strong, but thought I’d handle it….nope, that was my first and last attempt at cheese for 5 days!!  Can’t believe I survived!  However, they also had dark chocolate which I definitely could stomach for 5 days and I did!   On the way up the next climb would be one of my favorite aid stations of the race….they had so many great things, my favorite being sticks of polenta which I ate and then proceeded to stuff several of them in my empty plastic bag I was carrying, had I known they would never be seen again on the course I would have taken more! We crested the next mountain which was Passo Alto, I remember it being quite steep at the top and then quite a technical rocky downhill for a while, and we worked our way to the next aid station where I was greeted by an amazing volunteer who knew my name!  “Jackie from Canada” she said, and she told me she’d studied the list and knew all the Canadians!  She also served me polenta from a big pot that we could put on crackers….that was the last polenta stop(:  The next mountain Col Crosatie was the most difficult of the 3 climbs in stage 1, it was steep and a bit exposed at times, with a rope to hold onto on sections, I was following 2 french guys who irritated me to no end on this climb as they would not let me pass them and I was freezing cold, it was raining and I couldn’t get by them safely as it was a bit dangerous…such is life, I survived!  The next descent was steep at the top, flattened out for a little while and then had turned into some awesomely muddy switchbacks from the rain we’d been experiencing off and on.  I waited a bit too long to put my headlamp on and almost dumped my pack in a pile of cow dung when I finally decided to put it had gotten a little too dark. the descent wasn’t overly difficult aside from the mud and the fact that there seemed to be a billion of us headed down this climb and I was a bit nervous someone would fall and knock me over or vice versa as people were sliding all over the place.  At the bottom of this climb, you think you’ve made it to Vagrisenche…you head into a little town, people are out cheering with cowbells and it’s kind of exciting….and then you hit the aid station and realize you still have 5km to go!!  These 5km seemed long to me, it was dark, it was mostly flat and mostly seemingly in a ditch, not the most flattering part of the course.  BUT most importantly, I made it through stage 1 unscathed, slowest 50km of my life I think it was 12.5 hours?  Or something like that.  Was soaking wet, changed most of my clothes at the life base, very slowly as I was frozen, ate my first plate of pasta and red sauce, had hooked up with Wade again and headed out into the rainy, cold night with him.

Stage 2 -Valgrisenche to Cogne 53.5km (102.1km)

As we headed up the next mountain in the rain and neared the Refugio Epee, my headlamp batteries were dying and I kind of was too and Wade needed to deal with some taping issues on his feet and said he needed about 15 minutes.  Perfect, I’m going to sleep while you do that…as I was fearful I would fall asleep somewhere and not wake up, this was great, I knew Wade wouldn’t leave me there! I grabbed about 15-20minutes of sleep, awoke feeling great and headed off with Wade over the next mountain Col Fenetre.  I was super happy to have been with Wade at that point, as it was cold, wet and raining and the descent was super steep and muddy in sections and we had to be quite careful.  It was a long decent into the next aid where we both had to fix our feet again as the rain had destroyed our pre-race tape jobs and we had to make sure to stay on top of it in a race this long or blisters could take over and ruin our race!  On the next climb up Col Entrelor, Wade was getting a bit tired and I ended following some other guy up for awhile.  We crested the climb at about 6 or 7am as the sun was coming up and Wade had caught up again by that point, this was a super spectacular climb and a few feet down there was a small little biovac aid station that had obviously been helicoptered in.  We filled our water and down we went…there’s a theme here if you haven’t caught on!  The next decent was long, but beautiful with lots of nice switch backs.  At the next aid station I ran into Missy (a girl I had met before the race). She told me she had just slept for 2 hours and that I should go and sleep there in a comfortable bed.  I just had to tell the woman I wanted to sleep for 2 hours….I didn’t want to sleep for 2 hours, but I was well aware I had a 6000 ft climb coming up, so I thought maybe 1/2 hour would be good. So I told a little white lie and got a comfy bed and blanket (otherwise I’d have to sleep in the tent outside), slept for 30 minutes and up to Col Loson (the highest climb of the race) I went.  This climb is long but pretty gradual for the most part and the views are spectacular the whole way up.  I think I remember getting up there at about 1:30 or so in the afternoon, but I’m a bit foggy on time so I don’t really know.  Wade hadn’t slept, he’d gone straight up the climb, but as I was just about at the top I saw him cresting the top and caught up with him again on the descent into the next aid station which was pretty steep to start with and then we were treated to a beautiful long switchback downhill, it was kind of a fun treat!  I was pretty hungry again by this point and my cliff bars and nut bars weren’t cutting it, this aid station had some really good prosciutto.  So I made myself some prosciutto and cracker sandwiches sat for a few minutes, used a real bathroom and I was off!   Wade stuck around to try to dry his feet out as it was quite nice in the sun at the Refugio Vittorio Sella. I knew I wanted to sleep in Cogne so I thought I’d do my best to work my way down there, so off I went.  As I left, all I could think about was how sore my shoulders and upper back were from carrying my pack…you’d think my legs would be sore…but no, just my shoulders!  Ran into Claire’s parents on the way down on a little hike, was great to see some familiar faces and got into a little town and ran some flats for a few kms into Cogne where I was helped by some very eager volunteers, had lots of pasta with red sauce, chicken and potatoes, checked my phone and had lots of inspirational texts!  Wade came along and we both decided to sleep here.   I had my first real sleep of 2 hours, where my shoulders were super painful!  And then I awoke feeling pretty good, took a seemingly long time to get my crap together and get out of there, but off I finally went, into what was soon to be night!

Stage 3 – Cogne to Donnas 46.6km  (148.7km)

It was a nice evening as I left the Cogne aid station.  Wade told me it would be flat for a bit so I settled into a relaxed pace and enjoyed it for a bit.  I was also warned about the downhill on this stage taking a lot of people out of the race as they go too hard and tire their quads, so I had it in my mind to take it easy.  As I was headed down the road, some random guy was sitting outside his coffee shop making espresso shots for us runners, so I happily had an espresso and off I went!  A few minutes on the flats and guess what…up I went.  Shortly after I ran into a small aid station where there were 2 really friendly old guys, I think I had a coke, just because they were so sweet, and off again.  As I was working my way up the climb, which is not a small climb I finally arrived at Refugio Sogna De Berdze, it was cozy and they had some nice vegetable soup, and some more coffee which was awesome on a cold, dark, night.  As I approached this refugio a girl passed me like I was standing still and I thought “wow, she’s moving really well, good for her, but I’m going to keep this pace right now” and I sat to eat my soup at the refugio I heard her tell them she wanted to bail on the race and that she couldn’t go any further.  They told her she had to get to Donnas as these refugios were in the middle of nowhere and she wouldn’t have a ride out for awhile.  As I left this aid Wade was just arriving which would be the case for every refugio on this stage until he decided to sleep at one of them.  As I left, the girl was with us, I think she was Dutch….so I asked her, why she needed to stop the race and she told me her legs were tired and that she couldn’t even run downhill they were so tired…she was moving well so I was completely baffled!  All I could think was ….didn’t someone tell her it was going to be this hard?  What did she expect?  Anyhow,….I continued to saunter down the hill, there were a bunch of Italian guys with me, sort of…who didn’t seem to speak much English and who seemed to be irritated every time I would go a bit faster…and they seemed to be walking more than running on this stage, so I struggled to figure out how fast I should go on this downhill section to save my legs a bit for later.  I was happy to lose most of them at an aid station so I could just go my own pace for awhile as they weren’t seemingly all that friendly.  There were a few slippery, sections which made it hard to run fast, but I did get into a nice running rhythm a few times which felt quite good!  At one point a kiwi girl and her partner blew past me and we chatted long enough for her to tell me stage 4 is the hardest, I was aware of that…hence saving my legs at the moment, I thought they were likely going too fast, but they finished ahead of me so I guess they got it right!  At the bottom of this climb, people neglected to tell me there was a bit of climbing that I was not mentally prepared for.  I was getting tired, I finished the downhill into Chardonney aid station, I sat to have soup and spilled it on the floor, and had a bit of a moment and then had the worst section EVER!  I from Chardonney to Donnas felt like an eternity, I was extremely tired, and falling asleep standing up and I didn’t want to take caffeine pills because I wanted to sleep soon and then the route took me through these narrow little alleys, through people’s backyards I think and over a big boulder section and then it climbed what felt like the biggest climb and was probably 200ft for all I know…and I bargained with myself that instead of making it to Donnas I could sleep at the next aid station.  I ran and ran on a section of road thinking I was coming into a town…and instead I end up at the Pontboset aid station which was OUTSIDE, had no place to sleep and had no good food!  I almost sat down and cried!  I still had almost 10km to go to a bed, I wanted to die!  I barely remember the run to Donnas from there, I think I sleep walked it.  It went on forever and there were a lot of roads and here was I think my lowest point of the race.  This is where the most people drop.   I understood why.  I felt lost, I could barely function, I thought I would shower, but it was a handheld shower and I was trying not to get my feet what (they were taped) and I gave up.  I did however manage to brush my teeth.  The text messages from my friends were exactly what I needed here.  I thought I would sleep here, I think for 3 hours, but I only managed 1 hour and then thought, hell, it’s daylight might as well get as much of stage 4 done as I can in daylight!  I felt like death,…but I wasn’t going to quit yet because that would only mean I’d have to come back and do this again….and I sure as hell was never going to do that!  My buddy Wade had arrived when I was sleeping and he was sound asleep when I left here and it was the last time I saw him in the race. I was glad we didn’t get to chat here, as I think I would have burst into tears.  He had warned me that this moment  would come!

Stage 4 – Donnas to Gressoney 51.6km (200.3km)

Stage 4 is known as the hardest and most relentless stage.  The stage I dreaded the most, although I was sort of strangely excited to challenge it and get it done.   It was hot, and when I was at my lowest in Donnas I for some reason thought it was not a good idea to change back into my pink shirt because it was wet and it smelled like the new bag it was in…didn’t cross my mind that it would dry in 30 seconds in the heat…and then smell like me (fresh as a daisy, afterall it was only day 3).  But no, I headed out in black from head to toe at about 9am in the hot sun, it wouldn’t matter in a few hours.  Heading out of Donnas, as I was leaving town, I was greeted by the Devil…seriously, there he was, he gave me some really fine chocolate and walked me to the bridge and let me head off to hell on my own!  Hell began with the dreaded cough that I’d heard so much about, I coughed most of my way up the first hill until I settled into a place and the cough took a break until I slept again.  This section was quite nice, it’s very, very old and very steep  and there are something like 2km of stairs, its kind of like doing the grouse grind for hours…with more views.  We eventually arrived at the Perloz aid station which I thought was one of the cutest aid stations, we had to go through some cool alley ways to get there.  I had a banana and some really amazing sweet bread thing that I wished I’d taken a handful of!  And then I just continued to climb up and up, and up some more, and when I thought I couldn’t possibly climb any slower, I’d find myself passing people so I’d assume I was okay.  Somewhere in this section and very nice old man found me, he was crewing for his son I believe and he offered me some water and some chocolate out of the back of his car, he spoke great English so we chatted a bit and then I was off!  I stopped briefly at Sassa, had a chat and some food and then off to Coda.  At Coda, I had some soup and was on my way to Lago Vargno.  There was a surprise aid station shortly after Coda, with some super friendly people and  some potato chips and some kind of fruit cobbler that was like crack, so good!  It was a nice run down to Lago Vargno and the lake was quite beautiful, and there we had pasta made for us by this cute little italian lady, probably one of the better pastas I had along the way.  It would be 14km from here to Niel, which was the next place we could sleep, there were a few small mountains in the way.  I tackled them with my Romanian buddy whose name I don’t even know, I spoke no Romanian and he spoke no English but we ran the next section together and if it wasn’t for him, I may have sat down and cried on the downhill into the Niel refugio.  This section out of Lago Vargno began with a long forest service like road and then we headed up Col Marmontana and then the descent and pretty much the rest of the route to Niel was pretty rocky, and it seemed never ending.  It turned night, it felt super cold and there were a few small emergency aid stations that but we didn’t stop too long at for that reason.  Descending into Niel was super fun at first and then it just dragged on and on like a bad dream constantly thinking your there, but you weren’t!  I almost sat down and cried…but it was too cold!  Finally we arrived.  I always ate before sleeping so I ordered some pasta and polenta, but I settled for pasta as the polenta never came…I sat for a few minutes and when I was ready to sleep the guy told me there was room in the tent outside…I nearly died, I needed sleep but outside in the tent, REALLY?!  And then, a woman came up the stairs and told me that my friend had saved me a space in the bed downstairs….I had the best 2 hour sleep EVER, and a real bathroom, it was heaven!  When I awoke, my buddy waited for me again, and we headed up the last climb Col Lassoney together which didn’t seem bad in the dark.  I was climbing faster than my friend so once again, I pulled him up the hill and he led me down, it was good team work….with not a lot of talk… the downhill was pretty nice and mostly runnable to Gressoney!  Stage 4 Done!  At Gressoney I didn’t stay too long, I didn’t think I needed to sleep, I lost my Romanian buddy as he went to sleep, I ate some pasta and yogurt and banana, perfect meal at 6:30am and I was on my way.

Stage 5 – Gressoney to Valtournenche 36km (236.3km)

It was a chilly but nice morning, and a pretty flat start.  I’d taken most of my layers of and faffed for at least what felt like 10-15 minutes on the trail as I got going because something was digging into my back and then I had to run to the woods to use the bathroom, and then I kicking myself in the butt for not just staying a few more minutes at Gressoney to deal with all this crap!  Anyhow, onwards I went, in a slow jog/walk, realizing I was pretty damn tired.  As per usual the flat didn’t last too long and upwards we went toward Alpenzu which I was told had some great coffee.  As I began the climb I ran into a guy going back to Gressoney, when I asked he said he hadn’t eaten in 20 hours so he had to drop.  Well, I was tired but still eating…so onwards and upwards.  I was moving pretty slowly, had to keep stopping to check out the scenery and remind myself why I was here and there was a lot of self talk in this section “you’re okay, one foot in front of the other, look around you, you’re still alive, keep moving”…there may have even been a little Gloria Estefan echoing in my mind.  However, when I got to Alpenzu I felt barely conscious so I told the woman I needed to sleep and layed my sorry head down on the table in the little coffee shop, set my alarm for 20 minutes, woke up, ordered an americano downed with  some cobbler and I was off, feeling fresh again for a few hours.  I reached the peak of Col Pinter, where there was a kind man who offered to take my photo….one of the only photos I have of myself.  After a pretty technical section of downhill was a pretty nice runnable downhill section leading into a few of the next aid stations. They seemed pretty random, one was a restaurant, and you could order pasta and pay but they also had a huge buffet of stuff including some orzo pasta salad, a which was a nice break from pasta and sauce.  The next section leading to Saint Jacques was a bit of a blur as I began to get pretty tired and there was a bit more uphill than I was feeling up for in this section as it felt runnable but I didn’t feel like running it.  Finally I made it to Saint Jacques which everyone said had great food…but not when I was there, I was excited by nothing at the food table, but I did have a bed to sleep in for 20 minutes, so that I settled for that.  As I started back out again, I didn’t quite feel refreshed and questioned whether I should have slept a bit longer…but I began to get some energy back as I climbed and made it to the Grand Tournalin refugio without needing to lie down on the trail.  I had a snack there and asked about the next section as it was looking pretty windy and this dude who had done the race before told me the section was a technical climb and a really technical downhill, so off I went to get it done and was so pleasantly surprised!  I headed out hoping to catch up to some people in front of me so I’d have company.  I did eventually catch up, but the climb was great, nothing too scary and the descent was a super pleasant really beautiful and runnable section, I think the guy was on crack!  I ran all the way to Valtournenche and had a great time doing it (it’s all relative after 200km).  I arrived just before dark and I planned to have my longest sleep here, 3 hours so I could hopefully make it through the last 100k.   So I ate, enjoyed some text messages, and met my new friend James and we decided to run the next section together when we awoke from our luxury nap!

Stage 6 – Valtournenche to Ollomont 47.2km (283.5km)

This stage began with a climb in the dark up to the Barmasse Refugio, it was dark, I remember seeing cows and being in a field, but that’s about it.  We climbed up to Fenetre du Tsan,which I don’t know if I remember much, and then to a few refugios one that I think was so hot inside I couldn’t stand it.  Somewhere in this section my American friend Missy and her husband came by and said they had just had a 5 hour nap…seemed luxury, but I can’t say I wasn’t somewhat jealous.  There were a few pretty treacherous downhills on this section that I can’t say were my favorite, especially in the dark….I slid and fell and couple times…ALWAYS thinking about falling on my butt and not over the edge!  We began to get pretty tired so when it was close to morning and we arrived at the Cuney refugio we decided it was nap time for 1/2 hour.  James hadn’t done a 1/2 hour nap yet and thought my short naps could be brilliant…however, he didn’t want to wake up after 1/2 hour so it turned into an hour.  We ordered some pasta, you had to buy it at this place, 5 euros.  I could barely eat mine, my stomach was off pasta and red sauce, but James downed his and off we went.  At the next refugio which was a super small mountain hut there I wish I’d taken a photo. There was an old italian mountain man sitting at table full of food with a cutting board of meat, it was a tiny, tiny room, and there was this huge half potato on the table, which I grabbed and slowly ate like it was the last potato I was ever going to eat….it was the most delicious potato ever!  We climbed up Col Vessonaz and then after a super steep bit, enjoyed a beautiful, runnable descent down to Oyace.  At Oyace, we asked what they had to eat…Lasagna, the woman said.  Well, we thought we had died and gone to heaven, we downed our lasagna like it was the last thing we’d ever eat (there’s a theme here) and then like gluttons asked for seconds and she brought them!  We then had to climb up a mountain!  It was painful and slow but so worth it,….I knew that Lasagna the pain of this hill climb later.  This climb out of Oyace didn’t look very big, it was only up to 2492 meters….but man, it felt big!  We slowly made our way over the climb and were treated to a super steep downhill and at this point the soles of our feet and toes, were sooooo sore every time we went downhill, the steeper it was the more it hurt.  So, it made for a very painful descent into Ollomont, which seemed to take absolutely forever, down this really boring forest service road for quite awhile.  We finally hit Ollomont, the very last life base, the last time we would see our big yellow bag til the finish.  I think it was about 6pm as it was still light out.  We decided to have a bite to eat and then sleep.  More pasta and red sauce…with some chicken.  The beds in this life base were outside in a large tent…so not so warm and not so enticing to stay.  We slept 2 hours and James wanted to sleep longer, but I insisted there was no way I was staying as it was cold and I needed to keep moving.   James, in his yellow bag had stashed a Chicken tikka camping meal…so just before heading out, we added the water and shared the meal….curry never tasted so good, you’d have thought I was at Vij’s restaurant or in heaven….and we were off into the night on the last stage!

Stage 7 – Ollomont to Courmayeur 48.8km (332.3km)

Off we went into the night climbing up Col Champillon, it was a fairly steep climb if I remember correctly and when we got to the refugio I ate a banana and a woman there told us it would be 20 minute climb to the top and 20 minutes to the aid station….sweet I thought. Probably be at the next aid in an our to an hour 20…assuming she was underestimating the time as Italians tend to do.  She was correct, it was 20 minutes to the top.  AND then it was a really frustrating hour and 40 minutes down, because I kept thinking it must be just around the corner and nope….it was down the mountain and up a logging road and it went on and on and on….I was not in a good place at that point, just wished she hadn’t said anything at all so I’d have had no expectations and been pleased to see a refugio whenever it popped up!  Nonetheless we found it, we had a quick coffee and some crackers and this is the aid station that everyone else tells me they had steak….but let me tell you they must not have liked us as there was nooooo sign of steak anywhere to be found.  BUT they did tell us it would be 1 hour to St. Rhemy, and that was her slooooow running…..right!  I took her guesstimate with a grain of salt….and off we went, cruising down probably the longest flat/slight downhill section of the course.  It was kind of a forest service road like trail.  We ran most of it until James got reallllllly frustrated and was cursing the race volunteers and the race for not giving volunteers proper information.  Can you tell we hadn’t slept in 5 days?  I think I reminded him that there was no point wasting energy being mad…we just had to run and get to the next town.   We eventually made it to a sign that read “St. Rhemy -50 minutes”….well James was not happy about this, nor was I but what could we do but keep moving forward.  Finally we descended into St. Rhemy where I didn’t really want to stop aside from some food as I was pretty hungry yet again. We had some camping Chili with us from Jame’s drop bag, so we added water and shared a bit.  James really wanted to sleep and I wasn’t so keen on the sleep as I thought we could make the top 100 (I knew we were close), but I was also not keen on doing the last climb alone as I heard it could be dangerous…so we compromised and slept for 30-45 minutes.  There were a lot of people sleeping there as it was most people’s last rest before the end.  Out of St. Rhemy, it was a gradual climb up Col Malatra with a refugio about 20-30 minutes from the top.  James was still falling asleep on this climb and I was giving him caffeine pills to try to keep him awake.  It was quite cold and we could feel the ice/hoar frost crunching under our feet as we climbed.  We reached the refugio just as the sun was starting to come up, headed in for some bread, nutella and coffee and it was off to the top.  The sun was rising, it was pretty amazing, it freeeezing, I had to put my ski mitts on over my gloves….and then I saw the top….it was a clear day and there was a big chain to hold onto if you needed going up the last 50 meters or so of the climb.  I didn’t really need to hold onto it, I was in tears on the way up, not from fear but from disbelief that this was it, the last climb I was going to make it to the end of this thing…..it was really going to happen!  The views for all of the race are the most spectacular I’ve ever seen but cresting this climb at sunrise, was one of the most phenomenal views I’ve ever seen.  At the top of the climb we were greeted by a safety guy, who took some photos for us, but you go through this little notch and all of sudden Mont Blanc is right smack, in your face.  He told us it was 4 hours to the finish (we’ll see about that I thought).  There was not a cloud in the sky, it was incredible.  We ran down the valley with these incredible snow capped mountains in our face. I felt like I was about the size of an ant. I’m not sure I have ever felt so completely alive, it was ridiculous and I was in awe that after 5 days we were running down this mountain like it was any other day, in fact it felt faster.  We ran, and we ran and we ran down this valley. We stopped at the Bonatti aid station which was a weird outdoor biovac outside of a nice refugio that wouldn’t let us in unless we paid.  I just wanted to use the bathroom!  Oh well…I peeled off my layers although it was still a bit chilly, and cracked the whip as poor James was chatting…I was on a mission for real food and a shower!  We ran and ran, the trail was somewhat flat, a bit uphill, a bit windy but we kept running and eventually hit the last aid Bertoni, checked in and downhill to the finish it was.  I have never in my life descended a technical downhill so fast, I don’t know what came over me but James was ahead and then he stopped or slowed for a second and I was off.  It was about 45 minutes to the finish I think…not really sure, but we hit the road section and gunned it some more til we finally hit the town and THE RED CARPET.  It was a Friday morning at 11am, not a jam packed finish line, but enough for 2 tired runners. I was extremely teary eyed but too tired to really cry!  We crossed the line, they told me I was 9th woman, we posed for some photos, they gave us a beer told me and then we shuttled off!  I finished 9th woman, 4th in my age category, and 110th overall, which was not in the plan, but I’ll take it!

It’s was totally surreal that we actually finished and I still think I’m still in shock 2 months later….but one of the most amazing experiences of my life and…I now understand why my friends Bruce and Wade have gone back to do it more than once…as I do want to do it again. It’s truly amazing what you can do if you put your mind to it and train a bit!

A big thank you to Kintec and North Shore Athletics for helping me out with all my gear, Ellie Greenwood for all her support, Wade Repta for practically being my trainer and Andree Mathieu Repta for letting him be my trail husband.  Also a big thank you to everyone else who put up with my neuroticism all summer!

Jackie Muir
Kintec Race Team

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