Saturday, July 14, 2012

It Ain't About How Hard You Hit - TVSB 2012 race report



A 3-YEAR MISSION

For three years I've been training hard like Rocky with my Eye of the Tiger focused on Trail Verbier St-Bernard. From day one my goal has been to finish the longest 110 km 'La Boucle' course of the event. In hindsight it might have been better to run the 61 km 'Traversee' first...


A thunderstorm at the highest point of the course brutally forced me to abandon my first attempt in 2010 in Bourg St. Pierre (76 km). I lasted only 15 hours before the steep mountains of Valais spitted me out. And this was supposed to be the sunniest part of Switzerland!

The organizers always give out nice surprise gifts - this year it was this water bottle belt. 
In 2011 I tried again. I realized there was no easy way out with this race. I trained even harder and got injured. I started the race anyway, but decided to call it a day at Cabane Mille alpine hut (89 km). The temperatures were lower than expected at night, and when the northern wind started blowing I was done. I lasted 22 hours before breaking like an ice cube in a blender.

The huge 110 liter drop bag was big enough to serve as a bodybag - for those not able to survive this brutal race.
At that point I almost gave up. It seemed like no matter how hard I trained, I was doomed to fail. Clearly something in my approach wasn't working. For this year I changed pretty much everything and decided to go for one more round.


IT AIN'T ABOUT HOW HARD YA HIT!
 

I studied Rocky further, trying to find the secret of success. This is what I found.
"Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place and I don't care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. Then the time come for you to be your own man and take on the world, and you did. But somewhere along the line, you changed. You stopped being you. You let people stick a finger in your face and tell you you're no good. And when things got hard, you started looking for something to blame, like a big shadow. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done! Now if you know what you're worth then go out and get what you're worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain't where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain't you! You're better than that!"

THE SEVEN DEADLY HILLS

The 110 race course loop is in reality about 113 km (70 miles) and accumulates 7K of climbing and 7K of descending.  There are 7 major peaks along the way - I call them affectionately the Seven Deadly Hills:
  1. Pierre Avoi (2,400 m)
  2. Col du Lin (1,668 m)
  3. Champex (1,473 m)
  4. Col de Fenêtre (2,698 m)
  5. Col des Chevaux (2,714 m)
  6. Col de Mille (2,480 m)
  7. La Chaux (2,200 m)
The bib upside down conveniently reveals the course profile and emergency phone. Good thinking!

My first attempt was good enough to conquer 5 of these. The second time around I managed to do 6. And this time? Yes, I did all 7! Wow, I still can't believe it! It was amazing!

Mission accomplished! After three years, I can't believe it's true at last.
It took me 27 hours, 54 minutes and 53 seconds to finish. I was 143rd overall and 31st in M50 age category. There were 171 finishers within the 31h cutoff. 57% of the 304 starters finished.

Legendary ultrarunner Rob Apple enjoying one of the flatter sections of the TVSB course.
I was glad to notice that the famous Rob Apple (well famous for an ultrarunner anyway) was among us long course runners - and finishers. This crazy dude had finished TNF Lavaredo Ultra Trail (120 km) just a week before this race! And he is in the same age category as me. I wish I knew how he does it.

Over 300 started. Roland Ecuyer (M60) was the last finisher in 30:11. Victor Hugo Docarmo won M70 with a fast time 22:36. Emmanuel Gault of France run away from everyone else with 14:05 finish. Florence Golay-Geymond, another Frenchman, was the first woman in 20:58. Good job!


HIGHLIGHTS OF THE ADVENTURE

First sunrise on Pierre Avoi.

Same thing from a different angle.

Instead of trying to write Born To Run 2, why don't you just let me simply list the highlights of this fabulous adventure:
  • Seeing an Alpine ibex herd with a little baby ibex - they crossed my path above 2000 meters just in front of me with great speed and then proceeded to climb a vertical wall with magnificent agility!
  • The sunrise on Pierre Avoi an hour after the 5am start - perfect weather!
  • Enjoying the famous home-baked cakes with coffee for breakfast at Levron aid station! 
  • Stopping by at a family house in Praz-de-Fort (population 258), where the kids had set up their own aid station offering cold water and chocolate! 
  • Lac de Fenêtre lake area - marvelling at the scenery, I forgot to follow the marked route for a moment, and two kids climbing a rock wall shouted and pointed me to the right direction!
  • Meeting the Finnish volunteers at the Grand Col St Bernard aid station once again! 
  • Chatting with Omar from Texas at the huge aid station in Bourg St Pierre and discovering that we both had cured our long-lasting plantar fasciitis last year with Hoka shoes! 
  • The sunset after leaving Bourg St Pierre - still perfect weather!
  • The wonderful crew at Cabane Mille aid station - I'll never forget how they let me taste the special secret chocolate cake reserved only for the crew, and then performed a funny dance while I was eating it! Only up there you can have your cake and eat it too!  
  • The starry sky and then the bright moonrise at night - I mistook it first as the most powerful LED light ever! 
  • The second sunrise while climbing up the steep La Chaux - knowing there were less than 10K to go, feeling good, and foolishly thinking about finishing really soon!
  • Running for cover to the last aid station on top of La Chaux in heavy rain, while watching the trails turn into an unrunnable mudfest - and wondering if finishing the final 6K would still be possible without falling down and within the remaining 5 hours!   
My personal CP times (1st column=time of day, 2nd=race time) and general classification. 

WHAT WORKED LIKE A CHARM

Half-way. This is on the Italian side of the border, before Grand Col St-Bernard.
  • Raidlight Bamboo-Dry short tights - cool enough to run in the hot valleys (it's always hot in the valleys).
  • Raidlight Olmo 20L backpack - lightweight racepack designed by Marco Olmo.
  • Mountain King TrailBlazer lightweight foldable aluminum poles - I really wonder why they haven't broken yet, considering what I've put them through.
  • Hoka One One Stinson Evo shoes - my favorite model of my favorite trail running shoe.
  • Antiseptic wipes & waterproof bandaids - to take care of blisters and scratches before they become a real problem. It took some time, but better be safe than sorry.
  • Coconut water, better than any sportsdrink - before the race, in La Fouly (dropbag), and after the race.
  • SiS Go gels - can't beat isotonic gels, meaning they can be taken without water. Before the race I emptied about 20x60ml gels into two plastic bottles that fit in the front pockets of my pack. I took one bottle with me for the start and left the other one in the drop bag. It worked very well.
  • Instant coffee is the new coke - I put a spoonful or two of coffee powder in my plastic cup (obligatory gear) and poured on hot water and cold mineral water. I don't think all runners realized this was available at aid stations. Worked very well especially at night.
  • The weather - this was the best Alpine weather I've seen, and we were so lucky to be in the southwest corner of Switzerland, as during the same weekend in the southeast they had to cancel the Swiss Irontrail events due to bad weather.
  • OMM Kamleika jacket - not perfect, but the best trail running rain/wind jacket I've found. It's always windy at night when climbing up towards Cabane Mille.
  • The volunteers - as always, the volunteers were the backbone of the event. Thank you!  

WHAT SUCKED BIG TIME

Finish line in sight! After the heavy rain that ruined the final 6K.
  • Suunto Ambit GPS, in battery saving mode (recording every 60s) - with the latest firmware (1.5) update installed, I hoped it would be accurate, but by La Fouly the distance measurement was already several km off, so I decided to leave the watch in my drop bag. A piece of junk!  
  • My left knee, it started to hurt in downhills after 20 km - might be a medial bursitis or whatever, I had to just ignore the pain and focus on putting one positive thought in front of the other to get this done. 
  • Clif Shot Gels, Citrus + Caffeine flavor - I carried a lot of these, but managed to eat only a couple of them. Not really sure what happened, as they seemed to be ok in training. Maybe I should try another flavor in the future.
  • My French language skills - unfortunately it seems that when you are on a mission, those parts of the brain that handle uncritical pursuits like foreign languages will completely shut off. I could speak English well as that's the language I like best, but that won't get one very far in this event.
  • The heavy rain at the last checkpoint - this ruined all the trails for the last 6K for me and greatly delayed my finish. I should have finished before the rain of course, but I wanted to go superslow and -safe, not giving falling down or injuries any chance. I guess we were lucky that it didn't rain earlier, but I wasn't too delighted for this minor annoyance.
This top quality Columbia Omni-Heat longsleeve FINISHER shirt made it all worthwhile!

9 UTMB POINTS IN 4 MONTHS!

This year has been incredibly successful for me. Measured with UTMB points, the 2010-11 earned me only 2 UTMB points altogether. In 2012, I have already collected 9 UTMB points from 3 races in just about 4 months.

As 2013 UTMB lottery will require 7 points, I already have more than enough qualification points.

I'll race CCC in August/September anyway, just for fun and to get familiar with Chamonix and the last 100 km of the UTMB course. See you there!


4 comments:

Will said...

that is a great post...congrats on a strong effort! sounds like an amazing course, reminds me of what is yet to come at UTMB. I love the Rocky quotes.

Trail Plodder said...

Thanks Will, I'm looking forward to seeing you finish UTMB in Chamonix. It's only 7 weeks away!

Craig Smith said...

Nice work! Very impressed with your tenacity at TVSB, that climb up to Lac/Col de Fenetre was brutal.

Trail Plodder said...

Thanks Craig! Where were you - don't you want to have fun the Swiss way anymore?

For some weird reason I've always enjoyed the Fenêtre experience. The last climb up La Chaux felt much steeper.