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Or My Squamish 50 Miler Race Report

When you register for a race, what exactly do you expect to get for your money and your time? This is the question that I mulled over for most of the day while recently running the 50 mile event of the Squamish 50. I suppose that most of us simply want the opportunity to run the proposed distance without getting lost and to receive some nutrition and water along the way. But races and race directors vary greatly in their visions of a well-executed event.

At the 50 mile start line with JP. We both look relaxed and confident about the day ahead.

At the 50 mile start line with JP. We both look relaxed and confident about the day ahead.

To me, the ultimate goal of completing the distance is entirely up to me. Over the years, I have learned (the hard way) to be self-sufficient and I generally have very few needs out on the course. I carry my own food, resupply with my drop bag, if provided, and simply require water at aid stations. Towards the end of a race, I browse the food tables and often take a potato or a cup of coke. I know that I am not in the norm here and my approach may be considered to be ‘old school’. These days, ultrarunners have higher expectations for their race entry dollar and expect support more consistent with marathon road running. Many racers rely heavily on race-day support, which now allows them to run without a water bottle or extra gear, and RDs have had to step up to meet those expectations.

The Squamish 50 Races provide everything imaginable for the racers of their four distances (50 mile, 50 km, 23 km and Kid’s Run). There was no aspect of running that wasn’t anticipated and indulged. This made for a smooth event with many happy customers. It is a race for The People. Here are a few examples of the unexpected luxuries that the race committee provided:

multi-event race weekend – Having four separate distances spread over the weekend encourages family and friends to get involved in an event that appeals to them as well as being a spectator. It also allows for the 50/50 event which has racers running 50 miles on Saturday and 50 km on Sunday – a beast of a challenge! The town of Squamish seemed to be involved in the races in some way, making it a strong community event.

tough and challenging – The 50 mile route surely lived up to its reputation as a challenging course. Do not underestimate those 11 000 ft of climbing, much of which falls after mile 35. The last 30 km will spank you if you aren’t careful.

The big climb of the day wasn't so bad. It was the long, long descent that seemed to take a toll on me. Here I am at 53 km, enjoying a cup of soup and changing one sock!

The big climb of the day wasn’t so bad. It was the long, long descent that seemed to take a toll on me. Here I am at 53 km, enjoying a cup of soup, changing one sock, cooling my head with a cold sponge and prepping for possible spanking in the last third.

a showcase of natural beauty – The race route had us twisting and turning through valleys, lakes and mountains, revealing vistas, trails and mountain views in every possible direction with barely any pavement throughout the route.

Look at the views from Quest University (AS #5)! There are beautiful views at every turn.

Look at the views from Quest University (AS #5)! It almost makes me want to be a student again. (Ha!) There are beautiful views at every turn.

technical trails – The trails chosen for this race are stunningly beautiful tracks which are mostly used by the local mountain bikers. The ladder bridges, boardwalks and logs make for exciting running and those steep, rocky, sheering descents will make you into either a kamikaze or a pansy. I definitely fell into the kamikaze camp, hollering out a few primal screams during gnarly plunges. With awesome trail names, like The Panty Line, Angry Midget, Seven Stitches, Mountain of Phlegm, Mid-Life Crisis and Entrails, you know that those trail builders have a great sense of humor and a tendency towards sado-masochism!

Flying down one of the aforementioned trails and trying to keep only two points of contact!

Flying down one of the aforementioned trails and trying to keep only two points of contact! (photo courtesy of Brian McCurdy Photography)

course markings – With flagging ribbon and surveyor flags always in sight, there was never any question about the route. At any given time, you could see 2 or 3 markers! I heard that they abide by a ’20 paces’ rule, making it possible to run without ever studying a course map. (A bit like a lighted runway at times)

Here's the elevation profile according to Strava. The back third was tough! In the pace profile, you can see the two places where I sat down at aid stations.

Here’s the elevation profile according to Strava. The back third was tough! In the pace profile, you can see the two places where I sat down at aid stations. Phew!

remote volunteers – Over and over, I was surprised to find course marshals WAY OUT in the middle of nowhere, sitting in a folding chair, reading a magazine or noting race numbers. Just when you think you are all alone in some remote corner of the forest, a smiling face greets you with some encouraging words and sends you on your way. The obvious upside is that oftentimes you have finally reached a seemingly endless summit and are about to rip it up downhill.

experienced aid station crews -When I arrived at aid station #7 (70 km), I was feeling the cumulative effects of ‘racing’ and the afternoon heat. The aid station crew recognized my deficit at a glance and efficiently dealt with me, encouraging me to finish a full bottle of water, eat some potatoes and take a salt tablet. Taking less than 10 minutes to steer me onwards, they made a world of difference to the remainder of my race. I learned afterwards that they are all experienced runners from a running club – exactly what racers need at that point of a race.

I sat on this cooler and followed AS #7 advice, had a cold sponge bath and headed out, feeling refreshed and ready to attack those last climbs.

I sat on this cooler, followed the wise AS #7 advice, had a cold sponge bath and headed out, feeling refreshed and ready to attack those last climbs.

gluten free options – Aid station food even took to heart the dietary restrictions of some racers

photographers – There were photographers all over the course. I came to realize that seeing someone with a fancy camera did not, in any way, mean that an aid station was close by. These photographers hiked into the most remote and picturesque places to catch our day in digital. I have admired the artistry in previous years’ photos and this year’s installment continues that tradition. (Brian McCurdy Photography)

I was greeted with a hug at the finish line by RD Gary - as he does for every single runner during the weekend.

I was greeted with a hug at the finish line by RD Gary – as he does for every single runner during the weekend.

Gary and I share a moment as I tell him what a fantastic and challenging race he and his committee have created. 90 minutes longer than my STORMY 2011 time!

Gary and I share a moment at the finish line as I tell him what a fantastic and challenging race he and his committee have created. This race took 90 minutes longer than my STORMY 50 mile time in 2009 on the same trail system! (photo credit: Brian McCurdy Photography)

beer garden – Howe Sound Brewing had a beer garden set up at the finish line, serving two styles of beer. It was the icing on the cake and I spent much of Sunday ‘cheering’ racers as they crossed the line.

After finishing the 50/50, JP made a beeline for the finish line beer garden and is seen here enjoying a well-earned Super Jupiter ISA.

After finishing the 50/50, JP made a beeline for the finish line beer garden and is seen here wearing his awesome trucker hat and enjoying a well-earned Super Jupiter Grapefruit ISA.

Overall, my day was a huge success and I am pleased with the outcome. The beauty of Squamish is beyond compare (except, of course, for the Comox Valley!) and the trail system is phenomenal. Personally, I prefer races which provide less in the way of markings, support and supplies, requiring more mental strategy to arrive at the finish line.  I like vague distance estimations and the feeling of uncertainty as I wonder if I am still on course. But I am probably in the minority here. Most racers seem to want a guarantee that the finish line is within their grasp as long as they put in their training miles. They like the idea that race day is only about running, since all other factors will be managed by The Race.

In either case, this event was challenging and therefore satisfying. Despite the difficulty of the course, it would be a great race for someone wanting to try a new distance since every need has been anticipated. It is indeed exactly what The People want!

Finish time – 11:24:52

44/160 finishers; 8/57 women; 2/13 40-49 age group

(OR My San Diego 100 Miler Race Report)

Dear Scotty,

Thank you so much for all the behind-the-scenes and in-front-of-the-crowd work that you do for the San Diego 100. My day was flawless.

Package Pick Up - already getting loaded down with schwag!

Package Pick Up – already getting loaded down with schwag!

Thanks to your pre-race runner emails and the super-informative website, I arrived at the start line feeling ready for the adventure ahead of me. I didn’t feel nervous or jittery but simply ready to place my trust in your volunteers so that I could enjoy the day.

The sun rose just before the 6:00 am start.

The sun rose just before the 6:00 am start.

I'm looking pretty wide-eyed here at the start as B looks relaxed and ready.

I’m looking pretty wide-eyed here at the start as B looks relaxed and ready.

The aid stations were so well-stocked with great nibblies, real food and experienced volunteers. Every time I arrived at one, it felt like a Pit Crew took care of my every need and got me moving on in no time flat. One volunteer let me wipe my sunscreen-burning eyes on her t-shirt. Another found me a towel and clean water so that I could rub the grit and salt off my face. And yet another one ran off to her car to fetch me her personal set of nail clippers when I had a troublesome toenail! The lengths that people went to help me through my day were countless.

Heading out of Paso Piccacho 1 and up towards Stonewall Peak. There are muscles here I never knew about!

Here I am heading out of Paso Picacho 1 and up towards Stonewall Peak. There are muscles here I never knew about!

The course was spectacular. I loved climbing along the PCT, thinking of our friends GnG who are currently thru-hiking, and gazing out across the bleak desert. We simply don’t get vistas like that up here in the North where thick tree canopy obscures most views and we don’t have many deserts to speak of. Despite being a ‘cool race day’, the heat on those exposed ridges tested me. I felt myself wilting as I climbed up towards Todd’s Cabin (40 miles), a combination of the mid-afternoon heat and the 6000 ft elevation both taking their toll on my body.

B flies along open grassland in the early stages of the course.

B flies along open grassland in the early stages of the course. These open sections were hot in the heat of the afternoon.

But, at that point, my suffering ended. Upon leaving Todd’s Cabin, I entered the most beautiful section of the course. From Todd’s Cabin to Red Tail Roost to Meadows and back to Penny Pines 2, I enjoyed every step. Somehow that sweet downhill came as a surprise and I loved flowing through the oaks and pines. I was lucky enough to run down Noble Canyon in the daylight and actually enjoyed the long hike back up in the cool evening air. I loved seeing the headlamps shining across canyons, trying to figure out if those folks were ahead or behind, close or far away. I never did figure it out.

Through the night, I cruised almost effortlessly. Having always been fearful of running through the night, I have steered away from the 100 mile distance. But, here I was, cool, refreshed and strong, picking off numerous runners and their pacers all night long. I awaited moonrise and admired the endless star-scape. And around 4:30 am, just before arriving at Paso Picacho 2 (93 miles), I witnessed the song of early-rising birds who began singing long before the sun hinted in the east. Glorious!

The course markings were perfect. During the day, I never searched for a ribbon and the route felt very straight-forward. Through the night, with far fewer reflective ribbons, there were a few instances where I questioned the way and one place where I pulled out my copy of the turn-by-turn descriptions to double check. But I personally prefer a less-marked course. Route-finding is part of the challenge and it sure kept me both occupied and focused!

I loved how you greeted each runner as they crossed the finish line, handed out their awards and then catered to their needs. Never before has an RD offered me a chair, taken my photo and then brought me recovery drinks! This personal touch was wonderful to receive and even better to watch from the sidelines. It felt like you knew each and every runner – as if you had put on a race for your 270 closest friends. It shows a true dedication on your part to share in the success of each finisher and I am touched to have been counted among them.

Finished! B and I were near each other all day but purposefully ran our own races. Here, we are catching up on trail tales at the finish line.

Finished! B and I were near each other all day but purposefully ran our own races. Here, we are catching up on trail tales at the finish line.

Bruce and I managed to travel to the race with only carry-on baggage, but not so on the return! We had so much schwag between us that we were able to fill a third bag which had to be checked. I have never seen so many goodies handed out at a race! And these goodies are supreme! You truly spoiled us. I love the green theme (tech t-shirt, finisher hoodie, shoe bag and shoulder bag) and we have both affixed our SD and 100.2 stickers to various cars, tool boxes, computers, etc. My third place Open Women award (which is truly gorgeous!) and our two San Diego Solo Division buckles have been proudly added to our ever-growing collection, on display for all to see.

A finisher gets all of this schwag and more. We also got Injinji socks, a show bag, recovery powder, a buff, etc, etc.

A finisher earns one of the buckles, all of this schwag and more. We also got a technical t-shirt, Injinji socks, a shoe bag, some recovery powder, a buff, etc, etc.  We each earned the Solo buckle at the bottom of the picture.

I have already begun singing the praises of your event and will continue to do so. Having never tried the distance before, I came in with humble hopes of finishing. My results on race day astounded me. Although I trained hard (and scared), I think I can credit you and the incredible race organization for my end result.

Thank you for all that you, Jean, the race committee and all the volunteers do for the race. I am so proud to have tried and succeeded.

With gratitude from the depth of my heart and the soles of my feet!

Martha

This was my first 100 miler attempt. I finished in 24 hours 42 minutes and placed second in the female Solo Division (no crew; no pacer). I was 4th woman overall and 3rd in the Open Women category.

At this same race, Bruce completed his 22nd 100 mile race, his second SD100 and also earned a Solo Division buckle despite his severe knee injury.

SD100

Here are my race stats. Talk about coming from behind!

Ollomont to Courmayeur – 48.8 km (332.3 km total)

(Click here to go to Section #1 of our 332.3 km TDG adventure)

Section #7 - Ollomont to Courmayeur

Section #7 – Ollomont to Courmayeur

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

One thing that struck me during the next climb, up to Col Champillon, was a comment that Bruce had made several days earlier in section #2. He had said that he admired the way that the Italian people embraced the outdoors. When we arrived at the rifugio nestled just below the Champillon pass around lunch time, we found it packed to the rafters with families who were out for a day hike. The Italian people, both young and old, adore their mountains and spend their spare time exploring them, enjoying the beauty of their country. As they watched us refuel before heading up the trail, their comments were only supportive and encouraging. There was no sentiment of “You are crazy” or “I could never do that” among these folks; none of the sentiments of disbelief that usually greet us at home. Instead they were proud that their mountains were being scaled by an international crowd. I was suddenly aware at the relief I felt at not having to justify my love of the mountains. Here, this pursuit was normal.

As we began to descend, my knee felt great for the first few switchbacks. But, all of a sudden, the knife pain to which I had become accustomed was now on the other side of my patella. The fancy blue taping that had been applied in Ollomont was overcorrecting my knee and causing new and more excruciating pain on the outside of my kneecap. I stopped a few switchbacks later and ripped off all the blue tape, balled it up and stuffed it up my pant leg. The pain was still extreme, bringing tears to my eyes. At one point, I told Bruce that these tears were not to garner sympathy. These tears were because my pain was at 9 out of 10.

After the long, steep descent and huge, rocky steps eased, we dropped down to a rifugio and could finally see the dual accordions that we had been hearing during the descent. As well as the regular aid station grub and delightful tunes, they had an enormous cauldron of polenta cooking over a fire and, when we showed interest in their traditional foods and cooking methods, they offered us some grilled, salted meat that was perhaps the most delicious food of the whole course.

Using the offical polenta paddle, bruce stirs up a tasty brew - and earns us the tastiest morsel of meat we have ever savoured!

Using the offical polenta paddle, Bruce stirs up a tasty brew – and earns us the tastiest morsel of meat we have ever savoured!

After that rifugio, we travelled down a gentle dual track that reminded me of a cross-country ski trail. With the big steps behind us, I was able to shuffle along the downhills most of the way to St Rhemy En Bosses. As we rounded the corner to the aid station, the entire town seemed to be out, ringing cowbells and calling out. Bruce played it up and encouraged them to make more noise which they readily did.

Everyone in Saint Rhemy En Bosses came out to welcome us into town!

Everyone in Saint Rhemy En Bosses came out to welcome us into town!

We made our way to the seating area and dove into plates of pasta. One English-speaking volunteer sat with us and told us all about his honeymoon in Canada. He had travelled across the whole country, including Baffin Island, and obviously had fond memories of it. He was eager to practice his English and share Canadian place names and memories as well as information about his town and his involvement in the TDG.

While we were eating, a news team from the National TV station had arrived at the aid station and were giving a live feed about the TDG. All of a sudden, Bruce and I were being shuffled out of the food tent and onto the street where we were briefly interviewed about the race. In our combined broken French, we managed to communicate that we were celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary at the TDG and, with that, the newscaster signed off for the night. It was apparently a big deal for the small town of St Rhemy En Bosses (pop’n >400) to get featured on the national news so we were instant stars back inside the food tent.

(Here is a link to the RAI TV video clip. The race is featured from minute 9:25 to 19:20. Our snippet is at 18:50)

We grabbed two cots in the main building for a two-hour snooze before the final ascent of the course. We were woken by the arrival of a large group of runners and their noisy supporters. Suddenly, the rifugio was filling up so we grabbed our packs and headed out. We figured that this big group of runners were trying to stay ahead of the cut-off times and we were about two hours ahead of them. Our cut-off time cushion was becoming a little tight. We headed out into the darkness at 11:00pm

We continued travelling along a city road and were almost run down by a familiar mini-van of crew, speeding along the otherwise empty streets. The road became gravel and we chattered away as we hiked. Suddenly Bruce stopped and asked when I had seen the last trail flag since it has been a while since he noticed one. For the first time in the race, we had gone off course. After some discussion, we turned around and headed back down the road for about 10 minutes before we found our missed turn. At that point, the markers had been placed on both sides of the gravel road, making the sharp right turn less noticeable.

Back on course, we wound our way gently up the hill-side. This was not a difficult climb. We skirted back and forth across a river and climbed up through cow pastures for hours. We seemed to leap-frog a gravel access road as it switchbacked up the slope. Finally we arrived at rifugio Frassati around 1:30 am. It was an absolute haven – sleepy, warm and peaceful. There were many empty tables and a roaring wood-burning stove in the center of the room. Runners were quietly eating, rummaging through their packs or heading up to the sleeping loft. We took over a table and Bruce instantly lay down to grab a 30 minute nap. I had soup and tea and briefly chatted with an Italian woman who was making a film about the race.

Having a quick nap at Rifugio Frassati before our final mountain pass.

Having a quick nap at Rifugio Frassati before our final mountain pass.

Feeling refreshed, we bundled ourselves up in most of our gear and headed out of the rifugio, ready to climb those final 400 m to Col Malatra. As we left the building, we both stared, disbelieving, at a mountain biker who was heading out on the same trail as us. Who mountain bikes at 3:00am? On trails like these?

The climb up to Col Malatra was only steep at the very end and, in the complete dark, it didn’t seem very treacherous. Suddenly, there were metal steps in the rock face and a rope leading up. A few steps later, we were at the pass. Two volunteers were there to guide us up the rock face, through the magnificent rock cleft and down to the other side of the narrowing. With wind whipping the dust up into the air, we stopped for a brief kiss and headed down. It was about 4:30 am.

Upon reaching the metal steps of Col Malatra, a volunteer's hand appeared to help me up to the rock cleft.

Upon reaching the metal steps of Col Malatra, a volunteer’s hand appeared to help me up to the rock cleft.

Once again, the downhill was difficult but at least this was the last downhill. As was the usual case, the initial steepness of the descent quickly eased and the slope became more runnable (for those without intense knee pain!).  Bruce insisted that I lead the way so we went at my excruciatingly slow pace and he became very cold. At one point, I sat down to get a nutrition bar out of my bag, lay back and looked up at the thousands of stars. It was another spectacular, crystal clear night but Bruce’s chattering teeth were rattling in my ear so we moved along. Rifugio Bonati came into view seconds later and we headed in to warm up. Our stay was relatively brief, just long enough to have some tea and a 15 minute snooze. Being a fully-booked rifugio with paying guests, we runners were kept in a fenced-off section of the main dining area. The rifugio staff were beginning to prepare breakfast for the waking guests as we left.

As we headed out, the sky had lightened enough to forgo the headlamps although sunrise was still a few hours away. The route from Bonatti to Bertone was wonderful. Not only was the trail forgiving underfoot and undulating as it traversed the side of the mountain, we were treated to the most spectacular sunrise I have ever witnessed. The first rays of sun illuminated the top of Monte Bianco with an unearthly pink, immediately making me feel warmer.

First photo of the unbelievable Alpenglow on Monte Bianco at about 6:40 am

First photo of the unbelievable Alpenglow on Monte Bianco at about 6:40 am

For the next hour, we watched the glow on the mountain increase and become evermore radiant. It would have been easy to sit back and watch this display, and perhaps we would have at any other point in the race, but with the finish line truly in our grasp, we pressed on.

It just got more and more beautiful as we got closer.

It just got more and more beautiful as we got closer.

Rifugio Bertone was a mere formality. Bruce and I had hiked up to this spot in the week before the race so I knew what to expect from here on in. It wasn’t easy by any stretch – nature’s version of a rock staircase for a little less than an hour – but there were friendly, early morning hikers the whole way who encouraged us along. Passing familiar landmarks, like the road crossing and the bridge, were thrilling. As our feet finally struck the pavement at the edge of town, we burst into a run and prepared ourselves to soak in the long-awaited moment.

Finishing the Tor Des Geants together.

Finishing the Tor Des Geants together.

Captured from the live feed of the finish line (thanks Steve and Wade), the finish line kiss makes it official.

Captured from the live feed of the finish line (thanks Steve and Wade), the finish line kiss makes it official.

Another finisher photo.

Another finisher photo.

Finishing at 9:30 am has its perks. The streets were lined with people and, as we neared the town center, people began shouting “Canada!” and friends were calling our names. We crossed the finish ramp hand-in-hand, kissed and were treated to a brief interview with the race announcer before leaving the finishers area.

143 hours 26 minutes and 25 seconds is an incredibly long time. It was much longer than I had imagined but it still fits within my goal of 1)finishing and 2)staying ahead of the cut-offs. Funnily enough, this time still garnered me 9/18 in the old ladies category! 337 out of 440 total finishers (720 starters!) and 32/44 women.

I am forever grateful to my dear husband, Bruce, for sticking by my side throughout the race and providing me with endless encouragement and insider information. When I chose TDG as an epic way to celebrate our epic marriage, I never imagined that we would run together. In fact, I was quite insistent throughout our training that we would run our own races. But there we were, hand-in-hand at the finish. Constantly I am reminded that Bruce is a treasure to behold. I have truly been fortunate to be the beholder. A lifetime ago, when I chose him and he chose me, it was the smartest thing either of us ever did. And we continue to live happily ever after.

Every couple married for 20 years should invest in matching jackets.

Every couple married for 20 years should invest in matching jackets.

Section 7  – 48.8 km in 21h 38m

Cummulative Total – 332.3 km in 143h 26m

Total Life Base/Rifugio Down Time = 30h

Total sleep = 16h 15m

(Click here to go to my packing lists , my initial impressions of finishing , or another post-race recap)

Valtournenche to Ollomont – 47.2 km (283.5 km total)

(Click here to go to Section #1 of our 332.3 km TDG adventure )

Section #6 - Valtournenche to Ollomont

Section #6 – Valtournenche to Ollomont

“There are no impossible obstacles; there are just stronger and weaker wills.” – Jules Verne

There were only 100 km left. Two thirds of the course was done. Heading out of the life base, I felt generally good but knew it would not last long. I was becoming quite familiar with this routine. I would feel completely spent upon entering a life base, mostly due to the steep and rocky descents and the toll they took on my knee, and then I would feel somewhat refreshed afterwards, knowing that a painless, uphill grind awaited me. Bruce and I were able to run some of the trails leading out-of-town but I knew that the real tests would come once darkness fell again and once we began the next descent.

The profile for this segment intrigued me. I loved the idea of having one big ascent and then staying up above 2500 m (8000 ft) for the next ~18 km, bagging peak after peak. Also, this segment held at least six mountain passes, leaving only two passes after Ollomont.

The climb took us up towards a dammed lake and we briefly stopped at Rifugio Barmasse to refuel and to chat with Pieter (Belgium) and Beat (USA) who we had been following for about 100km. At this rifugio, we saw our first ‘controller’ who was spot-checking racers to ensure that all mandatory gear was being carried, specifically the rain gear and the “long sleeve microfleece”. As we chatted with the controller for few minutes, I found out that my long sleeve, heavy weight wool, IceBreaker hoody would not have been permitted, had he bothered to check my gear. For quite a few kilometres afterwards, Bruce and I discussed the merits of microfleece over wool and the inconsistency of rules between the pre-race gear check (where my wool top was permitted) and the mid-race check (where my wool top would have been deemed inadequate). I am just relieved that I didn’t have to deal with a four hour penalty for carrying the wrong type of top, regardless of the fact that I was actually more prepared for foul weather.

As we made our way up in the warm and sunny afternoon, I began to recall some of my hallucinations from the previous night. As I stepped from rock to rock, I remembered how I had been seeing silly cartoonish faces in each rock and, as we hiked along now, I could still make out faces. I took some photos of rock faces to prove to others that I wasn’t actually losing my mind.

Caesar eating an apple

Caesar eating an apple

Pacman!

Pacman!

Laughing old man

Crying baby face

Laughing man in a tall, tall hat

Laughing man with long eyelashes in a tall, tall hat

This one is a little bit spooky!

This one is a little bit spooky!

A cute little lichen caterpillar

A cute little lichen caterpillar

Large forehead monster with green lichen eyes

Large foreheaded monster (the friendly kind) with green lichen eyes

Once we reached the top of Fenetre de Tsan, we were faced with a double diamond scree descent of tight switchbacks. Here I put my massaged knee to the absolute test and, once again, it screamed with every step. But I was able to shuffle along and block out the pain to a certain degree.

Heading down the steep switchbacks of Fenetre de Tsan. Bruce is only one switchback ahead but a huge distance downhill.

Heading down the steep switchbacks of Fenetre de Tsan, Bruce is only one switchback ahead but a huge distance downhill. See what I mean about rocky steps!?

If you look closely, you can see the twenty or so tight switchbacks of the Fenetre de Tsan descent.

Looking back at the Fenetre de Tsan descent. If you enlarge the photo, you can see the twenty or so tight switchbacks and the traverse across the slope to our vantage point.

Night fell sometime after rifugio Cuney and, once again, my memory draws a blank. The only memory in this night is of the tiny Bivouac Clermont, where the three volunteers were cooking up some of the most tasty pasta I had ever had (although Angela would laugh at that comment since the pasta was ‘re-gifted’ from one runner to the next).

Evidence of the delicious, re-gifted and re-heated pasta in Bivouac Clermont

Evidence of the delicious, re-gifted and re-heated pasta in Bivouac Clermont, served by the kindest people you ever met. It was tiny inside!

In this section of high passes, there were very few places to rest or sleep. We pressed on, with the intent of grabbing a few hours sleep in Oyace-Close. But my brain protested mightily to this and I was, once again, awash in hallucinations and visions that kept me moving incredibly slowly.

This time, I was searching for somewhere to sleep. I could see that there were hundreds of tents set up right beside the trail and when I finally caught up to Bruce (or, more truthfully, he stopped and waited for me), I asked him why we couldn’t rest for a while in one of the tents. He patiently pointed out that there were no tents. Instead, I was looking at a boulder rockfall in a creek. Then I challenged him in a race to the next aid station and I felt like I was flying down the hill, giggling the whole way. The race probably only lasted a minute or two before I lost interest.

At another point, I found myself stopped and staring at a severed giraffe head. I desperately wanted to pick it up, drag it along to show Bruce but I knew that he would be unimpressed with the severed head because it would surely have caused me to move slower than usual. In hindsight, I’m quite sure it was a big branch that had been used to poke at a campfire and I am quite glad that I didn’t bother bringing it. (After the race was over, 2nd place finisher Nick Hollon made a video about runner hallucinations in which I recount my experiences in a wild-eyed, still sleep-deprived frenzy.)

I desperately wanted to sleep but the river valley we were descending had a constant cold breeze, forcing us to continue along. We finally we crossed over a bridge and began the final climb to Oyace-Close, but I just could not stay awake and I was moving in a series of staggering zigzags. At one point, Bruce said, “we can stop and rest here” and he indicated a mossy patch at the side of the trail. In an instant, I flopped down and fell asleep, still with my trekking pole straps on my wrists and my headlamp illuminated. Ten minutes later, I woke up because I was cold and because I had rocks poking into my chest but that brief pause was enough to get me into Oyace-Close. Bruce didn’t sleep at all on the mossy patch but instead stood guard and kept an eye on the clock.

Evidence of why I was moving so slowly!

Evidence of why I was moving so slowly!

Oyace-Close was perhaps the worst aid station of the entire course. The volunteers were all gossiping in one corner of a large, echoey hall and the food tables were empty of most foods. But worst of all, the sleeping area was in same room, bright with florescent lights glaring. There were only ten cots in total and most were occupied. I took the one empty cot and Bruce tried to sleep on the wire springs of a cot with no mattress. For two hours, I was dead to the world and, when Bruce woke me, I was writhing with the same whole-body pain that I had experienced at Saint-Jacques. We managed to find a helpful volunteer who brought us a huge portion of parmesan polenta to share, which was absolutely delicious. We headed back out onto the trail just as the sky was beginning to lighten.

As we headed up towards Col Brison, we were rewarded with our first views of Monte Bianco, a clear indication that the end of this adventure was drawing near.

Monte Bianco seems to be just beyond this pass but it isnt

Monte Bianco seems to be just beyond this pass (but it isn’t)

There is a pass up there somewhere. Col Champillion

There is a pass up there somewhere (Col Brison) and Monte Bianco seems to be just beyond (but it isn’t).

Almost into Ollomont, I lay on the picnic bench as a silly gesture but fell asleep quite quickly, using one of my water bottles as a pillow.

Almost into Ollomont, I lay on this picnic bench as a silly gesture but fell asleep quite quickly, using one of my water bottles as a pillow.

There is always time to have a visit with chickens. Sadly, we had a language barrier between us.

There is always time to have a visit with chickens. Sadly, we had a language barrier between us.

We rolled into Ollomont at 10:45 am. I arranged to have a doctor work on my knee and, while waiting my turn, we both had a hot meal. We sat in a warm sunbeam, letting our feet dry out and getting rid of the morning chills. The doctor listened to my complaints about my knee and the treatments I had had at other life bases. Thinking that I would be given the same deep massage, I was shocked when he used his full body weight to quickly crush my knee into my chest. I guess this was an ‘active release’ method that I have heard about. It made me see stars and feel nauseous. Then he proceeded to tape my knee with that fancy muscle tape. With my new knee, we headed out of Ollomont and onto the final section at 12:48 pm on Friday.

After a brutal active release t

After a brutal ‘active release’ treatment, I was taped up and sent on my merry way.

Section 6  – 47.2 km in 22h 25m

Cummulative Total – 283.5 km in 120h 43m (+ 2h 4m in Ollomont LB)

Total Life Base/Rifugio Down Time = 26h 28m

Total sleep = 13h 30m

The saga continues here – Section #7 – Ollomont to Courmayeur

The Happy Wanderer

My Paths on Strava

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