TNF EC50 – A bitter end of the 2015 season

December 8th
I’m moving at a painfully slow pace down one of San Francisco must popular streets for tourists and weirdos alike. Haight street.

I’m carrying over half my weight between a suitcase and a large backpack, and yet, it’s a mental burden that’s truly weighting me down. Yesterday for the first time in 22 years of racing, I DNF’d. That alone would affect me but wouldn’t bring me down. However, being about to fly away from my beloved one and a good life I was getting used to, surely did. All good things must end, as they say. My entire body and soul were screaming in disagreement, aching against an irreparable change coming ahead. LEAVING.

I looked up for synonyms of that term : depart from, go away from, go from, withdraw from, retire from, take oneself off from, exit from, take one’s leave of, pull out of, quit, be gone from, decamp from, disappear from, abandon, vacate, absent oneself from, evacuate.
What an ironic situation I had gotten myself into. I made myself experience twice the pain of having to leave, or quit, two days in a row. First dropping out, and second flying thousand of miles from what had enriched my life for the past two month.

Sometime in early September

Plan was simple, find a place in the world I could call home for two month, to live a « normal » life, train, explore and carry on developing Twiinkly from a distance.

After being accepted into the Blue Spruce circle as one of their own, back in 2012, I had a standing invitation to come back. Good friends, a community of runners as welcoming as talented, Flagstaff it was. And it’s been good, almost too good.

Dry and thin air took a while to get used to but felt incredibly empowering once used to, made cold bearable, and the ever blue and sunny skies tricked my mind into a constant happy state. Weekend exploring the surroundings such as Antelope Canyon and the Wave around Page, the Grand Canyon or Havasupai Falls, daily trips to the magical and warm Sedona, or freezing cold and heart opening Humpfeys were many steps were taken, quick, slow, uneven, small and possibly the biggest one in my life.

Looking back, I was like trapped in wonderland.

Early on December 7th

Eric and I are cruising in the darkness of a too early morning, on our way to the start of the 2014 TNF EC 50 miler. We’re catching the green light to drive through the one way tunnel to the Marin Headlands, we find a parking spot next to the start, the weather is warm and the ground is wet. I’m feeling strong and rested. It’s going to be a good day, or so I thought.

After the lead pack took a start a wee bit too fast for me, I settle back and moved at my own pace up the first hill of the first lap. I’m not moving as quick as I’d want, but I know uphill isn’t my strength, so I’m not worried. First descent back toward the start to close the loop, and I come back right behind the lead pack that has been slowed down by an interesting concept: to ensure that each runner would do 2 laps, volunteers would draw a sharpie tick on our bib number… CHAOS!

Second climb and again, I’m falling behind the lead pack, as expected. The way down allowed me again to catch up and we were out on our third climb of the day. I realize I’m pushing harder, much harder than I did last year on that section. Nothing to worry about, I’m also in a much better shape I was a year ago. On the downhill toward Tennessee Valley, the dense fog makes it hard to see. Somehow I’m caught in a Nike sandwich Alex Varner leading the way and Chris Vargo on my heels, the visibility dropped, we charged.

Perfect transition at the aid station performed by surely one of the most experienced out there: Anna Frost. Empty bottles dropped off, full bottles picked up, salt pills, shot blocs and out I was.

As Chris and I chatted running down the road to the Costal trail, I remember saying “I’m a bit too fast but close to where I want to be”. I must have been right because shortly after I started feeling like absolute crap. I slowed down and my mind was racing even harder than my body. Questions popping about everything going on around me, runners passing me, runners blowing up, I had lost focus on my own race. That moment lasted only 10 minutes or so until I got my shit together and started moving again.

On the downhill to Muir beach, my brother from the US of A Timmy didn’t pass by me, didn’t run by me but literally flew by me! I didn’t realize at the time what should have been a big red flag. First that I was ahead of him at this point, and second that I was being passed on a downhill. Last time Tim and I ran together, I didn’t feel like I was that slow compare to him running downhill.

Bottom line, things had started to go south, but I ignore it and push the flat section on the single track along the road.

I see my crew that’s cheering me on. Second sign auguring bad things ahead, was I had to force myself to smile back at them. I’m usually all smiles.

Heartbreak hill 

The hill to cardiac is where I couldn’t fake it anymore. I was stuck, my legs felt like wood, I couldn’t breathe and I again started to ask myself all sorts of questions, and the wrong ones on top of it. What a shame to disappoint. My crew is out there doing their best to help me, how can’t I bring MY best? If I trained so hard and can’t run better than that, what the hell am I doing here? What did I do wrong? Will I get a second wind? I wasn’t allowed to mess up my last race with New Balance whose colors I wanted to carry high and proud one last time.

I kept pushing, saw Rob on the out and back, walking on the flat road section, and greeting me. Dang, it seems he’s having an even worse day than me and yet he’s still smiling. What a champ.
As I arrived down to the next aid station, I wanted to call it a day. But my crew didn’t give up on me that easily, and walked me into continuing. I had reached rock bottom inside, but Anna’s enthusiasm somehow got me back on track and I attacked that hill with everything I had, which wasn’t much to be honest.
Getting closer to the Pantol Ranger station, I bumped into a good friend of mine, Adam Chase who had come to pace another friend Josh Korn.

We chat for a bit, he knows me well so realises quickly I’m not in a good day. He asks me if I fell. I’m not sure what he means, I look at my clean legs and answer unsure, “No, why?”. His smiling face changes into a much more serious and worried one almost instantly, and responded “your nose is bleeding, Martin. If you weren’t aware of it, it’s bad news and you should probably call it a day”. Wise words.
You never want to push a friend into dropping out, unless they’re about to jeopardize their health.

I would eventually pull out at Pantol and catch a ride to Tennessee Valley to catch up with my crew. My stomach cramped when I made eye contact with them as they were there expecting me coming from the trail… I was devastated to have let them down, but was too messed up to be able to let it out. I zoned out, tried to eat something and stood there cheering as runners were passing by.

Later that day, I talked to a bunch of people, and few of them had dropped too, which was a ridiculous relief for me, even though I don’t race according to what other people do, it helped me realise that DNF is part of being competitive. You can have a bad race and decide to push through to cross the finish line and save your self-esteem, sometimes at high costs physically and mentally. Or you can drop out.

I had pushed through twice earlier this year, at the Mont Blanc 80k and two weeks later at Ice Trail Tarentaise. It had affected me so much that I was disgusted with running for the next month an a half. I wasn’t ready to damage myself mentally – and seemingly physically too – more than I already had, for a mediocre result for the energy spent towards that goal. It took me a long time to get over that first DNF, but I still can’t regret that decision.

Live and learn

Only because I knew I had trained consistently, eaten well, slept well, and rested well, I had the arrogance to believe I was guaranteed to have a good one out there. I wasn’t. You can’t take a good day for granted, fact. Tough one, true one.
I learned another lesson the hard way that day.  This season has been more about learning from my mistakes than actually performing at the level I believe I could have.

Should I have the time to train decently for the 2015 season, I will stick to technical and tough sub marathon distance races. I want to run fast again, taste blood down my throat, feel the adrenaline pumping in my veins and stop making my body ache for days after a race. My race calendar is done, but is yet to be disclosed.

In the meantime, I’m back at training hard and got back together with my beloved mistress… She makes me hurt so good, we share rough sessions, during which I get at it repeatedly, with high intensity. Dear track I’ve missed you, it’s been too long.

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