It’s been a while since I wrote a post on this blog. I was planning to post an English version of my Transylvania experience, but I think the DNF yesterday in Annecy takes precedence.
While it is nice to share success stories, there is probably much more to learn from failures.
So let’s get right down to the …
- I failed
There is no way around saying that. People would say this was a success, since I learned something along the way ; people would say I am the better on knowing when to quit ; people would give me credit for getting as far as I did less than a week after finishing Transylvania 100. People would be supportive. And a lot of that might be true, but it does not change the basic fact that should be very clear – I failed. I did not come here with the purpose to DNF, I came here with the intention to finish. This has not happened, and so – failure.
- The key reason – I did not want it enough
I am about to go into a lot of extra details and analysis for those of you who want to know that level of details, but the basic truth is – in an ultra race, when you are running into whichever difficulties, it all comes down to wanting it enough. And I did not.
Let me just rephrase this sentence in a bit of a longer form – this will help build the structure for the short analysis to follow:
You have to want it enough, so that you are willing to pay the price.
To be clear, while I was struggling and suffering, I did not feel that I was under a life-threat in any way (this is to the “Death before DNF” moto I refer to regularly). More likely than not, I had every chance to finish this race if I did want it enough, and I was very aware of that when I made my decision. I had more than 15 hours left for covering 40 km with less than 3,000 meters of climbing. It would have been long, slow, and painful, but there is no reason to think it was not doable – I just did not want it enough!
The account of what happened, even trying to not go step-by-step, is a bit long, so I will throw that at the end, after the final thoughts – you can find it there if interested.
Why I did not want it enough
This race was another (important) training. I would not have wanted to retire after 10 km, and lose most of my chance to train this week (I was recovering through the week, so no other training). I did want to get as much training out of this, and hopefully a couple of learnings along the way. At the point of decision, I was after a 70 km, D+ 4,200m session over about 14 hours, so not all was lost when the decision was taken.
There is no need for me at this point to prove something (to myself) by the finish itself – I do want to keep on learning how to finish, but the mere psychological value of finishing (or the cost of failing) is not as high on its own.
I felt a bit bored from the get-go at some level. The views – when they appeared on occasion – of the lake and the surrounding landscape were awesome, but in between them there were a lot of trails, the type of which I have seen before, and they were left as really another training session, lacking the extra motivation of exploring something unfamiliar. In other words, I was not really having fun.
And I guess that at some point along the way, I got it into my head that I will finish rather early (see “what happened” at the end), and at the point of decision, I just did not have the appetite to possibly go on through to the morning just to finish. Which brings us to the price.
The training part, and learning, which were perhaps the key considerations to stay in the race were limited – 40 very very slow km, and in terms of learning – there was one important aspect that was the one key thing I did feel I was giving up – getting through the extra time and distance, in order to give the cramps an additional chance to recover en-route. Finding this out first-hand, would have been potentially big for the future.
What was the price
I will go from immediate-term price, to long-term. Probably the real reasons that pushed me towards my decision were the Mid-term ones.
Immediate – this is what we all have to deal with in most tough races. The voices from all over the body that start shouting – stop, it’s not worth it, let’s go get an ice cream.
- Pain – Muscle pains, chaffing
- Feeling of lack of energy
- Dealing with the heat
- Going very slowly through the full night for another 3,000m of elevation gains and drops
I have more training and races coming. I was not sure how my muscles would react over the next days or weeks if I push through. There was a chance that it might require a longer period to recover. And I do not have a longer period to recover. By Wednesday, I am hoping to be in full training on the Cantabria side of the Picos de Europa (Spain). In a couple of weeks I have a race on the Asturias side of these mountains (Travesera Picos), and importantly – I have the Andorra race coming up soon – the main immediate objective is to maximize my training and preparations over the next 3 or 4 weeks for that race.
If finishing the Maxi-race would have jeopardized my training, it would have been the wrong decision.
This is probably just my imagination, but I had a burning feeling (literally) that I might be putting having children at risk (TMI, I know).
Learnings and final thoughts
There is no way of course to know if this was the right decision or not, as the road-not-taken, was not taken. So no point on dwelling much on that. More important to understand the rationale (as much as you can be rational in the midst of pain and lack of energy), learn what we can, and move on.
Unfortunately, a lot of these learnings are not new, but perhaps you have to learn some things again.
- Salts. Observe situation, and act in advance.
- Manage pace to known abilities. specially early in the race. Be conservative, and enforce.
- Pants and underwear – definitely not the combo I used during the last couple of races. Go back to former best (Montane, which I decided not to use this time), and possibly keep checking some other alternatives.
- Socks – reconfirm the same Teko Merino socks I was using at the TDG. Tried a thinner pair at the early stage of this race, and my feet did not like that.
- Cramps – do not disappear even after 3 hours of either rest or moving after starting to intake salts. May or not recover later. (While my muscles are still aching now, the sudden cramps and spasms did subside by the evening)
What Happened (e.g. excuses)
There are a bunch of circumstances that came together here. I would try not to go into all the details and the full step-by-step, but try to focus on listing what I believe are some of the factors leading to the point of decision (which are separate from the factors involved in making the decision, above).
- Indeed, I am currently barely back in shape to take on either Transylvania or Maxi-race, and yet I was presumptuous enough to register for both, with 6 days in between.
While I did my best to recover, and generally felt my muscles and general energy levels were fine, this fact is indeed not the best starting point going into this race.
- Specifically, some specific pains were still chasing me following Transylvania – I had pain in my toes that took away sleep in a few of the nights that were very important for the intra-race rest. I “fixed” that by running this one with a larger-size shoes, but the pains through the previous week did not help. I had some chafing from the tights I used for Transylvania, and stupidly enough – fully aware of that, I decided to use them again. I took some extra underwear in my pack, and had my better Montane tights at the drop-bag at the 73km – that was my plan, but it was too-little-too-late.
- Heat and humidity. These are twofold.
First, coming from Israel should be an opportunity to be ready for heat and humidity. However, as my first race was in Transylania, I actually tried avoiding those, and the time spent in Bran and during the 31 hours racing made sure I was acclimatized for cold weather. When I reached Annecy I tried going out for an hour at peak heat each day to try and acclimatize a bit.
Second – I was aware of the heat that would come at daytime, so was trying to make up for it ass much as possible during the night running (we started at 1:30 AM). I neglected to take note of the high humidity.
I did notice the humidity as I was standing at the starting line, and sweating already. I failed to think through and realize that this was something to consider during the night running already.
- I started too fast. They ordered us at the start-line apparently in order of anticipated speed. My ITRA scores are based on my performance toward the TDG – in races like Orobie, or the CCC – when I was in much better shape than I am now. I took the bait, and kept in pace with the runners around me.
Add to that – the route felt not very technical, specially after my experience in Transylvania. I remember thinking that this was one of the least technical races I have been to in Europe – it reminded me a lot of the CCC, and through the first few hours my thoughts were going around how runnable most of this course is.
This is were previous success was a big weight to carry – I knew that for me a finish would be a great success at this point, but my brain connected the dots to the CCC comparison, and was strating to push for a sub-20 finish. I cleared the first check point at 8 km in about 1 hour, and at the 18 km aid station, the only one with real food, I stopped for less than 5 mins for a quick cup of soup, and some oranges, before I was back pushing forward.
- All of this made me lose sight of my current abilities, and controlling the race. I came without a race plan (on purpose). I wanted to learn from that – and I guess I did. I went too fast, but more importantly, I was not feeding myself adequately, and more importantly – was not drinking enough (though I thought I was), and not thinking salts! I had salt tablets on me, but it was night time … I did not figure I needed and salt intake at that point. Forgot the humidity, which was eating away at my salt balance, as well as getting me hydrated.
- Eventually, it all came to back to me. The energy levels first, I started to significantly slow down going up hill, and then came the cramps. They were a hint at the beginning, and I did not realize what they were first, just assumed it’s the angle of some climbs that puts pressure on an unused muscle (I felt the tendons at the front of the ankle – just opposite of the Achilles – something I don’t remember feeling strained before). When the spasms jumped up the leg to the quads, I realized and tried started taking salt tablets. That while trying to ration my water intake, as the water points during the race are limited, and I was not carrying at that point enough for a full rehydration exercise. Anyway, it was too-little-too-late. The cramps were only getting stronger, and not the chafing was coming at me again.
- At the 58 km check point, I took some time to relax, drink and eat. My stomach was not taking in as much food (though doing much better than the guy sitting on the grass patch next to me who vomited as soon as he tried to eat something), and my plan to lie down and let the salts fix the muscle in-balance did not work – I could not actually lie down and rest – when I was trying to do that I got random spasms of cramps.
I had to change tact – first thoughts of quitting came by, but I thought I’d try to see how it goes – maybe some walking (15 km to the next aid station) would be the cure for the muscles, and during this time the salts might help.
And so, as I was going through in the peak-heat of the day, climbing ever-so slowly, barely gaining over some day-hiking families, the cramps did not seem to subside, if at all, I thought they were getting a bit worse. I reached a check point at about the 68 or 70th km. There was a van standing there “are you heading back to Annecy or Dousard (the 73 km aid station)?” Then I was sitting there with another French runner who decided to quit there, and thinking about it, finally making my decision.