It's time to do a quick blog posting and officially put this one behind me, though it'll linger and sting for quite some time.
First and foremost, I DID NOT drop out of the GD race due to COLD HANDS! Let's just get that one outta the way right off the top.
The coverage the Bryon and Meghan provide to the ultra running world via iRunFar is unparalleled and they deserve to be commended, in fact I was happy to contribute one small iota to their extensive coverage by lending them my smartphone which I'd purchased a French sim card for. I met David James for the first time, a great guy as I'd been told by our numerous mutual friends, and he took my phone on a greater tour of the Mont Blanc range than my own legs would afford my body during the race itself.
Back to my point, Bryon tweeted: Gary Robbins is "ok," but likely not continuing from Les Contamines. His hand was frozen. #UTMB
How that exact exchange went:
IRF: "Gary! How are you?"
Me: "I don't think I'm continuing. I'm okay though, I need you to let Linda know that please."
IRF: "Okay, I'll be sure she gets the message"
Me: as I shook his hand "Thank you"
It was another 30+ minutes before I even processed that my hands were cold. Bryon has simply added an observation to his tweet but it unfortunately read like the cause of my drop and subsequently I've answered more frozen hand questions than this guy
I'll try not to drag this out too much but when I arrived in Chamonix on August 22nd it was with a quiet confidence that I'd done absolutely all I could to show up on that starting line in the best shape of my life. I'd never strung together such consistency and stayed injury free for so long before. Including December's training for HURT I'd logged nearly 3,000 miles of training in the eight and half months leading up to my flight across the Atlantic. Included in this was a straight line focus on mountain running with the majority of those miles being on trail and over terrain similar to what would be encountered in France. My goal heading into UTMB was a top ten podium finish. I know I had the physical and mental abilities to pull this off, but in the end I never even made it out of the train station.
In the week leading up to the race I'd refreshed my mind with visits to many parts of the route.
Colorado based runner Brendan Trimboli joined me on these excursions and I was constantly amazed by how fresh and spry my legs felt, day in and day out.
Four days before race day I got a slight scare though, as all of a sudden I started sneezing and my face started leaking fluids. I hadn't been sick in over a year and it seemed unjust that anything could sideline my attempts at 'honouring my fitness' while in France. I define honouring your fitness as the constant reminder you need while digging deep in a goal race. You work so damn hard just to get to the starting line that honouring your fitness is about pushing through the lows and ensuring you stay focused on your race goals all the way to the finish line. To not honour your fitness is to quite on yourself, even momentarily during your race.
Getting sick obviously freaked me out and I started ingesting 5-6 packets of Emergen-C a day, which I always travel with. I also realized that a lot of times you can only seem to get sick when you allow a 'normal level of stress' within your body to cease. In line with this I attempted to keep my body a little physically stressed in the hopes that whatever bug was attempting to get the better of me would quickly f#@k off. It seemed to work for within 24 hours I was no longer dragging a box of tissues around with me.
Day Before Race Day
I headed out of my hotel, across the street to the Aiguille Du Midi tram parking area and then started up the trail for 30 minutes. I sat in the forest for a full half hour and cherished the relaxation that it afforded. I was confident that my mind and body were aligned and ready for the task at hand. I sauntered back down the mountain and did my best to relax for the rest of the day.
I actually really enjoy late day start times as it allows for a full nights rest. The day itself always manages to get away from you but in the end by the time I was following Julien's coat tails into the starting chute I felt at ease with what lay ahead. I was ready to run my own race and let the course come to me. A similar effort to what Mike Foote had laid down a few years prior, while starting slow, back around 100th and climbing all the way up to 11th was the grand scheme. Anything more than that would be icing on the cake I figured.
The pre-race insanity behind us, and the race was finally underway. After protecting my space and ensuring I didn't get my legs taken out from under me I ended up settling into a pack with the top English speakers in the field. Mike, Mike, Jezz, Tony and Amy just ahead of us. I was checking our pace and happy to see we were all staying controlled at somewhere between 7 and 7.5 minute per mile pace. I had opened up Fuji in 6.5 minute per mile pace so this felt like the exact pace that would allow everyone a nice warm up run into Les Houches.
As soon as you hit Les Houches the first climb presents itself. I watched Tony and the Mike's go to work and quickly disappear and I happily settled in with Jezz, Rory and Nuria. We alternated the lead occasionally with Jezz leading the majority of the climb. As we neared the 80% point of this climb was the first true inkling that something wasn't quite right. I effectively blinked as the terrain flattened and when I awoke from my brief stupor I literally found myself thinking "How did they get a gap on me like that?"
I had taken thirty seconds to assess why the hell I was feeling so terrible and in doing so had internalized so much that I'd lost site of what had happened externally.
"Whatever" I said to myself "Just slow down if you're not feeling it. Let the race come to you"
I watched Jezz and the girls disappear and started focusing on eating. I had already been eating consistently but anytime things feel off I try to eat in the hopes that the calories are at the root of the issue.
We dropped down into Saint Gervais and I slowed further. I was letting people pass me on the descent as all of a sudden everything felt like effort, even the downhills.
I smiled my way through the aid station. Fake it till ya make it. Steal some positive energy from those around you in the hopes that it will help you rally quicker. I reminded myself that every race has its low points. You can never predict when those lows will hit and though most times they are later in the race when your mind and body are at war over if you should be vertical or horizontal, I have in fact had races where the worst of it was very early on. I slowed further and was now full on coaching myself through this.
"This is okay. It's still way early. You'll get through this. Eat. You're not even in the mountains yet, you'll feel better once you're there. There's still at least 20 hour to go, don't fret. Etc, etc, etc"
The problem throughout all of this was that I was getting continually passed. I then spotted Hara (winner UTMF) and he was favoring one hip. I knew his day was nearly done and I patted him on the shoulder as I passed him, the one runner I'd passed in the last hour.
Right about then I realized that I'd been in my head for far too long. I simply needed to externalize some of this and I needed to speak English with someone. As if right on cue a British runner pulled up alongside me and asked how I was feeling. We commiserated and reiterated that we were both feeling terrible. It was nice, nice that is right up until I uttered the words "don't let me slow you down" at which point England walked away from me as though I were towing a sled. It was back to self coaching and it wasn't getting any easier. I was effectively attempting to talk myself off of that DNF ledge. My mind flipped between the anger at the very thought of the DNF and the reality of simply attempting to figure out what was wrong with me.
Another perfectly timed interaction. This time with John Tidd, the 6th place finisher at UTMF. John was an interesting character to me. He was the only non-sponsored runner on the UTMF top ten podium and he was the first runner in Hokas, finishing ahead of their team runners. A Spaniard living in South America who luckily for me speaks perfect English. Once again he reiterated that what I was struggling through was 'normal' and he mentioned that this was his least favorite part of the race and that it was rather 'deceptive' in how it played out. I knew John was a legit top ten threat and told myself it was time to wake up and go with him. Once again though, I had zero ability to even walk/hike the same pace as these guys. My shoulders and lower back started hurting and I could feel my hamstrings tightening. Things were getting worse.
As we closed in on Les Contamines and what was looking more and more like the end of my day I made one last ditch effort to rally my way through this thing. I had yet to be caught by my buddy Brendan so I pulled aside and waited for him. I started to feel dizzy when I stopped and I was thankful that he wasn't far behind. I told him how I was feeling and he went to work on coaching me through it. We ran towards the Les Contamines aid station together and I had convinced myself that if I could just run with Brendan for awhile it might help me snap out of this, or at the very least to continue further and see what happens. As you head into Les. C there is a tiny bump of a climb up to the aid station. Brendan walked it for the bump that it was. I could not believe how difficult I was finding this rock pile and I was passed by three more runners.
I was done. There was no denying that something was off, way off. I wasn't even 20 miles into the race and I felt like I'd run a hard 50 miles.
I told Bryon I was done and shook his hand. The twitter-verse thinks I've dropped due to a frozen hand, in 20 degree weather. It's not a fun night for me, and it proceeds to get worse.
My crew is the head of the S-Lab shoe design team and the man who patented the Salomon lacing system. He does his best to get me to continue, but I'm beyond done and I know it conclusively.
I pull my bib and while Patrick stays to cheer on a few friends I lay down in his car and fall asleep. It's 8pm.
I awake thirty minutes later and stumble from the car just in time to puke in the adjacent ally. I haven't thrown up in over 18 months. I've never thrown up in a race before, in fact I'd never thrown up for anything less than severe food poisoning, far too much alcohol, or a serious bout of the flu...oh and for Typhoid Fever, I threw up that one time I had Typhoid Fever.
Patrick returned with some friends and while driving me back to Chamonix I had to ask him to pull over so that I could get sick again. He thought it might be his driving as he was flying down the windy road, it was not as I wanted him to drive faster still.
A half hour later and we were back at my hotel. I thanked them for taking care of me, apologized for feeling like I'd wasted their time, and then ran up the stairs into my room for my third and final chunder.
I collapsed on the bed and tried to will a redo into existence. Where was my mulligan? How could this have happened? How the hell was I back in bed before the lead runners had even made it to the half way point of the race?
Shit happens...or more accurately I guess, puke happens. Some things are beyond your control and you can't go beating yourself up over things that you effectively have zero control over.
What I posed on FB the day after my drop:
After a restless night where my mind wouldn't allow my body to sleep I realize that I feel a little like the sports team that makes the finals but loses out after a great year.
I am attempting to remind myself of what a great season I've had and how successful 2013 as a whole has been, with the absolute highlight still to come. As a friend just pointed out, if a DNF is the low point of 2013 than it's a pretty good year by most accounts.
I'm exhausted, surprisingly and inexplicably sore, excited to be in the Alps on a beautiful day, proud of my North American brethren and Salomon teammates for great runs all around and astounded by what Rory Bosio just pulled off (7th overall with a new CR). It's a great day for ultra running and given that a Japanese runner won UTMF, an American runner won Western States and a French runner won UTMB it's also been a rather balanced year in this world. It's an exciting time for our sport.
On a personal level, I'm now completely homesick and longing to be with my bride to be Linda Barton and our furry family of Shazzar and Roxy. I can't believe I get to marry the absolute love of my life in just fourteen days! AND that we're going to have family and friends from around the world joining us for our party
I'm a truly fortunate soul, and that is never lost on me for even a second. I work tirelessly at creating a life that is full of joy and reward and in doing so there will always be a balance of disappointment and setbacks, but never regret. One step back, two steps forward. A bump in the road of life. Onward and upward. Thank you all for the support along the way, you make me feel blessed.
I'll have lots of positive memories from this, my second trip to France, but unfortunately the race won't be one of them. This one stings and will continue to do so for quite sometime. That's just the reality of the situation. With your greatest pursuits can come your greatest victories, and indeed your greatest disappointments.