21.00, Saturday 28th June 2014
98 km (2 300 m), close to checkpoint 7 at Passo Giau in the Dolomites
What the hell is happening? I hardly have the energy to lift my feet properly to avoid the rocks strewn across the path. I try to summon up some anger to get my adrenaline pumping. I need that adrenaline. I need it to help my airways expand in order to oxygenate my blood. I need it to help my heart rate increase in order to pump blood to my brain and muscles. I need it to help my pupils dilate in order to allow as much light to seep in as possible so I can focus on the dark trail ahead of me. These are thoughts too complex for me to comtemplate in my current state of mind, but my body is a fantastic machine that luckily reacts on instinct rather than conscious thought. The proprioceptors in the soles of my feet, ankles, knees and hips relay information of their location to my brain. The neurons in the vestibular system of my inner ear supply my brain with my speed and position relative to my surroundings. The photoreceptors of my eyes send impulses to my brain of the precious little information they can visualize in the darkness.
Only, none of these magnificent systems work. Because tonight, you see, they lack two essential ingredients in order to perform their function properly. Glucose and oxygen. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why – after around 23 hours and 103 kilometres of running – I had to abandon The North Face Lavaredo Ultra Trail.
17.00, Thursday 26th June
Somewhere in the Brenner pass, Austria
I had met up with Jakob and my dad at the airport in Munich, everybody flying in from different cities, and we were now driving south towards Italy. The weather forecast had promised ideal weather for our races; overcast skies with a few drizzles and around 14-15°C. We had arranged to meet Tad, an old friend of ours, in Cortina. Tad is an even older friend of Jakob’s dad and has known the Kegel clan since we were all snotty children running around making life miserable for the catholic nuns in our old school. Instead of flying down to Italy, Tad had opted to take the scenic route through the Dolomites with his motorcycle. How. Cool. Is. That. I mean seriously. Was this a boys’ trip, or what? Darkness was falling over Cortina when we drove into town, but we still managed to catch glimpses of the mighty mountains draped in wispy clouds of silk. The four of us went for dinner in a friendly pizzeria right next to Piazza Angelo Dibona in the middle of town before returning back to our lovely alpine apartment just outside the town centre. For Jakob and me, this would be our final full night of sleep before the race next evening.
09.00, Friday 27th June
Corso Italia, Cortina d’Ampezzo
It’s not a simple task, trying to find a place in an Italian village that serves a proper, solid breakfast. Italians aren’t huge fans of the big, hearty meals we enjoy further north in Europe. German breakfasts are among the best, including several types of bread, cheese and has, offering at least seven varieties of juice and half a dozen choices of omelettes. And that’s not even mentioning the cereals, mueslis and jams. English breakfasts are, for all their deplorable lack of imagination, not too bad compared with many parts of Europe. Sodden tomatoes and oceans of beans aside, at least you have some toast and hash browns to chew on. Oh, and the Canadian breakfasts! I have never come as close to a coronary as I did after ten days of morning meals in British Columbia with my brother. The only thing that saved us from a trip to the ER with chest pains was the enormous amount of calories we burnt swishing through champagne powder in the Canadian Rockies. Thank God for maple syrup, I say. Compared with these nations, Italy is a sorry example of misplaced frugality. Which is kind of strange considering their wonderful tradition of love for food. After thirty minutes of almost tear-inducing despair, we finally found a café at Corso Italia where we could order proper toasts in addition to our cappuccini and cornetti di marmellata. The coffee was lovely. The toasts less so. But no matter. We had our thoughts elsewhere.
Breakfast of champions!
After breakfast, we went to the Stadio Olimpico del Ghiaccio, site of the 1956 Winter Olympics where the Swedish titan Sixten Jernberg won four medals, including gold in the 50 km cross-country skiing, the most of any other athlete in that tournament. The Ice Stadium was where we were supposed to deliver our medical certificates and pick up our racing numbers. The thing that struck us the most was that the race was shaping up to be one of the better organized ones we had participated in. Having North Face as a main sponsor lends a certain flair to a trail race, and as such, it attracts famous trail runners from all over the world. Among this year’s competitors were Rory Bosio, the light-footed nymph from Lake Tahoe who had smashed all of her competitors silly in last year’s Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, managing to finish inside the men’s top ten – an extraordinary feat, never before achieved by a woman in that race! Another famous ultra-runner we would be rubbing shoulders with at the start (and probably for that instant only in the entire race) was Anton Krupicka, two-time winner of the Leadville 100 and veteran of some of the most famous ultras in the world. After we had picked up our goodie bags and bibs, we sauntered around town for a bit before settling down for lunch in what looked like a classy restaurant with waiters in white dinner jackets. I usually don’t review restaurants in these race reports, but for the gastronomical well-being of future visitors to Cortina, I feel obliged to offer the following warning. Stay well clear of Hotel de la Poste at Piazza Roma. The plates were cold, the portions tiny and the service non-existent. Just because a restaurant looks classy and is expensive, it doesn’t mean the food or even the service is up to standard.
Jakob and I went to bed for a few hours in the afternoon. The race would start at 23.00, which would be a novel experience for us. We had discussed a race plan during the day, trying to estimate how long it would take us to complete the race. 119 km was longer than any continuous race we had ever attempted, even though the climb of 5850+ m would be almost 900 less than in Gorges du Verdon. The Factor X of this entire enterprise would be the altitude. Cortina d’Ampezzo lies at an elevation of 1 224 m and several of the peaks we would climb were more than 2 400 m above sea level. I had never experienced altitude sickness before, but who knew how my body would react to the altitude under duress? We would have to wait and see. Hopefully, we would only run through the one night and – if we were lucky – finish the race within our own set time goal of 24 hours, the maximum time allowed being 31 hours.
I managed to sleep only fitfully for a couple of hours, and when we woke, Tad drove the four of us to another nice pizzeria in town. We were all beginning to be a little nervous and were probably not the best of dinner companions for poor Tad who was the only one enjoying a glass of beer. Jakob and I only had around three hours left until the start of the race, and dad had to go to bed early to catch some sleep before his own race, the 47 km long (2 650+ m) Cortina Trail that would start at 08.00 on Saturday morning. Returning home, we started to get ready for the race. We taped our feet, pinned start numbers to our chests and made sure we had extra batteries for our headtorches, all the while preparing mentally for the long night ahead. Giving dad a good luck-hug for his ultra marathon debut the next day, Jakob and I shouldered our backpacks and headed down to the car. Tad drove us into town and dropped us off close to the church tower of the parish church of Cortina, where a big arch marked both the start and finish of The North Face Lavaredo Ultra Trail.
22.57, Friday 27th June
Just outside the Basilica of the apostles S. Jakob and S. Philip, Cortina d’Ampezzo
Bang! Three minutes early, the gun went off for the start of the race. Being early is not a classic Italian trait, I admit, but I’m guessing that the trigger-happy organizers were impatient to get the race started. There’s something special about running into the night in the middle of a sea of runners. There were almost 800 of us, swarming up the main street Corso Italia between the sponsor banners and waving to the huge crowd who had met up to cheer us on. We waved to Tad who was taking photos and made our way north through town, running easily on the black asphalt until we reached the edge of town and ducked into the woods and started to walk up a sharp incline among the trees. In front of us a train of bobbing headtorches like a necklace of fireflies glimmered between the trees. The pace was swift and easy and we felt comfortable climbing the first 5 km all the way up to Passo Posporcora at 1 720 m where the path made a sharp turn east and started to slant downwards along the Pian de Ra Spines. It was an eerie feeling, running on a stony path with a perfectly visible rock face to our left and an impenetrable black void to our right. At a few places we glimpsed the tops of trees close to the right edge of the path, meaning there was a steep fall not a metre away. I cast a glance at Jakob, he nodded thoughtfully and we both moved away from the precipice. A tall, long-legged girl whizzed past us in an uncontrollable fashion, almost tripping us up, panting ”Sorry!” in a foreign accent before disappearing down the trail. All in all, people were generally more considerate than in Verdon, which surprised us. There had been a lot of shoving and ”Out of my way, imbeciles!!!” in France. No. Not really, but close. The smaller races we’ve run are quaint in a cosy kind of way, and there’s a lot to be said for the volunteers and organizers of such races since they tend to be extremely enthusiastic and friendly, even though there aren’t that many competitors. The NF Lavaredo Ultra Trail, on the other hand, is considered a large race, if not as huge as the UTMB and a few classic races like Marathon des Sables. If nothing else, it showed in the huge number of volunteers and the choice of snacks at the aid stations. We chewed and swallowed our first bars and after a few minutes we passed the girl who had almost knocked us over. She sat grimacing with pain on the side of the trail with a couple of runners helping her drink some water. Her ankle was swollen, and from the looks of it her race was over even before it had had a chance to begin. Poor girl. Zig-zagging down the serpentine path between tall pines, I followed another coordinationally challenged runner who tripped and slipped at least once every 30 seconds. Why didn’t he lift his feet properly? There were roots, snags and rocks slick from the afternoon rain all over the trail and if he didn’t take it easy, he too would soon join the list of DNF’s. After another hour, we reached the first checkpoint at Ospitale next to what indeed looked like an old abandoned hospital. We had only run around 18 km, but both of us felt increasingly nauseous and I had to admit that I had been careless with my energy intake, only eating a couple of bars since the start of the race. I gulped down a Red Bull offered by one of the officials, and made a small video of Jakob commenting on our progress so far.
We filled up our camelpacks with water, threw away our bar wrappers in a dustbin and continued up the slope towards Rifugio Son Forca at 2 218 m. It was still dark, but we could tell that we were in fact walking up a skiing slope that didn’t want to end. To our right and far above us we could make out the pitch black ridgeline of Crépe de Zumèles rising up and painting a faint silhoutte against the slightly less black night sky. When we finally reached the top close to the Rifugio, the path changed from a wide gravel road to a small, hard trail where we could only run single file. Encouraged by finally running downhill, I foolishly increased my pace, risking the same fate as the girl with the twisted ankle. Jakob followed close on my heels as I tried to catch up to a man with a white jersey 20 metres ahead of me. Suddenly I slipped, a moist root sending my left foot out towards the steep slope on my left. I managed to twist my hips and shoulders in the other direction, sending my right foot to land on the path again and my butt perilously hanging out over the edge before I found my balance again. I kept my stride without breaking pace as I heard Jakob gasp behind my back. ”Do you realize how close you were to flying of that cliff back there?” It hadn’t seemed that dangerous to me, but Jakob had had a perfect vantage point, illuminating my back with his headtorch and seeing clearly what had happened. The ridge plummeted sharply down at least 200 metres to the bottom of the valley before slowly turning up towards the next peak ahead. We could make out small white headlights bobbing forward a few hundred metres below us and I thanked my guardian angel that she hadn’t let me bounce down the cliff. It wasn’t a sheer drop down to the valley floor from where we were running, but it was sufficiently steep and rocky to scrape my elbows, knees and ass down to the bone. And with my butt being pretty generously padded, that would have been an impressive feat.
04.30, Saturday 28th June
33 km (1 400 m), Federavecchia
We reached checkpoint two just as our surroundings started to brighten weakly, the rising sun slowly turning the inky black sky into a deep blue. At this point we caught our first glimpse of the surrounding mountains, and they were nothing short of spectacular. Quite simply breathtaking. And this was only the beginning. Still feeling lightheaded and more than a bit nauseous, I took the lead out from the checkpoint and we started our climb up a small forest trail that quickly turned into a steep, but pleasantly inclined asphalt road. We had 15 km to go to our next stop and one of the biggest climbs of the race ahead of us.
Checkpoint 2, Federavecchia
With a bit of trepidation, we turned onto a narrow path on a sparsely forested hillside and continued our climb through the woods. My good spirits were returning with the morning sun and for the first time in six hours, I felt energized and enthusiastic. I chattered on about this and that, but at the moment poor Jakob was proving a very unreceptive audience. He admitted to feeling ill and after a few minutes, we stopped for a minute so he could step off the path, stick a couple of fingers down his throat and force a vomit. Drying off his mouth, he stepped back on the trail and smiled feebly. ”OK, let’s go. I’m feeling better. What’s an ultra without a puke or two, eh?” I smiled, patted him on the back and dropped behind a few paces in order to let him take the lead and control the pace. I was feeling a lot better, the nausea evaporated with the darkness of the night. How come we had felt so queasy and lightheaded? I couldn’t remember a single time during training or competition that I had felt like this, apart from when I had been on the verge of an infection or had overdosed on salt. We analyzed our race so far, but couldn’t come up with a proper answer. I hadn’t eaten as many gels and bars as I normally used to, but I felt fine both stamina- and energywise. Jakob had eaten at regular intervals and we had both taken salt tablets and reminded each other to drink regularly. We were even taking a leak around every third or fourth hour, which meant we were properly hydrated. Was it the altitude playing tricks on us? Or were we both coming down with a viral infection? A cold or something? Well, not much we could do about it at this point but to trudge on. And so we did. We moved through beautiful landscapes and I couldn’t take my eyes off the jaw-droppingly gorgeous white-capped peaks, the dazzlingly clear mountain lakes and the beautifully vivid azure sky. The climb from Federavecchia up to Rifugio Auronzo at the foot of the triplet summits of Lavaredo that give the race it’s name was a killer. Pure and simple. One. Foot. In. Front. Of. The. Other. And. Repeat.
09.15, Saturday 28th June
50 km (2 450 m), Forcella Lavaredo
We had been given a chance to change to dry clothes at Rifugio Auronzo a couple of km further back, and I had chosen to change from long tights to my preferred shorts. We had taken a longer break of about 20 minutes where we had sat down and gulped down a cup of hot noodle soup each. There was no dawdling, though, and as soon as we had filled our camelpacks outside the rifugio we were off again. Now, we were walking along a wide path right next to the foot of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, and the view from where we were running was positively stunning. It was in the middle of the morning and the sun was gently but firmly chasing away the mists and clouds that were retreating down the mountains. Even though we were at almost 2 500 m, the highest point of the entire race, the tallest of the three peaks – Cima Grande – loomed high above us at 2 999 m. We were sorry for the elite runners who must’ve missed these beautiful sights since they had most probably run the passage in darkness.
Dad starting out the Cortina Trail at 08.00, Saturday morning.
At the same time, we sent a prayer and a thought to dad who was an hour into his own race and was probably climbing Passo Posporcora as we were descending down into Val della Riénza. The route of the Cortina Trail would initially follow the same path as our own race, but at Passo Posporcora it would cut sharply west along the foot of Col Rosa (2 166 m) and descend down the mountain before starting the longest climb up Val Travenanzes to Forcella Col de Bos (2 331 m), and dad would then effectively overtake us as we ourselves would not reach the bottom of the valley earlier than after 80 km. At the very top of the path we asked a Chinese competitor to take a photo of us with Val Travenanzes and Monte Rudo (2 799 m) in the background, and he happily obliged.
Standing by Tre Cime di Lavaredo (2 450 m).
The long run down from Lavaredo to the checkpoint at Cimabanche was the second steepest of the race and we were overtaken several times by the same group of Greek runners who had trouble deciding in what pace to run. They thundered dangerously past us at all of the narrow passages where a slight misstep would at best only twist your ankle and at worst send you hurtling down into the tumbling stream below the trail. Then, annoyingly, they took long breaks, winded as they were, at irregular intervals and at wider sections of the trail where we had no trouble passing them. I really hated – sorry – misliked these inconsiderate idiots – sorry – egotistical nitwits who were recklessly flayling with their running poles while trying to keep their balance, a monumentous feat of coordination, clearly overloading the sorry capacity of their single brain cells. The trail widened into a broad gravel path with the stream alongside it on the left which grew step by step into a tumbling river. We caught up with our Chinese friend and chatted for a bit before we sped on past him. We ran all the way to the bottom of the valley where finally the slope levelled out and we followed the river to Lago di Landro, a lake of cloudy jade green with Monte Piano (2 305 m) towering right behind it. This was the flattest portion of the race, and we settled into a leisurely pace in order to reach the next check point with strength to spare before the next two climbs. At the next checkpoint, Cimabanche, we were surprised and delighted to see Tad whom we had texted earlier in the day to let him know that everything was going as planned. We had managed to run according to our most optimistic plan (averaging a bit more than 5 km per hour in order to finish the race in 24 hours) and reached the aid station in good spirits. Tad patted our backs in encouragement and acted the offical photographer and indeed, the best photos we have from the weekend are thanks to him and his camera. We talked for a bit, and feeling highly motivated we headed off.
Checkpoint 4, Cimabanche.
After a few minutes, it started to rain softly and we stopped for a few seconds to put our windjackets on. We’d been lucky so far, but from now on we were sure to run a fair bit of the race in rain. We crossed the road that Tad had driven to get to the checkpoint and waved back to a pair of small girls waving to us by the forest’s edge. The path disappeared up Val de Gótres towards the top of Forcella Lerosa (2 020 m) and it rained almost the entire climb up. Jakob was hurting in his knee and I had very surprisingly started to feel a dull ache in the back of my left knee, which was very odd. That knee had never bothered me before. I pushed it out of my head and as we reached the the top of the pass we picked up the pace and passed several runners who had passed us on our way up. Once again, it was a zig-zag path down until we reached checkpoint five at Malga Ra Stua where we filled our hungry bellies with hot soup and cold Red Bull. Not an obvious combination, I’ll grant you, but you wouldn’t be so fussy either after having covered 76 km on foot.
Climbing up through the entrance to Val Travenanzes.
17.30, Saturday 28th June
82 km (2 000 m), Ru Travenanzes
”I think we’d better to take our shoes off. It’s raining and pretty soon we’ll be soaked through anyway, but lets keep our feet dry for as long as we can.” I stuffed my socks in my shoes, stood up and took a tentative step towards the clear stream. I plunged in and gingerly stumbled over to the other bank where I hastily sat down, wiped my feet with my socks and put my shoes back on again. The water was F R E E Z I N G! Jakob followed suit and waded quickly over to my bank. It had been raining for the better part of an hour and were halfway up the toughest and rockiest climb of the entire race. 1 000 vertical metres in less than 10 km in the spectacular Val Travenanzes. The valley was narrow and straight, hemmed in by steep, steep cliffs of purest dolomite rock reaching up to 3 244 m (Tofana Mezzo) at it’s highest point, more than 1 200 metres above our heads. The wind, rain and heavy skies formed a sensational tapestry of breathtaking beauty and it was quite simply the most wonderful rain I had ever run in. Have I ever told you that I love running in the rain? A million times, probably.
Even though we were both cold, we were enjoying every minute. We had climbed through the forest guarding the entrance to the valley and had crossed several high-spanning wooden bridges over cascading waterfalls, probably not unlike the one Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes went down after their little tussle. We had even carefully traversed a few snowcovered slopes on our way up. Sadly, our merriment didn’t last long. We were required to cross the river not once, not twice, but three times in less than two kilometres, and to tell you the truth it went on my nerves there for a bit. Mumbling curses through my teeth I set a pace that was probably a bit too quick on the slippery stones, but when we finally emerged from the valley at Forcella Col dei Bos (2 331 m), I had calmed down a bit. As we turned back around to take in the view of the valley behind us, an amulance helicopter swooshed above our heads in the direction from where we had come. It made an elegant turn around the highest peaks to the west and then went down for landing far below down by the river, just as a few rays of sunlight pierced the rain clouds to the west and illuminated the landing zone. Next to where we stood, there was a semi—checkpoint with a couple of volunteers standing sentry and handing out chocolate biscuits to the passing runners. I asked one of them in Italian if something was wrong and if anybody was gravely injured, and he replied that some poor guy had slipped and probably broken his leg. It wouldn’t have been possible to evacuate him with a land-based vehicle from the valley, since there were no roads, and walking up or down from either of the checkpoints was out of the question, both due to the distance and to the difficult terrain. Helicopter evac was the only option. Disaster lurked around every corner, but we couldn’t really do anything else than continue on our way, sending a small prayer skyward for our unknown fallen comrade. It took a good while to reach the next checkpoint at Rifugio Col Galina at 93 km and 2 000 m. We went up some serpentines, and we went down some other serpentines. And then we had to climb up again, even though the elevation chart said we only had downhill running left all the way to the checkpoint. I felt this to be pretty irritating, to tell you the truth. My outburst by the river a few hours earlier should have given me ample warning of my energy reserves, and my current mood certainly should have been. Oblivious, as one tends to be at this point of exhaustion though, I trodded on, drinking water and ingesting salt regularly, but eating far, far too little. We arrived at the Rifugio at half past seven in the evening, which meant that dad only had half an hour to go before the deadline of his own race, with the maximum time limit being 12 hours. I checked with the time-keeping official next to the timer mat where we had entered the aid station, but he couldn’t find anyone else with my surname having passed the checkpoint. I have to admit that at this point, I started to get more than a little nervous. I asked him to check again, and just as before he drew a blank. Then he hesitated and asked; ”Wait a second, which race was he running again?” ”The Cortina Trail. He should have passed here ages ago!” ”Ah! I’ve typed in the wrong race. Here he is. He passed the finish line in Cortina not two minutes ago.” An enormous weight lifted off my shoulders. My dad is fit and an experienced runner, but this was his first ultra and he had never run in conditions and terrain like this before, so I had been worrying for him ever since we had arrived in Italy. But now he was safe, and I could focus on Jakob’s and my own race. Fantastic! We only had 26 km left to the finish line, and even though we had mucked up in the valley and missed our chance at finishing in 24 hours, we still had a good shot a finishing sub-26. Or so I thought. Setting out from the aid station, my left knee started throbbing wildly and it quite suddenly felt as if it had swollen to the size of a melon, despite Jakob’s assurances that it hadn’t. The first kilometre went slowly, despite the level terrain. And our pace sank even further as we started to climb the trail next to the skiing slope up towards Rifugio Averau (2 649 m). For a long time, we had a bearded young Italian in a black long-sleeved shirt just ahead of us, but we were simply too slow and he soon vanished behind the hills. Darkness started to fall as we emerged from the trees above the treeline and made our way up, up, up. I started to feel dizzy as I groped for my headtorch and beanie in my backpack. I could not for the life of me increase my pace, but I got a little bit of energy from the hot tea served at the Rifugio at the top. We made our way down the slope on the south side, and suddenly the markings vanished completely in the curtain of fog that was climbing up the hill towards us. We had to be very careful not to lose sight of the red-white streamers, but somehow one of us always managed to find the next one shortly after we had passed the last one. We were running downhill in a comfortable pace and I felt a feeling of peace descend over me. The trail markings indicated a sharp turn to the left up a steep slope, despite the gravel road continuing forward and downhill. I cursed again. We were supposed to be running downhill all the way to the checkpoint. Could this be correct? I manouvered in among the big rocks and started to follow Jakob who held a steady pace among the boulders.
Earlier in the day, the Tre Cime di Lavaredo.
21.00, Saturday 28th June
98 km (2 300 m), close to checkpoint 7 at Passo Giau in the Dolomites
What the hell was happening? My muscles were suddenly out of power. My mind, willing my legs to take one step forward at a time, was the only thing that kept me going. I was spent. Completely and utterly spent. I was completely rational about it, meaning my brain was still working properly. The brain is the last part of your body to shut down in a crisis. It consumes more glucose (blood sugar) per gram of weight than any other organ in the body, and is to be protected at all costs. OK, so thank you My brain is working but my legs aren’t? Splendid. Just splendid. I realize what’s about to happen, even if I can’t – won’t! – admit it to myself. And what’s more; at this point, I don’t understand how it can happen. I have never, ever felt like this before. It’s as if someone had just turned off the ignition in a car.vI ask Jakob to slow down as I trembingly sit down on a rock next to the path. I can hardly bend my legs. I tell him that it’s going to be a very slow walk to the next checkpoint, asking him to have patience with me. I have had difficulty pulling enough air down into my lungs and have been panting harder than I should have for more than an hour now, but I suddenly realize that it feels like I am only breathing with one lung. At long last, we arrive at checkpoint seven at Passo Giau, the penultimate checkpoint. I ask for a blanket and Jakob hands me his own survival sheet of aluminium foil. It works well and keeps the chilly winds off my legs at least, in the open tent where the volunteers are serving food and water. I gratefully accept an offer to sit in the ambulance for a bit in order to recover. Stepping into the heated car is like passing through the Pearly Gates of Heaven. I’m completely immersed in heat, but it still takes me long to warm up. The medic takes my pulse and blood pressure, both of them fine. But my oxygen saturation, which should be up at at least 98-99%, is slowly beating a rhythm of it’s own at 88%. Even with the altitude taken into account, that’s pretty low. The partial pressure of oxygen at higher altitude is lower than at sea level, meaning the air up here contains less oxygen per milliliter air than say, in Göteborg. It takes a full thirty minutes for the indicator to rise all the way to 94%, but then it parks stubbornly at that set of numbers, not budging an inch. Feeling better after water, warmth and an energy bar, I wave to Jakob through the window of the ambulance and open the door. It’s like I have opened the door to a freezing Antarctic plateau in the dead of winter. I take a deep breath and tell Jakob that I want to try to continue. We’ve run 103 km and only have 16 left, for the love of God. Come on! Jakob gives me a crooked smile and a pat on the back, and we start walking towards the next streamer we can see down the road. Towards Cortina and the finish line. I make it 10 meters before I have to stop. I simply don’t have an ounce of energy left in my body. It’s all gone. I should feel like crying, but I don’t have the energy to feel sorry for myself. I only feel… empty. I turn to face Jakob, look into his eyes and utter the unthinkable words: ”I have to abandon the race. I can’t go on and if I’m honest, it’s dangerous to try and conquer this terrain in the dark in my present state. I’m sorry.” ”Well, if that’s how you feel, I won’t try to convince you. You really look exhausted, you know. Well. Where’s the fun in running alone, eh?” And he abandoned the race together with me. And at that moment, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief.
Ambulance pit stop.
Sunday 29th June
Pezie, just outside Cortina d’Ampezzo
We had breakfast at the same friendly café as two days previously. Wonderful Tad had driven up to the top of the pass to pick us up and had driven us home to our beds after we abandoned the race. I more or less crashed into my bed immediately, only hugging my dad for a quick bit, congratulating him to his extraordinary achievement. Dad has been running as long as I have, and in that time, he’s run two marathons (Athens and New York) and succesfully finished a difficult ultra race. For a 62-year old, that’s pretty damn impressive. Discussing the race with dad, Tad and Jakob, I slowly came to realize (it was pretty obvious once I’d had a good night’s sleep, but when it happened, I didn’t have a clue what was going on) that what I had done was simply ”hit the wall”. My conclusion was annoyingly simple, but it made sense, and that was enough for me. Our famous Factor X – the altitude of the race – had quite probably given us nausea, as evidenced by Jakob’s vomiting early on in the race and myself narrowly avoiding to hurl in our rental car on our way home after abandoning, which in turn had prevented me from consuming the calories I had needed to eat during the race. Adding up all the bars and gels I had eaten revealed that I had been short on energy. Woefully short, even with the extra calories in the guise of drinks, cookies, nuts, nutella, salty chips and hot noodle soup I had found in the aid stations. Jakob, who is always hungry during these races, has a different type of hunger signal in his brain to trigger an eating response. Mine is lacking. Now that I had my answer, I could relax a bit. Jakob’s girlfriend Marija arrived by train in the afternoon and we all had a lovely evening at our local pizzeria, enjoying the quarter finals of the FIFA World Cup and celebrating dad’s monumental performance the previous day. Congratulations, dad!
A view of Cinque Torri from our apartment window, a point Jakob and I sadly never reached.
The athletes and our official photographer Tad with Marija’s handpainted sign.
23.30, Saturday 19 July
Today, three weeks have passed since The North Face Lavaredo Ultra Trail and the more days that have passed, the more disappointed I have been that I was forced to abandon the race. Not only because of the race itself, but for the lost three qualifying points for UTMB. I had it in me to finish, but due to two different reasons, I hadn’t. The first one, that I should have had under control, was nutrition. The second, unfortunately less under my direct control, was the altitude. Ideally, we should have arrived a week earlier to acclimatize to the climate, altitude and surroundings of the race. Sadly, I have other duties at home that take first priority, and sometimes you can’t prepare for every single eventuality since you don’t always have the control you need. If that’s the case, all you can do is train, prepare to 99,9% and then rely on your body and mind to carry you through.
My thirst for revenge and another shot at proving to myself that I can, indeed, win three more qualifying points for next year’s UTMB, have led me to search for another ultra this year. So keep your fingers crossed!
On another note, you awesome people have helped us raise $ 2 325 (15 000 SEK) for our charity Reece’s Rainbow!!! As always, your generosity has touched us deeply and rest assured that your money will come to very good use in helping a child with Down’s syndrome to find his or her new family. If you haven’t donated yet, please lend a helping hand right here:
Thanks for reading and God bless!
Jakob, Jakob and Jozef
The three musketeers :D