Hardly an hour has gone by during the past week where I haven't been reliving, contemplating, rationalizing my entire Transvulcania experience. To say that my race-day performance was a disappointment would be a massive understatement. It does't scratch the surface of the mound of complex emotions and analysis of that day.
This post is going to be different than my usual - I'm just going to state some facts below. I don't have many answers (and I don't know if I ever will), but I'm done with the emotional rollercoaster ride, and this is my last step towards closure. So here we go:
- I had possibly the BEST training block of my life leading into Transvulcania. Not only was I on fire physically, but I thoroughly enjoyed the process and the challenge every single day. I feel like I eased off the gas at the right time and hit my 3-week taper bang on.
- I completed the best heat-training block that I have ever done. Tempo runs in 40 degrees (and humidity) were effortless. BUT...I did absolutely no altitude prep for this race.
- I pre-aclimated to the time zone in La Palma. By the time I landed in Europe (8 days prior to race day), I was already pretty much on La Palma time...which means I honestly felt zero jet-lag, and can't use that as an excuse.
- Seven days before the race, I narrowly avoided a horrible collision with a elder, hiking, tourist. To avoid steamrolling the woman, I took a dive into some sharp rocks. I was a fucking idiot to be running so fast down an incredibly technical descent so close to a big race. The second I stood up from that tumble, my right leg was numb from the knee down.
- I'm great at denial, and I followed my plan for the next 6 days... ignoring any pain that I felt in my knee.
- Tuesday before the race I went up to the high point on the course (2450m) and felt like a million dollars. Ran easy for about 90 minutes and felt strong, smooth, and had a ton of spring in my step. I then took Wednesday off.
- Both Thursday and Friday mornings I went to El PIlar (a major aid station at about 27km on the course). It sits at about 1450m. I did some light quality on both days, but it felt like I was up at 12,000'...not 5000'. I was shocked at how I was all of a sudden struggling at such a low altitude. I did my best to ignore any negative thoughts, and kept telling myself that race day is a totally different animal and that l'd be fine.
- I had an incredibly smooth race-day morning. Low stress, felt relaxed, got in a reasonable warm up. With that said (in hindsight), I was carrying way too much gear/nutrition/weight for the course.
- I had set out what I thought was a conservative 8-hour race plan for myself. The idea was to run easy for the first third (mostly climbing), strong in the middle 25km (rolling), and hammer the last third (long DH section). In the back of my mind, I really thought 8-hours would be my worst case scenario, and that I would begin to pull ahead of that pace by mid-race and start working my way through the field.
- I started off at a jog, and I ran with Anna Frost for the first 7km (and chatted to her most of the way). I got to the first check point right on pace for my 8 hour race. The only hick-up - at 1km I got blinded by the lights of a TV crew and I tripped onto some asphalt (I wasn't the only one it happened to). I landed right on my sore right knee...but I easily ignored it at that time.
- By 90 minutes into the race, at maybe 1400m, my HR was absolutely pinned (well above 160). I was barely jogging, I was shivering - generating almost no body heat, but I could not control my HR. Even when I walked, which seemed like a ridiculously slow pace to me, I just felt powerless. Plus, I had a screaming head ache....and I (almost) never get head aches.
- Even during the short descent from 1900m down to El Pilar (1450m), I felt like I was climbing everest. I hadn't called it quits at that point though and I tried to keep a positive outlook - 'it's a long day...I'm not too far off my goal pace...I will work through this'.
- I had to walk several times during the flat section from 27km to 35km. It was barely even at 1500m, but as soon as I would start to run, my heart was pounding a hole in my chest. By about 35km I knew my race was over. I was now out for a hike.
- Pretty much as soon as I had conceded defeat, my knee started to hurt on even the smallest of descents. I began to guard it and relying heavily on my left leg. With memories of previous injury-induced travel disasters, I made the decision that I was going to drop out at the high point of the course (Roque de las Muchachos, 2450m) to avoid the 19km steep descent into Tazacorte.
- I managed to take in a lot of the course and talk with many of the spectators during my hike. Without a doubt, the Transvulcania route was one of the most beautiful trails I have ever seen. There were a lot of similarities to the Howe Sound Crest Trail - but at twice the altitude, and with some unique volcanic terrain that we just don't see around home.
- At Roque I was thankfully able to catch a ride with Martin (team Scott manger) back to the finish. At the time, I was convinced that I had made the right choice. I was stunned and feeling sorry for myself about what had happened, but I was avoiding doing more significant damage to my knee.
- The next day, the thoughts of regret were starting to bubble up. Why didn't I just take another 5 or 6 hours and baby-step to the finish? I still can't shake them.
- And as a final thought...I really enjoyed my visit to La Palma, even though I crapped-the-bed on race day. The people, the town, and the atmosphere were incredible. (It was very reminiscent of the feel at Ironman Penticton about a decade ago). I would recommend the race to absolutely anyone. I feel lucky to have experienced it all, and I need to thank Inov-8 Canada for helping make it happen.
Here are some great shots from the Transvulcania course. I have to give credit to Ian Corless for all of them. He was shooting Transvulcania for the Skyrunner World Series. (I didn't carry a phone with a camera for the race, so had no means to take photos during my hike). It's tough to get the true perspective from a sampling of photos, but imagine a spiny, rocky, dragons back, rising out of a sea of cloud.