Surrendering to a dream of a lifetime, to an existence’s ambition

"Surrendering to a dream of a lifetime, to an existence’s ambition, just when you can touch it; only the ones who went through such desappointment know how it feels like" (Paul Michaud)

I had thought about the race a thousand times, gotten ready for anything (intestinal problems, wounds, broken gear, rain, etc) but not a single second had I imagined this…  

Part I: I want

D-Day: as I slowly wake-up after a good night sleep, I hear a sound that I do not particularly care for: the sound of a car’s tires on a wet road. I head towards the window and  see pouring rain falling from the sky. I open my room’s door. My cousin who is with me is also awake and had also looked outside. We look at each other without exchanging a word for a moment. I am calm and serene (I live in Sweden so I'm used to bad weather!...) but still sigh strongly. He says: “All right, it’s 9am, the race starts at 6.30pm tonight, there’s still time to clear up”. A few minutes later, thunder bursts. Either the sky is answering to my cousin saying “I think you’re bloody wrong my friend!” or it is showing its hard work to drive away the clouds and let the sun shine.

The day passes as we wait not for the start to kick but for the sun to come out. Yet, despite the rain, I am eager, impatient and really have the will to run and finally take part to this race, my lifetime dream and savor this new chance that I was granted after my withdrawal last year.

6.30pm please ring.

6pm: the sky is dark but the rain has stops as I am heading towards the line with my dad, older sister and cousin. For the two latter, it is the first time they are following me on a race in situ. They were the first ones to follow me online, not leaving their computer screens for hours but this time, it’s really live. I can see that they are as excited as I am. It’s the atmosphere: they are experiencing what I lived 4 years ago, on this same square, in this feeling that we can only understand when we live it. That was when I had told my dad: “Next year you’ll be cheering for me”. However, they try to remain the most neutral possible not to disturb me. Yet I feel and know that they are happy to be there, with me, maybe a bit for me too. They are excited to be part of this amazing adventure, from their side of the road. They cannot wait for it to begin either and that galvanizes me a hell lot!

Getting ready...

6.30pm: it’s the start. I leave my “team” behind and begin these first meters with blurry eyes. I'm enjoying. From this first second and on for 43h, I want to ENJOY and make the most of everything: four years,  it has been four years I am dreaming about this finish line. Four years... Not a single training have I not shed a tear thinking about this line I would cross after running this beautiful track among these beautiful mountains; my dream. It’s just as strong a feeling to cross it the other way around. From the first steps, several people grab my hand and cheer: “Congrats Miss” or “Go girls!!”. Even the organizing team pats my back and tells me: “Come on now, see you in a few hours”.

As we leave downtown, the crowd is shrinking but the rain is back with us. Even though we are now running in the forest, we are getting really wet so I take out my jacket. I may be wet but my will is beyond waterproof. A few minutes later, I meet Camilla, a Swedish girl who ends up having done the same race as me in Stockholm (report here), under heavy weather conditions as well. We agree that we’ve seen worse and that this big rain does not bother us at all!

After one hour, still under an intermittent but heavy rain, we start the first ascent. Despite the wind that has joined the party too and which is helping the rain to take our temperature down, we are both doing good and keep on talking and smiling at what we went through in Sweden.

After 2h30 running, the night has come, rushed by the bad weather so Camilla and I take out our head lamps. Then we start the descent towards Saint Gervais where I will meet my “team” for the first time. I cannot wait!! However, we are rushing slowly because the terrain, already slippery in regular conditions is a real ice rink today. Our feet slide twice or three times as much ahead with only one step. People fall around me. I don’t but I trip a lot which amuses me. My smile is quickly stopped from hearing a runner’s phone conversation. He is saying the race has stopped. Since they are a group of three, I think that maybe I misunderstood: they have a friend who has stopped… That would explain their faces. A few minutes later, another phone call, another runner. Same thing. Could it be another friend too? I hope. I really hope. I really really hope. But a third phone call destroys my hope. I tell Camilla who answers “It’s not possible. I hope it’s not true”. I tell her not to say it, not to think about it. We must not, in no condition, start thinking that the race might be stopped. It’s the best way to lose the will to go on once in Saint Gervais if the race continues. I tell her that we must think about the ascent towards La Croix du Bonhomme, the next step in the race which is going to demand a whole lot of energy. We need to keep everything we have and which is already badly treated by the cold and slippery terrain.

A bit later, we reach the first houses of Saint Gervais, perched on the steep incline. There is a race volunteer and two children. They tell us: “Don’t you know the race has been stopped?” A man running by our sides sighs “I knew it, it’s over”. I answer right away: “But they don’t know a thing. It might just be temporary. We must remain optimistic!”. I translate to Camilla and tell her we must remain optimistic. When we enter the small streets, another volunteer has his arms crossed in the air. I am not watching and continue. Several runners stop running. One of them says: “All this money for nothing”. I answer that there are far more things but money to be disappointed about. Camilla and I keep on running. Once on the main street, there are very little people compared to last year. They are cheering less than last year too. Barely a few claps. They look at us with sympathy. There is no music anymore. Camilla and I speed up a little like we wanted to get faster to the information source. But we know. It’s clear now and our optimism can no longer work. Looking at all these runners, not in a hurry to fill their bottles, talking to everyone around, we know. I may sigh deeply, several times, yet I do not feel anything in particular, feelings I could put words on, nothing violent rushing through me. I think I just do not understand. Rather, I’m still waiting: my will and optimism have not vanished completely and I’m still waiting for a solution, I know they have one. They must have one. Some around me are relieved, relieved not to have to fight against the elements. Not a split second do I feel like this. Just like a child on school’s first day, I want to raise my arms in the air, trying to grab what I can’t reach anymore, what’s taken away from me. The atmosphere is eerie. I look around, everywhere, I keep on waiting, keep on hoping. I then call my team, to meet them, maybe they know something more. Dad answers and tells me they are still in Chamonix. The organization buses did not leave. Snow, wind and hail were on the menu at the next summits but it’s mainly the cold and the mud slides that decided the organization to stop the race and its 2300 runners. Since he does not have any more information, he tells me to come back. After 21kms out of 166, this line of Saint Gervais will have be our finish line.

Back to Chamonix’s train station, after having waited for an hour in the cold, under the rain, pushed by the other runners, my team awaits for me. Their faces also look down. They force themselves to smile. I can see they try to hide their own disappointment to try and cheer me the best they can. It must not have been easy for them, two disappointments to handle… We talk a little but mainly hurry towards the shower because despite having changed, I am really really cold. Looking back, when I went to sleep, I think I did not realize. I was still in the disbelief, still hoping and waiting, deep inside, that a solution was to come, that it wasn’t over. How could it be? The race had barely if not at all started! I kept on wondering: “When on Earth do we start?”

Opening my eyes the following morning, I wonder which day it is. “Tell me it’s Monday. Tell me I am hurting everywhere, in every little corner of my body. Tell me I have trouble moving. Tell me all of that because I have fought til the end, because I have lived and reached my dream! Tell me I made it, tell me I’m worth.” But I can’t feel a thing. I hurt nowhere except for my heart and soul. Not a single visible wound, no bloody skin, no cuts, no bruises, no mud marks, no lost nails. Nothing. Disbelief and awaiting have been replaced by anger and psychological pain. I want to scream, I want to bay at the moon, find an atonement to my pain.

During breakfast, we see on the TV that the race is going to start back again, from the half point and I receive at about the same time the information by text message sent in the night by the organization. The number of runners is limited and the start will be kicked at 10am. It’s 9am passed…

Hours pass by and I still feel like the start is soon to come. It really feels like we have not taken the start yesterday, like the race has not happened. 21kms is shorter than my simplest trainings. It must be today, when are we leaving?! Yet, when I do realize, I look at my watch and think “By this time, I would be there…” And this for 43h, the time I had planned to run the race…

In the afternoon, the four of us are close by the main square and start/finish line when a team running the PTL (another race, started two days earlier and who avoided some of the bad weather) arrive. We are very numerous in that square and we cheer. I start having tears in my eyes as I always do when I see runners on a race. These tears soon turn into a sea flooding my face. It’s like my lungs were being ripped out. I feel so weak and yet I want to scream my heart out. I want to tear my vocal cords as much as I will have screamed but I need to bleed all my sadness.

Part II: I wanted

I wanted to cross that line. That’s what I wanted. That’s all I wanted. And it had been four years. For this one in particular, it had been from the following day to my withdrawal a year ago, and then from the kick off to my 6 months specific training, it’s all I was thinking about, always and each time a bit more. It was making me happy and motivated me. I love this sport, it’s making me grow so much. All these hours thinking about it, testing the gears, thinking about the course of the race, the things to do, all the trainings with butterflies in my stomach, the adrenaline rushing through and the blurry eyes picturing myself running the last meters, all of this pushing me to go farther. All of that was going to make sense when crossing the line, the ultimate moment. I wanted to feel my legs fly away, feel the wind blow beneath my wings and take me to the line. I wanted that line. I do not feel like I did all of this for nothing, as opposed to what I’ve heard, I know it’s stored for the future and the races to come. I just wanted all of that to pay now. The pain and anger come from this terrible feeling of not having accomplished what I have worked for. As opposed to last year where I was able to run until I could (voluntarily) no longer run, I have not had the chance this year. It’s like I had a second service for the game’s win but my arm is held back. I have the ball in my hand, I know it’s going to pass the net but I cannot do anything.

This year, I was serene, I had worked a lot, I had turned all the remorse and pain into an energy packed with positive strengths. I only focused on the great things and happiness of the race. I was impatient to live each single moment. I wanted to run by night, among this peculiar and magical silence, a mix of concentration, energy optimization and mystery. I wanted to see that “light snake” created by our head lamps, winding up and down the mountain. During the second night, I wanted to experience all the hallucinations which finishers all talk about and which make this race so special. Would I have seen pink pigs? Yellow and blue elks?? I wanted to be breath-taken by the beauty of the rising sun on the col de la Seigne and then Catogne summits. I wanted to share a laugh with the volunteers, during the day or in the middle of the night, a volunteer that would have been the only living soul I would have seen for a while. I wanted to no longer be able to wait to see my team because I wanted to discover their face and smile when I would have finally arrived to an aid stop. I wanted to hear their jokes and priceless support to which I would have answered: “See you in a couple of hours, don’t be late!”. I wanted to feel all the bones and muscles of my body to start hurting but be able to transcend this, only thinking about the next step to make, finding this inner force, see that I am capable, that I have it.I wanted that more than anything. I could not have been more confident about my strengths and the bad weather was actually an added force. I was convinced I was going to survive well this first night and then, with the better weather welcoming us in Italy, everything would be fine. I did not imagine myself crossing the line like last year, I saw myself. I wanted to run 43h. I wanted to run the UTMB.

What is tough and unfair is that I do not control anything, I am not responsible for what happened like last year. There is no one to blame. I cannot point my bitterness and pain towards anything or anyone. They are both in me, playing with my heart and soul and I cannot do anything but wait for them to leave me in peace. It is said that luck is when opportunity meets work. Bad luck is just bad luck… We/ I just have to accept that Mother Nature and Mother Mountain were in a bad mood this year and did not want to see or hear us: they asked us to leave. We wanted to play and share something with them without accepting or rather concealing their rules, as cruel as they are.

I am beyond deeply sad and disappointed because I not only was not able to live and reach my dream which I’ve waited for and worked so much for but also because I won’t have been able to share it. My cousin was going to film these three days of joy, from both sides: mine so I have memories when I wake up and theirs. I wanted to see and understand their experience too. I wanted to make sure they got some slices of the cake too. I wanted to give back to my cousin all the support and admiration (still un-understood today) he provided me for so long. I still have in mind his closed fist half raised in the air as I was starting. I knew he would have supported me when needed, with our humor that only us understand. I wanted to give back to my sister all the support as well for these four years and in particular the understanding in the last months about my diet and 6am wake ups to go training. My older sister… And I wanted to give back to thank my dad to always encourage and support me in all the sports I’ve done and in particular this one. I wanted to thank him for the financing to enable me to reach my goals and in such good conditions. I know he’ll keep on helping me (not only finances…) and especially for this race because he knows what it means to me. I discovered it with him 4 years ago and it’s the one I always train for. This race made me who I am. Summer was always dreadful as I was wandering, without a goal, waiting for the new ski season to start. Now I love both seasons and I feel great running in the mountains. They are my kingdom, where I belong, where I live for real. 

I know that as long as I won’t have completed it, I’ll feel empty.

The race course: 166kms, 9600m altitude change, 10 summits above 2000m high and 3 countries crossed


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