We left Cogne on a calm and warmer-than-expected morning. Immediately, the rhythm of the Tor des Geants began to establish itself. The trail through the forest started by climbing and the fatigue and lack of sleep was soon forgotten. The sun came up revealing yet another beautiful day on the horizon. With daylight, a heavy, thick coating of frost appeared from the earth. On this day, it got even colder when the sun came out.
Quickly we climbed, out of tree line and into a open, barren landscape to arrive at our first aid station, the Rifigio Sogno di Berdze. Through the dark of the morning and into the twilight of the day we had already climbed 1,000metres.
We took a longer than usual break, to enjoy a Espresso, the wood burning fireplace and a bathroom break. We also ran into Craig, who was celebrating his birthday. He'd taken a unique approach to his race and had been in motion for 3 days, forgoing any sleep and just staying in motion. The birthday boy was in fine spirits, but he looked like shit. :)
A final push with another 300metres of elevation, took us to the top of Fenetre Di Champorcher, our high point for the day. I had thought that this would be an easier day, with only 16km of climbing followed by a massive descent to the bottom of the Aosta Valley. As we started our descent, I was surprised to find that my legs were not working well. In fact, they weren't working at all. I was hopeful that my legs would loosen up and eventually, I could cruise the downhill. I had to be hopeful, because according to our route map we were about to descend over 30 rolling kilometres and drop from Champorcher (elevation 2,826m) to the town of Donnas (elevation 330m).
That's a net descent of 2,496 metres over 30km. Ouch.
During this time, we were also passed by an older french couple who wanted no part of our giggling, photo taking and overall Joie de vivre. We were to spend the day juggling position with them and I made it my goal to get them to crack a smile. They remained stony faced and Tres Serieuse.
I was still having fun, but my legs were not cooperating. They hadn't loosened up and it appeared, that they were not going to. My shins started to get really angry, really quickly. So, rather than suffer through every running stride, I began to walk. Ang was also suffering with some knee pain, so she was more than happy to walk with me.
It was a beautiful descent through a lush forest and back in to civilisation to the village of Chardonney. This was to be a wonderful day with a real taste of the Aosta Valley as we rolled through village, after village, across cobbled streets, through dark forests, raging streams and peoples yards.
The village of Pontboset was warm and welcoming, but the streets were empty. It was evident that the tourists had gone home for the season and we were going to be the last visitors of the summer to enjoy this beautiful place.
Unfortunately, my shin pain went from bad to worse. While I was enjoying my incredible tour of the villages of the Aosta Valley, my legs were hating the hard surfaces of the road and cobblestone. My walking strides were punctuated with sharp stabbing pain, enough to take my breath away. I plodded on and distracted myself with lots of photos.
Eventually, a thought niggled it's way into my brain. If I was having this much trouble descending a perfect trail, how on earth was I going to descend off a rugged high mountain pass in the middle of the night?
By the time we reached the village of Hone, I had decided that my race was done. It was actually a really, easy decision. I could barely walk, the pain was intense and I just knew. Sharp, stabbing pain is never a good thing. Since I've been running, I've never had any pain before in my lower legs before. I thought maybe I had disabling shin splints or worse yet, a stress fracture. Either way, there was no way I was going to be heading out on a mountainous, rugged, technical, ass-kicking, high alpine mountain trail in the state that I was in. I could have gone easily uphill, my climbing muscles were working great, but the problem was getting back down the other side. No. Way.
It was a beautiful day and as afternoon turned to evening, I was still enjoying my surroundings. I was almost relieved to be done and it was the easiest decision I ever made. As we reached the town of Donnas, the sharp, stabbing pain in my shins had reached epic proportions and it was literally, taking my breath away.
Upon arrival at Donnas, we had a virtual support crew of attentive friends there to support us. Tim and Ahvi were running around getting us food and icepacks. It was awesome. I told them I was done, but they didn't believe me.
I pulled off my compression socks and shoes to reveal a hot, red swollen shin and ankle. My range of motion in my ankle and foot was non-existant. I couldn't point or flex my toes, and it hurt to force the motion.
The stoic french couple, also arrived at the aid station. They were clearly exhausted, but their eyes were still sparkling. I was very surprised when the woman approached me and gave me some muscle rub as a peace offering. She leaned over quietly, discreetly and said to me en francais, "I love that you are doing this with your friend. I am impressed with your team spirit and you are having so much fun. Such good friends are hard to find." And she gave me a small, coy, secretive smile.
We also found Max at the aid station. He was all taped up and getting ready to go. You can't slow a good mountain man down. Almost 3 and a half days later, Max rolled in to the finish line of the first edition of the Tor des Geants. The French couple made it as well. It turned out the grumpy French guy was the oldest competitor of the race. He was 70 years old and he kicked my ass. Turned out they had Joie de Vivre after all. Craig also made it to the finish line, to complete his 7 day experiment in sleep deprivation and enjoyed a memorable birthday in the Alps. As for Angela, she's a superstar. She persevered and was one of only 15 women who finished.
I've never been so impressed my whole life.