Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tor des Geants - An Italian Adventure Part 5

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.

Climbing to the sunshine of Col de Champorcher: 2,826metres

On the other side of the pass, we were surprised to find a little lake, another Rifigio and a working farm with a herd of donkeys to greet us. Somewhere between the donkey stampede, the giggling, a pit-stop-in-the-woods, the video and the sleep deprivation, I lost a strap off my pole. We spent almost 10 minutes looking for it. Eventually the velcro strap was found firmly attached to the back of my ass.

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.

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

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?

Leg Soak

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.

The Road to Donnas

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.


Paige said...

Owie!! I'm sure hoping your shin has come around in the aftermath. Did you ever find out what happened?

What an incredible experience, and way to go Angela, wow!

Thanks for sharing your story :)

Anonymous said...

Yeah? A final post about your overseas adventure! You have the most fantastic attitude, whether you are suffering or feeling strong. Loved reading this one and from the sounds of it, you are back out there enjoying the beautiful fall we are being blessed with!

Anonymous said...

I mean Yeah! :) not with a question mark....ha ha

Kaz said...

What a fab adventure! Quite right -stabbing pains are never a good sign - very sensible lady - no one wants to be stuck hobbling down a v big mountain.
Glad you've been enjoying the autumn weather. we had the first snow on the mountains today - I'm hoping we'll have another good winter and I can enjoy it this without my baby bump!!!!
Hope the shins continue to hold up.


Helen said...

Just love the French couple.
What beautiful mountains to run in.
Another area to go on my wish list.

Anonymous said...

In Part 1 all I could think of was "Wow". Parts 2 - 5 I can not think of any words - Thanks.

Craig in Memphis

Carolyn said...

I think I almost cried a little reading this..hah! Glad you are okay now and back at it! If I ever lose my pole strap, I know the first place I'll check for it!!

Leslie said...

Hi Paige, yup, I had something called "Anterior Compartment Syndrome" which affects a lot of Cross-Country skiiers. We got lots of elite X-Country folk in my community here in the Bow Valley, so my Physio guy recognized it right away and sent me down the right path of recovery. No problems in the Grand Canyon, but the timing was perfect for my end of the season 2.5-3 weeks of REST. We all need it. All is well!

Hi Naomi and thanks! It was such a great adventure. And yeah, I've been enyoying the crazy, INCREDIBLE weather! How about you?

Hiya Kaz, supermom. Thank-you. I try and NOT be one of those Do-or-Die Ultra folks. I'm practical. And the day to day functioning of my body is important! I'm a practical girl. Hope all is well!

Hi Helen! Yup, put the Aosta Valley on your list. Amazing. Courmayeur is a tourist town where they take good care of their visitors. The service was amazing and people are welcoming.

Hi Craig! You're most welcome. Gaaaad, think how long this entry might have been if I finished! :)

Hi Carolyn, HA. Are you PMS'ing? And yes, one never knows where to find what one is looking for.....


Carolyn said...

Hah! Maybe Leslie, I was just a little sad that the run (story) was coming to an end!

Leslie said...

Don't worry, I think there's a Conclusion coming up.

Martin said...

Hi Leslie,
I was following you on-line during the race and was very sad when I saw that you had withdrawn. You made the right decision and I am glad that you have now recovered. My friends Katia (4th female) and Nicola who both finished have told me everyting about the race - absolutely amazing. It's on my list for 2012. I am so pleased that you saw how beautiful our mountains in Valle d'Aosta are and have appreciated so much to run in them. I hope you come back again in the future - maybe to run the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc.

brendaontheRun said...

The photos look amazing! Glad you're all healed.

Meghan said...

I know it, I'm not ready for the story to end, either! I know just how freaking tuff you are. For an environment to break you down, well, that's almost unbelieveable. Cheers to you and your wicked good spirit. Leslie, you rock! Love, Megs

Leslie said...

Thanks, Martin. It was all so amazing, the Alps, the terrain, the people. Yes, the Aosta Valley is an incredible place. I'll be back for future adventures most definitely!! Hope you have also enjoyed a great falls on the trails Martin. Be well!
And Congrats to Katia and Nicola! They must have strong minds and bodies.

Hi Brenda! Can we get together soon for a fall visit? Cuz it's not going to be fall much longer....
See you soon Banff Girrrrrl!

Thanks Ms. Meghan. It's a big byoootiful world out there, isn't it? Yup, the TDG kicked my ass (or my shins in this case....) I have to admit, I was surprised by my body. It's never failed me so quickly and completely before. That's why these adventures are so full of Fun and Mystery, you never know how it's all going to end up!


JeffO said...

Very graphic. So much beauty, in terrain, villages, people, and so much pain. I think that's what keeps drawing us - such extremes and contrast makes life rich.

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