Monday, 30 July 2012

Only a few days to go before the biggest challenge of my life

There are only a few days left to go now before the start of Trail Ticino 2012.  The Marathon des Sables was extremely tough but this one looks even tougher.  A 117km single stage race, climbing almost the height of Everest in a day and it must be completed in 31 hours or under.  Add to that trail running at altitude, where the air is noticeably thinner, and having to run through the night unless you are one of the fastest runners in the race (who may if they are lucky finish around 11pm) and you have one hell of a challenge.

The racing is semi self-sufficient.  Food and refreshments will be provided, but you still need to carry basic survival equipment, spare water and warm clothing.  You are running in the mountains after all, and the weather can change suddenly.  Even if it is warm in the valley it may be horribly cold on top of the passes at over 2,000m above sea level.  In total there are 12 mountain passes to be overcome.

I signed myself up for this event on the come-down from the Marathon des Sables 2012.  I can see now why MDS finishers are advised against signing up for big challenges immediately after the MDS.  Basically, after finishing the MDS you feel that you are invincible and that any other challenge is small in comparison.  I soon realised that this was not small in comparison at all.

My training started well.  After a months post MDS break, I was consistently running 70 to 100km per week.  Those of you that follow me regularly will know however that things as of late have not gone so well.  Around 3 weeks ago my energy levels bonked.  I woke up each day feeling like I had barely slept, despite having slept for 7 or 8 hours, and my legs ached persistently.  Then I noticed that my navel had become infected.

I was hoping the symptoms would pass quickly, but when they didn't and my navel infection worsened I went to the doctors.  For the navel infection he prescribed a cream, but he also wanted to run some blood tests to find the cause of my low energy.  They all came back fine.  My white blood cell count was normal, meaning that the navel infection was localised (i.e. my body was not overwhelmed by the infection), my iron, B12 and zinc levels were normal (although the doctor said my iron could be a little higher as he recommends a level of 100 for hard training athletes like myself), my thyroid was normal and so was everything else that he could think of to test.  His best guess was that I was suffering from some kind of viral infection and that it would pass given time.

The cream didn't clear up the infection and it got worse.  It was at the point where it was hurting even to do normal activities, let alone running.  I went back to the doctor and this time he put me on a course of antibiotics, which I finished yesterday.  I have to go back tomorrow morning for a check up, but the infection seems to be clearing up now.  In terms of energy though, I still feel more tired than normal, and my legs sometimes ache slightly in the morning, but compared to several weeks ago I feel much better.

I have taken a complete break from running since Sunday 22nd July.  When I ran on Sunday 22nd I had been planning to run 50km including several runs up and down the Uetliberg, but after 30km I was dead on my feet and only managed to walk once up the Uetliberg before having to call it quits for the day.  What my body needed I figured was complete rest.  There is nothing you can do in terms of training the week or two before the race that will improve your performance anyway.  They say that training determines your potential in the race, and tapering determines your position.

Whilst I have been resting, my friend Steven Artist (who I shared a tent with in the MDS) travelled to St Morritz for some last minute altitude training.  He ran 30km today and is planning to do 50km tomorrow.  To me that seems a bit close to the race to be pushing your body, but Steven is a hardcore athlete (ex competitive rower) and I am sure he knows what works for him best.  If both of us manage to finish it will be a fantastic achievement, but at the moment we are panicking like crazy and wondering if we have gone too far this time in terms of signing up for Trail Ticino.  I think his chances of finishing are a lot higher than mine.  I have Anny telling me that I shouldn't be running it as I am not 100%, and I promised her that if I don't feel well on the day I will pull out.  That will be tough though - I hate the idea of giving up.

Let's see what happens, but whatever happens I am sure Steven will be there on the starting line.