04 September 2012

Do's and Don'ts preparing to face the Giants

I am finally on the way to Italy for my second running of the Tor des Geants, a 330km/206-mile route in the beautiful Aosta Valley just south of Mont Blanc. Before my first time, I was both scared and excited about the unknowns of running farther than I have ever gone before, and where the trail would take me. This year, however, I am both scared and excited because I know how brutally hard the course is, yet how stunningly beautiful it is.
As I prepared through the year, I came up with a number of things that tell the tale of my pre-race period, and which may help others should the decide to take this awesome event on.

Do run a 100 miler first

Sun and dry trails at the Un-C2M. photo:
This should be pretty obvious, but if you are going to run 206 miles, it would be a good idea to do half that amount to get yourself in shape and figure out some race logistics, pacing, food, etc. For my part, I took on the Un-Coyote 2 Moon down in California in March. We had a drenched, rain-soaked winter and spring up in BC, and after torrential race-cancelling storms at C2M last year, this year’s sunshine and dry trails were incredibly welcome to my water-logged feet. I sweated, I got a sunburn, and I wore shorts. It was awesome. I ran well, although ran out of steam a bit in the last 15 miles. I was paced the last 25 mile by a very good friend, which was really special considering my history with the Coyote events over the past nine years. It was well worth getting that distance in so early in the year.

Don’t sleep in, and know the secret codes for your credit cards

Know it before you enter!
On-line entry for the race opens at noon Italian time. With the time change, this means 3:00 AM in local time on the Pacific Coast. I was up at 2:30 AM in front of the computer with my credit cards in hand. I had everything set to go and started entering information into the form as soon as it was made available. Personal info – done. Payment info – entered. But what’s this? Enter your MasterCard “SecureCode”? What the heck is that? Attempt 1 – denied. Attempt 2 – denied. Attempt 3 – and my card is locked out. Ack! Back up the form, and plug in my Visa card number. “Enter your Verified by Visa password.” What the heck? I seemed to recall using that about three years ago for some online purchase. But don’t enter anything , don’t get this card locked out too. Off to the Visa web site, where I was able to reset the password – whew! Meanwhile, the clock was ticking away…. 3:25 now. Back to the race entry page, and enter the Verified by Visa code. Click Submit, and……. it went through! Time now was 3:31. I went back to the race’s main web page, and found that entries were closed! They had oversubscribed the race above the 500 limit, with about 650 entries submitted in that half hour after opening. I checked the entry list, and saw some friends who were in, and some who didn’t make it -  screwed by the early time, the credit card codes, or the huge demand that filled the race up so quickly.

Don’t move houses

And that was only a portion of what we had to unpack.
Opportunity knocked for my wife and I, and I accepted a job offer in Courtenay, BC. This meant moving houses and cities: shopping for a new house, packing up the old house, cramming some final renovations in the old place, finalising job stuff and a major project at work before leaving; preparing to say goodbye to close friends. It was all-consuming, exhausting, emotionally draining, and tons of work and time. My training pretty much dropped down to zero for a couple of months with all the work, and the focus on preparing and setting up our new lives. Moving is a ton of work, and I don’t recommend it if you can avoid it.

Do move to a new town

Despite the amount of work and emotional capital it took to get there, Courtenay has been a fantastic new home for Martha and I . We have a house and property we always imagined, the people in town and work have been very welcoming, my new job is good, and we have an amazing amount of new trails to discover. Our lifestyle and quality of life have improved immeasurably, which was he reason for coming here. I gained about two hours of time per day with a shorter commute to work, and can spend that time training, working in the yard, or with my sweetie. These are Very Good Things.
What a difference from our city home!

Do climb hills

The Tor des Geants has more than 24000 metres (~80000 feet) of climbing over about 20 mountain passes. You have to go back down as well. While we train for hills as part of our general routine, the Tor presents a different challenge with the amount, length, and steepness of its climbs. I remember using my hiking poles there to use my arms to pull myself up some of the hills because my legs were so tired. To prepare, I have been trying to get as much hill training as I could in our new home area. It has been exciting discovering new trails, and though I know there are more placed I have to find out yet, I have done pretty good at some steep mountain bike trails in Forbidden Plateau, running up Strathcona Parkway to the top of Mount Washington, and getting some vertical hiking in Strathcona Park. It is a wonderful playground I live next to now.
But –have I trained enough? No, I am going to suffer. However, I have a decent base to see me through it, so I just need to focus on the surrounding scenery in Italy and less on my noodly legs.
The beautiful Flower Ridge Trail....there is a whole loop to do around those peaks t he left....

Don’t crosstrain

Nasty, but you can't stop staring, can you?
Courtenay has the world-class mountain biking trails of Cumberland right next door, and I was eager to take up the offer from a co-worker to join him on a ride one day. Though I am a veteran of couple of 24-hour cross-country mountain bike races, it has been a couple of years since I have spent a lot of time in the saddle. Throw in a rainy, soaked day on gnarly downhill trails with my rusty bike-handling skills, and you could pretty well predict that I would be spending a bit of time eating dirt. And so it was, with no great effect- until the steep wooden bridge that I slid out on…. My bike disappeared beneath me in a microsecond and I slid across the bridge, scraping my kneecap across an exposed nailhead. I launched off the side of the bridge, and I had a vision of a tree coming straight at me. It is amazing how fast your brains works, processing “I’m falling”, “Ow, my knee”, “what am I going to hit”, “Tree”, “TREE!!!” and somehow straightening my head for the impact. I drilled the trunk of the tree dead-on with the top of my head, heard a couple of cracks in my neck, and plopped on the ground. I lay there and grabbed my head to stop it from moving, and immediately thought “this is not good.” Assessing myself, my hands and feet moved, there was no pain in my neck, and no numbness. I slowly moved my head and found it all OK. I was a bit dizzy, but got up, pish-poshed the flap of skin hanging from my knee, hopped on my bike and rode out with my friends for another hour or so. However, I felt like puking on the drive home, and the blood from my knee had flowed down and soaked my sock. After a visit to the hospital I worked at, the end result was six stiches and a nasty scar on my knee, a small chunk of bone floating around in there somewhere, no broken neck, and some lingering and very sore whiplash-like soft tissue injury in my neck and shoulders that is still bother me a couple of months later. It all set me back about four weeks of run training all through July, which was really not optimal in trying to prepare for Tor des Geants. However, I am lucky that the way I hit the tree didn’t break my neck with some other disabling effects – I am glad to be able to start the race, period.

Don’t watch videos of your previous 206-miler

Last time I ran the Tor, I carried a video camera with me and shot a bunch of segments through the race. I watched them when I got home after the race, but hadn’t looked at them for a while. We brought them up last week to go over things again, and it scared the crap out of me. The scenery is all just as beautiful as I remember, but it is funny how our brains segments out pain and suffering from our recollection, and the video of me on the trail captured the suffering I really went through out there. Tor des Geants is a very, very challenging course and the truest test of endurance I have experienced. It is the most significant thing I have ever accomplished, but nothing worthwhile ever comes easy. This year will again be very, very hard, but the reward at the end makes it all worth it.

Here is the bad (three days in, and about 277km done)

And here is what makes it worthwhile, stopping to appreciate what is around you (about 30 sec in):


Sara said...

So happy for you guys re your recent move. It sounds perfect! Gaining 2 hours a day is huge.

Good luck at TdG!

Sue said...

So good to hear from you Bruce. Sounds like you've had a very busy year so far. Courtney now there is a perfect place to live. Best of luck at the TdG!

Anonymous said...

Here are a few more DOs and DON'Ts to think about during the race:
DO eat and drink more than you want to
DO run your own race
DO keep your chin up and look around
DO enjoy the vistas that you only saw in the dark last time
DON'T get tricked when they move the finish line deeper into town without telling the racers
Thinking of you always!

Bruce Grant said...

Sara and Sue!! So nice to hear from you ladies, thanks for your comments. I'm flattere that you are still looking at my blog since I have been off-line for so many months. But as you can see, there have been other distractions. I trust your seasons are going well this year.

And to my coach, thanks for the other very important tips, you always know me best :-)


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