I think I’ve been possessed. All I can think about is how much I want to run an ultramarathon.

I know! It’s totally insane! I haven’t even run a marathon yet!

We keep running mountain trail races during which I’m thinking Oh my God I’m going to die! And then we get home and eat a ton of pistachios and I think Wow that was really great, we should find another one of these to run.

Do you think pistachios could be hallucinogenic?

The latest adventure was Thyon-Dixence on August 5th. The weather forecast was not favorable. As we passed through St Maurice on the train it was pouring. And cold. In Sion things looked a little better, and after we filed out of the bus in Thyon, the sky was clearing up. It was freezing cold, though. We hung onto our long sleeved shirts until the last possible moment, then took them off and put our bag in the van to meet us at the end.

That was the moment the weather said, Just kidding! It started to rain. Lightly at first, then harder. By the time the race started, it was pouring, lightning was striking and thunder rumbling nearby. We were all jumping up and down at the starting line telling each other how crazy we were. I was seriously wondering about the possibility of hypothermia. We were at 2000m, with little tree cover, lightning was striking, we were in t-shirts and shorts…

Like a regular crazy Swiss person, though, I pushed those thoughts aside and just buckled down and ran the race. At 5 km or thereabouts, the rain stopped and the sun threatened to peek out. The course is really beautiful. I’d like to hike it someday. But that day, all the rain had turned the trail into a muddy slog and it was dangerous to lift your eyes from it for a single second.

That was probably the hardest thing about the race – not the physical effort of hauling my aging butt up and down the mountain trails, but the sheer mental effort of concentrating on where I was going to put my foot, every single step. You relax that, and your face ends up in the mud if you’re lucky, and on a rock if you’re not. It was exhausting. My brain hurt worse than my legs.

To be fair, there were some easy downhill stretches where you could just open up the stride and let ‘er rip, but as I have mentioned before in this blog, downhilling is not my forté. My friend Monica owned the downhills and had an excellent race.

I fell at one point and bonked my chin on a rock. It didn’t really hurt that badly, but the shock of it made me hyperventilate. I had to stand to the side of the trail for a minute and catch my breath and calm down.

At the end, Marc and I were dismayed to learn that there were only two (2) buses going back to the train station in Sion, one at 12:30, which we had missed, and the next at 3:30. That alone means we’re not likely to do this race again next year. Luckily Monica’s husband had come along as supporter, coach, and chauffeur and we hitched a grateful ride home with them.

A couple weeks before Thyon-Dixence we did the Tour des Alpages, another gorgeous race, only 700m cilmb. But during this one I felt oddly out of it, my stomach wasn’t happy. I started out too fast and paid the price the whole rest of the way. I also fell at one point, but nobody saw me. I was really, really happy to see the finish line.

So why would I want to do an ultra? These trail races have been tough physically and mentally for me. I haven’t yet found the right way to run them comfortably.

The real problem with these shorter races is that everyone is so serious. They’re elbowing to pass one another at every opportunity – often dangerously on these narrow trails – and barrelling past on the downhills. People aren’t really smiling at each other or talking, it’s all dead seriousness. In an ultra, it seems to me you would have to save your energy, take it a bit easier. Your goal is to finish, not to win. Well, for most of the field, anway. The part where I would be.

Maybe I’m wrong, and ultrarunners are as hard core as these Swiss trail runners. I DO like running on trails, a lot. I just don’t like being uber hard-core competitive about it. I’m too old and wise for that.

In the meantime, Marc and I are doing a series of Wednesday night 8.5km races around the canton, running them as tempo runs in training for Morat-Fribourg and the Lausanne Marathon coming up in October. Maybe I’ll run my first marathon in Lausanne. But maybe I’ll just do the half.

My goal: to run strong, in my zone, a song running through my brain at a pace I can maintain. Of course I’ll push it past the comfort zone in a race, that’s a given. But it’s a question of when – I have to re-learn pacing. It has been 20 years since I ran competitively –  I have a long way to go until I’m comfortable with it again.

If I can run a marathon, I can do an ultra. There are a couple that interest me around here. Maybe next summer, even! Why not? You only live once, right?

Pass the pistachios.

8 thoughts on “Possessed

  1. Hi Mary,
    Just to say I’m so glad you’re not taking this hibernation idea seriously….I would be really devastated if that happened….

    Regards, Jill
    one of your avid readers

  2. This is totally fascinating. i had no idea that there were so many races up and around mountains, i have only heard of Sierre-Zinal. A lot of these paths are hard even walking, i can only admire running, not even imagine it.
    i’ve read that running releases a substance that gives you a kind of “high”, maybe that is the addiction.
    Sometimes in dreams, i am a child again, running without fatigue, feeling like i could run forever. Running, just running, is one of my happiest memories.

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