A Just Walk (run, hike, etc…)

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Defi International Ultra Marathon


Val-de-Travers Defi International ultra marathon (http://www.defi-vdt.ch/d/course.php)! This is spectacular and well-organized race that provides a trip through a variety of Switzerland’s scenery and up to one of her most famous peaks – the Creux du Vent – the “Hole in the Wind”. There are steep acents, such as the 14 turns to Creux du Vent and quad-crushing descents. It is not technically in the Alps, but it didn’t matter – it was just as awesome!

Unfortunately it had been raining the week prior to the race and we were not granted sunshine the day of the race. It started raining about mile 17 and while it never got very hard, it was contributing to the soggy slippery mess we were about to encounter.

The course was well-marked. There were ample refreshment stops which provided water, coke, energy drink, bouillon, cookies, crackers, cheese, chocolate, and fresh and dried fruit. Several medical checkpoints were scattered throughout the course as well. One lady working the half-way aid station ended up at one just before the 60km mark and she was so happy to see me and see that I was doing better! I saw her at the end of the race as well and she was truly glad to see me finish. I saw several spectators cheering multiple times and that was fun. I did a WOOP! WOOP! For them and got more clapping!

At the halfway point was also the highest point of the course at 1598 meters. It was raining and blowing and the temperature could not have been above 40F/5c. I had already lost function of my hands which were numb and swollen and I was suffering from mild hypothermia. I got to the refreshment stand and found I couldn’t speak. I was shaking, nearly hyperventilating, my teeth clattering and I couldn’t undo the buckles of my pack to take it off. I was on the verge of crying from emotional and electrolyte wackiness – perhaps some altitude issues as well? I went inside a protected shelter and took 2 cups of bouillon, my hands on top of the water heater. I had worn a pair of extra socks as gloves but they were nearly worthless wet. I knew I needed to keep moving, but had to get a little strength and warmth back as well.

The next section was one of the steepest declines on the course – a path through open grassland that had turned into a river of mud. Avoiding the mud was not a good idea because the grass had as much or less traction than the mud. Parts of the trail had temporary posts and ropes that I needed to grab to avoid tumbling down the hill. Now I know why some racers were carrying trekking poles! At the end of this section was a medical aid station. One of the hefty guys unzipped his jacket and I put my hand under his arms while another guy wrapped me in a wool blanket. They didn’t have any shake-n-bake hand warmers or mylar “space” blankets as these were in the winter gear. Well, this wilderness med doc kept her ideas to herself for once. I got warm enough to go, because the best solution was to keep going to generate heat and to get down to a lower altitude. It is not that high as mountains go, but way higher than I have been in some time. A bit later I stopped at another aid station to try to get my hands warm again, but no hefty guys, and no help from them except telling me to think about stopping. No way, Jose!

At this point, I begin the serious mind-over-pain in making relentless forward progress. I took advantage of every downhill and flat part and settled into the ultra-run shuffle. I could do that and it always felt great psychologically to move faster than a walk. I even kept passing people! The whole way, the only time I stopped were at the aid stations and I never sat down – I heeded the warning “beware the chair”!

At just before the 55km mark, my watch stopped working. GREAT! Just when you don’t want your battery to fail you! At least I could take it all off, get rid of the heavy shoepod, and free my wrist up. It didn’t take me long before I was grateful NOT to know how slow I was going!

It is hard enough to manage goopy shoe-sucking mud in normal circumstances, but when you have been going hard all day and you hardly can control your legs, it is too frustrating! In the last few kilometers is when I really hit the wall and it was sheer will-power to get me to the end. I hadn’t been able to feel my hands for a couple of hours, my legs seemed unresponsive. Even on the flats, if the trail was semi-technical with rocks or mud, I just had to walk to avoid injury or falling.

At one kilometer to go, I was on asphalt and decided to run the last half mile into the finish. Tom, my host, was waiting for me outside the complex and jogged the last 200 meters with me up to the finish chute. I was so elated to finally get to stop!

At the finish, all I could think of was to get warm! It was a mere 20 minute drive to house, a hot shower and home-cooked meal. I’m so eternally grateful for the generosity of my host family (a whole ‘nother story as to how I met them!) who opened their home to me (a stranger) the night before and night after the race. They prepared an early breakfast for me and took me to the race and picked me up after. Tom washed out my shoes (something akin to washing someone’ feet) and Therese washed my nasty muddy clothes. What generous hospitality!

Here is the website for the results: http://services.datasport.com/2010/lauf/defi/ There you will see the fastest female finished in 8:18 and how badly I got spanked by 50 and 60 year olds! They rock! You will note that only 14 women attempted the 75km race!

There aren’t many photos because my hands stopped working well enough to operate the camera before the halfway point. Besides, it was so rainy and foggy the pics would not have turned out very well anyway. You just have to come and see for yourself!

Several things I would have done differently to prepare for the race, but no single issue was singular in why the day was so tough. Perhaps the most important thing, of which I could nothing about, was not being able to train in the mountains for a mountain ultra run! Therefore, I have no regrets and I’m not plagued by thoughts of ‘I should have done this or that differently’. My basic goal was to have and adventure, push my limits and HAVE FUN – which I most certainly did!

The day after, I am not more sore than some other marathons I have done and I don’t have any blisters – save a little one that has been plaguing me for years. That is amazing to me!

I would like to do this one again – if I can choose a time when the weather will be better! I know I can do better! Or perhaps do another race in another location. I guess I’m hooked!


4 thoughts on “Defi International Ultra Marathon

  1. Katherine, Congratulations!! Whew! What an endurance – 11 hours and in all that mud and slippery stuff on the trails. Thank Heavens you found some guys with warm arm pits for your frozen hands.

    Thank you for sharing with us the trials of the trails. I do wish you had more photos than the one in your note, but your word pictures tell a lot. Great that you would like to do this again! I will NOT complain after my gym class “Boot Camp”.

  2. That’s so great….congrats!! I think the key word is that you FINISHED the thing…..an accomplishment in itself. It looks like, from the linked list/ranking that all 14 women started and finished. Wow! And the only female American in there….way to show the American spirit. 🙂 Would love to hear how you met your ‘host’ family. Did they see you on the train, with your pack, and ask you, politely, and in German and/or English, where you were going…and did you know that there are no hotels past a certain train stop? That’s what happened to me once when I was visiting ‘freunden’ (friends) in the middle-of-nowhere-Germany many years ago. Ha!

  3. oh my goodness Katherine…you amaze me! what an accomplishment and you want to do it again. good for you! i absolutely loved the account!
    you go girl!

  4. Pingback: OPSF 50/50 « A Just Walk (run, hike, etc…)

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