In the ten days since the race, I’ve had a lot of mixed feelings about my trip to Transgrancanaria. I’m still not really sure how I feel but I’m hopeful that valuable strength and wisdom will come from what was otherwise an agonizing exercise in survival. I realize bemoaning a disappointing race does not make for the most compelling read, so I’d like to just touch on a few points that I think are worth mentioning.
In the last couple years, ultra commentary has highlighted the growing professionalism of our sport. Professionalism in this sense applies to both athlete dedication and event organization. Ryan, Julien, and Timothy displayed true professionalism in their approach to and execution of this uniquely brutal event. They approached their experiences as a business trips rather than vacations. They specifically prepared for the demands of the island and arrived early to find their groove and adjust their rhythms. Transgrancanaria deserves this kind of focus. Approaching it in any other way is doing yourself and the event a disservice. As someone who would like to compete with the men who ended up on the podium, I realized my inept preparation only in hindsight after observing how they conducted their business.
Even in the new age of ultra professionalism, I’m not one to receive all expenses paid trips to international races. When the opportunity presented itself at TGC, you’d think it would have been a really easy decision to make. I knew it would be silly to turn down such an opportunity but my instincts were highly skeptical of the idea. It just didn’t seem to fit the big picture goals of the 2014 season. Nevertheless, reasoning that this could be a once in a lifetime kind of trip, I accepted the invite with some rather significant internal reluctance. Looking back, my waffling should have been a good indication that I’d be better served staying home this time around. In short, I approached it as a vacation rather than a business trip which is the definition of unprofessional.
I landed on the island thirty-six hours before the race was to start, having not really slept in a couple days. Such is the nature of international travel. I was also only a month removed from Sean O’Brien, which is just not enough time for me given the effort I had put forth in Malibu. From the beginning, I just had no energy to tackle such a course. I entered survival mode early and stayed there for the entire 77 mile journey across the island. Under the circumstances of my preparation and my attitude, I got exactly what I deserved.
I have nothing against dropping out of races. We’ve all fought the internal voices urging us to stop the madness. For me, these voices became apparent on the first climb, less than an hour into the race. Something was clearly not right with my energy levels and my legs felt as if they’d already gone fifty miles. By the second aid station, I was fighting serious drop demons and highly doubted that I would finish. The thought had pretty much crystalized itself in my head and I felt a strong sense of shame in my weakness. Knowing that someone had spent a small fortune to get me to the race, and thinking of my family and friends watching from home, I sauntered on, trying to turn things around.
Somewhere along the way, I resolved that I would at least continue until sunrise. Internally, I was convinced I would drop but acknowledged it’d be far more respectable to do so after seven hours than it would after two. This was a comforting thought at the time and allowed me to quiet the demons for most of the night.
Once the sun came up, my condition had regressed to a comedic point. In my agony, I decided that I would drop at the 71k aid station in the town of Tejeda. In the hour it took to get there, I was rather emotional. I started thinking about home and the people who were rooting for me from a world away. I thought about my mom who was no doubt worried sick pulling an all nighter watching iRunFar. I thought about UTMB last year and the fact that I would go home from my two trips to Europe with one start and zero finishes. I thought about the unfortunate person/organization that paid for my trip and how I’d wasted their time and money. The feeling of letting people down is incredibly powerful which is why I arrived in Tejeda and just couldn’t stop.
Not knowing how far I’d make it, I resolved to just keep going until it was no longer a physical option. The last seven hours were like nothing I’ve ever experienced. My body was completely wrecked and I whimpered at nearly every step. My mind went in and out of coherence as I constantly and unsuccessfully attempted to do rudimentary math to calculate distances and times until the next aid station. It was a feeling of complete desperation and defeat. I’d like to say I found a new level of strength and resilience, but the truth is I had zero composure and felt completely out of control.
Looking back on the race, I’m really proud to have made it to the finish line. The massive attrition of the field meant I even managed a top-ten result which gives me some satisfaction. In the grand scheme of things, I’m not sure enduring that misery was a good thing for my season or my racing career, but I’m pretty sure it will be good for my character as a human being. In life, sometimes you just have to see things through. For me, that’s what it was about. I don’t begrudge the people who dropped in the slightest. For better or worse, it just wasn’t an option for me this time around.
As I’ve tried to relate here, TGC is truly a world class event. The course is relentlessly difficult and stunningly beautiful. The markings were flawless and plentiful and the aid stations were perfectly satisfactory. I want to make it 100% clear that the controversy that surrounded the aftermath of my race had nothing to do with TGC or the UTWT. I was disqualified and subsequently reinstated by the Canarian Mountaineering Federation (??) who apparently is the governing body of sporting events on the islands… Or something?... I think the organization recognizes that something needs to change with the process and I’m confident they’ll address the issue before the next iteration of the event.
Both TGC and the UTWT were exceedingly helpful in accelerating the resolution of the situation and treated me with nothing but respect. I’m truly grateful to them for making my trip possible and for acting swiftly on my behalf. All’s well that ends well.