Series five people – welcome!
Come on in for a new collection of ten stories about life challenge.
This autumn I have a diverse mix of guests, talking about all sorts of issues in their lives, from opioid addiction, body dysmorphia and living with paralysis to surviving a violent attack and running as a vehicle for recovery.
The first episode is a little different. It’s a before and after special focused on the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB), with past guest Gayle Tait and myself as your hosts and guests rolled into one. I was excited for the opportunity to catch up with ultrarunning mama Gayle nine months or so after our first conversation (if you haven’t yet heard this, check out episode 25). We dug into the difficult stuff last time; Gayle told us about her history with depression and PTSD, and an attempt she made to end her life in 2018. She’d been through a huge amount of life change, including the breakdown of her marriage and a potentially game-changing injury which threatened to end her running. Gayle had overcome so much just to make it injury-free to the start line in Chamonix.
To give an insight into this monster trail race for those not in the know, the UTMB is a 106-mile ultramarathon around the stunning Trail du Mont Blanc in the Alps. Over 2,000 runners. who have worked patiently to build up the entry points and get through the lottery system, leave Chamonix on a Friday evening, and most don’t return until Sunday. They traverse ten mountain passes, ascend over 10,000 metres – higher than Everest - and cross two borders into Italy and then Switzerland before closing the loop back into France.
Gayle and I shared an adventure or two over a three-day recce run around the UTMB course in early August, then caught up again in Chamonix before the race to talk race plans, preparations and fears. It was my third dance at the race and Gayle’s first. The audio is not perfect as we struggled to find quiet space in our apartments to record, so resorted to an outdoor greenspace – mostly quiet with the occasional helicopter circling overhead. Indicative of the circus that is Chamonix pre-race! Then we headed off into the mountains to make UTMB 2019 memories, catching up a week after the race to relive our experiences.
As you’ll hear, neither of our race days went remotely to plan and we share how our individual dramas on the trail unfolded and ended. We talk about the issues we faced, different yet debilitating. For me, they included a serious case of sleep deprivation and double vision for hours over the first night, leading to falls over Pyramid Calcaires, breaking a pole, unprecedented back chafing and blisters and not feeling energetic or mentally strong from the early stages. For Gayle, a progressive lack of energy and dizziness led to her legs giving up on the course and she was promptly helicopter evacuated off the trail to Courmayeur by race control.
We get into our perspectives on how we are moving on and accepting races that on paper are deemed ‘DNF’ failures, dealing with disappointment and the positives we are taking from the process. With hindsight since we recorded our ‘after’ audio, I have more than a few learnings. Sometimes we need to learn a lesson more than once; expecting to run the same race as my best day on the course – even if the expectation was silent - after so many injury issues and life changes this year, was ambitious. I need to take a step back and form conservative targets regardless of past results. Alongside this, I need to keep working on self-compassion when something doesn’t go to plan, whatever the reasons. I can put the hard work in, build strength in training, and still keep falling down mentally and physically through race day. I might not even be able to put my finger on why, and an unfinished race doesn’t mean anything about me as a person. Avoiding big crowds and groups to truly kick back and rest before race day is also now a non-negotiable for me.
In the end, we agreed that training for races is about so much more than race day. We had the opportunity to connect more with friends, share miles in training, laugh together, share discomforts, feel fitter again, get excited and anticipate the unknown. For me, this race brought up some questions; the answers to which I’m still working on.
And a monster new adventure looms for Gayle, who - after letting herself recover from UTMB - has stepped back into training for UTMB's sister race, the Oman by UTMB. Check it out in the show notes and follow Gayle's progress at the end of November.
This episode is undoubtedly a little lighter as subject matters go in this podcast – next week we are digging into breast cancer re-occurrence – but we hope you enjoy sharing our UTMB journey.
Finally, a shout out that Of Mountains and Minds is now ON PATREON! I’m trying hard to cover the costs of producing each episode to turn this into a sustainable mission, and ideally improve the quality of my in-person sound recording equipment. If you get something out of this podcast and can spare just $5 per month please consider it. It’s not just about the funding, this has potential as a fantastic platform for sharing feedback and discussing content, questions and podcast plans, and hopefully in time shaping a community around us.
If you don’t have the cash to spare right now, don’t worry and keep listening! There are other non-financial ways to support - throw a quick rating, review or social share my way on Twitter or Instagram.
This episode is live Friday 4th October on Soundcloud and all the usual podcast apps.