Usually The Mountain Wins

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Brixen Top 1.jpg

Never before have I taken so little comfort from the 40km marker in a marathon. Usually this marker is a sign stating that you are just about done. A sign telling you to dig down for one final push, no need to fear the pain and effort, it will all be over soon. This wasn't that sort of sign at all. This one seemed like a fairly pointless marker placed at a seemingly arbitrary point in a rock field. A steeply angled rock field. A rock field I had to get myself to the top of. If I turned around during one of my fairly frequent pauses to take deep breaths trying to compensate for the lack of oxygen, I could see the aid station at Kilometer 39, several hundred meters below me. Passing through that station over twenty minutes earlier seemed a distant and abstract event. Another five minutes or so should get me to the top, I thought. The time estimate was fairly good, the use of definite article less so. This wasn't 'the' top, it was just a top. And there was still one more climb left in this race. Only at Kilometer 41, another 100 meters higher, was I finally told that the rest of the way to the finish was flat. Which meant I could run it, at least as much as the thin air allowed.

The last time I ran a mountain marathon the experience was humbling. So while I had great hopes as I headed to the Südtirol, the German-speaking region of northern Italy, to run the Brixen Marathon, I also was prepared for a very long day. The Brixen course tops out at 2486 meters (8156 feet), and has almost no downhill. Most of the run is at fairly high altitude (1000 meters at 10K, 1500 meters around 15k, above 2000 meters from 29k to the finish). I was quite calm and relaxed pre-race. I knew it was going to be tough, and I knew I could handle it. The major question in my mind was whether I was going to be able to control the way I ran the race, or if the mountain was going to dictate terms. If I was able to run most of the first large climb I felt that I could run the race I wanted. With this question in mind I started fairly fast for the initial flat section, and attacked the first climb. Bad plan. By ten miles in I was tiring, and the elevation was starting to bother me. Well before the halfway point I felt beaten. I never doubted that I would get to the finish line, but I knew that it would only happen by giving in to the mountain. While I might be strong enough that I could have run much more of the race at a more restrained pace, my ambitious attempt to do more just resulted in tiring myself out. And throughout it all I knew that I needed to have energy left for the last big climb. 

On the plus side, I ran a much stronger race than I ran two years ago. Despite the altitude, despite the relentless uphill course, despite the prohibition on trekking poles (which had really helped me two years ago) I took a full forty minutes off of my previous mountain marathon time. Clearly I am nowhere near strong enough to get through a race like this without extended periods of power hiking, but I am mentally tough enough to keep myself continually moving forward. I am also mentally tough enough to have gotten through this race without external support. While I did stop and take a couple of pictures along the way I avoided the social media I had relied on last time out. Sometimes a bear has to find his own way up the mountain.


Bear Brixen Medal.jpg 

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This page contains a single entry by Daniel Maskit published on June 30, 2015 8:22 PM.

Sometimes DNF Stands for Definitely Not Failure was the previous entry in this blog.

Musings on Speed is the next entry in this blog.

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