My shoe! My shoe! That is ridiculous! – And I started laughing. A nervous breakdown kind of laugh. I had enough. But I was only 9KM in the race. 9KM and still 41 to go. Why the hell am I here? I felt like a fraud.
Trilhos Abutres promised to be epic. To me, it was an epic DNF. If I sum up what the lovely running community, my friends and my family said to me after the race.
You don’t fail on the trail. You fall, you get back on your feet and you learn.
A look back on my first race of the year, which I wanted to be….well. Epic.
Just before getting into the real stuff
1 hour to go before the gun goes off and I still can’t decide if I will be running in short or in tights. It’s cold, but what if it gets really warm during the race? Ok, long sleeve and short should be okay. I am calm. No, nervous. A mix of both maybe.
Paul and Manu are here. “Whatever you want, whatever you need” is Paul’s favorite sentence when I ask for something. I am so thankful they’re both here. It’s 7 AM, and they’re here. I guess not everybody can be so blessed to have such friends.
A reporter arrives. He asks me why I am here, what I expect, why and how I chose to run Trilhos Abutres. I remember saying that, I decided to run this race as a test for March, that it’s my first ultra and that I am pretty excited.
Oh, and that I hope I will finish.
Yeah… I said that.
I give my perfect crew a kiss and go to the PC to get my bag checked. I smile. I have such a big smile on my face, filled up with this naivety of a beginner and the resilience of finishing strong.
You wanna hear a joke? When Paul asked me when to be there to pick me up I told him “Oh you know, in 5 or 6 hours”.
Yeah… I said that too.
This shows actually unaware I was. Unprepared?
10 Minutes before start.
The beginning of an epic race
I started not so far from the front. Don’t ask why. Lot of men here. Some women.
I tried to get into myself. To concentrate on what was about to come.
“You’ve done that a couple of time,” I said to myself, “it’s just longer this time. With some hills.”
The gun goes off.
You always say you’re going to run your race. When friends ask me how to start in a race I always tell them that, if you have the feeling you are too slow, then slow down a little more. Because it’s what I read from the pros. It’s what I heard from my friends who run better than me.
Me? I started too fast.
Everyone was hurrying, and racing so fast that I followed. I ran my first 2KM in 11 minutes.
When you start your race like this? Not okay.
When you start Trilhos Abutres so fast? You’re burned before the first hill shows up.
Why is Trilhos Abutres so epic?
As far as I am concerned, I would recommend this race to anyone who wants to test the limits of its heart, mind and body.
I haven’t been to many trail races yet, but Trilhos Abutres is really well organized. I mean you can’t get lost on the trail because everything is well indicated. If you want to have moments of solitude, running alone and embracing what natures has to offer? This race is for you.
Very, very technical, Trilhos Abutres is a mix of muddy trails, waterfalls you have to cross, steep ascents and descents – and when I mean steep, it’s because I needed both hands to get up, or my ass to go down. All of that on single tracks. I guess this is what running in nature is all about? I felt like running in a jungle. The breathtaking views are the reward of this challenging race. Trust me. When I couldn’t get one step further, I just had to remember that the view would be awesome at the top.
Also – and here big up to all of them – the volunteers are awesome! Really kind, ready to help and always have a smile or a kind look to give. I already was stocked with the kindness of the Portuguese during my last stays, but here, in the middle of a race, it’s more than what you can ask. Here again, a big thank you to all of you.
Make sure your mind is ready when your body shuts down
It takes a lot of different facets of a personality to be successful at ultrarunning. It’s not just the training, it’s the mental preparation, it’s the execution on the day and being able to say that today it’s going to hurt incredibly much and I am going to embrace the pain and know that… I am hoping to be able to take more pain than anybody else. – This is your day, Movie.
6KM into the race, I had enough. Was my watch broken? It couldn’t be possible. I felt I’ve run so far. I felt like burned. Everything was hurting. We were running or walking up the first climb of Trilhos Abutres through mud, rocks, and waterfalls. My legs were burning, screaming, tempting me to just stop for a minute.
Get yourself together girl. Then I started to get in the flow for the next kilometers, running at a normal pace and… BOUM. I lost my shoe. In the mud. I fall on my hands because you are defo NOT expecting that SOMETHING retains your foot. Trying to get the shoe of the mud was a story in itself. You are soaked to the bones, it’s humid everywhere, and you have no strength anymore. Everything hurts and you’ve got to get on your four feet to get that shoe out the mud. I laugh. Nervously. Only 9KM into that race and it wouldn’t get easier. Why for anyway? I couldn’t help myself. I sneered.
It was just getting started. The trail was beating me step by step, trying to get me to quit.
Never. That is not an option today.
I was thinking fast, and just kept telling to myself: whatever happen, keep moving, whatever the obstacles, keep moving. If you fall again. Stand up. And keep moving.
From one aid station to the other
When I reached the first aid station at KM13 all my exhaustion disappeared. Your mind tricks you. Or you trick your mind, I still don’t know. But I felt good. I ate some fruit jelly and kept moving. I think I was 1 or 2 minutes into that aid station?
Fill the water. Eat. Go. Put one step after the other.
I felt good, I was enjoying it again. I kept thinking about the words of Sonja: as long as you enjoy it, there is no problem to keep going.
I wasn’t out of the woods yet. The next struggles were upon me. And I didn’t know. I couldn’t actually imagine, that it would get worse.
I was mixing walking and running to keep the little energy I regained after the break.
We got into muddy terrain again. Climbing, and climbing. When you think you have enough, then comes more.
Volunteers showed us the way in the middle of the jungle.
You got to be kidding me I thought.
We had to run through a kind of cylinder, in the dark, to get on the other side. In this cylinder, there was nothing less than a waterfall. And current. It was refreshing the legs and the mind. And at least, my shoes were clean. For one or two minutes.
At K14, I saw a woman running. It was more or less flat so I decided to get into an easy pace and started running too. It felt good to free the legs a bit. The sun was dancing on my skin and between the pines and for the first time since a long time, I felt free, free of all the struggles, and enjoying the moment. The second after, I was lying on the trail, face again the ground. My left foot, actually my big toe this idiot, got caught in a small stump I didn’t even know was existing, and I fall. All my length on the ground. It hurt. “Stand up girl, keep moving, stand up.”
In this moment, you swallow the tears and in seconds, try to analyze how your body actually feels. Are you hurt? Can you move your foot? Are you able to keep moving? How is the toe?
Some guys stopped and asked me if I felt ok. Is it your ankle? “Everything is fine, obrigada,” I said, “I have tape in my bag in case of.”
I started walking and took my time to assess the damage. Everything seemed to be okay. I started running again and then this pain. “F**K!”. My ankle. It felt like an electrocution at every step. So I kept walking. Walking as fast as I could, giving my foot some rest.
My first thought?
35KM to go.
At this moment of the race, I was dividing my race into aid stations. I was on survival mode. My body was shutting down, and my mind went into auto-pilot. As we started the biggest climb, I was having an endless dialogue with myself.
Do you want to DNF on Trilhos Abutres? No.
But you can’t anymore. True.
How are you going to explain your DNF?
Are you a failure?
Why do you think you are able to run an ultra?
Why do you want bigger distances?
For the breathtaking view? You could also hike.
You could also stick to marathons on asphalt.
You are a fraud. It’s epic.
You want too much, too fast.
Are you a quitter?
You are stronger than you think.
If you can run, run, if you can’t, walk.
Just get your ass to the next aid station and then you’ll see.
Short visit through hell
Arriving at the top, at KM24, I felt like a zombie. I can’t recall the last miles, but it was long. I think I got to the next aid station at 3H30 into the race? My body and mind were responding to the most basic needs: I am hungry. Food. I need salt. I need sugar. Drink. Re-fill.
I feel really blessed to have the stomach I have because I tried so many new refuel at the same time.
I was not thinking clearly anymore.
Quick assessment: are you quitting? No. The next aid station is in 5KM. Only descent. I have a bit more than 2 hours to get there before the cut-offs. If everything goes well, I will then move forward to the next aid station 8KM after. It’s all going to be fine. My ankle is ok. I am tired but fine. Let’s do this.
I left the aid station at 3H40 into the race. 5 KM to go until the next checkpoint.
I am not joking when I tell you, that 800 meters downhill after the aid station, I started crying. I hit a low point. Idiot. Why did you continue? You have nothing to prove here. I tried to call Iwi. I needed someone to tell me to keep moving. That it was ok. I couldn’t reach her and I guess that was good so.
I swallowed my tears deeply inside.
You’re not a wimp. Let’s go.
I went so deep inside me, I still don’t know where this energy came from.
Next aid station. You rest, you keep moving to KM37. That is not an option.
Another bridge. Another waterfall. Mud. Rocks. Climb. Run. Descent. Ascent. Almost there.
Bridge. Waterfall. Rock. Mud. Rock. Mud. Descent. Run. Ascent. Run. Walk.
Another big rock, you got this. A kind hand helping me to get down. I felt better. More confident. Regaining the lost power. It’s all going to be ok. No DNF for you today.
I actually began to enjoy it again. I should have been more careful, though. I should be used to it now. Every time I felt good in that race.
Yes. You got the picture.
I hit the ground again. While trying to descent a single track full of rocks, I slip on one and slid down on 3 meters. DAMNED. I couldn’t retain the tears. My hand was hurting. I couldn’t move my finger.
Stand up! STAND UP! My hip. I just remember how a runner stopped, wanted to call for help.
“No. I am ok.” I honestly thought about the cut off time for him. If he had helped me out, he would miss the cut-off. The trail family spirit.
He helped me to stand up and stayed behind me all way until I stopped in the middle of a climb to get some air. “You’re sure you want to keep going? Did you hit your head? You seemed dizzy before.”
Yes, I am sure. Thank you so much. Thank you
I couldn’t hold anything in my right hand. But I needed them to climb or descend.
I couldn’t run anymore because of my hip.
There, I knew. I knew it was enough.
The battle was over.
It ended at KM29 when I’d reach the next aid station.
You are giving up. But keep moving.
I thought I had seen everything. I thought Trilhos Abutres had already shown me the worst.
But the last descent was literally hell.
I knew the aid station was down that hill. But I first needed to get there.
YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME.
I had to take a rope with one hurting hand designed for rappelling to the road. It felt like 300 meters. This last meters? Took everything I had left. Everything.
The last meters rappelling
Only one more step. Come on girl. I know it hurts. But if you could just do one more step…
5H30. Just half an hour before the cut-off.
It was over.
I couldn’t do anything to put up my mind to it.
Trilhos Abutres was over.
A team of 5 or 6 medical men was waiting down that hill – I understand why.
I handed myself over like a criminal that has no other solutions anymore. They didn’t understand that I was putting myself up for a DNF. They made me repeat it again and again, and I couldn’t hold my tears.
But I didn’t want to cry.
It was awful.
I felt humiliated even if that was not the case.
All these emotions I held back during that race starting at KM8?
These emotions were right there, stuck in my throat.
My visualization of me finishing strong
Me telling myself over and over
That if I could just get to the next aid station
Or to the next top after the climb
It would all gonna be ok.
Gone in a second.
463 was out. 29K into the race. After 5H30 or so. My Trilhos Abutres adventure ended here.
I sat in the ambulance and my first call went to my lovely friend, Iwi.
“Hey Honey how did it go?
So full of love, happiness and hope.
But then she got the Iwi mindset. The warrior kind of mindset
“It’s ok; come one look qt it yourself, it was not a beginner trail, it’s a difficult one you chose there for a start honey, next time will be better, next time we will be together; etc”
Something like that. I know she will understand that I can’t remember exactly what she said.
I hang up and we drove to the finish line.
When only love can help you
Entering the area of the finish line, I felt my tears coming up again. I was struggling so badly to retain those deep inside of me. I didn’t want to cry in front of them, all these strong finishers. I felt like it was not my place to be. They knew what was coming, they were prepared, and they came through this bitch trail. I didn’t. And at this moment, I felt exactly like this new girl arriving at a new school – and this new girl does not want to cry.
Well, then I saw Paul and Manu.
And I couldn’t do anything about them
Many of them.
He held me
And I cried. I cried like I had lost someone.
I cried. He held me a bit stronger.
I was shakes
By an avalanche of convulsions
He said it’s okay now. You’re fine.
Not only epic, Trilhos Abutres was an introspective race
This trail got me naked. I learned more during these 29KM than during my two marathons. During the race I realized what it means to run your race, no matter the time, no matter the ranking. Trilhos Abutres, you got me naked: with my emotions, with my honesty. And my respect. You can’t have a big ego on the trails. I learned that you have to stay humble. Whatever your plan is, just remember the trails and the mountains were here before you, and will remain after your “passage”. Whether you accept and respect it, or it will beat you until you fall.
I may have lost this battle.
But next time.
Well next time, I will be back.
And next time Trilhos Abutres, I’ll win that battle.
That’s a promise.
28.86 KM – 5:37:42 H – AVG Speed 5.1 KM/H – AVG Heartrate 158 bpm