Like really? Are you sure? I thought we only had one big climb at Vulcain 2016, and it was like right now at Puy du Dôme! Don’t they have anything else to do then putting one climb after the other? I mean we’re climbing a lot but what about all the amazing descent we should have?
It’s hurting… Well now it’s warm…Oh LOOK! This region is amazing… Wait I sooo have to take a picture…Which view? Oh yes because of cooourse we’re still climbing! Ok if you say so… hm hm force, don’t stop… Don’t stop ‘til you get enough… Ups, youuu are not alone. OK, I STOP singing. Don’t worry! It’s not like the sun is shining anyway.
It’s 5 A.M in the morning and we’re driving to the start. It’s cold. I’m so stressed out but in peace with myself at the same time. I’m quiet. I look at my mum and I am so damned thankful she’s here with me. Vulcain 2016 is my journey to my first ultra. And I have the privilege to share it with her.
Until the start we’re waiting in the gym so we don’t get an inutile cold.
I adjust a last time the gears. Fix my BIB to my belt. The heartrate is rising.
Worry, anxiety, nervous, happy, respect for the journey ahead, intimidated? A mix of all I guess.
We meet some guys from the hotel, short chat, and nervous laugh.
5…4…3…2…1… Trail de Vulcain 2016, here we go!
My buff is up to my eyes. There is no fragment of skin without protection. It feels like minus 20 – yes I know, it’s not. With my poles in the back, my buff and my gloves, I feel like a Ninja ready to tackle the adversity in the arena.
Today the arena will be the paths of the Trail de Vulcain 2016 in beautiful Auvergne.
The adversity will be the trail. Will you be a bitch today?
A last kiss, a last wave, some last words. I love you mum, and I could just tear up right now.
If you think you’re slow, than run slower
We’re out now. As the headlamps form a ballet of light through the night, I take a deep breath, trying to catch the vibrating atmosphere of the start. All these runners full of hopes, emotions and desires. Some are veterans, knowing the course better than anyone else, others like me, are running their first ultra. Well at least, I guess so.
One thing reunites us. We’ll get through the same paths, the same kind of emotions.
In a way… We’re all alone together.
I start at the end of the pack. No way, I’ll do the same mistake as a few weeks before.
My pace is slow. I feel comfortable. The night is intimidating.
You are alert, and you can distinguish noises so close to you. They see you. Whatever is in that bush, it sees you. And it won’t show up until it wants to.
I pass some runners and remember my dear friends of TBP who told me to have a controlled pace, running slowly and most important, to enjoy the race. So this is what I do. Everything feels right at the moment even if we’re climbing.
I can’t say I didn’t know. We will be climbing until KM14.
At first I deny the fact that I should take out my poles to be faster. I remember Maty telling me to use them only if I need to. I prefer to use my body. And it’s a long ascent I have ahead of me. The last climb before KM14 got me. It felt like I’ve climb the Mt. Everest, but actually it’s only 600 elevation gains.
I remember I want to run UTMB. Sigh. Trails to run!
The sun is rising between the Puy de la Nugère and the Puy de Louchadière.
I can’t help it. Pictures.
I’m blown away by Mother Nature, and I have no difficulties to enjoy the moment despite the burning tights. It’s so beautiful. This is what trail running is all about. This is why we do that.
I am really surprised to see snow and ice though. I didn’t expect it to be there and thought it would be more muddy than snowy. It will be a long way to go if the snow has decided to be our companion today.
You’ve got to be kidding me. Really? Such a big climb. Now this time I have to.
And I finally take out my poles. It is such a relief! I feel like someone is pulling me up the climb. Oh wait, I’m doing it myself. SO Rad!
I enjoy being in the here and now. Sometimes my head tricks me and takes me back to January.
Not today my dear.
Today we’ll finish strong.
If I get to the next aid station, I’ve run more than in Portugal
The way to the first aid station is almost flat. Actually it’s the sneaky kind of flat. You know the one you feel relief about when you see it until you realize it goes up slowly, like nobody is watching? Yes this one.
I feel strong, so I take up the pace.
“100 meters to the aid station, there you go!”
What, really? So great. I’m on time, I feel a bit tired and I am more than happy to see my mum.
Is she safe? How was the drive to the aid station? Hope she’s not freezing. Or bored. Or both.
Actually 100 meters become 800 meters. I forgive the organizers of the race for that.
The scenery is just spectacular. I mean. When do you have the opportunity to run IN the heart of a Vulcan? BÄM!
“Is it your first time here?”
“Yes – Need to stop taking picture of every rock if I want to end the race on time”
“Where are you from?”
“What? Berlin? Like flat Berlin?”
I get into the aid station. A kiss here and there.
How do you feel? Great. Better than in Portugal at this stage. I am hungry.
Do you have the rice? Doesn’t matter. OMG the Makis are SO great. Should have made more of them.
What? No. I’ll fill up my water.
It’s beautiful. But so much snow.
No don’t worry, it’s ok. I understand. Just wait here if it’s too dangerous to drive up. Yes I’m sure. It’s only 27KM, it’s okay if I don’t see you.
Mum? If I get to the next aid station KM30 and KM35, I’d run more than in Portugal.
Love you. The weather is playing.
Mum? …Thank you.
Rock it my little girl.
This was supposed to be flat
I leave the aid station pretty confident about the way ahead. It’s going to be flat and I’m good on flat. I will take this opportunity to rest a bit before the biggest climb up to the Puy du Dôme.
Of course. I misread the course plan.
Oh no that’s it. I remember I wrote “3 Times Teufelsberg” for this part of the race. It’s not flat.
I can’t stop taking pictures. One guy asked me if it’s my first time here. I say yes. He tells me to enjoy and leaves. Later I catch him again.
“Are you finished with your pictures?”
Let me introduce you to Alexandre. I don’t know it yet, but this guy will save my day at Vulcain 2016 by sharing his experience and sense of humor. Just to tell you, this guy is a freaking madman! He has run la Diagonale des Fou in La Réunion last October. Respect!
We decide to run together.
He is funny. And he knows a lot about the race. He has been running this route three times. He tells me some stories. We walk-run, and the time goes by. I know I had my moments where I was hurting. But right now?
THE Monster Ascent
Leaving the aid station at KM30 I know the biggest climb is ahead of us.
Alexandre keeps telling me that the ground will be perfect for the descent in comparison to last year. Cool. At least that will be enjoyable. I hope.
The ascent and the descent of the Puy du Dôme take the same path, so you often cross the way of lucky ones, already descending. Looking at them, I can only imagine how freezing it is up there.
“Good luck!”, “Keep it going, only 5 minutes left”, “Be brave”
At the end we’re more saying “thanks, you too” then saving energy for the climb.
As we get closer, other runners tell us to put warmer clothes on. It’s windy and freezing up there, we should be careful.
5 Minutes to push further. I can’t feel my legs anymore.
The cold and the mental strength required to not listen to runners telling you, you’ll reach the top in 100 meters, all that is…and then.
When we reach the Puy du Dôme, we can’t see anything at one meter. The wind working in close partnership with the snow is slapping our faces, replacing the usual smooth cold feeling of snow by an unbearable icy hail. After this hard climb, the cold hearted welcoming of our dear Mother Nature seemed to be a reminder for us to stay humble. A reminder that we’re only Human.
Are you still drinking?
The struggle started after the big climb to the Puy du Dôme. For the descent, I decided to put on my chains to have more grip on the snow and feel more confident to run. Yeah, we all know my ability to literally kiss the ground every time I put a foot on the trails. I didn’t want to interrupt the race for a stupid fall that could cost me my health, as it did for some runners the year before.
While descending I blew up my left knee. It started to hurt badly any time I putted weight on. I decided to slow down, and at the end of the descent, we were run-walking with Alexandre.
Honestly, it’s soooo difficult to not just run. Brain-off, and RUN. During my first trail last year I just hated the descent, but now? Well now I am like a child and I freakin’ LOVE it.
Reaching the aid station at KM35, we chatted with the amazing volunteers, who always had a smile, a kind and watchful eye or a nice word to offer. The one you see on the picture made fun of me because I had a little voice when I ask for some coke… Ha! Lovely Man! Big up to you!
One, two glass of cokes and one Maki later and we were out on the trails again, heading back to the aid station at KM47 which had a cut-off time of 9H into the race. Expected time? 2 pm. Let’s rock this.
My left knee is hurting more and more and I really have to focus putting one foot after the other without overthinking about injuries and so on. I am really thankful Alexandre is running with me, because it spares me from hitting a low point, which would lead to negative thoughts like I’m never gonna make it to that finish line.
No, instead we chat, look after one another and it helps like A LOT.
But suddenly, I just can’t stand the pain. 10K after the last aid station, I am in bad shape. Alexandre just randomly asks
WELL, ARE YOU STILL DRINKING??
Hell no. Since the last aid station where I only had coke, I hadn’t drink one drop of water.
Quick assessment of the situation… It could be your tendon he said. You need to drink, you’re drying out.
Typical beginner mistake, I thought.
Don’t worry, when it’s cold, you forgot to drink, Alexandre said.
Well yeah. Literally.
We reach the sunny aid station of Lemptégy again and it’s a relief to see my mum. We’re 30 minutes ahead of schedule, so we decide to take these 30 minutes to eat, drink and change gears and outfit. I take off my Salomon and put on my Brooks. They feel like slipper.
I am tired. And I am SO hungry.
Mum goes quickly to the car to pick up the rice and miso paste. It’s just the best thing I’ve ever eat in my life at this point of the race.
We are 47KM into Vulcain 2016, and I think I’m slightly on a high.
My leg is hurting but at this point of the race, there is no way I am dropping out.
Quick update for my friends and family online before heading back on the trails.
And we’re out again.
If the sun was shining when we entered the aid station, now it’s snowing like heavily.
I feel so cold because we stopped for so many minutes, but ey. I’ll get warm in a few minutes.
Two other sneaky climbs are waiting for us.
The sneaky and rewarding face of Vulcain 2016
I won’t say a lot about this part. It got us deep. The ascent is difficult because we are tired. But the view is worth it. You think nothing can break you after the first big climb, but this one…
In the end, it’s always worth it. The view is always better at the top. And all the pain, all the effort and discomfort just vanished.
The snowy peak you see on the picture (in my back) or on the first picture of the article is actually the Puy du Dôme, where we first were hours before.
This feeling of achievement fills my heart.
I am proud of what I did until now.
And even if I shouldn’t make it to the end for whatever reason, I’ve made a long road to get here.
The Promise of KM54
I am alone. I can’t remember why Alexandre is not here. I have a moment, where running feels like flying.
I don’t feel the pain anymore. It’s there. I know. But I don’t care.
I turn the music on and it’s Ornette. I smile. The music is the symbol of this painful chapter I closed one year ago.
The music takes over and my head let the thoughts fill the space and takes me back to March 2015.
At this time, the 7th of March 2015 I was so miserable.
I felt worth nothing.
The years preceding this date were not my most glorious years either.
So much pain.
So much tears.
And now I’m here. Everything happens for a reason I always say.
Now I’m here. I’m running my first ultra-race and nobody can’t take it away from me.
You ran a long way the last past years, climbing the hills one after the others.
When I look back to the year leading up to that race I know one thing.
I am still climbing, but I’ve already seen so many beautiful views at the top.
I feel good.
I feel being me again.
I embrace the moment.
Despite all the coming hills of life, I am truly happy.
And nobody. Nobody will get the power to take me down ever again, back to that deep and dark place I once was.
That is the promise I made to myself on the trail.
The promise of KM54.
Road to KM61
Alexandre and the other guys ran the last descent so fast, that I am alone again.
The pain reminds me about her humble existence.
I know you’re here honey, don’t worry.
Descending is becoming harder and I use the poles to help me out. Thanks to Alexandre who shared his techniques all the way before just having a blast and disappearing at the next corner.
It’s funny. You see the descent. You know you have to get down. And my first thought is
How the hell do you think I’ll make it?
But deep inside, you know you will. Because you have to.
As the weather changes really fast, so does the ground. Suddenly the snow gives space to my favorite soft ground. Mud. It’s getting flat, I run. I feel in a flow and… No! I don’t end up kissing the ground as I did in Portugal. I smile. It’s flying. It feels good.
Crossing a street I see two organizers
“Only 2KM to the next aid station” – KM61, I am so happy. I will make it before cut-offs.
I run. And run.
You’ve got to be kidding me.
2KM yes. But what 2KM!!!! The ascent is so steep and SO muddy, I am so lucky to have the poles.
The descent is not a pleasure part. It’s slippery, as felt 1000 runners ran this path earlier today.
I decide to take the deep path – understand here that the mud reaches my calves.
I finally painfully get through. Some running parts and it’s there.
The aid station.
“There you are! How are you doing?” – It’s Alexandre.
I eat, drink, refill. Alexandre is so happy he got a beer. This guy is hilarious. I am truly happy he is here again.
I am worried.
Am I going to make it before cut-offs? I know there is a cut-off 5M ahead? Are we on time?
Alexandre can’t hear that anymore since I’ve often been worried about cut-off since Lemptégy at KM47.
“YES! You’ll make it! There is NO cut-offs anymore! Relaaaaax, enjoooooy.”
We leave the aid station.
Now there is no stop until Volvic, at KM72.
We could have 30KM left and we would still be running
We are running. Yes we are. We reached that stage where we could continue to run for hours.
We joke about my stiff running style I developed around the pain.
The scenery has changed. We still have some hills to climb.
The organizers of Vulcain 2016 have thought about everything to make us feel alive until the end.
Climbing, climbing and much more climbing.
We are quiet. We know the end is coming. And it’s like nobody wants it really.
We look at Nature.
And then the amazing last descent on le Sentier du Renard.
2KM of blast.
It’s rolling. We are moving fast with Alexandre and decide to not stop until we have to.
I am so extatic about the way I am moving despite the hours and kilometers behind us.
Despite the pain.
A rush. A high.
Make friends with pain, and you’ll never be alone. – Ken Chlouber
Looking back, it’s so intense and interesting the process you get through. I am not fighting anymore as I was in Portugal. I am embracing the pain. I am welcoming the pain. She is part of the journey. She is part of my journey. And she has been my companion for the last hours. I just let her in. And it’s hand in hand, that we worked and will continue together.
It’s not about avoiding discomfort; it’s about accepting and embracing it, about feeling the burn and/or “Bern.” Running without some discomfort sometimes is not running, it is leisurely jogging – a valid pursuit in its own right, but not one that comes with the familiar thrill of pushing your limits. – David Roche
We are quiet. We know it’s almost the end. We stop a last time to enjoy the view. We barely say a word. It’s the end of the sunset. It’s almost the end of Vulcain 2016.
We move. A volunteer goes forth to meet us halfway. I recognize him. He is funny and always had a smile or a funny lovely word to say the three times I saw him. A joker.
“1KM and you’re finishers!”
Smile, relief and…
“But it’s that way” – And he laugh.
“Swindler!” – says Alexandre joking.
Indeed. The last KM is a steep descent, in mud. And guess what. You need to descent…rappelling.
I laugh. The last time I did that, I DNF right after. Not this time.
We move fast, Alexandre way faster than I, and we finally reach the road.
I never thought I would be SO happy to run on asphalt again.
We are quiet, and we run.
We see the stadium.
Left. Red carpet.
The last meters
My family and friends are the first to know how difficult it is to me sometimes to live in the here and now. I love planning, and my sentences often start with a “what if”. Only few moments allow me to be in the present. And it’s when I am running long distances. Looking back on my experience at Vulcain 2016 last Sunday I realize how I enjoyed the scenery that Mother Nature has to offer, the people around me and how I embraced the pain when she invited herself to the party. At a certain point, I stopped thinking, and I just focused my entire mind on the moment. It was wonderful.
At no time I wanted to be somewhere else. It is a weird feeling.
And now you can see the gym.
You are racing or running for 9, 10, 13 hours and you don’t want it to stop. There is something there.
My dream to finish my first ultra is becoming true.
But what do you do after this first time? Even if every ultra-race is different, even if the same race can be different the years after, there is no second first time. While I want to reach that finish line to prove (to myself) that yes, my body and my mind are able to take me through hilly and snowy 72 KM..
I don’t want it to stop.
This is it. 12H57. We made it. I made it.
I finished my first ultra-race.
Vulcain 2016 you got me so deep with your passion and your love; with your amazing scenery and your people.
I want to hug everyone. Tears. Smile.
I am on the biggest high I’ve ever experienced.
Thanks for a gold organization. Thank you Alexandre. Thank you to the most wonderful woman I know.
Thanks for the love, the smile and the support along the way.
This race has been my first finished on this distance. I am blessed to have my amazing mum here with me. And I am so thankful she waited 13H to just see me fulfil one of my dream.
Vulcain 2016 – You’ll always have a special room in my heart.
I will be back next year!