After the greatest four racing days in my life, I decided to step out of the Racing the Planet Iceland race at the end of day 4 after 176km for 2 main reasons. First, I couldn‘t recover anymore in the short night time (coming in later means also less sleep!) and under the conditions given (too cold for my painful back and neck) and second, my knees started to pain and swell on as i started to walk instead of running – which i didn’t train at all. But in the start, my physical constitution was almost perfect and my decisions taken on material and food were right. So, what happened? Here‘s my personal analysis about why this island and this racing format gave me a lot of trouble. It was some kind of a chain reaction.
Well, I’m walkin’ down the line
I’m walkin’ down the line
An’ I’m walkin’ down the line
My feet’ll be a-flyin’
To tell about my troubled mind
A hurting neck
Just before the race I got a rheumatic pain in my left neck from sleeping in a badly climatised room. But overall I felt fine, maybe a bit nervous about what was coming up. After the briefing I realised that I do need a bit more reserves in calories and clothing, that‘s why my backpack grew up to a >11kg instead of a <10kg. I had to carry by far more weight than planned and trained. My tortured and rheumatic neck didn‘t recover in the nights as we were sleeping in tents at very low temperatures down to -2°C and my mat was so small and thin that my shoulder was too close to the ground and the arms were laying directly on it. Sleeping was very difficult and from day two, my arm felt like somebody was pushing a long knife in it from the shoulder down to the fingers. A horrible pain that didn’let me sleep for parts of the night.
Running on an icelandic „highway“
We all knew that it was going down the first two days. But instead of a classic trail (where you don‘t just run straight forward as you constantly have to find the right step by moving right, left, shorter, longer…) we were running on a islandic „street“ straight forward for hours. And in addition the ground was very firm and hard. With my knees in mind I, I‘ve tried to run as protective as possible and most probably ran too stiff downhill. It was even worse on day two. My Suunto Ambit protocol sais more or less: about 20K on day 1 and another 18K on day 2 where downhill. The first 6K on the second day lead us down by -300m. The wind on day 2 was so hard that some of us where falling when running down the asphalted street for about 7K and at least -500m of decline. And again I was running and „stopping“ at the same time. At the end of the day I couldn‘t walk anymore as my ankles began to hurt from the joint upwards towards the knees.
Slower means less time for recovery
What followed was some kind of a chain reaction. The slower you are, the less time you have for recovery. The first day I hit the camp before 3pm, the last day it was 6pm. And the slower you are, the longer you have to carry your backpack. And third but not last, slower means walking instead of running. It means that I had used my muscles in a different way than I did train them. From easily realised 7 minutes per kilometer (2/3 of my max. heart rate) the first day, I was dropping down to a snailish 12 minutes the last day.
Working with the pain
At some stages my ankle had the size of a grapefruit and i had to work with the pain from walking on them but also from carrying my backpack with a neck that never recovered over all these days. On day three I was able to run/fast-walk about 20K till I was hitting the wall of pain really hard and from then on it was purely mental to walk the remaining 23K. After pushing my body for two hard days I decided to stop. I am sure that I could have done the rest of the course but I didn‘t know the price for it. And after a bad fall at the end of stage 4 it was clear that this could happen again during the upcoming, wet and stormy stage 5 over 64km.
Taking the right decision
I was successfully pushing my limits and at the end of stage 4 I realised that my body was too empty. It wasn‘t an easy decision, but after all the right one. It was no longer about if I could do that (which I really think was possible) but about if I should do that and risking an extremely long recovery time or even worse an injury. There will be the time for a revenge 😉
Leaving the camp we got back to Reykjavik to have a sleep in the hotel, to fly back the next day to Switzerland and to meet my doctor at the medbase in Zurich. What followed was a nightmare as all the pain – which I mentally pushed away – was coming back with giant steps. Even the good painkillers and anti-inflammatories where not able to help me with my hurting left arm. After two nights without sleep they checked me through again in the hospital and gave me some stronger medication which helped me to slow down a bit now for the last night.
I feel great and not disappointed and I have recovered quite good now. And, I am proud of what I did. And finally, there are a lot of important learnings which I will now put together for the best possible preparation for therace.ie and Racing The Planet Madagascar in 2014.
I will post a bit more about the highlights, encounters, dialogues and learnings of my first „self-supporting-multi-stage-ultra-try“ in the next days and weeks.
But at this place I‘d like to thank all my tent mates for their support during my most difficult moments. And then, there was Vanessa Tan Yee Jueen … I will never forget when I was that slow walking town towards the camp and I heared this voice singing. It came from an athlete walking at the same slow pace as I did, about 200m in front of me. Suffering together (Vanessa felt empty) the last few kilometers was diverting and amusing. It motivated me to cross the finish line running like a 90 years old with a smile in my face. That’s what these race are about too.
And last but not least thanks to all the people who were supporting me with their words, thoughts and mails.
By the way, we will see us in Madagascar next year, where I want to profit from all these experiences to realise a strong finish. But first let’s get well and then touch the Irish north coast in the winter.