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Garett Graubins Monday, 19 March 2012 09:22 TWEET COMMENTS 1

Cobblestones, Cols and Cowbells - Page 9

As the week creeps onward, the number of runners in Courmayeur increases each hour. Some are finishers, others are drops and it is easy to tell the two apart. Finishers hobble along the street, laboring to lift one leg and then the other. They are sunburnt and ghost-eyed. The DNFers display far more energy.

At breakfast on Friday morning, I strike up a conversation with an apparent runner. A one-liter pitcher of coffee sits in front of him as he eats in a nearly catatonic state, with an unfocused gaze somewhere beyond the rim of his mug, and a memory skipping like a broken record over a full week’s worth of trail running. “Did you finish?” I ask.

“Yes,” says Massimo Colle, 50, of Chiaverano, Italy.

“Did you ever consider quitting out there?”

“No, never,” replies Colle. His finishing time of 105 hours 56 minutes put him in 32nd place. Finishing position aside, there exists a chasm between the finishers and DNFers.

Nicki Rehn coveted a finish here, but by Monday morning, the 36-year-old runner from Calgary, Alberta, had joined the list of DNFers. Taking it in stride, she admitted to riding an emotional roller coaster afterward, hovering between disappointment and relief. “The course is too beautiful to suffer through,” she says.

I also hear of some elite DNFs: 2010 champion Italian Ulrich Gross, plus Double-Ironman, world-record holder, Adrian Brennwald of Switzerland, to name a couple. In all, 300 runners completed the 2011 Tor. More than 200 runners were left to reflect on what they could have done differently to finish.

Another DNFer, Gabi Schenkel of Zurich, Switzerland, dropped after nearly 116 miles, due to illness. While waiting for a ride from the aid station, she twirled in a mix of DNF emotions: “Sadness overcame me but I was still surrounded by these mountains and there were no tears shed.” By the end of the week, back in Courmayeur, she commandeered a huge, antique cowbell from a local shop owner and festively greeted finishers in town. She found consolation in words from friend and 2010 Tor finisher, Craig Sagel: “It’s not a DNF, it’s a DYB: Did Your Best.”

Even Schenkel’s father, not a runner himself, appreciated the Tor’s mystique. “This is not a race,” he says. “It is a meditation.”

Garett Graubins is a Senior Contributing Editor for Trail Runner.


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