French Taper - Page 3
Rory Bosio changes her shoes and refuels in the rain with help from the author at UTMB's first checkpoint. Photo by Chris Hunter.
Post UTMB I had scored several recoup days in Switzerland. And, thankfully, the weather improved—clear skies and an easy breeze gave way to a warming morning as we ran along the Jungfrau course.
“European races are so exciting because of the spectators,” Stevie said. While I’d expected the huge crowd at UTMB, I was surprised to see the same energy at Jungfrau. In the U.S., support like this only happens at the biggest road marathons.
Each aid station was a well-oiled machine that seamlessly dispensed water, electrolyte drinks, broth and energy gels. Mountain running in Europe is part the culture. “There is a genuine love of endurance, an infatuation with the mountains that you just don’t see in the U.S.,” said Gina.
After about 20 kilometers, we reached Lauterbrunnen, a small town nestled beneath towering cliffs where BASE jumpers flock by the hundreds. While known as “The Valley” to BASE jumpers it is also macabrely referred to as “Death Valley,” because of the extreme danger of most of the area’s jumps.
“It has been a privilege to run with you ladies,” Brandy said, knowing that we’d all soon separate on the uphill. We wished each other good luck.
I leaned from my ankles and tried to avoid hunching over at the start of the 6000-foot climb. The wide gravel trail switched back and forth, relentless and steep. Melody ran ahead. I could see Brandy a few switchbacks below, Gina a few more. I thought of Mont Blanc, of the mountain’s unpredictability, challenge, and said to myself, “My feet are dancing. I am dancing with the mountain.” And with that thought, my mind again wandered back to Chamonix.
It was too dark and cloudy to make out the silhouette of Mont Blanc, too cloudy and rainy to see the stars. Chris and I were warming up inside a crêpe and espresso house, hollow-eyed, watching runners pass through UTMB’s 35-mile checkpoint. Conversation came in waves, but, mostly, we just stared at the tar-like dregs in our cups.
Next to us, a boisterous group of French patrons were enjoying what seemed like a typical late-night Saturday. They drained a bottle of red wine, picked at several plates of sugary crêpe creations and cut off each other’s sentences, laughing and hugging. I imagined that they would probably leave here and go home to listen to music, maybe drink some more wine and chat before falling asleep in warm beds. I stared at them, envious.
I turned back to my empty espresso cup and nodded to Chris. We headed for the door and back into the cold night to meet Rory. We waited outside the checkpoint tent for an hour. I was getting worried. I had already counted seven or eight women when she finally came trotting up a set of stone stairs. Everyone ahead of her maintained a quiet, methodical focus, but Rory was still all smiles, waving her arms when she saw us. I let out a cheer and quickly traded shot blocks for old wrappers, handed her a bag of potatoes and opened her a cold double-espresso drink.
“This is awesome!” were her only words before she took off down the road.
At the last checkpoint, I mumbled to myself to stay awake and slowly chewed a frozen candy bar. Mud-covered runners passed through in a shuffle-like stiff-legged run with determined but tired expressions that meant the finish line was near and getting there was the only thought left.
Then Rory rounded the corner, now in fourth place, looking strong. “My pack is too heavy,” she said as she stuffed some aid-station food into her mouth and took a big gulp of broth. “Take out the potatoes, that coat, everything unnecessary.”
Five miles later, Rory crossed the line in the grey morning light, still fourth woman. We hugged and cheered and stood around for photos before trudging back to our hotels to attempt some afternoon sleep before post-race celebrations.
Lying in my room with the window shades down, though, I struggled to fall asleep with the lyrics of a Broadcast song playing in my head:
“And if you’re feeling like you’re looking for that change, then let go ... Let go, let go, let go … ”