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The joy of failiure

by @garyfallsover
Wednesday 7th May 2014

In his first column Gary Dalton explains why he is attracted to challenges, so impossible, that he fears he might fail

Tor des Geants. Hardrock. Spartathalon. UTMB. Western States. The Spine. If you're a trail runner and more specifically an ultra runner, you're probably already familiar with those names.

Chances are you could probably add a few of your own. They're names we've added to what we enthusiastically call our 'bucket list,' the races we'd love to do before we shuffle off this mortal coil. Their relative difficulty is debated long and hard whenever ultra runners gather, jockeying for position on the totem pole in that modest way that runners do, swapping a UTMB for a Sparta, a Spine Challenger for a Western States.

The central thread running through all the stories, the glue that binds all of us together in the conversation, is that we all dreamt of these races long before we ever toed the start line. We visualised what it would feel like, what kit we'd use.We obsessed over the relative merits of each of our favoured shoes, whether to use poles or not, what pack to wear and whether the compulsory kit would all fit. And finally, if we were lucky, we did toe the line, heard the gun go off or the cigarette lit or the Conquest of Paradise played and at that point we moved from the world of fantasy to reality. The time was here, now, all that mattered was one foot in front of the other for as long as was necessary.

So what brings me to write such an introspective article as my first contribution to Run247? Well later this summer, thanks to the good folks at Run247 and the Tor des Geants organisation, I'll be toeing the line at one of the races on my own personal bucket list.

The Tor des Geants means in English 'Tour of Giants' and it is exactly that, a monstrous 330km race with over 24,000 metres of climb and descent through some 24 municipalities, 25 mountain passes over 2000m and two national parks. It takes place in the Aosta valley in north-western Italy, an area familiar to UTMB runners as part of the Italian leg of the more famous UTMB. It's unusual in that for a race of this length it isn't split into individual sections, essentially when the gun goes off in Courmayeur the fastest person to complete the course will win.

Last year it was the incredible Salomon athlete Iker Karrera who won in an almost unbelievable time of just over 70 hours. To put that into some kind of perspective, it's often referred to for the UK participants as running from London to Manchester, crossing Everest three times. Runners need to carry a comprehensive list of kit but have the use of up to 43 refreshment points and seven larger 'life bases' where there is a chance to sleep, bearing in mind the clock never stops on this race, and the limit of 150 hours is immovable and ever approaching. Each runner must manage themselves as best they can, balancing the need for sleep against the knowledge that to stop moving means the likelihood of staying in front of the cutoffs becomes ever more difficult.

That brings me to why the Tor des Geants is on my bucket list and why, though I'm incredibly excited to be given the chance to run it later this year, that excitement is also tempered with fear. And to me that's important. That fear is one of the reasons I choose races. I want to be scared and intimidated and out of my comfort zone. I want to stand on that start line having endured months of training, of research and preparation and still not be confident of finishing. Because if I always run races that I'm confident of finishing, no matter how difficult they are, then what would I really learn about myself? Instead of pushing my limits I'm setting them, I'm deciding I don't want to challenge myself beyond the lessons I've already learned, I don't want to know how much I can endure and I don't really want to learn what my body and mind are capable of. For me to really grow as a runner, I believe that I have to fail, for if I don't fail, then I haven't really and truly found my limits.

So in the coming months I'll be writing about my preparations, both physical and mental, I'll look for the coping mechanisms that'll get me through the tough times and I'll be working through the physical preparation that'll put me on the start line fit and ready to go. Because after that gun goes, who knows what could happen.

So if you happen to see me on that start line and I do look scared, don't worry. That's where I want to be.

To find out more about the Tor de Geants, visit: www.tordesgeants.it/en


About The Author

Gary Dalton

Gary Dalton is a rugby loving, crime fighting, white Irish Muslim ultra runner. Despite all this he's not a complete eejit. 

Gary is originally from the west of Ireland and can't actually remember when he moved to London - he blames a heavy diet of being tackled by prop forwards and potatoes for the memory loss. He hates going out for runs, canals and borderline hypothermia and loves ice cream and going out for runs. 


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