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Treat them mean, keep them keen!

by @garyfallsover
Friday 18th September 2015

Race report: It's the one race that Run247 columnist Gary Dalton really wants, the one he can't get out of his mind! After a tough time in 2014, that ended in a helicopter rescue, how did he get on at the Tor des Geants in 2015

Gary's relationship with the Tor des Geants is a complicated one. A love-hate type of thing! It's the one he really wants. The one that's playing 'hard to get'...

Have you ever wanted something so much you were almost afraid to get it? Encountered the fear that if you pushed yourself so hard to achieve your goal and still failed it would destroy what little confidence you had in your own ability and you may never recover?

Well that’s how I feel about the Tor des Geants. Around this time last year I made it to around the 280k  point in the race and, in the process, destroyed my left knee; running for three days on a torn meniscus until the cumulative damage meant  I had to be helicoptered off the mountainside unable to take another step. I was willing to maim myself to finish that race because it was that important to me. How tough you were was important. Finishing was all that mattered.

Well over the next seven months I had plenty of time to consider how tough I was, to consider how my selfishness in wanting to finish at all costs had affected not only my ability to do the sport I loved but also how it affected those who loved me. Instead of my physically active job policing London I sat in an office, rubber-stamping applications. Instead of long runs at the weekends with friends I sat at home wondering if I could manage to make it to the shops. Instead of enjoying a holiday with my long suffering wife I sat on the beach hoping she didn’t mind that we couldn’t venture further afield.

So when I did start training again it was tentative. Baby steps under the strict guidance of my coach Robbie Britton, him trying to physically bring me back up to speed whilst I tried to ignore the demons in my head telling me there was no point. But I tried. For the first time since school actually listening to my coach. Doing what I was told. Not just paying lip service and thinking I knew better. Putting faith in someone other than family.

Early season races were sensibly cancelled to allow for more recovery time until my first race of the year rolled around. The Transylvania 100K was a race I had DNF’d (HERE) the previous year due to poor planning and I was keen to redeem myself. A tough mountain course would be a great tester for the knee and would provide a good measure of where I was physically for the Tor.  But a fall on the course tore some ankle ligaments and, yet again, I was back where I was seven months previously, on crutches, feeling sorry for myself.

Nothing for six, then seven, then eight weeks. Not a step was run. Plenty of time however to consider how much running was a part of my life. How it bound together the friendships I’d made over the years. How such a simple thing had woven itself into the very fabric of who I was. What I was. And with it being taken away I was somehow less. Incomplete.

Tor des Geants 2015

But time moved on and the injury started to slowly get better, stop-start-runs slowly morphing into longer ones, two steps forward and one step back with the recovery process. I seemed to spend equal amounts of time on the treatment table as I did on the trail, the physical therapy fixing my ankle while I tried to ignore the fear that if I injured myself again all this could be taken away.

The Tor loomed large over my head all summer but I kept pushing the fear of failing to the back of my mind, not really believing I’d make the start line anyway. It was much easier to believe that I wouldn’t physically be ready so I made no effort to actually confront my concerns of re-injury. It was easier to blame my physical frailties than accept that I was actually scared of racing again.

But race I did. A week before the race I’d run out of excuses. My ankle would either be fine or it wouldn’t, I’d done everything I could to rehab it within the time I had and I could think of no reasonable excuse not to do the race. I’ve always believed that if you are going to have regrets they should be for things you have done rather than things you haven’t. So I would attempt the Tor again and what would be would be.

And that really was my downfall. From the very beginning I had in my mind it was an attempt. I’d try. Give it a go. I had confidence neither in my physical ability nor my mental strength. I was out there for show.

There were times I thought I might actually get away with it. I surprised myself on the climbs by feeling physically strong, the rocky descent off Col D’Arp proving no bother to my weakened ankle.

But when my plantar fasciitis started grumbling I just couldn’t accept it for what it was. An inconvenience. No more. Easily managed. The discomfort nagged at me not for what it was but what for it might become. I foresaw months out of commission again and when I saw Rob at the first life base I laid the groundwork for what might be my reason to later DNF.

But shortly after that, the decision was somewhat taken out of my hands. Horrendous weather and a failing waterproof jacket meant by the time I got to Refuge epee I was soaked to the bone and chilled throughout. Two 3000m passes further along the trail meant it would have been dangerous to continue without a decent waterproof so I gave up. Quit. Oh I explored the possibilities of duct taping the seams of my jacket and even tried to fashion a waterproof out of bin bags, but my heart wasn’t in it. I knew my race was done. With a whimper rather than a bang.

So sitting on my couch a couple of days later I’m still trying to come to terms with what went wrong. And I think what it comes down to was the fact that I was afraid to succeed. Or at least I was afraid to do my best. Because if I did try my best and it still wasn’t enough then what would that say about me.

Tor des Geants 2015

Find out more about the race at: 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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