By Katie Cormier
At 8am on Sunday the 24thOctober 2021, I stood in the semi darkness, on the start line of the Thur Trail “les 3 Vallons” in Mitzach, Alsace. I looked around me and I felt like a fraud. All the others runners looked confident, happy and relaxed and somehow in their element. I just felt absolutely freezing and so tired, I wanted to cry.
In the early hours of Saturday morning, 2 nights before the race, my daughter Amelie got hit by a nasty tummy bug and emptied the contents of her stomach all over her bed/sleeping bag/sheets/mattress. After washing these in the shower and hanging them out on the balcony to dry, Seb and I took it in turns to empty sick buckets every half an hour for the next 12 hours.
Saturday night, I was very restless and woke every hour or so, either drenched in sweat or freezing to the bone… Clearly, I was also coming down with something. But at 5am I managed to get up and force some breakfast down, before Seb and Evelyn accompanied me to the start line.
So, there I stood, in -2°C, shivering and tired, and not at all ready to begin the longest and hilliest race of my life.
„Cinq, quatre, trois, deux, un: ALLEZ!!“ We were off!!
Step by step, I managed to find my rhythm and cover the first 5 or 6k without too much trouble. Then my stomach warned me something else was going on and I had to quickly find a tree!!
The first 16km of the course took us mainly uphill, through forests and over fields with stunning views all around on this crisp frosty morning.
At 7km the first aid station came and went with nothing more than a drink of coke or water on offer. No food. That’s odd. Maybe it’s too early in the race… The next aid stations will surely have food.
From 16-25km the course was mainly downhill, dipping in an out of the forest. Sometimes running on small single trail paths, but often on wide forest tracks. Perfect for stepping up the tempo a bit and putting a few kilometers behind me. Lovely autumn scenery passed by and the sun started to warm me up and thaw the frozen ground. All was well in the world of Katie the ultra trail running super woman!!! (Sorry – inner monologue kicking in!)
After 3h10m I reached halfway – 24k! I left a quick, woop woop celebratory voice message for my family and carried on up a short steep climb to the next aid station at 28km. Still no food. Oo, but there is soup, I’ll try that. Oh my god that was the most disgusting thing I have ever put in my mouth!! Thick, lumpy, cold vegetable soup, warmed up and thinned down with hot water. That was NOT what I needed and made me feel decidedly sick for the next 6km downhill towards my planned meeting point with Seb and the girls at 34km.
I could hear Evelyn’s encouraging cheers from far away, with our dog Charlie barking along merrily! Boy, it was great to see them! Seb handed me an enormous fresh baguette, stuffed with ham and cheese, a couple of chocolate bars and a large slug of coke, then I was on my way, with Charlie charging along behind me!!
That quick stop gave me so much power and mental energy to continue, it was just what I’d needed to help me conquer the last steep climb at 37km. 500m of climb in 3km!! Time to put my headphones on and plug in to some good music and off I went! Zig-zagging through the forest, climbing steeply and steadily up, I met a friendly chap who could speak German. Our polite and friendly chit chat helped to pass the time and the next 4 kilometers went by without too much of a struggle. At the top, I was able to give the family a quick heads up that I was into the last 8km and would be clattering down the hill and crossing the finish line in about the next hour, all being well.
As I approached the 48km mark, the finish line was nowhere in sight and my motivation started to wane, as did my energy levels. I started to feel nauseas and was really keen to get this finished and finally eat some real food!
Evelyn’s cheerful cry greeted me once again, as I came stumbling out of the woods at 49km, and she cheerfully helped through the last 500m to the finish line. Even Amelie had managed to coax herself back from the dead, in order to trot over the finish line with me, while Seb and Charlie cheered from the sidelines.
I did it!! In 6h44m11s I completed 49,5km and over 2000m of ascent. Out of 109 runners, only 16 were women and I was happy and extremely proud to finish in 7thplace among those women. (In doing so I also earned myself a couple of UTMB points, so I can enter the UTMB OCC lottery for next year!)
Unfortunately, my dreams of real food, had to be put on hold, as I succumbed to the stomach bug on Sunday evening and spent 3 miserable days in bed. Not quite the celebration I was hoping for!! Nevermind – there’s always this weekend J!
PS. It was explained to me by the race organisers, that the lack of food at the aid stations was apparently due to Covid regulations. So thank you to the race organisers who did the best they could under the difficult circumstances. It really was a beautiful route.