‘Are you worried about not getting into UTMB?’
I am sitting on the floor in the middle of a deserted sports centre in a small town in Slovenia. It is either late at night or very early in the morning – I have lost track of time while having my own little pity party. A volunteer squats down next to me and looks at my drop bags. They are untouched.
24 hours ago, I was still under the impression that I was going to do a 170 km race. I didn’t know that my event would get cancelled and that I would convince myself to do the 100 km night race instead. I didn’t know that I would quite literally get pushed out of that race by another runner and that I would end up having a chat with the police at an aid station in the middle of nowhere. I always try to visualise every possible scenario when I am preparing for an ultra, but this scenario had never crossed my mind.
The volunteer tries to cheer me up by talking about other UTMB qualifiers and about how every ultrarunner gets a DNF behind their name every now and then. I do my best to explain to him that this is not about that. I just wanted to run. I just wanted to run in the mountains for a really long time. That is why I travelled all the way over here, that is what I have been training for, that is what I love to do. The reason for my disappointment isn’t about UTMB or qualifiers or rankings. I wasn’t even sure about wanting to do UTMB in the first place. The volunteer gets up and looks around. ‘You should probably try to get some sleep.’
It’s funny how these things work. All through the summer when people asked me what I was training for, I would tell them about this 100 mile race in Slovenia. I spent a month in the Italian Alps to get used to the elevation gain and the rocky terrain, I ran more and climbed more than I had ever done, and I worked strange hours so I could spend as much time as possible in the mountains during the day. But it all made sense; there was this race on the horizon and the training was going to prepare me for that. Take the race out of the equation, though, and what’s left is just a woman spending a lot of time running up and down mountains. Had it all been a waste of time and energy?
No, I decided (after I did get some sleep). I could have done without the trip to Slovenia. But every mile that I had run this summer had been worth it. All the routes planned, all the mountains climbed, all the nights in less-than-ideal Airbnbs, it had been worth it. It didn’t earn me any points or money, but it did mean that I was doing what I love the most: being out in nature, enjoying some views, challenging myself, getting stronger. I had learned a lot about the Italians (didn’t always go well), about the trails in the Aosta Valley (went very well) and about running with poles (did not expect that to go this well at all). I had spent a lot of time on my own, but had also been fortunate enough to share the trails with friends. I had enjoyed both – even on the days where my body felt creaky and my brain couldn’t imagine climbing yet another mountain.
Like I tried to explain to that helpless volunteer, I wasn’t worried about not getting an entry for UTMB. It just would have been nice to use all that training and to see where it would get me. It would have been nice to share the trails with like-minded people from all over the world. But even that was not what I was worried about. I knew that once I had put the disappointment behind me, I would find another race or another challenge. And I knew that most people in the trailrunning community are good. I wasn’t going to let one idiot ruin that for me.
What I do worry about, is the fact that there are men, albeit a very small minority, who seem to think the sport or the trails are theirs. I worry about other women not feeling safe during an event. I worry about women holding themselves back as a result of that. I worry about women thinking twice before they try to pass a man in a race.
That is why I signed up for my next race that same day, even before my pity party was well and truly over. I knew it was the only right thing to do and I was grateful to get an opportunity like that (more about that in my next blog). I also felt very lucky to be able to go for a run again that evening. It was going to be a 30 minute easy jog so I just put on my road shoes. Two hours later I arrived back at my apartment with wet feet and muddy legs… I had found some trails. I got a little lost, had to cross a river, but found my way back. That, to me, is what this is all about. Just a woman spending a lot of time running up and down mountains. Race or no race.
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