Going for broke in Corsica

I did it!  We did it!  Officially ran the route of the Tour de France and raised $166,000 in the process…I cannot believe it.  I arrived in Maine on Saturday evening after a 36 hr bonanza of traveling, and even after two full nights of sleep and being surrounded by my family in celebration, it’s still a hard thing to get my head around.  4 days ago Alex and I were out on the unforgiving Corsican roads going for broke in our final hours.

There’s a lot to be said and a lot that still will need to be said, but I’ll start this post from the beginning of the 90 miles and follow up tomorrow with more.

Alex and I tucked ourselves into bed at 6 pm on Wednesday, hoping to get some sleep before starting the 90 miles at midnight.  I wanted to start at midnight because running from the dark into the light seemed much more enticing than running from the light into the dark.  (I discovered on Thursday evening in the last 5 hours that this was more true than I had anticipated)  We tossed and turned and got up for snacks and water and around 9 pm we had nearly decided to just get out of bed and get started already.  By 10, however, we were both sort of asleep and stayed that way, in fits and starts, until midnight, when our alarm went off.  We packed our bags up for the last time, by now a routine we could do with our eyes closed, and headed out into Ajaccio to find a bar that would serve us up some coffee before taking off.  Unfortunately almost every place was closed or closing, and it was not until an hour later that we found a coffee machine at a gas station and eagerly dropped our coins in to get two coffees each.

We finally started at 2 am, and in the first 2 1/2 miles I saw 7 roadside memorials for people who had died in car accidents, and 3 pairs of glowing eyes in the bushes lining the streets.  It was a nerve-wracking way to start.  The eyes went away as the road climbed up and up, but the memorials did not and by mile 12 I had seen 14.  Yikes.  I’ve run in the dark plenty of times before, but it was an entirely new feeling running on an obviously dangerous mountain road that I am completely unfamiliar with and which is obviously twisting up and up away from civilization and towards a more wild nature.  Running uphill right away was also a weird thing, I might not have noticed it so distinctly had I not peered down at my Garmin to see I had climbed 1400 feet in 4 miles.  But mostly those first 15 or 20 miles went by physically unnoticed, and my focus was more outwards, taking note of the palm-sized grasshoppers and spiders dotting the roads, and any animal-like noise coming from the woods, and the squint of car lights approaching in the distance.

Early morning, I got a little too confident in my eyesight and decided I didn’t need my headlamp, which worked for about two minutes until I stumbled over a rock and went down hard on both knees and palms, bloodying them up and giving me a good laugh – a true proof in point that there’s always something new that can take you down.  After pausing to wash the blood off and clean my knees up a bit, I managed to repeat the feat a mile later, again tripping over a rock and again going down hard on both knees.  Sheesh.

The sun came up on the other side of the mountains and I hit my first 30 miles around 9 am.  I had decided to run with my Garmin but break up the distance into three 30 milers, since that’s what I am used to.  Alex brought me coffee and croissants, and I took a nice 15 minute break.  The next 30 miles were HOT.  And sunny.  And hot.  And ridiculously beautiful.  The road curved up around mountains with two more big passes, and then down towards seaside towns and back up again.  The water around Corsica is the most astounding blue and it was never out of my eyesight for more than half an hour for the entire day.  By afternoon I was too nauseous  to eat anything and on most of my drink breaks I was managing only a couple pistachios or a bite of a peach.  Probably a mistake.

Late afternoon, the backs of my arms started itching like crazy and I spent the better part of ten miles simply focusing on not itching them.  By the time the sun was going down, I looked down at my legs and realized I had large swaths of red dotted rashes all over my quads, shins, and back of my calves.  My knees were swollen and bruising.  The road I was on was no longer beautiful but intolerably miserable.  It wound around and around and around the coastal mountain range, not going down towards the sea nor up towards the summit, but crusted endlessly mid-mountain, winding around in so many curves that I had the distinct sensation I was going in circles.  The road was no longer marked with distances, there were no towns to speak of, and it felt like we were an awful maze with no way out and no idea where we were.  No cell phone service, no place names, no road signs.  It felt like an elaborate, endless trap and more than once I wondered if we had somehow missed a turn off the mountain.

With 16 miles to go, I grabbed my  whistle from the car, explaining to Alex it was “feeding time” and though I had no idea what kind of animals were around in this land, I had my suspicions.  Two minutes later, Alex has just passed me by, heading down the mountain finally, and I hear some loud chewing in the trees just ahead of me.  Just by the sound of it, I know right away it’s a wild boar.  Not to mention that the boar is the only animal I am absolutely sure lives in Corisca.  I pause, reduced again to trembling fear, just like on that day in the very first week.  Trying to be smarter this time, I blow into my whistle as hard as I can, because I’m thinking maybe that will help scare it or them off.  Instead, the boar starts grunting at me and I hear his slobbery chewing getting closer.  So I ditch the whistle and instead book it, as quickly and quietly as possible, up the mountain – once again, just like that day in the first week and once again not sure of the logic in running in either direction, because for all I know there are more boars in the direction I’m now running towards.

I had no cell reception, so I waited a couple hundred yards away, shaking and shouting Alex’s name, until finally enough time passed for him to wonder why I hadn’t passed him yet and to drive back up towards me.  After that, Alex drove right behind me until I finished.  I sprinted the next 4 or 5 miles, monumentally frightened and wanting the time to move from dusk to night as quickly as possible in hopes that the boars had to sleep at some point.  And after those 5 miles is when it all started to fall apart.

The last ten miles took so long, and sucked so much out of me that they deserve an entire chapter in the book I hope to write.  My head and face were burning up while the rest of my body was shaking with the chills.  I had to stop and pee every five minutes but I had a thirst that I thought I would never catch up with.  The physical pain on my hips and knees was bad, but what was the worst was the nausea that had been developing all day and which had bloomed into a full-tilt dizzying ocean of nausea.  Talking was out of the question, and even just running with my mouth open was enough to make me want to puke.  At some point I think I realized those bumps I had seen earlier must be sun poisoning, and the fever and debilitating nausea I’m experiencing must be because of that, but I also think I was so delirious with exhaustion that I just assumed that’s how it feels to get to 80 miles.  And I’m sure it was a little of both.

The final ten miles were five miles up the last mountain pass of the Tour, and then a steep five miles down towards Calvi.  Let me say that running 5 miles up a mountain in a dark so thick that you can’t see four feet ahead of you even with car headlights shining on from behind is no fun at all.  There’s no joy in getting to the top of the mountain if you can’t see anything and it’s incredibly disorienting and for me, discouraging.  We had to go up countless hills before we even got to the point where, according to the TDF website, we officially started going up.  And then I would make the mistake of lifting my head and seeing some headlights shining way way above us, impossibly high above us, and I knew that that meant I had to run not only that far, but also that high.  Alex had to talk me through the entire last 10 miles, telling me stories about Maine, and Richmond, and all the things we’d eat and drink and do with our friends and family once we were back home.

I finally reached the mountain pass, where, disgustingly, there was not even a sign to mark my progress.  No black Col sign I had come to appreciate so much, no altitude marking, nothing, just an obvious pass through one side of the mountain to the other.  There was TDF writing on the road and at this point I’ve never hated cyclists more in my life for the simple fact that I still had five quad pounding miles ahead of me and they had done this with the luxury of wheels.  After a couple miles of painfully steep decline, I realized that I wanted to get this over with more than I wanted to avoid the pain of running quickly.  So I switched from my shuffle-slog into one final last kick, running the last 3 miles as fast as I could, giving every single last thing I could, laying it all to rest out on the pitch black road.

When I finally did finish, at 1:05 am, my knees and elbows were crusted with blood, and my palms dotted with blood blisters from falling down, my skin pickled and covered in a sun rash, my ankles swollen red and hot, dirt everywhere, and my face completely flushed with fever.  It was, after so many runs in my life, the first time I felt so deeply that I could not possibly have gone one extra step.  So often people have commented upon seeing me after a 30 mile day that I look great, considering.  I’ve always felt conflicted about that – sure it’s nice I can run that much and not look awful, but on the other hand, I want to look awful!  I want to look like I’ve been through something.  And finally, at 1 am on Friday morning, I looked like I had been through something.  23 hours, 110 degree heat, 8000 feet of elevation gain, all of it was written on my face, etched in my body.  Finally, I looked like hell.   And it felt great.

90 miles to go

I finished the second stage in Corisca yesterday, which means that all I have left is 90 miles.  Just 90 miles.  It’s crazy to even write that, crazy to think I’ve gotten this far, and I am still scared to even dwell on it for too long because I know the next 90 will be the toughest and I certainly don’t want to dismiss them.  I know I’ve mentioned it in an earlier post, but the reason I’m going to try to run the last 90 as one ultra marathon is because I believe this journey has to end with a bang.  In the true spirit of the Tour de France, it has to end in the most difficult way possible, and simply running all stages in Corsica in 10 days at an average of 32 miles a day felt too much like I would be phoning it in.  I already know I can average about 30 miles a day, I’ve made it across the Pyrenees and the Alps and all the way to Paris and finally Corsica and the best and scariest part is that I’ve never run 90 miles in one go, never run more than 50, and I don’t know if I can.  I’m scared and excited and almost in disbelief that I could be on a plane home so soon.  My normal life feels so far away, or this one feels so isolated and consuming, that the idea that I might be back in it again and so soon just feels like it can’t possibly be real.

Before I left Richmond I got to take part in TEDxRVA, a local TEDx program where a bunch of great people got together to talk about the subject of creating, and a bunch of other great people came to watch and a bunch of great relationships were formed. In fact, a fellow speaker, Kevin Carroll, was the one who introduced me to Zoe’s Kitchen, a relationship that resulted in $89,000 raised for World Pediatric Project!  Being included in TEDxRVA was one of the best and most heartfelt experiences of my life and I’ve been thinking a lot about it this past week.  My talk was about accepting vulnerability and getting comfortable with being uncomfortable en route to pursuing our grandest goals, and let’s just say if I didn’t fully understand my own words then, I most certainly do now.  On the USA run 2 years ago, there was a certain point in Mississippi where I think I knew I would finish, not only on time but ahead of time.  On this run, because the miles are longer and the elevation far higher and the time pressure to finish a day ahead of the cyclists in Paris – all of this has made it a journey that I have yet to feel like I’ve got it in the bag.  There’s still an uncertainty each and every day, and I’ve been thinking so strongly about all of this in the last couple days because this last leg, the 90 miles in 24 hours, is something I’ve never done before and it’s a little nerve-wracking.  It’s a weird and humbling feeling to be this far into the journey and still feel exactly as I did on day 1 – of course, I have learned so, so much; but I am still telling myself to power on through despite knowing that of course it’s still possible to fail.  But I’ll never know if I don’t try, right?!

If anyone wants to check it out, the link to the talk is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5jxwFRkBDs

To add some spark to the last 24 hours, Alex and I want to thank all of YOU for supporting us on our mission and for your support of World Pediatric Project.  For all donations of $5 or more made today July 31, or tomorrow August 1st, you will get a special behind-the-scenes video clip from the final 24 hours!  After making the donation, please email us at zoegoesrunning@gmail.com so we have your contact info to share the clip with you!  And donations of $25 or more still receive an awesome “Team Zoe” t shirt!

THANK YOU to all who have been a part of this journey with me – it has been amazing to share it!  Please send many many positive thoughts and vibes from tonight at midnight Central European time til tomorrow night at midnight :  )

Fundraising news and thunder storms!

Well, I can’t believe it.  I have one more day of normal running tomorrow, 32 miles to finish in Ajaccio, then I will take a day off, and then try and knock off the last stage, 90 miles, as one 24 hour ultra marathon.  Excited and nervous but mostly this all feels surreal.  Did all of it really just happen?

I just found out that a very special donor has stepped up to match all donations up to $7500 total through to the end of August.  We are just 15,000$ short of the $150k goal, so I say let’s make it happen in the next week!  Alex and I are scheming something very cool film-wise to thank last – minute donors – stay tuned for more info tomorrow!  And in the meantime if you wish to donate you can do so at WWW.zoegoesrunning.com.  Thank you!

And last but not least, the weather finally broke today!  It broke into dozens of mountain thunder storms!  I started off OK but had to jump in the car during a particularly violent patch, and we waited it out for a good 40 minutes.  I almost asked Alex if we could drive ahead and I would run the stage backwards, just so I could be out of the mountains for the storms, but he persuaded me to at least give it one more try.  Im very happy I did, because it turned out to be an incredible run with just a few more lightning bolts but nothing serious.  In the past I’ve had too many close calls with lightning to reasonably feel very comfortable running under it now, so I am glad I had Alex there to give me a confidence boost 🙂 

Today might have been even hotter.

Today at 5:15 pm with three miles left to run, it was a scorching 43 degrees Celsius outside.  That is 110 degrees Fahrenheit.  That is inescapable.

I finished with 32 miles and am exhausted.  For dinner I ate watermelon and popsicles and a giant serving of my new favorite and most refreshing food ever, fresh shredded carrot salad in a lemony dressing, and so many bottles of water and juice and iced tea.  I feel like I could drink and drink and drink and never catch up to my thirst before it is time to go run again!

I’m on the second stage in Corsica now, which has us cutting across the island, over the mountains, from Bastia in the northeast to Ajaccio in the southwest.  Tomorrow I have 3 climbs, all around 5 or 6 km, so I am hoping they don’t feel as hard as the Alps did.  We will see!  
Excuse the short post, but I am beat!

Corsica is hot, still

I was writing a blog post in my head all day long and now somehow it is already 1130 pm and I am just sitting down to write it.  I probably sound like a broken record, but Corsica is HOT.  I couldn’t sleep last night so I got out of bed and did some reading on Corsica and its history etc.  Apparently, the French Foreign Legion used to train here.  I haven’t even gotten into the mountains yet and I can completely understand that.  The heat is maddening but worse yet is the utter lack of shade or protected tracts of land or road anywhere.  And along the coastal highways, there’s this strong scorching wind blowing dust in my already sweat-stung eyes and traffic whizzing by kicking up pebbles and little plants that prick or itch or both and are magically attracted to my socks and ankles.   I feel like I’m running through the Sahara, which us funny because if that’s how I feel now, imagine what actually running the Sahara feels like!

The good part is this: in my mind, there are two kinds of hot.  The first is the kind that’s so hot and abrupt that it makes you feel like the miles are going by excruciatingly slow and that leaves you totally lethargic and unmotivated.  And then there’s the second kind, which is the heat that is so painfully present, so smacking and utterly overwhelming that you are thinking only of how and when you will get your next drink and what kind of popsicle you will have at day’s end and not at all about accumulating miles or tracking pace. It is a heat that so strongly evokes your most basic instinct of thirst that it ends up distracting from the tedium of 32 mile days – and I will count that as a positive. 

The heat aside, it is a beautiful island and Alex and I are enjoying jumping in the sea after I finish for the day 🙂 

For anyone who hasn’t had a chance to make a donation to World Pediatric Project, please consider making one in these last days!  Any amount helps, and donations 25$ and up will receive a very cool Team t shirt 🙂 

WWW.zoegoesrunning.com

And now: sleep time!!!

Paris!

Hard to believe I am just sitting down to write about Paris and I’m already off and running in Corsica.  In the past week I’ve gone from the Alps to Paris to Corsica – I don’t know if it’s my legs or my mind which is most confused!

In a word, Paris was special.  I got a call last week from my little sister with the news that she and my brother and our sister in law would be surprising me in Paris – and it was just so truly special to share that day with them in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  Talk about being happy.  They ran the last day with me which was absolutely incredible as we passed by the Eiffel Tower, the Museum D’orsay, the Louvre, the Tuileries, the Obelisk and then finally up the Champs Elysée and onto the Arc.  I think we were all sporting huge grins for the whole run, especially Margaret 🙂  I mean, when else in my life am I going to be in PARIS, with my siblimgs, running 4 in a line like ducks down the Seine towards the Eiffel Tower, celebrating something so monumental?!  I hope it’s not never, but it could be.

We were also joined by Dustin, the manager of the Zoes Kitchen store which did the most fundraising out of all the Zoes Kitchens, which was very neat to share that moment with him as a teeny tiny thank you for all the amazing work he and his team did for us and World Pediatric Project!  To everyone at Dustin’s store: you guys are awesome 🙂

And at the finish line under the Arc we were met by Susan Rickman from WPP who gave us great big hugs and cheered us on with her friends 🙂  Like I said, just a very special day. 

The one snag was that it is illegal to film under the Arc and so the police actually ran after Alex and took his camera and deleted all the footage he shot of the final arrival under the arc.  Which I have to mentioned included some sick dance moves by yours truly.  Aw well.

The rest of the weekend Gabe and Rosa and Margaret and I did a bunch of sight seeing and popped some champagne.  On Sunday we went to the finish of the Tour and it was INCREDIBLE.  We had actually almost missed out on it for various silly reasons but I am so glad we went and made it just in time.  The cool thing was that it was crazy right around d the course, but just a little ways away the streets were still closed and they were completely empty.  No cars, no people, no noise.  I’ll never forget all of us singing In the Jungle walking down empty Parisian streets at twilight.

Now I’ve just finished my first day on Corsica where it is painfully hot.  But I like to sweat so it all works out. 

Just arrived in la Corse

This post deserves to be totally awesome and full of emotions from the finish in Paris but I’ve just arrived in Corsica after a full day and a half of travel and 4 hours of sleep and I am BEAT!  So, good post coming tomorrow, after I test my legs out on Corsican roads after 3 days of no running!  Kind of scared about that!  Thank you everyone for all the love guiding me towards the first finish in Paris!