98 km + 36 yrs

Today is the first of September. It’s my best friend from school’s 36th birthday and perchance she happened to be here today. She arrived yesterday with her boyfriend John who had just run the North Face Ultra trail of Mont Blanc. He ran 98 kilometres in 17 hours and forty-five minutes. And that was just the “half” trail. The full trail was a whopping 166 km and a Spanish 20 year old mountain hiker won it – running the whole distance in just 25 hours (I hope I’m getting my figures right). Having only finished the race the day before they arrived at our house, John could walk but very painfully, and our staircases proved a tough challenge for his poor leg muscles. He came in 102nd out of the two thousand people running his race. Another two thousand and five hundred had run the long race. It sounds like sheer madness – running non-stop (except for a few short rest stations where your girlfriend/brother/best mate awaits you slightly worriedly as you jog/hobble/crawl in) and yet John seemed strangely euphoric and wise and angel-like – as if he’d learnt something from pushing himself to the limit. Running through the Alps from midday to sunset and into the night with a head-torch on, along a dirt-track with other head-lights bobbing here and there, wondering whether to stop and tip that gravel out of your shoe and delodge the stone wedged between your toes or whether to just to keep running, as stopping and starting again would be even more painful, drinking watery salty noodle soup as it’s the only thing your stomach will keep down … it must all be like living a hazy crazy dream that regularly slips into the nightmare zone. I would love to do a run like that. And I would hate to do a run like that. As John came across the finishing line he swore he would never do that again. A couple of hours later he was already talking about doing it next year or the year after. A bit like childbirth. You can’t imagine going through such excruciating pain ever again … and then you start dreaming of having another baby. John must be home in bed by now, with my best friend from school listening to his recovery-from-long-run snoring. Happy Birthday, and well done for looking after that man while he slogged himself through 98km.

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