Much has been said of Kilian's recent Matterhorn record but nothing comes close to the scale of this video. The speed of the ascent is impressive but the descent is absolutely nerve-wracking. Best athlete in the world, by a long ways.
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Last I night I had the great pleasure of attending a sell-out screening of A Fine Line, part one of KilianJornet and Sebastien Montaz-Rosset's epic series, Summits Of My Life, at MK2 Paris. Kilian was in town for the weekend to run the Equipe10km for charity. A novel idea for an athlete who is more accustomed to 160km treks through rugged mountains. Kilian needs no introduction. Really. He is the first global superstar of the ultra-running world and people go nuts to get close to this modest, diminutive Catalan. He reminds me of a monk. Quietly spoken, wise, and with eyes that tell stories of things that most of us will never see. His physical prowess is beyond what most people can grasp and his pure love of the outdoors is like a conducting rod for runners the world over.
|A Fine Line equals a long line.|
I first found out about the screening ten days ago on social media and was quick to snap up a ticket. Wise move. Upon arrival (early) the queue already stretched the length of the promenade with a hefty aggregation of lithe, weather-beaten faces attired mostly in Salomon gear. I hopped in and waited. Eventually we were led to a screening room with a six hundred seat capacity. Spaces were few and I settled for a corner seat towards the back. Kilian and an emcee arrived half an hour before the film rolled. Kilian spoke of the experiences of shooting such a lofty project and how the death of his climbing partner, Stephane Brosse, left him wondering if indeed they would release the film at all. The crowd hung on his every word.
|Taking our places.|
|Kilian discusses his passions.|
|The signing, it was a long night for him.|
|Spot the mountain runner.|
|Running for Pearl.|
The screening itself was probably one of the most moving experiences I've had whilst sitting in a chair. The emotion, Seb's spectacular camera work, Kilian's incomprehensible prowess...... He is more than an athlete, he is an artist. I felt rejuvenated and without using the term tritely, inspired. I mean really inspired. To the point where one exits in a daze and sees everything in more detail, the sound of life being fine-tuned to block out the white-noise of traffic and chatter, my inner heartbeat the only auditory sensation. When it finished and Kilian reappeared, the applause accompanying our ten minute standing ovation was rapturous. He simply nodded and thanked the crowd repeatedly and said he was looking forward to returning south to his beloved mountains the next day. Having a seat at the back had its perks. When I exited I managed to get funneled into a line with four people in front of me for a book and DVD signing. Kilian took time to dedicate each item to his fans. After telling him how much his efforts were appreciated and recognised, he dedicated a message to Pearl and told me I was courageous for what I did for her. My respect for him could not be any higher. It is not because he is a running idol that he is so well liked, it is because he really is a wonderful person who loves what he does. Yes there may be sponsors and a crowd following him wherever he goes but you can tell he is the real deal just in the way he carries himself. I have met a few other “ultra-stars” in my time and they could do with taking a few lessons in humility from him. What I learned from that night is simple, life is A Fine Line. One minute you can be here and the next minute gone. The trappings of life and the excess baggage we feel we need to carry in order to be fulfilled or acknowledged is the surest way to never achieve anything lasting. Living in the moment with a purposeful stride that is aimed at a cherished goal must surely be the fuel to sustaining a simplistic and all encompassing happiness.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
In April 2010 I ran my first marathon, in Paris. The build up to it was a long and well trodden path of dark early mornings and wets evenings. It is often called the distance of truth because it is the perfect measure to pitch oneself against and define ones perceived boundaries. 26.2 miles. The dreaded number that instills equal parts fear, fascination and excitement. It is a long distance to travel on foot, whether you're a lithe Kenyan from the running-mecca Eldoret or an average Joe (or Josephine) who runs to permit themselves that extra scoop of ice cream on the weekend, twenty six miles is twenty six miles. The hardest distance to conquer though is a mere six inches, that's the distance between your ears, your own brain. It will tell you that you are insane, it cannot be done, walk a little, you've run far enough. As loud as that voice gets we have a fighter within us that quiets its sometimes thunderous roar. We are runners, and we are stronger than we, or anyone else realises.
Marathons unite people in a way that no other sporting event in the world can. Age, race, sex, creed, sexual orientation, none of it counts on the road. We are family. We are not just united on the day of the event, no, we have been united through all the training and the injuries along the way. When we get to the start line we see ourselves in the faces of everyone lined up, and we are genuinely happy. Our hearts are full with love. We have spent time away from our families to get to this starting line and most of our loved ones will be lining the course to cheer us on when it gets really tough, we love them for believing in us and supporting our crazy dreams. We feel the nerves in the air and talk amongst ourselves, we laugh and pat each other on the backs at the beginning, we pick each other up when we fall and we hug and cry together when we finish as we have run in the footsteps of the fastest men on earth. Where else does that happen? Where do elites and the likes of me get to play on the same pitch? Not the Tour de France, Wimbledon, Football, Swimming, Track, Golf. We run the same distance of truth and there is no difference between a 2:05 run and a 7:05 run, twenty six miles is twenty six miles. We do not want any of the fifty thousand runners to fail or lose out either, we are all one mass plodding through the city like a colourful parade of pain.
Runners are often said to be running away from something or toward something, I have a theory on why we run that is not that common. We like to run. Why? Who cares why. If it's fun and not harming anyone then get out there. Some don't get it of course which is fine, all the more room for me on the trails. I think to try and describe why we do it is like trying to quantify what being in love feels like. I run for the meditative time it allows me. Just last week I had a crazy busy day and managed an hour in between work appointments to get out on the road. It gave me everything I needed spiritually and created space where I had none. It's ironic but the faster I run, the slower life feels.
Spectators love to cheer us too. They do not rise early to catch a glimpse of the studs blazing through at incomprehensible speeds. No, they stand at the side of the road for hours cheering people they do not know. Because some of them will never run a marathon (and may secretly want to someday) we are carrying their dreams too. Just as we see ourselves in other runners, spectators see themselves in us. On April 7th I went to the 30km point of the Paris marathon and cheered the people sometimes called “The Street Sweepers” They are the back of the pack and sweep up all the crap that has accumulated from the people before them. In their faces I saw both agony and discovery. Every bead of sweat a testament to every foot-fall they had made, their eyes full of doubt as to whether they had 17km left in the tank. Heroes, every single one of them, most of them made it to the finish line.
Yesterday our world and community took a monumental hit. As I was texting messages of congratulations to my friend Tim in Boston after his incredible run, he replied shortly after to say there had been a massive explosion at the finish of the race. I jumped on the Internet immediately, the rest is a blur. The past 24 hours has seen an overload of twitter, facebook, news media and source after source of stories, photos and videos. I have avoided it all because I cannot think about it without breaking down completely. I cannot measure how I feel about an eight year old boy being murdered as he waits to cheer his father over the line, as my own eight year old son has done for me in the past. I do not know who bombed those innocent people killing three and injuring hundreds, or why they did it. But I will say this. You cowards have no idea who you are up against. WE ARE RUNNERS. We do not stop, EVER. When one falls we rush to pick them up, when you hurt members of our family we lock arms of a different kind. Our solidarity will be stronger than ever before and our light will shine brightly upon your hatred for all the world to see. We will not stop running, we will run faster, further, stronger, longer. We will not get tired and for us there is no finish line, when you are caught and brought to justice we will still be running through the streets at dawn, hiking up mountains freely, sprinting around a track on dusky nights, we will break world records and personal records. But most of all we will remember, with haunting pain, our fallen brothers and sisters, time will not dim that memory. Our marathons may have more security in the future but our love and camaraderie will triumph over fear and scepticism. We will move forward deliberately and purposefully with sincerity in hearts for the ones we have lost. God bless you all.
Monday, April 1, 2013
As a kid growing up in The Midlands of Ireland there wasn't a lot to do, which on the contrary meant there was plenty to do. Watching my son and daughter use iPad and Nintendo with ease reminds me of the Commodore 64 computer I had as a kid, it took forever and a day to load a game which in the good-old-days was on cassette tape. Not having the technology we have now left lots of time for exploration and freedom. Fields, forests, quarries, you name it, I hiked, crawled and bushwhacked through it. Often I carried something to eat in my pockets in order to stay out longer. This planted the seeds of adventure in my life, it dissipated for a while in my late twenties and early thirties (thank you drugs and alcohol) but in recent years has resurfaced with a child-like enthusiasm. I feel lucky to have had the chance as a kid to take myself to places under my own steam. The outdoors taught me about respect and humility, about shared experience and meditative reflection. It is something I am trying to instill in my kids and take them away from technology and truly appreciate this wonderful earth. Over the Easter weekend they hiked a total of 10km over two days and impressed me with their enthusiasm and stamina. I can but hope that in years to come nature will bring them all the rewards it has given me.
Monday, February 25, 2013
It's 2am. The steam of my breath fogs my glasses in staccato blasts, my hands on knees stance keeps a hold on the involuntary swaying motion of my body, chunks of undigested chocolate-chip cookies are lodged back at the intersection of my nasal passage and throat – a result of brutal vomiting. The sky is black, the ground pristine white with snow (save for the blotch of my vomit) I have just run 42km and as I look back at the support van following me and my running partner, Juan, I see the flashing lights of the Gendarmes (country police) talking to our crew. Is this real, the scene? Or the fact that I have just run an undulating marathon in -4 through a snow blizzard? I don't know any more, all I know is that I am supposed to continue for another 15km and all I want is to get into that van and pass out. I am done, I give up, how did I get here? For that, I have to go back to the beginning.
|Clockwise from top left - Laurent, Marie-Pierre, Francine, Moi, Juan, Thierry, Olivier, Daniel, Carole, Leslie, Ella, Maelize. Photo: L'Bagnard Kikou|
|Champagne corks fly. Photo: Herve Baete.|
|Ready to go. Photo: Herve Baete.|
It started, as most things epic do, out of the blue. My dear friend Leslie shared a friends event on facebook last Thursday saying Who wants to spend their Saturday night running? The first thing that caught me was the boldness of it. If she'd have mentioned a free entry into the Paris marathon or a Sunday morning get-together I wouldn't have given it a second look. But this was a challenge. I read on impatiently to discover that it would be a night run from Versailles to Rambouillet, a push of 55km each way. I would be aiming to get it done for two causes that I mentioned in my previous post. The details were sketchy though, some were doing it in a relay, and Juan (our captain) would do it out and back. The fact that my longest run previous to this was 19km in mid January did not perturb me, worse still, my last run was 9km three and a half weeks ago. I was dawdling in signing up for races, had no mojo and felt a lack of inspiration as to where my path was really leading. The authenticity of my running had dissolved somewhere along the way, eroded, if you will, like a cliff facing a slow but deliberate tide. The constructs of races are all well and good to force one to bring out the competitor within. But I fear it is that same pressure and anticipation of timing, distance and performance that detract from the purer essence of connecting the mind to the feet. Running should not be about compartmentalising, it should serve as an exploratory means to delve into the most primal of feelings, seamlessly uniting emotion and movement in singularity.
After many online messages and a few questions as to what exactly would happen (no one knew for sure) we agreed to meet at the Mairie de Versailles (think town hall, but epic) at 20:30 on Saturday evening. I met Juan and the rest of the team. Leslie, Carole, Francine, Thierry, Maeliz, Marie-Pierre and Ella. Olivier would drive a car in front and Laurent would drive behind with our change of clothes and water/food etc. We wrapped up to the maximum, drank champagne (well, they did) and set off at 21:00 with 55 snowy km ahead. It was a jovial start, the excitement of the unknown a welcome distraction from the knowledge that in a few hours time there wouldn’t be much talking at all. The route itself wound steadily up and down through quaint little villages and valleys, folks in the window seats of restaurants peering out over crème brulee wondering what the heck we were up to. The snow came harder and we laughed in its face. Occasionally Olivier would drive off into the distance and we would meander trough a country lane with just our head lamps to guide us. The unpredictable snow-covered trails were technically deceptive due to poor visibility. The pace was steady and at 20km another car that had been along for the ride and driven by Daniel, a friend of the group, took Marie-Pierre, Ella and Maeliz back home. Leslie and Carole jumped into the van. That left Juan, myself, Thierry and Francine to push on. Approximately 7km later I decided I needed to stop and eat, we pulled over quickly and swigged on Coke and devoured cookies, cakes and anything else caloric. We continued at a decent clip with each of the four of us taking turns up front to shield the hostile wind. The country lanes had given way to open roads and fields with no protective shelter. At 35km Francine jumped into the van, Thierry followed at 37km. Now it was just Juan and I. Quick background on Juan – when I grow up I want to be just like him. Generous and supportive beyond belief and a machine on two legs, has run the toughest races in the world (finished the Spartathlon three times in 33hrs and a list as long as my arm of other great physical feats) I knew I was in good hands. The wind howled at us like a wolf in the night trying to guard its territory, the conditions told us we were not welcome, we told the conditions to to f#*k off.
|Early days, photo opp. Photo: L'Bagnard Kikou|
|Leslie keeping me topped up. Photo: L'Bagnard Kikou|
|Flying with Juan on my right. Photo: L'Bagnard Kikou|
At 41km I started to teeter dangerously on that ledge where everything feels like it is starting to cave inwards. The very core of my stomach, the gut that keeps the engine pumping, was not digesting and I felt a rapid descent into wooziness. I wanted to puke in hope that it would purge me, but I knew an empty engine would go nowhere fast. The darkness that surrounded us now was pervasive in my mind. It mirrored my fears that it was all going to end for me soon. Juan held back to speak to the crew as I walked limply up a large hill, slipping from lack of purchase on the glistening ground. My head tilted to the right as small amounts of water dribbled down my cheeks, freezing in my beard. Then I hurled it all up, it was like an inverted Icelandic geyser with a chocolate hue. Gushing towards the virgin white powder like an explosion in a rigid pipe. By the time Juan reached me and told me that the Gendarmes were just checking out what was going on, we were ready to go. I felt good, but acutely aware that I was on borrowed time. I had no fuel in my body so I would be running on fumes from here on in. My stomach was too sensitive for anything other than the frequent sips of water that Leslie passed me through the window of the van. I told myself that I'd call it a night at 45km, who would be disappointed with that? I mean, come on, 45km in these conditions was already heroic, right? I got to 45km and decided to stop looking at my GPS watch, it was too distracting, so I gazed at the silent road ahead and put one foot in front of the other, quite simple really. Juan coaxed me and nurtured my declining state until I hit 50km and entered that zone where you are not you any more. The pain was not mine, it belonged to the guy with the burning oesophagus I'd left in the ditch an hour ago. My legs were the legs of a person who has the ability to go forward without impediment or restraint. My legs belonged to every person who would give their all to be able to walk without aid or care. My mind became free in all the ways it had never been in my lifetime, free of the guilty flashbacks of addiction, free of barriers that we place on ourselves everyday in how we judge others, free from distractions whilst balancing on a razors edge of heightened awareness. Juan and I took it home together, arm in arm, after 5:43 spent on our journey.
|A beer, and he's off again. Photo: L'Bagnard Kikou|
|Done. Photo: L'Bagnard Kikou|
Once changed and in the car I marvelled at Juan as he downed a beer, ate a sandwich and ran back through the night, Leslie, Francine, Carole and Thierry joined him for the last 15km as I watched in admiration from Olivier's car. There was no shiny medal at the finish line, there was no crowd gathered to cheer us on, no record of what we had done. In our minds rests a camaraderie that time will not distort, a shared collective of being part of something that is greater than any one of us. Stepping out into that night changed everything for me, it gave my running a purpose again and gave me back a slant that was until now a distant memory. The uniqueness of this endeavour will be the yardstick in measuring the purity of everything else that comes after.
|Taking it home. Photo: L'Bagnard Kikou|
Thursday, February 21, 2013
Charity: It's everywhere. Causes, campaigns, clipboard-wielding-happy-faced-people-with-dreadlocks, foundations, organisations, non-profits. It is quite overwhelming in these financially trying times as ordinary hard-working folk try to look after their own loved ones before even wondering where to pledge what support they might have left. For me the support of a cause can transcend a generous financial donation, money is an incredible boost to any charity but awareness is just as vital. Running for Pearl has been going for three years now and we have raised some money to be able to give Pearl the best possible education, we have also given some money here and there to help out other causes that mean a lot to us. As time passes I see that the biggest battle ahead lies in opening peoples minds, yes a lottery win would make her life a lot easier but in real life one must do what one has to. At times I want to scream in frustration at the ignorance to Autism in France but I can only do so much. It is the hundreds of people I have met along the thousands of miles I have run that make the difference. What started as an idea to feel useful has morphed into a locomotive that travels along picking up people as we go. Some get on and ride with us for a while and then disappear, only to reappear again down the line. It is a constant, revolving door of characters that bring individual flavour and approach to what we do. Solidarity is the word that pops into my head when I ponder the journey thus far. No single person is capable of great acts, it is a collective that pushes against the odds, fuelled by passion and love that overcomes. I have not run anything for Pearl in a while because I have been unfit and also have a more than stellar team all over the globe flying her flag for me. This weekend I will run again in a charity event but not specifically for Pearl. Of course her and Dylan are always in my heart when I run, that will never change. But in the nature of giving back what you receive I will run for two causes, with ZERO training.
First story relates to one of my dearest friends, Sam. She lives in South Africa and has supported me spiritually through her relentless optimism and encouragement over the past few years. We have never even met in person but some peeps will be with you all your life, that's just how it goes when the stars align. Sam is no stranger to marathons and even completed Comrades last year. She is also one of the driving forces behind Growing Champions, which in their owns words.....
......is a character and leadership development programme that works with boys (pre-teens and teens) who are talented soccer players, who come from communities where gang violence, criminal behaviour and drug dealing and abuse are the norm. The programme aims to grow boys into men who are leaders. Men who rise above circumstance. Men who care about their communities. Men who understand that their characters, morals and behaviour will determine a successful future. Boys who want to grow into Champions.
|Growing Champions, showing their strength,|
Kind of says it all really, helping kids rise up from whatever circumstance to become leaders and champions. Sam was supposed to run the Township Marathon on Sunday for them but is injured, as I runner I know how disappointing this is. The kids will run it in a relay and I know a united front will carry them across the line. I'll be playing my part too, but we'll get to that in a minute.
Story number two relates to a young lady named Fanny. I do not know her but through a friend of mine in the running community I found out that she is a twenty three year old angel with cerebal palsy. Some ultra runners in her association are organising a run this Saturday night from Versailles to Rambouillet, a distance of 55km. It starts at nine o'clock and is being done by some as a relay, some just doing the outward leg and a few brave ones doing the round trip. Instantly I thought hmmm, Saturday night, zero degrees, no training, 55km, going to see a Deftones concert the night before and playing drums the following Sunday, pass me a pen as I sign up for this.
|Not sure how fast it'll be but we'll get there.|
I have been greeted by most with that your crazy stare. Nope folks, spending my life drinking into the dawn, stoned off my face for nearly two decades was CRAZY. This is LIVING. I have no idea if I'll be fit enough, but I am participating in two movements that are bigger than I or any of the other participants involved. What's the other option? Sit in front of the TV with a cup of tea and then read a book whilst wrapped in my warm duvet, or step outside the comfort and feel the steam of my breath warm my face as I run through the night? No contest. I also get to pay back some of the love and support that I have been blessed to receive and has changed Pearls life for the better.
Monday, January 7, 2013
There's a certain element of self-torture to ultra-running, a preternatural exploration of the limits as to what is and isn't possible. It's a sport that attracts everyone from housewives, recovering junkies/alcoholics, lawyers, business men, pastors, hippies, and so on. In the years I have been involved in the sport I have met every conceivable type of person who all have a single goal in common – to break through the pain barrier, into agony and find the untapped resource that lies where few dare to go. So taking all this into account, January is the time of the year when aforementioned sadists start looking at racing calendars where a marathons are viewed as training runs. I liken it to drunk dialing in a way, it seems like an incredibly good idea at the time “Ah sweet man, there’s a 100 miler in August”. Thousands of training miles are put in and by the time one gets to mile 70 of that 100 miler, the cursing commences. The verbal self-flagellation starts to drown out the voice of reason that got you into this mess in the first place “What is wrong with me, why do I keep coming back for this shit, why can't I just run a 10k like a normal person and be happy with that? At that point the legs are no longer dictating the game, it is entirely mental from here on in.
I have not been fortunate enough to have that giddy, nervous, calendar-scrolling feeling in the pit of my stomach in well over a year. 2012 was mostly spent healing various wounds of the body and the heart. Physical fitness is one thing, but to commit to a season where pain and devotion will factor highly takes razor sharp focus and almost arrogant self-belief. When the feet give up, the mind must take over. My training has been sporadic at best due to other commitments and not really having a goal to aim for. When I am aimless I struggle with who I am and where I am going, my recycle bin of a brain has had a major data dump and I envision racing well for the year ahead. I have chosen three key races that I think are not only runnable but can be run well and tactically. The first one will be the 50km Trail du Josas, it's in April and close to home. I have run the 40km event in previous years and it is by far tougher than any 100km I have contested in the past, hill training and pacing will be the keys to a fun day in the hills. My second event will be the Sri Chinmoy 100km in the forest of Vincennes in mid June. Depending on how my form is coming into the summer I will hopefully be in Connemara for the outstanding 100 miler they put on in mid August. It's a splendid course and draws some top talent. What's most important, at this exact moment as my fingers tap the keys, is that I can visualise the races and also the early mornings and late nights that are crucial in getting back to the level I was at eighteen months ago. Once I retain a Conceive, Believe, Achieve mentality I can accomplish all of these ambitions, and much, much more.