TOR 2018: TOM HOLLINS DNF CATHARSIS
Montane Athlete Tom Hollins entered the 2018 Montane Tor des Géants in the best shape of his life. 60 miles and two 3000m+ ascents later he withdrew. Reflecting on this, Tom shares insight into what happens when the mind-body connection falters.
‘I’ve not got much European experience’ I said in my pre-race TDG video. How that would come back to haunt me. My entire European experience was in fact 1 previous DNF at the UTMB. On that occasion, I just wasn’t fit for it. This time I was the fittest I have ever been. So no problems – right?
The atmosphere at the start of the race was incredible. Lining up on the start line with the elite athletes really added to that. Meeting up with some of my heroes was an added bonus. I may have embarrassed myself a little with Jez Bragg, but managed to hold back from asking for his autograph though so saved myself a little dignity.
I started well. I knew I needed to go slow and that I would be engulfed by the guys behind me when the start sounded. The elite guys were pushing on to avoid queueing up the first hill. I dropped back a couple hundred places. No biggy. Still 90 to 100 hrs to go.
The first section to la Thuile was spent enjoying the spectacular views and great crowds with the fine company of Terry Conway and Paul Tierney. Terry pulled out straight after with a bad foot and nausea. Then I came across the legend of Dan Doherty descending the next climb. I tried to insist he came back up with me but he wasn’t having it. Too hot he said, and he wasn’t budging. Less than 50k on and 2 top UK/ Irish athletes out. What was going on?
Paul and I developed a nice little pattern where we chatted a bit, he then pushed on to the next checkpoint, I spent less time at the next checkpoint, he caught me back up. Buoyed on by good views and good company, we were moving steadily up the field after a strategically slow start. So, all going to plan untill I started to fall back at the last col before Valgrisenche (2829m). I felt sick. I started to remember the UTMB. Thinking back I do remember my brain trying to hammer it’s way out of my skull on the cols then too.
It turns out I’m pretty sensitive to altitude. I went to 2900m on a pre-race recce and that felt pretty tough. I should have tried one of the 2 3000ers on the course. After Valgrisenche, they come one immediately after the other. The highest being the second at 3299. On the first, I found I couldn’t even walk and eat at the same time, having instead to sit down every time I put something in my mouth. I got through with the company of a great guy from Denmark called Jon who had done all his hills training in the stairwell at his work. I hit the sack for an hour after that as I knew the second big climb would be tough. The refreshment point food isn’t the kind of stuff you can take with you easily up the hill and because I was now moving far more slowly than expected I ran out of food. I was too breathless to eat it anyway. My usually quite robust internal monologue started to sour, as guys I had been skipping past at the bottom of the hill when they were puffing and panting were now doing the opposite to me. I’m used to starting from the back and working my way forwards not going backwards. With my legs now broken from the gruelling combination of a 170 pulse rate, a speed of 0.5 miles/hr, and no food on the last climb I crawled down into Cogne and pulled out.
I was only 65 miles in, with 150 to go. I had dropped from 60ish position early on overnight to around 100th. I couldn’t face any more high mountain passes and felt like my legs would never move again. Pretty pathetic I know. The one surprise was that Paul Tierney was an hour behind me when I came to Cogne. He eventually finished in 21st in 94 1/2 hrs. Exactly the time I had wanted to do. I need to ask him what he did there – hopefully, there was something more clever than just toughening up and getting on with it!
Even though it broke me, what a fantastic race. The scenery is stunning and the people are great. I can see why so many of my mates recommended it, I just can’t understand how the hell any of them finished it! Massive respect to anyone who has done so, and I really fancy another crack. No idea how I will do that yet as family first always so there won’t be 2 weeks in the alps prior to the event to acclimatise like a lot of the top guys.
I will think on.