The devil is in the descent

I am sadly not part mountain goat, which frankly, is quite a disadvantage for an ultra-runner. Not only that I am seriously lacking in skill when it comes to descending.

As a back of the pack runner I walk up most of the hills especially when in for the long haul. The logic here is to not use up energy and effort to little benefit when it can be saved for the flat and descents, but I seem unable to fully take advantage of those potentially speedy descents.

I can power up hills making decent steady progress and can often pass others, but the last laugh is generally theirs as once the summit is reached they go flying past me on the descent having either metamorphosed into a mountain goat or engaged the mountain goat gear that the factory left out when I was built.

What is wrong with me? It is a source of great frustration. I am reasonably Ok on tracks, roads or smooth paths, but not great. On narrower more technical trails I am shocking, like some old octogenarian: in fact that is an insult to octogenarians, they are probably faster and braver.

Therein lies the answer; I strongly suspect my main issue is fear. I have been known to take the odd tumble or two and more often than not it has been on a downhill or whilst trying to go ‘too fast’ over some technical ground. Falling hurts. So far I have been lucky escaping serious injury with just scrapes, bruises and bruised pride feeling like a complete ‘numpty’. But it does make me cautious.

There has been many a prat fall.

I have famously tobogganed on my backside all the way down a section of ski slope at Aonach Mhor whilst out walking. It was out of season but there was still snow, which combined with waterproofs provided a very speedy but unexpected descent when I lost my footing, much to the amusement of Alasdair and the people in the café at the bottom.

On another occasion a combination of water and reed grass saw me disappear from view as if poleaxed only to re-appear several hundred meters further down, looking (and feeling) as if I had been through a car wash, with my daughter almost prostrate with laughter further up the hill.

I truly admire people that can launch themselves downhill with the skill to almost instantly pick the right line and right themselves if they start to wobble or slip. My daughter joked recently that I was dyspraxic: I’m not, but my balance has never been great even with a strong core and ankle strengthening. Once I start to go, I go. I really need to learn to fall and stop putting my hands out to save myself. Bruising and staving so far but the risk of a break is probably quite high.

It occurs to me that my mild vertigo and almost crippling fear of heights may be a factor too. The same gut-churning sensation and anxiety bubbles up sometimes as I look down and start my descent, especially if steep, narrow and or technical.

Add it all up and I have a distinct disadvantage going into the 100 Miles of Istria with almost 25 k feet of cumulative ascent and descent which comes with a warning about vertigo: argh! I checked with the race director and the warning is out of date and no longer applies: phew! I suspect that I not going to get much better at this and certainly not over the next 4 weeks.  Perhaps the fact that the biggest climbs and descents will be over the first night will favour my slow and cautious approach. I can dream …..