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  • Writer's pictureNatalia Roman Lopez

2020 in a run

‘A single mountain range is enough exploration for a lifetime’ Rickey Gates

Trips, races, exploration… we all had big plans for 2020. Until cancelling all plans became the plan. Here in Switzerland we were double lucky. First, for being surrounded by nature; Second, for being allowed to get out of the house at all times. Without bags to pack, races to taper for or recover from, 2020 turned out to be the year to do some long-standing exploration in the backyard.

One of the most exciting events I had to cancel this year was the participation in the Zerofive100 ‘experiment. Zero calories, five days, 100 miles. With the goal to study fat burning metabolism, raise awareness about low carb diets, and prove its safety (and adequacy) for type 1 diabetes. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to do it; but my mates did put a heroic effort.

The ultimate definition of backyard is starting and ending at your door step. I had been wanting to run around Zugersee (the lake of Zug) for a long time – the most obvious loop on the map. In fact, two previous attempts were aborted half-way due to either physical or mental struggle. November tends to be a grey time of the year. Even more near lakes with the usual low thick fog. This year was no different.

As opposed to racing, a solo run has no set date, aid stations, media attention or finish line photographer! I had the idea and lust, that’s it. When Kilian Jornet suddenly announced his record attempt to the 24h track distance, I decided November 27th would be the day for my run too. I wanted to support him from far.

I know the route by heart – just never done it in a single push. The first 13k are on hilly trails Climbing up to Seebodenalp is a spectacle of nature: a deep and steep forest with a mystic touch. Followed by what I consider one of the most fabulous trail downhills in the area (Strava segment included!). Then comes a long flat section that I mentally split in two: from Immensee to Cham 12k of pure swiss countryside; from Cham to Zug 5k of ‘lunch run’ territory. The last half marathon used to be my running commute and steeply climbs to Zugerberg. I hope to be out of the fog when I reach the marathon distance. The last 4k are a technical and slippery downhill back to Goldau. Home to home around the pond. Nothing fancy. Just like 2020.

My plan is to tweet along, as well as to document any learnings about the utilization of glucose and fat for energy. Actually I am fascinated to see if energy levels are even enough to maintain a constant running tempo – muscular fatigue allowing. Key to sustainability is picking the right pace in the first place! We have all learnt that the hard way throughout our racing (and DNFs).

Not a fancy morning. Goldau is in the fog, which feel fair when I think of poor Kilian running with 6h of daylight in Norway. I go for my scrambled eggs breakfast, adding some avocado and cheese – which I cover with R insulin as usual. Outside just above 0 degrees Celsius. That is still within my ‘shorts-wearing’ temperature. However better take a thin long-sleeves. The fog is serious so I pick bright colors.

Off I go! The first minutes are always full of questions: did I forget something? how are the legs feeling? what should I do with the phone?... and a clear reminder ‘pace yourself!!’. I go for the mouth-breathing strategy that I have been using for the last 4 years. Whichever pace that allows me to breathe through the mouth. When the forest opens up on top of the first climb I see the SUN!! a moment of celebration. It is then that I suspect my legs feel good today. I make the huge mistake of not refilling my water bottle. Due to corona, the next two water points will be unusable – who could have known! The warmth of the sun doesn’t last long. At an altitude of 800m the cloud eats me again. Blood glucose is flat at a perfect value of 3.8-4.0

I distract myself by taking pictures, answering some messages and posting blood glucose updates on Twitter. My two running playlist ‘move it’ and ‘quiet’ are the best companions. At the half marathon distance I realize I forgot to pack food (that is some nuts and a keot bar). It doesn't worry be at all, how liberating. Now and then I come across other runners. It makes me laugh how they are covered up to their ears! They probably think I am insane, am I not?!

After 30k I reach the point of no return. If I keep going it is for good; otherwise better take the warm and cozy train back home. Warm hmmm coooozy oh boy my legs are so cold, wouldn’t it be nice? FORGET IT! Today I am determined and out of excuses! Moreover, I know precisely that after the next and last big climb I will emerge out of the fog for some glorious kilometres in the sun.

But first, I need to take care of what looks like an unavoidable low BG. I needed already 15g of dextrose during the flat kilometres. The cold legs make it an easy choice: Hot chocolate. In the name of science, I throw in a croissant. So curious to see what happens!! I have no idea why but my muscles - GLUT4-mediated – do uptake glucose instantly when running on roads/flat; however, this is not the case when mountain running or backcountry skiing. One of those type one diabetes mysteries.

The 30gr of indulgence vanish before having the chance to impact BG. On the bright side, fat burning keeps its efficiency and I am hypo-free during the steep climb to Zugerberg. I wanted to break the monotony of even steps so I pick the steepest route I know, the so-called ‘Chinese wall of Zugerberg’. At the very top the sun is waiting. It’s km 36 and I get over-excited. 4k later I pay for it and feel miserable for 10’; no need to suffer unnecessarily so I walk a bit now and then. Finally I get to the beginning of the final downhill leading back home. Oh boy, these trails are slippery!! It wasn’t pretty but some nice songs help me to get into the downhill flow.

When you are about to reach the finish line of a race, everybody cheers as you run through the village. Today is different. I am as full of feeling as at the end of any race. The world is indifferent to my celebration of joy. It is just a Friday.

The watch says 50k done! I walk the last 500m to cool down a bit. Actually, I buy a coffee at the station to warm up a bit! I promise myself a hot bath and some nice keto food afterwards. My stomach is a bit upset – nothing unusual. Ketones at a healthy 1.9 despite having drunk about 1L over the 5.5 hours.

Well, this is it: I did it! Perhaps Rickey Gates had a point when he claimed ‘A single mountain range is enough exploration for a lifetime’

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