Europe 2015

I opened my eyes and found myself lying in the middle of the roundabout road a few meters away from the location of my recent memory: a car colliding with my bike. I couldn’t feel anything yet, but I instinctively started to check for movement in my limbs and work my way down the spinal cord while keeping my neck still. I could  move my fingers; I could tense my hips; and relief cames when I found that I could wiggle my toes…I knew I was going to be OK. There were already people around me and I slowly rose to remove myself from danger while they collected what was left of my bike.

I was lucky to walk away from a car crash in October 2014 with only a few broken bones and upper body injuries. It didn’t even take long until I was running again but for several months various injuries would flare up and restrict me to a fraction of my normal volume. In a way, the timing couldn’t have been better as I suddenly has a lot more time on my hands to finish off my honours thesis. Perhaps things do happen for a reason.

My grand plans of running in the Canary Islands at Transgrancanaria in March 2015 eventually had to be scrapped as my body simply needed more time to heal. In a desperate bid to prepare myself for the Buffalo Stampede in April, I took a risk and ramped up my running volume 3 weeks before the event. However, the risk did not pay off and I developed case of plantar fasciitis, which saw me sitting on the sidelines of both the Buffalo Stampede and TNF100/50. Ultimately my hopes of running at Ice Trail Tarentaise (ITT) in July were also dashed but I wasn’t going to cancel a second overseas trip for the year! As luck would have it, I had to opportunity to cross off “Run a vertical kilometre (VK) race” off my “Running Bucket List” (it’s a long list!), with a VK being held the day before ITT.

Arriving in Val d’Isere (the French ski-town from which ITT and the VK set off from) 10 days before my race, I thought that would become well acquainted with the 2905m course that runs from an altitude of 1809m to 2809m. I should have known better than to think the route would follow the large switchbacks that cut the Face de Bellevarde; the real course goes straight up the middle!

On race day, I couldn’t have hoped for things to unfold any better. The weather was lovely (Europe was experiencing a heat wave at the time, so it could be quite warm some days) and for my first VK (and first race using poles!) I felt as though I (at least) reasonably well. Early on I thought that I might have started off too fast (a classic VK mistake), but I stayed on that “red line” the whole way and was still able to surge a little bit at the end to finish in a time of 38.50 (which saw me finish 9th overall). As soon as I had regained my breath (), I was already looking forward to my next VK experience and thinking about future double and triple VKs!

L to R: Andrew Duffus, James Stewart and Ben Duffus after the Kilomètre Vertical Face De Bellevarde
L to R: Andrew Duffus, James Stewart and Ben Duffus after the Kilomètre Vertical Face De Bellevarde

I then travelled to Chamonix and relived some of the fond memories from last year’s Skyrunning World Championships before heading on to Annecy where I was running the Interlac Trail in a relay team with Julien Chorier and Arnaud Lejeune. Unfortunately, my day did not pan out as I had hoped as I sprained my ankle 15min into my 30km journey. Eventually my hobble subsided into a walk and I found myself on the phone explaining to my team mates (who were extremely gracious about it and far more worried about my ankle than their race!) that I would take quite a bit longer than planned. Nevertheless, our team still finished and I still enjoyed the spectacular views on my way through the mountains from Lac d’Annecy to Lac du Bourget. The race was great way to see a beautiful part of France and was definitely the best marked trail race I have ever run in (I don’t think I was ever out of view of a course marking – quite a relief when you don’t speak French and can’t ask for directions!).


Fortunately my rigorous regime of icing and elevating my ankle (luckily le Tour was on TV at the time!) and wearing Compressport full length socks around the clock had me back running in a Zamst ankle brace only a couple of days later. I travelled onwards to Switzerland and felt like a kid in a candy shop visiting iconic peak such as the Matterhorn and Eiger. This also served as reminder that I will have to begin to develop real mountaineering skills before I will be able to start crossing off the entries on my “Summits Bucket List” (it’s also a long list!).

The Matterhorn
The Matterhorn

Finally, my holiday ended in the Bavarian ski town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen in the shadow of the Zugspitze. The day before I was due to fly back to Australia, I found myself reminiscing about Mt Barney (in the Scenic Rim of South-East Queensland) on a particularly scrambly section of trail. I suppose this signified that it was probably a good time to come home.

Enjoying Bravaria
Enjoying Bravaria

Now that I am back in Brisbane and settling into my PhD (in theoretical physics at the University of Queensland), I no longer worried that each run might flare up an injury. The knowledge that my foot handled so much hiking without much issue has brought me great peace of mind. Although I haven’t run as much this year as I would have liked, I am grateful for the different perspective this has brought after a year of incredible runs in 2014 and I am grateful for all the work my coach and the team at Allsports Physiotherapy have done to help during this somewhat quieter time. Every week I am feeling better out on the trails and I am very much looking forward to the final two events in the Skyrunning Oceania Series for 2015. I also avoid a particular roundabout now 😉

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