Liza Howard

Liza Howard

Liza Howard is a national champion runner with multiple records in distances ranging from marathons to 100 mile trail races.

October 2017
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Diagonale des Fous 38k: Fire breathing clowns and a bum leg

LizaLiza

Fire breathing Clown Lady at the 10pm race start.

There’s a 66 hour cutoff for the 100 miles and 30,000+ feet of vertical gain for Diagonale des Fous, a 25 year-old race on Reunion Island.

I was ready to hike that far, if it came down to it, when I lined up at the start Thursday night. Don’t get me wrong, I was hoping to run and hike hard. I dreaded being reduced to hiking zombie-like for 66 hours, but I’d made my peace with it. I didn’t have anything else to do before my flight three days later.  I could sit in a hotel room, or, worst-case-scenario, I could hike slowly through the interior of a gorgeous volcanic island.

So the first 15 km went great.

My just-ran-50-miles-11-days-ago legs felt fine, the islanders lined sections of the course in the middle of the night playing music, singing, hollering and hand-slapping like it was the final mile of a big city marathon. The first 15km are fairly gentle. Uphill, but nothing crazy. The humidity was the crazy thing. The heavy race t-shirt we were required to wear through the first two aid stations was soaked within the first 2 km and clung to me like Saran Wrap.  It felt like home.

The real climbing started after 15km, and it was good work. I’m a flatlander, and I’m not going to win any vertical kilometer races anytime soon, but I kept up a respectable pace. Until my right leg rebelled.  A deep ache in my glute and sharp pain in my heel reduced my power hike to a drift. I was unhappy. Over the past four hours, I’d let myself believe I didn’t have to worry about a 66-hour zombie crawl. Stupid leg. As I walked slowly on, I realized how tough it was going to be to make myself keep going. I couldn’t run at all. Down or up. I was going to be profoundly sleep deprived. I hate that. And I don’t enjoy walking downhill. I figured I’d shame myself into it though.  What would Asa think? My parents had flown down to take care of the kids. What would they think? Would Ultra Trail World Tour, who invited me to come, refuse to reimburse my plane ticket? That plane ticket reimbursement fear alone would have kept me going.

But then the pain got to the point where I had to limp. If I dragged my leg a bit, the discomfort was better. Nope. I was not going to drag my leg for 85 miles. That’s just foolish. I got to the 38km aid station, and sat down to stretch. The pain got worse.  So I walked slowly over to the French race officials and pantomimed cutting my bracelet off.

I wasn’t hurt before this race, and I don’t regret flying halfway around the world to do it. I’m very sorry I couldn’t perform for Ultra Trail World Tour folks though. And I’m sorry I asked so much from my family to run 38km.  I’ve only DNF’d once before under similar circumstances years ago. One race isn’t worth not being able to run for months afterwards. And that’s what this felt like I was risking. I need running’s boost too much to risk that. Still, I’m just bummed my body didn’t cooperate. Dumb old leg.

I have lots of hilarious stories for you about my short time here on the island involving dogs, buses, fire breathing clowns, sugar-cane plant owners, and getting safety pins from Seth Swanson. I’ll write them tomorrow.

Comments 4
  • Allen Lucas
    Posted on

    Allen Lucas Allen Lucas

    Reply Author

    I can only imagine how bummed you are about this, but you are wise. Hopefully you are able to recover enough to still squeeze some goody out of the rest of the your time there. Maybe get some tips from the fire breathing clown lady!


  • Pommers
    Posted on

    Pommers Pommers

    Reply Author

    Oh Liza! I’m sorry it didn’t come together. I shed a little tear for you reading your account. I’m so impressed that you were out there and you are so positive about the experience. Sometimes the mind is (very) willing but the body just won’t cooperate. Stupid leg 🙁 I know that feeling!


  • M @readeatwriterun
    Posted on

    M @readeatwriterun M @readeatwriterun

    Reply Author

    Hugs. I’m sorry this happened. I hope you are not in pain now, and that you can get the problem(s) identified and resolved quickly and with little difficulty. As always, impressed by your presence of mind and decision-making, and your attitude. Makes you even more of a role model in my book.